The 5th Annual Holiday Spirits Bazaar Kicks Off the Season of Revelry with a Punch-Off!

A toast to punch, and to victory! Photos by Clay Williams.

A toast to punch, and to victory! Photos by Clay Williams.

More than 700 thirsty New Yorkers recently cozied up to ring in the season of merrymaking at the 5th Annual Holiday Spirits Bazaar, a raucous, sold-out affair held at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn on November 22, 2014. Approximately 20 of the best bartenders in NYC competed for the title of top holiday punch, with tastings and festivities split over two floors of rustic gallery space: a Winter Whiskey Tavern kept guests buzzing on the first floor, while a Sparkling Spirited Parlor hosted a glittering scene on the third floor. Plaza Hotel bartender James Menite, representing the Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky, took home the First Place Punch trophy with the “Gloag’s Traditional Scottish Holiday Punch” (recipe below) featuring a bewitching concoction of whisky, gin, Scottish tea, and blood orange juice. The esteemed judging panel included David Wondrich, cocktail historian and author; Lynnette Marrero, star bartender and co-founder of Speed Rack; and Leo DeGroff, cocktail consultant and educator. Additionally, Jack Mulhern, representing Calvados Boulard, won the People’s Choice vote for the “Calvados Cider Punch,” (recipe below) featuring the French apple brandy mixed with both hard and fresh apple ciders as well as ginger beer.

Yours truly, Lynnette Marrero, James Menite, David Wondrich, and Leo DeGroff (L-R).

Yours truly, Lynnette Marrero, James Menite, David Wondrich, and Leo DeGroff (L-R).

Not only were guests inspired to create seasonal sips for their own holiday parties, but the addition this year of a Cocktail Lovers’ Pop-Up Shop gave them the opportunity to get a head start on gift-giving. Purveyors included Cocktail Kingdom’s high end bar tools, Owl’s Brew tea mixers, Tipsy Scoop booze-infused ice creams, Royal Rose flavored simple syrups, cocktail-flavored artisanal chocolates by Cesar Christian Ramirez, homemade pies and cheesecake by Brooklyn Baked and Fried, and Bloody Mary mix and crunchy pickles by McClure’s Pickles. VIP hour guests were treated with an open oyster bar featuring Blue Island Oysters served by master shucker Eddie Oysters, and for the main event, guests were served artisanal cheese from Stinky Bklyn, rustic bread by Scratchbread, roasted veggies from 61 Local, Perrier Sparkling Water, and even holiday-themed Tic Tacs for the trip home.

A portion of ticket proceeds benefits Children’s Aid Society and guests also brought dozens of toys for Toys for Tots and non-perishable food for Food Bank NYC.

Sponsors included: Bulleit Bourbon, Don Q Rum, Lillet, Death’s Door Gin and Vodka, Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur, Four Roses Bourbon, Rum Diplomatico, G’Vine Gin, Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur, Angel’s Envy Bourbon, Famous Grouse Scotch, Montelobos Mezcal, Half Moon Orchard Gin, Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur, George Dickel Tennessee Whisky, Molinari Sambuca, Tap Whisky, The Irishman Whiskey, Aviation Gin, Indigenous Vodka, Redemption Rye, Excellia Tequila, Fernet Branca, Carpano Antica, Suze Liqueur, Boulard Calvados, Ruffino Prosecco, and Perrier Sparkling Water.

For the full list of recipes from the event and more information, please visit holidayspiritsbazaar.com. For additional photos, please check out The Dizzy Fizz’s Facebook page.

Gloag’s Traditional Scottish Holiday Punch
By James Menite
1.5 oz Black Grouse Blended Scotch Whiskey
.5 oz Edinburgh Scottish Gin
.75 oz blood orange juice
.5 oz Scottish tea
Grated lemon zest
2 blood orange slices
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 dash Scrappy’s Cardamom Bitters
Topped with Fever Tree Bitter Lemon
Served in Traditional Punch Glass

Calvados Cider Punch
(Recipe serves 15-20)
1 1/2 cups Boulard Calvados
8 cups apple cider
1 750-ml-bottle of dry hard cider
3 12-oz-bottles of ginger beer
Juice of one lemon
Several dashes orange bitters
orange sliced into rounds and cinnamon sticks for garnish

© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com
© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com
© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com
© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com
© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com
© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com
© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com
© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com
© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com

© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com

© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com
© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com
© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com
© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com
© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com
© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com
© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com

© Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com

Special thanks to my husband, Damien Good, event assistant Adam Albert, my hardworking staff, The Invisible Dog team, and media partners Urban Daddy, Pulsd, and Shakestir.com.

