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Albany, Cocktails, and Culture

April 14, 2017

Egads, things are bleak. Missiles launching at Syria. Bombs dropping on Afghanistan. Warships heading to North Korea. Russia is in a tizzy. Putin may have thought the Donald might have been preferable to Hillary, but I bet he’s reconsidering that right about now. And I’m guessing he’s not the only one. Although for what it’s worth, she would have attacked Syria too.

Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

Last night I found myself eating little fried bits of rendered brisket fat. I also somehow started writing little peacenik diatribes on the Facebook pages of relative strangers. Over dinner, I explained some of the fundamentals of war to the children, and what differentiates a war from a military action or conflict.

It could drive a person to drink. Coincidentally, I had planned about talking about cocktails today anyhow. So yesterday’s show of American military spending and technology turns out to come at a convenient time for the FLB.

So if you feel like a drink and you are in the Capital Region, where do you go for a good cocktail?

Just a short time ago, I would have said Speakeasy 518. That was where Robert Mack was planting the seeds for what would be the region’s emerging cocktail culture. The thing is that people don’t stay in one place forever.

Robert moved on. And those he trained, went elsewhere. And they trained others. So while the speakeasy is still a force to be reckoned with in the local cocktail scene, it’s no longer the only game in town.

We even have our own local chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild. That’s a big deal.

Earlier this year the Albany Distilling Company hosted a USBG event, looking for some of the best bartenders in the Capital Region to craft drinks using their locally produced spirits. Members of the public were even invited to taste samples of the bartenders’ creations.

Much like the AOA Tournament of Pizza, there were rounds in each of the four corners of the Capital Region. Then, the winner from each sub-region competed in the grand finals. Also, much like the AOA TOP, I was not able to judge its first year.

Unfortunately, that means I don’t have first hand knowledge of the drinks made by each participant, but Albany Distilling Co. tells me that they will be putting their favorite recipes up on Facebook, so keep your eyes open for those.

What I wanted to focus on today was not the drinks themselves, but the bars and bartenders who threw their hats in the ring for this contest. Because that means something. It means something for the growth of a cocktail culture in the region.

The Saratoga Round was hosted at Hamlet and Ghost. It featured:
Matt from 9 Maple (Winner)
Dan from The Hollow
Steve from Salt and Char
Sonia from Hamlet and Ghost
Sean from Prime at Saratoga National

Yes, I know The Hollow is technically in Albany, but sometimes in tournament play, things get shaken up a bit.

The Albany Round was hosted at Wellingtons. It featured:
George from Savoy
Nate from Wellingtons
Jeff from Speakeasy 518 (Winner)
Joe from Speakeasy 518

The Troy Round was hosted at The Ruck. It featured:
Collin from The Ruck (Winner)
James from Footsie Magoo
Mike from Ruck
Randy from Fish at 30 Lake

Again, Fish at 30 Lake is up in Saratoga Springs, but sometimes when working with the schedules of busy bartenders, one has to make accommodations.

The Schenectady Round was hosted at Aperitivo. It featured:
Pat from Slidin Dirty
Doug from Aperitivo
Ryan from Tavolo (Winner)
RJ from Lauber Imports

The four winner got together at Takk House in Troy for the finals. And as the saying goes, there can be only one. Although in this case the runner up did get some recognition.

Ryan from Tavolo took second place.
Jeff from the Speakeasy brought home the gold.

Okay, fine. The Speakeasy still won. But there’s some strong competition out there these days. And it’s only going to get more intense. And do you know what that means? Better cocktails everywhere.

I spoke with George Fiorini of the Savoy Taproom recently about the USBG, and I like his vision for the betterment of the Capital Region’s cocktail culture. One should be able to walk into any bar, and get a great old fashioned. The goal shouldn’t be for every place to be like Speakeasy 518. But a well constructed drink should be easy to find.

It’s great to see so many people and places taking the craft more seriously. Especially on days like today when I could really go for a drink.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul permalink
    April 14, 2017 10:36 am

    I still haven’t visited the Speakeasy but this might push me to try it. What was the winning cocktail though?

    • albanylandlord permalink
      April 14, 2017 9:02 pm

      The cocktails at the speakeasy are excellent and as creative as you want them to be… But the unique atmosphere and crowd there is an even better reason to go.

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