Thursday, July 9, 2009

Our (wo)man in New Orleans

July 8
As I sat in Laguardia airport after my delayed flight was canceled, I thought to myself, "Man, maybe I wasn't meant to go to Tales of the Cocktail this year."

Somehow the ineptitude and just plain terribleness of an airline that shall remain unnamed I found myself on one of the last flights out of NYC to Atlanta...where I'd, I guess, just stick out my thumb and hope a plane takes me to New Orleans in the morning.

Compared to the last time when I flew down to New Orleans last flight down, I found myself on a plane to Atlanta stuck behind a little girl who kept trying to sublimate herself into the airplane seat, and a row before her, a kid trying to sneeze his entire endocrine system out at 2 minute intervals, and a seat that stiffly wouldn't move back at all, I was in my own personal hell. And if that wasn't punishment enough, three hours of sleep at a dingy hotel/motel that had me worried I'd wake up covered in insects of some sort.

Luckily, in the bright light of day, with a breakfast of four Krystal sliders at the airport, things started to look up. I managed to find a seat on the first flight out of Atlanta and I arrived in New Orleans in time to attend the first session of Tales of the Cocktail, Big Trends 2009.

With moderator Ryan Magarian, co-founder of Aviation Gin and president of the cocktail consulting firm Liquid Relations, the panel included im Meehan, co-owner of the cocktail lounge PDT in New York, Michael Waterhouse, proprieter New York's Dylan Prime and Devin Tavern, and Simon Difford, owner and editor of Sauce Guide Publications.

Fresh and seasonal fruits and veggies as ingredients, as well as the popularity of gin were discussed as the group on stage talked through different trend worthy elements for 2009.

While the panel agreed that gin was big, the panel had differing opinions on what other spirits are on the rise. Jim mentioned how mezcal and tequila seemed to be something to pay attention to from what he's seen in New York, naming Death and Co. alum Phil Ward's new tequila and mezcal cocktail lounge Mayahuel.

Jim also thought that rye whiskey was the "giant white elephant" in the room. Even without a lot of innovation with the spirit itself, "you can't help but be astounded by the success of rye whiskey this year."

“We can't keep it on the shelves."

Simon though, commented that in Europe, rye whiskey is still something behind the bar for the bartender, and that general consumption by the bar going public isn't up there yet to be considered a trend there.

Waterhouse said that while mezcal wasn't a spirit that has a big call in the type of operation he runs, definitely tequila and gin are

More importantly, people are beginning to take notice of smaller artisan distillers. "It's green, it's small, it's local it's homemade, people are looking for this...People love that there is someone handcrafting products. People love that. You see these little soda companies. That's the big thing in spirits that I find."

Being proactive and taking control was the theme for the panel discussion on managing costs.

“My initial gut reaction to that is we're all living in this recession, which is the biggest bargaining tool I've had all my life. Especially in wine. There are a limited amount of buyers and a lot of wine going unpurchased. If you're not out there negotiating prices as a mult-unit chain you're doing yourself a disservice,” said Tylor Field, vice president of wine and spirits at Morton's Steakhouse.

“A lot of people put the ix-nay on new products or development coming in. For those people that are forward thinking and are ready to go when the turnaround hits, those are the people that are going to see the results of keeping the development flying,” Kathy Casey, president of Kathy Casey Food Studios and Liquid Kitchen said.

I was still tired after my almost 16-hour trek to New Orleans, but made an effort to stop by the reception party hosted by Beefeater Gin in order to see who I could run with.

Don Lee and John Deragon were heading up the apprentice program this year. With a lot of the juicing outsourced to kitchen staff, the plan was to give apprentices more time actually batching and preparing the different drinks and attending seminars. At the reception Don told me that this year the group was definitely larger than the last with more than 30 people on the apprentice list.

I saw Daniel Eun, who now lives on the West Coast studying law, but he still finds time to bartend.

A lot of last year's apprentices, like Daniel, returned for a second go around. Folks like Cassie Fellet, LaTanya White, Thomas Waugh and Jacquelyn Leon.

I saw some new face working the events as well like Nicholas Jarrett from Apothecary in Philadelphia.

I walked around saying hi to folks when I found myself at a table Stephen Beaumont and his wife Maggie were stationed at. The last time they'd seen me was when I almost mowed them down drunkenly stumbling out of the phone booth as I was leaving PDT quite a while back. I was sheepish to say the least.

Stephen Beaumont said, "I've been telling several people...this year is the year Tales goes huge."

Not that last year or the year before weren't huge affairs, but this year it definitely seemed...well...just humongous. I was curious as to what this year was going to be like.

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