Whatever you do, don’t call Nick Houck a mixologist. “I am a bartender, plain and simple,” asserts Houck, the winner of the 2015 Bols Best Bartender competition and Vegas Seven’s Best Bartender, who works at Aria’s lobby bar. A native of Akron, Ohio, Houck says he moved to Las Vegas in 2006 to become a world-class flair bartender, “and then I decided what I really wanted was to become just a world-class bartender.”
Going into the final round of the competition, Houck and the other three competitors were asked to create an original cocktail to show off the Lucas Bols USA portfolio. “The only rule or philosophy I have about my cocktail creation process is to keep it simple,” Houck says. “Instead of having 20 ‘OK’ drinks on a menu, I believe it’s better to have five awesome ones.” Houck strategized that while keeping it simple might not earn him mixology points, an easy-to-make cocktail would allow him to grind out the drinks and garner the most votes. His resulting bramble-style drink, Bols You Away, showed off Bols’ malty genever, Bols maraschino and Galliano, as well as bright, sweet limoncello and tart blackberries, which play nicely with the vanilla notes of the Galliano.
Challenging Houck in the July 8 finals was Oak & Ivy’s Chris Gutierrez, who also made it to the finals last year. Gutierrez was the top scorer in Round 1, knowledge and accuracy. Along with his fellow Oak & Ivy barman Alverrie Pinto, Gutierrez and eight more of the 35 initial competitors moved on to Round 2 for speed and efficiency, where Houck dominated; he and three others progressed to the finals, where Hakkasan’s Tim Weigel won the mixology competition. But it was Houck’s sheer speed and high-volume prowess that put him over the top.
Think you’ve got what it takes to be Las Vegas’ Best Bartender? Competition founder, Anthony Pullen has some advice for next year’s crop of would-be competitors: “Know the rules, and then identify your weakness. Train, study hard and don’t take anything for granted. This competition is designed to be challenging—everyone will make mistakes. You should not be intimidated by the rounds or elements that you’re are not strong in. Use the competition as a way to better yourself as a professional.”
Bols You Away
By Nick Houck
In a cocktail shaker, combine 1½ ounces Bols genever, ¾ ounce Bols maraschino, ¾ ounce lemoncello, ¼ ounce Galliano and 4 blackberries. Add ice, cover, shake vigorously to crush the berries and strain over crushed ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with three blackberries on a rosemary pick.