Bartender of the Year Austin Finalist Reflects on Unsung Lessons for Winning Cocktail

— March 6, 2019
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Heaven Hill Brands, announce fourth finalist for 2019 “Bartender of the Year”

Justin Ware, General Manager and Bartender at Johnny’s Gold Brick in Houston, announced as the Heaven Hill Brands and Austin finalist for the 2019 Bartender of the Year Competition. A three-time Bartender of the Year semifinalist, Ware won first place, $1,000 and 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. Ware crafted the “Unsung Lesson,” which was inspired by the death of his father last year who taught him how to drink “good tequila,” as well as incorporating flavors that brought back memories of smoking cigars around a fire (see recipe at end of release).

“Some of my favorite memories of my father were the wisdom he passed on from his life: of drinking good tequila, only 100% agave, or how to sip it and enjoy the complexity,” said Ware. “Some of the best memories I had with him were sitting around the campfire in west Texas while him and his friends smoked cigars, drinking tequila and beer. This cocktail combines these memories into one drink. The 100% Blue Weber Agave Lunazul Reposado Tequila makes up the base of the drink, paying homage to my father’s love for tequila. Dubonnet adds depth and complexity. The smell of vanilla and cherry in cigars is represented with the Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters. Finally, the idea of being around a camp fire is added with the smoked glass. This is a cocktail I love to sip with friends and family alike while reminiscing about the past.”

Alexis Mijares of the Fairmont Austin won second place and $500. Six semifinalists competed regionally in Austin on Monday, March 4 at Whisler’s. 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 Juliet Italian Kitchen and professional development with Chris Bostick, Owner of Half Step. Bostick created a cocktail utilizing Heaven Hill products and spoke to his inspiration behind it, as well as the journey to reach this point in his career and advice for leveling up in the industry.

National Brand Educator for Heaven Hill Brands Lynn House, Bar Manager of Clyde Common & Pépé Le Moko Jeffrey Morgenthaler, and Bostick judged the semifinalists’ cocktails and chose one finalist based on highest scores. Contestant skills and cocktails were scored on flavor, appearance, presentation, technical skills, use of sponsor brands, and adherence to judges’ guidelines.

More than 1,100 original cocktail recipes were submitted online nationwide beginning September 15, 2018. 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 17-20, 2019. 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. Harrison Ginsberg of The Dead Rabbit in New York City was the 2018 Bartender of the Year and will return as a guest judge for the finals. Ginsberg joined an impressive rank of past champions, including Nathan O’Neill from the Nomad Bar in New York City who was named Bartender of the Year in 2017, and Abigail Gullo of Compere Lapin in New Orleans who won the inaugural competition in 2016. Visit the official competition website at for complete competition details.

Unsung Lesson

Crafted by Justin Ware


  • Lunazul Tequila Reposado (1.5 ounce(s))
  • Dubonnet Rouge Grand Aperitif (1 ounce(s))
  • Gran Classico (.5 ounce(s))
  • Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters (4 dash(es))

Build all ingredients in mixing glass. Add ice, stir to dilution. Pour into coupe. Zest with orange peel. Trim peel to a nice shape and fasten to the rim. Place glass in the center of a smoking tray, place smoking dome over glass, fill dome with cherry wood smoke. Allow to smoke for 30 seconds. Serve immediately to get the smoke aroma in the air and the drink.


Lauren Cherry
Heaven Hill Brands

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

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