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Tales of the Cocktail commemorated its twentieth anniversary with a splash of celebrations and several stirs of nostalgia. Held July 25 to 29 at the host hotel, The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, this year was the first in-person conference since 2019, and we saw many emotional hugs as friends and colleagues in the bar industry saw each after this long COVID-19 separation. Tales of the Cocktail is an international conference primarily attended by bar and spirits industry professionals worldwide, although we also met a few cocktail enthusiasts. Streamed events could also be attended virtually to keep health and safety in check.

Founded in 2002, initially as a series of New Orleans cocktail tours, Tales of the Cocktail exploded into the premier destination event for bar and hospitality professionals, spirits producers, and anyone affiliated with the drinks industry. Tales of the Cocktail is currently overseen by a board of directors that includes Neal Bodenheimer, owner of Cure Co. in New Orleans (Cure, Cane & Table); Rick Solomon, president and co-founder of Solomon Group; a major events producer based in New Orleans; Claire Warner, creator and co-founder of Aecorn; the world’s first range of British non-alcoholic aperitifs; Tess Posthumus, owner of Flying Dutchmen Cocktails and Dutch Courage – both in Amsterdam; John Gakuru, Global Brand Ambassador for Sagatiba Cachaça; and Perry Sholes, president of Progressive HR Strategies, New Orleans.

The 2022 theme was “Progress,” intended to showcase the resilience and transformative atmosphere of the cocktail community. Several themes wove their way throughout the multi-day conference in the form of seminars, workshops, and products.

Here they are:

Temperance and Wellness

Temperance at a cocktail conference may seem like a paradox. Still, this industry has experienced its fair share of trials and tribulations during the pandemic. This year saw several supporting events and several open conversations about mental and physical health and responsible consumption.

Jagermeister sponsored a series of wellness-focused workouts. Brown Forman hosted a Beyond the Bar Lounge centered around mindfulness and responsible choices. D’USSE sponsored a 5K community fun run. There were seminars on “Calming Cocktails” using CBD and herbs and other topics addressing the work-life balance.

No and Low Alcohols, Spritzes and Seltzers

Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic beverages and Seedlip dominated several events. We also discovered delightful smaller brands, including Old Know canned cocktails and Spiritless. Other examples: Cut Above Zero Proof Spirits. There were daily No-Low pop-up bars and plenty of coffee and Perrier water.

First timers at Tales of the Cocktail
Ryan Warner Wood and Mary Catherine (MC) Matheny, Founders of OldKnow Beverage Co.
They make low alcohol, low ABV sparkling hard seltzers in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia.

It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere: Aperitivo Culture

There were several opportunities to learn about different styles aperitivos from France, Italy, and elsewhere in Europe. It was also another nod to sessionable (low alcohol) consumption. We tasted Byrrh Grand Quinquina and Suze from France, Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto from Italy and a range of impressive amaros from Haus Alpenz.

Lo-Fi Aperitifs are a line of vermouth and amaro made with California wines, natural botanicals, and herbs. they are one of several apertivo offerings at Tales of the Cocktail.

Premiumization

Tequilas and Gins notable showed their full potential to “level up” both in craftsmanship. A few examples: Mijenta Tequila and Tequila Komos, Citadelle Gin and Sweet Gwendoline French Gin, both from France, Engine Gin (Italy), and Stranger & Sons Gin (India)

Pouring Mijenta, an artisanal, sustainable tequila, is crafted by Mexico-based Maestro Tequilera Ana Maria Romero.

Education, Career, and Business Development

Everyone in the industry was impacted by COVID-19. Professional and business development talks and seminars drew healthy crowds; Topics covered included: Cultivating and Maintaining Creativity in Your Beverage Program, Craft To Corporate- making a career transition from bartender to brand ambassador, and “Media Training” for bartenders. There continued to be programs for cocktail apprentices and scholarships.

The conference still was dominated by the Big 5 and their brands: William Grant, Beam Suntory, Bacardi, Pernod Ricard, and Diageo. Each held a splashy party during the week, with branded bars, disco music, and plenty of visual tricks. We also reveled a bit while attending the 10th anniversary of Ford’s Gin. Founded by Simon Ford, who formerly worked as a brand ambassador for Plymouth Gin (Pernod Ricard), it was nice to see his rise to success under his own brand, which Brown-Forman acquired in 2019.

Congratulations to Simon Ford, Founder of Ford’s Gin, celebrating ten years in 2022. A great party you hosted!

What we had hoped to see were more indie brands and startups. Tales of the Cocktail used to be a “must attend” for brand launches and a great way to lay the foundation for a newer company. Still, with bigger activation fees from the event’s producers and seemingly unlimited budgets for the established producers and conglomerates, those days seem to be behind Tales. Let’s hope this reverses at some point.

The bartender who always delivers with a smile: Abigail Gullo
LOA Bar, International House Hotel, New Orleans
At this event, we discovered Archipelago Gin made in the Philippines (Preiss Imports)

One event of note that featured boutique and lesser-known brands was the tasting room hosted collectively by Preiss Imports and Haus Alpenz. We were impressed by some of the brands carried by Preiss Imports, whose portfolio focuses on independent, high-quality brands. Examples include ARC-Archipelago Gin from the Philippines. Germana Caetano Cachaça, La Fee Absinthe. Likewise the brands from Haus Alpenz, which focuses primarily on specialty liqueurs and brandies from around the world, including Cocchi, Averell Gin Liqueur, and many other top-notch offerings.

Artisan brands that deliver terroir: Germana Caetano Cachaça (Preiss Imports)

Community & Advocacy

Above all, scheduled programs work to support the bar industry community at large and inclusively. Representatives from Turning Tables, Another Round Another Rally, Southern Smoke Foundation and other advocacy groups and officials were on hand and on-point with their messaging.

Another seminar celebrated the contributions of Black Americans to the spirits industry.

Major non-spirits sponsors included Libbey Glassware, Q Mixers and Perrier. The latter served as the official Tales of the Cocktail water, which we needed in large quantities throughout the hot, humid week in New Orleans. We tried several flavors of Perrier water, including grapefruit, lime, and pineapple – all good. Perrier also implemented one of the cleverest sponsor activations, with a lunch takeover at Killer Po’Boys, located half a block from The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. Conference attendees could show their badges to enjoy free po’boys paid for by Perrier for three consecutive days. The lines were long, and the restaurant’s owner was thrilled to have the business.

While brands played a big role at Tales of the Cocktail as sponsors and event hosts, what matters most are the people, especially the bartenders and restaurant/bar owners and managers. Their spirit of community, service, and resilience are what lift up this industry and creates true progress.

Community spirit: Lynnette Marerro is a cofounder of Speed-Rack. This all-woman, high-speed bartending competition has raised tens of thousands of dollars to help women diagnosed with breast cancer. Speed-Rack’s fundraising work has had a vital role in providing funds for those women working in the bar industry without insurance.

About Tales of the Cocktail Foundation:

Tales of the Cocktail Foundation is a non-profit organization that educates, advances, and supports the global hospitality industry and creates a lasting impact in our host communities. Tales of the Cocktail Foundation is the global leader in spirits education and a platform to tackle issues facing the industry. The pillars of the Foundation are to Educate, Advance, and Support the hospitality industry through programs that benefit individuals and organizations in the community and to make a lasting impact in the communities that host our events. 

www.talesofthecocktail.org

Instagram@tales_of_the_cocktail

(The Connected Table’s Melanie Young and David Ransom both contributed to this article)

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