golden state of cocktails 2016

Now in it’s third year, Golden State of Cocktails has steadily worked its way to the forefront of California’s cocktail festival scene, billing itself as an ambitious “celebration of California’s diverse cocktail culture.” Based on the caliber of bartenders, bar owners, cocktail and spirits academics, and brand representatives that made their way to this year’s main event in Los Angeles, they’re the event to beat. We sent our contributor Mary Kay Holmes to check it out down south.

“Have fun!” the woman with the wristbands chirped as I entered the Golden State of Cocktails on day one of my adventure. I was so excited to be at an event with “cocktails” in the title, I hadn’t had time to consider not enjoying myself. No matter what happened here, it would be amazing.

Tiki Drinks and Boozy Science Class

golden state of cocktails 2016 smugglers cove

I briskly walked through several tables of boozy samples without stopping, as I was most excited about my first class on Tiki Culture given by Martin Cate of San Francisco’s Smugglers Cove. From Don the Beachcomber to Trader Vic, we learned about the history of punch culture and the people who spearheaded the trend in America. In addition to an a bevy of information on rum, we were also served several different examples of classic tiki cocktails—my favorite being the Mai Tai.

Once tiki time was over, I had a few minutes to chat with vendors and sample tequilas, infused vodkas, and craft whiskeys. There was food available, so I helped myself to some rice and salad and happily swayed off to my next class—The Pharmacology of Flavor with Larrian Gillespie—with beverages in both hands. This discussion was fascinating and science heavy, and covered everything from umami and vegan egg white foam to data-driven food and booze pairings. I left with a long to-do list of reading and Googling; it’s a rabbit hole that’s sure to demand a significant (and certainly enjoyable) chunk of my free time in the coming weeks.

After Pharmacology, I was super excited to find that Ludlows and Coolhaus had set up tasting stations in the main room, and I enjoyed a blood orange sorbet and sample of their new Grapefruit Spritz (YUM). I can see spending way too much time enjoying this pairing when the weather’s warmer. Note to self: adjust summertime work hours accordingly for day drinking.

For my third and final class of the day I went on an aperitif trip with the adorable French hipsters of St. Germain and the Australian owner of Dante NYC. We discussed their extensive beverage menu and their creative take on different aperitifs. I also learned some “behind the bar” tips, such as serving Martinis in tiny glasses and keeping the second half in a small carafe submerged in ice. This keeps every sip as chilled as the last, making it dramatically easier to enjoy your drink over a longer period of time. Who knew? Well, probably lots of people, but as a non-Martini drinker it was fascinating!

Aging Whiskey, Cocktail Libraries, and… Miller Lite

golden state of cocktails 2016 crowd

Day two of Golden State of Cocktails was chock-full of fun facts about whiskey in The Effect of Aging class (sponsored by Angel’s Envy), Herbal Alchemy, and a St. Germain-led tour of downtown Los Angeles with Madame St. Germain (whom I must admit I absolutely adore). I would only have been happier had I been riding a horse around Lake Como with a glass of red in one hand and George Clooney’s waist in the other. Delightful.

On day three I enjoyed arts and crafts with Woodford Reserve Barrel Staves, the Collectif 1806 Cocktail Library presented by Speed Rack National Champion Brittini Rae Petersen (one of the most informative seminars of the whole weekend), and refreshing samples of Jarritos and Miller Lite (hey, you can’t always drink gin). I wished there was a rooftop pool to enjoy while clinking bottles with my new boozy friends—many of whom sported delightfully coiffed mustaches and tailored vests—but I suppose that was a bit much to ask.

A Great, Geeky Weekend

As I hopped in my Uber at the end of the final day, I found myself wishing I could spend every weekend like this, in a room full of vintage Hawaiian shirts and stylish haircuts with a Negroni in my hand. I love learning about the nerdiest of nerdy cocktail facts, and I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to do so.

Although Golden State of Cocktails as a whole seemed targeted at industry professionals, I never felt excluded or like I was lost. Vendors and instructors were happy to answer questions and have in-depth conversations about barrels and notes and layers and infusions.

I felt like I could have sat down for a drink and a chat with each and every person I encountered, and I sincerely hope to reconnect with many of them next year. In the meantime, I’ll be on Twitter making extensive lists of liquors to sample and bars to visit—it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it!


Photos: Mary Kay Holmes

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