Category Archives: The Wandering Boozehound

San Antonio Cocktail Conference 2016

One should ever stop improving his craft … or drinking.  For that reason, a very special group of people come together each January to talk booze, learn about industry trends, raise money for a worthy cause, and celebrate all-things cocktail at the San Antonio Cocktail Conference.  Oh … and go to plenty of parties.  (So many parties.)

You can find the basics on my recap of last year’s SACC, but this year was a completely different experience.  First, I was over my fan-girl stage after meeting some of my favorite distillers/authors/bar(wo)men I’ve admired.  Second, I knew a bit more than to attempt to go the whole weekend without Gatorade or heartburn meds and only eating at events.  (You live, you learn.)  I also learned that, if you want to experience this the right way, you jump in head first … and take a running start.

THE HIGHLIGHTS:

I got whisk(ey)ed away.  If you read my stuff, you know I’m a fan of Tullamore D.E.W. (a.k.a. Tully*), so I was delighted to be invited to the seminar “Five Cocktails that Changed Irish Whiskey Forever” led by Tully’s U.S. brand ambassador, Tim Herlihy, and badass barman Stephen Halpin.  They waxed poetic about the origins of the drinks, mixed each up so we could try them out, and provided color commentary about whiskey and Irish drinking traditions … and, of course, led us in a few toasts.  The five cocktails here: Irish coffee (invented in an airport in 1942 … really?), the hot toddy, the high ball, the Pickleback, and the Irish Car Bomb.  (Needless to say, I was useless waste of space for the four hours following this seminar.)

I ate all the tacos.  (Not kidding, actually.)  My cohorts and I somehow ended up as stowaways on the annual Tito’s Vodka Taco Bus Tour alongside my spirit animal, David Alan, a.k.a. the Tipsy Texan.  We made a few taco stops, our bus got pulled over (as one does), and we drank vodka … lots of vodka.

I learned some things.  I had the opportunity to see my friend, Kevin of the Cocktail Enthusiast, talk about his time touring Cuba and experiencing their classic cocktails (you know, purely for journalistic reasons).  CZCT7F8UsAAKH-YNew 30th birthday trip plan: create my Cuba travel guide!  Other nuggets of knowledge picked up: how to make an authentic hurricane, bright yellow, super fast Camaros are super fun to drive (see my ride to SA on the right … thanks to Chevy!), and don’t wait to book your hotel.

If you’re at all interested in spirits, the history of cocktails, the bar industry and what makes it tick, etc., check out the SACC and attend a seminar or two.  This year they even had a yoga class and a seminar entitled “The Cocktails of Ian Fleming & James Bond”.  Awesome, no?  Since I got in later than I’d hoped, I wasn’t able to attend as many educational seminars as I’d hoped.  (Missed: “The Physiology of the Shake“, “Discovering Sotol“, and a seminar on politics and booze.)

BONUS: most of the seminars provide “hands-on” experiences.  Read: booze.

I drank tequila.  If you know me, this is unique.  I can appreciate a good agave spirit, but when it’s paired with chocolate … I appreciate it more.  Milagro Tequila’s JP De Loera teamed up with local restaurant Lüke to create incredible pairings of anejos and chocolates and talked participants through each–the flavors of each tequila and chocolate and why they work together.

I partied for a good cause.  The SACC is actually put on by Houston Street Charities.  A portion of the proceeds are divided amongst various children’s charities in the San Antonio region and they even host a service day during the SACC!

I explored Alamo City.  I did my best to walk everywhere.  (I believe that’s the best way to get to know a city.)  The San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau is a great resource for fun things to do, attractions, maps, hotel discounts, etc..

Stay up on all the SACC news on their website or social channels.  I hope to see you there next year!


SAN ANTONIO COCKTAIL CONFERENCE

sanantoniococktailconference.com
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2017 dates: January 11-15

*If you follow me on Snapchat … you also know this is my dog‘s name.  🐶

Honorable mention to the brunch setup for the hangover brunch I wasn’t able to eat at on Sunday!

