"Tales of the Cocktail: Spirited Awards," Image by Corey James

Tales of the Cocktail 2021: A Return to Community

09:00 September 14, 2021
By: Andrew Marin

Tales of the Cocktail, the beverage industry's largest and most respected convention, returns this month. While Tales has always taken place in New Orleans, this is the second year that it's been moved from July to September due to the pandemic. Unlike last year, however, the format will not be entirely digital.

All things considered, last year's convention was a success as attendees from over 100 different countries logged online to attend seminars and broadcasts. This year, Tales will be a mixture of online and in-person events. I was able to sit down and chat with Eileen Wayner, the CEO of the Tales non-profit organization, and discuss some of this year's highlights, as well as the plans for the future.

Tales has changed in many ways over the years, and this year's theme is "Community." Like last year, registration to attend is free. Was this an easy decision?

EW: The world is still at an 'in-between time' for the industry. A lot of people are still recovering their businesses and recovering the time they took off. It's really important to the [Tales] Foundation that what we offer this year is free, focused on education, and offering the resources we thought were successfully received last year. The industry is very much in recovery mode and we felt it our responsibility to offer those resources again.

So what's happening with the seminars?

EW: We'll have over 60 seminars available online, some prerecorded, some livestream. They'll all be available for playback once completed. We're also a hybrid model with a few in-person events.

Any events, dare I ask?

We'll be doing a small, private version of "Toast to Tales" at Sazerac House, which you'll have to join us for. The Spirited Awards will be broadcast live from Jewel of the South, which made sense to us since Chris [Hannah] and Jewel have both been Spirited Awards winners before. We'll also have a few in-person events in global markets around the world. We'll have a few events in New Orleans. And we'll also have in-person "pop-up" events in other locations.

[Writer's note: At press time, the events in other locations, sponsored by the likes of Perrier and La Gran Familia, include: Washington DC, San Diego, Miami, Los Angeles, Detroit, Denver, Chicago, Boston, Austin, and Atlanta.]

What about the CAPS [Cocktail Apprenticeship] program?

EW: Some of the CAPS alumni will host digital "Cappy Hours." The CAPS program will return in full next year. We're also working with mentors in the industry to host some closed group discussion with CAPS alumni.

And the brand partners?

EW: We've been very lucky with our brand partners. They've been very loyal to us, even last year.

[Writer's note: The Tales brand partners for this year include Perrier, Q Mixers, Bacardi, Beam Suntory, and William Grant & Sons.]

Is there anything you're personally excited for?

EW: I've got a soft spot for the Spirited Awards. They're an incredible way to highlight talent across the industry. We'll have a limited number of awards this year in order to really acknowledge specific individuals. We won't award individual bars this year, but we'll bring that back next. In this time of COVID, we want to emphasize the people who have done a lot and who will have a real legacy with the industry.

I'll make sure to include a list of the award categories for publication. Regarding "the people who have done a lot," is that why the theme is "Community" this year?

EW: I think it may be obvious but worth stating out loud. It's because of how incredible this community is, how resilient this community is. The theme of "Community" is for how people really stepped up and supported each other, came up with ingenious ways to support each other, including generating the revenue streams to support each other. We had literally over 100 countries tune in [last year] to our digital conference. We think about our industry as small, but it's global. And so interconnected.

I think it's really important that I acknowledge and thank you and the Tales Foundation for all you do for the bartender and service industry community.

EW: Thank you. We did some relief giving to disseminate grant relief among the CAPS [alumni]. And this past Mardi Gras, we did gifts giving to local bartenders, CAPS or not. We gave $250 to each applicant who qualified, over $60,000 in relief money to people who weren't making their regular income because of the pandemic.

[Writer's note: As a result of Hurricane Ida, Tales has partnered with Turning Tables, a previous grant recipient, and Another Round Another Rally to distribute disaster relief funds to New Orleans service industry workers. The "community" of people supporting our New Orleans industry family includes brands, bartenders, distributors, distillers, and cocktail enthusiasts from around the world.]

Yes! And if I remember correctly, diversity was important. Half the funds were specifically for women and people of color?

EW: Yes. That's right. In fact, this year we're partnering with the "Diversity Distilled" Organization. We'll have a digital career fair to connect people with a list of employers within the industry currently hiring. And the emphasis is on hiring women and the BIPOC community.

All very exciting. And important. Last question. What about Tales 2022?

EW: Tales 2022 will be in-person. Gangbusters since it'll be Tales's 20th anniversary. And we'll be coming back in a big, big way. "Homecoming."


Spirited Award categories: Helen David Lifetime Achievement Award; Pioneer Award; Timeless U.S. Award; Timeless International Award; Writing and Media award categories - Best Cocktail & Spirits Publication, Best Cocktail & Spirits Writing, Best New Cocktail or Bartending Book, Best New Book on Drinks Culture, History of Spirits, and Best Broadcast, Podcast or Online Video Series.


Andrew Marin writes about food and cocktails for Where Y'at Magazine. He's been attending Tales for over a decade. Follow him @ndrewmarin on Instagram and Twitter for more food and beverage coverage.

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