The Moscow Mule dates back to around 1941, but this effervescent ginger-forward cocktail, traditionally served in a copper mug, is no one-trick pony. To kick off this year’s fourteenth annual Tales of the Cocktail, taking New Orleans by storm July 19—24, rabble-rousing bartenders from around the world re-imagined the Mule in a pre-conference competition, “The Year of the Mule.” To qualify, the drink had to have a base spirit (didn’t need to be vodka), an element of ginger, and some sort of fizz. After that, all bets were off. Close to four hundred entries later, and this mule’s creative kick knows no bounds. (Recipes for three of the standouts: Lord Wotton's Regret, Nazca Mule, and Marigny Mule can be found at the links.)
This is exactly the kind of mixology smack-down for which Tales is legend. Founded in 2002, Tales of the Cocktail has grown from a tightly knit conclave of cocktail lovers and makers into the world’s premier festival celebrating all things shaken and stirred. Rockstar bartenders and brand managers toting spirits mined from around the globe converge in New Orleans for a week of seminars, tastings, networking events, and parties—Tales is the place to set and catch craft cocktail trends, bar none.
This year’s winning bartender, Angel Teta from Ataula in Portland, Oregon, created El Burro Catalan, now the official cocktail of the festival. Teta’s take on the Moscow Mule incorporated manzanilla sherry into the mix, a slightly dry note that brought a coy salinity to the bar.
“The Mule is an accessible drink, and this contest challenged bartenders to follow a few parameters and then explore the negative space that was left,” said Dan Sabo, director of beverage and bars at Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles, one of the contest judges. “We were looking for bartenders who pushed the boundaries, and so many of them did.”
Like Christina Ramirez, for instance, bar manager at SukhoThai in the Marigny. Her rosy-hued Nazca Mule channeled family roots in Honduras and Peru, adding jolts of mango and strawberry along with the heat of chili flakes. “I made it for people who don’t mind a little heat with their sweet,” she said. Brian Christie, assistant food and beverage manager at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, drew upon a neighborhood closer to home to inspire his Marigny Mule, powered by the tang of grapefruit and the elegance of tarragon.
Kent Westmoreland, head mixologist at Cocktail Bar at the Windsor Court Hotel, followed a literary path as his muse. A character in the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde inspired Westmoreland’s Lord Wotton’s Regret. Wotton had ill-advised Dorian into a life of hedonism without regard for consequences. By the end of the story, Dorian had excessed himself to death, and Wotton is sipping champagne, regretting his advice. Lord Wotton’s Regret, the drink, substitutes ginger liqueur and champagne for the usual ginger beer, giving this Mule a bubbly kick.
While the highlights are many for this most festive of festivals, which drew close to sixteen thousand attendees last year, Westmoreland looks forward to the seminars led by some of the biggest names in the hospitality and bar world. “You can learn everything from how to source ingredients to how to financially run a bar,” he said. “I love meeting people at classes and events and learning about what’s going on in the world of cocktails.”
This year’s program is overflowing with intriguing classes, from “Welcome to the Bayou” led by locally produced Bayou Rum to “Talking Rot: Rancio, Scotch and MADness.” There are marketplaces touting new concoctions, bitters, and tinctures; a Tales bookstore; and a Shop Local pop-up retail outlet where you’ll surely find that perfect muddler. Alon Shaya, James Beard Award winner and chef/partner in Shaya, Pizza Domenica, and Domenica restaurants, leads “Pizza and Porchlight,” one of the popular Spirited Dinners that also features Nick Bennett of Porchlight and Chef Nick Anderer of New York’s Maialino.
Tales is drenched with tastings divine, parties and booze rambles, distiller mix-ups, and spirited salons. Tickets start at around $60 for individual events. And while Tales is all about the industry, this excessively spirited event is a guaranteed libation game changer for hobbyists and amateurs too. Cheers to that.
Visitors to Tales of the Cocktail can get a voucher for the official Moscow Mule cocktail at Toast to Tales, the festival’s opening ceremony. 2 pm Wednesday July 20, in front of the Hotel Monteleone.