Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans

July 28, 2011

New Orleans transforms during the yearly Tales of the Cocktail from a party town into one that oozes the sensuality of a well woven cocktail.  You don't get to participate in a Bar Room Brawl if all you do is mix ambiguous slurps of WELL liquors and pretty label chardonnay.  The streets of New Orleans are busting out with all sorts of revelry and you're right in the middle of it.  They're going to make a Southern boy of me yet.  I had that cocktail for all y'alls on the Carousel at the Hotel Monteleone, a class act if there ever was one.

Ann Tuennerman is the circus barker behind the Tales of the Cocktail.  She's also the ringmaster and the lion tamer for all of the diverse participants at the Tales. 

If you have a Ramos Gin Fizz tattooed on your wrist, you'll know what I'm talking about.  What's a Ramos Gin Fizz?  Well, if you're from New Orleans this concoction of gin, lemon juice, lime juice, egg white, sugar, cream, orange flower water and real club soda will be a part of your social thread.  Throw out your drink guns and get something that screams of the place.  I like Club Soda because it has salt in it to make you THIRSTY.  New Orleans is a sensual city with hidden doorways that lead to opulent gardens.  If you don't see it, they don't want it to be seen.

They take the time to craft a cocktail, not just make a drink.  Even this Yankee knows there is a difference.   It's your time.  It's New Orleans and it's the Tales of the Cocktail.

Go over to Preservation Hall.  Time stands still here in the dark.  Listen to the old guys shuffle in there's a cadence in their step. Their shoes- leather against ancient wooden floors.. The ghosts of the past weaving through the room sending goosebumps up and down my arms.  It's time for a cocktail and I need one to fortify myself against the ghosts that run wild through the streets.  The music is woven with history.  Let it pass through you. 

New Orleans has come a long way since the city emptied of it's residents during the hurricane.  Vast blocks were destroyed, still more are unbuilt back to where they were, they may never be rebuilt.  There is a level of danger here.  But as a rule, danger finds the unwary.  The wary are safe inside the multitudes of cocktail bars.

Over at the Hotel Monteleone the Carousel Bar goes round and round.  The Sazerac is the drink of choice.  What is a Sazerac?  It is a little handheld fireball. Only a few ingredients go into it.  3 oz rye whiskey, 3/4 oz simple syrup (try the new Truvia Syrup. Zero Calories!) Peychaud bitters to taste (essential), Absinthe (also essential), and a lemon twist for garnish.  Get on the merry-go-round and go round and round.  The room is spinning, your head is spinning, time stands still.   There is jazz playing, connecting you to the past.

But what is the Tales?  It is a gathering of people, all different kinds - what brings them all together is their craft for great cocktails.   I saw many of them during the week.  The best ones for my palate were the ones that taught me something about TASTE.  There is something to be said for drinks made with great ingredients that really catches my attention.

My parents were over in Russia in 1960.  This was a different time in our history.  Paranoia ruled.  You couldn't take pictures of Red Square after two in the afternoon.  According to my father, it was an unusually hot summer.  High humidity and heat.  The weather in many ways was like present day New Orleans.  He said when you picked up the telephone there was an extra click that said the call was being listened in on.  You couldn't walk the city without being followed by your handlers who never let my parents or any other Americans out of their sight.  At their hotel there was no air conditioning.  But strangely enough there were gigantic pitchers that seemed to contain iced water set on telephone tables around the lobby.  My dad doesn't speak any Russian so he wouldn't have known that the liquid contained in the pitchers was not water.  It was the national drink. Vodka.  He poured himself a tall glass and drank it down as if to ward off the oozing all knowing heat.  Water?  It was not water, it was Vodka! 

At the Tales of the Cocktail, Vodka is as important an ingredient as Gin, Bourbon or Scotch.  Russian Vodka is hot.  The recent introduction of Russian Standard has turned the cocktail world on its heel to pay attention.  Over at the White Dinner, they were serving Russian Vodka from Standard with Caviar.  Pure, saline and crisp.  The Vodka drinks of fresh herbs, finishes dry and has a five minute finish.  Served ice-cold in shot glasses, I was transformed from present day New Orleans to the Moscow of my parents past.  All in one sip. 

Fentiman's crafts soda out of flavors that delight and charm.  Their essence driven soda are reminicent of cocktails enjoyed in early 20th Century England with flavors like Rose Lemonaide.  They use cane sugar, not corn syrup.  It's refreshing to say the least to see the old fast forward to the new in only a few sips.

Over in the tasting rooms Square One is crafting Vodka made from cucumber essence.  This is delicious in a cucumber martini.  How about trying their basil Vodka?  It tastes like a quick run through the basil patch.  The Square One Botanical Vodka is a flavor driven vacation to 8 specific botanicals from pear to rose, chamomile, lemon vebena, lavendar (not too much), rosemary, coriander, and lemon peel.  I wanted to get a slab of salmon and cure some gravlax in this Vodka with a bit of Cane Sugar and dill.  A very sophisticated drink.

Hoosier Mommas makes darned good Bloody Mary Mix.  Usually I shy away from anything pre-made, but this product just sings of the high quality of the ingredients.  If your bar is not selling that many Bloody Mary cocktails, try this product.  You will be surprised what happens to the sales! 

Over at the Milagro Pool party this cocktail showed itself.  Called the Dinamita, it is prepared by starting with Milagro Reposado, Fresh Lime Juice, Agave Nectar, Tangerine chunks, Tarragon, Orange Bitters, Ginger Beer and Absinthe.  I don't think I've enjoyed anything as delicious or refreshing on a rainy day.

Carousel Bar




There's always a parade in New Orleans.  Traffic just stops for an impromtu Jazz band or in this case guitar journey through the streets of the French Quarter.  Most of the excitement takes place during the day, during the night there is more drinking to do. 

Grasp the door handle, open the door and enter a world where cocktails rule the roost.  You'll be glad you made the trip.  Next year is the Tenth anniversary of the Tales.  I'm making my reservations soon!   Cheers!  wb






julie's picture

What a descriptive and informative article ! Pictures are fabulous - I thirst for the next story

Lily's picture

I would like a Ramos Gin Fizz please. Love the article.