A Festive Cocktail Competition for the Holidays

Many of us are planning celebratory gatherings with the holidays around the corner. If you need some beverage inspiration, JWU Providence’s College of Hospitality Management and the Center for Beverage Education & Innovation recently hosted the Wander & Found NA Sparkling Wine Craft Cocktail competition. The goal? To bring shimmer, creativity and precision to non-alcoholic cocktails utilizing Wander & Found’s sparkling rosés.

“The finalists came prepared with plenty of inspiration and tons of flavor.”

A large crowd was gathered in the Bigelow Tea Classroom, including proud parents of contestants, hospitality faculty members, and the judges. Each of the 3 teams was tasked with making fresh batches of their cocktails live before serving them to the judging panel, which included:

  • Warren Hode, director of product innovation, Better Rhodes/Wander & Found
  • Willa van Nostrand, owner, Little Bitte Cocktails and World’s Fair Gallery
  • Kristi Dukoff, owner, Kristi’s Kraftails
  • Genie McPherson Trevor, founding editor and co-owner, Edible Rhody
  • Associate Professor Nick Mackris ’94, ’98 MBA
  • Assistant Professor Jennifer Parisi, M.S., CHE

The Thirst-Quenching Lineup

Each of the teams came up with wildly different concepts.

BFFs Lily Hunter '25 and Briana Worthley '25, who craft picture-perfect desserts at Gracie’s in downtown Providence, got their start making thousands of gingerbread men for the holidays at Gracie’s sister restaurant, Ellie’s. Their cocktail, Gingerbread Fizz, was a celebration of their friendship.

John Owen '24 and Spencer Mah '25, who recently won the Future Food All-Stars competition, were inspired to create Humo Blanco, their take on a smoky, salty and sweet margarita, during a taco break.

SEEM major Emma Smith '25 took a mixology class at JWU and loved it. “I have no culinary background,” she explained. “But it was something different and fun!” Her citrus-forward margarita variant, Something Spice, packed a peppery kick, thanks to jalapeno simple syrup.

Building Wow Factor without the Booze

Alcohol adds a bracing backbone to drinks. So what happens when it’s removed? For our teams, that was one of the biggest challenges when designing their cocktails: Bringing complexity and balance in flavor, mouthfeel and presentation — the “wow!” factor — while ensuring that nobody misses the booze.

The teams were mentored by JWU alum Parker Luthman '16 of Gift Horse, who studied business but detoured definitively into mixology. Luthman focused on guiding the teams into being comfortable with blending storytelling and real-time cocktail-building.

“Non-alcoholic cocktails are essential offerings in today’s drinking culture and can be difficult to develop even for the most seasoned bartender,” he explained over email. “That being said, the finalists … came prepared with plenty of inspiration and tons of flavor. So we primarily focused on planning the best way to utilize their prep time before making their cocktails, editing their techniques when building multiple drinks simultaneously, and threading their personal stories and inspirations from the brand throughout their presentations to impress the judges.”

Cocktails with Flair

Making cocktails for an audience is stressful. Juicing, shaking, measuring, titrating — all of these things require poise and focus. All 3 teams did a fantastic job weaving their unique stories with confidence and flair.

Lily and Briana decided to lean into their baking backgrounds. “We realized that the precision of baking can carry over into mixology,” explained Lily. They took a crash course from Gracie’s bartender, then transposed some of their favorite ingredients (ginger, winter spices, egg white, and cranberry) into their Gingerbread Fizz.

John and Spencer devised multiple drink concepts, only to realize they needed to be simplified. After a late night of experimentation, they went out for tacos, which inspired them to create a sparkling margarita-style cocktail anchored by a simple syrup flavored with pineapple and charred green chili. (Add a charred pineapple wedge and smoked salt to the glass’ rim, and you have a smoky-sweet trifecta.)

Emma works for an event management company, and she noticed that customers were consistently asking for sophisticated, non-alcoholic options. When she worked with Parker to fine-tune her drink, he recommended boosting the spiciness of the simple syrup. She also doubled down on the fresh citrus to create a bracingly refreshing cocktail. She half-salted the rim (“Salt should always be choose-your-own-adventure,” she quipped) and double-strained for extra smoothness.

The Winning Recipe

When it came time to deliberate, the judges took their time. In the end, Food & Beverage Management Department Chair Michael Sabitoni announced a tie for second place, with only a shade of difference between second and first place. Emma Smith’s Something Spice was pronounced the winner. Her prize? An all-expenses-paid trip to the National Restaurant Association Conference in Chicago, Illinois. Afterward, Emma and her beaming parents posed with the judges.

Want to make Emma’s winning cocktail? The recipe is below!

Something Spice

by Emma Smith '25

Inspired by a margarita, this low-alcohol drink is flashy and fun! Smokey Fluère Smoked Agave mixes with the spiced simple syrup and freshly squeezed orange juice, and it is perfectly complemented with Wander & Found Sparkling Rosé. Salt and a lime add a touch of glam.

  • 1.5 ounces Wander & Found NA Sparkling Rosé
  • 1 ounce Fluère Distilled NA Smoked Agave
  • ¾ ounce fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • ¾ ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • ¾ ounce jalapeno simple syrup
  • For coupe rim: ¾ ounce lime juice Himalayan pink salt and a lime wedge (for rim)
  1. Prepare your setup by gathering your limes and oranges (for juicing), your lime wedge (for garnish). Fill a salt cellar or shallow dish with your Himalayan pink salt. Have a squeeze bottle or small jar filled with your jalapeno simple syrup.
  2. Juice the oranges and lime into separate containers.
  3. Fill a coupe glass with ice and fill with water to chill.
  4. In the mixing glass, add your orange juice, lime juice, jalapeno simple syrup and Fluère.
  5. Add ice to the mixing glass and shake.
  6. Remove ice from coupe and use the himalayan salt on the rim; use a lime wedge to assist salt in sticking.
  7. Strain contents of mixing glass into coupe.
  8. Top with Wander & Found Sparkling Rosé.
  9. Garnish with lime and serve.
Left to right: Cocktail submissions for the Wander & Found non-alcoholic sparkling wine cocktail competition.
The Wander & Found cocktail submissions, left to right: Gingerbread Fizz, Humo Blanco and Something Spice. Far right: All of the recipes used one of these sparklers.
Wander & Found contestants John Owen '24, Spencer Mah '23, Emma Smith '25, Lily Hunter '25 and Briana Worthley '25.
The Wander & Found contestants, left to right: John Owen '24, Spencer Mah '23, Emma Smith '25, Lily Hunter '25 and Briana Worthley '25.