That’s the spirit!6/19/2013
Whiskey, bourbon, vodka, rum, tequila? Sure, no problem. I can tell Cityview readers all about them; I’ll just have to try them first. Don’t mind if I do.
They picked the right lady for the job, too. Even if I wasn’t assigned to scout out area bars and fall in love with their bartenders, patrons, amenities and drinks for the weekly Belly Up column in Cityview’s Nightlife section, I’d still be the right choice for writing this week’s cover story. It could be argued that perhaps nobody enjoys the flavors of a fine spirit quite to the same extent as I. Ever since liquor first burned my lips, dilated my eyes and stimulated my palate, I have been an ever curious connoisseur. What’s my poison? Whatcha got? I love trying new flavors, or old flavors in new ways. So it probably goes without saying that this weekend’s Fine Spirits Festival at the Court District bars is one Cityview event I will not miss. Twenty-four different drink samples made with just about as many different liquors at a dozen different bars? Where do I begin?
I’ll try them all. Just three paragraphs into writing this article, and I’m already thirsty. June 21 can’t come soon enough. That’s one Friday where the minutes on the clock hanging on the office wall will torture ticket-holders with every annoying tick and each cantankerous tock. The long countdown to happy hour. But Friday, June 21 will bring a weekend preamble event the likes of which Cityview — and perhaps even the Court Avenue District — has never seen before with the intoxicating debut of Cityview’s first annual Fine Spirits Festival.
“I really don’t know what to expect,” admitted Cityview publisher Shane Goodman, whose been distilling the idea for this event like a fine whiskey over and over in his head for a few years.
With the proven success of other Cityview sampling events, such as the summertime beer celebration, Brewfest, and Martini Fest in the fall, “the natural additional piece is liquor,” he said.
“I personally enjoy hard liquor,” Goodman said. “I enjoy beer, too, but I’ve really come to enjoy different liquors, and I know I’m not alone. There are a vast range of options with liquor, and it caters to men and women.”
If Cityview’s Brewfest is considered a man’s drinking event and our Martini Fest is more favored by the ladies, then a Fine Spirits Festival should hit the mark in that coveted grey area, where all people and their diverse tastes can collide. With 24 different drink samples in a dozen of the Court District’s most popular bars/restaurants, attendees are sure to find something for just about everyone, thanks to key ingredients offered by liquor distributor Johnson Brothers, sponsoring the event with Bacardi, Svedka and Brown Forman brands. Just look at this list:
Jack Daniels Honey
El Jimador Blanco tequila
El Jimador Anejo tequila
Svedka Orange Cream Pop vodka
Svedka Raspberry vodka
Svedka Cherry vodka
Svedka Vanilla vodka
Svedka Clementine vodka
Bacardi Black Ras
Bacardi Peach Red
Woodford Reserve bourbon
When you consider the mixologists behind the bar, who have spent the last several weeks finding ingenious ways to showcase not only these flavors but their own talents, well… the possibilities are practically endless. Among the 12 different bars and their respective bartending teams, Cityview’s Fine Spirits Festival will truly offer what so many events claim to: something for all tastes. From the easy to drink treats such as Mickey’s “Orange Summer” (made with a delightfully potent combination of Bacardi O, Triple Sec, sour and OJ) to el Bait Shop’s reverent, no-nonsense Woodford Reserve (straight bourbon on the rocks) this is a 21-and-up event perfect for a bachelor/bachelorette celebration, a hot first date or even a 150th date for Grandma and Grandpa wearing matching Jimmy Buffet Ts.
“The goal is to get people downtown this summer into the Court District bars and restaurants,” said Kris Miler, on-premise liquor specialist for Johnson Brothers. “It’s a thriving district where people will really enjoy themselves, bring their friends and bring business to these establishments and hopefully draw new people to the area, too.
“I’d like to see people come down, have a great time, hopefully try new places and new things and expand their horizons a little bit.”
That’s everybody’s goal, actually. And it’s an easy one to fulfill once the day begins. But it wasn’t exactly easy coordinating the whole event. It took careful planning and collaboration among Miler, her liquor suppliers, participating proprietors in the Court District and Cityview staff, as well.
