Wednesday, July 27, 2011

:: best of tales 2011 ::

I got home from Tales of the Cocktail two days ago, and I am still feeling the effects. As I described last year, those 6 days were an epic marathon of socializing, learning, tasting, drinking, eating, and swag wrangling. This year, I was traveling alone for neither Andrea nor I got credentialed media status, and due to financial constraints, only one of us went. Not having media passes prevented me easy access to some key aspects of Tales, but thanks to the help of Willy Shine, Desmond Payne, Shawn Kelley, Camper English, Simon Ford, and others, I was able to experience many of them. Since I was not bound to any obligation to report only official events (part of the media pass deal), I will mention here anything I did during the week as part of Tales of Fred in New Orleans 2011. All of the official and unofficial events are why so many people go to Tales, so let us celebrate the week that it was!

Best Reactions to Cocktail Virgin Swag: This year I went down with a large bag of Cocktail Virgin Slut pins to give out (see my advice post for a photo). The best reaction was a woman who spotted me wearing it in front of the Monteleone Hotel and declared that it was the best pin she had seen that week; therefore, I gave her one, and when I tried to explain that it was a blog, she seemed uninterested. I was flattered that the pin was that entertaining, and her wearing it was good for the blog regardless. Moreover, I got to meet a lot of fans of the blog by either wearing the pin or someone else wearing the pin and then pointing me out when asked.
Best New Product: Pierre Ferrand 1840. With help from David Wondrich, the company tasted a bunch of 19th century Cognacs and picked this style to reproduce. When I spoke to PF's Hugo Chambon-Rothlisberger, he described it as less fatty than the more rounded Ambre style. The 1840 is more viny, drier edges, more warmth, higher proof, and a cheaper price tag as well. I did not need to take his word for the spirit being better in cocktails for Drink's John Gertsen was there to make Sazeracs with it (they called it something else to avoid disrupting New Orlean's rye-centric view of the drink despite the original being made with Sazerac Cognac). I felt that I had come full circle because John had served me my first Cognac Sazerac while sitting at his bar at No. 9 Park.
Other Interesting Products: Lillet released a rose to add to their blanc and rouge offerings. The rose has stone fruit, berry, and grapefruit notes to it as opposed to the more orange peel-flavored blanc. Lillet also offered up a taste from an old bottle from 1982 to demonstrate that the drink was not as bitter as people think it was when the formula changed in 1986; there was no answer to what nearly 30 years of aging did to the botanicals in the bottle though. Art in the Age introduced their rhubarb liqueur called Rhuby to add to their Root and Snap product line. And a whole boatload of pisco brands, like Encanto, that utilize a greater amount of aromatic grapes for floral and spice notes were showcased at a variety of events. Camper English's article in sfGate on these new piscos is definitely worth a read.
Best Demonstration during a Seminar: For a winner, I would have to say Wayne Curtis Flip demonstration during "Beyond Punch: Colonial American Drinks." Last year, Wayne impressed us with his gun powder-based proofing of rum. This year, the Flip he made was not the egg concoction that we know and love today, but a Flip made by heating a piece of iron called a loggerhead and dipping it into a pitcher or mug. Wayne had to get one of these crafted by an ironsmith and when he did the demonstration, it made a great foaming and hissing sound. Some of us got to taste the final product and then understood how this rapid heating to produce certain caramel notes was not the same as the effect of normal heating. For more on Wayne's talk, go read Todd Price's article.
Runner Up for Best Demo: Ian Burrell during the "Who's Your Daddy? A Mai Tai Paternity Test" performing the Ninja Shake. Ian's silver-plated shaker had a handle that allowed him to spin it like nunchucks to mix up a drink. The photo above is not as blurry as the rights to the Mai Tai genesis though.
Most Passionate Talk: The 3 hour agave-palooza session called "Before Man, the Plant." Assembled together for this talk were a Ph.D. biochemist, a village president and jimador from Oaxaca, Ron Cooper of Del Maguey, a handful of tequila distillers, and two renown tequila and mezcal mixologists. Ron's passionate rebuttal to the scientist's claims that the wild harvesting of tobala was not good for the sustainability of the species I believed cinched the honors. Added to that were the producers' pride in their work,the discussion (and tasting) of terroir in agave-based spirits, and a glimmer into Ron Cooper's spiritual side.
