How I Survived 7 Days at a Liquor Conference in New Orleans, Pt. I

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Each year, the liquor industry’s finest–from sales reps and brand ambassadors to media and bartenders and everything in between–flock to New Orleans in the swampy July heat for a weeklong boozefest celebrating brands from all corners of the globe through parties, tastings, more parties, educational seminars, and more. Last year marked my first Tales of the Cocktail experience, and naturally, I couldn’t miss it this time around, especially after The Macallan offered to fly me private. Yeah.

Needless to say, this year was lit…and thanks to my warm-up round last summer, I knew exactly what to do to keep myself safe and sane through it all. Here’s how things went down.

DAY 1

Remember that time I boarded a private jet to NOLA with one of my favorite scotch brands? Hashtag blessed. Obviously there was a ton of whisky involved (we did a proper tasting before whipping up some cocktails thanks to all the bartenders on board) but with tons of healthy food and snacks around, I made sure to stay well-fed and only sipped minimally knowing what was to come.

We touched down in NOLA early on in the afternoon; there were black SUVs waiting on the tarmac to take us to our respective hotels. I hopped in and was promptly Catahoula-bound.

After checking in and dropping my things in my room (and pounding a bottle of water), I went downstairs to get some work done on my laptop while sipping a pisco sour on the house. I booked through Mr. and Mrs. Smith and this was the cute welcome perk. It’s the little things, people!

From there, I decided to head over to the French Quarter to meet up with some of the new friends I’d made on the flight as they were all gathering at tiki mecca Latitude 29. We drank Pontchartrain Pearl Divers for hours on end between bites here and there–Beachbum Berry, the owner and a modern tiki legend, was walking around in the flesh and I fangirled everywhere. We continued to eat, drink, and hydrate into the night until closing, after which we all dispersed and I walked back to my hotel to prepare for the official first day, which would be much less chill than the unofficial first day (but equally fun and booze-filled, if not more).

DAY 2

I wake up at the crack of dawn ready for the relentless onslaught of liquor-fueled happenings that kick off today; keeping my health in mind (and appreciating the brands that take this into account during Tales), I put on my finest outfit and boater hat, grab my camera gear, and stroll to the Royal Sonesta in the French Quarter to get a smoothie and a massage from my friends at Novo Fogo, who are hosting a morning shindig dubbed the “Zen Den.”

Next up: a breakfast meeting with the coolest spirits nerd I’ve ever met: Stephan Berg, founder of The Bitter Truth. We chat about his newest product over shrimp and grits. Sustenance!

From there, I zip on over to Cane & Table, a legendary New Orleans cocktail haunt that’s been taken over by Bacardi in celebration of National Daiquiri Day. Being a daiquiri lover myself, there was no way I was missing this one–I spent the next few hours tasting guest bartenders’ riffs on the classic and doing an impromptu photoshoot with Bacardi’s Brand Ambassador Juan Coronado.

I’m starting to feel the rum going straight to my head, so I grab a bottle of water and vow to finish it in my Uber over to Esplanade Studios, where D’USSÉ is hosting a really cool event with 9th Wonder on the parallels between mixing cocktails and remixing music. The space was GORGE; I little trouble reigning in my attention span though to concentrate on the task at hand (learning how to mix music from Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s literal producer).

After heading down from the producer’s lair to the main floor, we mixed up some of our own concoctions; I’d lost track of time so had to jump in an Uber back to the French Quarter for a fancy tasting with Maker’s Mark at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House. *chugs water in car*

The Maker’s tasting was as Southern as it gets (in the best way). The group–comprised of mostly media–tasted some of the brand’s most cherished and interesting expressions before diving into a seafood buffet; I crammed half of a cheese plate into my mouth and headed back to the hotel to edit some photos. Your girl passed out–sleep is precious and fleeting at Tales of the Cocktail.

DAY 3

Early to rise, early to go speed dating with Bacardi at the Angela King Gallery, which has been transformed by the Martini & Rossi masterminds in collaboration with Dante (one of my favorite bars in the city) into Caffe Torino, a sunny all-day Italian cocktail bar. The Trade Advocacy Team (Bacardi’s squad of insanely cool and talented brand ambassadors from all across the country) sat at small two-tops scattered around the room; I grabbed a vermouth cocktail with frozen grapes (I’m 100% serious when I say that this would be my Death Row last meal request) before sitting down with bar legend Colin Asare-Appiah as my first date. Life hack: vermouth is low ABV (alcohol by volume), so if you’re looking to keep things light when ordering a drink, opt for something like this. After all the rounds were complete, I stole Colin for a photo opp at the Negroni fountain because LOL LOOK AT THAT JACKET.

Time to go visit my copper-wrapped friends at House of Elyx a few blocks over–these guys know how to throw a party so I can’t WAIT to see what they’ve got in store. There’s a vintage salon with drinking turbans (obvi), several bars, and a few of my favorite people (hi, Jonas and Jeremy!) so after some quality socializing, I find the little martini bar and order a 50/50 with a twist (half Elyx, half vermouth stirred and served up with a lemon zest garnish). Another life hack: a 50/50 (as opposed to, say, 4 parts gin or vodka to one part vermouth) is a great way to minimize the booze in a cocktail without compromising on drink quality or flavor profile.

I’m starting to feel the fatigue (but am still riding the hydration wave so am at least feeling physically healthy), thus naturally, I decide to treat myself to an espresso martini from my other favorite vodka brand–Grey Goose has put on a little speakeasy around the corner from Caffe Torino. I hide out inside against the pretty blue velvet curtains while cranking out some emails and sipping away my urge to nap.

At this point, I’m not even sure what time it is, but I do know that I’m due at Kingfish to go drink Dewar’s and take a spin in their adorable little barrel-themed motorcycle sidecars. Uber seems so pedestrian now.

After a healthy snack inside the restaurant for self-preservation, I sprint over to the Audubon Cottages, where the Luxardo team is hosting a pool party. I’d forgotten a swimsuit but they came to the rescue with an adorable Anchor Spirits-branded bikini–how did they know I’d always wanted a swimsuit with tiny alembic stills all over it?! You just get me. I take the opportunity to lie down and relax in the sun for a moment, cocktail in one hand and muffaletta in the other. After nearly losing track of time (again), I hop in an Uber bound for my hotel to do a quick outfit change in preparation for Bacardi’s glam AF Spirited Dinner at the Palace Café…clearly the only thing one wears to this sort of affair is a Rhode Resort dandelion silk kimono and some deep burgundy lipstick. Daiquiri, please.

Thank god for multi-course dinners. I’m filled to the brim with hearty Southern fare…I low-key loosen the belt on my dress and peace out for Bacardi’s epic portfolio party out at this crazy warehouse venue, The Sugar Mill. There are neon lights everywhere (and human flamingos, dudes on stilts, you know, the usual); I make a beeline toward the back to snag a coconut for the ‘gram and inhale a vaporized cocktail next door at the Dewar’s Tiny House, as one does. I am reborn.

…to be continued…


Written by Céline Bossart

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