Official ‘Home is Where the Heart is’ Cocktail Competition Winners and Recipes

By December 16, 2018 July 17th, 2019 Blog

Our “Home is Where the Heart Is” competition sought the stories and flavors of tradition expressed in a cocktail. We asked for expert mixologists to show us the flavors, memories, and traditions of their hometown, reflecting their roots, home, and the traditions that make it special. And the entrants answered our call.
Video Courtesy The Cocktail Portal

On December 10th, the Elite 8 competitors gathered at Mi Corazon in Los Angeles to mix their drinks and to tell the story that inspired it. Clare Ward, of Hippo LA, walked away with the Grand Prize pack including a SaloonBox Cocktail feature, a Licensed to Distill video feature, and a $500 VISA gift card.  In second place, taking home a $250 VISA gift card and a bottle of Azuñia Black, was Mike Nardelli of Toca Madera.  Rounding out the top slots, were Sherwood Souzankari of Bar Tiki Tiki, and Christopher Barragan of Petit Trois Le Valley, who impressively tied for third, each taking home $100 VISA gift cards and bottles of Azuñia Black.

A Big Thank You to Our Judges

This cocktail contest wouldn’t have been possible without our fantastic industry experts, Charity Johnston, Beverage Director for the Madera Group, Charles Lew, Restaurateur, and Aida Mollenkamp, founder of Salt and Wind Travel. They lent their expertise – and refined palettes – to determine the winners based on visual appeal, creativity, and of course, taste. 

“That’s a Perfect Mix!”

Steve Hytner, host of “That’s Gold” podcast, stopped by to talk all things tequila and interview the contestants. Relive the revelry with Steve and Rich on their episode “That’s a Perfect Mix!

That’s a Perfect Mix – That’s Gold Podcast with Steve Hytner

Introducing the Elite 8

Our cocktail contest finalists created 8 very inspired drinks and told heartfelt and meaningful stories through their drinks.

Here are there Elite 8 finalists and their cocktails, in order of competition appearance.

Chad Austin – Lono / Instagram: @ChaddAustin 

Growing up in the California desert and spending much of my time with friends, their families took me in like their own, and I got to experience a lot of great Mexican culture. As a young fat kid, Sundays at the raspado shop was my favorite.

One Eleven


  • Whip shake with crushed ice.
  • Dump into the cactus.
  • Top with fresh ice.
  • Garnish with spent lime and cherry.

Jeff Wang – L’Orient / Instagram: @Jeffeffect 

Jeff Wang - Cocktail Contest

Home to me both has to speak to the ingredients of my ethnicity and what I experienced as a child. I feel you can’t describe “home” without what your parents gave you growing up, and those ingredients will best bring back nostalgic feelings of home after the years you spent away from it. My cocktail is based off hot chocolate. Though possibly terribly made from my parents, it is core to what I associate to the warmth of “home.” Also, for my ethnic twist, I’m going with Szechuan peppercorns. Spice in spiked hot chocolates isn’t uncommon, but I feel I can elevate that idea to a higher level with Chinese spices. 

Hua  Jia 

  • 2.0 oz Thai Chili Infused Azuñia Reposado Organic Tequila* 
  • 1.0 oz Condensed Milk 
  • 1 packet Swiss Miss instant Dark Cocoa 
  • 6 oz Boiling Water 
  • 1 part Szechuan Peppercorn 
  • Torched Marshmallow with Black Peppercorn Garnish 
  • Serve in a coffee cup.

*How to prepare Thai chili infused Azuñia Reposado Organic Tequila

  • 1 ltr Azuñia Reposado Organic Tequila 
  • 100 grams Thai chili 
  • Sous-vide at 150 degrees for 3 hours 

Christopher Barragan – Petit Trois Le Valley (3rd Place) / Instagram: @ChristopherAllenBarragan

One of the best family stories centers around my Great, Great Grandmother Petra. Even into her 100’s she would take a shot of Tequila and start stomping her feet from the wheelchair when the music started. The family would say, “mira su zapateando” (look at her stomping). After her second shot, she would rise and dance!

