After several months of waiting, an intense week in New Orleans and two other chillax weeks between Georgia, South Carolina and Quebec, here is the daily summary of my first Tales of the Cocktail. I’ll develop the topics I found most interesting in forthcoming articles.
Tuesday 19 July
I landed on Monday evening in New Orleans. Since the conference was starting on Wednesday and would keep me busy I decided to go through the registration process for Tales of the Cocktail on Tuesday and continue with a walk around town to visit the city.
After a light breakfast at the hotel I arrived at the Hotel Monteleone to get my wristband. There was no missing a congress was about to happen here : there was signage everywhere! As I stood in line, I watched the other attendees. There were young people and older folks, there were hipsters, laid-back jeans and sneakers, dresses, heels and flip flops, Harley leather jackets, tiki shirts… It was pretty exciting to see all sorts of people there, all gathered together by the passion they share for their trade.
Wristband on my wrist it was time to hit the town. I chose to walk down Magazine Street which was recommended in several guides as a shopping destination. The street is huge and I walked it in its entirety, until Audubon Park, then went up the park to Loyola’s University on Charles Street where, to my feet’s relief, I sat on the streetcar back to Canal Street and then walked again to the Riverside Outlet. All in all, I walked 17 km in just one day! While I was quite disappointed by the shopping opportunities I got to see several neighbourhoods of New Orleans and different architecture styles which was really nice. There is a mixture of old Spanish houses, old European style mansions, Louisiana houses and high rises. Needless to say, after walking nearly non stop for 7-8 hours, I was shattered. I walked back to my hotel zigzagging through the French Quarter but I was so tired the only thing that appealed to me was to grab a pizza and lay on my bed! So that’s what I did, shame on me! I know (and I was asked): how do you go to New Orleans and don’t try Louisiana cuisine and don’t go out for a cocktail? I thought I’d have time to do that in the days to come and, while Royal Street to name a street in the French quarter is full of charm, the famous Bourbon Street left me rather unimpressed. It looked like a full on tourist trap with cheap bars serving pre-made, artificial looking frozen daiquiris. Perfect for springbreakers but, at the risk of sounding snobby, my palate has developed and I’m now looking for better drinks. I knew there were reputed bars among the bartending community in the French quarter but well not tonight. So back to my hotel and a good night’s sleep.
Wednesday 20 July
Working in communications and having recently launched attadrink, I signed up to several seminars discussing the use of social media and other means to promote bars and bartenders. The first one I attended didn’t disappoint. “#IfYouBuildItTheyWillCome #Barsgetsocial” was held by Alan Moss, owner of La Clandestine, an absinthe brand from Switzerland, and formerly sales and marketing for Remy Cointreau and consultant for Campari International, Edmund Weil, owner of Nightjar and Oriole in London, and Arun Mirchandani, owner of The Drunken Munkey restaurant in New York. It was truly inspiring, especially the part about the social media strategy of Nightjar and Oriole. (Article coming soon)
I used the break before my afternoon seminars to go and visit The New Orleans Collection of The Museum of the American Cocktail. The memorabilia exposed retraces the history of cocktail, with a showcase entirely devoted to absinthe and a temporary exhibit about the Prohibition years in New Orleans. (Article coming soon)
The highlight of the day happened at 2pm. After the stylish arrival of the Plymouth Gin “GINvasion bus” in front of Hotel Monteleone, Ann Tuennermann, the lady who started and is still in charge of TOTC, revealed the next location for Tales of the Cocktail on Tour: Edinburgh! Save the dates of 2-4 April 2017!
