OUT caught up with Chris Kelley - the recently crowned Portland Champion in the 2017 Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic - fresh off his win. The Cocktail Classic is Stoli's annual competition to find North America's Number One Bartender. LGBTQ bartenders and allies across the U.S. and Canada will compete to represent their home city on the grand stage of cocktail mixology during Pride Week, June 7-11th, in Key West, Florida. Here's what Chris had to say about the competition.
OUT: Chris, congrats on being named the Vancouver Champion in the 2017 Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic! How does it feel?
Chris Kelley: How do you think it feels?! Fantastic! I knew I had a chance, but I don't have the best of luck, so it really took me by surprise when I won.
You were able to get an edge up on the rest of your Vancouver competitors with a super creative cocktail, "Spruced Up Daiquiri". Can you tell us a little bit about the drink, and your inspiration behind it?
It was really just the right timing. I like to use local, fresh ingredients as much as possible. It just so happened that I noticed the blue spruce in my backyard started to bud. So I picked off the tips and then forraged some elderflowers because it's my spring ritual. Then I forced a cocktail theme around those delicious ingredients because I needed to do something with them while they were fresh.
The Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic honors the unique legacy of gay bars as original safe spaces and community centers and the role our bartenders have played as hosts and caretakers throughout history. Tell us about what your role as a nightlife professional means to you.
As a gay man working behind the wood at predominantly straight establishments my entire career, I have always found pride in creating a queer positive environment through gaining exceptance from the 'bros' that I work with. Which in turn, inadvertently provides a comfortable space for my LGBT allies.
As you know, part of your prize for winning the Vancouver competition is an all-expense-paid trip to Key West, FL this June. Have you ever been to Key West before?
Never! My mom was born in Key West and always spoke so highly of it. I think she's even more excited about it than I am.
And if you take home the title, you'll be included as the Grand Marshall of the Key West Pride Parade. Have you ever been the Grand Marshall of a parade before?
No, I'm a generally unimportant person. But I'd like to see that change.
And in Key West, you'll be competing for a chance to win $2,500 to $7,500 for your hand-picked charity, the British Columbia Hotel Association. Anything you want to mention on your relationship to that organization, or why you picked it to represent?
For my local charity, I decided to compete for the BCHA. It is an organization that provides extended medical services to service industry professionals in need. As someone who has been hurt on the job and found no help for recovery or paid time off, I feel this is a very important resource for bartenders and other service professionals.
Any advice (or trash talk!) for your competitors as you head into the Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic Finale - June 7th - 12th in Key West, FL?
Nope. These kids no what their doing. I'm stoked to meet them!
Amazing. Well we can't wait to see what innovative cocktails you stir up this June. Good luck, and know that all of Vancouver will be rooting for you!
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