The second part of this cocktail inspiration centers around my Grandmother Nina, Petra’s Granddaughter. Granny, my endearment for Nina, would often take me into Old San Fernando for various treats. On hot days, we would seek out a Raspado or Snow Cone. During one of these trips, I asked about a peculiar candy on the shelf. She explained it was a Tamarindo Candy Spiced with Chili Pepper. I couldn’t fathom a candy with spice, but I was intrigued. It shocked and disgusted me. I pondered the unique flavor for weeks, and upon our return, I asked for another candy. She snapped at me, saying, “you spit out the last one,” I told her this time would be different… I have been hooked ever since!

Zapateando (The Stomping)

  • 2.0 oz Azuñia Reposado Organic Tequila 
  • .50 oz Hibiscus Infused Combier* 
  • .50 oz Blood Orange Juice 
  • .75 oz Lime Juice 
  • .75 oz Arbol Chili Tamarindo Syrup** 
  • Tajin for a Crusta Rim 
  • Espelette Spiced Candied Blood Orange***


  • In a mixing tin, add all liquid ingredients and shake for proper dilution. 
  • Double strain into a Tajin Crusted Double Old Fashioned Glass with hand-cut ice. 
  • Garnish with the Spiced Candied Blood Orange

*Hibiscus Infused Combier: 

  • Steep 1/2 cup Hibiscus with 375ml of Combier for 2 hours. Strain and set aside.

**Arbol Chili Tamarindo Syrup: 

  • 2 cups water, 2 cups Demerara Sugar, 8 cleaned Tamarindo Pods, 6 Arbol Chiles. 
  • Boil water and dissolve sugar. Lower heat to simmer and add Pods. Allow softening for 45 minutes. Strain out undissolved pieces and return liquid to a low simmer. Add Arbol Chiles and simmer for 10-15 minutes and check for a medium Scovel heat level. Strain and set aside.

***Candied Blood Orange Garnish:

  • 0.25 inch Blood Orange Slices, 1 cup water, 1 cup cane sugar, Espelette Pepper. Boil water and dissolve sugar.
  • Lower heat and simmer with sliced blood oranges for 45 minutes. Stir gently so as not to ruin fibers of the oranges. Remove and place in warm area to air dry overnight with a light cane sugar dusting and a pinch of Espelette Pepper.

Sherwood Souzankari – Bar Tiki Tiki  (3rd Place) / Instagram: @Goodcocktails

To me, home is where I learned to love hospitality, coming from a middle eastern household, there’s a lot of emphasis on treating people who come into your home correctly, almost as if it is their house. That being said, growing up I watched my parents host many many times inviting people into our house and bringing out either tea, or a bowl of fruit, or pastries, for them to enjoy while conversing.  That being said, I heavily relied on my experiences as a child and a palate that’s heavily reliant on middle eastern flavors to create my cocktail. 

An Open Door

  • 1.5 oz Azuñia Blanco Organic Tequila
  • .75 Persian Black Tea/Orange Blossom Syrup* 
  • .50 Lemon Juice 
  • 1 Small Egg White


  • Combine all listed ingredients above in shaker tin.
  • Add ice and hard shake for 10 seconds.
  • Strain out ice.
  • Continue shaking to whip egg white inside a cocktail shaker. 
  • Fine strain into tea glass.
  • Apply orange oils from peel to top of the cocktail and serve alongside an orange slice.

* Persian Black Tea/Orange Blossom Syrup*: Combine 1 tablespoon of black tea and 2 dashes of orange blossom water with 8 ounces of boiling water, allow to steep for 25 minutes. Strain liquid and add 8 ounces of sugar to create a 1:1 syrup.

