A cocktail should be bracing. A glass of something you’ve never tasted in a way you’ve never tasted it. A cocktail ought to be the beginning of an adventure.
Every year, we ask Salt Lake’s libations experts to guide us in an adventure expertly crafted by their hands. The prompt is simple: take advantage of local ingredients, find inspiration in autumnal musings, and include Utah-made spirits. Whether they decide to whip up something stiff to warm our bellies through the incoming chill or transport us to a beachside oasis with a tropical creation, the choice is theirs.
This year, 20 bartenders from restaurants and bars across the valley (and even in Park City) showed us what a great cocktail could be. Our contest ran for an entire two months to allow our readers to visit their establishments and vote for their favorites. We also brought back our in-person Farm-to-Glass event, hosted in partnership with Market Street Grill in Cottonwood Heights, where guests had the chance to taste every entry and connect with our bartenders face-to-face. We laughed, we sipped, we savored the return of in-person events that celebrate our voracious cocktail community.
As with every year’s cocktail contest, we rely on our readers to judge their overall favorite. Our online voting system saw upwards of one thousand new votes per day in some cases, and our participating establishments put their imbibing fan bases to good use. But, we also introduced a new panel of judges this year and tasked them with determining the best overall judge’s choice cocktail. Our mixology Avengers include: Darby Doyle, Jennifer Burns, Stuart Melling, Lydia Martinez and Francis Fecteau (more on our judges below). Each judge took on the heavy burden of bellying up to 20 bars and ordering up some drinks—for research, of course. In late October, our judges and editorial team came together to discuss what we’ve tasted, the conversations we had with our bartenders, and the overall state of Utah’s mixology. Read on to see who took the grand prizes in this year’s contest, and a few extra honorable mentions.
We’d like to thank our sponsors for this year’s contest, without them we would not be able to bring our annual contest to fruition: Market Street Grill, Beehive Distilling, VineLore, Kings Peak Coffee Roasters, Sugarhouse Distillery and Libation.
Reader’s Choice: ‘Local Color’— Emma Roberts, Quarters Arcade Bar
Quarter’s Bartender Emma Roberts’ creation took the lead in our Reader’s Choice category, amassing a total of 2,754 votes! Featuring a refreshing blend of local peaches, honey and peppers, ‘Local Color’ paid homage to Emma’s childhood. The cocktail also featured three local spirits from Beehive, High West and Water Pocket to fully embody what it means to be Farm-to-Glass. Judge Darby Doyle appreciated the cocktail’s balance of refreshing and spirit-forward, “The Notom pulls through and hangs on, it is spirit-forward in all the right ways.” Lydia agrees, noting “The Notom and bitters rounded out the astringent complexity, bonus points for using all Utah local spirits.” Overall, this cocktail won the hearts of our readers and our judges for its ability to balance fruit-forward flavors and earthy tones.
Judge’s Choice: ‘The Summer Ends’ — Morgan Michel, Good Grammar
Morgan’s cocktail featured a beautiful blend of full-body flavors and gentle herbaceous aromas. Her seed-based orgeat combined sunflower, hemp and wildflower, and an infused Thai basil and sage olive oil rounded the whole thing out. Judge Francis Fecteau acknowledges Michel’s use of “clever ingredients,” while Stuart raves “This is something new to taste every time you go in for a sip, it’s very balanced and nuanced. I wish to drink many of these.” Judge Jennifer Burns names the cocktail a “creatively designed star where full body meets its match with unique ingredients such as infused olive oil.”
Innovator Award: ‘The Inside Scoop’ — JJ Barth, Water Witch
This year, we’re introducing a new award dubbed ‘The Innovator Award,’ to recognize those entries that surprised us with their unique take and execution. Darby expresses her delight on JJ’s use of both gin and mezcal, “You wouldn’t think gin and mezcal would marry well, but the barley-sorrel oleo syrup brings it together. It’s a lovely cocktail evoking end-of-summer flavors.” Lydia concurs, “The nose was citrus all the way which made it surprisingly refreshing for a mezcal cocktail.”