Fredericksburg Weekend Getaway

Looking for a weekend getaway without the hassle of long distance travel? Hop in the car, head down 35, and make a visit to Fredericksburg, Texas for wine tasting rooms, vineyards, breweries, sightseeing, and even a distillery. I’ve rounded up my favorite things from my last visit for anyone planning a getaway to the area affectionately known as Fritztown.

A few quick tips:

  • Fredericksburg is the only city in Texas with an open carry policy … BOOM. Carry around your beer or wine (no liquor) on the street!
  • You can find many hotels, bed and breakfasts, and even ranches in the area for housing.  Some vineyards may even have their own lodging available.
  • Take sunscreen … you’re going to be outside.
  • It’s just more than 4 hours down to the Hill Country from the Dallas area.  (Just head to Austin and take a right!) And you’ll want to have a car to get out to some of the further out vineyards and locations.
  • There’s more to do than eat and drink (though we won’t judge you if that’s all you do). They have plenty of shopping, outdoor activities like hiking and Enchanted Rock State Park, peach picking, and plenty of festivals and events.
  • Do your research before heading that way.  There’s a lot to do and you don’t want to spend your whole trip deciding what to do next!  (VisitFredericksburg.com is a great resource.)

Pontotoc Vineyard Weingarten is located on Main Street in downtown Fredericksburg. They have a small tasting room, but even better is there patio with several tables to enjoy the great hill country weather. Six of us stopped by after a late breakfast and enjoyed a few bottles of wine. I personally did a tasting here before switching over to one of the bottles we bought for the table. If you’re looking for a drink to cool you down on a hot summer day, I highly recommend the sangria. (I bought a bottle to bring home with me.)

Pontotoc Vineyard Weingarten
pontotocvineyard.com, 512.658.0023

320 West Main Street

Grape Creek has two options in town–a tasting room on Main Street in downtown and they have a vineyard just outside of town on Highway 290. (They have a third location in Georgetown as well.) We stopped by the tasting room one evening in town before heading to dinner and tried a few wines. I liked everything I tried, but settled on a white wine to sip on while we relaxed. Out of all the places I visited, Grape Creek was my favorite; I truly liked every wine I tasted.

Grape Creek Vineyards
grapecreek.com, 830.644.2710

Highway 290, Main Street, Georgetown

grapecreek-main-outside

Compass Rose Cellars, located in Hye, is a must-visit. Stop by Compass Rose to enjoy a glass of wine while relaxing on a patio with a picturesque view of the surrounding hills, enjoy a tasting of some great wines with some great food, or grab light lunch from a truly great chef. Compass Rose has it all. We went through a full wine tasting led by the owner, and the chef has some incredible food pairings that really transform the taste of the wines.

Make sure you make an appointment if you plan to do a tasting as they really value customer service and don’t want to do what they call a “drive by tasting”. Compass Rose prefers to spend time with you during the tasting to really elaborate on the wines you’re enjoying. If you want to continue enjoying their hospitality, this little gem also has “casitas” if you want to stay the night.

Compass Rose Cellars
compassrosecellars.com, 830.868.7799

1197 Hye-Albert Road (Hye)

William Chris Vineyard (also in Hye) is another great stop. To use the phrase coined by Compass Rose, this was more of a “drive by tasting”, but the wines were enjoyable and the vineyard had a great outdoor area. The tasting room was a little busy, but if you have an appointment they have a space dedicated for you at the tasting bar. We ordered a cheese plate here and had a glass of wine on the patio while listening to live music they provided outside. They have events and concerts on location regularly, so check out their events calendar to see what’s coming up before visiting.

William Chris Vineyard
williamchriswines.com, 830.998.7654
10352 U.S. Highway 290 (Hye)

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If you are a bourbon drinker, plan a stop to Garrison Brothers. If you have no interest in bourbon or the distillation process, skip this stop. (But then … why would you be reading a blog about drinking?) Their distillery tour is very informative and you get to see the entire process from grains to bottling. The tour does take a nice bit of time. During the tour they hand out a taste of the “white dog”, the product straight out of the still before it is aged in oak barrels. They also let you taste the bourbon at the very end of the tour … the final product, that is!  (Reservations are required for Saturday tours.)

