Tales of the Cocktail 2013: Field Report

Monteleone Tales of the Cocktail

Thirsty South man in the field Scott Henry is in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail 2013. Scott is an amateur tippler who applies his training as a journalist — more than a decade writing, editing and drinking for Creative Loafing Atlanta — to pester barkeeps across the country about their cocktail recipes, their mixing techniques, that bottle I don’t recognize on the third shelf … no, the one behind the Becherovka, just to the left of the Peat Monster …

For those unfamiliar with TOTC, this is the pre-eminent cocktail convention in the U.S. and, quite probably, the world. Speaking of which, so far this morning, I’ve heard two different French accents from the presenters’ dais, one from Ireland and another from Mexico. That’s to be expected: TOTC has such a stature in the booze industry that it’s able to draw distillers, mixologists, cocktail historians and other experts from around the globe. A few minutes ago, I was chatting with Gary “Gaz” Regan, the celebrated bartender, author and spirits ambassador whose bearded visage adorns the labels of his own popular line of bitters. If you’re a working bartender or simply an enthusiast, like yours truly, TOTC is the one place where you can expect to bump into living legends like Regan, Dale DeGroff and David Wondrich at a tasting or, hell, even in the men’s room.

Spirit Master Gary Regan sets up for a botanically minded cocktail tasting

At this very moment, I’m sitting in a packed conference room in the fabled Monteleone Hotel, listening to a panel discussion about how terroir affects the taste of Mexican tequila. Not being a tequila afficionado, I’d never thought about the subject, but, tasting the Don Julio Reposado from the highlands and lowlands, it seems to me that the lowlands produces a dryer, flatter taste, while the highlands sample is much more peppery and spicy, making it a better candidate for drinking neat. Lest one imagine that Tales is simply an excuse to get loaded, I must say this seminar is fairly technical, even scholarly. Everyone here just sampled chunks of raw, fresh agave to get a sense of how the pulpy root contributes to the mouth-feel of the resulting tequila.

For those of you who have been to TOTC, I have some bad news: no samples. Yes, you heard me. No mini-bottles of liquors — either in the media swag room, in the tasting rooms or at the many tastings. I was told earlier today that someone found out this year that minis — the familiar 50 cl bottles you get on airplanes — are illegal in Louisiana. Now, keep in mind that minis have been distributed at the 10 previous TOTC, but this year, after the state made it known that the bottles violated state law, the convention pulled all its minis. I was told there’s a store room somewhere in the Monteleone stacked to the ceiling with contraband minis that will not be handed out. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

OK, on to the next event…

Comments welcome, y'all!