Tales of the Cocktail (www.talesofthecocktail.com), the annual conference for bartenders and liquor companies, changed hands in February and became a nonprofit headed by former John Besh Foundation director Caroline Rosen. Last week, the foundation announced $250,000 in grant funding for projects focused on education, sustainability, diversity and health care in the hospitality industry. Rosen spoke with Gambit about the grants and the foundation.
What changes can guests expect at Tales this year?
Rosen: We're doing a lot of new things and we're also trying to keep a lot of the good things that were done in the past.
We're going to have a sober space. We're going strawless, and we're working with all of our partners so we can do that. For media, we're going to bring back the swag room. We're also going to do an official volunteer day. And we're kicking off Tales the first day with announcing the grants and explaining where all this hard work has gone.
Grant applications are open right now, and it's really exciting. This is one of the big changes that we're starting upfront. The industry has given us so much, and we really want to help those that have helped us. There's so much help we can bring to the industry, and we want the industry to dictate that. Our three pillars are to advocate, support and inspire.
We obviously don't want to support just one person but rather something that can give back to the community and grow as a whole. I think there are many different creative ways to do that and many people out there already working on things. It's on the community to tell us the places that need the most help so we can partner with them.
What are the biggest challenges facing the cocktail and beverage industry right now?
R: (There are) a lot of the things that we're all talking about. It's obviously diversity and the -isms. I think it's something that you have to be very thoughtful about. We are not doing a diversity council or committee because all of our committees should be diverse. That's the way we're handling it. We're not perfect, and we're not going to get it right every time and the industry as a whole needs to be very conscious of it. How many female, African-American distillers are there? Not many. So how do we lead by example? By including and giving space and a voice to all people — that's the best we can do.
This year at Tales, we're going to have a sober space. We're seeing a trend where more bar directors are sober, bartenders are sober and chefs are sober. Addiction and alcoholism are a big problem, and there are different ways to support (people who have) depression. Access to education is something that really matters. We're a community that isn't going to be able to grow unless we ensure that there is access.
New Orleans is the hospitality capital of the world. I think that New Orleans can be the leader in a lot of these tough subjects, especially with a foundation that is willing to go ahead and (be) upfront.
What's your cocktail of choice?
R: My favorite drink is a Last Word. I was actually introduced to Chartreuse at a Tales seminar years ago. If there is something that I would really love to make, it's that.