Last Wednesday, the 11th Annual Tales of the Cocktail returned to New Orleans. The city was filled with people from all areas of the beverage industry as well as people who just love spirits. With five days packed with tastings, seminars, competitions, dinners, parties and more, Tales reigns as the world’s largest cocktail festival.
Be it the old or the new in rain or shine, everyone put their best foot forward and exceeded the crowds expectations. The events and cocktails along with the famed local music created an energetic atmosphere. We were there every step of the way, taking in the latest trends in the cocktail community. Here are some highlights.
We made it to NOLA just in time for William Grant & Sons epic festival kick-off celebrating ‘Cocktails in Film’. Nice preamble!
Thursday, Pernod Absinthe and Becherovka treated guests to a Garden Party at the Pharmacy Museum. The cocktails were flowing, as was the Becherovka fountain. When asked what was in the spirit, we were told, ‘it’s a secret’. We don’t know what it was, but that didn’t stop us from going back for more!
Purity Vodka confidently challenged guests to a blind tasting challenge against Grey Goose, and congrats Purity for a 72% win over the Goose!
Diageo took over 2 spacious floors of the historic Gallier Hall and had top bartenders pouring including award winning Jeff Bell, Julie Reiner and Ricky Gomez. Mediterranean-themed cocktails flowed at their World Class Happy Hour.
With 3 shakers in hand, Yani Frye from The Sugar House in Detroit took home the big win from the Angostura Bitters U.S. Challenge with his Morning After cocktail (Rum, Fresh Lime Juice, Maple syrup, Top with Angostura Aromatic Bitters foam, add a very small dash of cayenne pepper). Frye will represent the U.S. in 2014 at the global competition in Trinidad.
Thursday night of Tales is always the night of the Spirited Dinner, where restaurants throughout the city team up with spirits and/or industry leaders to serve a memorable and ‘spirited’ dining experience.
After dinner, many Tales attendees made their way to Hennessy’s ‘Never Stop Never Settle - The Return of Cognac Cocktails’ where guests explored the history of cognac while grooving to live jazz. Not only did we get to sip on some cognac favorites, but Hennessy also treated us to tastings of their luxurious Hennessy Paradis Rare Cognac. We’re spoiled now!
It doesn’t get better than starting your afternoon with Bulleit Bourbon Mint Juleps and lunch served by Ruth’s Chris… or does it? It did when Tom Bulleit himself took the mic. Since you most likely missed the ‘Juleps & Southern Porch Party’, not to worry, the Bulleit founder announced that the brands Mint Juleps will be the newest addition to Ruth's Chris’s booze menu.
NYC’s award winning bar The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog and Ireland’s Midleton Distillery transformed the newly opened Cane & Table lounge into the Irish Whiskey House for a day. We walked through sawdust sipping whiskey cocktails from The Dead Rabbit’s signature porcelain punch bowls and teacups poured by Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry. Midleton had a pop up bar pouring tastings from their portfolio of Irish Whiskeys including Jameson, Redbreast, and more.
In the afternoon, over 25 American craft distillers took over a ballroom at the Monteleone, allowing guests to sample their products while learning about the brands.
A few coconut waters and Gatorade’s later we made sure we were energized for the Friday night festivities.
Miami’s Cricket Nelson took home the gold at ‘The Most Imaginative Bartender All-Star Competition’ at the Bombay Sapphire EAST event at House of Blues. Nelson’s ‘Sapphire East Love Game’ (ingredients: Bombay Sapphire East, Rose Infused Earl Grey Tea, Rosebud Syrup, Fresh Lemon Juice, Fresh Thai Basil Leaves, Bitterman’s Boston) made her the first female to win this battle.
The W Hotel hosted ‘A Shot and A Beer’ where, you guessed it, premium brands set up tables serving shots along side craft beers with a local brass band exciting the crowd, a nice diversion from the cocktails… or a nice pregame to the night’s most talked about event: ‘The Bare-Knuckle Bar Fight’.
What is a bare-knuckle bar fight you ask? Create a party environment and put 7 of the countries’ top cocktail bars and top bartenders in one room and have them compete. Our job as guests was to try cocktails, party and vote to crown a winner… tough job. Another shout out to NYC: The Daily took home the Heavyweight Championship!
Saturday evening attendees were dressed to impress in their hats and flapper dresses for ‘The Great Gatsby’ themed Spirited Awards. These prestigious awards honor the world’s best cocktail stars and bars. New York’s The Dead Rabbit and Clover Club swept up the majority of the honors, and The NoMad and Saxon & Parole each took home one. We are in good hands New York!
After that, the crowd made their way to Juniperlooza where Plymouth Gin, Beefeater Dry and Beefeater 24 transported guests to London, complete with an AstroTurf Hyde Park where guests took a dancing breather!
In addition to all that, each day the pool, lobby and streets surrounding the Hotel Monteleone were filled with unique cocktail experiences, and convention rooms at both the Monteleone & Royal Sonesta were turned into ‘Tasting Rooms’ and seminars.
-Tito’s had everyone infusing their own vodkas in mason jars.
-Breckenridge Distillery made it snow as people slurped on boozy snow cones while Louisiana’s own Bayou Rum tail-gated, er, Gator-Tailed down the street.
-We may or may not have been charged with Larceny by Consumption outside the Larceny Bourbon street tasting…
-Midnight Moon Moonshine transported us back in time serving their dangerously delicious 100-proof flavored moonshine out of a 1940s bootlegging car in front of a Courthouse. Yup, another mug-shot taken while swaying to some jailhouse blues.
The American Still Life Collection did non-stop nighttime boozy bus tours to Cure & Bellocq, two of New Orleans’ hot cocktail bars, keeping guests hydrated the whole way with cocktails from their portfolio.
Disaronno spent 3 days serving guests creative cocktails with live music in the courtyard at Hotel Mazarin and even held the USBG Mixing Star National Finals – congrats to Nathan Burdette for winning with The Spaghetti Western (DISARONNO, California Kumquats, dash Way of the West Habanero Hot Sauce, pinch of Nature Sauvage Fleur De Sel Sea Salt, Tecate Cerveza).
THE FINAL DAY
A little rain didn’t stop us from refueling at the Annual Pig & Punch Festival. A pig roast, bbq favorites, unlimited punches from trash cans, boozy gelato, music from The Bon Vivants, t-shirts and more made for a memorable ‘fun’draiser in Washington Square Park off the famed Frenchmen Street.
After that was a refreshing plunge in the pool at Milagro’s Tales End Pool Party before jetting off to the airport. And these are our tales from Tales. A great time was had by all, be it the guests, sponsors, bartenders, musicians, media or press. Until next year New Orleans…
CLICK HERE to view all the photos from our week in New Orleans.