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Mixed Up: The Ashland Culinary Festival Mixology Competition

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Photo by Lindsey Bolling


Life didn’t really turn out how I thought it would. Namely when asked what I wanted I wanted to be when I grew up, bartending wasn’t really given as an option. I imagine it’s generally frowned upon for a seven-year-old to say, “I want to be around as much alcohol as possible and spend most of my day getting people intoxicated when I grow up.” (I can only imagine the sort of parent-teacher conference that would follow.) So I stuck with “astronaut” and caged my dream.

In all honesty, bartending can be much more than just pulling on tap handles and pouring vodka into a rocks glass with soda. For the uninitiated, bartending, and mixology in general, is very similar to cooking. There are good cooks and bad cooks, sometimes you just want some comfort food that comes in a box and other days you’re looking for something more exotic. Cocktails are the same; some days call for the bitter brightness of a gin and tonic with lime, other days a fruity daiquiri is just what the doctor ordered. And in both, enjoyment doesn’t just come from flavor, but presentation, environment, aroma, and company. God knows I feel like whiskey tastes better during family reunions.

The Rogue Valley has no lack for talented mixologists; I’ve been able to highlight them here over the past two years. I’d like to highlight one last event, worth anyone’s time who wants to watch the magic of great mixology unfold.

Ashland Culinary Festival happens every year in November. It’s an event that presents locals chefs, professionals and amateurs alike, in a competitive environment that tests the skills of all those involved. Four years ago, they added the mixology side of competition. As someone who’s gone to a previous event, it’s amazing to watch.

Twelve mixologists have been screened and chosen to compete in the event. Some spend their day jobs in the bar, others are simply hobbyists that have a drive, but all of them are wonderfully talented. Mixologists will have very little information beforehand; the goal of the event is to test their skills on the fly. Ingredients and style will be kept a secret until the moment just before the competition starts. Three rounds of drinks will find three finalists, while the fourth and last will be chosen as a Wild Card by a panel of judges to compete in the final round.

The head judge, Jeffery Morgenthaler, is an award-winning bartender and published author of the most recent title: Drinking Distilled: a User’s Manual. He manages a six-time James Beard Awarded-nominated bar program, so it’d be safe to say he’s an expert on the subject. Other judges include talented local in the hospitality business, Ava DeRosier; returning judge Kari Young and Oregon’s Culinary Institute instructor, Raul Gonzalez.

Anyone who has purchased a weekend pass for the Culinary Festival gets entrance to this Mixology event. Or tickets to just the Mixology Competition can be purchased separately. Ticket holders will be provided samples of alcoholic beverages as well as small bites for food.  More importantly, they’ll get to watch the magic of Mixologists making cocktails.


Ashland Culinary Festival Mixology Competition
5:30 pm, Friday, November 8
Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites, 2525 Ashland Street, Ashland

$25, online. $30, door.

Photo by Graham Lewis


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