Quality over Quantity! The future of Tales of the Cocktail

by James Stevenson

With all the globetrotting since Tales of the Cocktail this year I have barely had time to sit down and share my experiences with all of you, but finally, sitting in a coffee shop in Croatia, I have some time to finally put the proverbial “pen to paper”. Luckily the festivities this year were so amazing that they are still fresh in my mind, it feels as though I was sipping Champagne cocktails with friends just yesterday.

Speaking of Champagne cocktails, this year we hosted the inaugural Beautiful Booze cocktail pop-up sponsored and hosted by the AMAZING Windsor Court Hotel, and in collaboration with G.H. Mumm. If you were at Tales and didn’t make it, shame on you, no, we still love you, but you did miss out on a really great event with delicious cocktails and great people, if I may say so myself.

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When entering New Orleans each year there is one thing we look forward to most, and no, it’s not the Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street, although good times are always had here. Our “guilty pleasure” in New Orleans is a quick visit to salt heaven at the Central Grocery Store where we can happily split a half muffuletta and get ourselves prepared for a week of ridiculous food and maybe a little over consumption amongst some of the greatest people in the world.

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This year marked a great year for more intimate drinks with people from all walks of life and with Natalie out of action on day 1, I grabbed the reigns on our first meeting and got together with Woodford Reserve’s Assistant Master Distiller, Elizabeth McCall for a tasting that changed my life. Learning how they constructed the perfect rye blend with just 53% rye to give it a kick but still keep it super smooth. I have found myself falling more and more in love with Rye over the past year and after tasting the Woodford Reserve Rye I am now fully on board. Next time you see me feel free to put a glass of this deliciousness in my hand 😉

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We like to occasionally remove ourselves from the hustle of the French Quarter and step out for a nice lunch somewhere else and this year we were fortunate to come across Meril Restaurant in the Warehouse District. The casual restaurant from Chef Emeril himself has an awesome happy hour where you can relax and eat some of their delicious tacos and flatbreads.

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Smaller events like The Whiskey Room; a collaborative takeover of The Chart Room by Old Forrester and other Brown-Forman brands were great getaways from the chaos. Serving up delicious bourbon based cocktails in a fun atmosphere surrounded with great company such as our friends from Nightclub & Bar whom we bumped into a lot this year.

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Do you love ceviche or pisco; what about ceviche paired with pisco? If you answered yes, then you know the best place for both of these delicacies is Peru. Natalie spent an afternoon with our good friend Francine who is working with the Trade Commission of Peru and learnt all about pisco at the Chilcano cocktail while learning how to make ceviche under the instruction of Chef Carlos Delgado. The Chilcano, which has a nice bite thanks to the addition of ginger ale/beer, is a great cocktail to pair with a spicy ceviche.

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Every year Hotel Monteleone hosts the main stages for Tales of the Cocktail and I love wandering the halls moving from one tasting room to the other. This year there were some really great ones but my 2 favorites were definitely the Plantation Rum room where they released the newest expression “Xaymaca” Special Dry, which is now one of my favourite sipping rums, and the House of Angostura room where I got a bottle of LLB (lemon, lime and bitters) pre mix for a delicious punch.

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Partnering with The Windsor Court Hotel has some amazing benefits, not only the spa and great facilities, but the restaurants and bars are amongst the best in New Orleans. In particular, The Grill Room, where we make sure to spend at least one evening each year indulging, not only on their wonderful wine selection, but also on the extraordinary gastronomic delights on offer. We don’t even need to look at a menu here, as everything is always so amazing, we just ask our waiter to surprise us with a range of dishes that they recommend. Naturally we opt to have the wine pairing, as we learnt on our first visit here that the wines are of top quality to go with the meal and with the use of the Coravin we are able to taste phenomenal wines that pair perfectly with each dish, is there a better way to enjoy a meal?

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If there is one event I can’t miss each year it has to be the Meet the Distillers and this year it was hosted at the House of Blues and there were more brands than ever. We met with the team behind Big Gin who are out of Seattle and learnt all about the history of the company while tasting their great peat barreled and bourbon barreled gins. The stand out for better or worse was El Guapo Bitters, a local New Orleans company who is setting themselves apart by creating intriguing products. The first one that jumped out to me was the Crawfish Boil bitters, yes they taste as described and would make a bad ass Bloody Mary. They had some stiff competition though with Montanya Distillers line of bitters, which were a little more approachable and claim to be the only rum based bitters in the world. All I know is their Pineapple Habanero Bitters were delicious.

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Caffe Torino was back again this year and aside from being able to get a Negroni served out of a bull it was another great place to grab a cocktail and meet some friends. Natalie was fortunate to sit down with Roberta Mariani, global brand ambassador for Martini & Rossi and taste her way through Riserva Speciale range while learning all about the company. I on the other hand was content sipping my Negroni, while catching up with Dickie Cullimore who made the short list for this year’s Best International Brand Ambassador representing Bacardi (of course).

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As the world of rum is opening up more and more we find ourselves being drawn in and as much as I read the awesome articles form our friend Matt, aka Cocktail Wonk, I still feel like the best way to understand rum, and most other products, is to just drink a lot of it; so that’s what I did. It all started at The Old No.77 where the crew from NoMad were making delicious cocktails and pouring delicious Diplomatico Rum in a very “speakeasy” fashion, we actually needed a key to get in.

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It didn’t stop there though, luckily for me Diplomatico had a few activations running this year and I was fortunate enough to sit down for lunch at a table filled with spirits enthusiasts, with a primary focus on rum of course, and taste through 3 expressions from their single vintage series with Maestro Ronero Nelson Hernandez. I am really liking the new direction a lot of companies are moving towards with a dryer style rum for individuals who have a palate like mine and the Diplomatico Single Vintage 2004 was one of the best rums I have savoured in recent history.

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Things really kicked off on Thursday evening and for us the first stop was the infamous Old Absinthe House, here we met with the Vinepair team and shared some banter with the other contributors while enjoying simple cocktails and cold beer. Our next stop though was the Plymouth cocktail reception where they had a great event based around the “perfect” martini. As I’m sure you will understand, there is no one perfect martini as everyone has a preference but Plymouth did their best to offer a number of options to please any palate with a great illustrated menu based on how balanced each attendee liked theirs.

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The spirited dinners this year were not all concentrated on Thursday evening and we were fortunate enough to be able to join Paul Hletko, the founder and distiller of Few Spirits for a delicious dinner at Cochon. The meal was of course perfect, and hearing from Paul about the success of Few Spirits over the past few years was very inspiring. Again the rye got my attention, though the smooth delicious bourbon also paired great with the copious amounts of meat in front of us.

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As mentioned before, the smaller events this year are really what made it special and what’s more special than popping some Champagne? Well, not exactly popping, so much as sabering. That’s right G.H. Mumm had a little clandestine event where each attendee had the opportunity to Saber their own bottle of champagne. I’m sure the bartenders were happy not to have to open all of those bottles and it was a bit of fun for the rest of us. We met up with some good friends and sipped some delicious Champagne before we had to step back out into the heat and make our way to our next event.

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After visiting the town of Tequila back in 2014 I have been hooked and any time I have the opportunity to taste tequila paired with food I don’t think twice. So when Tequila el Mayor reached out about a tasting at one of our favorite hidden New Orleans restaurants we just had to go. The Bombay Club is only a block Bourbon Street but seems to be overlooked a lot. It is an elegant space that suits Tequila el Mayor perfectly, and hearing the passion of Graciela Gonzalez as she talked us through the tasting of each of the 4 expressions really made the afternoon amazing. Of course the chocolate dessert with raspberries paired with a tipple of Añejo didn’t hurt.

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I really enjoy doing media at competitions as the cocktails presented are almost always amazing and just doing media is a lot less stressful than having to judge. This year I was able to attend the finals of the Most Imaginative Bartender Competition by Bombay Sapphire where competitors had to create a cocktail inspired by the New Orleans culture. There were some really creative cocktails though I think I had a particular fondness for The Laidback Swizzle by Malinda Maddox.

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No Tales is complete without meeting up with someone from the El Silencio Mezcal team, as their parties are on e of the highlights I look forward to each year, and their relaxation suites the occasionally host. This year we were fortunate to meet with Natalia, their National Brand Director over lunch, and a few Mezcal Negroni. Fun fact, the actual plural of Negroni should be Negronorum, according to Tom Stuart, but I’ll stick to Negroni.

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There were some amazing dinners this year and luckily for us National Caviar Day coincided with our time in New Orleans and the famous Delmonico restaurant was hosting a caviar dinner. The evening started with some delicious cocktails at the bar downstairs and then we transferred to the dining area upstairs where we had a decedent tasting where my favorite meal dish was the seared tuna with wasabi caviar. The wines though, oh lord the wines, Delmonico prides themselves on their extensive wine list and the pairings were absolutely heaven. I know I’ll be back for the wine, as Delmonico has 50% off most of their wines by the glass at happy hour, just saying! Oh and chef bought out some house made cellos (different limoncello) and they were fantastic.

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Before jumping on a flight to Paris we ended our Tales of the Cocktail for 2018 with another delicious meal at The Grill Room. Last year we attended the annual Prohibition Tea, which always coincides with the Tales events. This year however we opted for the Sunday Jazz Brunch held upstairs with live jazz, bottomless Mimosas and a feast set for a king; a king of New Orleans at least. With beautifully presented versions of traditional creole dishes such as grits with smoked gouda cheese, fried green tomatoes with gulf shrimp remolaude and breakfast flatbread with white cheddar and mushrooms.

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I can’t wait for next year, as I think it’s going to be bigger and better, as I mention in our other article Why 2019 is Going to be the Best Tales of the Cocktail yet!

Why 2019 is Going to be the Best Tales of the Cocktail yet!

 

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