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Food & Drink

Behind-the-Scenes at the San Antonio Cocktail Conference

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

Like all mix and mingle functions, the Cocktail Conference takes much more work than meets the eye

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“The [Soiree] has always been such a popular night and it shows off the city,” Rabb said. “Because the amount of Texas spirits you can find has grown so much, and we’re the only conference in the state, we felt it was important to have a night that would showcase that.”

The double decker buses used during last year’s Saturday night event will now transport attendees back to the Weston on Friday. Saturday night’s event, now called the Stroll on Houston, will bring the conference back to its roots, if briefly, with a joint party between Bohanan’s and Lüke, which will block off parts of the sidewalk along Houston.

The minutia that goes into planning these elaborate affairs doesn’t come together overnight. The committee continues meeting biweekly after the post-conference recap, hammering out details such as what brands and distributors will join the sponsorship lineup.

In May, Rabb and co. begin their search for presenters on a national and now, new to this year, local level. Seventy-five percent of presenters will hail from across the nation and the conference is tasked with booking flights and accommodations for out-of-towners.

Spotlight on SA

The SACC might have been under the microscope the first year—as Rabb puts it, year one was about “getting people to believe we could do it”—but the spotlight is now that much brighter as local presenters step up to teach classes.

For instance, Blue Box’s Olaf Harmel will host The Cellar Master’s Approach to Creating Elegant Cocktails, a class that merges cocktail making with the spirit of wine. “Olaf is such a natural choice, and he doesn’t get as much credit as he should,” Rabb said. “He was doing this before anyone, really, and he’s got a great following.”

Harmel will expand on making spirit-based gastriques, which combine equal parts sugar and vinegar, to create a spirit-specific liqueur. “The challenge is for bartenders to get and understand a spirit profile and then build from it instead of using formulas,” Harmel said. “There’s complexity in the simplicity.”

While Harmel’s class is technique driven, Ware and Jake Corney, current head bartender at Bohanan’s Bar, will lead a course on the Five W’s of Drinking.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but when people go out to drink, they usually don’t know what they want and they’ll rely on the menu,” Ware said. The class will show attendees how to get a full experience building a flight in specific drinking order that will work with the drinker’s palate.

Ware’s other duty during the conference includes producing batches of fruit juices for classes and all of the parties. A task he has to take quite seriously.

“I’m responsible for the ordering,” he said. “That means going through each and every single class, every booth at the Majestic, at Two Bros., and figuring out the entire produce list.”

Ware and a team will go through roughly 10,000 lemons, 80 pounds of limes, 75 pounds of pineapple, 3,558 oranges, 150 pounds of ginger root, 75 pounds of cucumber, 75 pounds of pineapple, 47 pounds of mint and 20 pounds of jalapeño. The produce is sourced through Ben E. Keith, a food service distributor, and juiced within a 12-hour window of its use.

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