Fifteen years. Hundreds of brands. Thousands of events. Tales of the Cocktail is celebrating its 16th year with a rebirth of sorts. The ultimate mix of convention and festival draws thousands of attendees. This year, Tales is embracing its nonprofit-organization status and adding new twists to its already-successful schedule.
When I interview Caroline Rosen, the new executive director of Tales, she is breathless. She apologizes for being late from another meeting, and I tell her it’s okay. For the next few weeks, she’s going to be one of the busiest people in New Orleans. Neal Bodenheimer (co-founder of Cure and Cane & Table) and Gary Solomon (president of the Solomon Group) bought the Tales of the Cocktail organization and made it nonprofit earlier this year. Prior to this job, Rosen ran the Besh Foundation, another nonprofit, as their executive director.
The following is an excerpt from our conversation:
What’s it been like working with Neal and Gary?
“They are absolutely wonderful to work with. We all have our different strengths. And [the experience has] been nothing but good things. They’re so invested in New Orleans. Our hospitality community is one of the best in the world, and they’re making sure it continues to be. We’re fired up to see what we can do.”
Nonprofit. What’s that going to be like?
“We have our three pillars: to educate, to support, and to advance. We’re kicking off by giving back: $250,000 of grant money will be given back to the community after we review the letters of intent. We’d love to grow and give back more.”
Any things that I can assure readers will be the same?
“It’s the same structure we’ve grown and always loved: The Toast to Tales, Tasting Rooms, the CAPS [Cocktail Apprentice] Program, the Spirited Awards, and, of course, the Spirited Dinners.”
To me, the Spirited Dinners [where spirit brands pair up with local restaurants] are the best introduction to Tales.
“This year we’re going to have Spirited Dinners every night of the week. The participant list will be out soon. I’m interested to see all the new takes. We’ll even do a Spirited Dinner without spirits.”
Some of our industry colleagues don’t drink anymore. It’s important to have non-alcoholic options available in general.
“It’s 2018. There’s a need for [all of] us to have this conversation, and Tales is a great opportunity for us to have it.”
Anything else you’d like to say, Caroline?
“The cocktail industry has grown up, and I think Tales is growing up, too.”
2018 Tales Preview
Tales, while fun, is an industry event for professionals and professional consumers. Its seminars cover a broad range of topics: how to open your own bar, how a specific liquor is historically important or how to use it today, how to use rare or unique ingredients, how to be a socially and environmentally responsible bartender, how to mix the perfect __________.
Get your tickets ASAP, because most of the seminars sell out.
Purchase $150 or more in seminar/event tickets, and you receive a wristband to the famous Tasting Rooms—ballrooms set up with samples and representatives from all sorts of brands and distributors. The Tasting Rooms are an unparalleled way to taste different varieties of liquor without committing to the purchase of an entire bottle.
The Toast to Tales, which opens the festival annually, is always a great starting point. The grant recipients will be announced, as well as the winner of this year’s cocktail competition.
The aforementioned Spirited Dinners (and Brunches) are where restaurants team up with a spirit brand and do a tasting menu with cocktails to match. Usually the chef and a distiller or rep from the brand are there to introduce the courses. The Dynamic Duos are similar, but they involve a bartender from another city teaming up with a local bartender at a bar, combining their talents to serve drinks focused on a specific liquor.
If you really want to go old-school, sign up for the New Orleans Cocktail Tour. This bar crawl was the beginning of the entire organization. Back then, the small group could actually fit inside Carousel Bar, within Tales’s home base, the Hotel Monteleone.
And, of course, if you can score a ticket to any of the nighttime parties hosted by major spirit brands, make sure to attend. These invitations are going to be given out by the brands themselves or their PR companies. They can’t be bought, so if you have industry connections, use them.
Tales kicks off July 17. For the full schedule of events and more information on Tales, visit talesofthecocktail.org.
Andrew Marin writes about food and spirits for Where Y’at Magazine, and he is covering Tales of the Cocktail this year. Follow him @ndrewmarin on Instagram for photos and live story updates.