Bartender’s Bash Champ Mixes a New Recipe

The defending champion of the Denver Food + Wine Festival's Bartender's Bash, Sebastian Zydek, tells us what he has in store for 2019.

2018 Bartender’s Bash winner Sebastian Zydek

Cocktail lovers rejoice: The Bartender’s Bash is returning on Thursday as part of the annual Denver Food + Wine Festival. Local celebrity bartenders from the Colorado Bartenders Guild will put their skills to the test at the EXDO Event Center as they compete for the title of Denver’s “best cocktail.”

In the Bartender’s Bash, each competitor is randomly paired with a spirit from one of the event’s sponsors. The bartenders then have about a week to put together a recipe that incorporates their assigned alcohol in some fashion. This year, 13 bartenders are competing with a wide range of spirits, and wine and beer will be featured at the event as well.

The bartending competition is just one of the events in store for the Denver Food + Wine Festival, the highlight of which is the Grand Tasting, featuring more than 40 Colorado restaurants and 700 wines and spirits Saturday on the Pepsi Center grounds.

In Thursday’s Bartender’s Bash, celebrity chefs from local restaurants, including Maggiano’s Little Italy, Rose & Thorn, and the Abbey Tavern, will also compete alongside the bartenders for Denver’s “best bite.” Denver-based DJ five8 will provide live music for the attendees.

Last year, Sebastian Zydek won the Bartender’s Bash with a drink he called the “Cidermeister.” A bartender at El Five, he has been mixing drinks for seven-plus years. Zydek is returning to the competition this year, and he hopes he will be able to win over the judges again to defend his title.

How do you go about creating your cocktails?
I love it, I’m super passionate about it. It’s a creative outlet for me. I’m not the most artistic person on paper or anything like that, but I love cooking and I get a lot of inspiration from the kitchen, so I just kind of put that toward my cocktails.

Why did you call last year’s cocktail the “Cidermeister?”
It was almost like a cider and it was fall. I worked with Jägermeister, so I really wanted to highlight Jäger. I didn’t want to hide anything about it, other than the fact that I tried to hide the black licorice a little bit.

How do you feel about returning to the Bartender’s Bash competition this year? I’m excited, especially since I didn’t expect to win last year. Working with Jägermeister, people either love it or hate it. I really wanted to kind of change some people’s minds who didn’t like it or weren’t really open to it. I was super surprised when my name got called and I won.

What are you going to serve this year?
This year I’m working with Altos Tequila, and the cocktail is called Borracha Horchata. It’s pretty much like a drunken Horchata. I’m making my own rice milk with jasmine rice, and then it’s Altos Tequila, a little crème de cacao, and Licor 43, which is a Spanish, citrusy liqueur to give it a little more depth and a little more booze. If you get a full cocktail, you also get a garnish, so we’re doing little churros and a cinnamon vanilla spiced ice.

What is your favorite part about competing in events like the Bartender’s Bash?I’ve gotten to meet some great people in Denver who also compete in these competitions. I get to see a lot of familiar faces again this year which is exciting, and the competition has definitely stepped up in terms of the bartenders who are competing. I think that and then just interacting with people who haven’t heard of your restaurant. It’s a great way to network and have fun.

General admission tickets ($45) and general admission plus tickets ($60) for the Bartender’s Bash are still for sale at denverfoodandwine.com.