MCC – how classic it was!

The Manhattan Cocktail Classic began  on the evening of May 14th with a VIP gala at the NY Public Library.  Mind you, books were not a priority at this event.  The priority, it seemed, was to cool off, as it felt like 100 degrees plus inside.  Fortunately, I was holed up in a measly 3,500 square foot gallery room at the top of the library, in air conditioning heaven.  Man, were we lucky up there in that BACARDI USA room!

Working the Gala

You may have spotted me mixing up some Bombay gin cocktails, along with some of my pals from the NY chapter of the USBG.  The volume was high, and so were the spirits.  We banged out some amazing cocktails and felt satisfied as the evening came to a close around 2am.  We were ready for what was in store for us as the festival waned on.

The Martinez

1 1/2 oz. Bombay Dry Gin

3/4 oz. Martini & Rossi Sweet Vermouth

1/4 oz. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur

2 dashes angostura bitters

Stir ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Garnish with an orange peel

Jonathan squared - myself and Jonathan Forester at the Astor Bar

The main bar at Astor Center was a great way for folks to taste cocktails created by some of the best bartenders around the world.  I was in great company behind that bar – Ricky Gomez (formerly of NOLA, now in Portland), and Joaquin Simo (of PDT), just to name a couple.  Saturday through Tuesday, the Astor bar and the seminars led by industry greats, drew crowds from across the world.  No other event in Manhattan could even compare to the talent, education, and cocktail expertise that converged for this four-day festival.  I was mixing up some Bacardi and Corzo Tequila cocktails throughout the early afternoon on Saturday and Sunday.  Boy did I have fun.

Corzo by the Pool

2 oz. Corzo Silver Tequila

3/4 oz. Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur

5 one-inch chunks of watermelon

5-7 mint leaves

Process: In a mixing glass, muddle the watermelon and mint.  Then add remaining ingredients and shake well with ice.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Garnish: watermelon rind twist and watermelon slice

Saturday evening saw an aperitif cocktail party held at the new Empire Room at the Empire State Building.  Pernod Ricard USA, with their Gins of England (Beefeater and Plymouth), led a competition amongst USBG members to create the best aperitif cocktail.  Lindsay Nader (PDT), Ted Henwood (Auchentoshan single malt), and Brian Matthys (Izakaya 10), all competed their hearts out for the opportunity to walk home with a Jim Meehan bar bag.  You know the ones – beautiful brown leather, high-quality Japanese barware inside…

French  75 with 24

1 1/2 oz. Beefeater 24

1/2 oz.  fresh lemon juice

1/2 oz. simple syrup

sparkling wine

Shake first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a chilled champagne flute.  Top with the sparkling wine.

Garnish with a lemon peel

Ted Henwood ultimately took the prize with his sage and ginger mixture.  We also enjoyed some Beefeater 24 and Beefeater Summer cocktails.  A very special treat, indeed.

There I am with Chicago bartender and USBG Illinois member Jennifer Contraveos at the Aperitif party.

Fast forward to Monday and one of the most awe-inspiring cocktail competitions I’ve ever attended.  Albert Trummer, master of mixology and setting things on fire alike, has just opened his newest creation, Theater Bar.  This is a place to be seen and to see bartenders at their best.  The bar is raised up on a stage, and is outfitted with cameras for those close-ups of your favorite bartenders’ hands.  TV screens display exactly what’s going on on stage, so you feel like you are in the action – behind the bar – helping the bartenders’ churn out the specialty cocktails.

Don Q sure knows how to put on a competition.  USBG members from across the U.S. competed for the chance to join Team USBG in Puerto Rico for the finals.  Brian Matthys from NYC made it!  Congrats, bud!

Well, there it is folks.  I’ve glazed over much, I’m sure.  If you have an experience from this year’s MCC that you’d like to share, please feel free to post it as a comment.  I’d love to hear from you.

Until next year, MCC.  You’ve done me well.

More photos, from our friends at Lush Life Productions, can be found by clicking HERE.

Greece Lightning

Go Greece Lightning!

The view from our balcony at the Divani Apollon Hotel in Athens.

