Barista Star Turned Cocktail King: Portland’s Tyler Stevens in the Spotlight

In the regional Most Imaginative Bartender competition last week, Tyler's drink was judged on appearance, aroma, imagination, and taste.

Tyler Stevens got a taste for beverage competitions when he was a barista at Billy Wilson’s famous BARISTA coffeehouse on Northeast Alberta in Portland, Ore.—he did quite well on the circuit between 2010 and 2012. While Tyler will always keep his barista hands limber, he’s moved on to bar tending in some of the city’s most famous bars, and is already making a name for himself in the United States Bartenders’ Guild (USBG) competition arena.

Formerly a high ranking USBC competitor, and top barista at BARISTA in Portland, Tyler Stevens is now one of the city's most famous bartenders. Tyler just won the title of Most Imaginative Bartender for his region in the Bombay Sapphire -sponsored competition, and will head to Las Vegas in September to vie for the national title.

Formerly a high ranking USBC competitor, and top barista at BARISTA in Portland, Tyler Stevens is now one of the city’s most famous bartenders. Tyler just won the title of Most Imaginative Bartender for his region in the Bombay Sapphire -sponsored competition, and will head to Las Vegas in September to vie for the national title.

Just last week, Tyler—who manages Portland’s legendary Teardrop Lounge—won the Most Imaginative Bartender regional event in Portland, and will head to the USBG Most Imaginative Bartender Finals in Las Vegas on September 8, where he will battle with some of the country’s best mixologists for the title of Nation’s Most Imaginative Bartender. Oh, and guess what else? He’ll win himself a cover feature of GQ Magazine‘s Men of the Year December 2014 issue. Holy crap!]

Tyler—who manages Portland's insanely popular Teardrop Lounge—won the regional Most Imaginative Bartender competition with his creation, Camden Fog.

Tyler—who manages Portland’s insanely popular Teardrop Lounge—won the regional Most Imaginative Bartender competition with his creation, Camden Fog.

Bombay Sapphire gin sponsors the Most Imaginative Bartender competition, and Tyler used it to create his regional competition-winning beverage called Camden Fog, which combined plum berry white tea and sweet almond cream. The competition also consisted of challenging timed sessions and blind tastings with a panel of judges.

In the regional Most Imaginative Bartender competition last week, Tyler's drink was judged on appearance, aroma, imagination, and taste.

In the regional Most Imaginative Bartender competition last week, Tyler’s drink was judged on appearance, aroma, imagination, and taste.

“It’s an absolute honor to have the opportunity to be nationally recognized in my field. To be able to compete alongside some of the most talented bartenders across the nation is something very few will have a chance to do, and I’m looking forward to seeing how far I can go against the best of the best,” Tyler said in a press release. “There’s so much emerging talent in the bartending field around the country, and the USBG and Bombay Sapphire are really doing a great service by bringing the craft of bartenders to the forefront.  I’ve worked harder than you can imagine to get where I am and I’m ecstatic to have this opportunity.  I’ll be bringing my A game!”

The winner of the Nation’s Most Imaginative Bartender competition in Las Vegas will represent the United States in 2015 at the Global Finals.

Having known Tyler for years and watched him succeed on the barista competition stage, I was curious to talk to him about how his experience in coffee contests contributed to his success on the bartending stage.

Sarah Allen: How did your experience in barista competitions contribute to your success in bar tending competitions?

Tyler Stevens: It contributed tremendously. Working for Billy Wilson at the time, the expectations were very clear: practice, practice, practice, then practice some more. That was ingrained in me from the very beginning. Unfortunately, I never had the pleasure of taking home the gold in a barista competition, but I think that’s what shaped me and forced me to re-evaluate how I approach competitions. To be completely honest, it’s the level of intense training and day-to-day consistency that makes any professional a great competitor. Every barista can look back at their first competition and remember trying to pour an intricate, symmetrical rosetta on stage while their hands are shaking violently from nerves. You might as well be Jane Jetson wearing a vibrating belt. This is why it’s so important to have sound training and experience in your craft before you compete so all these little details and technique will just become second nature. That’s when you start to have a lot of fun on stage. 

Tyler made it all the way to the semifinal round of the United States Barista Championship in 2011 and 2012.

Tyler made it all the way to the semifinal round of the United States Barista Championship in 2011 and 2012.

Sarah: What are unique challenges of bartending competitions?

Tyler: It’s just a different animal entirely. On one hand, pulling a perfect espresso is like trying to shoot down a hummingbird with a bow and arrow while riding a kicking bull. There are just so many variables in coffee that desperately want to fight against you in a competition. In bartending, all your ingredients are stable. Now, you get to focus on drink creativity and showing your judging panel a good time. That is what the Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginative Bartender competition is all about. It gives bartenders the opportunity to be creative with their cocktails and showcase some of their most beautiful, out-of-the-box thinking. I had a great time serving my judges, and the crowd at the Portland regional, because it was just like a Thursday night at the Teardrop Lounge. The stakes are always high at Teardrop, so it didn’t feel much different.

Sarah: What’s your track record in bartending competitions?

Tyler: I made the finals in the Merlet Cognac competition in July. I didn’t get the win but I got to sweat it out at the Tales of The Cocktail event in New Orleans. 

Sarah: Ever play around with coffee cocktails?

Tyler: I have a variation of the drink I made at the United States Barista Competition in 2012. It has cold brew, fig/balsamic gastrique, kirschwasser cream and Bombay Sapphire Gin. I love the versatility in Bombay Sapphire Gin, those floral and citrus qualities play especially well with coffee. Coffee seems to have a unique way of complimenting and bringing out the more whimsical flavors in the gin such as coriander, orris root, and lemon peel.

Thanks, Tyler, and congratulations from all of us in your coffee family! And best of luck in Las Vegas!

About the Author

Sarah

Sarah Allen is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.