Anatomy of A Flair Competition

Legends of Bartending 2009 - Rodrigo Delpech

When I first started going to competitions, the excitement was overwhelming, but most importantly I really wanted to know what was going on. How were bartenders being judged? What determined who won first place? Is there a difference between two different competitions’ rules? This post should give you an idea of how the judges determine who wins first place, and who goes back to their garage for more practice.

Above all, it’s important to know which organization, or group of people are planning the competition. This determines the set of rules and format the competition will follow. In this post, we’ll outline two different organizing bodies and how they each judge various flair competitions. NOTE: These are not the only groups that promote and judge flair competitions, but they are the most popular and accepted on the competitive circuit.

Flair Bartending Association (FBA)
Following the FBA’s standardized rules, there are three divisions a bartender can enter to compete. Those effectively are Amateur, Advanced and Professional.

Amateur – A flair bartender who has never competed, or has been competing for less than a year. It is expected that once a bartender places in the top three of any Amateur division, they move up to the Advanced division.

Advanced – A flair bartender who has been competing for over a year. It is expected that once a bartender places in the top three of any Advanced division, they move up to the Professional division. Some prize money can be awarded at this level, but it is minimal and depends on the competition.

Professional – A flair bartender who has been competing for many years and shows exceptional scoring abilities when competing against all other bartenders in the industry. This is the division where the majority of the large prize money is earned.

FBA Judging Criteria
1. Difficulty – The degree measuring how hard a bartender’s moves are to perform. A bartender’s routine is measured as a whole for difficulty, therefore, only moves that are successful will be taken into account. For example, if a bartender attempts a trick, doesn’t complete it, and doesn’t attempt it again, the trick will not count toward the bartender’s overall difficulty score. Difficulty can come in several forms. It can be seen in one individual move, the combination of a series of moves, or even the way a bartender incorporates music with their routine. Coordinating a routine on cue, or on beat, with the music demonstrates a higher level of difficulty.

2. Originality – Judges measure a bartender’s ability to perform with fresh moves and a truly creative performance. Bartenders are awarded more points for original moves and routines that have never been seen before.

3. Balance – Refers to the way a competitor organizes their routine using the specific requirements for that competition combined with their own style and creative moves. For example, if a bartender performs for five minutes and four of it is spent on one particular style, such as using one bottle and one tin, while the remaining minute is used only to finish their required drinks, this would not be considered good “balance.”

4. Execution – Refers mainly to the bartender’s control over their entire routine. This includes bottles, tins, tools and/or tricks they attempt. Judges may consider the following questions when evaluating this category: Is the bartender demonstrating good overall bartending skills? Does a bartender successfully complete his/her stalls when intended? Is the bartender performing good flair pours and cuts? Does the bartender step back and flip bottles, then walk up to the bar and make a normal pour? By the way, all bottles should be flipped into pours.

5. Smoothness – In the basic sense is the bartender’s ability to make his/her routine look easy. To score well in this category, the bartender’s “flow,” or sequence of moves should look uniform and polished. Flair moves should blend together and not have breaks or readjustments. If a bartender drops many items they’re working with (i.e. bottles, tins, strainers, openers, etc) they lose points in smoothness.

6. Variety – Is the number of different types of moves performed and the different types of objects (strainers, muddlers, glassware, ice scoop, etc) flair bartenders use to complete moves during a routine. Obviously, the more objects used and the different styles of flair performed results in a higher overall Variety score. If the bartender is repetitive, they will score lower.

7. Overall Entertainment – In this category, flair bartenders are judged on their interaction with the crowd, choreography with the music, and their ability to break the imaginary wall between themselves and the crowd. To score well, the flair bartender’s routine should match the style of music and, above all, their energy should be high.

8. Showmanship – Refers to the flair bartender’s demeanor, or attitude, behind the bar. The flair bartender should be confident and in command of their tools and the stage. The competitor should not seem flustered by mistakes and should be able to keep a smooth flow to their routine, even if they drop something.

Now that you have a good idea of the categories in which flair bartenders are judged, let’s take a look at the different rounds offered at various FBA competitions. Not all rounds are offered at every competition. In fact, most competitions feature only two or three of the rounds described below. Check the rules and regulations for each competition to know what exactly will be taking place at that event.

FBA Competitive Rounds

Flair Round – This includes two sub-categories: Exhibition Flair and Working Flair.

Exhibition Flair is the classic idea of flair bartending, the performance aspect. Exhibition flair is flair performed for entertainment and competition purposes and generally involves longer, choreographed routines, usually without liquid in the bottle(s). It is a style of flair that generally does not lend itself to every day bar shifts. However, there are a growing number of flair bars around the world that showcase exhibition flair as part of their operation’s entertainment. Exhibition flair often involves multi-object flair including 2,3,4 and 5 bottle/tin tricks and routines. Exhibition flair can involve moves and routines performed while not in the drink making process. Working Flair is the opposite of Exhibition Flair and refers to the moves that are used with bottles containing liquid combined with moves that contribute to the drink making process. Working flair is the type of flair the FBA encourages on day-to-day bar shifts: quick, light, and realistic moves that can be performed without slowing service. Most working flair involves glassware, one bottle, bottle and tin, garnish, or occasionally, two bottle moves. This sub-category of flair is always performed while making a cocktail or drink.