Happy holidays everyone!

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Announcing: The 2011 Holiday Spirits Bazaar!

The Holiday Spirits Bazaar is back! Yes, Halloween just ended and Thanksgiving is a few weeks away, but you have a lot of holiday parties to plan, don’t you? Ring in the season of entertaining at the 2011 Holiday Spirits Bazaar, swinging into NYC on Saturday, November 12, 2011 from 6:30 – 10 p.m. at Astor Center. Cocktails and punches from both vintage and modern traditions will be served in abundance by some of the best bartenders in the city at this spirited tasting hosted by NYC cocktail event producer The Dizzy Fizz.

Following the success of last year’s spectacular bash at The Green Building in Brooklyn, the Bazaar moves to Manhattan this year for festivities on an even bigger scale. Sip a seemingly endless array of libations perfect for your next holiday party, such as whiskey milk punch, mezcal hot chocolate, hot apple cider spiked with rye whiskey and an authentic vintage punch recipe from holidays of yore unearthed by cocktail historian David Wondrich. To stay refreshed, guests can snack on artisan bread by SCRATCHbread and grass-fed beef jerky by Slantshack as well as sip filtered water by MAVEA. Andaz Hotel’s DJ Kimiko will keep the party beats flowing all night long.

A limited number of discount tickets are now on sale  through Thrillist Rewards. For VIP entry at 6:30 p.m., which includes an hour of small bites by Emily Cavalier of the Midnight Brunch supper club, tickets are $55. For general entry at 7:30 p.m., tickets are $45. The first 200 ticket-buyers will receive a giftbag full of lushy goodies such as mini liquor bottles and bar tools. The first 30 ticket-buyers will receive a free copy of Jill DeGroff’s newest book, “Lush Life: Portraits from the Bar, Series 2.” A portion of ticket proceeds will benefit the Children’s Aid Society.

Sponsors include: Hudson Whiskey, Bulleit Bourbon, Cointreau, Beefeater 24, Plymouth Gin, Pierre Ferrand Cognac, Chairman’s Reserve Rum, Russian Standard Vodka, Catdaddy Moonshine, Denizen Rum, Becherovka, Bluecoat Gin, Vieux Carré Absinthe, Penn 1681 Rye Vodka, XXX Shine Whiskey, Iceberg Vodka, Cockspur Rum, Redemption Rye, Redemption High Rye Bourbon, Scorpion Mezcal, Midnight Moon Apple Pie Moonshine and Innis & Gunn Cask-Aged Beer.

Take a sneak peek at the festive cocktails planned for the Holiday Spirits Bazaar here. This is an event not to be missed–not only will you get inspired to throw a bash of your own, you’ll taste delicious spirits that make great gifts and are the perfect remedy to holiday stress!

Must be 21-plus to attend. Please drink responsibly.

Image from the 2010 Holiday Spirits Bazaar by John Walder.

Exclusive Dizzcount: Penthouse Punch Party at the Royalton Hotel!

Dave Wondrich's "Punch" included with ticket purchase.

The Dizzy Fizz loves a good punch party, and this Sunday evening, a holiday soiree taking over the entire top floor of the Royalton Hotel promises just that. Enjoy a whopping 17 different punches ladled by some of the cocktail scene’s top talent (otherwise known as the Cocktail Collective)—Eric Alperin, Richard Boccato, Simon Ford, Misty Kalkofen, John Lermayer and Liquor.com advisor Willy Shine.

Want in on the action? Purchase your tickets here using the special discount code “DZZFZZROY” for half off the regular $75 ticket price. Your purchase even includes an autographed copy of David Wondrich’s latest book, “Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl,” as well as gourmet snacks by the Royalton’s chef Scott Ekstrom. Hosted by Liquor.com, this is one event you won’t want to miss!

