Setting Up the Bar: A Tales of the Cocktail Preview

00:00 June 30, 2011
By: Kristal Blue
[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]

Tell me a Tale, and make it bubbly. Tales of the Cocktail delivers on both counts, bringing together expert bartenders and sparkly programming July 20 - 24.

Keeping the seminars crisp is a global team of cocktail experts, who teased out "300 submissions for 53 time slots," said Tales founder Ann Tuennerman. "The panel went through a blind judging process…and looked at how well the idea was thought out, and what makes it interesting and different. We have all fresh content."

When it comes to deciding which ones to attend, go with your passions and work out any schedule conflicts the best you can. I'm torn between a class on barrel-aged cocktails, and a seminar debating whether the best cocktails are hand-crafted or use brand name products. They're running at roughly the same time on Saturday, July 23.
If you like history (and want to hear Wayne Curtis in person), check out "Beyond Punch: Colonial American Drinks", which covers colonial-era cocktails and how today's enthusiasts can adapt them.

Science buffs will be interested in the medicinal properties of tonic ("Making Love to His Tonic and Gin"); collectors will want to try "Six Rums You'll Probably Never Taste Again"; and home mixologists will take their concoctions to new levels after attending seminars like "Vinegar…the Other Acid" or "SavorEASE", which highlights savory cocktail ingredients like meat, herbs and salt.

Visitors are also welcome at the pro-level seminars, which are all held on Wednesday, July 20. Among them will be a first-ever talk by Michel Roux on how he marketed Absolut Vodka up to five million cases sold in the 1980s; other classes show you how to build a soda program or craft a drinks menu.

If you're curious about the latest spirits, hit the Tasting Rooms. "Manufacturers launch new products at Tales, while the global cocktail community is here," said Tuennerman.

Debuting seven new flavors, 360 Vodka is hosting a "green" scavenger hunt through the French Quarter, and at each stop you'll help build a sustainable cocktail. Meanwhile, Firefly Vodka will undress its new Skinny Tea (by the pool, of course), and Leblon Cachaça takes its tasting to the streets, rolling through the Quarter with a cart serving spiked sorbets.

Popular parties include a master's recreation of his bar in Tokyo; a reception with dozens of small-batch distillers; and Saturday night's red carpet Spirited Award Ceremony, where top cocktail talent - such as world's best bar, drinks menu, new product and brand ambassadors - are recognized.

After the awards ceremony, be sure to return to the Hotel Monteleone for a jazz funeral, sending off the Long Island Iced Tea. (I voted for the Dirty Martini, but I'll be just as happy to see the five-spirit sledgehammer go.)
If you've been equally stumped over which Spirited Dinners to attend, they'll have a more defined character this year. "We gave the bar chefs and restaurant chefs more control of the process," said Tuennerman. "The themes are more educational, so it's easier for people to decide which one to go to."

Notable dinners include La Côte Brasserie's pairing with Jim Beam Devil's Cut, a bold new bourbon extracted from whiskey-soaked wooden barrels. A Jim Beam distiller will be on hand for Chef Chuck Subra's dinner, which calls for Devil's Cut in every course (even dessert).

If your tastes run to rum, consider Rio Mar's luxurious menu, crafted by chefs Adolfo Garcia and Frank Stitt. Rum experts Wayne Curtis and Martin Cate will join guests at this Tales dinner, introducing an aged Puerto Rican rum that's new to the U.S. market. In a blind taste test, guests will sample it and three other rums, including the Ron de Jeremy brand. I'm also looking forward to trying the housemade Caramelized Plantain Liqueur, featured in that night's daiquiri.

Check the events schedule and get your tickets at Seminars are $45 each; prices vary by restaurant for Spirited Dinners and Spirited Lunches. The Native Spirits Package and Founders Day Package ($599) have already sold out.

Tales Virgin

A steamy summer night, a pair of lime-green gorillas and many rounds of mezcal - it's either the premise of Hangover 3, or my initiation into last year's Tales of the Cocktail.

We were at the GW Fins Spirited Dinner when the gorillas (released into the wild by Leblon Cachaça) trotted through our dining room. The greeting was as subtle as our welcome cocktail, a juicy, sangria-like drink with four sugar cubes and soda that made it sizzle.

I didn't know then - being a virgin and all - that this Pan American Punch was a teaser, opening our palates to the intense, young spirits that would take us through dinner, courtesy of mixologists Phil Ward and Eric Alperin.
A Brazilian On Holiday (a potent mix of rum, vermouth, Campari bitters and champagne) was on hand as we received a lusty plate of wood-grilled local shrimp, brushed with pineapple-basil butter and layered with shaved melon.

Yanking me down the path to mezcal madness was the Watermelon Sugar, a martini rimmed with smoked cayenne pepper and salt, to echo the smoky, spicy notes of the drink's mezcal and its young, peppery tequila blanco. The melon and simple syrup strained to tone down the drink's bite, but really it was the peach-brightened ricotta salad that balanced it out.

Our main course, a rich salmon glazed with smoky mango, came with The Slight Detour. Mezcal made another appearance in this bracing cocktail, also loaded with young tequilas (one infused with jalapeño) that went unrelieved by a splash of agave nectars and dash of chocolate-based bitters.

Executive Chef Tenney Flynn's most pleasing move that night might have been his dessert, a simple passion fruit panna cotta that came with two vials of tequila-laced bitters, to spritz as we pleased. (Getting the housemade bitters in our gift bag, as well as Flynn's exceptional cuisine, were two big draws for us that night.)

There weren't any gorillas or hallucinations at Saturday's "Seed to Glass" lunch at gorgeous Iris in the Quarter. While we sucked on tequila-spiked avocado popsicles (provided by Meltdown), Farmer Lee Jones spoke to us about growing the edible flowers that we'd later steep in a mason jar, swirled with pomegranate liqueur and vodka.

Southern Wine & Spirits mixologists Bridget Albert and Allen Katz served up pineapple-based vodka cocktails, as we feasted on the lovely dishes that I've come to admire from Iris' Executive Chef Ian Schnoebelen: tuna mounted on crispy plantains; sliced flank steak with luscious pickled sweet onions; and a pillowy panna cotta made from goat's milk.

Our gift bags were gardening tool belts, with little bottles of Pom Liqueur tucked inside. They also handily carried our mason jars, filled with potent floral infusions to enjoy days later.

Pan American Punch
Recipe written by Phil Ward, courtesy of Tales of the Cocktail

  • 4 white sugar cubes
  • 4 oz. Dubonnet Rouge
  • 1 oz. club soda
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • 1 grapefruit twist

Build and stir. Top with another ounce of club soda and garnish with grapefruit slice.
Serves 1

Watermelon Sugar
Recipe written by Phil Ward, courtesy of Tales of the Cocktail

  • 1 recipe Spicy Rim Job*
  • 4 cubes watermelon, muddled
  • 1 1/2 oz. Siembra Azul Tequila Blanco
  • 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. cane syrup
  • 1/2 oz. Del Maguey San Luis del Rio mezcal

* Make Spicy Rim Job by stirring together 2 tablespoons kosher salt, 2 tablespoons superfine sugar, and 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper. Wet the rim of martini glass and dip into mix. Shake watermelon through mezcal with ice, strain, and serve in rimmed martini glass.
Serves 1

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