Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tales from Tales - 2012

It has taken us a week to recover.  Truth.

The city of New Orleans is taken over by Tales of the Cocktail every year, which brings in the cocktail elite from all over the world.  Mixologists, Writers, Master Distillers, Brand Ambassadors, Bar and Restaurant Owners, as well as enthusiasts of all things libation.  In our time in New Orleans, which was regrettably short, we met so many wonderful and creative people it left us bubbling with inspiration, not to mention our heads throbbing from numerous days of excess.

New Orleans is really the perfect place for this event, in fact we couldn't event imagine Tales in any other city. There is something intoxicating about the NOLA, and it's not all the Sazeracs we had either.  The city is alive with creativity - artists, musicians, chefs, bartenders, writers - all of whom thrive on the history of the city, the good and the oh so bad.

Tales of the Cocktail just finished its tenth year (yes, tenth), which demands a serious toast to creator Ann Tuennerman and her incredible staff.  While some may think that Tales is a big party, it is a non-profit educational event that has a most incredible lineup of talks and seminars focusing on the craft of the libation.  There were so many seminars that we wish we could have attended - Spiritual Brews from India, Cocktails on Tap, From Cocktail Napkin to Cocktail Bar: How to Open Your Own Bar, The Drunken Botanist, Handmade Bitters Lab, The Emperors New Nose, just to name a few.  But there are only so many hours in the day, and we did (and drank) just about as much as physically possible.

We were supposed to start of our Tales adventure on Thursday afternoon, a few tasting rooms, and then the Life and Times of Tom Bullock event on the Creole Queen Boat (which was amazing, as we've been told over and over and over).  Thanks to Delta, we spent the evening in the Atlanta airport, crying into a sad beer, instead of a sipping on a Four Roses masterpiece poured by bartending legends such as Jim Meehan or David Wondrich.  Delta, It's not you, it's us, but we're done here.

Off to the Employees Only Pop-Up bar at One Eyed Jacks, which was a complete mob-scene, so instead we skipped over to Tonique and got some much needed cocktails.  Ahhhh.

Friday was a busy day, so much to do! Tasting Rooms for Diplomatico, Absolut Bloody Mary bar, Heaven Hill Distilleries, William Grant, oh my!  It wasn't even noon, and we were searching for some water to help slow down the pace.

Speaking of William Grant.  SAGE.  Now there's a spirit we are excited about.  We fell deeply in love with Root, we always enjoy the summer Rhuby, but Sage, now there's a martini we can get excited about.  It tastes like the high desert, open air and freedom.  

Then off to the Taste of Italy, where we sipped on different artisinal Italian liqueurs such as Amaro Lucano, Maraschino Luxardo (which is delicious), and Luxardo Cherry Sangue Morlacco (sour cherry brandy aged two years in oak casks), Pallini Limoncello, and one we've been eyeing at the liquor store for quite some time, Fragoli.


Fragoli is made from the tiny wild strawberries that grow in Italy.  We remember eating these sprinkled with sugar on a Roman evening in our youth, oh how magical and delicate they were.  Maybe we can't get them fresh here in New York City, but we can get them in a bottle - the little strawberries are such a nice treat when sipping on this sweet liqueur.  (We bet it would be amazing over ice cream, served with champagne, or strawberry shortcake, just sayin).  Ok, ok, maybe this is a chick drink, but we don't care.  It's delicious.

Then we were off to meet with the master distillers of Jameson.  More to come on that later, but let's just say, we credit Jameson to getting through major life events.  Enough said. Stay tuned.

More tasting rooms - Ile de Re Fine Island Cognac, and over to Loa at the International House for a tasting of Smooth Ambler.

We tasted every mark, from the vodka to the gin, to their bourbons and ryes.  Good stuff we tell you.  We even got to taste a small nip of their barrel aged gin, which was fantastic.  Unfortunately the stuff isn't on the market yet, but when it is, we want some (hint hint).  The Old Scout Bourbon has more rye than most bourbons you'll find (36%), so their products have a spicy kick on top of the traditional caramel and vanilla flavors.  We loved the Gin - aromatic and smooth.  They use vodka as the base spirit (instead of neutral grain spirit) and then hang a selection of herbs & botanicals in the still column to give the gin its flavor.  We might have a new house gin there.

We then proceeded to park ourselves at the bar of Loa - we had to try the Old Scout cocktail made with Lemongrass, Thyme, Mint and Black Walnut bitters.  Divine, we say.  We stuck around for a few more cocktails, one of our favorites was the Dick and Jane, served as a cocktail pairing with some pistachios on the side.

We were pretty enamored with this bar - head bartender Alan Walter makes home made syrups and bitters for the bar, and has quite an impressive and expansive cocktail list (7 pages!).  All the cocktails come in different vintage glasses - it was quite the impressive menagerie of etched crystal in different shapes and sizes.  Dinner at Revolution in the French, got my gumbo and cheese grits fix.  Then back to Loa for more cocktails (no shame, no shame).

