Tales is always an adventure and this year was no exception. All the top mixologists in the country converged on the French Quarter for five days of imbibing, teaching, showcasing, tasting and fun – lots of fun! The list of seminars was top-notch and every tasting room I went to was brimming with action. The choice of venues to attend always seems limitless, so a good plan is to have a plan before you arrive.
It was snowing inside the Contemporary Arts Center for the Welcome Reception sponsored by ABSOLUT. Well, even though it was artificial snow, it was a nice respite from the muggy air outside. Bartenders from five continents gathered to showcase their unique styles and approaches to cocktails today. Every station had a distinctive personality, with each one being more diverse than the last.
William Grant & Sons always throw the biggest and craziest party every year. This year was no exception. The BIG Happy Birthday party was, well, BIG. The beautiful grounds of the New Orleans Museum of Art were taken over by WG&S. Sailor Jerry’s Rachel Thurman greeted everyone on the steps with killer cocktails; then it was game on. It was almost like a fair – every time you went to a different part of the museum, a different brand was blazing away. Glenfiddich and The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whiskies were tasted inside, while on the lawn, Hendrick’s Gin had a three-story bar featuring drinks cascading down to eager guests below. The Milagro Tequila ice bar featured their reposado tequila and was a destination for guests interested in a superb punch. Stolichnaya Vodka, Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey and Sailor Jerry Rum all had stellar venues set up around the museum. Also included was the launch of Montelobos, a super-premium mezcal, and Monkey Shoulder, a groundbreaking blended malt Scotch whisky. A birthday toast to Ann Tuennerman led by Charlotte Voisey, bagpipes, burlesque show and professional fireworks were all part of a big finish for this BIG party!
Thursday evenings bring the culinary side of the event into focus with the Spirited Dinners that are held all over town. Thanks to Sidney Frank’s Director of Public Relations, Kate Laufer, I got a spot at the sold-out Sidney Frank 40th Anniversary dinner at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. Celebrity mixologists making cocktails for the occasion were led by Sidney Frank’s very own corporate mixologist, Todd Richman. His team included Sean Kenyon of Williams & Graham in Denver, Colorado; Miss Ivy Mix of New York, one of the most influential women in the industry; and Sean Hoard of Portland, Oregon, whose liquid creations have been showcased from PDT, Teardrop Lounge and all points in between. Inventive libations created specifically for this dinner were made using SF’s portfolio, including Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur, American Harvest Organic Vodka, Gekkeikan Sake, Michael Collins 10 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey and of course, ice-cold Jagermeister. Dickie Brennan’s chefs put together a masterful dinner that complemented the spirits perfectly. I must say I have not been to a dinner with better service or timing. Well done!
Fine Dining Choice of the Week
I always like to fit in one superb dinner besides the Thursday night Spirited Dinners. Having heard about a new restaurant housed within the Royal Sonesta that was all the rage, I set out to experience Restaurant R’evolution. In a city full of fine dining, acclaimed chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto have created a culinary salute to Louisiana’s ever-evolving dining culture. The restaurant is impeccably appointed with each room having a different look and feel. First-class touches of Limoges china and Riedel stemware set the tone for what’s to come.
I sat at the bar before dinner service with bartender Steve Yamada to my left and Chef Folse to my right, to get a feel for their direction on the drink menu. I was promptly served a “new” New Orleans Buck. “A circa 1920s cocktail,” I was told by Steve. “We like to focus on the classics and put our twist on them,” he added. (A buck is a family of vintage mixed drinks involving citrus juices and ginger beer or soda). This buck was delicious; it had a base of orange juice and lemonade, with Cruzan Barrel Aged Rum in it. The presentation and ice were perfect – it was delicious. I was then prompted to try the Belle Époque made with Martin Miller’s Gin, blanc du bois, champagne and lemon syrup – again, delicious. After looking over the extensive iPad wine list, I had to see inside their beautiful wine cellar. After all, I’m really a wine guy! I had the pleasure of accompanying the enchanting Molly Wismeier, Director of Wine and Spirits for Restaurant R’evolution, through the cellar. She pointed out a positively striking collection of Bordeaux, burgundies, exquisite rare Italians and everything else needed to grab the attention of those grand award-givers – 10,000 bottles worth. It was back to the bar to feast on an expertly prepared entrée of seared sea scallops and foie gras, accented with truffle white bean purée, celery salad and bacon vinaigrette. I paired it with a fresh and crisp Chateau La Marque Rose from the Rhone. Perfecto!
First order of business before delving into the 10th anniversary event was to check into an excellent hotel, of course. My choice: The Royal Sonesta. I opted for a courtyard suite to remove myself from the craziness going on down on Bourbon Street, but they offer many choices. I highly recommend this hotel. The service is impeccable, the people are genuinely nice, the suite was immaculate, and it was kept that way by an excellent housekeeping staff. The grand lobby is spacious and the hotel is laid out beautifully. The event rooms are easy to find, the pool is crystal clear and the restaurants are wonderful.
FROM TOP RIGHT: Molly Wismeier, Director of Wine and Spirits and Chef Folse; wine cellar private dining room; Royal Sonesta courtyard and pool; Royal Sonesta lobby
“As the largest network of professional bartenders and mixologists, the USBG is thrilled to once again work with BACARDI and in the Mix magazine on such an exciting event, joining the spirits community and toasting the art of mixology,” said David Nepove, President, United States Bartenders’ Guild. “This group of talented bartenders truly sets the bar for cocktail-making, and we’re honored to be involved in the reinvention of one of our favorite BACARDI rum cocktails – the hand-shaken daiquiri.”
Our magazine, in the Mix, was proud to be a sponsor of the BACARDI 150th Anniversary USBG Hand-Shaken Daiquiri Competition at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail. Twelve selected representatives from USBG chapters all over the country were invited to put their best daiquiri on the table for a panel of judges to vote on – blind. The judges included USBG National President, David Nepove; winner at the National 2012 Legacy BACARDI Cocktail Contest, Shingo Gokan; BACARDI Rum Brand Master, Juan Coronado; founder of Tales of the Cocktail, Paul Tuennerman, and me, Mike Raven, Managing Editor, in the Mix magazine. We tasted and judged in a separate room before the function began. Each contestant had five minutes to make their cocktail from scratch. We did not know the ingredients, who made it, or its name.
We (the judges) experienced a lot of different styles of daiquiris during the afternoon, but in the end, it was the first cocktail we tasted that got the judges excited and scored the most points. Chris Sinclair, from the newly-formed Sacramento chapter of the USBG, won the judges competition with his drink, Hot Havana Nostalgia. We loved this drink because of its loyalty to the true daiquiri form; it did not hide the flavor of the rum but blended everything in perfect harmony.
“I love the daiquiri. It’s honestly one of my favorite drinks, whether for its simplicity in execution, or because the flavors don’t fight the rum but rather showcase it. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it’s been butchered beyond recognition in the years since its creation,” said Chris in a post-event interview. He went on to say, “With my drink, I really wanted to pay homage to the original. It should be tart, one should taste the rum, and the drink should be balanced. I wanted the flavors to come through individually while still playing with each other. I feel I achieved this, and luckily, the judges did too. I know for a fact that my team helped keep me upbeat and having fun at the competition. I couldn’t have done it without them, and they deserve a shout out. We had such a fun time, and the crowd was so enthusiastic. It really was a great night.”