Words and some pictures by Francine Cohen
Cow photograph courtesy of William Grant & Sons/Image by Jennifer Mitchell Photography
As we go racing towards Tales XVI talesofthecocktail.com and all plan to land in New Orleans next week it seemed an appropriate time to reflect on the past year.
My oh my have things changed! Sadly, some beloved members of the community are gone. New ownership has taken over the event, topics that weren’t generally discussed out loud in the past are now front and center on the schedule where they belong, and new programming like we’ve never seen before at this cocktail conference, awaits us.
And as if that all wasn’t enough, the 2018 edition of Tales of the Cocktail coincides with the city’s tricentennial celebration 2018nola.com. Three hundred years is a long time for anything to go on and time can take its toll, but New Orleans has proven resilient and renewed in its glory year after year, century after century. This city known for its architecture, charm and hospitality is also America’s birthplace of cocktails and a bastion of good times. So, it is fitting we gather in the Crescent City to celebrate the spirits industry old and new.
Celebrating the cocktail, spirits education, and one another’s company is both an old and new reason that people think of when they head for Tales. And, of course the parties. This year is no different. Or is it?
Over the years William Grant & Sons www.williamgrant.com has thrown memorable bashes at Tales. More than 10 years ago they invited us to gather at a Garden District mansion. And who can forget the one at the WWII museum where the team from EO www.employeesonlynyc.com shucked oysters and a cow patiently allowed itself to be milked in order to produce the ultimate á la minute Ramos Gin Fizz? And then there was the camel at the airport…
But perhaps the most memorable one of all may be the one that hasn’t happened yet. Yet everyone’s already talking about it…this year’s portfolio party that won’t have any of the portfolio brands served. That’s right…an entirely non-alcoholic party kicking off the world’s biggest cocktail conference.
Honestly, like many of you, we here at INSIDE F&B, have been skeptical about this event and the need to have it be all or nothing. But we’re embracing this new era at Tales; it fits in with our long held belief that Tales, and our business in general should you want to make a career of it, is a marathon, not a sprint.
So, to squash our skepticism we turned to Charlotte Voisey, Director Brand Advocacy at William Grant to explain why, where, and how they’re throwing a party that’s already on everyone’s mind. It’s only got a little bit to do with Tom Cruise and we’re not sure about the four legged friends. But more on that in a moment.
This evening already sits well in the mind of Sother Teague, the Beverage Director at Amor y Amargo www.amoryamargony.com and partner in Blue Quarter (and the soon to open Windmill –you heard it here first). Teague comments, “Do I think it’s strange to be putting on a party at a huge cocktail convention and not serve any cocktails? In any other city, I might. But in New Orleans, which is steeped in cocktails and cocktail culture? I think it’s the perfect place! We as a whole should focus on what we offer; which is service and hospitality. Somewhere in my handwritten employee manual I say, ‘we sell the lighting kept at the right level…, we sell hospitality – all that other stuff comes with it.’”
He continues, “We sell experiences. I don’t have to get you drunk to achieve that experience. But who knows how many people will be willing to suspend their disbelief and attend. Let’s hope they do, especially in a city that is known so much for drinking but has so much more than that to offer.”
Voisey and her team are excited to put every aspect of William Grant & Sons on offer; the brands and the people. And Neal Bodenheimer, one of the new owners of Tales of the Cocktail, is hoping that moving forward people will continue to appreciate Tales for the community tool that it is. Including the economic benefit it brings to his hometown.
So, without further ado, let’s hear what Charlotte has to say:
IFB: The press release says, “William Grant & Sons guarantees a truly unforgettable experience at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail festival – kicking off the week with a spirited, yet spirit-free, portfolio party. Getting back to the roots of education and focusing on responsible consumption for the bartender community, the independent family-owned Scottish distiller will throw a party with all its expected revelry and signature high-concept experiences – without serving alcohol.”
And Neal was quoted in the release saying this, ““We see a big opportunity for a fresh beginning with Tales of the Cocktail this year, and we’re ready to truly focus on what’s important to us – access to proper education, the welfare and wellbeing of bartenders and the importance of responsible consumption,” said Neal Bodenheimer, Tales of the Cocktail Co-Chairman of the Board of Directors. “We can think of no better partner than William Grant & Sons to join us in this effort, and we can’t wait to see what they have in store for us in New Orleans this year.”
And the entire industry instructs, “Please drink responsibly.”
So how is not drinking at all/no alcoholic beverages provided “drinking responsibly”? Is abstinence the best and only answer?
CV: The decision to go dry is simply about proving that we can get together as industry peers and professionals, network, learn, see what’s new and interesting and have a good time without the need to drink alcohol to do so. With industry events often lining up back to back every day of the week even outside of ‘Tales week’ we have to be able to do this. The William Grant & Sons portfolio party in particular is one of the first events of Tales so the idea of being able to enjoy what is arguably a “must-attend” event without any obligation (intended or otherwise) to drink is a responsible gesture from us to bartenders who have a full week of learning and networking ahead of them. We are not promoting abstinence, we will be promoting our brands on the night, we very much still want our guests to consider our brands for use in the bars when they return from Tales. The objective of this party remains the same since the first year we did it: throw a party to thank bartenders for their support during the past year.
