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