Now in its eleventh year, a novel idea is the new normal
Exhilarating, exciting, educational, and inviting—these are just a few of the adjectives describing the intensity of the some 250 events scheduled during the eleventh annual “Tales of the Cocktail” festival from July 17—21 in New Orleans.
The extensive program features seminars, tastings, tours, cocktail parties, product launches, book signings, competitions, luncheons, and dinners during a non-stop, five-day series of overlapping events. This summer’s Tales is expected to attract about 23,000 restaurant and spirit industry professionals and cocktail enthusiasts from around the world.
Now kicking off its second decade, the festival is produced by the New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society, a non-profit organization committed to preserving the unique culture of cocktails and cuisine in New Orleans and beyond. Founded by Ann Tuennerman, the festival has hit the road the past couple of years with mini-fests in Vancouver in 2012 and Buenos Aires earlier this year.
Among the many brands showcasing their products at the New Orleans main event, several of south Louisiana’s newest spirit companies will debut their offerings. Donner-Peltier Distillers, a Thibodaux distillery specializing in rum, vodka, and gin will feature Oryza Gin in a special tasting event, “Gin & Tonic is Only the Beginning,” on July 17 at the Hotel Monteleone—Tales’ host hotel. Louisiana Spirits, producers of Bayou Rum out of Lacassine, will also make a splash at several Monteleone tasting rooms on July 17 and 20.
Along with these two new-kids-on-the-block, Old New Orleans Rum, founded in 1995 and a veteran of Tales, will be represented at a Meet the Craft Distillers event on July 19 and will also host several field trips to its New Orleans distillery.
However, it’s not all liquids at Tales of the Cocktail. Snack stands in the Monteleone lobby will offer food and cocktail pairings three times a day during the event with a midnight snack Wednesday through Friday. Donner-Peltier’s bottlings will also be poured at a snack stand tasting in the Monteleone lobby on July 20.
Spirited luncheons are scheduled for July 18 beginning with the “Dame Hall of Fame” event at the Omni Royal Orleans hotel followed by Friday’s “The Three Martini Lunch” at Bombay Club. The main “dining with drinks” activities unfold on Thursday when some thirty New Orleans area restaurants host Spirited Dinners with their spirits partners.
“People thought I was crazy eleven years ago when we started Tales of the Cocktail and one of our two main events was the Spirited Dinners,” said Tuennerman. “We had ten that first year and paired a bartender/mixologist and a chef, and they created a menu together. I believe it was the first time that anyone was pairing food and cocktails for a sit-down dinner.
“This year I think we have thirty-three dinners,” she continued. “In 2012, eighty percent of them were complete sell-outs. This year, I imagine we have the most diversity in style with everything from a dive bar dinner to a pool party to an uber fancy feast!”
Grand Isle Restaurant’s Spirited Dinner, A Night on the Bayou, will be the scene of the global launch of Louisiana Spirits’ Bayou Rum—an evening of Louisiana culture and cuisine served in the midst of live music, fun, and celebration. When Bayou Rum teamed up with locally owned Grand Isle, Bar Manager Eric Dahm and Mixologist Sean Thibodaux collaborated to craft the cocktails paired with Executive Chef Mark Falgoust’s Cajun- and Creole-inspired culinary creations.
To begin, guests will be treated to skewers of fresh tuna with a Bayou Rum glaze. The tuna will be paired with a mango Silver Bayou Rum cocktail with cane syrup, habanero, and Herbsaint created by Dahm and Thibodaux.
The next dish—scallop crudo with watermelon, mint, and peppers—will be paired with Silver Bayou Rum infused with carbonated watermelon water and served in a salted rim glass.
Guests may look forward to Chef Falgoust’s sugarcane smoked duck breast with cayenne peppers, which will be matched up with Bayou Spiced Rum, amaro, vermouth, clarified pineapple juice, and bitters.
For the next course, Dahm thought it would be fun to do a version of a Cuba Libre from scratch. “We caramelized bunches of sugarcane, processed Kola nut, and made use of both root and ginger snap liqueurs,” he explained.
“Our aim is to serve guests the best rum and cola they’ve ever had, a drink that will pair well with the main course,” he added. For Chef Falgoust’s dish, a Bayou Rum-and-cola-glazed pork belly, this cocktail should provide the perfect accompaniment.
For dessert, a pineapple upside down cake will be served with a Silver Rum milk punch laced with almond and lime scented Orgeat, filé dusting, and Mozart chocolate bitters.
