- Would you take a to of rum from this lady?
Greetings from New Orleans, where walking out the door is like jumping into a hot swimming pool with all your clothes on and taking a big swallow of humidity. To let you know how strange this experience is, I have now been in the French Quarter since Tuesday and have not set foot on Bourbon Street once, and I've paid for exactly two drinks. One of those was a beer at the rooftop pool bar at the Hotel Monteleone because I was craving some hops after so many cocktails. Tales is pretty much an all-inclusive event with many distillers and distributors eager to offer their wares to anyone who can see over the bar.
Yesterday was filled with seminars and receptions, including a Beefeater bash at the Contemporary Arts Center followed by free carriage rides down St. Charles to a huge ornate mansion under the elms for a lavish soiree courtesy of William Grant and Sons. Did I mention you need to be here for this next year? Like some sort of twisted haunted house for grownups, every room of the mansion was decorated with a different theme based on the liquor being served. In the dark English library, renowned bartenders were pouring a progressive scotch flight with older bottles being opened every half-hour. Unfortunately, I couldn't wait out the 30-year-old Glenfiddich, but I'm sure those who lasted that long enjoyed the hell out of it. And probably didn't make it out of bed this morning. The 18-year-old product that I did try was pretty damned remarkable.
In the Sailor Jerry lounge, party guests were photographed wearing life vests with old Sailor Jerry himself while tatooed temptresses poured Dark and Stormys. I might have had more than one in this room...
Outdoors, a smoking jazz band played under a gazebo for hundreds of appreciative drinkers. Celebrity bartenders like Charlotte Voisey and James Moreland gladhanded the crowd and accepted the adulation of the bartenders in the know. There were more outdoor bars than I could count, but in fairness at that point of the evening, three would probably have been more than I could count. I was told of numerous after-parties going on all around town, but I was more excited about the siesta fiesta I had planned for my hotel bed.
Thursday began bright and early with a Moonshiner's Breakfast sponsored by Piedmont Distillers to showcase Junior Johnson's Moonlight Moon and Catdaddy legalized moonshine products. The NASCAR legend himself was in attendance regaling the crowd with his stories of running moonshine in his pre-racing days and how NASCAR was initially created to determine who was the fastest revenuer runner. Junior also shared fond memories of New Orleans and how he used to come down for Mardi Gras every year and stay for a couple of months. I can see how that could happen.
Next was a Critic's Tasting seminar presented by Paul Pacault, the author of the exhaustive Spirit Journal
that is the bible of booze critics. After getting over the intimidating sight of six glasses of vodka, gin, whiskey, blended scotch, single malt and cognac staring me in the face at 9:30 in the morning, I listened intently as Paul took us through the hows and whys of spirit tastings. Needless to say, we spit instead of swallowing. Hopefully, the tricks and tips that I learned will come in handy for you readers as we explore the spirit world together in the future.
- You thought I was kidding about the hats?
The rest of Thursday will be occupied with more tastings and meetings with distributors to hunt out the next big thing. Unfortunately at this point, many of the most exciting new products are only rolling out on the coasts initially. But as they become available in God's country, I'm first on the list to find out and you all will be the first I'll tell.
Tonight's Spirited Dinner will be at Calcasieu, James Beard Award-winning Chef Donald Link’s sister restaurant to Cochon and Herbsaint. The menu looks amazing and the paired cocktails are sure to be inventive. I'm expecting one of the best hundred-buck meals of my life. I'll report back when the food coma is over.
Until then, as everyone seems to say down here, cheers!