The morning seminar set the bar pretty high so I was really looking forward to my two afternoon seminars “Why do cocktail cultures develop or don’t” and “Say the right thing: Mastering new media“. I was a little bit upset there were happening simultaneously and thought I would hop from one to the other about halfway through. As it turned out I left the first seminar after about 30 min to leave the second seminar after 30 min as well. The first was…well…too slow paced for me, rehashing heavily well-known history and full of clichés; the latter was too lecturing to my taste and didn’t provide information I didn’t already know from my job as a communications officer. No grudges there. After all, Tales of the Cocktail is not a gathering for communications professionals. Leaving the second seminar had its up nonetheless: I was able to join the cocktail tour through the French quarter. It was held by Joe Ganduza, a true New Orleanian, former History teacher. While walking us to some of New Orleans’s historical bars he gave us invaluable information about the city, its history and also provided interesting facts about the places we visited. (Article coming soon)
Unfortunately I had to leave in the middle of the visit to attend the introduction keynote but what a keynote! Simon Ford, famous bartending expert, former brand ambassador and now co-founder of The 86 Co, Michelin starred Spanish chef Albert Adrià and his Group Bar Manager Marc Alvarez and, finally, Grant Achatz, another Michelin starred chef, and his business partner Nick Kokonas – an impressive panel to say the least – discussed hospitality and guest experience. (Article coming soon)
After the keynote I followed the two French girls I’d met during the cocktail tour to the Absolut party. It was pure extravaganza! Everyone was dressed in white and we were immersed in a maze of rooms reproducing a mystical forest filled with Scandinavic fantastic creatures and the odd Bloody Mary (who was standing on a podium with tube shots of her namesake cocktail). The music was great, the cocktails aplenty and everyone was in great spirits, no pun intended.
Thursday 21 July
The day started with “Sound advice: better bar music“. Three DJs and music producers gave precious tips regarding not only track selection but also music sourcing, sound systems and, most valuable of all, a reminder to think of music in the early stages of a bar’s construction as to ensure the venue is built appropriately to diffuse music optimally.
“Sink, swim or get out of the pool” was a fascinating seminar. For once, the speakers (Josh Fontaine, co-owner of La Candelaria, Mat Snapp, beverage director for Fox Restaurant Concepts, Julie Reiner, co-owner of Clover Club and Leyenda, and Henrik Steen Petersen, former owner of the defunct Moltkes Bar) were not presenting their best experiences. On the contrary they honestly shared their worst business failures. They acknowledged and explained the mistakes they made, the lessons they learned from those errors and how to get the better of them. (Article coming soon)
My seminar day finished with “United libations“, when Cuban bartender Julio Cabrera (Regent Cocktail Club, Miami), Americans Charles Joly (Crafthouse Cocktails, Chicago) and Mark Schettler (Bar Tonique, New Orleans), and Japanese Shuishi Nagatomo (Bar Oscar, Fukuoka) discussed the cultural particularities affecting bartending in their respective countries. (Article coming soon)
I then moved on to the “Meet the Distillers Happy Hour” where more than 50 distillers from all around the world showcased their craft spirits. I tasted a few liquors, rums and vodkas. One I particularly liked was a Chamomile liqueur from a small Italian distillery. Since I attended my first mixology class at the Bols Academy I wanted to create a recipe using chamomile syrup but a liquor would work as well I guess! (Article coming soon)
Friday 22 July
“Creating cocktail culture in small cities” was a seminar I was particularly eager to attend as we are living it in Geneva at the moment. They key parameters used to determine a small “cocktail city” on the course of this seminar were a population of less than 200’000 inhabitants, a culture emerging over the last 5 years and the presence of several venues already. Well, hello Geneva! The speakers came from different regions around the world: Bradford Knutson is a bartender at Dillinger’s Cocktails and Kitchen in Olympia, Washington (USA), Oron Lerner is the owner and bartender of the bar “French57” in Tel Aviv and Shawn Soole is the owner of S2 Hospitality Concepts in Victoria, British Columbia (Canada). Among other things, they stressed out the impact of a country’s culture on the success of a bar, the importance of having a mentor to guide you and the attention that has to be paid to the menu, the price of the beverages, education of your staff, customers and of the other bartenders in your community. (Article coming soon)
Afterwards I attended “What’s in my Drink…Beyond Flavors & Tastes“. During this seminar, Derek Elefson, beverage director, and John Baugman, director for flavour creation, both for Mane, a leading company in the fragrance and flavor design industry, and Ryan Chetiyawardana and Iain Griffiths, respectively owner and business manager at Mr Lyan LTD, reminded us that many factors influence our perception of flavor. The taste, the aroma, the mouthfeel, the texture of the drink are some of them. They then demonstrated chemesthesis, the chemical sensibility of the skin and mucous membranes, through a tasting of different twists on the Manhattan cocktail. (Article coming soon)
A quick look at the House of Angostura pool party caused me to miss the first intervention of the “#SEDTalks: Bars & Brands Edition” (a nod to TED talks with SED standing for Spirits, Education and Development): Rebekkah Dooley. I was disappointed because she was one of the person I wanted to hear talk. I am very intrigued and admirative of everything she’s done in terms of Bar PR and Communications. I listened to the second intervention given by Audrey Fort from The Rooster Factory about the brand naming process. A true 101 crash course on choosing the right name for your business. The third speaker, Sarah Lohman, introduced us to the Hobby Distiller’s Association which is lobbying to authorize home distillery in the USA again. Oron Lerner, whom I’d listened to the very morning, shared an extremely interesting experience they made in Haifa, in Israel, to see how bars can influence the choice of drink orders. (Article coming soon)
I missed the last two talks to take the cocktail tour with Joe Ganduza again. I was frustrated I had to leave it early on Wednesday. I discovered a few more bars and decided to buy Joe’s book at the Tales bookstore. It tells the history of some of NOLA’s historical bars and gives the recipe to their most famous cocktails.