Mike Nardelli – Toca Madera (2nd place) / Instagram: @mikenardelli17

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Today was such a special and different day for me. I got to represent @tocamaderala with a cocktail I created for @azuniatequila Home is Where the Heart is Cocktail Competition and placed Second! It was an honor to see all of the finalist and their amazing creations. I want to thank @azuniatequila for including me in such a talented group of bartenders. A special congratulations to @cocktails_by_clare who took first place. Thankyou @aidamollenkamp @charitykjohnston @thecharleslew @micorazon_silverlake @thatsgoldshow The New Old World 1 Oz Lime 1 Oz Simple A clap of Basil .5 Oz of @pimmsgb 1.5 Oz of Azunia Reposado A float of @chateaumoyawine Rim glass with Chia Seeds #losangeles #azunia #azuniatequila #craftcocktails #mixology #homeiswheretheheartis #cocktails #thenewoldworld

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When I think of flavors that remind me of home, I think of biking to my local corner store in New Jersey after school and getting Lemon Lime Italian ice. I wanted to create a cocktail that had the nostalgia of my roots on the east coast with a nod to my Italian heritage by adding basil because there has never been a shortage of basil in any home I’ve lived in. Pimm’s represents the endless summer, paying homage to my life in Los Angeles.

I incorporated my two favorite drinks of choice, Tequila, and Wine. Azuñia is a special brand to me since they use organic farming practices and I thought what could be better than pairing it with one of my favorite Organic reds, Chateau Moya, an old world wine with a new world flavor profile from Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux. The Chia seeds represent my growth wherever I am planted I am able to establish roots. All of the ingredients mentioned are things that can always be found in my home wherever that may be and undoubtedly where my heart is. 

The New Old World

  • 1.5 Azuñia Reposado Organic Tequila 
  • 1.0 oz Lime 
  • 1.0 oz Simple Basil clap 
  • .50 oz Pimm’s 
  • Chateau Moya Bordeaux Float 
  • Chia Seed for Garnish 


  • Add ingredients into a shaker and strain into a Collins glass. 
  • Chateau Moya Bordeaux Float 
  • Chia seed Rim 
  • Garnish with a Basil Sprig

Clare Ward – Hippo (1st place) / Instagram: @cocktails_by_clare

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Thank you @azuniatequila for putting together such a fun and unique competition! And thanks for making such a delicious tequila, when the juice is that good it’s hard to make a bad a drink! Thank you @charitykjohnston @thecharleslew @aidamollenkamp for being awesome judges and laughing at my silly jokes, it was an honor to make drinks for such bad ass industry folk! And thank you @theebarninja and @micorazon_silverlake for hosting a killer day for all of us! And huge congrats to all the competitors, always fun to meet new people and see all their creations! This was my drink! Talk Derby to Me! An homage to my state and my favorite time of year! • Azunia Reposado Tequila • Nocino • Lime & Orange • “Derby Pie” Cordial (Salted Butter, Chocolate, All Spice, Brown Sugar) • • • #drinks #draaanks #cocktail #cocktails #bar #bartender #talkderbytome #derby #tequila #agave #azunia #tasteslikehome #imbibe #barfam #barlife #losangeles #highlandpark #cocktailsofinstagram #tiki #azuniatequila #reposado #cali #garnishgame #bars #shakeitup #pearldiver #silverlake #hippo

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Louisville, Kentucky despite being a reasonably large city rarely makes national news. Except for one day every year. Kentucky Derby Day. The nation tunes in to watch ‘the most exciting two minutes in sports’ and take part in the fanfare. Most people don’t know that There is a 2-week long festival leading up to the race which brings together everyone in the community to participate in one big party. Whether it be watching fireworks, or the steamboats race, going to the chow wagon down at the river, or going to the Pegasus parade to see the marching bands, people from all over the city and the state come together to have a good time and celebrate our favorite time of the year.

Everyone consumes “Derby Pie,” and everyone’s mom and grandmother have a recipe they hold dear. It’s a fairly simple dish, a chocolate and walnut pie loaded with butter. But nothing takes me back to all the memories with friend and family over the years quite like the sweet buttery chocolatey taste. The Azuñia Reposado is the perfect canvas with its caramel, vanilla, and butterscotch notes. To achieve the buttery, creamy texture I made a “Derby Pie Cordial” with softened butter, brown sugar syrup and allspice. A bit of Nocino, a liqueur made from walnuts and orange and lime juice to balance out the sweet. This drink reminds me not just of my family but my whole community and the joy of the time of year that Derby Season brings.

