Having been on the organizing end of an event much like the San Antonio Cocktail Conference (SACC), I understand all too well how challenging it is to pull everything together. Presenters and participants often play hard to get, extracting detailed information on class and event content, along with up-to-date bio information, can be an exercise in frustration ... and that's just on the people end of things.
Attendees see little of this, of course. But that doesn't mean that there isn't some frustration to be had on the consumer end when it comes to picking events and seminars; inevitably, two or more you might really want to check out are scheduled at the same or close to the same time. But that's what the San Antonio Current is here for. Based on the best information on hand at the time of writing, these are the classes/seminars most likely to appeal to the serious cocktail geek. Unless noted, all are at the Sheraton Gunter Hotel, the conference's headquarters.
Friday morning: There's entertainment value to be had in two events, a multi-topic TED Talk-like presentation called SA 15 and another discussing cocktails in pop culture. But there's nothing like hands-on experience to drive points home, so I suggest the reprise of a class I took last year, called Mixology 101: Build Your Own Cocktail that begins at 11:30 a.m. The presenter is "The Cocktail Guru," Jonathan Pogash, and there will be the inevitable PowerPoint presentation, but there should also be samplings of ingredients and, at the end, the chance to put together your own personalized drink from a pretty wide range of products. You will have to drink and run, however, as this class ends at 1 p.m. — just as the next one starts.
Friday afternoon: The Flavors of Mexico is a new class, sponsored by Altos Tequila — but we assume sponsorship means that the company's brand ambassador and her "culinary expert" sidekick can accordingly be generous with samples as they discuss foods and cocktails from the Yucatán to Baja and beyond. It should be a good armchair tour. But if you'd prefer not to sprint between seminar spaces, Herbal Remedies begins at 1:30 just down the street at The Last Word. Here, author Emily Han will lead a seminar on "the fascinating history and present-day use of bitters from herbal remedies to craft cocktails." Bitters and cocktails will be tasted and you'll craft your own take-home blend from sundry botanicals. This one should appeal to both serious civilians and industry pros alike.
Saturday morning: This is the most frustrating time period, with at least three overlapping seminars I'd personally like to attend: Madeira Understood, Tequila and Xocolatl and Time to Check Out That Other 'Yack: Armagnac, all starting at 11:30 a.m. The Madeira seminar has the advantage of lots of samples of a mostly (to me, anyway) unfamiliar product — not to mention well-known Houston bar luminary Alba Huerta as a co-presenter. Tequila and chocolate are equally unfamiliar as a couple, Milagro Tequila's J.P. de Loera is both animated and knowledgeable and there is the hook of "a full range of pairings of agave-forward Milagro Tequila with various chocolates and cacao-inspired beverages." And who knows enough about Armagnac? Did you know that its production predates that of Cognac? Not me, so I'm also tempted by both the history and spirits educator May Matta-Aliah's guided tasting of several examples. Don't know about you, but I'm going to toss a coin here.
Saturday afternoon: Fortunately, this is easier — at least for me: I'm heading straight for Why Rye, Why Now? (1:30 p.m.), billed as a "fun and interactive" lecture and discussion "on the history of rye whiskey, why it went away and why it's coming back so strong." But then I'm obsessed, and I won't think any less of you if you choose instead Jalapen-Oh-No-You Didn't (3 p.m.). There's potential fun for all as "the spicy margarita and its compadres will get a much-needed facelift in this seminar designed for cocktail enthusiasts, foodies and cocktail bartenders." Participants "will explore all manner of spices and their effects across a variety of base spirits." Might as well go out with a bang.
The SACC runs from January 14-17, check the conference website, sacocktailconference.com for tickets and updates.