SIOUX CITY | If Tim Nelson knows your drinking preference, he can create the perfect cocktail to whet your whistle.
Grabbing some apple-flavored whiskey, apple vodka and ginger ale, the Firehouse Bar employee mixed up a summertime drink to satisfy a patron wanting something "fruity and refreshing."
"That's what separates a mixologist from any other bartender," Nelson said. "A regular bartender pours you a drink while I can create one on the spot for you."
The Firehouse Bar's resident mixologist will be one of the local combatants shaking things up at a regional mixology competition at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Pearls Wine & Booze, 417 Pearl St.
Two winners will be chosen in Sioux City, along with two winners apiece from five other regional contests held across the state.
The final 12 then will compete in the state championships Aug. 26 at Des Moines' Americana Restaurant & Lounge.
The annual contest is organized by the Iowa Restaurant Association, an advocacy group promoting the state's restaurant and hospitality field.
"Our competition promises to be very exciting," said Stacy Kluesner, Iowa Restaurant Association marketing director. "The winner will be this year's top mixologist for the entire state."
At the regional contest, competitors will be asked to create three cocktails each featuring Pearl Vodka Black or Lime Basil, Jim Beam Basil Hayden Bourbon and Sazerac Herbsaint, an anise-flavored liquor.
"The cocktails will then be critiqued by a panel of judges, who are looking for both originality and taste," Kluesner said.
A cocktail fan herself, Kluesner said the trend towards mixologists has exploded along with the popularity of mixed drinks.
You have free articles remaining.
"The craft beer movement has been around for a long time and so has the fine wine movement," she said. "But it's only been during the past five or 10 years that people have been moving towards fun and exciting cocktails."
This includes pairing certain cocktails with certain meals, Kluesner said.
"That means that mixologists are working closely with chefs in order to create parings that will enhance the dining experience," she said.
It's a trend that Nelson said he's personally experienced during his four years at the Firehouse Bar.
"Lighter cocktails pair best with lighter foods while more robust liquors go best with heavier foods," he said.
Indeed, Nelson's own favorite cocktail -- a Black Velvet Toasted Caramel Whiskey and a splash of Mr. Pibb -- is a natural pairing for a steak or burger night with family.
Getting ready for a busy evening at the bar, Nelson said he's pleased by the resurgence of cocktails.
"You can be more creative with cocktails," he said. "And it allows me to have fun with different types of liquors."
But mixology isn't a game to Nelson. He's also knowledgeable about the various taste components of what he puts in a glass.
"There's a definite science involved in drink-making," he said.
Does that mean Nelson considers himself a mad scientist when he's behind the bar?
"Nope, I'm just a mixologist," he said modestly.