Ever wondered why some drinks are shaken and others stirred? Well, Cucalorians can sample the difference on Friday at 4:15 p.m. as part of their “Cuctails” program, hosted by Kyle Hankin of Fox Liquor Bar in Raleigh, at downtown’s Bourgie Nights (127 Princess St.). Though the program launched a few short years ago, this year it has an official name and an official curator: James Martin—“Sipologist” blogger and documentary filmmaker from Atlanta.
(Full disclosure: As a bartender at Manna—where the cocktail seminars began a few years ago—I helped design menus, trained staff and led the inaugural seminars. However, for 2015, the festival has brought in barmen and women from notable establishments and forums from out of town to partake. Why? Because there’s been a cocktail renaissance, baby!)
During Hankin’s slot, he will explain how the two techniques of shaken and stirred yield vastly different results. Attendees will learn which classics are associated with each.
The second seminar on Friday begins at 5:30 p.m. with Manna’s own Ian Murray, an award-winning mixologist. His presentation is a tasting tour of New Orleans’ tipples, including the venerable trio: Vieux Carre, De La Louisiane and Sazerac. All three use many same ingredients but in different ways.
Friday’s nightcap happens at the Blind Elephant (21 N. Front St.). Bartender Curtis Huff will present the history of bourbon, paired with a tasting flight. In fact, that’s the beauty of Cuctails: All events include a tasting (most are limited to 15 people).
Saturday’s programming begins with a secret screening of “The New Orleans Sazerac,” directed by curator James Martin. It starts at 3 p.m. at Bourgie Nights, and Manna’s Murray will be stirring samples for up to 80 people before the 20-minute film. A question-and-answer session will follow.
By delving into the storied history of the Sazerac—conceived by a Creole apothecary named “Peychaud”—Martin comes close to presenting the full history of the drink in his documentary. He and his team filmed it over the summer at Tales of the Cocktail, the world’s biggest cocktail industry convention. Fittingly, the film boasts many big names, including the man who coined the genre for the scholarly study of cocktails/mixology: David Wondrich. Other industry heavyweights include Chris McMillan, Ted Breaux and Ann Tuennerman.
A prescreening of Martin’s film confirms there’s neverending knowledge available on the subject. Even Martin was surprised to learn something new from the film—“including how there was once a completely separate cocktail called the ‘Sazerac’ made with cognac,” he tells. “So, the idea of going out for a Sazerac, at one point in history, meant going to get a drink at the Sazerac bar. It didn’t necessarily mean you were going to order the rye-whiskey classic we think of today.”
Martin’s film ends with three different bartenders in New Orleans making their own version of the same drink. It shows variation on the cocktail. Each has a unique recipe, and their methods are interesting to watch and compare. This coda shows not only how precise certain elements of the cocktail culture can be but also how flexible.
John Parra will be back behind the stick on Saturday at 4:15 p.m. at Bourgie Nights for two final seminars. Interested persons can register online to learn more about amaros (Italian word for bitters), digestifs and other herbal liqueurs. At 6 p.m., Parra will lead a discussion on barrel-aging cocktails, how to pre-batch, and the flavor impact of wood on the palate.
Most of the drinks at this year’s festival—as served in the filmmakers lounge and Jengo’s Playhouse’s backyard—will be made with Larceny, a wheated bourbon, meaning there is no rye mixed in with the majority corn mash. It’s then aged in toasted oak barrels for six to eight years. Larceny is named after John E. Fitzgerald, who supposedly opened his distillery near railroad tracks on the banks of the Kentucky River. He then sold his holdings during prohibition to Pappy Van Winkle. In reality, Fitzgerald was a treasury agent, one of the only men during prohibition with keys to the whiskey-barrel storage warehouses. Lighter barrels, from which he famously sampled, became known as “Old Fitzgerald” barrels. How much of this is true? The portal to find out is www.cucalorus.org.
Joel Finsel will happily come to your house and mix and talk about drinks with you and your friends. Reach him at Joelfinsel@gmail.com.
Flights served at each event; limited to 15 people unless otherwise noted. See box office for limited tickets; passholders must make reservations.