by Francine Cohen

It’s been an odd sort of last few weeks (this period of early July to mid-August).  What sets it apart from the rest of the year is what ShakeStir member James Menite referred to as the Fellini  film-like experience that was Tales of the Cocktail 2012.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with Fellini films.   As a matter of fact, they’ve won five Academy awards because they deeply touch their audience, tap into its deepest desires, hopes and dreams and made stars of their central characters.  So too does Tales.

Tales is a place where ideas, relationships, brands and careers spread their wings and flourish.  Where misconceptions are ground down and better philosophies rise up, taking front and center spotlight in the conversation. Where new products get their start and existing products get a boost (have you tried Steen’s Cane Syrup, Dirty Sue’s sexy and subtle vermouth soaked olives, Filthy’s cocktail olives stuffed with piri peppers that pack a punch, Zabov liqueur, Basement Bitters, Lillet Rosé, TomR’s Tonic?) What started off as a one-day event with about 100 people has grown to become a six day extravaganza with thousands (if not tens of thousands) trooping through and having memorable experiences that will stay with them, and perhaps shape them personally and professionally, for years to come.  This year, Tales’ 10th anniversary, was no different.

Giving us proof that we’re well along our way in the evolution of vodka acceptance (which kicked off five or six years ago with Jim Meehan sitting on a Tales panel defending the use of vodka in cocktails and heralding its coming acceptance via his seat on the dais in the Hotel Monteleone’s Queen Anne Ballroom) was the 2012 Opening Reception in which ABSOLUT transported us to snowy Sweden via the Contemporary Arts Center.  Between this and the lines of people clamoring for their custom made Bloody Marys every morning at the ABSOLUT Bloody Mary bar on the mezzanine it seems safe to say the industry is no longer entirely snubbing vodka.  Triumph! 

Another sheer triumph was the second party of the first night.  Not sure if the powers that be at William Grant & Sons intended to summon the spirit of Fellini when they created their birthday celebration at the New Orleans Museum of Art, but in an effort to present every possible experience that a 10 year old (albeit a well-heeled 10 year old) could possibly want, the magic they created for their guest was nothing short of an utter spectacle.  Proving that once again the power that the thrill of discovery holds.

Discovering New Orleans has always been a part of being at Tales of the Cocktail.  For the past two or three years the Bon Vivants (who, during the Spirited Awards, were publicly commended for their charitable efforts) have been giving back to the Crescent City through hands-on charitable good works and celebrating their desire to do so with a now-famous Pig & Punch party.  Again, another triumph for Tales as this year Pig & Punch became an officially sanctioned event and with it saw the cadre of volunteers go from a handful to over 70.  And the pigs go from a couple to nine (or at least that’s what we heard).

If you didn’t make it to Pig & Punch there’s always next year.  You can console yourself with the fact that your waking hours were filled with other fun opportunities like checking out the tasting rooms and attending other events that stretched from Tuesday night to Sunday evening – like the fundraiser for Café Reconcile (the New Orleans-based culinary skills program for disadvantaged youth) that Rhum Clement hosted to celebrate their 125th anniversary, the Grey Goose Night of Noir; The Spare Room's Ode to the Bowl sponsored by Pernod Ricard & Mutineer Magazine; William Grant’s Mr. Solerno Competition (check out winning Pageant Mama Lynnette Marrero’s “I Dream of Creamie” recipe), the Macallan Ice Ball Plunge (to raise money for the Museum of the American Cocktail, the LUPEC Ladies Luncheon (see the Cat Daddy recipe below), met Count Branca and Ted Lange (aka Isaac the Bartender) courtesy of Fernet Branca and DiSaronno respectively, and sunned yourself and decompressed at what is surely the most unbridled exhibit of joy anyone sees at Tales - the (in)famous Milagro pool party that bookended the event.

It wasn’t all fun and games and that’s also a big part of the reason we flock back year after year. As always Tales presents an opportunity to chat with industry luminaries (And watch them ask contestants to oil up a sparkly studded muddler.  At least we’re pretty sure that’s what it was.), a chance to catch up with friends who you get to see maybe once a year and watch the sun rise with them, and an opportunity to learn from one another in the seemingly compelling seminars that are on the roster.  Yes, “seemingly” – let’s address an elephant in the room, something that’s been mumbled about for years.  The seminar topics themselves are great.  Ambitious, topical and timely, and offering the potential for invaluable information to be shared so that the industry can continue to grow.  But truthfully, not all seminars are well presented.  And that diminishes the messaging.  Those seminars that are sold out fast sell out for a reason – the presenters and moderators know how to deliver what their seminar description promises.  They can get to the heart of the matter and dig up and dish out the information you paid to hear.  Others, not so much.  And so, plenty of people end up walking out or not showing up at all for the seminars that could be really compelling.  Give some thought to this.  Think about what kind of preparation might make for a better moderator and panel, and send us a note with your tips for intellectual stimulation.

