July 28th, 2010
04:00 PM ET Tales of the Cocktail: Saintly booze, steaming Scotch and smoked banana peels
Sam Meyer is an editor at CNN and blogs about cocktails at cocktailians.com.
Oh, it's a thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning. How do Tales of the Cocktail attendees go to church? They attend a seminar on "Religious Beverages" with Allen Katz and Garrett Oliver. Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, drew the connections between Trappist ales and other beverages originated by monks, such as Bénédictine and Chartreuse - which French Carthusian monks still make and sell it to support their order.
The discussion concludes with a Vieux Carré. Named after the French Quarter, the drink contains Bénédictine – as well as other New Orleans-associated ingredients like rye, Cognac, and Peychaud's Bitters – and was invented by bartender Walter Bergeron at the nearby Hotel Monteleone in 1938. It's a fitting end to a weekend in the French Quarter devoted to fine cocktails.
Before the seminar, however, a French Toast Flip cocktail with oloroso sherry, an egg, allspice dram, and applejack was a nicely spicy start to the day. That and a cup of New Orleans chicory coffee – I learned the hard way that drinking too much of the stuff black induces palpitations – got me going and fortified me for the arduous half-block walk between the Hotel Monteleone and the Royal Sonesta.
The previous day, the "Historical Mixography" seminar - essentially, library research tips - was the hot ticket for a crowd of cocktail geeks at 10am on a Saturday. Moderator David Wondrich quipped that was the rough equivalent of 5am on a weekday for "normal people."
After that, I dashed upstairs and had the chance to make my very own rum punch from the assortment of fruit juices on display. I made my selections, the sponsoring company's Page Ranking rep spiked my bottle with a goodly slug of aged rum, then sealed the bottle and affixed a label whose calligraphy proclaimed the contents to be "Sam's Special Rum Punch." My friends and I switched the title around a bit, borrowing from current meteorological events and called it the "Tropical Depression No. 3."
3 parts guava juice
2 parts mango juice
2 parts Mount Gay Eclipse rum
Healthy squeeze of fresh lime juice
Grated nutmeg to garnish.
Later that evening, heavy rain from Tropical Storm Bonnie sent me inside rather than participate in the promised jazz funeral for the Sex on the Beach cocktail, but we did get our chance to second-line around the brunch tables at Commander's Palace the next day. My friend the Louisiana undertaker ordered a round of Corpse Revivers, and their acidity paired well with the crab-poached eggs with bacon-fat Hollandaise sauce.
So what did we learn at the show? 1. Booze-marketing types are tenacious and often quite innovative in pushing their assigned brands. 2. A plastic cup of Scotch on the rocks gives off visible steamlike clouds of water vapor when carried through a 110-degree room jam-packed full of Kermit Ruffins fans. 3. Proper hydration is your friend. 4. Cocktail geeks are more peaceful than comic book geeks - despite all the alcohol consumption, I never heard any raised voices, much less anyone getting stabbed in the eye.
But really, what I learned about the most is the groundswell of committed cocktailians who are doing some astonishingly creative things. For instance, Blair "Trader Tiki" Reynolds showed off an original cocktail he called the "Panah Manah." It has rum, coffee syrup, smoked banana peels, lime, and a bunch of other things - clearly, a drink with hang time and a lot of moving parts. At another event, Darcy O'Neil handed around a bubbly drink made with Barq's Root Beer and a gentian tincture, which really brought out the bitter woody notes that underpin the root beer's flavor.
And the passion doesn't just lie in pushing the envelope; when was the last time you got in an elevator and found yourself in the middle of a discussion with perfect strangers about the proper proportions for a Jack Rose, and which grenadine to use?
Never? There's always 2011. Get shaking.
I guess if you guys on SR must smoke it might as well be banana peels.