Highlights of 2012 TALES of the COCKTAIL in New Orleans


Japanese whisky haven in a Warehouse District loft with Suntory

Ryan Fitzgerald and team accepts for Beretta, which wins Best Cocktail Bar in America at Tales’ Barroom Brawl

It was another humid, sweltering year at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, the world’s biggest cocktail event, drawing thousands of global attendees for a relentless week of tastings, seminars and parties in the great queen of the South. Any reason to be in Nola is a good one and with the city overrun with some of the world’s best bartenders, brand ambassadors, writers and distillers, it was, as usual, one long party.

Being Tales’ 10th anniversary, the parties were particularly big this year, though for me none came close to the magic of William Grant & Sons’ party in a Garden District mansion at Tales two years ago. I found myself craving such an event in the midst of cacophonous, overcrowded blowouts, urging me to slip away with like-minded folk for conversation in quieter settings. Nevertheless, the week held numerous highlights:


Enrique Sanchez of Jasper’s joyfully mixes cocktails as part of the Beretta SF team

Though Tales’ awards continue to be Europe and New York-centric (evidenced by the London-dominant wins at the Spirited Awards), this year SF made a dent, only hinting at our long-established cocktail culture that has set trends rather than been a recent comer to the nationwide renaissance of the last few years.

At Thursday night’s Bar Room Brawl, bars from six US cities represented with bar teams serving special menus as brass bands (and beyond) rocked on. The winner of Best Cocktail Bar in America? Our own Beretta. Ryan Fitzgerald, Jennifer Colliau, Enrique Sanchez, and a hard-working crew of SF bartenders ecstatically accepted a giant trophy, doing us proud.

Roasting a whole pig at The Bon Vivants’ Pig & Punch BBQ fundraiser

The Bon Vivants (Scott Baird, Josh Harris, Alex Straus) deservedly won The John Lermeyer Award for Good Behavior at Tales’ Spirited Awards. It was a joy watching them win the first award of the night for their humanitarian work, which gives a good name to bartenders everywhere. Besides painting over 30 New Orleans KIPP Charter School classrooms with a team of volunteers, they threw their 3rd annual Pig & Punch fundraiser for the schools Saturday in Washington Square Park. With delicious barbecue (whole hog, y’all), Don Julio and George Dickel punches, and a crowd of over 800 people, they raised over $21k (they started this merely three years ago raising $1600). Impressive growth and a shining example of how to have fun and give back at the same time.

The stage set as a pub for the Spirited Awards

With two of the four nominees for Spirited Awards‘ Best Restaurant Bar being from SF (the other was the wonderful Bar Agricole), it was a delight to see the ever-talented Erik Adkins win for The Slanted Door, with equally impressive work behind Heaven’s Dog. I wish for more US bars to be awarded – and for nominees to be more current as Tales seems to often nominate places that were great or established years ago. Though I adore London and have been to all the nominated London bars, I can’t help but notice the US isn’t represented in London Cocktail Week, for example, so why wouldn’t we reserve at least a bigger section of the platform to acknowledge the fantastic bars nationwide?


Single barrel Japanese whisky vials for mixing or poured on the rocks

A hearty thank you to Suntory and the fabulous Neyah White and Gardner Dunn (Suntory Brand Ambassadors) for what was THE highlight of Tales: an intimate, invite-only tasting room in a Warehouse District loft. Down a candlelit hall was a white room punctuated by glowing bar, decorative kimono on loan from a Paris museum, and mini-tables lined with vials of single barrel whiskies from the Suntory line for us to mix and pour over hand-cut ice. Making the experience even more memorable, Michael Mina corporate chefs, Lincoln Carson and Gary Lamorte, flew out from SF and Vegas respectively to cook four exceptional bites. I’m still dreaming of a 76 degree sous vide egg strained through a siphon, creamy and whipped, over vanilla brioche studded with bacon. Togarashi Fiddle Faddle popcorn was an addictive snack, and a cool banana mochi over golden raisin puree elicited a long, slow sigh of delight.

Togarashi Fiddle Faddle

Alongside the space’s Zen peace and camaraderie with other whisky aficionados, the afternoon was landmark due to a bar of everything from Hakushu 25 year, Yamazaki 1984, Hibiki 30 year, and other extremely rare, unavailable in the US Japanese whiskies. The privilege was not lost on me, and while I would be hard pressed to chose a favorite, Yamazaki ’84 lingered on my palate long after I returned to the blinding heat outside.


