First Look at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.

20100721-talesofcocktails.jpgIt may still be early in the week for some, but the cocktail community has been running on a 24-hour schedule since Monday night. This week, the annual Tales of the Cocktail event takes place in New Orleans, and while today is the official opening day, many people (myself included) came to town and got started early.

One of the central topics that comes up every year, whether as a seminar presentation or as a recurring question from many attendees, is, "What kind of new things are we going to see in the next year in the realm of spirits and cocktails?" Answers to that question will become more obvious over the next several days, but early-arriving participants got a head start on discovering what's new at an unofficial event on Tuesday afternoon, called simply the Tales Tuesday Tasting.

While most official events are rigorously scheduled and managed, the Tuesday tasting was more wiki: at a designated time, in a designated place, participants were invited to bring a bottle of something interesting, put it on the bar, then join everyone else in tasting through the assembled mass of booze.

For some people this meant bringing along novel spirits or interesting liqueurs obtained while traveling, while for others (mainly small distillers or representatives from independent importers) it meant bringing along bottles of products that may appear in the market in the coming year. (And then there were those who put bottles of, um, artisan spirits and liqueurs on the bar, labeled with nothing more than a piece of masking tape.)

Some of the more interesting things I tried weren't mass-market stuff: Eurydice, a cane-based rum from St. George Spirits in California that's only available at San Francisco tiki bar Smuggler's Cove; a fragrantly funky Jamaican rum that hasn't been imported since, well, maybe ever; and an apple brandy prototype from a startup distiller.

But other products are available in limited release or are destined for store shelves in the months to come.

Among this group were samples of Byrrh, an elegant and lightly rich French aperitif wine; the robust bourbons and ryes from Willett, only available in a handful of markets around the country but which whiskey lovers find are definitely worth seeking out; and a spiced rum from Chairman's Reserve, which had a very gentle seasoning with cloves, nutmeg and allspice without the heavy vanilla notes that make many spiced rums so cloying.

There's much more to come over the next few days in terms of products, drink styles and techniques that we'll see over the coming year. Is there anything you're hoping to see become more prominent in spirits and cocktails in the months to come?