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The Bloody Mary Fest Denver took place last Sunday, October 23rd, 2016 at the EXDO Event Center in the River North neighborhood of Denver. The venue is great; it’s an open warehouse space with an outdoor patio for food trucks and sunshine. DJ LuvGroove was throwing down beats at the center of the venue to get attendees dancing and vendor tables were scattered about. I arrived early at noon for the VIP hour of the event, which was so worth it. We got to sample Bloodies and appetizers before the mad rush came in at 1 PM. Over 600 tickets were sold to the event, which is killer considering this is the first year the Bloody Mary Fest has been held in Denver.

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Since I was one of the judges at the event, the VIP hour was crucial. The judges’ scores had to be into the registration booth by 3PM, so the extra hour was imperative for trying all of the Bloodies without getting really drunk along the way (though I was definitely pretty buzzed).I judged alongside Shelley Buchanan, founder of the Drunken Tomato, and Shawn Ghani, founder of D’Shawns Fine Foods. We were tasked with rating each of the 11 Bloodies and determined the “Best Original Bloody Mary” and the “Best Traditional Bloody Mary.” The Original category was seeking the best mix with unique and unconventional ingredients, while the Traditional category was aimed at the best classic mix.

Best Original Bloody Mary

1st Place: A tie between Sassafras American Eatery and The District. Sassafras’s “Tale of the Pig” Bloody Mary was very unique, being made with pecan-smoked fresno chilies, roasted piquillo peppers, and house-made Carolina BBQ sauce. It was spicy and tangy, which led to complexity like no other. Sassafras also garnished their cocktail with delicious bacon and a deviled quail egg which they somehow deviled on the inside without actually splitting the egg. Freakin’ magic I tell ya.

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The District’s Bloody was equally as tasty and made with fire roasted pureed peppers, wasabi powder, and pepperoncini juice, among more classic ingredients. The Bloody had an original flavor and was fiery hot! I really enjoyed the pop of spice and lingering heat on my tongue, which was complimented nicely by the andouille sausage and baby corn garnish.

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2nd Place: Snooze an A.M Eatery won 2nd place for Best Original Bloody. Snooze’s Bloody was made with many non-traditional Bloody ingredients like beets and apple juice. This gave way to a very non-traditional Bloody Mary that reminded me more of a fresh-pressed health juice than a Bloody. One of the main bases Snooze used was cucumber water, which made for a refreshing cocktail. This Bloody was very “out there;” I actually drank about 4 of them because it was a great palette cleanser in between spicier Bloodies.

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Best Traditional Bloody Mary

1st Place: Highland Tavern took 1st place with a unique, yet traditionally-flavored, Bloody Mary. I should say it was more of a Highland’s Tavern Bloody Caesar, since Clamato was used instead of tomato juice (I love Clamato). The use of pickle and olive brine, along with A1 steak sauce and an array of spices, made for a briny and tangy Bloody that was the real OG.

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2nd Place: Fooducopia was 2nd in the Best Traditional Bloody category. Fooducopia’s Bloody was made with the most classic ingredients, leading to a crisp, salty, and mildly hot cocktail. The pickled horseradish rang through each sip, while the pickle juice and cayenne added a nice twist to the Bloody. Favorite part of this Bloody? The spices were really chunky and hearty. Bacon was also involved in the garnish.

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People’s Choice Award

People’s Choice Award was determined by the attendees at the Bloody Mary Fest. Each participant got one poker chip to vote for their favorite Bloody. The winner was Highland Tavern!

More Bloody Mary Fest Denver Highlights

There were six other competitors in the Bloody Mary competition and they made some awesomely unique Bloodies as well:

Ace Eat and Serve: Really bold flavor with heavy notes of kimchi. Used Dimitri’s Bloody Mary kit in the mix, which is one of the best spice kits on the market! Loved the flavoring of this one.

Bacon Social House: Made with house-infused BBQ bacon vodka. Epic bacon. Hints of smoke and chipotle and made with pineapple juice, which added a unique sweetness. The bacon garnish was actually some of the best bacon I have ever feasted upon.

Beatrice & Woodsley: Original flavor with notes of chipotle and smoke. Relatively tangy and salty.

Denver Biscuit Co.: Made with Left Hand Nitro Stout, which was a bit overpowering at times. Very stouty, pickley, and briney.

Steuben’s: Classic style with heavy notes of pickle brine and cayenne. Lots of spices and Cajun notes.

Stoic & Genuine: Seafood-esque Bloody that gained some fishy flavor from the shrimp garnish. Spicy and tangy, with heavy notes of oregano and black pepper to make for a unique and complex cocktail (S & G’s Bloodies are pictured below).

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The Bloody Mary Fest Denver also featured a few Colorado Bloody Mary mix companies: Salty Iguana, The Real Dill, Bolder Beans, and Tru Pickles. One of the things I love about this state is that you don’t need to go far to find delicious homemade food and beverage items– there are so many in our own backyard!

The event also had a plethora of snack tables involving delicious goat cheese, homemade Sriracha, beef jerky, and more. Two Denver food trucks were outside serving up artisanal grilled cheese and pork-laden delights.

I wanted to give a huge shout out to Evan and Yunna Weiss, founders of the Bloody Mary Fest! Thank you so much for the opportunity to work with the Fest and for bringing a highly sought-after event to Denver for the Mile High Bloody Mary lovers to socialize and celebrate. The next Bloody Mary Fest takes place in NYC this April. You can stay up to date on Bloody Mary Fest happenings here

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