The Finger Lakes is so well-known for its wine that we sometimes forget what a great region it is for other beverages such as beer and…cocktails! In fact, one of the most famous international purveyors of cocktail ingredients is a company that started on North Water Street in Rochester almost 150 years ago. The four Fee brothers who originally owned the company – Owen, John, James and Joseph – used the slogan “The House of Fee by the Genesee since eighteen hundred and sixty-three.” The business began as a liquor store and winery, but in the 1950’s, the family discontinued alcohol sales and began to focus exclusively on cocktail mixes, bitters, flavoring syrups and beverage products.
Today, Joe Fee and his sister Ellen own and operate Fee Brothers. When asked what it is like to run a company over 150 years old, Joe replied, “It’s a hoot!” at the same time as he wondered whether his ancestors would say “What is he doing?!”
Joe went on to share the history of bitters which were originally invented by a British Doctor in the 1800’s who was treating malaria. He developed bitters, derived from the angostura plant as a way to entice his patients to eat by stimulating their digestive juices – and it worked. One evening when he went back to his tent to relax, he saw his bottle of gin and, out of curiosity, added several drops of bitters to his drink…and a new drink was born. Ever since, bartenders have been adding bitters to alcoholic drinks to give them a distinctive background note of flavor.
When Prohibition became entrenched in the U.S., from 1920 to 1933, many seasoned bartenders moved abroad, and the art of the cocktail disappeared from the U.S. for many years. Once the internet became robust around the mid-1990s the Classic Cocktail Movement arose and cocktails returned as an art form. They then slowly evolved into today’s growing international “Craft Cocktails” Movement. In this environment, micro distilleries have flourished, as have the Fee Brothers and their products. To answer the international, and now domestic, demand for new and creative drinks, the Fee Brothers have grown their line to include such delicacies as peach, celery, mint, cherry, lemon and rhubarb bitters. Joe calls their products as “the spice rack behind the bar.”
This craft cocktail phenomenon has also given rise to a new career… that of celebrity mixologist, prompting the Fee Brothers to bring in three “shaker jockeys,” as they’re often called, for a 2-part event that will give new meaning to the expression “cocktail party.”
On Tuesday, March 29 from 12:30 to 3 p.m. celebrity mixologists Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Simon Ford and Allen Katz will give a Masters Level Class for bartenders on the topic of “International Trends in the Craft Cocktail
Movement.” Berry is the world expert on Tiki drinks, Ford is a guru on training bartenders and has opened bars across the globe and Katz is host of The Cocktail Hour, a weekly program on Martha Stewart’s Sirius Satellite Radio.
That evening, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., the public will have the opportunity to hang out with the three cocktail specialists while sampling a variety of showcase cocktails, noshing on “heavy hors d’oeuvres” by Madelines Catering, groovin’ to the music of Club and Radio DJ, Sgt. Pepper, and bidding on a fabulous selection of silent auction items. Both of these events will take place in the intoxicating surroundings of ARTISANworks, and proceeds will be donated to ARC of Monroe, whose clients hand wrap and label the Fee Brothers’ products.
ARTISANworks is located at 565 Blossom Road, Rochester. Tickets for the “International Trends in the Craft Cocktail Movement” Master Class are $30. Tickets for the evening extravaganza are $45, and if you would like to attend both events, the fee is $70. CLICK HERE to purchase tickets or call 1 (800) 961-3337 to order via phone.
For information on ARTISANworks, read the Finger Lakes Travel Maven’s post, “ARTISANworks, an Art Lover’s Treasure Hunt.”
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