If one is studious they may realize I haven’t produced quite as many cocktails this year as last. If the bar has been thin this year it’s because I’ve been saving my pennies to pay a visit to Tales of the Cocktail. Cocktail weeks seem to be popping up in many fine cities but Tales is one of the largest and highest regarded festivals. You find yourself turned out into the always interesting french quarter to face heat, torrential rain, and everyone from beggar to business trying to milk a tourist of their last dime. Yes Tales can be hectic at times, a festival so large is a challenge to coordinate. However Tales is something I believe every cocktail geek and bar professional should attend. Below I present you with seven essentials I learned from my first Tales.
1. Your going to be a little Starstruck
The seminars at Tales read like a who’s who in the cocktail word. The writers of your favorite books and tenders of your favorite bars will probably be at Tales in some capacity. Get a ticket to their class or make it a point to be in their tasting room. You must remember they are very busy, but if you wait politely you’ll be rewarded. I know the highlight of my trip was meeting Jeff Berry and Martin Cate. Without the Beachbum there would surely be no Rated R Cocktails. Also if you are a Spirits Professional in any capacity I encourage you to create and carry more business cards then you think you’ll need. I learned this in San Antonio and putting it in to practice served me well at Tales.
2. Your going to get drunk faster than you expected
The above shot is a lovely portrait of me after hitting every tasting room and the Carousel Bar Wednesday afternoon. Texas Tiki Throwdown was delicious and I devoted myself to enjoying everyone’s entry. This would have been fine if I had paused there, or maybe even if I didn’t finish every sample or sip provided at every other room. Luckily I’m a quiet sleepy drunk who tends to stumble his way home to nap rather than cause trouble. Here’s the thing Tales is a marathon not a race. Every article about these festivals says that, but it’s easy to forget once your there and excited. Make an extra effort to remember to drink water, takes breaks to eat, and if you do drink a little to much a midday nap doesn’t hurt. Also a big city like New Orleans has a lot of taxi drivers. Put them to work to help keep you safe on the way from place to place.
3. No matter how well you plan problems will arise
Thats just a rule of life and vacations. Tales is a huge festival with a lot of moving parts and vendors having parties within the party. They have a hard job and do it well, but even if they do it perfectly acts of God and the city itself are out of their control. Plan to fly down? Nearly everyone I knew had a flight delayed. Oh you’ll be smart and drive huh? Even with a parking pass clearly displayed I was towed once and ticketed twice by an overzealous parking authority. Make it down and get squared away without a problem? Watch that weather. I spent Friday so drenched I fruitlessly went through three pairs of clean socks. By the end of the day I’d have taken some dry clothes and a bed over a Hawaiian vacation and a copy of don’s signed and uncoded notes. I was also told, despite the heat, how much cooler this Tales was than ever before. Also speaking of the rain if you’d gone to Pig and Punch hoping for a delicious meal and charity fundraiser in the park you’d have better luck trying to eat your ribs at the bottom of the Hotel pool thanks to the downpour. Also did you notice we didn’t have any posts last week? Yup, no wifi at the place we rented, and no internet cafes to rent a computer.
Long story short problems will happen, they are inevitable at such a large event and really on any trip to a new place. Yours will probably be entirely different. However that’s no reason not to go. Personally I find that some of the problems make for the funniest stories later. Plan ahead, but when plans go awry just grin and just realize some things are out of your hands.
4. Watch your wallet.
Tales can be expensive. Spirited dinners, seminars, hotel rooms, transportation, guest bartenders, and the fine dining that abounds all around New Orleans. Add to this the fact that much of the festival takes place in the very touristy french quarter and you’ll soon find your bank account far lighter than when you came. I could have spent a years pay in the Books and Bitters store alone. You should take full advantage of Tales and loose the purse strings a little. Take time however to monitor your bank account and keep an eye on your spending. You want to make sure when you see that really must have item you can pounce. Just remember being thrifty shouldn’t apply when tipping. These bartenders and servers get their butts kicked during tales.
5. Be open to new flavors and facts.
It’s easy to just go for the events that are in your wheelhouse, but if you do your not taking advantage of Tales. Now sure I went to plenty of Tiki and Rum seminars and rooms, however I also made time to look into things I was newer to as well. Calvados Unpeeled was an amazing look at a fun and refined spirit that I hope to be able to show you more of in cocktails this Fall. Both Camper and Darcy’s classes helped me understand why things taste the way they do and give me ideas on new ways to enhance and modify future Tiki Tipples. We never use Vermouth but that may change after I got to taste some amazing on tap Spanish vermouth from Vya. In short don’t be afraid to try something new even if your pretty sure it won’t be your favorite. An open mind and an open palate are necessary to fully experience a wide range of flavors.
6. Get out of the Quarter!
There’s a lot of fun to be had in the quarter that’s true. Arnuad’s, Sobou, and Cane and Table are must visits in my book. However if you never leave the french quarter your really going to miss out. Bellocq which we visited back in January is a real treat in the business district. Cure is uptown and I have sadly still not been able to make it. The Old New Orleans distillery had buses running but both days they ran I had a seminar and couldn’t attend. Many of the late night parties are outside of the quarter as well. If I hadn’t left the french quarter I’d have never known that New Orleans has amazing Chinese Food to. Trust me folks get on by the Lucky Rooster and have some Bao. Tales is a great chance to experience more than just the quarter.
7. Make some new friends.
Probably some of the best times I had were with all the new friends I’d made. Chris and his amazing wife from A Bar Above were great company. Tiare from A Mountain of Crushed Ice, Trader Magnus himself, and Rum Scout Rob Burr became my new rum running crew. And I want to send them and their other friends I met a big Mahalo. Even the drunk smelly dude who kept accidentally spitting on me at tasting rooms was a blast. I also wanna thank the great bartenders who served us when we went out, and the CAPS who worked hard while we played. One of the best reasons I can tell you to go to tales is not only to network, but to really make new friends. To put a face to the name of the cocktail friends you’d only met so far on social media. Or just meet someone totally new.
Well every great trip has to come to an end sadly. There are times you wish would never end and times you think you’ll never live to see the end. But I’ll always have great memories of a fun time. We’ll be talking tales a few more times on the site this week before we return to regularly scheduled programming. Until next time…
“You Get Hammered America” - JFL