The Ravin' Raven - The Summary

Hello again, Bar None Drinkers. This is The Raven, returned to Los Angeles from the Big Easy, and, now that the 9-to-5 has been straightened out a bit, I thought I'd give y'all a run down of the event known as Tales of the Cocktail. I suppose I should start by explaining what exactly ToC is, which will be no small task.

Tales of the Cocktail is a combination trade show, food festival (o.k., drink festival), business meeting and of course, party. There are seminars given by some of the great luminaries in the cocktalian world. I like that word; cocktalian. It's a new one for me, but apparently that just because I don't get out much. I attended two seminars given by Paul Pacult, author of The Spirit Journal, and Kindred Spirits (1&2). One was more or less a class on how to taste liquor like a professional critic; the second was using this knowledge to taste 5 whiskies and a cognac that easily cost more than a day's pay. A once in a lifetime event, to be sure, and I got to do it twice.

I could go down a full list of all of the seminars I attended, but that wouldn't leave much for the next few months of newsletters. It would also require a bit of thinking at this point, as I'd have to sort through the piles of documents for confirmation that I attended. And let me cut you off at the pass; it's not (entirely) due to an extended inebriated state. We made an effort to see as much as we could and by the third day...let's just say we'd reached sensory overload. A complete list of all of the offered sessions is available at the ToC website; I'd recommend going to see it now, before they reset the site for next year. If you see a session you'd like to know more about, there's about a 50% chance that one of us attended it. Ask! I'll try to make up some sort of approximation as to the schedule I ended up observing in the next few weeks.

Here's where things got difficult. In addition to up to five different sessions in each time block, we were also offered tasting rooms from some of the great up and coming brands (and some of the old standards too!) These tasting rooms usually contained three or four different cocktails that showcased the sponsor's products. Folks...they were pouring premium liquor and handing it out to anyone who showed interest. On top of all this, the cocktails were being mixed by some of the world's best 'tenders and 'tailians. The tasting rooms were usually manned by the representatives of the brands, and not just anyone. I met no fewer than a half dozen master distillers over the week. There are few things that can compare to being handed a drink by the man who oversaw the creation of the liquor inside it, and then chatting with him about it's history.

This was, of course, just the beginning of the day's activities. There were four time blocks daily that followed this kind of session/tasting room format. The last sessions got out at 6 o'clock, which, for some of my new companions, was just the start of the say. The first party usually got out around 8:30-9:00, which just meant it was time to go to the next party. When that one finished, we headed to some of the after parties in the suites, and after that (somewhere around 2:00 a.m.) there was someone who had managed to acquire a bottle or two that they just felt they had to share, in their room, for a smaller but no less jovial party. My record for a single night was 5 different parties (with no fewer than two expertly mixed cocktails each). I think Dan beat me by two parties that night.

Now, lest I be accused of being a lush, I did go for some time during the event sober (and no matter what Dan says, it wasn't just while I was sleeping!) If the whole event was just what I've described, it would have been worth every penny. But Tales of the Cocktail is so much more.

First, the Hotel Monteleone. If you've never been to this hotel and seen the Carousel Bar, you haven't been to the French Quarter. I won't go into its history (you can find that on their site), but the present is absolutely enchanting. They have the nicest staff of any hotel I've experienced. The rooms are beautifully apportioned, and the views of New Orleans are postcard worthy. Even their breakfast wasn't bad (for which Mr. Pacult will probably disavow any knowledge of me, but my palette isn't quite as developed as his.)

Next on the list of what made the event great: the people. Being in a room with people who appreciate nearly every facet of the industry is a genuine thrill. I've never felt like such a pretender to the scene, or so accepted by those I was pretending to be. The trip would have been worth the ticket just to meet the folks I met. This is where I give my shout-outs to Marleigh and Dan, Dr. Bamboo, Kevin (both the Fatman and the Thirsty Traveler), Meg, Lisa and Sabrina, Chuck and Wes, and Kim just to name a few of the great folks I hung out with. (For everyone else, please accept my apology for having inadvertently implying I've forgotten about you.) If there was a down point to the entire event, it was the sheer volume of people; growing pains for an event that is destined to become ever more popular, particularly if I have anything to say about it.

