This article was written by past Local Food Program Director, Steve Russell. In case you missed it, the Sixth Annual Devour Phoenix Bartending Competition was a huge hit! This year’s event drew 528 attendees to enjoy nine locally-inspired craft cocktails from some of the best local restaurants in the Phoenix Metro area, that featured locally distilled spirits and locally inspired ingredients. This year, we made the move to throw up some tents and fencing, and expand the event's footprint by moving sampling booths outside.
This year’s competition featured three locally-distilled craft spirits from Arizona Distilling Company: Copper City Bourbon, Desert Dry Gin, and their new Copper City Moonshine. All three liquors boast strong and unique flavor profiles and the challenge for this year’s competitors was to take a randomly assigned spirit and craft their cocktail recipe around it.
Attendees were in for a real treat this year; the diversity of spirits resulted in a wide array of flavors and cocktail styles, and the talent brought their A-games to the onstage mix-off portions of the event. Despite the preponderance of whiskeys in this year’s competition, there wasn’t a whiskey sour or old fashioned to be found. We found the gin and moonshine cocktails this year to be crisp, refreshing and all around delicious, and the bourbon drinks were rich and flavorful.
The big win this year went to Citizen Public House’s Brandon Casey, whose moonshine cocktail, the “Springtime Shine!” was sweet and complex, and drew a nod of approval from the judges and participants. As the big winner, Brandon was also featured in an exclusive culinary demo at the Devoured Culinary Classic on Saturday, where he mixed his winning cocktail along with two others, featuring all three of the spirits from this year’s competition.
Several smaller awards were voted on by the audience and perfectly distributed the remaining trophies among the event’s participants. The People’s Choice Award went to Shawn Gabor of The Pink Pony for crafting the audience’s favorite cocktail, “Three if by Desert,” a light yet flavorful, perfectly balanced, and beautifully-garnished Gin cocktail that was all the rave among event goers.
Among the remaining awards...
Most Unique Garnish went to Lyndsi Hastings-Mundy with Culinary Dropout, whose “Punch. Drunk. Love.” samples each featured a beautiful (and delicious) dehydrated slice of blood orange.
Best Dressed went to Titus Fauntleroy of St. Francis, who was lookin' fab and crafted a deep red cocktail called "Blood, Sweat and Bourbon."
Best Visual Presentation went to Libby Longlott of The Parlor, whose cocktail “The Roosevelt,” was a beautiful shade of pink garnished with a simple lemon wedge and sage.
Most Innovative Flavor very appropriately went to Tawni Koons of Maizie’s Café & Bistro, whose cocktail “The Midtown Maize" was sweet corn based (yes, you read that right), with a hint of jalapeño.
Best Use of Craft Spirits went hands-down to Matt Farrow with Windsor, whose “No. 33” featured a chamomile infused bourbon.
Friendliest Bartender was a shoe-in for the staff at Hula’s Modern Tiki, led by former pirate, Tiki Drew (I also hear his cocktail “The Uptown Patio” was a close runner up for the People’s Choice Award).
Best Technique went to Michael Soo with Crudo. His cocktail “The Pain of Battle,” was served in the most ornate glassware we’ve ever seen.
A big thank you goes out to all the folks who helped out in making this year’s event happen! We can’t thank our panel of judges and our emcee enough: Megan Finnerty with AZ Republic rocked the mic again this year, and our awesome judges included Robert Camacho with Hensley, Jessica Hill with Phoenix New Times, Michael Allmandinger with The Parlor, and Ross Simon with Bitter & Twisted and AZ Cocktail Week. Our DJ Rani G with World:Life:Music kept the energy going with a great music set, Accurate Signs and Engraving donated our beautiful trophies, Phoenix Public Market generously loaned us our tents, and Brand X hooked it up with some sweet volunteer t-shirts.
We could not have done it without our sponsors either. Crescent Ballroom was an amazing planning partner, and DTPHX Inc was invaluable in helping to get the word out. AZ Distilling Co blew it out of the water this year with their fantastic craft spirits, and Clean Air Cab ensured that our guests had a safe ride home. Last but not least, we have to recognize the 89 people who dedicated their time to executing the event, including 26 of our awesome ALFAs (LFA Volunteers) who were quick on their feet and helped us to execute our first ever waste diversion plan for the competition (we recycled 12 bags of plastic cups and over 120 bottles of alcohol this year).
Thanks all, we’ll see you again next year!