It’s been almost 3 weeks since I returned from my first Tales of the Cocktail and some days it’s hard to believe I was really there. I packed so much in to the week, but there was so much more I could have done!
Why did I want to go?
Living in Australia we don’t always get to see many of the industry heavy hitters visiting that often. This was a great opportunity for me to catch up with lots of international people who I’d been dying to meet or interview as well as get some serious learning in at the seminars.
I was planning to make it to Tales last year so had spent lots of time talking to friends who’d been and learning as much as I could about the event, but nothing could have prepared me for the sheer scale of the event!
I didn’t see as much as I would have liked, but I fell in love with the architecture, the weather (aside from the humidity!), the bars and the vibe.
Most people think that Tales is one long party (and there is plenty of partying), but the seminar program is an incredibly important part of the week. Philip Duff, the Director of Education for Tales oversees the whole schedule and this year there were 84 sessions to choose from. These ranged from informal tastings to 2 hour seminars on anything from bar management, history, cocktails, cocktail trends, ingredients, culture, all with formidable panels eager to share their wisdom.
Bartending is not a stop-gap job while you make up your mind what you really want to do. It’s a career worth investing in and hundreds of bartenders save up all year to attend these seminars and learn from the best.
It simply wasn’t possible for me to attend every single one, but the ones I did attend were fantastic. My highlights were:
A Great British Discussion on Gin with Ian Griffiths (Dandelyan/White Lyan), Dave Broom (celebrated author of the Gin Manual) and Duncan Macrae (Hendrick’s Global Brand Ambassador)
A lovely informal chat over some delicious Hendrick’s cocktails and plenty of opportunities to ask questions about where the gin boom is heading.
Big Gin Small Gin, The Producers talk with Allen Katz (New York Distilling Company), Mikey Enright (The Barber shop Sydney), Jake F Burger (Portobello Road Gin), and Ivano Tonutti (Master of Botanicals at Bombay Sapphire).
It was really interesting to hear from such a wide variety of distillers. The similarities regardless of scale was illuminating. This seminar will run again (with a different panel) as part of Sydney Bar week.
Why do Cocktail Cultures Develop or Don’t with Mikey Enright, Audrey Fort and George Nemec.
Bespoke Gin & Collaborative Distilling with Cameron Mackenzie from Four Pillars and Emile and Olivier from Gin Foundry.
A great seminar showing all the different ways people are involved in distilling, often without owning a distillery themselves. You can read the seminar here.
Juniper Ascending Parts 2& 3 with Jared Brown (Sipsmith), Desmond Payne (Beefeater), Simon Ford (Fords Gin), Alexandre Gabriel (Citadelle Gin), Arne Hillesland (Distillery 209) and Christian Krogstad (Aviation Gin)
Juniper Ascending was actually a 3 part seminar that ran most of the day. Moderated by Keli River from Whitechapel in San Francisco it was a fascinating journey through the history of gin.
500 years of Juniper Distillation – How Genever changed the way we are drinking today presented by Rutte Distillers with Myriam Hendrickx (Master Distiller), Keli Rivers (Whitechapel San Francisco), Joaquin Simo (Pouring Ribbons NYC) and moderated by Simon Difford (Difford’s Guide).
I wasn’t a fan of Genever until this seminar, having experienced a style made with more malt than botanicals. While not converted away from gin, I gained a better understanding and a new appreciation.
New Orleans is home to some of the most famous cocktails. The Sazerac, The Ramos Gin Fizz, The French 75, Hurricane, Grasshopper, Vieux Carre and more were all invented in New Orleans so I had to visit The Roosevelt for a Ramos Gin Fizz and Arnauld’s French 75 Bar for a French 75 didn’t I?
My first Ramos Gin Fizz had to be at the bar where it was invented yes?
Other highlights included a delightful Dante New York pop-up, Alibi (if you are ever lost at Tales, head here as this is where everyone ends up), and Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar – do what I did and sing yourself hoarse around the piano with your buddies.
There are parties galore all week and if you are lucky enough to score invitations, GO! I was lucky to receive lots of invites, but you have to see Tales as a marathon, not a sprint, so I picked two, the William Grant ‘Party on your Palate’ and the Bacardi Block Party. Both epic. The 200 voice gospel choir at William Grant gave me goosebumps while the sheer scale (a different ‘house’ for each brand) of the Bacardi party blew my mind.
The sense of community around the world of bartending and hospitality is like no other. And nowhere did I feel this so keenly as I did at Tales. Thousands of the industry’s finest; bartenders, distillers, brand ambassadors, brand owners and media descend on New Orleans and it feels like the friendliest place on earth. It’s a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends from all over the world, share ideas and sometimes even come up with ideas to work together.
Even though everyone is on a hectic schedule, people still made time for me. I was thrilled to be able to meet and interview Desmond Payne (Master Distiller Beefeater Gin), Charlotte Voisey (Head of Advocacy at William Grant and Son), Simon Ford (Fords Gin), and Myriam Hendrickx (Master Distiller at Rutte).
I also got to spend time with some of my favourite Aussie bar people on the same side of the bar for a change!
Where to stay
I stayed at the Hotel Monteleone which is where all the Tales of the Cocktail action happens. It is slap bang in the middle of the French quarter and The Carousel bar (yes the bar rotates) is another one of the places most people hang out.
The staff are excellent and really friendly, but if you prefer something a little hectic (the elevators get crazy busy during peak seminar times) then the Royal Sonesta is close by and less frantic. I also went to the newly opened Ace Hotel for a couple of meetings, it’s a little bit further away from the main Tales of the Cocktail action and super-chilled.
Things I’ll do differently next year (if I’m lucky enough to go again!)
Make it out of the French Quarter and take a swamp tour and a river cruise
Visit more restaurants
Get to Erin Rose for a Frozen Irish coffee…
Spend a whole afternoon at Bacchanal
Remember to ask for photos when interviewing someone!