Destination properties seeking to differentiate themselves are increasingly looking to their beverage programs to provide a cocktail of sparks to engage conference attendees, wowing with elements both on the plate and in the glass. Here’s what’s currently inspiring us:
Epicurean Hotel, Tampa
Epicurean’s Epic Bartender Challenge has an unusual teambuilding event. In this take on the popular Food Network show “Chopped,” small-group teams are pitted against one another to create cocktails from assembled mystery ingredients that include spirits, fresh juices, in-house shrubs, mixers, garnishes and outrageous barware like Polynesian Tiki glasses. The final cocktails are judged and the teams enjoy the fruits of their labor at a self-hosted cocktail party. “It’s a fun experience that gets the group mixing in more ways than one,” says Brandon Marshall, corporate director of sales for Mainsail Lodging & Development.
Another option is themed tastings tied to topical events like a rum tasting held for a recent group during Tampa’s famed Gasparilla Pirate Festival. Guests learned rum history, base components and techniques that differentiate six selected rums.
Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, Charlotte
Through a relationship with the Rare Tea Company of London, the preferred provider to the royal family, The Ballantyne’s afternoon tea service offers finger sandwiches, pastries and scones alongside traditional English teas. “We take the tea theme right into the cocktail hour for our groups with our tea-based cocktails,” says Chris Shatto, director of food and beverage. The specially crafted tea-based cocktails are served in tumblers with a conical base that wobbles slightly. Hence their name: Tipsy Teas.
The Ballantyne also showcases all things hops for groups with an Oktoberfest-style Biergarten. Its Rose Garden offers ample space to host several homegrown microbrew stations alongside a German menu with sausages, pretzels and sides.
Shatto’s team wowed guests recently at a more formal cocktail party where bubbly was served by an elegantly styled “Champagne Girl” who carried several dozen Champagne flutes clipped onto a steel hoop skirt. “It’s a dramatic and fun conversation starter,” says Shatto.
Sheraton Downtown Denver
This 1,231-room convention property has a dedicated test kitchen where planners comb over dining and beverage details from specialized coffee service with pour-over stations to juice bars and cocktail creations developed to mimic preferred meeting color schemes.
Food and Beverage Director Chris Clark guides clients away from traditional full bars and toward smaller, focused, thoughtfully planned beverage programming designed to stimulate the appetite, cleanse the palate and aid in digestion. “Nonalcoholic and low-alcohol beverages are no longer an afterthought,” says Clark. “Aperitifs are meant to stimulate the appetite and represents a category rising in popularity.”
The hotel also encourages experimentation with beverages not common in the U.S. serving the Chinese-distilled grain spirit, Baiju, Italian Amaro’s, special Vermouths and rice wines like Sake and Makgeolli. The Sheraton also hosts gatherings up to 50 in its underground “speakeasy,” a 1920s-era cocktail bar. Smoked drinks are the rage here.
Coffee lovers learn common brewing methods and how changing the aroma, season and physique effects the final cup at Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo.
Groups at Savannah, Georgia’s luxe Mansion on Forsyth Park learn the nuances of house-made shrubs and infused liquors from beverage stalwart, Ghost Coast Distillery.
The crew at Fountain Coffee Room at the Beverly Hills Hotel will set up your group with fixings for milkshake classics from the diner era to present. One scoop or two?