“My girlfriend took me out to Alta [Utah] on my first ski trip,” said Bartender Challenge winner Eliot Koerner. “It was my second week on skis, and it was a four-foot pow day. She took me down all the double blacks, these giant moguls…” he paused, laughing. “I had no clue what I was doing. She gave me one of her AirPods and was like, ‘Keep up!’ I ended up breaking two of my ski poles. I learned a lot that day, though. It’s definitely one of my favorite ski memories.”
Born and raised in the marshlands of Florida, Eliot started skiing in his early 20s at the same time he moved out west and started bartending. He lived and worked in Yellowstone and Bozeman, before moving to Fort Collins, Colorado, where he currently calls home base.
Bartending, for Koerner, is a passion more than a profession. Though he currently works at The Still Whiskey Steaks, a restaurant and bar in Fort Collins, Koerner and his girlfriend, Katie Collins, have also started their own mobile bartending business, Proof 96, on the side.
The duo works all sorts of events, from birthdays to weddings, but hopes to transition largely into working ski events, both providing functional, non-alcoholic beverages for athletes and alcoholic beverages for bystanders (or for athletes to wind down post-event). They’re also donating 3% of all profits to the environmental nonprofit Protect Our Winters.
“There’s a huge amount to learn in bartending,” he said, “from flavor and smell to being personable, you have to be able to have all sorts of conversations, all while multitasking behind the bar.”
The creative aspect of bartending, he said, is also a major draw, both for him and Collins. “Making distinguishable drinks, being able to make drinks for people that pair with their memories, like, ‘This is my drink when I go skiing,’ ‘This is my drink when I’m at Christmas with my family,’ that’s a super special experience,” she added.
The duo said they “had a blast” making their cocktails with Yellowstone Bourbon and Dos Primos Tequila during the first annual Bartender Challenge. Koerner has worked with Yellowstone Bourbon for several years, since back when he was bartending in Yellowstone. “It’s easy to work with, nothing too over-drawing, a solid standard bourbon, a very easy drinker. It works out well in most cocktails and we actually have it in one of our signature cocktails,” he said. He also admires that Yellowstone Bourbon partners with the National Park Conservation Association.
While Koerner had never tried Dos Primos Tequila before the competition, he said the experience of working with it was very freeing. “It gives you a blank slate that allows you to get extremely creative with all the ingredients you throw in there. You can tell it’s a premium tequila.”
As far as his bartending outfit, Proof 96, is concerned, more than anything else Koerner stressed that he and Collins are going full steam. Their brand is truly, for skiers, by skiers and they’re looking forward to working more events in the mountains they love.
“We’re willing to travel, to get out there, we want to get up into the mountains and make whatever needs to happen, happen,” he said.