Omnivore - AFWF 2014: Cocktail notes

We went, we drank, we conquered.


Last week, the fourth annual Atlanta Food & Wine Festival and its many, many revelers took over Midtown for four days of nonstop dining and drinking. Somewhere in between all the wine-swilling and barbecue-devouring, guests also had the chance to learn from an all-star lineup of chefs, sommeliers, mixologists, and other experts with about a hundred classes and workshops. While both food and wine do, indeed, reign supreme, cocktail nerds had plenty of opportunities to learn from the best, too. From the making of an old-school oleo-saccharum punch to bravely mixing IPA with Amaro, here are a few of the neat tricks we witnessed:

Note: it was a looong, booze-filled few days, so please pardon the slowness with which we're reporting back. We blame the Sazeracs.

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Mixing Red Wine and Coke in Wine-Based Cocktails
A slightly hung-over (albeit good-natured and clearly passionate) Liz Dowty led this seminar through the fine art and science of mixing fine wines with various mixers. In other words, around 10 a.m., participants greeted the morn with a red-wine-and-Mexican-cola concotion (a.k.a. a Calimocho, served from a rather flamboyant vessel known as a porron). Liz, an advanced sommelier who hails from New Orleans, has an apparent soft spot for all things Spain, citing her love for all things sherry. In fact, Dowty's own original creation, the super-refreshing and day-drinking-friendly Midas Touch (a mixture of vermouth, Cocchi Americano, grapefruit bitters and sparkling wine) seemed to take the cake as a crowd favorite. Participants also learned the ins and outs of Americanos (note: aperol makes a more palatable, sweeter flavor than Campari) and the secret of a perfect sangria (Coca-Cola, according to Cure's Nick Detrich).

Making High Life Hunch Punch in Pantry Punch and Survival Bites
Situation: you have guests on their way, and your pantry's only sustenance is Miller High Life, potato chips, a weird old jam, a few eggs, a bit of honey, and some gin. Never fear: Greg Best, superstar mixologist, and Asheville's Katie Button (who got her start at elBulli) are here. Between the two of them, participants learned how to feed a crowd and get said crowd appropriately drunk with the foodstuffs in the back of the pantry. Greg Best whipped up a fancy hunch punch out of Miller High Life, gin, and a compound syrup made of honey and jam, while Button worked on a Spanish potato omelet by soaking Cape Cod potato chips in egg. Quote of the session: "The best thing about punch is that it still makes you drunk, even if it tastes like shit!" - Greg Best.

Very Presidential Punch in Citrus History
Over in the Cocktail Technique Lab, two fellas from New Orleans led a classroom full of willing students through the ins and outs of citrus oil, peel, and juice in pursuit of the perfect punch. Cure's Nick Detrich and Kirk Estopinal teamed up to walk students through the making of an oleo-saccharum (or sherbet), mixing sugar and orange peel as an addition to the American Orange Punch - a boozy concoction made famous for being the drink of choice at one Andrew Jackson's inaugural ball. The class also compared side-by-side Sazeracs made by expressing grapefruit and lemon peels, respectively, and tinkered with orgeat to create the infinitely sippable <a href="http://www.diffordsguide.com/cocktails/recipe/530/army-and-navy" target="_blank" target="blank" http://www.diffordsguide.com/cocktails/recipe/530/army-and-navy>Army & Navy. In short: it was an impressively boozy class.

Thinking Outside the Shandy in Beer-based Cocktails
Wrecking Bar's Ian Cox teamed up with St. Germaine's Hillary Choo to give Sunday festival-goers a taste of beer-forward cocktails, complete with shandies, "champagne" cocktails (featuring PBR) and more. The duo walked the classroom through the ins and outs of utilizing beer both as an effervescent element in cocktails and as a complement to your preferred spirit of choice. Naturally, Cox busted out a grassy, herbaceous Wrecking Bar IPA (the Three Musketeers Aramis) that happened to pair perfectly with Amaro, Gran Classico, agave, ginger beer and lemon juice - a surprisingly sweet, totally drinkable libation named Aramis In Rome. Meanwhile, on the lighter side of the spectrum, Choo paired her St. Germain with salty, sour Gose beer and lemon juice for a summer-worthy elderflower shandy. And of the PBR? The blue-collar lager replaced champagne in a riff on the classic Prince of Wales, pairing Pabst with rye, maraschino, pineapple, Angostura, and sugar.