Seamus Harris is a dedicated enthusiast of well-made cocktails who splits his time between Auckland, New Zealand and Shanghai, China. He publishes the Bunnyhugs blog.
Tales has been an enjoyably chaotic mess. The Internet refused to work for me before and time was short so this first round up has to cover a fair bit of territory.
Got to the hotel on schedule and hit the bar where I caught up with a bunch of fellow cocktail bloggers. The bar was mayhem, and with everybody drinking Sazeracs was pretty soon drunk dry of rye whiskey. We headed out to Coop’s Place for some food. Coop’s Place is a kind of hole in the wall joint, but we had some great gumbo and jamblayna (spelling?). No cocktails there, I just stuck to beer. Then we hit Bar French 75 where I actually didn’t have a French 75, instead electing to try the regular Bombay gin in a gin and tonic. Regular Bombay is a great gin, much more versatile than the Sapphire. Why is regular Bombay not available in New Zealand and China? It has the light spiciness of the Sapphire, but unlike the Sapphire it still has a juniper taste. After the French 75 bar we dropped by Pat O’Brians for Hurricanes, which were awful beyond words. . . I had expected a sort of cheap and alcoholic punch made of low end rum and juices. What I got was grain alcohol and cordial – lots of it mind you. It was an experience.
I took off sightseeing around the French Quarter for most of the day. I did beignet and coffee at Café du Monde. The beignet are seriously great – super crispy and fried, just drenched in sugar, but you can still taste the yeastiness. The ultimate doughnut. I checked out a few museums: museum of the American cocktail (just a one room collection but if you are into it you can browse surprisingly long there), a little voodoo museum, and the Louisiana State Museum (great Civil War display). By that stage it was time to head back to the Hotel Monteleone to pick up a Tales registration pack and start getting serious.
I dropped by the welcome reception for bloggers where I met more people, then I hit the Plymouth Sloe gin tasting. Plymouth is better than Gordons – way more bitter and intense. After the Plymouth tasting I tagged along with a group going to check out the Beefeater welcome reception. It was massively crowded and nearly impossible to get a drink so after a quick drink we left and headed to a French-German place called Luke for dinner. The special thing here was the absinthe/anise/pastis cocktails. I had an Ojen Frappe: a Spanish anisette brand called Ojen and Peychauld’s Bitters over ice. Then I had an Absinthe Suisse: Herbisant, the local New Orleans pastis, egg white, cream, orange bitters, crème de menthe, and ice. The Absinthe Suisse was really special. The mussels and chips were great too. The local mussels are way smaller than the New Zealand variety and I think they have a sweeter and superior taste. Mind you, visitors to New Zealand seem to rave about the New Zealand ones. I guess it depends what you like.
From there we headed to the Save the Daiquiri Party where I managed to quickly get a drink despite the hordes. It was a weird Daiquiri, containing 10 Cane rum, Lillet, pastis, and probably some other stuff. From what I could tell the 10 Cane was good stuff, but with all that pastis in there it was hard to really get a handle on the stuff. We gave up on the Save the Daiquiri Party and dropped by the Absinthe Bar for an absinthe frappe. Mine was with Kubler and anisette and was kind of average. They topped it off with some soda water which seemed unnecessary to me. Finally we had a last drink at the Carousel Bar in the hotel. I had a Herbisant and really enjoyed it. It is less sweet and Pernod and kind of rough-in-a-good-way.
Headed to the Hemingway session with Phil Green. He covered a lot of ground so things were kind of rushed – something that was getting to be a theme with Tales of the Cocktail.
The interesting points that came out of it for me were some more insights into what Hemingway liked in a drink (besides lots of booze). He was obsessed with drink temperature and went to big lengths to keep his drinks cold. For example, he would freeze cocktail onions so as to have a garnish that simultaneously helped keep the drink chilled. He also made giant ice cubes in tennis ball cans – another way of getting a cold drink in the tropics. Admirable innovations. His vermouth obsession was something I couldn’t understand so well. He seems to have been very vermouth averse, drinking his 15:1 Montgomery Martinis etc., and quipping that stories about him carrying two canteens, of gin and vermouth respectively, while fighting in Spain were false since he would never have carried a whole canteen of vermouth. Vermouth seems good to me. Oh well. . .
The interesting drink from this session was the Green Isaac’s Special, basically a gin highball made with coconut water and angostura bitters. This was a very interesting drink – kind of dry and austere.
Next up I headed to the Molecular Mixology session. Jamie Boudreau gave a great talk, just too short. He could have kept speaking for the whole hour and half and I’m sure it would have been fantastic. Of course the other speakers were also interesting, but Jamie really did have the most to say and it was a shame he wasn’t allotted a little more time. There were a ton of people there so it was kind of chaotic and hard to take notes.
After that it was time for a grape brandy tasting, covering cognac, armangnac, and jerez brandy. This session was very educational, though again sadly rushed since we got into the room late, and then there were some delays getting bottles up to the room and pouring samples. The good thing was that the delay gave me a chance to chat with Chuck Taggart of The Gumbo Pages.
I should try and post on the tasting in a little more detail at some other stage since it was a good one. We tried eight different brandies, plus B&B liqueur and three brandy cocktails. The stand out product for me was Castarede Blanche, an unaged armagnac. This reminded me so much of pisco and yet was different. It was thinner than most piscos, and yet had far more smoothness than any thin-bodied pisco I have had. I guess the main differences in taste were coming from different grape varietals, since the armagnac and Peruvian pisco production techniques seem pretty similar – i.e. single distillation in a pot still. A pisco sour with this stuff would be interesting. The cocktail they served it in was a sort of ice-coffee style concoction with a little caramel. It was a tasty drink but this unique product probably deserved a drink that brought out its unique characteristics a little more.
Next up I stayed on for Latin Libations. The session led by Tony Abou-Ganim from the Bellagio in Las Vegas. He was a very entertaining and fun speaker and took us through some basic Latin drinks and spirits, including the pisco sour, caipirinha and so on. I scored a free Barsol pisco t-shirt, which was cool since I drank a fair bit of the stuff in San Francisco and am starting to like it.
Next up is a Tiki Dinner at The Delichaise with Beachbum Berry. Given The Bum’s reputation this could be the last anyone hears from me for a while. I will update as soon as I get discharged from hospital.