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BETTING ON BEVERAGES AND BITES: How a fledgling cocktail festival builds brand loyalty

June 19, 2019

By Francine Cohen All images courtesy of Foxwoods Resort Casino

Most people go to casinos to gamble. And, if they are honest with themselves, they count on losing; just as much as they dream of winning big.

But today, casinos are about much more than dropping your bank account on a blackjack hand. For guests, they’re a place for learning. For the hotel and its suppliers, it’s about brand building.

More than just fun and games and staying up all night you say? Well, when the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe opened Foxwoods Resort Casino in the Connecticut woods 33 years ago, they were on to something new; offering guests more to see and experience at Foxwoods.

In 1986 the notion of a casino in the middle of all those trees was enough to draw plenty of attention to the biggest casino on the east coast. The view of the forest outside was touted as much as the casino’s games and amenities inside, and the resort’s advertising theme song, “The Wonder of It All” invited guests and gamblers to “meet where the trees are standing tall.”

It took another 20 years – to 1986 when Red Rock Canyon Resort was built – and then another three after that for Aria to land on the Las Vegas Strip in 1989- before a casino was designed so radically as to allow the outdoors in through windows that let light, and real world distractions, into the gaming areas.

Today, that real life distraction is cocktails. More specifically, the second annual “Wonder of the Cocktail” event that kicks off today and runs through June 21.

With pop-up bars throughout the resort offering Mimosas, Bloody Marys and the latest in lifestyle energy drinks included in ticket packages to keep the festivities going and refresh spirits, Wonder of the Cocktail taps an audience that might otherwise scoff at a casino vacation. They’ll find themselves drawn to this resort-wide culinary and cocktail celebration of free-flowing spirits, epicurean experiences and master class seminars that unfolds delightfully and is led by global experts for food and beverage professional, drawing spirit enthusiasts and foodies alike.

On June 20th a series of master classes are scheduled so industry professionals and spirit enthusiasts can learn the rich histories of liquor brands with intimate and interactive tastings.

Obviously, the audience dedicated to learning and exploring is exactly the crowd you want at your bar, restaurant or buying your brand. Not to mention it’s this guest who Foxwoods hopes to delight into returning again and bringing friends.

Who better to count on as future brand champions than someone seeking out a spirited experience in this setting? Christina Clifton, Foxwoods Resort Casino Vice President of Food & Beverage, says, “You can count on the right audience here. Their enthusiasm for last year’s event made this year’s possible. And it promises to be even better. At Foxwoods, we are known for offering it all, from fine dining, nightlife, gaming and entertainment, to retail, adventure and more. The Wonder of the Cocktail brings together the best of the best,”

She continues, “Last year’s inaugural event was such a success, and we are thrilled to host even more esteemed mixologists, brand ambassadors and chefs this year to provide this one-of-a-kind experience.”

We sat down with Clifton to find out more about the unprecedented opportunities for meaningful brand engagement. And just what you can expect if you attend. We’ll see you amidst the trees. Tix:

IF&B: How did this event come to life?
Christina Clifton: Guests are increasingly expecting the best of the best in food & drink offerings and we wanted to highlight the sophisticated beverage program we have at Foxwoods and bring a premier event to New England. Other similar cocktail events have guests running all over an entire city, but Foxwoods is a city in itself at 9,000,000 square feet, so Wonder of the Cocktail is three days of focused mixology all under one roof.

IF&B: What do you hope to achieve by hosting it?
Christina Clifton: We want to entertain and educate our guests and deliver a one-of-a-kind experience, while also introducing them to the resort’s overall beverage program.

IF&B: Who is it aimed at?
Christina Clifton: Wonder of the Cocktail is aimed at the general public who want to come out, have a great time and taste some exceptional cocktails and spirits they may not normally try. We marketed to our casino guests as well as potential new customers, who may not have ever visited Foxwoods. We’re also targeting food & beverage industry professionals who can hone their craft and increase their knowledge from top experts at our master class seminars, ranging from technical in-depth explorations into tequila, mezcal and agave and how different soil samples can affect the terroir, to a hands-on bending experience with Johnnie Walker to create your own customized blend.

