Nearly 400 drinks industry professionals from around the country convened in New Orleans at the Downtown Marriott for the 14th annual Cheers Beverage Conference, held on January 26 and 27. The attendees were treated to two days of high-energy seminars, panels and tastings.
The opening day of the conference kicked off with a welcome from publisher Charles Forman, who introduced keynote speaker Jeffrey Chodorow of China Grill Management in New York. Chodorow explained that his restaurant career began as a hobby and how he uses evolving strategies to create buzz for his signature restaurants in the U.S. and abroad.
Well-attended seminars included a comparative beer tasting conducted by beer writer and educator Stephen Beaumont, a primer on improving customer service and a sake-cocktail seminar. Fred LeFranc of Results Through Strategy moderated a round table on social media and Lettuce Entertain You / Hum Spirits’ Adam Seger joined top mixologists in highlighting beverage trends. The afternoon also included a presentation by Lally Brennan, Lu Brow and Ti Adelaide Martin, all New Orleans locals, presenting cocktails with a “Big Easy” twist.
The first day’s reception was held at Generations Hall where a number of celebrity mixologists, including Kathy Casey, Tony Abou-Ganim, Dale DeGroff and Junior Merino, were on hand to mix custom-made specialty cocktails for guests.
Day two began with a high-energy keynote from Jeremy Gutsche of Trendhunter.com, who said that times of crisis often create opportunities and companies should try to exploit the chaos of economic uncertainty. He was followed by Michael Archer, president of Applebee’s International, who shared valuable insight from a lifetime in the restaurant business.
Following the keynotes, Cheers Editor Liza B. Zimmerman presented the 2011 Beverage Excellence Awards to 11 operators and two individuals for their achievements during the past year. Sandy Block of Legal Sea Food and associate publisher Anthony Bongiovanni presented the Supplier of the Year Awards. Winners for 2011 included Anheuser-Busch InBev, Crown Imports, Constellation Wines U.S., Chateau Ste. Michelle, Beam Global, Monin, Coca-Cola and the iMi Agency.
The afternoon’s sessions included a number of tastings, which added to the record number of tastings held at this year’s event compared to previous Cheers conferences. Modern Mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim treated attendees to a vertical vodka tasting and writer and educator Doug Frost conducted a value wine tasting. The seminars also included a look at the molecular bar program on Celebrity Cruises and a beverage director panel moderated by Rich Verrecchia of NEAT Beverage Concepts.
The closing evening’s reception took place at Club XLIV and featured local bars stars of the Big Easy. They included Lu Brow, Rhiannon Enlil, Chris Hannah and Chris McMillan.
The 2011 Cheers Beverage Conference was also sponsored by Coca-Cola Foodservice and On-Premise, Daily’s, American Beverage Marketers, AMI Entertainment Network, Aveniu Brands, Bacardi USA., Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Berry Up!, The Boston Beer Company, Brown-Forman, Charmer Sunbelt Group, Constellation Wines, Crown Imports, Culture, Danone Waters of America / Evian, DFV Wines, Diageo, Hamilton Beach, Heineken, iMi Agency, Imperial Brands, Infinium Spirits, Island Oasis, Kobrand Corporation, Mendocino Wine Co., Monin Gourmet Flavorings, Ocean Spray, Patron Spirits International, Pernod Ricard USA, Phillips Distilling Company, Proximo Spirits, Red Bull, Remy Cointreau USA, Serralles USA, ServSafe Alcohol, Sidney Frank Importing, Smart Bar, Steelite International, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Total Beverage Solution, Wente Vineyards, White Rock Distilleries, William Grant & Sons and Zonin USA.