Garrison Brothers Distillery
garrisonbros.com, 830.392.0246
1827 Hye Albert Road (Hye)

For the beer-inclined of you, carve out some time to carve your initials into one of the community-style picnic tables in the Fredericksburg Brewing Company tasting room. (Bonus points if you find Susie’s #SusieDrinksFredericksburg tag!) They brew their beers on-site and offer a range of brews, so try them all while enjoying food from their restaurant and see which is your favorite. They have a “Bed & Brew” for you to crash in … in case you’ve had one too many.

Fredericksburg Brewing Company
yourbrewery.com, 830.997.1646
245 E. Main St.

I’m going to give a shout out to the two companies that were involved on booking/driving my fiancé and I around on our tour. We reached out to Fredericksburg Uncorked based on a recommendation from a friend and asked for something relaxed where we weren’t rushed from stop to stop with no real time to sit and relax. We had some great conversation with our driver, Brandon, and it came out that he actually owned a different tour company, Moons Vineyard Voyages. (These companies all have a few they like to work with, and since Fredericksburg Uncorked was booked for the day, we were sent with Brandon.) He was a great driver and resource for us and we enjoyed getting to know him. He was an awesome host and was first class all the way. If you are looking for a tour/driver for your Fredericksburg outing, I highly recommend either of the above companies/contacts. They provided us with the perfect day.

STK Las Vegas

If you follow me on my social platforms (especially Snapchat … @susieoz), you’ll know that I’ve been spending some time in Las Vegas for work.  One evening I was able to try out STK at the Cosmopolitan.  Eddie and Angelee, the dynamic duo behind His + Her went along with me to the Chef’s Menu–a smattering of their best dishes–the night before we skipped town.  The NYC transplant offers a decidedly sexy steakhouse feel.

We were greeted by our very friendly server and started with a few drinks to ease into the night.  I was told that the Strawberry Cobbler Martini (Belvedere, strawberry, graham cracker crust) is their most popular drink … which was delicious, but a bit sweet for a dinner drink, so save this one for dessert.  Later on I tried the … Not Your Daddy’s Manhattan (Bulleit Bourbon, Fernet Branca, Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth).  It was much more my speed and the Fernet was a surprisingly perfect addition to the traditional manhattan.

(Bear with me through the pictures … the lighting is quite low in there and I didn’t have my camera. 😒)

Our waiter began our tasting with a Caesar Salad, Tuna Tartare, a plate of large shrimp, and a cluster of their bleu cheese pull-apart bread.  The pull-apart bread was nearly irresistible.  They serve it with a cilantro oil that was unreal … Angelee and I all but licked the ramekin it came in.  (Also, since I’m allergic to bleu cheese, they kindly served one portion without the glaze.  So kind!)  I usually don’t mess with salads … who wants to waste the space?  But this one was worth a few bites … especially the housemade croutons.  The Tuna Tartare, served with perfectly crispy taro chips, was fresh, tender, and had a soy honey sauce with it that was to die.  I’d definitely recommend ordering this!

Being a steakhouse, STK obviously had a bomb steak–nice and tender … so tender that we could cut it with our butter knives.  (If I were ordering it for myself, I’d have ordered it medium instead of medium well, but to each her own.)  The Seared Big Eye Tuna (served with wasabi potato, maitake mushrooms, and sweet miso jus) was seared to perfection and nearly fell apart.  We nearly had to flip a coin to decide who got the last piece … and you better believe that the sweet miso sauce was sopped up … and some bread may have been dipped in it, too.  I personally enjoyed the Free Range Chicken (served with polenta fries, smoked tomato whiskey, and green beans) the most because I couldn’t get enough of the green beans.  They had a simple soy-based sauce that made them like crack to me.

For me, dessert after steak is completely unnecessary–I’ve had my awesome meal and don’t need something else to fill me up even more.  However, if you go to STK and don’t order the STK Donuts (sweet potato donuts, maple glaze, candied pecans), then you’re doing it wrong.  These things were little pillows of goodness and I stared the discomfort of a full belly right in the face, defied it, and ate two.

