SF Bay Area
Food and drink that has us seeing gold
This year at Tales of the Cocktail was the most fun filled week yet, with events beginning early on Tuesday and running right through to Sunday evening. We usually find some time to explore New Orleans and get out of the core but this year the schedule just didn’t allow, but WOW did we have fun. We can’t list all of the tasting rooms and events we made our way to over the week but here is an insight to the events that really opened our eyes and will influence our travels over the next few months while we explore the world of booze.
We were lucky to be stay at the Windsor Court Hotel just on the other side of Canal Street so we got a good rest at night away from the chaos of the French Quarter and took advantage of their awesome amenities. I only say this because we treated ourselves and started our week on the right foot with an awesome massage at the spa followed by a dip in the pool.
Once we were fully relaxed we made our way to the Calcasieu Rooms space where the Peru Trade Commission were hosting a lunch to showcase Pisco along with a pairing of ceviche. Chef Javier Flores who travels the world giving demonstrations on ceviche making took us through the steps to make our own with fresh, tasty ingredients laid out in front of us. It was a delicious event and we got to enjoy amazing cocktail by King Cocktail himself Dale DeGroff and Tony Abou-Ganim.
After a few cocktails we made our way to Revelator Coffee where Bulleit had concocted some superb coffee cocktails and had even crafted a cold brew coffee aged in Bulleit barrels which was phenomenal.
We didn’t hang around for too long though because we had the pleasure to meet with Nick Britsky who was compiling a video series from Tales of the Cocktail to showcase influencers who were attending the event and getting our take on different aspects of the week and recommendations for event virgins.
To finish our day we headed over to one of our favorite culinary escapes; Toups Meatery out in Mid City where we sat down for dinner with the team from Capital Spirits and spoke about a product they are launching into the U.S market real soon. The food was of course delicious but the company and conversation had us there late into the evening. The company is comprised of 4 extremely smart, entrepreneurial individuals who all met while learning Mandarin in Beijing China and were fast friends. Eventually they fell in love with Baijiu and opened up the Capital Spirits Bar and Distillery in Beijing dedicated to the spirit category, but that wasn’t enough and they want to share their passion with the rest of us. If you are as unfamiliar with Baijiu as we were, keep an eye out for our follow up article where we go into depth about the category and show you why we believe it will be the next big boom in the international market.
To begin day 2 of Tales of the Cocktail we kicked off with a hearty lunch at the Polo Lounge at Windsor Court where we got to taste some delicious brunch cocktails such as their rendition of the French 75 though to be honest the highlight here was my giant burger which fueled me for the entire day.
I was lucky to start the day with a strong meal because next up was a whiskey tasting with Kilbeggan Whiskey at a local hot spot; Seaworthy. This venue is always an awesome place to visit but when a company is offering tastings of delicious whiskies such as Kilbeggan Single Grain and one of my favorites, Connemara 12 it only gets better.
As we are really getting into cognac recently we made an effort to visit a few events this year with a focus on the category and luckily enough D’Ussé cognac has been showcasing the connection between mixing cocktails and mixing music. This sounds weird but once you get into it we were really glad to take the time. First we were mixing some delicious cognac cocktails and then headed upstairs to the recording studio at Esplanade Studios where we watched producer and all around musical genius 9th Wonder show us how he mixes music integrating elements form old tracks and splicing ingredients (samples) together just like we do with cocktails.
The experience with 9th Wonder was great but we were really excited to head to Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House and taste their Maker’s Mark Private Select blend, which is the first in the state of Louisiana. It was so great and the tasting doubled as dinner as they had an awesome spread of fresh seafood, cured meats and cheese. I could have finished the day happy here but instead had one last event to visit before the evening was over.
Last year when exploring Mexico we had the pleasure of visiting the small city of San Miguel de Allende and while there we met with the team from Casa Dragones and fell in love with their tequila. So when they reached out and asked us to visit them at their party held at Cellar Door we couldn’t resist. The venue was fantastic and we had the pleasure of joining them on the balcony and talking with their master distiller and learn even more about their great product.
Whenever we have the opportunity to sit down with a brand ambassador and pick their brain about the industry from their point of view we get really excited and this year Bacardi was nice enough to set up a speed “dating” session where we sat down 1 on 1 with some of their ambassadors and shared notes. It’s amazing the knowledge these ambassadors hold and even greater yet that they are always happy to share it with anyone who is willing to listen. Plus they had a Negroni fountain so everyone had a great time.
