Archive | Wine, Beer, Spirits Q&A

Wine, Spirits Notes: Hill Country Symposium, Wine Dinners, More

Wine, Spirits Notes: Hill Country Symposium, Wine Dinners, More

Fredericksburg hosts wine symposium

Highlighting the expanded goals for Texas Hill Country Wineries, the association will be hosting the first ever Hill Country Wine Symposium in 2015. Topics from vineyard to winery and business to hospitality will be covered over the two-day conference on March 24 and 25 at the Hill Country University Center in Fredericksburg.

“Our committee has put together a great lineup of industry experts and we are expecting over 100 attendees from all over the state,” says Executive Director January Wiese. The Symposium is bringing in speakers from California including Clark Smith of WineSmith, Don Brady of Robert Hall Winery and Al Wagner of Clos du Val.

red wineTexas wine industry expert speakers include Fredrik Osterberg- Pedernales Cellars; Rae Wilson, Wine for the People; Tim Drake,  Drake Consulting; Dr. Julie Kuhlken, Pedernales Cellars; Dr. Russ Kane, Vintage Texas; Tammy Boatright and Lindsay Kana, VingDirect; Kimberly Frost, Martin Frost & Hill and more.

The Grape Exchange Wine Reception at the end of day 1 will be a chance for growers around the state to share wines from their vineyards with wineries looking for more fruit for 2015 and beyond.

Exhibitor tables will provide wineries and growers the opportunity to meet new vendors for their businesses as well. Sponsors for the Symposium include Hill Country University Center, C&C Sales & Marketing Glass Tech, Frost Bank and Marquee Event Group.

For more details and topics to be discussed, see here. Registration is open now. Non-members $125/one day or $200/both days.  For additional information on Texas Hill Country Wineries visit the website here.

McInnis joins Bending Branch Winery in Marketing

Bending Branch Winery is proud to announce that Jennifer McInnis has joined its team as the company’s marketing and sales manager. McInnis will be responsible for marketing initiatives, social media and on premise restaurant sales.

bendingbranchwinery_ corks 2021McInnis comes from the San Antonio Express-News, where she reported on the Texas wine industry for six years before being promoted to food & drink editor of the Sunday Taste section in April 2014.

“I am proud to join the Bending Branch team during this exciting time for the winery and the Texas wine industry. It’s impressive what they have accomplished in a little more than five years, and I’m thrilled to play a role in helping them achieve their goals for the future,” McInnis said.

Bending Branch Winery, a boutique winery near Comfort, Texas, is a sustainable practices and organically focused operation with 20 acres of vines, comprising 16 varieties. For more information, news and events, visit

Remy Martin Louis XIII dinner, a high-end experience

18 Oaks at the JW Marriott San Antonio will feature a rare and special dinner on Feb. 27. The steakhouse has partnered with Remy Martin for an exclusive Louis XIII Dinner Experience for a select number of guests.

Remy Martin box croppedGuests will dine on items such as a duck confit salad, Texas Wagyu filet and pan-seared scallops and a grapefruit mint sorbet paired with a perfectly matched wine selection.

Dinner, which starts at 7 p.m., will be followed by a guided tasting of Remy Martin’s Louis XIII.  18 Oaks at the JW Marriott is at  23808 Resort Parkway.

The price per person is $195 (includes dinner, wine and Louis XIII tasting).  Reservations are required; call 210-491-5825.


Single malt Scotch tasting coming up at Crumpets

When it comes to single malt scotch, age isn’t just a number; it’s the number that matters. Join Crumpets Restaurant & Bakery for an evening of elegant food and perfectly aged scotch on Feb. 27 at 7 p.m.

Scotch glass illustrationEnjoy five single malt scotch selections paired with five equally rich dishes. Dinner will begin with a 12-year-old Glenkinchie paired with a Fromage de Chevre in Puff Pastry followed by a 16-year-old Lagavulin matched with Smoked Salmon Canapés.

The mid-dinner meal will include a 12-year-old Cragganmore and Prosciutto-Stuffed Mushroom followed by a 10-year-old Braichladdich and Lamb Chops with Fresh Rosemary and Dijon Mustard before dessert, Chocolate Florentine and a 14-year-old Oban.

