James Moreland, a 17-year industry veteran who worked as master mixologist for Bacardi USA’s Bombay Sapphire gin, has been tapped to oversee this year’s relaunch of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic in New York City. Last held in 2015, the festival is slated for May 11th to May 17th—spanning a full week rather than five days—and will be headquartered at The New Yorker hotel. “It has one of the largest historical archives of any hotel in New York City,” Moreland says, noting that old menus, cocktail recipes and other artifacts will be on display during the festival. “We’re looking to build out a bar for the hotel and bring back some of its historical value.”
Priced around $275 a person, the opening night Gala is moving from the New York Public Library to The Loeb Central Park Boathouse and have a smaller capacity than in past years. A $350 VIP ticket will also be available and include an additional hour that features a more exclusive experience. “As the flagship event that launches the festival, the Gala will be a little bit more refined and sophisticated,” Moreland explains. “The Gala is about showcasing the trade. We’ll have the best talent in the city and from around the country come in and create some of their amazing cocktails. I want it to be more consumer-facing and limit the exposure of the big brands.” To accomplish this goal, the event will be sponsored by one main category white spirit and one main category brown spirit, along with several creative and innovative craft brands. “It allows for a better return on investment for the big brands—they’re not fighting for the spotlight,” Moreland says. “I think a lot of the brands, big and small, complained about that problem during the last Classic.”
Most of the other events will take place at The New Yorker, which serves as the Manhattan Cocktail Classic’s hub. All seminars and parties are open to consumers, and an educational element specifically for the trade has been added as well. “We understood there was a need for a B2B aspect that is an immersive industry experience,” Moreland says. “A company’s New York team is generally its largest, but there wasn’t anything in place for a supplier’s sales force or a distributor’s work force to do a workshop together or just look at what’s happening in the industry ahead of the curve. It’s a great opportunity for brands to have their teams trained here during the festival.”
Additional events will be hosted throughout New York City and the outer burroughs, highlighting hot neighborhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Signature events will include a mocktail celebration and a Mother’s Day garden party. “The festival is an opportunity for consumers to try something they wouldn’t find at their bar on the corner,” Moreland says. “So much of New York City is about culture and experience, and sometimes these small craft brands have a really hard time getting in front of the consumer. I think a lot of big brands are all for celebrating that increased exposure.”
Moreland envisions the closing party to be larger and a little looser than the Gala. “The Grand Finale is still going to be a lot of fun—people are going to get dressed up and it’s going to have a theme,” he says. “We’re going to take over The New Yorker hotel and make it more of a celebration for the bartenders with about 1,500 guests.” Brands that would like to participate in the festival will be offered opportunities at both the Gala and the Grand Finale, either separately or in a combined package, as well as a presence at events throughout the week.
“In a nutshell, I want to be able to put New York City on the map when it comes to cocktails and the spirits industry,” Moreland says. “I want the Manhattan Cocktail Classic to face the consumer and celebrate the trade. Part of the proceeds will go to the Barkeeps Trust, which is something that’s very dear to me, and that mechanism will allow me to provide programming and services to the bartending community of New York even after the festival’s come and gone.”
In addition, sponsors will have the opportunity to participate in ongoing activations throughout the year. “For me, New York City is about history and innovation,” Moreland says. “That’s what I want the Manhattan Cocktail Classic to celebrate.”