On Sunday, nine of the Valley's top bartenders took the stage at DeSoto Central Market in downtown Phoenix for the seventh annual Devour Phoenix Bartending Competition. The event, part of Local First's Devoured Culinary Classic, featured a live bartending contest, cocktails from local restaurants, and spirit samples from Arizona distillers such as Arizona Distilling Company, Three Wells, O.H.S.O. Distillery, and more.
During the first three rounds of the competition, three groups of three bartenders mixed cocktails featuring local ingredients and spirits from Arizona Distilling Company and 3 Amigos Tequila. Attendees were able to sample each drink and vote for a People's Choice award while a panel of experts judged each cocktail to decide which bartender would move on to the final round.
Our favorite cocktails from the event included the desert-inspired creation from Welcome Diner's Zach Smith. Made with sotol and aloe vera-infused Ancho Reyes liquor, Smith's cocktail perfectly captured the smell of the Sonoran Desert and balanced smoky, sweet, and spicy flavors. The People's Choice award, however, went to Robert Moore of The Windsor for his gin-based Pimm's Cup-inspired cocktail made with #Gin from O.H.S.O. Distillery. St. Francis bartender Titus Fauntleroy's 5th Element cocktail also seemed popular with the crowds. The cocktail combined blanco tequila, pineapple, orange and lemon juices, ginger, and turmeric for an easy-to-enjoy libation reminiscent of a classic mimosa.
The final round of the competition pitted Michael Liberatore of Citizen Public House, Zach Smith of Welcome Diner, and Robert Porter of The Thirsty Camel against each other in an Iron Chef-style contest. Bartenders selected ingredients from a "mystery basket" that offered options including spirits from Three Wells Distilling Company, AZ Bitters Labs bitters, fresh herbs, and more.
Liberatore offered the judges a riff on a classic Negroni made with bourbon and garnished with basil, while Smith created an Old Fashioned-inspired cocktail made with equal parts Sonora Copper (a prickly pear spirit) and moonshine, muddled dates and orange marmalade, and AZ Bitters Labs Figgy Pudding bitters. The top prize, however, went to Porter's take on a whiskey sour, which featured honey vinegar, lemon, orange, basil, and egg white.
In addition to the title of Arizona Star Bartender, Smith's prize package included an Arizona Bartender’s Craft Kit, a feature on the website of Bite Magazine, and a mixology demo at the 2016 Devoured Culinary Classic.
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The event, held for the first time at DeSoto Central Market, made an exciting kickoff to the weeklong Devoured Culinary Classic. Other Devoured events include the Seven Chef Singh Along on Wednesday, March 2, at Singh Farms; Palette to Palate on Thursday, March 3, at the Renaissance Hotel; and the two-day Culinary Classic at the Phoenix Art Museum on Saturday, March 5, and Sunday, March 6. For more information, check the Devour Phoenix website.