Twenty five years after she poured her first drink behind a bar, Monica Schepsis took home her first mixologist trophy.
The veteran bartender, who has worked at the Ritz-Carlton for the last 14 years, beat out four other bartenders over three rounds and came up with an original drink to win the inaugural Clayton Cocktail Cup Thursday night at Two Twelve in Clayton.
A fresh peach puree mixed with fresh ginger, pureed honey and bourbon topped off with candied ginger were key ingredients in Schepsis’ drink, a cocktail she concocted hours before the event. With it, she bested a field of five of the best bartenders from around St. Louis to win the introductory contest, hosted by the Clayton Chamber of Commerce.
“I kind of work well under pressure,” Schepsis said. “I’ve had a lot of help from some amazing supervisors and co-workers to come up with that drink on the fly and I’m kind of just beside myself right now. Can’t believe I won.”
Not much could top her win in Clayton, where Schepsis had five minutes to make her drink then tell a panel of three judges — Nathan Kromat of Major Brands, Danyelle Little, a food blogger, and Allyson Mace of Sauce Magazine — the story behind it. She also offered up samples to the more than 100 people in attendance at the new apartment complex high-rise at 212 S. Meremac in downtown Clayton.
“The only thingI had going for me with this type of event is that I help create the menu at the Ritz, so I do have that experience coming up with new cocktails on a regular basis,” Schepsis said. “It apparently helped a lot.”
Schepsis said she took the last two weeks to prepare for the event, her first, despite nearly three decades behind a bar, where she’s found her passion.
“It’s just kind of came naturally,” Schepsis said. “I got a real job after college but decided it just wasn’t for me. So I went back to the bar and I’ve been at the Ritz-Carlton ever since.”
The first round instructed competitors to make their signature rye drink with Hudson Rye. Schepsis went with her go-to, a fall-inspired drink made with blueberry cheesecake viola flowers called the Frontier — a favorite at the Ritz .
“I created it a couple years back and went with it because people seem to really like it,” Schepsis said.
So did the judges, who also gave her him marks in the second round, where she used Hendrick’s Gin — a required ingredient and one of Schepsis’ favorites — mixed with cucumber, lime and mint.
Schepsis beat Karl Schmitz of Barcelona Tapas Bar, Gabby Harrison of Barrister’s in Clayton, and Kyle Snyder of Cafe Napoli in the first two rounds, then took on Nick Whren of Weber Grill head-to-head to claim her new shiny, glass trophy.
The idea for the Clayton Cocktail Cup came from Ellen Gale, Executive Director at the Clayton Chamber of Commerce.
“The Chamber does about 50 events and programs a year and I was trying to think of something new and different,” Gale said. “I know that people are really interested in their mixologists. It’s a big deal, we have a lot of great restaurants in Clayton and we wanted to highlight them.”
Gale said Schepsis will have her name engraved on the traveling trophy, which will stay at the Ritz-Carlton until she defends her title at next year’s competition.
“We’re always looking for fun and different things to do,” Gale said. “I think people wanted to come out and highlight the talent that’s here in our city and we’re going to keep it going.”