Tales of the Cocktail 2015 Recap

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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.
  • It was great connecting with other liquor writers, many who I admire very much, like Leslie Jacobs Solmonson of 12 Bottle BarCocktail Whisperer Warren Bobrow, Bit by a Fox’s Prairie Rose, Camper English, Fred Minnick, and Natalie from Beautiful Booze.
  • 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).

My Biggest Surprises

  • The brands go all out at Tales. We ate multiple several-hundred-dollar lunches and dinners, and attended lavish parties with all-star bartenders at every station.
  • Everyone was so friendly. At the events, dinners, and luncheons we attended, people were happy and easy to talk to. I’m sure the cocktails helped.
  • You can’t drink everything. This may sound obvious, but with multiple tastings, seminars (which include cocktails), and events, you will be tempted (like I was) to say “Chris McMillian made me this cocktail, of course I’m going to drink it all!” The problem is, these sorts of amazing cocktail moments happen probably a dozen times a day, and will put you over the top if you don’t take it slow.
  • The seminar speakers were really knowledgeable and interesting (we attended sessions with Dale, Camper, and Darcy O’Neil).

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Who I Missed

  • Lisa asked me who I’d have liked to talk to that I didn’t see. Gary Regan, Dan Dunn and Kate Gerwin come to mind, but we met nearly everyone we wanted to meet. Plus we were both bummed that our friend Geoff from Drink Spirits couldn’t make it to Tales this year.

What I Didn’t Like

  • Sometimes, multiple seminars we wanted to go to were happening at the same time (there were usually 5-6 concurrent seminars). Of course, this is a testament to the sheer volume of content at Tales.
  • The heat. Yeah, it was New Orleans in July….but it was still HOT.

What I’ll do at Tales 2016

  • Store up my energy (late afternoon naps?) to go to more of the 10 pm “portfolio parties.”
  • Bring a lot more money (and a separate, empty, suitcase) for books.
  • Squeeze in even more seminars.
  • Attend the Spirited Awards.

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