I love cocktails. And not just because there are some great cocktails, but because the craft of mixing drinks fascinates me. It's sort of like chemistry for foodies. A perfect place for me to get my cocktail fix is at the 5th Annual Arizona Cocktail Week, running from Saturday, February 13 through Sunday, February 21, 2016. I will be attending for my second year this weekend at Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale. It is a great fun-filled week for everyone who loves the art of crafting cocktails, whether you're an everyday enthusiast or a hospitality pro.

There are some fun organized events—the majority of which take place this weekend at Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale—but you can also take advantage of tons of events and special offerings all week at a selection of bars and restaurants across the state. Here are some of the highlights and a few of my favorites from last year.

Saturday & Sunday Seminars

I really enjoyed the seminars last year and there are some great new ones this year. Top brand ambassadors—including Bulleit Bourbon, Zacapa Rum, Tequila Patron—will share their knowledge and skills for a variety of audiences. Some are industry-only, but the majority are open to the public. While some seminars seat up to 100 people, others are limited to 25 people to give an interactive experience. Some seminars are already sold out, but there are still seats left at most seminars. Book your tickets online now.

At-Home Mixology Seminar AZCW

At-Home Mixology Seminar. Photo courtesy Arizona Cocktail Week

Highlights this year include:

Honey Varietal and Spirit Pairing

Did you know that there are over 200 honey varietals?  Did you know that you can pair various varietals with different spirits to enhance certain elements?  You can make a silver tequila tastes like a reposado or anejo just by using different honeys.  You can also enhance specific flavors and nuances in a gin, just by varying the varietal.  Come and explore the varietals and how to use them in cocktails and in some of your favorite drinks. Limited to 25. $25 each. Saturday, Feb 13, 11 am to 12:15 pm at Sahara Room, Hotel Valley Ho. Limited tickets are still available as of Friday, Feb. 12.

Agave Confidential

Journey to the heart of the agave and Mexico through the hearts of these living legends! Join one of the greatest agave panels ever assembled in Arizona to learn what makes their love of agave tick. Hear these masters of agave share their personal stories and histories with this spirit while sipping on some of the most delicious expressions on these spirits. You’ll definitely walk away with some new-found knowledge of this spirit that you never knew before.  If you love tequila … it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to sit down and drink with all of these legends, all in one place. Saturday, February 13 from 12:30 – 2 pm in Sands Building at Hotel Valley Ho. $25 each. Limited tickets are still available as of Friday, Feb. 12.

Beer Cocktails 2.0

Beer Cocktails have been fairly popular over the last few years.  Three years ago, AZ Cocktail Week featured a beer seminar where panelists delved into the makings of these complex cocktails.  This year, we have bartender Niklas Morris from Tucson at the helm.  Morris was recently published in Jacob Grier’s beer cocktail tome, Cocktails on Tap, and has years of experience behind and running both craft cocktail and craft beer programs. The seminar will cover all of the bases: from a history of beer cocktails in the French Alps, to spirit and beer pairings and the basics in technique and cocktail development.

If you love beer and love cocktails – – or, work at an establishment that serves a lot of beer – this is a seminar you don’t want to miss. Saturday, February 13 from 2 to 3:15 pm at Sahara Room at Hotel Valley Ho. $25 each. Limited to 25 participants. Event is SOLD OUT.

The Herbalist; A Sensory Experience

Sponsored by Haus Alpenz, St. George Spirits, Bitter Cube. Delve into the world of the botanicals, and find out how they are turned from raw materials to your favorite sipper. This sensory enlightening journey of the senses will have your mind second guessing every turn that this esteemed panel throws at you via the aromas and tastes they provide. They will walk you through the world of old and new when it comes to these amazing roots, herbs and barks. While showcasing how they are used and where you can use them to take  drinks to another level.

NOTE: This seminar will be a full sensory experience.  Attendees will be blind-folded for part of the seminar. Saturday, February 13 from 4 to 5:30 pm in Sands Building at Hotel Valley Ho. $25 each. Limited tickets are still available as of Friday, Feb. 12.