Meeting with distillers, brand ambassadors and previewing unreleased spirits are key reasons I go to Tales, even if there wasn’t an overwhelming offering of the new this year. On the first day of Tales, I spent time with WhistlePig master distiller Dave Pickerell, who you may know as Maker’s Mark master distiller for 14 years. As Pickerell told me himself, I was the very first to try his upcoming October release, TripleOne. TripleOne is WhistlePig rye but at 111 proof (vs. 100), aged 11 years (vs. 10), and at $111 per 750 ml. bottle. The bracing TripleOne doesn’t boast quite as long a finish as the flagship rye, but it’s even more complex, surprisingly akin to applejack or Calvados at first sip, opening up into spicy rye body with citrus and chocolate notes. American whiskey fans, watch for this one. You’re going to want it.


Agostino Perrone of London’s Connaught bar serves amari

You say amaros, I saw amari (plural for amaro). The bottom line is amaro (Italian for “bitter”), the wide range of herbal liqueurs commonly sipped as after-dinner digestifs in Italy, has been hot the past few years and only continues to get hotter. Though there are still countless amari not yet imported from Europe, big names like Fernet and Cynar have ushered bitter liqueurs into the mainstream. Amari popped up all over Tales, most notably in the Fortified and Aromatized Wines Tasting Room highlighting port, sherry, etc… and some of the US’ best vermouths like SF’s Sutton Cellars and Imbue in Portland. The highlight of the tasting was Neil Kopplin pouring Imbue’s debut of brand new Petal & Thorn, a gorgeously bitter gentian liqueur using homegrown beets for color, alongside cinnamon and menthol.

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Sipping amari with Spirit of Italy

On the Italian front, The Spirit of Italy (TSOI) threw a two morning brunch hosted by Francesco Lafranconi, featuring seven producers: Amaro Lucano, Luxardo, Moccia, Nardini, Pallini, Toschi and Varnelli. Lafranconi’s cocktails stole the show, like addictive:

Amaro Lucano-Bourbon Milk Punch
1 ¼ oz Amaro Lucano
¾ oz Bourbon Whiskey
4 oz Milk Punch Mix*
Method: shake ingredients with ice then strain into a tumbler.
Garnish: orange peel and sprinkle of nutmeg.

*Milk Punch Mix (keep refrigerated):
2 oz milk
2 oz half & half
5 drops of vanilla extract
½ oz rock candy syrup

Zabov NOLA Coffee

1 oz Zabov Liqueur
½ oz Cream-style Sherry
½ oz Chocolate Liqueur
2 oz Chicory Coffee Blend
2 tbsp. Zabov-flavored whipped cream*
Method: shake ingredients with ice then strain into a glass coffee mug.
Garnish: zested lemon peel and sprinkle of cinnamon sugar.

Zabov in a Nola Coffee

*Zabov-flavored whipped cream:
12 oz heavy cream
4 oz Zabov.
In a pint-size whipping cream syphon combine the ingredients, charge and keep refrigerated.

Zabov is essentially zabaglione (the Italian dessert of whipped egg yolks, sugar, sweet wine) in a bottle – a little sweet on its own but fascinating in texture and in the coffee cocktail. On the other end of the spectrum, Varnelli’s expensive ($52), uber-bitter Amaro Sibilla is a complex delight, unfolding with chestnuts, coffee, honey, and intense bitter notes – not for the novice amaro drinker.


Evanston, Illinois’ FEW at Indie Spirits That Rock

Kudos to Dave Schmier for Indie Spirits That Rock, a version of his Indy Spirits Expo, which I’ve been to every year in SF. Crowds thronged around small, independent spirits – they need a bigger tasting room next year. I was “tattooed” with an artful, temporary St. George Breaking & Entering Bourbon tat (which everyone thought was real) and even discovered a few new spirits I had not tasted before.

Smooth Ambler Gin at Indie Spirits

Standouts included West Virginia’s Smooth Ambler Spirits‘ (I’d had their Old Scout bourbon before) fascinating Barrel-Aged Gin, aromatic with orange marmalade, bitter subtleties, pine, cinnamon, and their Very Old Scout bourbon, earthy with oak, nuts, toast and butter. Few Spirits (from Evanston, IL) also offered an intriguing rye and bourbon, the former spicy, sweet, bracing, the latter smooth but not lacking in character. I look forward to revisiting each of these.


