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On his way to the Cocktail World Cup

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Posted: Monday, September 1, 2008 10:00 pm

Have you ever tried to pour a cocktail for accuracy five minutes after completing a bungee jump? Joel Baker will.

Baker, who grew up in Lodi, is headed to New Zealand next week to compete in the Cocktail World Cup involving 45 bartenders from around the world.

The Cocktail World Cup, sponsored by 42Below Vodka made in New Zealand, involves what promoters describe as "cocktails and mixology taken out of the bar, challenging bartenders to create cocktails out of their comfort zones in the wild outdoors."

And that includes trying to pour for accuracy five minutes after completing a bungee jump. And making a cocktail within five minutes after getting out of a power boat.

Baker, 30, qualified for the Cocktail World Cup through a competition in San Francisco, his adopted home where he's made a name for himself in the bartending business.

After qualifying by submitting a recipe online, Baker participated in a competition at the Cafe Dunord in San Francisco, where bartenders took turns making drinks. Judges included a local spirit blogger, the president of the United States Bartenders Guild and a representative from 42Below Vodka.

Baker became the champion among all bartenders in San Francisco, which qualified him for the Cocktail World Cup in Queenstown, New Zealand. He is part of a West Coast team with the champions from Southern California and Seattle. Fifteen teams will compete.

Baker says he has never bungee jumped before, although he used to skydive at Lodi Airport. His sister, Jamie Baker, predicts that the bungee jump won't be a problem, but she wonder's how accurate his pouring will be.

Baker attended Reese Elementary and St. Anne's school in Lodi before attending St. Mary's High in Stockton.

Three of Joel Baker's favorite drinks

An Aperol Sour. (Brian Feulner/News-Sentinel)

Aperol sour

  • 2 ounces of aperol
  • 1 ounce of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 ounce of simple spirit (1 ounce of sugar and hot water)
  • Egg whites to create the frothy texture at the top. Egg whites were very popular during the Prohibition era.


  • 2 ounces of cachata (Brazilian spirit distilled from sugar cane)
  • 3/4 ounce of honey
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 8 to 10 blueberries
  • 8 to 10 pieces of tarragon (herb with slight black licorice flavor)
    Grind up the tarragon and blueberries together; then add the juice and crachata. Serve on the rocks.
    And the one that qualified him for New Zealand

    Pear Sonata

  • 1.5 ounces of honey-flavored 42Below Vodka
  • 1 ounce of St. Germain elder flower liqueur
  • Half-ounce of dry vermouth
  • Half-ounce of fresh lemon juice
  • Quarter-ounce of eau di vie (water of life in French)
  • A pear elder flower foam over the top. That includes pureed fresh pear, St. Germain, an egg white and freshly grated cinnamon.

    Cocktail World Cup at a glance

    Former Lodi resident Joel Baker will fly to New Zealand on Sunday for the Cocktail World Cup, which takes place Sept. 9-13. Here's his itinerary, with each contest eliminating the weakest entries:
  • Bungee jumping. Within five minutes of the jump, he must accurately pour four drinks with different measurements.
  • Submit a recipe for punch with his two teammates.
  • Participate in a jet boat race on a river. If his team finishes with one of the best times, the team has five minutes to make a drink with an ingredient that won't be announced until he gets to New Zealand.
  • Three more contests, but Baker doesn't recall what they are.

    There is a separate contests for individuals that requires his friends to go online and vote for Baker as often as possible. Visit www.cocktailworldcup.com/contestants and scroll to Baker's name and photo. You can vote daily through Sept. 12.

    You must register to vote, but Baker says you won't get spam.

    Source: Joel Baker

    All about Bourbon & Branch

    Location: 501 Jones St., between Geary and O'Farrell streets, San Francisco.

    Reservations: Required for the main bar, but to sample cocktails, you may come to the "library" anytime without a reservation between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Twelve tables are available for reservations, and two private rooms are available for groups.

    How to get in: Ring the buzzer at the locked wooden door and use the password, "Books." You will be escorted to a secret location with floor-to-ceiling books from the Prohibition era.