Make sure to make a reservation if you plan to visit STK on your next visit to Vegas … if for anything, for their take on the Manhattan and those GD green beans.


STK Las Vegas
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South
(702)698-7990

San Antonio Cocktail Conference 2015 Recap & 2016 Teaser

Each January Texas’ most talented mixologists (and those of us that just really appreciate their craft) gather in Alamo City to learn about new cocktail trends and enjoy some general alcohol-fueled merriment … all while raising money for a great cause!  Think seminars, cocktail demonstrations, liquor tastings, pairing dinners, parties … really, just all the best things.  This year will be the fifth San Antonio Cocktail Conference (SACC) and will take place January 14-17 at the newly renovated St. Anthony Hotel … and you can be part of it.

sacc logo

I mentioned the charity aspect … which the bar industry seems to be all about.  The SACC donates 100% of its profits to Houston Street Charities and actually raised $115,000 in 2015 for The Children’s Shelter, ChildSafe, HeartGift San Antonio and Transplants for Children.  Isn’t drinking for a good cause the best way to drink?

The only thing that comes close to rivaling the amazing cocktails slung at the SACC is the food that keeps attendees (close enough to) sober during the festivities.  From sampling at the opening event at the Majestic by local restaurants to oyster shooters at the Houston Street Stroll (which is not to be missed), the food is as almost as clever as the libations they accompany.

This year’s schedule will offer the usual seminars on everything from  the usual industry-focused panels to complex cocktail concepts.  (Be careful … you could end up with five drinks in front of you before 10am … you know, purely for “research” purposes.)  Some of the sessions that I won’t be missing this year include:

While the edification is important, one must not neglect the parties.  (Because people in the bar industry somehow have some terrifying ability to drink until 4am and be fresh alive at 9am to lead their sessions.)  All evening events include cocktails (obvi), amazing local eats, and live music.

Photo Jan 17-3

While i’ve only attended one year, I will be posting a few tips on how to best experience the SACC.  Stay tuned!

Join the fun this year and purchase your ticket now!  If you can’t make it but want to support Houston Street Charities, go ahead and donate!

Table 10 (Las Vegas, NV)

Las Vegas has a little bit of everything.  It seems one of the first stops for chefs after their home city.  Luckily, Emeril has more than one concept in Sin City from bank-breaking chef’s tables to more reasonable options.  Anyone who has set foot in Las Vegas knows that, while drinks are (sometimes) free, it can be an expensive city.  For that reason, I was delighted to enjoy a meal at Table 10 in the Palazzo and was pleased that they have a four course meal option for just $48.

After a long evening of shopping (one word: Barney’s) and five (or just one) Coffee Bean Ultimate Iced Blendeds, a relaxing evening at Table 10 was just what the doctor ordered.  The staff was incredibly welcoming and the atmosphere was relaxing thanks to the low lighting and dark furniture.  I sat in the dining room, but if I ventured in again alone I’d sit at the Food Bar, no question.  It gives diners a view of the action in the kitchen and shows just how well the chefs know their craft.

I started my evening with a Lagasse Lemonade (Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, Southern Comfort, vanilla & pomegranate syrups, and fresh lemon juice) when my waiter told me it’s the most popular drink.  I enjoyed it, but it was a bit sweet for my taste so I got a bit of club soda to mellow the sweetness.  (Win.)

LAGASSE LEMONADE (Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, Southern Comfort, vanilla & pomegranate syrups, fresh lemon juice)
LAGASSE LEMONADE
(Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, Southern Comfort, vanilla & pomegranate syrups, fresh lemon juice)

Before ordering dinner, I wanted to be good and prepped, so I ordered an Emeril’s Passion (Emeril’s Eagle Rare bourbon, passion fruit puree, Luxardo liqueur) as my second drink.  It packed a punch and, while still nicely sweet, wasn’t overwhelming.  It was JUUUUUST drinkable enough.

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For dinner, I opted for the four course menu which offered some traditional American dishes from seafood to steak and Pea Ravioli.  I started with the seasonal soup, Lobster Bisque with melted truffle butter which was incredibly rich without being overpowered by truffle.  My appetizer was the easiest choice I made all night … Candied Farm Bacon served with warm maple syrup cured in a 10 year old bourbon barrel.  Seriously … that stuff was unreal.  It was all … BAM.  (I just had to.)

