Writer: Hailey Allen
Iowa is known for its many rural exports, like corn and soybeans, and maybe even for our “Iowa Nice” character. But here’s the thing: We make a mean cocktail.
The Iowa Restaurant Association hosts an annual State Mixology Championship, where master bartenders stir up boozy beverages for a chance to win the coveted title of Iowa’s Top Mixologist. The 2023 event took place in early May at Smash Park in West Des Moines and proved to be a captivating showcase of talent, creativity and Star Wars-themed drinks. Even if you missed the showdown, you can still get a taste of the action by visiting each winner’s home base.
Hotel Julien, Dubuque
Top Mixologist Carl Busch of the Hotel Julien in Dubuque successfully reclaimed the title for a third time, after first snagging the award in 2013 and 2021. To see and taste why, head to the hotel’s Riverboat Lounge where you’ll find a few of his own recipes sprinkled into the drink menu with classics like Manhattans, margaritas, Old Fashioneds and a curated wine list. The hotel also houses Caroline’s Restaurant, where you can pop in for breakfast, lunch or dinner with your drinks.
London Underground, Ames
Swing over to Ames’ Main Street and make your way to London Underground, a British-style pub in the heart of the Heartland. The bartender behind the counter, Darian Everding, took second place in the state competition with her concoctions and recently earned her level 2 certification as a whiskey specialist from the Council of Whiskey Masters. It’s a fitting title, since the pub where she works features a whole wall of whiskeys to try. And if hard spirits aren’t your thing, try one of the 50-plus beers on tap.
The Winchester Public House, West Des Moines
This cocktail bar in the Valley Junction neighborhood might be one of the city’s best-kept secrets. The Winchester boasts a line of signature cocktail recipes with house-made ingredients from the bartending staff, plus special seasonal creations and the classics. The bar’s distinct geometric shelves show off a multitude of spirit choices, and you’ll find bartender Mike Gauthier, who won third place in the tournament, ready to whip up something special.
Trostel’s Greenbriar, Johnston
A panel of judges presided over the State Mixology Championship, but Iowa is still a democracy, and the people of Iowa have spoken: Heather Loops of Trostel’s Greenbriar received the People’s Choice award. The upscale American restaurant has been around for more than 35 years, but Loops keeps the drink menu fresh with seasonal and classic cocktails. Beyond liquor, the restaurant’s extensive wine list ensures a perfect pairing for any meal