I learned that New Orleans was the birthplace of the cocktail. Antoine Amedee Peychaud, a French planter and pharmacist, was forced to flee the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo during the Black Rebellion of 1793. He relocated to New Orleans and opened an apothecary shop on Royal Street. The building is still standing and has been an antique shop opened by the Cohen family for the last 100 years. Peychaud brought with him an old family recipe for bitters. He would add a few drops of brandy toddies, the Creole gentleman’s drink and restorative of the day. Peychaud served the drink in a double-end eggcup called a Coquetier (kah-kuh-TYAY). After purchasing Louisiana from France in 1803, many Americans moved to the Crescent City. Coquetier was most frequently heard as COCK-TAY and was soon slurred into COCKTAIL (after a few drinks.)
I admit it; I am a wine guy. I have been teaching and writing about wine for over 45 years. Even my e-mail spells it out- VINORON. A few years ago I added spirits to my journalistic endeavors and even shared teaching a spirit course at The International School Hospitality Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University. I have traveled to Scotland (Scotch), Ireland (Irish), France (Cognac), London (Gin), several Caribbean Islands (Rum), Mexico (Tequila), Peru (Pisco), Jerez (Brandy), Italy (Grappa) and Sweden (Vodka) for my research.
There was an opportunity to broaden my knowledge and find interesting angles for stories: The 6th Annual Tales of the Cocktail held in summer in New Orleans. I had been to New Orleans a year ago in May for the Wine & Food Festival (The Shame of America). “Get there and everything will be taken care of,” said Bonnie Warren, my previous host. True to her word, my five nights at Harrah’s New Orleans Casino & Hotel, including breakfasts and dinners, were covered. I just paid for airfare. The Tales of The Cocktail gave me a Media ID which worked for admission to most of the seminars and tastings.
I was ready to go to work. Tales headquarters was the historic Hotel Monteleone at the edge of the French Quarter on Royal Street. I quickly learned that any seminar taking place on the 16th floor roof was like weekend travel to The Hamptons. I avoided all those seminars after the first day when I waited, along with many other people, 20-30 minutes to go up and come down the two elevators. The other two disappointing functions for me were the two outside/inside ones- The Royal Street Strut and The Tiki Party. The strut had few shops open with very limited food (luckily, I was dining at Brennan’s that night). I arrived at The Tiki Party a few minutes early but had to wait almost a 1/2 hour for them to open the tent flaps. I had a few food selections and one drink, but when I looked up the tent was jammed and there was no place to sit. Did I mention it was hot outside and inside the tent? I left early and went back to my room at Harrah’s (next door to the tent). The Spirit Award ceremony was held at the Theatre at Harrah’s Casino and had plenty of food and drink and there were tables and chairs.
The seminars were fabulous. The problem was many were held at the same time, so I found myself multi-tasking and spending half the allotted time at two seminars. The Reidel Spirit Glass Tasting was the highlight of the whole five days. George Reidel was the best speaker and his dry sense of humor made the seminar number one. We also got to keep the Tequila, Single Malt & Cognac glasses.
My other favorite events included: The Tasting Rooms with free admission and sponsors pouring their products. I found some hotel guests who just wandered by and were smart enough to taste for free. For me, it was about seeing old friends and colleagues. Emerging Spirits or “What is the next big thing” Donna Hood Crecca, editor of Cheers Magazine led the panel discussion. The answer is: Absinthe, Pisco, Liqueurs, Rye, Rum, Sake, Gin, Irish and Cachacha. The opening of the Absinthe Museum of America was where I tasted the formerly banned products. How to Taste Like a Professional and Whiskies You Have Never Tasted Before were both led by Paul Pecault, who has finally published the revised edition of his Kindred Spirits book. I have used his old edition on hundreds of occasions for research. Artisan Spirits discussed products from smaller companies. The Spirited dinner at Zoe in the W Hotel perfectly matched many cocktails with the dinner courses. The Media Breakfast at Brennan’s was over subscribed and led by Bonnie Warren, who has done their public relations for over 21 years. She along with Rachel Douglas the public relations director at Harrah’s were my hosts. I sat in on every seminar that David Wondrich, Gary Regan or Jared Browm/Anistatia Miller conducted. I managed to tag along at the very end of historian Joe Gendusa’s daily New Orleans Cocktail Bar Tour. He visited 4 to 6 cocktail bars near The Monteleone Hotel with one free drink provided.
Due to the overlapping times the following are seminars I would have attended if I could clone myself: Eggs in Cocktails and Beer as an Ingredient in Cocktails; Bourbon & Blues and Rum and All That Jazz; The First International Symposium of Cocktail Shaker Collectors; Ultimate Bloody Mary Championship; Molecular Mixology & The Flowering Punch; Bartenders of The World Suite (started at 11PM when I was sleeping) and The History of Bar Snacks.
In 2007 the event used 7,250 mint leaves, 3,580 lime wedges, 800 watermelon cubes, 560 gin soaked dried cherries, 1,390 orange slices and 2 tons of ice.
During the opening ceremony the Sazerac was declared the official cocktail of New Orleans and The Punch & Judy by Charlotte Voisey was named the official cocktail for Tales 2008.