Last week, Tales of the Cocktail, the annual New Orleans celebration of spirits and the professionals who sling them, announced the nominees for its Spirited Awards. Julio Cabrera and John Lermayer were given nods for American Bartender of the Year. Additionally, Lermayer's Sweet Liberty was nominated for in Best New American Cocktail Bar category.
This week, the awards jury announced the four finalists in each category. Both Sweet Liberty and its bartender/partner, Lermayer, were shortlisted in their respective categories. This is the fourth time Lermayer has been nominated for the award and the first time he's been a finalist.
The bartender-turned-barkeep says the award is especially poignant because the judging panel consists of industry peers. "It's an honor and something we should be very proud of because the people who vote on this are the best are the best."
He says he really didn't realize exactly what being a finalist meant until his 13-year-old son gave him a little perspective. "He said, 'You're being named in the top four in something that millions of people do.' When I saw the look in his eye, that was pretty cool." Lermayer was also quick to give credit to fellow barman Cabrera. "There are people who are doing extraordinary things here. Julio Cabrera should be a finalist for what he does."
Lermayer says that winning awards for something he's done for years is still novel but pretty amazing nonetheless. "When I started bartending, the only awards were a bucket full of tip money at the end of a shift, so to witness how the industry has evolved and become so civilized and organized is amazing."
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Lermayer, who was named New Times' Best Bartender in 2015, is also proud of his bar, Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Co., which is racking up awards after being open only eight months. "We're focused on our backbone of success, which is to have a place where people can have good experiences and forget their worries and be
Whether Lermayer takes home a Spirited Award, he's sure the nods give further credence to the Miami cocktail scene in the eyes of the world. "I feel for the last ten years, I've tried to help put Miami on the map. There's a whole lot of civic pride for me, and I care about that a lot. I think we're still growing, and it's all about one bar at a time."
The bartender says Miami still has a way to go to be on par with Chicago, New York City, or London, but a key factor is the Magic City's ever-growing culinary scene. "The real positive sign is the emergence of Miami chefs. Great cocktails always follow great food. Chefs like Brad Kilgore and Giorgio Rapicavoli are doing things on a national scale, and that helps us a lot. We're growing a connection between the bartender community and the chef community and, as that happens, you're going to see our entire city push forward on an entire epicurean level."