For the first time ever, Lisa and I went to Tales of the Cocktail! Tales is the world’s premiere cocktail event – about 20,000 people head to New Orleans for the week-long annual show in July. Attendees are usually bartenders, writers, liquor brand reps, craft cocktail enthusiasts, public relations folks, marketing people, “founders” of the craft cocktail movement – even restaurateurs or hospitality folks.
Though we had a good idea of what to expect from the event from the schedule we’d received, it’s hard to summarize the vibe of Tales until you’re in the midst of it. For 5 days, we learned, partied, ate, and drank our way through the conference, and here’s what I thought of the experience:
My Favorite Parts
Because we were podcasting daily from the show, we had a great excuse to talk to some of the biggest names in cocktails, like Dale Degroff, David Wondrich, and Chris McMillian. They couldn’t have been kinder to us.
I had a great time working together with Lisa and discovering New Orleans with her as first-time visitors. If we met you at Tales, I’m sure you’ll agree that Lisa is much more fun to hang out with than me.
Interviews that were unforseeably and awesomely well-timed. We talked to Ivy Mix, who won “American Bartender of the Year” at Saturday night’s Spirited Awards, and we interviewed Sean Kenyon, whose bar in Denver won “Best American Cocktail Bar” (Kenyon himself won Best Bartender last year, too).
“Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.” -St. Francis de Sales
This is one of many quotes that begins each chapter of Jennifer Crilley’s 2014 book The Seeker’s Guide to Bartending. The Seeker’s Guide is similar to the “For Dummies” series, acknowledging that readers have basic bartending skills and are working towards their goal of being a bartender.
An easy read, The Seeker’s Guide incorporates Crilley’s personal stories of challenges, joys, and spiritual growth as a bartender. It’s helpful to know that the book was written by someone who has spent twelve years tending bar.
The book is very relatable, and each short chapter is filled with personal insights, fun facts, illustrations, simple tips, scientific facts, and perspective shifts. To top it all off, a related activity is placed at the end of each chapter for the readers application. You’ll find everything from insight into how to be a better bartender to overcoming fear, controlling emotions and interacting with customers, to managing tip expectations and money management.
The Seeker’s Guide to Bartending could really be called New Age Bartending based on the content – Crilley writes from personal experience with the clear intention of sharing this knowledge with hopeful bartenders. This is a great read for the up-and-coming bartender. Buy The Seeker’s Guide to Bartending here.
Editor’s note: this is the first post by our new team member Andrew Moore. Welcome to Simple Cocktails, Andrew!
Grey Goose fights a tough fight on a regular basis. For something legally defined as tasteless and odorless, there is a wide variety that you find in vodkas. Most people can tell the difference between a “cheap” gas-station vodka and a “premium” vodka, and the manufacturers of both work hard to make their clear substance stand out from the competition.
At $35-40 a bottle, Grey Goose is arguably the most recognizable premium vodka brand. It’s certainly got a great flavor, and with Lisa being my best vodka taster (since she has a better palate for it), Grey Goose is one of her favorites. There’s a natural, subtle sweetness in Grey Goose that comes from the French wheat that’s used in it’s distillate, like a touch of vanilla and almond. You’ll also find it still retains some of the familiar “burn” that you’ve experienced with other vodkas, too.
Le Melon is the newest of the Grey Goose flavors, made from French Cavaillon melons. By the flavor, a cavaillon is a close relative to the cantaloupe, though we found the flavor to be something like a cantaloupe and watermelon mix. Grey Goose’s flavors is something that the company does best – sticking with traditional vodka flavors like citrus and vanilla, and as far as I can tell, taking care not to sweeten these flavors (they remain at 40% abv). They’re quality enough and are perfectly pleasant to sip neat or on the rocks.
Vodka is a polarizing substance in the world of craft cocktails. Heck, Death & Co. released a cocktail book without a single vodka cocktail in it. Regardless of that, there is certainly a place for premium vodkas in the market, and Grey Goose continues to solidify their role with quality products at a reasonable – though premium – price.
A Tarantino kick and a nod to his cocktail selection. Beer pops? We taste Grey Goose. Lisa introduces “spiky” as a tasting word. “Did they invent the melon?” We taste Grey Goose Le Melon. Greg attempts to establish himself as “cool” ….and fails. “Is there voodoo involved?” Greg screamed like a young girl. “Where’s your dusty old books?” We make a Sazerac. “I’m so excited to have one in New Orleans.”
We will be recording podcasts live at Tales of the Cocktail this year! Best breakfast burritos and Donald Trump. We taste mezcal for the first time with Don Amado Rustico. “The first time you try something you almost never like it.” Greg mentions his old brandy cherry post. The theme is Mexico. We make a Sidecar cocktail.
Clearly, there are waves and trends that hit the liquor companies over the years, and I understand the legitimate need to create something new and keep buying eyes on your brand. When I started this blog, flavored vodkas were at their peak, and I even reviewed (it’s true) some of the stranger among them.
That initial wave of vodka flavors has subsided, though there’s always room for pleasant-tasting vodkas. Now, they’ve been replaced by flavored whiskeys and, in the past year or so, tequilas too.
When Lisa and I opened Hornitos Spiced Honeyfor the first time (podcast link), we weren’t sure what to expect. In fact, we guessed it could be similar to American Honey Sting, Wild Turkey’s ghost-pepper-infused whiskey. Thankfully, it’s not. This Hornitos variation (only their second flavor offering) is a “spiced honey liqueur,” a warm honey-and cinnamon combo that’s more like a tea companion than the dare shot that American Honey Sting is.
Spiced Honey is sweet, yes, but still comes in at the 35% ABV level, which is expected from flavored liquor these days. The flavors are natural and rich, but not overpowering, and it’s surprising how little you taste the tequila, which I’m sure is the point. Hornitos Spiced Honey is worth a try, and it is something I’d imagine mixes excellent with a cinnamon liqueur like RumChata or Chila Orchata or just in a White Russian or other desserty drink. At $20 a bottle, you’re bound to find some clever ways to enjoy this tequila.