And they said it couldn’t be done. Or was it that it shouldn’t be done …? No matter.
Vegas happens to be home to some very creative individuals behind its bars, so for the pizza issue, we quickly assembled a crack team of mixologists to tackle the novelty notion of a pizza cocktail. Why should solid foods have all the fun?!
The mission, should the nine competitors choose to accept it: create the best damn pizza cocktail ever. Period. It should look great, smell amazing, taste like heaven and—of course—evoke all the ripe and savory goodness baked into a proper pizza, however that bartender defined it.
Forbes, a locals destination bar and nightclub at 3400 S. Jones, played host to our event, with Vito’s Pizza of Henderson providing the hot pies for inspiration and sustenance. The host panel consisted of the Weekly’s own Sarah Feldberg; Liquidity Global beverage consultant, mixologist and former pizzeria co-owner Anthony Alba; and Forbes GM Paul Marrone, also of multi-generational Philadelphia family pizza business stock.
The drinks, like the competition, were stiff. “There were a lot of cocktails that were very creative, very thought-out, that were fantastic drinks by themselves or would go well on a menu,” says Alba, “but what I was looking for is the sensation, the aroma, the flavor that you get when you eat a pizza, but a liquid form of it.”
The winner? Contestant No. 1, the Wood-fired Black Margarita Pizza Cocktail. “The cocktail that won today really worked for me,” Alba continues. “The flavor was amazing, the aroma was amazing, it smelled like a pizza, but a cold one—which is okay because a lot of us eat cold pizza. The flavor was just like eating a pizza. And the presentation, in a pepper, was interesting and unique. Not necessarily my style per se, but I did appreciate how it all came together.” And delicious? Forgeddabouddit. It was incredible.
Contestant No. 1: “The Wood-fired Black Margarita Pizza Cocktail”
A collaboration between bartender Steve Dorsey and Beam Global Spirits and Wine Master Mixologist Bobby “G” Gleason, with technical adviser Rio Executive Chef Randy Sabastion This cocktail came on strong thanks to a bell-pepper “glass” and the genuine smoked, cooked flavors and aromas. Stuffed with pizza sauce from Nora’s Cuisine, Tres Generaciones Reposado tequila and Italian sausage-infused Jim Beam Black Label; the judges were wowed and had to look to this cocktail as the benchmark and the entry to beat. FIRST PLACE!
1.5 oz. Jim Beam Black Label infused with Italian sausage
.5 oz. Tres Generaciones Reposado tequila
2. oz. tomato juice
2 oz. sundried tomatoes in oil
2 barspoons Nora’s Cuisine’s pizza sauce
2 fresh basil leaves
Leaves from 2 fresh oregano sprigs
1 clove fresh garlic
1 green bell pepper, hollowed
1 thin breadstick
1 fresh buffalo mozzarella “balloon” filled with hickory wood smoke and basil-infused oil
1 fresh basil leaf
Red pepper flakes
To make the Italian Sausage-infused Jim Beam Black Label:
Cook the Italian sausage in a non-reactive pan until well done. Pour entire contents of pan into a deep bowl. Cover completely with Jim Beam Black Label (about 2 pounds per liter) and let sit covered overnight in the refrigerator. Next day, fine-strain out the sausage, and pour the infusion through cheesecloth into a re-labeled bottle or container.
To make the cocktail:
In a mixing glass, drop in chopped garlic clove and muddle to extract juices. Add oregano and basil leaves with the sundried tomatoes then muddle again. Add tequila, bourbon and tomato juice. Fill with ice and stir thoroughly. Strain into the bell pepper Garnish with the mozzarella balloon tied to the breadstick. Serve with a cocktail pick
Using the provided cocktail pick, poke the balloon so that it bursts open, releasing the wood smoke and the infused oil into the cocktail. This will fill the area with the aromas of a wood fire pizza oven. Use the breadstick as a stirrer. Enjoy the cocktail. And when you’ve finished you can ask for another or just eat your cocktail glass!
Contestant No. 2 “Pizzetta Airmaggio Cocktail”
By Emilio Tiburcio, mixologist, ProgressiveBar Las Vegas. Based on a sumptuous pear-and-arugula white pizza he once dined on, Emilio translated this dining memory into a light and gently sweet cocktail using Grey Goose vodka with muddled fresh green pear, fresh arugula and a three-cheese-infused air topped with dried oregano.
2 oz. Grey Goose Vodka
¼ oz of fresh green pear
6 leaves arugula
1.25 oz arugula-infused simple syrup
On top, three cheese (Romano, parmesan, mozzarella) infused air
Muddle the pear and arugula leaves in a mixing glass. Add the vodka, simple syrup infused, ice and shake well. Double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the three-cheese air (made in a stainless steel dessert whipper). Sprinkle top with oregano and arrange two fresh arugula leaves on the side.
Contestant No. 3 “Pie-eyed on Bleecker Street”
By Tobin Ellis, principal, BarMagic of Las Vegas. As we all learned, to be “pie-eyed” means to be tipsy. To that end, Tobin recalled one memorable slice he had in Manhattan with his tasty, tipsy cocktail of salami-cured Absolut with roasted garlic simple syrup, Campari tomato water, fresh oregano, aged balsamic vinegar and a grated Parmesan cheese top.
