It’s been nearly a week since Tales ended and I feel as though I’m just barely getting my land legs back under me. It was a wild and amazing week in a wonderful city, surrounded by enthusiastic, interesting, great people. On the first day, I told Dan (The Boyfriend) that being at Tales felt like summer camp. In the end, I don’t think I was far off—though it was more fun than any summer camp I ever attended. To that effect, here are the ten things I learned at Tales 2008, shamelessly reposted from the comments at Kaiser Penguin:
1. “All cocktail bloggers have an affinity for technology (sorry Dr. Bamboo), are video gamers, have played or still play roleplaying games, enjoy shows like Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, and Iron Chef, love good food and cooking, are crazy pompous about cocktails, and most importantly, are genuinely nice, fun, and great people (even Jamie).” This is absolutely true. Cocktail bloggers, as a rule, are feckin’ awesome.
2. Chuck Taggart does indeed have the lowdown on the best restaurants in the city. And eat the fries at Lüke. They’ll blow your mind.
3. I have not seen a blowjob in an X-ray before, but thanks to LeNell I have a new goal to achieve before Tales 2009.
4. All 10:30 seminars should be forbidden so that I can get some sleep between the hours of 3 am and whenever I feel sober enough to get out of bed.
5. Bring an extra bag and bubble wrap so that you can check in luggage that doesn’t clink when you put it on the plane.
6. Find Martin Cate’s house and dig in the backyard, because he buries jugs of punch back there! (Or maybe just get my lazy ass up north and go to his bar.)
7. Do not, under any circumstances, order a Vieux Carre from the Carousel Bar when it is crowded. You will get something that neither looks nor tastes like a Vieux Carre (and I’m still not sure what exactly it was other than dark red and sweet).
8. Don’t ride the elevators in the Monteleone unless you have an extra half hour to kill.
9. The Bienville House pool is open 24 hours. The Monteleone rooftop pool is not.
10. Monteleone wifi sucks, so head down to Decatur and get an awesome Bloody Mary at Attiki to go with their free (and fast!) wifi. (Side note: more bars need free wifi.)
Before I start my final post on Tales, I need to give a huge thank you to all the friends, old and new, who we spent time with in New Orleans. To the bloggers and bartenders who made up the majority of our crew, it was a treat to spend time with such a talented, friendly, interesting, fun group of people. I feel fortunate to know you and to have been able to attend Tales with you. To the Los Angeles bartending contingent, it was awesome to see you all in NOLA. LA represent! To Jeff and Blair, thanks for the gifts. I promise to reciprocate at some point in the future. To Ted and Charles Munat, thanks for including me in your book. It’s an honor to be printed among such great company. And lots of gratitude and love to our friends: Chuck and Wes, Craig, Ted, J.T. and Kate, Jeff, Zane, and our new friend Bob, we couldn’t have had such an amazing experience without you!
And now, on to the highlight reel:
- Juniperlooza I knew it was going to be a good week when I walked into this first seminar. I already love gin, but to be able to enjoy a conversation between Ryan Magerian (Aviation Gin), Philip Duff (bartender and consultant), Simon Ford (Plymouth Gin) and, of course, Desmond Payne (master distiller, Beefeater) was really great. We listened to a discussion on each of the various types of gin (genever, Old Tom, London Dry, Plymouth and New Western) and what makes them what they are. I had no idea that Plymouth gin is actually an appellation, and that Plymouth gin of any type must be made in Plymouth, England.
For those interested in the differences between the styles, here’s a short run-down:
• Genever: Begins as malt wine made from a grain mash, which is mixed with neutral grain spirits after distillation
• Old Tom: The next step in gin evolution, where the gin was slightly sweetened and flavored to disguise the strong flavor of the genever style
• London Dry: As gin keeps evolving and becoming more distilled and refined, botanicals are adding during the distillation process to flavor the spirit—the botanicals can’t be added post-distillation
• Plymouth: Similar to London Dry in style, but must be made in Plymouth
• New Western: Though all gin must use juniper as a botanical flavor, these gins are characterized by the heavy use of other flavors in addition to juniper (cucumber, rose, citrus, spice)
Aside from Beachbum Berry’s “Potions of the Caribbean” seminar, this had the best lineup of drinks all week—Improved Holland Gin Cocktail, Jasmine Cocktail, Singapore Sling and Pepper Delicious. This seminar also convinced me (further) that I need to get a bottle of Plymouth Sloe Gin because it’s awesome.
