Every July New Orleans is the stage for the biggest cocktail festival of the year, Tales of the Cocktail. A whole week full of seminars, tastings, markets and many, many parties is on the bucket list for everyone that earns a paycheque stirring a drink or holding a shaker. Bartenders from all over the world gather in the French Quarter to meet up and share drinks and stories while spirits brands, big and small, showcase their ranges in pop-ups, bars and restaurants.
After winning their Glassology competition, the first edition of the glass design competition, Libbey glassware send me over to Tales of the Cocktail as their reporter. I had the pleasure to experience everything from the centre of the whole cocktail madness, Hotel Monteleone. This is the place where most of the seminars are being hosted. Every 2 hours you can find 2 new pop-ups from brands downstairs in the lobby while upstairs all sorts of tasting are being held. There’s a daily book market with several book signings per day from international cocktail and spirit authors and cocktail kingdom has a pop-up store filled with bartender wanna-haves. The Carousel Bar, home of the classic Vieux Carré cocktail, is slowly spinning its rounds while seminars are being discussed and evening programs are being planned.
A tremendous variety of seminars form the backbone of Tales of the Cocktail. Leading figures from the bar industry host sessions that discuss every single aspect of our profession. They point out the latest trends, explain history and heritage, talk about new ways of working, how to level-up your team, where to cut your costs or raise your profits, everything based on their own experiences. This valuable information leaves every bartender or bar owner with renewed energy to give their business back home a new impulse. The fact that a seminar can cost up to $75 and that every single seminar is sold out weeks before the festival starts showcases the quality of each session held.
What trends have I picked up from Tales this year? Craft spirits are again becoming more important. Small batch, producers that connect directly with bartenders and consumers, a personal touch to a brand, that is what is being appreciated right now. Sustainability is also gaining terrain, not just from an environmental point of view, but also as a way to make your bar more profitable. Less wastage, using your pressed lemons and limes for syrups and shrubs, washing your glasses on water saving systems and getting rid of plastic straws are just a few examples shown of how you can make sustainability work for you bar and for mother earth. Spirit-wise rum is still on the move, a rum revolution is taking over the US and has its eye on the rest of the world as well. Tiki mugs obviously benefit from this as new designs are coming in from everywhere. Trophycocktail is the latest app for bartenders, giving you the opportunity to showcase your cocktails and your bar to your colleagues, aficionados and brands across the globe. Social media is not only getting more and more important in promoting your bar, every cocktail competition seems to have a social media round as well. This app should help you both in your daily job and in those few weeks per year when you need to peak if you’re in a competition.
Parties, parties and oh…more parties
Whether it’s a small get- together in an intimate bar like French 75, networking with beers and shots in Alibi, ending up in the Old Absinthe House for Sazeracs or the massive portfolio parties every evening, once the hard work of learning, discussing and tasting is done everyone finds their way to one or more of the parties throughout the city. Most of the parties are on walking distance from the Monteleone and the Sonesta hotel so a bar tour is easily planned. Most brands, big and small, make sure they have something arranged to show you what they’ve got . Sometimes in a pool, sometimes in an apartment, sometimes in an old warehouse or opera house, but most of the times in a bar nearby, in or around the always vibrant French Quarter. Don’t forget to save at least one evening for Frenchmen Street, and for D.B.A in particular, and experience live jazz music the New Orleans way. No cocktails there, just a beer or a glass of bourbon, and hang back and listen to the amazing musicians.
The next morning
Waking up the next morning is not always easy but you have to, the program won’t wait for you. Creole eggs benedict with hash browns or beignets and chicory from Café du Monde are a nice way to start your day. But the absolute must-have, and so thick they qualify as breakfast, are the frozen Irish coffees from Erin Rose. A decades-old recipe well-known amongst Tales veterans and a treasure soon discovered by first-timers, this drink just seems to be the perfect match for the New Orleans climate. So good you’ll take the brain-freeze over and over again.
Pig & Punch
The one party that you must not miss is held in a park, in Washington Park. It’s called Pig & Punch and it’s a fundraiser for charity organized on the day after Tales of the Cocktail by The Bon Vivants. You will find delicious punches being poured from massive trashcans and pigs (and other animals/vegetables) being prepared by local restaurants to raise money to help schools in poor areas in the country. Although it’s sponsored it’s not about brands or businesses. It’s an initiative by bartenders supported by bartenders to give a little back to the community. You buy a shirt, a bandana, a bag or something else from their collection and all the money will be used to help those who need it. It’s a relaxed party where you unwind after a hectic week and say goodbye to your friends and colleagues with a punch in your hand while you sink your teeth a something barbequed. It’s the perfect end of a perfect week. I can’t wait till next year’s edition, but first I need to sleep for a few days…