Tales of the Cocktail just turned New Orleans’s always buzzy nightlife up to 11 as the drinks industry celebrated itself and looked to the future.
New Orleans’s French Quarter was flooded with tatts, ’taches, and Hawaiian shirts—the essential trappings of modern bartender chic—last week, as mixologists, liquor reps, and connoisseurs of the grape and the grain converged for the weeklong Tales of the Cocktail conference.
Tales, as it’s known to its devotees, is a celebration of all things booze encompassing several days of tastings, seminars, and pool parties. It’s the perfect place to get an insight into tomorrow’s trends.
The whole carnival ends with the Spirited Awards, now in their 12th year, and this summer it was very much London’s time to shine. Not only did the Savoy’s American Bar claim the coveted World’s Best Bar accolade, as well as Best International Bar Team and Best International Hotel Bar, but four other establishments in the capital also picked up awards.
Happiness Forgets in East London’s Hoxton district scooped Best International Cocktail Bar, Sager + Wilde in nearby Hackney (where the food is also excellent) earned Best International Restaurant Bar, and Bethnal Green’s Coupette bagged Best New International Cocktail Bar. Finally, Dandelyan on the South Bank picked up World’s Best Cocktail Menu.
But what else is new in the world of liquor? Here are some other things I learned during one very mezcal-, tequila-, gin-, armagnac-, and chartreuse-fueled trip.
Other winners at the Spirited Awards ceremony included Navy Strength in Seattle (Best New American Bar) and Chicago’s Lost Lake (Best American Bar)–both of which revel in all things tiki.
There was a Polynesian flavor to many of the other events too, from the Tequila in a Tiki Oasis pool party presented by Azuñia Tequila to the unveiling of Patrón’s Citrónge Pineapple liqueur, where a simple combination with sparkling water, bitters, and lime juice let the new spirit shine.
Gin is still dominating
Gin was everywhere this year. The GINstrumental Trends event flagged everything from Thai gins to pink gin, the 1,200 gins of Singapore’s Atlas bar, and England’s recent explosion in gin distilleries.
There was also a space dedicated to genever, the European precursor to gin crafted from juniper berries and botanicals that arrived in the United States in the late 1800s and disappeared during Prohibition but is making a comeback.
Small U.S. distillers are doing interesting things . . .
Hazelnut rum and butter pecan sipping cream from Gatlinburg’s Sugarlands Distilling Company, jasmine and elderflower liqueurs from Violet Crown Spirits in Texas, and Lousiana’s own Marigny moonshine, from Seven Three Distilling Company, were among the many highlights of the Craft Champions event.
. . . As are their international counterparts
The Global Spirits Funhouse, meanwhile, was full of surprises, from small Yucatán producer D’Aristi Xtabentun’s excellent coconut and guanabana rum liqueurs to Poland distillery Polugar’s unusual caraway- and garlic-accented spirits.
Singles bars and tasting menus are emerging
Perhaps the cardinal rule of Tales is: Don’t try to do everything. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and there are simply too many events for one mere mortal with one liver.
So I missed some of the intriguing events that seemed to encaspulate new trends, like Singles Bars (which focused on bars with a single drink, like bitters tasting room Amor Y Amargo in New York, Capital Spirits Baijiu Bar in Beijing and L.A.’s temple to mezcal Las Perlas) and The Art of the Tasting Menu, which highlighted the emergence of cocktail tasting menus.
Tales is a lot of fun for non-industry-type travelers too
The elevators in the Hotel Monteleone contained a fascinating blend of drinkers, from serious Miles-from-Sideways aficionados holding court on “subtle flavor profiles” to party-ready tourists out for a good time.
Visitors can customize their experience, adding tickets to various events to their electronic wristbands—but everyone seemed to make time for the 3 to 5 p.m. tasting rooms. Extravagant evening parties hosted by big drinks brands were also a lot of fun for those who could secure invites.
There was a distinct focus on well-being
While the party raged continuously, this year’s conference also had a strong focus on health; yoga workshops and jogs around the neighboring streets were sprinkled among the sessions while seminars tackled healthy eating, mindfulness, and sleep among other topics.
New Orleans is home of many cocktails; everything from the Sazerac to the Hurricane was dreamt up in the bars dotting the city. Joe Gendusa, who’s literally written the book on the NoLa cocktail scene, offers a fascinating two-hour tour of some of the key spots that takes in Arnaud’s restaurant’s French 75 and Napoleon House’s Pimms cup among others.
From March 2 through March 4, 2019, AFAR Experiences is heading to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras. Register now to revel in New Orleans’ traditional music, food, and cocktail scenes alongside AFAR editors.
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