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Get into the swing of Denver Food + Wine Festival with cocktails, jazz

September 9, 2016 Updated: September 9, 2016 at 4:15 am
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The Denver Food + Wine Festival's ShakeDown, renamed from the Art of the Cocktail Party, will feature a handful of the city's favorite restaurants will be dishing out soulful bites while jazzy bands will handle the serenading for this Southern-themed evening. At centerstage will be 11 local mixologists vying for the night's tastiest cocktail, as voted on by the crowd.

The Pepsi Center, 1000 Chopper Circle, Denver; 6:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday: The ShakeDown cocktail and bites party at Pepsi Center, $55 admission; 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Saturday: The Grand Tasting at Pepsi Center, $125 general admission; 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Sunday: Rise + Dine brunch at Curtis Hotel Ballroom, 1405 Curtis St., Denver 80202, $55 admission.

The Denver Food + Wine Festival dared not compete with the Denver Broncos on Thursday. And so, as the team opened its season, the event attracting thousands of taste buds annually took a break from its weeklong activity.

But on Friday, the fest will return with a bang.

The ShakeDown, renamed from the Art of the Cocktail Party, will feature a handful of the city's favorite restaurants dishing out soulful bites while jazzy bands handle the serenading for this Southern-themed evening.

At center stage will be 11 local mixologists vying to make the night's tastiest cocktail, as voted on by the crowd.

"It's so interesting what they decide to make," said Carolyn Livingston, with the Colorado Restaurant Association, a co-sponsor of the festival.

She recalled sipping a potato juice-based concoction last year.

"It's not your normal Manhattan or martini," she said. "It's crazy what people do. These are true artists."

The ShakeDown follows events that took place earlier in the week, all whetting appetites for the marquee spectacle Saturday. As part of the Grand Tasting, chef's tents will serve up 40 food creations and 700 wines. Miami's Giorgio Rapicavoli, a victor of the Food Network's hit competition show "Chopped" who took his earnings to open the highly regarded brick-and-mortar Eating House, will take the Culinary Stage on Saturday.

The 12th annual festival closes Sunday with Rise + Dine, a brunch with bottomless mimosas and delights from city breakfast eateries. The event is aiming to break the world record for the largest bloody mary bar, with almost 60 toppings. It's new to the ever-growing festival, as is the festival's home: the spacious Pepsi Center downtown.

The additions come in the middle of what the National Restaurant Association anticipates as a good year for the industry. The trade group in its annual forecast predicts the industry will grow by 5 percent in 2016, amounting to sales of $783 billion. Sales are projected at $11.6 billion in Colorado - steady growth compared to a year ago.

"It's absolutely imperative," Livingston said. "So many people say they have a great recipe or a great concept for a restaurant, but they know nothing about the business aspect of it. They get in and they're so overwhelmed by that side of it, and they struggle, and we don't like to see that."

The Denver Food + Wine Festival will benefit Colorado ProStart, a program by the Colorado Restaurant Association that teaches students at 29 state high school the business skills needed in foodservice.

Seth Boster, The Gazette, 636-0332, seth.boster@gazette.com

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