Let me just start out by saying that I am a fully responsible, anal-retentive adult with an affinity for spreadsheets and a complex that sets in whenever I’m late to the office, a dinner reservation or even the most relaxed of social functions. However, I like to think that my love for cocktails and spirits offsets this square-ish side of me – I know my way around a bar, and I’m chock full of historic cocktail facts. So when I got the opportunity to attend the annual, New Orleans-based Tales of the Cocktail (the biggest, baddest event in the spirits industry), I thought, ‘What better way to celebrate the best in booze than heading to NOLA and keeping a diary of my daily experiences?’ So here we are…
9.30am At the airport. Tales is running an in-flight cocktail contest, and my newfound obsession with the Jungle Bird has inspired my choice. The only problem is that I’ve got one of the five necessary ingredients: spiced rum, which Bayou sent me in anticipation of my trip along with a satsuma liqueur, which I initially had no clue what to do with aside from pour over vanilla ice cream. I can’t let these guys down. Mission: convince airport bartender to sell me a mixture of pineapple juice, lime juice, Campari and simple.
10.30am There is only one bar in this entire terminal that has Campari and they are refusing to sell it to me to go. Is there no God?
10.45am We’re boarding. I’ve decided to settle for a Dark ‘n’ Stormy with some ginger beer I’d found, and see how it would taste with a satsuma float.
12 noon I’ve got a whole row to myself, the cocktail is actually satisfactory and required no shaking (which would’ve been another concern). Counting down the minutes ‘til landing.
2pm I have arrived! This hot, sticky wonderland has welcomed me with a swampy slap to the face, quickly followed by a polarizing blast of A/C inside the Tales headquarters, where I’m picking up my event tickets. Off to my hotel to settle in, freshen up, and hit Superior Seafood for a flight of their frozen cocktails.
6pm Six fried oysters and a bunch of frozen French 75s later, my friend Caitlin is driving me to my next stop – a Lillet party at Three Muses on Frenchmen Street.
7.45pm After a frozen coffee pick-me-up at Café du Monde, I learn that’s it’s (allegedly) National Daiquiri Day, so I make my way to the Ace for a Bacardi toast. I end up eating steak skewers in the corner by myself (daiquiri in hand) while befriending a sweaty chef and charging my phone. I make one more stop – and sip one more frozen cocktail – before calling it a night. It is only the first day, after all.
9am Up and at ‘em. Time for breakfast at Brennan’s in the Vieux Carré – going to sample their world-famous brandy milk punch while stuffing my face with various egg dishes.
11.30am I have now arrived at Napoleon House around the corner (with two dairy-centric cocktails already under my belt). I came for the Pimm’s Cup and stayed for the two-hour tour of the fascinatingly historic structure with the most magical man alive, Chris Montero. Who knew one could double as a killer chef and professional New Orleans historian?
2pm My girl Tara, grand dame of the drink-focused site Thirsty and my partner in crime/roomie for the week, has touched down and I’m waiting for her to arrive. In the meantime, I head to a giant antiques store in the building that formerly housed Antoine Peychaud’s apothecary. You probably have no clue who this dude is, but take my word for his importance in cocktail history. He’s basically the granddaddy of bitters. Anyway, this shop JUST SO HAPPENS to have an original bottle of Peychaud’s Bitters and I AM ALIVE. I snap a few photos and continue on my merry way.
3.30pm Tara meets me at The Sazerac Bar so we can chat with resident historian Russ Bergeron. We sample a Ramos Gin Fizz and a Sazerac (obviously) and pick his brain in between sips of these classic NOLA cocktails. Must. Hydrate.
5.30pm More drinks, people, more drinks (PLEASE SEND HELP!). Kidding, I’m actually fine. My two-sip guideline has not steered me wrong yet.
6.30pm After an Esquire party with cocktails served in flasks, we walk to Balise on Carondelet Street, where we climb a staircase to a gorgeous dining room with a bar manned by a Maison Premiere vet. Also, THERE IS A QUEENS PARK SWIZZLE WITH WHITE ARMAGNAC. Be still, my liver.
12.30pm I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with the crowd at the William Grant Party at the Orpheum. when a tray of boozy ice pops appears. I take one, naturally. After some aerial dancers do their thing and a full choir breaks into song on a balcony above, I decide that my time here has come to an end and dutifully make my way back to the hotel. Sweet slumber.
9am Early to rise, early to drink. But first, caffeine. I head to Soniat House boutique hotel for a leisurely café au lait in the courtyard.
12 noon The Old Absinthe House is legendary. I head there to sample and snap a few photos of the Absinthe Frappé. Christine, the bar’s lovely manager, takes me on a mini-tour of the property’s different rooms and floors, telling me the tall tales of the famous pirate Jean Lafitte and his alleged meetings with Andrew Jackson on the second floor before battle.
