For three years, the New Mexico Cocktails and Culture Festival has helped kick off summer. Originally born out of a desire to share and celebrate the work behind the scenes of the mixology world, it aims to achieve a balance between throwing a three-day cocktail party interspersed with thoughtful (sometimes healthy) activities, but also neutral ground between members of the hospitality industry and everyday people who appreciate well-made libations.

"Fifteen years ago, if you saw someone shaking a Manhattan, you wouldn't think twice," founder Natalie Bovis says. (For those who don't know, you're supposed to stir it.) "The festival is very much geared towards both guests and restaurant professionals coming together and sharing an experience that results in learning something new and getting to know each other better."

Bovis hopes to help the curious develop a taste for the world of craft cocktails, which she calls "the liquid aspect of the culinary world." Just as chefs take basic ingredients and mix them together, so too does a bartender assemble various elements to achieve a nuanced drink. And as we celebrate a global approach to food that prioritizes fresh, seasonal ingredients, so too has the world of mixology changed for the better.

"At some point, it became necessary to reference the 19th century and go back to the old techniques," says Dale DeGroff, guest speaker, master mixologist and James Beard Award-winning author. "And now we have access to different tips and inspiration from all over the world, and ingredients that come from the actual ground."

DeGroff further explores the historic aspect of cocktails in his presentation on Saturday June 2: "Gamblers, Whiskey and Flying Horses."

"I actually lived near Belmont Park [in New York], and horse racing is very close to my heart," DeGroff explains. "I'll talk about where the horses came from, I talk about American whiskey—and the connections between the two from the very beginning and how it evolved." This will no doubt be one of the highlights of the festival, not least because it features drinks like colonial punch, Preakness cocktails and mint juleps.

The festivities begin with two cocktail pairing dinners: one at Coyote Café on Wednesday May 30 and another Thursday May 31 at Eloisa. Tickets are $125 and separate from the weekend pass. Coyote Café's dinner features cocktails crafted with various brands from the Beam Suntory portfolio (think Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Pinnacle and the like), alongside a dinner prepared by Chef Eduardo Rodriguez. For the drinks, owner Quinn Stephenson collaborates with Bobby "G" Gleason, national ambassador of the United States Bartender Guild and master mixologist for Beam Suntory.

"Meeting the local bartending community also gives me new ideas to see what they are doing with cocktails and the unique ingredients they have access to," Gleason tells SFR. Eloisa's dinner features cocktails crafted by head bartender Tom Street, owner of Street Brothers Beverage Company, paired with dishes created by James Beard Award-winning Chef John Sedlar.

Gleason, meanwhile, is also slated to judge the annual Taco Wars event on Friday June 1, and to teach the "Mixology Made Easy" seminar on Saturday June 2. Taco Wars itself showcases tequila-based cocktails paired with street tacos crafted by local restaurants like the Anasazi Restaurant, Rowley Farmhouse Ales and Albuquerque's Backstreet Grill.

On Saturday June 2, events include the Mind Body Spirits yoga class on the Drury rooftop, an array of seminars and the Chef and Shaker Challengean event with 16 chef and bartender teams representing top-tier restaurants from Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

On Sunday June 3, join a fundraising bike ride for the Helen David Relief Fund, which raises money for female bartenders suffering from breast cancer. The 30-mile ride leaves the Drury Plaza Hotel at 9 am.

Later, the Bloody Battle & Cocktail Brunch contest starts at noon; by happy chance, its three competing bartenders represent a level of female excellence in the hospitality world. Carla Gilfillan, beverage director of Hotel Albuquerque and manager of Casa Esencia and QBar Lounge; Jessica O'Brien of Albuquerque's Sister Bar; and Andrea Duran of Eloisa are the finalists, and their combined presence on the floor of this competition is a testament to the positive changes taking place in the greater world of mixology and culinary arts.

  • Taco Wars: 6 pm Friday June 1. $35. Presale sold out; limited tickets available at door.
  • Mind Body Spirits yoga: 10-11 am Saturday June 2. $20; free to hospitality industry workers.
  • Mixology Seminars: 11:30 am-4:30 pm Saturday June 2. $30 each; $175 day pass.
  • Gamblers, Whiskey and Flying Horses: 7 pm Saturday June 2. $40.
  • Chef & Shaker Challenge: 7 pm Saturday June 2. $90-$100.
  • Helen David Relief Fund fundraising bike ride: 9 am-noon Sunday June 3. Free.
  • Bloody Battle & Cocktail Brunch: Noon-3 pm Sunday June 3. $30-$35.

All events at Drury Plaza Hotel,
828 Paseo de Peralta,
complete schedule and tickets: