Five years attending Tales of the Cocktail, 4 spirited dinners co-hosted, one tour as a Tales of the Cocktail Apprentice (otherwise known as a CAP) in 2010, gallons upon gallons of cocktails batched, numerous seminars attended. How the time goes by.
Each year seems to continue to top the previous year. This was the year that involved an Untouchables themed bar, the largest spirited dinner I’ve ever been involved in, and lots of Cognac.
But let’s rewind a bit and go back to the beginning of the week.
Tuesday July 16th. My flight from New York city lands at Louis Armstrong Airport around 9:30pm. Along with several friends I share a cab to the Monteleone hotel aka main headquarters for Tales of the Cocktail. After dropping of my bags I headed over to the Absinthe House right around the corner from the Monteleone to see what friends might be out and about and to grab a quick drink or two. After running into a few friends from San Francisco, New York and Boston I called it a some what earlier night around 1am.
Wednesday July 15th. I head over to the Jackson Civic Center where I’m scheduled to bartend at The William Grant & Sons Cocktails in Film Festival party, one of the three biggest parties of the entire week. For this year’s party the folks at William Grant had each of their brands paired up with a movie.
Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum was being served in a makeshift bowling alley themed area inspired by the movie the “Big Lebowski”.
The Monkey Shoulder brand amabassador team of Freddy May and Dean Callan were set up in a bar dubbed “Cocktails and Dreams” and were utilizing their flair bartending skills to conjure memories of the movie “Cocktail.” And Balvenie and Glenfiddich were served both neat and in cocktails in an area inspired by the movie the “Untouchables”.
This was the area I had been scheduled to work and for the occasion I created an Untouchables inspired cocktail I dubbed “The Tax Evasion”.
2 oz Balvenie 12 Double Wood Scotch Whisky
1/2 oz Lillet Rose
1/2 oz Mathilde Creme Peche
2 Dashes Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters
Directions:Combine ingredients in mixing glass. Stir, strain into coupe. Garnish with grapefruit twist
And most memorable of all was watching attendees do lay-backs from a giant Hendricks Gin powered cannon.
And that brings me to Thursday July 16th, and probably my favorite part of Tales of the Cocktail, the night of the spirited dinners. This year Jonathan Pogash and I teamed up with the always lovely and charming Charlotte Voisey of William Grant and Sons and her partner in crime, Gina Chersevani of Hank’s Oyster bar in Washington Dc. Our theme was Beauty vs. the Beast: Gin vs. Whisky. Jonathan and I took the side of the beast, aka the whisky side, and created cocktails featuring Monkey Shoulder, Hudson whiskies, Balvenie and Glenfiddich.
This year as we have the past few years we worked with the Windsor Court Hotel to host our dinner. The big change this year was that we used the 23rd Floor of the Windsor Court which has one of the best views of New Orleans I’ve ever seen. It also gave us the space to host 120 attendees for the evening.
The Sasquatch Expedition
By Hal Wolin and Jonathan Pogash
Gibson’s Canadian Whiskey, Byrrh, Mathilde Peche, Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s Boker’s Bitters, Lemon Peel, Sugar served Punch Style
by Gina Chersevani and Charlotte Voisey
Bubbly served with seasonal berries and fresh mint over Lillet Rose cobbled ice
Louisiana Citrus, Jalapeno, Fresh Cilantro, Sesame, Petite Mustard Greens
by Charlotte Voisey
Hendrick’s Gin with mandarin, strawberry, pineapple, pink peppercorn, fresh lemon and arugula
Poached Halibut Cheeks
Red Quinoa, Garlic Vinaigrette
By Jonathan Pogash
Glenfiddich 12 Year Old Whisky, pineapple juice, housemade grenadine, Barrett’s Ginger Beer
Parmesan Risotto, English Peas, Sherry Cream, Black Pepper
Pleasantly Peasing Soda
By Charlotte Voisey
Hendricks Gin, Pea+Pepper+Basil Elixir, Lemon
Grilled Prime Tenderloin
Potato Butter, Summer Chanterelles, Cherry Tomato, Honey-Bourbon Jus
By Jonathan Pogash and Hal Wolin
Monkey Shoulder Whisky, Grapefruit Juice, Lillet Rose, The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Bitters, Sparkling Wine
Citrus Salad Pavlova
Sour Sipping Cream Soda
By Charlotte Voisey
Hendricks Gin, Yuzu, Vanilla Cream Soda
Smoked Dark Chocolate Cremeux Tart
Speyside in Moonlight
By Hal Wolin
The Balvenie 15 Year Single Barrel, The Balvenie 17 Year Peated Cask, Amaro Nonino, Bittermens Mole Bitters
Some behind the scenes shots of what it takes to make a spirited dinner for 120 guests happen.
