By an incredible turn of events that involved the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, three airports and 12 hours, I landed myself at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans on a mere 48 hours notice. Tales is an internationally acclaimed event for bartenders, spirit brands, booze media and enthusiasts. This year it celebrated its ninth year at a five-day bacchanalian conference in the Big Easy.
We should acknowledge that there is a cocktail renaissance at the moment, with handlebar mustachioed bartenders and handcrafted drinks at the forefront, turning us all into bon viveur wannabees. At Tales this renaissance exploded into a revolution, with brand-sponsored cocktails in 54 tasting rooms, 45 seminars (for bartenders!), 15 (VIP) special events and 31 complementary events involving alcohol. On Maui, this renaissance may have been slowed by Liquor Commissioners playing their game of thrones with our access to distilled spirits by placing archaic restrictions of time and space on our consumption.
Anyway, I called in some favors and finagled a few passes, then hobnobbed with brand ambassadors, mixologists, magazine editors, book writers, product developers and PR folks. My first line of work was meeting Corzo Brand Ambassador Manny Hinojosa and Duggan McDonnell from Campo de Encanto Pisco.
After slurping down oysters at Bourbon House, we slipped into the upstairs bar kitchen at House of Blues. McDonnel’s special “Gentleman’s Delight” cocktail featured Bombay Sapphire East (not yet released yet), Blanco Vermouth, lemon juice, tonic and was then topped with bitters and a slice of cucumber. McDonnel hails from the Cantina in San Francisco.
“This is a place where shit goes down,” he told me of Tales. “It’s a lot of fun, but I do a lot of networking here. We handshake deals over lunch and dinner.”
The Bombay Sapphire VIP party spanned three stories at the House of Blues concert hall, with each area dedicated to its own theme. At the 18th Century Bloody Revolution I downed Filthy Bloody Mary’s among the 18th Century spice market reenactment that had the whole room heady with cinnamon and nutmeg. Daniel Singer of Filthy Pickle put together a savory display of olives, peppers and onions to embellish drinks. (filthy food on facebook)
Up on the second floor, where 80’s pop was my witness, I got my teeth kicked in by Camille Austin’s (Hakkasan, Fontainebleau, Miami) Sapphire Italian Iced Tea, an amalgamation of Earl Grey infused Bombay, Taverna Amaro, lemon juice, clover honey and Prosecco. Next door were Sapphire martinis in the Rat Pack jazz room; upstairs offered Asian delights with lounge music, a gold-painted girl sans garments and more Bombay delights. As a Sapphire devotee, I was lucky to escape with my notes intact.
But there was a far more serious side to bartenders that I didn’t know about. As a bartender’s darling on Maui it’s always peachy from the stool side of the bar. But here in the trenches at Tales, bartenders were toting notepads and pens, scribbling away side by side with me at “From Grain to Bottle,” a seminar on the history of distilling booze and the nuances of starting your own booze brand (extra points to Maui distillers who have way more hoops to jump through than their Mainland competitors). Put simply, there is nobody happier about the surge in craft distillers than the Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau.
In the lobby in the Hotel Monteleone, the hub of Tales, I found Robert Cooper passing out St. Germain cocktails to a huge line of Spin the Wheel contestants. I was on my way to the Leblon Caipi-Mobile that roams the NOLA French Quarter streets during Tales. I freshened up for the United States Bartender’s Guild’s Pina Colada competition at the Foundry, but not before hot chick in a bikini and grass skirt slipped me a card alerting me to Botran Tiki Lounge tasting upstairs.
The competition was fierce. Bartenders from across the nation suited up and competed for the chance to win a trip to Warsaw Poland for the World Cocktail Competion. Each entrant had a station where they featured their drinks. We got to crowd vote on our favorite (Matt Myers of Las Vegas), but the bigwigs voted on the winner (Debbi Peek of Chicago).
I found a familiar face in Sam Treadway, competing from Honolulu’s Edition with his “Killer Fizz.” MC Dan Dunn (Living Loaded) indulged me in a hand-shaken Daiquiri and chat at the hosted bar where I quizzed him about the upcoming pilot on his book. Then his gravely voice dismissed me with an incoming text “from a new lady friend.”
For More photos on the USBG Championship got to https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150266315238675.345712.73699328674&type=1
Just when I thought I had had enough of booze writers, I headed to my final seminar, “Drinking on Deadline.” It was presented by Paul Clarke, Wayne Curtis and David Wondrich. Their symposium of drunk literature started off with Pisco cocktails by Johnny Raglan of Comstock Saloon and Erik Adkins of Heaven’s Dog.
After Clarke read a bit of Kingsley Amis verse, and discussions of great boozy writers like Devoto, Embury and Holland went around, it was Q and A time. “So what about the deadline? How do we stay productive in the face of these drinks?” asked the anonymous author of the blog Congenial Hour (http://thecongenialhour.
“I have never made a deadline in my life,” one presenter said. “I am not the right person to ask about that,” said another. The last was most helpful: “A deadline is about when you get started on your article, right?”
Fellow Blogger Blog Posts: