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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. https://cocktails.foxwoods.com/

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: https://cocktails.foxwoods.com

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.

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS:

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.

Seminars:
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
Bribon
Charmucos
Patron Roca Silver
Patron Roca Anejo
Patron Roca Reposado
Patron Pineapple Citronge
Lillet
Avion
Altos
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

VIP LUXE ROOM
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