5 lessons from LA's 3rd annual Golden State of Cocktails

Written by
Danielle Silva

The concept of a cocktail convention might sound like an excuse to get sloshed, but listen: sampling tequila marques, tasting amari variations and learning about the history of tiki culture is serious stuff. And OK, maybe a little fun too. California’s premier educational cocktail festival, known as Golden State of Cocktails (or “cocktail church” to some), concluded Tuesday after three days of seminars, bar crawls and cocktail dinners, with the majority of events taking place in Downtown's The Majestic. The intensive seminars spanned the gamut, from a hands-on lesson in Japanese bartending by a vet of Vegas' Tokyo 365 to a discourse on the many variations of amaro. And, of course, there was plenty of drinking.

In case you weren't able to pop into the Majestic Halls earlier this week, we’ve rounded up a few takeaways from this year’s festivities. Hopefully some of this will help mitigate that serious case of FOMO you’ve been nursing.

1. So this is how you say "orgeat"

Martin Cate, esteemed rum expert and founding father of San Francisco’s acclaimed tiki bar, Smuggler’s Cove, is a big deal. Want to get in good with the man? Learn how to correctly pronounce the fundamental tiki ingredient, orgeat. It’s a sweet almond syrup with a hint of orange and rosewater, but none of that matters unless you can say it right. It’s "or-zsa." Think oar, like the paddle, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Got it? Good.

2. Making punch is as easy as 1-2-3 ... 4-5

There's this old Barbadian rhyme: "1 of sour, 2 of sweet, 3 of strong, 4 of weak." If you can remember that, Cate says, you can make a great classic rum punch. "Sour" being lime, "sweet" for sugar syrup, "strong" for pot still rum, "weak" for water or ice cubes, and technically there's a fifth ingredient—"5 of spice." For even more history, here's a fun fact: punch comes from a Sanskrit word (pañc) that means five. Enough mnemonic tools for you? Go give it a try.  

3. It takes 3 sips to really taste Fernet

It’s dark, it’s eerie and it will most likely send a shiver down your spine—yup, we’re talking about the Italian digestif known as Fernet. So here’s the thing: apparently it takes three sips to really unlock the full flavor. At first, it’s just plain bitter. That’s the aloe, one of 27 herbs, spices and roots from four continents that make up the liqueur, according to Fratelli Branca portfolio manager Ali Huleisy. Give it two more sips, he says, and you might be able to get some saffron or cardamom.

4. The latest truth about vermouth

Last year we were told to never, under any circumstance, leave vermouth out of the fridge. But according to Huleisy, it just depends on the type of vermouth. And perhaps this is just another plug for the seminar's sponsor, Infinium Spirits, which stocks the Carpano brand (there was a lot of plugging this year), but it seems most distillers these days add a neutral spirit—grappa or grape distillate—to slow down oxidation and extend shelf life, so you don't actually need to refrigerate your vermouth. Our suggestion: if you're going through your vermouth quickly, then by all means leave it out. If not, it might not be worth taking that risk.  

5. Let’s all drink coconut G&Ts

The most talked about drink at the GSC Opening Gala at Clifton’s Cafeteria was something called a Gin and Tonic of the Seas. And it’s not because the guy mixing up this mysterious libation was shirtless and wearing antlers (because honestly, that was a little weird). Made with Coconut Plymouth Gin, East Imperial Tonic, “stardust and magic rainbows,” the result was utterly fresh and effervescent—simple, yet boasting such complex flavors. We must know: what was in those “stardust and magic rainbows?”


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