Tales of the Cocktail

My Tales of the Cocktail Adventures: 2017 Edition

July in New Orleans means only one thing: Tales of the Cocktail. This spirits industry convention celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2017, and probably its largest gathering yet. Major and craft spirits brands show up in full force to showcase their spirits and spread knowledge through tastings and seminars. This is my third year attending. It’s easy for me because I live in NOLA, so I’m in the middle of the chaos after a short 10 minute drive from home. Wow, what a week! Here are some highlights:

Photo courtesy of Bulleit Distilling Co.

 TUESDAY


My Tales adventure this year kicked off with a Copper & Kings Happy Hour event to enjoy a delicious brandy cocktail before heading off to dinner with Tom Bulleit at Compère Lapin. Tom was in town to promote a new partnership between Bulleit and Revelator Coffee. Revelator created a Bulleit barrel-aged coffee syrup. It smells and tastes heavenly, by the way.  I’m already experimenting with the syrup at home.  Let’s hope it becomes available to the public in the future.

WEDNESDAY

Irish whiskey was the star of the show at Kilbeggan’s Single Grain launch.

Wednesday started with a visit to the Kilbeggan Rambling House, where Kilbeggan Single Grain Irish Whiskey was the star of the show. Because my schedule was packed, I was only able to stop by for a few minutes as they opened. Unfortunately, there was a slight hiccup with the distributor and the new Single Grain expression hadn’t arrived yet. No problem. I enjoyed a pour of Tyrconnell 10-year-old Madeira cask finished whiskey. That’s no consolation prize. It’s a delicious malt worth seeking out.  The good news is a small sample is on its way as I type this post.  A review will soon follow.

Hennessy’s Director of Distillation Olivier Paultes walked us through a sampling of different cognacs.

Next up was the Hennessy Experience at Bevolo. National Brand Ambassador Jordan Bushell was on-hand to walk visitors through the cognac making process before introducing us to Hennessy’s Director of Distillation Olivier Paultes, who also sits on the Hennessy Tasting Committee. Olivier led us through a tasting of several cognacs, including a 52-year-old cognac from Grande Champagne. There was so much to see and taste – a quick recap won’t do it justice. Expect a separate post soon.

The Napoleonic Complex, the winning cocktail at Exotico’s cocktail competition. Photo courtesy of Hank Allen.

I managed to stop over to see the tail end of Exotico Tequila’s 2017 cocktail competition. “The Napoleonic Complex,” a margherita pizza-inspired cocktail saw its creator Megan Deschaine take top prize.  Here’s her winning recipe:

  • 1.5 oz Exotico Blanco Tequila
  • .75 oz lime juice
  • .5 oz agave syrup
  • 4 dashes Bittermens Hellfire Bitters
  • 2 dashes Scrappy’s Celery Bitters
  • 1 ripe roma tomato (quartered)
  • 8-10 basil leaves

Muddle tomato quarters and basil in a mixing tin.  Add remaining ingredients and shake vigorously with ice.  Double strain into dressed rocks glass over one large ice cube.  Garnish with a skewered mozzarella ball and basil leaf and half of a salt and pepper rim.


Redemption’s Joe Riggs met me to go over some of the whiskey brand’s offerings, including the newly released Wheated Bourbon. Delicious and priced right at about $45 a bottle. It has a whopping 45% wheat in its mashbill – much more than most, if not all, wheated bourbons out there. It was softer in character, with a nice non-cloying sweetness up front.  Those barrel proof bourbon and rye expressions Joe pulled out at the end of the tasting were no joke!  Fantastic stuff.

Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart and I at the William Grant & Sons Portfolio Party.

Wednesday night ended with the William Grant & Sons portfolio party. It was great catching up with and meeting new Balvenie and Glenfiddich brand ambassadors – and sipping on Balvenie 14-year-old Peated Cask and 21-year-old Port Cask finish. Oh, did I mention Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart was just hanging around. I walked up and introduced myself. We chatted for a good while. As our conversation drew to an end, spirits author extraordinaire Fred Minnick offered up a cigar. Who was I to turn him down? After a wonderful evening, I was off to bed. I had to rest up for what was to be a busy Thursday.

THURSDAY

A lovely dram of The Balvenie DoubleWood 17-year-old.

A quick coffee to start the day? Nonsense! I had a morning meeting with Balvenie’s Brand Ambassador Jonathan Wingo, who brought along pours of Balvenie DoubleWood 12- and 17-year-old whiskies. We talked all things Balvenie, which I’ll cover in-depth in an upcoming post.