Call 210-821-5600 to reserve your seat at $65 per person plus tax and gratuity. Crumpets Restaurant & Bakery is located at 3920 Harry Wurzbach, San Antonio, TX, 78209.



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Cans Are Best for Beer — and Not Just Because You Can Cook Chickens on Them

Cans Are Best for Beer — and Not Just Because You Can Cook Chickens on Them

I once thought it was hard trying to keep up with all the wineries in the state, but now I think the growing number of breweries might give them a good run for their money.

Eric Warner raises a glass of Karbach's Sympathy for the Lager.

Eric Warner raises a glass of Karbach’s Sympathy for the Lager.

The latest to hit San Antonio is Karbach Brewing Co. from Houston, which has set up taps all over town. The beers are the work, in part, of brewmaster Eric Warner, who earned his degree in brewery science and has worked everywhere from Munich, Germany, to Flying Dog Brewery in Colorado. In just two years, Warner and his partners have helped make Karbach “Houston’s largest craft brewery,” he said in a telephone interview.

A diversified portfolio has helped attract attention, and so have the fancifully named selections, such as Sympathy for the Lager, Hopadillo IPA, Rodeo Clown Double IPA, Weisse Versa Wheat and Weekend Warrior. But it’s the beer behind that is drawing customers back for more.

“We’re very fortunate to have developed such a strong local following that it gives us the luxury to be able to expand close to home,” Warner said.

Karbach WeisseCanThe San Antonio expansion is happening in several stages. Right now, Karbach is only available on tap, but you won’t have to look too hard to find it. The beer has been placed in more than 100 establishments throughout the city. I found the bracingly strong Rodeo Clown Double IPA at the Point Park and Eats and the refreshing Sympathy for the Lager at the Flying Saucer.

“Just look for the good places that carry craft beer,” he advised.

In the fall, you can expect to find Karbach available in cans. That’s right. No bottles for the brewery. Warner wants it that way.

He finds cans are far better for preserving the flavor he wants than bottles — and there are a number of reasons why this is.

One is that the can does not allow any light to interact with the beer.

Why is that bad? “If you leave a bottle in the sunlight, the beer can get skunky. This becomes more pronounced with clear glass,” he said.

Warner went on to criticize the bottle caps, which are not as airtight as you might think. “The seal’s not perfect,” he said. “On a can, the seal’s more impervious.”

Besides, a freshly popped beer can is perfect for grilling chicken. Warner suggested the Sympathy for the Lager, his tribute to German- and Czech-style lagers, as the best to use.

Making so many beers and making each one consistent are challenges that Warner seems to welcome. Part of making can after can and keg after keg of a particular brew taste the same is being able to use the same  hops. Home brewers know this can be a problem because there’s been a worldwide hops shortage for several years now, and “the most-coveted hop varieties are now contracted a year or two in advance,” he said.

Karbach HopadilloCanWarner has skilled brewers working with him to ensure standards are met and consistent flavor profiles emerge every time someone goes to the tap. But he was also straightforward that the job pool of master beer craftsmen in Texas isn’t what you’d find in micro-brewery havens like Colorado or Oregon. “It’s not perfect, but we’re doing well with it,” he said.

By the way, the name of the brewery comes from its location in Houston: Karbach Street. It’s also the name of a town in Bavaria, and, as the brewery’s website says, “We hear they drink a lot of great beer there.”

The growing field of food and beer pairing naturally appeals to Warner, who suggests newcomers start by trying to match the intensity of the beer with the intensity of the food they’re eating. And get playful with both. Think about matching Karbach’s Weisse Versa Wheat with pancakes, while the fall seasonal offering, Karbachtoberfest, goes great with, what else?, brats and pretzels.

Putting beer and food together is made even easier when you consider, as Warner said,  “It’s hard to find a food that beer doesn’t go with.”

For more information on Karbach Brewing Co. and for some videos of Warner discussing his beers, click here.

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Becker Wines Win 7 Awards in San Francisco; More News

Becker Wines Win 7 Awards in San Francisco; More News

Becker winesBecker Vineyards won seven awards in the 2013 San Francisco International Wine Competition, including a double gold medal for the Becker Vineyards 2011 Claret.

