United States Bartenders’ Guild Oklahoma City chapter organized to support local bartenders and further their education and opportunities.

Every bartender starts out pouring the same cocktails, Ryan Goodman said.

As bar manager at The R&J Lounge and Supper Club, 320 NW 10th St., he’s well acquainted with some old-school drinks, but his start was, by his own account, nothing special.

“Really, I fell into it,” he said. “I used to live down in Norman, and when I took a semester off from school, a friend was managing Coach’s and said he could get me on as a server.”

A few weeks in, he was bartending. Soon, he found he really enjoyed it. He spent time working at Blackbird Gastropub on Campus Corner and then at Scratch Kitchen & Cocktails, where they focus on craft cocktails.

About six months ago, Goodman joined a fledgling group of fellow mixologists called United States Bartenders’ Guild Oklahoma City chapter (USBGOKC). On April 24, his drinks won the group’s first Whiskey Rebellion cocktail competition at Whiskey Cake Kitchen & Bar, 1845 Northwest Expressway.

“One of the first things I did after I joined was I went to a contest in San Antonio,” he said. “It’s a really good way to meet people who share your interests and expand your horizons.”

Competitions are a way to bring the local bartending community together, said USBGOKC membership director and WSKY Lounge general manager Kyle Zimmerman.

“You get to see the creativity and the passion from others in the business that you might not get to normally see during normal business practices,” he said. “The networking and education you gain at these events in unparalleled.”

Phillip Smith from Parliament in Dallas and level 2 sommelier Leslie Nelson from The Saturn Room in Tulsa judged the event, with top honors going to Goodman for a trio of cocktails including Spring in the Burroughs, a take on a Perfect Manhattan.

Zimmerman said using experienced bartenders to judge helps competitors learn and improve.

“We brought in two seasoned veterans from out of town for the judging panel that also were able to help guide and educate competitors in future competitions,” he said. “At the conclusion of the event, they provided insight to help competitors grow and make them stronger for the next competition.”

Chapter treasurer Anna Mains, co-owner of Rockford Cocktail Den, In the Raw Sushi and Knucks Wheelhouse, said competitions also help the local group continue to expand.

“You don’t have to be a bartender to join either,” she said. “Enthusiasts can be a part of the guild. It’s a great way to get to taste and learn about different spirits.”

Mains said bartending has not traditionally been seen as a career but it can be a lucrative and rewarding path for many. The guild helps people in the industry take pride in their jobs and take their careers to the next level by providing resources that might seem common in other professions.

Chapters can conduct monthly meetings in members’ bars to focus on topics as diverse as learning about vermouth and tasting rare whiskies with distillers or giving information about upcoming events.

The guild also has an online education component called USBG Pulse, Mains said. Members can access a forum for sharing stories, asking for professional advice and gaining experience on cutting-edge techniques behind the bar. It helps build local and national networks, which can lead to new opportunities for bartenders.

“OKC is an emerging market, and we want the nation to know how great our bartenders are here,” she said. “Competitions play a huge part in that, so we want to put in good local competitions to help encourage our members to compete at a national level.”

Goodman is pleased with his win, but he’s more excited about the promise USBGOKC holds for improving the quality of life for area service industry workers. The group promotes getting bartenders health insurance and creating a better work-life balance — a notoriously tricky feat for workers who work late and know how to mix a great drink.

The next USBGOKC event, Talk Derby to Me, is 3-7 p.m. Saturday at Ambassador Hotel, 1200 N. Walker Ave.

Tickets are $25 and include two Maker’s Mark Derby Day cocktails, including mint juleps, and signature Hot Brown sandwiches on the hotel’s back patio. The event benefits the St. Anthony Foundation. Tickets are available at okctalkderbytome.eventbrite.com and the door.

Spring in the Burroughs

by Ryan Goodman

2 oz. Old Forester 100 proof

.5 oz. Carpano Dry Vermouth

1 oz. *blackberry shrub

Combine ingredients in a stirring glass, fill with ice, stir and strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

*blackberry shrub: Macerate 170 g blackberries with 170 g granulated sugar and cover with 8 oz. white wine vinegar; let sit 24 hours, strain out solids and it is ready.

Talk Derby to Me

3-7 p.m. Saturday

Ambassador Hotel

1200 N. Walker Ave.



Print headline: Bar raisers, Bartenders are pouring themselves into a guild to advance the local industry.

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