Bartender of the Year Chicago Finalist Draws Flavors from Middle Eastern Heritage

— April 17, 2018

Mony Bunni blends flavors from her Middle Eastern heritage to craft a masterful cocktail. Announced today as the Heaven Hill Brands and Chicago finalist for the 2018 Bartender of the Year Competition, Bunni won first place, $1,000 and a trip to the finals at The Lodge on Sea Island, Ga.

“My parents are both first generation Arab-Americans and I grew up surrounded by Middle Eastern flavors, and try to incorporate them into my cocktails whenever I can,” said Bunni, bartender at Prairie School. “Ras el Hanout is a spice blend from Northern Africa that typically includes cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, clove, fenugreek, coriander, and ginger. The deep savoriness of the Ras el Hanout, mixes beautifully with the caraway notes of the Rittenhouse, the raisin notes of the Sherry, and the thyme and sarsaparilla notes in the amaro.”

Ryan Arvin of Detroit won second place and $500. Six semifinalists competed regionally in Chicago on Sunday, April 15 at Sportsman’s Club. Bartenders competed in two rounds, first mixing the family-inspired cocktail from their preliminary submission, then creating an original cocktail fit for the menu of the host bar using at least 1.5 ounces of total of Domaine de Canton French Ginger Liqueur, Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur, or Rittenhouse Rye Whisky. Contestants and judges were then invited to a family dinner at Parachute where Dave Arnold, author of Liquid Intelligence: The Art & Science of the Perfect Cocktail, led a discussion on the relationship between sugars and acids, and how to create well-balanced cocktails, before the winner was announced.

National Brand Educator for Heaven Hill Brands Lynn House, Partner at Alchemy Consulting and Owner/Bartender of Pouring Ribbons Joaquín Simó, and Beverage Director of the Ace Hotel Chicago Caitlin Laman 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 1,000 original cocktail recipes were submitted online nationwide beginning September 15, 2017. Preliminary entries required two original cocktail recipes, one rendition of a classic recipe, and one relating to family along with a short description of how the cocktail was inspired by their interpretation of family. The top contestant from each region will go on to vie for the title of Bartender of the Year and $15,000 at The Lodge on Sea Island, Ga. in June 2018. 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. Nathan O’Neill from the Nomad Bar in New York City was named Bartender of the Year in 2017, and Abigail Gullo of Compere Lapin in New Orleans won the inaugural competition in 2016. Visit the official competition website at for complete competition details.

Elective Amnesia – Inspired by the concept of family
Crafted by Mony Bunni


Rittenhouse Rye (1.5 ounce(s))
Lustau PX Sherry (1 ounce(s))
Brovo Amaro #14 (.5 ounce(s))
Ras el Hanout Bitters (3 dash(es))
Stirred, and strained over cube.

< back to press releases