Color Me a Drink: Tales of the Cocktail 2015

Pisco Porton Punch with Chef's Garden flower at Defining the Ultimate Pisco Punch, photo ctsy Trade Commission of Peru in Miami
Pisco Porton Punch with Chef's Garden flower at Defining the Ultimate Pisco Punch, photo ctsy Trade Commission of Peru in Miami

Wondering where we’ve been for the past week and change? Well, I’m pleased to announce that we survived another Tales of the Cocktail!

La Sirena cocktail at the Mesa Milagro spirited dinner.
La Sirena cocktail at the Mesa Milagro spirited dinner.

For those who have been hiding under a whiskey stone, TOTC is an annual five-day (and change) conference in New Orleans showcasing spirits and mixed drinks in all forms new and classic for beverage industry and consumers who gather from all parts of the world. Seminars, spirits tasting rooms and pop-up bars take place around the city by day, parties and events at night.

Though not entirely intentional, each year a theme emerges. When the convention was first introduced, somewhere around the time the word “bespoke” became a part of everyday parlance, it was all about the re-emergence of classic cocktails with fresh ingredients, shunning blenders,

prefab drink mixes and powders. The next era of TOTC was focused on bartending and hospitality and how to best serve customers in settings shared with beer and shots mentalities. Next it was about how to improve upon the newly emerged classic cocktails and use history as a backdrop to innovate drinks. Last year the theme was clearly about

photo by Adam Levy
photo by Adam Levy

how to improve cocktails that have been otherwise shunned to the “guilty pleasures” category of drinking, such as Harvey Wallbangers and Long Island Iced Teas.

2015 seems to be the year bartenders have become impressionist painters, and to me, color, as well as temperature was the emerging theme. When restaurateur Danny Meyer, who also happened to be this year’s keynote speaker, opened Porchlight Bar in New York earlier this year, the Gun Metal Blue cocktail suddenly became almost as popular as cat photos on Instagram. That blue curaçao liqueur is no longer gathering dust behind the bar at upscale drink establishments, and Tales was definitely going through a blue

Makers Mark 46 Cherry Julep at Beam Suntorys
Makers Mark 46 Cherry Julep at Beam Suntorys

period this year. This was particularly evident at the delicious and relaxing Mesa Milagro Tequila dinner at Wonderland townhouse in the Bywater, where guests dined on courses prepared by Chef Diego Galicia from San Antonio’s Mixtli at a blue accented table, and at least one blue drink graced our lips. The official end to TOTC is the Pig n’ Punch barbecue hosted by

the Bon Vivants where $40 t-shirts are sold as charity for the local Kipp Charter School. Guess what color the shirts were this time?

This year is also the pinnacle of the vivid tiki renaissance as well as the resurgence of frozen drinks. One of the most popular seminars was “Perfect Frozen Drinks: Science and Practice,” sponsored by Pallini Limoncello with Philip Duff and Dave Arnold. Tasting rooms came outfitted with frozen drink machines, as evidenced at “Anchored in San Francisco” with Anchor Distilling and “Indie Spirits That Rock.”

It’s no longer acceptable to simply make a drink taste good, it has to look pretty too. I was surprised to see that even what are usually pretty sad-looking, batched seminar cocktails now have thoughtful flourishes. Discussions such as “Grape Escape: Peru’s Pisco Varietals”

Storm Trooper spins at the World War II Museum at William Grant Welcome to Yonderyear party, photo Amanda Schuster
Storm Trooper spins at the World War II Museum at William Grant Welcome to Yonderyear party, photo Amanda Schuster

showcased the vibrant colors of Peruvian culture while providing Pisco

education.

This is also the year American travel to Cuba became legal again. Not only did this year’s Spirited Awards ceremony call for an Old World Havana themed dress code, with bright colors and floral patterns, everything came up roses (and other blossoms). Most notably, the Beam Suntory Jul(e)p Hour took place in a stunning French Quarter townhouse decked out in floral splendor with drinks to match, and no one seemed able to resist an excuse to visit Beach Bum Berry’s nearby bar, Latitude 29, for a pretty tiki cocktail with flower garnishes.

Since the drinks have long been sipped, perhaps it's best to let the images speak for themselves. Congrats to the team at The Dead Rabbit, Ivy Mix and all the winners of the Spirited Awards. Thanks to Ann and Paul Tuennerman, a.k.a. Mr. and Mrs. Cocktail, for another terrific few days in NOLA!

Until next year, Tales of the Cocktail! Cheers! Photo Amanda Schuster
Until next year, Tales of the Cocktail! Cheers! Photo Amanda Schuster