Trend Alert: All Things Punch

 

Cienfuegos' Anchor Punch makes Time Out New York's 100 Best Things to Eat and Drink List. Photo by Aubrey Therkelsen.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I have a thing for punch. It’s been the centerpiece of every event The Dizzy Fizz has thrown, from last year’s Holiday Puncheon to the recent 18-punch smorgasbord at The Summit Bar’s First Anniversary bash. Of course, we’ve been spoiled with delicious punch in NYC for some time, thanks to cocktail havens such as Clover Club, Death & Co., and Prime Meats.

Thanks to some recent press, it seems that the idea of serving bowl-sized cocktails has gone mainstream, and with the holidays around the corner, I can only predict that we’ll be seeing more ladled goodness:

  • Dave Wondrich was recently interviewed by esteemed food writer Frank Bruni for The New York Times about his forthcoming book,Punch: The Delights and Dangers of the Flowing Bowl,” out next month. As Bruni says, the book’s subtitle says it all: “An Anecdotal History of the Original Monarch of Mixed Drinks, With More Than Forty Historic Recipes, Fully Annotated, and a Complete Course in the Lost Art of Compounding Punch.”
  • Check out this recipe for 19th century Roman Punch, featuring a meringue topping, from “The Essential New York Times Cookbook” by Amanda Hesser, coming soon.
  • Time Out New York recently selected Cienfuegos’ Anchor Punch as one of its 100 Best Things to Eat and Drink. The punch, just one of the East Village bar’s menu of rum punches, features Seven Tiki spiced rum, apricot brandy, guava juice, ginger juice and nutmeg.
  • And at the recently revamped Fourty Four at The Royalton Hotel, we can thank The Cocktail Collective for having the vision to replace the outdated clubby tradition of bottle service with punch service. According to ChiChi212 blogger Brittany Mendenhall, the punch bowl arrives to your table with a large block of ice and servers pour rum concoctions from two giant shakers. The servers then top the punch with grated nutmeg and sliced fruit, which is “much sexier than a vodka cranberry with a poorly cut slice of fruit,” says Mendenhall. Check out Fourty Four’s punch menu here.

Dave Wondrich's "Punch," available Nov. 2.

Dizzy Recap: Benedictine Smackdown

Last week, after 10 days of self-induced sobriety, I fell back off the wagon, and oh, what a good fall it was. I headed to the finals of the Benedictine “Alchemists of Our Age” cocktail competition held in partnership with Esquire magazine at the Hearst Tower. Walking into Hearst is like walking into a scene from “The Devil Wears Prada”–the cascading waterfall sculptures and escalators are as awe-inspiring as the leggy editors and models teetering about. For a journo type like me, it was an electrifying experience just to be at the publishing group. This feeling was magnified when I reached the Benedictine event on the 44th floor and saw the view of Midtown from the tower’s triangular windows–how can you not love New York?!

The five finalists were stationed throughout the room, accompanied by barbacks and other staff dressed in brown robes in honor of Benedictine’s monastic history. Created 500 years ago by Dom Bernardo Vincelli, a member of the mysterious Benedictine Order in France, the unique elixir combines 27 herbs and spices gathered from around the world. The competition asked bartenders to create cocktails that were creative, balanced, and highlighted the warm spice of Benedictine.

It turned out that the first drink I tried was the winning ticket–supporting the hometown contestant, I headed straight to where Louis 649‘s Damon Dyer was stationed to try his “Monte Cassino.” A modern twist on the classic “Last Word” cocktail, Damon’s drink included equal parts of Rittenhouse Rye, Yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine, and lemon juice. Simply garnished with a lemon peel, the drink was a harmonious burst of herbaceous spice, whiskey, and citrus–I was happy to have it as my first post-detox tipple.

Damon’s drink was selected for first place by Benedictine Global Brand Ambassador, Ludovic Miazga, and famed cocktail historian and Esquire Drinks Correspondent David Wondrich, who was most impressed by “the way the Monte Cassino had of just sliding down the throat.” He added, “It was a tough field, though, and all the drinks were truly excellent.”

Excellent indeed, and the crowd favorite was the “Greyhound’s Tooth” from San Francisco’s Brandon Clements (Benedictine, vodka, fresh grapefruit juice, house-made grapefruit bitters and sugar). Other finalists included Boston’s Jackson Cannon, New Orleans’ Daniel Victory, and Chicago’s Lynn House. Personally, I thought Jackson’s drink was Damon’s closest competition–a simple but delicious combination, the “Vincelli Fizz” (Benedictine, egg white, rose vermouth, and lemon juice).

