On Sunday (1.19), the San Antonio Cocktail Conference (SACC) concluded. The annual event drew a solid mix of local guests and travelers, industry and consumers… and, of course, some great drinks and spirits. SACC 2020 had a personality of its own; here are Neat Pour’s takeaways from the week.
Bigger Than It Looks
Arriving in downtown San Antonio, a visitor can be forgiven for believing that the city is small and quaint. However, San Antonio actually boasts a population of 1.5mn (much spread over neighborhoods surrounding downtown). Likewise, SACC initially feels like a small collection of nightly parties along with daytime seminars. However, one quickly realizes that the event is packed with dozens and dozens of events ranging traditional tastings to unofficial pop-ups. Despite the tame intro, SACC features far more activities than one could possibly attend.
Sure, there are tons of corporate partnerships tied into SACC; those deals are necessary to make an event of the sort work. Yet, in a pleasant change, Big Booze kept a relatively small footprint. The “big parties” were multi-sponsor affairs organized by the fest as opposed to massive invite-only extravaganzas hosted by conglomerates. On the tasting floors, local and regional distillers, not national names, were front and center. Most guests seemed to enjoy the paradigm shift. After all, one does not really need to taste the same spirits dozens of times in multiple cities.
The most visible of these local brands were a host of local whiskey companies. Yes, Texas whiskey is becoming ‘a thing’. Several producers that NP spoke with even mentioned future plans to create a Lone Star State designation for the Republic’s juice. For now, the distillers are focused on experimenting with new methods, drilling down on specific corn and rye strains, and employing old techniques, like blending, in new contexts. Leading this charge are distilleries like Balcones, Milam & Greene, and Treaty Oak. Expect to see these houses generating buzz in Texas—and nationally—soon.
SACC was large enough to pull some big names, but small enough to allow access to these industry leaders. Without the demands of packed schedules, most of the speakers and experts could be seen around town and events, simply enjoying themselves. So, guests had ample opportunity to saddle up to these industry leaders at a local bar and simply chat with them. Whether one was hoping to hear Richard Seale pontificate on the Barbados GI or pick Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s mind about tiki garnishes, the openings were plentiful.
In recent years, it’s started feeling like every city has their own cocktail fest. Explosive growth in the sector spawned different schools of thought regarding host cities. For example, BCB is a classic trade show, focused on the convention floor much more than the surrounding city. Conversely, Tales of the Cocktail works hard to keep their home city of New Orleans in the frame.
SACC also employs the latter, social-terroir focused strategy. The culture and city of San Antonio was a key player at SACC 2020. Barbecue (beef based Texas style!) and tacos were ubiquitous throughout the week. Historic local venues like the Majestic Theatre, added as much to the events as the actual drinks. Most significantly, the events were primarily populated by locals ranging from the Texas Girl Gang pop-up to the slew of locals comprising the “Tacos” crew responsible for drink production behind the scenes.