My Tales of the Cocktail Experience, 2023
Another Tales of the Cocktail is in the books; as always, it was an experience.
Before we dive into how I spent my Tales of the Cocktail this year, let me explain what Tales of the Cocktail is. Actually, I'll let the PR folks explain it since they do a great job illustrating what this convention is all about.
This comes from the media kit:
With hundreds of opportunities developed specifically for industry professionals, from bartenders to distillers, Tales of the Cocktail is the drinks industry’s annual meeting place for exchanging new ideas, products, and techniques featuring in-person education, tastings, networking, and awards programming.
Since 2002, the global spirits community has gathered in the heart of the French Quarter for Tales of the Cocktail. What started as an annual walking tour of historic New Orleans cocktail bars has now become the world’s leading cocktail conference.
Attendees can expect signature educational initiatives, seminars, and panels, Beyond the Bar activations, the Bev Talent Expo, Day of Service, Meet the Distillers, New Orleans Cocktail Tours, the annual Spirited Awards, the inaugural Catalyst Luncheon, and more.
Speaking of the Spirited Awards, these awards are comprised of domestic and international industry accolades, writing and media awards, and overall awards that transcend regionality, including World’s Best Bar and World’s Best Cocktail Menu. Check out the full list of the 2023 Spirited Awards winners here.
So, needless to say, Tales of the Cocktail is the convention you want to attend if you're in the beverage business or if you're a cocktail enthusiast. I met so many visitors from all over the world this week, and I loved networking and sharing conversations with people who have dedicated their careers to the cocktail business. I was determined to dive right in and experience a few things without overdoing it (I am a local, after all).
On Sunday, Tales of the Cocktail 2023 kicked off with Speed Rack at Republic NOLA, and I couldn’t have been more excited! Speed Rack is the 11th annual competition that highlights the skills of the best up-and-coming female bartenders, giving them a chance to showcase their talent.
Aside from the competition on the main stage, in which teams of pink and black competed for who could concoct the most fabulous cocktail in the least amount of time, the event was comprised of two floors of cocktailing, featuring selections from Hampton Water Rosé, Rhum Clément, Fernet-Branca, Slane Irish Whiskey, St. Germain, Nordes Gin, Old Forester, Don Q Pina Colada, Cointreau, Hendrick’s Gin, Grey Goose, Hotaling & Co., and much more. It was a lot to take in, and the event was high-energy and a lot of fun.
I really appreciated that each bar offered small samples because there were a lot of different vendors throughout the space, and there was a lot going on. It would be easy to "over do" it if you aren't careful, so I was more than happy with the small drinks. Most of them I took a sip to get a taste and tossed the rest. Tales of the Cocktail is a marathon, not a sprint, and I didn't want to get burnt out at the first event!
On Monday evening, I headed over to Banana Blossom Thai Restaurant in Gretna for the Japan Society of New Orleans / Spirited Away cocktail event courtesy of Honkaku Spirits. We got to sample tastes of Japanese Whiskey, Shochu, and more. Goodness, event speaker Christopher Pellegrini knows his stuff! He’s an American who has lived in Japan for twenty-two years and has dedicated himself to Shochu and Japanese spirits education.
We sampled Mugi Hokka, Colorful Hokaku Shochu, Yokka Koji Ryukyu Awamori, and Takamine Whiskey. I had never really delved into Japanese spirits before; this was the perfect introduction. If you’d like a little more insight into Japanese spirits, check out Christopher's book The Shochu Handbook - An Introduction to Japan's Indigenous Distilled Drink. Christopher is so smart when it comes to Japanese spirits, and I can’t wait to read his book! I might have to buy myself some Shochu for... educational purposes.
This was an event I was super excited about because it isn’t every day you get to have a fancy lunch at a New Orleans restaurant with tasty martinis provided by an incredible brand. The meal included delicious appetizers, Turtle Soup, Sauteed Gulf Fish with Crab Meuniere, and Bread Pudding for dessert.
Altamura kept the cocktails coming including, Prosecco and Altea Martini, Maize Martini, and Espresso Nuttiny served with dessert.
Halfway through, owner Frank Grillo was presented with the New Orleans Spirits Competition for Best International Vodka. Very exciting!
Check out the full list of the winners of the New Orleans Spirits Competition here.
The lunch was incredible, and it was so kind of Altamura Spirits and Galatoire’s to include me in the invite. Altamura even sent all of us home with a small bottle of mixed martini. This was one of my most memorable moments of Tales, and I know that everyone who attended had a marvelous time!
I attended the Fords Gin Event at Hotel St. Vincent on Tuesday evening. I had heard that Fords Gin, Music to Drink Martinis To was going to be one of the biggest events of Tales, and I wasn’t disappointed.
