Start working out those livers now kids, because you’re going to need them. The second iteration of Asheville Cocktail Week pours back into town Monday, May 1, with some significant additions. This year’s lineup of events features nearly 30 distilleries, more than 20 mixologists, eight chefs and 20 venues hosting about 20 events.
“It’s going to be ever-changing throughout the week — there are going to be pop-ups and collaborations that are just now coming together,” says festival organizer Kris Kraft. “The overall goal for this second year of Cocktail Week was to make the whole thing feels a little more cohesive, so that it didn’t feel like we had 24 different events at 24 different places. But we wanted to let as many people play as possible, so we have a great variety of venues and bartenders that are being showcased.”
Each day will feature seminars and workshops for bartenders and liquor classes from national distillers and brand ambassadors. Slipping into evening, the schedule offers cocktail parties with food pairings — a Derby Party, Cinco de Mayo events, Tequila and Ceviche — and spirited dinners before ending with bar takeovers every night.
“We are bringing bartenders from all over the Southeast to come in and pair with some of our regular bartenders,” says Kraft. Those visiting spirit-slingers include cocktail maven Arianne Fielder from Atlanta, Max Barwick from Greensboro’s 1618 Midtown, Seth Sullivan of The Cardinal in Boone, Julian Goglia of Pinewood in Decatur, Ga., Ian Murray of Fox’s Liquor Bar in Raleigh and DiSean Burns from Stoke in Charlotte.
A particularly interesting dinner this year is the Second in Command event hosted by Ambrozia. The dinner will focus on local sous chefs, featuring Ambrozia’s Eli Harris (previously of Seven Sows and King James Public House), Joe Fahey of Local Provisions, Buxton Hall Barbecue’s Dan Silo and Maddy Battles from the French Broad Chocolate Lounge.
“We have so many fabulous chefs in this town that get highlighted all the time. But we have so many wonderful people that stand behind those chefs that don’t necessarily get the recognition or the opportunity to shine in their own way because they are cooking someone else’s food,” explains Kraft.
But perhaps the biggest change to this year’s festivities is organizational. “Asheville Wine & Food Festival and Asheville Cocktail Week are now separate entities,” says Kraft. “Bob [Bowles] has taken the helm again at Asheville Wine & Food, and is going to make it an outdoor, two-day festival. So Asheville Cocktail Week has completely removed themselves from that, and we are really just going to grow them as two separate entities.”
Which means that there won’t be a Southeastern Distilling Expo this year. “The distilling expo will remain with Asheville Wine & Food Festival,” says Kraft. “I don’t know if [Bowles] plans on making use of that this year or restructuring it and doing it next year, but it will not be a part of Asheville Cocktail Week anymore.”
But have no fear. Elixir, the annual cocktail competition featuring local bars and restaurants, will still be part of Asheville Cocktail Week. It happens Thursday, May 4, this year at the Grove Arcade. The $35 ticket price gets you a taste of products from 30 North Carolina distilleries and 30 bartenders.
There are myriad ways to participate in Asheville Cocktail Week. An all-inclusive pass allows entry into any ticketed event, or tickets can be purchased a la carte. “We were very mindful of providing plenty of options for everyone so there are tickets that are $12 for the public all the way up to $95. We really tried to make sure there was a good variety of things to do and a good variety of price points,” says Kraft.
Despite the changes, Asheville Cocktail Week looks to be gearing up for a worthy second run. “We’ve learned, and we are moving in directions that show growth,” says Kraft.
Asheville Cocktail Week events run Monday, May 1, through Sunday, May 7. Elixir happens 7:30-9:30 p.m. Thursday, May 4, at the Grove Arcade, 1 Page Ave. Tickets are $35 and are available here. For more details and a full schedule of other Asheville Cocktail Week events, visit carolinacocktailweek.com.