    Phone number: It's unlisted, so to make reservations, go to the Web site, www.bourbonandbranch.com. For parties of six or more, fill out the form at www.bourbonandbranch.com/?caseid=contact.

    Source: Bourbon & Branch

He attended San Joaquin Delta College for a short time, but he decided to take some time off.

"Going to school 13 years is a long time," Baker said.

So he took a job 10 years ago that changed his life forever. He worked at Wine and Roses for two years, first busing dishes, then becoming a banquet server and finally making cocktails for the server.

"I'm sure they were pretty bad because I didn't know what I was doing," Baker admitted.

That didn't deter him. While working at Wine and Roses, he knew he wanted a career in food service.

Baker moved to San Francisco to attend San Francisco State University, though he didn't graduate.

If working at Wine and Roses didn't change his life, reading Craigslist did. Baker found an ad from an establishment called Bourbon and Branch, which had only been open for three months. The bar was looking for an artist and bartender. Baker was already mixing spirits on his own.

A year-and-a-half later, Baker is the bar's general manager.

When approaching Bourbon and Branch, a bar in San Francisco's tenderloin, you'll find a wooden door without a sign to the establishment. You have to know it's there.

The door is locked, so to enter, you must press the button to an intercom and give the password to be let in.

Bourbon and Branch is modeled after a 1920s speakeasy that highlighted the Prohibition era. The interior is decorated 1920s style, and the bartenders dress in period costume.

"Each bartender has his own style," Baker said. "Some wear fedoras. I usually wear a vest, tie and hat. During Prohibition, there was speakeasy downstairs."

The cheapest drink is $11, Baker said. The average customer has two drinks, which will cost them $22 to $30, depending on the drinks. No food is served.

While Baker enjoys good food, he prefers the cocktail end of the business.

"I enjoy interaction with people," he said. "Working in the back of the house doesn't offer that opportunity. Everyone who sits at the bar has their own story, and I want to hear them."

And he enjoys life in his adopted hometown.

"San Francisco has everything," Baker said. "I enjoy great restaurants, there's a lot of art out here and I enjoy all the different cultures that are around me."

However, much of his life revolves around the restaurant and bar industry.

"I'm a huge foodie," Baker said. "I have a very adventurous palate. I enjoy a five-star restaurant and a hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant."

And on his days off, Baker's life is dominated by eating and drinking.

"In the bartending community in San Francisco, we're all really good friends," he said. "On our days off, we'll go to each other's bars. We all help each other out."

Sister Jamie marvels at how well-known Baker is in San Francisco.

"You can't go anywhere without him running into someone he knows," she said.

That happened one time when they were walking together in Chinatown.

"My ultimate goal is to have my own place in two or three years," Baker said.

As much as he enjoys the San Francisco lifestyle, he's thought about moving back to Lodi and opening a bar here.

"Despite all the things we've talked about, there really is no place like home."

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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  • posted at 8:40 am on Tue, Sep 2, 2008.


    Lodi Boy - so I guess your at some hiphop techno club?And I bet you dropped $30 to get in the door too. Blahahahahahaha!

  • posted at 7:14 am on Tue, Sep 2, 2008.


    I've paid $20 a drink in San Fran. So, $11 is pretty average.

  • posted at 6:16 am on Tue, Sep 2, 2008.


    'Cocktail World Cup.' Would this sport qualify as a summer or winter Olympics game? I suppose it all depends on what is in the drink itself.

  • posted at 3:39 am on Tue, Sep 2, 2008.


    Whoa Nellie, plus at Garys, you can probably buy some contraband from some of the meth heads that hang out there.

  • posted at 3:20 am on Tue, Sep 2, 2008.


    $11 a drink? And I thought Rosewood was hight for a $7.00 vodka-tonic! Probably half across the street at Garry's.What's the password?

  • posted at 1:42 am on Tue, Sep 2, 2008.


    Wonder why he left Wine&Roses? Hmmmm... I thought that was the Inn place to be?LOL



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