New Orleans is arguably the best and biggest drinking city not only in the United States, but in the world. It is only fitting that Tales of the Cocktail, a convention promoting education, networking, and promotion of alcohol, is headquartered here. As residents of New Orleans and long-time imbibers, associate editor Anna Shults and contributing writer Joh Sedtal attended selected Tasting Room Events throughout the festival weekend. Here are some highlights of their experiences.
Tales of the cocktail, booze, beautiful hotels in downtown New Orleans, booze, Ron Jeremy, booze, rain-soaked tequila pool parties, and, of course, more booze. This is what our weekend essentially amounted to.
While some would say (including Tales of the Cocktails’ own website) that this festival is dedicated to the education, networking, and promotion of the art of the cocktail, it is from our experience a top-shelf bender on steroids. Rather than being centered in the heart of touristy debauchery, Bourbon Street, Tales of the Cocktail was headquartered in the infinitely more elegant Hotel Monteleone. Featuring 60 tasting rooms spread over five days, the French quarter is the ideal background for the drinker’s dream destination.
Thursday began with us arriving unfashionably late at 11:30, just making the end of the New American Whiskey tasting room. Our multi-course breakfast started with the Bernheim 100 Proof rye, followed by the 125 Trybox new make. The second round was the Evan Williams wheat, straight up, and then in a cocktail with orange and grapefruit bitters (Vitamin C and complex carbohydrates: dietary staples).
There was a 30-minute break between each tasting room session, presumably to allow the imbibing masses to procure some vittles. However, we decided that a Bloody Mary would adequately provide the dietary essentials for the morning. We meandered over to the Carousel Bar and ordered two drinks. Before we made a quarter-turn, we were presented with two spicy concoctions with enough vegetables to constitute an interim meal.
As a dessert, we found the Leblon Caipi-Mobile, offering us a refreshing cucumber sorbet spiked with Leblon-Cachaca for our walk to the Royal Sonesta, Tales of the Cocktails’ second home on Bourbon.
Our first stop provided something that every tipsy person enjoys: cupcakes. And what better way to celebrate the launch of a new flavored vodka than with pastries, cocktails, and sugary liquors? Though they were all delicious, of the four new flavors, original, chiffon, vanilla, and devil’s food, the chocolaty concoction was a clear front-runner. In a city known for decadence and drinking, Cupcake vodka is sure to find success.
After the feminine combination of cupcakes and vodka, we ventured to arguably the most masculine of beverages: Scotch. Drambuie unveiled a new expression of its renowned beverage, Drambuie 15. Anthony Caporale, the brand ambassador, generously gave us a run-down of Drambuie’s background, though it seemed more like a history lesson, as Drambuie’s recipe dates back 250 years and has endured political conflict and exile. Though one of us was a novice Scotch-drinker and the other a more experienced consumer, we enjoyed its smoothness, both neat and mixed in signature cocktails. With the decadent bacon-wrapped dates and grilled cheese with tomato remoulade, the Drambuie room was in an indulgent league of its own.
Next was the Lirette Selections tasting room: wine, wine, and more wine, and after a morning full of neat spirits, it was a welcome hour for our palates. Producers and distributors had tables filling two rooms displaying their best of the best. Though a regular consumer of wine, my selections are typically limited to whatever is on sale at Rouses. By the time we wandered out of the ballroom, we’d learned facts that are sure to impress at parties regarding grape regions, food pairings, and tannin content (I also have knowledgeable back-up on something I’ve been saying for years: Prosecco really does go with everything).
Our final room of the day before the unfortunate reality of responsibility required sobriety was the Irish Distillers Tasting Room. In front of each seat was a flight of whiskey and a pitcher of ice water. Liam Donegan, armed with a Power Point presentation and a melodious accent that could calm both women and horses, led us through each of the whiskeys with a brief overview of the history, fermentation process, and how it is best enjoyed. Jameson has always been a personal favorite, and who better to instruct the uneducated masses about whiskey than the countrymen who perfected it so long ago?
Extraneous responsibilities prevented NolaVie’s alcohol ambassadors from attending the next two days of festivities. However, we were in attendance at Milaro’s rooftop pool party. The drizzly New Orleans rain was doing nothing to dampen the spirits of the attendees. As most of the conference participants were not New Orleans residents, this was something of the final blow-out, the party before everyone goes back to lead their own lives, maybe to come back next year or maybe never to see one another again.
And like any good send-off party, it was fueled by tequila and a license to wear minimal clothing. It was liberating to see the sommelier, who had traded in his suit and tie for swimming trunks, downing margaritas like a sorority girl on Cinco de Mayo, showing that anyone can both appreciate the finer notes of a Sauvignon Blanc and throw down with the best of the Bourbon crowd.
Over many hours, countless tasting rooms, and a few stories that will land us in next year’s Cocktail Confessional, we walked (nay, stumbled) out of the Quarter. What we lacked in dignity, we made up for in knowledge. Some of the world’s most talented, well-versed bartenders and distributors, who treat alcohol as an art form, were willing to take us clueless consumers by the hand and guide us through the craft they know so well. That alone is worth the $45 wrist-band, though after you look over the program, we’re sure you’ll agree it’s a steal.
The two worlds of Mardi Gras-style drinking and appreciating the art of the cocktail are not mutually exclusive, and Tales of the Cocktail is their overlap. And we personally already have asked for a work leave on July 25-29 of 2012 for Tales of the Cocktail 2012.
We recommend you do the same.