Cocktail Conference: Shaken or stirred? 

click to enlarge COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo

Why not both? And while we're at it, let's throw in smoked, infused, frothed, batched, barrel-aged, tap-delivered … the second annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference is itself on tap for January 17-20, and it promises to be big. "We had 2500 participants last year, and this year we're shooting for 5000," say the event's organizers.

Spearheaded by the folks at Bohanan's, with spiritual guidance from cocktail guru Sasha Petraske, the conference benefits HeartGift, an organization dedicated to providing heart surgery to disadvantaged children. It's of professional and personal benefit to folks both behind and in front of bars as well, and, starting with an opening night bash with food, drinks and entertainment at the Majestic Theatre, there's a lineup of classes, tastings, and events that will make choosing among them as difficult as deciding between a perfect Manhattan and a smoky mezcal martini.

You are encouraged to go to sanantoniococktailconference.com for a complete schedule, but here are a few of the possibilities, starting with a river cruise with cocktails to venues such as El Tropicano, Soho, Lüke, and The Esquire Tavern on Friday night. A street-level version of the same pub crawl takes place on Saturday night, with double-decker buses shuttling between Bohanan's, Tre Trattoria Downtown, Bar 1919 at Blue Star, and The Brooklynite. $50 gets you transportation, drinks, and appetizers at all venues.

Classes start in earnest on Friday, January 18. Among many possibilities, John Lermayer (last year's first place winner in the San Antonio Conference's Original Cocktail Competition) will present an interactive Mixology 101 Workshop designed to illustrate basic drink-making techniques ($40). Texas distillers will be showcased in a Texas Spirits Panel moderated by cocktail consultant and owner of the Tipsy Texan, David Allen ($30). Craft bartending pioneer and co-founder of New York bar Employees Only, Dushan Zaric, will present Born To Mix, which the conference describes as "a must for beginners in professional bartending" ($30). A Friday evening after party (well after, as it starts at 11 p.m.) will be held at the Monterey, where $75 will get you tunes, craft cocktails, beers, and appetizers.

Assuming you've recovered from Friday, Saturday begins with a bang and a Wake Up and Smell the Cocktails: Easy Drinks for Breakfast and Brunch event ($30). The Process to Perfection will be investigated by cocktail goddess Audrey Saunders of New York's Pegu Club and co-presenter Robert Hess ($30). A legend in his own right, Dale DeGroff — also known as King Cocktail, will present On The Town with Dale Degroff: A Tribute to Bars, Speaks and Legendary Saloons ($50). The afternoon sees Julie Reiner (owner of Clover Club) and Brian Miller (formerly of Death & Co and Pegu Club) teaming up to discuss Modern Tiki: A Pirate's Life for Me ($30), plus classes and seminars investigating topics from Japanese whiskey to The Art of the Aperitif.

And this year's conference will see not one but two cocktail shoot-outs. The Original Cocktail Competition takes place on Friday and is open to the first 30 comers but, as it's sponsored by William Grant & Sons spirits, contestants must use one or more of their products. (Not to worry — they include Hendrick's, Stoli and The Balvenie.) Contestants will have 10 minutes to prepare an original cocktail to be judged by a panel in an adjoining room. (As a judge last year, here are some words of advice: keep it simple.) First prize is $2500. Sixteen professional contestants will vie for prizes starting at $4000 in Sasaha Petraske's Skills Competion, a Saturday event comprising 14 drinks that will test competitors' skills under fire using measures of volume, acidity and temperature. We are naturally rooting for a local winner in both contests. Start shakin'.

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