IF&B: How are you getting brands, and chefs and suppliers interested and supporting? (I.e. what’s the hook that’s making them say “yes!”?)
Christina Clifton: We have the best brands and suppliers on board, including Highland Park, Macallan, Don Julio, the portfolios of Remy and Diageo and others. We’ve built excellent relationships with them over the years – I think Connecticut gets overlooked by New York City and Boston when it comes to cocktail programs, so they were excited to partner and support to bring recognition from the rest of the country.

IF&B: How will this year’s event differ or build upon the past?
Christina Clifton: In addition to the extra master class seminar, we’re changing the theme. Last year’s was a Gatsby theme, and this year will be the five senses – so expect lots of Instagrammable moments to see, live music to hear, and of course tasting all of the cocktails and food.

IF&B: How, can and why does programming like this drive guest loyalty?
Christina Clifton: Our motto is “The Wonder of It All” and this event only supports that by delivering what they want in an engaging way. Guests can plan their vacations around Wonder of the Cocktail and make a whole week of it.

IF&B: Can it change or aid in your perception amongst the trade?
Christina Clifton: We certainly think so – we are doing some really unique things at the resort and hosting this event will bring light to those. We hope this will continue to grow to the same level as other renowned cocktail festivals.

IF&B: Is there anything else that you want to share?
Christina Clifton: Foxwoods is a fully integrated resort that has so much to offer. We think the Wonder is the Cocktail is another exciting event that guests can expand their knowledge or just have a blast tasting the latest cocktails in the world of mixology.


Welcome Reception – Wednesday, June 19: Kick off the festivities with chef-crafted hors d’oeuvres, signature cocktails and wines from all over the globe.

Booze and Bets – Wednesday, June 19: Enjoy premium cocktails from Johnnie Walker Black Label and Salute American Vodka while experiencing world-class gaming at Foxwoods’ table games including blackjack, roulette, craps and Texas Hold’em.

Sip-Savor-Swagger – Thursday, June 20: Dine around on fabulous cuisine from some of Connecticut’s premier chefs with expertly paired cocktails while listening to a jazz trio perform live.

Splash Into Summer Pool Party – Friday, June 21: Make a splash on the luxurious pool deck with featured spirits, food and fun in the sun.

Grand Tasting – Friday, June 21: Raise your glass for the grand finale that encompasses every facet of The Wonder of the Cocktail featuring the world’s finest spirits. Upgrade to a VIP package for access to the Luxe Room, featuring hand-selected brands that truly belong beyond the velvet rope.

The Art of Blending: An Exploration of Diplomático Rum’s Unique Distillation Methods – Diplomático Rum’s National Ambassador, Manny Peña, will lead guests in a unique hands-on blending workshop and tasting of the Distillery Collection to demonstrate the many faces of rum making through the lens of one of the world’s most iconic producers.

Agave Lab – Diageo Reserve’s National Educator of Latin Spirits, Jorge Raptis, will review the rich history of Mexico and tequila, with focus on highland tequilas Don Julio and DeLeón. Besides tequila, guests will delve into the amazing world of mezcal and its process by tasting cooked agave to understand the complexity of flavors that exist in the raw material and looking at different soil samples from the most important regions in Jalisco to understand terroir in the agave world. Guests will also sample different herbs and fruits from various regions, aging periods and casks as they explore the formation of flavor in Mexican spirits and get a firsthand look at the most unique varieties.

Westland: American Single Malt – Ambassador Jason Cousins will provide an in-depth look into Westland, where he will debunk the myth that Westland is a replica of Scottish Whiskey and prove how the brand is leading the emergence of an entirely new category of single malt whiskey. Guests will learn about Westland ingredients, explore the traditional and newly forged traditions, and wrap up with an exploration of the production and taste profile with a tasting of each expression.
Johnnie Walker Blending Lab – The Johnnie Walker Blending Lab will be an educational and hands-on blending experience to learn about the art of blending and all things Johnnie Walker. Guests will then have the opportunity to create their own customized blend.

