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Cheers, Friends!

Attention all cocktail aficionados: the 8th edition of the San Antonio Cocktail Conference — SACC to those in the know — is almost here, taking place January 14-20, 2019 at the St. Anthony Hotel in downtown San Antonio.

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By Claudia Alarcon  ::  Photography courtesy of The San Antonio Cocktail Conference

The event was born in 2012 at Bohanan’s Prime Steaks & Seafood on the River Walk, when the bar was only a few years old. The management team was interested in learning about the national bar scene, so along with their consultant, the late Sasha Petraske — one of the most respected bar operators and innovative mixologists in the U.S. — they traveled to other cocktail festivals around the country. Inspired, they decided to do something similar in San Antonio, but at a smaller scale and with one important difference: Petraske and co-founder Mark Bohanan agreed that they didn’t want to start another business venture, choosing to do something that allowed them to give back to the community instead. 

“The result was a product that was good for downtown San Antonio, good for the spirit industry and great for area children’s non-profits,” says Cathy Siegel, Executive Director of Houston Street Charities, the non-profit arm of Bohanan’s and organizer of SACC. “Tourism has seen a boon during SACC week, locals visit and enjoy downtown San Antonio that week, and everyone gets the opportunity to give back. If you look at the growth in the number of true craft cocktail bars in the San Antonio area since the beginning of SACC, it stands to reason that SACC has helped that growth happen.” Bohanan’s namesake restaurant in San Antonio, along with his Boerne restaurant, Peggy’s on the Green, continue to lend support.

With a national calendar full of all kinds of cocktail festivals, SACC is continually ranked among the top three in the country, drawing people from all over the world. It is the very first national craft cocktail festival on the calendar each year, and the only one that donates 100 percent of its profits annually to children’s charities. SACC started small, with opening night festivities held at Bohanan’s and staff handing little envelopes of tickets to attendees at the door. Now they issue close to 10,000 tickets for a six-day festival that offers a variety of events that range from elaborate cocktail parties to guided tastings to paired dinners and educational seminars for both consumers and industry professionals. Most of the other festivals around the country are mainly geared toward industry professionals exclusively. 

“We have a portfolio of 57 seminars this year,” says Siegel. “There are categories for these seminars: Cocktail Novice, Cocktail Aficionado, Cocktail Nerd, Industry Business and Industry Skill/General. On the website, each seminar is annotated with the categories that apply. That way a participant can best choose the right seminar to sign up for according to their interest or skill. Professionals come from all over the country — indeed, all over the world this year — to participate in SACC, for fun and for business.” While bartenders are not accredited through these seminars, the content offered is certainly in line with what they need to stay current, learn new skills and further their business acumen.  

One such participant is The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch bartender Crystal Thompson, who will be attending six diverse sessions at SACC 2019, ranging from technical topics like vacuum chambers and immersion circulators to a session about fire with Jack Daniels Whiskey, and a party to recognize San Antonio women who are ‘shaking it up’ in business, sports, civic leadership and other non-traditional roles. “I am interested in these seminars because I love learning about new ideas and concepts,” says Thompson. “I am very interested in the Women Shaking it Up event because I have been a single mother for a long time and I strive to teach my children that women are equal.” 

Thompson will showcase the knowledge acquired at the conference by creating special drinks, holiday cocktails and maybe teaching a basic cocktail class for members in the future. “Our Club members love new ideas and concepts, and now they do not have to go across the world to find a ‘new experience’,” says Thompson. She explains that members who follow her on social media often stop by the bar to ask for her newest cocktail and even give her the freedom to create on the spot when they tell her ‘just make me whatever you want.’ 

“As a mixologist I want to make them a cocktail that I know they will enjoy,” says Thompson. “I get to know what they usually drink, then I use the base and add a few ingredients, just enough where they gain trust in me and eventually try whatever I suggest. When you blow their mind with knowledge about a product, the liquor itself, how you layered a drink, or how you took the steps to create something so beautiful, they want to come back and see what’s next. You will always have those people who always want the same thing, but if you create in front of them, they tend to be more curious.” 

SACC is also the place to explore the newest cocktail trends. For 2019, sustainability and culinary cocktails are leading the charge. “Just like in the restaurant business, bars are looking to reduce waste,” says Siegel. “You’ll see seminars at SACC this year that address sustainability, including back of bar practices and ingredients used. Food is also a big influencer — not just as a pairing, but as a flavor profile for cocktails.” One example is the SACC 2019 Signature Cocktail called ‘Call Me, Honey,’ which features citrus, honey and green cardamom (see sanantoniococktailconference.com for a complete recipe). At Cordillera Ranch, Thompson makes signature infusions and salts with fresh produce and herbs. “I think infusions will stay popular in 2019, with bars making their own salts and sugars to complement their personalized cocktails,” she says. “Maybe [we’ll see] some unique glassware, more smoke and more use of bitters in cocktails.” 

Seminars and events are priced individually. For tickets and schedule, please visit sacocktailconference.com.