Finally, no discussion of Tales of the Cocktail could be complete without mentioning the host city, New Orleans. I've been asked by many of the locals I met to reiterate to my readers that the city isn't under water. It is the patriotic duty of anyone able to make the trip to venture to the Big Easy and see what the city has to offer. They've recovered from Katrina, known locally as "The Storm", and they are ready for us to come visit again. It is my hope that I can turn this event into a yearly trip for myself, and next year I'm planning to add a few extra days so I can see more of the city. If you enjoy rock or jazz, or have ever dug into a bowl of gumbo, or appreciate the vampire and ghost lore of modern literature, or just want to experience one of the most culturally rich places that our continent has to offer, you owe it to yourself to get to New Orleans. They'll appreciate the visit, and you won't regret having gone.

The Ravin' Raven - Day 3

Good Morning folks, Raven here, reporting on a third day of connoisseurism here at Tails of the Cocktail. I started the day with an interesting session on the history of bitters. You'll get more on that a few articles down the road. For now, the bitter has made its comeback. Virtually every cocktail made here this week has included a bitter, hearkening back to the origin of the cocktail. There are a couple of brands that I will be checking out and reporting back to you, with a large range of products.

My second session of the day was put on by the good folks at Pernod-Ricard and led by the wonderfully personable Paul Pacult. I'll admit, coming into this event, I was unaware of the many movers and shakers in the cocktail world, and was mostly unaware that the man who was teaching me how to taste like a professional was in truth one of the world's most respected authorities on the subject. Far from being just a great teacher, Paul is a showman when he's on the stage and a great guy to have a chat with. Back to the event: the best whiskies you've never tasted. Now, there were a couple of reasons that we'd 'never' tasted them; some of them were so new that they aren't on the market yet, and some of them are so expensive that they know that we'd never have the chance to purchase them. In any case, they were in fact some fine whiskies that I'd never tasted. I was honored to be allowed to take the box, a beautifully crafted wooden casket.

We grabbed a quick lunch and headed back for an afternoon in the tasting rooms. To give an idea of how this event is set up, there are upwards to 5 different sessions going on at any time and two tasting rooms. These tasting rooms showcase what's new and what's great from some of the world's biggest producers, as well as some of the smallest and newest. Artisan spirits are the new craze; expect to see some brands you've not yet heard of in the newsletter, and ask for them at your local bars.

The rest of our day was spent party hopping. We attended an event held at the local Ritz-Carlton hosted by a huge company who will, for now, remain nameless. Then we headed over to the House of Blues for a Bloody Mary competition...maybe I can get Dan or Kate to give their impressions of that event...I didn't do much tasting, the Tabasco is just too much for me. Dan and I spent about an hour after midnight just walking Bourbon Street, an activity that everyone needs to do at least once in their life, possibly only once in their life.

Kate: It's not very often that I get to put my two cents in. However, I do enjoy a splash or two of vodka and the spicier things in life. The competition was tough. There were distinct differences between them all. One had wasabi as an ingredient, I chose that one as my winner. Others were more unique. The Thai Mary had soy sauce and pineapple in it. There was a Tenderloin Mary that had a chili pepper rim, unfortunately the drink itself was lacking in the afterburn of the spirit itself. All the Mary's were wonderful and it was hard to pick a winner. It was a great experience and one I look very forward to repeating again next year.

The Ravin' Raven, Day 2

Ladies and Gentlemen, I got a little more than 5 hours of sleep last night, which is considerably more than my companion. We started at 9ish in the morning with what has become our standard breakfast, the buffet at the hotel. After soaking up the booze still in our stomachs from the night before with a not-too-shabby southern breakfast (read: lots of grits!), we started our second full day at Tales of the Cocktail.

My first session of the day was 'How to Taste Like a Professional' hosted by Mr. Paul Pacult, a consummate professional critic. If he'll permit, I will go over his entire routine in a later edition of the Raven's Caw. Folks, all I can say is I wish I'd seen this presentation six years ago. The framework he provided came in handy at no fewer than three separate occasions in the last 24 hours. Paul has written a book called Kindred Spirits 2, in which he reviews thousands of different bottles of booze. I'll be making use of it before I go on my next shopping trip.

Dan and I grabbed a seat at the Artisan Spirits panel, and I tell you what, we're on the verge of a great thing on this continent. The artisan spirit movement, which is basically the David/Goliath of the booze industry, is gaining a foothold in the U.S. and Canada, which was almost completely lost during American Prohibition. Small producers are starting to make an impact in their local cities, but they need our help. Next time you're at a bar, ask for a cocktail made with an artisan spirit rather than a brand you've seen an advertisement for: you might be pleasantly surprised, even if you're not a full convert.

