Shaken and stirred. This year’s Manhattan Cocktail Classic will include a whopping two dozen New York distillers, all part of the big boom in small-batch booze.
As the namesake of one of the most beloved cocktails in history, it was perhaps fated that Manhattan would one day host one of the biggest booze-biz bashes in the country.
Now in its fourth year, the Manhattan Cocktail Classic is like a Davos for distillers and drink makers. Between the clink of glasses and the glint of cufflinks, mustachioed mixologists take Manhattan (and a few other boroughs) for five straight days in May, hitting seminars, workshops, sipping stations and all-around Tom Collins–foolery.
Here you can become a certified Master Mezcalier, show off your shake and parse the merits of schnapps vs. aquavit with the leading names in liquor. But this year, the mixed-drinks meet-up will have something new: a special selection of 24 distillers pouring artisan hooch that is all crafted—and, in one case, grown—right here in New York State.
Lesley Townsend Duval says she couldn’t invite many of these brands when she created the Cocktail Classic four years ago—because they weren’t in business yet. “New York Distilling, Jack from Brooklyn, Cacao Prieto, Industry City—none of those guys existed in ’10,” she said.
This big boom in small-batch booze is thanks to a new zeitgeist, but also to new state laws that make it intoxicatingly easy for little, farm-centric distilleries to set up shop. As a result, the MCC crowd will discuss the fuchsia-hued charms of Sorel liqueur, debate the exact botanicals in Uncouth Vermouth and wet their whistles with “estate” whiskey from Hudson Valley’s Hillrock—the only distiller in the country using grains they grow themselves.
“The culinary world is 10 years ahead of the spirits and cocktail world, so all the trends we’ve been seeing in restaurants are now hitting bars,” says Townsend.
The double-dozen New York distillers will be in force in a special tasting room during the grand, red-carpet opening night gala on Friday, May 17, at the main branch of the New York Public Library, where you can sip ’em straight or lap up libations of the stirred and shaken persuasion. Throughout the rest of the festivities at the Andaz Hotel and around the city, New York’s homegrown spirits will be out in full-proof force, with everything from a Finger Lakes Distilling–hosted session on using local grain, to Long Island’s own Atsby discussing the rise of locavore vermouth, to Hearth’s farm-to-still sippin’ pig roast that goes whole hog in more ways than one.
Now all this party needs is some small-batch artisan Advil.