Monday, July 13, 2009

Tales of the Cocktail 2009

Evening, I'm sitting at the airport on the way home from Tales of the Cocktail 2009, I feel a little tired but other than that I may have escaped relatively unscathed this year. Am casting my mind back over the 5 days in New Orleans.

I arrived on Wednesday morning and made my way straight to the W on Poydras Street, as I had mentioned I opted out of the Monteleone this year, I wanted to be able to Casper
 (disappear without saying goodbye) easily. Of course my plan was slightly foiled as many
 people had had the same idea this year so I bumped into most of London in the lobby.

I wandered over to the Mont for lunch with some American friends and we all ended up at Coop's, which is a New Orleans institution, proper 'down home' Southern food. I had my first plate of gumbo, I have been, in the past, a super picky eater and am currently trying to broaden my horizons and not turn my fussy nose up at anything. 

The great and the good were at Coop's including a big chunk of the blogging community. The gumbo was pretty good even if I couldn't identify most of what I was eating, probably not a bad thing for someone so fussy.

I had time for a cheeky nap and then onto the Beefeater welcome party which was of the normal creative high standard they always seem to pull off. Dinner with a collection of limeys and shermans (more about that reference later). We dined at Jacqueimos on Oak Street, which meant a beautiful drive through the garden district with all its beautiful huge colonial houses. There was an elderly door man of sorts who was also doing tarot card readings, apparently he traveled all around Europe lecturing on metaphysics. He kind of looked like Captain Birdseye, his reading what suitably vague and very work related, no surprises there. Last year I had a reading from a gentleman who worked at the voodoo museum whilst a huge albino python hung round his neck, his reading was far more random something about being a transexual lesbian which if you're already a woman is an oxymoron no?

I ate fried green tomatoes for the first time, it seems that most things in the South are fried, a bit like the Edinburgh of the Europe. Cagney rat made his first appearance at Tales and helped my fellow dining companion Ben finish his food. We then went onto Cure, which is a very swanky serious cocktail bar slightly off the beaten track. This wasn't your normal bar in New Orleans and wouldn't have been out of place in New York or San Francisco. I am very happy to say that on my first night I was safely tucked in bed by midnight.

Thursday was peppered with meetings, pool time (networking) and another pre evening nap.I also attended a tasting room where the seminar was entitled 'Limeys versus Shermans'presented by Jon Santer from SF and Ben Reed from London. They discussed the differences between bartending skills and then had a bit of a competition, I'm pretty sure it was a draw. The drinks at this seminar were some of the best I had during Tales. Our first stop of the evening was the Belvedere party with a large posse of English bartenders, a pit stop at the Monteleone and then it was time for the Old Absinthe House and Alibi. The crowd on the street outside the Old Absinthe House was immense and where pretty much all of Tales congregated each night until the wee hours. I sent myself to bed around 3am as I seemed to be amazed that I was still able to talk and walk, by talk I mean slur by walk, I mean stumble.

Friday was the first of 2 monumental hangovers and lots more meetings. Hangovers in New Orleans are particularly brutal, 90 degrees heat and 90% humidity, like being in a Bikram
 yoga studio but I don't go to Bikram after rolling into bed at 3am and never when dehydrated.  I managed to struggle up to the Boca Loca Cachaca lunch and revived myself with some tasty cocktails made my Jeffrey Morgenthaler. I was poolside again but lurking in the shade. 

My evening started with drinks at the W and then another trip to Cure and the repeat evening of the night before, ending up at the Old Absinthe House and Alibi. Tales is about 90% male so being a female you get a lot of attention! There are all sorts of shenanigans that go on behind closed doors and the Monteleone resembles at some times of the night a frat house during Spring break. The later into the night outside the Old Absinthe House the more random the chat becomes and the audacious the proposals. These are two of the chat up lines I experienced 'would you like to come and try my bitters', this is standard Tales speak as there is a wealth of people that bring their new product or home made 'bla bla' for people to try. It's a little like 'would you like to come and see my etchings?' The second line was 'go on, let me kiss you, if you don't like it we can stop' a logical approach I feel. I caspered around 3am again with my modesty intact.

Saturday was one of the worst hangovers I've ever had, I don't sleep very much and normally bounce out of bed, I missed 'Limeys versus Shermans' part 2 and just about made it to lunch to groan over my salad with the lovely Burr family who I had had the pleasure of meeting at their Rum Renaissance this year in Miami. Another disco nap was required before the Spirits Awards and the firm resolve of not drinking (hadn't touched a drop all day).