While the entire list of winners has not yet been released, Richard Becker, owner of the pioneering winery and vineyards in Stonewall, said he received word recently from the competition about the winning Becker wines.  These include:

Double Gold Medal Becker Vineyards 2011 Claret
Gold Medal Becker Vineyards 2012 Cabernet-Syrah Reserve
Silver Medal Becker Vineyards 2012 Tempranillo Reserve, Bingham
Silver Medal Becker Vineyards 2011 Raven
Silver Medal Becker Vineyards 2012 Dry Riesling, Ballinger Vineyard
Bronze Medal Becker Vineyards 2011 Merlot, Reserve
Bronze Medal Becker Vineyards 2012 Chenin Blanc

Also: at the Concours d’ Vin, Lyon, France, the 2012 Becker Vineyards Viognier won a silver medal.

New Releases

2012 Becker Vineyards Prairie Rotie, Rhone-style blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, and Syrah.
2012 Becker Vineyards Albarino, grown at the vineyard in Mason
2011 Becker Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (Canada Family)

chiliIndependence Day Chili Cook-off

Chili lovers, head for the annual Independence Day Chili Cook-off benefiting Habitat for Humanity of Greater Fredericksburg. That will be Thursday, July 4th from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

The Chili Cook-off schedule is as follows: 10 a.m. Chili Cooks’ Meeting; 11 a.m. Public Chili Sampling Begins ($5 for 10 samples); 11:30 a.m. Salsa Judging Begins; 2 p.m. Chili Judging Begins.  CASI rules can be downloaded at Chili Cooks’/Salsa Registration Contact:  Alan Dean 512-567-2835.  Registration Fee:  $20 Chili/$10 Salsa.

And: Brian Mullin will play music from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.  There will also be a Chili Dog Concession (benefiting the charity as well) and of course wine tasting of Beckers’ award-winning wines!

Becker Vineyards is located 11 miles east of Fredericksburg off US Hwy 290 at Jenschke Lane.  (Physical Address:  464 Becker Farms Road)

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Beer and Food Pairings Popping Up Around the City

Beer and Food Pairings Popping Up Around the City

ED’S NOTE:The date of the Sustenio dinner has been changed to Oct. 18.

Oktoberfest is in the air. So naturally there are several events happening in the coming weeks that offer savory reminders of how wonderful food and beer pairings can be.

Brewniverse at Central Market

Central Market, 4821 Broadway, is focusing on beer every day through Sept. 25, offering tastings in the wine and beer department as well as classes adding the food element to beer appreciation.

One class, set for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 21, will focus on craft-brewed beers paired with American artisanal cheeses. “You’ll be amazed by the delicious results,” the class description promises. The cost is $45. Call (210) 368-8617.

Beer and Bacon Pairing Dinner at Whole Foods

The culinary team at Whole Foods Market at the Alamo Quarry, 255 E. Basse Road, is planning a five-course dinner pairing beer and bacon. It’s set for 7 p.m. Oct. 3.

Specialty beers from around the world will be paired with the pork favorite. The cost is $30 a person. Prepaid reservations required. Call (210) 826-4676.

Pork and  Jester King Beer at Sustenio

Sustenio at the Eilan Hotel, 17101 La Cantera Parkway, is pairing South Texas Heritage Pork and Jester King beers in a three-course dinner, from snout to tail, that’s set for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18.

The pig for this dinner will have been fed a special avocado diet for two weeks prior to the dinner, according to South Texas Heritage Pork, a highly sought-after pork purveyor in the region.

Jester King Craft Brewery is an authentic farmhouse brewery committed to making artisan ales. “Like the small, farmhouse breweries that inspired us, we seek to embrace nature and local terroir in our brewing, giving our beers a true sense of place,” says the brewery, which is located south of Austin. “We draw water from our well at the brewery to make our beer and at times call upon naturally occurring yeast from the Texas Hill Country to shape our unique flavors. We use as many organic ingredients as possible with the majority of our beer being USDA Certified Organic. We do not rush beer to market, but instead allow it to mature naturally – often in oak barrels – prior to re-fermentation in the bottle, cask, or keg.”

