With the craft cocktail movement showing no signs of slowing down, bartenders and mixologists are really having their moment. The best way to sample the innovative and delicious craft cocktails created by these behind-the-bar wizards is by experiencing one of the cocktail festivals that are springing up all around the country. Mix and mingle with brand ambassadors, distillers and fellow cocktail-lovers in these multi-day events; you'll find seminars, competitions, music, and enough tastings (of everything from infused vodka to small-batch whisky) to guarantee that you’ll be sleeping late the next morning. Here are five fun and fabulous cocktail festivals for tipplers to indulge in their passion for spirits and be the first to sip hand-crafted cocktails.
Apres-Ski Cocktail Classic
When: March 14-17
Ready for some high-altitude fun? Head out to the snow-capped Rockies to imbibe with industry pros and cocktail-aficionadas at the inaugural Apres-Ski Cocktail Classic, celebrating the union of après-ski and craft cocktails. The four-day event, to be held at two newly renovated Snowmass hotels (the Westin and the Wildwood Snowmass Resort) will kick off with an opening bash that promises to be a full-blown alpine party. Over the next few days, expect mountaintop snow parties, fireside seminars with distillers and blenders, tastings of spirits like cognacs and armagnacs, pop-up bars, a pub crawl, and tutorials on those perfect cold-weather warm-up drinks—the hot toddy and the Irish coffee. Tickets $31-$365.
Tales of the Cocktail
Where: New Orleans
When: July 17-21
Now heading into its 11th year, this boozy five-day bacchanalia dreamed up by New Orleans native and marketing dynamo Ann Tuennerman has quickly become the granddady of all cocktail festivals in the country—if not the world (there will also be a Tales in Buenos Aires in April). The New Orleans location lends itself perfectly to this event because—in addition to its all-around party vibe—many cocktails were created here, including the Sazerac and the Ramos Fizz. A few of this year’s seminar lineups includes Lowcountry Cocktails with Charlotte Voisey and the Changing Map of American Whiskey with Paul Clarke. You can be sure there will be plenty of tasting rooms and decadent parties in the French Quarter and beyond. Tickets $47-$100.
Manhattan Cocktail Classic
Where: New York City
When: May 17-21
The Friday night kick-off gala at this five-day event, started by Lesley Townsend Duval in 2009, is legendary. It takes places over several floors in one of New York City’s grandest spaces—the New York Public Library on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. Join up to 3,500 spirits enthusiasts at this decadent black-tie event for a never-ending flow of cocktails, like Patron served in carved cucumbers, absinthe martinis, and booze-filled snow-cones accompanied by various jazz and bluegrass bands. Check the schedule for the full lineup, which includes events and seminars that take place all over town (and in other boroughs) at bars, restaurants, museums, theaters and other venues. Tickets $25-$350.
San Diego Spirits Festival
Where: San Diego
When: August 24-25
This popular seaside festival that takes place in late August is now in its fifth year. The shindig gets going on the bay at the Port Pavilion on Broadway Pier and combines cocktails with culinary bites from the city’s leading chefs (along with food trucks offering snacks like fish tacos). Cocktail enthusiasts can expect lots of different events, like bartender battles, chef demonstrations, live music, a mini fashion show, and plenty of tastings—last year’s included brand ambassadors from companies such as Milagro Tequila, Pink Pigeon Rum, Conjure Cognac, Mickey Finn apple whiskey and small-batch vodka-makers like Crater Lake and Mazama. Tickets $90 per day.
San Antonio Cocktail Conference
Where: San Antonio
When: January 17-20
Though this four-day Texan shindig has already taken place, it’s never too late to start planning for next year. The two-year old festival (modeled after the Tales of the Cocktail) had a full schedule of events, kicking off with an opening bash for 600 at the historic Majestic Theater with three floors of specialty cocktails. The next few days brought seminars, bartender competitions, product showcases, and tastings of Texas spirits like Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Garrison Brothers bourbon. There was also a special river cruise along the San Antonio, where on-board bartenders whipped up creative drinks before the boat made stops at venues like Josh Besh’s Luke restaurant and Soho Wine & Martini Bar. Tickets approx. $30-$150.
Photo Credits: Photos courtesy of the Apres-Ski Cocktail Classic, Manhattan Cocktail Classic, San Diego Spirits Festival, and San Antonio Cocktail Conference