Mind-blowing pop-up bars permeating the French Quarter with an entire hotel on Bourbon Street possessed with the spirit of like-minded revelers roaming seminar ballrooms, insane brand-hosted parties in tricked-out suites and tasting rooms.
Everyone is thirsty, but Tales of the Cocktail is not about drinking. “Tales” is an epic, five-day industry event about tasting, learning, and experiencing distilled spirits and imaginative cocktails with people that drink the same language.
No small feat for this local non-profit organization. Just ask any Uber or Lyft driver or restaurateur. There were 30,000 participants this year.
While access into tasting rooms and rsvp-only bashes and brand-hosted blowouts is a game all its own, I set out to learn, mingle and accept as many kind invitations as my schedule (and liver) could handle.
This was my third year attending Tales, but Milk Punch made its official debut at #TOTC2019 with a four-week-old newborn web site, shiny new business cards and all. Wahoo!
While much of what we (three sipping contributors) discovered will no doubt be stirred into Milk Punch along the way, here’s some actionable information and insight for the enthusiast or hostess, as seen, heard and tasted the week of Tales in The Land of Cocktails, New Orleans.
10 tips, techniques and travel notes from TOTC 2019
- 1Frozen cocktails are hydrating!
Sounds like fake booze news, right? Not exactly. Frozen drinks are 60 percent water therefore they provide hydration. Good thing, as daydrinking through the balmy streets of the French Quarter in mid-July is not for amateurs. Frozen Irish Coffee, anyone?
- 2Color comes from Whole Foods
How to achieve vivid color with natural ingredients in cocktails is an ever-trending topic, thanks to instagram. I will spare you the historical deets on crushed bugs to make red food dye (!) but red is not my color pain point. In a super-nerdy awesome seminar, moderator Camper English (the Alton Brown of booze and cocktail techniques) enlightened me on beet powder, dragonfruit powder and blue spirulina. Insert running emoji with a pink drink splashing…
- 3Sugar reserves color in citrus
You know the dried citrus wheels dropped in drinks as a garnish? Here’s another little take-home tip from Camper: Sprinkle with sugar to prevent browning. Dried orange wheels begin to appear in my own cocktails around the holidays, but Camper’s tidbit reminds me we should teach you to make them, too—and for any season!
- 4When batching, beware of “blooming”
As one who creates large format drinks for events, I know all too well that how to batch craft cocktails is an ongoing conundrum. “Batching is an art, not a science,” says Diageo Reserve’s Bill Codman, who led a seminar on the hot topic. I’m religious about certain techniques pertaining to citrus and storage, but here’s what I didn’t know: “Be cautious of blooming,” warns Codman. Blooming is when a specific flavor increases and ultimately ruins it. The takeaway: never put aromatics (bitters, vermouth, herbs) in the batch. Good to know!
- 5The Sazerac House will be intoxicating
“Spellbound” was the descriptor uttered on a hard-hat media tour inside the Sazerac House, set to open October 2019. With 52,000 square feet resting on the edge of Canal and Magazine, the free-admission museum will pay tribute to the city’s official cocktail, the Sazerac, with dashes of bitters history. A barrel of Sazerac Rye will be distilled a day (then aged in Kentucky) and Peychaud’s Bitters will be bottled before visitors’ eyes. The high-tech interactive experiences through the exhibits will be truly intoxicating.
The Sazerac House, 101 Magazine Street, New Orleans
- 6No Lillet? Use Chardonnay!
Even if you’re a Vesper virgin, the martini preferred by 007 is not only approachable, but super simple to make. This variation currently rolling out to 70 Fairmont-managed properties, including the legendary American Bar at The Savoy hotel in London, substitutes New World Chardonnay (California) for the Lillet. An aromatized wine, Lillet is similar to vermouth and, well, you probably don’t always stock it. Substitute with an oaky Chardonnay! As part of their Classics Perfected program, the Carte Blanche is “shaken, not stirred” and simply beautiful.
Make this cocktail!
- 7Never underestimate a highball
If you want to venture into tasting other spirits, try it in a highball! My thirst to learn more about Scotch, what my parents drink, led me to a 101 seminar on whisky. Moderator Becky Paskin sketched both Scotch’s history and future, dispelling the myth that Scotch is a man’s drink despite what distillers still convey in modern marketing. Ahhh, and we sipped on 12-year Dewar’s topped with soda. “It’s lovely on a hot sunny day, refreshing and light,” noted Becky, editor of scotchwhisky.com. Try it and make both your mom and dad proud!
- 8Women make whiskey, too!
We met brilliant women passionately distilling their own brands of spirits. “I love everything about the conversation of rum,” declared Colorado distiller Karen Hoskin of Montanya Rum, a “high mountain rum” crafted with cane sugar sourced from Louisiana farms and distilled at high altitudes. To a room of tastemakers with glasses raised at Sylvain, she attributed the growth of her award-winning rums to grit. “Don’t apologize for being different. I’ve made my way by breaking the rules.”
- 9Be absinthe minded
At at Happy Hour event called Meet the Distiller, Mixer and Makers, we also met the lovely Absinthia Vermut, maker of a new California artisanal organic absinthe by the same name. Yes, that’s her legal name and we look forward to learning more of her story and tasting her blanche absinthe (Swiss-style “white,” not verte) again when Belle Époque, a new absinthe lounge in the French Quarter, opens this summer! We will be sharing a taste of both soon!
- 10Stay true to your mission
On a highly personal note, I had many affirmations about Milk Punch while at TOTC: an arm unexpectedly squeezed, a pat on the back, a surprising compliment shared by someone you barely know or highly respect. My ultimate takeaway: even if your own friends or family “don’t get it,” keep going. Stay true to your style and your mission. Mine with Milk Punch is to bridge learning gaps and incidentally make female content the new norm, among other things. Don’t drink the kool-aid, create your own damn cocktail!
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Featured Image: Bacardi La Gran Familia pop-up inside Angela King Gallery f. local Cure mixologists.