Park City's Finest 

Up in Libation Nation, bartenders square off to create PC’s best cocktail.

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My cocktail education stalled out circa 1974, so my expertise in such matters pretty much begins and ends with the Tequila Sunrise. Nevertheless, I found myself April 2 at the judges’ table—along with X96’s Kerry Jackson (a cocktail pro, pictured here hard at work), High West Distillery’s David Perkins, and others—for the Park City Cocktail Contest. The Wasatch Brew Pub Cantina was jammed to the rafters with cocktail aficionados, from Casey (a just-turned-21 fan of X96 and City Weekly) to owner Greg Schirf, who opened Utah’s first brewpub in 1986 (before, as he pointed out, some bartenders in the contest were even born).

Normally, I bypass such events. But this was for a good cause: the People’s Healte Clinic. And before the evening was over, we’d sampled more than a dozen unique cocktails, created and prepared by an equal number of mixology masters representing some of Park City’s best bars and restaurants.

Two themes emerged during the contest. First, frou-frou drinks are here to stay. I blame that on Sex and the City. The vast majority of cocktails I tasted on Thursday night made my teeth hurt. Whatever happened to classic cocktails the likes of the old-fashioned or the gin martini? The second trend—at least up in Park City—is a fondness for incorporating High West Distillery’s products into drinks. Their Rendezvous Rye Whiskey and 7000 Vodka turned up in at least seven of the evening’s cocktail concoctions.

Each cocktail was judged based on four elements: presentation, taste, uniqueness and ease: The latter meaning drinks which made use of ingredients commonly found in most bars were graded higher than those using more exotic or hard-to-find ingredients—the reason being that the winning cocktail will be featured at bars and restaurants throughout Park City in 2009. Visually, the most interesting cocktail came courtesy a Stein Eriksen Lodge bartender named Guy, who adorned his “chocolate snowboarder” with blood-orange bubbles; the drink looked like a blood-orange bubble bath! Based on taste, one of my favorite cocktails of the evening was Michelle Whitaker’s (Ghidotti’s) “Park City press,” made with Vodka 7000, Hendrick’s gin, Cointreau, white grape juice, fresh mint and red grapes.

But when the votes were all counted, this year’s Park City Cocktail Contest winner was Bonnie Ulmer, from Deer Valley Resort, making it the second time in three years that Deer Valley has won the contest. Bonnie’s drink was called a St. Germain elderflower cocktail. If you’d like to try it at home, it’s easy to do: In a tall Collins glass, combine 3 ounces Prosecco with 1 1/2 ounce sparkling water and 1 1/2 ounce St. Germain elderflower liquor. Stir well and serve over ice with a sprig of mint and lemon zest.

Sips: Congratulations to the brew crew at Red Rock Brewing Company, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this month. Anniversary festivities include the “Red Rock economic stimulus bailout plan” where, every weekday through April, a Red Rock manager will choose a table at random and pick up the tab. And more kudos for brewer Kevin Templin and his team’s success at the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA), where they won three silver medals. At the 16th annual AIBA, they won the silver for Red Rock Wit Bier, Nut Brown Ale and Red Rock Reve. Red Rock is located at 254 S. 200 West in Salt Lake and in Park City at 1640 W. Redstone Center Drive. (RedRockBrewing.com)

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