I wandered over to the demonstration area just in time to see a woman slicing up a chocolate tart. This being a Wine and Food Festival, I figured she was giving out slices. Before I could ask for one, however, another woman slid in beside me and reached for a plate. She was immediately, but gently (this is the South), chastised. “We’re only serving this to the people sitting at the tables,” said the server, indicating the tables and chairs set up to face the demonstration kitchen.
Think fast, Rebecca! Off I went to find myself an empty seat. I turned on my smile and my best southern charm and secured a seat next to a lovely woman visiting from Virginia. A man came down the aisle to dish out the goods, looking for someone over our heads. “You can leave it here if you’d like,” I told him.
He smiled and said, “I was looking for the couple I promised this to.”
“Well, if you can’t find them, just know that those plates can have a home right here.” He took one more look around. “I guess they left.” And with that, he plopped the plates of chocolate perfection on our table.
“Aren’t you glad I sat with you?” I asked my new Virginian friend. She heartily agreed, digging her fork into the chocolate decadence.
I lucked into the chocolate in more ways that one. I had come to check out the mixology contest, but apparently things were running a little late thus making my timing quite perfect for a little snack before what I hoped would be some yummy mixed drinks.
I’d only lived in Asheville one month – long enough for this wine girl to realize I’d moved to the unofficial brewing capital of the US. I tried to fit in, but if you know me you know how well that usually goes. So lately I’ve started telling people that though the local brews here are plentiful, I will stick to my wine. And, of course, creative concoctions of sweetness and liquor. Which is where this mixology contest comes in. Well, that and the fact the guy who gave me a free entry to the Festival introduced me to one of the competitors the night before, but that’s another story.
So the first spirit up is gin – locally made, of course. My seat didn’t allow me to see the details of shaking and stirring and such, but I had a good line of sight toward the judges table. Each bartender presented his drinks to the judges then stepped up to the mic to tell everyone about them. A full one-fifth of their score came from the eco-friendliness of the drinks. Local ingredients? Check. Garnish picked right from the bartenders garden? Check. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve used the phrase, “Well, we are in Asheville.”
By this time my tablemate from Virginia had headed back to her hotel. I was now joined by another lovely couple. The husband had managed to find one of the few places serving beer at this Wine festival, so he was happy. The wife eyed a drink on the judges table with a few cucumbers floating in it. “What are they going to do with those drinks?” she asked me. “Do you think we’ll get any?”
As the judges table filled with drinks I, too, wondered where they would head after the judges got their tastes. If my calculations were correct (I’m a math tutor…so I’m thinking I’m right here) each judge would have to try five drinks with gin in them, then another five with – you guessed it – locally made moonshine, then another five with apple brandy, and another five with vodka. Twenty drinks. Per judge. Obviously they’d be sipping. But what to do with the rest?
One of the MC’s decided to bring the mic out to the crowd to ask their opinions on what they were seeing. He approached my table and the wife right off addressed the issue of where the drinks were going next. She said she’d love to try that cucumber drink. “Where are you from?” he asked. “Las Vegas,” she said. The MC took a quick poll – no one in the audience could beat that distance. So with that, she won herself her favorite drink.
At the judges table, drinks were piling up. The coordinators looked around for places to put them all. It was clear no one had really thought about what to do with all of them.
Then, in classic “only in Asheville” style, the drinks started making their way out to our tables. Take a sip and pass it on of course – like communion, but so much more fun. Take a sip and pass it on. Seriously? I loved the idea, but my first thought was, “This would never fly in New York – the Board of Health would be on this in no time.” Thankfully, things are a little more lax here.
After a couple drinks made their way around my table, I turned around to pass them on to the next table. The women behind me apparantly had not seen this coming. “Here you go.” I said.
“Is this for us?” she asked.
“It’s for everyone – take a sip and pass it on.”
“Really?” She looked a little surprised, but in no time realized there was no reason to pass up drinks made by some of the best bartenders in town. “It’s alcohol – it kills all the germs,” she said as she passed it on to the next table.
Over the course of the next two hours, sixty drinks made their way around our eight tables and out into the crowd gathered. Some I sipped. Some I held onto – like the one hand-delivered by the bartender I’d met the night before…and the warm apple brandy one.
Thankfully, I sipped slowly over the course of a few hours so had no ill effects that afternoon or the next day – neither from the volume of drinks that passed over my lips nor from the germs of the numerous people who sipped my drinks before me.