Tomato Jam ’19: Not just a bunch of Bloody Marys!

Bartender Whitney Scott of Sapphire mixing a drink called “Atlantic Love Tonic.” Whitney and the Sapphire booth won the “flair” award.

Congrats to the talented mixologists and proprietors of J.C. Holdway and Libacious Cocktail Catering for winning the first place Judges’ Award and People’s Choice Award, respectively, at the Tomato Jam cocktail contest.

The festive event, held Aug. 4 at downtown’s The Mill & Mine, pitted 10 cocktail providers against each other in a competition to make the best tomato-based drink. The affair, in its third year, was a fundraiser for Nourish Knoxville, a nonprofit that organizes the Market Square Farmers’ Market and supports other relationships between local farmers and the public.

The top pick of the judges was called “Green with Envy” and looked a bit like a margarita. But, rather than tequila, the mixture of tomato water and cucumber flavors contained George Dickel white corn whiskey. It was interesting.

The top vote-getter in the People’s Choice category was concocted by Casey Fox of Libacious. Called “The Garden Party,” it was one of the most complex drinks offered. It contained a syrup made from roasted tomatoes combined with vodka, passion fruit, lime, celery bitters and a fresh dill garnish. Like many of the entries, it was sweet — something you don’t normally expect from a tomato drink.

But these were not your run-of-the-mill Bloody Marys.

Here’s the winner of the Judges’ Choice award, “Green with Envy” from J.C. Holdway.

The organizers of Tomato Jam made some significant changes in its third year. Several were good changes, but some were not.

On the plus side, there clearly was an effort to produce a more environmentally responsible event. Gone were the small plastic cups in which cocktails were served during the first two Tomato Jams. Instead, this year the libations were delivered in small metal glasses sporting the Nourish Knoxville logo. The downside of this was that you couldn’t really see the cocktail — and visuals are an important part of the experience. (Selfishly, the cocktails also were more difficult to photograph in the metal containers.) To counteract this problem, several of the contestants brought their own glassware.

Also, for some reason this year, the organizers drastically changed the VIP experience. Last year, for $75, attendees could buy VIP tickets and be treated to an upstairs area of The Mill & Mine where a gourmet brunch buffet was served and where volunteers would deliver the cocktails to the attendees. It was very civilized and elegant. (Click here to see what it was like last year.)

This year, for $75, you got in an hour before the general admission ticket purchasers did. That’s it. No special buffet. No volunteers delivering the drinks. It was much less special.

All in all, Tomato Jam is still a fun way to spend a Sunday noontime. And it’s definitely for a good cause. But, I cast my vote to go back to the old ways. Cheers!

Erin O’Connell brought home the win for J.C. Holdway.

Casey Fox and Jesse Fox Mayshark, owners of Libacious Cocktail Catering, were winners of the top People’s Choice award.

Here’s “The Garden Party” by Libacious. (See what I mean about the drink being hard to see in the metal glasses?)

Hannah Howard from Kaizen garnered second place from the judges with a drink called “Mme Wolf Peach.”

The drink from Kaizen was made with strawberry-infused vodka, tomatoes, fresh tangerine and lemon juices, agave syrup and coconut foam. It was garnished with lemon zest. In addition to appealing to the official judges, it also took third place in the People’s Choice category.

Some happy tasters: Michael Searcy and Cheryl Light.

Joshua Tallent of the Hyatt Place Rooftop Bar took third place from the judges with “Revivalists Garden.”

“Revivalists Garden” contained gin instead of the expected vodka. It also took second place in the People’s Choice awards.

Chef Matt Galllaher, competing on behalf of his restaurant Knox Mason, offered us a nibble. Actually, these were the garnish for his drink entry, “Golden Bloody Caesar.”

This was the drink that tasted most like an actual Bloody Mary. (And it was my personal favorite.)

It also was one of the simplest: vodka, homemade clamato juice (using yellow tomatoes) and horseradish. And that great garnish, of course.

More happy sippers. From left, Jacque and Cliff Hawks, Janet Testerman and Joey Creswell.

Here’s Chivo’s Hannah Elizabeth making an “Autumn Sun.”

It contained vodka, “Yellow Pear” tomato water, Amaro Nonino (Google it — it’s weird), lemon thyme sparkling soda and a mezcal rinse.

While you waited for your drink, you could nosh on a Caprese salad on a stick!

Here’s the real food. Tasty, but nothing like the fabulous buffet last year.

Ridge Drinnon from The Drawing Room at the Tennessean using a blow torch on his garnish for “With a Cherry on Top.”

It was made with gin, Cherokee Purple tomato water, black cherry juice, lemongrass simple syrup and a smoked Serrano sea salt saline spritz.

From left, Jason Drotar, Laura Cole and Dawn Ford. Jason is a sommelier at Blackberry Farm.

Tako Taco’s Erica Casey with the garnish for “Muy Thai.”

It had Thai-spiced tomato juice, peach syrup, passion fruit juice, coconut milk and gin with a topping of coconut peach whip and a salted tomato peel. One of my favorites.

Maple Hall’s Jessica Hurst mixing a “Gardener’s Old Fashioned.”

It has the best garnish, don’t you think? It contained gin, smoky heirloom tomato water, salted honey carrot syrup and habanero shrub bitters. (Unfortunately, I was so taken by the garnish, I forgot to take a picture of the drink!)

Here’s the Sapphire booth, which won the “flair” award.


The “Atlantic Love Tonic” from Sapphire was a strawberry tomato gin and tonic with ginger and herbs. It was garnished with a fig.

The Montvales provided great drinking music.

Fun times.


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