I was craving steak that day (I mean … I kind of am every day.) so I ordered the 6 Ounce Filet which was served a perfect medium with light vegetables.  I was so full so it took every bit of my strength not to stuff myself silly … because I wanted to.  Dessert was a tough choice, but I went with the White Chocolate Malassadas coated with cinnamon sugar and filled with white chocolate served with raspberry sauce to accompany my perfectly crafted latte.

Table 10 offers happy hour daily and live music in the bar on weekend nights.   Sit in the large bar area for a lively atmosphere or sit in the dining room for a more intimate meal.  Table 10 also offers a private dining room with the badass glass that frosts with the touch of a button.  (So cool.)


TABLE 10

www.emerilsrestaurants.com/table-10
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The Palazzo 3327 Las Vegas Blvd South, Suite 2900, Las Vegas, Nevada
(702) 607-6363

“Discovering the New York Craft Spirits Boom” Launch

Moving to New York City from a state flowing with craft brews, local spirits, and wines lining either side of the highway through the heart of Texas Hill Country, I didn’t believe there was a land more proud of their distilleries. Texas is a state that wears its pride on its sleeve as a badge of honor; whereas, New York is the kid everyone knew was talented, but now they’re charming everyone with a whole new bag of tricks.

Wednesday night, All the Tastes of New York threw an intimate launch party at Ben & Jack’s Steakhouse to kick off their book, Discovering the New York Craft Spirits Boom by Heather Dolland. The evening featured tastings from over 20 local craft distillers along with passed hors d’oeuvres and first-hand discussion on the importance of “Farm to Glass” movement. Guests enjoyed sips of gin, moonshine, vodka, cider, bourbon, and more… each went down smoothly with a bite of slider and helping of chicken parm. My favorite cocktail of the night goes to a spicy blend of Port Morris moonshine muddled with jalapeño dubbed the “Salma Hayek”. However, I could sip (or gulp) a whole bottle of Sorel, the wheat spirit distilled with hibiscus, ginger, nutmeg, cassia and clove, and sweetened with cane sugar from distillery Jack from Brooklyn.

The book Discovering the New York Craft Spirits Boom dives deeply into the movement “Farm to Glass”, sharing the journey of 30 craft distillers, their journey to success, and what it means to grow locally in terms of spirits. The book is set to release on July 4, 2015 for $29.95 and will be available through retailers such as Amazon.com. You may not be able to get your hands on a copy just yet, but you can read below to gain a little insight into Heather’s background, what this “Farm to Glass” movement is all about, and what you should be sipping on this summer.

Could you give me a little more of your background and how you got into the wine and spirits industry? What interests you most about it? I am the founder and owner of All The Tastes of New York, a startup firm that organizes and hosts themed “food crawl” dining experiences at some of Manhattan’s top restaurants. Launched in 2012, All the Tastes of New York enables groups of eight to 30 participants to enjoy appetizers, entrees and desserts at three restaurants within walking distance of each other.

For more than 8 years, I was also a Brand Ambassador for many premium wine and spirit brands. Working with these brands and creating Food and Wine Festivals to promote them, led to my awareness of the increasing number of distillers in New York State. After getting to know many of these craft distillers, I was inspired to tell their story.

What do you hope to achieve with your book? By writing this book, I will like to aid in the awareness of what it means to be a craft distiller and help support this budding New York industry. Because my business focuses on promoting brands, my desire is that we can grow together.

What is your connection to the “Farm to Glass” movement? Why do you think the importance is behind it? For years we have heard about eating local and the farm to table movement. Now with the influx of craft distillers, we are able to drink local and embrace the farm to glass movement. It’s important to remember that the Farm Distillery Act that passed in 2007 to make distilling easier in New York State, was about allowing farmers to increase the value of their crops. Many of these distillers make Vodka and Gin distilled from New York apples and Whiskey and Bourbon from New York corn. A large number of these distillers come from generations of farmers.

