Grown-Ups, Too, Can Have Fun in Orlando!

What I speak of is last week’s Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America Convention held at the illustrious JW Marriott Resort Hotel in sunny, kid-saturated Orlando, Florida.  If you can imagine multiple levels of pools, tropical rainforest-like gardens, a golf course, packs of Suits making distribution deals, and me – along with a handful of other mixologists from across the country, judging nearly 2oo spirits and liqueurs.  How, you might ask, was this feat accomplished without ending up sprawled out on the convention show floor, eyelashes fluttering, drool leaking out of my mouth, and a stomach about to burst?  It’s all about technique, folks.  Of course we didn’t swallow.  Spitting is key, along with drinking plenty of water and eating plenty of bread, cheese, and celery sticks.  That’s right.  Celery sticks.

So along with the relaxation I enjoyed by the many pools at the JW Marriott, I met some really neat folks.  First there are the two gentlemen by the pool who stopped me in mid-track and asked me to join them.  They turned out to be contractors who build distributor warehouses, and were very curious to learn a bit more about the spirits biz.  They quizzed me and tested me and picked my brain, and by the end, I couldn’t even believe how much I knew about the business.

There’s Joel Black and Elad Zvi, two very talented mixologists from L.A. and Miami, respectively.  We compared notes, judged some really great products together, and  judged some really awful products together (mainly those ready to drink cocktails).

Ann Tuennerman rounded out the judges circle.  She’s the powerhouse behind that week-long cocktail festival they call Tales of The Cocktail in New Orleans every year.

And then there are those lovely ladies from Tasting Panel Magazine, without whom, none of this would be possible.  Allison Levine and Meridith May did an amazing job organizing the tastings, and basically keeping us at bay, which after sun and booze, can be a tricky thing to master.

Some old friends were in attendance, as well.  Ben Jones of Rhum Clement and Colin Appiah of U’Luvka Vodka were there, and we had some great times together.  One of those times was when we crashed a private cocktail party at the  hotel.  Remember guys?  We snuck in with my media badge, drank some wine, ate some apps, and came to find out this was a party for Dan Akroyd’s new wines.  Yes, the same Dan Akroyd of Crystal Head Vodka (go to this website – very cool) .  Could you believe it?!  Check out the photos below for one of me and my new BFF Dan Akroyd.

My pals from St. Germain were there.  They seem to be everywhere.  Rob, Elizabeth, and Samantha represented their brand with the same gusto bartenders evoke when they pour that delicious liqueur into their cocktails.  One bit of new info from the St. G folks – the newly released Creme de Yvette.  This classic ingredient made popular by the Aviation cocktail is back, re-created from the original recipe much prized by cocktail enthusiasts.  This is a must-have for anyone’s home bar.  Dinner at Luma the second evening was absolutely wonderful.  Although nearly 30 miles from our hotel, the drive was well worth it, and the cocktails (made with St. G, of course) were definitely something to write home about.  Or write on a blog about.  Which is what I’m doing now.

In conclusion, I would like to leave you with a photographic retrospective of my 3 days in Disney-dominated Orlando, Florida.  Quack, and enjoy:


The lobby of the JW Marriott Orlando.


Joel Black from L.A. loving the attention he rightly deserves.


And the judging begins.  See…celery sticks…


Elad Zvi from Bar-Lab Consulting holding up some neon-colored liquids ready to be judged.


Betcha didn’t know funny man Dan Akroyd had his own line of wines.


The winner’s case.  One of our favorites: Pumpkin Spice Cream Liqueur from a company called Creamy-Creation.  Go to their website why don’t ya?


See what’d I tell ‘ya?  Me and Dan: BFF.


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