CANCELED: Buckeye Vodka’s Battle of the Bartenders is off, due to staffing issues

UPDATED, AUG. 16: The Miami Valley Restaurant Association (MVRA) has announced that the 8th installment of the popular Buckeye Vodka Battle of the Bartenders event has been canceled.

The event was slated to take place Wednesday, Aug. 18 at Austin Landing’s outdoor park.

“Buckeye Vodka Battle of the Bartenders unfortunately will be postponed until spring of 2022. Due to staffing issues, the restaurants were spread too thin,” said Amy Zahora, executive director of the MVRA. “We are hoping that staffing issues get better soon and we can get back to having these awesome events.”

The announcement comes as local restaurants continue to be challenged with staffing issues and fluctuations in business due to the pandemic.

Zahora says that she is still planning on having Bacon Fest at Fraze Pavilion in Kettering on Aug. 28 from 3-9 p.m. Right now she says Amber Rose, Carvers Steaks and Chops, Marion’s Piazza, Rolling Indulgence, JA’S and Sweetums and 1776 Grill are confirmed to participate.

More than 15,000 people showed up to the Fraze Pavilion in 2018 to celebrate bacon in all of its forms. Zahora acknowledges that people are hungry for these outdoor food-focused events, but until staffing can get stabilized, it could continue to be a struggle for restaurants to keep up with offsite events.

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A really good drink takes a really good bartender, and after eight years battling, Buckeye Vodka’s Battle of the Bartenders competition always promises to have a tasty winner. In early March of 2020, I served as a judge of the competition, right before COVID-19 brought life to a screeching halt.

I wrote a story that never made it to print. Here’s just a little of what I had to say:

The Miami Valley Restaurant Association’s “Buckeye Vodka Battle of the Bartenders” challenge that took place last night at the Steam Plant in downtown Dayton put the spotlight on what can often be the unsung hero of the meal — the mighty cocktail.

There were 14 restaurants and bartenders vying for bragging rights that came with some very nice prizes and awards. The majority of the cocktails that were presented were very creative. All had to feature Buckeye Vodka as the main mixer and many hinted to the promise of warm weather with cocktails that had a summery bent. The competition from the 14 different restaurants was as stiff as the drinks being poured.

Having served as one of the judges I can say that the entries and thought that went into them were impressive. Here’s what rose to the top for best cocktails:

First Place: The Winds

215 Xenia Ave., Yellow Springs

(937) 767-1144

This was a love it or hate it proposition with beets being one of the main ingredients, but the six judges fell in love with the Winds’ “Gold Blooded” cocktail made with a beet, blood orange, carrot and apple juice mixture zipped up with fresh ginger, a rosemary and lemon infused vodka, with a foam topper made with Saint Germain Elderflower liqueur and blood orange. It was bright in flavor and sparkled thanks to a dusting of gold flakes. The balance of the drink was perfect and something the judges continued to come back to throughout the event. The beets did not overwhelm, but the sweetness complemented the other ingredients perfectly and brought out beautiful color to the cocktail.

Second Place: Meadowlark

5531 Far Hills Ave., Dayton

(937) 434-4750

Meadowlark’s cocktail “An Apple A Day” was made with Buckeye Vodka infused with apple, rosemary and lemon zest, a rosemary simple syrup, apple brandy, lemon juice, a little golden balsamic vinegar and topped with a sparkling cava. It was an easy sipper that was light, refreshing and something you would definitely order up again.

Third Place: El Meson

903 Dixie Drive, Dayton

(937) 859-8229

Did you know that pomelo is the largest fruit in the citrus family? You do now, and you would have if you were at the event trying El Meson’s cocktail made with a red peppercorn infused simple syrup mixed with Buckeye vodka, fresh squeezed pomelo and dry ice that brought a nice dramatic effect to it. It was refreshing with a little kick that kept you coming back for more.

Best Pairing: Meadowlark

5531 Far Hills Ave., Dayton

(937) 434-4750

Chef Elizabeth Wiley and her team from Meadowlark paired a house made pimento cheese with smoked sausage on a cracker with bartender Carolyn Porter’s creation (see above) to make a tasty homage to the South. The food was rich and full and the cocktail was light and flavorful with the apple and rosemary playing off the cheese and sausage perfectly.

People’s Choice: Roost

524 E. Fifth St., Dayton

(937) 222-3100

This was one of my favorites, but didn’t rise to the top for the panel of judges. The cocktail, “Kyoto Sunset,” was made with sage infused vodka mixed with a yuzu puree, lillet rose and peach bitters. It was delicious on its own and a great complement to the Roost meatball topped with a mint puree with diced Persian cucumber and pickled shallots.

I am excited to have this event back and be judging once again. I have no clue what will rise to the top, but I can tell you that the best of 2020 — just like most of 2020 — didn’t get its due, which is why I am choosing to share my thoughts one more time.

Amber Rose, Archer’s Tavern, Carver’s, Chappys Social House, elé Cake Company Bistro & Wine Bar, El Meson, Meadowlark, Mr. Boro’s Tavern, Roost Modern Italian, Watermark Restaurant, Wheat Penny and defending champion Winds Cafe all will be participating this year in Buckeye Vodka’s 8th Annual Battle of the Bartenders.

Tickets to the Aug. 18 Austin Landing event are $25, which includes food and four Buckeye Vodka drink samples. VIP tickets are $40, which includes an extra flight of drink tickets and a half hour early admission.

Whichever cocktail wins this year will be in good company. Here’s a look back at the winners. Stay tuned for what will be added and who will be holding the shaker ...

Past winners

2020: The Winds Cafe, “Gold Blooded”

2019: Meadowlark, “Dutchess of Earl”

2018: Wheat Penny, " Merchant’s Wife”

2017: El Meson, “Tamiami Miami”

2016: Coco’s Bistro, “Coco’s Ruby Slipper”

2015: Lily’s Bistro, “Rosemary’s Babee”

2014: Meadowlark, “The Root of All Evil”

Dayton Eats looks at the regional food stories and restaurant news that make mouths water. Share info about your menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes and culinary adventures. Do you know of new exciting format changes, specials, happy hours, restaurant updates or any other tasty news you think is worth a closer look at? E-mail Alexis Larsen at with the information and we will work to include it in future coverage.


What: Buckeye Vodka Battle of the Bartenders

When: 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 18

Where: Austin Landing

Cost: $25

VIP: VIP Tickets are $40 and include everything general admission does with admission at 5:30pm and an extra flight of drinks (4 additional sample drinks); Platinum packages include a reserved table for eight for $650, with eight sample cocktails in the Buckeye Lawn Lounge.

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