We’re just coming up for air again from our very first Tales of the Cocktail, and it was incredible! We could hardly wait to share all of the goodness gleaned from our almost weeklong tour in New Orleans, so click through to see the highlights, trends and photographic evidence of fun!
Trends We Noticed …
Based on seminars, events and tasting rooms offered this year, I noted a handful of trends at the annual cocktail conference.
Boozy History: Boosting the educational baseline of bartenders helps fuel a sense of history and tradition. Classes like The Big One, Untold Stories of 3 Classic Cocktails, How Jamaica Influenced Cocktail Culture and more gave bartenders a broader worldview of what they do.
Old brands educating the new generation: We noticed a lot of old-school brands at Tales showing off either tweaked formulations or simply educating the modern bartender about its relevance to today’s cocktail culture. For example, at Jagermeister’s media lunch, leaders spent the bulk of their time extolling the herbal digestif qualities and mixability of the liqueur that has in the not-too-distant-past become synonymous with hardcore chugging. Meanwhile, Haiti’s Rhum Barbancourt made a terrific showing (more on that in a sec), after years as a well-regarded but largely unsung brand. Midori has rejiggered its formula to the point where it’s got half the sugar content as it used to have. And stalwart Grand Marnier, which is on every back bar but seemingly seldom used, tooted its horn about Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach. So much incredible reinvention to be savored, whether it be the product or its image!
International Spirit Awareness: Launch of Rutte and classes like Breaking into the US Liquor Brands; Essential Global Guide to Liqueurs; and Spanish Brandy: It’s a Thing put the spotlight on brands, spirits and liqueurs from overseas trying to get a toehold in the States. And speaking of global spirits …
Pisco Goes Big: Between classes like Grape Escape: Peru’s Pisco Varietals and a fantastic and colorful pisco tasting room spotlighting several brands and hosted by the tourism board of Peru, the grape-based spirit gained a lot of attention and underscored its surging popularity among US bartenders.
Haitian Spirits Have a Moment: Being of Haitian descent, I’m thrilled to see the presence of spirits from the island nation. Not only was there a lively little mini-fete for Rhum Barbancourt in the lobby of the Hotel Monteleone, but one seminar showcased rural production of clairin, a rustic spirit that’s gaining notice in Europe.
Faves and Highlights
Some of our favorite pure spirits: Martin Miller’s Gin; Rum Diplomatico’s Reserva Exclusiva; the approachably peat-y Laphroaig Select; Redbreast 12 Year Old, served up in an adorable single-cask whisky room at a party at Broussard’s. Oooh, and DeLeon Tequila’s reposado expression (above). — Farah
I concur with Farah’s picks, except that, for me, the Redbreast was edged out by the Midleton Barry Crocket Legacy. It’s a special blend dedicated to their Master Distiller of 47 years, now retired. Smooth and sweet, it was a very nice and unexpected surprise. — Jerry
Some of our favorite cocktails: Old Cuban at Saturday’s Prohibition Tea (above) — featuring Old New Orleans Crystal Rum, lime, sugar, mint, bitters and a splash of Prosecco. The tea party was super-fun, with guests dressed in ’20s attire for the brunch at the Windsor Court Hotel. I also loved the bottled take on the classic Hurricane at the Tales-closing Bartenders Breakfast party Saturday night. The Prima Donna cocktail at Thursday’s Whiskey House delighted me with its column ice cube. I really loved most of the fruity drinks at the event called Defining the Ultimate Pisco Punch; it was awesome having Tony Abou-Ganim (below) pour, nay, squeeeze, the last of his punch into a cup for us! — F
Reyka Vodka’s brand ambassador Trevor Schneider whipped up an amazing (and simple) take on the French 75, called a French 57. His use of lavender-infused simple syrup reintroduced the botanical essense you’d normally get from gin, and prosecco in place of champagne made it softer and quite a bit less dry. I also really liked the Stiggins’ Swizzle on offer at the Plantation Pineapple Rum launch event. The ginger-peppercorn simple syrup kinda sealed the deal for me. — J
Our favorite events/tasting rooms/seminars: My class on making citrates — mixtures made from citrus components that can extend the shelf life of those fruits — and elixirs, citrates with compound flavors and added water, was super educational AND I came away with recipes! And my seminar on Jamaica’s influence on cocktail culture was a hoot, thanks to hilarious Jamaican-English moderator Ian Burrell. My meals with liquor brands were spectacular: with Rum Diplomatico at Peche, Martin Miller’s Gins at Doris Metropolitan; Monkey 47 at Brennan’s; Grand Marnier at Fleur de Lis; and Jagermeister at Purloo, featuring ribs rubbed with seasonings that mirrored the herbs in the famous digestif (above). Overall, some of my favorite events were the day parties like the Irish Whiskey House starring Jameson; the “French Embassy” by D’Usse cognac, Grey Goose and St. Germain. — F
Seeing the Midori “Farmer’s Market” was a treat. It showcased the familiar melon liqueur’s new look and new formulation (much less sweet) using fresh juices from a variety of fruits that were used to set the scene. On top of that, they donated all that decorative (real) fruit to local charity “Giving Hope NOLA”. I love that! I got a taste of House Angostura’s line of rums (why didn’t I know about those?) and their new-to-the-US Amaro di Angustura. What a treat! (I’m getting some.) I also managed to get a break from the ordered chaos and squeeze in a quick chair massage thanks to Mezcal El Silencio‘s cozy (and quiet) corner room. SOOOOOOOO needed. — J
Best surprises: The William Grant & Sons party (pics in the slideshow) totally lived up to they hype it gets every year. The theme of Yonderyear found each spirit label envisioning what the future will look like and creating a themed bar station. It was fun, boisterous and totally made over the World War II Museum grounds. We got a surprise sip of Pisco Porton’s spankin’-new and super exclusive Italiano Rosado, a flowery expression of pisco, courtesy of our friend (and Pisco Porton founder/master distiller) Johnny Schuler. And the Reyka Vodka vending machine (above) that sprang up in the Monteleone lobby at midnight was a hoot and a half: It had a vending machine facade but someone “inside” it handed out goodies to those who put a token in the slot. Imagine my delight when I got a gorgeous slice of cheese pizza when I was starving and buzzed! Thanks, Reyka! — F
The St. George room (left) was massively impressive, as I’d never had their stuff before. Their pear brandy and coffee liqueur were particularly notable. There were many more examples, but for me much of the fun was all the great people we got to meet or reconnect with, sometimes by pure coincidence! Between Jim Meehan (still geeking out), Charlotte Voissey, Johnny Schuler, Tony Abou-Ganim (finally got his autograph); reps, founders, and master distillers from William Grant, Grand Marnier, Martin Miller’s, Highland Park, Rum Diplomatico, Deleon… there’s just too many to list. Great people, great spirits and cocktails, and a great time overall. I love this industry! — J
Photos of all the fun!
So those were the trends we observed. Here’re some of the photographic highlights of Tales.