Saturday morning was a bit painful.  Even though we had been wearing Bytox hangover prevention patches, we were still feeling the excess from the day before.   We figure, if there's a time to test a hangover prevention product, it's Tales.  The patches probably saved me from a crippling hangover, but honestly, we were still feeling the pain.  Fortunately, everyone knows the best hangover cure is eggs and bacon, so to Surrey's Cafe we went! Bacon, Shrimp and Grits had us ready to go again!

Back to the hotel for more tasting rooms.  Herbsaint, New World Vermouth, and of course, the Absolut Bloody Mary Bar (a girl has needs, after all).  While we squeezed in more than we thought was physically possible, mentally and physically, there were some highlights.  The Beertales seminar with Fancesco Lafranconi, Adam Richard Seger, and Doug Frost was mind blowingly good.  This too deserves its own separate post, so you're gonna have to wait for it, dear readers.  Patience is a virtue.

We had a tasting of Monkey Shoulder Scotch with our friends over at William Grant in the lovely courtyard of the W Hotel, (we wouldn't have minded staying there all afternoon bobbing in a cool pool).  Monkey Shoulder is a blend of Glennfiddich, Balvenie, and Kinivie, which are aged in used bourbon barrels, and then blended from 27 different barrels.   The scotch is then aged again as a blend, and then off to bottling.  Let us tell you, this scotch is smooth, spicy, a little bit citrus-y, and rounds out with vanilla and the fruits of pear and apricot, certainly a nice sipping choice.


We also had a taste of Hochstadters Slow and Low, Rock & Rye Whiskey.  It's a blend of Rye whiskey, citrus peel, honey, and rock candy, and is another revival product from the 19th century.  (Side note, with all these revival products on the market, its clear that our ancestors would make booze out of anything, and so will we.)  We're slightly obsessed with the branding of this Rye, but we're not surprised since it's coming from the same company as St Germain, who have that gorgeous bottle that makes us weak kneed every time we see it.

After some amazing drinks with friends, we decided it was time to head over to the Roosevelt Hotel to get a Sazerac.  Great bar, bad lighting.  That said, the signage is unstoppable, beckoning imbibers as though they've found the holy trinity (they have):

We rolled ourselves a few steps away and into John Besh's new restaurant, Domenica.  We saddled up to the charcuterie station, ordered up a meat plate with fry bread (omfg good), and chatted up chef Alon Shaya, who you may or may not have recognized in season two of Treme.

This was an incredible meal.  After an impressive spread of home cured meats, an assortment of pickled deliciousness, and fresh bread, we had Squid Ink Tagliolini with Blue Crab, Roasted Cauliflower with whipped goat feta, and a perfectly executed Wood Roasted Goat with eggs and tomato sauce.  It was a meal to remember.

Sunday morning was also painful, but we got a bloody mary in our bodies as soon as possible to curb said pain.

When it comes to Bloody Mary mixes, we usually think they are a bit of a hoax.  Something that has been packaged for convenience, and is just as easy to create at home.  But this Bloody changed our minds.  Made with Hoosier Momma Bloody Mix, a rim of her Smoked Spicy Glass Varnish, served with a Benny's Beef Straw.  Yes, you read that right, Beef Straw.  Note to self, stock apartment with all of these items.  For survival.

We then headed out of the French Quarter and over to an incredible brunch spot called Atchafalya. First to the Bloody Mary station, which had quite the spread of pickled items, including brussel sprouts, green beans, okra, olives, and a wide array of every hot sauce under the sun.  My creation:

Breakfast was incredible, Eggs Louisianne - Louisiana crab cake, poached eggs, and creole hollandaise.  One of my cohorts had Eggs Atchafalaya with fried green tomatoes, poached eggs, jumbo lump crab with creole hollandaise.  AND the talented Ms Meschiya Lake was playing.  It was one hell of a breakfast, and after which a nap was desperately required.

The Talented Meschiya Lake by Zack Smith - Exhibition at Three Muses

Well rested, we were up and ready to go for the Absinthe Tasting Room at Windsor Court.  We had a few pours by Lucid creator Ted Breaux and enjoyed the beautiful hotel.  We talked to BJ, one of the founders of the Absinthe museum for a long time and got quite a history of absinthe in the process.  Thirsty for more we went over to the Absinthe Room, which proved to be disappointing at best.

Off to Frenchman Street for some live music and more delicious food.  We had to wait a bit at Three Muses, but it was worth it!  Tuna Tartare Tacos with pickled vegetables and avocado wasabi sauce, Kurobuta Pork Belly with apple chutney and scallion pancakes, and the omg-good Duck Pastrami Pizza with onion marmalade, Fontina, Gruyere, pickled vegetables, and topped off with a duck egg, sunny side up.  Everything was served as small plates, tapas style which worked well for the music scene.  Truth be told, we could have ordered another one of those Duck Pizzas it was so fantastic.  The music was incredible, sadly we did not take note of the name of the band that was playing (whoever you are, you were divine).

There's so much life to New Orleans, the food, the music, the people, the cocktails.  Without a doubt, we fell in love with this city, and we hope Tales will have us back next year.

To quote our girl Miss Helen Hollyman, "When New Orleans leaves your blood stream, let's add it back in", time for a Sazerac.



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