No visit to New Orleans is complete without a visit to the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone to get a drink from Marvin who you may remember from our article last year. We met the BNIC team here to talk all things Cognac and find out all about what they have coming up at Tales and beyond; but that’s for another time. This bar was always destined for fame but under the direction of Marvin it has become the home to the cocktail community of the world when they visit and most importantly the birth place of Tales of the Cocktail itself; that’s right the entire concept for the worlds premiere cocktail convention was conceived over cocktails in the corner of the Carousel Bar late at night some 15+ years ago.
We are always on the lookout for great companies who are making waves in the world and thankfully the U.S is home to many of them, thanks to people like Allen Katz from the New York Distilling Company. We sat down with Allen and chatted over samples of Ragtime Rye about the New York Rye Week coming up in October and immediately wanted to buy our tickets. Not only are his products great, but also his participation in the events surrounding the category is really outstanding. If you’re in the area definitely check it out.
Ever since our first Tales 4 years ago when Beautiful Booze was just getting off the ground there are a few companies and personalities we have stayed great friends with and each year we get to connect with those who we love. One of my favorite teams are the guys at Mezcal el Silencio who make a damn good mezcal but more importantly know how to throw a hell of a party. These guys have some of the most outgoing and fun personalities in the industry and dedicate a large amount of time finding unique ways to get the community together and just have fun. Plus this year they had little bunnies we got to hold ☺
If I had to pick just one tasting room to attend each year it would have to be the Meet the Distillers Happy Hour. Here we got to walk around and connect with some great brands and see what is coming onto the market and what is making waves. There were so many brands, such as Conniption Gin, Mizu Shochu and Zignum Mezcal that I don’t have a favorite but just talking with the distillers and their teams along with tasting great products is always worth the time.
This year there were a few events where the media were invited to come and mix up their own drinks and show that we do really know what we are talking about when it comes to making a cocktail. Although Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginative Bartender series is still under way we got together at Maypop and paired up with the leading contestants to show off our skills to see which media personality had what it took to take home the trophy. And guess what, that was our very own Natalie Migliarini of Beautiful Booze who took first prize with Collin Nicholas by her side. We couldn’t have been happier with the outcome, we tasted all of the other contestants cocktails and they were all so amazing that I don’t think there were any true losers though on this day.
Every year at Tales of the Cocktail I think everyone looks forward to Thursday evenings where the brands really get to showcase how well cocktails and food correlate with their Spirited Dinner events. This year we were honored to sit down at Compère Lapin taste delicious food from Chef Nina Compton paired with fantastic cocktails from the guys at Simple Serve. The evening was a hit with all who attended and it really showcased how the cognac category is finally getting some recognition and the old stigma of unattainability is soon to be a thing of the past as the palate of the consumer is evolving. The governing body of the Cognac appellation (BNIC) put together a wonderful evening.
Normal people finish dinner around 10 and then go home to rest up or…, well we don’t really know what normal people do but this is Tales of the Cocktail so what’s normal? Here at Tales there are some crazy parties thrown by the big portfolios and this year Bacardi threw a tropical party at the Sugar Mill to rival all others. It’s not all about drinking though (I don’t think) but the parties are a great way to socialize with friends from all around the globe as well as make new friends and this year we just happened to bump into Chris Beaney and Caesario de-Mederios who are at the forefront of the cocktail revolution in West Africa and over a few drinks we spoke at length about where that industry has developed over the past 6 years and how they envision their future in the global cocktail community.
There are many staple restaurants and bars in New Orleans and frequently they share the same name and space so we had to visit Kingfish while in town and luckily we were able to sit down with the team from Portobello Road Gin to talk about their innovative concepts and how it led them to be the globally recognized brand they are today. Although the meeting was about their delicious gin we were constantly skewing the conversation towards their legendary hotel, The Distillery in London.
English Tea services are not something that many would associate with Tales of the Cocktail but when it is thrown with a prohibition theme and all of the tea’s are in fact cocktails in disguise then you know it’s going to be a good afternoon. The Windsor Court Hotel puts on Afternoon Tea’s every week and people come from all around to get involved. The arrangements of small bites are elevated and even the pastries are taken up a notch, like the nutella scones with cream and jam. The main focus though are the prohibition cocktails and our favorite New Orleans bartender Kent Westmoreland who just happens to run the cocktail program here really delivered. Taking it to the next level and working with the prohibition theme Kent told the story of Zelda & Scott Fitzgerald through liquid libations.
