WINNING WITH STYLE
Meet the champions of the edible Reno-Tahoe Good Spirits Competition.
WRITTEN BY MICHAEL C. MOBERLY
PHOTOS BY TY O'NEIL
Nick Strowmatt, executive chef of The Depot Craft Brewery Distillery in Reno, and Anna Vetter, manager at The Emerson, earned people’s choice winner honors at the Good Spirits competition in June
For the past two years, I have had the pleasure of curating the roster of bartenders and spirits for the edible Reno-Tahoe Good Spirits Competition, in which local bartenders, distillers, and restaurants from around Reno-Tahoe showcase expertly crafted drinks and dishes and square off for the title of Good Spirits Champion (as chosen by event attendees).
This year, I got the opportunity to sit down with each of the people’s choice winners (one for best cocktail and one for best dish) to discover what it takes to make that perfect sip or bite.
Vetter’s winning cocktail, Dionysus Oasis, included Cocalero, dandelion-infused dry vermouth, watermelon habanero simple syrup, and lemon juice, and was topped with lemon lime and bitters soda
Recently, the world of local cocktail competitions has been dominated by a kind, generous, and powerful force: Anna Vetter. The local bartender took the title once again in this year’s competition, which took place June 1 at The Elm Estate in Reno.
I have been lucky enough to know Vetter for many years, and I am always impressed with her poise and inclusive nature. How did she feel winning Good Spirits two years in a row?
“Feels good,” she replies with a grin, “but I want to do it again.”
That’s what makes Vetter such a competitor — her desire to do a little bit extra and keep pushing for more. A great deal of energy goes into planning and executing these competitions, and Vetter is not one to shy away from a challenge.
“I like to know an environment and go from there,” she says. “That’s what was great about The Elm Estate; it was so beautiful. The idea of ‘secret garden’ popped into my head, and I went from there.”
Vetter’s hard work has been on display in her drinks for years now, but her newest project, The Emerson in Midtown Reno, a lounge-style establishment with cocktails and light bites, will raise the bar even higher.
“What will set The Emerson apart is that we are showcasing women: women winemakers, brewers, and distillers,” says Vetter, who will manage the business. “We are trying to tell the story of these women and their craft.”
If there is one story I can’t wait to see unfold, it’s Vetter’s as she continues to be one of our region’s brightest stars.
Meeting Nick Strowmatt, executive chef of The Depot Craft Brewery Distillery in Reno, is like eating his food: familiar, welcoming, honest, and with just the right amount of sass. He reminds me of many great chefs I have known in the past with a calm yet fiery demeanor, the kind of temperament that it takes to make beautiful food.
Strowmatt’s winning dish was beer-braised Niman Ranch pork with honey bourbon grits and braised dino kale
When asked what it takes to produce an event such as Good Spirits, Strowmatt’s response is “Knowing your variables.” He understands that the key to any successful competition is preparation and the ability to roll with the punches.
“We are control freaks,” he says. “In your kitchen you can control things to some degree, but these outside events always present new challenges. It’s a matter of knowing what you can mitigate and what you can work through. You still have to make sure as soon as the event is ready to go that you are ready to go.”
At this year’s event, one of the most impressive aspects to me was Strowmatt’s ability to greet and interact with almost all of the guests.
“At the end of the day, the execution is what matters most to me,” he says. “If I have a really good team and they can be on top of it, I can be out there like that. I want guests to enjoy themselves, whether it’s at an event or at the restaurant, and you can’t do that without execution.”
With the opening of The Depot’s new event space, I look forward to many more extraordinary bites from Strowmatt.
Michael C. Moberly is the national brand ambassador and distillery general manager for Ferino Distillery in Reno and a local spirits educator. His 12 years in the industry have been spent learning, loving, and imbibing with some of its best minds, both locally and nationally. He also is good at wearing hats.