My tale from Tales of the Cocktail 2014

Some tales begin with, “it was a dark and stormy night”.  Some begin with, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. For my tale, it began with a Vieux Carre, made in its birthplace, New Orleans. I’m talking about Tales of the Cocktail, and this is my Tale.

Vieux Carre at the Hotel Moneteleone - the first of many

Vieux Carre at the Hotel Moneteleone – the first of many

Tales of the Cocktail 2014 is billed as the world’s premier cocktail event, and it’s held in two cities: Buenos Aires and New Orleans.  For my first event, I thought I’d stick a little closer to home, plus, I’d never been to Nawlins before. The buzz among some of my Twitterverse friends decided it: I have to give a shout out to William Lorca (@acubsfan007) for hanging out with me and taking all the pictures I was apparently not taking. He’s the purveyor of fine opinions on everything from bourbon to the service level of rental car companies – you should follow him!  I booked a flight, bought some seminar tickets and waited many long months til July.  It was finally here – off on my first Tales adventure!

For the small investment of about $100 (you can spend more), you get tickets to 2 seminars of your choosing, plus a wristband that gets you into every tasting room.  Free.  I’m an adult, I’ve learned to pace myself through these kinds of events, but nothing prepared me for 6 days of cocktails.

Krista from JAD, Jason of Blue Jay Syrups and Warren Bobrow

Krista from JAD, Jason of Blue Jay Syrups and Warren Bobrow

My fabulous new friends at Jersey Artisan Distilling and Blue J Syrups hosted their own tasting room the first morning. I’d purposely scheduled nothing earlier than 10:30 on any day, because that seems reasonable, right? Sure – until you don’t get in til 3 or 4, you are mostly sure that dinner happened and what’s stuck to your shoe? Fortunately, it was the first day, so I was relatively fresh (I said, relatively) that morning. I manned the giveaway table, handing out fabulous t-shirts, shot glasses and assorted stuff for JAD. It was fun! Two hours passed quickly, meeting many lovely people and telling them about Jersey’s first distillery since Prohibition. Check out my interview with co-founder, Krista Haley. Neat or mixed with the fantastic concoctions from Blue J Syrups (I highly recommend JAD’s dark rum with the Earl Grey Lavender!), Busted Barrel rum is quite tasty!

Whew. Off to a seminar about starting your own (spirits) company.  That’s the way the title was written and as it turns out, it really was slightly more about starting “a” company, than a liquor company.  All good information, though.  My other official seminar wasn’t until Thursday, so I was free to roam the various tasting rooms.

Will Lorca, Ricardo from Sotol, yours truly and Jamie from Cinch

Will Lorca, Ricardo from Sotol, yours truly and Jamie from Cinch

It does help to have a plan – there are SO many things going on, that you want to make sure that you get to your first choices, and then since there’s likely time, your second choices.  One of the things that I really liked, as a spirits writer: I was not only tasting things myself, but I could talk to other people doing the same thing. I’ve said it before – I’m not going to write a review that says, “this whiskey tastes like blue flowers with a hint of cigarette ash that’s been wiped out of grandma’s ashtray”. Not only does my palate not tell me that stuff all the time (thank you, allergies), but seriously – I write reviews that I can relate to, hoping that works for you as well. So talking to people that are tasting the same thing, at the same time I am, was really interesting.

One of my favorites was the OYO Stone Fruit vodka by Middle West Spirits – you really can taste the fruits. Real fruit, not fruit flavors. Some of my favorites: cherries, apricots, peaches. Yum! Keep an eye out for an interview with the founder, Ryan Lang, and possibly a product review in the coming weeks.

Another favorite was Philadelphia Distilling’s The Bay Vodka.  I grew up back East, eating a ton of Old Bay on steamed crabs, so this was like a taste of home.  And put it in a good Bloody Mary mix?  Divine.  They even served it with oysters on the half shell – apparently they’d heard I’d be there.

Standing back from the tables, looking to see who was next on the list of things to try, I saw a lovely lady carrying a box of little flip-top bottles. Chance conversations are always the best – I think mine started with something truly witty like, “So why are you carrying that box around?”.  Turns out she is Jamie Imhof, and she was there to test out her new line of tonics, Cinch Cocktail Tonics.  Their tagline is, “the cure for the common cocktail”, which I definitely agree. Jamie was also carrying around a full test batch , so over dinner, I was able to try all the things that are currently in R&D at Cinch.  Trust me – you want them to be ready soon!  Great flavors that will compliment any cocktail. I’ve got a test bottle of #2 that I’ll be reviewing soon.  Can’t wait!

Another chance meeting (at the pool party this time), was Ricardo Rodriguez, brand ambassador for Sotol Hacienda De Chihuahua.  Named after the plant it’s distilled from (Desert Spoon), Sotol is tequila’s northern cousin, distilled primarily in the region of Chihuahua.  I’m not typically a fan of tequila, but I’m always game to try something new (can’t be much of a spirits writer if I don’t!).  Fortunately for me, Ricardo’s ridiculously heavy bag contained samples of all the versions of Sotol.  I can safely say that Sotol is now added to my list of tasty beverages, especially the Crema version – a great riff on a cream based liqueur (think Bailey’s) – yum!

Last but certainly not least, my friends at Bayou Rum.  I’d tried their rum back in March, and it’s quite good.  Made in Louisiana, from 100% natural unrefined Louisiana cane sugar and molasses, both light and dark are yummy.  However – their new baby, Satsuma – is the one I’m waiting (im)patiently to find on a shelf. I quite enjoy orange flavors (as long as they’re real) in my cocktails, so I’ve used everything from bitters to Dry Cacacao to just grabbing one out of my fruit bowl and squeezing it into my shaker.  Satsuma is sweet without being too sweet and the orange flavor really comes through (the base is Bayou Silver rum).  Look for my interview with their founder, Trey and (hopefully!!) a product review.

I was also able to meet and hang out with Warren Bobrow, author of Apothecary Cocktails: Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today and his upcoming book, Whiskey Cocktails: Rediscovered Classics and Contemporary Craft Drinks Using the World’s Most Popular Spirit.  Warren is friends with and a neighbor of my new friends at Jersey Artisan – how cool is that?Another highlight from my first trip to Tales. Warren also travels with his companion, Klaus the Soused Gnome – follow his adventures on Facebook.

Klaus the Soused Gnome, in his element

Klaus the Soused Gnome, in his element

While there are many other tastes, sights and sounds from NOLA, (pool cucumbers, the best $60 spent in the history of money, and many rounds of refreshing Cointreau cocktails), I think I’ll stop here for now.  Look for the interviews and product reviews from these great distillers soon!  Cheers!

About Jeanne Runkle

Jeanne Runkle currently lives in San Diego, and is a certified bartender and craft liquor expert. Her specialty is the brown stuff, whether it's bourbon, rye or good old American whiskey. She can sometimes be found stalking the aisles of a liquor store near you, answering your random whiskey questions.

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