Talk Derby to Me

  •  1.5 oz Azuñia Reposado Organic Tequila 
  • .50 oz Walnut Liqueur (“Nocino“)
  • .50 oz Fresh Orange Juice 
  • .50 oz Lime Juice 
  • 1.0 oz “Derby Pie Cordial*”


  • Whip Shake with a small handful of crushed ice. 
  • Pour over crushed ice in Classic Pearl Diver Glass. 
  • Garnish with Small Rose and Mint Bouquet.

*To Make Derby Pie Mix:

  • 1 oz melted chocolate, 1 oz softened butter, 1/2 oz brown sugar syrup, 1/4 oz allspice.
  • Whip all ingredients together until smooth.

Austin Buscher – Viva Madrid / Instagram: @gentlemanandaballer

Austin Buscher - Cocktail Contest

The smell of fresh-cut pasture grass always reminds me of the farm I grew up on in Illinois. The slightly sweet, slightly bitter smells of cut grass immediately bring back memories of being younger in the middle of summer and helping my dad and neighbor bring in the hay. I tried to emulate this smell by incorporating fresh watermelon and paprika.

It’s a weird combination, but something about the matrixing effect of these two smells always takes me right back to the family farm, listening to cicada’s hum and hearing the drone of a hay mower in our back pasture. If you’ve ever been to Tom Sawyer’s Island in Disneyland, they do a fantastic job of piping in this smell to recreate the experience of being on a Midwestern farm in the summer. I think that Azuñia Reposado does a great job of starting to re-create this experience, and I tried to encapsulate the whole sensory feeling of being on the farm where I grew up in a glass.

Pasture Eyes

  • 2.0 oz. Azuñia Reposado Organic Tequila 
  • 0.75 oz. Fresh Lime Juice 
  • 0.75 oz. Paprika Syrup* 
  • 4 bar spoons (about 2 oz.) fresh-cut watermelon cubes or spears 
  • Spritz of orange blossom water 
  • Lime peel garnish


  • Add all ingredients to a Boston shaker except for the orange blossom water. 
  • Muddle the watermelon into the liquid ingredients. 
  • Add ice. 
  • Shake for about 20 seconds. 
  • Spritz the inside of a chilled daiquiri glass with orange blossom water. 
  • Strain the cocktail through both a Hawthorne and a tea strainer into the prepared glass. 
  • Garnish with a fresh lime peel cut to look like blades of grass. 

* To make the paprika syrup, set 500 grams granulated sugar and 500 mL water on the stove top. Simmer until clear. Add 2 tablespoons of paprika (about 20 grams), 1 teaspoon of dried marjoram, and 2 teaspoons of ground black pepper. Simmer (but don’t boil) for about 15 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes. Take away from heat and let sit for about 20 minutes. Strain through a tea strainer to remove spices.

Ramon Aguirre – Nuno’s Bistro & Bar

Growing up in my hometown of Puerto Vallarta my mom made homemade jarabes from the tropical fruit in our backyard. One day I was tired of picking fruit, helping her and taking the jarabes to the local paletaria (ice cream shops) and she told me “one day you’ll thank me for teaching you how to make the jarabes.” As a tribute to her and what she tough me, I call this cocktail La Reyna del Sur.

La Reyna del Sur

  • 2.0 oz Azuñia Reposado Organic Tequila
  • 1.5 oz Azuñia Organic Agave Syrup
  • 1.5 oz Fermented Lime Juice Mother Vinegar 
  • 1.5 oz Unforbidden Soursop 
  • .50 oz Mandarin Orange Liqueur   
  • .50 oz Unforbidden Cream of Roasted Coconut 
  • Pinch of Peruvian Pink Salt 


Azuñia would like to thank Mi Corazon Mexican Restaurant for hosting this exciting event. Their bartenders created a delicious drink menu worthy of a prize. And the food was phenomenal, as well. Thank you for taking such great care of the Azuñia family. If you’re in the LA area, please stop by and give them some love.

To bring our line up of single-estate tequilas home, visit our Where to Buy page.

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