Speaking of stimulation, we have to give a round of applause to the men of Employees Only (and the supporting brands of Diageo, and possibly the evil genius of Miguel Calvo but that’s not confirmed.).  Not only did they throw what was arguably one of the hardest parties to gain entry to during Tales, their giveaway was a black condom in an EO branded package. Plus, they had taco trucks outside.  Now that’s responsible.  Nuff said.

Well, not really enough said…those taco trucks were a boon to all of us at Tales who had been drinking steadily throughout the 15 or so hours we seemed to be on our feet and the nutrition was much needed in a city that can sap your strength minutes after you step into its steamy heat.  The nourishment for the body that was evident at the EO party, accessible at Hotel Monteleone’s Criollo, available at the Saveur Snack Shack daily, provided courtesy of the Fonseca Bin 27  port and cookie girls and dotted at other events throughout the week was a major improvement for all of us health wise. It, along with more water being prominent, is a trend we would like to see more of.

Lastly, there’s one more trend we’d like to see more of and that’s continuing to take stock of one another so that your career, and the industry, can continue to flourish.  Tales isn’t only about parties and dreams of bartender fame and fortune (and television appearances) and brands getting their wares in front of bartenders and doing deals (of the boardroom or bedroom variety); it’s about the growth of the spirits industry. 

Behind all this fun and frivolity and imbibing comes the realization that as professionals there are standards of conduct to maintain.  This doesn’t mean don’t go out and have a good time.  You should!  And deserve to.  But take a page from the lessons learned at Tales, and the tragedy that marred the experience for some people, and turn it into a silver lining.  Just as every brand’s bottles carry the message “please drink responsibly” we should all embrace making the time to watch out for one another the way you watch out for your patrons across the bar every night, making sure your colleagues get home safely via taxi because you’ve spent the extra $10 it costs to get them there, having honest conversations about what is driving your business forward and reaching out a helping hand to the next generation rather than primarily focusing your efforts on building up your reputation by engaging in puffery and vying for attention.

These are the things that, along with the great parties and enlightening seminars and good food New Orleans food enjoyed, take the Felliniesque experience of Tales and turn it into a productive reality and a very bright future.  Worth some thought as you get back to a post-Tales reality and look ahead.  Don’t you think? 

Some sipping options while you contemplate your own Tales 2012 experience:

Cabin Fever

By Danny Ronen (Created for the 2012 DiSaronno Spirited Dinner featuring Isaac the Bartender)

*Very simple, for every 250mL of 80-proof grappa, use 5 small, dried oily red anaheim chilis. Or, as a simple alternative for the recipe, use chili oil instead (just not sesame oil based).

Catdaddy’s Southern 75

  • 1 ½ oz. Catdaddy
  • 1 oz. brut champagne
  • ½ oz.  lemon juice
  • ½ oz. simple syrup

Shake Catdaddy, lemon juice and simple syruip in an ice filled shaker.  Strain over ice, top with champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.

I Dream of Creamie
By Lynnette Marrero (created for the Mr. Solerno 2012 competition)

  • 1 part Solerno
  • 1/2 part coconut Milk
  • 1/2 part Heavy Cream
  • 1/2 part Lillet
  • 2 tsp cane sugar simple
  • 1/4 oz orange juice
  • 4 tsp TANG

Blend with Ice garnish with slice of orange

Oaxaca Sour

By Jason Kosmas

Combine mezcal, grapefruit honey cordial, lime juice and egg white in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with nutmeg and bitters

*Grapefruit-Honey Cordial (makes about 18 oz)

12 oz sugar
9 oz Rio Star grapefruit juice 
3 oz lime juice
30 pink peppercorns, crushed
1/2 tsp natural anise extract
1 cinnamon stick, smashed
1 oz Texas honey
zest of 1 Rio Star grapefruit

Heat all ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil for 1 minute and allow to cool. Strain into a food safe container. Refrigerate. Will last for 4-6 days. 

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