Seven days a year, people from around the country come to Phoenix to celebrate and appreciate cocktails at Arizona Cocktail Week. When half of the country is freezing or hidden under snow, parties and events are being held outdoors and at venues all over the Valley. Arizona Cocktail Week is more than just drinking, though. It’s about the community, education and exposing the public to a profession that hasn’t always received its fair share of respect.
In its fourth year, Arizona Cocktail Week continues to foster the community that it saw at with its inception. With participants coming from all over the country to take part, Arizona Cocktail Week serves as a meeting ground for many people who see each other only once a year. The founders get a chance to get back together and see where their work has taken them.
Damon Scott and Ross Simon, both co-founders, recognize the sense of community the event has. Unlike cities with bigger markets, attendees at the event will be rubbing shoulders and squeezing lemons with the big names in cocktails, Simon says. When participants see the intimacy that Arizona Cocktail Week is able to offer, they go back to their own cities and to try to replicate it, Scott says.
But the event doesn’t cater to only those already in the cocktail community and looks to educate those who might not know much about the bartending career. “I think it shines a light on what we’re doing here,” Simon says. “The most important thing is getting people’s awareness up and having a vessel where we can teach that there’s more to alcohol than getting drunk.”
Despite many people’s stereotypes, bartending is looking to get a better reputation. “It’s been a respectable career for years but now we’re finally getting some of that respect back” says Micah Olson, part-owner of Crudo in Phoenix. Olson has participated in the event every year and won last year’s Last Slinger Standing, Arizona Cocktail Week’s biggest event. In charge of menu development, Olson sees seasonality playing into many drinks here, with lighter drinks doing better, though Phoenix is still a young city and developing its identity as a cocktail market.
Last Slinger Standing, held this year at Bitter & Twisted in downtown Phoenix, was the idea of Jason Asher. Asher started out in the industry trying to merge culinary arts and the bar. Several years later, he came up with competition that’s part Iron Chef, part March Madness. Similar to bartending, “it’s about listening, and it’s about understanding ingredients,” he says.
With participants from Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucson, 2015 is the first year the entire state of Arizona will be represented at Arizona Cocktail Week. Throughout the week, many local bars and restaurants will hold more than 50 events, looking to expose people to what their bars and kitchens have to offer.
“I think this is one of the best, must-go events for anyone in the Southwest to eat, drink and learn,” Simon says.
Arizona Cocktail Week will be held from February 14-21. Main events will be held at the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, the Cocktail Carnival on Saturday, February 14. The Last Slinger Standing Competition will be held Monday, February 16 at Bitter & Twisted in Phoenix. Wristbands can be purchased online or at any Bevmo store.