Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Life of a Cocktail

Nine ways to refresh while festivaling

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on September 20, 2017

Any chef or bartender will tell you that, among other essentials, a sharp knife is critical to a successful service. Breakthru Beverage has overseen the Life Is Beautiful beverage program since year one of the three-day event that turns Downtown Las Vegas into an urban mega-festival celebrating music, food, drink and culture. Now, as year five draws near, the team has honed and polished that beverage plan like the finest steel.

On board as premium sponsors this year are Dos Equis, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey (returning for its fifth year) and Tito’s Vodka. Back in a big way for its fifth year is Fernet-Branca Italian amaro, and additional featured brands include St. George Vodka, Fortaleza Tequila, Rhum Clément, Smoke Wagon Bourbon, Appleton Estate Rum and Kimo Sabe Mezcal.

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

It is from these brands and others that Breakthru Beverage development specialists Andrew Pollard and Rodger Gillespie have created a streamlined portfolio of 20 cocktails, down from last year’s 24 drinks, 38 in 2015 and less than half of a most ambitious 52-recipe debut in 2014. “This is the year we’ve really nailed all facets, whereas before it was a little extensive,” Pollard says. “We’ve now had the opportunity in year five to refine down to what we know makes sense for all demographics, from [ages] 21 to 25, 30 to 40, etc.”

Of the 20-drink recipes, eight will be presented frozen (hello, frozen Jack and cola!); three will do the heavy lifting as “festival champions” (that is, they are available at every VIP bar within the footprint; down from last year’s five); and the remainder are specialty cocktails, which can be found in both craft-brand-focused areas and at brands’ activations, such as the Jack Daniel’s Airstream, complete with rooftop DJ and a new emphasis on JD’s Tennessee Honey and Tennessee Fire.

Back by bottomless demand is the official Life Is Beautiful Moscow mule, this year featuring Tito’s Vodka and served throughout the festival footprint. In confirmation of an earlier rumor, the Festival Mule will also take frozen form at the Tito’s activation. Returning from past years are the Dark ’N’ Stormborn featuring Fernet-Branca and the Peach Dandy, which celebrates its fourth year with a switch-up to the Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Rye.

Elevating the energy category, sponsor Red Bull will come strong with not one but two activations, and makes appearances in multiple cocktails. “We’re trying to get people to rethink the perception of Red Bull, which, as we know, has been focused on ‘X’ person and had ‘X’ profile for so long,” Pollard says. “So we’re expanding that horizon.” Another focus area, Beer Row, overseen by Breakthru craft beer specialist Michael Shetler, will feature a 24-tap wall, 16 of which represent craft brands.

For Pollard, the downsizing is a less-is-more approach that allows him to focus on quality over quantity. “We wanted to mix it up. We want to be new and innovative; we don’t want to necessarily reinvent the wheel when we can go a little bit faster. Looking at sales year over year, we’ve identified and pinpointed what people are asking for, whether it’s a genre, style or flavor component. We always look to capture those category champions or flavor champions just as we were to do with a drink menu. We’re just doing it on a festival scale.”

That festival scale slides in increments of thousands. With an expectation of batching 50,000 cocktails (up from last year’s 35,000), Breakthru has secured the same HQ in The Learning Village next to Container Park for its production facility, affectionately called Batch World, as well as the same team, the New York–based Liquid Productions, featuring industry legends Andy Seymour and Leo Degroff, to helm the Batch Mayhem Crew.

Batching ensures consistency and guarantees that each cocktail starts with a minimum of 2 ounces of base spirit. “Thinking as a consumer,” Pollard says, “I want to get my money’s worth. We were not shy on any of these recipes.” All 20 drinks are locked in at $12 across the board so that price never comes into play when choosing.

With such major players as Jack Daniel’s and Tito’s on board, it would be easy for craft brands to get diluted and lost in those thousands of gallons, were it not for Pollard and Gillespie acting as advocates, pulling them into recipes with those heavy hitters. “We’re raising awareness for craft brands, and just having some fun with identifiable cocktails, incorporating them in a fun way that’s still approachable but that still takes people a little bit out of their comfort zone. Not too far out, though.”

Here are nine of the drinks that will refresh palate and spirit at Life Is Beautiful this weekend. 

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Clockwork Orange Julius

Highlighting the tangerine Red Bull expression (the orange can), “it’s fun and cheeky,” Pollard says. “People identify with Orange Julius; we want to have something for everyone.” For me, however, this frozen blended refresher is all about memories of racing to the catch the ice cream truck.