Participating brands (list in formation)
General Admission
Bully Boy Distillery
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey
Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack
Hiro Junmai Ginjo Blue
Hiro Junmai Red
Stoli Lime
Patron Roca Silver
Patron Roca Anejo
Patron Roca Reposado
Patron Pineapple Citronge
Absolut Elyx
Absolut Grapefruit
Campo Veijo Cava Brut
Bacardi Lime
Bacardi 4 Year
Bacardi 8 Year
Bacardi 10 Year
Blood, Sweat & Tears Vodka
Tom of Finland Organic Vodka
Aviation Gin
Sipsmith London Dry Gin
Sipsmith Lemon Drizzle
Basil Hayden Bourbon
Basil Hayden Dark Rye
Roku Japanese
Haku Japanese
Toki Japanese
Maker’s 46
Laphroaig 10 Year
Heaven’s Door Whiskey Line
Stolen Whiskey Line
Tanteo Tequila: Jalapeno, Chipotle and Habanero

Brugal 1888
Highland Park Magnus
Highland Park 12
Highland Park 18
Highland Park Valknut
The Macallan Double Cask 12
The Macallan Triple Cask 15
The Macallan Triple Cask 18
The Macallan Rare Cask
Glenrothes 12
Glenrothes 18
Glenrothes Whiskey Makers Cut
Partida Blanco
Partida Reposado
Partida Anejo
Partida Elegante
Don Julio Real
Don Julio 1942
Johnnie Walker Blue
Cragganmore 12 Year
Oban 14 Year
Caol Ila 12 Year
Mortlach 16 Year
Dalwhinnie 15 Year
Clynelish 14 Year



December 3, 2015

Celebrating 82 Years of the Repeal of the 21st Amendment
By Francine Cohen

Photo by Elizabeth Parker

Photo by Elizabeth Parker

If you’re going to make an effort to celebrate Repeal Day in the most historically accurate way it sort of makes sense to celebrate in Washington, DC where the legislation for Prohibition was first enacted and then repealed, 13 years later. If you want to pair your geographic accuracy with a swellegant time, you’ll do it in the company of the DC Craft Bartenders’ Guild at their 8th Annual Repeal Day Ball being held on Friday, December 4th at the historic Carnegie Library.

This celebration of the 82nd Anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition comes together for the eighth time in recognition of this dry time coming to an end from coast to coast. In that spirit the town’s most respected and sought out bartenders will be slinging drinks side by side with fellow bartenders from other cities, truly making the party a celebration of what the US enjoyed all at the same time, eighty two years ago– the ability to get a good drink from their favorite friendly neighborhood bartender.

Guild President, Jamie MacBain (who also serves as the Beverage Director of Daikaya), notes, “We extend invitations to bartenders in other cities because ours is a close-knit, global community. Bartenders tend to move around a lot so most of us have worked in other markets and know other people [there]. A national bartending line-up presents a unique opportunity for DC residents to see and taste how other bartenders around the country approach our craft.”
The event will showcase numerous bartenders from New York, as well as such as Lindsay Matteson of Amor y Amargo who shares, “This is THE Repeal Day event, and It’s a great opportunity to work with friends and bartenders from around the country.”

Matteson joins her fellow bartenders from DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Livermore, CA and Sean Kenyon and his crew from Williams & Graham, the bar in Denver, Colorado that won the coveted Best American Bar 2015 at Tales of the Cocktails’ Spirited Awards. She adds, ” It’s also a way for us to give back to the community,” Matteson added. “If it weren’t for Repeal Day, I wouldn’t have a job.”

Photo by Elizabeth Parker

Photo by Elizabeth Parker

Thankfully, she does. And all the pouring that she and the other presenting bartenders do at the party go to a good cause; actually, a few of them. A portion of all tickets sales will be donated to The Museum of the American Cocktail, a nonprofit organization dedicated to education in mixology, and preservation of the rich history of the American cocktail. And the proceeds from the event’s first ever silent auction will go to sending one member of the DC Craft Bartenders Guild to NYC in the fall of 2016 to attend the BAR 5-Day program. MacBain explains, “This is our first year holding a silent auction and I could not be more proud of all the work and support we’ve received…from organizing support to donations…it’s been a massive undertaking. The reason for the silent is auction is simple: We wanted to do something different this year and to provide an opportunity for at least one Guild member to attend BAR 5-Day in NYC. Attending BAR 5-Day is prestigious, in and of itself. By having one of our own sit with masters of the bartending community…Dale DeGroff, Doug Frost, Steve Olson, F. Paul Pacult, Andy Seymour, Dave Wondrich…he or she will gain knowledge and experience that’s unrivaled in the profession.”
This annual party is unrivaled in its popularity and the Roaring Twenties inspired-theme event just keeps getting bigger and better as Guild founding member, Gina Chersevani, concludes, “It’s amazing to see the growth of this event over the years in the nation’s capital considering it started and ended here.”

