Keep the ibuprofen and Pedialyte handy, San Antonio: The 2014 San Antonio Cocktail Conference (SACC) has officially launched. Last night’s opening ceremony at the Majestic Theatre was a boozy bacchanal complete with abundant food, solid jams, and 25 bars serving up specialty cocktails.
Last year’s SACC, which sold more than 4,750 tickets to attendees from at least 25 states, saw some 265 varieties of cocktail—and this year’s conference is looking to bust all of those records.
To produce this event, a team of four (all with full-time careers, I should add) including lead Cocktail Conference event coordinator and director of catering for Bohanan’s Jenny Rabb, has worked tirelessly with a brigade volunteers for several months prior.
“We are thrilled to hold opening night of San Antonio Cocktail Conference at the Majestic because it represents a beautiful partnership between downtown businesses,” Rabb stated.
As a first-time SACC attendee, I was struck by the sheer quantity of quality nosh (much improved from last year, in both quality and quantity, I’m told) and hooch. For sure, at $100 per person the ticket is pricy – but based on the available sustenance, that investment could easily pay off. Portions were hearty, lines were manageable, and crowds were mostly well behaved.
All that said, a high degree of self-control is absolutely necessary at the kick-off; to enjoy the night fully and appropriately, one must carefully balance the ratios and timing of food and drink. I personally witnessed only one poor soul, um, reverse their digestion in public, if you will, and that was closer to 9:30 p.m. A nearby SACC staffer confessed that the conference’s inaugural boot came more than a full hour before, at 8:05 p.m.—pretty impressive for an event that started at 7:00.
But back to the subject at hand. An SA favorite, DJ Steven Lee Moya provided the jams in the third floor lounge while nine-piece vintage-meets-modern-meets-soul band The Nightowls (Austin) rocked the lower levels. The majority of bars were manned by liquor brand representatives and ambassadors with a few independent bartenders sprinkled throughout.
Benji Pocta of Chino Chinatown in Dallas was mixing a "Cutty Side Scuttle," which featured Cutty Sark Scotch whiskey along with lemon juice, simple syrup, Angostura Bitters, ginger beer, and Sandeman port. The faintly sweet, brightly colored drink was what brought Pocta to the SACC.
The bartender won a U.S. Bartenders Guild competition in Dallas and, as a result, had the opportunity to come to San Antonio and represent the liquor at the Cocktail Conference. “There’s been a great turnout tonight,” he said, adding, “I wish there was something like this in Dallas.”
The familiar name and faces of The Friendly Spot were also in attendance, serving up eats instead of the brews for which they’re known and loved. Aaron Peña played spokesperson for the night, explaining that as a predominantly craft beer bar the Friendly Spot doesn’t exactly fit the bill for a conference focused on cocktail culture.
“People already know about our beer selection,” Peña said, “so we’re taking the opportunity to let our food speak for itself.” The friendliest ice house in Southtown has upped the ante on their food, with new chef Scott Boone at the helm of the kitchen for roughly the past six months. And despite being a more beer-focused establishment, The Friendly Spot definitely isn’t left out of the SACC fun – in addition to their presence tonight, they’re hosting a “craft beer break” on Saturday 4-6 p.m. as an official conference event, tapping and sampling kegs from 25 breweries across the nation.
Other edible highlights included a microtostada from Mixtli, with confit pork, cotija cheese, and pickled onions; a savory pancake from farmer's market regular Humble House Foods; a pretty assortment of “buntinis” from the sweet and sincere Nothing Bundt Cakes; and an enticing preview of Chef Jason Dady’s forthcoming Umai Mi: a tamarind glazed brisket with spicy peanuts, pickles, and fresh mint and basil. Yum.
Treaty Oak Distilling Co. out of Austin mixed up a simple but tasty honey daiquiri with Treaty Oak rum, clover honey, and lime juice. Also in the rum category, an attractive pair of Mount Gay Barbados rum representatives with dubious English accents served a spiced "Dark and Stormy" that left the drinker slightly more convinced of their nationalities than before.
The Hendrick’s Gin booth served a surprisingly complex gin cocktail with apple cider, Topo Chico, lemon juice, Bristol cream, simple syrup, and Burlesque Bitters. The delicious and cleverly titled drink (“What the Dickens?”) proved the perfect segue back to food—and fortunately, Where Y’at Food Truck was dishing up Texas Boudin just a few booths down.
All proceeds from the conference (including those from the opening night live auction) will directly benefit non-profits HeartGift San Antonio and ChildSafe, both of which are dedicated to saving or improving quality of life for children. Last year, SACC raised approximately $75,000 for HeartGift. This is the first year that a second non-profit has been a conference beneficiary.
Speaking to the addition of ChildSafe, SACC founder Mark Bohanan stated in a press release, “I’m excited we have made enough progress with San Antonio Cocktail Conference to expand our efforts.” Likewise, Rabb said, “The addition of ChildSafe as a second beneficiary is a true testament to the success we’ve had over the past two years.”
Perhaps best of all, it’s not too late to hop on the SACC train. Check out the full conference event schedule here.
Follow the Rivard Report's coverage of the 2014 Cocktail Conference here.
Miriam Sitz is a freelance writer in San Antonio. A graduate of Trinity University, she blogs on Miriam210.com. Follow her on Twitter at @miriamsitz and click here for more stories from Miriam Sitz on the Rivard Report.