With Arizona Cocktail Week and now Chandler Craft Spirits Festival celebrating the world of all things liquor-based, it seems the liquor scene in Phoenix is really taking off. Local vendors like Arizona Distilling Co., AZ Bitters Lab, and Desert Diamond Distillery of Kingman mixed in with national distilleries like Aviation Gin and Garrison Brothers Whiskey to serve samples of cocktails and tastes of their wares at Dr. A.J. Chandler Park in downtown Chandler. With 15 tasting tickets, it was easy to try a little bit of everything at Saturday's event.
Sipping one's way through the event, it became clear that, unlike Arizona Cocktail Week, this wasn't a mixology event. Many of the cocktails served were pre-batched, which made serving to the crowd of an estimated 2,000 people much easier. However, there was a fair amount of intensely sweet flavors overpowering the spirits. Hopefully next year, folks take a more classic approach to mixing drinks, so the liquor will be more present.
That being said, 10-minute waits were about as long as it got for cocktails, impressive considering the volume each vendor served. Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails showed up with three offerings from which to choose, each mixed one at a time. While the end result was delicious, especially for the rum-based Fresh Prince of Corsair, the booth was the only one to have just one bartender mixing, which meant it also had the longest wait time.
Geoffrey Wilson of Barrelhouse had his liquor batched out, but mixed all of the components to order. His historical offerings included a Philadelphia Fish House Punch and a Sazerac, which were two of the best drinks at the event. Another favorite find of the night was Bäska Snaps' med malört, which was a strongly bitter, herbal liqueur that was aptly described as "if Fernet and Campari had a baby."
San Tan Brewing got creative with beer in cocktails, adding their IPA to a margarita. Admittedly, the flavor was a little jarring if you were expecting a classic margarita. Across the way, Arizona Distilling Co. proudly displayed the label design for their soon-to-be-released Park rye whiskey, while serving up two gin cocktails--a punch with cherry and strawberry and a Tom Collins. You could also just opt for a small taste of their Copper City Bourbon, which was better for the booze enthusiasts.
More familiar faces at the event included Bill and Lill Buitenhuys of AZ Bitters Lab who brought a sweet tea and vodka cocktail with their Figgy Pudding bitters designed by Travis Nass of Last Drop Bar. The cocktail was simple and summery-- by far one of the most drinkable cocktails at the event. Desert Diamond Distillery from Kingman brought their rum, as well as a pretty stellar rum Old Fashioned, to show off to Valley crowds. Like Arizona Distilling Co., the northern Arizona distillery offers tours and tastings at their facility.
With live acts such as a DJ, fire juggler, and the War of the Pour cocktail competition, crowds kept entertained between cocktails, though there was plenty of shuffling around and woo-ing by the event's halfway point. Fifteen cocktail samples is a lot, especially when some places' samples were full-size drinks. Next year, we hope to see more new local distilleries at the event, simpler cocktails, and smaller samples.