How to Make a North Beach Cooler, the Devastatingly Tasty Tequila Cocktail

“Speed Rack,” the book begins, “is a great many things to a great many people.” And while this is a cliche, in this case, it is also undeniably true. What is Speed Rack? That depends on who you are.

If you’re a female bartender, Speed Rack is an opportunity. It is, in their own words, “a classic cocktail speed competition for the fiercest women bartenders around the world.” In terms of sheer numbers, it must be the biggest and most established recurring bartending competition in America (probably the world) and is certainly the most fun. It’s an opportunity for up-and-coming female bartenders to showcase their speed and skills on a big stage in an elimination-style competition, to make new connections and a name for themselves in the process, and for those elite few, to bathe in the glory of victory.

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If you’re in or around the bar industry, Speed Rack is a blast—part sporting event, part performance recital, it’s a sweaty, raucous, hot-pink frenzy of booze and fun. Competitions are held all over (up to 12 a year) and they’re a chance to scream for your friend or coworker, to catch up with old friends, and to affirm the sense of community that is so pervasive throughout the cocktail world.

Lynette Marrero and Ivy Mix
Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix

If you’re a breast cancer charity, it’s a windfall. Speed Rack was started in 2011 by Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero, initially to showcase the women who were dramatically underrepresented in the mixology community. The goal was to literally elevate the vast quantities of female talent in the cocktail world, to put them on a stage, and show the world what they could do. The duo quickly realized that their ability to get brand sponsorship could offset production costs, so they could sell tickets and donate proceeds to charity—Speed Rack has been going for 13 years and has featured thousands of female bartenders, and in this time has donated over $1.5 million to breast cancer charity and research.

And finally, if you’re a fan of cocktails, Speed Rack is now a book. On April 30, the duo are dropping a A Quick Drinkwhich sketches the foundation and philosophy of the organization before releasing more than 100 new cocktail recipes. Both Mix and Marrero are already pretty famous in the bar world, so true to ethos, they spend the vast majority of their book amplifying other voices, featuring recipes from some 80 other female bartenders who have come through the Speed Rack world in the last dozen years.

The recipes are great, and we could’ve picked any one of them to feature, but for seasonality, ease of creation, and honestly for sheer deliciousness, we kept coming back to the North Beach Cooler, from Melbourne bartender Priscilla Leong, made of tequila, lime, Campari, dry vermouth, and soda. It’s a cross between a Siesta and a Rome with a View, leveraging tequila’s affection for Campari and Campari’s affection for dry vermouth into a devastatingly tasty little thrupple.

More than that, it’s not just that the flavors work (though they do) or that it’s easy and refreshing, (though it is) but the North Beach Cooler’s unique magic is to make a low-ABV cocktail that doesn’t taste low-ABV. It is exquisitely balanced, going high and low at the same time, the herbaceousness of the dry vermouth and Campari anchoring the brighter tequila and lime, with the tequila’s vegetal bite and the Campari’s herbal bitterness keeping the whole project forceful and compelling. Priscilla says one of her specialties is lower proof drinks that “still deliver a huge flavor punch” and is, under the circumstances, an understatement. Combine that magic trick with the fact that Leong won the Australian Speed Rack championships in 2018, and you can also start to see Speed Rack as yet another thing, a kind of spotlight, illuminating the talent that is already there.

North Beach Cooler

Recipe by Priscilla Leong, reprinted from A Quick Drink

  • 0.75 oz. blanco tequila

  • 0.75 oz. dry vermouth

  • 0.5 oz. Campari

  • 0.75 oz. lime juice

  • 0.5 oz. simple syrup

  • 2 oz. soda water

Add all ingredients except for soda to a cocktail shaker with ice, shake good and hard for six to eight seconds, and garnish with a basil leaf and/or a lime wedge.


Lalo Blanco Tequila
Lalo Blanco Tequila

Tequila: The recipe specifically calls for blanco tequila, which will deliver the bright vegetal bite that the cocktail needs. A reposado will still taste good, but it replaces part of that bite with softer vanilla/spice notes that attenuate the final product.

As for brands: Normally I prefer the budget end of the spectrum for things like Margaritas and Palomas (and those are still great in this drink) but in the case of the North Beach Cooler, the tequila’s job is to bring earthy, vegetal complexity, so the more expressive the tequila, the better. Here I’d reach for a blanco that is very high quality but not overwhelmingly rare or expensive, like Lalo Blanco, Don Fulano Blanco, or even Siete Leguas Blanco.

Dry Vermouth: I tried three different versions with three different dry vermouths and could barely tell the difference. The vermouth is important to that balance I talked about earlier, but insofar as brands, use the one that’s physically closest to your pouring hand.

Simple Syrup: Combine equal parts sugar and water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Use hot water and it’ll happen in about 30 seconds. Use room temperature water and it might take as many as 3 minutes.

Garnish: Leong calls for a basil or mint sprig. Of the two I personally preferred the basil, and if you have some give it a shot—it leans in to the herbaceousness, obviously—but when I make these for myself moving forward (and I will), I think I’ll be skipping the herbs entirely, which every-so gently distract me from what is otherwise a dynamite front palate.

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