The dinner begins with a meet and greet featuring folks from South Texas Heritage Pork and Jester King.

The cost is $75 a person. Call (210) 598-2950 for reservations.

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Wines in Your Glass Should Tell a Unique Story

Wines in Your Glass Should Tell a Unique Story

A common industry term is “typicity of varietal or region.” It simply means a wine should have distinction associated from the grape and land from which it hales.

By Troy Knapp

Troy Knapp is executive chef at Hyatt Hill Country Resort & Spa as well as a certified sommerlier

Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country as well as a certified sommelier.

Years ago my wife and I hosted a Pinot Noir tasting where several styles and countries were represented in a blind format.  There were multiple bottles from Burgundy, France; New Zealand, Germany, Oregon and California — the major Pinot Noir producing regions.  All were very true to typicity of grape variety, except for one. This wine was, from the color, fruit profile and structure standpoint, very “non-Pinot-like.”

After the wines in the lineup were assessed by the guests and score sheets were tallied, there was a clear, “hands-down” favorite.  Much to my dismay, it was the one that was most uniquely different.   It was deep in color concentration with a distinct richness on the palate.

California label laws require that the specified varietal detailed on the label only represent 75 percent of its makeup, as a result, Syrah, Petite Syrah and or other thick-skinned grape varieties are frequently worked into the blend in rather large proportions.  This distorts the original profile quite drastically, ending up with a wine that is certainly not very Pinot-like.

A common industry term is “typicity of varietal or region.” It simply means a wine should have distinction associated from the grape and land from which it hales.  Consumer demands, as well as the development of wines made specifically to garner a high score of a persuasive wine critic, have greatly contributed to the dilution of this term.  The sanctity of individuality is being replaced with common familiarity and true expression slowly lost.

This event was, and still is fairly disturbing to me.   After all, this was a Pinot Noir tasting.  What a shame!  Several of the other selections in the tasting were remarkable! They were delicate with beautiful intricacies and nuances; unfortunately they were annihilated by the “fruit bomb.”

Is this what we want?  As consumers we have enormous influence on what is produced.  Have we conditioned our palates for an expectation of big bold flavors favoring sweet and sticky richness over intricate subtleties that develop like a perfectly orchestrated opera?  Pinot Noir should be elegant and feminine compared to its masculine counterparts such as Syrah, Cabernet and Malbec. It shows its true beauty in cool climates and when manipulation and blending is out of the picture.  Believe me, I love a concentrated deep dark wine, it just shouldn’t be labeled as a Pinot Noir.

Are we in such a hurry that we don’t slow down and taste? Whether it’s a great dinner or a nice glass of wine, most of the time beauty of nuance is overlooked.  Cool climate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and many older wines beckon for attention as the beauty lies in their subtleties.

Like a good movie or a beautiful piece of music, wine should tell a story with a beginning, middle and conclusion. With good wine, all of these segments should have seamless integration and strengths that equate to harmony and balance. In essence, the journey is equally as important as the destination.

For the same reason that we should appreciate the differences of our friends, family, neighbors and colleagues, so should we appreciate each grape variety.  Each has something different to offer and should be allowed to be “itself.” The result is a greater relationship and enjoyment of life as it should be, without manipulation.

Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country and a certified sommelier.




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Troy Knapp: Varietal Infidelity

Troy Knapp: Varietal Infidelity

By Troy Knapp

Troy Knapp is executive chef at Hyatt Hill Country Resort & Spa as well as a certified sommerlier

Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country as well as a certified sommelier.

I will always remember the first time I had a truly remarkable and well-aged vintage port. The bottle I speak of was 36 years old and well taken care of. Pulling the cork was like opening a buried treasure and from the enormous amount of sediment in the bottle a beautiful purity emerged as it was decanted. The glasses were poured. I took my first sip. My first thought: “This is amazing, perfect, truly beautiful.” And after I took it all in, my second thought: “Damn! Where had this been? All this time, it had been missing from my life.”

Chardonnay, Cabernet or Merlot may be your loved one; however, they are not your spouse and will not be heartbroken if you experience different wines. The vast world of wine has much to be explored and the diversity is intriguing. Don’t be afraid to play the wine field a bit. One of two things will happen; you will find that absence has made the heart grow fonder or you’ll discover a new love. Regardless, the journey will be enjoyable, I promise you that. Here are a few tips while you allow your palate to gallivant around.

