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Andrew Volk on "Introducing Craft Bars to Small Markets"

Andrew Volk.
Andrew Volk.
Photo: The Portland Hunt and Alpine Club

The Portland Hunt and Alpine Club (PHAC) came to Portland last September with a bold mission: To bring true craft cocktail culture to a city known for food and drink. If it sounds pretentious, one visit to the bar will dispel that notion. The Scandinavia-meets-Maine atmosphere is clean and understated, the staff is capable yet casual, the menu is descriptive rather than cryptic, and the prices for handcrafted drinks are competitive with other upscale establishment in the city.

Local and national publications have taken notice; most recently, PHAC was included in Maxim's round-up of Maine road-trip destinations. One way owners Andrew and Briana Volk stay on top of their game is through professional development. Tales of the Cocktail, an annual, international cocktail conference in New Orleans ("think the James Beard of booze," Briana says), is an excellent opportunity to gain and share knowledge within the industry.

This year, Andrew submitted his own seminar proposal, "Introducing Craft Bars to Small Markets," which was selected from thousands of applications. His event was one of the earliest sellouts; clearly small markets are big business. Andrew took a few moments to answer questions via email before the big weekend, telling Eater why he thought his seminar sold out so quickly and what other aspects of the conference he's anticipating.

This isn't your first time at Tales, right? What inspired you to run your own seminar?
This isn't our first time at Tales. We've been a number of years running now. We first went back in 2010 when my old bar in Portland, OR, Clyde Common, was nominated for "Best Hotel Bar in the World" at the Spirited Awards, the awards part of Tales. Besides being great for professional development, it's always a blast. How many industries get seminars and events sponsored by spirit brands and attended by the country's best bartenders?

I was thrilled that Tales accepted my seminar idea, a discussion about opening and running successful cocktail bars in smaller markets. Certainly going through the process of opening Hunt + Alpine compared to opening bars for other folks in larger cities inspired the seminar. At Tales a lot of attention gets placed on the newest trends, but I really wanted to work with some friends across the country on what makes our smaller cities and towns unique. What works well in Portland, Maine or Starksville, Mississippi isn't the same thing that our colleagues in New York City or LA are doing.

Your seminar sold out almost immediately. Why do you think that is?
I'm honored about that. We lined up a pretty great set of panelists and I'm sure that's part of it. Additionally, there is a growing interest at Tales of focusing on the business side of our industry and it's certainly attracting many bartenders and owners from across the country, not just the larger cities.

Any preview of what seminar-goers can expect to learn from you?
We're building a discussion about our personal experiences from three bar owners from across the country and one bar consultant who's worked around the world. So we'll talk about drink styles and approaches that work in our towns and cities. And of course we're serving drinks.

Aside from your event, what else will you be doing during your trip? What are you most looking forward to at Tales of the Cocktail?
There's so much to do in New Orleans and at Tales; you can never fit it all in. I'm going to catch up with as many friends as possible and attend a few seminars (one I'm excited about is "The 7 Habits of the World's Best Bars" that Jim Meehan of PDT in New York is running) and try to sample a few of the new products that get released this time of year.
· "Introducing Craft Bars to Small Markets" [Tales of the Cocktail]
· All Andrew Volk Coverage [-EME-]
· All Eater Interviews [-EME-]