Five Things I Learned At Tales

Tales of the Cocktail has come and gone for another year and we are all once again left with swag-filled suitcases and half blurred memories. Managing to hold on to a few of those precious nuggets in my head, here is a quick synopsis in five notes of some happenings in The Big Easy this year:

1. Cheers To That - Tales opened and closed with a variety of toasts, bridging cultures alike through the act of a "cheers!". Bols Genever kicked the official Tales week off Wednesday with a Kopstootje (pronounced kop-stow-tjuh), a "shot sipped from an original Dutch tulip glass filled to the brim with Bols Genever and paired up with a beer." Sent in to round out the Spirited Awards ceremony on Saturday night, Becherovka Global Brand Ambassador George Nemec and part-time US Ambassador Tad Carducci led the crowd inside the beautiful Mahalia Jackson Theatre in a toast with a resounding "Na zdravĂ­!" (pronounced nahz DRAH vee).

2. Pisco's Rising Presence - A lot of action this year seemed to be happening in the Tasting Rooms, sponsored brand sampling events, throughout the weekend. Never did the crowd seem to be more excited to explore a spirit category than in the Pisco Pavilion where an assemblage of nine pisco brands, from fantastic "puros" like BarSol Pisco to blended mosto verdes like Oro Pisco, taught consumers and enthusiasts alike about the traditional South American spirit and the many ways in which to serve it neat or mixed in a cocktail. Continuing the discussion around Pisco were Oro Pisco and Clear Grape, LLC co-founders Timothy Childs and Shelley Alger, who were signing copies of "The Pisco Book" at the Tales on-site bookstore.

3. Best Swag Goes To... - I'm probably not the best resource to speak on this category, as I was not a Tales attendee as "media"; however, from all the photos posted to the Tales Facebook page, I am able to catch some glimpses of the goodies some lucky VIPs were able to take home. My favorite item throughout the weekend had to be the Panama-style hats presented by Mandarine Napoleon (check them out in the Tales photo album). While one may think that the fleur-de-lis printed on the hats was mistakenly upside down, do note that it was no mistake! The conqueror himself had been known to flip the iconic symbol on his Parisian palace decorations upside down, turning the image of a delicate flower into a stinging bee.

4. Time to Take Notes - I was able to pop in at a few seminars this year, all with very different agendas and themes. Among those was Philip Duff's seminar "Vanilla Vanilla Baby", an entertaining history lesson on the presence of vanilla in beverages and presented by Cariel Vanilla Vodka. The "European Bartending Perspective" seminar, sponsored by Mandarine Napoleon was a great panel discussion comparing the differences (and noting the similarities, more importantly!) between bartending across the pond - this seminar looked at everything from most popular spirits to bartender attire to cocktail menu design. Lastly, I attended a journalist and bloggers dream discussion, "Drinking on Deadline", where I took away this great nugget as best said by Paul Clarke: "...drinks writing is the convergence of the two greatest sources of bullshit known to man: drinking and the internet."

5. Camaraderie is Everywhere - It continues to amaze me how tight knit the cocktail and spirits community is and I think that is what continues to draw so many of us back to Tales of the Cocktail every year. Tales will be celebrating its 10th Anniversary in New Orleans in 2012, with the festival dates currently set for July 25-29. I will, once again, look forward to seeing many familiar and new faces in this city recognized as the American birthplace of the cocktail again next year.