The Winners of Garnish Games 2023

BY Steph Wilson

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A cosmic collision of mixology and imagination, Garnish Games 2023 asked Denver’s top mixologists to boldly go where no bartender has gone before. This year, DiningOut Events and Diego Brand Spirits brought the annual cocktail competition to the surreal Meow Wolf Convergence Station on June 7 for a spirited special edition of the 21+ Adultiverse.

As the backdrop for this year’s Garnish Games, the 4-story exhibition—home to over 70 unique installations, rooms, and portals—provides an extraordinary setting for a cosmic clash of garnishes and mixology mastery. Take, for example, Poka Lola’s Lexi Parker. Her Meow Wolf-inspired cocktail, Crystal Castle, was garnished with colorful pop rocks along the rim, crystal candies, and a cotton candy fluff. The sweet-and-sour sidebar reacted with the butterfly pea ice to make the drink come to life and change colors. The competition kicked off more than a month before the event during an online voting segment, whittling the competitors’ field down from 10 to 6. 

The Top Six contestants, so named by popular vote, then brought their talents and their entries to Adultiverse attendees, who were able to get a taste of the entries and cast their vote for the best of the bunch. 

Parker’s color-changing cocktail made it to the finals, where it fit right in with the other-worldly sites throughout Numina, the Meow Wolf world where the cocktails were served during the Garnish Games. The candy-coated concoction won a lot of attention but not enough votes for Parker to be declared the victor. 

That honor went to Nocturne’s Paul Webb and Uncle’s Tim Dam Richards. 

The 2023 People’s Choice Champion, Nocturne’s Paul Webb, dubbed his cocktail “Contradictions.” A blend of coconut fat-washed Talisker, cachaca-fortified vanilla orange Olio Sacrum; lemon, kumquat, and grilled pineapple juice, and house-made Fassionola and house-made smoked almond Orgeat, Contradictions was garnished with burnt kumquat, blue pop rocks, dry ice, blood orange peel wrap, butterfly pea flower tea with red glitter, and he served it in a sake decanter that, let’s be honest, looked a whole lot like a fancy bong. 

“When thinking about what is multisensory,” Webb said, “I was inspired to create a cocktail that plays with the mind-warping ice in “‘fire.’ The cocktail itself is a riff on a 1962 classic, the Coconut Grove Cooler—a scotch-based tiki cocktail. It’s refreshing and smokey, staying with the theme.” 

Tim Dam-Richards of Uncle took home the Judge’s Choice Champion title. His cocktail—Flying Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—was designed to take you on a wild journey. It’s made with Ketel One, lemongrass-infused Suze, sesame Sochu, caramelized mushroom syrup, yuzu lime juice, and Coco Lopez, and served in a rocks glass.

The garnish? A white sesame and salt rim; a bird’s nest made of dried ramen noodles; spiced candy gummy ajitama egg; forbidden rice crackers with shichimi seasoning; and a ramen spoon, all topped with a Nigori coconut sake foam. His inspiration: the creation and culture of ramen. 

“My goal is to create a unique experience with the flavor pairings and provide a multisensory, multi-textured cocktail that tastes like a reconstructed bowl of ramen,” Dam-Richards said. “To be specific: a bowl of Khao Soi ramen. The Khao Soi includes many ingredients, and I wanted to rework them into a different style that still complements each other.” 

All of the ingredients in the Flying Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are used daily at Uncle. “The idea is to drink your ramen, eat your broth, and change your perception of the pigeon-holed flavor pairings,” said Dam-Richards. The bird’s nest is made of dehydrated ramen noodles that change the texture and functionality. The spiced gummy ajitama egg changes the texture and flavor. The white sesame salted rim helps add the proper salinity to the cocktail while adding subtle texture change. We finish off the foam to help cleanse the palate, offering a texture and sensory change.”

To learn more about these award-winning cocktails (and all the other entries as well), hear from the bartenders about their process and direction, and see how the elaborately adorned beverages were made, visit garnish-games.com. 

Here’s This year’s Champions:

2023 People’s Choice Champion

PAUL WEBB

CONTRADICTIONS

2023 Judges Choice Champion

TIM DAM-RICHARDS

FLYING OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steph Wilson

Steph Wilson is a writer, editor, and creative maximalist in Denver. She makes magazines for a living and throws color around the world like confetti for fun.

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