In addition to bragging rights, Damon will receive a full-page advertorial feature in Esquire’s April 2010 issue–congrats!

“Monte Cassino” by Damon Dyer:

3/4 part Benedictine Liqueur
3/4 part Yellow Chartreuse
3/4 part fresh lemon juice
3/4 part Rittenhouse Rye

Shake, fine strain into a chilled coupe (or small cocktail glass). Lemon twist garnish.

Elsewhere in the Liquiverse…

A new cocktail menu arrives tonight at The Breslin.

  • Aisha Sharpe of Contemporary Cocktails unleashes a new cocktail menu at The Breslin at the Ace Hotel tonight. See the full menu below.
  • My prediction of “all-tiki-everything” is already coming true–NYC is finally getting a tiki cocktail bar! Food & Wine reports that Painkiller (from Dutch Kills‘ Richard Boccato and Giuseppe Gonzales!) will open at the former site of the East Side Company Bar on Essex Street in March. The bar will combine the vibe of 1970s New York with 1940s tiki culture. Stay tuned!
  • If you haven’t seen it yet, PDT’s Jim Meehan was a guest on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon last night, mixing gin tonics and tequila highballs.
  • On Wednesday Jan. 13, Benedictine is hosting the finals for it’s “Alchemist of Our Age” cocktail competition celebrating the liqueur’s 500th anniversary. The throwdown takes place at the Hearst Tower in NYC, with Dave Wondrich selecting the winner. First place prize is a stand-alone profile in Esquire‘s March issue. Finalists are: Jackson Cannon (Boston), Damon Dyer (NYC), Brandon Clements (San Francisco), Lynn House (Chicago), and Daniel Victory (New Orleans).
  • The cocktail industry was in a tizzy this week over the sudden shortage of Angostura Bitters, a staple product at most bars. Reportedly the plant that makes the secret-formula bitters in Trinidad and Tobago had a brief shutdown.  Many bar managers are either paying exorbitant prices (such as $65 for a 20-oz. bottle) for the bitters, or they have been told it will be weeks before their orders arrive. Expect to see different brands of bitters dashed in your next Manhattan.
  • One more reason for cocktail bars to use bottled soda: an International Journal of Microbiology study found half of soda fountains analyzed contained fecal bacteria. Now you know.

The Breslin Cocktails, all $12:

Liquid Swords (rye whiskey, orange curacao, Aperol, Green Chartreuse, with an orange zest)

Lust for Life (gin with lavender syrup, mint, fresh lemon juice, topped with soda water)

Rush of Blood to the Head (prosecco with blood orange liqueur, hibiscus syrup, and lemon zest)

London Calling (vodka with Ribena-Blackcurrant Syrup, fresh lemon juice, topped with prosecco)

Kingdom Come (blended scotch whisky, orange essence, black tea syrup, fresh lemon juice, egg white)

Pablo Honey (blanco tequila with spiced agave nectar and fresh lime juice)

Beggar’s Banquet (bourbon whiskey with maple syrup, fresh lemon juice, aromatic bitters, topped with ale)

Rattle and Hum (rum with spices, brown sugar and butter and hot water)

The Breslin Gin & Tonics:

The Classic (Tanqueray Gin with tonic and a lime)

The Garden Tonic (Hendrick’s Gin with cucumber, celery bitters and tonic)

The Tonic and Grapefruit (Beefeater 24 with grapefruit bitters, tonic and grapefruit zest)

Dizzy Gifts, Part 2: Education

 

Thinking about his next drink.

“Study as if you were going to live forever; live as if you were going to die tomorrow.”–Maria Mitchell, American astronomer

If you’re anything like me, once you become passionate about something, you have a strong desire to learn as much about that something as you can. Some people might call me a nerd. Sure, there is something to be said for artistic intuition and natural talent, and there isn’t a field of study for everything–abstract expressionist painting or a sense of humor, for instance–but when it comes to having a craft, such as writing or making cocktails, well, I come from the school of thought that you can never have too much school for your thoughts (although we should all get outside more and learn from nature, too).

