New Orleans, where else but the Big Easy could you host one of the worlds largest cocktail conventions? The 9th Tales of the Cocktail has come and gone. We were fortunate to be a part of it. As our first time out, here were our thoughts…
New Orleans, it’s a city that means different things to different people. To some it’s a food town made famous by chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme. Muffaletas, Po-boys, Gumbo,Beignettes are just some of what makes up the unique palate that sets it apart from other cities across the country.
To others it’s a city of romance, the Vieux Carré with its gas lights and old creole cottages and shotgun homes.. whether you explore it by horse drawn carriage or wander up and down the streets on foot, the gilded age surrounds and magnolia scented air will have you speaking a little bit slower and staring a little bit more deeply into the eyes of the one you’re with.
And still, for many others, New Orleans is simply a place to party. To wander up and down famed Bourbon street with a drink in your hand; music blaring out of every open doorway and window, folks in the street trying to lure you into their establishments with offers of cheap beer and/or ladies (or men) in various stages of undress. It’s all in good fun, everyone is there to have a good time and they do… just about every night until almost dawn.
It’s all the facets of this southern jewel that make New Orleans the perfect setting to host Tales of the Cocktail. A yearly event celebrating the well crafted drink in the place where it all seemed to have began.
Having never been to this conference before, I had no idea what to expect. I got my tickets to a couple seminars that interested me and figured seminars aside, there would be a lot of down time. Those who have been there before knew I was more than a little wrong.
The number of events, both paid and free, are staggering. So much to see and do in just a few short days. No matter where you are in the cocktail life-cycle (distiller, distributor, retailer, buyer, bar manager, bartender, or patron) there is something of interest for you.
For the first day, it was just about checking in and getting our bearings. Memorizing the path from our hotel (Prince Conti… highly recommended for reasons I’ll get into later) to the hotels that would be hosting the events; The Royal Sonesta, and the Hotel Monteleone (both gorgeous locations by the way)
Most of the day was taken up visiting tasting rooms. For a few hours in the morning (and by morning I mean 10-ish) One of the hosting hotels will have their conference rooms set up tasting; in the afternoon, the other hotel would host several tastings. Some rooms were showcasing an individual spirit or distillery, others were sponsored by a distributor and had multiple brands on display. Each go on for an hour or so and there several going on at the same time. Some were very elaborate like Hendricks Gin (I got there when they were finishing up… but there was a tree in the middle of the room and leaves all over the floor… I heard it was pretty weird but very cool) or Oxley Gin, with their ice carving and hedge rows, or Cupcake vodka, the room was all blue and there were, what else, cupcakes.
Even when you step outside, there’s a lot going on.
It was a great opportunity to meet and speak with the distillers and distributors of some of our favorite brands and a chance to be introduced to new products. There were several I’ve always heard about but never tried and finally got my chance to expand my palate. Lillet, for example, has been around since the late 1800’s and is a key ingredient in the Vesper (a cocktail made famous by James Bond in Casino Royal…the 1953 original, not the one with Daniel Craig). I had never thought to try it but given the opportunity I found it’s really very good. Lillet Rose, which they were debuting is now one of my favorite liquors.
Despite the opportunity to make new friends, try new brands, and learn new things, for many it was all about the swag. Cocktail shakers, shot glasses, jiggers, and single serve bottles were offered (at least that’s what I managed to snag) Giveaways were common and at times you needed to fight your way through the throng of people just to see what it was.
The tasting rooms, for me, was the best part of the trip.
Doing the magazine and running the website is all about networking. Over time through social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, I’ve made many friends and colleagues. Tales of the Cocktail was a chance to finally meet them face to face. It felt like a reunion of sorts, a chance to connect on a more personal level. Of course over the few days of milling around room to room you also get a chance to make new friends.
I can go on and on but then I’d never get this published. Best to leave it here for now. What I’ll leave you with is the following:
- The seminars are not like doctoral dissertations, they’re meant to enlighten and inform in a casual environment; just take what you can from it.
- You can purchase a bracelet that gives you access to all the tasting rooms , that alone is worth going.
- Try as you might, you’re not going to see everything
- Everyone there is there to have fun. Smile and you’ll make a ton of new friends
- Drink LOTS of water – Bottles of FIJI were available just about everywhere
- If a guy stops you in the street and wants to write you a ticket for being too sexy, he’s trying to sell you a hat
- Do not miss out on TOTC 2012