What do you get when you combine thousands of mixologists, spirit industry professionals, bar enthusiasts and a lot of libations together in New Orleans? Tales of the Cocktail, of course! Like a five day summer camp for the best and brightest in the spirits industry, Tales is THE highlight of the bartender circuit. Held annually in New Orleans, the week features seminars, parties, and cocktailing galore in this boozy 24-hour playground. It can be a liver workout – trust me!
Guest Mixologists shaking up and showing off their creations at the Diageo USS World Class Happy Hour event: Tony Devencenzi, Beckaly Franks and Tim Cooper
The Competitive Spirit at Tales
Mixologists love to collaborate, but they also love to compete! And competitions abound at Tales, from this year’s challenge to create the best spin on the Rickey for the title of Official Cocktail of TOTC’13 to the Stoli Most Original Bartender competition and the Cocktails on Tap Contest sponsored by Drambuie.
Jacob Greer’s Portland Rickey – official cocktail of Tales of the Cocktail 2013
Reading, Learning, Shopping….Boozy Style!
No trip to Tales is complete without a stop at the TOTC Bookstore by Octavia Books. It is the definitive place to go for spirited books. All the new boozy tomes are there, from Molly Wellman’s Handcrafted Cocktails to bar pal Matt Seiter’s The Dive Bar of Cocktail Bars which was a top 10 nominee for Tales’ Spirited Awards best new book. And this year they also incorporated a Bitters Market featuring a huge array of bitters — it’s hard to control yourself in there! So many great new books and bitters… HIDE my credit card!!!
Molly with her new book, Handcrafted Cocktails!
And speaking of shops, Cocktail Kingdom transformed the Hotel Monteleone’s gift shop into a Pop-Up! Sparkly cut-glass yari cocktail mixing pitchers, gold stirring spoons, ice ball molding machines, sexy jiggers… if you have never shopped their site check it out – it’s my go-to for unique barware and cool cocktail products.
There were a lot of great panels and seminars but my favorite was “Fun with Hydrocolloids”. Molecular mixology and its techniques can sometimes be a bit intimidating but this crash course on hydrocolloids and its many uses was enlightening! They presented on the different types and what their textures were like – it was great for attendees to experience and feel these in a comparison tasting.
I enjoy making cocktail gelees for seminars and love to discuss how “eating” liquor is so much different than drinking it, so I was very intrigued by the panelists take on a Sazerac. The drink was presented in an edible absinthe-infused gelee shot glass! Fair warning – spirited gelees look innocent enough, but their boozy bite might sneak up on you!
Those that know me well know that I am a garnish freak… I’ll admit that I can sometimes to get carried away. From edible gold flakes to baby coconuts and fluffy fire sticks…..I just love a good garnish! Garnishes are the finishing touches on our cocktail experience, and Francesco LaFranconi and Charlotte Voisey led a seminar about that very subject. “Hey, Good-Looking” went through the history and functionality of garnishes and how to really jazz up your cocktail.
I love Edible Fire Sticks for Garnish
The Ladies were in the House!
The west coast has always led the country in the local and sustainable food movement, and it’s evident in our many restaurants and bars installing everything from full working gardens to beehives on their premises. The trend is sweeping across the country, and Amy Stewart -also known as the Drunken Botanist- and Susan Morrison captured the essence in their panel, “Successful Bar Gardens”. These two ladies brought their considerable know-how and sage advice about all things green and gave us a panel chock-full of ways to put your green thumb to work for you and your bar, and the benefits having fresh produce right at your fingertips. And if that has your interest peaked check out my blog that I did on Amy’s Book The Drunken Botanist.
Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist
Speaking of the ladies: women were definitely shaking things up this year! Bombay Sapphire Gin Most Imaginative Bartender All-Stars Competition was won by a woman for the first time in Tales history! Miami’s Cricket Nelson took gold with her “Sapphire East Love Game”, a delicious elixir crafted with Earl Grey tea, rosebud syrup and fresh Thai basil. Yum!
Cricket Nelson serving up her winning “Sapphire East Love Game” cocktail.
And then there were the Tastings….
All day, every day, spread throughout the city, from rum and mezcal to vermouth and champagne. Having just come back from Peru and a tour of the Porton distillery, I had to visit the Pisco Pavilion for a taste of my travels! Can I just say that Pisco Sour is my favorite new drink!
Inspired by Tales – A Passion Fruit Pisco Porton Sour with Edible Baby Orchid I made at the Recent Flavor Experience Conference with Monin
And then it was on to all the special events that take place – the USS Diageo World Class Happy Hour for a libatious trip around the Mediterranean with featured cocktails with some of my favorite mixologists. Next it was off to see Liquid Kitchen associate Danny Ronen at the Krug House Champagne Tasting where he welcomed guests with ice-cold glasses of bubbles – a bit of a welcome reprieve from all those cocktails!
Me enjoying the Krug House champagne tasting party with famed mixologist Francesco Lafranconi
photo by Danny Ronen
…are always the highlight of Thursday night. And this year I attended the Beam Great Whisk(e)y Debate. Held at the Bourbon House Restaurant, this spirited showdown aimed to determine once and for all what America’s favorite whisky is! Fred Noe III, 7th generation Master Distiller for Jim Beam, squared off against Kieran Folliard (Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey Ambassador), Dan Tullio (Canadian Club Ambassador) and Simon Brooking (Laphroaig Single Malt Scotch Ambassador ) and engaged in a good-natured -but not without much teasing, elbowing and well-meaning jibes- debate. Everyone fought valiantly, but in the end, and in the spirit of good sportsmanship, the moderator called a draw. We were more than happy to continue debating amongst ourselves over courses of whisky, naturally!
The lords of whisky at The Great Whisk(e)y Debate – Simon Brooking, Kieran Folliard, Fred Booker Noe III and Dan Tullio – Yes! There were pins to support your favorite whisk(e)y guy.
The Spirited Awards
The Spirited Awards are the capstone event, honoring the cocktail industry’s top dogs over the past year. This year’s theme was The Roaring 20’s by way of The Great Gatsby, which was the perfect way to honor all things libatious! And I want to give a special congratulations shout out to Charles Joly beverage director of The Aviary in Chicago on his win as American Bartender of the Year. I recently visited Charles at The Aviary on a trip to Chicago and had some of the best cocktails of my life – and that is no small claim considering how many I’ve tasted in my time! A well-deserved win!
And then there is all the swag that has to find a place in my suitcase:
One of the coolest perks of attending Tales of the Cocktail is the mysterious curtained-off lagniappe room. Presenters, media and VIP’s were given a special bottle cap to obtain entry into the swag room and an “all you can fill bag”, then let loose upon the mountains of swag! I stuffed my bag with all sorts of goodies – from bar tools to key chains, little bottles of amaro, swizzle sticks, a handy compact raincoat – I’m from Seattle, of course I needed that! – and tons more boozy mementos of my wonderful time at Tales.
Leaving Tales is always bittersweet – I love learning new things and seeing my cocktail friends from all over the world, but eventually you’re up to your eyeballs in drinks and the floor at the Hotel Monteleone starts to just get a bit too sticky… that means it’s time to head home! See you next year at Tales!