Sips & Sweets 2017 is coming up on Saturday (get your tickets here)! This year an all-star lineup of 10 mixologists and nearly two dozen sweets makers will be participating and flexing their creative culinary muscles. Though you probably already known many of them from their posts at top bars, restaurants, and sweet shops, but we wanted to get the know these talented dudes a bit better before meeting them face to face at the event on June 17.
Meet Colton James Brock, bartender at Ladera Taverna y Cocina
Colton James Brock speaking. I am a third-generation Arizonan and first-generation painter, photographer, and bartender at Ladera Taverna y Cocina. In my 15-plus years behind the bar, I've learned that mixing pigments on a palette is no different than balancing flavors in a glass. Just as colors can be sweet, salty, or downright bland, every cocktail embodies a very specific composition. No matter the medium, the goal is to strive for that balance in complements, continuity, and composition.
It has been said before, and I agree, mezcal embodies the histories of old and new worlds meeting, civilizations clashing and blending, and technology spreading. This one particular type of mezcal, originally made in and around a sleepy town called “Tequila,” tells the most romantic of those stories. It conveys how the artistry and refinement within a geographic expression of this new spirit can shine above the rest. Having been born and raised in the Southwest, tequila has always been familiar to me, and in the world of spirits (I must confess), a source of pride.
This might sound anti-climactic, but for me, a new fresh ingredient is honey. Just like with grape or mezcal varietals, there are various honey varietals, which vary wildly in flavor profiles and interact with different spirits in exciting ways. We all know classic cocktails like a Penicillin or a Bees Knees, and riffing on those recipes with different agave spirits is something I've been doing. I also like to advocate the use of honey as an alternative to agave nectar, as well as a way to support the honey industry and help out with the current honey bee population crisis.
Meet Anthony Escalante, lifestyle mixologist at Phoenix Renaissance Downtown Hotel
I am originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. I have lived in Phoenix for about five years and bartended for four of those years. I have always had a love for craft cocktails, but didn’t start making them professionally until about 18 months ago.
A friend of mine introduced me to Lemonquats one evening, and I instantly fell in love. I couldn’t stop eating them. We went on to make a series of lemonquat cocktails, including variations of gimlets, palomas, and an oleo saccharum that, in my opinion, was amazing. That said, peeling lemonquats is a pretty tedious experience.
Meet Keith Taylor, pastry chef at Boulders Resort and Spa
Growing up outside of Philadelphia, I was attracted to the kitchen at a young age. I could often be found standing by my mother’s side as she baked, waiting to lick the beaters when she was done. Years later, upon graduating from The Restaurant School of Philadelphia, I left home to work at Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. It was there that I discovered my love for working with chocolate. Since then, I've worked under many talented chefs in Washington D.C., Atlantic City, Philadelphia, and Phoenix.
While in Phoenix in 2009, I had the opportunity to compete at the National Pastry Team Championships on team Chowdhury, doing all things chocolate. The team was awarded best degustation as well as the overall gold medal, earning the right to return in 2010 as Team USA where they placed third overall. Shortly after, I accepted the position of executive pastry chef at the JW Marriott in Dubai, UAE. After working in the Middle East for three years, I returned to Phoenix to lead the pastry team at Boulders Resort and Spa.
I haven't necessarily found a new ingredient of late, but I have rediscovered my love for gianduja. I have made many things with it, most recently a gianduja ganache with oven-roasted strawberries and chocolate hazelnut streusel, but also bonbons, cremeux, and so many other things. My favorite childhood snack was a Snickers bar, and though I definitely eat a lot less of the actual candy, I still love the combination of chocolate, peanuts, and caramel, which is a combination you might recognize in my creations.
Meet Zach O'Haire, bartender at Chico Malo
I've been an active member of USBG for a number of years working alongside members of the Phoenix bartending community at Rattle & Rum, Bitter & Twisted, Fox Restaurant Concepts, and many other bars and events. I currently hold the position of director of beverage for Culture Shock Hospitality, which most recently opened Chico Malo in downtown Phoenix.
As a bartender, I find the plethora of untapped ingredients astounding. I enjoy sourcing ingredients from other countries, including flowers, leaves, fruit, and spices that you don't commonly see or hear about in our market. Lately, I've been working with several different kinds of chili peppers from Central and South America alongside a few different herbs under the guidance of the talented chef team at Chico Malo. Using the Manzano from Argentina in a mix for a Michelada or Bloody Mary has been a focus, but I'm also a fan of fresh epazote in a syrup or as a garnish.
Meet Doc Brown, owner of Doc's Artisan Ice Creams
During the last seven years of my 22-year law enforcement career, I began attending professional courses on making ice cream and frozen desserts. In 2011, that training included the Penn State Ice Cream Short Course, a must-do for anyone serious about ice cream making. I opened Doc's Artisan Ice Creams shortly thereafter. There, we make our product from scratch for customers who want a frozen treat that natural, healthful, vegan, allergy-friendly, gluten-free, GMO-free, and that taste amazing. One of our missions is producing the best gelato, sorbet, and ice cream products for our customers using healthy, wholesome ingredients. Our big ingredient discovery last year was the tayberry. It is an awesome cross between a blackberry and raspberry that produces a phenomenal fruit in its own right. The sorbets we make with it are wildly popular!
Meet Brian Blevins, lead mixologist at The Camby
I grew up in Gilbert, Arizona and in 2012, I began bartending at weddings and private parties. That experience sparked my passion to become a mixologist. I began to customize drinks using raw ingredients and eventually turned my love for mixology into a career based on creativity and personalization. I am now the lead mixologist at The Camby, where I really get to flex my creative muscles.
I had some habanero bitters that I started messing with a few months ago that have been a great asset in drink development. One of the summer drinks on our menu that I created with them is a shandy with reposado tequila, agave simple syrup, pineapple beer, and habanero bitters. It delivers everything I could hope for in a warm-weather cocktail: sweet, refreshing, and just a little bit spicy!