No one could have anticipated the success of the 2021 Mixology Masters, an evening of friendly competition presented by Porsche Irvine on November 13th. The sophisticated event brought together Southern California’s best bartenders, food and beverage connoisseurs, and elite community members for an exciting collaboration to benefit Barks of Love Animal Rescue. The VIP gathering entertained guests with stunning live performances by Aerial Butterflies, delectable bites from Alligator Pear Catering, Davio’s Irvine & Urban Plates, signature cocktails prepared by SoCal’s finest mixologists, and an electrifying car lineup presented by Porsche Irvine that set the tone for an evening of luxury.
Eager visitors quickly filled the intimate space upon entry as they were greeted by showgirls on the red carpet and were handed a voting ballot that signified the challenge was about to begin. Guests enjoyed a plethora of refreshing libations from NEFT Premium Vodka, Knob Creek Bourbon, Nolet’s Gin, Cruzan Rum and Tres Generaciones Tequila. During the event, small bites were served from local restaurants and caterers which included a variety of Crepes from La’Paris Creperie, Paella from Savory Roads and specialty carnival food from Food Fiesta Carts. Sweet treats were provided thanks to A Little Something Sweet Desserts and Love Swirls Cotton Candy which satisfied guests with an indulging treat that provided a perfect end to the ultimate tasting experience.
With the energy at a high, the showdown was ready to get started as each mixologist began prepping. Local mixologists competed for each guest’s vote. Guests watched in anticipation as each mixology master took time to shake, stir, and muddle their way in hopes of winning first place. As the evening continued and the final votes were about to be submitted, the competition was fierce as each participant knew their time to impress was drawing to a close. Guests hurried to cast their pick and waited for the results while enjoying music from DJ D-Dub and live performances by Edge of the World Entertainment. Interactive installations and cozy lounge areas kept visitors socializing as they discussed their favorite drinks of the night!
Once the tallies were in, it was officially time to announce the winner for Best Mixologist. The room cheered as local Orange County Mixologist, Nikolas Hernandez from Matter of Craft in Huntington Beach took home the title. His creation “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” showcased a creative mix of flavors from Matcha to Umami. Congratulations were also in order for Rocky Ward of Social Kitchen + Craft Bar as his unique creation and flavors won him the award for “Most Creative Cocktail.”
The evening extravaganza was a beautiful night of glamour, excitement, and luxury enjoyed by all, making the second annual Mixology Masters an event to remember.
MEET THE WINNER
Mixology is an exciting discipline that combines an appreciation of classic cocktails and cocktail culture with a desire to create new recipes using a forward-thinking approach. It all started at a family friends dining establishment at the young age of 13 causing Hernandez to grow up with an appreciation for the restaurant industry. As soon as he turned 21 he went into the bartending world and has never left. Using unique ingredients and techniques he regularly creates new and innovative mixed drinks by experimenting and it has certainly turned him into an award-winning mixologist.
We sat down with the recent Mixology Master winner to discuss where his inspiration for mixology began, what continually inspires him to create and what his career goals are for the future.
How did you get into this industry?
NH: When I was 13 years old, my mom’s friend owned a family restaurant in Covina and I asked my parents if I could work there on the weekends to make some extra cash. They started me off as a cashier and I worked my way up to a manager. That was my first step into the restaurant industry. Since then, I evolved into serving and then bartending through college when I turned 21. Once I got into bartending, I never left.
Where did your love of mixology begin?
NH: Over the years, as I learned how to mix cocktails, eventually I hit a point where I wanted to do more. I started thinking about how to create the cocktail in its entirety, instead of just mixing together pre-made ingredients. I began by learning from great chefs and experimenting with different herbs and spices that can come together to make a great cocktail while learning from mixologists along the way. I dove into the art of mixology and learned how to infuse, creating my own syrups and bitters from scratch—building my cocktails from the ground up.
What is your favorite part about your job as a mixologist?
NH: I love when someone sits at my bar, I ask them what they want to drink and they tell me “dealer’s choice.” I’ll get their flavor profile or preferred choice of spirit, and then I take free reign and build them a custom drink. Once they take the first sip, I see their face, and I know I nailed it, that’s the best feeling for me.
How did you come up with your winning cocktail, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”?
NH: First and foremost, I wanted to pay homage to my favorite, classic drink. In its truest, purest form, the old-fashioned is a bourbon, sugar, and bitter. I also wanted to tie in my fascination with matcha, and how it’s in drinks and pastries in coffee shops everywhere. I paired organic matcha with bourbon, to create a one-of-a-kind flavor profile for the base of my cocktail. Next, my love for tea came into play. I love chai tea, so I infused the chai spices with honey for the syrup. Lastly, I created my umami citrus bitter and perfected the garnish to tie everything together. My goal was to put a creative, modern spin on a timeless cocktail.
How do you find creativity and drive to create new libations and cocktails?
NH: I get a lot of inspiration from my early 1900s cocktail recipe books. The amount of creativity and attention to the craft that they had back then is inspiring. My goal is to always wow my patrons with my drinks, so I’m always striving to make something new.
Which other SoCal restaurants/bars do you like to visit for inspiration?
NH: I like to visit speakeasies because of how precise they are with their ingredients and cocktail builds. I also get inspiration from fine dining restaurants because of their presentation, etiquette and attention to detail.
Tell us about your position at Matter of Craft, when did you start and what does their current mixology program entail?
NH: I started at Matter of Craft at its inception, in February of 2020. I’m the master mixologist who designed the entire bar program, and I also maintain front-of-the-house operations. My mixology program consists of rotating seasonal cocktails and hand-crafted spins on classics–not to mention my flash cocktails of the day. You can find anything from a smoked old-fashioned to a made-to-order sangria. We use hand-infused spirits, homemade syrups, and hand-crafted bitters. I try to keep people on their toes by always creating something fresh, new and exciting.
What is the best drink you’ve ever had and where did you have it?
NH: The best drink I ever had was at Summit House in Fullerton, CA. I asked the bartender to make me a boulevardier. The drink was well-balanced, and the bartender had a good choice of bitters.
What are your favorite spirits and brands to work with?
NH: Definitely bourbons/ryes and gins. Some of my favorite brands include Four Roses, Old Forester, Sazerac and Whistle Pig. For gins, I love Tanqueray, Nolet’s, Monkey 47 and Boodles.
What are your career goals for the rest of the year?
NH: I plan on keeping my bar fresh with new ideas, and continuing to learn and perfect my craft. My goal is to keep what I do fun and exciting so that it never feels like work to me.
Winning Cocktail: Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Organic Matcha Powder
Chai Infused Honey Syrup
Cucumber Mint Infused Water
Unami Citrus Bitter
Knob Creek Bourbon