If you’re considering visiting the historic swamplands of New Orleans, you might want to wait till the weather is comfortably cool (from February to May) and not during the apex of summer, unless of course you’re in the spirits industry and attending Tales of the Cocktail, which happens to be the world’s premier cocktail festival.
Founded in 2002 and growing year-after-year, TOTC draws everyone who’s anyone in the beverage industry — from bar owners and keeps to distillers and brand ambassadors to food & drink writers and even hospitality mavens the likes of Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas from Alinea Group (who partook in a keynote discussion about the important relationship between the edible and potable).
While we unfortunately didn’t make it to said discussion because we arrived late —Thursday rather than its Tuesday kick-off — in the TOTC game, we made it just in time for the culmination and Miami takeover of The Broken Shaker House. Being off the French Quarter grid (and an unofficial TOTC event) didn’t stop Elad Zvi, Gabe Orta, Gui Jarsochy and the Shaker fam from throwing one of the best house parties (complete with Elad as DJ Maccabi manning the ones and twos and dancer with whip in hand) and mixing some of the top cocktails of the week, namely a Jewish Grasshopper Piña Colada with Cruzan Dark and Light Rums, Fresh Coconut Cream, Crème de Cacao, Crème de Menthe, and Tahini. Yep. Tahini in a Piña Colada. We also drank a boozy (and far better) version of Mother’s Milk — a mango infused Cruzan Rum, Black Tea, Local Honey and Lemon Bitter Concoction — out of, wait for it… breast milk bags.
Of course imbibing all day and night means we had to line our stomachs in between, so on night one we hit up Trinity where we got our fix of Savory Beignets stuffed with Crawfish and Fontina and Foie with Strawberry Jam and Brioche. That got us sated and ready to go on a secret mission at The Crescent City Affair, a bi-level sleuth soiree featuring Ocean’s Eleven director Steven Soderbergh’s elusive spirit Singani 63. To shake up the national drink of Bolivia, a few of the country’s top tenders – think Alex Day, David Kaplan and Devon Tarby from Proprietors LLC in Los Angeles — were brought in as secret agents to whet whistles and be the bearer of clues for the evening.
But no spirited fete compared to the one that Bacardi put on at The Sugar Mill. With easily a thousand bodies and all of the brands in Bacardi’s diverse portfolio creating their own unique experiences (i.e. bathtubs and beds for photo opps and Domino tables for some old-school Cuban gaming) and a bevy of cocktails from each brand and room, it was the ultimate #BacardiHouseParty indeed.
For a nightcap, we headed to a late night of drams and jazz at The Singles Party at Preservation Hall where our favorite local bartender gone national brand ambassador Rob Ferrara was well suited and reminded us that — as a TOTC veteran — “it’s a sprint, not a marathon.” Sound advice that was followed by an edible nightcap and hangover prevention of Brother’s Fried Chicken, New Orleans equivalence of Krispy Krunchy, only betta’.
Heavy rainfall Saturday didn’t stop spirit lovers from day time drinking. Elyx House started their copper laden affair with boozy cocktails out of mythical copper vessels (alluding to the vodka being distilled in copper stills) like gnomes, owls, and unicorns got everyone caught up in no time. And since so much of TOTC is about the surprise element or unexpected activation, leave it to Pernod Ricard to activate the brands latest campaign Skal! (translation: cheers) with a speakeasy experience by Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale of the world’s leading bar, Artesian in London. Dubbed “A Little Birdie Told Me” and taking place behind a door outfitted as an antique bird cage clock opening up to a cardboard forest, Artesian’s team used Elyx to craft unorthodox combinations the likes of lingonberry and pickled yogurt, aquavit and roasted cauliflower, and hazelnut with honey. Even the tangible menu — which we were told to take home, plant and nurture — added to the moment in time well captured by Polaroids that were given to us and that will live on forever in our backyard in the form of winter wheat (the plant harvested to create Elyx). The highlight, however, was Julio Cabrera jamming to Spanish rap with his Copper Birdie in hand and cigar in mouth.
Things after this point all started blurring together, as they tend to do when you’re drinking all day, but for that there are such things as Bacardi’s Dante NYC Cafe De L’Aperitif pop-up, serving freshly squeezed and Aerated Orange Juice topped off with Martini Bianco for a dose of Vitamin C and to keep us going well into the night, which included dinner and the best Ribs (a la crispy Duroc pork and Guyanese Rum) we’ve probably ever had at Cane & Table; we toasted with Japanese Whisky maker Beam Suntory’s latest potion — Toki, with highballs finished with a spray of bitters; a pretty epic Rutte fiesta with a special hip-hop performance by Cam’Ron (remember him?), pizza delivery, and a photo booth that was projected on jumbo screens overhead; 2016 Diageo Games portfolio warehouse takeover; and in true New Orleans fashion and TOTC tradition, heavenly Frozen Irish Whiskey at Erin Rose.
Saturdaze commenced with proper and sweet beignets from Café Beignet and continued with 86 Company’s Lost Lake rooftop pool bash at the new and trendy Ace Hotel where the theme was Que Bola, Nola? and Daiquiris were served in coconuts and with dolphins made out fruits and other tiki style drinks in all sorts of beautiful and colorful vessels. From there it was on to Suite Silencio at the Monteleone Hotel (AKA TOTC official headquarters for all the seminars and education workshops that started the festival) where people were taking numbers for massages and Beet Infused Mezcal Cocktails were the talk of the peep show. A happy hour honoring the cantineros of the industry proceeded at Cane & Table, and then everyone parted ways to get ready for the Spirited Awards, which is akin to the Oscar’s but for the beverage industry. Miami won big, with Magic City legend John Lermayer and his team at Sweet Libery Drink & Supply bringing home the title of Best New American Bar, as well as Colin Asare-Appiah, who was awarded the title of Best American Brand Ambassador. We don’t really remember what happened after that for obvious reasons, but there was the annual Bartender’s Breakfast involved — a Pernod Ricard 1 a.m. tradition — and late-night Miami industry celebrations along Bourbon Street, making it difficult for anyone (us included) to make their next day flights without suffering from the kind of hangover you look forward to and TOTC withdrawals before departing. Till next year…