Detroit bartender wins semi-final cocktail competition

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

A spicy tequila cocktail — rimmed with wasabi and salt and garnished with a brûléed candied ginger — is what earned local bartender Tara Jagodzinski an all-expenses paid trip to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans this summer.

Jagodzinski, who works at the Peterboro Chinese restaurant and cocktail bar in Detroit’s Cass Corridor, was named a finalist in the Make It Exotico Cocktail Competition Tuesday evening when her Spaisi Ginger cocktail won not only the judges’ favor, but the crowd favorite award at the semifinal event.

Tuesday’s competition at Tequila Blue in Royal Oak pitted seven regional bartenders against each other to vie for entry into the finals in New Orleans. There, Jagodzinski and other finalists from across the country will compete for a grand prize of an all-expense paid trip to Jalisco, Mexico, to the Exotico Tequila distillery.

Jagodzinski, who has been bartending for 10 years and has done about six cocktail competitions, says her game plan going into the finals is “just be on point and bring all the skills I have and a great drink.”

Along with Jagodzinski, the United States Bartenders’ Guild-sanctioned event included other semifinalists Derrick Mund from Willis Show Bar, Rebecca Morrow from Wright & Company, Johnny Prepolec from Mr. B’s Gastropub, Justin Whitman from Grand Rapids’ Donkey Taqueria, Sara Santiago from Mes Que in Buffalo, New York, and Aaron Pollack from the Dawson in Chicago.

Whitman took second place with his homage to Wendy Peffercorn, the babe in the 1993 movie “The Sandlot.” His drink, “Wendy Peppercorn,” was made with Exotico Reposado tequila, lime juice, raspberries, thyme and pink peppercorns. Santiago and Mund tied for third place.

All the drinks for the contest were required to be made with either Exotico blanco or aged reposado tequila. Bartenders were judged on their drink’s appearance, aroma, creativity and taste.

Tuesday night’s event was judged by David Martinez, head bartender at Willis Show Bar, Giancarlo Aversa of the Last Word in Ann Arbor, cocktail blogger Nick Britsky and Detroit News features reporter Melody Baetens.

Twitter: @melodybaetens

Spaisi Ginger Cocktail

1/4 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce blood orange juice

3/4 ounce ginger syrup

2 ounces Exotico Blanco Tequila

3 dashes of Sriracho

Wasabi salt rim

Candied ginger garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients into a shaker with ice, shake and double strain into a cocktail glass garnished with the wasabi salt. Jagodzinski says she uses Verdant Kitchen brand ginger syrup and ginger garnish.