Archive for the ‘New Orleans’ Category

July 24th, 2008

Tales – the reckoning

Funeral march for Sour Apple Martini - Tales

No doubt you’ve gleaned from my previous posts that I had a blast at Tales of the Cocktail this year. I mean, running around the Hotel Monteleone with a “Presenter” badge, getting into any session or tasting room I wanted, plus getting invited to parties and other special events around town — how could I not have fun?

That said, as everyone who was at Tales this year knows, there were some, uh, issues. Attendance at many, if not most, of the panels was overflowing. That this event has become so popular is great, but the unpreparedness for the crowds that turned up this year was woeful. Many sessions did not have enough seats, drink samples or servers. The brandies for the Cognac and Armagnac session were delivered to the room late, some as much as an hour into the tasting. The second cocktail featured in the Three Amigos session didn’t get delivered to the row of tables I was sitting in. Paul Pacult’s scotch-tasting seminar had far too few samples for the crowd that showed up. The Tales Apprentices, who were tasked with batching all of the cocktails — including squeezing fresh citrus — for five days’ worth of events, were far too few in number and far too overworked as a result. (“Apprentice” is a misnomer — these people included many of the nation’s best young bartenders and were overseen by Phil Ward of Death & Co. in New York). And so on.

International House party at Tales in New Orleans

(I know what some of you are thinking: ‘It’s a cocktail conference for chrissakes.’ Well, I was there last year, and things went pretty smoothly despite the constant presence of alcohol.)

Look, I have no intel yet on the reasons behind the unpreparedness, and for all I know there are some legitimate explanations. But I couldn’t help but ask myself: How would I feel if I had actually bought tickets for the event? Would I ever want to go to Tales again? I talked to one Boston couple who said that, despite the glitches, they would go back. The reason was that they loved New Orleans, and Tales week is a good time to go … But they also said they would attend fewer sessions in the future.

And so, I have a request for any ticket-buying Tales attendee who reads this: Please leave a comment about your experiences last week. Was it fun? Was it worth it? Would you go back?

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Posted in New Orleans | 12 Comments »

July 22nd, 2008

The best use of swag ever

Swag-Off at Tales 2008

Late Friday morning, walking into the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans with my coffee, I bump into Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Eugene, Oregon. He’s one of the many blogger-bartenders featured at Tales of the Cocktail this year. He tells me that at 9:00 p.m., he, Daniel Shoemaker from the Teardrop Lounge in Portland, Oregon, and Erik Adkins from the Slanted Door in San Francisco are planning a mix-off at the pool on the roof of the Monteleone. The kicker is that their ingredients can come only from Jeff’s swag bag — the pile of nips, mixers and other cocktail accoutrements that sponsors give presenters at Tales. I say I’ll be there, thinking, ‘That’s the best idea I’ve heard all week.’ I tell my fellow Bostonian and Tales blogger Misty Kalkofen about it, and she wants in.

We arrive at the pool at 9:00, and the contestants are milling around a table laden with a bunch of small liquor bottles, three shakers and three hotel-room tumblers. They see us and say, “Great, our other two judges are here.” It turns out we’re not just there as casual bystanders. We are going to be picking the winner of Swag-Off ’08. OMG! The third judge is Keith Waldbauer, bartender at Union in Seattle and blogger of Moving at the Speed of Life. Not only that, Natalie Bovis-Nelson, aka the Liquid Muse, has brought her film crew along to capture the contest for the Tales webisodes she’s producing this year. (See Webisode #4 — the event falls somewhere in the middle of the six-minute piece. The footage of the actual judging didn’t make the cut, unfortunately.)

The only contest rule is that the French, grape-based G’Vine Gin must be used as a base, since the swag bag features it in greater quantity than any of the other spirits. (Jeff’s detailed account of the contest, including approximate recipes, is on the Tales Blog.) We’re talking serious creativity with a dash of sarcasm. Erik scents his glass with the smoke of a Navan Vanilla Liqueur aromatherapy candle. Jeff muddles Sour Green Apple Cocktail Candy with bitters. And Daniel spices his drink with chili powder. (The corresponding drinks are, in order, the Day Spa, the Green Mile and the Seat of the Pants.)

We judges declare Daniel’s Seat of the Pants, with its inventive melange of Angostura bitters, agave nectar, gin, grappa, Campari and, yes, chili powder, the winner. Jeff’s is a close second — it’s a bit too fruity for us (I liken it to Tropical Lifesavers), but it is actually a balanced cocktail. And Erik’s is the oddball, with the most gentle flavor of all despite a whopping two ounces of gin.

Later that night and the next day, everyone involved in the swag-off tells everyone they know about it, and word of this brilliant idea spreads quickly. Walking into the Napoleon House for lunch on Saturday, I bump into one of the drinks world’s biggest celebs, David Wondrich. He says, “Hey, I heard about the mix-off last night. That sounds great.” Damn, I think Swag-Off ’09 is going to need a bigger pool.

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Posted in New Orleans | 4 Comments »

July 19th, 2008

Blogging Tales, part 3

Three Amigos panel at Tales

My latest on the Tales Blog: Jerry’s Kids and the Three Amigos. Last night, a huge party at the International House, where pretty much the majority of the world’s best bartenders gathered for an impromptu group photo. I hope to post one of those shots here soon.

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July 18th, 2008

Blogging Tales, part 2

Cognac & armagnac at Tales

My first post on the Tales Blog, “I drank what?!,” is up. It chronicles my fun-filled (OK, too-fun-filled) second day here. Here, I present my third day, yesterday, in pictures. First was a cognac and armagnac tasting (10 brandies and three cocktails!). Then the Tales Cocktail Hour with authors, bartenders and other VIPs in the spirits world (including Boston’s own Misty Kalkofen) making cocktails. After that, a delicious dinner of pork belly at Herbsaint. Finally, Miller High Life and music at Vaughan’s. Oh, and this morning: Jerry’s Kids: The Life, Drinks and Legacy of Professor Jerry Thomas. Interesting stuff — more on that coming up in my next Tales Blog post.

Dale DeGroff at Tales

Phil Ward at Tales

Misty Kalkofen at Tales

Kermit Ruffins band at Vaughan’s

Jerry’s Kids panel at Tales

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July 17th, 2008

Blogging Tales, part 1

Jeffrey Morgenthaler, blogger and bartender from Eugene, Oregon, wrote about my Tales of the Cocktail panel yesterday for the Tales Blog. Thanks, JM! I’ll soon link to my own posts on the collective cocktail blog to let you know what we’re all up to down here in New Orleans.

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