Here in Spirits

Tales of the Cocktail - Pimms cupIf you missed Tales this year, you already know that you missed some of the most well themed, organized and attended parties of the year. Whether at the roof-top pool of the Hotel Monteleone, one of the many fantastic venues the City has to offer, both in and beyond the French Quarter, in a public park (with a pig on the spit supplied by Death’s Door distiller Brian Ellison a New Orleans street jazz band and trash-can punch) or a private home (where the distiller is in a claw-foot tub in the middle of the living room drinking his soon-to-be-released gin straight out of the bottle), the parties are non-stop and are the place to be in the evening and well into the early morning.

But, by 10 o’clock each morning the seminars start and so does the serious study of spirits. Thankfully one of the TOTC angelic volunteers is posted at the front door and holding a tray of a welcoming cocktails. There is always a table of Fiji water and pens along the back wall. Every time I see that I am reminded of the movie The Jerk and the scene where Steve Martin’s character says, “that’ s all I need, this ashtray, this paddle-game and this remote control”. Well, at 10 in the morning after all the late-late-late night festivities, that’s all I need, this pen, this water and this little cocktail. I don’t need one other thing.

I had a chance to attend a just a few seminars this year, but will be sharing notes later with the Atlanta contingent. This is really a good plan as there are simply too many to attend to catch them all yourself.

So far though, here is my list of the top six subjects for which I recommend further study both for myself, for anyone managing a beverage program and for anyone who wants to make the best drinks possible.

  • Sweeteners – Sugar and the many sugar alternatives: honey, sugar beets, fructose, stevia, agave are all in play, as is lowering the sugar content of cocktails.
  • Vinegar – It’s finding its way into cocktails more and more via Shrubs and Gastriques and vinegar based tinctures.
  • Craft and small batch – Craft spirits of course (a new distillery opens every week) also craft ice, craft soda, craft bitters.
  • Wood – Different woods and the amount of time in wood drive different flavors, understanding this informs spirits selection in mixology. Barrel-aged cocktails are a hot trend as well.
  • Soda – making soda and flavored waters to bring lots of flavors with less sugar to cocktails.
  • Ice – the days of the single multi-purpose ice are seemingly as endangered as the polar ice cap. Ice has become a much-scrutinized element of the cocktail: It’s clarity, purity, density, shape, size, production and best application.

If anyone would like to do a notes exchange, please contact me at

For now I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to pack up all these seminar materials, samples and bar equipment and make it to the airport in time after a quick stop at the Napoleon House for my last drink of Tales of the Cocktail 2011. I decided that there is no better way than to go out the way I came in: with a Pimm’s cup – this one will have to be in a handy go-cup!