Dizzy Recap: Second Annual Manhattan Cocktail Classic

The New York Public Library gets kaleidoscopic for the 2011 Manhattan Cocktail Classic. Photo by Belathée Photography.

Kicking off with what has become the cocktail-lover’s prom of the year, the 2011 Manhattan Cocktail Classic, held May 13-17, drew a crowd of top bartenders and drinking enthusiasts from across the country and beyond. It’s great to see this event grow as it celebrates NYC’s place on the map for cocktail innovation.

And grow it has–founder and director Lesley Townsend said attendance for the five days nearly doubled over last year, reporting more than 5,000 attendees. She estimated that 75,000 cocktails were served throughout the festival, and all in real glassware. For the Gala, more than 3,000 cocktail fans lined up around the block for nearly an hour to get inside. Lesley said she is already working on ways to make the entry process more efficient for next year.

Although parts of the Gala had more of a nightclub feel this year–one writer compared it to Pacha–and food was once again hard to find, props must be given to Lesley and her team of 500 for organizing NYC’s quintessential cocktail bash. I particularly liked how every brand had equal presence at the event with a minimalist design as opposed to loud branding. Everywhere you turned, guests were smiling and seemingly having the times of their lives, sipping expertly-mixed cocktails.

Other events held throughout the festival included a Don Q Rums ’80s party, a one-time-only screening of the film “Last Call in New York” hosted by Tequila Don Julio,  the Indy Spirits Expo, and Campari’s Spirited Fête for the Senses at The Box featuring Padma Lakshmi. Seminars ranged from the spirit-focused to topics such as “How to Behave in a Bar.” Mostly, this festival was another example of how much fun the liquor industry can be–congrats Lesley on another successful edition of the MCC!

The scene at the Gala's main bar. Photo by Belathée Photography.

And in the basement, a more club-like vibe. Photo by Virginia Rollison.

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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!

Tickets & Details Announced for The Manhattan Cocktail Classic

manhattanclassic

I just received the press release announcing the schedule for The Manhattan Cocktail Classic:

NEW YORK, August 20, 2009—The Manhattan Cocktail Classic, New York City’s first-ever multi-day celebration of all things cocktail-related, today announced the details of its Fall Preview seminar series, which will take place during the day on October 3-4, 2009, at Astor Center in New York City. The seminars will be led by members of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic Advisory Board, which includes legendary mixologists, cocktail historians, spirits critics and writers, and speak-easy impresarios. Each seminar will be individually ticketed for $50, available through the website at www.manhattancocktailclassic.com beginning on September 7, 2009.

“I am very excited about the topics we have lined up for the Fall Preview,” said Lesley Townsend, Founder and Director of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. “It’s an unbelievable honor to have our Advisory Board members kicking off our event in this regard. Our hope is that this series will inspire the rest of the spirits and cocktail community to come forth with their own ideas for presentations for the first annual event in May of 2010.”

The seminar schedule is as follows:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

“Have Cocktail Shaker, Will Travel” with Charlotte Voisey & Simon Ford: Once the last legal cocktail was served on the eve of Prohibition in New York City, things would never be the same again. ‘Have cocktail shaker, will travel’ was the mindset of many a passionate barkeep in the 1920s when their craftsmanship turned criminal. Join Charlotte Voisey, Simon Ford, and other assorted friends for a jovial discussion on how New York has been influencing cocktail culture around the world for many years. Liquid refreshments will be served.

“Cocktails for Your Home Cocktail Party” with Sasha Petraske: Famed (and oft-elusive) owner and proprietor of Milk and Honey, Sasha Petraske will demonstrate the basics of creating cocktails in the home. He will go over how to set up and stock home bars of varying degrees of seriousness, as well as cover different scenarios of cocktail entertaining – from temporarily taking over your friend’s kitchen for a house party, to grabbing the reins at a fully-equipped bar. And of course, Sasha will teach you how to prepare some basic, ever-pleasing libations for these occasions. Participants will leave armed with a no-fail recipe list and a short set of directions for preparing basic cocktails with block ice and fresh juices.

“The Agave Session: The Magical Elixirs of Mexico” with Steve Olson and Special Guests: There is a heritage and culture associated with Tequila and Mezcal that dates back well over a thousand years, when the agave plant – also known as the maguey – was utilized by Mexico’s native peoples for virtually everything: from food and drink, to sugar, to shoes, soap, building supplies, and even medicine. Join us for an exciting tasting of this exotic elixir, each by artisan producers, as we pay homage to the heritage, history and culture of Mexico’s national spirit. It is also likely that agave-based libations will be consumed.

