Better. Faster. Stronger. Those would be the sentiments of Drew Levinson, not Kanye West. Wirtz Beverage Nevada’s director of strategic activation and his team have a solid game plan in place for Downtown’s third annual Life Is Beautiful festival beverage program September 25-27. “Faster … and more streamlined,” Levinson adds. “Still far superior to any program out there, at any festival.”
Here’s what hasn’t changed: You’ll still stroll over to any of the culinary villages for a skillfully batched cocktail, finished a la minute by bartenders. Or a craft beer. Or glass of wine. There will still be an official festival cocktail in the style of last year’s Ketel One Dutch mule; there’s even been talk of a mule encore. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
Chief among the changes are the festival dates. Shifting to late September, this fall festival (technically) has landed itself back in what is, temperature wise, still very much summer in Las Vegas. “We want to make sure we’re providing really refreshing cocktails,” Levinson says. Plans already call, we hear, for more shaded dining and drinking spots. And the cocktail menu itself has shifted accordingly. “Last year, we had one frozen drink in the entire festival—it also happened to be one of our top five selling cocktails. This year, we’ll have no less than 12.” Levinson says. “We are also looking at potential new ways of delivering cocktails, such as frozen popsicles.” Also mentioned: beer-keg backpacks.
In 2014, Life Is Beautiful bars served, Levinson says, 4,500 gallons of batched cocktails, 50 separate recipes, made fresh 20-25 gallons at a time, “which is an incredible undertaking,” Levinson says. This year, he anticipates serving upward of 5,000 gallons, but with a more realistic 25 recipes. Accomplishing this feat will be consultants Willy Shine and Leo Degroff with their five-to-seven-member team, plus another 15-20 assistants. From Wirtz, along with Levinson, there’s beverage development specialist Andrew Pollard, craft spirit specialist Jeremy Merritt, craft portfolio specialist Michael Shetler and “the linchpin,” special events coordinator David Forst.
Once again, five major liquor sponsors have signed on, including returning brands Ketel One, Jack Daniel’s and Fernet-Branca, and first-timer Milagro Tequila.
With a tad less emphasis on pairing with the food vendors and more emphasis on quenching ability and speed of service, Levinson and his team are toying with the idea of draft cocktails to get those drinks into festivalgoers’ hands as fast as possible, “something that’s never been done in this scale in this type of festival environment,” he says. And just when you think the cocktail alchemy has hit its apex: “We can also have fun with different gasses: nitrogen if we want them to be inert, CO2 for a carbonated margarita or fill-in-the-blank cocktail. It gives us this other latitude of texture that really is refreshing in this warm environment.”
Beer nuts, get excited for 24 craft beers and the Nevada launch of Left Hand Brewing. Prefer wine? Look for a 60/40, or even 70/30, white-to-red ratio and think Prisoner, Chalk Hill and Crimson. And on the general concession side, Wirtz will offer Electric Sky, stackable wine cups perfect for a festival setting. If you’re the hands-on sort, you’ll dig the live cocktail demos. And if you plan on being a baller, Hyde by SBE will be handling your table/bottle service, with food by Hearthstone Kitchen & Cellar and Nobu while you enjoy the newly east-facing Downtown stage.
One thing that’s not changed, however, is Wirtz’s core mission in partnering with the festival: “We wanted to do something that’s about growing the local community, that interacts a lot with local businesses and the people who live, work and raise their children here,” Levinson says. “And we felt that this is the perfect festival for doing something like that.”