I’d like to say we came to Austin with well-researched intent to attend the San Antonio Cocktail Conference, having completed due diligence on the sessions that would contribute most to this publication and its readers.
Instead, we happened to be in Austin for a business trip and, after a few drunken conversations with bartenders, were tipped off to the existence of the conference. The next day found us behind the wheels of a rental – speeding off to San Antonio with a bit of trepidation but grim determination to drink the hair of the dog. For the blog!
The conference was surprisingly large. Two large ballrooms in the St. Anthony hotel were dedicated to distillers pouring free tastings. The larger room had two stories, and at the center, a number of caterers (many of them perhaps a little inebriated – or at least suspiciously cheerful) slapped together complimentary finger foods to wash the alcohol down.
Brands ranged from well-known conglomerates to some nascent young local upstarts in Texas, and there were some truly terrible whiskies and spirits on display. Luckily, they were all free. In fact, we actually found it more fun and educational to try “works in progress” than perfectly smooth, balanced spirits. Sometimes it takes the awful to appreciate the good stuff.
On the day we went, there was a lavish oasis between the two tasting halls that was sponsored by Hendrick’s Gin – the room filled with steampunk cocktail-making machines and attendants, who offered everything from hor’dourves to massages. We spent quite a lot of time there, worshipping the negroni-making apparatus and drinking French 75s. The free admission with RSVP definitely won our loyalty. All hail Hendrick’s.
In parallel to all this, there were ongoing educational seminars (around $35-85 per class), intended for both enthusiasts and professionals, and included everything from Mixology 101 and home bar basics to classes on shrubs or managing bar operations. After some debate, we settled on the brandy seminar, in which a bespectacled cocktail geek paced up and down as he delivered an enthusiastic, powerpoint-based lecture on the history and regional differences on brandy. He also selected six brandies that we tried during the presentation, including a pisco, calvados, cognac, and the Soviet Union’s darling ArArAt.
After the educational seminar, we politely ignored the request of the lecture hall attendants to exit through the back (as to not disturb the private party) and instead headed out to join the private party. Where we were promptly served more free alcohol. And that, my friends, is how we at Drunken Diplomacy embrace the hair of the dog.