Put the sommelier to the test

Looking for wine can be intimidating. In the restaurant setting, the sommelier [saw-muh-LYAY]  can be a good ally to have. No sommelier? Ask for a wine steward or someone who knows the most about the selections offered. If the restaurant doesn’t seem to offer a good selection, stick to beer or cocktails. Don’t go looking for an experience where there is none.

A sommelier, wine steward or any industry professional truly wants to lead you in the right direction and to assist you in selecting a bottle that will align with your specific needs. That is his or her role. Be vocal. Let preferences be known along with what you are eating and your budget. Wine experts love a good challenge and will want to deliver the best experience for you; after all, their pride is on the line.

Sample around the wine world for a great many unique flavors.

Purchase for the season

Wines from a warm climate are typically richer, heavier and fuller in body than wines from a cool climate, which are lighter in body and have greater amounts of acidity. Drinking cool climate (refreshing) wines in the summer and adversely warm climate (richer) wines in the winter is a good seasonal approach, and can lead to a better experience.

Wine regions can be quite diverse. California, for example, has a range of climates varying from hot to very cool, based on their proximity to oceanic influence, elevation and a host of other factors. This can be a little confusing. An easier way to decipher if a wine is going to be full or light bodied and the climate it came from is to simply check the alcohol level on the bottle. I prefer wines with the alcohol of 13.5 percent and under in the summer and 14 percent and upwards in the cooler months.

Pursuing similar traits

Seek out unique varietals that may have similar traits to the wines you are familiar with. These general relations may steer you to something new:

  • If you like California Napa Chardonnay you may like other full bodied whites such as Viognier, Fiano from Southern Italy or the fleshy (fuller) wines of Alsace, such as Pinot Gris.
  • If you like Sauvignon Blanc, you may like Albariño from Spain, Grüner Veltliner from Austria or Pinot Grigio from North East Italy.
  • If you like Pinot Noir, you may like Barbara d’ Asti from Piedmont Italy, Cru Beaujolais from Burgundy, Agiorghitiko from Greece.
  • If you like California Cabernet Sauvignon, you may like Shiraz from Australia, Malbec from Argentina, Carmenere from Chile or Nero d’avola from Italy’s island of Sicily.

New World vs. Old World

If you like fruit-driven wines, purchase selections from the New World, such as California, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand and Australia. If you like earthier wines, seek out Old World selections, in other words, wines from traditional producers in France, Italy and Germany. Spain, Oregon and Washington state offer the best of both worlds and are known to offer traits that are reminiscent of the New and Old World wine-producing regions. They typically display generous fruit with an integration of earth or minerality.

Points and critics can cause confusion

Let’s face it, wine is quite subjective and with the world of facts, figures and opinions it can get rather convoluted. I usually take critics’ scores with a grain of salt when selecting wine. These common ratings are abundant on retail shelves, in magazines and on the Internet. In theory, a 90-point wine should be very good. Not always, I’ve had my fair share of highly rated wines that ended up disappointing me. The point system is fairly one-dimensional and doesn’t take into consideration several variables that should be considered when selecting wine. Time of year, temperature, personal preferences as well as what you may be eating are all important factors that the point system shows no consideration for. I feel these ratings are overly influential and frequently under deliver. Keep in mind that a critic’s score is merely one person’s opinion. Does this critic know what you like? And seriously, is there truly any good “one-size-fits-all” approach, let alone with something as personal as wine?

Remember, variety is the spice of life and while heading down the wine trail remember, the journey, as well as the destination, will most definitely be sure to reward. Enjoy!

Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country and a certified sommelier.

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For the Fee Brothers, Bitters Are Better

For the Fee Brothers, Bitters Are Better

Joe Fee holds a bottle of Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters.

It seemed inevitable that bitters would make a comeback. After too many years of ultra-sweet “Sex in the City”-induced cosmopolitans, a great many cocktail lovers are suffering from sugar shock.