Courvoisier Master Blender Patrice Pinet pouring me a glass of XO during a marvelous chat.

Then a quick Lyft ride to the Ritz-Carlton was the only way to not show up for my next appointment soaked in sweat. It was HOT out there! That meeting was with Courvoisier’s Master Blender Patrice Pinet. He makes it to the U.S. only once a year, so I was extremely fortunate enough to meet privately with him. We chatted about cognac cocktail trends and misconceptions, among other things, while tasting through Courvoisier VSOP, XO and L’Essence de Courvoisier. That last one… what an exquisite cognac!


Next on the agenda was a tasting of something new from Japanese spirit maker Nikka. No, it wasn’t whisky. I was there to taste their new gin and vodka. Both spirits were distilled in Nikka’s Coffey still. Emiko Kaji led an informative presentation that included tasting a 100% corn spirits distilled in a column still and one distilled in Nikka’s Coffey still. The latter was much creamier with more body. I also got to smell the different botanicals found in the gin. It was nice to get away from whiskey or cognac, even if was only for a few moments.


Now there are whiskey geeks and then there are whiskey geeks.  All showed up for “Better Drinking Through Chemistry,” a seminar that took a microscopic look at what gives whiskey and cognac their unique flavors.  Moderated by Diageo’s Ewan Morgan, this molecule and compound filled science orgy featured Wiser’s Dr. Don Livermore, Diageo’s Dr. Matthew Crow, and Hennessy’s Jordan Bushell.  We learned why rye grain gives the flavors it does and how barrels and different types of oak affect a spirit’s nature.  Those in attendance sampled Lot 40 Cask Strength, JP Wiser’s Dissertation, a 10-year-old whiskey finished in a cask whose wood staves were seasoned for four years, a 12-year-old Cardhu, an 18-year-old Glen Ord that matured in recharred casks with new American oak ends, as well as Oban Little Bay.  Bushell guided us through a tasting of three different cognacs: a 4-year-old Fin Bois aged in a grade D barrel (an old, used barrel) in a dry cellar, Hennessy Master Blender’s Selection No. 1, and Paradis Impérial to cap off the seminar.  The inner whiskey geek in me walked out with a smile.

Later that night I grabbed a cocktail and a bite to eat at High West’s Spirited Dinner.  The theme was “A Toast to Old Orleans.”  The familiar (to me, anyway) creole food, ragtime jazz band, and Highwest cocktails proved to be a pleasant way to end a hectic day.

FRIDAY


My Friday evening started with a visit to The Macallan’s “Flight for a Cause” tasting at the Ritz.  Sure, it was pretty exciting to get to taste Macallan’s 1824 Series, including Rare Cask, Reflexion, No. 6, and exquisite (and expensive) M, but what impressed me most was the charity aspect.  For every person who attended, Macallan donated $250 to support wounded veterans and their families.  Brand Ambassador Raquel Raies led small groups through a tasting of the series.  I have to say, the small amount of pre-WWII peated casks added to this expression was a masterstroke.  It was one of the most memorable pours in a week of unforgettable spirits.

Westland Whiskey Master Distiller Matt Hoffman

Deep in the French Quarter, I met up with Westland Whiskey Master Distiller Matt Hoffman.  I was pretty pumped to be able to chat with Hoffman and taste Westland for the first time.  “We’re all about balance,” Hoffman said as he poured a few of his single malts:  American Oak, Sherry Wood, Peated, and Garryana.  They were all rich, balanced, and easily drinkable.  The limited edition Garryana offered the same with an added complexity.  That last one is a great example of terrior.  Garryana is a type of American oak only found in a minuscule area in Washington state, and, to my knowledge, Westland is the only whiskey distillery utilizing it.


Capping off my Friday was Diageo’s portfolio party, featuring a performance by Snoop Dogg.  Since I’ve never seen Snoop in concert, I was able to check it off my bucket list while enjoying a Guinness and Bulleit 10 Boilermaker.  This was by far the most crowded portfolio I’ve attended since coming to Tales.  Lots of people, but a helluva lot of fun.

