Everything at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail, just like Texas, was bigger. Here’s a roundup of our week (what we can remember, anyway).
Tales founder Ann Tuennerman shared with us via email some of this year’s hottest trends, echoing The Standard Pour’s Brian McCullough, with whom we chatted on Wednesday.
There is a “renewed appreciation for tequila and mezcal and the craftsmen behind the product. We had a tasting event plus a few seminars in tequilas, mezcals and rare agave spirits,” she said, adding the gin and tonic is becoming more popular.
“Another large trend I see is the resurgence of distilleries in the U.S.,” Tuennerman added.
Here’s a roundup of what we think is hot in cocktailing from what we saw and drank at TOTC:
Cognac: This spirit seemed to dominate the schedule, from parties to special luncheons. Cognac is enjoying a resurgence it seems, both in classic and innovative new cocktails.
On Thursday, Hennessy hosted “The Return of Cognac Cocktails” at hotspot Generations where partygoers explored the history of cognac cocktails and drinks such as the Sling Royal, a classic Sazerac and the Hennessy Paradis.
Also, keeping it simple was a dominant theme. At the cognac luncheon we attended on Wednesday, Rocky the bartender talked about keeping cocktails to under 5 ingredients or less. So that means staying away from those sugar bombs the Hurricane and Hand Grenade on Bourbon Street.
Packing a punch
From tasting rooms to seminars, we were treated to many different varieties of punches from gin to whiskey. We sampled many concoctions that made use of various spirits while using fresh ingredients. Speaking of low-maintenance drinks, draft cocktails (large batches of pre-made cocktails served in draft form) are generating a lot of buzz. The New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society’s Tales on Tap competition sponsored by Drambuie Liqueur crowned a Las Vegas mixologist for his Nuttin’ Honey draft cocktail. Delicious drinks with no waiting time? Yes, please.
Booze in nontraditional ways
Bartenders at the VeeV Fresh Market tent, including Texas’ own Bonnie Wilson, were serving up fresh juices in plastic jars adorned with beaded bracelets that looked like they came from the yoga studio. But they were cocktails spiked with the sustainable acai spirit such as Liquid Garden and Healthy Heartbeet. You can have your antioxidants and booze all in one.
Drinks with coffee also made multiple appearances during the week. The most buzzworthy was Friday when Lucas Bols reintroduced a lost art of cocktail making called layering as they created the world’s largest Pousse Café, using 20 liters of liquor.
One spirit that made a splash was Bayou Rum, which celebrated its global launch at Tales. The Louisiana product is made of molasses and raw, unprocessed Louisiana sugar, perfect for all those refreshing punches we indulged in to keep our cool, especially around those baby alligators.
The Texas connection
Bartenders from the Lone Star State did us proud, from the massive Texas Tailgate party on Tuesday to Bar Smyth’s Omar Yeefoon taking Stoli’s Most Original Bartender crown to the Bare Knuckles bar fight that featured Team Bar Smyth. And at Saturday’s Spirited Awards, Fords Gin, created by Simon Ford of The 86 Co., which was co-founded by Jason Kosmas, walked away with Best New Product.
Tuennerman also gave big ups to Texas.
“The Texas cocktail group is wonderful. My husband works in Dallas and I have seen first over the last four years how good they are and encouraged their participation. In 2011 and 2012 I did what I called the Texas tour and went to 5 major cities in Texas and held gatherings with bartenders to tell them what Tales of the Cocktail was and encourage them to attend. In 2012 I convinced them to create their own Texas tasting room and it was a big hit and they did something again in 2013″.
“When you can bring a lot of people to Tales of the Cocktail, it shows you have a community in your market,” she said.
Planning is year long process, says Tuennerman, who works with four full-time staffers. In 2012, there were 300 applicants and 59 seminars were selected. The seminars have something for everyone, whether you’re a newbie or a veteran. Some serious knowledge was dropped at sessions that ranged from history (Paleococktails, for example, traced the earliest drinks, not libations to throw back while eating like a caveman) to more technical aspects of the biz, such as the From Oak to Smoke session that followed the journey of French and American trees from the forest to barrels.
TOTC definitely takes a walk on the wild side when it comes to the soirees. The Absolut party kicked off the week of festivities on a debaucherous note, with unicorn ice sculptures, masked men, sassy drag queens and cocktail fountains. As the nights wore on, the glam factor kicked it up a notch, culminating in the Spirited Awards that featured a Gatsby theme.
And finally, random musings from a TOTC virgin
- We learned the hard way that sitting at the Hotel Monteleone Carousel bar + drinking = quick trip to drunkenness.
- 10:30 a.m. is the new 5 o’clock.
- To be a marathon drinker just like the locals, here’s a tip. Drinking cocktails with milk helps to slow down the absorption of alcohol. Irish coffees, anyone?
We’re signing off now and going into serious detox mode. See you next year at Tales of the Cocktail!
We wish to thank Dorothy Hernandez for fantastic reports from New Orleans this year.