Gina Chersevani (Buffalo & Bergen, Suburbia)
1 oz. Macchu Pisco
1 oz. Grapefruit Juice
1 oz. Cranberry Juice
Grapefruit spiced syrup
Shake with ice, pour into flute, fill with sparkling wine

2015 Repeal Day Ball tickets are available at
Date / Time: Friday, December 4, 2015; 9-11PM (doors open at 8PM for VIPs)

Location: Carnegie Library 801 K Street NW, Washington, DC

Tickets: Start at $80 for general admission; purchase at Eventbrite

Attire: Creative cocktail with a nod to the Roaring Twenties

Photo by Elizabeth Parker

Photo by Elizabeth Parker



August 9, 2013

Win the honey pot at the 4th Annual National Bärenjäger Bartender Competition
By Francine Cohen

Barenjager 1 Christian Saunders in Bar mask for competition

There are A LOT of cocktail competitions out there. One after the other, brand after brand, city after city, country after county, nice cash prize after nice cash prize. But one annual competition that deserves some special attention is the 4th Annual National Bärenjäger Bartender Competition (

Why? Because this was the first of all the cocktail competitions to include an audience participation voting component, setting itself apart from all the rest. And, it just may be the only branded cocktail competition that welcomes amateurs as well as professional bartenders to compete.

To build awareness of the competition salespeople hand out fliers in their regions and press outlets (like this one) mention the competition in hopes of drumming up entrants who will have their recipes blindly judged by the likes of Dushan Zaric (Returning judge and founder of award-winning Employees Only and Macao Trading Co.), Jim Meehan (Managing Partner of PDT in NYC and author of The PDT Cocktail book), Sean Kenyon (Third generation barman and proprietor of Williams & Graham in Denver, CO), and Tricia Alley (Director of Mixology for South California at Southern Wine & Spirits and USBG LA Chapter President).

Kate Laufer, Director of Public Relations for Sidney Frank Importing Company, makes sure the drinks, whether they come from professional bartenders or home enthusiasts, are all presented on a level playing field. She comments, “Wholeheartedly Bärenjäger is completely blind. Judges don’t see submissions in advance. They just see the name and ingredients for the drink – nothing about where the person is. So that results in something like having Brad Farran competing with Continue Reading…



July 30, 2013

American Winners Selected for the 5th Annual Copa Jerez. Now on to Spain.

Copa Jerez 2013 5th annual logo

The 5th Copa Jerez USA Competition finals were held on July 1st at Haven’s Kitchen in New York City, and Chef de Cuisine Scott Jones and Wine Program Manager Melodie Reynolds from No. 9 Park in Boston won the opportunity to represent the United States at the International Copa Jerez Competition in Spain this October!

Their winning menu is as follows:

Starter Course: Artichokes en Barigoule with deviled quail eggs, white gazpacho, white sturgeon caviar, and manzanilla olive paired with Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla
Main Course: Rohan Duck Breast with La Belle Farms foie gras, asparagus and truffle marmalade, marcona almond, and fennel pollen brioche paired with Lustau Almacenista Pata de Gallina Oloroso
Dessert Course: Mango Mousse with cinnamon graham financier, rooibos, and honey crunch paired with César Florido Moscatel Especial (dish created by Executive Pastry Chef Jaime Davis)

Copa Jerez 2013 winning team

Copa Jerez is an international competition featuring top chefs and sommeliers from across Europe, Asia, and North America, in which each team is commissioned with choosing the ultimate matches of Vinos de Jerez with food. It was created to showcase the incredible diversity of Sherry wine and its remarkable ability to match with food.

Competition was fierce, as Scott Jones and Melodie Reynolds competed against two incredible teams — James Campbell Caruso and Miguel Villalpando, La Boca, Santa Fe, NM, and Continue Reading…



July 30, 2013

Prohibition Distillery and Bootlegger 21 Vodka Announce Their First Fan T-Shirt Competition

Bootlegger Logo w-shuttlecock product of E.S (2)

This directly from distillery co-founder, Brian Facquet:

The contest of the year has begun! We are inviting one and all to enter the Prohibition Distillery / Bootlegger 21 T-shirt Design Competition.
The winning T-shirt will be the first fan T-shirt design in our history!

