GSN’s One For the Road: Art of the Cocktail @ Fee Brothers

Fee Brothers, venerable manufacturer of bitters, mixers and syrups recently hosted an all day cocktail event in their hometown of Rochester, NY.  Current owner Joe Fee invited Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Simon Ford and Allen Katz to present international trends in the craft cocktail movement in front of a select audience of Upstate New York bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts.  The event was held in the ARTISANworks gallery.  Surrounded by an amazing of display of antiquities as well as newly created artwork, the day began promptly at high noon.

First up was Joe Fee with a brief history of Fee Brothers and their commitment to creating high quality products for use in bars all over the world for almost 150 years.  As of 2011, they have a selection of over 100 products.  For decades they were the only producer of orange bitters, a key ingredient in pre-prohibition cocktails .

Joe was followed by renowned Tiki and tropical drink expert Jeff Berry (below right) who talked about the influence Tiki drinks have had on American cocktail culture and their current revival in the drinks market.  Jeff demonstrated his technique of cocktail shaking and samples of the classic original version of the Mai Tai and the Dr. Funk cocktail were passed out amongst the guests while he told the stories behind each drink.

Simon Ford (seen below left with Chris Carlsson) from Pernod-Ricard and Plymouth Gin ambassador, talked about the history of the cocktail from it’s very beginnings as punch and it’s eventual evolution into the bittered sling and the effect ice had on drinking culture of the 1800’s.  We enjoyed a Martinez cocktail to get an idea of what an old school cocktail tasted like, and following his presentation a short social time was had whilst sipping Simon’s original creation, the Mandarine and Jasmine Tea Sour.

The day’s seminars concluded with a presentation by Allen Katz (seen below right with myself) from Southern Wine & Spirits about the role of education in training bartenders who in turn educate and encourage their customers to try new cocktails and spirits.  Finally the floor was opened up to questions for Joe, Jeff, Simon and Allen.  There were several bartenders from the Rochester area who described some of the issues they were facing, as well as others who asked for opinions on how to move beer-centric customers towards cocktails.  Everyone agreed that the cocktail world is still in the early stages of a renaissance in smaller cities, but will continue to grow over time.

A dinner break followed, and I found a local Middle Eastern restaurant to tide me over until the evening’s festivities.

Meeting back at ARTISANworks at 7pm, there was an open meet and greet with the guests of honor, a silent auction, hors d’oeuvres, a dj spinning tunes and a chance to try some more original cocktails created by Jeff, Simon and Allen.  This gave me a chance to talk one on one with everyone.  Joe invited me to tour the Fee factory this summer, Jeff was pumped about the Hukilau Festival taking place in Ft. Lauderdale this June, Simon shared some amusing stories about his bartending experiences including one about stomping on frozen solid 20 lb bags of white peach puree for Bellinis, only to discover that he had been given the wrong type of puree; and Allen spoke with me about some of the legal issues regarding sampling spirit flights in liquor stores in New York State.

All in all, it was a very informative day and a fun evening.  I hope that Fee’s does something along these lines for their 150th Anniversary in 2013.

(all photos by Gerry Szymanski)

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