If my second day at Tales of the Cocktail seemed to focus on the art and science of mixing drinks, my third day was more about the history and tradition and cultural aspects of mixology.
My day began with a panel presentation on “Jazz and Cocktails: The Music and Drinks of Storyville.” As a New Orleans resident I’d heard much of this before, but it never gets old, and David Wondrich, Allen Katz, Phil Green and Chris McMillan did an admirable job of highlighting little nuggets that were new to me and tying it all together.
Prostitution seems to have been a key theme in the development of both jazz and cocktails. Kind of makes you think.
Served during this session: Parlor Punch (garnished with raspberries), a Jack Rose cocktail, and a Ramos Gin Fizz. One of the panelists said that if New Orleans could have another official cocktail (in addition to the Sazerac) it should be the Ramos Gin Fizz, invented by Henry Ramos in the late 1800s. (A presenter yesterday called it the most famous cocktail in the history of mixology.)
Here’s an action shot of the ultimate old-school New Orleans bartender Chris McMillan at work, mixing a Ramos Gin Fizz.
I rode home for lunch — a nice advantage to being local — but it was almost like I was still there, because I was able to tune into 690 AM and hear Eric Asher broadcasting live from the Carousel Bar. Many of the national hate-mongers on that station are execrable, but I like Eric.
When I got back to the Monteleone I found time to stop in at the Domaine de Canton tasting room, where I sampled some ceviche and coconut sorbet, both made with the liqueur. Oh, and you can drink it too: I had a cocktail made with the stuff.
Then it was time for my afternoon seminar, “The Long Legacy of Cuban Rum,” with Paul Artrip moderating a discussion between Pepin Argamasilla and Jonathan Pogash. I mistakenly thought this session would be a broad overview of the history of rum in Cuba. Instead, it was about the story of one rum only: Bacardi. But that is a fascinating slice of history indeed, going all the way back to 1862. Did you know Bacardi was primarily a beer brewer for decades, with rum a mere sideline? And did you know the Bacardi Cocktail was once the subject of a lawsuit? And so now if you advertise that you’re making a Bacardi Cocktail, it must contain Bacardi brand rum — by law.
I’d always thought of Bacardi as Puerto Rican rum, but that just shows my ignorance. They were based in Cuba until the (second) Cuban revolution when Castro nationalized the Bacardi company, and the family fled the country. It was riveting to hear this story from Pepin Argamasilla, the official Bacardi historian. I almost took him for one of the Bacardi family.
Drinks served included the Bacardi Cocktail and a daiquiri. Jonathan Pogash also mixed a Cuba Libre but this was not served, much to my chagrin. It was probably the only drink featured at Tales of the Cocktail that I’ve actually made myself.
As I prepared to leave the Monteleone I saw that it was raining. That didn’t stop the revelers in the pool, and it only slowed me down for thirty minutes or so. I know a New Orleans summer shower may come down hard, but it’s usually over within the hour.
I rode home happy but with a tinge of regret. This is my last day of Tales of the Cocktail, even though the festival continues over the weekend. Alas, familial obligations and previous engagements will likely prevent my participation. But my liver could use a break, and I thoroughly enjoyed these past three days. I hope I can make it again next year, and I unreservedly recommend the event to anyone with an interest in cocktails and spirits.