Be creative…have fun…Will it be a Bootlegger T-shirt or a Prohibition Distillery focus? Who knows! Best of all, the top 3 designs will be voted on by our fans and the winner selected by our panel of judges. ( well…John and I)

The winner will receive the following:
1. The prestigious Prohibition Distillery T-shirt Trophy
2. 4 T-shirts with their design
3. A private tour at the Distillery for you and your friends. (Mill some corn, taste some fermenting mash, fill a barrel…or just watch)
4. Bragging Rights!!!!
5. Did I mention the trophy?

Runners up will receive a Prohibition Distillery hat, the other guy’s winning tee shirt (if it doesn’t hurt too much) and a Bootlegger Poster.

Contest ends August 5th. Email any questions to



July 13, 2013

Bols Bartending Academy Uses a 670 oz glass to Build the World’s Largest Pousse Cafe

Remember when this happened?

Bols Koopstje crowd. jpg

Three years after setting a world record for the largest Kopstootje, those striving Bols folks are ready to set a new world’s record at Tales of the Cocktail – watch out for the world’s largest Pousse Café.

On July 19th in New Orleans, three years after their first world record was set Lucas Bols will attempt to set another record during Tales of the Cocktail by creating the world’s largest Pousse Café.

By doing so, Lucas Bols is reintroducing a forgotten art of cocktail making called layering. To showcase the complexity as well as at the excitement of layering a cocktail, the team of the Bols Bartending Academy will use a 670 oz glass and will layer over 10 different Bols Liqueurs and many other spirits on to set the record for the world’s largest Pousse Cafe cocktail ever made.

Historically served as a “coffee push” to add a little sweetness to an afternoon coffee, today the Pousse Cafe has become an independent style of cocktail making. A layered (or “stacked”) drink, sometimes called a pousse-café, is a kind of cocktail in which the slightly different densities of various liqueurs are used to create an array of colored layers, typically three to seven. The specific gravity of the liquid ingredients increases from top to bottom. Liqueurs with the most dissolved sugar and the least alcohol are densest and are put at the bottom. These include fruit juices and cream liqueurs. Those with the least water and the most alcohol, such as rum with 75% alcohol by volume, are floated on top.

It is said that the Pousse Cafe made its US debut in New Orleans in the mid-19th century. What we know for a fact is that Continue Reading…



May 14, 2013

Cocktail Lovers Gather to End Childhood Hunger on May 18th
By Francine Cohen

NoKidHungry MCC auction invitation

Proving that the Manhattan Cocktail Classic isn’t just all about feeling good courtesy of good drinks, Small Screen Network presents a Chef’s Table charity cocktail benefit on Saturday, May 18th from 7-10 as they partner with anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength to support their No Kid Hungry campaign which works to end childhood hunger in America by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day. (

With one in five children experiencing food insecurity it’s imperative that funds be raised to put an end to this unacceptable reality. Hopefully Saturday night’s benefit and live auction will put us one step closer to that scenario when we can say that no child in America will go to bed hungry.

Please join Small Screen Network, host mixologist Charlotte Voisey of William Grant & Sons (, Chefs Fredrik Berselius of Aska (, Anna Boiardi of E! Networks Playing with Fire, Kathy Casey and Linnea Johnsson, along with the ever lively host and auctioneer Billy Harris ( for a memorable evening of nibbles, libations and unlimited opportunities to open your pocketbooks liberally for such exclusive prizes Small Screen ( has curated as:

Rare Bottle of Scotch Tun 1401 & Trip to LA for Private Tasting, Dining and Bagpipe Lesson

Your Own Video Series on Small Screen Network

Large Format Dinner For Twelve at David Chang’s Momofuku Ma Peche

Tilit Chef Culinary & Bartending Kit from Cocktail Kingdom Package

Music provided by David Higgins

Tickets available here in limited quantity:



May 10, 2013

Lemon-Aid Helps End Hunger While Mixologists Vie for Ultimat Lemon-Aid trophy at Manhattan Cocktail Classic

This is a battle you don’t want to miss; a handful of the country’s most thirst-quenching mixologists re-creating their grown up version of lemonade. All in an effort to help end hunger.

Check out this event on May 20th during the 4th Annual Manhattan Cocktail Classic (

Ultimat Vodka Lemon-Aid Stand Kick Off Invite FC with recipes