Bartender of the Year Los Angeles Finalist Reflects on Childhood Memories for Winning Cocktail

— February 6, 2020

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

BARDSTOWN, KY – Vay Su, Bartender at Republique in Los Angeles, was announced as the Heaven Hill Brands and Los Angeles finalist for the 2020 Bartender of the Year Competition. Su, a 2019 finalist, 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. Su crafted the “Chinese Cocktail Bun,” inspired by Sunday morning breakfast with his parents, featuring Rittenhouse Rye and Lunazul Tequila Reposado (see recipe at end of release).

“When I was younger, I used to have breakfast almost every other Sunday morning with my parents at a Hong Kong cafe or Dim Sum restaurant… I remember the excitement and anticipation when we woke up on Sunday morning knowing that we are going to have dim sum and I would skip the usual fixing and keep my eye out for the coconut buns. The excitement of finally getting it and taking that first bite, it was magical,” said Su. “When I try to think back…Chinese Coconut cocktail bun is one of the earliest memories that I resonate with my parents. It was a simple joy of my childhood; I think back at how I was when I was a kid and one of the things I would look forward to was a simple coconut cocktail bun.”

Thi Nguyen of The Saap Avenue in Oakland, Calif. won second place and $500. Su and Nguyen were joined by four other semifinalists as they competed regionally in Los Angeles on Monday, Feb. 3 at Death & Co. 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 Dama and professional development with Christine Wiseman, Bar Manager at Broken Shaker at Freehand Los Angeles. Wiseman spoke to the importance of mentorship and growing the industry together by taking the responsibility of what you learn in a competition or training back to your own bar to teach others.

National Spirits Specialist and Portfolio Mixologist for Heaven Hill Brands Lynn House, Author and Bar Manager of Clyde Common & Pépé Le Moko Jeffrey Morgenthaler, and Wiseman 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.

Chinese Cocktail Bun
Crafted by Vay Su


  • Rittenhouse Rye (1.5 ounces)
  • Lunazul Tequila Reposado (.5 ounces)
  • Lunazul Reposado Barley Tea (.5 ounces)
  • Coconut Water (1 ounce)
  • Walnut Oil Fat Washed Bitters (2 dashes)

Add 1.5oz of RIttenhouse, .5oz Lunazul Reposado Barley Tea, 1oz Cocktail Water (Harmless Coconut Water used here), 2 dashes of Walnut Fat Washed Bitters. Stir and strain over large cube in a double old fashioned glass.

Lunazul Reposado Barley Tea: 100ml Lunazul Repo with 100g of Pressed Barley Tea, vacuum bag seal and sous vide it for 1 hour at 65 degrees.

Fat Washed Walnut Bitters: Take some Walnut oil, add 25ml to 50ml of Fee Brother Walnut bitters. Let it sit at room temperature for two hours, occasionally mixing it. Then put it in the freezer overnight to freeze and separate the walnut oil. Strain and pour it in a Japanese dasher. This will add bitter nutty component along with some added texture to the cocktail.


Lauren Cherry
Heaven Hill Brands

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