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Spilling the Tea Behind the Spirited Libations at the 2024 CATIE Awards

For the first time, the International Catering Association’s CATIE Awards added a spirited category this year: Innovative Mixology (Alcoholic or Non-Alcoholic). Let us tell you, the submissions didn’t disappoint. With tantalizing creativity bubbling in every glass, the finalists for the Innovative Mixology category shook up the scene with their ingenious libations. 

From the impressive inspiration behind the creations to the meticulous crafting of each menu item, it was highly apparent that all teams poured their hearts and souls into their entries. Today, we’re sharing the behind-the-scenes so you can almost taste the flavors, feel the textures, and imagine the aromas wafting off the spirited glasses. 

WINNER: 24 Carrots Catering & Events, "Omakase Icebreaker"

"Omakase" is a Japanese term that translates to "I trust you" or "I leave it up to you." This is the concept the 24 Carrots Catering & Events team channeled for this cocktail experience that ultimately won the competition due to its bespoke approach and challenging execution. 

The challenges

According to the 24 Carrots Catering & Events team, the entire process was a challenge—but one they weren’t willing to stray from because they knew it would wow the guests. An omakase experience is customary in a high-level cocktail lounge or eatery, but at scale during a catered event is seemingly impossible (keyword: seemingly).

The production

To produce a custom cocktail for every guest who arrived at the workshop, they leveraged a surprise element: an icebreaker. They provided guests with a quick questionnaire card upon arrival. Only one question on the card was beverage-related; the rest were personality-centric questions. Guests dropped the cards off and went on guided facility tours while the bartenders got to work. 

Using a base of Seven Days Cocktails, each guest exited the tour to see a cocktail entirely personalized to them, with their card to identify it. The bartenders curated specialty cocktails incorporating additions of bitters, liqueurs, tonics, garnishes, diverse presentations, and more to truly make every beverage experience distinct to match the guest’s preferences and personality. 

The team shared that, “Having expert bartenders with a mental Rolodex of cocktails truly made this experience successful.” The event not only showcased playful innovation but also featured the team's commitment to redefining hospitality, where every experience is tailored to fit the individual.

The recipe

Well, there was no recipe here. But here were the elements: 

 Seven Days Cocktails Cocktail Bases

  • Cara Cara Orange Old Fashioned
  • Strawberry & Cucumber Margarita
  • Spicy Blood Orange and Passion Fruit Margarita
  • Passion Fruit Cosmopolitan
  • Pineapple Daiquiri 

Additional spirits, wine, beer

Campari, gin, sweet vermouth, rye, mezcal, angostura bitters, Peychaud’s, dram, Jamaican rum, coffee liqueur, dry vermouth, absinthe, prosecco, lambrusco, sauvignon blanc, and light beer  

Soft beverages

Coffee, cream, coconut cream, soda water, tonic water, Squirt, Pellegrino Blood Orange, ginger beer, grapefruit juice, cola, Sidral, hot water, and aquafaba 

Extras & garnishes

Lemon, lime, grapefruit, rosemary, mint, maraschino cherries, nutmeg, coffee beans, and tajin

Simply Fresh Events, "Toasted Marshmallow Milkshake" 

The way you become a top caterer is listening to what your guests want, and the Simply Fresh Events Toasted Marshmallow Milkshake was a prime example of this. While planning a Bar Mitzvah, their top priority was giving the guest of honor a toasted marshmallow milkshake that reminded him of his favorite restaurant. The kicker? They made the recipe and did a whole photoshoot of the team enjoying the shakes before they even had the business. This was a part of their proposal process, which won them the business.

The challenges

With a toasted marshmallow milkshake, you need the mallows to be toasted. But when you have a venue like the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, where flames aren’t permitted, that gets challenging. They knew they couldn’t scrap the milkshake, so they added multiple meetings with the venue team to come up with a solution. They ended up toasting all the marshmallows on-site, by hand (for ultimate freshness) with a butane torch they had to get special permission to use. 

The production

Once they toasted the marshmallows atop a sheet pan to get that smoky campfire flavor, they blended the shakes and poured them into pre-garnished mason jars. Each jar was dipped in fluff and graham cracker crumble, then topped with mini marshmallows and a caramel or chocolate drizzle depending on what the guest wanted. 

This whole experience is the ultimate show of going above and beyond to delight, excite, and serve the client well, from bid to service.

The recipe 

  • 4 oz vanilla ice cream
  • 2 T whole milk
  • 2 oz toasted marshmallows
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Whipped cream (for garnish)
  • Chocolate syrup (for garnish)
  • Caramel syrup (for garnish)
  • Graham cracker crumbs (for garnish)
  • House-made marshmallow fluff (for garnish) 

The process

Place marshmallows on a lined baking sheet and toast with the torch until golden brown and slightly charred. In a blender, combine vanilla ice cream, whole milk, toasted marshmallows, and vanilla extract. Blend until smooth and creamy. For a thicker shake, add more ice cream. Rim the edge of your serving glasses with the marshmallow fluff and dip in graham cracker crumbs. Pour the milkshake into the prepared mason jar. Add a generous dollop of whipped cream on top of each milkshake. Take a few of the toasted marshmallows and skewer them on a toothpick or decorative stick. Place the marshmallow skewers on top of the whipped cream. Top with chocolate or caramel syrup, if desired!  

24 Carrots Catering & Events, "Here's the Tea"

Every grand opening fête needs a special-tea cocktail, doesn’t it? That’s the vibe the 24 Carrots Catering & Events team was going for with their grand opening event, at least! They shared, “The concept for this cocktail came from our marketing efforts for our new venue. We shared that each bit of information released was ‘spilling the tea’ to our clients, community, and creative partners. It was two-fold for us, as we welcomed guests into our new ‘home’ with a cup of tea, the type of hospitality we love to provide.” 

The challenges 

The team wanted to add a teabag to the cocktail—because what’s a cup of tea without a teabag—but had to figure out how to make that happen without impacting the flavors or presentation of the cocktail. 

Ultimately, they had to go with a transparent cocktail so the color wouldn’t be impacted, with a teabag filled with dehydrated lemons, which are already a common cocktail garnish. It was a process to make that happen, as they had to dehydrate 350 lemon wheels, add them to individual teabags, seal them, and brand the teabag tag. They shared that while it was time-consuming, the details were some of the favorites of the entire event! 

The production

There was a lot of pre-production that led to seamless service onsite, not only with the teabag but the cocktail in general. This included making their own milk tea by soaking Hōjicha green tea and milk, as well as creating the pandan simple syrup by soaking their house-made syrup with the floral, sweet leaves. They then had to combine those with freshly squeezed lemon and grapefruit juice, and of course, the Japanese whisky that was the star of the cocktail.  

At this point, they had to strain the cocktail a few times through a chinois and coffee strainers to get the perfect consistency.

It was not a simple process but a sure dedication to creativity and craft. 

The recipe 

  • 4 oz milk tea
  • 4 oz Toki Japanese whisky
  • ¼ oz fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ oz fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1½ oz pandan syrup  

The process 

Combine all ingredients except milk tea. Slowly add in the milk tea. Curds will start to form after about 15-45 minutes. Strain curds through a chinois and then through coffee filters. Chill mixture. Serve in a clear teacup with dehydrated lemon teabag for garnish.  


International Caterers Association

For motivated caterers, International Caterers Association is a resource that provides Education, encourages peer to peer Relationships and Inspires creativity while embracing all segments of the catering industry. For more information, visit