Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
July 14, 2011
It’s been wicked hot these past of couple of months in the Big Easy, but relief is on its way.
This week, the town that sits hard by the banks of the muddy Mississippi will be awash in fresh fruit daiquiris, chilled glasses filled with potent martinis and cool tiki cocktail concoctions decorated with umbrellas. Yes, it is time for Tales of the Cocktail to muddle the minds, not to mention the berries and herbs, of those who live to sip in the City of New Orleans.
Tales of the Cocktail is not only the world’s best cocktail party; it is also an unrivaled jamboree for bartenders, mixologists, marketers of liquid libations, drink writers and the people who love them. On Wednesday, up to 18,500 people are expected to descend on the hot and sweaty streets (yes, Bourbon Street actually perspires) for a five-day event that provides an economic boost to New Orleans of more than $11 million annually.
Not bad for an event that had its origins just eight years ago when founder Ann Tuennerman decided that New Orleans, and the cocktail, deserved a gathering. That year about 200 people showed up and I’m guessing that just about all of them claim bragging rights that they were the foot soldiers in a movement that changed the way the world drinks.
And they are right.
Tuennerman conceived the event as a celebration of her town and its role in cocktail history, but the event has evolved to preach/teach the importance of professionalism in the bartending community and attracts thousands of believers who go back to their countries, cities, neighborhoods and bars to spread the word. The result has been a revolution in great drinks and a proliferation in the production of products with which to make them.
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Tales, as those in the know call it, is a combination of seminars, tastings, happy hours, pool parties, book signings, interview sessions, press conferences and more. Consider that the opening event will feature something called “The World’s Largest Genever Slurp.”
It seems the people who make Bols Genever, a Dutch spirit created from the distillation of three grains blended with juniper berries, have a tradition that they would like to share with the world. They call it The Bols Genever Kopstootje® (pronounced kop-stow-tjuh).
Literally translated as a “little head butt,” a Kopstootje® is a shot sipped from an original Dutch tulip glass filled to the brim with Genever, and paired with a beer. Bartenders will fill tulip glasses to the absolute rim, creating a meniscus shape that almost overflows, and a record number of drinkers will bend forward and slurp the top, following that with a sip of an accompanying beer.
A shot and a beer for the record books. What could be more Tales?
In addition to the fun stuff, the seminars can actually be scholarly.
This year, for example, a seminar will examine the verified derivation of the Mai Tai. Titled “Who’s Your Daddy? A Mai Tai Paternity Test,” the panelists will delve deep into the controversy over whether Don the BeachComber, Trader Vic, or someone else was the first to combine light and dark rum with lime juice and orange liqueur to create the cocktail classic. OK, scholarly may not be the right word.
In addition to raising the profile of cocktail culture, Tales has also helped make rock stars out of a few mixologists who come to the event each year. Names like David Wondrich, Tony Abou-Ganim, Gary Regan and, of course, Dale DeGroff, have become well known in cocktail circles, much like chefs have become celebrities in the culinary world. There is a symbiotic relationship between these top mixologists and Tales, as what is good for the guys is also good for the event. And vice versa.
If you want to go to Tales of the Cocktail this year, the pickings are pretty slim. Tickets for many, if not most of the events, are sold out and hotel rooms are at a premium. This, at a time of year when New Orleans is normally as slow as molasses. Thank yous from New Orleans to Ann Tuennerman for her efforts in taking the long hot summer and turning it into a book-it-early time of year must be legion.
But if you just gotta have a drink, throw some shorts and a T-shirt in a bag, head south and I’m sure you’ll find a little something to fill your glass.