Chow Town

Phenix uses Tales of the Cocktail festival to build a following for Mig Fuel

Berto Santoro, bar manager at Extra Virgin (left) and Ray Edwards of Phenix salute the announcement of Phenix’s Mig Fuel..
Berto Santoro, bar manager at Extra Virgin (left) and Ray Edwards of Phenix salute the announcement of Phenix’s Mig Fuel.. Special to The Star

There was plenty of Mig Fuel at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans last week, but none of it went into fighter jets. Rather, bartenders poured the newly launched spirit for fellow industry professionals with an eye toward building demand for the brand.

“Brands are built on the back bar,” said Ray Edwards, founder and chief executive of Kansas City-based Phenix Brands, which owns Mig Fuel. “That translates into everything else on the market. You have to get it in front of your advocates, and your advocates are bartenders.”

And there’s no better place to reach bartenders than Tales, Edwards said. It’s the country’s oldest and biggest cocktail festival, drawing more than 20,000 participants to 200-plus seminars, tastings, dinners and events every July. People come from all over the world, making it an industry meeting place.

“When you look at all the elements — bartenders, suppliers, distributors, journalists, historians, enthusiasts — that make up this thing called the spirits industry, Tales is the one place where it all comes together,” Edwards said.

Phenix hosted a pool party to introduce them all to Mig Fuel, a spirit that tastes of both citrus and elderflower and that is positioned to compete against Jagermeister, and hosted a dinner at Salu featuring its Samogon (a grappa-like grape-based spirit), Stiletto Vodka and London Vodka brands.

The company also rolled out LL Kinahan’s Irish Whiskey during a Dynamic Duo bar event at 12 Mile Limit in what Edwards called the “rebirthing of one of the most famous brands of Irish whiskey.”

Throughout the week, a cadre of Kansas City bartenders was on hand to mix drinks and talk product at Phenix events, including Berto Santoro (Extra Virgin), Brock Schulte (Liquid Minded Concepts), Erica Schulte (Westport Ale House) and Ryan Rama (CocoBolos).

Ryan Maybee, co-owner of The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange and Manifesto also supported the brand, stepping behind the 12 Mile bar alongside Gary “Gaz” Regan, a bartender and author widely considered the industry’s mentor.

That was only part of Maybee’s agenda in New Orleans, though. Maybee, J. Rieger & Co. co-founder Andy Rieger and head distiller Nathan Perry were honored with a best new spirit or cocktail ingredient nomination for their Kansas City Whiskey at the 2015 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. A best American restaurant bar nod also went to Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange.

Kansas City was well-represented throughout the rest of the festival, as well. Brandon Cummins, a Tequila Ocho brand representative and partner in bar consultancy Liquid Minded Concepts, helped organize the National Viva Sangrita competition. Master of wine and master sommelier Doug Frost led a tasting of rare 1990s vintage champagnes. And Scott Tipton, beverage director for Bread & Butter Concepts, returned as a team leader for Tales’ prestigious cocktail apprentice program, which helps prep some 150,000 cocktail servings throughout the week.

Wish you could have been there? The event will be back during the third week of July in 2016. Can’t wait that long? Keep an eye out for the Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival in September. It’s bound to be worth it.

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_