Tequila Patrón Inside & Out

Come and learn more about Tequila Patrón … everything from the process in making Tequila Patrón – the Old World Tahona Stone Wheel process, how each tequila is labeled and authorized by the Mexican Government, and about our line of XO Café cordials: XO Café, XO Café Dark Cocoa, and XO Cafe Incendio.  Learn how they are made and how to use them in cocktails or cuisine.

You’ll get to sample some of Patron’s finest … Sunday, February 14 from 11 am to 12:15 pm in the Tropicana Room at Hotel Valley Ho. $25 each. Limited tickets are still available as of Friday, Feb. 12.

The Story of Rum via the Cocktail

Sponsored by Don Q Rum, Mount Gay Rum, Diplomatico Rum and RE'AL Cocktail Ingredients. All aboard the rum express on a trip through the history of rum as told through cocktails.  Join global rum expert and ambassador, Ian Burrell,and proprietor of rum-laden Smuggler’s Cove, and rum expertMartin Cate as they take you through a journey around the globe from India to the Caribbean.  Burrell and Cate delve into the dead man’s chest of rum history and lore traversing the nations of the world right up to the modern day prosperity of this rum-markable spirit. Attendees will also be treated to some stunning rum cocktails and rum tastings.  A seminar you don’t want to miss! Sunday, February 14 from 12:30 – 2 pm at the Sands Building at Hotel Valley Ho. $25 each. Limited tickets are still available as of Friday, Feb. 12.

The Dead Rabbit presents…The Five Cocktails that changed Irish Whiskey forever

Sponsored by William Grant & Sons. From the birth of whiskey in Ireland, to the collapse and near extinction of Irish whiskey, to today’s latest resurgence and resurrection, Irish whiskey has gone through a Rise, Fall and Rise again. Whether it was in decline or on the ascendancy there have been drinks that have defined Irish whiskey over the ages. Hear the origins of drinks from the Irish Coffee, the Tipperary, Irish whiskey drinks born in Ireland or created aboard and much more.

Led by Jillian Vose (Bar Manager of The Dead Rabbit, NYC – won Best World Bar, 2015, TOTC) and Tim Herlihy (Tullamore Dew Brand Ambassador) Sunday, February 14 from 4 to 5:30 pm. $25 each. Limited tickets are still available as of Friday, Feb. 12.

HACK'D: Mastering drink photography with a smartphone

Sponsored by Jack Daniels. Have you ever tried to take a cocktail photo in a bar at night and just ended up with a dark, flat picture? Or have you been asked to submit a photo for a contest or PR opportunity? Come learn the tricks of the trade from one of the best in the business – Dusting Downing.  This will be a hands on learning opportunity to master Smartphone Photography. Ideal for bartenders, bloggers, social media and enthusiasts! Dustin will be joined by Eric “ET” Tecosky (Jack Daniel’s Brand Ambassador). Cocktails will be served along with tastings of select expressions of Jack Daniel’s. Limited tickets are still available as of Friday, Feb. 12.

Tasting Panel

Head to Sands Bar at Hotel Valley Ho for The Tasting Panel Magazine's Craft Spirit Speakeasy. This complimentary event is Saturday, February 13 from 11 am to 4 pm. It will feature some of today's hottest emerging and established brands in creating sample cocktails offered by some of Arizona's best bartenders.

Cocktailgating Festival

The Sands parking lot at Hotel Valley Ho is home to the cocktailgating festival from 11 am to 5 pm on Saturday, Feb 13. The entire parking lot will be the place to hang out between seminars.

Dickel Whiskey Pop-up Bar

Dickel Whiskey Pop-up Bar. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Tickets are $25 or complimentary with the purchase of another ticket for a Saturday event, such as seminar, artisanal market or cocktail carnival. Participants include:

  • Jack Daniels Experiences with a “Taste of Tennessee”
  • Tito's Handmade Vodka's “Little Woody” pop-up bar
  • Dickel Whiskey Pop-Up Bar
  • Guinness
  • Don Julio Truck
  • American Born Moonshine
  • Boston Beer featuring Rebel Grapefruit IPA, Coney Island Hard Root Beer floats and Angry Orchard Hard cider
  • Heaven Hill Brands All-American experience with Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, Rittenhouse Rye Whisky, PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur cocktails and Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur cocktails

Cocktail Carnival

The Cocktail Carnival, scheduled for 7 to 10 pm on Saturday, February 13, is the original Arizona Cocktail Week event and is the official kick-off to the fun week. I had a great time last year and it really is a carnival–with music, performers, fun and—of course—cocktails.