- Making Your Own Spirits Led by Mike McCaw, Matthew Rowley and Ian Smiley, this was probably the most informative session I attended. Matthew started by giving us the brief history of a proud American tradition: home distilling. Though it has been practiced in various forms for many years, it wasn’t until home distilling was legalized in New Zealand in 1996 that home distillers started making really refined, tasty spirits. Following Matthew, Mike and Ian described the actual processes involved in home distillation, the process of determining and manipulating the heads, hearts and tails (the various purities and impurities of the spirit that give it flavor), and various types of still design.
We also learned about the legalities involved in home distillation (not a pretty picture if you get caught) and obtaining a license to distill at home, but found out that each household can brew up to 300 gallons each of beer and wine each year for personal use. I suppose you can guess what I’m asking Santa for this Christmas…
- Jerry’s Kids I could go on and on based on the sheer number of notes I took in this seminar, but none of them really form a cohesive whole. The thing about watching Ted Haigh, Brian Rea and David Wondrich speak is that they are so full of information it’s nearly impossible to note down all the points of interest and, even if you get most of them, they wind up so scattershot and jumbled that you can’t remember where in the narrative they are suppose to go.
That said, you should really just buy Imbibe! and Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails. Lots of what they talked about appear in those two books and you can pick up all the information there—though not the immensely entertaining banter you get watching them discuss in person.
- Lost Ingredients II (Forgotten Liqueurs) One of the things I learned at Tales this year is not to trust the schedule. Half the time when we got to a seminar it was only nominally about what was listed (not that I’m complaining) and, had I not been told about this seminar’s content I probably would have skipped it. Fortunately, I didn’t.
Rob Cooper (St. Germain), Ted Haigh, David Wondrich, Chad Solomon (Cuff & Buttons) and Joaquin Simo (Death & Co.) gave us some great history and current context for the development and use of liqueurs in cocktails. Liqueurs can be made three ways: maceration (which are generally colored), distillation (which are generally clear) and by compounding or blending (the modern, artificial way). This seminar focused mostly on the first two methods, as those are how the mythical liqueurs of days past were created.
The seminar started out with a Pousse Café, a layered post-prandial that featured, to our surprise, the soon-to-return-to-market Créme Yvette, a violet liqueur that has been unavailable for many years. Following that we sipped the Garrick Gin Punch, which features the fabulous St. Germain elderflower liqueur, while Ted and Dave discussed the history of liqueurs from the Carthusian monks through the 19th century. Chad Solomon then regaled us with the story of the Cuff & Buttons name, a cocktail that eventually led to the liqueur we know as Southern Comfort.
- Essential American Whiskey If there was ever a panel that made me wish for a video camera, it was this one. Gary Regan and LeNell Smothers are intensely funny, particularly when combined, and when you add whiskey things are bound to get out of control.
The session was free-form, as we all tasted each whiskey and shared our tasting notes on all five: Evan Williams black label, Old Fitzgerald, Bernheim’s, Rittenhouse Rye and Elijah Craig 18-year. Naturally, we finished that up with a “hotel room” Old-Fashioned, which uses free bourbon, one packet of sugar and an orange from a fruit basket—the only rule being that all ingredients have to come from free swag or the hotel room itself.
I can’t do the many, many funny moments of the seminar justice, but I can say that despite laughing and drinking a lot, I walked out of that room knowing a hell of a lot more about whiskey. And hoping that LeNell and Gary will be doing another session next year.
- Potions of the Caribbean: Lost Cocktails from America’s Post War Playground
This seminar definitely had the best drinks of any I attended, thanks in no small part of the bartending staff—Rick from Kaiser Penguin, Blair of Trader Tiki and Craig of Tiki Drinks and Indigo Firmaments. Though the bawdy raucousness of Gary and LeNell’s seminar made me laugh as much, this seminar was probably my favorite of the week. Not only did the Beachbum have the best PowerPoint presentation I’ve seen pretty much anywhere, but all of the presenters were interesting, informative and funny.
As with so many things, tiki history goes all the way back to pirates and the rum trade, and we enjoyed a classic Meeting House Punch to start things off. Moving forward from piracy, we picked up two of the more disgusting alcohol-related histories I’ve heard: “sucking the monkey” and “tapping the admiral.” I won’t bore you with gory details, but it involves pickled corpses, barrels of booze and thirsty sailors on the open ocean. ‘Nuff said.
Following that, we were treated to the history of drinking in Cuba and Puerto Rico by the Bum and Wayne Curtis, where it came out that both Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber had bar menus inspired by their visits to the Caribbean (Don to Jamaica, Trader Vic to the La Florida bar in Havana). To put us in a Cuban frame of mind, we sipped a La Florida Cocktail and discovered in an amusing aside that the Havana Hilton which at one point held a Trader Vic’s outpost was also briefly one of the rebel strongholds taken by Castro during the revolution.
Our next, absolutely delicious tipple was the Rum Pot (adapted), during which Martin Cate gave us the rundown on various flavor profiles of the islands in the Caribbean. He followed that up with a time-lapse demonstration (you had to be there, but it was hilarious) of an aged punch (a common practice in the Caribbean) which is buried for a few months with whole allspice berries to let the flavors set.
Following that was Stephen Remsberg, rum collector and frequent visitor to the Bay Roc Hotel in Montego Bay, Jamaica. He was kind enough to share his experiences with the bartender during his visits in the ’60s and a few of Jasper’s special recipes. One of which, Jasper’s Special Cocktail, we were able to sample last—and wow, was it good.
Jasper’s Jamaican Cocktail
1¼ oz Cruzan Estate Dark Rum
½ oz St. Elizabeth allspice dram
½ oz fresh lime juice
½ tsp Fee Brothers Rock Candy Syrup (simple syrup
Shake all ingredients well with ice cubes. Strain into a glass and dust with fresh nutmeg.
- Making Your Own Ingredients
- The Flowing Bowl The last day, the last seminar. At this point only the hardy and hungover were left, so we all staggered to the top floor of the Monteleone to see David Wondrich, Allen Katz and Phil Ward of Death & Co. discuss the history and present applications of punch. Punch grew out of the British tradition of mulled wine, which grew to incorporate lemon juice and sugar after 1588, when Britain defeated the Spanish armada to reach the trade routes in the Indian Ocean. As this wine/lemon/sugar concoction became more popular it became a staple, but for sailors overseas wine was hard to come by, so they turned to using arrack, local liquor produced all of the south Indies, as the base for their soon-to-be punch. (Batavia arrack comes from the Dutch colony of Batavia and differs from the arracks you find in other parts of the world.)
After the history, Phil Ward talked about how Death & Co. started using punch to serve groups of 4-8 guests as a more expedient method than making 4-8 individual cocktails. The idea took off and he’s since been experimenting with infusing punches with tea and berries and all kinds of other ingredients. His basic template for a punch for one person is four sugar cubes, 1oz soda, 1oz citrus juice, 2oz liquor and a wild card (berries, tea-infused vermouth, etc.). A little simple math and we’ll all be making up punch at home for a crowd in no time.
Featuring Robert Hess, John Deragon and the bloggers’ own Paul Clarke, Erik Ellestad and Jamie Boudreau, this was the panel that revealed just what a lazy, lazy guy Jamie is. John discussed his reproduction of Abbott’s Bitters and making homemade bitters, and we were able to sample Paul’s homemade tequila de mi amate and falernum, Erik’s orgeat and his recipe for Swedish Punsch, and, naturally, Jamie’s Amer Boudreau made an appearance—after he kvetched about liquor producers for a few minutes first. At the end, we were treated to a special visit from Daniel of PDT to discuss fat-washing, the process by which they make their bacon-infused bourbon. Essentially, it involves taking any fatty substance, steeping it in the liquor of your choice, then freezing overnight to separate the fat solids from the liquids and voila!
So there you have it: five days of merriment in cocktails. It was a blast and for those who were there, I’ll see you again next year. If you didn’t make it for 2008, I hope to meet you in 2009. Cheers—here’s to Tales!