In the evening I went for dinner and drinks to Cure, a bar outside the French quarter that had great reviews. Let me tell you: the praises are more than deserved! I met several Tales of the Cocktail participants, including Oron Lerner, during the evening and had a great night sipping some of the most delicious cocktails I’ve ever had.
Saturday 23 July
There it was, my last day at Tales, and it would be well filled! Again I double booked seminars. I started by attending “Talk with the distillers”. The enthusiasm of John Georges from the House of Angostura was infectious. However, I left before the end of his turn to go to “How much are you worth?” During this seminar, Jonathan Pogash (president and owner at the consultancy The Cocktail Guru and Northeast Vice President of the United States Bartenders’ Guild), Pamela Wiznitzer (creative director and bartender at Seamstress in New York), Justin Noel (owner and partner of Sweetwater Social, 1534, and Goldbar, in New York as well as National Brand Advocate for two prosecco and tequila brands), and Diego Cabrera (bar owner, brand ambassador, hotel advisor, writer, speaker, as well as founder and president of the congress Mixology(X) Trends) gave advice on what and how much bartenders can ask for for speaking gigs or guest bartending shifts. (Article coming soon)
After lunch and a seminar room mix up, I sat through “The aperitif – A drink and a way of life“. Camille Vidal, brand ambassador for St Germain originary from France, Carina Soto Velasquez from La Candelaria, Glass and Mary Celeste in Paris, Naren Young from Dante in New York, and François Monti, Belgian cocktails and spirits writer living in Spain, talked about the history and evolution of the aperitif in different countries, notably through shifts in eating habits and work organization, its link with food and the growing trend for low ABV drinks. I was disappointed I missed a third of the presentation as it was really interesting. (Article coming soon)
When the seminar finished, I followed my seat neighbour to the bookstore/bitters store at Hotel Monteleone for a quick tasting of the bitters he and his associates produce: Mister Bitters. As he is also a distributor, he made me sample products from other brands as well. (Article coming soon)
After that, I attended my last seminar of the 2016 edition of Tales of the Cocktail: “Online & Offline Branding for Bartenders“. ms. franky marshall, beverage director at Le Boudoir in New York, Audrey Fort, Charles Joly and Jeremy JF Thompson, marketing manager for Tales of the Cocktail, gave precious tips on how to build one’s personal brand both online and offline. (Article coming soon)
Before the bookstore/bitters market closed for good, I indulged in a little shopping spree. I couldn’t resist the Absolut Elyx Pineapple copper shot glasses and had to bring some books and bitters back home.
“Hold on! You mostly talked about seminars and visits but what about tastings?” I can hear you say. Yes, there were tastings beside the Meet the Distillers Happy Hour I mentioned earlier: we were served shot size cocktails in the seminar rooms by the CAPs (the lucky participants of the Cocktail Apprentice Program) and brands showcased som of their products in the tasting rooms and at the Market at Tales. No bartending convention would be complete without some product enjoyment after all!
My first experience at Tales of the Cocktail ended with a bar tour with Oron and his friends. We discovered Revel, the new bar of Chris McMillian (a New Orleans living legend), went for a tiki cocktail at Tiki Tolteca in the French quarter and finished with the most scrumptious Frozen Irish Coffee at Erin Rose. I flew to Savannah early on Sunday morning while the remaining participants of the congress enjoyed a pig brunch in one of NOLA’s park.
Tales was an incredible experience for the amateur that I am. I met people from so many different trades, learned fascinating stuff from each and everyone of them and came back even more inspired and curious to learn about the spirits and hospitality industry. Depending on how next year will shape out for me I could see myself returning to Tales in New Orleans and I’m pretty sure I’ll be in Edinburgh next April for Tales of the Cocktail on Tour!