Since Tales of the Cocktail opened last Wednesday, it seems New Orleans has been taken over by bartenders, liquor publicists, libational historians and enthusiastic boozers. And it seems to be growing ever more popular. Founded in 2003 as a way for enthusiasts to celebrate and share information about classic New Orleans drinks like Sazeracs and Ramos Gin Fizzes, Tales soon found itself bubbling upwards on a fizzy trajectory. Last year more than 18,000 people attended the four-day festival, according to the organizers, and 2011 appears to be even bigger. Opening ceremonies took place in Gallier Hall, an antebellum Greek inspired temple on St. Charles Avenue. I caught one of the many tasting parties at the penthouse pool patio of the French Quarter’s Hotel Monteleone. These tastings are schmoozy, boozy parties sponsored by liquor companies such as Absolut, Cointreau and Pernod eager to promote their brands. Longtime Tales veterans say they despise the tastings for their crass commercialism. But hey, promotions work. Sixteen stories above Royal Street, the crowd glowed from perspiration (the heat index read 101) and the drinks being poured by host Brugal Rum: "The Number 1 in the Caribbean." Bikini-clad go-go dancers frugged while waiters with platters of canapés navigated the pool and billowing curtains of white linen. A friend, who received a photo from the event via cell phone, texted back: "Where are you? The 1960s?" It could have been an episode of Mad Men.
Lost in the fun is Tales' educational mission with attendees paying $45 a piece for seminars with titles like "From Grain to Bottle" or "Mysteries of Wood Maturation." During these lectures experts share their secrets in sourcing and concocting the perfect cocktail. Hint: mixers and fresh ingredients are key. And they can be entertaining. See this link to Wayne Curtis explaining Colonial American drinks.
Taking it all in at the Monteleone was Luke Tullos from Lafayette, Louisiana. Tullos, a bartender, or "mixologist" as members of the profession like to refer to themselves, takes Tales very seriously.
"I focus on the mixology programs here," Tullos says. "I then go and share what I have learned."
What does Lafayette think about handcrafted cocktails?
"My customers love them," he says. "People in small towns get tired of drinking beer."
Tales runs until July 24.