(Reuters.com) - Like many other areas of the U.S. southwest, just a few years ago Phoenix's de facto cocktail of was the Margarita, or perhaps a patrician Gin & Tonic to sip by the golfing green.
But over the past couple of years cocktail culture has accelerated in Phoenix - so much so that the city will play host to the first-ever Arizona Cocktail Week (<arizonacocktailweek.com/>) from February 19-25.
"There's a lot of garden-to-glass out here," explains festival organiser Jason Asher, referring to the growing trend to use local and seasonal ingredients in making drinks. " using Arizona produce as much as possible, particularly local citrus, which is appropriate for a climate like ours."
While Tucson (about an hour and a half away) has also developed a lively cocktail scene, Phoenix and adjacent Scottsdale - best known to many business travellers as a golf mecca - has developed a stellar roster of bartending talent.
Asher first drew attention to the region when GQ magazine named him the ‘Most Inspired Bartender' in 2010. At the time, he ran the Jade Bar at the Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort (<www.sanctuaryoncamelback.com/>), where his Beet & Yuzu Gimlet helped win him the honour. Asher is now head mixologist for Young's Market Company, a wine and spirits distributor.
Cocktails creativity is fast spreading. At wildly experimental Citizen Public House (<citizenpublichouse.com/>) located in the Old Town area of Scottsdale, a space that formerly housed the original Trader Vic's Tiki Bar in the 1970s, the CPH restaurant is racking up accolades for its elevated pub grub.
But the drinks merit particular mention - especially the ones dreamed up by partner/mixologist Richie Moe in his upstairs ‘Research & Development Room.'
"It's not a bar, it's a working lab," says Asher. "They do tableside infusions for gin and tonics. He has a paint can shaker he uses for making cocktails; he's doing molecular-style cocktails; he has a shelf of 80 different tinctures and bitters. He does a Fernet milkshake, things like that."
But perhaps the most exciting experiment in the lab is the "Three-Hour Margarita," made using a cold-drip coffee maker to create a slow infusion.
"He puts tequila and high-end orange liqueur in the top section; the next section has kaffir lime leaves and citrus peel. He then adjusts it so it steeps." It needs to be ordered ahead of time, and the finished drink serves eight tipplers, making it an ideal insider-y drink to impress a thirsty group.
If the Margarita is still the de facto cocktail of the southwest, certainly this is a forward-looking version that would do anyone proud.
(Kara Newman is the author of "Spice & Ice: 60 tongue-tingling cocktails", available <here>. The opinions expressed are her own.)
(Editing by Peter Myers)