News / Calgary

Bartenders go head to head to make Alberta's coolest cocktail

Mixing the perfect cocktail takes skill, precision and the right ingredients.

On Tuesday night, 12 of Alberta’s most clever cocktail creators will unveil their coolest concoctions at the 2013 Alberta Cocktail Challenge.

These mixologists will compete for up to $4,000 in cash prizes and bragging rights in two categories – ‘Winter Warmer’, which requires bartenders to create a warm or cold beverage fit for the season, and ‘Soda-licious’, which must contain Fentimans soda.

“Creativity and originality are what the judges are looking for,” says Nathan Head, owner of the Milk Tiger Lounge and VP of the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association’s Alberta division.

“Are you making a well-balanced cocktail? Is it too acidic? Too sweet? That’s a big component now.”

The four top-scoring bartenders will move onto a ‘Black Box’ challenge where they’ll attempt to make a delicious drink using ingredients revealed to them at the last minute.

Head says competitors are keen to reach the Black Box stage as it allows them to really show off their skills.

“Most of us can sit around for an hour and come up with a good cocktail,” he says. “But coming up with stuff on the fly with ingredients you haven’t worked with before, that’s fun.”

Last year’s champion, Franz Swinton, says the Alberta Cocktail Challenge is great showcase for the city’s bartenders.

“Calgary has a young and up-and-coming drinks culture,” he says.

“It's a great way to show that we are doing new things and that we aren't just a rye and coke city.”

The 2013 Alberta Cocktail Challenge takes place at Hotel Arts (119 – 12 Ave. S.W.) starting at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20 at the door.

Winning recipes

Winning last year's Alberta Cocktail Challenge was among the highlights of Franz Swinton's 12-year bartending career.

"Officially, I won $2000," says Swinton, who has manned the bars at District, The Rhino and Hotel Arts' Raw Bar.

"Unofficially, I won the respect of my peers, and it has placed me in the upper echelon of drinks makers in the city."

Swinton won the 2012 competition with this tasty concoction, Tea @ 3 a.m.:

3 oz Hendricks gin

1 oz Grand Marnier

0.5 oz Elderflower cordial

4 bar spoons tea (local tea blend - Sencha, fruity aromatics from Tea Trader in Inglewood.)

6 dashes Rhubarb bitters


Build ingredients in tea pot, cover with 3 cups hot water, steep for 3 minutes.


Gin infused cucumber sandwich with local sheep milk butter.

Local lemon honey

Milk Tiger's Stephen Stewart hopes to win big with his 'Soda-licious' entry called

Fentimans Not So Hard Lemonade:

1.5 oz Appleton Estate Rum

.5 oz Cinzano Bianco Vermouth

.25 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

1 oz Rooibos Saffron Syrup

Bittermens Elemakule Tiki Bitters

3 oz Fentimans Rose Lemonade

Combine all ingredients except the lemonade into a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake. Fine strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice. Top with Fentimans Rose Lemonade. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

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