Vodka is making a comeback, and other things we learned at Golden State of Cocktails 2015

Written by
Danielle Silva

If your local bartender is a little slow on the uptake this weekend, here’s why: Golden State of Cocktails ended Thursday night. The booze industry-focused conference, now in its second year, brought the country’s best in the biz together for four straight days of drilling, stirring, shaking, and yes, heavy drinking.

But it wasn’t complete debauchery at the Los Angeles Athletic Club this past week. Seminars filled two floors of the historic Downtown building, where cocktail royalty—the likes of King Cocktail Dale DeGroff (Rainbow Room in NYC) and Marcus Tello (Neat, 1886)—led up to three-hour discussions on everything from looking effortless behind the bar to becoming an entrepreneur. And while “Attitude Behind The Bar” was less relatable for the everyday imbiber, there were plenty of takeaways for folks on the other side of the stick. For the bar-goer who opts for the bartender’s choice, the home cocktail aficionado playing around with spirits in the comfort of his or her apartment, and even the sake bomb buff—here’s what we learned at Golden State of Cocktails 2015.

The truth about vermouth.

How long has that bottle of vermouth been sitting on your bar cart? A few days? Toss it immediately. Vermouth is made of 75 percent wine, which means it will oxidize or spoil if left open. A bottle, when refrigerated, should keep for up to eight months. But like our instructor Giuseppe Gallo, global representative of Martini & Rossi Vermouths, said: “It’s so delicious, you’ll use it before eight months.”

Vermouth is absinthe’s pretty cousin, sort of.

Vermouth and absinthe share something in common. Wormwood—a botanical herb that looks a little like marijuana (Gallo’s words, not ours)—is the key ingredient in vermouth. Wormwood is also associated with absinthe’s hallucinogenic reputation. But no, you will not see pink elephants if you sip vermouth, even if you sip a lot of it. Sorry.

Introducing “juicetails.”

OK, no one’s calling them that … yet. We’re all aware of the cold-pressed juice trend that’s been filling us up with nutrients and emptying us of cash over the past year. Now bars are getting in on the action, according to “The Juice Is Loose” San Diego-based speakers Anthony Schmidt and Trevor Easter (both part of Consortium Holdings). Wonder how 1933 Group's (Sassafras, Oldfield’s) cocktails taste so fresh? They are the proud owner of a $20K-plus hydraulic cold-pressed juicer. Other bars, like Schmidt’s Rare Form in SD, have been partnering with local juice bars to mix with their ‘tails. We’ve never seen two grown men so excited about almond milk—which Schmidt called “unicorn tears.”

Vodka is making a comeback.

Probably the strangest GSoC event we witnessed was the “Naked and Afraid” seminar led by Boston bar director Jackson Cannon (The Hawthorne). He had an entire ballroom filled with craft cocktail gurus tasting vodka, and you would not believe the notes: vanilla, fennel seed, orange blossom water, coconut, cooked fruits, among others. Attendees then spent the rest of the afternoon infusing, cooking, tasting and mixing vodka cocktails. Move over Peeptini—mixologists are getting crafty with the colorless spirit.

Sa-keh not sa-key.

Guys, stop saying sa-key, OK? And just to be clear, sake is brewed, not distilled, so it’s actually closer to beer than it is to wine. Finally, forget the saying about old sake being served hot. Good sake can be served at any temperature, according to Roberto Loppi, director of Wine & Spirits for Hakkasan Group. So maybe now you’ll think twice about pounding sake bombs? Or not.

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