One sip of a Ward Eight Thursday night was all it took to prove that Robert Browning wasn’t far off base when he waxed eloquent that “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.”
A dry cocktail with a splash of grenadine, orange juice and lemon mixed with Knob Creek Rye, it was one of several dozen elixirs that filled the various lobbies and open spaces of the Majestic Theater as the second annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference got underway. About 600 people crowded into the theater to sample all sorts of cocktails, made with everything from Texas vodkas, such as Cinco and Tito’s, to Bols Genever, a Dutch liquor that is a malty-scented cross between whiskey and gin.
Tables on each level were staffed by a variety of bartenders from around town and around the state, each of whom had a separate libation to pour.
Cognac Ferrand offered its Sazerac variation made with Cognac, a dash of Peychaud’s Bitters, a rinse of absinthe, sugar and a lemon twist. The aromatic Marie Brizard Parfait Amour was used in a Lavender Margarita with tequila, lime and rosemary. And the sweetly scented elderflower liqueur, St-Germain, was mixed with a margarita and a splash of Créme Yvette, a fruity-floral liqueur that has recently been resurrected after almost a half century.
The stories behind some of the cocktails were often as interesting as the drink itself. That was certainly the case with the Ward Eight, a cocktail introduced in 1898. According to Nick Kenna, a bartender at 1919 in the Blue Star complex, 1420 S. Alamo St., the first Ward Eight was the creation of Tim Hussion, a Boston bartender who wanted to please Martin B. Lomasney, a political boss also known as “The Mahatma.” Corrupt politicians may be old news, as they probably were in the late 1800s, but a well crafted Ward Eight still refreshes. (For a recipe, see below.)
A few tables away, Jake Corney, head bartender at Bohanan’s, 221 E. Houston St., was offering an Arancio Americano, a recipe from Dale Degroff, known in the business as “King Cocktail.” It was a winning combination of Campari, sweet vermouth, sparkling wine and orange juice. In other words, imagine a playful mix of a negroni and a mimosa. (To make your own at home, see the recipe below.)
Classics were crafted alongside some tempting newcomers with names such as the Blood Orange Buck, the Dehumidifier, Fly Me to the Moon Punch and Postcards from San Francisco. A few were even easy to make: The Rémy VIP was a simple mix of Rémy Martin White V and pineapple juice. Others, of course, were far more complex. Mike Rogers, another bartender from 1919, was shaking up a Black Demure, featuring Wild Turkey, an orange liqueur such as Cointreau, blackberries and simple syrup.
It was a fun drink, but it did have one drawback, at least for Rogers. “I shouldn’t have worn a white shirt,” he said with a laugh. “I’m shaking blackerries.”
Several restaurateurs in town offered treats to counterbalance all the alcohol. Stefan Bowers from Feast served up an octopus and chick pea salad, Jesse Perez from the upcoming Arcade Midtown Kitchen kicked up the heat on his generous meatballs, and Steven McHugh laid out dozens of fried oysters with pearl tapioca. Jason Dady’s DUK Truck dished up duck tacos with a sweet-spicy combination of pineapple and jalapeño, and Chad Carey of the Monterey offered a pungent pair of sandwiches: sardine-kimchee and beets with ripe cheeses.
The party, not to mention the entire San Antonio Cocktail Conference, was a fundraiser for HeartGift, which provides life-saving surgery for children around the world. In addition to the money raised from tickets, $19,000 was raised during the auction, which featured such items as an autographed guitar from country legend George Strait.
The conference continues through Sunday with seminars, river cruises, after-hours parties and more. For a full schedule, click here.
2 ounces rye, such as Knob Creek
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/4 ounce orange juice
Splash of grenadine, or more to taste
Lemon peel, for garnish
Shake rye, lemon and orange juices, and grenadine with ice. Pour into a rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Makes 1 cocktail.
Adapted from Nick Kenna/Bar 1919
Dale Degroff’s Arancio Americano
3/4 ounces sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce Campari
1 ounce orange juice
In an ice-filled shaker, add vermouth, Campari and orange juice. Shake until thoroughly cold and strain into two chilled cocktail glasses. Top with sparkling wine.
From Jake Corney/Bohanan’s