Friday, July 29, 2016

:: best of tales and nola 2016 ::

On Monday I got back from Tales of the Cocktail. It was my fifth time in the Big Easy for the event, and I approached this year like I did last year with an emphasis of making the most of my media pass by getting into talks. And despite closing a few sponsored night events and a few bars, I still made it to breakfast followed by 3 talks a day for 4 days straight. So for the second year in a row, I went 12 for 12 at the expense of sleep and at the expense of day time events such as tasting rooms, luncheons, pool parties, and the like. Given how hot it was, I really should've skipped a talk to take a dip into the pool

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 breakfast to power the day: Surrey's in the Lower Garden District.

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:
Agave variety: Throughout the week, there were plenty of opportunities to taste agave spirits. Unlike previous years where most of the liquor was based off of Blue Webber (tequila) and Espadin (the easiest to grow of the mezcal agave), I got to try a variety of other agaves - 15 in total plus 1 tastes-like-agave (desert spoon that goes into Sotol). Perhaps my favorites was Tepextate from Gracias a Dios that I got to taste at the Foosball Competition with glorious vegetal olive notes with brighter fruit ones.

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.
The importance of low ABV offerings: Last year, I mentioned the number of offerings around town that allowed you to enjoy a variety of flavors and refreshment without getting too inebriated. That year, I remember asking one night at Latitude 29 for something low in alcohol since I had a long night ahead of me, and the bartender commented that was an unusual request in a Tiki bar but pointed out the Missionary's Downfall; this year, the menu had a separate low ABV section. Also, the talks featured low alcohol aperitifs ideas such as David Wondrich & Eric Seed's session on the Americano.
Random cool moments:
• 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.

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