Freelance Food & Drinks Writer

The Church of Mark

Congrats to Mark Church of Grünauer for topping this year’s Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition. He stirred up The Refined Austrian Cocktail, using Austrian gin and brandy,Kirsch liqueur and homemade aromatic bitters, garnished with a grilled orange slice. I know it was delicious, thanks to the competition’s new tasting room. He must have also done a bang-up job with his challenge cocktail, the Blood and Sand (made with Scotch whisky, cherry liqueur, sweet vermouth and orange juice). And he happens to be a heck of a bartender, courteous, informative and welcoming, to judge by a recent visit to the Wunderbar.

Next in line was Chris Conatser of Justus Drugstore in Smithville, who won the event in 2008 and placed third in 2009. Conatser served up a Tit for Tat concocted by infusing gin with wild carrot tops (Queen Anne’s Lace seedheads) and calamus root, and then mixing it with simple syrup, lemon juice, pear eau de vie and celery bitters. The results were garnished with a fresh sprig of Queen Anne’s Lace, which isn’t easy to find this time of year, and a bruised juniper sprig. Third place went to TJ Vytlacil of Franco Restaurant in St. Louis and his Silver and Sand: Scotch whiskey infused with lemon and ginger, Cherry Heering, lemon juice, Lillet Rouge, lemon bitters and an egg white with a lemon twist for garnish. Anthony Beyer of Benton’s Prime in KCMO was named Fan Favorite, thanks to a landslide of text votes. He created the El Remolino, using ancho and cinnamon infused tequila, Licor 43, agave and rice milk syrup, lime juice, egg white and chocolate bitters.

It wasn’t just about the drinks onstage, though. Judges compared the cocktails they were served with the batches offered to the rest of us; required the dozen finalists to make a surprise classic cocktail and quizzed them on bar esoterica like the four main grape varietals used in making Peruvian pisco, the four sub-species of agave and the mash bill for Tennessee rye whiskey. All this amid a party atmosphere, with competing fan contingents cheering for Van Zarr of bluestem (waving blue cardboard vans and wearing “Van-zilla” t-shirts) and Anthony Beyer (sporting blue Team Tony pins and shirts passed out by his mother). It had all the other essential party elements, too—food from local restaurants, samples from sponsors like Boulevard Brewery, SodaVie, Original Juan and The Roasterie and amazing Russian-ska-accordion music by a band whose name I didn’t catch.

But the main event was onstage, and it was well worth settling in to watch. The above headline? Swiped from the always entertaining emcee Missy Koonce. Kudos to the Kansas City Bartenders Alliance for pulling it off, and to Church for winning it.

Winner Mark Church of Grünauer (center) with competition co-founders Ryan Maybee (left) and Doug Frost (right)
A toast to the finalists