My lovely wife and I recently returned from a trip to  Greece.  Yes, the Greece that is having  a bit of a hiccup in its economy.  But, more importantly, this is the Greece of antiquity – the Greece that gave us Feta cheese, olives, and capers – the Greece that has ruins at every turn – the Greece that seems to have endless amounts of bright, crystal clear blue seas.  Ah, yes, Greece.  My love affair has only been strengthened, and you’ll see below why.

The kind folks at Metaxa (more about this juice below) sent this bartender and his wife to Greece for 7 days of magnificent entertainment, beauty, and a bit of mixing at the famous Metaxa distillery in Kifissa, not too far outside of Athens.  We visited the brand spanking New Acropolis Museum, and hob-nobbed with wild Partridges at Poseidon’s temple, which seemed to be located, literally, on the edge of the world.  We enjoyed some of the best food that Greece has to offer.  Greek food is now my favorite food.  I’ve been living on Greek salads, olives, and Nescafe ever since we returned.

My half-finished Frappe, the national coffee drink of Greece, not unlike a drug in liquid form.

We spent 3 nights in Athens, near a small village called Vouliagmeni.  It was by the sea, and seemed like a tropical oasis.  We stayed at the Divani Apollon Hotel, where the staff went out of their way to accommodate us and our needs (not that we’re needy).  As it turns out, the head bar-man at the hotel is none other than Greek bartender extraordinaire George Makris, former President of the Hellenic Bartenders’ Association.  He treated us to some of his signature drinks and a wide smile that seemed capable of lasting forever.  George and I go back…way back.  We were facebook friends even before meeting.

None other than George Makris and his smile.

One highlight of our time in Athens was our private tour of the Metaxa distillery.  Yes, Metaxa.  Heard of it?  It’s the national spirit of Greece, and made from a blend of brandy and wine from sun-dried Savatiano, Sultana, and Black Corinth grapes.  Then aged Muscat wine from the Greek islands of Samos and Lemnos is added to the blend to create a magnificent product, not unlike some of the best brandies in the world.  But don’t call it a brandy.  It’s a Greek spirit.

The history intrigued me: Started by Spyros Metaxa back in 1888, the brand began exporting to the rest of the world just a few years later.  Metaxa arrived stateside in 1900, and in the next 50-60 years, Metaxa ads (like the one below) started cropping up all over the place.  If there was any marketing campaign to emulate, it was Metaxa’s.  Today you can find Metaxa 3, 5, 7, and 12-star bottlings, as well as a Grand Reserve (which is fabulous, by the by).  The “stars” represent the amount of years the blend is aged.

Following our days in Athens, we traversed the sea and landed safely onto the island of Paros.  The lush landscape, blue skies, and warm weather soothed our souls.  And by the time we arrived at our hotel, the amazingly clean and fantastic Stelia Mare Boutique Hotel, we were ready for a good night’s sleep.

In the morning we were awoken by roosters cackling and dogs barking.  Not a bad thing, just something us city slickers were not used to.  Breakfast every morning was on a balcony overlooking the beach and sea, and the cool evenings capped off with after dinner drinks at one of the many small bars (where we enjoyed Metaxa and Tonics, of course) in the quaint village Naoussa.  We rented a car (something I would surely recommend) and drove along the entire coast of the island in a day.  We explored abandoned marble quarries from Roman times, tried local fish and wine, sun-bathed at remote beaches, and even took a lovely ferry ride across to the neighboring island, Antiparos.  Here we ate by the port and stepped deep beneath the earth into one of the oldest and deepest caves in the world.

Metaxa and Tonic

We were sad to leave, but understood that all good things must come to an end.  A huge THANK YOU to my friends at Metaxa (Huite, Paris, Maria, etc.) and the crew at Remy-Cointreau (Sheila, Christina) and Effie Panagopolous and Laura Baddish (who were very influential in facilitating this trip).  Cheers to Greece!

PS – if you haven’t heard of Mastika, you will.  Stay tuned, my friends, stay tuned.

PPS – some more photos a bit further down below…

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