The First Annual Daq Off: Creative Cocktails by SLC Bartenders
Beer & Spirits
On August 21, bartenders of all experience levels gathered at Bar Nohm to compete in the daquiri-based Daq Off, the first cocktail competition in years hosted by the Utah chapter of the United States Bartender’s Guild (USBG). Five judges blind taste-tested each daiquiri, evaluating the drinks on creativity, flavor and presentation. Out of the 17 contestants, two bartenders stood out: First Place winner Tyler Fernberg, representing the Sugar House extension of downtown dive Quarters Arcade Bar, and People’s Choice winner Andrew Robertson, representing the chic twin bars Ivy & Varley.
Midwestern-brewer-turned-Utah-bartender Tyler Fernberg has a simple philosophy when it comes to creating new concoctions: “I always like to put the good in the dumb,” he says in reference to his process of taking a goofy idea and elevating its presentation. Pop culture is his biggest inspiration in mixing drinks, from music to childhood cartoons. He says, “I’ll have a funny scene or a song stuck in my head, and [I think], ‘how do I turn that into a cocktail?’”
“I was really just throwing everything together, and then afterward my palate kicked in, without even thinking about it.”
The idea for Fernberg’s winning watermelon gazpacho daiquiri came in part from Seinfeld’s famous episode “The Soup Nazi.” Most of the time, he doesn’t think consciously about flavor profiles and proportions. He says, “I was really just throwing everything together, and then afterward my palate kicked in, without even thinking about it.” Fernberg started by blending red bell pepper, cucumber, tomato, watermelon and basil for a sweet and savory summer soup. Next came two kinds of rum—Hamilton White ‘Stache Rum and Neisson Blanc Rhum Agricole. For the finishing touch, he poured the mixture into a hollowed-out bell pepper and added a slice of bread on the side. “You can’t have gazpacho without toasted bread,” he says.
Though he’s been bartending for less than three years, Fernberg has already made a name for himself in national cocktail competitions. The SLC bartending scene is “heavily underrated,” he says. “It’s tough because of the laws and everything that we have to be restricted by, but it doesn’t hold us back from being creative.”
Another relative newcomer in the local bartending community is Andrew Robertson, who was drawn to the profession because of the vast amounts of knowledge it requires. “Something that really grabbed my attention was the prep side of things and [understanding] the chemistry behind everything,” he says. “It’s a perfect blend of art and science.” Robertson has attended almost every bartending class hosted by USBG Utah. “There’s so much to learn; there’s no room for arrogance,” he says.
Robertson worked in behavioral health in Idaho before pivoting to a career in bartending about a year and a half ago. “I worked in wilderness therapy, so we would make teas with a number of different things you can find out there,” he says. Before the Daq Off, Robertson climbed Kings Peak where he foraged wild yarrow, spruce bark and tips and chanterelle mushrooms—all of which grow naturally in the Uinta Mountains—to make a tea as the base for his daiquiri. “I tried to go as local and sustainable as possible,” he says.
“There’s so much to learn; there’s no room for arrogance.”
He then combined Distillery 36 Spiced Brigham Rum and Sugar House Distillery Silver Rum with honey and agar-clarified “super juice” of a lime, which “multiplies the juice you get out of one lime by eight.” Finally, Robertson presented the drink in a terrarium bowl decorated with moss. His favorite part of bartending is the people, so winning the People’s Choice award meant a lot. Putting “a smile on someone’s face or a sparkle in their eyes” makes all the difference, he says. “Sharing that sense of discovery is really important for me.”
Read more on local booze artisans and enthusiasts:
Crème De La Cocktail: Four SLC Bartenders Hit Us With Their Best Shots
Mike Brown: Beer Cocktails!