THIRST-QUENCHING EDUCATION: 2016 Cuctails focuses on whiskey, gin, rum, shrubs, Vermouth, and parties
Atlanta-based and celebrated “Sipologist” blogger James Martin is no stranger to the festive motion of “shake, shake shake.” 2016 marks the second year he’s launched the two-day Cuctail extravaganza as part of the 22nd annual Cucalorus Film Festival. And it’s bubbling with exclusive events that kick off well before it’s 5 o’clock somewhere. Blend one part cocktail extraordinaire with one part filmmaker for a guy whose libation lineup consistently leaves Cucalorous-goers buzzed with joy and filled with knowledge.
Bourgie Nights will kick off the sipping with Alabama bartender and filmmaker Paul Hart on Friday afternoon for an intimate seminar on “Blood and Sand” cocktails. But the Cuctails program isn’t just about boozing up; each workshop pours a heavy hand of education to give home-tenders and veteran craft cocktailers the opportunity to up their games. Take, for instance, Wilmington’s own Ian Murray of Manna, who will be schooling crowds on homemade shrubs and everything Vermouth.
Gin origin served with a side of samples will be offered by Scot Sanborn (the man at the helm of Sutler’s Spirit Company in Winston-Salem), while opportunities to swag out like Don Draper will be given with the history of the legendary Old Fashioned. An epic DJ Dance Party, and a “Chopped”-themed cocktail competition for filmmakers is also in the lineup. But for the full scoop, encore went straight to the source: James Martin.
encore (e): When faced with creating this program, how did you approach breaking it down into separate events?
James Martin (JM): We knew from last year the sort of format we liked for the workshops. Having folks gather around the bar while the bartender teaches them about a base spirit, liqueur or classic cocktail is great, but can only fit so many people comfortably. Depending on the venue, we have each workshop capped at either 20 or 40 guests, which not only makes it easier for the bartender to serve samples, but also allows the crowd to ask questions as it goes. On top of the workshops, we’re also hosting a few experiences for visiting bartenders around Jengo’s Backyard (Cucalorus headquarters), including a filmmaker cocktail competition and a speakeasy. Additionally, we’re hosting a huge Friday night party at Bourgie Nights.
e: With such a large surge in the trend for craft cocktails, was it somewhat overwhelming to decide what to include and what to leave out?
JM: We have visiting bartenders and distillery owners teaching the workshops, and it was their decision on choosing topics. Luckily, the culmination of all of them will give people a glimpse into several types of ingredients found in drinks, whether it be a base spirit, like rum or gin, or liqueurs and shrubs.
e: What goes into the Blood and Sand cocktail? Do you think most people find the name intriguing or unappealing?
JM: It incorporates blood orange juice, sweet Vermouth, Cherry Heering, and scotch. It’s a classic drink that’s been around a while, but it’s also named after Rudolph Valentino’s 1922 bullfighter movie, “Blood and Sand.” Paul Hart, one of our visiting bartenders from Birmingham, AL, will touch on the film, the history and offer up a sample to those in attendance. I love the fact there’s a crossover between film and cocktail with this workshop—much the same way that Cuctails exists under the Cucalorus Film Festival umbrella.
e: When it comes to Vermouth, what are the important things that an expert bartender should be aware of?
JM: In the same ways the brand of bitters or sugar can affect the taste of the drink, so too can Vermouth. Vermouth is a fortified wine with various botanicals. Each are different, so it’s really up to the bartender to decide which one to use based on which cocktail they’re serving. There’s a lot of history to it, and we’re really excited to have a workshop that focuses on it.
e: Why Sutler’s Spirit Co. as the focus for the gin workshop? What makes this brand so hip and delicious?
JM: We’ve been fortunate enough to partner with several brands this year and one I’m personally excited about is Sutler’s. Their design and attention to detail is incredible, and they’re doing great things in NC. Our goal was to bring in a few local products and create cocktails around them to be served in the Filmmaker Lounge and Jengo’s Backyard. Scot Sanborn is going to give attendees a run down of what gin is and let us all try their product. We’re also excited that Ian Murray has made an incredible Negroni variation utilizing Sutler’s gin, and we’ll be serving it throughout the festival.
e: For the cocktail novice, what in the world is a shrub, how can we get our hands on it, and how can we easily use it to impress our guests at our home bar?
JM: Simply put, a shrub is a drinking vinegar. They allow us to preserve fruits and other botanicals and utilize them longer than the shelf life would be if it were fresh. For example, you may turn a batch of blueberries into shrubs so that you have a base to use year-round. There’s much more to it, of course, and Ian Murray is going to go deeper into that during his workshop. Incredibly, Ian makes his own shrubs and will be letting folks in attendance try them. He’ll touch on the process of making them at home—or folks can buy bottled Shrubs near bitters at any package store that carries them.
e: In your opinion, what makes a perfect Old Fashioned?
JM: A perfect Old Fashioned is simple, even though we may have all had one that someone somehow messed up. The ingredients are minimal, so you’ve really got to make sure you balance it all. Throw a sugar cube into a rocks glass and add three dashes of Angostura Bitters. Muddle together so the sugar breaks down and add 2 ounces of bourbon. Stir it together with ice and strain into a separate glass with a single ice cube. Garnish with an orange peel. Of course there are some variations, so as long as the drink is balanced, you’re good to go. (Don’t muddle a bright fake cherry in it, please!)
e: Is the Filmmaker Cocktail Competition in Jengo’s Backyard similar to Food Network’s “Chopped,” where chefs get a basket of ingredients and have to think on their feet?
JM: Yes! I can’t say too much about what the crazy ingredients will be, but each filmmaker will be given myriad things to utilize, including a couple of things provided by Campari. Each will have a different base spirit, all of which have been tremendous sponsors of our event this year: Larceny whiskey, Lunazul tequila, Deep Eddy vodka, Kill Devil rum, and Sutler’s gin.
e: Saturday night is the Old Fashioned DJ Dance Party. Old Fashioned as in—the cocktail? Or will people be dressed in ‘60s costumes?
JM: Saturday night’s Old Fashioned DJ Dance Party is a come-as-you-are event. If you’re a traveling filmmaker that happens to bring their best suit with them, wear it! The goal of this event is to have fun, dance, and enjoy the evening no matter the wardrobe.
e: What’s your go-to cocktail of choice?
JM: I love the Sazerac. I actually directed a short documentary (sazeracdoc.com) on the drink that’s been touring a few festivals the past year. There may or may not be a component of this year’s festival that will allow folks to sip on the fantastic New Orleans-based drink, but it’s a secret. The Sazerac is great because its story goes back a couple hundred years, and the mystique itself is the sort of invisible ingredient in the drink. It’s a rye whiskey-based drink with sugar, Peychaud’s bitters (the really red ones), and a bit of absinthe.