Best Narrative: ‘No Kate! No!’ — Leo Parcell, Drift Lounge at Woodbine
Leo’s cocktail wasn’t just easy on the eyes, it also took the sipper on a nostalgic journey through childhood. “The nostalgia for our childhood summers, fall colors and holiday seasons inspired this drink,” Leo says of his cocktail. Featuring a whimsical candy garnish and a bright fuschia color, this cocktail invited us to have fun with it. Stirring the candy garnish inside brought a transformative quality to the drink. “The cranberry shrub made the cocktail vinegar forward, until I dropped in the candy garnish and the whole thing balanced out nicely,” says judge Lydia Martinez.
Best Spin on a Classic: ‘The Buttered Bees Knees’ — Timothy Burt, Copper Common
Timothy’s took inspiration from a classic Bee’s Knees and infused it with the rich flavors of Hot Buttered Rum. Using locally made butter from Ogden’s Mountain Born Creamery and local raw honey, his cocktail was a savory sippable delight. Jennifer Burns appreciated the drink’s unexpected balance, “Very rich, as expected, but smooth at the same time. It feels special to drink and definitely pulls out all the creativity cards.” Judge Lydia says it best: “Move over hot buttered rum, this cold buttered gin takes the cake!”
Best Presentation: ‘Turaco Swizzle’ — Jordan Strang, HSL
Jordan’s cocktail was a celebration of Utah produce, using Santa Claus Melon to reconfigure his take on a classic Jungle Bird. Here’s what Judge Darby had to say: “Tequila and melon? Sign me up. It’s in the crushable category for sure.” The cocktails’ citric flavors and tropical notes were on full display, and a bouquet of fresh mint ignited the senses. “I’m all in for this well-balanced ‘island feeling’ drink with tequila instead of rum,” says Judge Jennifer Burns. “Really brought the Farm-to-Glass creativity to a high level.”
Newcomer of the Year: ‘Pearadise Lost’ — Bijan Ghiai, Urban Hill
A newcomer to our cocktail contest, Bijan Ghiai is definitely not new to Utah’s mixology community. His “spicy margarita with character” brought heat to the table and our Judges were all for it. Lydia notes her appreciation for the lacto fermentation: “I love they took the time to do a lacto ferment on the honey for a nice funky aftertaste and more body to the cocktail, bonus points that the fresno chiles in the honey stood up to the mezcal.” Self-proclaimed spice-lover Jennifer Burns took particular interest in this entry: “This is a standout for me, appreciate them taking a spicer chance!”
Thank you to all our participants who continue to push the bar on what a Farm-to-Glass cocktail can be. We’ll see you next year!
Meet our 2023 Farm-to-Glass Judges
Lydia is a freelance food, travel and culture writer. She has written for Salt Lake magazine, Suitcase Foodist and Utah Stories. She is a reluctantly stationary nomad who mostly travels to eat great food. She is a sucker for anything made with lots of butter and has been known to stay in bed until someone brings her coffee.
Jennifer has always had a love of cooking and appreciating craftsmanship in culinary arts. She has hosted over 3,000 TV cooking segments featuring her recipes, as well as guest chefs. Jennifer has a published cookbook called Cooking Delight, which combines food, music and art. She has been a contributing food writer for The Salt Lake Tribune and other publications. Besides cooking and frequenting restaurants, she takes full advantage of the outdoor wonders that Utah offers.
Stuart is the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC; he’s also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for The Salt Lake Tribune. He has worked extensively with multiple local publications and helped consult for national TV shows. Stuart is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Utah dining scene for 15 years. He’s largely fueled by a critical obsession with rice, alliteration and the use of big words he doesn’t understand.
Darby Doyle is a food, beverage, and outdoor writer who covers the culinary and natural wonders of the American West. She’s freelanced for a passel of print and digital publications, and her stories featuring Utah’s bar and restaurant scene have won multiple journalism awards. When not reminiscing about great meals shared with friends, you’ll find Darby camping, fly fishing or hunting with her family, or lounging in her overgrown garden with a good book and a Boulevardier.
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