Behind the Scenes of Arizona Cocktail Weekend

One of Arizona’s most anticipated weekends, Arizona Cocktail Weekend, returns for its ninth year from February 15 through 17 with three signature events showcasing the best in spirits from the state and nation’s top talent. Bartenders, spirit purveyors and cocktail enthusiasts will come together for a full three days of booze-filled fun completely unlike any other Valley event. 

This year’s Arizona Cocktail Weekend promises to be the best yet, with more hotels and venues participating than ever before and increased accessibility between the events in downtown Phoenix. In fact, event organizers were even able to ensure 90 percent of the events were walkable, making the event even more convenient for Arizona residents and visitors alike. The series of events, which is drawing an increasingly national audience is one-of-a-kind in the Southwest and is one of the longest-running spirits festivals in the country.

“As we grow we’re seeing a lot more people coming in from out of state, with downtown Phoenix’s support and our hotel partners that you can see on our website,” said Arizona Cocktail Weekend co-founder and Bitter & Twisted owner Ross Simon. “They’re really making it easy and making it a one-stop-shop for one of the most amazing spirit festivals in the Southwest.”

The weekend, which aims to attract both bar-goers and industry professionals, is elevating the bar scene with educational programming to develop an appreciation for high-quality spirits, while keeping access to the weekend’s events budget-friendly. 

“At the end of the day it’s all about drinking better,” said Simon “I’d rather someone have two amazing cocktails than be overserved or have ten drinks. We’re trying to get people to drink better and we’re trying to do a larger education piece this year.” 

The weekend’s main events kick off on Saturday, February 15 with the return of the Cocktail Carnival event, but with a twist. This year’s event will feature creative cocktails by 30 top alcohol brands and music by the 20-person MarchFourch marching band, hosted at the Walter Where? House.

“You can just imagine what the guys who have done so many cool installations at Burning Man have in store,” Simon said of the Walter Where? House. “As well as all the brands showcasing what’s on their radar for the year as far as cutting-edge booze and spirits.”

Following the Cocktail Carnival, Bitter & Twisted will host an intimate, late night Grey Goose party from midnight to 2 a.m. 

The second main event of the weekend is Top Bars, which features pop-up versions of bars from across the world such as London’s Happiness Forgets, San Francisco’s ABV and New York’s Katana Kitten — to name a few. Plus, entry includes samples of more than 30 top cocktails and one-of-a-kind entertainment. This year the event will be hosted at historic warehouse venue, The Croft. 

“It’s a very popular event that bars want to participate in but then it just comes down to sheer space,” said Simon. 

“These are bars that make top 10 lists on the planet. This the bar equivalent of Michelin star bars coming to downtown Phoenix’s doorstep and no one has to bring their passport,” he continued. 

The weekend ends with the “Last Slinger Standing” cocktail competition hosted by Young’s Market Company of Arizona. The fast-paced competition includes 16 of Arizona’s top bartenders who go head to head in a bracket-style tournament. During each round, the bartenders must integrate a secret base spirit and a secret modifier ingredient into an impressive cocktail with an array of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. Once time’s up, the panel of judges determine who moves on to the next round, with each round becoming more challenging than the last. 

“We’re trying to find the best of the best bartender,” said Simon. “This year, it’s exclusively Arizona bartenders. So, Young’s Market Company of Arizona has sourced out, had trials and heats to push the final bracket-style finalists for the Sunday event.”

Throughout the competition, the event remains high energy as onlookers wait to see who will be named the competition’s next top bartender. 

“It’s a very fast paced environment and it’s got a lot of energy in the room. It’s not just bartender makes a drink and the judges get all hoity toity,” said Simon. 

“As far as cocktail competitions go it’s very unique, it’s very fun and it’s very visual,” he continued. 

Throughout the weekend there will also be several happy hours and educational events to entertain all types of cocktail enthusiasts — from tequila seminars to vermouth seminars. All events will be continuously updated on the Arizona Cocktail Weekend website, which Simon recommends checking out ahead of time to set a weekend game plan. 

Even more exciting? This event is free! Arizona Cocktail Weekend organizers just ask that you consider donating to The Jupiter Foundation — a nonprofit that advances the craft of bartending through educational programs and events. 

For more information, or to buy tickets visit

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