bartender competition

Bretta Van Bockel, left, looks on as Ashley Fryer mixes a drink at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel on Jekyll Island. The two will take part in the annual Whiskey, Wine and Wildlife bartender competition on Saturday.

Bretta Van Bockel doesn’t shy away from a little friendly competition. The bartender and manager of Moondoggy’s Pizza in Brunswick has been a part of the Whiskey, Wine and Wildlife’s annual bartender challenge each year since its inception.

She will be back again this year when the event rolls into Jekyll Island’s Beach Village Saturday. Of course, this year, Van Bockel had an unexpected complication — a broken right arm. But she refuses to let that keep her down.

“I’ve enlisted the help of Ashley Jo Fryar to help this year, she works at the Jekyll Island Club. She’s been amazing,” she said.

Despite the setback, Van Bockel is feeling pretty confident this year too. She will be using Cooper’s Craft Bourbon to concoct her best recipe, as other bartenders at the outdoor event do the same.

Attendees at the food and spirits festival can also vote on their favorite by casting their votes for their favorite recipe after sampling the various offerings.

Win or lose this go around, Van Bockel knows a good time will be on tap.

“This event brings our local bartenders together and builds camaraderie, while promoting each individuals craft. We all have a unique, and very, and I mean ‘very’ respectable style,” she said.

The entry that won her the top prize last year was representative of that. It’s a whiskey drink that, Van Bockel says, appeals to most everyone.

“This cocktail appeals to the whisky drinker, the non whisky drinker, and your grandmother. It’ll make ya ‘slap you momma in the face,’ as they say in Georgia. The drink was designed for people like me — I’m not a whiskey drinker, so this is the hardest competition I do,” she said.

“I somehow won last year, which was incredible. I had no idea I packed up my things and headed for a cold beer. I missed the announcement. I was working on making myself love or even just like whiskey. Some of us need baby steps. And I can train myself for anything.”

She hopes that others are willing to step outside of their comfort zone this weekend to try something new. Just as she discovered through her spirited whiskey recipe, there’s something that will appeal to everyone at the festival. “There’s food, wine, beer, whiskey. There’s definitely a lot of learning that can happen. Parents, need a break? Go,” she said.

Bourbon Cream

(Van Bockel’s winning drink for the 2018 Whiskey Wine and Wildlife)


1.5 oz Cooper’s Craft Bourbon

Half tea spoon of chocolate syrup

2 table spoons of sweetened condensed milk

3 oz heavy cream

3 drops vanilla extract

1 pinch instant coffee


Shake ingredients together until instant coffee grounds dissolve. Serve over ice.

• Here’s a sampling of some of the weekend’s events. A full schedule as well as access to tickets can be found at

• W3 Master Classes — 1 to 4 p.m. Friday will see various classes on beer and wines take place at The Westin on Jekyll Island. Tickets for each of the three events are $50 per person.

• Whiskey Inspired — 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday at The Westin on Jekyll Island. It will feature wine and spirits along with paired cuisine. Tickets are $90 per person.

• Uncaged at The Westin — 10 a.m. to noon at The Westin on Jekyll Island will feature a falconry exhibit as well as tastings of Zack Brown’s wine, Uncaged. Tickets are $45 per person.

• Whiskey, Wine & Wildlife – W3 — 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday on the Jekyll Island Beach Village and Village Green. General admission are $75 per person. It is $70 per person in advance for a limited time and based on availability. The VIP Lounge admission is $150 per person, $140 per person in advance for a limited time. The bartender challenge will take place during this event.

• W3 Sunday Brunch — 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at The Reserve at The Westin Jekyll Island. Brunch will include champagne, classic cocktails, a Bloody Mary bar and more.

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