Vieux Carre

  • 1 oz. Rye
  • 1 oz. Cognac
  • 1 oz. Sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 tsp. Benedictine
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Shake in an iced cocktail shaker and strain onto fresh ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

~ from "Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails" by Ted Haigh

If you're reading this, it's quite possible you'll be attending Tales of the Cocktail this month. Unfamiliar with Tales of the Cocktail? Here's a brief description: It's a nearly weeklong event that takes place in New Orleans every year, and is considered to be the premier cocktail and spirits event in the world. Bartenders, cocktail historians, liquor brand reps, drink writers and every type of booze enthusiast imaginable invade New Orleans each July to see what's new, swap information, renew friendships, and of course, enjoy a few cocktails. The action centers around the Hotel Monteleone, a historic location smack in the middle of the city's French Quarter and home to the Carousel Bar, notable for being not only the place where the Vieux Carre cocktail (above) was created in the early part of the last century, but also for its ability to rotate.

(That's not a typo...the bar is engineered in such a way that it slowly, silently rotates, treating patrons to a gentle, almost imperceptible ride. It's essentially a merry-go-round that dispenses alcohol. I can't recommend it highly enough.)

Tales of the Cocktail has proven so popular that it has spawned a second event held in Vancouver, but the main attraction remains the shindig in New Orleans. If you've been there before, then you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't yet attended TotC (or visited New Orleans), it's difficult to describe the whole experience in words only. Even if I attempted it, there isn't enough room in this column to do it justice, so I'll refrain. However, there are a few miscellaneous thoughts, observations and suggestions I can offer up that illustrate some of the goings-on...

  • In many ways New Orleans seems like a foreign city that's been unceremoniously dropped into the US. Be grateful for it. Don't wish it was something else.
  • You will meet an enormous variety of people at Tales of the Cocktail. In one way or another, all will have an interest in spirits and/or cocktails. It is entirely worthwhile to talk to as many as your time and energy permit. Buy them a drink. Let them buy you a drink. Get their card- you'll probably want to talk to some of them after you go home (even if it's just to beg them not to put certain photos on Facebook).
  • New Orleans in July is punishingly hot and humid. If you haven't experienced New Orleans at the height of Summer, here's a simple way you can simulate it at home: Soak a sleeping bag in salt water. Place it in a 300-degree oven for 15 minutes, and then pull it over your head. Now go stand in the attic. (Bear this in mind when someone in your group asks you to leave the comfy, air-conditioned confines of your current location by yelling, "Hey, let's go to [insert bar name here]! It's only 6 blocks...we can walk!)
  • Things in New Orleans don't move very quickly. This also applies to service at restaurants. While New Orleans is home to some of the finest eateries on the planet, you should not expect your food to arrive at the same speed it does elsewhere. Ordering in pizza while waiting for your appetizer is a good strategy.
  • Speaking of eating, people in New Orleans consume a truly astounding amount of pork. It is a little-known fact that if you release a live pig within city limits it will be set upon by and devoured by locals before it makes it 50 yards. (This may have something to do with being allowed to drink in public).
  • Speaking of drinking in public: You are permitted to drink alcohol openly on the streets of New Orleans. As far as I'm concerned, this alone marks New Orleans as one of the most progressive, forward-thinking municipalities in the entire US (if not the world). I suggest you take advantage of this allowance whenever addition to improving your overall demeanor, it helps take your mind off how hot it is.
  • On a related note, I'd suggest bringing a flask with you to Tales of the Cocktail. The Monteleone plays host to several tasting rooms throughout the event, and it's a common practice to "flask up" at these if you find something to your liking. Securing a small measure of spirits for later can prove crucial to your survival should you find yourself in need of a bracing tipple with no liquor vendor readily at hand (This sounds like an impossibility in a place like New Orleans, but why take chances?)
  • Speaking of the Monteleone, do yourself a favor and get up to the rooftop pool. It's where many people involved with Tales of the Cocktail go to unplug, unwind and otherwise catch a break. TotC is an intense, often frenzied event, and the pool serves as a nice little oasis where everyone can detach themselves from the maelstrom. Have a chat, enjoy a nice drink and maybe do a little business. You never know who you'll see up there...It's just like the cantina in Star Wars, except no one's getting their arm sliced off.
  • If you find yourself wondering why New Orleans is aggressively weird and beautiful in equal measure, keep in mind one word: Absinthe.
  • In addition to availing yourself of the various alcoholic offerings at TotC, do these things: Eat regularly. Sleep when you can. Drink water. See what's around that corner. Be polite.

Thanks for drinking! (and I'll see you at Tales!)

~ Dr. Bamboo