In the Glass: Red Bull Orange Edition, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, Giffard Vanilla Liqueur and Tippy Cow Orange Creamsicle rum-based cream liqueur

Find It: At the Red Bull activations

Tito’s Iced Tea

Despite the similar name, this is more Arnold Palmer than Long Island Iced Tea. “Festival champions need to accommodate everybody,” Pollard says. And this one it hits on all levels: It’s easy drinking, light and refreshing, balanced and way better than the one you might make at home. “That said, there are still 2.5 ounces of alcohol in there. …”

In the Glass: Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Giffard Pink Grapefruit Liqueur, fresh lemon and honey mango tea

Find It: Festival Champion, available at all VIP bars and the Tito’s activation

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Peach Dandy

Looking for your whiskey drink in the lineup? You probably know that Manhattans don’t really mix well with sweltering heat and sunshine. With rye to mix up this returning recipe, you’re far better off with this frozen-peach-garnished delight. Giving all the flavors of a bite of peach pie right down to the pastry crust, “this is that Southern belle, if you will,” Pollard says.

In the Glass: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Rye Whiskey, Giffard Peach Liqueur, fresh lemonade and mint

Find It: Festival Champion, available at all VIP bars and available frozen at the Jack Daniel’s activation

(Mai) Tai One On

“The traditional mai tai is one of the most difficult cocktails to sell,” Pollard says. Therefore, he used Red Bull’s tangerine flavor “to give people something to latch onto. This and the Castaway are our more tiki, tropical vacations in a glass.” Whereas in earlier years, Pollard and the crew were making drinks for themselves, with names that spoke to them, he says they are now trying to really look through a guest’s eyes and palate.

In the Glass: Red Bull Orange Edition, Zaya 12-Year Rum, Giffard Banana Liqueur, fresh lime, spiced pineapple orgeat and Angostura Aromatic Bitters

Find It: At one of two of the Red Bull activations

Hot & Bothered

Vegetal cocktail lovers and foodies, take note! A uniquely savory moment in the lineup, this Paloma-ish cooler is where Pollard gets to really stretch his legs a little: “This where I really start having fun with complexity and all the things we love.”

In the Glass: St. George Green Chile Vodka, Kimo Sabe Joven Mezcal, passion fruit, fresh lime and grapefruit soda

Find It: At both of the two craft cocktail pods

Pineapple Express

A little something for the mojito crowd, this recipe features the new Giffard Pineapple Liqueur as well as tropical Red Bull, which dries out the finish and makes it “refreshing and approachable, yet distinguished in its own way,” Pollard says. “Jamaican rum is the jack of all trades—it can really go in all directions: grassy, spicy, funky.”

In the Glass: Appleton Estate Reserve Jamaican Rum, Giffard Pineapple Liqueur, fresh lime, mint Angostura Aromatic Bitters and Red Bull Yellow Edition

Find It: At both craft cocktail pods

Photo by Krystal Ramirez


“On the page, it’s a watermelon basil margarita,” Pollard says, “bittersweet, savory and still refreshing.” The intrigue comes right up front with the Bruto Americano—you don’t have to wait for the finish. “I think there’s just enough of a twist in each of these to keep it interesting, but not enough to scare anybody.”

In the Glass: Fortaleza Blanco Tequila, Chareau Cucumber Liqueur, fresh watermelon, lime, basil and St. George Bruto Americano bitter

Find It: At both craft cocktail pods

Off the Wagon

Strawberry is arguably the No. 1 most requested flavor, depending on which reports you read, Pollard notes. So retiring the Strawberry Blonde from duty necessitated still having the flavor represented. This strawberry elderflower lemonade spiked with bourbon does the trick, and is remarkably easy drinking considering it has 2 ounces of 100-proof whiskey. “People will get in trouble with that one,” Pollard says. “In trouble in a good way.”

In the Glass: Nevada Distilling Co. Smoke Wagon Bourbon, Bols elderflower liqueur, fresh strawberry mint lemonade

Find It: At both craft cocktail pods

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Cast Away

You know when the bartender serves that flaming or smoking something and suddenly there are 10 orders for it? This is that visually appealing novelty. In past years, that work was done by whole fresh young coconuts served with or without rum. This year, it will be a blue coconut daiquiri with a touch of sophistication (thank you, sherry!), where you can really taste the fresh coconut meat. “This definitely has a little more going on than your typical blue drink,” says Pollard.

In the Glass: Rhum Clément Premiere Canne, Clément Mahina Coconut, fresh lime, Lustau Manzanilla Sherry, Giffard Orgeat and blue Curaçao

Find It: At both craft cocktail pods

Vegas Seven