Fourth San Antonio Cocktail Conference kicks off in January

The San Antonio Cocktail Conference is running from Jan. 15 to 18 next year. Tickets are available now.
The San Antonio Cocktail Conference is running from Jan. 15 to 18 next year. Tickets are available now. Photo by Emma Janzen / American-Statesman.

We’ve got about one month to go before bartenders, spirits makers and cocktail aficionados flood into San Antonio for the four-day San Antonio Cocktail Conference (SACC), a mix of seminar classes, dinners and big evening events that both brings all of Texas’ craft cocktail scenes into one city and raises money for a variety of nonprofits, including The Children’s Shelter, ChildSafe, HeartGift San Antonio and Transplants for Children.

The conference, going on its fourth year, has thus far donated more than $240,000 to these nonprofits and others through Houston Street Charities, an organization created to oversee the giving side of the SACC.

It’ll run from Jan. 15 through 18 this year in much the same way it has in the past. You’ll buy tickets for all the classes and events you want to attend, rather than for the SACC as a whole, which features far too many drinking opportunities and overlapping events for one person to go to and do. With so much to choose from, that creates the trickiest part of the long weekend: scheduling it. But I’m offering suggestions and tips here based off the SACC’s schedule and my own experience at last year’s.

  • A variety of paired dinners at various San Antonio bars and restaurants take place the week before.
  • If you’re wanting to attend a class (a lot of them are filled with industry-related folks wanting to improve their knowledge of current trends and skills about running a bar or making good cocktails), note that some of them are at the same times throughout Friday and Saturday. I’m relieved that some of the ones I’m interested in, such as Friday’s seminar about terroir and Saturday’s about mezcal, don’t conflict with each other, but there’s definitely the possibility that you might have a tough choice to make.
  • In addition to the classes on Friday and Saturday, there are two big events on each of those nights. The Stroll on Houston Street returns this year, but Waldorf on the Prairie at the St. Anthony Hotel (“a unique blend of old New York Edwardian-era decor and romance and old Texas charm,” according to the SACC website) is new. Other event options throughout the weekend include the Annual SACC Original Cocktail Competition on Sunday afternoon, when bartenders will go head to head with their own recipes.
  • Saturday’s Tasting Room is free with the purchase of any SACC ticket or with a $20 donation to Houston Street Charities at the door. It’s going to have a variety of spirits and cocktails for you to taste, so beware your limits.
  • Beer also makes an appearance. The Friendly Craft Beer Break on Saturday afternoon is, like the tasting room, free with the purchase of any SACC ticket or a donation to the Houston Street Charities.
  • Conference organizers recommend downloading the SACC’s magazine “Cocktail Journals” in advance. The January issue will serve as a guide to the festivities, with maps, interviews, special appearances and more. Get it free from iTunes or the Google Play Store.

Austin-based Z Tequila, Dulce Vida release extra añejo tequilas

Dulce Vida Tequila released an extra añejo tequila to commemorate five years in business. Photo contributed by Randall Metting.
Dulce Vida Tequila released an extra añejo tequila to commemorate five years in business.
Photo contributed by Randall Metting.

Sometimes aging tequila for a few years in an oak barrel doesn’t always produce a spirit that’s worth the time it took to age and the price tag people will pay for it. The matured spirit can take on too much of the qualities of the barrel it’s been aged in, losing some of the agave soul that makes it tequila.

But other times, all that extra aging time results in a complex balance of rich woody tannins and agave sweetness — and that’s what two tequila producers based in Austin, Z Tequila and Dulce Vida Organic Tequila, are betting on with the recent releases of limited edition extra añejo tequila.

Z Tequila has just gotten Zevada Family Gran Reserva, a tequila that’s spent four years in oak barrels, onto store shelves right in time for the holidays. With only 500 cases out there, it won’t be around for long, unlike the Z Tequila Blanco, Reposado and Añejo that have originated from Jalisco, Mexico, and are now sold all over Texas.

