The rest of the United States may be tired of hearing that is “everything is bigger in Texas,” but it’s increasingly hard to deny. Naysayers need only to look at the 2019 San Antonio Cocktail Conference, which is rolling out its biggest edition yet, complete with more participating mixologists, expert authors, industry insiders, and exciting new takes on fest favorites.
The annual celebration of craft cocktails — one of the largest and most popular of its kind — will be returning to Alamo City on January 14-20 for a week of parties benefitting Houston Street Charities, the nonprofit charity founded by Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood owner Mark Bohanan.
Kickoff dinner series
Before the conference gets started, the fun kicks off January 13 with a noon brunch at Boerne’s Peggy’s on the Green featuring pairings by Herradura Tequila. The conference then heads back to San Antonio on January 15 for more than a dozen individually priced paired dinners scheduled at hot spots such as La Cantera Resort and Spa, Biga on the Banks, Toro Kitchen, and Periphery.
The dinners are a traditional part of SACC, geared more towards the general public than the seminars and panels. In previous years, the dinners had been held on different nights. For 2019, Houston Street Charities executive director Cathy Siegel says they wanted to give them their own identity, SACC Restaurant Night. “The best paired dinners are hosted by both an outstanding chef and an educated and engaging spirit brand ambassador,” Siegel says. “When the paired dinners take place during cocktail conference week, we have benefit of some of the business right here in San Antonio — a win-win.”
Women shake it up
Following the kickoff dinner series, SACC gets down to business of celebrating Texas’ burgeoning cocktail culture. The first main event, Women Shaking It Up: The Art of Being Awesome, will take place January 16 from 7:30-10:30 pm at arts space SAY Sí. A return from last year’s conference, the event recognizes the talents of women bartenders, chefs, and the other culinary leaders in the San Antonio area.
Siegel says the planners are particularly fond of hosting events with SAY Sí over the years.“The extra benefit of hosting our Women Shaking it Up event there is that we can theme it around art,” she explains. “We’ll have art activations throughout the venue so you can play while you eat and drink.”
Seminars, panels, and more
The next three days of the cocktail conference will feature more than 50 seminars and panel discussions led by veterans in the bar, beverage-making, and hospitality industries. With subjects like the evolution of citrus in cocktails, cocktail menu design, and the influence of fire on the flavor of whiskey, many seminars are designed for spirits professionals. However, they all are open to the registered conference patrons and some of the topics — like cooking with rum — have appeal for the home bartender.
“All of the seminars are coded for easier navigation, but a favorite is always Mixology 101 (and 201),” Siegel says. Other classes are marked as “industry business” or being geared towards “cocktail nerds.”
Come and Taste It!
All of the above can enjoy the signature event starting at 7:30 pm on January 17, Come and Taste It! Thursday has always a popular evening for the conference as the “opening night” to the weekend, but this year the planners are giving it a new spin with Battle for Texas: The Experience, an interactive journey into the siege of the Alamo, will be the perfect setting for Come and Taste It!
The buzzy event will transform the Shops at Rivercenter into a Texas history museum, complete with memorabilia and relics. Reenactment performers and period musicians will add to the ambiance.
Siegel says there really has not been an official “opening night” since many conference activities begin earlier in the week. “But with an expanded schedule and a need for a new theme, it was time to try a new location for our Thursday night SACC event, and so we began our search ... and found Battle for Texas in our own backyard,” she adds.
A weekend of old favorites
A Friday night favorite, Waldorf on the Prairie will be held 7:30-11 pm January 18 at the St. Anthony Hotel. Practically every public corner of the downtown hotel’s downstairs and mezzanine levels will brim with cocktail and food stations, as well as live music and other entertainment.
If participants are able to wake up early enough the next morning, an authors’ brunch — another new event — is set for 10:30 am-12:30 pm on January 19, also at St. Anthony. It’ll feature brunch bites, conversation and book signings. Proceeds will support the purchase of books for Ride for Reading, which delivers books to underserved schools.
The Saturday evening event, from 7:30-11 pm at Villita Assembly Hall, moves from last year’s oceanic theme to a new enchanted forest motif. Guests will be beguiled with spirits and food samples stationed all around the circular building in La Villita. The appropriately named It's Not Over Yet, a gospel brunch, concludes the weekend 11 am-1:30 pm on January 20 at Bohanan's.
In recent years, San Antonio Cocktail Conference has included after-parties, pop-ups and other activations. Stay tuned to the SACC website for details as party time draws near. Individual passes can be purchased here.