The Annual Hangover: 2016 Bartending Competition Rehash
This year marked the seventh for the Devour Phoenix Bartending Competition and, with that number, quite the fortunate lineup. Nearly 500 attendees eagerly lined up to pick up their reserved tickets to the sold out show at this year's new venue, Desoto Central Market, who's space allowed for a variety of food and full-service drink options, patio relaxation, and a birds-eye view of the Bar and Restaurant Insurance Competition Stage inside.
As is tradition, nine Valley bartenders competed head to head after having secured their place in a public voting round. In accordance with this year's theme of Taking Pride in Arizona's Spirit, bartenders competed in groups of threes using products of their choice from Arizona distilleries AZ Distilling Company, 3 Amigos Tequila, and OHSO Distillery while listening to the event being called by Principle Barman and Proprietor of Bitter and Twisted Cocktail Parlor Ross Simon and the musical creations of DJ Mr. PHX.
Winners of each "heat" went onto compete in the Final Round, featuring a mystery basket of heritage foods and locally-procured craft cocktail staples. Three Wells Distilling, a newer Tucson-based distillery making a unique spirit distilled from prickly pear fruit and one that has yet to find its own classification, found its way as the Final Round feature into all three creations.
The win this year went to Robert Porter of The Thirsty Camel, whose "Opal Sour" utilized Three Wells Distilling Agave Copper; Singh Farms Honey Wine Vinegar; Steadfast Farm fresh lemon juice, egg whites, and orange zest; simple syrup; opal basil from the Bartender's Garden made by Dig It Urban Gardens; and a Terre Botanicals Meyer Lemon botanical sugar rim. In addition to receiving the title of Arizona's Star Bartender, Porter also was also given the opportunity to be the VIP bartender at the 2016 Devour Culinary Classic, will be showcased on the website of Arizona’s own Bite Magazine and in an exclusive promo video in collaboration between Bite and Gooi Films, and took home the Arizona Bartender’s Craft Kit valued at over $200.
It was evident that final scores were close this year, as judges Layla Linn of Alliance Beverage and Arizona Cocktail Week, Christina Barrueta of writeonrubee.com, Michelle Jacoby of Bite Magazine, and Brandon Casey of the US Bartender's Guild and The Ostrich (as well as the now former reigning champion) took their time to deliberate in this final round. Ultimately, it was Mike Liberatore of Citizen Public House who took second place, winning the Copper Cup Award, with third place going to Zach Smith of Welcome Diner and the People's Choice Award inevitably going to Rob Moore of the Windsor as the crowd favorite.
As a part of their ticket price, attendees were treated to tastes of all nine bartenders' competing cocktails on Desoto's open patio, as well as samples of all four distilleries' spirit offerings, with shade provided by Phoenix Public Market, rides and responsible travel provided by local services Clean Air Cab and Desert Parking and Valley Metro, and an exclusive discount to a one night stay at the Clarendon Hotel.
The event would not have been a success without the help of nearly 30 volunteers and the dedicated staff that made it happen, including our friends at Downtown Phoenix, Inc. A few of those volunteers proudly got their hands dirty as, for the first time this year, a new program that Local First Arizona is testing-- the Toward Zero Waste initiative-- was implemented. We are proud to say we diverted 200 pounds from the landfill by recycling and composting at the Bartending Competition this year. Big thanks go to the staff at DeSoto (who compost and recycle at their venue everyday!), to our amazing volunteers who helped guests get the right items in the right bins and to our friends at Keep Phoenix Beautiful for loaning us their bins. We were thrilled to see attendees quickly grasp the system which resulted in very low contamination.
As with each year, the Bartending Competition kicks off a week of events all leading up to the two day Devour Culinary Classic. This year's events also featured Palette to Palate and the new Seven Chef Singh Alongas well as the debut of Pizzeria Bianco Proprietor and Pizziaolo Chris Bianco's new film "I Used to Say Never". Stay in touch for updates on next year's events as well as news on the Devour Phoenix Restaurant Coalition happenings occurring throughout the year through the newsletter, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.