I sincerely hope you have been resting up for the past year because “it” is coming around again. And if you have not been taking full advantage of the time to get into shape during the 51 weeks since the last occurrence, there is no doubt you once again will not be able to run with the herd.
Yes, this week, the annual staging of Tales of the Cocktail will take place. Tales is the ultimate Siege of the Spirits, a Cacophony of Cocktails, and Mayhem by Mixologists. The entire affair along with the ancillary contingents of distillers, bar professionals, bar amateurs, brand ambassadors, bar accessories sales people, media leeches, authors, and public relations staff/handlers once again will descend upon a city that will open its arms, its heart, and its liver.
Welcome, everyone, to one of the epicenters of the cocktail world, to a place that knows its way around fresh ingredients and a shaker, to New Orleans, where “sneaking” around the streets with a cocktail in a cup is not illegal, it’s encouraged.
New Orleans native Ann Tuennerman and her husband, Paul, have created and enhanced this concept, a festival honoring drinks with a lot of ice, and placed the gathering smack in the middle of a hot, humid, semi-tropical summer in a swamp. Gotta love the logic.
If you thought wine was complicated and spirits are easy, you evidently have indeed led a wholesome life, mostly avoiding bars and their denizens. Want to get into a heated discussion?
• Explain to a distiller of pisco why you think Peru, not Chile, is the true birthplace of this colorless grape brandy (unless, of course, the distiller is from Peru)
• Take a hard position on using Cognac in a French 75, and not gin
• Say “Ice, schmice — any frozen water will do from any source in a drink”
• “The benefits of aging Bourbon in previously used French oak barrels are completely overrated”
• “Any yahoo can do a Sazerac with their eyes closed, can’t they?”
• “What’s all the fuss about bitters? Just put a few drops of any brand in any drink.”
• “Alpine flowers have only one purpose, to beautify Switzerland. They do not belong in any liqueur and most certainly have no role in a cocktail.”
Those topics and many others will be the subjects of emotional debates long into steamy evenings and on to mornings for the entire week. Unless you are completely prepared with history, experience, devotion to the craft, and a direct line to Google, you’d best sit down and enjoy the discussion among other rabid devotees, sipping on a properly made whatever is the topic of the debate.
Officially starting on Wednesday (today, July 16) and going through Sunday, Tales of the Cocktail will literally be everywhere, all over town. Headquarters is the Monteleone but every hotel in the French Quarter and the CBD will have guests and activities. Many of the reception venues, like the Republic and Generations Hall, will be the scenes of special tastings and seminars. And the larger spaces, like the Contemporary Arts Center, will be overtaken by large spirits companies, each one trying to outdo the other in flash if not in flavor.
Creativity is the order of the day. Bols, a Dutch distiller of various products and brands, is operating a shuttle service between the CBD and the airport, taking full advantage of the time to welcome guests to New Orleans and start the sales pitch as early as possible after the deplaning, with beverages, naturally.
There will be cocktail tours of New Orleans, but not the usual ones that happen here every day. These tours will take guests to significant and historic places, like where certain cocktails were invented with the full story of the people, long since passed, behind the creation. Some of the places have passed into history also.
Just about every bar in New Orleans will be a willing participant, preparing special drinks and experiences for their peer group from every corner of the globe. Oh yes, Tales is a worldwide attraction. I’ve often wondered what this crowd of cocktail professionals thinks of those drinks on the plane as they wing here to expound on the importance of specific techniques and ingredients.
There will be dinners in many of our finer restaurants where cocktails will be created to join with chef’s dishes, each course another victory for great taste and fine pairings. And there will be a grand evening of awards where talented and dedicated practitioners of the craft are recognized for service to the hospitality industry. Hollywood ain’t got nothin’ on New Orleans. At this awards event, every audience member will have a glass of something special and “adult.”
The entry into many of the activities has long since closed, but you can still obtain tickets for some of the events, assuming you have not already filled out your complete Tales’ dance card. Check out www.talesofthecocktail.com, and see what is still available to you.
Or just stand in the 200 block of Royal, by the Hotel Monteleone, on any day of the festival. Someone will come along and put a drink in your hand, likely sooner, not later.
As noted earlier, I just hope you have been getting into shape. These people don’t abide lightweights gladly.