Monday, May 12, 2014

Manhattan Cocktail Classic Gala 2014 - Highlights and Highballs

This year marks the five year anniversary of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, New York’s largest and booziest celebration of the mighty cocktail.  Events include industry seminars, tasting events, cocktail and cuisine pairings, distillery tours, but the highlight of the week is the Manhattan Cocktail Classic Gala.  On Friday May 9, the New York Public Library opened its doors again to host New York’s most decadent cocktail party for over 3,000 lucky imbibers.

Prior to entry, guests formed a line to anxiously await what the evening had in store.  The line itself was a who’s who of the spirits and cocktail world - brand ambassadors, decorated mixologists, master distillers, brand owners, and thirsty imbibers.  I, can be filed under the last category, and thirsty, I certainly was.

The Gala reveals itself to the party goer as the night progresses - the building itself has a tendency to turn and twist, escher-like, which is endlessly confusing but also endlessly exciting.  Each room of the labyrinthine library is a different world - live music and DJs, burlesque dancers, photo booths, portrait artists, and countless cocktails for guests to taste.  Over 100 different cocktails were served at this year’s gala, created by some of the country’s finest bartenders.

Image via The Village Voice
I started the evening at coat check, where greetings from industry insiders continued.  I took the elevator to the 3rd floor, bypassing probably a million stairs, and stumbled upon a coconut water station!  The handsome lads from Coco Jack have invented a stainless steel tool that one whacks with a plastic mallet to open a fresh thai coconut, machete free!  Genius!  After a few good whacks I too was able to open the coconut and enjoy its milk and it’s hangover preventing electrolytes.

The Author Whacking a Coconut
Onward to the New York Spirits room, supported by the “I Love New York” tourism campaign, which had double the funding ($2M) and thereby double the brands this year.  New York distillers are making some insanely delicious product, and luckily for us, also some insanely delicious cocktails.  A boozy lap of the New York Spirits room included seeing some of the friendly and hardworking people behind brands such as Owney’s Rum, Barrow’s Intense Ginger, Tuthilltown, Hillrock, Dutch’s Spirits, Finger Lakes Distilling, Sorel, Atsby Vermouth, Bootlegger 21, and Greenhook Ginsmiths

My first cocktail of the evening was the Spring Manhattan made with 1 oz Atsby Armadillo Cake Vermouth, 1 oz bourbon, and 1 oz Pimm’s, stirred and served neat.  Gorgeous - so light and refreshing, yet boozy and opinionated.  Bravo.

The lovely ladies from Owney's rum served a punch with thyme, kumquat, yellow chartreuse and green tea.  Bootlegger 21 vodka served up a classic martini garnished with a lemon twist.  Across the room, McKenzie Rye Manhattans were stirred up with Carpano Antico vermouth, barrel aged bitters, with a delicious luxardo cherry.  Dutch’s Spirits served Honey Coolers on tap, a delicious concoction with Dutch’s Spirits sugar wash moonshine and homemade lavender lemonade soda served on the rocks.

Down the hall, candy jars were filled with salted caramels spiked with Bulleit Bourbon made by Salty Road, a Brooklyn candy company.  We’ve known that salt and caramel work marvelously together, but the addition of bourbon made these little bite sized treats irresistible.

Passing along the second floor hallways were food tables with nibbles for guests, and more sweet treats.  Tipsy Scoop, the boozy ice cream purveyors, were serving up their latest creations:  Sorel with Raspberry Lime Rickey Sorbet, Strawberry Rhubarb and Four Roses bourbon, and my favorite the Fernet and Dark Chocolate ice cream.  Sadly, a woman cannot live on ice cream alone - onwards to more cocktails.

Around the corner, Celebrity X Cruises was highlighting their molecular cocktails by Junior Merino.  The most popular was the Liquid Flavor Grenade - served in a round grenade-like bottle, topped off with dry ice so that it appeared to smoke.

Across the hall was the Hangar 1 Vodka room, featuring all female mixologists in homage to the spirit’s female distiller, Caley Shoemaker.  Cocktail queen Julie Reiner of New York’s Clover Club stirred Gotham cocktails with Hangar 1 Vodka, Cocchi Americano Rosa, Ramazzotti Amaro, and orange bitters.  A line to get into the Hangar 1 room wrapped around the corridors of the library, imbibers excited to enjoy the tunes of the doppelganger dj duo Andrew Andrew.

Images Courtesy of Hanna Lee Communications
After a quick check on instagram - what’s that - there’s a concert in the basement’s gorgeous glass atrium, and it’s none other than Big Boi followed by ?uestlove?  Onward, to the elevator!  Instead of the usual ragtime, hip hop legends graced the stage, and party goers danced a mirrored floor, wearing laser cut masks and sipping on Grey Goose tipples.

After Big Boi’s performance, a stop by the Campari table in the main hall for a refreshing Union Sq Lavender Negroni served by Naren Young tasted like perfection in a glass.  It’s a simple variation on the classic cocktail, and the addition of lavender bitters and a fresh sprig of lavender worked gorgeously with the bitter and sweet cocktail.

Images Courtesy of Lush Life
On the way back up to the New York Spirits room, I ran into Dave Pickerell of Hillrock Distillery, who shared a taste of his latest ambrosia, served from his own personal flask.  Dave, you’re my hero.

Nearing the end of my evening, I was en-route to the coat check and I stopped by the Gosling's table for a taste of their insanely delicious Old Rum neat.  The bartender served one for me and one for him, and we clinked glasses to toast another successful Manhattan Cocktail Classic. 

But another party awaits!  The Tanqueray after party on 6th street!  Split between some of the best bars in New York, Death & Co, Amor y Amargo, and Gin Palace, there was a lineup of even more incredible cocktails.  Amor y Amargo had cocktails on tap, and mini flasks with cocktails of Tanqueray, Meletti Amaro, Bonal, Rye Whiskey, and Tiki bitters.  Down the street at Death & Co classics such as the Bees Knees were made with Acacia honey syrup and Lavender bitters.

The Manhattan Cocktail Classic Gala is greatly defined by the New York Public Library, its winding corridors, ornate reading rooms, and marble archways.  An extensive renovation is planned for the Beaux-Arts 1911 building, including an addition by none other than Sir Norman Foster, who is known for his graceful interventions on historical buildings.  While some fight against the renovations, others champion for it, which will increase the public areas of the iconic library by 60%.  So, noodle that:  60% more space, 60% more cocktails for imbibing!

Want more?

Here’s a re-cap video from our friends at Angostura:

Manhattan Cocktail Classic 2014 Opening Night Gala from Angostura® aromatic bitters on Vimeo.

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