Getting Schooled at Tales of the Cocktail

It's called a cocktail "festival," but Tales of the Cocktail is in some ways like a conference, only the most awesomest conference ever! If you were to mix this conference in a shaker, it'd be two parts parties, two parts education, one part advertising, and a dash of networking. Pour this lively concoction into a welcoming host city and garnish with a swag bag. Tales of the Cocktail hosted its first ever event outside New Orleans in Vancouver, B.C., last weekend--a mini-version of the main event happening in the Crescent City this year from July 20-24.

Tales of the Cocktail originated eight years ago in New Orleans, the cradle of cocktail culture. Every year since then cocktail aficionados, bartenders, booze producers, and writers have attended the event to pimp their product or book, or learn more about the history and future of cocktails. It was at Tales in 2010 that Zig Zag Café bartender Murray Stenson was named the Best Bartender in America. I have yet to attend the big NOLA event, but traveled to Vancouver last weekend to check out Tales of the Cocktail "On Tour."

The Vancouver event featured seminars like "Famous New Orleans Cocktails," "The Science of Cocktails," and "The Importance of Ice in Cocktails," among others. Unlike other conferences, seminars at Tales start at a hangover-sympathetic 10:30 a.m.--plus these seminars serve cocktails, instead of the usual offering of coffee, juice, and stale pastries. All the events and seminars are sponsored by some big-name booze company, so the alcohol flows and names like Hendrick's, Buffalo Trace, and Don Julio are repeated often. That being said, the seminars are incredibly entertaining and educational, especially for a cocktail novice like myself.

The big takeaways from the weekend for me came from the seminar "Famous New Orleans Cocktails." What I didn't know then, but I know now, is the rich cocktail history of The Big Easy. Some of the earliest cocktails were served in egg cups called coquetiers, a French name thought to be where the word "cocktail" was derived. Bitters were the key ingredient in cocktails, and some of the earliest bitters made and used were Peychaud's, made by a pharmacist of that name. And when ice began to be shipped from ice houses in New England to warmer climates in the late 1800s is when chilled cocktails really began to take off.

There is a lot more to be learned about cocktails--and Tales of the Cocktail aims to teach anyone interested everything they ever wanted to know, and more, about cocktails. There are over 50 seminars at the New Orleans event this summer, including "Civilization Begins with Distillation," "Science of Stirring," "Umami in Cocktails," and more. It's like summer camp for grown-ups.

The Sazerac is believed to be one of the earliest cocktails, and while it's disputed whether it was named after Sazerac whisky or the Sazerac coffee house, no one disputes the recipe.


1 cube sugar

1½ ounces Sazerac Rye Whiskey or Buffalo Trace Bourbon

¼ ounce Herbsaint or Absinthe

3 dashes Peychaud's Bitters

Lemon peel

Pack an Old-Fashioned glass with ice.

In a second Old-Fashioned glass place the sugar cube and add the Peychaud's Bitters to it, then crush the sugar cube.

Add the Sazerac Rye Whiskey or Buffalo Trace Bourbon to the second glass containing the Peychaud's Bitters and sugar.

Empty the ice from the first glass and coat the glass with the Herbsaint, then discard the remaining Herbsaint.

Empty the whiskey/bitters/sugar mixture from the second glass into the first glass and garnish with lemon peel.

(From © 2011 Sazerac Co.)

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