Bitters offer a blessed balancing act, using herbs to temper a sweetness in some cocktails that all too often is cloying. It also is used as a digestif, said to settle the stomach. But the big plus of bitters is the way they add live and a greater depth of flavors to your cocktail.

Few people could be more excited about this interest than Joe Fee, whose family founded Fee Brothers four generations ago. The Rochester, N.Y.-based company makes a series of cocktail mixes, cordial syrups, brines and coffee flavors, but it is known to many for its vast array of bitters, which come in flavors, from cherry to mint.

Fee, who is in town for the inaugural San Antonio Cocktail Conference, knows that the resurgence of interest in old-fashioned, handcrafted cocktails has also boosted a renewed interest in bitters. And he’s here to spread of the gospel of what they can add to cocktails and cooking alike.

Lovers of cocktail recipe books, both old and new, know that many a libations writer cautions against using too much bitters in a drink. It’s good advice when you’re starting out and don’t know your own tastes, but it also helps to sample your drink and adjust the bitters until you get the desired result. It’s like adding salt and pepper to food. Some recipes call for more than a dash of salt. And there are cocktails that call for up to an ounce of bitters, Fee says.

“Everyone’s tastes are different,” he says.

The company’s top seller is Old Fashion Bitters, which Fee says is the equal of Angosturra, another well-known bitters, and a necessary ingredient in a Manhattan. It’s followed closely by orange bitters, a dash of which can make a dry martini even more perfect. Other flavors include peach, lemon, grapefruit, rhubarb and whiskey barrel-aged. This March, a gin barrel-aged orange bitters will be introduced.

But Joe Fee is more interested at the moment in another new addition: black walnut bitters, a flavor he developed himself. His sister, Ellen, who usually is in charge of development, took a pass because she’s allergic to walnuts.

One taste of the black walnut bitters is filled with a pleasing nuttiness as well as a spicy tone, a touch of cinnamon and, of course, vanilla, which Fee calls “the salt of the flavor world.” Add a dash or two to a good bourbon or tequila for added dimension, he recommends, or use it at a tiki party in everything from rum pineapple drinks  to tropically flavored food, especially pork dishes.

Each bottle of Fee Brothers bitters, which can be found at Spec’s and Twin Liquors among other local stores, comes hand-wrapped in paper, which gives the product a personal touch. It also makes the bottle look a little like Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. But the paper prevents the flavors from fading.  Bitters will never go bad, no matter how old the bottle is, Fee says, because of the alcohol in it.

The San Antonio Cocktail Conference continues through Sunday. For information, click here.

The following are a few cocktail recipes that use bitters:

Carte Blanche

3 cucumber wheels
1 1/2 parts Hendrick’s Gin, a cucumber gin
1/2 part fresh lime juice
1/2 part simple syrup
2 healthy dashes orange bitters
Brut sparkling wine

In a mixing glass, muddle two cucumber wheels. Add  gin, lime juice, simple syrup, bitters and ice. Shake well and double strain into a cocktail glass. Top with sparkling wine and garnish with the final cucumber.

Makes 1 cocktail.

Adapted from Hendrick’s Gin

Champagne Cocktail

1 lump sugar
Dash of Fee’s Old Fashion Bitters
2 ounces brut sparkling wine

Soak sugar cube with bitters. Place cube in champagne flute. Fill with sparkling wine. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

Makes 1 cocktail.


Come Again

1 teaspoon Fee’s Peach Bitters
1 1/2 ounces gin

Shake bitters and gin with ice. Strain into a 3-ounce cocktail glass. Garnish with 2 mint sprigs.

Makes 1 cocktail.



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San Antonio Drinks In Its First Cocktail Conference

San Antonio Drinks In Its First Cocktail Conference

Corey Morris mixes cocktails at the launch of the first San Antonio Cocktail Conference.

Can you make a perfectly dry martini? Do you know how to make a margarita that achieves the right balance of natural sweetness and tartness? Do you know how to modify a classic cocktail when using the cucumber-flavored Hendrick’s Gin instead of a regular gin?

The Business 2 ounces Hendrick's Gin 3/4 ounce honey syrup 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice Place all of the ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Shake until cold and pour into a cocktail class. Garnish with a slice of lime or cucumber, if desired.