I’ll never forget the time I met Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown a year and a half ago at a Sagatiba tasting at Brandy Library. Spirits and drinks historians whose books include “Shaken Not Stirred: A Celebration of the Martini,” “The Soul of Brasil,” and “Cuba: The Legend of Rum,” the couple travels the world to uncover the secrets behind the history of drinking. They are also the directors of Exposition Universelle des Vins et Spiritueux in Southern France. [In short, they are my idols.] Dave Wondrich, author of “Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash,” also made a similar impression on me last year. These writers have managed to make a living by constantly seeking to quench their thirst for knowledge of drink-making of the past, present, and future.

Most cocktail enthusiasts consider themselves geeks and are in a constant state of study. So if you have a few of those types on your holiday shopping list, why not drop some knowledge on them and give them a gift that will last a lifetime? Here are some suggestions:

The Bartender’s Gin Compendium” by Gaz Regan navigates the world of gin, from its roots as genever to the prominent brands of today.

“The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in American from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet” by Garrett Peck charts the shift in social attitiudes towards drinking since the days of Prohibition and includes lots of facts on how we drink today.

Spirituous Journey: Book One” by Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller is one of the most thoroughly-researched looks at the birth of spirits and the distillation process, from China, to India, to Persia, through Europe and onto the New World.


“Lush Life: Portraits from the Bar” by author/illustrator Jill DeGroff is not only a stunning collection of her caricatures of who’s who in the world of bartending, but the book also includes colorful stories and classic recipes.

Imbibe Magazine is the premiere publication on liquid culture and the art of drinking, and is must-have for anyone in the cocktail industry.

Astor Center’s classes on cocktail-making and spirits history are an excellent resource for cocktailians in NYC. Gift certificates are available to cover the cost of the sessions.

And last but not least, BarSmarts Wired is an online version of the B.A.R. (Beverage Alcohol Resource) program developed by the leading mixologists in the industry. For $45, students receive educational DVDs, a workbook, and a bar tool kit, and earn certification once they pass the class, which takes about four weeks.

Elsewhere in the Liquiverse…

Free iPhone app out now

  • Lush Life Productions, in partnership with APPSolute Media, Don Q Rum, and Tito’s Handmade Vodka, recently launched a free iPhone app, “Happy Houred.” Just a few swipes of the fingers and you’ll know which bars are having cheap drinking hours near you, in whichever U.S. city you may be. You can even add your own reviews of the bars and drinks.
  • Have you seen that article on VillageVoice.com about where New York mixologists drink during their off hours? (Yes, I wrote it. I know, shameless.)
  • Or how about that round-up of last-minute Halloween and Day of the Dead events in NYC? (Again, I am shameless.)
  • Nation’s Restaurant News looks at the popularity of the atomizer as a mixology tool.
  • Bols is putting on an awesome-sounding contest, “Bols Around the World Shaking Twenties Competition.” Working bartenders are invited to submit cocktail recipes inspired by the Roaring 20s. David Wondrich will choose one North American finalist to go to Amsterdam and compete with five other talented bartenders representing Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and South America. The grand prize winner will win the opportunity to design and create his or her own signature Bols liqueur in Amsterdam with a Bols product developer. Deadline is Nov. 30.

Dizzy Recap: Day Two of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic

“The Sunday Mercury says that if you are at a hotel, and wish to call for a beverage compounded of brandy, sugar, absynthe, bitters, and ice, called by the vulgar a cocktail, ask for une queue de chanticleer–it will be an evidence at once of your knowledge of French and of Chesterfield.”– The New Orleans Daily Picayune, February 2, 1843, p.2 [Transcribed by David Wondrich]

[Better late than never:]

Day two of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic (and by day, I really mean an afternoon that stretched into a late night) was a never-ending smorgasboard of boozy deliciousness capped off with a glittering gala that everyone is still talking about.

My afternoon began innocently enough with David Wondrich’s seminar, “History of the Cocktail in New York, 1810-1920.” The handout given out prior to the event innocently read, “liquid exhibits will be served.” Actually, five re-created artifacts were served, and given their potency, those pre-Prohibitioners were no nancies when it came to getting their imbibe on. Beginning with the circa-1820 “Willard’s Gin Cock-tail,” a simple mix of genever (Holland gin), a lump of sugar, bitters, ice, and grated nutmeg, to the “Modern Cocktail” served in 1910 (scotch, sloe gin, absinthe, lemon juice, simple syrup, and bitters), it was interesting to learn how early bartenders became inspired by foreign influences, such as the French with their vermouth and the Japanese with their flavored syrups. I especially enjoyed the “Manhattan Club Manhattan,” circa-1870 (1 1/2 oz. rye whisky, 1 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth, dash orange bitters, and lemon peel garnish). Clearly, there’s a reason why this classic cocktail, the first to use vermouth, has stood the test of time–it’s empowering and delicious.