The Spirits Awards are the the pinnacle of Tales and where the great and the good both US and Internationally are awarded for outstanding excellence. Anyone can nominate people or 
bars for each category and then it is judged by a committee of experts from all over the world. I had the pleasure of being invited by Michael Silvers of Uber Bar Tools and Debbie Rizzo (PR). 

I was particularly happy for one winner, The Merchant in Belfast. The Merchant (home of the Connoisseurs Club) is one of my favourite hotels and bars in the world. Every time I've been fortunate enough to visit I've had an amazing evening with great bartenders and hosts (yes even you Steven Pattison).They swept the board with 3 wins and another Brit won best International Bartender of the Year, Tony Conigliaro. I've yet to visit his new bar but plan to upon my return, its in Islington and has no name as yet.

I snuck off early to retrieve Cagney rat and drink tea with a dear friend and have a good Tales gossip! Cagney had been quite a hit with the ladies and was having a little rest.

Cagney's new friends and me!

Tales was even better this year than last year and not only was it educational, huge fun but great for my new business IP Brands.

See you all next year and it was lovely seeing you all.

Now for the de-tox, by de-tox, I mean daily yoga, not going to do anything silly like give up drinking, support your industry is what I say!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Preparation for Tales of the Cocktail

In 5 days I will be boarding a plane in Newark to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail 2009, this is my 2nd year at Tales so hopefully I will be a little more prepared than last year.

Tales is the largest cocktail convention in the world, cocktail enthusiasts, bartenders, brand owners, distributors and journalists all congregate in New Orleans for 5 informative, steamy, boozy days on all matters cocktail related. So how am I preparing this year? and what did I learn last year?

Actually lets start with what I learnt last year?

The first two days of seeing everyone I had ever met in the drinks industry in the lobby of the Hotel Monteleone was fun, after that I would creep through in disguise or under the cover of the darkness.

Organisation - so many seminars, events, people to meet its important to remember your
diary and run a tight schedule for yourself, always allowing important time for 'networking'
by the pool.

Pace your drinking and eating - being from the UK we often forget about food when
distracted by tasty cocktails. Eating is obviously important especially breakfast.

Sleep - I am not the world's greatest sleeper and can often survive on 4 hours a night but
at Tales a cheeky nap in between seminars or before many of the parties is not only wise but
means you can stay out longer.

Time going into the lifts in the Monteleone well, it is very easy to get stuck for ages as people
shuttle between the lobby and seminars. Maybe try and use the stairs as its the only exercise you will get during the event other than raising glass to hand. I did manage one Bikram class last year but am not going to put such pressures on myself this year.

Hangovers are best spent by the roof top pool bar at the Monteleone drinking Americanos
with good company.

I actually left my voice at Tales last year, I completely lost it for about 4 days which was entertaining for all that know me. I went from Tales straight to a yoga retreat with a bunch of people I'd never met and literally couldn't talk for the first 3 days!

I'm more excited this year as I know I what to expect and also get to re-connect with so many friends from all over the world some of who I met for the first time last year at Tales and some of which I run into often on my travels. The global community of the drinks industry is impressive and there is a real sense of community that I witnessed first hand recently when everyone came together at the untimely loss of one of our much loved bartenders, Gregor de Gruyther, he would have been at Tales. I, and many others, had made plans to meet with him there. It has made me realise how lucky I am to work with such a group of interesting, creative people who keep me inspired and motivated.

How am I preparing this year?

Firstly I used the trip to the US as an excuse to catch up with family and friends on the East Coast, of course this doesn't help with the whole 'taking it easy' before Tales theory. Catching up with family and friends is always a reason for celebration but perhaps this is the best training of all?

This year I plan on taking some cocktail kit and some interesting new brands that aren't available in the US so that I can make drinks in my room. Most days and nights you end up having a drink or 2 back at someone's room or suite, the Hotel Monteleone resembles a kind of frat house/dormitory but all the students look a bit older and definitely have more refined drinking habits!

I have packed my gym kit, my hotel has a comprehensive gym and rooftop pool, I opted out of the Monteleone this year in favour of the W, the theory being I will be able to Casper (leave without saying goodbye, I know a little rude but affective) and retreat back to my room. The gym kit will hopefully get used as its that funny game we all play of if I do something good I can then indulge myself?

I will have Cagney rat too as a travelling companion, if you're not familiar with him, he is a rat (toy) that used to live in Jake Burger's bar, the Portobello Star. Myself, or one of the LUPEC London ladies 'borrowed' him at our first meeting in January and he has travelled extensively since. He is currently in NY after his road trip through France and England but really looking forward to his first Tales.

I am also taking blogging equipment, computer, camera, a flip video gizmo. I have been lucky enough to be included as one of the Tales bloggers this year and plan to blog daily so will keep you posted.