Judging the Campari Cocktail Competition

Matt Pfohl holds his rose-garnished Campari cocktail at the Campari competition.
Matt Pfohl's rose-garnished cocktail was one of my favorites. (Photo credit: Dustin Hill & Paul DeVincent.)

Last month Salt Lake City’s most talented mixologists competed against each other to create the best Campari-based cocktail.  The competition was organized by the Utah chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild to spread awareness of the newly-formed local charter and to determine a regional winner for the national competition.  I was lucky enough to be one of the judges that got to taste all the Campari creations.  It was a tough job, but someone had to do it!

Four cocktails and a bottle of Campari during the Campari cocktail competition.
One of Campari’s most distinguishing features is the color. (Photo credit: Dustin Hill & Paul DeVincent.)

The competitors were Scott Gardner of Finca; Holly Booth and Josh Novaski of High West Distillery; Matt Pfohl of Pallet; Ryan Manning of Takashi/Bar X; and Richard Noel, Duncan Burrell and Amy Elderedge of Bar X.  Judging alongside me were Nick Como of the Downtown Alliance and James Dumas, the executive chef of High West.  The President of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild, Steve Walton, judged the technical aspects from the front lines while the Vice President, Sean Neves, announced and directed the event.

Matt Pfohl of Pallet, Ryan Manning of Takashi/Bar X and Duncan Burrell of Bar X show off their creations at the Campari Cocktail Competition.
Matt Pfohl, Ryan Manning & Duncan Burrell. (Photo: Dustin Hill & Paul DeVincent.)
Josh Novaski of High West Richard Noel of Bar X and Scott Gardner of Finca display their Campari cocktails.
Josh Novaski, Richard Noel & Scott Gardner. (Photo: Dustin Hill & Paul DeVincent.)

The mixologists were given strict guidelines for their cocktail: it had to be an aperitif (served before a meal to stimulate appetite), ingredients had to be from the Campari portfolio (no homemade syrups or bitters allowed) and use at least 1 ounce of Campari, an Italian herbal liquor that’s intensely bitter in flavor and bright red in color.  Bartenders had seven minutes to make four cocktails while maintaining a performance-like atmosphere for the audience (like with all bottle labels facing forward).

The crowd at Bar X during the Campari Cocktail Competition.
Being introduced to the audience with Nick Como. (Photo: Dustin Hill & Paul DeVincent.)

The audience was full of familiar faces from the Salt Lake City food community.  They munched on snacks from High West Distillery, who was one of the event sponsors along with Campari, and sipped on a Campari-spiked whiskey lemonade.  They didn’t get to taste any of the competition cocktails (only the judges got that privilege) but one of each cocktail was auctioned off to raise money for the Utah Bartenders Guild.  One sold for $100!

Kelli Nakagama, Sean Neves, Nick Como, Steve Watson and James Dumas tally the judging sheets at the Campari Competition.
Watching Sean Neves, Nick Como, Steve Watson and James Dumas tally our judging sheets. (Photo credit: Dustin Hill & Paul DeVincent.)

Meanwhile judges Nick, James and I were hidden in a back room so we didn’t know which contestant was making our drinks.  We scored each cocktail on aroma, creativity, taste and presentation.  The drinks were incredibly complex.  Thanks to the intensity of Campari, all of them were slightly similar but at the same time they were all so different that it was difficult to pick a favorite.

The eight competing cocktails varied in ingredients, garnishes and glasses.
The eight competing cocktails varied in ingredients, garnishes and glasses. (Photo credit: Dustin Hill & Paul DeVincent.)

The winner was Amy of Bar X with her variation of the classic Americano cocktail (made with Campari, sweet vermouth and club soda) that she called Coccinella, or Ladybug.  The runners up were Ryan of Takashi and Scott of Finca.  Besides bragging rights, Amy won an all-expenses paid trip to Portland to represent Utah at the national Campari competition in October.  (Go Amy!)

Matt Pfohl holds his rose-garnished Campari cocktail at the Campari competition.
Matt Pfohl’s rose-garnished cocktail was one of my favorites. (Photo credit: Dustin Hill & Paul DeVincent.)

The U.S. Bartenders’ Guild in a non-profit organization that focuses on empowering bartenders, spreading knowledge and elevating the craft of bartending.  The Utah Chapter received its charter in April and is trying to gain members.  Bartenders, restaurant and bar owners and cocktail enthusiasts are welcome to join; membership is $100/year (which includes a health program for bartenders). Click here to sign up.  They plan to do more events like this one in the future, so stay in touch with them via their facebook page.

A special thanks to Nick Como for recommending me to be a judge, to Sean Neves for inviting me to be part of such a fun event, and to photographers Dustin Hill and Paul DeVincent for letting me use their great photos for this post. 

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