The empowerment continued at the official bar at Astor Center, where I guzzled a frothy “Great Lawn Sour” pisco sour mixed by Jeremy Thompson of Raines Law Room, followed by an exclusive tasting of Jason Kosmas’ Employees Only-brand grenadine and lime cordial, to be released early next year. Made from organic ingredients with a carefully-tuned viscosity ideal for hard shaking, I predict that these modifiers will be on many a cocktail menu next spring.

After a much-needed rejuvenation nap and change into my party dress, I made way for the New York Public Library where the Manhattan Cocktail Classic’s main event, the “Spectacular” gala, drew a crowd of 1,000 willing to shell out $100 per ticket. Most attendees chose Gatsby-esque or 19th century wear, sipping drinks from more than a dozen bars. Sponsors included Absolut Vodka, Maker’s Mark, Hendrick’s Gin, Crop Organic Vodka, Ketel One Vodka, Tanqueray Gin, Don Q Rum, Gran Marnier, Bombay Dry Gin, Bacardi Rum, Aperol, Zacapa Rum, Bulleit Bourbon, Don Julio Tequila, and Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur. There was also a massive amount of delicacies on hand, including an oyster bar, roasted suckling pigs, smoked fish from Russ & Daughters, and cheeses from Stinky Bklyn. Swing dancing and swanky hobnobbing were the order of the night–this was an event not to be missed! (But if you did, you better be on the lookout for the grand event happening May 14-18!)

Dizzy Recap: Manhattan Cocktail Classic, Day One

Charlotte Voisey's "Belle Epoche" and Julie Reiner's "Solernum II"

Charlotte Voisey's Armagnac cocktail and Julie Reiner's Cognac cocktail

A cocktail should be consumed quickly, “while it’s still laughing at you”–Harry Craddock, American bartender and author of “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” circa 1930.

Of all of the bustling corners in America where working men and women have enjoyed a stiff tipple since the early 19th Century, no metropolis has done more for the history of the cocktail than New York City [hey, David Wondrich said it, not me],  so it was fitting that this past weekend’s Manhattan Cocktail Classic preview went off without a hitch. There’s so much to digest (believe me, my liver is still working on it) from all of the seminars, tastings, and parties, that it’s hard to believe that this was just a two-day affair. Based on the success of the weekend, I can’t imagine how much of a knockout the grand event, taking place May 14-18, will be.

On day one, I arrived at Astor Center just in time to sit in on “Have Cocktail Shaker, Will Travel,” led by Charlotte Voisey of Hendrick’s Gin, Simon Ford of Plymouth Gin, and St. John Frizell of Redhook bar Fort Defiance. This seminar covered the enthralling period when New York mixologists took their craft overseas, both before, during, and after Prohibition. Before the 1920s, bartending was taken very seriously in the States, and mixologists had a much-respected, if not celebrity status that was well-received across the world. Charlotte spoke of London’s reverence for cocktails during the Prohibition era, and how American bartenders came over and loosened things up a bit, especially Harry Craddock who was head bartender at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel during the 1920s and 1930s. Since Craddock is believed to have created the “White Lady,” that was our first cocktail of the seminar (gin, Cointreau, lemon juice). Simon followed with stories about “Professor” Jerry Thomas, considered the father of American mixology, who brought his showman style of bartending across the U.S. and Europe before settling back in New York in the 1860s. To commemorate Thomas, we drank the gin “Daisy” (gin, orgeat syrup, maraschino, lemon juice). Then St. John Frizell gave an enthusiastic account of the life of Charles H. Baker Jr., a traveling bon vivant famous for writing “The Gentleman’s Companion Vo. I & II”  in 1939.  St. John has done extensive research into Baker’s life and offered insight into how the writer used his inheritance money to travel the world on round-the-world cruises that were popular for featuring “flapper pirate”-themed parties. Baker, who hung out with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, recorded better than anyone the exotic recipes of what people were drinking and eating during his time. We tried one such concoction, the “Barbados Buck” (rum, ginger beer, lime juice), which was a tropical number, indeed.

