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Battle of the Bartenders, Tiki Style

Scorpion bowled over

The winning cocktail combined three rums, passionfruit, lime, lemon, pineapple, banana oleo, and absinthe.
The winning cocktail combined three rums, passionfruit, lime, lemon, pineapple, banana oleo, and absinthe.

San Diego’s Tiki Oasis festival celebrated its 20th anniversary this year after postponing the celebration and being forced to go virtual in 2020. This year also marked the first Tiki Oasis in its new home, the Town and Country Resort in Hotel Circle. And just as it’s happened every year since 2016, as the event winds down and revelers pack up their colorful caftans, cabana sets, and aloha shirts (or nurse hangovers by the pool), a fierce competition gets underway as some of our top bartenders put their latest and greatest concoctions on the bar and in the ring.

Given the spirit of Tiki Oasis, perhaps it’s more accurate to describe the competition as friendly rather than fierce. But if there is one thing that seemingly carefree tikiphiles take seriously, it’s their drinks. That makes the world’s largest tiki festival’s Battle of the Bartenders intriguing for both mixologists in search of bragging rights and cocktail connoisseurs in search of something new and good to sip.

On Sunday, August 1, four San Diego bartenders — Irving Gonzales of Snake Oil Cocktail Co., Alexis Romero of Collins and Coupe, Michael Ruiz of Station Tavern, and Mitchell Lynes of George’s at the Cove — took the stage at Town and Country Resort to put on a show. The quartet had successfully beaten out nine other competitors during a preliminary round at George’s the previous week to make it to the big event.

For his fourth attempt at winning Battle of the Bartenders, Irving Gonzales presented a concoction he called “Fourth Time is the Charm.” In describing what makes his drink stand out, Gonzales notes, “The flavor profile is rum on the first hit. Then it washes out smoothly with a banana aftertaste and finishes with a smooth, spicy tart hit at the end because of the Don’s Mix and cold brew.” The name of the drink proved to be prophetic, as his mix of three rums (Don Papa, Copalli Cacao, and Charanda Uruapan), Chipotle Don’s mix, Banana Oleo, Pichino’s Cold Brew, and lemon juice earned Gonzales a spot among the final two bartenders.

The head-to-head finale that followed was reminiscent of the cooking show Chopped. The two finalists were each given a secret basket and asked to make one last cocktail with the ingredients provided. Using the same three rums that were in his signature drink, along with passionfruit, lime, lemon, pineapple, banana oleo, and absinthe, Gonzales mixed up a scorpion bowl that won the judges over and earned him his long-awaited Battle of the Bartenders victory.

Gonzales takes his trophy back to Snake Oil Cocktail Co., a local catering company that also provides consulting services to bars and restaurants in San Diego and Mexico. Snake Oil has its own venue, JULEP, on Hancock Street where they host parties and meetings. Additionally, those looking to get a taste of some of the potables Gonzales creates when he’s not competing can schedule a tasting at JULEP and purchase cocktail mixes onsite or have them delivered locally.

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The winning cocktail combined three rums, passionfruit, lime, lemon, pineapple, banana oleo, and absinthe.
The winning cocktail combined three rums, passionfruit, lime, lemon, pineapple, banana oleo, and absinthe.

San Diego’s Tiki Oasis festival celebrated its 20th anniversary this year after postponing the celebration and being forced to go virtual in 2020. This year also marked the first Tiki Oasis in its new home, the Town and Country Resort in Hotel Circle. And just as it’s happened every year since 2016, as the event winds down and revelers pack up their colorful caftans, cabana sets, and aloha shirts (or nurse hangovers by the pool), a fierce competition gets underway as some of our top bartenders put their latest and greatest concoctions on the bar and in the ring.

Given the spirit of Tiki Oasis, perhaps it’s more accurate to describe the competition as friendly rather than fierce. But if there is one thing that seemingly carefree tikiphiles take seriously, it’s their drinks. That makes the world’s largest tiki festival’s Battle of the Bartenders intriguing for both mixologists in search of bragging rights and cocktail connoisseurs in search of something new and good to sip.

On Sunday, August 1, four San Diego bartenders — Irving Gonzales of Snake Oil Cocktail Co., Alexis Romero of Collins and Coupe, Michael Ruiz of Station Tavern, and Mitchell Lynes of George’s at the Cove — took the stage at Town and Country Resort to put on a show. The quartet had successfully beaten out nine other competitors during a preliminary round at George’s the previous week to make it to the big event.

For his fourth attempt at winning Battle of the Bartenders, Irving Gonzales presented a concoction he called “Fourth Time is the Charm.” In describing what makes his drink stand out, Gonzales notes, “The flavor profile is rum on the first hit. Then it washes out smoothly with a banana aftertaste and finishes with a smooth, spicy tart hit at the end because of the Don’s Mix and cold brew.” The name of the drink proved to be prophetic, as his mix of three rums (Don Papa, Copalli Cacao, and Charanda Uruapan), Chipotle Don’s mix, Banana Oleo, Pichino’s Cold Brew, and lemon juice earned Gonzales a spot among the final two bartenders.

The head-to-head finale that followed was reminiscent of the cooking show Chopped. The two finalists were each given a secret basket and asked to make one last cocktail with the ingredients provided. Using the same three rums that were in his signature drink, along with passionfruit, lime, lemon, pineapple, banana oleo, and absinthe, Gonzales mixed up a scorpion bowl that won the judges over and earned him his long-awaited Battle of the Bartenders victory.

Gonzales takes his trophy back to Snake Oil Cocktail Co., a local catering company that also provides consulting services to bars and restaurants in San Diego and Mexico. Snake Oil has its own venue, JULEP, on Hancock Street where they host parties and meetings. Additionally, those looking to get a taste of some of the potables Gonzales creates when he’s not competing can schedule a tasting at JULEP and purchase cocktail mixes onsite or have them delivered locally.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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