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Review: Epcot Food and Wine Festival Xante Mixology Seminar

Eric Hay Teaching About Agave Syrup

The 2011 Epcot Food and Wine Festival is offering new Mixology Seminars taught by beverage experts!

When: Daily at 6pm
Where: Festival Center
Pricing: $12 ($10 for TiW members, AP holders, DVC members M-Th)

We attended one of the very first seminars of the festival, featuring Xante pear liqueur, which is the star of this year’s Scandinavia Booth!

The event was held in the beverage seminar area of the Festival Center (the old Wonders of Life pavilion) in Future World. We arrived, collected our tickets, and filed into the seating area with the rest of the attendees.

The room was set up with long tables, which featured individual place settings including a placemat for drinks, a list of the recipes we’d be hearing about, and a tasting notes sheet.

Mixology placemat

Mixology Recipes and Tasting Notes - click image for larger version

Tasting Notes Paper - click image for larger version

Recipes - click image for larger version

Also at the place setting was a glass of Xante — neat, with no ice or accompaniments. This was an opportunity for those of us in the seminar to taste the liqueur and get an understanding for the flavors and characteristics before we started drinking the mixed drinks.

Xante

Very soon, our seminar leader popped out! (Not out of the Xante…just out from behind the counter in front of us.) Eric Hay is the Beverage Development Manager at Wirtz Beverage Illinois, and has previously worked as a bartender, beverage consultant, and just about everything else that has to do with beverage development. Let’s just say this guy knows what he’s talking about!

Mixology Seminar Leader

When I first saw him, all I could think of was that he should really have been an extra in the movie Swingers (you’re thinking it, too, admit it). What with Big Bad Voo Doo Daddy kickin’ it at the Eat to the Beat Concert later that month, I figured the whole thing could be a theme event! ;-)

ANYWAY, Eric started from the beginning with fantastic tips and how-tos about using agave syrup and simple syrup, muddling with plastic and metal versus wood (he prefers not to use wood), and the best way to crush mint leaves for a mojito (all of the oils are in the vines, so just crush/muddle gently for a couple of seconds so the flavor doesn’t become bitter). He also walked us through some of the liqueurs and ingredients he’d be using during the evening.

Measuring Xante

While Eric walked us through making the first drink — a Mojito — he mentioned that good bartenders always follow the recipe because it really does make a significant difference how specific the measurements are.

He also shared a great tip (which I’ve since used in my baking) that you should use the least expensive ingredient first when making a recipe — that way, if you make a mistake, you’re not wasting your most expensive ingredient!

I enjoyed this mojito, even though I’m not a huge mint drink fan! The Xante added a fruity, sweet flavor, and the mint was very well incorporated.

Mojito

As Eric moved on to the second drink, there seemed to be a bit of a slow-down in the kitchen. Many of us hadn’t gotten our mojitos until he was well finished with making it on stage, and the second drink — Walk the Plank — was taking even longer.

Because he wanted us to have the chance to sample the drink as he was making it, he filled the time by telling the audience about some of his favorite bars in the country! Pretty soon, guests were shouting out their cities in the hope that he’d tell them where to spend their next Friday night! I have some pretty cool spots to visit the next time I’m in New York and Chicago now! ;-)

Eventually, the Walk the Plank started to come out, so Eric began the process of creating it! This one is a milky, coconutty concoction with pineapple, rum, orange juice, and bitters. I am NOT a fan of coconut and rum drinks — I find them way too sweet when I usually prefer sour drinks — and I felt the same way about this. It tasted like a dessert, which many folks will enjoy!

Walk the Plank

The final drink — the Skeleton Horse, created by Hay himself — sounds as dangerous as it tastes! This was a strong drink and was probably the least favorite one of everyone in my group. That said, I’m definitely a “girly drink” kind of person, and this will be perfect for a night out with the guys!

skeleton horse

Here’s a great video from AllEars.net of Hay creating his Skeleton Horse!

Overall

Since this was one of the first Mixology seminars of the Festival, I wondered if they had the swing of things yet. Clearly Eric Hay was an ideal choice as seminar leader; we all had a wonderful time (despite the kitchen’s timing problems) and Eric did a great job of thinking on his feet and keeping us all entertained. (Note that the seminar did run about 20 minutes overtime; we had to leave slightly early in order to make our dinner reservation.)

Most importantly, we learned! With great tips and time for questions, the seminar was set up to not only be a tasting, but also an educational experience. Eric didn’t go too in depth, but instead gave us the basic tips we’d need to be stellar at-home bartenders.

One thing I would have loved to see happen is the opportunity for guests to actually MAKE their own mixed drinks. This was part of the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic Mixology seminar, and I think it made the evening much more interactive and interesting.

I’d love to hear more reviews from any readers who have been to one of the Mixology seminars. With one every single night of the festival, there must be some feedback out there! Let us know in the comments section below — is this something you’d like to do (or do again)?

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9 Comments

  1. marcellina says:

    This sounds fun! I think I would try it and $12 isn’t too bad of a price considering you get to sample all three drinks. Mojitos are my favorite and the coconut drink sounded great as well. Like you AJ, I’m a sweeter/girly type drinker so the third may not have been my favorite. Do you remember and can you tell us one of the bars that Eric suggested in NYC?

  2. nora says:

    We’ve attended two of these Mixology presentations so far, with very different levels of likability.
    The first was presented by Thatcher’s Cordials, Cruzan Rum, and Sauza Tequila – we had two mixologists who were fantastic, engaging, and entertaining. This left us very excited about the others we plan to attend.
    The second was presented by Belvedere Vodka – the mixologist was entertaining (but not as much as at the first presentation) and the “spirit” representative was simply boring and off-key.
    We have no idea what the other three we have scheduled will be like, hopefully like the first and not like the second :)

  3. AJ says:

    Marcellina — One of the NYC bars he mentioned is called PDT (for Please Don’t Tell) ;-) The entrance is through a phone booth in another restaurant!

    Nora — Thanks for the reviews!

  4. AFoodie says:

    These drinks sound really yummy! Thanks for the review … hope to get out to something cool like this soon.

  5. Chris says:

    These mixology seminars are a bit of a crapshoot. Some of them like this one are really well done, others were mediocre and a few didn’t work at all. The Remy Martin seminar was a 30 minute promo/history of the brand and sips of 3 of their cognacs, all served neat. The presenter tried to say that the mixology part was the fact that each vintage is a blend of hundreds of eaus de vie, but that’s like saying a blended wine or whiskey is a mixed drink.

  6. Dawn says:

    Do you buy tickets/make reservations for these in advance or day of?

  7. AJ says:

    Dawn — In advance; call 407-WDW-FEST. There’s one every night at 6pm during the festival and they feature different spirits.

  8. Dawn says:

    Thank you!!! I will try now :)

  9. Jennifer Z. says:

    Will they come out with a schedule of the mixology events? Or is it just luck with what you get on the day you make reservations for?

    Thanks!

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