I had the honor of being one of 3 esteemed judges of the 1st and hopefully annual Cultured Cocktails held at the Benedum
Center on Saturday, April 28, 2018. The brain child of Ronda Zegarelli, of Acrobatique, Greta Harper, General Manager of Pirata and Jacob Korb, of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, brought over 800 cocktail connoisseurs and social sippers alike, for an unforgettable night
of Broadway musical themed cocktails.
Upon entering, guests were given cocktail passports, which listed all the restaurants and cocktails. The goal of course, was to visit each and
get it stamped.
The first station was Chris Cardone’s, you could catch him twirling bottles, pouring drinks and talking
with patrons. He had two flair performances, in between everything he still managed to get around to all the stations to fulfill his judging duties! Chris hails from New York and in 2017 was crowned USBGWorld Class Bartender. Right behind
his station was one of Pittsburgh’s most known DJ’s, DJ Selecta. He had the crowd jamming all night while playing everything from Prince to Stevie Wonder to Anderson .Paak.
All four floors of the Benedum were filled with cocktails. I started on the Mezzanine level with Talia Cucina had a delicious cocktail and
the food pairing was perfect, one of the best of the evening, in my opinion. The cocktail was inspired by “Rent” and was titled 525,600, the popular song from the 1996 musical, or the number of cocktails I had that evening. It was made with
Montenegro Amaro, grapefruit moonshine, bourbon, simple syrup and blood orange juice. The accompaniment was a beautiful skewer with cured honey & hibiscus carrots, grapefruit and blood orange citrus. The two married so well together. Scratch Food & Beverage also impressed me with their innovate “Mixed Nut Bar” cocktail inspired by one of my favorite plays, “The Bodyguard”
and featured gin, tomatillo, lime, mint, cilantro and granny smith apple.
As I walked downstairs, I heard an angelic, but powerful voice coming from the VIP Lounge, I knew it was
the powerhouse singer Lyndsey Smith and her dynamic Soul Distribution band. I sat and listened for a while and indulged in some of
the delicious desserts in the lounge. After relaxing for a bit, I continued my mixed-drink migration.
The Promenade was the busiest and had the most restaurants. The lines were long,
but so worth the wait. Some of the fan favorites were Pirata’s Miami Mai Tai, which was inspired by Gloria Estafan’s Miami Sound Machine; Bakersfield’s
Strawberry Dream, inspired by “Waitress”; a spicy “Aladdin” themed cocktail containing honey habanero moonshine and Death’s Door Gin- Jinn Gin Genie, by The Warren landed them
as People’s Choice Winner, and Eddie Merlot’s, “Wicked” Elphaba’s Old Port Fun, which features Old Port Rum, Hypnotiq, Vanilla Extract and Brown Sugar Cubes, won the judges
over and garnered them the grand prize winner.
The Grand Lobby and Lower Gallery also had tasty libations. Braddock’s “Hamilton”
drink was simply delicious; a mix of Four Roses bourbon, freshly squeezed lime juice and grenadine. They were 1 vote shy of winning People’s Choice! The salt cured salmon stood out from Maggie’s Farm
table as well as Tequila Cowyboy’s chicharrones with pineapple habanero salsa, those were two of my favorite bites of the evening. I know I was supposed to only judge the cocktails, but what
can I say..I’m a foodie!
This event was a great way to showcase Pittsburgh’s great restaurants, delicious cocktails, dynamic bartenders and The Cultural Trust’s
amazing lineup! I am looking forward to next year’s event.