The recipe for the 4th Annual Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic is unlike any LGBT bartender competition. 85 local competitors across the U.S. and Canada competed to name 17 city champions, each one flew across North America to spend 6 days in Key West. 12 of those 17 competed in 2 elimination rounds leading up to the Main Stage finale, and the remaining 5 who were voted "Fan Favorites" by over 22,111 fans on OUT.com, competed in a special Bayou Rum challenge. After all this and countless Stoli cocktails, 9 made it to the June 10 Pride Main Stage Finale, where ultimately 1 North American Champion was named in front of hundreds of fans on Duval St. - the bubbly NYC Bar Star, Kayla Hasbrook.
The Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic is not just about cocktails and numbers. This year's finale was also the platform on which Stoli announced HeroesRaisingTheBar.com, Stoli's new platform dedicated to reinforcing the brand's commitment to LGBT equality. Not only did Kayla's win earn her the title of #1 Bar Star, in addition to the trophy, she earned $7,500 for her selected non-profit organization, Planned Parenthood, and $5,000 for a local Key West charity with which she was paired; the Old Firehouse Museum.
This year's finale week felt more momentous than ever, when one of the competing bartenders, Quinton Chandelier of Atlanta, proposed to his boyfriend during the Fury Sunset Cruise of Champions. As winner of the Bayou Rum Fan Favorite Mix-Off, Quinton also won a trip to New Orleans. OUT also named the #1 Fan Favorite Bar Star, Arthur Quijada of San Diego, who won hearts with his fabulous "Atocha" cocktail.
This week, OUT caught up with Kayla to see how her life has changed since winning the 2017 Championship title.
OUT: Kayla, congratulations on being named the Champion of the 2017 Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic. How does it feel to be Stoli's Number One Bar Star in North America?
Kayla Hasbrook: Thank you so much! I met so many great people and bartenders down in Key West. It's a privilege to even be a part of the conversation.
What have the reactions been from your friends and family in NYC and at ABC Cocina since the announcement?
Everyone has been super excited! Planned Parenthood is such a great organization - it's great that this win can make a difference for the community.
Tell us, how did you go about creating your show-stopping "No Sleep 'Til Sunrise" cocktail for the finale? What was your inspiration behind it?
I wanted to make a refreshing vodka cocktail that would be great outdoors during the summertime. Something that was super sessionable that you could drink until sunrise! I love the combination of pineapple and cucumber, and turmeric provided complexity, color and a touch of spice.
If you could describe your trip to Key West in one word, what would it be?
Spirit. Between the warm welcome from Stoli and the Key West community, the friends we all made in Key West, the epic Pride parade, as well as all the amazing cocktails; we were all full of so much spirit.
What was your favorite part about the Finale Week in Key West?
When we first arrived there was an amazing sunset cruise on a catamaran. All the bartenders and their plus ones got a chance to hang out before there was any real competition. Getting to know bartenders from other parts of the country is always my favorite part of any competition.
You were named Honorary Grand Marshall of the 2017 Key West Pride Parade. What did it mean to you to play such a big role in Key West Pride celebrations?
Key West is known for having one of the oldest and most prolific Pride celebrations. It was great to be a part of that in a place that has always been so supportive to the LGBT community.
On top of being named the 2017 Stoli Cocktail Classic Champion, you also won $7,500 for a non-profit of your choosing, Planned Parenthood. What does it mean to you to be able to share this win with them?
Planned Parenthood is a charity that is extremely important to me personally; especially with the current administration's plan to defund them. Reproductive health isn't just a woman's issue or a gay issue; it's important for everyone. Planned Parenthood clinics are the frontrunners of STD prevention and screenings, contraceptives and sex education. They have been a safe place for the LGBT community since their inception. Their service and their inclusivity is important to EVERYONE, especially in an industry where health insurance isn't readily available. Planned Parenthood's services have been so crucial to so many bartenders.
And you were able to win $5,000 for the Old Firehouse Museum, your Key West Charity. Did you get to meet anyone from that organization?
The guys from the Old Firehouse Museum came out and represented so hard each day of the competition! Honestly, they were some of my biggest cheerleaders! I got a chance to take a tour of the museum before the parade on Sunday. A lot of the guys have ties to NYC surrounding 9-11, so there was a special connection there. I got to meet so many wonderful people that are a part of this organization. I'm happy that this money went to such a great cause in Key West.
The Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic honors the legacy of gay bars as the original LGBT safe spaces and the important role that bartenders play in the creation of these community centers. What does diversity mean to you and your profession?
Diversity is what makes life interesting; living in NYC has really taught me to appreciate that. Diversity and hospitality go hand in hand. Meeting new people and creating connections between bar guests is one of my favorite things about this industry.
As the 2017 Champion, what's your advice for any bartenders and mixologists hoping to compete in next year's competition?
Rehearse! We all know practice makes perfect! There are also great videos online for competition techniques for those who have never competed.
Any big plans for the future now that you've been named this year's Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic Champion? The 2016 Champion Rocky Collins flew to Ibiza Spain as part of his prizing last year. Any idea where you'll head this year?
The people from Stoli are so amazing to work with, I plan on being as involved as I can in the coming year. Also, Patrik Gallineaux, Stoli's National LGBT Ambassador, and I are in the process of planning a pride trip somewhere fabulous (more to come there)!
We look forward to celebrating your win at your Hometown Celebration in NYC this August!
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