Favorite night time sponsored event: It was Jagermeister's Deergarden which showed off the craft side of the spirit in a laid back, not overfilled venue. The drinks were well thought out (albeit a touch sweet for my palate) and they provided food to match each table's drinks. Nods go to Daigeo's sports-themed night with Tiki drinks served out of Zacapa-branded coconut Tiki mugs and some serious foosball competition being two highlights, as well as to the Bartenders' Breakfast for assembling such star power and for introducing me to Big Freedia's music (they performed live).
Favorite late night hangout (unsponsored): Barrel Proof. Last year, I found myself at the Avenue Pub drinking beer more often than any other location, but this year it was Barrel Proof for the cross between quality and divebar. The two dive bars I did visit this year were the Erin Rose for frozen Irish coffee and the Dungeon for entertainment value.
Best swag: Swag at Tales of the Cocktail has been slowly disappearing, but I did snag a great pair of Monkey Shoulder bartending socks at one of their after parties. Getting excited about socks made me feel like an old man, but there are only so many t-shirts, decks of cards, and sunglasses that you can get excited about. Well, actually, the USBG Thursday Night Tradition shirt was rather cool, but I decided not to wear that on the airplane home for the words TNT and a picture of dynamite didn't seem so prudent.
Best photo request: While at the Diageo's summer games, I said hello to Hollis Bulleit, and she asked if I wanted to take our yearly photo together. Here is the result:
A sea of Aloha shirts: Tiki culture had its place this year with everything from how to run a high-volume Tiki bar to Martin Cate taking home an award for Smuggler's Cove. Beachbum Berry's Latitude 29 served as a great base for refreshment and food, and Jeff Berry gave a few seminars as well. Almost Tiki, like a class on Swizzles and the launch of Planation's 138° overproof dark rum of Jamaican, Demerara, and Barbadian spirits put together by Tiki bar legends, bridged the gap.
• Bumping into Neil Bodenheimer who introduced himself to me because he always saw me taking notes. When I later went to the Cure, he made me an Ojen Frappe using vintage Ojen from the bar's locked spirits cabinets.
• With one empty seat on either side of me at the Cure, I volunteered to slide over, and I then realized it was Simon Difford. When I mentioned that he had written up one of my drinks, he mentioned that quite enjoyed my Chutes & Ladders and gave it 4.5/5 stars on Difford's Guide (he upped the tequila by 1/4 oz and changed the brand in his adaptation). He later invited me to share his Uber to go visit the new pisco-themed bar at the Catahoula Hotel.
• Attending the International Bartending talk and having three of the four panelists say hello to me when I sat in the front row. And at the end of the talk, Julio Cabrera handed me a Cuban cigar as he departed to go to his next event.
• High fives from my old bar manager Sam Gabrielli throughout the week. Seriously, that man means a lot for he was the one willing to give me my start in the industry (on that side of the bar) save for one-off events.