It's three days after Tales of the Cocktail wrapped up in New Orleans, and I'm still recovering from the annual five-day gathering that's become a significant event in the spirits and& cocktails world. While it may still take me several more days to catch up on missed sleep—and I don't even want to think about what it's going to take to shed the extra pounds from all the jambalaya, gumbo and oysters I inhaled—the things I saw and tasted at Tales will take me well into the next year of liquid exploration.
While sessions with titles such as "Big Trends" tried to address some of the shifts in the drinks world—mescal, cachaca and sherry are in, flavored vodka is out, these panels told us—a more sweeping glimpse of our bibulous future could be seen in the tasting rooms, the spirits-focused sessions, and the informal tastings to be found throughout the French Quarter.
Importer Eric Seed, whose Haus Alpenz has helped drive recent trends in craft cocktails by importing products such as Batavia arrack and allspice liqueur, was pouring samples of new quinquinas—aperitif wines flavored with a bitter edge of quinine—such as Cocchi Americano and Bonale Gentian Quina, both due to appear later this year. Reaching into the past, distiller Rob Cooper, who created the elderflower liqueur St. Germain, is resurrecting Crème Yvette, a violet, vanilla and orange liqueur that was au courant more than a century ago.
Big, full-flavored spirits are also in full swing, as demonstrated by the impending release of Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum, a 114-proof pot-distilled spirit that has a robust, gamey, rough-and-tumble character, as well as the crisp, buttery Chairmen's Reserve Rum from St. Lucia. And there were also tastes of spirits that may never grace the shelf of a liquor store: New York's Tuthilltown Spirits poured samples of its Government Warning Rye, flavored with hickory extract to give the whiskey a mild sweetness and brisk astringency; and Martin Miller's Gin celebrated its 10th anniversary with a tasting of a limited edition anniversary gin, a bright, spicy giant of a spirit that will only be bottled as special gifts for close associates of the distillery.
It's never been a more exciting time to be a fan of craft spirits, and the upcoming year looks to be a big one. What are some of your favorite things in the cocktails and spirit world from the past year, and what are you looking forward to tasting in the future?
About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.