Elisabeth Forsythe balks at the idea of being called a sweetheart. As a 14-year veteran bartender in San Antonio, the newly crowned Miss Speed Rack Texas thinks she’s too old for that title, but her waves of fans would likely disagree.
Currently on staff at Blue Box bar in the Pearl, Forsythe has made her way through a profession she initially thought was just a means to an end: first at Bayou’s, then Alibi’s, The Davenport, and most recently, Esquire Tavern, where she trained under Jeret Peña’s bar program with help from Rob Gourlay.
At this point, Forsythe wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We went through the martini bar phase, the sports bar was probably the most popular (phase) and now the craft cocktail scene has grown in the city,” Forsythe said while wo-manning Blue Box last Monday afternoon. “The craft scene lends a lot of legitimacy to what I always thought was more than just Crown and Coke and Goldschläger shots.”
The tricks she’s learned from that last dozen-plus years helped her win January’s Speed Rack competition. Speed Rack, a female-driven organization that promotes female bartenders while raising money for breast cancer awareness and research, is in its third season. The organization hosts competitions around the country where female ‘tenders go head-to-head in robin-style rounds to see who can mix the best and fastest cocktail. Drinks are judged first on speed and time is added for any mistakes.
Forsythe, whose mother is an 11-year breast cancer survivor, is not just about kicking ass at Speed Rack. “While some in society might think that when you get a bunch of females together for competition it might turn nasty, it’s far from that. We’re there to meet likeminded bartenders and raise money that could directly affect someone’s life,” she said, adding that Speed Rack donates mammograms that help with early cancer detection.
Still, it’s a tournament. For the Austin event, held at Red 7, Forsythe was the only San Antonio competitor out of more than 20. She’d previously competed in Speed Rack San Antonio last year, where fellow bartender Karah Carmack (currently at Bohanan’s Bar) finished first. Forsythe still made it to the finals in New York as a wildcard contestant, but was disqualified for spilling a drink.
“Last year my nerves were so crazy, my hands were shaking,” Forsythe said. Her strategy for 2014’s competition includes making flashcards with cocktail information and honing her craft with weekly practice rounds at Blue Box. The busy bar has helped Forsythe sharpen her skills. “The tricks I used to win Speed Rack were all from getting your ass kicked at the service line on weekends. I’ve had to learn how to stir three drinks at a time.”
Her winning cocktail was an original recipe she calls Roy’s Hot Dog after a friend who had to ditch his wienie to enter Red 7. Judge Alba Huerta of Houston’s Anvil Bar asked for a drink with smoky, boozy, bitter and aromatic components. Forsythe delivered a concoction of 1 ounce mescal, 1 ounce Campari, 3/4 ounce Cynar and a bar spoon of Benedictine herbal liqueur. Vibrant red and indeed boozy, I could see why Huerta gave Forsythe, who heads to finals in NYC on May 8, a deduction-free score.
Joined by several male counterparts from Esquire Tavern and Blue Box and amidst a raucous crowd, Forsythe took the crown by just 1.7 seconds.
“To have such a serious and important message alongside this wild and fun event, it’s the best of both worlds,” she said.