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Last week, I wrote about serving as a judge for the San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival. Experiences like these tend to be few and far between. Yet, come tomorrow, I’ll be back in the critic’s saddle, weighing on the virtues (and missteps) of cocktails created by a septet of mixologists at El Dorado Cocktail Lounge’s 2nd annual “Iron Chef-style” (wasn’t I just mentioning Iron Chef?) Bartender Challenge.

With the modern day popularity of cocktails, ranging from adherence to old school sensibilities to throwing traditional techniques and ingredients out in exchange for new wave tools, stabilizers and ingredients, such competitions occur quite often in San Diego. As with anything so widespread and frequent, there are events that offer a great deal of promise and some that barely register above the “eh, whatever” meter.

Being involved with this particular event, I’m glad that those who coordinated selection of the contestants did a good job. The field is comprised of skilled spirit world practitioners who are, for the most part, stirring and shaking in relative obscurity. Places like Noble Experiment, Starlite and Tractor Room are incredible and get plenty of publicity, but if the scene is to advance, others will need to earn time in the spotlight. Given the quality of last year’s iteration of this event (where the aforementioned Noble Experiment’s Anthony Schmidt took top prize), this should provide a terrific stage for such exposure.

I’m not big into resorting to lists, but this one’s worth breaking a few standard rules. The participants for this mixology melee are Sarah Ellis from Jayne’s Gastropub, Garth Flood from Cowboy Star, Dustin Haarstad from URBN, Christian Siglin from Craft & Commerce, Tim Stevens from Prohibition, Steven Tuttle from El Dorado and Levi Walker from Monkey Paw Brewery and Pub. Some competed last year while others are throwing their ‘20’s-era hats into the ring for the first time, making for a fittingly ideal mix.

Proceeds from this event will benefit the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, representatives from which will be on hand to raffle off items in between rounds. Food and drink specials will be available, making this more than just an opportunity to come out and simultaneously scout out bartender talent and question the abilities of certain judges. The competition will begin at 6 p.m. El Dorado is located Downtown at 1030 Broadway.

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