New Orleans cocktail fans are lucky to live in a city that hosts one of the drink’s premiere events: Tales of the Cocktail.
2015 marks the 13th year that thousands of international spirits industry experts will descend on the French Quarter to mix, shake and drink their way through the history, science and legend of the cocktail. The conference kicks off July 13.
While the bulk of attendees who attend the conference work in the spirits industry, approximately 20 percent of the guests are what Tales founder Ann Tuennerman calls cocktail enthusiasts. To cater to the growing numbers of cocktail aficionados, Tales has created over 90 drinking and dining events where amateur imbibers can learn more about their favorite drinks.
Spirited Dinners pair a spirits brand with a dinner menu at local restaurants and have been a part of Tales of the Cocktail from the beginning.
Tuennerman remembers that when they first offered Spirited Dinners, “people thought we were crazy, pairing spirits with a meal. Now it’s common to do.”
She notes that locals have always appreciated getting to experience (and taste) the mutual collaboration among the chef, the bartender and the brand working together on the menu.
Due to their popularity, Spirited Dinners have now expanded into a Tales of the Cocktail Restaurant week. A wide variety of restaurants are slated to participate, from Emeril’s to Willie Mae’s Scotch House.
Several restaurants are offering the menus at lunch as well as at dinner.
Tuennerman is delighted by the expansion of options from high-end establishments to neighborhood joints, saying, “That’s what New Orleans is about. You don’t have to have a lot of money to eat well or drink well.”
Another popular event among locals is the Dynamic Duo, which pairs local bartenders with national and international spirit industry celebrities.
Each duo takes over a local bar for a few hours, offering guests specialty cocktails created for that event.
Unlike the Spirited Dinners, the Dynamic Duos don’t require reservations. And, while some of the Spirited Dinners have hefty price tags, the Duos are a thrifty way to experience Tales, since the only cost is the drink.
Like the Spirited Dinners, Dynamic Duos will pop up across the drinking spectrum from Restaurant Revolution to the Rusty Nail.
In addition to these past favorites, Tales of the Cocktail is offering a new opportunity for folks to rub elbows with industry celebrities: The Breakfast Club.
Attendees get to share breakfast with a leader in the spirits industry, hear about their experience in the spirits world, as well as discuss cocktail ideas.
Tuennerman noted that following many seminars, guests frequently stayed afterward to visit with presenters and ask them questions about their work, so the Tales staff decided to create an informal opportunity to allow speakers and guests to expand those impromptu conversations.
Finally, for those folks looking to expand their bar collection and knowledge, Tuennerman suggests they attend the Meet the Maker series, held at The Market at Tales, a shop filled with barware and Tales of the Cocktail memorabilia.
Visitors can hear artisans talk about their products and process and, of course, sample and purchase products from bar tools to bitters.
New Orleans plays host to hundreds of conventions and thousands of convention visitors a year, but most New Orleanians don’t participate in that aspect of the city.
And really, most New Orleanians aren’t going to make their way down to a convention of heart surgeons or software programmers.
But Tales of the Cocktail is a locally grown convention that each year is adding more events specifically for locals to enjoy. As Tuennerman points out, it’s an opportunity for local drink fans to mingle and learn from the best distillers, writers and bartenders in the world hailing from 35 countries.
“If you are interested in dining and drinking,” she says, “and doing so with all the New Orleans joie de vivre, you shouldn’t miss it.”
The full schedule of Tales of the Cocktail, including all the venues participating in Restaurant Week, Spirited Dinners and Dynamic Duos, is available at www.talesofthecocktail.com. Look for the Dining and Drinking section on the home page.