Julio Chavarria said he has never heard the entirety of “Sweet Agony” — the Dolly Parton song that inspired his drink, which won the top honors at Park City’s annual Savor the Cocktail Contest.
Chavarria, a bartender at High West Distillery, said he came up with the tropical-flavored cocktail as part of the whiskey maker’s Bar Lab. The program invites bartenders to experiment with classic and modern cocktails and create new drinks for High West’s menu.
“Every season, we come up with the new cocktails for the winter and summer menus, and then we have a naming process,” he said. “We used to riff off of old Westerns and stuff like that, but this year we went with Dolly Parton songs, like ‘Jolene’ or ‘9 to 5,’ and ‘Sweet Agony.’ That’s the one I landed on.”
He still hasn’t heard the whole song, only snippets, but said not knowing it well gave him the freedom from feeling like he had to recreate the music in drink form.
High West was one of 17 Park City establishments to submit mixed drinks for the contest. Four of those submitted alcohol-free entries, as part of an addition to the contest, sponsored by Utah’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services.
The Park City Area Restaurant Association, which organizes the contest, posted an online poll of entries on July, so the public could choose the winners, which were announced August 1.
At the base of the Sweet Agony are High West Double Rye and Jamaican rum, mixed with pineapple and lime juices for a tropical flavor profile — with a hint of bitterness, the “agony” of the drink’s name, provided by a bit of Amaro Montenegro, an Italian herbal liqueur.
“It’s got that nice, light refreshing flavor that people love during the summer,” Chavarria said.
Here’s the trick to making it at home: You’ll have to make the cucumber-basil syrup from scratch.
“You just have to be patient with it,” Chavarria said. “It’s an 18-hour process. What I do is get all the ingredients and put them in sugar, and let them sit for that amount of time. The sugar will extract the moisture from the cucumber, mint and basil, and it will turn into a syrup. If it looks too thick, you can add a little water.” And even if it’s not perfect, he said, it will still taste great in the drink.
The winning mocktail, by Zack Rhoades at Après Pendry, is called “Midsomer,” and has its own backstory.
“We had a couple come into Pendry, and the guy was going to propose to the girl,” Rhoades said. “So it has a really sweet beginning, right? I was going to craft up a mocktail for them to surprise them at the table. I wanted something flirty, romantic, something fresh, something you can have before a meal and not feel too heavy, but that sparks the appetite a little bit.”
The flavor profile is light and summery, with a honeydew melon shrub, strawberry and mint, and a splash of lemon.
“The honeydew shrub itself has a tinge of sweet and sour, so it’s a well-encompassed mocktail. It has a seltzer feel, it’s minty, it’s fresh strawberry, you have the natural sugar from the melon, and then a tinge of sour from the shrub itself,” he said.
He sent two Midsomers to the couple’s table, but made a few extra and gave some to the chef and another bartender and server, hoping to get some feedback. “It turns out everyone loved it. They couldn’t get enough of it. So I spent the next few days just making them for everybody,” he said, laughing.
As with the Sweet Agony, the Midsomer requires mixing your own ingredient: The honeydew shrub. Rhoades said shrubs are simply a simple syrup — sugar and water — with a splash of vinegar added. The result is a sweet-sour flavor, which often is used to replace citrus.
“Honeydew melon works well, because it’s so naturally sweet,” he said. “We add a nice rice wine vinegar to add a really soft tinge of sour, so it’s not going to be like a harsh white vinegar.”
It’s easy to make, he said: Just mash together whole fruit and sugar, and let it sit in the fridge for a few days, then add hot water as you would to make a normal simple syrup.
“Then you add the vinegar you want to use,” he said. “It could be white wine vinegar, rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar — whatever flavor profile you want. Then you just add it bit by bit to reach the flavor you’re looking for.”
For those who don’t want to wait 18 hours, or two days, to put together the ingredients to make these drinks at home, they’re both available now at High West (703 Park Ave., Park City) and Après Pendry (2417 W High Mountain Road, Park City), though note that the Midsomer is off-menu.
For those who want to try their hand at making them at home, here are the recipes:
¾ oz. High West Double Rye
½ oz. Jamaican rum
½ oz. Amaro Montenegro
¼ oz. Amontillado sherry
¾ oz. cucumber & basil syrup
¾ oz. pineapple juice
¾ oz. lime juice
3 dashes Hop Tincture Club Soda
Combine all ingredients except club soda in a shaker with ice. Shake. Strain into Collins glass with pebble ice. Top with club soda. Garnish with basil leaves. Best served in a Collins glass.
1 halved strawberry
6 mint leaves
¾ oz. lemon juice
1 oz. Honeydew Shrub Club Soda
Muddle strawberry, mint and lemon juice. Hard shake and dirty dump over rocks. Top with club soda. Garnish with mint bouquet and dehydrated strawberry. Best served in a rocks glass.
Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.