I had never had the opportunity to visit Hotel St. Vincent before, so that was an experience in itself. The hotel is gorgeous, and Fords Gin went all-out with the experience here. Every room seemed to have a bar, and visitors had run of the grounds.
Tastings and displays were happening inside and out, and I liked that I could get a cocktail and find a nice place to sit and enjoy it without feeling overwhelmed or rushed. I was happy that I got to this event as soon as it started because, within an hour and a half, the place was packed with people who were eager to taste what the evening had to offer!
Here are a few photos of the cocktails I sampled.
These all sounded GREAT. I had the Med Martinez. It was delicious and probably my favorite cocktail of the evening.
And other cocktail selections (there were a lot of other offerings, but these are the bars I visited):
Wednesday was my day at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which is the central location of Tales of the Cocktail. Armed with my media pass, I wandered three hotel floors of various displays and cocktail tastings. I also had a book signing that day for my cocktail book The Absinthe Frappé.
I didn't have a chance to attend any of the amazing seminars (there was just so much going on), but I did pop into a few tasting rooms. Everything I sampled was fantastic, especially the Flor de Caña Rum cocktail I was able to try. Another favorite was the Mattei Blanc Spritz, a refreshing cocktail made with Mattei Cap Corse Blanc and tonic.
In addition, there was a nice representation of No/Low ABV cocktails that have all the flavor but little to no alcohol. Lyre's Non-Alcoholic Spirits created an entire experience on the Ritz's second floor in a room complete with multiple bars offering no-alcohol drinks. After my night at the Fords Gin event, the Lyre's drinks were a welcome respite from the alcohol!
I'm glad to see that these cocktails are becoming a bit more mainstream because sometimes you want a fancy drink without the buzz.
At this point on Wednesday, I'm starting to feel a little wiped out-- I'm not going to lie. I'm not quite used to all of this "people-ing" and daily activity. Woo! It's a lot. Needless to say, after my day at the Ritz, I decided to head home to regroup and relax for the rest of the evening.
On Thursday, I was invited to a casual brunch for writers and bartenders that was sponsored by Bosscal Mezcal. This was the perfect way to start my fifth (and final) day of Tales.
Bosscal is fantastic, and while I'm not sure of the name of this cocktail, it certainly opened my eyes at 10:30 a.m. with its fruity flavors, just a bit of kick, and crisp taste.
After brunch, the Milagro Tequila pool party kicked off at The Chloe Hotel with a tequila tasting, custom cocktails made for the event, and pool access. Now, if you know summer in New Orleans, you know it's hot. I was very happy to relax inside the lovely hotel, enjoy the atmosphere, and sip my Milagro cocktails while soaking up the air conditioning.
Inside, they offered samples of Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Reposado, a 100% blue agave tequila blend of spirit aged 2-4 months in American oak and 4-6 months in French oak barrels. And Milagro Añejo, a 100% blue agave tequila that is aged in American oak barrels for 12-14 months. The aging results in a smooth, refined, and still agave-forward taste.
Both tequilas were excellent, but that Reposado was something special. It was so smooth; it was almost dangerous!
As for the cocktails, there was a tasty selection. At first, I just kept it simple with a juice and tequila mix. Then I upgraded to Hace Calor made with Milagro Silver, Grapefruit, Lime, Rosewater, Habenero, and Pineapple Big Shot. This is definitely perfect for a day by the pool.
There you have it- my Tales was small but mighty, and I managed to do a little something almost every day. This might not look like I did much, but I had a great time and got my fill.
You have to understand- there are a TON of events at Tales of the Cocktail. Every day is filled from 9:00 a.m. to midnight or later with events. It's really easy to overdo it, and that's the last thing I wanted to do.
Next year, I might make a point to go to at least ONE late-night party just to have that experience. However, with full days, I was happy to have time in the evening to unwind and recover (and I didn't get a hangover once!).
Another thing I liked about Tales this year was the free water EVERYWHERE. Liquid Death was one of the main water-brand sponsors, and I liked that I could dip into an ice chest and balance my drinking with water. Can you imagine if bars did this?
I'm hoping that next year will include a few absinthe tastings since absinthe does have a connection to New Orleans, and I think there would be some interest there. All the vendors did a great job keeping everyone happy and comfortable, and the crowds were manageable for the most part.
A big thank you to Foxglove Communications, the official PR company for Tales of the Cocktail, for informing us of the week's events. Another thank you to the Whova app for allowing attendees and participants to set their Tales schedule and connect with fellow "Talers" with the touch of a button and the greatest of ease.
If you are considering attending Tales of the Cocktail next year, DO IT. It's incredibly affordable, considering all of the fantastic experiences you will have, and it's a great week of something fun to do in the summer. I'm already looking forward to next year!