San Antonio Cocktail Conference in Seven Cocktails

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Well I survived the San Antonio Cocktail Conference for 2014 and I have finally sobered up enough to write about it. I was initially invited to attend the San Antonio Cocktail Conference because of my writing for Bourbon & Banter, (and for full disclosure I should let you know that they paid for my ticket and my hotel room,) but I can’t go to something like that without bragging about it to my Queen City friends. The four-day event consisted of educational cocktail sessions lead by some of the biggest names in the industry during the day and amazing parties each night where spirit brands had their own bartenders whipping up cocktails to show off their products. A full recap would take far to long so I decided to pick seven stand out cocktails from the weekend as a way of telling the story.

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The Imbibe 75 and the Come & Take It

The first two drinks of the weekend happened at the Imbibe Happy Hour at the Esquire Tavern. These two drinks really stand out in my mind as being some of the best of the weekend but that could be because they were the only two drinks I had while completely sober. The Imbibe 75 was a take on the classic French 75 cocktail but with the addition of lemongrass and cilantro for a really fresh taste. The Come & Take It was made with Glenroth Select Reserve whiskey, ginger liqueur, pineapple, lime, bitters, and garnished with a Luxardo cherry. Both were excellent and the band that night was great. The Esquire Tavern should absolutely be a stop if you are ever in San Antonio. 

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Angel’s Envy Manhattan at the Evolution of Barrel Aging Class

On of the things I was most excited about for SACC was to meet Wes Henderson and attend his class on the evolution of Barrel Aging. The class did not disappoint. Not only did I get an hour and half of hearing Wes discuss creating Angel’s Envy, his father Lincoln Henderson, and the changing field of barrel aging whiskey, I also got to try a selection of really fine whiskeys including Angel’s Envy cask strength and rye whiskeys. All of that and then they brought out an Angel’s Envy Manhattan. I would have normally thought that Angel’s Envy was too sweet a bourbon to use in a manhattan but this one was wonderfully balanced. I also got a chance to sit down and interview Wes Henderson for Charlie Tonic and you can hear that whole interview here.

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Palma Fizz in the Home Mixology Class with Sasha Petraske

One of the embarrassing things for me was how often I attended an event with someone at SACC and only later realized just how big a deal they really were. Such was the case with my first class of the session, a home mixology class led by none other than Sasha Petraske, the man behind Milk and Honey and one of the leaders of the cocktail revival movement. I learned a great many wonderful tips and tricks for my next cocktail party and got to try one of his signature drinks, the Palma Fizz, made with vodka, lime, ginger, rosewater, and seltzer. I loved how the rosewater added a strong dimension of smell that completely changed the way the other flavors interacted.

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The Pink Lady in the Women Behind Bars class

The Women Behind Bars was a seminar that looked at a history of women from both sides of the bar. The session, lead by Ladies United for the Presevation of Endangered Cocktails (LUPEC) looked at women’s historic roles as tavern keepers, prohibitionists, customers, and bartenders while the audience sipped on a few vintage cocktails. The Pink Lady was my favorite of the two. Made with gin, apple jack, lemon, egg white and grenadine, it is a wonderfully sophisticated drink. I really appreciated how well prepared this cocktail was considering they were making it in such large batches. That foam head is not always an easy thing to perfect in a cocktail.

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Martini made by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric of The 86 Co. and Employee’s Only

Another memorably interview of the weekend was when Charlie and I sat down in the media room with Dushan Zaric and Jason Kosmas. These two legendary bartenders started Employee’s Only in NYC, which won best cocktail bar in the world in 2011, and have since gone on to create The 86 Co., a bartender-focused spirits company.  If you still don’t quite understand why I was geeking out about this go watch the documentary, Hey Bartender, which features the two of them heavily. Having now had a cocktail made for me by these two, I feel as if I’ve truly arrived. You can hear that interview in Episode 109 of the Charlie Tonic Hour.

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One of the best parts of the evening parties, aside from all the free drinks, food, music, and dancing, was getting to try new spirits that are not yet available in Ohio or even Kentucky. This cocktail from Friday night’s event Texas Spirits Night, was one if just many gorgeous drinks featuring Texas-made spirits. Made with Red River Rye Whiskey, it was a simple cocktail.  The anise and amaretto added sweetness without overpowering the whiskey and I loved the elegant little star floating as a garnish.

