The first-ever Chicago Cocktail Summit took over Logan Theatre (2646 N. Milwaukee Ave.) on May 22 and 23. The event, produced by Billy Helmkamp, co-owner of The Whistler (2421 N. Milwaukee Ave.) and Erik Westra, owner of Westra & Co., fills what they believe is a gap in the food and beverage event landscape in Chicago.
Helmkamp says, “It’s something we’ve all been talking about in the Chicago bar community for so many years now that Erik and I figured, if not now, when? At the heart of our decision is the fact that Chicago has so much bar talent, so many incredible places to eat and drink, and such a tight cocktail community and enthusiastic audience for cocktails, yet no marquee event.”
That changed this month when the two-day event launched with an impressive list of speakers leading the educational sessions. Some of Logan Square’s spirits experts were tapped to share their knowledge, including Danny Shapiro of Scofflaw (3201 W. Armitage Ave.), Jay Schroeder of Mezcaleria Las Flores (3149 W. Logan Blvd.), Charlie Schott of Parson’s Chicken & Fish (2952 W. Armitage Ave.), and Abe Conlon and Adrienne Lo of Fat Rice (2957 W. Diversey Ave.).
Upon our visit to the Summit on Day 1, we found industry veterans milling about and chatting with the public who came to learn more about crafting the perfect cocktail.
“Day 1 is for ‘home cocktail enthusiasts’ as we like to say, so we hit on a wide-range of topics such as cocktail history (home mixology, modern classics), how-to workshops (punch, bitters, dinner pairings), spirits (tequila, amaro, cider), and other homemade ingredients (syrups, shrubs, ice),” says Helmkamp.
The sessions — and the drink samples — did not disappoint. The one-hour presentations were both engaging and informative, and were made all the better with a gin-based creation in hand.
Day 2 of the Chicago Cocktail Summit is reserved for industry professionals, with topics ranging from slushie machines and draft cocktails to bar culture and public relations.
This combination of a consumer-driven and industry-driven event is certainly a fresh perspective. In Chicago, we are comfortable with our ever-popular beer festivals and wine tasting events. But the Summit brings a special twist, as we are able to put our “cocktail nerd” hats on and actually learn something, too.
Logan Square is host to a growing number of bar and restaurant-focused events, including DistIllinois earlier this year. Westra says they chose the neighborhood for the Chicago Cocktail Summit because “both of us have lived in Logan Square. Billy’s bar, The Whistler, is in the neighborhood and he volunteers on the I Am Logan Square board of directors. We like to support the neighborhood whenever possible. We also needed a space that could handle up to four concurrent sessions, so we thought it’d be a great, albeit non-traditional, venue for our inaugural event.”
For any cocktail enthusiasts who missed it, not to worry: Westra says they plan to turn it into a yearly affair. Learn more at www.cocktailsummit.com.