SATURDAY

Saturday morning started with a meet-and-greet with Cedar Ridge founder/owner Jeff Quint.  We talked about how he started the Iowa distillery and his aim to put out a quality product that doesn’t taste like anything currently on the market.  Quint brought along some expressions for me to try.  The corn whiskey was light and sweet (perfect for a highball), while his malted rye had some nice characteristics not found in standard rye whiskies.  Cedar Ridge single malt was rich but not overly complex.  The two bourbons were nice, especially the 5-year-old expression.    I hope to get the chance to try these whiskies again.

As someone who runs a whiskey blog, I wouldnt miss Noah Rothbaum’s “The Original Whisky Writer: Alfred Barnard” seminar.  He impressive panel included David Wondrich, Dr. Nick Morgan, Dave Broom, and Lew Bryson.  The group tackled the life of the enigmatic Victorian whisky writer whose book, “The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom” served as a blueprint for most future whisky writers.  Though Barnard wrote other books, they didnt have the gravitas of that first one.  This may have been the most entertaining panel I’ve attended.


Capping off my Tales experience was a visit to Cafe Adelaide, where the restaurant was celebrating its newly launched Breakfast for Dinner menu.  The food was to die for, as were the cocktails, wich were made using spirits from the local Donner-Peltier distillery.  If you make it down to New Orleans, you should really stop by Cafe Adelaide.  There’s simply no friendlier hospitality in the city.

What another wonderful year!  It was probably my most hectic.  Next year’s goal is to slightly scale back, which could prove difficult if there are as many great events as this year.  Till then, cheers!

My Adventures at Tales of the Cocktail 2015

Every big name in the spirits and cocktail industry comes down to the city I call home (okay, so I live 15 minutes away) to partake in a week-long event known as Tales of the Cocktail, a spirits & cocktail convention held yearly at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans.  There are tastings, seminars, private events, networking and a whole lot more.   Although all spirits are celebrated, Tales is a whiskey lover’s paradise.  A lot of whiskey brands, major players and craft distillers alike, are represented.  Besides tasting whiskey, the best part is meeting and talking to whiskey makers and/or brand ambassadors.  There were definitely some whiskey-geek moments during my time there.

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Interview with Tom Bulleit

Last week during Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, Tom Bulleit, founder of Bulleit Frontier Whiskey,  paid a visit to WGNO-TV for an on-air interview for News With a Twist (you can find that here).   When they were done taping, I sat down with him for a few minutes to chat.  We talked Bulleit Bourbon, New Orleans, Tales of the Cocktail, and more.

Tom, how are you?

Very well, thank you!

I haven’t met a person that didn’t like Bulleit bourbon.  What makes it different?

I think a couple of things.  One, certainly the people that make it happen.  We have wonderful master distillers and chemists and engineers for both the bourbon and the rye.  I think it’s a unique proposition, really, in American spirits and bourbon.   For instance, at one end of the bourbon bookshelf we might have Maker’s Mark, which is a great iconic bourbon that’s made with winter wheat.  It will have a little bit lighter flavor… a great sweetness and smoothness.  At the other end of the spectrum you’ll have Bulleit bourbon.  It’s very heavily ryed bourbon.  Shall I divulge the secret recipe?  68% corn, 4% malted barley, 28% rye.

I was close.  The first time I tasted I guessed about 30% rye.

Exactly – as implemented today.  The historic family recipe is two thirds corn and one third rye.  That’s about double the rye of most bourbon.  So, it would be the driest of the bourbons.  Very spicy.  It’d be more towards the scotch palate, maybe, because of the dryness.

I find the drier bourbons, the ones higher in rye, make for a nicely balanced cocktail. 

Well, they make a different cocktail, certainly.  I always plead ignorance when it comes to mixology.  I can break glasses, but aside from that… that’s about as far as it goes.  We’ve had, historically, this wonderful partnership in chemistry, with the bartenders and the mixologists.  They will tell me exactly what you just said.  They will say ‘you mix sweet with sour’, ‘sour with sweet’, not two things that are sweet.  Bulleit is on the dry side.

I like the way it tastes in an old fashioned, and I keep a bottle around for just that purpose.  Your rye whiskey is 95% rye.  That’s a pretty high rye content.

Well, rye whiskey has to have 51% rye.  A straight rye is 80%.  Bulleit is 95% rye, 5% malted barley.  It is also 90 proof.  (A large portion of the next sentence in the audio recording is quite unintelligible.  I’ve tried my best to transcribe it as closely as possible.) I guess another characteristic might be we just use the heart of the whiskey for making… in column stills here in the United States. We’re making several number of alcohols, but primarily phenylethyl alcohol and you know the ethyl alcohol is called the ‘heart of the whiskey,’ and we’re just using that.  It’s a little bit lighter in the throat and mouth.

