The Story Behind Rematch, the Adrenaline-Packed Bartending Competition

Bartender George Carney in Rematch speed bartending competition
Bartender George Carney in the height of Rematch competition mode. Photo by Gabi Porter via Instagram.

There are very few rules for Rematch, the speed cocktail competition started in 2006 in London by bartenders Timothy Stones and Paul Mant. The goal is to find out who can make ten drinks the fastest, with a lot of trash-talking mixed in for good measure. “It’s almost like a bartender Fight Club,” says frequent host Giuseppe Gonzalez, owner of New York City’s Suffolk Arms.

The origin story, according to Gonzalez, is that Stones and Mant, as tiki guys, had an old-fashioned rivalry that they decided to live out in a competition. “The first-ever Rematch was these two guys going against each other,” he says, but the winner was hazily determined, resulting in — you guessed it — a rematch. That’s when they opened it up to everyone, making it something Gonzalez describes as “beautiful” for its total independence from brands. “Every bartender has to pay their own way to get in,” he notes. “Every venue has to basically give up their space.”

Gonzalez was instrumental in the first global Rematch, which went down in 2012 and just had its second edition on September 6 of this year in cities across the world, including Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Paris, London, Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Austin, and San Juan. He hosted the first one in the U.S. at New York City’s Painkiller, “and has been semi-responsible for every one of them ever since,” he says.

Bobby Hiddleston, co-owner of a forthcoming London bar in the old LAB space, won that first global Rematch in 2012 with a then-record time of 1 minute, 29 seconds (including a five-second penalty). His secret? The choreography is “basically written down,” which Gonzales notes is a pretty key strategy. Hiddleston explains his method as, “I work out what I need to do with my left and right hand at any one point, and try to minimize the movements—work left to right and right to left and left to right rather than just kind of staggered all over the place.”

He competed again in this latest global Rematch, citing it as unique for its lawlessness. “There's so much artiness, so much pretension in cocktail competitions these days,” he says. “And this is basically the antithesis of that. It's ‘let's just have good fun and enjoy ourselves.’” On September 6, though, Dean Callan — global brand ambassador for Monkey Shoulder Scotch — became the new Global Rematch champion and beat Hiddleston’s record with a time of 1:24.

All that good fun amounts to some crazy sights as everyone competes to go faster and faster. “I've seen rounds where guys have eight bottles in their hands and they're making one drink, just to get, you know, daiquiris,” Gonzalez recalls with audible awe. “Imagine a daiquiri with four bottles of rum in one hand, two bottles of lime and two bottles of simple in the other, so they can get the pour out faster. It's a lot of creativity, man.”

That kind of behavior will probably make you worry about what the end result is like going down, but taste doesn’t count at Rematch. As Gonzalez says, “It doesn't have to be a perfect daiquiri; you’ve just got to be able to get 10 bucks for it.”

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