Carlos Ruiz Returns to Iron Shaker, Wins Competition

The annual Iron Shaker cocktail competition, held at the House of Independents in Asbury Park, was a spirited affair.

Carlos Ruiz of Somos in North Arlington takes top prize at Iron Shaker 2018.
Carlos Ruiz of Somos in North Arlington takes top prize at Iron Shaker 2018.
Photo by James Connolly

Last night, finalists from eight different bars around the state gathered at the House of Independents in Asbury Park to compete in the sixth annual Iron Shaker cocktail competition. The top bartenders competed in four themed rounds: dive bar, speakeasy, and tiki, plus a cocktail that showcased their own restaurant.

Event announcer Steve Fette, the Iron Shaker 2016 winner and now development specialist for Allied Beverage Group, kicked off the evening with an exciting announcement: “We’re drinking cocktails tonight, but we’re drinking for a cause.” For the first time this year, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey and Fulfill hosted Iron Shaker as a charity event, and all proceeds from ticket sales were donated to help feed hungry families.

Two former competitors returned this year to fight for another chance at the grand prize: Carlos Ruiz of Somos in North Arlington (set to open in late October), who took second place in the 2016 and 2015 competitions; and Bobby Frascella of Summit House in Summit, who placed second in last year’s Iron Shaker. “I’m back to win it,” said Fuego during the first round.

Other competitors shared a similar spirited camaraderie. Colin Dietz and Brittan Binder of Tapastre in Somerville were up against Max Stephenson, bartender from Project P.U.B., their sister restaurant. “It’s like trying to beat your little brother,” said Dietz.

Ruiz and Frascella took an early lead, tied in first place after the first round, in which they both presented their dive bar-themed cocktails to the judges in beer cans. They remained neck-in-neck throughout the competition, but in the end, Ruiz prevailed and was crowned the 2018 Iron Shaker winner. Frascella placed second, and Caine Czerula from Montclair Social Club took third.

“It feels fantastic,” said Ruiz, trophy in hand. “It only took three years.” He hopes his Iron Shaker win will help generate momentum for Somos’s opening later this month.

The cocktail he credits for his win? The Bad Bunny, his frozen tiki cocktail featuring Mezan rum, Avuá Amburana Cacacha, horchata, carrot-orange juice, lime juice and simple syrup. “It was definitely our most popular of the night,” said Ruiz. “It flew off our table.”

Event announcer and Iron Shaker 2016 winner Steve Fette poses with Iron Shaker 2018 winner Carlos Ruiz.

Event announcer and Iron Shaker 2016 winner Steve Fette poses with Iron Shaker 2018 winner Carlos Ruiz. Photo by James Connolly

Other finalists included Igor Silva of Clarks Landing in Point Pleasant; Matt Brown, Rebecca Jorgensen and Andrew Hurst of the Crosby in Montclair; and Rachel Shields of Stage Left in New Brunswick.

The competition’s judges were Vince Comunale, wine and beverage manager for Harvest Restaurant Group; Vanessa Hernandez of Best Foods NJ; Beth Ritter Nydick, co-author of Clean Cocktails; Tim Paul of Silk City Distillers; and NJM managing editor Deborah Carter. The judges scored the drinks based on difficulty, presentation and taste. Attendees got to sample tastes of each drink, too, and voted for their favorite cocktail in each round.

Brand sponsors of this year’s competition were St. George Spirits, Bedlam Vodka, Mezan Rum, Avuá Cachaca, Prairie Gin, Tres Agaves Tequila, Gracias a Dios Mezcal, Laird’s Applejack, Koval Distillery, Bluebird Distilling, Sagamore Spirit, Wild Sardinia Vermouth, Amaro Montenegro and Dashfire Bitters. Other sponsors included the USBG of New Jersey and the Somerville-based Cheech’s Own Cold Brew. The event was presented by Allied Beverage Group and New Jersey Monthly was the exclusive media sponsor.

Look for the four-page feature in New Jersey Monthly’s December issue for more details about Ruiz’s winning concoction and the event’s highlights.

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