New Orleans. . . just the mention of the name makes me think about cocktails. The Ramos Gin Fizz, Sazerac, Pimm’s Cup, and Vieux Carré come to mind. The smell of Herbsaint and Peychaud’s Bitters makes me think of the history of this unique town, from the apothecary shop Pharmacie Peychaud, where we can trace the evolution of the first cocktail in 1811, to legendary restaurants such as Arnaud’s and Antoine’s. It’s a cocktail historian’s paradise.
Every July, bartenders, managers, journalists, authors, producers, and award-winning mixologists gather at the Hotel Monteleone in the heart of the French Quarter to indulge themselves in all things cocktail. This year, the 7th annual Tales of the Cocktail, held July 8th through the 12th, was no exception. The five days of seminars, tastings, and special events encompassed the town using many other hotels, restaurants, and local landmarks throughout New Orleans.
The event is the creation of Ann Tuennerman. Ann founded Tales of the Cocktail in 2003, combining her passions for the history of New Orleans and a well-crafted cocktail. Through her leadership, Tales of the Cocktail has not only served as the premier gathering of cocktail lovers from across the world but has also attracted thousands of visitors to New Orleans.
When planning my trip to “Tales,” I counted over 100 possible seminars to attend with topics ranging from cocktail history, trends, and photography to managing beverage costs. The hard part was picking which ones to attend! A schedule finally mapped, the day typically began with a 10:30am seminar. At a good pace three seminars could easily be fit into a day, leaving ample room for the more than 30 formal tastings. Evenings began with a cocktail party, followed by a supplier-sponsored event and typically ended by winding down with new friends at one of many historic bars such as the Old Absinthe House sipping Gin Fizzes. A long but fun day when you consider fitting in breakfast, lunch, and dinner; all crucial to maintaining strength (and sobriety).
Not to be missed is attending one of the Thursday night “Spirited Dinners.” My choice was Wolfe’s, the highly acclaimed French Quarter restaurant. British Mixologists Charlotte Voisey and Simon Ford were the hosts for the evening. Charlotte (representing Hendrick’s Gin) is a Mixologist for William Grant & Sons and undoubtedly one of the best speakers in the business. Simon, (the International Ambassador for Pernod-Ricard’s Plymouth Gin) with his boyish charm and barroom humor, is equally a delight to listen to. Both were very entertaining and played off of the friendly competitiveness of representing two different gins. The menu, by award winning Chef Thomas Wolfe, included Louisiana crabmeat, gulf shrimp, fried duck confit cake, and short ribs. Each course was perfectly paired with cocktails created by our two talented hosts.
“The Spirited Dinners provide an excellent opportunity to not only explore the finest cuisine that New Orleans has to offer, but also to discover firsthand the exciting potential of pairing cocktails with food.”
-Robert Hess, host of “The Cocktail Spirit” on SmallScreenNetwork.com
The official cocktail of the event is always a coveted prize to any mixologist. This year’s winner was Maksym Pazuniak, a local mixologist at Rambla and Cure. He won over the judges with his well-balanced and layered twist on the Mint Julep. His winning recipe, the Creole Julep, features Cruzan Single Barrel Estate Rum, Rhum Clément’s Creole Shrubb, Captain Morgan 100 Proof Spiced Rum, Fee Brothers Peach Bitters, Angostura Bitters, fresh mint, and Demerara sugar.
“The Mint Julep was the drink that put American mixology on the map, the thing that foreigners pointed to when they wanted to say something nice about the rough-and-tumble new nation on the western shore of the Atlantic. And originally, like most American inventions, it allowed for plenty of individuality and improvisation. With this contest, the Julep is back,” says author and cocktail historian, David Wondrich.
The Creole Julep
Created by Maksym Pazuniak
2 ¼ oz Cruzan Single Barrel Estate Rum
½ oz Rhum Clément Creole Shrubb
¼ oz Captain Morgan 100 Proof Spiced Rum
2 dashes Fee Brothers Peach Bitters
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
8-10 mint leaves
1 Demerara sugar cube
Whether you are a mixologist, manager, owner, or enthusiast, I highly suggest taking a look at attending this unique event. The charm of the city and the seemingly endless array of culinary destinations and cocktail lounges in which to imbibe a well-crafted cocktail, will just add to your experience. After all, where else can you have a drink mixed by Tony Abou-Ganim, Dale DeGroff, Junior Merino, Paul Clarke, Cheryl Charming, and Dave Wondrich, to name a few, in one tasting!
Special thanks to Ann Tuennerman and her staff for making our visit so comfortable.
Photo credits to: Tales of the Cocktail, Jennifer Mitchell Photography, Brian Huff and “Dwayne Fatherree | NewOrleans.Com” for the “Cocktail Carnival at the Presbytere” photos.