2011 was my third year attending Tales of the Cocktail, the four day cocktail festival that’s held every July in New Orleans for the past ten years. Each year my the capacity of my attendance has changed just as my involvement in the cocktail and spirits industry has grown. My first year attending Tales of the Cocktail was in 2009, a few months after this very website was born. I attended strictly in the capacity of media and for the purposes of education and fun. Yes, Tales of the Cocktail can be both educational and fun, something that I’m reminded of each year at the end of the week as I reflect back on some new skills or techniques I’ve learned, some new friends I’ve made with folks from all over including as far as Australia and the fact that I’ve come out better and stronger in my abilities each year. During my first year attending Tales it was like I was experiencing a whole new world filled with so many potential opportunities and wonders. That first year, I left Tales knowing a few things. The first was that for the first time in a long time I knew what I wanted to do with my life, the second was that it was a career in the spirits world. The last thing was that I wanted into the Cocktail Apprentice Program the next year.
Flash forward to 2010; I wrote about my experiences in the Cocktail Apprentice Program (CAP) here.
And that brings me to 2011, my third year experiencing Tales. I say experience because you don’t just go to Tales of the Cocktail, you experience it. Over the course of several days, the environment seeps into your skin. While this might initially sound like a negative, it’s actually quite the opposite. From the time you set down in NOLA and you see that first friend in either the airport or the lobby of Mission Control (otherwise known as the Monteleone) to that last goodbye at Louis Armstrong Airport to that person you just met two days earlier, whose flight is about to leave your body switches from it’s usual schedule of functioning on 6-8 hours of sleep to a mode that is constantly going, whether you’re attending seminars, shaking cocktails at an event, party or a tasting room, exchanging business cards and meeting people for lunch or finalizing that last detail for that party you’ve helped organize. Whatever activity drives you during the week, the experience as such a high energy that it more than makes up for the lack of sleep one is likely to experience with all that’s going on.
So that brings us back to this year’s experience at Tales. After attending my first year as exclusively media, and my second year as a CAP and writing about my experience here, I decided to apply for media credentials to cover a portion of what I saw this year, but I also had several events to work during the week. Some of the events I was set to work included a Spirited Dinner at The Grill Room, inside the Windsor Terrace Hotel, the “Party like a Don” Don Julio Party and a table at the Marie Brizzard tasting Room. But we’ll get back to some of these events a little bit later.
Tales 2011 started off the same way it has the past two years, by running into an old friend inside the lobby of the Monteleone and having that first Sazerac of the week at the Carousel Bar.
The first seminar of the week that I attended and one that had been on my radar since the seminars were announced months earlier was “Brand Ambassadors”. The topic specifically was do we still need brand ambassadors? And do they do more good than bad?
Our good host for this seminar was the lovely Claire Smith, Brand Mixologist for Belevedere Vodka and Moet Hennessy.
Speaking on the panel was Simon Ford, Director – Trade Outreach and Brand Education for Pernod Ricard, Allen Katz, Director of Mixology for Southern Wine and Spirits, the always entertaining Angus Winchester of Tanqueray Gin, John Lermayer, Dan Warner, Beefeater Global Brand Ambassador, and Nuri Djavit of marketing firm, Imedia Connection.
Taking the side against Brand Ambassadors were Simon Ford, John Lermayer, and Nuri Djavit while Angus Winchester, Allen Katz and Dan Warner took the side for Brand Ambassadors.
This seminar drew a large and energized crowd, something not always easy to do early in the morning.
Some of the items mentioned were:
1.The brand ambassador should not be a glorified sales person but should essentially live and breathe the product they represent. They should understand how it’s made and visit the distillery. They should spread the gospel and joy of their brand.
2.Competing brands should work together. That way all brands involved are seen in the best way and seen as supporting the industry.
3.It is the brand ambassador’s responsibility to educate the corporate side of their company on the products they put out.
4.Brand ambassadors shouldn’t be celebrities. One reason being what happens to a brand once a celebrity is no longer a celebrity? Additionally the brand should be the most important thing, not the person behind it.
5.Also if you’re a brand ambassador, stop re-arranging the shelves behind John Lermayer’s bar.
The overall opinion of the audience at the end of the presentation was that the industry still needs brand ambassadors to continue to educate on the brand they are representing. Out of all the seminars I’ve attended in the past three years at Tales of the Cocktail, this one might be the most memorable. It might because the timing was just right on the topic, about two weeks before attending this seminar I started working with Angel’s Envy Whiskey as their brand ambassador for the NY Area. It could also have to do with a great panel of speakers, a great host and the right combination of educational points and good humor that made this seminar one that I’ll remember for years to come.
