Inspired to create a space to feature more women bartenders, Ivy Mix & Lynnette Marrero founded Speed Rack, a global bartending competition designed to highlight up-and-coming females in the cocktail industry. With events in New York, Chicago, Portland, New Orleans and more, Speed Rack challenges female bartenders to make the best cocktail in the fastest time. We recently talked with Ivy & Lynette about starting Speed Rack and why it’s important to incorporate non-alcoholic options into the competition.
I. What inspired you to start Speed Rack?
Ivy Mix (IM): Back in 2010 when I was trying to break into the cocktail world, there just weren't that many ladies behind bars. ‘Bartender’ was synonymous with ‘mixologist,’ was synonymous with ‘speakeasy’, which basically meant everyone trying to be Jerry Thomas with mustaches and beards, so there was not a lot of space for a woman in that image of what a bartender was "supposed" to be. Speed Rack was inspired by creating a platform for women and saying: "Hey! We're here. We're capable. We can work. Hire us. Now you have no excuse.”
II. What is Speed Rack’s mission?
IM: Speed Rack is about creating a platform for women to stand on to make space for us in a male-dominated industry while simultaneously raising money against breast cancer, one of the greatest killers of women worldwide.
III. How has Speed Rack evolved since you first started?
Lynnette Marrero (LM): Building the community and network of women was something I started doing in NYC in 2009 after I met Misty Kalkofen and Kirsten Amann who founded LUPEC Boston (Ladies United For The Preservation of Endangered Cocktails). They were gathering women in the hospitality industry to execute cocktail events and raise money for womens’ charities. I thought that model would work in NYC to gather the women who were quietly working in craft cocktails to give them a platform. I met Ivy during this time and recruited her to work events. The rest is history.
IM: What has changed since our inception is that the competition itself has become one of a sisterhood and the women involved are about making connections and a larger web of ourselves. At first it was like, "Oh my God, there are more of ME!" And now it is like a support group and a sorority, for lack of a better term.
IV. Tell us about the impact Speed Rack has had over its nine seasons.
LM: Speed Rack has grown to numerous countries. We have done events in Canada, Scotland, London, Mexico, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore. We had plans, that we hope we can continue, to expand to the Netherlands and Argentina later this year.
V. Can you explain how the judging works and how the cocktails contestants make are evaluated?
LM: Ivy and I both believe in the fact that classic cocktails are the foundation we all need to have in this industry. The competition was designed to test real working skills. So, imagine you are working service bar on a busy Friday night and four cocktail legends walk into the bar and sit on the section that you serve. You want to make their cocktails perfectly, but you have a whole room to serve. The cocktails are evaluated by: “Would I pay for this? Is the drink balanced? Was it diluted properly? Does it look appealing?”
VI. Why is it important to have non-alcoholic options at Speed Rack?
IM: The non-alcoholic category has exploded over the last few years. Folks want low-to-no alcohol drinks to experience the art of cocktails without necessarily having the intoxication involved. In Speed Rack, it's awesome to throw this into the ring as a trial and see how the womxn tackle it, especially at the end and final round where we allow Dealer's Choice. Frequently, the judges have tried and judged 12 cocktails already! It’s generally time for something a tad less boozy, but still artistic and delicious.
LM: Exactly. It is also more common to have these cocktails as part of the overall experience of going out. They don’t need to be segregated. Community can be built in bars and restaurants, so that means having options for all who want to participate.