Each summer, one of the country’s preeminent sip-and-be-seen events, known as the FOOD & WINE Classic, comes to Aspen for three days of indulgence, much of which is centered at The Little Nell.
Most people may not be familiar with a sassy springtime event, headquarted at The Little Nell, called the Après Ski Cocktail Classic. From March 9-12, 2017, leaders in the liquor industry head to the mountains for four days of seminars, pairings, tastings, and parties.
Here are tips for making the most of this spirited affair.
New to the Game
There are several ways to attack the classic, but the most important detail is having a pass. Cocktail Classic organizers make this easy by offering a selection of tiered tickets in a la carte style.
We’ll get to the specifics of each event later, but know that you can purchase a single pass to each event, like the grand tastings, pub crawl, and private affairs, or you can go full throttle and purchase the VIP pass ($390) with access to all of the weekend’s events.
A local’s pass is also available ($109), which gains access to both grand tastings, the pub crawl, and the opening night Craft of Colorado party.
The Grand Tasting
Once you’re properly accredited, creating the ideal schedule is integral to success. Like the FOOD & WINE Classic, the weekend’s most popular party is the grand tasting, which runs both Friday, March 10, and Saturday, March 11, from 2-5 p.m. Here, guests meander through booths lining The Little Nell’s poolside courtyard featuring more than 100 spirits, cocktails, and hot toddies all served up by premium brand ambassadors from around the country.
Many of the labels will offer several cocktails made with one type of alcohol – think vodka cucumber-ginger spritzer followed by a twist on the Moscow Mule. Instead of racing through each booth and just sampling just one drink, linger longer and try the flight; this way you can actually appreciate the nuances of the different alcohols.
The Pub Crawl
On Sunday afternoon, the opposite advice is in effect for the Pub Crawl. More than a dozen bars around Aspen compete for the title of “Best Après Ski Cocktail” (an honor The Little Nell won in 2016).
With a wristband, gallivant between watering holes such as Jimmy’s, Justice Snow’s, the J-Bar and Hops Culture and take the time to be picky, choosing your favorite drink and then texting the results to eventually crown a winner. (Remember to also drink water– this afternoon is a marathon, not a sprint.)
Outside of the Cocktail Classic’s marquee events is where the magic happens. Yes, the tastings and pub crawl are fun, and often rowdy, parties, but it’s by attending seminars and exclusive tastings where you’ll truly absorb some knowledge.
This year’s lineup has yet to be announced, but if past seminars – Belvedere martinis and caviar, the art of Patron, and putting the “hot” in toddy – are any indication of the forthcoming topics then they aren’t to be missed.
The Cocktail Classic leadership carefully curates a list of knowledgeable and trend-setting speakers to host these conversations. From James Beard-award-winning mixologists to master sommeliers, they’re experts in the cocktail world and are ready to drop some knowledge on willing participants.
Concurrently, premium brand labels like Stranahan’s, Tullamore Dew and Zacapa host a bevy of sideshow events and pop-up parties. At the base of Aspen Mountain in Gondola Plaza, check out the pop-up bar before taking a few laps on the slopes. Afterward, stop by one of their specialty pouring sessions or reserve a spot at one of the pairing dinners taking place at select restaurants around town.
Making it to the End
If all of this sounds overwhelming, the key is pacing.
With four days stacked full of alcohol-fueled events, smart attendees will ease into it. That means water.
First off, you’re at altitude and that magnifies the effects of dehydration. And, so does drinking a lot of booze. Stay one step ahead of that hangover by filling up your reusable water bottles at stations around town. The Gondola Plaza rejuvenation station will be helpful if you do feel foggy one morning. There, they’ll be offering massages and liquids which are essential for the reboot.
Also remember to fuel up. Besides water, keeping a full stomach means one too many drinks won’t send you into a tailspin.
Aspen is known as a destination for its restaurant scene, and gourmet meals can be found almost any time of day. Fill up on a big breakfast at Jour de Fete or bb’s, eat a late lunch on the mountain at the Sundeck or Bonnie’s, and be prepared to schuss right into après-ski with the right amount of energy.
And that brings us to skiing. Après-ski wouldn’t be a thing without the ski. Aspen is one of the world’s best ski resorts – times four. Between Aspen, Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk, thousands of acres await every kind of skier. Spend the day on any (or all) of the mountains to ensure that those après-ski cocktails were well-earned by lots of turns.
We hope to see you this March, cocktail in hand!
If you haven’t booked your hotel for the Après Ski Cocktail Classic, stay with us at The Little Nell.