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Charlie as an Old Fashioned and me as a Gin and Tonic

Two of my favorite drinks of the weekend were not the kind you can drink. We attended two different events at The Brooklynite, a very hip bar near the riverwalk in San Antonio, and the drinks at both events were incredible. But at the after, after, party we attended there on Friday we go the chance to have our caricatures drawn by Dave Stolte. His book, “Home Bar Basics (and Not-So-Basics),” has been nominated for best cocktail book by Tales of the Cocktail and now we have a picture of ourselves as two of our favorite cocktail by him. It is one of my most treasured souvenirs of conference.

So there you have it. I wish we lived in some kind of a Star Trek future where you could reach into the pictures I post try them all yourself. There were so many other amazing drinks and events from the weekend that I am leaving out. If you want to see and hear everything head over to www.charlietonic.com where you can hear all the interviews and see pictures from each day of the event. And if you are looking for a starter cocktail conference I can’t recommend San Antonio highly enough. It has a beautiful city, great weather, friendly people, and a weekend of amazing drinks. I am counting down till next year already.

Cincinnati Represented at San Antonio Cocktail Conference

San Antonio Cocktail Conference

 

I am very excited to announce….ok I take that back. Excited doesn’t even begin to cover it. I am ecstatic beyond belief to announce that I will be attending the San Antonio Cocktail Conference this coming holiday weekend. This is the third year for the conference, which is the first of it’s kind in Texas. These kinds of events draw bar owners, mixologists, liquor reps, writers, as well as regular people who are just passionate about cocktails.

Modeled on the wildly popular Manhattan Cocktail Classic and New Orleans’ Tales of the Cocktail event,  San Antonio’s own Cocktail Conference was the first of its kind in Texas. Every year, we bring together top bartenders and cocktail aficionados for four days of educational seminars, guided tastings and cocktail parties.  Conference proceeds benefit HeartGift San Antonio and ChildSafe.

The classes read like my dream college schedule. I am especailly looking  forward to Evolution of Barrel Aging with Wes Henderson of Angel’s Envy, one of my favorite bourbons, as well as Women Behind Bars: A Spirited History of Women in the Cocktail World. Every night there are tastings, parties, and of course the whole beautiful city of San Antonio to explore as well. Special events include the Original Cocktail Competition where bartenders from across the country will show off their own creations. I look forward to bringing back new spirits and books to review for you and information on cocktails trends we will be seeing soon in Cincinnati, as well as some crazy stories to share.  Be sure to follow me on twitter to see the whole crazy weekend unfold in real time.

Tito’s Handmade Vodka

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With so many micro-distilleries popping up around the country I thought it would be nice to review a vodka from one of the early success stories from the micro-distilling movement. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is celebrating its 16th year in business. Tito’s was stared by a guy named Tito Beveridge (with a name like that how do you know go into the alcohol business) who started out making vodka infusions as gifts and somehow ended up founding the first legal distillery in Texas. Since winning a double gold medal in the World Spirits Competition they have come to be known as one of the go-to brands of vodka for people who are serious about cocktails but also aware of price. I have even heard of some up-scale bars and restaurants who are using Tito’s as their well vodka so that the taste of their carefully crafted cocktails don’t get ruined by sub-par vodka. This really is the path that every micro-distiller around the country is hoping to follow, although few of them look ready to compete at this point.

Despite having been aware of the brand for many years I had not actually gotten around to buying a bottle until now. Tito’s is a 100% corn vodka and it does have the characteristic sweet and creamy taste that most of the corn vodka’s I’ve tried also have. But the other corn vodka’s I’ve tried also have a lot more of a flavor to them. And when it comes to vodka that is not necessarily a good thing. Tito’s is incredibly smooth, with a creamy mouthfeel and just a hint of sweetness before you do taste the alcohol at the end. But it is not a burning alcohol and you can drink it without making cheap vodka face and coughing. One reason for the difference is that Tito’s microdistilled in an old-fashioned pot stills and so they have more control over the process than with column stills. I would say it is very similar in character and quality to Buckeye Vodka but is a few dollars cheaper per bottle and, in my opinion,  slightly better. Don’t be put off by the cheap looking bottle and plastic cap. Part of Tito’s mission statement is keeping their product as affordable as possible and they are clearly not investing too much in bottle. Instead they use quality ingredients, a careful distillation process, and then distill it just enough (six times) to get out the impurities and strong corn flavors but not so much that all that is left is the ethanol flavor. So there you have it. If you want to support local vodka at an affordable price go with Buckeye but if you want a bottom line better vodka for an even better price, go with Tito’s.

If you want to listen to a tasting and review of Tito’s you can hear it on this week’s episode of Bottom Up.