With that let’s get to Friday July 17th:
And Cognac, lots of Cognac, otherwise known as an event called “Back to the Classics: Revisiting Cognac” which was sponsored by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (also known as the BNIC). The BNIC is an organization that exists to promote the region of Cognac, France and its growers and producers as well as to educate the consumer and spirits industry.
Like I said a lot of Cognac….
On Saturday, which was also my last day at Tales this year, I managed to catch a very memorable seminar called 60 ideas in 60 minutes seminar.
With presenters such as Jamie Evans of Oxley Gin, Paul Tuennerman, Laura Cullen, Theresa Paopao, Charles Joly of the Aviary, Sean Kenyon of Williams and Graham (and the Mixfits), and Jackson Cannon of Boston Eastern Standard and The Hawthorne, the room was filled with a packed house of bartenders, media and consumers eager to learn.
During this seminar the presenters shared 60 different ideas and concepts covering everything from menu concept to inventory to tips on hospitality to just name a few.
Some tips and ideas that really stood out for me were:
Build it and they will come: Be a trend setter not a trend follower. Don’t build a bar program based on a trend. Make it your own. –Sean Kenyon
Stage and Guest Bartend: It helps keep you and your bar program relevant and helps everyone in the community learn from each other. –Sean Kenyon
Cradle to the Grave: The taste of a cocktail begins from the customer’s first steps inside the bar until they leave. Make the entire experience the best memorable and the best it can be. –Sean Kenyon
Your staff is as important as your guests. Everyone from the dish washer to your general manager should be treated equally. A happy house(restaurant/bar) makes for a happy and memorable customer experience. –Sean Kenyon
Bartending should be fun. You make drinks and moments for a living. Stop taking yourself so damn seriously. –Paul G. Tuennerman(aka Mr. Cocktail)
Libraries are for reading, bars are for drinking- Crafting the perfect cocktail menu. Cut the fat on that menu and give me a cocktail.Our guests and our cash drawers will be happier. Trend is cyclical, menus get bigger and bigger, then suddenly, everyone is sick of the bibles and we trim to minimal size. Dead Rabbit and Justice Snow’s are the exceptions to prove the rule. –Charles Joly
Always be aware of who is in the room, who needs help. If you have a packed house and a regular walks in trying to maneuver their way to the bar, have their favorite cocktail waiting when they finally make it to the bar. Go that extra step.- Charles Joly
These are just a few of the “make you think” tidbits of knowledge that were shared with attendees at this seminar. A lot of useful information that with some work can be applied to your bar or restaurant and can help improve both your staffs’ experience and your customers’ experience.
(Please note a few of these quotes were paraphrased)
As an industry we’re always learning, trying to improve ourselves and create memories for our guests. This seminar more than anything brought that message home.
And of course Tales of the Cocktail wouldn’t be complete without a surprise or two. And this seminar had a pretty big one…
Oxley Gin Brand Ambassador took the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend.
After that surprise ending to an already amazing seminar, I spent the rest of Saturday catching up with friends and seeing the sights in New Orleans.
I’m already looking forward to what Tales of the Cocktail has in store for me in 2014.
[Photos of BNIC Tasting Room and 60 ideas in 60 Seconds courtesy of: Cameron Michael Smith of The Brewer. Some photos of the William Grant and Sons Party courtesy of Jennifer Mitchell Photography. All other photos provided by Hal Wolin.]