Sacramento bartender wins national Jägermeister cocktail competition

Baron Stelling of Paragary’s and Shady Lady savors his win in the national Star of the Bar cocktail competition, which was held Sunday, May 22 in Chicago.
Baron Stelling of Paragary’s and Shady Lady savors his win in the national Star of the Bar cocktail competition, which was held Sunday, May 22 in Chicago. Courtesy of the National Restaurant Association

A Sacramento bartender reigns as the king of the Jägermesiter cocktail.

Baron Stelling of Paragary’s and Shady Lady was crowned as the winner Sunday at the National Restaurant Association’s Star of the Bar competition in Chicago. Stelling prevailed in a field of six finalists who represented such cities as San Francisco, New York and other cocktail hot spots.

The competition was sponsored by Jägermeister, the herbaceous spirit that tastes strongly of licorice. While Jägermeister is traditionally consumed via a shot glass, the competitors were required to craft a cocktail using it as its base spirit. Stelling’s drink, “The Stag Savior,” named after the animal on its label, mixed Jägermeister with gin, lime juice, grenadine, apricot liqueur and some final dashes of absinthe and bitters.

That recipe resulted in a $5,000 winner’s check for Stelling and the lofty title “Star of the Bar.”

“I’m on top of the world,” said Stelling, who returned to Sacramento from the competition late Monday night.

Stelling had to first prevail in a San Francisco regional heat before heading to the national finals in Chicago. The setting was Twenty Five Lusk, a restaurant and bar in San Francisco’s South of Market district, where Stelling bested some of the Bay Area’s best on March 28. The two-hour competition was judged by previous Star of the Bar winners, local media and others from the cocktail industry.

Stelling developed “The Stag Savior” after sampling some Jägermeister at downtown Sacramento’s Pre Flite Lounge. He wanted to amplify some of the herbal flavor profiles inherent to this German digestif, and also highlight the spirit’s fruity undertones. The final cocktail beat eight competitors in San Francisco and earned him the trip to go head-to-head against five other regional finalists in Chicago.

“Jägermeister has 56 botanicals (as ingredients), so there’s a lot of complexity,” Stelling said about his cocktail approach. “But I also noted some subdued flavors of red berries and stone fruits. I wanted to capitalize on all those things.”

Cocktail competitions have become a staple of the alcoholic beverages industry. Along with providing a branding opportunity for its sponsor, the contests often offer significant prize purses and a prime opportunity for industry networking. For Jason Poole of Sacramento’s Preservation & Co., his runner-up showing in a national bloody mary competition sponsored by Absolut vodka helped launch his own brand of bloody mary mix.

In Chicago, Stelling was among more than 40,000 attendees of the National Restaurant Association’s annual convention, a prime spot to meet others in the hospitality industry and showcase his craft. He’s also been a regular presence at Sacramento-area cocktail competitions, and was the 2014 runner-up in Sacramento Cocktail Week’s bartender contest.

“I absolutely love competitions,” said Stelling. “It’s a great opportunity to network and show off and market your bar. (In Sacramento) it helps develop camaraderie. I get to try their drinks and support them, and it builds a sense of community.”

If you want to sample “The Stag Savior” for yourself, Paragary’s includes this winning drink on its cocktail list. Paragary’s is also hosting a welcome back party for Stelling at 5 p.m. today, where many of his drinks will make the rounds.

Chris Macias: 916-321-1253, @chris_macias