After a much-needed lunch with a few of the ladies of LUPEC NYC, I returned for another round of seminars, starting with Sasha Petraske’s “Cocktails for Your Home Cocktail Party.” Sasha’s primary message was that if you are going to throw a decent cocktail party, you must have decent ice. For proper cocktails, the storebought bag of ice or the ice cube trays that have absorbed the flavors of the contents of your freezer (God forbid, fishsticks) will simply not suffice. Sasha recommends cleaning out your freezer in advance, making an ice block using a plastic tray, cracking the ice before your shindig, and then refreezing it until used. Other factors to take into consideration are the amount of glassware you will need, your dishwashing capacity, and how much liquor to buy (expect to serve five drinks per guest, if you’re throwing a rager). Sasha explained one easy way to keep glasses chilled during a cocktail party–employ a 19th Century method of creating a grid of glasses on top of a bar table, filling the first row with ice water and the second row with ice. By the time you need the glasses in the second row, the ice will have melted into ice water, which you can then toss before filling with the cocktail. Other tips and tricks: have four to six cocktail shaker sets on hand (as well as citrus peelers, bar spoons, citrus knives, and julep strainers), keep juice as fresh as possible by squeezing small (no more than 12-oz.) batches at a time, and for goodness sakes, taste your drinks before you serve them to guests. As examples of drinks that could easily be served at a home cocktail party, we tried the “Bee’s Knees” (gin, honey syrup, lemon juice) and the “Silver Fizz” (gin, egg white, superfine sugar, soda water, lemon juice). It was great to hear Sasha admit that when Milk & Honey first opened, drinks were made so meticulously that some customers waited up to 20 minutes for their drinks, which he now regrets. “No drink in the world is worth waiting 20 minutes for,” he said.

I then caught the tail end of “The Many Faces of Cognac and Armagnac” with F. Paul Pacult, Charlotte Voisey, and Julie Reiner. Cognac and Armagnac, France’s legendary brandies, use virtually the same grape varieties but are made differently. Cognac’s wines are turned into spirit through double distillation in an old-style pot still, while Armagnac is distilled only once in an unusual still that is a hybrid of a pot and a column still. I arrived just in time to try Julie’s Cognac cocktail (Martell Cordon Bleu Cognac, Calvados Apple Brandy, sherry, Gran Marnier, orange bitters) and Charlotte’s Armagnac cocktail (Armagnac, apricot jam, orgeat syrup, Solerno blood orange liqueur, lemon juice, orange bitters), which were both delicious.

Downtime was spent at the event’s official bar at Astor, where more than a dozen different cocktails were served each day, mixed by ROGUE Events’ who’s-who of bartending in NYC and beyond. This was also a great place to meet friends old and new, and to try a few new spirits. Compass Box Brand Ambassador Robin Robinson offered me an exclusive taste of Spice Tree, which officially launches later this month. Controversial for its non-traditional Scotch-making process (formerly the use of French Oak inner staves), Spice Tree is now made using three different levels of toasting on the French Oak barrel heads, offering  layers of complexity. The long finish was rich, boldly spicy, and warming, which was perfect for the rainy day. I also enjoyed a taste of Skinos Mastiha Spirit, a clear malt spirit made from the aromatic sap collected from mastiha, or mastic, trees on the Greek island of Chios. Uniquely nectar-like without being cloyingly sweet, the Skinos has a shochu-like mouthfeel with a subtly floral finish.

As if that weren’t enough imbibing for the day, the evening’s festivities were not to be missed. The brand-spaking-new Crosby Street Hotel (79 Crosby St.) was host to the launch party for Gary “Gaz” Regan’s latest book, “The Bartender’s Gin Compendium.” Libations, sponsored by Plymouth Gin and Beefeater London Dry Gin, were mixed by Jamie Gordon, Chris Patino, and Dan Warner. I was stoked to have my copy of Gary’s book signed by the man himself, hobnob with spirits writers from Imbibe magazine and the Village Voice, as well as chat a bit with Dale de Groff, “King of Cocktails.”

Keep an eye out for my round-up of day two of the Cocktail Classic, coming soon. I offer a hat-tip and curtsy to Lesley Townsend and ROGUE Events for serving 18,000 people over the weekend and organizing such a memorable affair!