Houston St. Blooze at Cocktail Conference
By Meredith Kay
I have always dreamed of being onstage at the Majestic Theatre, but since people would pay me not to sing, the only way this is going to happen is with a drink in my hand, during the opening night event of the San Antonio Cocktail Conference.
Now in its fifth year, the San Antonio Cocktail Conference attracted industry professionals, liquor distributors, bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts from around the country for one booze-soaked weekend in January. The event hosted the most amazing parties, educational seminars, demonstrations and competitions. There were also several exclusive dinners in which some of San Antonio’s finest chefs created menus paired with spirits like Cinco Vodka, Duke Bourbon, Bacardi Rum and El Tesoro Tequila.
Growing up in Southern California, I remember the anticipation and excitement I would feel when my parents would take us to Disneyland, and my anticipation of each year’s San Antonio Cocktail Conference is no different. Along with Culinaria Week in May, this is one of the best food and drink events held in our vibrant and progressively food-centric city. I look forward to it each and every year, as it is a chance to experience new and often unique liquors, sample creative concoctions crafted by some of the best mixologists in the business, and to discover new brands, or even old brands that have been revived.
Opening night at the Cocktail Conference is always overwhelming. Upon entering the ornate doors at the Majestic Theatre you are enveloped by the revelry and literally assaulted by the cocktail choices. To use a cliché, it is like being a kid in a candy store. However, as a veteran of this event, I chose to head upstairs first, as those winding steps can prove a bit treacherous later in the evening, after you’ve enjoyed a couple hours of tasting. My friend, Joanne, and I headed straight for the Deep Eddy bar as soon as we spotted the beautifully coiffed Deep Eddy Betties. I am a serious fan of this local vodka, distilled in Dripping Springs, and much to our delight, they were sampling their new Peach Vodka. Also featured was a jalapeño infused vodka cocktail. But I’d promised myself I would pace myself, so we turned our attention to the delicious looking flatbread at the next table. Always a winner, Sol y Luna bakery was serving their Artichoke and Feta Pesto Focaccia, and it was the perfect food to set us up for a full night of drinking.
It was at last year’s Cocktail Conference that I discovered I had an affinity for Italian herbal liqueurs, and this year found me actually seeking them out among the immense selection of liquors. Luckily, I found several. Adam Seger, a celebrity mixologist from Chicago, was manning the still at the Balsam Amaro bar. Balsam is an American Amaro distilled by Seger and his partner. Along the lines of vermouth, this spirit is basically wine fortified with vodka and infused with botanicals.
The coup de grace consisted of Boyd & Blair Vodka mixed with the Balsam Amaro, after it dripped slowly through a Blood Orange filter and then topped with a bit of lemon juice. The cocktail was refreshing and incredibly tasty, and became of my favorite cocktails of the entire weekend. Another Italian favorite is Campari, and their bar each year is always a study in class. This year the spirits company offered two cocktails, and between their Bitter Sweet Symphony and Love & Folly, it was the later that won me over. A mix of Bulldog Gin, Aperol, Sweet Vermouth, Bad Dog Sarsaparilla and a squirt of orange peel, the Love & Folly had me going back for seconds, which is when my promise to pace myself began to unravel.
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