Omnivore - Tales of the Cocktail is the place for people serious about drink

Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans was bigger, louder and boozier than ever, but managed to offer something for every one not on the wagon.


  • Scott henry
  • I'll have my Fernet neat, with a creosote chaser!

Fernet Branca — it's what's for breakfast. At least, it is at Tales of the Cocktail.

If you can't imagine waking up with the pungently bitter Italian amaro, I'm with you. As I stepped onto the elevator of the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans shortly after 9 a.m. last Friday — soon to be joined by a woman already lavishly trashed — I wondered if I could handle so strong a flavor so early.

For the uninitiated, Tales of the Cocktail is very likely the nation's foremost convention celebrating and promoting the mixed drink. It's an industry event, to be sure, where bartenders battle against each other in mixology competitions and the world's booze-makers roll out their latest products. But it's also a playground for connoisseurs, critics and folks who simply enjoy a good stiff belt.

(If the event does sound familiar, it might be because I blogged about it a couple years back and Besha did so again last year.)

This was the 10th year of the convention and I can personally testify how much it's grown since 2007 or whenever it was I first attended. Back then, I don't remember seeing anyone checking badges or taking tickets for seminars. This year, many of the events were sold out months in advance, and security personnel shut down tasting rooms not one moment past the scheduled time.

But a couple of things thankfully haven't changed a bit. Firstly, seminar topics are as esoteric and off-the-wall as always, including sessions on the use of alcohol in religious ceremonies, the importance of aroma and a discussion of how our sense of taste changes as we age. Also, the convention still has the feel of one big, barely contained party, with folks happily scurrying from one event to the next on unsteady legs and the hotel lobby buzzing at all hours.

Speaking of buzzing, I've learned that it's possible to quaff — or at least sample — three or four dozen high-test cocktails over the course of a 16-hour day and yet not feel actually drunk. Even more importantly, I avoided waking up with a hangover. Granted, there were moments when I worried that I might be nauseous if I took one more sip, but those moments passed and I grabbed the next drink.