For aficionados of craft cocktails. there's nothing better than a cocktail festival: bars, restaurants and distributors pull out all the stops to showcase creations made from premium spirits. Such festivals include seminars, talks, interaction with bartenders, pop-up bars and grand tastings, and take place year-round. Lift a glass to the following 13 festivals any cocktail lover would be remiss to miss.
Rum is seeing a resurgence in popularity; in June, cane-spirit enthusiasts and tiki lovers shimmy over to Fort Lauderdale's Hukilau, "much cheaper than a trip to the South Seas and possibly more fun," said Where South Florida editor Victoria Cervantes.
Celebrating all things Polynesian, this five-day event includes rum competitions and tastings, mermaid shows, educational seminars and pool parties. Don't miss an evening at the Mai-Kai, the city's most celebrated Polynesian bar and restaurant; the South Florida landmark is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Barbados' island vibe is at its most spirited at the Barbados Food and Rum Festival. Every November, its cities and villages come together in this feast of culture, cuisine and drink that features events such as "gourmet" safaris with top-name chefs, "Rum & Polo," which brings together great drinks and sporting matches, and the signature Rum Extravaganza tasting experience.
Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. rebranded the festival in 2016 to focus more on Barbados’ culture, cuisine and indigenous spirit, rum.
On the Dark Side
Bourbon aficionados descend upon Louisville, Kentucky every February and March for the week-long Bourbon Classic, an ode to the crafting of the spirit and its enjoyment. From classes on the personalities of bourbon to samplings of top-shelf products and pairings with small plates, participants can get as in-depth as they wish.
In Sarasota, Florida, the Whiskey Obsession Festival draws enthusiasts of the barrel-aged spirit in late March/early April. The world's largest whiskey festival's grand tasting offers up snifters of more than 250 whiskeys; those from Japan, Scotland, Ireland, France, Canada and the United States are represented.
The birthplace of absinthe—the village of Boveresse, France—is home to Feast of the Absinthe. It takes place every June; in addition to tastings and a chance to meet the artisans responsible for the "green fairy," you can bring home a special absinthe spoon.
Sample local tequilas and pair them with some tasty tacos at the aptly-named Southern Tequila and Taco Festival. Come June, the biggest names in tequila roll out the red carpet in East Tennessee.
"It's a fun, adult festival unique to Knoxville," said John Volpe, the festival's event coordinator. "We have live music every year and introduce a new line of tequilas to our area every year. It features more than 60 tequilas and cocktails, various Mexican beers and several local restaurants and food trucks serving tacos."
One of the main draws at the San Diego Spirits Festival is the agave spirits. The festival—which takes place every August—saw multiple tequilas win gold and double-gold awards in 2017.
New Orleans festival Tales of the Cocktail also puts a firm emphasis on tequila. September is "daiquiri season," with a focus on the past and present of this classic cocktail—aficionados can go online to vote for their favorite cocktails and bars by simply downloading an app.
"No one knows how to throw down quite like a liquor company," said Where New Orleans editor Doug Brantley. "What started 15 years ago as a small gathering of friends has morphed into one of the world’s largest events for cocktail connoisseurs. Last year more than 15,000 bartenders and industry insiders descended on New Orleans to talk shop and drink themselves silly in the July heat."
The world's largest cocktail festival, London Cocktail Week, unites more than 250 venues in this homage to handcrafted libations. Taste drinks from the most lauded and best up-and-coming bars, attend seminars from renowned bartenders and sample some of the hottest entertainment the city has to offer every October. Where London editor Emma Levine recommends cocktail connoisseurs take part in master classes and distillery tours.
Kansas City's connection to alcohol and the nightlife scene started during Prohibition when upwards of 100 speakeasies popped up. In 1938, the Omaha Herald's Edward Morrow wrote: "If you want to see some sin, forget Paris and go to Kansas City."
The idea behind the Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival is to bring together the Midwest's best bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts to promote the craft. The multiple-day event takes place in September; past events have included a mezcal luncheon, a seminar on aromatized wines, a karaoke room and kilt crawl.
President's Day weekend is more exciting thanks to the Arizona Cocktail Weekend, 72 hours of the hottest Phoenix bars and craft cocktails.
"The entire event is casual, fun and a don't-miss, but attending 'Top Bars' is a must," said Where Phoenix editor Michelle Glicksman. "Pop-up versions of renowned bars from across the state, country and globe are set up in a hip event venue. Yes, please!"
A slope-side celebration that brilliantly merges ski and cocktail culture, the Après Ski Cocktail Classic is Aspen's favorite March event. Warm up to fireside chats, cocktail-crafting seminars. mountainside events and a pub crawl.
Texas' premiere cocktail spectacular, the San Antonio Cocktail Conference, has been lauded by numerous publications for advancing the art of the craft cocktail while supporting Houston Street Charities. January events celebrate old-Texas charm and put a special focus on female bartenders.