The Gran Reserva was created with the help of Z Tequila’s founder, Jose “Pepe” Zevada, who wanted to release a tequila that would round out the brand’s portfolio in a distinctive way. He said you’ll notice a delicate herbal bouquet coming from the Gran Reserva, “with distinctive tasting notes of hazelnut, almonds and roasted nuts.”

“There is a big difference between a nice bottle of tequila and tequila in a nice bottle,” he said in a press release.

Dulce Vida’s Extra Añejo Tequila was released last month to commemorate Dulce Vida’s five years in the marketplace, and it’s already been getting raves from spirit enthusiasts who like that despite aging five years in Napa Valley wine barrels, the tequila isn’t overpowered with wood and vanilla notes. Previously in these barrels were Merlot and Cabernet wines, which helped imbue the extra añejo with a cognac nose, a strong tequila body and a port wine finish.

All of Dulce Vida’s tequila varieties — in addition to a blanco, reposado and añejo, there are also a few special releases, including the añejo aged in Garrison Brother’s Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey barrels — were made with 100 percent blue agave from the Los Altos Highlands of Jalisco and subsequently distilled and aged in San Ignacio Cerro Gordo, Mexico.

To be labeled as extra añejo, the tequila must have been aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels, a distinction that was made in 2006.

Blue Owl Brewing to open in East Austin with focus on sour mashing

The logo and cans of Blue Owl Brewing have all been designed by local graphic designer Jessica Deahl.
The logo and cans of Blue Owl Brewing have all been designed by local graphic designer Jessica Deahl.

Perhaps the most intriguing detail about the fall arrival of Blue Owl Brewing, an eastside venture from former Black Star Co-Op employees Jeff Young and Suzy Shaffer, is that the beers — which have names and can designs displayed beautifully (and tantalizingly) on the brewery’s Facebook page — will all be sour mashed, making Blue Owl the first brewery in the country to focus solely on that approach.

Sour mashing is a process that distillers use to produce most bourbon, but it’s also sometimes a technique for brewers to make sour beers without the long amount of time that brewing those types of beers typically requires. As Young and Shaffer noted on Blue Owl’s press page, “it’s a non-traditional approach to producing highly approachable beer.”

The brewing version of sour mashing results in “tart, fruit-forward beers that closely mimic their native style,” the press page said. In other words, a sour-mashed wheat beer still closely resembles a wheat beer, even though one part of the brewing process is altered to allow for some sourness to come through.

Essentially, the wort (the malty liquid extracted from the mash) is left in with some grains for up to several days after the mash, allowing bacteria naturally found in the grain to consume some of the sugars in the wort. That produces lactic acid, and that’s where the sourness comes from.

So Blue Owl’s brews will be “tart from the start, instead of being aged over years, often with the addition of fruit,” Young and Shaffer said in the press page. “(Sour-mashed beers) yield a highly consistent, straightforward product that can be easily reproduced, unlike barrel-aged sours that are by nature unpredictable.”

The two co-founders — who are currently getting the brewery on East Cesar Chavez ready to open — have tapped into this distinctive process for a reason. They believe their brewery is opening just at the cusp of a heyday for sour beers.

This style, they said, might be going the way of IPAs: sourness as a flavor is now a sought-after beer quality, rather like bitterness, which was itself once undesirable. Currently similar to the sorts of sessionable beers Blue Owl will produce are Austin Beerworks Einhorn and New Belgium Snapshot.

Blue Owl has four beers in the works. There’s Little Boss, a sour session wheat (Berliner Weisse); Spirit Animal, a sour pale ale; Professor Black, a sour cherry stout; and Van Dayum!, a sour amber.

These will be canned from the start. Beer lovers will have the chance to try them at the brewery’s on-site tasting room, as well at local bars and restaurants.

For updates — including an exact opening date — visit the Facebook page or blueowlbrewing.com. The brewery will be located at 2400 East Cesar Chavez St.