What is your go-to drink and food pairing? I really do not have a ‘go-to’ food and drink pairing. I have a tremendous love of food and drinks. Most of this is the joy of creativity and exploring new tastes and flavors. I rarely eat the same food and drink combination because I thrive on new experiences!

Do you have a favorite spot in the city to grab a drink? One of my favorite spots to have a drink is Middle Branch. A speakeasy in Murray Hill.

What is your top summer cocktail recipe? I am very fond of Tequila and generally spicy cocktails. My top summer cocktail is a Passion Fruit Margarita with Jalapenos.

All The Tastes of New York
allthetastesofnewyork.com
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Discovering The New York Craft Spirits Boom
Pre-order/purchase at Amazon.com

 

Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro (Las Vegas)

Brunch in Vegas.  Perhaps one of the lesser considered meals in Sin City, but one of my new favorites.  On a recent trip, a couple colleagues and I ventured into Morels in The Palazzo.  I love everything French (wine, bread, macarons, kisses …), so I was stoked about trying this place out.  Not only did it have he promise of a great hangover cure (because hair of the dog is necessary in Vegas), but it ups the ante with a view of the strip.

We started with a fancy bloody mary at the stately inside bar.  While they offer a traditional version of the brunch cocktail, they also offer a few remixed version including a Surf & Turf Bloody Mary, complete with bacon (obvi) and a jumbo shrimp.  Their bloodies have a nice flavor and aren’t weak in the least.  If ordering off the menu isn’t your style, you can have them make you one to your specs when you order the bloody mary cart!

We moved outside after our first round of drinks to enjoy the view of the Strip complete with some serious people watching along with some .  I started hacking away at their offer of bottomless mimosas for $25 (damn decent sparkling along with four options of juice).  Soon enough, everyone at the table joined in on the bottomless challenge offering, so they brought us our own bottle of sparkling and carafes of each juice.  (Gotta love that self-serve life.)

The menu offers plenty of French-inspired items and I couldn’t pass up the Mushroom & Gruyère Crepe with cream sauce.  The rest of the table opted for the Pan-Seared Scottish Salmon and the Crab Oscar Benedict–both were amazing.  We all shared bites of our entrees and agreed that I made the best choice (though all were ah-mazing).

Without asking, dessert and much-needed coffee was sent out (the worst, no?)  All three of us were absolutely full, but made room for the Mixed Berry Crumble and Classic Profiteroles.  And damn … I’m glad we did.  The crumble was perfectly warm (you can tell that I didn’t get the picture before it started melting the ice cream) and the  topping was nice and crispy.  The profiteroles sandwiched candied vanilla almond ice cream and came with a side of malted chocolate sauce and topped with house-made whipped cream.

Overall, the brunch was amazing.  All three of us agreed that it was a delightful change of pace from the all-you-can-eat buffets and smokey casinos (not that I’d ever leave either of those behind).  The entire staff was courteous and amenable and the restaurant was beautifully light and airy.  I’d go back in a second to get my hands on one of their steaks (we saw a few go by and … ohhhh my), cheese and charcuterie platters, and seafood towers.  They offer iced seafood and freshly-shucked oysters.

Morels’ weekend brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays from 8am to 4pm, giving you plenty of time to sleep off the haze from the night before.

MORELS FRENCH STEAKHOUSE & BISTRO
www.morelslv.com
3325 Las Vegas Blvd (in the Palazzo)
(702)607-6333

 

Lobby Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental (New York City)

My sister and I remembered the amazing experience we had more than eight years ago at this bar.  We were there with friends and were absolutely floored by the view overlooking Central Park from the southwest corner in the Time Warner building.

The service is impeccable and the drinks are well-mixed.  Order a drink and a couple of their tapas-style appetizers and watch the sun set over the park.  It really is one of the best places to do it in the city.  Just make sure to get a spot by the window!

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Lobby Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental
MandarinOriental.com
80 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10023
(212) 805-8800

HOURS:
9am – 1am (Sun – Thu)
9am – 2am (Fri & Sat)

TEA: 2:30 – 4:30pm (Daily)