Most Unusual Spirit Tasted: A pre-Prohibition bottle (tax stamp read 1917) of rum punch produced by Wynand Fockink that I got to try at an informal tasting right before Tales began; basically, it was a bring an interesting bottle or two to share event. I recognized the brand for these Dutch producers have made some of the finest Creme de Violette and Genever I have ever tasted (my friend visited the distillery and brought some back). This rum punch was unusual; unlike Swedish Punsch which is more citrussy, this was more grape driven or at least the fruit tasted oxidized like a port or a Pedro Ximinez sherry. Other notes were fig, toffee, licorice, root beer, and sloe gin. The only history I could get was that the bottle was acquired at an antiques store in Adamstown, PA.
Best Swag Bottle Brought Home: Scott Marshall showed up for an event at the end of the week and gifted me a bottle of his Batavia Arrack, Green Chartreuse, and Yellow Chartreuse milk punch. For a more commercially available product, it would be a bottle of Barker and Mills Bourbon Vanilla Cocktail Cherries.
Best Swag to Bring Home to the Wife: In the Lillet tasting room, I was able to acquire a beautiful wood and paper Lillet folding umbrella; last year, she adored the Art Nouveau folding fans tremendously.
Best Random Gift: Being handed a stack of 4 tickets to "Meet the Craft Distillers"; the group wanted to go out to dinner instead, and we made rather good use of them. Thank you whomever you were! Runner up would be the natural swizzle stick I found on Royal Street at the end of the week; thank you for your random generosity and/or sorry for your loss.
Favorite Quote during a Seminar: Ian Burrell during the Mai Tai talk joked that the "Appleton [Rum] bottle is like a Jamaican Woman. Hips, waist, gets prettier the more you drink."
Best Social Commentary during a Talk: "The Bad, Bad Boys of Saloons," hosted by Christine Sismondo and James Waller, covered a wide variety of topics including immigrants, gay bars, the mob, political campaigning, and the like with literary and musical color added. When they were asked about the difference between a bad bar and a dive bar, the answer was, "A bad bar is one a hipster won't go into, but a dive bar they will." Christine's book probably covers a good bit of this in great detail. And yes, that PBR handed out upon admittance was a great respite since I was suffering from cocktail fatigue by that point.
Best Seminar Drink: This was a tough one for many were delicious. But I have to give the nod to some of Wayne Curtis' Colonial drinks including the Pineapple Syllabub which would make a great morning drink. It was easy and refreshing like a Ramos and lacked the roughness that I expected in Colonial-style drink. For a runner up, the Mai Tai variations that Ian Burrell, Jeff Berry, and Steve Remsberg made up did not suck in the least.
Best Celebrity Award: Adult film star Ron Jeremy. Ron was there at Tales promoting his Ron de Jeremy Rum. I was going to entitle it the strangest photo op, but when I saw him play harmonica with the band to "When the Saints Come Marching In" at the Bartender's Breakfast, I had to broaden it. Ron is indeed a true Renaissance man.
Most Impressive Memory Moment: One of the drinks I ordered at the Cure bar that week was the King Vittorio's Cobbler. Bartender Turk Dietrich did not miss a beat and asked, "Didn't I made you a cobbler the last time you were in here?" Yes, but that was a little over a year ago.
Best Frozen Food: Cynar popsicles! These were handed out in front of the hotel and I was lucky to get one. Made from the liqueur plus simple syrup, they were delightful -- that is if you adore Cynar. The facial expressions on some of the crowd who thought they were "vanilla" pops were priceless! Runner up would be Meltdown Gourmet Popsicles (see my food post); this time I got pineapple-basil.
New Alcohol Delivery Trends: Weapon based. The first was sabering of Champagne bottles at an afterparty (technically, an old tradition, but a rare one today); for some reason women are better at it than men (Freudian reasons were offered). Second was water guns. They appeared last year from what I gathered, but at least this year, people wisely used clear spirits instead of sticky, dark, staining ones like Fernet Branca. Live and learn.


Tony Harion said...

BE AWARE: If you stare for long enough into Ron’s eyes in that picture and repeat his name three times he will appear behind you (not speaking from experience, but that’s the word out there).

Editor B said...

I've got a video of Ian doing his ninja move here.