IFB: How should we be looking at this alcohol free event — in a vacuum or cumulatively over the week of William Grant & Sons’ offerings?
CV: I think it is best to look at our full ‘dance card’ of events at Tales 2018. William Grant & Sons have a total of 13 events that allow us to participate and interact with the industry in a variety of different ways: straight up education in the seminars, trial of our brands in the tasting room, supporting the CAPs at breakfast time, sharing creative ideas at the spirited dinners and celebrating at the Spirited Awards and parties such as Beach Monkey and the Reyka Pool Party.
IFB: Last year you made a commitment to refreshing people with the departure lounge. I know it was open to just a select group of people. Is this another way, on a larger scale, to deliver a balanced Tales experience?
CV: You will be pleased to hear that The Hendrick’s of Ministry of Relaxation will be open at Tales this year again, on Sunday from 10am -5pm and it will be open to a larger number of people with our Ambassadors on hand to take reservations for some of the sought after ‘treatments and diversions’ that will be on offer. And yes, I would agree that the spirit-free party allows us to deliver even more of a balanced Tales experience to visiting bartenders, that is a lovely way to look at it.
IFB: What’s your answer to those who say, ‘how can a spirits company not promote their spirits and what does that say about what it is they produce, i.e. alcohol”?
CV: We will still be promoting our brands at the party. We are lucky to have a rich portfolio of not only spirits, but brands to bring to life, not to mention our team of Ambassadors who embody those brands. Furthermore, we recognize that a well-rounded bartender should be proficient in many areas of beverage, including spirit-free cocktails so we actually anticipate an opportunity to educate and inspire at the party, we want bartenders to leave feeling motivated to improve or start a spirit free cocktail section on their menu, alongside alcoholic cocktails.
IFB: Could you have imagined doing something this bold in past years? If not, why is now the right time? If so, why did it take 16 years of Tales?
CV: We have always strived to be bold and interesting with our parties and always considered the needs of the industry each year. For example, In 2014 we recreated the travels and writings of Charles H Baker to expose a younger set of bartenders coming up in the industry another slice of cocktail culture history, last year our mission was to celebrate diversity in the industry which is why we chose Studio Be as our venue with its striking, statement making artwork. Unfortunately, there were complications at the last minute and we had to switch venues but carried on the idea of inclusion by celebrating Love Supreme as our theme. In the early years it was more about introducing our brands to bartenders as they were lesser known 12 or so years ago. This year it was all about ‘how does the industry need supporting now, this year?’ or ‘what can we do to contribute to a positive environment’ and the idea of really getting behind responsible consumption seemed very appropriate, something we are very passionate about.
IFB: Will the drinks be a mix of sweet and savory? What can we expect to be sipping?
CV: I am thrilled to be working with the very talented Julia Momose, from Chicago, on the drinks for the party. Julia has made a name for herself as an authority in spirit free cocktails, so I approached Julia to consult on the menu for the event. Julia has been working with our Ambassador team to come up with cocktails that are still inspired by our brands yet remain spirit free. There will be a range of styles and flavors and even some of everyone’s favorite New Orleans classic cocktails to try, all with this year’s twist! We will also be working with our dear friends at the Chef’s Garden using their beautiful and flavorsome ingredients and garnishes. Most top chefs around the world have The Chef’s Garden on their supplier list and it is high time that that is the case for bartenders too.
IFB: What sort of activations do you plan to have going on that will encourage conversation when people are used to having drinks in hand that provide if not just a conversation piece, but also some liquid courage?
CV: There will still be plenty of drinks in hand and nibbles, we will have music and dancing and we will have various stations throughout the party where our Ambassadors will bring our brands to life in a variety of ways fitting our theme. There will be photo opportunities, a game of two, a speech and, most importantly, lots of merriment!
IFB: Can you tell us where the portfolio party is being held and what the theme is?
CV: Our venue this year is the iconic Mardi Gras World www.mardigrasworld.com. We have a great space right on the water with half of the party tented outside and half inside in the cool air conditioned space. And our theme this year is……. We are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the cult movie ‘Cocktail’! our activations will bring to life certain scenes from the film as we follow the world’s most famous bartender from New York City, to the dreamy beaches of Jamaica.
IFB: Will there be animals?
CV: I couldn’t possibly say.
IFB: Is there anything else about the William Grant & Sons opening portfolio party being non-alcoholic or the entire slate of programing that is a fresh approach to a new world of Tales that we didn’t ask about and you want to tell us about?
CV: To surmise, just as in years past we are very excited to be coming to Tales to connect with, listen to, support and ultimately enjoy the company of our extended bartender family. Our simple gesture with the party is one of support, a break from the norm. People have come to look forward to this party for new ideas and creativity and we intend to deliver once more.
This party, along with other fresh additions to the schedule, delivers a signal loud and clear that there’s something new going on in our industry. A change that is long overdue; a positive message about balance in light of excess; enjoyment and appreciation; exploration and a little abstinence. And embracing every way of life that walks through this industry like you never have before.
Looking forward to seeing y’all down in New Orleans where we will be embracing one another, (and maybe a cow or Tom Cruise), and this brave new world.