Bartender of the Year Austin Finalist Looks to Mother’s Inspiration for Winning Cocktail

— January 27, 2020

Heaven Hill Brands, announce first finalist for 2020 “Bartender of the Year”

BARDSTOWN, KY – Michelle Salgado, Principal Bartender at El Velvet Elvis at the Perishing Inn in El Paso, Texas was announced as the Heaven Hill Brands and Austin finalist for the 2020 Bartender of the Year Competition. Salgado, a returning Bartender of the Year semi-finalist, won first place, $1,000, a trip to the finals at Half Mile Farm in Highlands, North Carolina.

In the second round of the semifinal competition, contestants created the inspired cocktail submitted as a recipe in the preliminary round. Salgado crafted the “Madre Jessu,” which was inspired by her mother whose diagnosis of lupus inspired Salgado to create a low-ABV cocktail with tea and PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur as a nod to how she now cares for her mother (see recipe at end of release).

“My mother is my favorite human on this earth. She epitomizes a strong, loving and caring mother. When I was in second grade she was diagnosed with lupus, which changed my sisters and me. The roles switched and we had to care for her,” said Salgado. “To this day I send daily text messages to remind her to take her medications that keeps her lupus in remission. This cocktail is an ode to her, using PAMA liqueur, a fruit she loves and has grown in her childhood home, and Dubonnet to make a low-abv cocktail since she cannot drink, which is a play on the Adonis formula, with an added tea liqueur, her favorite beverage.”

Cruz Gutierrez of Jet-Setter in San Antonio won second place and $500. Salgado and Gutierrez were joined by four other semifinalists as they competed regionally in Austin on Monday, January 20 at Half Step. Bartenders competed in three rounds, the first two featuring the classic cocktail and inspired cocktail from their preliminary submission. For the final round, bartenders created a custom drink for a fictional bar menu using a minimum of 1.5 ounces of at least one Heaven Hill brand not previously featured in one of their cocktails including Domaine de Canton French Ginger Liqueur, Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur, and Rittenhouse Rye Whisky, as well as Dubonnet Rouge Aperitif, Sacred Bond Brandy, or Lunazul Tequila. Contestants and judges were then invited to a family dinner at Jeffrey’s and professional development with Chris Bostick, Owner of Half Step. Bostick encouraged competitors to consistently push themselves to become their best self in all aspects of hospitality and create an experience for every customer.

Heaven Hill Brands National Spirits Specialist and Portfolio Mixologist for Heaven Hill Brands Lynn House, Owner/Bartender of Pouring Ribbons Joaquín Simó, and Bostick judged the semifinalists’ cocktails and chose one finalist based on highest scores. Contestants’ skills and cocktails were scored on flavor, appearance, presentation, technical skills, use of sponsor brands, and adherence to judges’ guidelines.

More than 1,150 original cocktail recipes were submitted online nationwide beginning September 15, 2019. Preliminary entries required two original cocktail recipes, one rendition of a classic recipe, and one relating to an inspiration, along with a short description of how the cocktail represents a deep inspiration to their life. The top contestant from each region will go on to vie for the title of Bartender of the Year and $15,000 at Half Mile Farm in Highlands, North Carolina from June 15-18, 2020. Finalists will be challenged on their full range of skills as hospitality professionals. Judges will be looking for the ultimate bartender who displays the total breadth and aptitude all bartenders aspire to embody.

Grounded in the original Bartender of the Year Competition hosted by Domaine de Canton starting in 2009, Heaven Hill Brands resurrected the competition due to strong demand from bartenders worldwide and with a goal of supporting growth, education and awareness in the bartending community. Justin Ware of Night Shift in Houston was the 2019 Bartender of the Year and will return as a guest judge for the finals. Ware joined the ranks of esteemed past winners: Harrison Ginsberg from Crown Shy in New York City was named Bartender of the Year in 2018, Nathan O’Neill from the Nomad Bar was named Bartender of the Year in 2017, and Abigail Gullo of Ben Paris in Seattle won the inaugural competition in 2016. Visit the official competition website at for complete competition details.

Madre Jessu

Crafted by Michelle Salgado


  • Dubonnet Rouge Grand Aperitif (1.25 ounce(s))
  • PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur (.75 ounce(s))
  • Lustau Amontillado Los Arcos (.75 ounce(s))
  • Cheongsam Jade Oolong liqueuer (.25 ounce(s))

Add all ingredients into mixing pitcher. Add ice and stir until properly diluted and fine-strain into Nick and Nora. Express grapefruit peel, manicure and rest on rim.


Lauren Cherry
Heaven Hill Brands

To view and download more images from this release, click here.

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