Last week the world’s premier gathering of bartenders, distillers, cocktail enthusiasts and professional in the spirit industry once again celebrated it’s 15th year in New Orleans. Despite Tales of the Cocktail‘s tremendous growth since it’s inception in 2002 and it’s reputation as the “can’t miss” event of the year amongst industry professionals, Tales is not so familiar for many local New Orleanians. Though we ourselves are not in the industry, we have a great love for cocktails and spirits and try to enjoy Tales to its fullest each year. Over the course of the week there are over 200 events occurring all over the city in this event that is part conference and part festival! Locals are lucky in that they can go all out and attend events that truly span dawn to dusk each day or select a few events to attend here and there without even having to take time off work or away from other commitments. There is so much going on during TOTC week, you can really build an experience that works best for you! Obviously a festival in honor of all things “cocktail” includes endless options for sampling and imbibing which is likely enough make most of you plan to attend in 2018 without any other prodding, but we think these there are countless reasons you must plan to attend Tales of the Cocktail in 2018! Here are our Top 5! Mark your calendars!
1. There are industry professionals and cocktail enthusiasts from around the world here in town to mix and mingle!
To kick off Tales this year, on Tuesday night we headed to our favorite neighborhood spot, Revel. With a legend like Chris McMillian behind the bar, we figured those who had made it into town early might find their way to Revel and indeed they did! Revel also brought in guest bartender Sandy Almeida, reigning top bartender of Toronto, for the evening! We spent the evening enjoying the fruits of Sandy and Chris’s craftmanship and chatting with visitors from around the world who were in for Tales! Ireland, South Africa, Brazil, Canada, and Australia were all represented in our small corner of the bar! Throughout the week it is so easy to meet new people and learn from them; from bartenders, to distillers, to ambassadors, and to people creating new models of business in the industry, you are always bumping into someone with knowledge or interesting experiences to share! You may find yourself sitting next to an ambassador from your favorite brand, chatting with a distiller of your favorite spirit, or sharing a drink with a bartender from a bar you heard about that you’ve been wanting to check out on your next vacation. You never know whom you may run into at tales.
2. There are truly so many opportunities to learn and explore interests throughout the week!
The core of Tales is the seminars that cover every topic from the history of favorite spirits to the future of the industry and every interest in between. Led by brand ambassadors, writers, distillers, and other leaders in the industry there is so much to learn while at Tales. This year the seminars were based between the Hotel Monteleone and the Royal Sonesta which also housed the Tasting Rooms, special popups that registered attendees can visit throughout the conference that features rotating spirits featuring special cocktails for…well, tasting! We were luck to attend a seminar sponsored by Tullamore DEW and Teeling Irish Whiskey about the recent re-growth of Irish whiskey and the future ahead. We discovered that there are many changes happening in Ireland and several new distilleries came onto our radar with products we’d like to explore. The seminars, of course, also find a way to work in a few tastes along the way!
In addition to the seminars, some brands will host private experiences throughout the week where you can spend some time getting an in-depth look at their specific spirits. One of the first events that we attended this year was with Hennessy where one of their brand ambassadors took us on a journey through the process of creating the product from the selection of grapes to the enjoyment of tasting the final product. Hennessy selected the fabulous Bevolo Light Company space to host their event creating the perfect ambiance. The hour long journey was capped off by tasting a special pour that was over 50 years old! We certainly learned so much about cognac in general and Hennessy and were able to appreciate all of the notes and changes that occur in the spirit due to the decisions made during the distillation and aging process.
3. Your favorite local restaurants and bars will be teaming up with different brands and world famous bar tenders for special events all week long!
Traditionally on the Thursday night, restaurants around town team up with brands and distillers to host the Spirited Dinners. These dinners are limited in number of guests and frequently fill up quickly! Each restaurant crafts a special menu for the evening usually with a specialty cocktail pairing that focuses on the featured spirit or brand. This year we attended the “Epicurious Botanical Journey with Death’s Door Gin” at Boucherie. The dinner was built around exploring the three key flavors in Death’s Door Gin, juniper, corriander, and fennel, and chef Nathaniel Zimet and team crafted a delicious menu and cocktails to explore each botanical individually and finally all together. Throughout the meal we learned about the distillation of gin and special features of Death’s Door Gin while enjoying exceptional dishes from the kitchen and cocktails that were one hit after another!
