The 86’d Cocktail Contest: Meet the Judges

L-R: Sarah Primavera, Jim Nakamura, Valerie Hill. PHOTOS CONTRIBUTED

For the first annual cocktail contest, The Clovis Roundup is delighted to introduce our three knowledgeable and enthusiastic judges for the 86’d Cocktail Contest. 

The 86’d competition brings a twist to the competition. In a similar format to the Food Network’s “Chopped,” competing bartenders will be presented with surprise ingredients to be used to create an on-the-spot cocktail using those ingredients. This event will take place at Michelangelo’s on Sept. 21.

Valerie Hill

“The art of mixology has always been so fascinating to me,” says Hill, Activity Director at Copper River Country Club. “Drinking a cocktail is an adventure. You trust a bartender to create a drink that highlights liquor but awakens your palate in so many other ways too. The combinations are limitless, and the spontaneity of being able to try something new that you would never have tried before has always piqued my interest. Something new and exciting happens every day. There’s even a peanut butter whiskey now! I can’t wait to see what comes next!” 

Hill has hosted many competitions as well as helped curate several restaurant cocktail lists. Recently, Copper River had a wine tasting event, where the chef presented a spectacular spread of food items chosen for their ability to be paired with the various wines. “People who love food can make good mixologists,” shares Hill. “I’m excited to be part of the judging panel for the first time!”

What are some of the characteristics she’ll be looking for during the competition?

“Freshness from the ingredients used is the key to a well-balanced cocktail,” says Hill. “It’s a popular choice in a lot of restaurants to utilize seasonal ingredients in their specialty drinks. By marketing to a broader range of guests, you’ll almost always see a balanced go-to cocktail with a little sweetness, a little fruitiness, and a whole lot of flavor as a staple on a lot of menus.”

Jim Nakamura

Jim Nakamura is employed by Regency Investment Advisors and is active in the Saint Agnes Men’s Club, Leadership Fresno Class 35, and Craig School of Business Alumni and Friends Board. He has traveled the world playing paintball for Team USA and won the world cup in Malaysia.

Nakamura enjoys socializing with good company. He is especially fond of high-end spirits, wine and beer. As a judge, what he’s looking for in presentation, smell, and taste, all depends on the type of drink.  

“I love the competition of it all,” says Nakamura. “I think that competitions bring out the best in people, and it is a great way for people to display their passion and love for what they do. I will be looking for the contestants to use the secret ingredients boldly in the drink. I also love drinks that will taste fresh and unique. So whether that is with fresh juices or that extra bit of mint, I am just looking for that extra factor to make it unique to every other drink.”

Sarah Primavera

Sarah Primavera has enjoyed bartending for over twenty years and in all types of bartending environments. Her credentials include serving as the Chilled Magazine Ambassador for San Francisco. She was the 2019 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Northern California Recipient and won first place in the 2018 Pacific Wine and Spirits Cocktail Competition.

As a manager at Lucy’s Lounge, Fresno’s first craft cocktail lounge, she and the bartenders were known for creating and featuring a new monthly craft cocktail menu with original cocktails.

Along with being a contestant in cocktail competitions, she participated as a judge.

“Cocktails are like life: fun, new, exciting and interesting,” she says. “Presentation is important, whether the cocktail is simple or elaborate. You first take it in with the eye, then with smell and taste. You look for a nice balance and flavors that work together and individually.”