Dan Brawley and his excellent team are cruising into the 25th year of Cucalorus and promise it will be more dynamic and exciting than the last 24.
The party kicks off on Wednesday, November 13 with a Beehive Shorts block, a concert from G. Yamazawa with Shirlette Ammons and Kid Ethnic that night, plus Visual/Sound/Walls and Dance-a-lorus, along with nighttime screenings. Flipping through this edition of encore will take readers through all of what to expect. But one event to mark to the top of the list is a celebration of North Carolina cinema and beverage at Brews ‘n Bytes: Connect Speakers Party. It’s a social hour sponsored by NC TECH where all speakers for Connect mingle with festival-goers and sip Social House Vodka (Kinston, NC) and beer from Foothills Brewing (Winston-Salem, NC)—two sponsors of all drinks served at Cucalorus 25 (found in the filmmakers lounge, which returns to the back of Thalian Hall, and in Jengo’s backyard for all the late-night parties).
What I really wanted to know about when interviewing executive director Dan Brawley was all the exclusive Cuctails (pronounced “KOOK-tails”) I’ve heard about for so long. In my six-and-a-half years in this town, I’ve never been able to make it to a Cucalorus (that’s changing this year, thank you very much). Come to find out, Brawley decided to name the cocktails after hairstyles, much like Cucalorus’ shorts blocks: Jheri Curl Shorts and Psychobilly Wedge Shorts included (I had to look up the Psychobilly Wedge haircut: Think pompadour, but so high and tight it’s basically a mohawk). The only Cuctail that isn’t a shorts block is the Flytrap, but that’s the festival’s logo this year, which pays homage to our indigenous carnivorous flora.
While each of the Cuctails is made with Social House vodka, there are plenty of other ingredients to keep each sip unique and full of local flare and flavor. Among some of those ingredients are rosemary, fig, blueberry and honey.
I got to pick Brawley’s brain about the Cuctail program this year.
encore (e): What can you tell me about the progression of the festival Cuctails?
Dan Brawley (DB): We’ve been drinking too much since the very beginning, but we started taking it seriously about eight years ago when we launched our Cuctails program to explore bartending, mixology, cocktails, and even more now, to showcase distilleries in North Carolina.
The program includes workshops to learn about things like shrubs and bitters but also educational info about how distilleries work—from the science to the legal aspects.
e: Who designed the Cuctails menu?
DB: This year we are unveiling six crafty recipes. They will be revealed at the filmmakers lounge on Wednesday afternoon.
e: Who tends bar?
DB: We have an incredible partnership with Paul Campbell and Mr. Bartender. Paul and his crew designed this year’s recipes and have been the premiere mixologists at the festival’s major social events for several years.
e: Who else are you working with?
DB: We’ve had so many great partnerships with this program over the years. This year we have Coastal Beverage, Social House and Mr. Bartender as our primary collaborators.
e: Any events that you’re particularly excited about? I know there’s been a cocktail competition in years past.
DB: Yeah! The filmmaker cocktail-making contest will be in the backyard [of Jengo’s Playhouse] on Friday night. Five filmmakers will all be given a box of ingredients and will then have 30 minutes to come up with a cocktail recipe. Humans will then vote with a Skittle system to determine who wins. Red Skittles count double.
e: Do you pair movies with any of the beverages? If so what pairing are you most excited about?
DB: We let the audience decide on this one—but you can grab a tasty bev from the filmmakers lounge at Thalian or the backyard at Jengo’s before seeing screenings at those venues. And, of course, we have popcorn!
e: Anything else you’d care to share? You’re known for having something up your sleeve.
DB: Unless you can print in invisible ink, I can’t tell you everything. But I will say that it’s organically fancy. Slightly orgasmic.
e: Well, color us curious, Dan.
DB: Every event at Cucalorus is a cocktail party.