In addition to the dinners, many restaurants and bars in the city will host Dynamic Duos. These are brief two to three hours events where celebrity bartenders from around the world will team up with a local restaurant/bar and make specialty cocktails featuring a special spirit. The dynamic duos are typically some of our favorite events of Tales, but this year we were only able to make it to one! Before our Spirited Dinner, we were able to spend an hour at Barrel Proof with Gabriel Rieben, Head Bartender at Dullboy in Jersey City, mixing craft cocktails featuring Paul John Indian Single Malts from Goa, India! These drinks were really something special and new for all of us!
4. The plethora of pop-ups from your favorite spirits all around theFrench Quarter.
Each day at Tales, the brands and distributors attending will host private popups for their clients and fans. Some of these events are casual leisurely pop-ups that linger throughout the day while others are themed events with a tremendous amount of production, and this year we were lucky enough to attend plenty of both!
Our first pop-up of the week was a well thought out, themed pop-up by Mezcal El Silencio, known for their white label, Joven Mezcal, and their dark label, Espadin Mezcal. As guests arrived on the first floor of the party they were greeted by a flight crew and welcomed through a space that was immediately recognizable as a cargo plane. As guests passed through the plane’s door, they found they had “landed” at a mezcaleriea in Mexico. This lower level of the pop-up was open and airy, representing the “light side” – the brand’s white label. After spending time on the light side, guests traveled upstairs where they were greeted by a host costumed in black and dark makeup warning them that were entering a darker side and marking each guest on their forehead to protect them from the spirits. After passing through a smoky hallway, guests entered the “dark side,” a dark room with pumping music, a tattoo station, dark art about the walls, and bars serving up the dark label mezcal in fabulous cocktails including some served with a flaming garnish!
On Friday were hopped around to several different pop-ups, each one a different experience from the one before it. Our first stop was a laid back popup at Revelator Coffee featuring drinks with their fabulous brews and Bulleit. We enjoyed the coffe-house with a twist vibe of this pop-up and really enjoyed their specialty drink, the Frozen Ramos!
Then off to Martini Vermouth’s Caffe Torrino, a European cafe style popup where conference attendees could stop in all week for a special menu of drinks, a flowing fountain of Negronis, and espresso shots pulled to order for a pick-me-up or a minute of downtime during this busy conference. After a break at Cafe Torrino we headed to the Johnnie & Soda Shoppe from Johnnie Walker that had taken over at Stanley for the day. Stanley was completely transformed into a vintage soda shop serving american classics like burgers and curly fries while the bar became a full fledged soda fountain complete with Johnnie Walker root beer floats featuring scotch infused butterscotch ice cream….you guys can’t even imagine how delicious that was!
Late night on Friday, after checking out a few parties, we decided to end our night at yet another French Quarter Pop-up just off Royal street! In a rather inconspicuous space no bigger than a walk-in closet, Grey Goose was hosting one of my favorite little pop-ups of tales, Le Cafe de Nuit! Here we enjoyed some late night visiting with a few other attendees and grabbed espresso latte martinis to close out our evening! The delicious cocktails and intimacy of this space made this one of our favorite finds of Tales this year!
On Saturday we headed back out to the Quarter to explore more of the offerings! There is so much to see and do at Tales that you really cannot do it all, so on Saturday myself and Mr. AmourNOLA had to split up to attend the events we both wanted to see. I headed over the Mandarine Napoléon party at Napoleon House celebrating 125 years of the spirit! It was here that I had my favorite cocktail of Tales by bartender BC Hoffman. The cocktail, a play on the history of Mandarine Napoléon which was created for Napoléon by his physician, required guests to add the ingredients from their “medicine bottle” to complete the drink which turned from sparkling clear to murky purple and was absolutely divine! The party was a classy gathering with a jazz band composed of familiar faces that would be immediately recognized by locals from Sunday brunches at Commander’s, Brennan’s and the like. As guests dined on Mandarine Napoléon cocktails, including the famous Mandarine Napoléon Margarita, and snacked on French cheeses, a shining gold bottle was brought out before the crowd. The bottle encased in 24 carat gold had to be handled wearing gloves and contained Mandarine Napoléon with a cognac from 1892! After a lively countdown we were all served a pouring of this 125 year old cognac! This was perhaps the greatest moment of Tales for me this year!
