As if we didn't have enough of a cocktail buzz already, Pittsburgh is about to embark on its first-ever cocktail week, running from Sept. 16-22.
"I think Pittsburgh is ready to do something like this," says Mike Basista, a drinks photographer who organized the week's events with Rob McCaughey (of Dreadnought Wines) and Will Groves (Butterjoint).
More established cocktail conventions — like Oregon's upcoming Portland Cocktail Week, or Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans — draw brand representatives, bartenders and drinkers from all around the country. By contrast, Pittsburgh's Cocktail Week is focused on the local.
"If you look at most of the cocktail weeks around the country, they tend to be more of a road show," says McCaughey. "What we wanted to do was focus on the people who are already here, and give them a chance to showcase what they're doing."
To that end, the signature element of Pittsburgh Cocktail Week is a craft-cocktail competition between area bars. To participate, cocktail fans download an app created by Pittsburgh tech firm Rhomania, visit participating establishments, and vote on their favorite drink. The winning bar will receive a selection of bar equipment.
The festival also includes daily seminars scheduled for industry professionals and the general public.
For example, Verde is offering a professional tequila seminar titled "Tequila 201," an exploration into the nitty-gritty of agave geography and ageing techniques. The lesson will, Basista says, be "very geeky." By contrast, Verde's public seminar that evening will focus on building a couple of simple tequila cocktails, including a classic margarita "that doesn't involve a slushy machine."
According to organizers, the week will be a success if it expands the scope of Pittsburgh cocktail culture. "There are a lot of people who don't realize there is a thriving cocktail scene here, but it's here and it's real," McCaughey says. "Hopefully this will create a bit of buzz and excitement about what's been happening here over the last few years."