5.30pm Smirnoff has taken over the courtyard and the second floor of the Little Gem Saloon, which masquerades as the Cock’n Bull for the evening. I start off with a Moscow Mule in the first-floor garden, then realize the evening is an immersive theater performance. A group of actors soon whisks me upstairs, where the story of the cocktail’s origin unfolds over dinner.
10pm Party time. Tara and I are off to Bacardi’s portfolio shindig out at The Sugar Mill, which is essentially a gigantic warehouse that’s been transformed into a city block with an actual car and street signs. We wander and taste every cocktail we come across, from the various punch bowls and brand booths – there’s some Scotch being smoked in a decanter and I’m here for it all. We find some fried oysters outside and set up shop at a picnic table, where we socialize into the evening. Midnight rolls around and I opt for my hotel room versus the next party, but Tara is a soldier and continues on without me. I vow to hydrate upon my return.
10am Dear god. I really thought my two-sip rule would have my back. I can’t breathe.
10.21am *crawls into shower*
10.37am I feel like a new woman. I blow dry my hair for the first time this trip. Things are looking up.
11.40am We’re on our way to Herbsaint for a lunch with House of Lustau and Santa Teresa Rum, which is one of the events I’ve been most excited about.
12 noon Lunchtime! There’s a daiquiri in my hand and two master distillers across the table and I’m feeling fine. T and I run into a bunch of people we’ve met over the past few days, so there’s no social shortage. The only hangup: it’s now raining.
2.15pm We’ve each acquired a beautiful, giant wooden chest filled with rum and brandy, which we schlep down the street toward the French Quarter. There, Steve Luttmann (founder of Leblon Cachaça) is waiting for us in his CaipiMobile on Royal Street. We chat and sip cachaça. Is this legal?
6pm Heading over to SoBou to meet two of the most famous ladies in the NOLA restaurant business, Ti Martin and Lally Brennan. We sip three different punches and taste everything that’s passed around while chatting with Ti and Lally.
Late Rumour has it, Wu-Tang is performing in town. Sadly, I don’t have the stamina – not even for Wu-Tang. Bedtime.
10am Got to sleep in a little bit. My hangover says otherwise.
3pm Tara and I meet up with the guys from the Moscow Copper Co, and they engrave a copper mule mug with my name. In this moment, I am validated.
4.30pm We run into two fellow Tales-goers and they hop into our Uber bound for our next destination: Annunciation Street. We pull up to a rack of lab coats and goggles and are thoroughly confused, yet intrigued. The four of us don our new uniforms and proceed to the entrance of a small, dark structure, where beakers and jars of various liquids await. Our Jägermeister-mixing class under the tutelage of Global Brand Ambassador Nils Boese begins.
7.30pm We hightail it to the Spirited Awards, for which an angel somehow procured an extra pair of tickets for us. People are still milling about, drinking Jungle Birds and glasses of Champagne. We make our way to our table, where we become instant besties with the crowd of Englishmen seated around us, and our server is heavy handed with the bubbles. Things are off to a good start.
11pm Off to the Bartender’s Breakfast. This is gonna get weird.
1am So. Many. Cocktails. After picking up a few friends along the way, we make for the French Quarter. Next thing I know, we’ve bar-hopped for four hours and are now at Café du Monde eating beignets. Right then.
4am I call an Uber and ride off into the dawn. Time to catch a few hours of sleep before the last day of this madness.
9am I’m up and at ‘em and hanging at the legendary Arnaud’s. It’s just a tad awkward when the live jazz band serenades me (I’m dining solo), but also sufficiently amazing.
4.40pm We make it all the way down to the Faubourg Marigny district for the annual Pig & Punch party, where we catch the tail end and say hello to a bunch of people before everyone starts filtering out. There is no food left. I am sad.
5.30pm I’m staring at a flute full of minty-green wonder. It’s a grasshopper cocktail at Tujague’s. It’s love at first sight.
6.30pm We meet for dinner at Mother’s and reminisce about the events of this Tales over jambalaya, baked ham and po’ boys. I can’t believe it’s almost over, but I’m beyond ready to get back to real life and a real sleep schedule.
9am One final stop at NOLA Brewing for a morning tour.
12.30pm The time has come – we’re in an Uber on our way to the airport. I can’t believe this is over…TIMID TEAR EMOJI. Soon we board and eventually take off, bound for reality. Until next summer, that is…
Check out Tales of the Cocktail 2017 (18-23 July). Whether you’re a booze aficionado, in the industry, or none of the above, it’s an incredible experience for anyone looking to further their education and passion for cocktails and spirits. You probably won’t mind the parties, either.