The choices continue. At the French Quarter’s Pelican Club on Exchange Alley, guests will enjoy Dinner with the Don! where they will be received by Porto’s George Sandeman and the Sandeman Don. A member of the exclusive Pernod-Ricard USA family of fine wines, Champagnes and spirits, the Sandeman house has been making port for more than two hundred years. In addition, over the past decade, Pernod-Ricard has been a major sponsor and boost to Tales of the Cocktail.
When Pelican Club Chef/Owner Richard Hughes learned he would be hosting the Sandeman dinner, he scoured the web to gather more information about Portugal’s culinary culture.
“My thought was to marry Portuguese-style cuisine with fresh local products,” said Hughes. “It was a process. I listed all the fresh, seasonal Louisiana ingredients that would be available in mid July and designed my courses around them with cues from Portuguese cooking.”
Hughes continued, “We utilized Brobson Lutz’s local honey, Creole tomatoes, local sweet corn, Louisiana blue crabs, Gulf shrimp, Louisiana rice, locally made chorizo, local watermelon, blueberries, strawberries, okra, ducks from Chappapeela Farms in Husser, Louisiana, and hopefully, an early crop of local figs.”
Working with Pelican Club Bar Chefs Stephen Robalik and Kevin Durand to develop the cocktail pairings, Hughes tweaked both the drinks and dishes to refine the menu.
The five-course dinner begins with a Portuguese white gazpacho salad that features jumbo lump crabmeat and Gulf shrimp with almonds. Robalik created a refresher to accompany the dish made with watermelon water, Sandeman Founders Reserve Port, Plymouth Gin, a dash of Sprite, mint, and cucumber.
Guests will next enjoy black drum and littleneck clams with corn and chorizo in a spicy crab broth. This dish will be paired with a drink called Lay in the Sand, which Robalik explains is “Sandeman’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port, Absolute Citron Vodka, a base of clam and Creole tomato juice, garnished with house-pickled okra, fresh jalapeño, and lime.” An intermezzo follows with Sandeman Founders Reserve Port and local blueberry sorbet.
Fresh Portuguese-style sardines served with garlic bread, chilies, and tomato relish will come next. The sardines will be paired with Sandeman’s sangria: house made grenadine, local peaches, cane sugar, Sandeman Founders Reserve Port, and Soho Lychee Liqueur combined to add a little more Iberian peninsula flavor.
The feast continues with Louisiana farmed duck confit and grilled duck breast with chorizo, black olive dirty rice with a fig-and-vintage-port sauce, fennel, and a sweet white corn slaw. The accompanying blackberry sour features Sandeman’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port with local berries, Brobson’s local honey, Paddy’s Irish Whiskey, and Luxardo cherries.
But the best may possibly be saved for last because, along with the Portuguese style bolo brigadeiro orange-chocolate cream cake, a century of aged tawny ports will be served. This rare flight will include 10, 20, 30 and 40 Year Old Tawnys.
Although all the Spirited Dinners have special themes with menus and cocktail preparations to match, a couple of others bear mentioning.
Heading down Decatur Street, the new Cane and Table bar and eatery will host a RUM, Don’t Walk dinner in their tropically decked-out courtyard featuring the cuisine of noted chef Adam Biderman and Caribbean cocktails from the House of Angostura rums and bitters. After the spit-roasted whole hog dinner, among other dishes, willing guests will be bussed to the Joy Theater for the U.S. Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge.
Rampart Street’s Little Gem Saloon will be the site of a Moulin Rouge Spirited Dinner in the Saloon’s historic Ramp Room. Guests are urged to wear period black hats, red feathers, and the like to conjure up 1920s Montmartre. As guests drink and dine on Montanya Rum’s fresh, elegant cocktails and renowned Chef Robert Bruce’s cuisine, they will be entertained by vintage burlesque, fan dancing, traditional can-can, stilt walkers, contortionists, and jazz.
There’s much more to enjoy; visit the Tales website for details.
Details. Details. Details.
Grand Isle Restaurant 575 Convention Center Boulevard New Orleans, La. (504) 520-8530 grandislerestaurant.com Pelican Club 312 Exchange Place New Orleans, La. (504) 523-1504 • pelicanclub.com Cane and Table 1113 Decatur Street New Orleans, La. (504) 581-1112 Little Gem Saloon 445 South Rampart Street New Orleans, La. (504) 267-4863 • littlegemsaloon.com