It used to be that my favorite Tales seminars—what I affectionately call "wonky" classes devoted to ice formations, CO2 chargers, the mechanics of designing a menu—usually stacked up on Wednesdays. Going down the list this year, I spotted such seminars popping up throughout the week.
"Our seminars are more in-depth because the industry is more educated," says Ann Tuennerman, who co-founded the cocktail festival with husband Paul. "Our presenters' [selection] committee is made up of bartenders from around the world, and we ask them: 'What are you interested in learning?' There's no Home Bar 101 at Tales of the Cocktail."
Tales' appeal is deepening in other ways, too: this year's Buenos Aires tour sold out, and the fl agship festival in July will attract other pros—banquet waiters, hosts, maître d's, chefs, fl oor managers—who are interested in spirits. "It's an event we curate for [all] the service industry," Ann says.
This year, Tales of the Cocktail will grant $50,000 in scholarships, recently adding awards that will send 10 deserving bartenders through B.A.R.'s Spirits & Mixology program in New york City. To qualify for a scholarship, you must fi rst be sel ected for Tales' highly coveted Cocktail Apprentice Program.
CAPs batch seminar cocktails at Tales, and support related events throughout the week. This year, local CAPs include Steve yamada (Tivoli & Lee) and Nathan Dalton (Felipe's), as well as returning CAP Kimberly Patton-Bragg (Tivoli & Lee). Being a CAP is the "ultimate fraternity," says Ann.
As New Orleans attracts more industry newcomers, look for young bartenders arriving in July.
To them, Ann offers this advice: "Pick a couple of seminars that genuinely interest you, and spend your free time in tasting rooms and at the Carousel Bar," she says. "Bring lots of business cards, and don't be shy. People, brand people, want to meet you. you're the one who is handling and caring for their brands every day."
This year's Tales of the Cocktail runs July 17 - 21:
Drink apps. Before you take your fi rst sip, download the BarNotes app (log in your cocktail experiences, see what your friends are drinking, get recipes) and the Tales of the Cocktail app (put together your personal Tales schedule, and fi nd your favorite presenters and personalities of the conference). Both apps are free.
Launch pad. A few of the brands kicking off their entry into the national market include Eighty Six Company (a line of gin, tequila, vodka and rum); Jim Beam's white whiskey, Jacob's Ghost; and a twofer from Hemingway Rum Company, which is debuting their Papa's Pilar dark and blonde rums.
Get certified. Tales will host the national BarSmarts' Advanced class, an all-day instruction for working bartenders on evaluating and categorizing spirits, the history of mixology, crafting a cocktail list, doing inventory, and making 25 classic drinks. To be certifi ed, you'll pass a written exam, then create winning cocktails before a small panel of judges.
Other certificate series include BarSmarts' day-long How to Run a Successful Bar Business; the four-part School of Spirits, where you'll expand your knowledge of grain spirits to get TOTC- and Taste and Flavour-certifi ed; or take a three-part seminar on vermouth to become a member of the Vermouth Institute.
Book club. Chances are that your favorite bartender has his or her drinks bible, whether it's 1927's Barfl ies and Cocktails or last year's PDT Cocktail Book. Meet other lit-minded drinkers, beef up your cocktail library, and even make a few cocktails straight from one of these classic books.
Moneyed mixology. To make your dream bar into a viable business, learn which craft cocktails turn a profi t, how to develop money-making menus, and other tips from seasoned bar consultants.
Suds and shots. Local Bittermens owners Avery and Janet Glasser and other experts explore the pairing of craft beers and spirited shots in this evening event.
Most imaginative. Ahead of Bombay Sapphire and GQ's regional contests, past national Imaginative Bartender winners come together to compete in making original cocktails with Bombay Sapphire East. Watch them shake at the House of Blues, then try each cocktail and vote for your favorite.
Fly high. Surely inspired by brand ambassadors who practically live in airports (only to be constantly denied a good drink) this seminar will show you how to get better cocktails in transit, and direct you to 10 worthy airport bars. your parting gift will be a TSA-ready drinks kit.
1920s Parisian café culture. This may the closest you'll come to drinking with Hemingway, as expert Philip Greene leads the way to 1920s Paris and the cocktails—Hot Rum Punch, Sidecar—that inspired a generation of ex-pat artists.
