Omnivore - Tales of the Cocktail (2)

Amid the cheesiness, Tales of the Cocktail offers opportunity for genuine booze discoveries.


  • Scott Henry
  • Fourteen glasses of rum on the mat, 14 glasses of rum...

Did you know that the earliest Russian vodkas were flavored with fruit? Or that rum was overtaken in popularity in the U.S. by whiskey only after politically motivated embargoes made it difficult to import? Or that the curacao citrus, from which the popular, orange-flavored liqueur is made, is actually green, wrinkled as hell and otherwise inedible?

OK, I think I've heard something about that last one, but the fact is that Tales of the Cocktail is a great place to learn new, if arguably trivial, facts about your favorite drinks, as well as get a glimpse of the latest trends in mixology and taste the newest products, often months before you see them on the shelf of your local package store.

For instance, the recent explosion of Italian amaros (amari?) — the bitter liqueur made by Averno, Cynar, Fernet and, one of my favorites, Montenegro — was so well represented at Tales that a seminar on the subject had filled before I could sign up. Also, the Italian and French love of aperitifs, such as Lillet, Campari and Aperol, a relative newcomer here, was also duly noted. Pisco, the mild Peruvian brandy, continues to make inroads in the national cocktail scene, while I didn't see as much attention paid to "white dog," the un-aged bourbon or "silver whiskey" as it is sometimes called, as I had two years ago. Both of those are good trends as far as I'm concerned.

Another trend I noticed is a perennial, namely, that rum is the Roger Dangerfield of spirits (for you millennials out there, that means it don't get no respect). I've been hearing predictions for years no at Tales that premium rum will soon enjoy the popular renaissance that high-end vodkas and tequilas have enjoyed, but so far it hasn't happened. This year, probably the best seminar I attended was a guided tasting by master spirit taster (how's that for a job?) Paul Pacult. The nearly 200 people who filled a ballroom at the Monteleone Hotel were each greeted by a placemat set with 14 1-oz pours of various rums made in the Caribbean, Central and South America of both sugar cane and molasses.