Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer, and Food Festival
November 21-23, 2019
Buy Tickets

Stepping Up Your Bartending Game – by Zac Williams, six-one-six at JW Marriott Grand Rapids

Stepping Up Your Bartending Game – by Zac Williams, six-one-six at JW Marriott Grand Rapids

The cocktail boom in Grand Rapids has inspired me to get extremely competitive with my bartending career. I take it seriously, if I didn’t we would be just another hotel bar.The cocktail boom in Grand Rapids has inspired me to get extremely competitive with my bartending career. I take it seriously, if I didn’t we would be just another hotel bar.

My goal is to make cocktails that make us stand out, and deliver an experience like no other with each sip. The competition is thick, and there are a lot of brilliant bartenders in this city with the same mission as me. So, to perfect my craft I like to enter every bar competition that I can. These competitions not only teach me more about my craft, but also how to create and present award-winning cocktails in the most professional manner possible.

In order to even be considered as competitor you need to know every minor detail about your product.

The ins and outs of why you are combining ingredients, mixing flavor profiles, and using proper technique while doing so. A story is always helpful. I like to dig deep into the process of how spirits are made, where they come from and the people that make them. These details give the inspiration for my drink’s name and how I create it. Then, when the time comes to present, I have a nice little unique story to share with judges.

Much like being behind the bar, a competition is a show. You are there to impress and wow people. It is imperative to practice your routine several times before the actual event. I like to set up my tools precisely so I know where to grab everything without having to look. Organization is key! It is important to set up your ingredients in the order that you put them in the drink, doing this will help you remember where you are at in the process if you happen to forget under pressure. Know ahead of time that there will be a little bit of nerves, I like to combat this with having the most fun possible while delivering my presentation. Bartending is fun, don’t forget that!

Always try being as original as possible. Take notes along the way. Trying new things is the best favor you can do for yourself. Bartending isn’t just about making drinks. It is noticing the little things, and using them to make you stronger.  I can’t express enough the importance of wanting to learn more things, you can never know too much!  I have spent the last thirteen years working behind bars, and I never stop being interested in new ways to better my knowledge.

See Zac in action during each of the six.one.six Pairings during the 10th Annual Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival (Nov. 16-18) at DeVos Place.

During each pairing, Zac will mix up a series of creative infusions and cocktails in a competitive fashion, to be paired with this menu:

  • Compressed watermelon, micro basil, feta powder, balsamic pipette
  • Frisee, pickled red onion, toasted pine nuts, strawberry, shaved Manchego, honey truffle vinaigrette
  • Pressed ox tail, sweet potato puree, chicharron, natural jus
  • Almond frangipane, vanilla spiced poached pears, candied almonds

Seatings are offered based on this schedule:
Thursday:  6pm, 8pmFriday:  6:30pm, 8:30pmSaturday:  4pm, 6pm, 8pm
For reservations: https://showspan.com/GRW/pairings

Zac Williams is Lead Bartender and Restaurant Supervisor at six.one.six inside the award-winning JW Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids. He has been bartending for 13 years, spending the last seven shaping the cocktail program at the JW’s Mixology lounge. He is also active with the U.S. Bartenders Guild Grand Rapids Chapter, currently serving as its events chair.

Note: November 8-19 is Cocktail Week Grand Rapids, culminating with the 10th Annual Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival (November 16-18).