Matthew Stipe will confess he was a little nervous at facing his first bartending competition. Held in Columbus, the challenge gathered some of Ohio's best bar jockeys to mix up original cocktails utilizing Don Q rums. What Stipe didn't anticipate was the level of scrutiny he would receive while crafting his entries. "It was timed, very formal, and technical," he explains. "The judges would deduct points if you spilled a single drop or if the bottles weren't facing the audience." In the end, Stipe's Charley Horse ($10) claimed top honors in the "Fruit Forward" category. The Speakeasy mixologist gives a play-by-play: "First you get the fruit-forward flavors of the tart cherry juice, followed by the body and herbaceousness of Amaro and cherry Heering. Housemade raspberry vinegar syrup provides some acidity." Stipe garnishes the glass with Amaro-soaked horseradish. Next up for Stipe is nationals, held this month in New York. "Winning is always nice," he says. Judge for yourself at the Speakeasy, 1948 West 25th St. (under the Bier Markt), or learn more at speakeasy216.com. — Douglas Trattner
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