Inside Francis Ford Coppola’s French Quarter home

Besides Suntory’s sacred den of Japanese whisky, the other haven from Tales madness and New Orleans’ Summer heat was Francis Ford Coppola’s French Quarter home. By invite only, we were merely given an address, entering a candlelit walkway into a classic New Orleans courtyard and hundred years’ old home with exposed brick walls, fireplaces, grand piano and jazz duo serenading us as we sipped Krug and Inglenook Wine. I stopped in more than once, grateful for a peaceful gathering on comfy couches where I ran into friends from New York to Ireland.


Courtyard at Coppola’s home

Thanks to Portland’s House Spirits for the brilliant idea of a coffee bar – with booze, of course –  every morning at an art gallery across the street from the Tales’ home base of the Hotel Monteleone.

Iced Stumptown Coffee perked us up on those slugglishly hot, post-party mornings. And if one must add House Spirits’ coffee liqueur or aquavit to the coffee, so be it.

A memorable Spirited Dinner on 4/26 celebrating Sindey Frank Importing Co.’s 40th anniversary at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse with drinks by (L-R): Sean Kenyon (Denver), Sean Hoard (NYC), Ivy Mix (NYC), Todd Richman (NYC), chef de cuisine Alfred Singleton

2012 TALES of the COCKTAIL
Spirited Award Winners

The John Lermeyer Award for Good Behavior:
The Bon Vivants 

American Bartender of the Year:
Eric Alperin
Charles Joly
Jeffrey Morganthaler
Joaquin Simo

Best American Brand Ambassador:
Erick Castro
Elayne Duke
Jamie Gordon
Jim Ryan

Best American Cocktail Bar:
Anvil Bar & Refuge – Houston, Texas
Clover Club – Brooklyn, New York
Columbia Room – Washington, District of Columbia
The Varnish – Los Angeles, California

Best Bar Mentor:
Bridget Albert
Wayne Collins
Francesco Lafranconi
Steve Olson

Best High Volume Cocktail Bar:
Beretta – San Francisco, California
Clover Club – Brooklyn, New York
Eastern Standard – Boston, Massachusetts
La Descarga – Los Angeles, California

Best Cocktail Writing, Non-Book:
Time Out NY

Best Cocktail Writing:
Gary Regan
Robert Simonson
David Wondrich
Naren Young

Best International Brand Ambassador:
Jacob Briars
Ian Burrell
Claire Smith
Angus Winchester

Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book:
The American Cocktail by the Editors of Imbibe
Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-all
Gaz Regan’s Annual Manual for Bartenders 2011
PDT Cocktail Book

Best New Product:
Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum
Cognac Pierre Ferrand 1840 Formula
Lillet Rose
Perlini System

Best Restaurant Bar:
Bar Agricole – San Francisco, California
Rivera – Los Angeles, California
Saxon + Parole – New York, New York
Slanted Door – San Francisco, California

International Bartender of the Year:
Zdenek Kastanek
Alex Kratena
Sam Ross
Dushan Zaric

World’s Best Cocktail Bar:
69 Colebrooke Row – London, United Kingdom
Black Pearl – Melbourne, Australia
The Connaught Bar – London, United Kingdom
The Varnish – Los Angeles, California

World’s Best Cocktail Menu:
Black Pearl – Melbourne, Australia
Callooh Callay – London, United Kingdom
Clover Club – Brooklyn, New York
Mayahuel – Manhattan, New York

World’s Best Drinks Selection:
Artesian Bar at The Langham – London, United Kingdom
Death & Co. – Manhattan, New York
Eau de Vie – Sydney, Australia
Salvatore Calabrese at The Playboy – London, United Kingdom

World’s Best Hotel Bar:
Artesian Bar at The Langham – London, United Kingdom
Clive’s Classic Lounge – Victoria, British Columbia
Clyde Common – Portland, Oregon
The Zetter Townhouse – London, United Kingdom

World’s Best New Cocktail Bar?: 
Aviary – Chicago, Illinois
Candelaria – Paris, France
Canon – Seattle, Washington
The Zetter Townhouse – London, United Kingdom

Helen David Lifetime Achievement Award:
Gaz Regan