Anyone who loves a finely crafted cocktail knows that it takes plenty of studying to get the right mix.

But it also begs another question: Can you think of any studies that are more flavorful and more conducive to partying?

That’s the format of the first San Antonio Cocktail Conference, which kicked off Thursday night with, appropriately enough, a cocktail party.

Chef Mark Bohanan, a driving force behind the conference, opened the bar at his Houston Street place to more than 350 cocktail lovers. The crowd  went from the luxurious interior, where a jazz combo kept things lively, to the neighboring patio.

The balmy January evening was perfect for traveling among the various tables where patrons could drink cocktails made with the likes of tequila, vodka, gin, Cognac and Champagne as well as such flavorings as coconut, ginger, lime and honey.

The whole conference is a fund-raiser for HeartGift, a local charity that provides medical assistance to children from around the world in need of heart surgery.

The overflowing crowd put a big smile on Mark Bohanan’s face. It must also be gratifying to know that some of the seminars today and Saturday have sold out. (For a schedule of events, including river cruises, parties at SoHo, Ocho and the Esquire Tavern, and Sunday brunch at the Sheraton Gunter, click here.)

More than 350 fill Bohanan's for the inaugural event of the San Antonio Cocktail Conference.

Corey Morris, a bartender at Bohanan’s, offered a few tips for making a good cocktail at home:

  • Make sure your ingredients are good. You can taste it when they’re not.
  • Make sure you use good ice. Ice with an off flavor can affect your drink.
  • Don’t shake your drink too much. Ice that melts too soon can water down your drink.

That’s just a taste of what’s to come over the next few days, including sessions in  Forgotten Cocktails, the Wonderful World of Gin and the homegrown Lone Star Cocktails.

While working at Bohanan’s, Morris has studied under several master mixologists, including the internationally regarded Sasha Petraske of Milk & Honey. Petraske is just one of the people who will be leading seminars, which means that anyone with passion for making perfect cocktails can learn what bartenders know. Or you can just sit back and absorb the intoxicating atmosphere that’s marking the inaugural cocktail conference.



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Drink In Some Eternal Bliss

Drink In Some Eternal Bliss

Eternal Bliss

In celebration of the San Antonio Cocktail Conference, here are three cocktails to wet your whistle.

Eternal Bliss

Eddie V’s of Austin is serving this seductive sweetie just in time of Valentine’s Day.

2 strawberries
2 ounces Hendrick’s Gin
1 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup
Rosé sparkling wine
Mint, for garnish
½ strawberry, sliced, for garnish

Build this cocktail in a shaker tin

Muddle strawberries.

Add ice, gin, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake and pour into a rocks glass

Float a splash of rosé sparkling wine on top.

Garnish with a sprig of mint and a cut ½ strawberry.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From Eddie V’s

Cherry Margarcia

Cotton, a restaurant in Manchester, N.H., offers the following tips for making better martinis:

  • Chill your martini glass by filling it with ice cubes and water an letting it sit while you make the martini.
  • Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, then add all the liquid ingredients and skaes vigorously.
  • Empty the ice and water from the martini glass
  • Rim the glass with the appropriate rimmer — sugar, salt, etc.
  • Strain the contents of the cocktail shaker into the chilled martini glass.
  • Garnish and serve.

This margarita variation uses a splash of maraschino juice. You can also add lime, if you like.

2 ounces Patrón Silver tequila
1 ounce triple sec
1 ounce sour mix
Splash of maraschino cherry juice from a jar of cherries

You can certainly use whichever tequila you prepare and can also substitute Cointreau for triple sec. Fresh cherries make a nice garnish.

Mix the tequila, triple sec, sour mix and maraschino cherry juice in an ice-filled shaker. Pour into an iced martini glass rimmed with sugar.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From “Cotton’s: The Cookbook” by Jeffrey Paige

Limoncello and Mint Sparkler

“Limoncello, a liqueur made by steeping lemon peels in a neutral spirit, has long been a staple in the lemon-producing region along Italy’s Amalfi Coast, where it is usually served well chilled in the summer months. It offers even more of a lift when infused with mint and mixed with club soda and fresh lemon juice,” according to “Gourmet Today” edited by Ruth Reichl.

