You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives and the results are in. Introducing our 2014 Big Brain finalists.
Stephanie Teslar has really outdone herself.
While curating the cocktail menu at Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails, she created one of the Valley's most unique and instantly alluring mixed drinks: the Lawless. The show-stopping drink combines whiskey, wormwood liqueur, demerara sugar, and Teslar's handmade "truck stop" bitters, which contain "everything you'd buy at a truck stop," like chocolate, coffee, and tobacco. With that smoky, sweet, and dark combination of flavors stirred and chilled, she smokes a glass with vanilla caramel pipe tobacco and pours in the concoction.
The result is an aromatic, sippable cocktail that embodies all the best elements of drinking whiskey while smoking a cigar. It's this innovative, unique approach that sets Teslar apart.
Video by Evie Carpenter.
Teslar got her start as a barback in her hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, when she was 17. Eventually graduating to a role of bartender at the upscale and old fashioned steakhouse, O'Malley's, Teslar began by mixing up the classics -- though she admits she shook up many more martinis than she would've liked to.
Teslar came to Phoenix to head Blue Hound's bar in September 2012 after running Criollo, a tequila and mezcal bar in Flagstaff, and immediately began experimenting with flavor and accessibility in craft cocktails.
"Working in a hotel is a new challenge because I have had to modify my personal techniques for high volume without losing integrity," she says. "I want people that aren't well-versed to find the cocktails approachable, but still be unique enough for the afficianados."
In terms of flavor, Teslar loves using bold, bright local citrus, herbs from local farmers markets, and has recently developed a love of aromatized wines. Her use of local ingredients shines in components like a McClendon's Select blood orange syrup and her in-house infused gin, which features locally grown botanicals like white sage, sorrel, creosote, ribena, and juniper.
Although Teslar isn't an Arizona native, she says the community of bartenders in town have become her family. She looks forward to the next five years of cocktail culture in downtown Phoenix, which she sees as a future hub with recent and upcoming additions like The Local and Bitter & Twisted.
"I see the cocktail culture in Phoenix growing exponentially in the future," she says. "The more bars we have opening up, the more Phoenix will be a destination."
While she admits that Phoenix can't be like New York, with its uber-specialized cocktail lounges, she says Phoenix's cocktail culture forces local bartenders to be more creative and versatile. That, in turn, allows her to experiment with tiki cocktails, foreign spirits, and modernizing classics.
However, what really sets Teslar apart is her commitment to making customers feel welcomed and not judged for anything they might say or order. Her hospitality extends equally to everyone, friends or strangers, as if they were guests in her home -- even if they order a shaken martini, which is one of her least favorite drinks to make.
"I want everyone to know when they're coming into my bar they're coming into my home," she says. And that means there's no such thing as a bad drink, especially if it makes someone happy, she says.
Artopia will take place from 8 p.m. to midnight Friday, April 25, at Bentley Projects in downtown Phoenix. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 the day of the event. See more at www.phoenixnewtimes.com/bigbrainawards.