The Ritz-Carlton is known for luxury and prestige so of course Macallan whisky set up their base of operation in the penthouse of the New Orleans hotel. Not only did we get to taste great whiskey cocktails but we also got to taste their super special and super delicious Rare Cask. We would also love to note that Macallan donated $250 to Veterans Airlift Command for every guest who visits their event and we really appreciate this about their brand.
We recently lived in Buenos Aires for 2 months with our great friend Francisco and his amazing Holy Champagne team and we only mention this because whenever I taste Fernet Branca for the rest of my life it will remind us of our great time there. Our friend Kent invited us to join him and the Fernet family at the beautiful Marigny Opera House to celebrate all things Fernet with great cocktails and of course our fair share of shots.
Seminars are the most important part of the Tales of the Cocktail experience and it is so great that each year, so many attendees from all corners of the world connect in New Orleans with a thirst for knowledge and joint passion for the advancement of the global community. Knowledge is shared freely over drinks and in seminars and we were fortunate to join the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac, or BNIC to keep it simple, to talk about the cognac industry and learn about a category that is making waves right now. Learning all about the Cognac region and tasting through some exceptional cognacs we learned so much from some of the best minds in the industry such as Chris Patino, Erick Castro and Kellie Thorn.
Agave spirits have certainly established their place at the forefront of todays industry when it comes to diversity and we spent many months last year travelling around Mexico and exploring some of the better known regions where these products have come from and picked the minds of some industries leaders. Luckily for Tales attendees some of these names and brands came to them and at the Monteleone an entire room dedicated to agave spirits can only lead to a good time. The team from Mexico Cities leading venue Limantour were there mixing cocktails with Montelobos and Ancho Reyes while our friend Ricardo had a range of agave spirits including my favorite Bacanora but also some samples of lesser known varietals like Sotol.
It was finally time for some 1 on 1 face time with our favorite bartender so we made our way back to the Windsor Court Hotel and met up with Kent Westmoreland to talk cocktails. Tales is a place for sharing knowledge as we mentioned before and there are few people that I know who hold such a ridiculous abundance of it as Kent does. A man who entered the industry at a later stage in his life and has dedicated himself so fully to the art, Kent now knows as much about everything from the history of almost every cocktail, and through much probing, we are yet to find his limit. Next time you are in New Orleans please drop in and enjoy one of his delicious variations, and be sure to tell Kent, Beautiful Booze says hi.
Next we made our way upstairs for a feast at The Grill Room where they offer a tasting menu that you get to put together yourself. That’s right, if you want all mains, you can craft a personalized tasting menu with all mains and if you prefer all dessert you can do just that. The menu is so diverse and the food is phenomenal, of course to help you appreciate it the in house sommelier can offer a beautiful wine pairing. I can tell you for sure their cellar is full of wonderful wines and the foie gras may have taken a few years off our lives but every bite was worth it.
To finish up our Tales of the Cocktail this year we visited SoBou in the French Quarter and talked with the wonderful ladies behind the Commanders Family venues while enjoying a sexy burlesque performance, amazing seafood dishes and cocktails from their wonderful bar. Apparently they put on this Burlesque Boozy Brunch every Sunday so no matter when we visit next we know where to go. The cocktails were really well made and Natalie immediately fell in love with one that tasted exactly like lemon cheesecake, which was served to go with the selection of desserts.
Getting to the airport is always a pain but this year Hendricks Gin set up a departures lounge in the Monteleone with complimentary food, cocktails, massages and most importantly; shuttles. It made Monday so much easier, no hassle getting to the airport, just turn up, relax and let the Hendricks team take care of everything. They even have the coolest cocktail apparatus where by turning a lever a mechanical piece of artwork will create a delicious cocktail for you.
Tales of the Cocktail is growing with every year and we can’t wait to see what the community comes up with next year but after New Orleans we headed to Hong Kong and Singapore where the cocktail revolution was in full swing. Follow our adventures on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for live updates of our global journey.
Founder and creator of the cocktail website and blog Beautiful Booze. Natalie is a mixologist, cocktail stylist, photographer, recipe developer, and social media guru. Beautiful Booze the website features over 400 original recipes and photography that celebrate cocktails. From "DIY" bourbon tastings to simple 2-ingredient cocktails Beautiful Booze has something special shaking for everyone. Beautiful Booze has been named one of the top 5 cocktail Instagram accounts to follow and Natalie has a passion for Instagram and social media. Natalie is a regular contributor to Foodable WebTV, Drinkwire, Vinepair, and Delish. Her recipes have been featured on Liquor.com, Huffington Post, Fox News Magazine, Today Show, Latin Kitchen, Cosmopolitan, Pop Sugar, Country Living and many more.