While I was sipping 125 year old cognac, Mr. AmourNOLA headed down to catch the Patrón Tequila express. Patrón brought in their 1927 rail car, the “Tequila Express” for this event to celebrate the Margarita. Reisler Morales, in from Mexcio, featured his Coralina Margarita, the winner Patrón’s worldwide search for “Margarita of the Year,” which guests sipped while exploring the vintage train car. The margarita was of course, fabulous, but Mr. AmourNOLA’s favorite offering was a little cupcake complete with a tequila shot to inject just before the first bite!
From there, after braving the typical NOLA afternoon thunderstorm, we met back up at the House of Eyx, an oppulent pop-up from Absolut Elyx inside Latrobe’s. Inside, guests were greeted to a world of extravagance with cocktails featuring the luxury vodka served in elaborate copper vessels, some in the shape of woodland creatures, a savory brunch, frozen fruit popsicles served in a bath of Prosecco, specially designed pieces of copper jewelry, and even a full salon for makeup and pampering. The hours passed quickly while at the House of Elyx, and before we knew it, the afternoon had passed us by!
5. The absolutely fabulous, over-the-top parties!
One of the most anticipated events of Tales each year, the William Grant & Sons Portfolio Party, typically occurs on the Wednesday night of Tales. This party has gained the reputation of being one of the most well planned, over the top parties of the week, and it did not disappoint. Featuring special stations from all the brands in the William Grant & Sons portfolio, the party provided us with many first! From a rose garden that served surprise cocktails, to sitting in ice thrones, to the option of getting a real spur of the moment tattoo, there were surprises at every turn! The cocktails from Hendricks Gin, Milagro Tequila, Reyka Vodka , and the entire William Grant & Sons portfolio were plentiful and served with the most elaborate fanfare.
On Thursday, following our lovely Spirited Dinner Uptown, we traveled across the city back to the Quarter to visit Cutty Sark and USBG’s Midnight Toast! At a speakeasy on Bourbon St. the food and cocktails once again were flowing! And what Bourbon St party would be complete without a balcony over Bourbon for people watching!
There was quite a lot of buzz around town about Friday nights biggest party the Diageo portfolio party, The Dogg House! With special guest….you guessed it, Snoop Dog! The house was packed and the brands brought their A-game, with glow in the dark drinks on a lanyard from Don Julio, giant syringes from Rumple Minz and ……! After Snoop brought down the house, guests were greeted with yet another surprise! Lucky Dog vendors were waiting at the exit to serve up a midnight snack on their way out!
At Tales, the party never really ends, so we headed from the Dogg House off to the Monkey Shoulder “90’s” after party at Bourbon Vieux. This party was a true blast from the past! On entering you could not help but miss the Fresh Prince of Belaire and Saved By the Bell episodes projected on the walls. All our favorite 90’s hits played till the wee hours of the morning, and we each left with a slap bracelet which was unanimously voted as best favor of the evening!
We closed out Tales at Jägermeister party at Bourbon Vieux. Jäger brought in special guests DJ Master Mike, Grand Master Flash, and Kurtis Blow to entertain the crowd all night while serving up classic cocktails with a twist…Jäger ! Guests bartenders worked their magic crafting seriously good old favorites from pina coladas to old fashioneds with a twist; every drink was made with Jägermeister! At this party, Jäger certainly proved it’s for far more than just shots chased with a cold beer!
Tales of the Cocktail 2017 was jammed packed, and we had a blast all week! It’s truly a marathon of a week , but is so very worth it for all the reasons we mentioned and so many more! We met people from around the world, greatly expanded our knowledge of cocktails and spirits, explored so many new tastes and creations, and had so many great experiences. We encourage locals to get out and explore when Tales rolls around next July and find some pop-ups and parties, head to a Spirited Dinner or Dynamic Duo, sign up for some seminars or buy tickets to a tasting room, or even just head to your favorite local watering hole and chat with some of the great visitors that come to town for Tales!