An INSIDE Look At One Of The Manhattan Cocktail Classic’s Most Talked About Events
By Francine Cohen Photos Courtesy of Moët Hennessy USA (unless otherwise noted)
As is often the case, we find ourselves in the right place at the right time. This time it was at Louis649 (www.louis649.com) on a sunny winter afternoon. Tippling Point partner Jason Littrell was there and eager to share what he thought was a pretty nifty idea…a plan for a boat cruise to take place during the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. Great idea (we thought). Sounds like fun (we said). Little did we know then what we know now – that the Three Hour Tour would become the most coveted ticket for an off-site event during the Manhattan Cocktail Classic (www.manhattancocktailclassic.com), and an event still talked about months later. Though we should have known. Thank goodness we immediately secured ourselves a ticket before the planning got underway for real.
Planning the Three Hour Tour was no small feat for Littrell and his partners Tad Carducci, Paul Tanguay, and Gianfranco Verga. Sure, this is a band of bartenders who have put together quite a number of memorable parties on their own, but not usually something like this with a handful of the nation’s best bartenders pitching in, and at sea no less. Fortunately, for all involved, their maiden voyage as a newly formed events consultantancy was smooth sailing (sorry, couldn’t help that one).
Littrell comments on how he first came up with the idea saying, “I knew Lesley [Townsend – Founder of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic] was putting things together and saw that there was an opportunity to have events offsite. I’ve done parties outside festivals before but I had never been to a cocktail event on a boat. The idea for the cruise just came to me. The concept was sort of like how I approach drinks; a lot of times I’ll come up with a name first and build a drink around it.”
This boat cruise around the isle of Manhattan built around a “blue sky” idea got its sea legs when Moët Hennessy USA (MHUSA – www.mhusa.com) and the Tippling Point came together. Littrell says, “We all put it together; I had this idea for this cheeky event and they had skill sets I didn’t have.” Tanguay adds, “Basically Jason came up with the idea – they approached us to see if we wanted to get involved. That’s how Tippling Point was born and now we’re running with this event side concept. Putting new parties together if you will and approaching spirits companies to partner.”
The original idea for the cruise was based on a Gilligan’s Island theme, but partnering with one of the most prestigious spirits companies changed the tone of the event as Littrell reflects, “It’s hard to get dollars from a luxury brand to do something down market. We wanted to put something cohesive together with MHUSA – they have luxury brands and wanted a luxury event. The Moët Hennessy/Tippling Point partnership turned out to be a success that came together through lots of detailed collaboration.
Arnaud Dalibot, Marketing Director, Northeast Region, Moët Hennessy USA remarks, “What we wanted it to be was an organized cooperation between the best bartenders and some of the greatest spirits of the market. Give them the freedom to come up with the recipes. And be proud. We didn’t want it to be like a trade show or anything like that. We wanted people to understand the brand. And we didn’t want it to be plastic cups; it would not have been nearly as good as it was with proper ice, glasses, mixers and spirits. Our vision was to give to five of the most talented bartenders in the US the opportunity to uphold the level of sophistication that they maintain in their own bar, with the highest quality hand-cracked ice, proper glassware, fresh juices, and the very best spirits of course (10 Cane Rum, Ardbeg Scotch, Belvedere Vodka, Hennessy Cognac, and Grand Marnier), but in an original setting and joyful atmosphere. And indeed, the general feeling emanating from the boat was at once luxurious and relaxed. The sun would have never wanted to miss such a lovely tour!”
While the sun was fully cooperative that day as the Tippling Point partners did their prep work for the event they did encounter a few glitches and worked swiftly to find solutions. Littrell comments, “With any event there’s always something that can go wrong. And the difference between good companies and bad is your ability to respond.”
By all visible accounts they responded well, as any behind the scenes snafus weren’t felt by the guests. We do not doubt the Tippling Point’s capabilities but as they discovered, things get a little trickier when you’re out on the open sea and can’t run to the corner store for more ice. Tanguay notes, “When you’re planning an event for 200 people on a boat it’s a challenge. Once you take off if you’ve forgotten something, that’s it. “
Tanguay continues on and spills the beans about one specific challenge they had to overcome, “I was the driver of the van, a huge U-haul that had all the alcohol/food/glassware in one truck. We had started prepping in the East Village in the morning then loaded the truck. Because it’s a charter you can’t board early; it’s not like if you’re doing an event in a space – you don’t have that lead time to load in. We could only board in New Jersey at 3:30 PM. We figured it is right across the Lincoln Tunnel so we’ll leave at 2:00 PM. Found out you can’t take a truck through any of the tunnels. And traffic was a complete bottleneck, not even moving. When we got there we rushed to get everything on board. We lost a little bit of time, but we made it work out.”
And work out it did. Even when the ice started running low. Solution? Leo DeGroff’s ingenious and instinctual idea to crack open the ice displays at each bar showcasing the brand featured at that station and let people sip straight from the chilled bottle. Littrell chuckles, “It was an impromptu chipping of the ice displays, it happened completely organically. Some of the best bartenders in the world were drinking straight out of the bottle, and there was a lot of value in that [to the brand]. I was actually worried, I wasn’t sure how they’d react; but they reacted positively. I didn’t want people to do anything that was perceived as cheapening the brand.”
With the brands’ reputation safely in the hands of the guest bartenders invited by The Tippling Point, the sun shining upon embarkation and setting beautifully behind the elegant lady in the harbor mid-cruise, guests dressed up in their top deck finest and enjoying the cocktails, music, and food and having a good time this was an event that everyone will fondly remember. And nobody went overboard.
