This post was originally written for Inside Vancouver.
Tales of the Cocktail (TOTC), founded in New Orleans by Paul and Ann Tuennerman, is hitting the road. For the first time ever, the internationally acclaimed cocktail festival is going ‘on tour’ and Vancouver has been chosen to host this cocktail extravaganza. TOTC hits town on March 13 and runs until March 15.
As well as a line-up of stellar seminars, attendees can also enjoy a flurry of special events including a BC Bar Crawl, Welcome and Closing Receptions, book signings by authors of cocktail and culinary literature, and also an event featuring the Canadian classic cocktail: The Caesar.
I recently spoke with Paul, one half of the TOTC duo, to get the skinny on the Tales of the Cocktail program and the upcoming tour to Vancouver.
Kristen: What is Tales of the Cocktail and how did it all come about?
Paul: The first Tales of the Cocktail was actually a Media Event, documenting the first anniversary of a Walking Tour of New Orleans’ Historic Restaurants and Bars. In Ann’s usual style, she convinced the likes of David DeGroff, Jared and Anastasia Miller, as well as other influential participants in the resurgence of the classic cocktail, to attend this event. It was an unqualified success and as such, the decision was made to make it an annual affair.
K: Why did you choose Vancouver for the first ever Tales of the Cocktail outside New Orleans?
P: There are numerous places around the world where the resurgence of hand crafted spirits and cocktails are flourishing. In the end, we had to pick one. The cocktail scene in Vancouver is very mature and those who are participating in this movement are unbelievably passionate and committed.
K: What does it mean to be chosen as a Tales of the Cocktail Apprentice, and what can you tell me about the winners? Was it a tough choice when it came down to choosing the winners?
P: We are very excited about the Cocktail Apprentice Program (CAPS). The CAPS hold a special place in Ann’s and my hearts; they along with a small army of other Industry Professionals make the event what it is. CAPS from previous years, who have taken ownership of the program, manage the selection process. When you look at the list of CAPS Alumni, it is a prestigious who’s who in the industry. In essence, by being selected you have been recognized by your peers as either an up-and-comer or someone who is making a substantial contribution to the movement. As a CAP, you become eligible to participate in the CAPS Scholarship Fund, for the existence of the program. This is our (Ann and mine) way of giving back. It allows the CAPS to further their education, chase down and dream and in essence, further their passion for hand crafted spirits and cocktails.
We literally get hundreds of applications, from around the globe, for a few handfuls of opportunities. If you’re an aspiring Industry Professional, it is well worth the sacrifice.
K: Who is running the sessions during Tales of the Cocktail?
P: As is usually the case with Tales of the Cocktail, we have an unbelievable line-up of Seminars and Presenters; the problem always boils down to, which ones will you attend? The beauty of Tales on Tour – Vancouver, is that attendees will not have to make those difficult choices; the structure is such that they will be able to attend them all.
– Famous New Orleans Cocktails – Chris McMillan & Philip Green
– For the Love of Gin: How the Historic Spirit is Making a Comeback – Dan Warner & Desmond Payne
– The Birth, Death and Rebirth of Canadian Whisky – Allen Katz, David Wolowidnyk, Drew Mayville & Neal McLennan
– The History and Important of Ice in Cocktails – Charlotte Voisey & Jon Santer
– The Science of Cocktails: New Techniques Behind the Bar – Dave Arnold & Eben Klemm
– Who’s Your Daddy? A Mai Tai Paternity Test – Jeff Berry
K: Are any sessions in particular proving to be extremely popular amongst those who have already snapped up tickets?
P: It’s difficult to say. I have a few personal favourites, such as “For the Love of Gin”, “Who’s Your Daddy” and I can guarantee that Dave Arnold and Eben Klemm will put on quite a show at “The Science of Cocktails”.
K: Is Tales of the Cocktail just for Bartenders?
P: No! Tales of the Cocktail attracts individuals from all walks of life. I often say that at Tales, you can find the Cocktail Enthusiast, Historian, Academic, and Artist. It’s not uncommon to come across people who were in New Orleans, be it for a conference or vacation, who stumbled across the event, and we’ve changed their lives forever. It really doesn’t matter what you’re passionate about, chances are, that as long as you’re passionate about something worthwhile in life, you’ll have an unbelievable experience, at Tales of the Cocktail.
K: What do you think makes for a great cocktail culture in a city?
P: That is a tough question. In some instances, great cocktail culture in a city can simply be an extension of their culinary culture and appreciation for finer things in life, i.e. New York and San Francisco. In others, it can simply be a part of the city’s DNA, such as New Orleans. Then you take a place like Dallas, Texas, where you can trace the roots of the resurgence of the classic cocktail back to a small army of very passionate, talented, and tenacious Industry Professionals. In the end, what is paramount, is the consumer. If the consumer doesn’t get it; if we as an industry forget that they are the most important element in our success, then it will never take hold.
K: Why is it important to know something about the history of cocktails and spirits?
P: I’ve said from the beginning of this movement, that it’s more experiential and less about a single aspect. It isn’t just about the Bartender, or the bar, or the spirit(s), or the cocktail, or the history of that particular cocktail, or the other patrons, it’s about the entire package. I think driven consumers are very sensory perceptive. These same consumers are essential to our success and tenure. In essence, you need a little bit of everything, including a knowledge of history, to be a success.
K: Where would you go for a great cocktail in Vancouver?
P: Please, like I’m going to narrow that list down to just one… you’ll be able to find me everywhere this March, during Tales on Tour – Vancouver. I encourage you to pay attention and do your best to keep up! (Kristen note: Deal!)
K: What is your favourite New Orleans cocktail?
P: It really depends on the time of year and what mood I am in. Right now, a very well made Brandy Crusta sounds fantastic!
K: What trends do you see in Cocktail Culture in 2011?
P: I think we can expect more of the same along with a return to what really matters. First, I would expect that you’ll find more herbal infusions and a wider and more eccentric collection of Bitters on the back bar. I think we will find more culturally inspired cocktails, we’re in a much more global community these days and as such, I would look to find cocktails with roots in Latin America and other cultures appearing on the menu. Lastly, I think we will see more Bartenders and less, well, “Drink Divas” as we all return to our roots and remember what’s ultimately most important…
K: Do you have plans to take Tales of the Cocktail to other cities in North America, and beyond?
P: We do… but if I told you about it… I’d have to kill you; and neither of us want that to happen now, do we? (Kristen note: Um… no, no we do not. I will wait…patiently….).
K: These days there a lot of terms floating around – ‘Mixologist’, ‘Bar Chef’… but I like to stick with my old favourite ‘Bartender’. How about you?
P: I think they each represent something different. When I think of a Mixologist or Bar Chef, I think of someone who has an abundance of knowledge and passion, for the creation and/or resurrection, of hand crafted spirits and cocktails. When I think of a Bartender, I think of someone who can deliver those creations, with panache!
K: Any final words of cocktail wisdom?
P: I used to close out our radio show by saying “if you’re going to drink, the least you can do is drink well”.
Tickets for Tales of the Cocktail are on sale now, and I recommend you get in early to avoid disappointment! Tickets are $155 and allow you access to all seminars and events. With a lot of buzz about this event already, I am envisioning a sell out! Buy your tickets online here.