Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Grand Marnier Mixology Summit Day 1
Raena and I spent a little time in Denver before heading out to Vail. I'll cover that in a future post (I will advise you to avoid the Appaloosa Grill at all costs unless you want to laugh at some of the worst bartenders I've ever seen), so on Sunday we returned our rental car and made our way back to the airport to connect with our transportation to Vail. We had a concierge at the airport waiting for us, and she put us in a nice SUV that we shared with Jonathan Pogash for the two hour trip to Vail. Jonathan was a wonderful companion for the trip, and I truly enjoyed spending time with him throughout the entire Summit, he is truly one of the truly nicest people I've had the pleasure to meet. He will be presenting at Tales of the Cocktail this year, and I'm hoping to cover his presentation for my blog. Suffice to say, our ride to the Summit was quite enjoyable.
We got into Vail around 4:30 on Sunday and checked into the Vail Marriott, a beautiful property right at the foot of Vail Mountain. We had a gorgeous room, with a large balcony and a view of the mountains to the north. We went down to register for the event, and when I came down, I was scheduled for my Mixology Consulting Lab at 2:40 the next day. I wanted to register to snowmobile, not being a skiier, but I was placed on the second page of the waiting list as apparently, it was an exceptionally popular event. In retrospect, I should have entered the ski race, as they gave prizes to not only the best but also the worst, and I would have had the worst skiier label wrapped up.
Next, it was on to the swag table. I received a really nice red Marmot ski jacket, a black hoodie and a cool backpack that may actually replace my current Nike/Ipod backpack. I headed back upstairs and took a nap until the welcome reception.
At 7pm, we all got on shuttles and headed over to Larkspur restaurant, a phenomenal restaurant on the other end of Vail village. As we entered, we were greeted by servers with trays of Grand Magaritas, Grand Marnier, Don Julio Tequila, fresh lime and agave nectar. As we moved into the bar, Andy Seymour, Leo Degroff, Willy Shines, Aisha Sharpe and Jacques Bezuidenhout were churning out cocktails for the thirsty crowd. Next up was the Perfect Storm, essentially a Dark and Stormy with Grand Marnier instead of rum. I actually was skeptical about this drink, but ended up liking this one best of all. It was complex, well balanced and had a nice spiciness to it. Andy Seymour may be the fastest bartender I've ever seen, he was quite literally a blur behind the bar, putting up drinks and pouring shots for the crowd. Steve Olsen switched between spending time with the bartenders to spending time with the crowd.
It was during the reception that I noticed someone with one of the Summit jackets on, taking lots of pictures, so I checked his name tag and saw that I had run into Jimmy Patrick, one of the best bloggers going and a bartender that I have nothing but immense respect for. Other cocktails started coming out, and the back of the restaurant featured cocktail recipes from the previous years attendees. Then the food started hitting the tables, so I found my wife who had made new friends of her own and we sat down to eat. I met Ky Belk of Elways's in Denver, who impressed me with his knowledge of cocktails and his warm, friendly demeanor. Erik Tirums and Michael Flannery were perhaps the two funniest people I met during the entire stay, and now I know where to go in South Beach, Florida. Drinks kept flowing and I kept meeting new people, and almost all were interesting and talented people. Camper English finally arrived about 1/2 way through the event after a hellish flight into Vail airport. Camper is a riot, definitely someone I'm going to look up next time I'm in San Francisco.
At one point during the evening, I met a bartender from Las Vegas. When I mentioned the Oregon Bartenders Guild, he frowned and asked me if I knew a Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Well, of course I do. Jeff is a colleague and a great friend. Apparently though, Jeff once made some remarks about flair that this person took offense to. Oh well, right? I told this guy that while I appreciate showmanship in crafting a cocktail, I think pouring half the drink on the ground before you get it into the customer's glass is disrespectful to the craft. 40 minutes later, I was still listening to Mr. "The world revolves around Las Vegas" trying to make a case for flair bartending. Perhaps if I worked in an establishment that was an authentic recreation of the Roman Coliseum or something (Watch us feed Christians to the lions at 12, 3 and 6 daily!) I would enjoy juggling my drinks for conventioneers from Oak Stump Kansas, but I don't. I craft well balanced cocktails with depth, and I don't wear a costume while I do it. If I really wanted to do that, I'd just join these guys.
I'll never get those 40 minutes of my life back, but I had easy access to shots of Grand Marnier while I was snoozing through his lecture. Andy and Aisha kept putting up chilled shots of Grand Marnier 150, beautiful stuff in a snifter, but absolutely deadly chilled down and done as a shot. Leo Degroff finally came and saved me from the lecture and I got to spend a little time getting to know Leo. A truly nice guy, down to earth and supremely talented, Leo is a consummate professional bartender.
Eventually, as always, the evening wound down and I'd realized that I'd consumed an incredible amount of Grand Marnier, so it was time for a shuttle ride back to the hotel. Monday held all kinds of promise, with an Apres-Ski presentation and a Gala Dinner planned, in addition to my Mixology Consultation, so it was time for bed.
I'll cover Day 2 in my next post.
Also served at the reception-
Navan White Cosmo
100th Smash (GM 100, lemon and mint)- I didn't get to taste this one, they went exceptionally quick.