Cocktail Carnival

Cocktail Carnival. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Mixologists come from all over the country to showcase the best and most creative, delicious cocktails.   Nothing is out of bounds or off limits – how about some boozy caramel corn?  An Alice-in-Wonderland themed booth with “Drink Me” tonics?  No matter your cocktail or spirit of choice-  you’ll definitely find something you love – with over 25 different tables and booths including some “Secret Suites” with attractions and performers galore.  A great way to see cocktails at their best with over 25 tables and booths, attractions and performers galore.

You can still go online and book your tickets before the events for $40 each. If there are still tickets available at the event (it sold out last year) tickets will be $50 at the door.

Still ready to party after the carnival closes? Head to the official after-party for Agave Alley. Head to Bowlmor Lanes on 7300 E. Thomas Road in Scottsdale to sample over a dozen of Mexico's finest agave spirits while bowling. Transportation will be provided from the Hotel Valley Ho to Bowlmor Lanes courtesy of Tequila Don Julio. No reservations required and entry is complimentary. First come, first serve.

Storytellers Dinner

Head to the rooftop deck at Hotel Valley Ho for a Valentine's Day dinner for a cause. You can enjoy a meal from some of the Valley's best chefs paired with cocktails offered by some of the best mixologists and proceeds go to benefit Careers in Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) that gives scholarships to high school students to pursue their dreams in the culinary world.

The dinner is Sunday, February 14 from 7 to 9:30 pm. There is an optional cocktail hour with passed hors d'oeuvres from 6 to 6:45 pm. Tickets are $75 per person. Tito's Handmade Vodka is matching all ticket sales and auction items, dollar for dollar, up to $10,000. Purchase tickets online here.

Artisanal Market

This is the spirit & cocktail version of a Farmer’s Market.  Walk through tables and tents of craft spirits, bitters, local artisans that  feature everything from infused sugars and salts to shrubs to tonics.  If you’re interested in finding those special spirits and crafty drink items, this is the place! Tickets are available online for $25. The event is Monday, February 15 from 1 to 4 pm at the Sands Building at Hotel Valley Ho.

Artisanal Market Arizona Cocktail Week

Artisanal Market. Photo courtesy Arizona Cocktail Week

Other AZ Cocktail Week events

There are other events throughout the week. You can get a full listing online at arizonacocktailweek.com. Some of the not-to-miss events:

  • Last Slinger Standing, bartending competition, Monday, February 15, 7 to 10 pm at Culinary Dropout, 149 S. Farmer Avenue in Tempe. Tickets are complimentary online.
  • jade bar Take-Over features some of the craft cocktailers who put jade bar on the map. Jason Asher of Young's Market & Counter Intuitive; Micah Olson of Crudo & Okra; Tyson Buhler, 2015 U.S. Bartenders' Guild Bartender of the Year; Kyle Mason of La Bocca Wine Bar and Urban Kitchen; and Jillian Vose of Dead Rabbit in NYC. Small plates by Chef Beau MacMillan and music from DJ Hybrid. Entry is complimentary and no tickets are necessary.
  • Last Call with Romo Tonight Live is a live variety show at Flycatcher, 340 E. 4th Avenue in Tucson. Tickets are $15 if you purchase them in advance or $20 online.
  • Imbibe n' Dine features a series of cocktail-centric dinners around the state at such establishments as Lon's at The Hermosa Inn, Citizen Public House, Bluefire Grille, The Market by Jennifer's, Cuff, Tarbell's, The Mix Up Bar at Royal Palms Resort & Spa, J&G Steakhouse and PY Steakhouse in Tucson.


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