Nine Valley bartenders went head-to-head for the title of Best Cocktail in The Valley 2015 yesterday at Crescent Ballroom during the Devour Phoenix Bartending Competition. The event, the second high profile bartending competition held this spring, featured bartenders from local restaurants including Crudo, Citizen Public House, Hula's Modern Tiki, and The Parlor.
Each bartender was assigned a locally distilled spirit -- either Arizona Distilling Company's gin, bourbon, or moonshine, and during the competition, bartenders faced off in three rounds of three people. Competitors were given a generous ten minutes to make their cocktail for a panel of four judges.
In between the three rounds of competition, attendees were able to wander around the crowded outdoor portion of the event to sample each of the nine cocktails. We love that this event gives attendees a chance to taste the competitors drinks, but found that in practice the idea doesn't quite live up to expectations. In many cases the batch-made cocktails served in small plastic cups were an inaccurate representation of the competitors drinks -- without the proper barware, ice, and garnish, it was hard to get a real sense of each drink.
At the end of the day, each of the nine bartenders walked away with a title of some sort, making this the most egalitarian competition in town. Attendees were asked to submit ballots that helped decide the winners in eight out of nine categories, with the overall winner being decided by the judges. We felt like it didn't quite make sense to have voting decide tiles such as "Best Visual Presentation" (when all the cocktails attendees tried were served in small sample cups) and "Best Technique" (when not everyone watched the entire competition, or knows enough about technique to make a sound judgement), but on the whole the results seemed to make sense.
Best Cocktail of the Valley 2015: Brandon Casey, Citizen Public House Cocktail: Springtime Shine! Spirit: Moonshine
On paper, Casey's creation that blended blackberry shrub, Orgeat, lime zest, and Wyders dry raspberry cider sounded interesting, but unfortunately this was one of the cocktails that didn't present well in batch/sample form. So while we got a taste that teetered between too dry and too sweet, judge Michael Allmandinger (also last year's winner) said he appreciated the cocktail's balance.
People's Choice: Shawn Gabor, Pink Pony Cocktail:Three if by Desert Spirit: Desert Dry Gin
Pink Pony's Gabor, who sported flashy pink shakers during the second round of the competition, won over the crowd with his creation that featured gin and citrus ginger water topped with cardamom marjoram soda and garnished with citrus ginger brittle and thyme salt.
Best Visual Presentation: Libby Longlott, The Parlor Cocktail: The Roosevelt Spirit: Copper City Moonshine
When presented in a small cup, the bitters mist overpowered this cocktail, which was supposed to feature a garnish of a floating lemon wheel and an expressed sage leaf. Served in a coupe, the cocktail blended Copper City Moonshine, yellow chartreuse, white pepper and sage simple syrup, lemon juice, and St. Dalfour Apricot Preserve.
Most Unique Garnish: Lyndsi Hastings-Mundy, Culinary Dropout Cocktail: Punch. Drunk. Love. Spirit: Copper City Bourbon
It was easy to tell this fall-inspired cocktail was a big hit with the crowd, and we felt the flavors presented well in the sample cup. Including the proper garnish -- a photo-worthy slice of dehydrated citrus -- also helped make this a standout for attendees and judges alike. The cocktail, made with brown butter washed Copper City Bourbon, Demerara sugar cinnamon simple, Earl grey reduction, lemon, and apple cider, tasted of spiced cider and fall spices.
Most Innovative Flavor: Tawni Koons, Maizie's Café & Bistro Cocktail: The "Midtown Maize" Spirit: Copper City Moonshine
As certainly one of the most interesting cocktails of the day, it makes sense that this drink would take the title of "innovative flavor." Made with muddled sweet corn, lime juice, corn syrup, and moonshine, and jalapeño Tabasco, this drink's flavors were mild but spicy, and fresh. We didn't quite love the richness of the drink that resulted from the use of the corn, but at least it was a unique drink to try.
Best Dressed: Titus Fauntleroy, St. Francis Cocktail: Blood Sweat & Bourbon Spirit: Copper City Bourbon
We weren't at all surprised to hear that St. Francis bartender/model Titus Fauntleroy won the nod for Best Dressed. And in a rose-colored vest over a white patterned button-up, he did look sharp. But we also felt like Fauntleroy's cocktail should have won some recognition. Made with bourbon, Almendrado, lime and blood orange juices, and Fresno chili pepper, the drink offered just the right amount of heat to be interesting but also drinkable.
Best Technique: Michael Soo, Crudo Cocktail: The Pain of Battle Spirit: Desert Dry Gin
Presented to the judges in dry ice-filled, handmade tiki outrigger canoes, we though this cocktail would be a shoe-in for a presentation-related award. But despite the flashy appearance of his drink, it was technique for which Michael "Tiki" Soo took home an award. But don't let this cocktail's appearance fool you into thinking it was all form and no substance; made with gin, Amer Gingembre, pressed apple juice, pineapple juice, Coco Lopez, lime juice, and local Mi Casa bitters, this cocktail balanced creamy coconut flavors with bright ginger and citrus.
Best Use of Craft Spirit: Matt Farrow, Windsor Cocktail: The "No. 33" Spirit: Copper City Bourbon
We loved how Windor's Matt Farrow took the local ingredient theme to a whole new level by not only using Arizona Distilling Company's bourbon -- infused with chamomile in this case -- but also Sonoran White Wheat syrup. Lemon juice and local kumquat foam rounded out a simple take on a classic whiskey sour. In the small sample cups, the egg white foam's smell made for a less-than-ideal aroma, but in a coupe we imagine that wouldn't be an issue.
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Friendliest Bartender: Andrew Gilchrist, Hula's Modern Tiki Cocktail: The "Uptown Patio" Spirit: Desert Dry Gin
We didn't have a chance to interact with Gilchrist at the Hula's booth on Sunday, but we have to admit his cocktail wasn't our favorite of the day. Made with kumquats, mint leaves, powdered sugar, Chinese 5 spice, gin, brandy, lemon juice, and an edible flower, this cocktail had pieces of spices and flower that made for an unpleasant drinking experience. We'd prefer to have anything chunky strained out before it gets stuck in our teeth.