Distilled: Cocktail virtuoso Annie Williams

Jesse Tigges, Columbus Alive

Annie Williams has made quite a career behind the bar in a short time. She helped open Matt the Miller's before managing Brothers Drake Meadery & Bar and then moving on to The Crest Gastropub as head of cocktail creation and product development. This was all in the span of two-and-a-half years.

Recently Williams, 25, had another big accomplishment by becoming a finalist in the Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender contest for her Za'atar on the Roof cocktail. Williams headed to Las Vegas last weekend to compete against 46 of the country's best mixologists for the title and a spot on the cover of GQ's Men of the Year issue in December.

Za'atar on the Roof is a savory cocktail - Williams' preference over sweet - using za'atar (a blend of Middle Eastern herbs) muddled with heirloom tomatoes (from the Crest's rooftop garden) and Dolin Blanc vermouth, added to fresh lemon juice and Bombay Sapphire gin.

"I wanted to highlight the earthier, vegetal notes … there are lots of floral, bright and baking spices, but I wanted to go for the underdog flavors," Williams said.

And she did. It's a wonderful and complex cocktail that Williams designed as a mix of the classic gin martini and Bloody Mary flavors. It's also one of the more creative uses of Bombay I've seen.

Unfortunately Williams didn't finish in the Top 10 of the competition. Williams noticed a trend toward fruitier or sweeter cocktails in the competition, even though she couldn't check them all out. (I'm betting her recipe was one of the more "imaginative.")

Williams was disappointed she didn't win, but thought it was specialThe Crest (and its tomatoes) was representing Columbus. She was also impressed by her competition's talent and friendliness. And she had a great time - her first trip to Vegas.

"Jokes on them, I already won a free trip to Vegas," said Williams with a laugh before leaving for the competition.

Za'atar on the Roof is the featured cocktail at the Crest through September. I recommend it for anyone, but especially those looking for something unexpected.