1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
8 ounces (1 cup) chilled limoncello
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
3 cups chilled club soda
Ice cubes
Fresh mint sprigs, for garnish
Lemon slices, for garnish

Combine mint and limoncello in a bowl and bruise mint by gently mashing with a wooden spoon. Refrigerate, covered, for 1 hour.

Pour limoncello through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher, pressing firmly on mint; discard mint. Stir lemon juice and club soda into limoncello, then add enough ice to fill the pitcher. Pour drink and ice into six 8-ounce glasses. Garnish with mint sprigs and lemon slices.

Note: The strained limoncello-mint infusion can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 2 hours.

Makes 6 cocktail.

From “Gourmet Today” edited by Ruth Reichl




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On the Wine Trail: Chisholm Trail, Becker, Dry Comal Creek Plan Events

On the Wine Trail: Chisholm Trail, Becker, Dry Comal Creek Plan Events

The hustle of the holiday season is over, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay home. Several Hill Country wineries are offering events to tempt your taste buds.

Jazz at Chisholm Trail

Chisholm Trail Winery,  2367 Usener Road, Fredericksburg, is offering two events in January.  On Jan. 14, the winery will hold its annual Jazz in January event. The George Eychner Quartet will perform from 2 to 5 p.m. Listen to the smooth jazz while having some wine and lunch from the winery’s restaurant, the Oval Oven, featuring wood-fired gourmet pizza.

On Jan. 21, Chisholm Trail will be part of the Wine Road 290 Port and Pairings Event. Complimentary samples of Bourbon Orange Pecan Pie from the Fredericksburg Pie Company will be paired with the winery’s Port-style dessert wine, Almagres. The Oval Oven will also be open during normal winery hours.

For more information on Chisholm Trail, click here or call 830-990-2675. For more on the Wine Road 290 schedule, click here.

Winery U at Dry Comal Creek

The fourth annual Winery U at Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, 1741 Herbelin Road, New Braunfels, begins Jan. 14.

Sessions are held once a month on Saturday mornings, with each class focusing on a different aspect of wine “in as non-pretentious a way as allowed by law,” says instructor David King, who holds the Certified Specialist of Wine certificate from the Society of Wine Educators.  “We keep it fun and entertaining, because when you come right down to it, wine should be fun and entertaining. I talk for a while, and then we taste wine. Or in the case of the Food and Wine Pairings class, I talk very little and we eat and drink at lot.”

Here’s the lineup for the 2012 classes, subject to the water rising in the Dry Comal Creek:

  • Jan. 14: Introduction to Wine
  • Feb. 11: Texas Wines
  • March 13: Decoding the Wine Label
  • April 7: Growing Grapes and Making Wine
  • May 19: Wines of France
  • June 9: The Black Spanish Grape
  • July 21: Sensory Evaluation
  • Aug. 18: Wines of Spain and Italy
  • Sept. 15: Sauvignon Blanc
  • Oct. 20: Food and Wine Pairings
  • Nov. 10: Wines of the Southern Hemisphere
  • Dec. 8: Cabernet Sauvignon

Classes are $30 each, or $25 if four or more are purchased at once. For information and registration, click here.

Hill Top hosts Becker dinner

Hill Top Cafe, 10661 U.S. Highway 87, Fredericksburg, is hosting Richard and Bunny Becker at a dinner featuring a collection of Becker Vineyards wines from the Tallent vineyard and from Mason County. The dinner begins at 5 p.m. Jan. 29.

Reception wines include the 2011 Provençal and 2010 Reserve Grenache, followed by a first course of  Moroccan Red Lentil and Lamb Bessara with the 2010 Raven. Winter Salad with Bartlett Pears, Prosciutto and Fresh Texas Goat Cheese will be paired with the 2010 Albariño, followed by  Steamed Gulf Prawns with Sweet Ginger, Curry and Scallions and the 2011 Pinot Grigio.  Braised Texas Dry-aged Beef Short Ribs in Puff Pastry with Winter Vegetables and the 2009 Raven will be served before a dessert of El Rey Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Chantilly Cream and Becker Vineyards’ 2010 Vintage Port.

The cost is $75 a person plus tax and tip. Call 830-997-8922 or email


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