At this point, mind you, I've been up for five hours and drinking, so forgive me if my recollection gets fuzzy (during which I've managed to acquire a 21 year-old bottle of scotch.) Kate and I headed out to a lunch of sandwiches at the local gourmet shoppe (o.k., it was Subway) while Dan tasted cognacs and armagnacs with the Spirited Travelers. (Maybe I can get Dan to give you a few lines at the bottom here.)

We got out of our sessions around 6. The next 8 hours were spent in 5 different parties. I have to run off to a media breakfast , so I'll have to tell you about those parties later.

Dan: Yeah, the Cognac and Armagnac tasting was excellent. We had a flight of 10 different types, including a 27 year old. I'll try and provide full details once I've compiled my notes back home. I'd also like to give out a shout to Noya(sp) and his 100 proof unfiltered Rye Whiskey. I'm now working on 4 hours of sleep and off for breakfast, more later.

Hello everyone! Here's a wrap up of Day 1 in New Orleans. A big special thank you to Ann for organizing this great event. As my writing skills are limited I'll leave the story telling to The Raven. Wish you were here to join us.

The Ravin' Raven

Good morning! This is the Raven, reporting from way down south in the Big Easy, New Orleans. Dan and I are down here for the event of the year, Tales of the Cocktail. We've been here for a little more than 24 hours, and it has already been worth it. Our day started yesterday at 9:30 when we checked in with the event folks and snagged our ToC gear and credentials. After returning to the room to sort through everything, and re-adjust our schedules, we headed out to experience all the tales we could.

We started by heading over to Arnaud's, a restaurant and bar just down the street from the beautiful Hotel Monteleone where we're staying (more on that later.) Arnaud's was playing host to the Ministry of Rum Tasting competition, and we'd been invited to come watch the procedings. Dan even got to try some of the rums! As a fledgling rum afficianado, it was a great experience to see rum masters tasting, scoring (and spitting) some really great libations. This event wrapped up around noon; we had more than 12 hours to go, but if you'd hav told us that then, we wouldn't have believed it.

After Arnaud's, most of the days events were held in the Monteleone. This hotel has a rich history in New Orleans, as many literary greats have stayed (and gotten throroughly soused) within it's hallowed walls. If you're interested as to just which literary greats, check out the hotel's website; I'm lucky to be able to remember the details I do after the night I've just had. We spent most of our early afternoon going from tasting room to tasting room, sampling some great new brands. I like pretty much everything I tasted, but two stand out from our first day: Heering Cherry Liqueur and Veev Acai Liqueur. The guys at Veev are really taking the mantra "Doing well by doing good" to heart. They are based out of LA and have the first green office (for a booze maker) and distillery in the world. They don't waste anything...even the seed pits from the acai berries are reused to make bracelets, which they distribute as promotional material. I know it would be appropriate to now go into what the product actually tastes like, but you'll have to wait until I get home and have a chance to try the samples they gave us. I tried so many different products yesterday that the possibilty of remembering the nuances of one is almost non-existant. Suffice to say for now that I really liked it. I haven't been able to read all the PR for Heering yet; I'll have to get back to you later on what they're all about.

The highlight of the daytime hours was the live broadcast of the Chef and the Fat Man that we were invited to sit in on. In a story that could only happen here, while sipping some fine La Fee absinthe in the Old Absinthe House (so close that it takes me longer to get from my room in the hotel to the lobby than it does to get from the lobby to the bar), we ran into the Fat Man and started chatting with him. Kevin (his real name) invited us to come by and watch a recording of 'the only radio cooking show in the world.' This was a great experience, and we got to try some amazing food to boot. I suppose the food does require some mention, even with all of the great libations that we're consuming. Like the old song says "You ain't been to heaven 'til you've been down there!" The food here is even better than I sould have imagined, if a little more than heartburn inducing (though I'm willing to blame that on the gallon of gin I consumed last night.)

After the Chef and the Fat Man, we had a few more tastings and a quick meeting with the other blogggers attending the festivities, and then we were off to the evening's parties. A quick note on the bloggers: we are a varied, and often strange, bunch. I'm not an exception...if you peruse the TC website and find any pics of a guy in a kilt, that's me sporting my Utilikilt (hopefully the guys from Utilikilt see it too!) Anyway, the night consisted of two parties, one well-apportioned bash thrown by Beefeater (hence the gallon of gin) and a capacity rating-shattering little shin-dig tossed by Suffice to say that I've not consumed that much in so little time, ever.

Alright, y'all. Dan, Kate and I are going to head back out into the fray to get more stories. I'll go into more detail when we get back, but you can catch more bloggging right here later today (or likely earlier tomorrow!)