We survived this year’s Tales of the Cocktail — barely! The annual spirits, cocktails, and bartender industry-only weeklong event in New Orleans is filled with seminars, tastings, tours, dinners, and parties galore. We arrived on Thursday, and by then, people had already been in town for a few days and seemed to be getting their second and third winds. We had been warned in advance — drink lots of water, do not do it all, pace yourself while drinking, and do not go to all the parties — especially those that start after midnight. We took the advice gladly, and had an enjoyable and educational weekend where we met a lot of new industry contacts and were privy to several new product launches. Of course we enjoyed many of the great restaurants and bars, old and new. So here are the highlights of this year’s Tales:
- You can enjoy champagne at a spirit-centric event. We did a double-take when we were invited to a luncheon with Nicolas Feuillatte, but we could not pass it up. The lunch at Galatoire’s was intimate and entertaining. Apparently, Nicolas Feuillatte is the official champagne of Tales and served the official champagne cocktail — the Nicki Foo: ¾ ounce raspberry vinegar, ¾ ounce Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur, 1 ounce grapefruit juice, ½ ounce chilled hibiscus tea, and 2 ounces Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Champagne.
- Tales is coming to you all year, not just one weekend each year, with the Tales 365 program. For $129, you can become a member and receive access to seminar videos, early access to tickets, invites to member-only product preview tastings, discounts at partner organizations and more. Visit their website to learn more.
- Cocktails for a Crowd is a great book to grab if you are into hosting parties and dinners. Writer Kara Newman’s book features more than 40 recipes for making drinks in party-pleasing batches. Kara also provides helpful tips on measuring, preparing in advance, and how to balance flavor.
- Your one-stop source for anything you need in a bar is Cocktail Kingdom. Etched glassware, copper shakers, bar spoons, strainers, jiggers, and more — they have everything a bartender would ever dream of owning. They also sell t-shirts and how-to books.
- Find that coin. Apparently if you go into a bar with a bunch of USBG (United Status Bartenders’ Guild) members and coins come out, you better have one, too, or you’ll get stuck with the entire bill. Luckily for us, we attended the Fratelli Branca University when we first arrived on that exact quest. Packed to the gills with people, you had to move around the tight tasting room to each station, sample a variety of products, and answer questions correctly. Then we stood in a long line for what seemed like forever, but we got our coin and were not left with a lofty tab all weekend.
- You must get creative with your product launches. There were DJs, disco balls, pool parties, camels, and lots of loosely clothed girls wondering around Tales serving up a variety of spirits. We appreciated keeping it lively and different and wish the spirits had always lived up to the hype of the events. We give the award to Charlotte Voisey, company mixologist for William Grant & Sons, for dancing in stilettos and then serving us a Saturday Night Fever-themed cocktail at 10:00 a.m.
- As soon as you arrive in the Big Easy, you can start drinking and get a free ride to your hotel thanks to Bols Bartending and their booze bus. The shuttle is filled with other attendees from around the country toasting to the start of their weekend. Best of all, you don’t pay a dime, except for a tip.
- Don’t be tardy for the party — or in this case, the annual USBG Toast at midnight at The Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street. That is when hundreds of bartenders hit the streets with a glass of something in their hands, scream, dance, and celebrate their profession while getting crazy on one of the craziest streets in the country.
- When you have the chance to “meet a master,” just do it. In our case, Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey was celebrating 60 years with a special event during Tales. A little out of place, the party was in an upstairs bar on Bourbon Street. Despite the obnoxious DJ and girls in funky neon outfits serving drinks, it was neat meeting Mr. Russell himself as he sat in a chair fittingly made out of turkey feathers.
- We appreciate a sponsor like Mountain Valley Spring Water. Not only is the water refreshing, it is the perfect thing to drink day and night during Tales to help you stay hydrated. The green bottles were found throughout the event including in large barrels in hotel lobbies. We never left home without one.
We are glad we survived our first Tales and look forward to many more years now that we have one under our belt (and the swag to prove it).