Jul 15, 201012:00 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

Moving From the Sidelines to the Front Row

In just a few days, the amazing –– and only in New Orleans –– Tales of the Cocktail festival will kick off. It starts on Wednesday, July 21 and continues at a hectic pace until Sunday afternoon, July 25.

There are so many simultaneous events that when you choose to participate, you will have to make some tough decisions or be very quick on your feet to move from one incredible experience to another. All the good news is located at www.talesofthecocktail.com.

Although there have been some who claim New Orleans invented the original mixture spirits, sweet and sour, that claim, unfortunately, is not true. And there have been others who have claimed that New Orleans invented the term “cocktail.” Alas, that is not true either.

But this city has always been a center of cocktail culture and even more so of late. Tales of the Cocktail is a natural event for our community because we embrace a good time anytime, enjoy all manner of people who can party responsibly, never turn down a good drink and love our cuisine and every chance there is to enjoy it.

Tales fills the bill on all counts. There will be professionals and rank amateurs here from all over the world, each bringing something special and unique to a six-day (and into the nights) party.

Lately, the cocktail culture has just about fully reinvented itself, educating its disciples in the value of fresh ingredients blended together in ways never before tried. I must confess that although most of what will be served at Tales is terrific and fun, there are some combinations that are just not so good.

I’m a big fan of experimentation, but when those off-the-wall trials leave the lab and enter the service area, my eyebrows go up and my palate screams for something saner, like an old standard Sazerac or Pimm’s Cup. Sometimes it’s best not to fool with Mother Nature. Lovers of Vincent Price or Roger Corman movies recognize when that moment arrives. They should not have opened that door, and now we all know it.

Anyway, the joy of today’s cultural explosion, as it regards cocktails, is the plethora (I’ve been waiting use that word for several weeks) of diverse and high-quality ingredients available, thanks to farming, distillation and science.

There are some cocktail ingredients that have been around for awhile, but they were never thought part of the mix (pardon the pun). Today, the modern cocktailian not only has access, but they also have bent the rules. The happy result, in many cases, is a beverage that is bright, refreshing and approachable.

A few of the items that have moved from the side bar to the front of the bar are:

•    Fresh lemons and limes. Here is the heart of the matter. Whereas before it was perfectly acceptable to use bottled juice, it now is practically demanded that you get busy squeezing citrus.  Literally, no bar chef worth his smock uses anything but freshly squeezed juices.

•    Self-made infusions. If you want to combine spirits and fruit, do it yourself. Many spirits distillers have brought to market combinations of fruit and/or citrus and blended it into their product. Maybe you like these, and if so, go for it. But the real way to get to where the flavor is precisely what you like is to do it yourself. Many bars today, just as it has been done for generations in Italy and Spain, have large covered bowls of spirits with fruit marinating within. They are making their own infused liquor, starting with a spirit and then adding all manner of spice, fruit and citrus to accomplish something unique.

•    Nonalcoholic concoctions. Does oregano-infused fresh honey sound good? How about basil-infused grape garnish?  Can we talk about saffron and red pepper syrup? Muddled cucumber and grapefruit peel? Vanilla bean-infused simple syrup? The point is to let your imagination wander over to the cooking side of your brain. What do you think would work well on a plate? Move it into the cocktail shaker.

•    Obscure spirits. We now have access to liqueurs and spirits made from ingredients that we never considered as source material. St. Germain is made from fresh elderberry flowers grown in the Alps and made into liqueur in an artisanal fashion. Dubonnet Rouge, originally created by a Parisian chemist to help the troops of the French Foreign Legion fight malaria in northern Africa, makes an excellent mixer, unrelated to its original purpose. Absinthe, back on the scene after a 100-year absence, provides interesting slants to certain recipes. Fernet Branca, a digestif from Italy, was more popular when Benny Goodman was sweetly playing his clarinet, but it is back as a mixer. None of these ingredients is required in any appreciable quantity in a cocktail recipe, but they all bring interesting tones to the combination of other ingredients.

•    Vegetables, spices and fruits.  We’ve touched on this, but have no fear of cucumber, watermelon, cane syrup, cardamom, chocolate, sage, honey, teas and coffees. Part of the great fun in a cocktail you are creating is in the experimentation stage. You can try some of this and a little of that and see just where it takes you. You know what you like, so start there and branch out.

•    Rimming spices. There are times when it is not all about what is in the glass but rather what is on the glass. All manner of spices to rim the glass are available, and there are still the trusty standbys of salt, sugar and Cajun spice.

•    Ice. We would be remiss if we did not mention that when you are making cocktails, you should use only the freshest ice. That stuff you have in your freezer is not the best. After all, making cocktails requires lots of ice, and if the ice has a flavor of its own, you’ve seriously wasted a good effort. Go the store. Buy some fresh ice. It’s cheap.

While the wine world continues its tempest-in-a-bottle arguments about cork versus screw cap and what are we going to do with all those corkscrews laying around the house (or at least in my house), the cocktail world demands a whole battery of preparation tools from squeezers to graters to shakers to muddlers to stirrers to jiggers to strainers to all manner of glassware.  For gadget freaks, it’s great. And it makes you feel important to use them correctly at the right time.

There you go. Tales of the Cocktail is coming up, and it’s a great opportunity to learn something new. Oh, and drink something you’ve never had before.

It should give you ideas for how you can personalize the drinks to your likes.

One idea it should not give you is to drive after attending a session or two. Rent a hotel room for a fun weekend in the middle of summer, or keep the number of your favorite taxi company very handy.

No matter how much you love the party, it’s not worth a bad end, riding in the back of a police car. 

The Wine Show with Tim McNally can be heard every Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. on WIST-AM 690.

 

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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

about

In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.

 

Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; the Executive Editor and monthly features writer for Gulf Coast Wine + Dine Online; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.

 

Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.

 

Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.

 

They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.

 

Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.

 

Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

 

Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.

 

It’s a good gig. 

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