International mixologists, craft cocktail tastings, bartending and craft spirit workshops, and live music will still be on the menu for the 2018 AZCW. But this year, a few things are going to change, starting with that the festivities will be condensed to three days over Presidents Day weekend, rather than stretching over a full week. Those three days will be February 17 to 19. Mark your calendar now.
"Since its inception seven years ago, we always had a big production opening weekend over Presidents Day, and the first few days were great," says Damon Scott, co-founder of AZCW. "But by midweek, people just weren't participating as much ... The reality is when there is a lot of alcohol being consumed, by Tuesday, a lot of people just had to tap out."
The biggest change isn't the abbreviation of the event; it's the location. This year, the festival will be moving to downtown Phoenix, making it a fully walkable event.
"Our move to downtown was precipitated by the response we had to moving one of our events, Top Bars, to The Croft warehouse," Scott says. "The welcome we received from the venue and the community for just moving that one event was overwhelmingly great. They wanted us down there. Ross, my business partner, has Bitter & Twisted downtown as well, so it just made sense."
Safety is always a concern when serving alcohol, especially in a sprawling metro area like Phoenix.
"Anytime you talk about alcohol and transporting people, you have to think about the safest way," Scott says. "This [new location] puts us on the light rail. Everything is walkable. You can get a hotel room at one of the partner hotels where we will have special AZCW rates and just walk over. It will create more of a sense of community, a more neighborhood feel."
This year, instead of having a single hosting hotel, AZCW has partnered with several, including the Kimpton Hotel Palomar, the new Marriott, and others. Hotel rooms will be discounted.
On Saturday, February 17, the party stars with "Cocktail Jam" at The Van Buren, where live bands will play while local mixologists shake craft libations.
Sunday's marquee event will be the annual Top Bars pavilion, where pop-ups of local haunts like Bitter & Twisted and UnderTow will be joined by cocktail giants from around the country and the world — the likes of London's Callooh Callay, New York's Dead Rabbit, and Whitechapel of San Francisco. The official lineup is still TBD, but if this highlight is anything like years past, it will be a phenomenal chance to do an international craft cocktail crawl without leaving Phoenix. "Last year, Top Bars was the best party we had," Scott says, noting that this year is shaping up to be event better.
Past years have included educational events. That, too, will change slightly this year.
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"Seminars and the educational piece is important to what we do... Rather than holding these events in a classroom or ballroom, we have approached six bars and restaurants in the area where we are going to pair sponsored brands and the educators from those brands with a restaurant to do seminars, brunches, and happy hours at the venues. It's like, 'Hey, I want to go and learn about whisky or take a gin class at Bitter & Twisted', but there will also be a food component so it will feel more like a fun bar crawl than a class."
Confirmed educational partner venues include Bitter & Twisted, Blue Hound & Lustre Rooftop Pool Bar, Chico Malo, Nook Kitchen, The Arrogant Butcher, and The Breadfruit & Rum Bar, with more currently in the works.
Like in years past, event tickets will include a wristband with a set number of tear-off tickets, good for 3-ounce sample cocktails. Scott explains that this allows guests to try pretty much everything on offer.
More details on event and class schedules, hotel rates, and ticket prices will be available on the AZCW website in December, with tickets scheduled to go on presale by the end of the year.