If you don't know what Tales of the Cocktail is, I suggest you read my
2019 preview first: [Link]
What a Tales it's been this year. Hurricane Barry spared New Orleans the weekend before, so festival inherited some rain showers throughout the festival. Rain is like any adventure with cocktails; once you acknowledge and own that you're getting soaked, everything works out more smoothly.
Campari and The Spare Room kicked off their annual Ode to the Bowl at Fulton Alley with their full portfolio (including Aperol, Grand Marnier, Cynar, Skyy, Bulldog, Espolon, etc) including of course Wild Turkey. Guests bowled, drank, danced, dined, refreshed themselves with freshly chopped tropical fruit, and left with customized Snake Bite bottle openers.
My first big adventure of Tales 2019 was a spirited dinner collaboration between the restaurants Maypop and Turkey & the Wolf. Chefs Michael Gulotta and Mason Hereford partnered with Woodford Reserve and their assistant master distiller, Elizabeth McCall, to serve up several courses paired with the classic bourbon. The highlights for me were the "craft your own old-fashioned" stations, Gulotta's Bangkok Pork Belly Boat Noodles and Hereford's Diver Scallop Tostada. (In case you were wondering, my old-fashioned was ginger shiso garnished with caramelized chanterelle.)
Proto-tiki bar and restaurant Cane and Table book-ended my week perfectly with late night parties. At the first, master distiller Alex Thomas led me through a one-on-one tasting of her Sexton Whiskey, aged in sherry casks. There is nothing like drinking a spirit with the person who literally created it, and this is the kind of experience a passionate drinker can have at Tales. Sexton cobbles ice and fruit together very well, so a hot night at C&T was perfect. Wonderful to join the "Sexton Midnight Club," targeted toward industry friends.
The other Cane & Table late night gathering was a tribute to Cartagena, hosted by Montelobos Mezcal, La Hechicera Rum, and Ancho Reyes. It was transportive. Speaking of...
Montelobos' brand ambassador and resident she-wolf Camille Austin was kind enough to do a private morning tasting and interview with me. "Mezcal for breakfast." Besides being delicious, Montelobos's mezcals are 100% organic and always from cultivated mezcal plants, never ones harvested from the wild. Protecting the people, culture, and terroir of Oaxaca is extremely important to Montelobos, as it should be for any responsible mezcal distillery. We sipped the spirit traditionally, with two salts: toasted avocado leaf enhanced with guajillo and pumpkin seed, and toasted hibiscus with sesame, cacao, and chipotle. I'm happy to confirm besides their original Espadín and special Tobalá, Montelobos will be launching two new styles in the near future. Ms. Austin also gifted me with a hollowed out gourd vessel, hand-cut and hand-painted for future mezcal drinking. The entire experience was in one word: magical.
How do I describe the Hendrick's Peculiar Palace? Like their gins, Hendrick's rose garden and modern theater takeover at the Orpheum was unconventional, beautiful, and just a little creepy. In a good way. From the classic, to the quinine and wormwood notes of Orbium, to the crazy bridal bouquet of Solstice, Hendrick's always knows how to pair their gin with refreshing ingredients and a memorable experience.
The incomparable Doris Metropolitan hosted a spirited dinner pairing their lovingly butchered steaks with The Balvenie's scotch collection. Diners were treated to a punch made of the 12year, pineapple, green tea, citrus, cinnamon and angostura. Doris's insanely delicious sweetbreads and their roasted poblanos melted alongside the Balvenie 15year sherry cask. The Chateaubriand tartare rich with quail egg yolks came off with a hint of smoke thanks to the 14year week of peat. The New York Strip dry-aged with the 12year and paired with the 17year was wish fulfillment for any lover of Steak & Scotch. Even the dessert (chocolates, pistachios, Amarena cherries) matched beautifully with the Tun 1509 Batch No. 5. A meal I'll always remember for sure.
And other odds and ends? So many seminars, spirits, and stops along the trail but the ones I can't go without mentioning: late night tastes and dance moves with local and visiting colleagues at Barrel Proof and Longway, the temporary resurrection of Balise Tavern to host RumFam's hangout, a few snack and drink stops at Compere Lapin but being physically there when they won Best American Hotel Bar at the Spirited Awards, and most memorably having a few Death & Company martinis thanks to Sylvain bar manager Chris Zulueta and his crew.
Happy Tales, everyone. See you next year.
photo credit: William Grant