“Our relationship with Johnson Brothers, Kris Miler and everybody has been great,” said Goodman. “Johnson Brothers has been a strong partner with us for years and for many of our events, not just Martini Fest, which is where it started, but with other annual events like our Best Of Des Moines and Des Moines’ Sexiest People parties.”
Johnson Brothers has a history of supplying Cityview events with what we consider to be a key component to our biggest parties of the year: alcohol, and lots of it.
“Fine Spirits Festival is a fantastic way to get their products into people’s hands, so it’s good for them,” Goodman continued. “For the bars, it builds traffic for them, and they will hopefully get new people coming in who have never been to the Court District bars before, which is part of the fun. Several drinks will be offered at several very different, very unique bars, and all within walking distance.”
Here’s how it works:
1. Check out the Fine Spirits Festival drink guide in this week’s issue, and figure out which concoctions make you lick your lips. Save $5 and buy your tickets now at www.dmcityview.com;
2. Check in at the Cityview tent outside Court Avenue Brewing Co. on Friday, June 21, and receive a lanyard with a 10-sample card (buy your tickets there if you haven’t already);
3. Refer back to your drink guide and map your route to find the drinks you wanted to sample. Each bar will offer two different samples;
4. When you find the right bars touting the drinks you want to try, get your three-ounce sample and get your card punched for every sample you try until your card has 10 holes punched in it; and
5. If you have it in you, head back to the Cityview tent to vote for your favorite. The winning bar will earn bragging rights and a full page ad with Cityview the next week with their winning recipe.
Having sampled nearly all of them during the interviewing and photo shoots in preparation for this cover story over the past few weeks (yes, I get paid for this), I know which drinks I would choose for the crown, though narrowing it down to just one is akin to a mother choosing her favorite offspring. Without spoiling too much of the surprise, here’s a glimpse at my potential top five:
I’m a tequila girl, and Brian Edwards over at Dos Rios is an artist and a genius. Try his El Matador Margarita made with El Jimador Anejo, Svedka Vanilla vodka, muddled orange and lime with bin barrel orange bitters. It’s like drinking sunshine on ice.
Can you tie a knot in a cherry stem with your tongue? Probably not after drinking the Cherry Stumble at Joker’s, made with Svedka Cherry vodka and cream soda and garnished with three cherries.
Feel the need to feed that chocolate hankering? The Standard created a Black Raspberry Kiss martini that tastes like a tootsie pop, made with Bacardi Black Ras, Three Olives chocolate vodka, Kahlua and lemonade. Find out how many licks it actually takes to get to its center.
Feeling like a stiff one without all the fluff? Me, too. That’s why it’s worth the short trek out to el Bait Shop for a taste of the more refined Woodford Reserve, served on the rocks. As Grandpa would say, “At’l put hair on your chest.”
Either one of the two drinks offered at Beer Can Alley suit me as well as the big cowboy hat suits bar manager Tommy Bonstad. The Redneck Refreshment is made with the No. 1, top-selling brand of American whiskey, Jack Daniels, shaken with Ginger Ale, fresh lemon and garnished with a lime wheel. And you might as well try the Southern Comfort-based Tennessee Tea while you’re there.
My advice: Wear comfortable shoes. And remember, these drinks are being offered in three-ounce samples — key word: sample — so don’t expect to get a full glass with all the fixins, because, well, that would just be irresponsible of all of us involved. Sample the drinks, and then later you can buy the fully-garnished, tall glass version, if you so choose.
“Three-ounce samples don’t sound like much, but take that times 10, and it’s a lot,” Goodman said. “So we encourage people to eat and sample throughout the night, and if needed, have a designated driver or use a cab service.”
At this point, with it being the first event of its kind, Goodman admits it’s impossible to predict the outcome, turnout or overall success the first Fine Spirits Festival will have. But it has all the elements of an exciting evening with friends in one of the metro’s most celebrated hot spots.
“We’re getting pretty good at this,” Goodman said. “We’re learning as we go, but we’ve become known for putting on good sampling events, and this is right up our alley.” CV