Welcome back to #LiveNaked Bar Swap, our global event series that brings together some of the world’s most talented bartenders for a unique exhibit of cultures, creativity and, of course, incredible cocktail ideas.
This round is fresh from the US of A, where we found some of the Western hemispheres' most magical mixologists to show us what they're made of and what they make things with.
We gave participants two challenges. First, to make us an ‘Unconventional Naked Sour’, which is then presented to a panel of judges. Second, the ‘Mystery Box Challenge’ asks bartenders to use random ingredients found inside a mystery box to create a totally unique and totally tasty cocktail.
One regional champion is then crowned, with the victorious bartender winning an incredible cultural immersion experience, swapping bars with other winners around the world 👌
The USA contestants did not disappoint. Each bartender delighted us with amazing Naked Sour serves that showcased their heritage, their creativity, and their mixology skills.
Selecting the winners for this round was a challenge in itself. So, a big round of virtual applause please, for Morgan Zuch & Liz Senyak from Mandarin Heights, with a mega impressive take on a Naked Sour, the “Neon Indian” cocktail.
We asked the winners a few questions about themselves and their incredible Naked Sour creation, here’s what they had to say…
Morgan & Liz, congratulations! What do you enjoy the most working at Mandarin Heights?
Well, thank you! One of the best parts about working at Mandarin Heights is the freedom to give guests that ‘wow’ experience of a really great cocktail with a garnish and glassware and make it really extravagant and all of that good stuff! We can run with an idea, even if everybody thinks it's crazy, and give people a great cocktail that they've never had anywhere else with new and fun ingredients that they haven't tried. Plus, we’re like a family, we have been working together for a long time. So you develop relationships with people that are lifelong, and we have some customers that we’ve developed lifelong friendships with too.
How did you come up with your winning Unconventional Sour?
I threw everything that I knew out the window with this drink, and I just went with the Naked spirit of ‘just being the real you and living naked’. Sometimes you think too much about it and you just dig yourself into a hole which is when you end up with these cocktails that have 10+ ingredients that are just not necessary. And then I slept on it and thought, “OK what are the flavours that I am really looking for?” So, I locally sourced things, but I tried to use multicultural ingredients, things that you normally wouldn’t put together. Like ‘what if I just tried pistachio and curry and coconut’ and then I added the mole because coconut, curry and mole go so well together…mole is like a Mexican curry. I was thinking a lot about food and then I wanted to make the drink look culinary so that’s where we get the chilli oil and the creamy garnish.
Why do you think Naked Malt works so well in serves like yours?
The whisky itself is good on its own, and I really had a hard time with it because to me, this is something you want to drink neat. This isn’t typically something that I would mix just because of the quality. I started off with Elderflower on my first run of it, and I was like ‘this is not working’, I needed ingredients that would play well with such intense flavours. There's a lot of nuttiness with the sherry and for that I thought coconut and pistachio to play with that. In the mystery box round I went totally opposite with light and floral and it worked well, but I really wanted something to stand up with the buttery, malty, fruity notes, so that’s why I went coconut & curry because I thought all of those would pair nicely together.
What were the best parts about the Live Naked Bar Swap competition?
I really think that being with all of the industry professionals and just talking through recipes, operations, day to day struggles was really nice. Just being able to connect after not being able to travel for anything bar-related for so long, getting to know people, understanding their background, and watching them create and collaborate. And truthfully, on the day of the competition it was so good to see everybody helping each other out, because the competition world can be really cutthroat sometimes. Going to Palm Springs and taking hikes in the mountains was absolutely amazing and it was a beautiful time of year. The itinerary was stacked, but it never felt overwhelming. We never had time to sit around and stew. It was honestly calming to just take your mind off the competition and actually relax. It was just a really great group of human beings to be around. We’re so caught up in the day-to-day and we’re so busy, sometimes all we do is take care of people, and it’s so nice for someone to actually take care of us.
What are you looking forward to the most in your 2022 Bar Swap?
We are most looking forward to figuring out where we are going to go. Wherever we end up, just learning how regionally everyone does things a little differently – the innovation, the flavours, the ingredients - because it's going to be things we've never heard of, and we’re such nerds for that. That's a really cool part of being able to go somewhere else and immerse yourself in their culture and experience, how they work in their environment. It’s going to be something that's probably really foreign to us because we stay in our little boxes so often that we forget. It’s just going to be a whole experience that we’re extremely grateful for.
What’s next for Mandarin Heights Bar?
Well, we are expanding, we will have our Seafood concept next to Mandarin Heights hopefully by next year. It will be a casual - boat drinks, seafood, oysters, outdoor - vibe. Our owners are serial entrepreneurs, so they always have something ‘cooking in the kitchen’.
Big thanks to Morgan Zuch & Liz Senyak for answering our questions and letting us peek into their incredible mixologist minds. Check out their Sour Tape below for more on their journey and that incredible Unconventional Naked Sour 👇.
You can follow Mandarin Heights on Instagram here @mandarinheights or check out their website at www.mandarinheights.com. Better still, taste their amazing Unconventional Sour creation for yourself and drop by Mandarin Heights at 5901 North Florida Avenue.
That, ladies and gentlemen, concludes our global series of the #LiveNaked Bar Swap and what a finale it was. Stay tuned for more taste bud tingling cocktail creations with Naked Malt. Until next time…
The Naked Team