Liquor is poured into a giant punch bowl on the patio at Lüke. Photo by Scott Ball.
A bartender pours liquor into a punch bowl at the 2016 San Antonio Cocktail Conference. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Celebrating the art and culture of cocktail-making, the seventh annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference will bring together bartenders, mixologists, and all breeds of beverage enthusiasts for five days of tastings, seminars, workshops, and parties.

The conference, which officially kicks off Thursday with the opening night at the DoSeum, is geared toward both novices and industry professionals, said Cathy Siegel, executive director of Houston Street Charities, the conference’s organizer.

“Whether someone just wants to learn a more sophisticated approach to cocktails or go into something as specialized as a sherry seminar, we have something for everyone.”

Enjoying a cocktail isn’t just about the drink itself, she said, it’s about the experience.

Cathy Siegel, executive director of Houston Street Charities

“People remember where they were, who they were with, what music was playing, and how they felt, so we tap into all aspects of that experience,” both for patrons and service industry workers, she said. A cocktail newbie might enjoy a seminar like “Taking Your Vodka Beyond Soda & Lime,” while professional bartenders may gravitate toward more specialized offerings like industry-geared yoga or self-defense courses, she said.

For a full list of events, click here. 

The conference began Friday with paired dinners, events at which meals at various eateries across town are paired with specific cocktails or spirits, running through Tuesday.

As in years past, Wednesday night’s main event, Women Shaking It Up: Inspiring Women Superheroes, will pay homage to female bartenders, chefs, and leaders in what many consider a male-dominated industry.

“While [the bar business] has historically been male-dominated, that’s been changing in last few years,” said Zulcoralis Rodríguez, bartender at Paramour and a member of the local, all-female collaborative Girl Gang, which hosts monthly pop-ups benefitting local charities.

“It’s good to see females being elevated more and more. We’re not just pretty faces – we know what we’re doing and what we’re talking about. We bring a certain charm, and we use that for a good cause and to empower people.

“Giving back is so important,” she said.

Philanthropy is at the center of the cocktail conference, as 100 percent of the proceeds benefit local children’s charities such as ChildSafe, The Children’s Shelter, Clarity Child Guidance Center, HeartGift San Antonio, TEAMability, and Transplants for Children.

“This year, we are committed to writing a check every month,” Siegel said. “2017 was a rough year with [events like] Hurricane Harvey and [the] Sutherland Springs [shooting], so we want [our partner organizations] to be able to respond to our most vulnerable children’s needs as they come.”

While some may be puzzled by the connection between children’s charity and adult beverages, Siegel says linking fun and engaging activities to a charitable cause has proven effective.

“In our first six years, we gave half a million dollars to local children’s charities,” she said. “People come to the conference to be educated and entertained, and the big bonus is it all goes to charity.”

With more than 70 modules to choose from, this year’s conference also adds a local component to the education and entertainment.

“In honor of the Tricentennial, we are tapping into what our city is most proud of,” Siegel said. “This year we are hosting almost all of our events in or near historic venues,” most notably the assembly hall at historic La Villita, where attendees can enjoy Cocktails Under the Sea on Saturday night.

This year’s slate of events features new presenters and more classes than last year, said Rodríguez, who has participated in the cocktail conference the last four years. This year, she is unable to attend because she will be in New York City taking the BAR 5-Day certification program.

“This industry constantly evolving,” she said. “I see a lot of new names this year – maybe they’re newcomers or maybe they’ve been in the industry forever, but they’re just now getting exposure. That’s what events like the cocktail conference are for.”

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Hanna Oberhofer

Before moving to San Antonio in 2004, Hanna was a competitive rhythmic gymnast in her native Austria. She earned degrees from St. Mary’s University and the Texas State Graduate College before joining...