I’ve still not cleared all the business cards, and cocktail napkin notes from my desk following last month’s Tales of the Cocktail festival in New Orleans, and I’m still fishing swizzle sticks and Fernet challenge coins from my purse. It’ll be a while before I can Evernote all the liquor trends I want to keep tabs on and befriend on Facebook all the bartenders I met. But: July 16-20, 2014, is emblazoned on my calendar for the 12th go-round of the event that keeps me in bar swag and airline minis all year long.
Of course, Nathan Greene, cocktail apprentice Michael Doyle and I weren’t the only Las Vegans in NOLA—there were enough of us in New Orleans to rename the place New Vegas! And indeed I drank very well thanks to many of them.
Absolut brand ambassador Kristen Schaefer doled out Elyx cocktails in the swanky Miss Beehave’s Copper Club at the maze-like Absolut Welcome Reception. If you haven’t tried Absolut’s newest expression, you shouldn’t have to look long as it’s quickly making its way around town. Try it in Greene’s cocktail the Philosopher’s Stone ($16) at Rx Boiler Room, featuring Elyx, Cocchi Americano, Peychaud’s bitters, smoked sea salt and grapefruit oils.
A highlight of every year at Tales is the Spirited Dinner series, which pairs the bartenders and mixologists of the world with New Orleans’ finest chefs for one very cocktail-friendly night. I was fortunate to snag a seat at the Hennessy Privilège dinner at Sainte Marie Brasserie, with cocktails by guest-tenders including Steve Schneider of New York’s Employees Only and the recent documentary Hey Bartender. Although the star of the show was the Hennessy Paradis Imperial that completed the experience, it was mixologist Jordan Bushell’s Sling Royal that rocked my world (recipe below).
Of course, Tales doesn’t happen entirely by moonlight: The seminars are where the educational magic happens, and run 10 a.m. till 5 p.m., a foggy time when events start to dribble into happy hour. Las Vegas’ Francesco Lafranconi co-hosted “Hey, Good Looking,” a garnish class where I finally got to see what a channel knife can do in the hands of a master, and watched a tiki drink being garnished within an inch of its life.
But “The Dark Ages: Mixology, 1967-1988” was the most enlightening seminar I attended as Esquire drinks writer David Wondrich and Jeff “Beachbum” Berry re-introduced both the Harvey Wallbanger and the notion of the “fern bar.” Apropos of the era, this seminar concluded not with a recipe or even a marriage proposal (true story!), but with a recitation of Heywood Gould’s “The Last Barman Poet.” You remember Cocktail, yes? I am the world’s last barman poet …
In a mixing glass filled with ice, combine 1 1/4 ounce Hennessy Privilège (or Hennessy XO), 1/4 ounce Campari, 1/4 ounce sweet vermouth and 1/4 ounce Heering cherry liqueur. Stir for 30-45 seconds and strain into a chilled Bordeaux glass. Top with 2/3 ounce Champagne.