Finding balance at Handle, Reagan Chung wins cocktail contest
Reagan Chung, a mixologist and beverage director at Handle, swept the competition with a double victory in this year’s Park City Savor the Cocktail and Mocktail contest. Reclaiming his 2021 title, Chung wowed voters with “Gin” and “Mocktail #4.”
After a long day in the office, Park Record owner Tatiana Prince and I made our way to Old Town to meet with Chung and chat about these award-winning drinks. And my first question — What’s with the names? “I’m really bad at naming things, so the creativity goes into the cocktail,” says Chung with a laugh, acknowledging the drinks’ straightforward monikers.
When it came to crafting the drinks, Chung relied on his wealth of cocktail knowledge. “Cocktails have maybe six or seven different templates, like recipe formats, that almost every cocktail is a variation of. … so this ‘Gin’ cocktail’s template is called a Daisy,” he said.
A Daisy template is simple: a base spirit, a liquor and citrus. For “Gin,” those ingredients are gin, Cappelletti liquor and lemon, with an additional rhubarb-honey syrup and olive oil added as a unique take. “It’s a really local-driven cocktail,” says Chung, crafting the drink using Alpine Distilling’s Gin, Telegraph Bee Co.’s honey and Mountain Town Olive Oil’s olive oil.
Chung explains that this cocktail was created with rhubarb as the starting ingredient, finding balance between sweet and sour, then adding olive oil for a rich mouthfeel. “Our cocktails do really well because they’re balanced. There’s nothing flair-y about my cocktails,” says Chung.
At the first sip, it was clear why this simple cocktail was declared a winner. Light and refreshing, with a savory-forward flavor, “Gin” was delightful. Chung’s house-made rhubarb-honey syrup highlighted the notes of the local spirit without being overpowering. Beads of the olive oil floated in the drink, helping temper the acidity of the lemon. Easy to drink (even as someone who is not usually a fan of gin), this cocktail is the perfect summer sipper and leaves you wanting another.
“For the mocktail, we wanted to do a brother and sister cocktail,” says Chung. “Either people are going to like both, or people aren’t going to like either … and we won both, so it worked out,” he says with a laugh. The two drinks share almost identical ingredients, however the mocktail replaces the gin and liquor with Phony Negroni.
Phony Negroni achieves the taste of a bittersweet Italian-style liquor. Unlike other non-alcoholic spirits which tend to be thin or watery, Chung explains, they liked using Phony Negroni because it still has body. Prince agreed — Having recently finished “dry July,” she shared her frustration with the lack of mouthfeel in zero-proof spirits.
“We wanted to give the cocktail experience in a mocktail form,” says Chung, dressing the drink in a Nick & Nora glass with a lemon twist. For this drink, the bitter-sweetness of the “spirit” brought more bitterness out of the rhubarb syrup, creating a tart, candy-like experience. I immediately thought of a cherry Jolly Rancher, a comparison Chung said he’s heard from others as well.
While both of these drinks are a must-try, Chung also recommends Handle’s “Japanese Whisky” cocktail as one he’s proud of, featuring Averna, black sesame and lemon.
When not crafting drinks at Handle, Chung can be found rock climbing or crafting drinks for his catering company, R&D Craft Cocktails. “I prefer to do really small clients, like 20 to 30 people, so we can do very specialized cocktails … because people want that craft bar experience,” says Chung.
Awarded $500 per category, Chung walks away with $1,000, city-wide bragging rights and a feature in the marketing campaign leading into Park City’s popular fall “Dine About” event.
You can taste the drinks yourself at Handle’s bar and restaurant, which opens for service at 5 p.m. If you’re lucky, Chung might even mix them up himself.
For mixologists at home, the recipes for each drink are listed below.
- 1.5 oz. Alpine Gin
- .5 oz. Cappelletti
- .75 oz. rhubarb-honey syrup
- .75 oz. lemon Juice
- 1/8 oz. olive oil
METHOD: Shake all ingredients, strain into a rocks glass with ice, garnish with a lemon wheel.
- 1.5 oz. Phony Negroni
- .75 oz. rhubarb-honey Syrup
- 3/4 oz. lemon juice
- 1/8 oz. olive oil
METHOD: Shake all ingredients, strain into a Nick & Nora glass, garnish with a lemon twist.
The Utah Avalanche Center reported Sunday that a longtime observer had triggered a large avalanche Saturday along the Park City ridgeline at West Monitor from 150 feet away, among similar reports of shallow soft slab avalanches in wind zones in the Salt Lake City region.
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