“The Many Faces of Cognac & Armagnac” with Julie Reiner, Charlotte Voisey & F. Paul Pacult: This one-time-only, comprehensive seminar joins celebrated master mixologists Julie Reiner and Charlotte Voisey with America’s spirits guru F. Paul Pacult on an extraordinary excursion deep into France’s legendary AOC grape brandies, Cognac and Armagnac. Participants will first be taken on a guided tour of tasting a half-dozen remarkable brandies to see how these distilled and oak-matured cousins compare and contrast. Then, they will be treated to a Cognac cocktail, made by Julie, and an Armagnac cocktail, made by Charlotte. A rare opportunity to spend 90 minutes with three of America’s most engaging spirits and cocktail personalities.

“History of the Cocktail in New York, 1810-1920” with Dave Wondrich: Among all the classes of American mixed drinks—the Cobblers, Sours, Fizzes, Coolers, Juleps and all the rest—the Cocktail stands as first among equals. If there’s something about a quick jolt of ice-cold, mixed-up boozy deliciousness that’s essentially American, then it’s quintessentially New York. And indeed, while many other cities have made key contributions to the Cocktail’s development, none has done so much as to shape it as Gotham. This seminar will attempt to track the interventions the city’s mixologists made in the idea of the Cocktail during the 110-odd years between its first documented appearance here and Prohibition. Liquid exhibits will be served.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

“Audrey and Gary’s Unparalleled Gin Palaver” with Audrey Saunders & Gary Regan: Audrey Saunders, Libation Goddess from New York’s Pegu Club, and perhaps the bartender most responsible for the resurgence of gin in the 21st century, will join Gary “gaz” Regan, author of The Joy of Mixology (2003) and The Bartender’s Gin Compendium (Fall 2009), to present gin-based cocktails, old, new, borrowed, and, well, you get the picture. They will wax lyrical on all things juniper; they will pontificate endlessly about the attributes of the Martini and of the MarTEAni, and they will display the splendor of cocktails made with dry gin, genever, Plymouth gin, and a most peculiar Old Tom. It’s probable that Saunders and Regan will flirt shamelessly throughout the workshop. The throwing of rotting fruit or vegetables will not be permitted.

“Glasses & Tools: How Do You Choose the Right Glass for a Drink?” with Dale DeGroff:  The choice of glass can mean the difference between a successful and elegant drink, or a glass of booze. In a commercial operation, the choice of glass can impact dramatically on the bottom line. At the home bar, the choice of glass can have an impact on the success of your cocktail party, and the well-being of your guests. Explore the classics with Dale DeGroff as he culls his glass collection to find the perfect glass for well-known classics and the tools to make them successfully.

“Call of the Rye” with Allen Katz: Ryes, Ryes my beloved, Meet me down by The Bowery. There will I give you my love. By history and culture, With song, per chance dance, A Savor to be kissed by kisses. O, my dear, come… Ryes at the day break. As the shadows enter over Astor. Awake. Inhale. O friends, drink, yea, drink abundantly, O, beloved.

“Sherry: The Cobbler and Beyond” with Andy Seymour: Sherry has long played an important role in the world of mixology and has emerged in this new age of the cocktail more popular than ever. Join Master Mixologist and U.S. Sherry Ambassador Andy Seymour for a fascinating look at one of the world’s most cocktail (and food) friendly wines. Taste five of the finest Sherry, representing its many styles, and sample cocktails that show off Sherry’s traditional side and what it is up to today. Come ready to shake, as Andy will lead the group in building their own version of the Sherry cobbler!

About the Manhattan Cocktail Classic:

The Manhattan Cocktail Classic is New York City’s first ever multi-day event celebrating the history, contemporary culture, and artful craft of the cocktail. Part festival, part fête, part conference, part cocktail party, the Manhattan Cocktail Classic brings together the unparalleled talents and opportunities of the bars, bartenders, and restaurants of our great city for two days of activities, both educational and celebratory in nature, championing the common ideals of authenticity, equality, sustainability, service, and pleasure. (There will be some drinking involved, too.) For additional information, kindly visit http://www.manhattancocktailclassic.com .

And there you have it!

Introducing: The Manhattan Cocktail Classic

manhattanclassic

“The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind.”–Humphrey Bogart

 

 

Positive repercussions from Tales are already spilling over as New York cocktail enthusiasts rejoice over today’s launch of The Manhattan Cocktail Classic. Spearheaded by Lesley Townsend (formerly of Astor Center), the event is officially planned for May to coincide with World Cocktail Week, but a preview event will be held Oct. 3-4 as well. Historical seminars, tastings, and parties are planned, and expected participants include the city’s top cocktail and culinary talent. The announcement was quickly snatched up by the Diner’s Journal in The New York Times, so it’s clear this event will garner the attention it deserves. The idea of New York hosting its own cocktail fete apart from the ill-fitted New York Bar Show is really exciting!