Everything I Loved and Learned at the 2018 San Antonio Cocktail Conference
Plus, My 3 Predictions For Cocktail Trends in 2018 (& The Trend I Hope Dies!)
Cold brew cocktails blended by pedal power, a Rube Goldberg machine that creates the perfect Negroni, and monkeys marketing in hotel rooms for an Austin, Texas honeysuckle liqueur.
Yea, this is only the kind of stuff that goes down at the annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference. The conference is in its seventh year, but this was my first.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the San Antonio Cocktail Conference (SACC). To be honest, the holidays had left us so drained that we were going to skip the event and have a nice weekend off. I’m glad I didn’t, cause even as I type this, it makes me feel crazy for even considering that!
While next year I plan to attend the full five days of the conference, my first year will be remembered by the classy parties, fancy dresses, and gorgeous cocktails.
San Antonio Cocktail Conference Need-to-Knows:
The conference runs for five days every January in downtown San Antonio. The St. Anthony Hotel is the home base for the festival every year, but there are a few other events in nearby venues.
The St. Anthony Hotel is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever stepped in. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel like you’re visiting someone’s home, that someone being the Queen of England. And we didn’t even stay there…
This hotel is a bit pricey, but not as bad as you’d think, considering it recently underwent a $24 million renovation. That being said, I think it would be well worth it to treat yourself and stay in this hotel. It’ll make you feel like you’ve been invited to party with the royals. Plus you’ll keeping it easy by staying under the same roof as the SACC. And for us, we will most certainly be booking a stay at the St. Anthony next year.
Each year, the festival brings together people from every walk of the spirits industry for educational seminars, friendly tastings, and elegant cocktail parties.
The spirit industry is quite a new world for me, but that weekend I discovered just how incredible (and very well established) it all actually is. Tons of great distillers and spirit brands were there, many represented by educated, friendly brand ambassadors or bartenders. All of them though brought their A-game, along with cocktails that delivered on the ‘Wow!’ factor.
If you’re looking for more education and stepping up your spirit game, you’ll want to study the list of seminars and find the perfect ones for you. If you’re looking for a ‘beer festival’ type setup, with booths to mix and mingle with the industry, as well as drinks on drinks on drinks, the tasting events will be more your vibe.
Honestly though, the evening parties are the highlights of the entire cocktail conference. For these parties, you’ll want to dress up very fancy (this is your chance to go overboard and have fun with an outfit), pace yourself by taking breaks to snack on all the delicious food, and be prepared to be blown away by the experience of it all.
On top of all the fun and great booze, the SACC is Houston Street Charities event and donates the proceeds to local non-profit agencies “making a difference for children”.
Since the beginning of the cocktail conference, 100% of the profits go straight back into the community, benefiting local children. The funds donated have supported the work and efforts of many children’s charities.
Past years’ beneficiaries have included Children’s Shelter, ChildSafe, Clarity Child Guidance Center, HeartGift San Antonio, TEAMability and Transplants for Children.
SACC sells individual tickets to seminars, tastings, and events, as well as VIP passes. (There’s plenty of options, so go a lot or go a little!)
The SACC schedule is a long list of seminars for every spirit, taste, and passion. But sprinkled in with all that learning are a few tasting events and INCREDIBLE cocktail parties.
The one downside is you have to buy a ticket to each individual seminar. Though, I do have to say the conference did an incredible job with a range of interesting and fun seminars that were well worth it. And remember, it’s for charity!
3 Cocktail Trends I’m Predicting for 2018 (& the Trend That I Hope Disappears)
The world of cocktails and spirits has been changing incredibly the past few years, you don’t need to be an industry insider to see that. Austin has seen it’s rise in local distilleries, but on a bigger scale, even chain restaurants are beefing up their bar menus.
Many of the vendors, brand ambassadors, and other imbibers I talked to at the San Antonio Cocktail Conference are excited for 2018. The big reason why? They’re saying this is the beginning of an exciting new phase of this cocktail revolution.
Below are some of those cocktail trends to mark this new beginning. PLUS, everything else I learned and loved from the 2018 San Antonio Cocktail Conference.
A Rise in Premium Rums
In 2017, there was a resurgence of Tiki drinks popularity, establishing itself as a year-round bar menu item. The fruity drinks, most often rum-based, paved the way to make 2018 the year of rum. What has me excited about this trend, besides my over-the-top love affair, is unlike whiskey, rum’s range of diversity and flavor is much more broad.
On the other hand, there’s plenty of misconceptions around rum, thanks to a bit of commercialization and mass production, so there needs to be category education. Consumers will need (and want!) to understand rum better. However, that exploration and education will be beneficial to the rum industry beyond 2018.
More Education in the Ingredient List
Normally, the star of any cocktail ingredient list is the spirit. At times you might have some ingredients that play important roles, but typically when you order a cocktail you’re ordering a whiskey cocktail, or a vodka cocktail, or a gin cocktail, etc. In 2018, I’m predicting there to be a shift in how we choose our cocktails.
At this year’s cocktail conference in San Antonio, I noticed a wide variety of complex and experimental liqueurs/vermouth/bitters in all cocktails, especially in the classics. It makes sense though…
What easier way to shake up a classic Old Fashioned than with a bitter that’s unique to your geographic region or even your bar. Additionally, many consumers, especially the ones ‘stuck in their ways’, will be enticed with the option to try something new, that’s also not too foreign.
Embracing the Bitter Side of Cocktails
Not just at the cocktail conference this weekend, but even for the past several months, I’ve been hearing about and seeing more bitter cocktails. Then I came to the cocktail conference, and it was all about the bitters.
Which had me a bit worried because normally I stay away from that ‘section’ of flavor, even with beers. But at SACC I got educated and was really surprised at all the different ways a drink could be bitter. I’ve also come to appreciate a bitter cocktail, there’s a certain balance in it that makes it feel like an elegant cocktail.
Bitter cocktails (along with a surge in vermouth’s popularity) is a huge trend that I’m predicting for 2018. And I’m jumping on that bandwagon, reminding myself to keep an open mind to bitter cocktails.
And the Trend I Wish Would Disappear: $15 Cocktails Outside of Airports and Hotels
This is the one trend I hate, and I hope it dies in 2018. Slowly, bars have crept up the prices of their drinks, but consumers read the menu from right to left. While we were supposed to be talking about Scotch, Jonathan Wingo, The Balveine’s Brand Ambassador, and we drifted to a different topic: pricing.
He had a strong point when he explained his wishes for the industry to have more even pricing tiers, and prices that are “flexible and spongy”. While bars might might not make as much as they could,bby lowering the prices and creating more even pricing tiers, they’d be encouraging people to come and experiment more frequently.
“That promiscuity is something that I think we always benefit from,” Jonathan explained. Which means more consumer education. That education and experimentation doesn’t necessarily drive brand loyalty, but should that be the only goal? Brand loyalty doesn’t necessarily keep the wheels moving for innovation and new trends, excitement and curiosity does.