A couple of years ago you introduced the 10 year Bulleit bourbon.  It’s getting a lot of high marks.  What’s next for Bulleit?

Well, we’re going to stay on course.  I love the way Bill Samuels has managed Maker’s Mark through the years.  I think he’s one of the great iconic distillers and business people in our industry.  He stayed on course for decades and decades.  I have great respect for him.  He’s a very good friend of mine.  I have great respect for that approach.  We’re in an area of innovation.  People do different things.  We won’t do flavored [whiskies].  I think they’re wonderful, but it’s not who we are.  We make straight whiskey.  We’ll probably bring out variants of that in the bourbon and the rye as years go by.  Nothing right now that’s planned.

You’re in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail.

We’re here for Tales of the Cocktail, which we… actually I’ve been here for all of them through the years.  Ann Tuennerman has gone from a few bartenders around a few bars to I think last year there were 17,000 career bartenders that came here.  It is the defining gathering of mixology and bartenders in the world.  People are here from all over the world.  It’s an amazing event.  I’m always struck by how entrepreneurial it is.  This is an entrepreneurial city.  I travel all over.  You may not know this is maybe the most hospitable city in the world.  The people are just wonderful.  They are so charming.  In that character, there is an entrepreneurship for everyone.  One of the things we did this year was we sponsored the apprentice program lunch yesterday.  These young people come in and work like thunder supporting all of the cocktails and all of the food service that goes on in this enormous event.  Each one of them… I mean they’re bar owners coming here as apprentices.  They’re bar owners!  They are unbelievable bartenders.  They come to help out.  There’s a huge group from Tampa.  The United States Bartender’s Guild in Tampa.  Tampa is taking this very seriously.  But we’re getting these folks from every place.  I love that entrepreneurship.  I guess I would call myself an entrepreneur, bringing back my great-great-grandfather’s recipe.  Certainly he was one.  I think this city just boils with that in it’s food and beverage service.  Just go to Las Vegas and see who’s restaurants are there.  Look how many of them came from New Orleans.  It’s amazing.

When you’re down in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail, what’re you drinking?  What’s your favorite cocktail?

I think my favorite cocktail is… dad and I would drink bourbon on the rocks.  My other is a highball.  I don’t hear it called that anymore much, but you add water to bourbon on the rocks.  My aunt Sister Jean Claire(sp?) was a Catholic nun.  She drank it straight.  I guess she gave herself a dispensation.  I’ve tasted thousands of cocktails through the years made by incredible mixologists, and I’ve never had a bad one.  They’re making cocktails with all sorts of things.  This is not a rebirth.  It’s really the birth of the cocktail movement to me.  Historically we made cocktails, but certainly not with the variety of ingredients, the creativity and the enthusiasm that we’re doing now.  The cocktail movement has been a huge growth driver for Bulleit.  As you say the mixologists and bartenders like the way we’ve configured Bulleit.  It’s compatible with mixology.

Lastly, the popularity of bourbon in the country is skyrocketing.  We just did a piece here (at WGNO-TV) about the bourbon boom… and it is booming.  Where do you see the bourbon industry in the next couple of years?

Those things are really hard to project.  I have been more-or-less a heads down… I come from a pot-stirrer family.  We stir the pot, and in due course it comes out.   We see in the 40’s and the 50’s bourbon and beer in America was huge.  It goes through cycles.  I can’t tell… at this point we don’t know whether this is a cycle.  I suspect everything goes in cycles.  The whole world does.  I think the whiskey industry has come on very heavily.  Not just bourbon.  I don’t know if people are aware that scotch is huge.  They sell more scotch now than they ever have in the history of distilling scotch.  I think people are identifying the whiskies, and I think it may calm down.  I think it will be a settled part of people’s appreciation.  It’s like the culinary arts.  I don’t think we’ll go back to basics in restaurants and I don’t think we’ll go back to basics in mixology.  I think vodka is a wonderful mix, but I don’t think we’ll go back and depend on it exclusively.  I think the whiskies are coming forward and probably will stay forward.

 

Tom was cheerful and enthusiastic during the entire interview.  He seemed to have a genuine passion for the whiskey industry.  The part of the interview that stood out for me was when Tom teased possible future releases being variants of their current bourbon and rye whiskey.  Could we see an aged rye whiskey from Bulleit in the future?

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