We sat down with Haley Traub of NYC’s Attaboy to chat about her work, Speed Rack, and her cocktail for May’s Girls Just Wanna Have Bourbon Box, the Matriarch Martini!
S&S: How does one train or prepare for Speed Rack?
HT: While everyone’s process is different, it ultimately comes down to practice, practice, practice. The approximately 80 cocktails that Speed Rack competitors are required to know are classics and modern variations of them. When I competed in the Tri-State regional of season 7, I was working at a cocktail bar called Dutch Kills in Long Island City that focuses on Prohibition-era classic cocktails, so I had a serious leg up in that my busiest shifts were spent making the cocktails I would be asked to make during Speed Rack.
S&S: Any stand-out stories or moments from your time in competition?
HT: After winning the Tri-State regional in season 7, I moved on to the national finals in Chicago. I’m from the Midwest originally and the majority of my family still lives there, so my mom, aunt, and grandmother were able to attend the finals. My grandmother is three-time breast cancer survivor and she was standing front row cheering me on—while everyone around her made sure she always had a drink, a water, or a chair! Being able to hug the strongest women in my life immediately after winning Speed Rack nationals was one of the most special and memorable experiences of my career.
S&S: Is there an inspiration behind your Speed Rack journey?
HT: While I’d been following Speed Rack since its early years, it wasn’t until season 7 that I made the decision to apply to compete myself. I’d been attending their events in New York for years and was in awe of all of the women that competed, as well as the energy and support the hospitality community brought to the competition and cause, but knew I didn’t want to compete until I felt 110% confident in myself as a bartender. By the time season 7 rolled around, I was in a place in my career where I was ready for a new challenge, and the time felt right to apply to compete in Speed Rack. My mom was one of the few people who I told that I had applied, because she’s always understood and supported the need to push and challenge yourself to become the best you can be.
S&S: What did you learn about the industry at large as you traveled and participated in the events?
HT: That the support of this industry is unwavering! Being a part of Speed Rack introduced me to so many people, both competitors and fans, that I’ve been lucky to keep as friends and mentors. Sure, Speed Rack is a competition and everyone wants to win—but even if you don’t, you walk away from it with an entirely new support system behind you.
S&S: Your Matriarch Martini was fittingly developed with your own mother in mind. How did that inspiration translate to the cocktail?
HT: I’m not even entirely sure why, but when I was approached to make a cocktail for the box, I immediately thought of the dessert my mom would always make when I was a kid, a Black Forest trifle. It was layers of cut-up Entenmann’s chocolate pound cake, delicious gooey canned cherries, and extra thick layers of homemade whipped cream—a true delicacy of the Midwest in the ’90s! The nostalgia of those flavors—chocolate, cherry, and vanilla—were a perfect fit for a cocktail with bourbon, and since I was already focusing on an indulgent dessert, it only made sense to round the drink out by mashing it up with my ultimate guilty pleasure cocktail, the espresso martini.
S&S: What does your recipe formulation process typically look like? Would you say you have a particular style?
HT: I am a firm believer in the formulas of classic cocktails through and through. They provide a proven, reliable format to work off of—whether you’re tinkering with an idea of an old fashioned, martini, sour, etc., the classics are always the starting point for me. From there I always love to play around with flavors that you wouldn’t typically pair together and find a way to make them sing.
S&S: What types of flavors or ingredients do you generally reach for to pair with bourbon?
HT: I have a weakness for old fashioned riffs, so I really enjoy pairing different amari with bourbon in place of the traditional bitters. But at the end of the day, there are so many fun, beautiful, different bourbons these days that there’s truly no limit to what you can pair with them.
S&S: The Matriarch Martini has a connection to the classic cocktail but is obviously so much more. What is your preferred martini when keeping it more traditional?
HT: While the espresso martini is my ultimate guilty pleasure cocktail—I’ve many a fond memory of nights out in Paris and London spent drinking them one after another—the classic cocktail lover in me always gravitates towards a 2:1 London Dry martini with a twist.
S&S: What’s the weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted?
HT: There have certainly been some weird/questionable cocktails I’ve tried over the years, but most recently on a slow night at the bar I challenged myself to recreate the Starburst flavors in cocktail form. Yellow came out spot-on: a gin sour with vanilla liqueur, shaken with a lemon twist. A perfect reminder that not all cocktails have to be highbrow.
S&S: How about the best drink you’ve ever had?
HT: This is always such a tough question for me, because I’ve had so many vastly different and wonderful drinks over the years! One particularly memorable one that I have every time I return to the bar is the Champagne Pina Colada at Coupette in London. I’m a sucker for anything with coconut, plus when you add the bubbles, there’s just no turning back.