Somehow I wangled a press pass to Tales of the Cocktail. I’ve always wanted to attend this event, and if you have even a passing familiarity with ROX you’ll understand why. Tales of the Cocktail is without doubt the world’s most important conference on the subject of the mixed drink. And since mixed drinks are perhaps America’s most important contribution to global culture, that’s saying something. And people come from all over the world to attend this event right here in New Orleans, the birthplace of the cocktail.
I’ve always wanted to check it out. But it always seemed to sneak up on me, and I would find myself entangled with other engagements or on vacation and unable to attend. This year I made sure my calendar was marked well in advance. And as I mentioned, I scored a press pass despite my lack of mainstream media credentials, on the strength of this blog.
So today I was at the Hotel Monteleone bright and early. I sat in on a seminar, tasted numerous cocktails, rubbed elbows with the mixological elite, and generally soaked in the ambiance of this fine event.
I began my day with a seminar: “The Bittersweet Truth of Starting a Bar.” It was fairly interesting, but clearly geared toward people with a serious interest in starting a cocktail bar. I have little interest in such a venture, so it was probably not a good choice on my part. (Did you know your lease should be no more than 6% of your total sales revenue?) However, I was delighted to learn that most of the seminars appear to feature mixed drinks. We were served a Winter Sour, basically a Campari Sour with rosemary syrup. It was foamy and tart and garnished with a sprig of rosemary — delicious.
I frequented a number of tastings throughout the day. I had something at the Cocktail Fresh Market made with organic vodka. I had a São Paolo Sour made with Cabana Cachaça and whiskey and egg white and bitters. I had a cucumber-flavored concoction made with mezcal and garnished with cilantro.
All of these diverse drinks had one thing in common: They all had subtle flavors which might appeal to a sophisticated palate.
What makes this conference unique is that everyone’s walking around in a perpetual state of mild intoxication. I hasten to stress that qualifier, mild. Don’t get the wrong idea. While I’m sure most people were copping a buzz, no one was inebriated. Drinks were generally served in thimble-sized servings, which is the right size if you plan on sampling all day long.
In the early afternoon there was a special event, a toast to kick off the seventh annual iteration of this festival, and also to honor the fact that Herbsaint is now 75 years old. I recorded this, but as my general ineptitude would have it, my batteries ran out just seconds before the actual culminating toast itself.
Here’s the almost-complete audio: Tales of the Cocktail 2009 Toast [mp3]
I guess that’s why I don’t get paid for this.
As for the toasting beverage, we had a choice between an Herbsaint Frappé and a Creole Julep. I opted for the latter since it is the official cocktail of the festival.
Here’s the recipe:
The Creole Julep
Created by Maksym Pazuniak, Rambla/Cure
2 1/4 oz. Cruzan Single Barrel Estate Rum
1/2 oz. Clement Créole Shrubb
1/4 oz. Captain Morgan 100 Rum
2 dashes Fee Bros. Peach bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
8-10 mint leaves
1 Demerara Sugar Cube
Muddle sugar, Créole Shrubb and both bitters until sugar is dissolved in a 10 oz. tall glass. Add mint and press to express oils. Add cracked ice. Add Cruzan and Captain Morgan 100 and stir until frost appears on outside of glass. Garnish with mint sprig.
Mmmm. Good. And strong too.
Well, after all that I was feeling pretty mellow, so I decided to kick back in the Monteleone’s famous Carousel Bar and check out Chef and the Fatman. I scored a really nice whiskey glass, with some Bulleit Bourbon in it. Chef Gus Martin of Muriel’s prepared a shrimp dish that smelled delicious, and I could have sampled some, but tragically enough shrimp no longer agrees with me.
For those who might be put off by the price of some of the ticketed events, I’d like to point out that everything mentioned above, with the exception of the seminar, was free.
There was plenty more to see and do, but I’d had a full day so I decided to head home. Only at the door I noticed they were serving cocktails made with St-Germain Liqueur. This is an elderflower cordial which I had never tasted before. They mixed it with dry champagne and (I think maybe) some club soda. It was light and refreshing and provided the perfect end to my day.
Now I’ve got to get some rest because tomorrow looks like an awfully big day. I think a big breakfast will help.