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New Orleans hails Tales of the Cocktail

It's a spirits trade show. It's an educational conference. It's one helluva party celebrating New Orleans and cocktail culture. Bottom line, there's no easy tag for Tales of the Cocktail held every July in the steamy Big Easy.

 

Tales of the Cocktail supports networking, learning, fun, and well, drinking. Tales is the cocktail festival started in 2002 by Ann Rogers who had worked in television advertising and promotions. The first sponsor of Tales was Brown-Forman. Now a multitude of spirits, media and hospitality companies pepper the sponsor page.

 

In 2006 Rogers met Paul Tuennerman, an executive for a Dallas restaurant group. Their mutual interest in the spirits industry led to Paul’s role as Chief Business Officer for Tales; they married in 2007 and evolved into Mr. and Mrs. Cocktail at Tales and beyond.
 

I asked Paul Tuennerman about the impact of Tales after 12 years. Tuennerman replied with a story; “Last year I went to Dubai. When I was introduced at the Bombay Club, you would have thought I was Tom Cruise. That’s how well known our brand is.”

 

Tales started during the infancy of the craft cocktail movement. Mixologists, bartenders, spirits producers, media flocked to the early Tales for the buzz on using house-made bitters, exotic ingredients, and bar tricks. Artisan tequila, mescal and gin have all starred at Tales.

 

This year whisky was the celebrity. After attending two major seminars on Scotch, I can speak semi-eloquently on the subtle differences between aging in European, American and sherry casks.

 

Tuennerman described why the small producers still want to show up alongside Pernod Ricard, Bacardi and W. H. Grant. “Look at Balcones Distilling. It’s a new, one-man show. But the owner could come to Tales from Texas—and for $750, we can find a way for him to show his product, a tasting room, a snack stand or lobby cart.”

 

Tales has its traditions from the opening day toast outside the Hotel Monteleone to the evening night parties and over-crowded tasting rooms. This year I figured something exotic would happen at the W. H. Grant opening eve party. Held at the Lakefront Airport a bus ride from the French Quarter, I watched a camel munch hay, tiki bartenders serve sours in coconuts and tattooed folks leave empty take-out noodle boxes everywhere. Of course this party happened after the Absolute event at Mardi Gras World where you could hear mixologist Dale DeGroff sing or sip your Wishing Well Tea with Absolut vodka, Lillet Blanc, and jasmine tea served from a fountain in the simulated Southern plantation area.

 

Another draw for Tales is the option for Spirited Dinners around NOLA. This year I learned how to out to throw back shots of baijiu from China at the new Square Root restaurant. Made from sorghum with occasional additions of rice or corn, baijiu undergoes nine months of fermentation and then three years in terra cotta pots. This whisky is sui generis: thick and herbal.

 

Baijiu is the most consumed spirit in the world. Given China’s top spot in global population, the statistic makes sense. The luxury brand to know is rare Kweichow Moutai. Paired with wildly creative food from Chef Phillip Lopez at Square Root, the deconstructed “picnic on a plate” with pickled fried, okra, fermented mustard seeds and ground chicken on a savory tuile, the baijiu seemed the appropriate spirit to wash it down.

 

A few nights later, as the temperature cooled, I snuck off to Café Du Monde for hot, sugar coated beignets and New Orleans coffee. I also relished a quiet, satisfying lunch in the regal Rib Room of the Omni Royal Orleans. Evoking my five years’ residency on the Gulf Coast, I gravitate to the barbecue shrimp and grit cake with charred green tomato chutney. I took a break from the cocktail scene for a glass of bubbly to refresh before heading out to the humidity and hordes of mixologists, industry marketeers and the happy consumers who pay for the abundant cocktail ride, too.

 

In honor of New Orleans role as the birthplace of the cocktail, the Tuennermans also founded the New Orleans Culinary & Cultural Preservation Society. The NOCCPS invests funds raised from Tales of the Cocktail events back into the cocktail industry through apprenticeships, grants, scholarship programs and more.

 

In honor of New Orleans role as the birthplace of the cocktail, the Tuennermans also founded the New Orleans Culinary & Cultural Preservation Society. The NOCCPS invests funds raised from Tales of the Cocktail events back into the cocktail industry through apprenticeships, grants, scholarship programs and more.

 

For me, the salute to the cocktail and five days’ immersion in liquor is sufficient. But for New Orleans, the yearning for adventure and the ensuing tales never ends.

 

                                                               "Flight attendant" at W.H.Grant party

 

 

 

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