Me thirsty. If you've been tempted to try the caveman diet (raw meat, unprocessed grains), then you'll be interested in knowing how man and woman were drinking back in the (Paleolithic) day. Turns out they were mixing drinks from rice wine, fruit and fl owers.
Learn from the Beachbum. One of mixology's great stories is the way tiki historian Jeff Berry tracked down the original Zombie recipe, an odyssey that took a decade and didn't end when he found Don the Beachcomber's notes—which were in code. Sip on Zombies while you hear this compelling tale.
Defining the dark ages of mixology…will be Jeff Berry, joined by drinks historian David Wondrich (in case you're wondering, the timeline is 1967 - 1988). Find out why those years sucked for cocktails, despite a creative surge in the industry, and try the drinks that sum up the era.
Long live the modifiers. Here, David Wondrich will show the everlasting link between classic and modern cocktails, often threaded by a simple change in modifi er (liqueur, juice, or bitters). He and other experts will also demonstrate how you can successfully modify your own favorite cocktail.
Drink to Charleston. A tip of the glass to Lowcountry cocktails includes a history of Charleston drinking culture, and what's happening there today.
Tequila, from the ground up. Tequila gets its taste from the different ways agave is grown, and from the terroir of different tequila-making regions. Learn about various agave growing techniques, compare distillates from across Mexico, and what's trending with tequila.
Savoy romp. The Savoy Hotel's Erik Lorincz (and Diageo World Class Bartender, 2010) and New Orleans' Ricky Gomez (Diageo's World Class U.S. Ambassador) showcase the 105 absinthe cocktails in Harry Craddock's masterpiece, The Savoy Cocktail Book. He wrote it in 1930, when absinthe was widely banned—so how did The Savoy get their absinthe?
All things apple…includes Calvados and ciders, and how to mix them into juicy, acidic cocktails.
Bar gardeners. "Drunken Botanist" Amy Stewart and landscape designer Susan Morrison dig into the best methods of growing courtyard, rooftop and vertical bar gardens.
Easy on the eyes. Garnishes draw you visually and aromatically into a drink; "Hey Good Looking" will explore which ones do it best.
The American drinks invasion. Prohibition sent many American bartenders scrambling for jobs (and booze) elsewhere. Drinks historian Jared Brown will share what he learned from six years spent in Havana bars—namely, how American bartenders shaped Cuban drinking culture.
Aging and oak. Meet a cooper, and learn how the difference between tree types translates to the spirit (whiskey, rum, brandy, tequila) that's aging in it.
Climate matters. Our own Wayne Curtis will moderate this sure-to-be heated discussion on how distillers are responding to climate change, from anticipating growing seasons to the effect higher temperatures will have on aging spirits (taste tests will help you decide).
Foraging tree bark. Catch Amy Stewart again as she looks at the ways tree bark and resin have fl avored our liqueurs and bitters.
I Love, I Hate…big brands. This year's friendly debate takes on mass-produced versus boutique or small-batch brands, with some of the industry's biggest names taking sides. Who will defend the giants, and who will speak up for the little guy? Stay tuned.
Down the hatch. you'll fi nish every drink at the session covering "low octane libations," with a focus on aperitifs and other low-alcohol cocktails (many of them based on wine), as well as an intriguing promise to show bar owners how to create a viable cocktail program without needing a full liquor license.
With this drink, I thee WED. This "Whisky, Entertainment, Development" seminar is really a lightning round of topics (Japan's water highball, the botanical history of whiskey), each presented in 15 minutes or less.
Spirited Dinners. Boozy snowballs at SoBou, Willett Bourbon's master distiller at Arnaud's, Gaz Regan and Jim Meehan (metaphorically) piloting the Creole Queen, a Russian-style dive bar at Twelve Mile, and "ritual drinking" (think: whiskey with a pickle-brine back) at Sylvain—there's no shortage of cool ways to pair food and drink on Thursday, July 18. These sell out fast, so check the schedule and book your dinner now.
Get your seminar and event passes at talesofthecocktail.com; for Spirited Dinners or Lunches, make reservations directly through the restaurant.