Speed Round – Some competitions offer a speed round where bartenders are challenged with making six random drinks in the shortest amount of time possible. Drinks are announced over a microphone just before the bartender begins their round, which is closely timed and watched by the judging panel. The speed round is not won usually on making the fastest time, but instead won with the bartender who has the fewest deductions. Deductions can happen when improper amounts are poured, wrong ingredients are used, drops, breaks, spills, etc. The speed round can be very exciting to watch, especially as competitors get close to beating the best time for that day.

Specialty Round – This round is currently only offered at the Legends of Bartending competition. It is the “fun and crazy” round where flair competitors are allowed to create a full-blown theatre-style routine using extravagant props, outlandish costumes and crazy choreography. Bartenders such as Dario Doimo have been known to dress up as Spiderman and jump onto the stage with silly string shooting from his hands. Other bartenders have worn masks, wigs and extravagant makeup while flipping bottles, tins and other items on the bar. Scoring is mainly based on overall creativity and the entertainment value.

Pour Test Round – Refers to the competitive round where bartenders are challenged with pouring approximately 10 drinks consecutively. While this round isn’t timed, it is mainly judged on accuracy, and competitors use water instead of alcohol or mixers. Using an Exact-O-Pour, a popular industry tool to measure the proper amount of liquid that goes into a drink, the bartenders carefully pour the assigned amounts in each glass. Deductions can include spills, drops and inaccurate amounts in each glass. Amounts are measured down to the hundredth of an ounce. This can be one of the most nerve wracking rounds at a competition due to the sheer concentration it takes for a bartender to complete.

Tandem Round – When two bartenders perform together in an organized, and often synchronized routine to music. Much like the Flair round, bartenders are judged on the FBA’s standardized criteria. However, adding a second bartender to the mix with twice as many objects not only adds to the difficulty, but is a true crowd pleaser with its entertainment value.

World Flair Association (WFA)
The WFA is a much newer organization, and is a little different in the fact that they don’t have divisions. All bartenders compete against everyone else no matter the level of skill. Most of the WFA competitions are held in Europe, and has become widely known there. In addition, all competitions are judged on only two categories: Flair and Entertainment. There are four sub-sections in both categories with a combined total of 300 points at any competition, each of which are described below.

Flair (200 points – 50 points per sub section)
1. Variety – To score well in this section competitors should flair everything they touch. For example, if they pick up their juice container and only pour it, they will be scored on this as a missed opportunity to flair. A wide variety of moves is also encouraged: Flash, grabs, pours, bumps, rolls, stalls, etc.

2. Creativity – To score highly in this category, bartenders must exhibit their own style, moves and choreography throughout their routine. This is not just about the moves, it also takes into consideration the presentation of the routine, the music and how creative a bartender is when he/she performs.

3. Difficulty – Judges look for difficult moves and skillful sequences. Linking together multiple bumps, rolls, taps, reverse catches, etc can help a bartender score points.

4. Smoothness – Some of the questions the WFA judges will ask before scoring a bartender are: Did the bartender have a set routine, or were they just making it up as they went along? If the bartender dropped did they recover or did they let it affect their performance? Judges want to see a routine that is well-balanced and smooth.

Entertainment (100 points –  25 points per sub section)
1. Balance – Refers to the criteria of a routine being weighted correctly. WFA judges look for a well thought out performance and not something that is poorly planned.

2. Showmanship – Flair is all about entertaining people. Bartenders are putting on a show for the people that are in the venue, so judges want to see the competitor interact with them. One tip: A smile can make a big difference.

3. Music Interaction – WFA judges look for moves being in sync with the music, a bartender’s interaction with the lyrics and choreography.

4. Composure – Is a bartender calm and relaxed on stage? Do they land all moves with confidence, and recover well from any drops or mistakes? To score well in composure, a bartender must posses these abilities.

Deductions can happen in any category listed above. We briefly describe the possible point deductions below. These are specific to the WFA only.

1. Drop (-3 points) – A drop is when a bartender is flairing an object, loses control and the object falls to the floor or onto the bar. Drops do not count with a beverage napkins, straw, garnish or ice. If a bartender is flairing three bottles and they drop two of them, then it is effectively counted as two drops.

2. Spill (-2 points) – is when a bartender loses control of a pour into a glass, or drops a tin or bottle holding liquid and the liquid falls outside of its container. Generally two judges count spills and the average is taken from their results.

3. Break (-10 points) – Whenever a glass object is smashed (either in mid-air or on the floor), this deduction is applied.

4. Misc (-5 points) – May include a missing ingredient, a wrong ingredient and/or wrong procedure. Some items judges watch for include the correct procedures when bartenders use beverage napkins, straws, garnishes and proper amounts of ice.

5. Missing Drink (-40 points) – Quite simply, if a bartender doesn’t have the two drinks on the bar by the end of their routine, then it is considered missing. If the bartender has a glass on the bar with ice, but no alcohol or mixer then that is also considered a missing drink. If a drink is considered as missing the competitor is not then deducted for the missing ingredients as well.

Whew! That was a long post…but the next time you’re at a flair competition, now you’ll know more about what you’ll be watching and experiencing. Always remember to applaud and cheer for every bartender during, and after their round. It not only takes dedicated flair practice, but a large amount of courage to get up on that stage to compete.


One Response

  1. […] Anatomy of a Flair Competition – One of our more lengthy posts and certainly more technical, this article gives the judging perspectives of the two most popular organizing bodies of flair competitions worldwide – the Flair Bartending Association (FBA) and the World Flair Association (WFA). This is a must-read for any flair bartending fan or new competitor! […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: