Charleston was the last stop on our Regional Conference Tour and heading back to the South really did feel like home, after 5 weeks on the road.
Sunday, started off right with a pool party at the hotel sponsored by Jägermeister.
We then headed to Home Team BBQ for a Pig Roast Dinner sponsored by Brown-Forman with cocktails being served by the talented Megan Deschaine and Teddy Nixon. It was then time to head to The Cocktail Club for the “Grass Skirts and Green Tomatoes” Party sponsored by William Grant where the cocktails flowed and good times ensued.
About a third of the attendees started Monday with a morning run with Charlotte Voisey. Bacardi sponsored a Juice Truck for all of us to enjoy before the morning sessions kicked-off. Now, never have I started by morning off with beer, but that’s just what we did courtesy of Guinness. Guinness Ambassador, Dan Fontaine, discussed the story of beer in the U.S., the expanding role of beer in cocktails, and the history and future of the Guinness Brewery. Oh, and we got to sample a few beers from the Guinness Brewery! Our next seminar, “In the Spotlight” was led by New Orleans’ own, Star Hodgson. Star offered tips on how to make your resume and cover letter stand out (in a good way), the importance of headshots, presenting yourself on various social media platforms, and how to prepare for working with the media in print, radio or on television. Our last morning session, featured Greg Roshkowski, Cooper at The Brown-Forman Cooperage. Greg spoke to us about the history and craft of The Brown-Forman Cooperage and why “what matters most we do ourselves.” After a barrel raising demonstration, attendees had a chance to try it themselves. Skilled Coopers at The Brown-Forman Cooperage can raise 250 barrels a day….I think we may need more practice!
It was time to head to lunch at Bay St. Biergarten, where we enjoyed a nice Southern meal of fried chicken, potato salad, mustard greens and delicious cocktails featuring our sponsor, Old Forester. After lunch, we headed back to the hotel and were greeted by the highly entertaining Dean Serneels, who shared tips and tricks on “Creating Unforgettable Experiences as a Chef, Juggler and Magician” and let us sample all of the Rèal Cocktail Syrups. Try the kiwi…you can thank me later! Our last seminar of the day, hosted by Jack Daniels’ Single Barrel Collection and led by Michael Ring, Brown-Forman Whiskey Brand Champion, was a discussion on Farm-to-Glass Cocktails. Pete Ambrose from Ambrose Farms in Charleston, was on-hand to talk to us about farm life and answer any questions we had. Jeremiah Schenzel of The Indigo Road also discussed how fresh, seasonal ingredients plucked straight from your local farm can elevate your cocktail game. Seeing that it was now just about 5’o clock, it was time for Happy Hour Crawl! We jumped on the Party Bus featuring a Purple Rain Prince Tribute theme and cocktails provided by Ketel One and Rèal Cocktail Syrups. We enjoyed a tour of the city as we decided whether to head to Boones for cocktails sponsored by Jack Fire, Indaco for cocktails sponsored by Haus Alpenz or the Worst Hipster Party Ever at Proof with cocktails sponsored by Infinium.
As Happy Hour came to a close, we split into groups and headed to dinner. I was lucky enough to be heading to 39 Rue St. Jean for a tasty seafood feast and cocktails sponsored by Appleton Rum and Forty Creek. Late-Night Pop-Ups awaited us after dinner. Again, the question was “where to begin?” Should we start with Casa Noble cocktails served up by the Atlanta chapter at Oku? Cocktails featuring Wondermint and the Orlando chapter at The Cocktail Club? High West cocktails with the Miami chapter at Mash? Redemption Rye cocktails at Macintosh? Or is a One Night Stand with Jack Daniel at Prohibition in order? So many options, so little time!
Thank goodness for the Bacardi Juice Truck on Tuesday morning! After juice, breakfast and several cups of coffee, it was time for more seminars! First up, Dianna Greene, Ketel One Ambassador, led a Panel Discussion on getting the most from your USBG membership. We discussed who’s who in the Guild and what everyone’s goal is for events and programming. Dianna explained why it is so important to have real relationships and open dialogue with the people you work with in all areas of the industry. Everyone wants to achieve their goals and it important to create a way for all parties to be #winning. Our next seminar featured Johnny Schuler of Pisco Porton. Johnny walked us through a history of Pisco and the oldest distillery in the Americas, Hacienda La Caravedo, where Porton is produced. We learned about the different categories of Pisco and had the opportunity to taste and compare the differences between each category. The last morning session, featured a panel discussion on Southern Hospitality and just what that means exactly. For lunch, Infinium Spirits sponsored us at Cooper River Brewery. The afternoon sessions began with Phillip Pepperdine, BeamSuntory American Whiskey Ambassador-East Coast, leading a discussion on “Our Native Spirit” and a tasting of the Maker’s Mark portfolio. The afternoon concluded with the Southern Regional Council of Chapters’ Quarterly Meeting. We discussed some upcoming regional and national initiatives and allowed chapters time to discuss some of their successes and challenges. We also voted to hold the 2017 Southern Regional Conference in New Orleans!!! After a much needed break, it was time to head to the Grand Bohemian Hotel for the World Class Announcement Party sponsored by Diageo. Big congratulations going out to the three Southern Finalists who will be advancing to the National Finals in June - - - Eric Bennett (Birmingham), Blake Jones (Orlando), and Zach Lynch (Jacksonville).
Next week…New Orleans and the joys of returning home! After some truly once in a lifetime experiences at all of the Regional Conferences – Hawaii, Utah, Indianapolis, New York and Charleston, I can say that being able to reconnect with old friends while meeting new ones and seeing how each region comes together to support one another and create a great energy that everyone can take back to their chapters after a 4-day USBG “love fest” is my favorite part…well, that and the Indy Speedway!