Sara Bass of Grayze hands out a freshly made cocktail. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Sara Bass of Grayze hands out a freshly made cocktail. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Nearly two dozen of the city’s best restaurants and bars were shaking up drinks and fighting for top prizes during the eighth annual RiverTini competition on Thursday night.

The annual event, hosted by the San Antonio River Foundation (SARF), aims to raise funds for its parent organization the San Antonio River Authority.

The event drew about 500 people – young professionals and members of the industry – who enjoyed small bites and tasty cocktails at the Wyndham Garden San Antonio Riverwalk at Museum Reach.

“This is one of our largest years,” said Kelley Phillips, SARF digital media specialist. “Part of it is because of the great venue, and the patio and restaurant allows for more space. But it’s still exclusive, because there is a limited number of tickets.”

Sixteen official cocktail judges – local celebrities, chefs and three technical judges from the industry – rated the drinks based on balance, overall taste, presentation, as well as the drinks’ connections to the San Antonio River.

Several groups and bartenders used creative names, like Large New Barge by David Naylor at Park Social, to connect their drinks with the San Antonio River, while others explained how the city and river inspired their cocktails. Several teams decorated their tables with playful, fun props that represented the local animals, flora and fauna found near the river.

“Presentation is always important; I can always appreciate the thought that goes into a cocktail,” said Chef Johnny Hernandez, who served as a RiverTini judge. The judges sampled up to eight cocktails each, before casting their votes. By 8:15 p.m., the finalists were announced.

Sara Bass and Cassidy Collins, the bar manager at Grayze, placed first with Como La Flor, a slightly sweet cocktail made with Reyka vodka, Lillet blanc, honey infused with moroccan mint tea, lemon, strawberry shrub, whiskey barrel aged bitters, and Nasturium flowers.

“Our drink was inspired by San Antonio, especially the gardens and the Botanical Gardens,” said Collins, who used local produce and fresh ingredients to capture the city’s flavor. “San Antonio’s hot, and we need something light and refreshing. This is something you can sit on a patio and sit and enjoy.”

The event culminated with music, dancing, and sipping on left over cocktails. Estella Avery, SARF executive director, said that there was no telling how much had been raised during the event. But if attendance gave any indication of the fundraiser’s success, “this is going to be one of our best years yet.”

*Top Image: Sara Bass of Grayze hands out a freshly made cocktail. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

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Lea Thompson, a former reporter at the Rivard Report, is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events.