Though The Three Hour Tour took place during the Manhattan Cocktail Classic bartenders and bartending styles from around the country were well represented. How did this event pull such talent? Tanguay explains, “We basically approached all these bartenders because they’re all professionals. It was more like a party with them than they are working with us. Probably the easiest thing of all was working with the bartenders.”
Danny Valdez and Sean Kenyon were kind enough to tell us how they ended up behind the boat’s bars.
IF&B: How did you get involved?
DV: A couple months ago I was approached by Gianfranco Verga about working a cruise. I had no clue it was during the Classic. Although my schedule is pretty full these days, I couldn’t say no since I’d worked with Gianfranco on many big events and I consider him a good friend and great to work with. I also got wind that I’d be working w/ another one of my good friends John Lermayer, so it was a no brainer.
IF&B: What was the process of coming up with what drink you were going to serve?
DV: I had a completely different drink in mind for the cruise, something a bit more playful and tongue in cheek. I then got an odd text saying that no one had used vodka and no one was making stirred drinks, so I figured stirred vodka drink! It was much more challenging given the crowd and the ingredients, but I think I did pretty well. I always knew, even with my original drink, that I had to keep the alcohol low. Locked on a boat for three hours I knew there was potential for over indulgence. ..I also knew that my fellow “Barlebrities” would make regular strength drinks. The Moët Hennessey portfolio was at my disposal so I knew I couldn’t go wrong!
IF&B: What was different about working on a boat as opposed to being landlocked in a bar?
DV: I think the guys did a great job stocking and preparing. Having Paul Tanguay on the team I never had doubt that anything would be missed – I went across country with the guy making magic happen with what seemed like a box of Solo cups and pixy stix. There was one of the newer “skippers” that I assumed hadn’t worked any large scale event before who was a bit edgy and worried. He didn’t know the amount of talent that was backing him up. Hell, I had Leo DeGroff as my bar back for crying out loud! Sean “Bartender of the Year” Kenyon was John Lermayer’s bar back. Needless to say, it would’ve taken a fleet of pirates and a monsoon to make everyone have a bad time.
IF&B: Can you please share some thoughts about the experience of working/enjoying the cruise given the crew of pals, colleagues and fans around you?
DV: Although I’d worked with Mr. Boccato on larger scale events, I’d never worked side by side with him. It was great. He taught me that my ice carving kung fu was weak. Down south I don’t get to play with much large scale ice, so… Needless to say, I’ll be in Seattle July 4th, full immersion, learning from Zane Harris @ the Rob Roy. That way next time we meet I can show him that, I although more laid back, we southern folk can also play with the big dogs. HA! I’ll be honest. I had a blast. It was a great atmosphere, the people were amazing. Everyone was loving life. It was what our culture should strive to be. Fun. No pretense. Just plain fun.
IF&B: What did you think of the cruise and how did you end up working? When we first heard the details of this event you weren’t slated to be tending bar.
SK: I had an amazing experience on the Three Hour Tour. I was originally on the boat as a guest, and thrilled to be served drinks by the likes of Danny Valdez, John Lermayer, Leo DeGroff, Richie Boccato, Jacqueline Patterson and Thomas Waugh. My plan was to start at the bottom of the boat and drink my way up top. But, as soon as I stepped on the boat I saw Danny and Richie; Danny handed me a cocktail and said, “Lermayer needs you upstairs!” And off to work I went; for the next three hours I was John’s “ice manager” with the best view on the boat from the open top deck, we had a f**king blast working together. Eventually, all of the bartenders made it up to our bar to share a drink, or shot. My favorite moment on the boat was when we ran out of ice and Leo decided to start breaking down the ice sculptures for use in cocktails. The trick was that there was a full bottle of each of the spirits cast in the ice, once broken down, someone had to drink the booze. So Leo was walking around with a block of ice with the top of a 10 Cane bottle sticking out pouring shots straight into people’s mouths. Brilliant. It was like a three hour vacation…no drama, no ego (if there was they stayed out of our way because John and I would have thrown the offender overboard), lots of laughter with great friends and family.
Ardbeg – Scotch Fix – by Jackie Patterson – San Francisco
1 ½ oz. Ardbeg 10 Year Old
¾ oz. Lemon Juice
1 oz. Honey Syrup (1:1)
Serve in rocks glass over crushed ice. Garnish with fresh seasonal fruit.
Belvedere-0ctober Night – by Danny Valdez – New Orleans
2 oz. Belvedere
2 oz. Laspostolle Casa Camenère
½ oz. Demerara Syrup (1:1)
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
Spray of Allspice Dram on top. Served up.
Grand Marnier – Golden Gate by Thomas Waugh – New York City
¾ oz. Grand Marnier
¾ oz. Grapefruit Juice
½ oz. Benedictine
½ oz. Campari
½ oz. Lime
Whip-shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with two Kold Draft cubes. Strain into Collins glass filled with Scotsman crushed ice. Garnish with a lime twist.
HENNESSY-Vieux Carré – by Richie Boccato – NYC
1 ½ oz. Hennessy
¾ oz. Dolin Sweet Vermouth
½ oz. Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey
1 Dash Angostura Bitters
Serve over rocks, on a big rock. Garnish with a lemon twist.
10 CANE RUM- The Landing Strip – by John Lermayer – Miami
1 ½ oz. 10 Cane Rum
1 ½ oz. Fresh Pineapple Juice
1 oz. Coconut Water
1 Dash Lime
1 Dash Simple
4 Sage Leaves
Shake and strain into a Collins glass. Garnish with a sage spear.