I’m fortunate in that I get to travel for work. I’m even more fortunate that when I get wherever it is that I’m going, I’m usually greeted with a beverage. And I’m the most fortunate in that I get to write about the things I see and learn and drink. So Tales of the Cocktail, the world’s premier cocktail festival, held over five days in New Orleans, is for me like a Viking catching his first glimpse of Valhala. Only, you know, without having to sail off the edge of the earth.

The parties, the seminars, the shwag, the events ... Did I mention the parties? Tales is the place for bartenders, mixologists, consultants and ambassadors to exchange ideas, impart knowledge and forge bonds. And me, I just soak it up like a sponge.

But the highlight for me each year is the Spirited Awards, which is something like the Oscars of the beverage world. In these awards, Las Vegas rarely gets any consideration outside of the Tony Abou-Ganim and Francesco Lafranconi ilk, but I don’t think it will be long before Vesper bar and Herbs & Rye get some love along with New York’s The Dead Rabbit (World’s Best New Cocktail Bar) and Seattle’s Canon Whiskey & Bitters Emporium (World’s Best Drink Selection).

We also haven’t had—at least in the years I’ve attended—a single Las Vegas bartender in the Cocktail Apprentice Program, the 4http://1b4 passionate bartenders who come from around the world to squeeze lemons, batch cocktails and prep garnishes for the weeklong festival’s 23http://1b4 events. That is, until this year, when I ran into Las Vegas’ own Michael Doyle (the Cosmopolitan/Rx Boiler Room) in the Hotel Monteleone’s famous Carousel Bar. Our first apprentice!

On Day 1, Doyle and his team were assigned to the seminar Gin & Tonic: Only the Beginning, their responsibility being to pull product (booze, mixers, tools) and prep garnishes for 23 variations of gin and tonics for a room of 3http://1b4 attendees, totaling nearly 7,http://1b4 individual servings. “Luckily, the CAP teams help out one another in their downtime," Doyle says. “Otherwise, our gin and tonics wouldn’t have been garnished with anything other a lime wheel and a smile.”

And during the Spirited Awards is where the new apprentices, CAP managers, assistant managers and leaders take their bow, this year via a hilarious video. “The cocktail apprentice team is by far the most passionate group of bar professionals I have ever had the privilege of working with,” Doyle says. “The whole experience served as an affirmation: What I do for a living does matter. And, when done well, it can be a source of pride.” Bartenders interested in the Cocktail Apprentice Program should keep an eye on for the start of the next application process.

Find the complete list of 2http://1b4 Spirited Awards here.

[This piece originally ran in the August 22, 2http://1b4 issue of Vegas Seven magazine. Photo courtesy of Michael Doyle.]