Garden Bar and Platform 18 Phoenix bartenders are award semi-finalists
Aspen Bingham is the lead bartender at Garden Bar, which is tucked away in a charming Sixth Street home that has been transformed into a unique cocktail bar with multiple rooms and a patio. She exudes confidence as she and her team whip up the ingredients for some of the most creative drinks in town. As she should.
Bingham is one of 24 semi-finalists for the Most Imaginative Bartender award.
The Tales of the Cocktail Foundation award shines a light on bartenders who have used the pandemic as an opportunity to get creative outside of the bar. Bartenders from the United States and Canada have submitted a recipe and a 90-second video to describe their creative endeavors beyond the bar and the global cocktail The organization narrowed the pool of contestants from 250 to 40. Then the judges visited the contestants at their respective bars to try drinks inspired by the bartenders’ extracurricular projects.
Of these, 24 were selected to move to the semi-finals, which take place in Denver on September 26 and 27. This year, Phoenix has two semi-finalists representing the valley – Bingham and Nicole Giampino, the bar manager of Platform 18.
In Denver, 10 bartenders will be selected to compete in the 2023 Finals in Miami, where one will ultimately be crowned the winner and take home $20,000 to be used for a business inspired by their project.
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Raising the bar for sustainability
The contest is not just about making a great drink. It’s about making cocktails that tell a story or start a conversation, which is exactly what Phoenix competitor Bingham did with The Heat Island Effect.
Growing up in Flagstaff, sustainability was something that was taught in public schools and when Bingham moved to Phoenix, she learned more through classes at Paradise Valley Community College. She then started a community garden in her college and later transferred to ASU where she is currently working on her bachelor’s degree in economic sustainability.
During the pandemic, Bingham became fascinated with the heat island effect in Phoenix. The heat island effect occurs when metal and concrete absorb heat during the day and release it at night. Digging deeper, she learned that the heat island effect had economic, social, cultural and environmental consequences.
Economically, this increases the medical costs associated with heat-related medical problems and deaths. Socially, it affects people in low-income communities. Culturally, information about the issue is only available in English, which excludes other communities. And, environmentally, it increases air pollution.
She started thinking about solutions.
“I thought, how can I express this in a drink?” said Bingham.
For the awards, Bingham combined seven years of bartending experience and a love of sustainability to create its concept and signature drink.
“I’ve been trying to figure out how to make cocktails sustainably,” Bingham said, “which is a lot harder than it looks. Although the concept has been around for a long time, there aren’t many of tools and resources, but especially individuals who experiment on their own.
Designing a more sustainable cocktail
For his cocktail, named The Heat Island Effect, Bingham chose plants that are native to the Sonoran Desert or can grow here, such as gojis, sage and chiltepín peppers.
The base of the yellow drink is Blue Sapphire gin to which she adds desert flower cordial, honey syrup, and a tincture of goji and chiltepine which she pours into a chilled coupe glass, allowing for the maximum aromatic experience. Above floats a sage leaf containing three drops of orange water.
She made the cordial using Desert Flowers from Herbology Shop, which the owner custom-made for her with a mix of drought-tolerant and drought-tolerant flowers.
Next, she chose honey as a sweetener. “Arizona has a lot of it and it’s very important for the environment.”
The honey she chose was Bridle Path Beeyard’s Palo Verde Honey. Cultivated by veterinarian Joc Rawls, this honey is a true taste of Phoenix, as bees only fly within a two-mile radius of the hive and Rawls lives in Uptown. Its honey, retained in its sweetness, has an almost buttery flavor that deepens with time.
“I was trying to see how one cocktail or even one ingredient can change the world,” Bingham said. “Cocktails are universal. They can make discussions about difficult issues more enjoyable.
So far the conversations his drink sparked at the Garden Bar helped Bingham connect with people who share his interest in sustainable development.
“Even if I don’t win, I would like to use this season to educate people on the heat island effect and take it from a local level to an international level. Next season it may be another drink and another concept.
What will Bingham do if she wins?
“I want to start a lab and start collecting data and real, tangible testimonials about composting in restaurants,” Bingham said. “How to start from a design or how to convert an already existing building? It’s a toolkit for businesses with different levels of involvement, eventually leading to a test kitchen that demonstrates sustainable restaurant and bar models.
Details: Meet Bingham and try his drink at Garden Bar, 822 N. Sixth Ave., Phenix. 602-824-2385, gardenbarphx.com.