I have just returned from San Antonio where I was a guest of the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau. I was invited to cover the San Antonio Cocktail Conference held at the Sheraton Gunter Hotel. The hotel is allegedly haunted. I can now vouch for what I thought to be a preposterous suggestion. I saw many spirits during my stay.
This was the first Cocktail Conference held in Texas. Top bartenders, excuse me, mixologists, came together from all over the state and country. There were four days of guided tastings, educational seminars, and, of course, cocktail parties. Sme of the classes were “How It All Started in Texas: Tito Beveridge,” “The Science of Flavor: How Biology, Genetics and Psychology Affect Your Perception of Flavor in Cocktails,” and “Making Cocktails in the Home. ” I’ll attempt to pull together several reports this week.
Starting with one below.
Today I’ll present an overview. I’ve divided the conference sessions into several categories. One track focused on the major distillates that underpin cocktails (e.g vodka, rum, gin, tequila and cognac), The second covered the incipient Texas distilling industry (e.g Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Treaty Oak Rum, Garrison Bros. Texas Bourbon and Paula’s Texas Liqueurs). Another segment another track focused on the crucial bar trade participation and contained sessions on how to grow a bar business and techniques for making the best cocktails consistently. Other sessions covered odds and ends: spices, bitters, and ‘the science of flavor.’
The organizers could not have picked a better time for such an event. Interest in hand-crafted cocktails and local distilling is on fire. Exotic cocktail bars using expensive ingredients are opening all over town. Existing bars and restaurants have had to refocus their bar program on high-end cocktails to keep up with the demand. Since the first legal Texas distiller (Tito’s Handmade Vodka) opened its doors in 1996, the number of bonded distillers in the state has grown to 31. The speakers, who came from all over the country, remarked that Texas is now on par with the West Coast in terms artisan distilling activity. A Texas liqueur distributor at the conference, who had traditionally focused mainly on wine, said that he set up a spirits division a year ago and saw his sales soar 700%. Two Dallas barkeepers at the conference, Jason Kosmas, Executive Beverage Director at Marquee Grill and Bar, and Rocco Milano, bar manager at Private Social, consider this “a trend, not a fad.”
With respect to the New Cocktail Movement, Kosmas, with the help of Milano, led a session on “Lone Star Cocktails: Bridging the Gap Between Texas Drinkers and National Cocktail Movement.” Kosmas started by showing a video to illustrate what he was battling against. Something like this: