A Muddled Thought

Category: Tales of the Cocktail

Tales of the Cocktail-My Third Tour

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.

Sazeracs in “to go cups” at the Carousel Bar.

Sazeracs in “to go cups” 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?

Brand Ambassadors-Do we love them or hate them?

Brand Ambassadors-Do we love them or hate them?

Our good host for this seminar was the lovely Claire Smith, Brand Mixologist for Belevedere Vodka and Moet Hennessy.

Claire Smith, of Belvedere Vodka and our host for the Brand Ambassadors Seminar.

Claire Smith, of Belvedere Vodka and our host for the Brand Ambassadors Seminar.

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.

Our Panel for the Brand Ambassador Seminar:Simon Ford, Allen Katz,Angus Winchester of Tanqueray Gin, John Lermayer, Dan Warner, and Nuri Djavit.

Our Panel for the Brand Ambassador Seminar:Simon Ford, Allen Katz,Angus Winchester of Tanqueray Gin, John Lermayer, Dan Warner, and Nuri Djavit.

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.

The energetic audience at the Brand Ambassadors Seminar. Filled with lots of familiar industry faces.

The energetic audience at the Brand Ambassadors Seminar. Filled with lots of familiar industry faces.

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.

The Main Aromas of Oak

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.

The Grill Room-The Calm before the Storm

The Grill Room-The Calm before the Storm

It was now time to setup the bar and begin prep for the evening’s cocktail service.

The bar setup at the Grill Room.

The bar setup at the Grill Room.

B.G Reynolds(formerly Trader Tiki) syrups that were used in two of our cocktails.

B.G Reynolds(formerly Trader Tiki) syrups that were used in two of our cocktails.

The Balvenie and Tuthilltown Spirits Hudson Unaged Corn Whiskey, two of the sponsors for our spirited dinner. The other sponsors were Glen Fiddich, Tullmore Dew and GIbson Canadian Whisky.

The Balvenie and Tuthilltown Spirits Hudson Unaged Corn Whiskey, two of the sponsors for our spirited dinner. The other sponsors were Glen Fiddich, Tullmore Dew and GIbson Canadian Whisky.

Here’s the menu we served:

Aperitif Cocktail
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
Paired with
Crooked Bowtie
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
Paired with
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
Paired with
The Draper
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
Paired with
Daisy Duke
Hudson Baby Bourbon, home-made grenadine, fresh lemon juice, Peychaud’s bitters

Irish Whiskey Cake
Whiskey “Gummy”, Praline Crunch Ice Cream, Heath Crunch Glaze
Paired with
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.

The dining room at the Grill Room.

The dining room at the Grill Room.

Putting the finishing touches on a round of cocktails before they go out.

Putting the finishing touches on a round of cocktails before they go out.

In between courses, Jeffrey, Jonathan and myself would present to all attendees on how we came up with each cocktail as well as a bit of history on each whisk(e)y.

In between courses, Jeffrey, Jonathan and myself would present to all attendees on how we came up with each cocktail as well as a bit of history on each whisk(e)y.

A toast to the evening of enjoyment filled with great food and tasty libations.

A toast to the evening of enjoyment filled with great food and tasty libations.

A table full of cocktails.

A table full of cocktails.

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.

Shaking the final cocktail of the night.

Shaking the final cocktail of the night.

Jeffrey Pogash, Hal Wolin, Casey McMurray and Jonathan Pogash.

Jeffrey Pogash, Hal Wolin, Casey McMurray and Jonathan Pogash.

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.

Batching Equipment and Bar Gear for a week worth of events

Batching Equipment and Bar Gear for a week worth of events

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.

Plymouth Gin on Ice. Does life get better than this?

Plymouth Gin on Ice. Does life get better than this?

And with that last shot, I bid you adieu until Tales 2012.

Behind the Application-A look at Applying to be a Tales of the Cocktail Apprentice

Apprentices, Corey Bunnewith, Eamon Rockey and Eryn Reece prepping a seminar.

I recently received an email in my inbox from Michael Dietsch of A Dash of Bitters and the man running this year’s Tales of the Cocktail Blog Site, www.talesblog.com. He asked if in addition to covering the behind the scenes experience of the Apprentice Program, if I could share some details on the application process behind the apprentice program.

I’m hoping the following helps shed some light on the application process.

The application for this year’s Apprentice Program went live on the Tales of the Cocktail website around February of this year, with notifications of acceptance going out around the beginning of May.

There were several sections of the application that had to be filled out before submission.
Some of these were pretty basic, such as name, work place, home city and whether or not you’ve served as an apprentice the previous year.

After filling out the basics, you moved to questions such as whether or not you’ve ever worked events with more than 500 attendees and have batched cocktails for large groups. And when they say batch, they mean by the bucket load. Think about making 3-5 cocktails, each for about 200 people within 90 minutes of an event starting and then serving these to a room full of people. Once you can wrap your head around this concept, you slowly begin to understand what being an apprentice means. Now think about doing this from 8am to 6pm each night, with nary a time for a break. Think about running around a large-scale hotel between events making sure everything is ready for that next seminar. This coupled with late nights out, is part of what being apprentice is about.That and the bonds and friendships you form with your fellow cap brothers and sisters. People that after pulling an all-nighter and working four out of the five seminars that day will sacrifice, much needed downtime to help you pull off that last seminar of the day.

Jumping back to the application, there are a few more questions involving the aforementioned batching experience, including a math problem. Yes a math problem. A boozy math problem, that begs the question why didn’t our high school math teachers use whisky and gin to demonstrate why we should have been paying attention back when we were still in school? So the math question at hand involved taking one cocktail with a plethora of ingredients in different measurements (ie: ounces, milliliters, and cups) and calculating how many ounces of each you would need to serve a large group of people.
If memory serves the number in question was about two hundred. One suggestion, if you do apply for next years apprentice program, get accepted and also happen to possess an Iphone. purchase an application called Converter . It’ll save you a few headaches since it lets you convert ounces to cups, milliliters to ounces, and everything else in between. But be careful not to drop your Iphone in a vat of whisky cocktails. Disclaimer-To my knowledge no iphones suffered this fate during the week.

After completing this section, you’re asked to submit both your favorite cocktail and an original recipe and explain the inspiration behind how this recipe came to be and why all the ingredients worked in the cocktail.

At this point you’re approaching the end to the submission process, but there are still three more questions. Two of them are yes or no questions- “Would you like to be an apprentice leader? “ and “Would you like to be part of Commis?”

If you answer this first question with “yes” you’ll more than likely be put in charge of running the prep, batching and serving of cocktails and spirits for a few of the seminars. Trust me it’s not as bad as it sounds, as you’ll be working with between 2-4 other caps for the seminar. So trust me it’ll be okay. Once you’ve clicked yes or no on this, the next question is regarding Commis. You’re probably thinking what is a commis exactly? In the culinary world, commis means a chef’s apprentice. And in the world of caps, it mean’s you’ll be one of about five leaders of the group, reporting directly to Don Lee who heads up the CAP Program. These folks have both my respect and my sympathy, while we all busted ourselves in the kitchen day and day out, this group of apprentices that served as commis, were always there when a crisis occurred, most of the time they were there before, able to avert any issues that came up. Whether this was missing ingredients, or a presenter trying to change all the recipes for their seminars two hours before the seminar was to occur. Gents, my hats off to all of you.

And the final question, “How’d you get into Cocktails?” With this last answer, you’re given the opportunity to tell your story, how you arrived at this application in the first place, and demonstrate your passion.

One last step, as with any application, references were needed.
With a few clicks of the keyboard you’re finally done. Time to click the submit button.

Once you click that submit button, it’s all over. You’ve gone ahead and done it. There’s no turning back now, you’ve applied for the Cocktail Apprentice Program. Now comes the waiting. If you’ve just read this and are thinking of applying for the Apprentice program, good luck and hope to see you next year.

A Glimpse of the Tales of the Cocktail Apprentice Program

As I write this, I’ve been back in New York City for about 24 hours &#151and the exhaustion is finally hitting me. After landing yesterday at 4pm, running home, showering, and unpacking, I headed to a USBGNY Mixer, which then led me to home and eventually passing out. My dreams were filled with recipes and images of batching cocktails&#151memories left over from the previous week.

About a week ago I posted that I had planned to chronicle a diary of what it’s like to be a Tales of the Cocktail Apprentice (or CAP). After hitting the ground running the first day, I began to realize that I might not be able to juggle both the media side and the Apprentice side as well as I had originally planned to. Once in the kitchen, any time I had hoped to have a camera in hand was replaced with an Oxo 32oz measuring cup or a knife. I’m not sure I’d have had it any other way.

After the majority of the Apprentices arrived Monday afternoon, we had a few hours to settle in before we started off the week. We were treated to dinner&#151some amazing fried chicken with all the fixin’s—along with some Stella at Jacques Imos.

Ann and Paul Tuennerman at Jacques Imo's

The night eventually led us to New Orleans cocktail haven Cure, where most of us put the night to rest as we had an early morning call&#151the first of many.

The backbar of Cure.

The Apprentices at Cure.

Brian Mattys, and Franky Marshall with Chris and Laura McMillian at Cure.

Our second day on site&#151the Tuesday before Tales&#151started off with a meeting of all the Apprentices, CAP leaders, and Tales Staff. This, of course, included a cocktail. Unexpected to all attending the meeting, this also included a blessing from a voodoo priestess.

A sign of the week to come.

Ann Tunnermann, aka Mrs. Cocktail, and Paul Tunnermann., aka Mr. Cocktail, were kind enough to bring in a voodoo priestess to bless all the Apprentices and Tales Staff. Did it work, you ask?I’d like to think so, since all made it through the week relatively unscathed.

After each and every Apprentice was blessed (Thanks again Ann and Paul), we collected our Apprentice gift bags. Attached to each bag was the ever-so-important Apprentice badge, which enabled us complete access to Tales throughout the week without ever an issue. Along with these badges were our aprons, our Apprentice chef jackets, a Tony Abou Ganim (TAG) Bag and TAG Muddler, and a thank you bottle of Chartreuse V.E.P.

My Apprentice Badge-Finally...

Don Lee addressing the team on the first day.

Corey Bunnewith of Russell House Tavern modeling the Apprentice apron.

So what does being a Tales of the Cocktail Apprentice mean?

Work. And lots of it. Anyone thinking about applying for next year’s program should keep this in mind. By the end of the week, you’ll have pain in places on your body you never knew could feel pain.

The day of an Apprentice typically starts around 8:00 or 8:30am if you decide to sleep in. The work day usually ends at 6:00pm or so, at which point you shower (trust me&#151after working in a hot kitchen all day, you need one), find dinner, and then head off to whatever parties are happening on a given night. The night (morning) usually ends between 2:00 am and 4:00 am at the Old Absinthe House. Aside from this typical daily framework, the rest of the week is anything but “typical.”

For example, one of our assignments involved supplying two hundred liquor bottles half-filled with water for Stanislav Vadrna’s Seminar, “Ichigo/Ichie: One Chance/One Meeting the Way How to Synchronize the Bartenders Mind/Body,” in which he discussed the proper styles and techniques to make your guest feel at ease and get the most out of their visit to your bar.

The two hundred bottles were used by the seminar attendees to practice the art of opening and closing a liquor bottle.

200 Liquor bottles half-filled with Water for Stanislav Vadrna's Seminar.

Another seminar assignment involved placing down several hundred glasses for a tasting of straight spirits.

And we haven’t even gotten to the part about the cocktails.

Speaking of which&#151let’s talk cocktails&#151all those lovely libations people imbibed in throughout the week at each and every seminar. Most people likely enjoyed them without much of a thought about how the drinks got there. If you’re imagining a few guys using those 64oz shakers to shake up a few drinks then let me share with you what actually happened.

Well, before they got to you and other seminar attendees, the cocktails were prepared by the bucket load. Using lots of math (try batching cocktails for close to 200 people on the fly without a calculator!), a great deal of talent, and a few dashes of love, the Apprentices used the buckets pictured below to prep each and every cocktail.

The buckets where each cocktail started its life.

Here are some of the tools we used to get them out to folks looking like actual cocktails.

Some of the tools used throughout the week by the Apprentices.

And some more…

And no cocktail would be complete without a few key items. First of all, lots and lots of booze.

The below picture is from the “Booze Room” from which Apprentices would pull from once we figured out many bottles of a particular spirit a recipe called for. For example, if a presenter called for 100 Gin and Tonics with two ounces of gin per glass, we would more than likely pull eight 750ml bottles of gin, as each bottle contains about 25.6 ounces of gin.
This task often proved to be interesting when we had to adjust the recipes due to an inadequate supply of ingredients being received for a particular presentation.

The Booze Room

And what cocktail would be complete without some citrus or other fruit?

The Citrus Room.

So is participating in the Apprentice program worth it? In my opinion, an emphatic , ”Hell yes!!!” However, if you apply and are lucky enough to be accepted, keep in mind that you’ll be pushed to work possibly harder than you’ve ever worked with little time for breaks during the course of each day. On the other hand, the rewarding feeling of knowing that you took part in something so much bigger than one person and that you were involved in pulling off some amazing feats&#151not to mention the friends and contacts you make in the process&#151definitely make the whole experience worth the effort.

Would I do it again next year? I’d definitely like to, if the group will have me.

Ah, the group. I’m not sure the Apprentices could ask for a better group of leaders than the ones we were given. Don Lee, John Deragon, Leo Robitschek, Mike Ryan, Jeff Grdinich(aka Keebler), and Eric Simpkins ran a tight ship (well, as tightly as a ship can be run when its crew starts each day with shots of Del Maguey Tobala or Fernet) during five incredibly intense days of anything a boozy imagination could conjure, &#151all whilemanaging to keep it cool at all times, regardless of the situation. Our week included seminars that involved the use of chainsaws, moving liquid nitrogen from one side of the state to the other, among many other crazy situations; but with our leadership, we managed to pull through the week in one piece.

The Previously Mentioned Chainsaw in The Kitchen.

As I mentioned earlier, I unexpectedly put the camera aside fairly early on, so after the first day any pictures that I managed to snap were via the trusty ol’ iPhone. Luckily I managed to take a few of the kitchen that first day.

One of the Caps, Franky Marshall of Clover Club at work in the Kitchen.

Other highlights of the week included a presentation on Mezcal by Mr. Del Maguey Himself&#151Ron Cooper, with a special appearance by Dave Wondrich.

Ron Cooper and Dave Wondrich presenting to the Caps.

A Cointreau Tasting presented by Erin Williams, Cointreau’s Resident Mixologist.

The Cointreau Tasting Mat.

The Spirit Awards.

The Apprentices at the Spirit Awards.

A couple of Apprentices at the spirit awards.

The way saw it, since I started off the week with coffee and a cocktail, I might as well end it in a similar fashion with coffee and a beer at the airport.

Last Drink in New Orleans-Post Tales of the Cocktail.

And a special thanks to my fellow Apprentices that I had the pleasure of working with throughout the week. A greater group of partners in this booze filled endeavor, one cannot ask for. After this week, I consider them all close friends.

Adam Robinson
Bradley Bolt
Bradley Farran
Brian Matthys
California Gold
Cassie Fellet
Chad Doll
Chris Hannah
Christine Nielsen
Christopher Churilla
Corey Bunnewith
Cristiana DeLucca
Cristina Dehlavi
Daniel de Oliveira
Don Lee
Eamon Rockey
Eric Simpkins
Erica Pearce
Eryn Reece
Evan Martin
Frank Cisneros
Franky Marshall
Jamie Kilgore
Jared Schubert
Jeff Grdinich
John Deragon
Jonathan Armstrong
Kimberly Patton-Bragg
Leo Robitschek
Luis Bustamante
Matthew Eggleston
Meaghan Dorman
Michelle Peake
Mike Ryan
Naomi Schimek
Navarro Carr
Neil Kopplin
Nicholas Jarrett
Patrick O’Brien
Rachel Kim
Robert Leavey
Sharon Floyd
Sierra Zimei
Sudeep Rangi
Summer Voelker
Sylvia Cosmopoulos
Ted Kilgore
Thomas Klus
Thomas Speechley
Tiffany Soles
William Dollard