And now we arrive to the events of Thursday. Thursday Night has traditionally been the night the Spirited Dinners take place. And this year was no difference. While I’d love to be able to say I spent most of Thursday attending seminars, I only was able to make it to one seminar before running off to finish up a few last minute items to prep for the Spirited Dinner I was doing with Jonathan and Jeffrey Pogash at the Grill Room inside the Windsor Terrace Hotel.
That’s the bad news. Well that and the fact I that I walked in halfway through this seminar.The good news is that it was a seminar dubbed “The Mysteries of Wood Maturation”. The seminar was lead by Doug Frost(of BAR), Dale Degroff(also of BAR) and Alain Royer (of The Remy-Cointreau Group)
For the part of the seminar I did manage to catch, Alain had some great slides that demonstrated what each chemical compound that exists in oak contributes to the aromas of the spirit aging in the barrel.
And then he tasted us through through several samples that were aged under different conditions.
Sadly I would have liked to catch more of this seminar, but missed a good portion of it due to other commitments that day.
After the seminar it was back to prepping for my spirited dinner. The rest of the day went by pretty quickly until it was finally almost time the dinner to start.
When I walked into the Grill Room, located inside the Windsor Court Hotel I was greeted with the calm site of the area we had reserved for our spirited dinner.
It was now time to setup the bar and begin prep for the evening’s cocktail service.
Here’s the menu we served:
The Dutchess of Hudson
Chai Tea-infused Hudson Corn Whiskey, fresh orange juice, Mathilde peach liqueur, freshly grated nutmeg
Carpaccio of Milk Fed Veal
Smoked Portabella Mushrooms, Shaved Pecorino, Rainier Olive Oil
Tullamore Dew Irish Whisky, Cardamaro, Dolin dry vermouth, Hendrick’s Gin, Boker’s Bitters
Seared Gulf Yellow Fin Tuna
French Lentils, Cured Tomatoes, Foie Gras Reduction
The Pangaea Experiment
Glenfiddich 15-yr old whisky, Solerno blood orange liqueur, Trader Tiki’s passionfruit syrup, Kahlani coconut liqueur, ginger beer, The Bitter Truth aromatic bitters
Whiskey Braised Niman Ranch Pork
Root Beer Leaf, Salsify, Pearl Onions, Jus
Gibson Canadian Whiskey, Laird’s bonded applejack, Cocchi Americano, maple syrup, Regan’s orange bitters, Peychaud’s bitters, Laphroiag single malt
Grilled Tender Loin of Montana Elk
Parmesan Gnocchi’s, Braised Red Cabbage, Roquefort Cream
Hudson Baby Bourbon, home-made grenadine, fresh lemon juice, Peychaud’s bitters
Irish Whiskey Cake
Whiskey “Gummy”, Praline Crunch Ice Cream, Heath Crunch Glaze
A Slow Walk Down Memory Lane
Balvenie 14-yr old Rum cask single malt, Lustau Pedro Ximenez sherry, Trader Tiki vanilla syrup, Bitterman’s mole bitters, whole egg, Green Chartreuse, grated cinnamon
Remember that empty room that I first saw when I arrived at the Grill Room? Well it filled up pretty nicely by the time our spirited dinner was about to start.
After several courses and many cocktails we were ready to serve the last cocktail of the evening to pair with the dessert course. This recipe happened to be a flip, so it called for an whole egg (recipe” A Slow Walk Down Memory Lane” shown below), so we had shake these a bit harder than most of the other shaken drinks.
While I realize I mentioned I worked alongside Jason Littrell at the Don Julio “Party like a Don” party that launched the 70th anniversary bottling of Don Julio, I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to snap any pictures as I was too busy shaking cocktails behind the bar. I’ll leave you with this what my hotel room looked like before the event.
Note the large amount of batching gear. Something definitely needed if you’re going to serve cocktails to several hundred attendees over the course of a several hour party.
We’re going to jump ahead further to the last few hours of Tales of the Cocktail 2011 and I’ll leave you with one final picture of the Bartender’s Breakfast, the closing party that’s put on every year at the end of Tales of the Cocktail by Pernod-Ricard(Beefeater,Plymouth,Jameson,Pernod Absinthe,Chivas,Avion). While one picture can’t really sum up a party, it should at least give you an idea of how much fun everyone seemed to have.
And with that last shot, I bid you adieu until Tales 2012.