Karah Carmack, bar manager at Hot Joy, is one of the few people who has been involved with the San Antonio Cocktail Conference (SACC) from the beginning—even though she wasn’t part of the original Bohanan’s crew. At the time, Carmack was the assistant bar manager at The Esquire to Jeret Peña, who had been attending many of the Cocktail Conference planning meetings.
“Jeret had to leave town suddenly and he asked me if I could go sit in on this (SACC) meeting. They were asking me questions and I didn’t have the answers to them,” Carmack said. “So after the meeting I went to tell Jenny (Rabb of Bohanan’s) that I was sorry, but that I wanted to do anything I could to help out.”
This led to Carmack working the entire event, and she has come back each year since.
This year Carmack will serve as the Events Support Coordinator, where she will work with fellow four-year SACC alum Chris Ware. She will lead a group of 40 people making huge five-gallon batches of the various cocktails that will be served throughout the conference.
“We’re also responsible for making all the ingredients that go into them, so we juice tons and tons of lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits as well as making syrups,” Carmack said.
Her initial experience with the SACC led her to ascend the ranks in the apprenticeship program at the Tales of the Cocktail festival in New Orleans, widely regarded as one of the country’s top industry events. Carmack sees the SACC’s growth pattern as similar to Tales of the Cocktail.
“They’ve had their program for 10 years and started out with six people. We’re kind of rewriting history,” she said. “(SACC) started out small with just me and a crew from Bohanan’s and now its grown into 40 people from all over the country.”
As the Cocktail Conference has grown, so too has the local scene. Even though San Antonio may have arrived to the party well after some of the larger markets, Carmack sees this as an advantage.
“We’re one of the younger markets. We’ve seen some of the successes and failures of other places and have been able to learn from the people who came before us,” Carmack said. “One of the big things we learned early on is that nobody wants to deal with a bartender who has a crappy attitude.”
This has led to an environment across San Antonio that is friendly to novices interested in learning more about the histories and profiles of their drinks.
When it comes to spirits, Carmack says that agave distillates—including tequila and mezcal—are her favorites.
“They are one of the few spirits that are made by the same methods that they’ve been using for hundreds of years. Whole families have devoted their life to the process and it is truly a labor of love,” she said. “I got to go to the Fortaleza distillery and watch the process—everybody involved was super friendly and they love what they do and they love to drink their products. They’re not just doing it to make money. And it’s delicious.”
After the craziness of the Cocktail Conference is over, you can catch Carmack at Hot Joy, the funky Asian spot in Southtown recently named by Bon Appétit as one of the top new restaurants in the country. When pressed – “It’s like me picking my favorite kid,” she said, Carmack suggests ordering either the Wax On, Wax Off or Taeng Wan #2. Both are rum based cocktails, made with a spirit different from your stereotypical white rum to give an earthy and complex flavor.
“I’ve kind of trying to take it more the route of a Tiki bar, and I think that these two are the first of many rum cocktails to come,” she said.
*Featured/top image: Karah Carmack serves up a freshly mixed daiquiri at Hot Joy. Photo by Scott Ball.