Miami's talent was nationally recognized this past weekend at the most important craft spirits festival in the nation. South Beach's Sweet Liberty took the award for Best New American Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans.
John Lermayer, co-owner and winner of Miami New Times Best Bartender award in 2015, is a pioneer of the local craft renaissance that began about a decade ago. Taking his repertoire from some of the best establishments of New York to South Beach, he mentored talents behind the stick at the Delano's Florida Room (now FDR). "I love to provide leadership for young bartenders and make them the best people they can be," Lermayer says. He has succeeded at that and much more.
Last year, he teamed up with Dan Binkiewicz — the powerhouse behind Blackbird Ordinary and Purdy Lounge — and David Martinez of Michy's to open Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company. "The goal was to create the best bar we possibly could," Lermayer says. He went on to defy tradition by providing a craft cocktail bar to cater to the high-volume, fast-paced South Beach culture without sacrificing the integrity of its creations, which include a menu of classics with a twist — house-made sodas, local craft beers, and bottled cocktails. He also continues to nurture the environment for local talent to thrive in, and the winning roster includes Josue Gonzalez (formerly of Lure Fishbar), Curt Carrillo (formerly of the Edition), Tyler Kitzman (formerly of the Regent), and Chris Hopkins (Cocktail Roadshow).
The unpretentious neighborhood bar became a hit overnight, and now the team is ready to live up to their new reputation as the best bar in the nation. "I certainly recognize the caliber of the recognition," Lermayer says. "Be careful what you wish for, right? Now we have no choice but to be the best, because the world is watching!"
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But the most important aspect of this recognition is what it means for Miami. "It feels really good as a matter of civic pride to bring this home for you guys," Lermayer says. "The amount of support we are getting from Miami has been overwhelming. By the time I got back to my hotel room, I had 325 texts and 612 Facebook notifications. It's a lot! I'm happy for Miami — anything that helps us grow as an eating and drinking destination is good for all of us. I have a lot of respect for this industry, and we take a lot of pride in being ambassadors of our city."
Unfortunately, Lermayer didn't take home the award for American Bartender of the Year, but it's not something he's losing sleep over. He's proud of the team that has garnered Miami this popular award, and to him, "it's not about being better than anyone; the only bartender I want to be better than is the one I was yesterday."
Lermayer and his team don't have any plans for a homecoming celebration at Sweet Liberty, but be sure to stop by this week and congratulate them by buying them a shot and a beer.