2 oz. Fra Mani Toscano salami-cured Absolut vodka
.5 oz. roasted garlic simple syrup
1 oz. seasoned Campari tomato water
Half a barspoon of aged balsamic vinegar
Grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh basil leaf
Combine first four ingredients over ice. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a fresh basil leaf.
Contestant No. 4 “Cold Slice”
By Thomas Kunick, bartender, Downtown Cocktail Room. While the idea of a pizza cocktail is a novelty, that doesn’t mean it has to be complicated. Thomas steeped tomato vodka with traditional pizza herbs and spices, as well as a touch of sugar to harness the flavors, and added an anchovy-stuffed black olive to give it a kick of saltiness.
3.5 oz. 3 Olives Tomato vodka steeped with basil, fennel, oregano, and a pinch of sugar
1 anchovy-stuffed black olive
Parmesan cheese cocktail rim
Using a lemon or simple syrup, rim a cocktail glass with parmesan cheese and chill. Shake infused vodka over ice and strain into the cocktail glass. Garnish with the olive.
Contestant No. 5 “Hawaiian Luau”
By Amanda Gager, bartender, Stripsteak, Mandalay Bay The divine aroma of ham and pineapple filled the air as Amanda’s Hawaiian pizza-inspired cocktail combined homemade tomato water with Skyy Pineapple vodka and Benedictine. A garnish of skewered ham, pineapple and mozzarella is joined by a few fragrant leaves of micro-basil.
1.5 oz. Skyy Pineapple vodka
.25 oz. Benedictine
2 oz. tomato water
Ham, thickly sliced, cut in half
Small mozzarella balls
Fresh pineapple chunk
Combine ingredients in a pint glass over ice. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a skewer of mozzarella and pineapple folded within a thick slice of ham. Add three micro-basil heads to the top of the drink.
Contestant No. 6 “The Pizza-tini”
By Ken Hall, bartender, Noir Bar, Luxor. Simple and delicious to boot, Ken’s pizza cocktail was the original inspiration for this competition, thanks to its heady blend of Skyy 90 vodka, “secret recipe” pizza sauce (he’s not talking so neither are we), oregano, Parmesan cheese and a seasoning-dusted rim. SECOND PLACE!
2 oz. “Secret recipe” pizza sauce
2 pinches dried oregano
2 pinches grated Parmesan cheese
3 oz. Skyy 90 vodka
Oregano and Parmesan cheese rim
Using simple syrup, rim a cocktail glass with oregano and parmesan cheese and chill. Shake first four ingredients over ice and strain into the cocktail glass.
Contestant No. 7 “The Slice”
By Alex Velez, bartender, Sushi Ave/instructor, Crescent Bartending School. Well-known for his molecular methods, Alex once again wowed and enlightened with his mixture of pepperoni-infused Tru Organic Gin, yellow Chartreuse (lower proof, he says, than the green variety), marinara sauce water, pineapple and lemon and a few healthy dashes of his homemade basil-thyme bitters. THIRD PLACE!
1 oz. pepperoni-infused Tru Organic Gin
.5 oz. yellow Chartreuse
.5 oz. marinara sauce water
.25 oz. organic pineapple juice
.25 oz. lemon juice
6-8 dashes homemade basil/thyme bitters
Cheese blend air topping
Grilled pepperoni slices on top of the air
Crushed, freshly toasted pizza crust rim
Grilled pineapple skewered with a grilled cherry tomato
Combine first six ingredients over ice. Shake and strain into a chilled, rimmed cocktail glass. Top with foam and garnish
Contestant No. 8 “Pizza Margherita”
By George Sproule, bartender, Downtown Cocktail Room. It was the muddled English cucumber that really highlighted the freshness of George’s cocktail and cut through the Bombay Sapphire Gin, Snap E Tom spiced tomato juice, spices and the obscure Farigoule Herbs de Provence liqueur garnished with two marinated mozzarella balls, a marinated green olive and fresh basil.
2 oz. Bombay Sapphire Gin
1 oz. Snap-E-Tom
.25 oz. Farigoule Thyme Liqueur
1 inch English cucumber
.25 tsp crushed red pepper
.25 tsp dehydrated shallots
Pinch of garlic powder
2 sprigs parsley
1 sprig of fresh oregano
Marinated mozzarella ball
Marinated olive or cherry tomato
Fresh basil leaf
Muddle cucumber in a mixing glass. Add remaining ingredients. Shake and double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Contestant No. 9 “That’s Amore!”
Mariena Mercer, tequila director and mixologist, Agave. The bar becomes Miss Wizard’s world when Mariena breaks out the chemistry set and starts whipping up a spherification topping bar for her molecular cocktail of homemade tomato, mozzarella and garlic waters combined with Three Olives Tomato vodka, pepperoni-washed Three Olives vodka and a pizza crust-rimmed cocktail glass.
¼ oz. rosemary simple syrup
1/8 oz. pepperoni-washed Three Olives vodka
1 oz. Three Olives Tomato vodka
Dash each: garlic water, onion water, mozzarella water, lemon juice
1 oz. Tomato water
1/8 oz. green pepper puree
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
Parmesan cheese foam
Pizza dough rim
Assorted topping “buffet” including: green pepper, onion, pineapple, and black olive spheres
Pepperoni and Italian sausage powder
Ranch dressing powder
Muddle basil with simple syrup. Add liquid ingredients and ice. Shake and double-strain into a pizza crust-rimmed cocktail glass. Top with cheese foam and server with the topping “buffet.”