You say you want an evolution? Well, you know. We all want to change the cocktail world. That's not exactly what the Beatles sang in 1968, but a similar sentiment from John, Paul, Ringo, and George could apply to the Tales of the Cocktail 2018 conference Ms. Cocktail Den and I recently attended. After some public turbulence and a change in ownership, there was curiosity in the cocktail community about what would happen. For those who never have been to Tales, for those who've been in the past, and for those who were with us thus year, here's our take on the evolution of Tales.
But first, let me give you some personal background. In a way, Ms. Cocktail Den and I went to Tales before Tales. Many, many years ago we participated in a great Southern Comfort sponsored cocktail walking tour of New Orleans (among other places, it stopped at Antoine's, our favorite restaurant in the city and the source of the Antoine's Smile). Tours such as that and like minded industry professionals and cocktail enthusiasts eventually formed the base of Tales of the Cocktail.
New Orleans is a city that's big on tradition, so let's start with traditions that carried over from the old Tales to the revamped Tales. First and foremost, the friendliness (pardon the alliteration). One of the many wonders of Tales is we get to see friends we've made at previous Tales in New Orleans, e.g. Josh Morton and Danielle Hengge, friends from Tales on Tour, e.g. Michele Colomb and Erik Puryear, and new friends, e.g. Nicole Torres-Cooke, who we'd been following online for awhile. You never know who you might meet. For example, we went to a Disaronno event featuring Simon Difford, the founder of Difford's Guide. I use this website a lot when researching cocktails, and it's a great resource. We went to introduce ourselves to Simon, and what we figured at most would be a 60 second introduction turned into a fascinating 30 minute private conversation.
This ties into the second carryover from the old Tales -- the knowledge sharing. Simon gave us his insightful input about how we could continue to pursue our cocktail passion. Ms. Cocktail Den and I have learned a lot of from people over the years at Tales, and this year was no exception. Whether it was new spirits, new recipes, or new techniques, there's a lot you can takeaway so you and your cocktails can evolve.
There were two big differences between the old and new Tales, one physical and one psychological. The physical one is there were noticeably fewer people in attendance. That wasn't a surprise, as I suspect a lot of people stayed on the sidelines. From my perspective the smaller turnout was a good thing. Maybe it's because I generally don't like large crowds, but this year Tales felt less overwhelming and chaotic than in years past. At previous Tales there seemed to be a collective frenzy based on FOMO (fear of missing out; I'm not hip enough to use the acronym, but I don't care), which led to clusters of people running around the Quarter and the city without stopping to savor the moment. It was sort of a cocktail version of people who jostle to get a photo, and they end up looking without seeing (there is a huge difference between the two).
A perfect example of a non-manic event was the cell phone free Spirited Dinner we attended. Hosted by Jonathan Pogash and Pamela Wiznitzer, the event focused on conversations and connections without the distraction of modern technology. Ms. Cocktail Den and I were pleased to see this Tales did not have episodes of that collective mania. Neither of us cared for what appeared to be a deliberately and overly packed schedule on one or two days, but like everyone else we adjusted and had fun anyway.
The psychological difference was that this year's conference seemed to have an increased emphasis on topics other than the spirits and drinks themselves. This aligns with what we've seen and heard since the change in ownership and to become a foundation. In fact, the most pronounced example of a non-booze emphasis was the William Grant & Sons party, which was alcohol free. Yes, you read that correctly. Personally I enjoyed the venue (Mardi Gras World) more than the actual party (which Ms. Cocktail Den really enjoyed), but I applaud William Grant & Sons for its bold move. Don't get me wrong, the spirits definitely were still at Tales in full force. We did plenty of sampling and learning.
Our coverage this year focused on the tasting rooms and private events. Of course, there were plenty of seminars at the conference. In addition to traditional seminars focusing on spirits and history, many of this year's seminars focused on being better, whether as an industry professional, home bartender, or cocktail enthusiast. They included useful, practical topics such as the Beyond the Bar program (helping industry professionals take better care of themselves) and the Green Dot program (de-escalating difficult situations). Creating and serving cocktails can be tougher than you think, and if seminars like these help people evolve both personally and professionally, we're all for it.
Want to see more of our Tales of the Cocktail experience? Check out our Facebook page for our photos:
So what's in store for next year? We'll find out together. In the mean time, keep on cocktailing!