On Saturday, Oct. 28, Coltivare welcomed wizards and muggles alike to its second annual Advanced Potions for Adults at its restaurant on 235 South Cayuga St. A continuation of Wizarding Weekend festivities, the event offered mixology demonstrations, as well as opportunities to sample and purchase drinks from a variety of Finger Lake winery, brewery and distillery vendors.
The event was conducted in the large multipurpose room across the breezeway from Coltivare’s main restaurant. Wizard hats and cloaked heads bobbed between tables around the perimeter of the room, sampling an assortment of wine, beer, cider and spirits from vendors including Sheldrake Point Winery, Four Fights Distilling and Finger Lakes Cider House. Meanwhile, a curious fellow with a pointy goatee and top hat (who was fortunately much less intimidating and much more entertaining than Professor Snape) demonstrated how to concoct different wizard-themed “potions” on a stage at the front of the room.
Amongst the potions demonstrated were the “Guzzling Goblin Goblet” (consisting of pumpkin purée, brandy and spice syrup); the “Sea Hag” (Quackenbush amber rum, Midori, Agwa coca leaf liqueur, house-made sours and chia seeds); the “Health Potion” (Balls vodka, Campari, watermelon purée, raspberry syrup, cranberry bitters and lime bitters) and the “Mana Potion” (Black Button Citrus Forward Gin, Blue Curaçao and St. Germain).
Shaking a tumbler next to his head, the eccentric potions master offered a wealth of knowledge about the history of cocktails (they were first invented in New York) and different kinds of alcohol (gin is derived from Guinevere, which was invented by the Dutch), information about cocktail-making (amongst bartenders, St. Germain is known as “cocktail ketchup” because it makes everything taste better), as well as tips and tricks for concocting our own potions (a good cocktail has strong, sour and sweet components).
Even if I didn’t love the taste of each potion, I appreciated their variety and creativity, as well as the insightful, amusing commentary that accompanied their brewing (“It’s always important to have your mayonnaise jar tightly sealed,” the mixologist exclaimed as his makeshift tumbler nearly burst open, “And don’t wear white!”). Of the drinks I sampled from the vendors, my favorites were Four Fights Distilling’s Emperial Apple Pie: a sweet, robust whiskey that could emblaze an otherwise innocent scoop of vanilla ice cream; and Kite & String Honeoye Sparkling Cider, another sweet, yet lighter drink produced by Finger Lakes Cider House (I have sweet taste).
Though libations were plentiful, the event lacked edible refreshments. The event’s Facebook description advertised “light food fare” — yet the only fare to be found consisted of a small bowl of Halloween candy on one of the vendor’s tables. Having eaten only a light dinner to save room for both food and beverage, I found myself holding back on enjoying the potions so as not to over-enjoy them. Of course, it was only a short walk across the breezeway to the restaurant, but I didn’t want to miss out on the event while waiting for a table to open up in the crowded restaurant. For future Potions classes, Coltivare should consider offering Harry-Potter themed food (Pumpkin Pasties or Treacle Tarts, anyone?) to bolster the theme and ensure that guests enjoy drinks on a full stomach — or else, it shouldn’t advertise food at all.
If the event could have benefitted from Harry-Potter-themed food, it could also have benefitted from Harry-Potter-themed drinks. The mixologist’s potions vaguely referenced magical themes and creatures, but aside from Finger Lakes Cider House’s display of red, green, yellow and blue bottles representing each of the four Hogwarts houses, and guests’ own Harry-Potter-themed costumes, there were few explicit connections to the series itself. I would have enjoyed renditions of Butterbeer, Felix Felicis, Pollyjuice Potion, Unicorn Blood or even Goblets of Fire. I suppose serving drinks too strongly tied to the books might have stifled the mixologist’s originality and imagination – but guests expecting a stronger Harry Potter theme may have found themselves disappointed.
Nevertheless, the event offered a fun excursion into the Ithaca community and a welcome break from the overcrowded bars and stale fraternity basements of Collegetown. A recently turned 21-year-old, I enjoyed the opportunity to witness a different version of Ithaca, from the wineries that the Finger Lakes are known so well for to the company of an older, more mature crowd. At the anticipated third annual Advanced Potions for Adults next year, alcohol aficionados and aspiring mixologists alike will find a magical night awaiting them.