As a Drinks Competition, Speed Rack Is the Ultimate Rush

A new book (“A Quick Drink”) highlights the best of the cocktail-making tourney

April 30, 2024 6:26 am
A typical Speed Rack bartending competition set up with three cocktails
Speed Rack celebrates great cocktails, women bartenders and drinks efficiency
Courtesy of Speed Rack

Currently celebrating its 12th season, Speed Rack is an exhilarating global bartending competition highlighting women and non-binary bartenders in a quick-paced environment.

The history and purpose of the competition are certainly a focus in A Quick Drink: The Speed Rack Guide to Winning Cocktails for Any Mood, written by Speed Rack co-founders Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix (along with Megan Krigbaum). As the authors write in the intro, the impetus for the event stemmed from the fact that “we were keenly aware when we’d travel to the best bars around the globe that there weren’t a whole lot of women bartending in them.” All proceeds from Speed Rack are donated to breast cancer organizations. 

All noteworthy goals! But Speed Rack is also about making/tasting great drinks: The book features over 100 recipes from more than 80 international bartenders/Speed Rackers, with many of the drinks ideal for the home bartender. After all, these competitions are just as much about quickness as about craft — there’s efficiency and purpose to the recipes here.  

A Quick Drink book cover
“A Quick Drink” is out now

We spoke with Marrero (a MasterClass host and Partner/Chief Mixologist at Delola) and Mix (the co-owner of NYC’s Leyenda, FIASCO! Wine and Spirits and the just-opened Whoopsie Daisy) a few weeks before the 12th season of Speed Rack kicked off about the book, Speed Rack’s legacy and the importance of shedding light on talented women and non-binary bartenders. And, of course, we have a few recipes from the book. Note that many of the drink recipes in the book were inspired by the competition’s “Dealer’s Choice” round, which takes place in every Speed Rack event finals. Essentially, these are improved drinks inspired by various prompts from the judges, which suggest moods and styles of cocktails — and require some quick and deft preparation.

Speed Rack co-founders Lynette Marrero and Ivy Mix
Speed Rack co-founders Lynette Marrero and Ivy Mix
Courtesy of Speed Rack

InsideHook: When you started Speed Rack, you said there weren’t many women bartending in the world’s best bars. Do you think that’s changed? 

Lynette Marrero: There’s certainly been progress over the past decade in terms of representation of women in the bartending world. We’ve seen more women taking on leadership roles behind the bar, participating in competitions and gaining recognition for their skills. We have also seen many Speed Rack alumnae grow in the corporate sector of the drinks industry. However, there’s still work to achieve full equality and inclusivity in the industry. Ownership is a key issue. Access to funding and education are super important.

Ivy Mix: Absolutely. Not only are these bars being tended by many women, but they are also being run by them. We even have bars like Brujas in CDMX with the pure purpose of highlighting women bartenders. Now, unfortunately, we still don’t see that many women owners. I’d like to see that change happen more. 

A celebration at Speed Rack amongst the bartending contestants
The vibe at Speed Rack
Courtesy of Speed Rack

How important is the “speed” part of Speed Rack — besides making it more fun for people watching a Speed Rack event, why was this an emphasis? 

LM: It’s crucial for a few reasons. First, it adds an element of excitement and energy to the competition. It also showcases the skill and efficiency of bartenders under pressure in their day-to-day working environment. 

IM: Speed is important, but I always joke that Speed Rack should be called Accuracy Rack. The competition itself was always meant to show how good we can be at bartending. Look how fast! Look how clean! Imagine how many drinks they could get out on a busy Saturday! That’s great for the competition, but we also knew we wanted to highlight the creative aspect of bartending. That’s why we added a “Dealer’s Choice” section to tap into the bartenders’ creative capability and their nuance in cocktail making. 

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What is one drink in the book that surprised you?

LM: Karen Tartt’s Not a Piña Colada. She makes this cocktail without pineapple and is still trying to call it a piña colada. It is an interesting, irreverent version of a cocktail with a rich history. Karen suffers from migraines so she is always finding ways of making migraine-friendly cocktails. 

IM: Kelsey Ramage put in a cocktail called Fable that uses arugula in it. I loved this idea and had never thought about getting that peppery spice from a lettuce of sorts. It’s super unusual and since seeing and tasting it, I have done things with dandelion greens and kale to experiment with those earthy, bitter, grassy flavors.

