I’m fortunate in that I get to travel for work. I’m even more fortunate that when I get wherever it is that I’m going, I’m usually greeted with a beverage. And I’m the most fortunate in that I get to write about the things I see and learn and drink. So Tales of the Cocktail, the world’s premier cocktail festival, held over five days in New Orleans, is for me like a Viking catching his first glimpse of Valhala. Only, you know, without having to sail off the edge of the earth.
The parties, the seminars, the shwag, the events … Did I mention the parties? Tales is the place for bartenders, mixologists, consultants and ambassadors to exchange ideas, impart knowledge and forge bonds. And me, I just soak it up like a sponge.
But the highlight for me each year is the Spirited Awards, which is something like the Oscars of the beverage world. In these awards, Las Vegas rarely gets any consideration outside of the Tony Abou-Ganim and Francesco Lafranconi ilk, but I don’t think it will be long before Vesper bar and Herbs & Rye get some love along with New York’s The Dead Rabbit (World’s Best New Cocktail Bar) and Seattle’s Canon Whiskey & Bitters Emporium (World’s Best Drink Selection).
We also haven’t had—at least in the years I’ve attended—a single Las Vegas bartender in the Cocktail Apprentice Program, the 40-some-odd passionate bartenders who come from around the world to squeeze lemons, batch cocktails and prep garnishes for the weeklong festival’s 230 events. That is, until this year, when I ran into Las Vegas’ own Michael Doyle (the Cosmopolitan/Rx Boiler Room) in the Hotel Monteleone’s famous Carousel Bar. Our first apprentice!
On Day 1, Doyle and his team were assigned to the seminar Gin & Tonic: Only the Beginning, their responsibility being to pull product (booze, mixers, tools) and prep garnishes for 23 variations of gin and tonics for a room of 300 attendees, totaling nearly 7,000 individual servings. “Luckily, the CAP teams help out one another in their downtime,” Doyle says. “Otherwise, our gin and tonics wouldn’t have been garnished with anything other a lime wheel and a smile.”
And during the Spirited Awards is where the new apprentices, CAP managers, assistant managers and leaders take their bow, this year via a hilarious video. “The cocktail apprentice team is by far the most passionate group of bar professionals I have ever had the privilege of working with,” Doyle says. “The whole experience served as an affirmation: What I do for a living does matter. And, when done well, it can be a source of pride.” Bartenders interested in the Cocktail Apprentice Program should keep an eye on TalesOfTheCocktail.com for the start of the next application process.
The 2013 Spirited Award Winners:
American Bartender of the Year: Charles Joly, The Aviary, Chicago
Best American Brand Ambassador: Todd Richman, Sidney Frank Portfolio
Best American Cocktail Bar: Clover Club, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Best Bar Mentor: Julie Reiner, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Best Cocktail Writing (author): Gary Regan
Best Cocktail Writing (publication): DiffordsGuide.com
Best High Volume Cocktail Bar: Clover Club, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Best International Brand Ambassador: Jacob Briars, Bacardi Portfolio
Best New Book (Cocktail/Bartending): Drinks by Tony Conigliaro
Best New Product: Fords Gin
Best Restaurant Bar: Saxon + Parole Restaurant, New York
International Bartender of the Year: Jack McGarry, The Dead Rabbit, New York
World’s Best Cocktail Bar: Drink, Boston, Mass.
World’s Best Cocktail Menu: The Dead Rabbit, New York
World’s Best Drink Selection: Canon: Whiskey and Bitters Emporium, Seattle, Wash.
World’s Best Hotel Bar: The NoMad Hotel, New York
World’s Best New Cocktail Bar: The Dead Rabbit, New York
The Helen David Lifetime Achievement Award: Salvatore Calabrese