CCTX 2012 wraps up its initial run

Were we not entertained? During this weekend’s inaugural run of Craft Cocktail TX, local cocktail enthusiasts flirted with alchemy, thought like chefs, embraced the possibilities of going green, beheld a master showman and witnessed a Sinatra-like rendition of Modern English’s “I Melt With You.”

Oh, and had a memorable tipple or three along the way.

Eddie “Lucky” Campbell of the Chesterfield makes yet another grand entrance, this time at Main Street Garden.

Stretched over the course of three and a half days, DFW’s first-ever cocktail festival may have been guilty of being a tad too ambitious. Some of Friday’s seminars bordered on sheer brand promotion. And it’s possible that scheduling the Main Street Garden party and bartender competition for an afternoon in June may not have been the best idea.

“I realized that about two o’clock Saturday,” said event co-founder Brian McCullough during Sunday’s closing party at The People’s Last Stand. Just the same, the man behind Uptown’s Standard Pour didn’t seem discouraged by the turnout, which was at times sparse: Seminar attendance ranged from five to 50.

“People are saying, you gotta keep doing this,” he said. In other words, it was like crafting a new cocktail: You taste, you adjust, you try again. The festival, he said, “about broke even” with an overall attendance he pegged at more than 600, and for a first-time event, it wasn’t bad; industry reps, well steeped in these sorts of occasions, praised DFW’s proceedings for not devolving into mere drunkenness.

Also, there were a lot of guys in hats.

Ian Reilly of The People’s Last Stand dishes up tiki flamboyance at Sunday’s festival closing party.

Saturday’s sweltering Main Street Garden party peaked with a small but happy crowd of liquoring neophytes and connoisseurs. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Suzi Ricci, a marketing professional from Dallas’ Design District. “It makes me want to bump it up at home. Why keep serving the same old Chardonnay? Let’s smash some watermelons and crush some basil.”

Bartenders vying for top honors whipped up cocktail samples showcasing a handful of sponsoring spirit producers like Milagro Tequila and Pink Pigeon Rum. Sommelier Sean Corcoran of The Joule made Rosemary “Jen” Fizzes featuring Roxor gin, rosemary-steeped cream, simple syrup, yuzu juice and egg white nitrogen-whipped into a frothy foam, then topped with dehydrated rosemary and candied sugar.

Brad Bowden of The People’s Last Stand hands out his sample creations at Saturday’s Main Street Garden party and cocktail competition.

Charlie Papaceno of Windmill Lounge used Roxor to make a Rhubarb Ginger Fizz, crushing and straining boiled rhubarb into a “rhubarb elixir” mixed with gin, lemon and ginger, topped off with seltzer and a fragrant basil leaf.

Only one barman, however, could walk away as best in show. Who would it be? “It’ll be a terrier,” Papaceno said. “It’s always a terrier.”

But it was Feodore Forte’, a server at Bolsa, who nabbed that recognition with a drink he called Summer Chill. The combination of Maker’s Mark whiskey, fresh lemon juice and pre-mixed yuzu, agave syrup and Fresno chiles was shaken with egg white, dolloped with a small scoop of locally made lemon-thyme sorbet and a brush of habanero syrup.

Josh Hendrix and Chef Patrick Stark of Sundown at the Granada prepare for their session on locally-sourced ingredients.

The outdoor party followed Friday’s lineup of cocktail seminars at Dallas’ historic Stoneleigh Hotel, which is where you would have found me that afternoon, geeking out high on the 11th floor as Private/Social’s Rocco Milano and his wizardly wagon of herbs, roots, spices and tinctures took us into the science lab to blend our own bitters and create our own tequila infusions.

Friday’s festival attendees blend their own dropper-bottle creations in Rocco Milano’s bitters workshop.

From Marquee’s Jason Kosmas we learned the elements of a great cocktail and some techniques for getting there; Josh Hendrix and Chef Patrick Stark of Sundown at the Granada touted a philosophy of ingredients sourced within 100 miles.

Armed with jalapeno-infused tequila, Trevor Landry of Dish shared the basics of heat and why it might appeal in a drink; and again and again, Lucky Campbell of the Chesterfield showed that when it comes to showmanship – an oft-forgotten element of bartendering – no one quite does it like him. 

Veni, vidi, tiki: Craft Cocktails TX co-founder Brian McCullough, far left, and local liquor luminary Jason Kosmas, far right, celebrate at CCTX’s closing party.

DFW’s rapidly growing craft-cocktail scene has officially entered adolescence. Whether the city’s drinking populace – much of which still balks at the idea of egg white in a drink—has the inclination to usher it into adulthood, a thriving and educated community of muddlers and shakers, remains to be seen. But it’s an encouraging start.

— Marc Ramirez

Posted 6-18-12

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