Chow Town

Kansas Citians mix it up at Tales of the Cocktail festival

Updated: 2013-07-25T17:04:30Z

By ANNE BROCKHOFF

Mixing drinks for a few guests at home is stressful enough. But batching cocktails for hundreds in an unfamiliar kitchen, lugging sloshing containers across New Orleans and serving them up at Tales of the Cocktail?

It hardly phased Ray Edwards, owner of Kansas City-based Phenix Brands, Berto Santoro, bar manager of Extra Virgin and Michael Smith, and Ryan Maybee, co-owner of Manifesto and The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange.

“It’s all good,” grinned Santoro, who was on-hand to help showcase Samogon, a grape-based spirit distilled in Krygyzstan and owned by Phenix.

The trio, along with bartenders from St. Louis and Columbia, Mo., spent two days shopping, juicing and prepping Samogon cocktails for two events — a dive bar dinner at 12 Mile Limit and a tasting and lunch for media covering Tales, the country’s oldest and biggest cocktail festival.

They served up barrel-aged cocktails, drinks on tap and bottled Palomas (Samogon, house-made grapefruit soda, fresh lime juice and a salt tincture), as well as the usual shaken and stirred.

The trip was about more than just mixed drinks, though. Tales is also one of the best places in the country to connect with industry pros, check out new flavors, products and trends and build support for the upcoming Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival on Aug. 21-25.

It’s also the ideal place to develop relationships with existing and potential clients, agree George Vesel of VeselBev and Kathy Pelz of Beverages Etc., which distributes non-alcoholic beverage brands and accessories.

“If I pick up one brand, it’s worth it,” said Vesel, a broker for wine and spirits labels.

Local image-maker and PopFest co-founder Brandon Cummins was also hard at work during Tales. He photographed and filmed events including a Jägermeister dinner and Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac tasting on behalf of wine and spirits marketer Lush Life Productions.

Cummins also filmed and volunteered at the annual Pig & Punch party to benefit New Orleans charities and took in the Bar Knuckle Bar Fight, a competition featuring seven of the country’s best bars — competitors in 2012 included Manifesto.

While Cummins spent a full week in NOLA, Chow Town contributor Doug Frost flew in for a single day to help present BARSmarts Advanced, a spirits and mixology education course the Kansas City-based wine and spirits expert co-founded.

Tales’ success laid a foundation for cocktail festivals around the country, and many of the Kansas Citians in New Orleans last week have also participated in PopFest, the Manhattan Cocktail Classic in New York and others. Is it worth it?

To answer that question, Phenix’s Edwards told this story:

While at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, British spirits writer Simon Difford tasted Samogon. He then recommended it in his influential Difford’s Guide, spurring demand from bartenders in that country. Edwards now has a U.K. distribution deal.

Attending Tales holds similar potential for expanded distribution in this country. The value of that opportunity?

“It’s huge,” Edwards said. “We’re spending between fifteen and twenty grand, and every dollar is worth it.”

Sammy Sling

This Tiki-style was a collaborative effort between chocolatier Christopher Elbow, Berto Santoro of Extra Virgin and Michael Smith, Phenix Brands’ Ray Edwards and St. Louis bartender Joshua Johnson and appears in Sanctuaria: The Dive Bar of Cocktail Bars (Nectar Media Group, 2012).

Makes 2 drinks

1-1/2 ounce Samogon

2 ounces pineapple juice

3/4 ounce vodka (such as Square One Botanical)

1 ounce Cherry Heering cherry liqueur

1/2 ounce grenadine

2/4 ounce Cointreau

1/2 ounce Benedictine

1/4 ounce lime juice

1 dash Angostura bitters

cherries, orange peel and a cocktail parasol for garnish

Combine all ingredients except garnishes in a cocktail shaker, fill partway with ice and shake until cold, or about 15 seconds. Strain into ice-filled Collins glasses or tankards and garnish.

Anne Brockhoff is an award-winning spirits writer who writes a monthly column for The Star’s Food section, as well as food features. She blogs at food_drink_ life.wordpress.com .

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