Albuquerque Bartender named "The last slinger standing" in national bartending competition

by brenda paiz


An Albuquerque woman has taken home the coveted title of “The Last Slinger Standing,” at the national bartending competition in  Phoenix, AZ. The annual competition features a head to head “iron chef-style” cocktail battle, pairing 16 of the nation's top bartenders to find the best of the best. Carla Gilfillan, who has been in the industry for about ten years, was crowned “The Last Slinger Standing” at the 2017 competition in mid February.

Originally from Raleigh, NC., Gilfillan moved here after falling in love with the state of New Mexico while visiting friends.  As a self-taught bartender who has been working at Hotel Albuquerque, it wasn't until recently that she decided to add competitive bartending to her resume. “I got involved in competitive bartending very recently, in large part because I joined the US Bartenders' Guild and a lot of my friends and fellow bartenders encouraged me to compete,” she says. “I realized competitive bartending was a way for me to stay motivated and continue to excel in the craft. And it's just a lot of fun!”

So what exactly is professional and competitive bartending? Well, to start, it's more than just pouring shots and beer, says Gilfillan. It’s the understanding of a craft that's been around for hundred of years; concocting the perfect blend of flavor and spirits, and having the ability to not only perfect traditional drinks that have been around for years but to come up with new and innovative drinks as well. “Beverage is my passion and I’ve read everything I can get my hands on, studied flavor and watched the technique of the bartenders I respect,” says Gilfillan.  

As far as the competitive aspect of it, Gilfillan says there is more pressure than a regular bar setting. “You have a whole room full of people watching your every move, and there are cameras in your face. The hospitality aspect (taking care of the guest) is taken out of the equation, and it's just you and the drinks. When you're bartending, you have to be aware of everything all the time and train yourself to do that, but to be successful at competing, you have to do the opposite, and focus solely on the drinks,” she explains.  “As someone who truly loves drinks, I enjoy that.”

In the weeks leading up to the competition, Gilfillan says practice sessions with other team members were imperative for the preparation of the competition. From throwing curveballs at one another with ingredient challenges to enlisting friends to heckle as she competed, nothing was off limits during training. And all her hard work paid off as she was crowned “The Last Slinger Standing,” a feeling she describes as one of the best ever. “To work so hard for something and want it so badly, and then achieve it—that's the best feeling in life,” she says.

In addition to being named “The Last Slinger Standing,” Gilfillan also walked away with a $1500 cash prize, “bar swag” and a $500 donation to her USBG chapter. Wasting no time, she has already begun training for her next competition that will take place March 26th in Denver.

To check out the “Last Slinger Standing” trophy, or to have a drink concocted by an award winning bartender, visit Carla at Hotel Albuquerque. Best of luck from ABQ-Live on your future competitions, we will be rooting for you!


Published March 2017, ABQ-Live