What was your favorite moment from a previous Speed Rack event?

LM: Despite being a competition, there’s a real sense of community and mutual respect among everyone involved, which is truly special.  But if I had to pick one, it would probably be the very first event. We had no idea that event would launch a 13-year event series. The energy was palpable. 

IM: When my very good friend Jill Webster won Speed Rack after trying a few years previously in San Diego. We were doing it in this crazy nightclub, and my friend Ryan Fitzgerald was DJing and people just went crazy. Dancing, screaming, actual fireworks (like those bottle service sparklers). It was a scene. Whenever it gets tough, I remember that. 

Secret Garden
Secret Garden, a non-alcoholic cocktail from “A Quick Drink” (recipe below)
Megan Rainwater

What’s the most interesting prompt/idea that you’ve given during a Dealer’s Choice round? And is there one in the book that you particularly enjoy?

LM: I love this prompt we gave to Una Green from LA. With the growth of NA drinks, we wanted to push those boundaries. The resulting cocktail is a delicious mix of fresh, vibrant flavors. It was “Give us a no-ABV, springtime herbaceous sour on the rocks.” (See below.)

The Secret Garden

Prep Time: 15 mins

Servings: 1

  • 6 fresh mint leaves
  • 1 pinch of fresh dill
  • 2 slices cucumber
  • 2 oz. Seedlip Garden
  • .75 oz. lemon juice
  • .75 oz. smoked salt simple syrup* (recipe follows)
  • Mint and dill bouquet, cucumber wheel, black pepper and flaky sea salt, for garnish
    1. Add the mint, dill and cucumber to a cocktail shaker and muddle.

    2. Add the Seedlip, lemon juice, and the simple syrup.

    3. Shake until cold and strain into a rocks glass filled with ice.

    4. Garnish with the herb bouquet, the cucumber wheel, a sprinkle of black pepper, and salt.

    5. * Smoked Salt Simple Syrup:

      1 cup (200 ml) Granulated sugar
      1 cup (240 ml) Water
      1 teaspoon Smoked salt, preferably Maldon
      1 Bay leaf
      Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Over low heat, stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from heat. Once the syrup has cooled, remove the bay leaf, and pour it into an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

IM: Joaquin Simo once asked for a Michelada and I thought that was great. We have limited resources up there so people made some very interesting beer cocktails. I loved it.

You mention low- and no-ABV cocktails as a recent trend — do you find these drinks harder (or easier, or the same!) to execute as a boozy drink?

LM: While they may require some extra thought and experimentation to achieve the same level of complexity and balance as boozier drinks, low- and no-ABV cocktails can be just as exciting and delicious when executed well. Plus, they offer a more inclusive option for those who may be looking for lighter or alcohol-free alternatives. 

IM: I think all the no-ABV spirits out there are giving us a lot more to work with for flavor. No and low are just as interesting (as boozy options). I love them.

What’s your favorite drink of yours that’s in the book, and why?

LM: I think it is the Glitter Revolution. I love the activism of the cocktail (Editor’s note: The drink honors the women of Mexico City’s “revolución diamantina,” or glitter revolution. In the summer of 2019, thousands of women took to the streets to protest sexual violence against women. The protest movement got its name when women showered CDMX’s security chief with pink glitter at their inaugural demonstration.) I love taking a stirred Scotch cocktail and infusing it with spice and glitter!

IM: I usually gravitate towards the clear spirits, especially agave. However, the Perfect BQE is one of my favorites. It combines two Manhattan classics, the Red Hook and the Greenpoint, and turns them into one. It’s not a drink I see and say: That’s me! So I like that I created it outside of my comfort zone.

Perfect BQE and Sweater Weather cocktails
Perfect BQE and Sweater Weather cocktails from “A Quick Drink”
Megan Rainwater

Perfect BQE

Prep Time: 5 mins

Servings: 1

  • 2 oz. rye whiskey (preferably Wild Turkey 101)
  • .5 oz. dry vermouth (preferably Dolin)
  • .5 oz. sweet vermouth (preferably Cocchi di Torino)
  • .25 oz. green Chartreuse
  • 1 tsp. Maraschino liqueur
  • Maraschino cherry for garnish
    1. Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass filled with ice

    2. Stir until cold and strain into a chilled Nick & Nora glass.

    3. Garnish with maraschino cherry and serve.


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