100 Tastemakers in Phoenix

Travis Nass of CaskWerks Distilling Shares His Bar Essentials and What Phoenix's Cocktail Scene Still Needs

From now until we publish the 2016 edition of Best of Phoenix, New Times is naming 100 Tastemakers — members of our local culinary community who help shape the way we eat, drink, and think about food in Phoenix. Some you'll know, and for others, it'll be a first introduction, but each person on our list deserves a nod for helping make our city so delicious. Oh, and while you're here, be sure to check out our list of 100 Creatives.

12. Travis Nass of Caskwerks Distilling

Recent Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame "Beverage Master" and local spirit guide Travis Nass has been crafting beverages and curating cocktail programs all over the Valley for nearly a decade. And in the passing years, he's become almost as well-known for his signature mustache as he has for his usually spirit-forward, always well-balanced cocktails. He got his start tending bar at Rancho Pinot, later moving on to The Last Drop Bar at Lon's at The Hermosa Inn, where he helped introduce Phoenix drinkers to the intricacies of bitters, amari, and more. 

These days, a long list of restaurateurs seek Nass' expertise to make over their bar programs, and most recently, his influence has expanded beyond the bar with his work for craft liquor brands including Tempe's CaskWerks Distilling.

Today he dishes on his three bar essentials and what the Phoenix cocktail scene is missing. 

My go-to place for tiki in Phoenix is UnderTow. It only seats 30, so reservations are a must, but it doesn't get much better than sitting in the hull of a ship drinking delicious, boozy, tropical cocktails.

The best kept secret in Phoenix is Rancho Pinot. I know, Rancho has been around for 20-plus years. It shouldn't be a secret. Chrysa [Robertson] makes some of the most consistently delicious food in the Valley. I could be very happy with my life if I only ate her food for the rest of my life ... although I think that might be approaching her version of hell.

A cocktail should always be delicious? More than anything else, I think people just want a delicious beverage. I think the times of suffering through rotgut booze with canned juice just to catch a buzz is finally coming to an end. People are looking for quality, not quantity; they want their hard-earned dollars going to a drink and an experience they are going to enjoy.

My three bar essentials are: 

Ice. In all its forms and lots of it! Blocks for punches; large cubes, chunks, and spheres for stirred drinks; cubes for drinks in the rocks;and crushed ice for tiki drinks, cobblers, and juleps. I love it all! Even dry ice.

Bitters. Nothing makes a good cocktail great more than a dash of the right bitters! We are lucky enough to live in a time where we have access to dozens of different bitters. It is tough to think of a cocktail that you couldn't find an appropriate bitters for.

Atmosphere. A drink is just a drink, regardless of how good it is. But a great drink combined with the right music, people, and surroundings can make for unforgettable experiences.

The Phoenix cocktail scene could use more young talent and less people leaving Phoenix! Our scene is going to constantly stagnate if we aren't always developing the next generation. Likewise, we won't see continued growth in our community if we can't keep our local talent here! I am happy to see the the Phoenix scene progressing. Hopefully as our talent develops here, more and more, they are able to see a place and a future for themselves in Phoenix so they don't feel it necessary to leave.

The 2016 Tastemakers so far: 

100. Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis and Phoenix Public Market Cafe
99. Ross Simon of Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour 
98. Debby Wolvos of DW Photography
97. Anibal and Salem Beyene of Café Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant 
96. Bo Mostow of Uptown Farmers Market
95. Julian Wright of Pedal Haus Brewery
94. Stephen Jones of The Larder + The Delta
93. Eric Glomski of Page Spring Cellars
92. Richard Bock of Giuseppe's on 28th
91. Walter Sterling of Ocotillo 
90. Daniel Sevilla of Angry Crab Shack
89. Doug Robson of Gallo Blanco and Otro Cafe
88. LaDawn Driscoll of Liberty Market
87. Jason Calhoon of The Shop Beer Co. and Side Kick Cold Brew
86. Tim and Kim Cobb of United Lunchadores Street Gourmet
85. Micah Olson of Bar Crudo and Okra Cookhouse and Cocktails 
84. Paola Embry of Christopher's + Crush and The Wrigley Mansion
83. Jared Porter of The Clever Koi
82. Diane Corieri of Evening Entertainment Group
81. Erich Schultz of Steadfast Farm 
80. Jeff and Leah Huss of Huss Brewing Company
79. Aaron Pool of Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soup
78. Diana Santospago of The Maine Lobster Lady food truck
77. Gio Osso of Virtu Honest Craft and Nico Heirloom Kitchen
76. Lauren Bailey of Upward Projects
75. Rodney Hu of Arizona Distilling Company and Yucca Tap Room 
74. Jacob Cutino of Homeboy's Hot Sauce
73. Country and Sergio Velador of Super Chunk Sweets and Treats
72. Dean Thomas of Cornish Pasty Co.
71. Jennifer Caraway of The Joy Bus
70. Scott Holmes of Little Miss BBQ
69. Jared Allen of Proof Artisan Breads
68. Steve McFate of McFate Brewing Company  
67. Mel Mecinas of Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North
66. Jessa and Dan Koppenhofer of Gilbert Farmers Market
65. Todd and Kelly Bostock of Dos Cabezas WineWorks
64. Ryan Probst of Odelay Bagel Co.
63. Diana Brandt of AZFoodie
62. Benjamin Butler of Hayden Flour Mills
61. Jim and Maureen Elitzak of Zak's Chocolate
60. Michael Babcock of Welcome Diner and Welcome Chicken + Donuts
59. Nick Ambeliotis of Mediterra Bakehouse
58. Peter Kasperski of Cowboy Ciao and Kazimierz World Wine Bar
57. Kimber Stonehouse of LGO Hospitality
56. David Tyda of EATERAZ and Arizona Taco Festival
55. Pavle Milic of FnB
54. Pat Christofolo of Santa Barbara Catering Company and The Farm at South Mountain
53. Brandon Casey of The Ostrich
52. Jonathan Buford of Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
51. Sasha Raj of 24 Carrots
50. Rob Fullmer of Arizona Craft Brewers Guild
49. Bill and Lillian Buitenhuys of AZ Bitters Lab
48. Ramona Button of Ramona Farms
47. Justin Piazza of La Piazza Al Forno and La Piazza PHX
46. Andrew Gooi of Food Talkies
45. Jason Raducha of Noble Bread and Noble Eatery
44. Ty Largo of Awe Collective
43. Christopher Gross of Christopher's and Crush Lounge
42. Heidi Lee of Into The Soup
41. ET Rivera of Tres Leches Cafe
40. Monika Woolsey of Hip Veggies
39. Bobby Kramer of The Brickyard
38. Jenna Reeves of Press Coffee Roasters 
37. Sarah Chisholm of Phoenix Public Market Cafe
36. Bill Kennedy of Futuro
35. Jan Bracamonte of J. Lauren PR & Marketing
34. Erin Romanoff of the uprooted kitchen
33. Baker Mandy Bublitz
32. Tony Chanthavong of Snoh Ice Shavery
31. Donald Hawk of Welcome Chicken + Donuts
30. Krystal Bittner of Arizona Society of Homebrewers
29. Garrison Whiting of Counter Intuitive and Cowboy Ciao
28. Michelle Jacoby and Mark Lipczynski of Bite Magazine
27. Chris Osborn of Western Retail Advisors
26. Yasu Hashino of Yasu Sushi Bistro
25. Jennifer Russo of The Market Restaurant + Bar by Jennifer's
24. Bret Pont of Hobe Meats
23. Josh Hebert of Posh Improvisational Cuisine
22. Tracy Dempsey of Tracy Dempsey Originals
21. Andrew Fritz of In Good Spirits
20. Eddie Hantas of Hummus Xpress
19. Matt Taylor of Gertrude's at the Desert Botanical Garden
18. Sam Pillsbury of Pillsbury Wine Company 
17. Tom D'Ambrosio of Aioli Gourmet Burgers
16. Randy Walters of Wimpy's Paradise
15. Urian Torres of FrinGo's Kitchen
14. Armando Hernandez of Tacos Chiwas
13. Lindsey Magee of Ollie Vaughn's