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Tales of the Cocktail: Day Two

Day Two got off to a rocky start. Xy wasn’t feeling well, and I thought I might have to stay home to take care of her and the girl. But she rallied after a nap, I hopped on my bike, and got down to Tales of the Cocktail for a second day of spirit-stirring activities.

I started off with a seminar on “The How’s and Why’s of Cocktails.” This was basically an opportunity for superstar bartender Audrey Saunders to hold forth on her art and craft.

Audrey on Mint

She struck me as something of a perfectionist. She described training a bartender by mixing six gin sours with six different gins and tasting the differences. Then she’d do it again with lemon. Then again with lime. Then again with bitters, and again with a different bitters, and again and again and again, exhausting every variation, all with a goal of understanding the basic structure of the cocktail and the flavor profiles of the various ingredients.

The lecture was made all the more enjoyable by a couple of cocktails: the classic Ramos Gin Fizz and one of Audrey’s inventions, the French Pearl. She described this as a gin mojito with a touch of Pernod, and she created it for people who say they don’t like gin and don’t like Pernod.

There were a number of fascinating topics that were discussed at some length in this session. For example, Audrey seemed to express some regret for the “monster” she’s helped create with bars like the Pegu Club. They’ve emphasized heavy whiskey cocktails to the point of hiding the vodka beneath the bar. “Are we fascists?” she wondered aloud. These were issues of which I was not even aware. It made me realize what an utter freakin’ bumpkin I am in the world of mixology.

I didn’t have much time between seminars, so I stopped at the Bourbon House oyster bar for a couple dozen raw. Said hi to Rickey the shucker. Xy taught one of his kids.

Then it was back to the Monteleone for “The Molecular DNA of Classic Cocktails.” This was definitely the most entertaining event I’ve attended so far. You’ve got to love any presentation that starts off by citing the Futurist Manifesto from 1909. Sebastian Reaburn and Jacob Briars took some of the philosophy behind so-called “molecular cuisine” and looked at how they might be applied to cocktails. Apparently this is somewhat controversial. They made a convincing argument that the early pioneers of mixology were in fact innovating in a way that would be described as “molecular” today.

Jacob Briars

They served up a very spicy Bloody mary — did you know it’s the biggest selling cocktail in the world? — as a way to open up the topic of the taste palate. They brought out that hoary old tongue map we all learn in school and debunked it. They claimed that palate fatigue is caused by the brain being overwhelmed more than the tongue. To cleanse our mental palate, we just need a little shock and surprise, which they provided in a unique way. Half the people in the audience were given thumbtacks, and they were instructed to pop balloons given to the other half.

Balloon Poppin' Time

You can listen to audio of the popping. Surprise! The balloons were not empty but filled with absinthe.

Thus our brains were reset and we were ready for another drink. Some of us got the old classic Corpse Reviver #2. I was in the second group that got a weirdly purple drink. I didn’t like the taste of it at first, but then on a hunch I tried it with my eyes closed. Sure enough, the purple drink was a Corpse Reviver #2 as well — with a bit of color added. The point being that the cognitive palate can be addressed in many ways. They claimed that by applying the scientific method they had derived a way of making (European style) Old Fashions in batches, a claim which is apparently tantamount to sacrilege on the other side of the Atlantic. They served us some Tequila Old Fashions to prove their point. They had been batch made and used gum arabic as a sweetener. I thought it was very tasty.

After the session, a wrong turn led me to the Cathedral room, which was not listed on the program schedule. Soft music was playing, two women were getting massages, and a bartender was mixing Cointreau Kisses — made with peach tea. I had one. Very nice.

Later I had a bit of Averna neat, a High Plains Drifter, some Bénédictine, a Disaronno Intertwined.

I then stopped by the main Cointreau tasting room and stumbled onto a bizarre scene.

Mad Scientists

A bunch of people were gathered around a big table with lots of lab equipment while a couple guys in white coats directed an experiment.

The fruits of their labor? Something that looked like giant caviar with gold flakes at the center.

Caviar Gold

But it was made, of course, with Cointreau.

I tarried in the Cointreau room perhaps a bit too long for my own good, sampling Cointreau Noir, a Cointreau Cup and a Barbados Brit. Then, heading out on to the street, I wound my day down with a refreshing St-Germain cocktail once again.

I didn’t stay for any of the many late afternoon seminars or the special evening events. I wish I could have, but I felt the need to get home. Besides I don’t really have the stamina required. Still those spirited dinners sound delicious.

Published inFood & DrinxNew Orleans


  1. billm billm

    Thanks for this! I have wanted to attend TOC ever since I first heard of it several years back. Your descriptions are great! I hope you can make it to (and report back on) more events.

  2. […] but when I realized it was led by Jacob Briars I knew I was in for a special treat. I saw him last year in a presentation that involved splattering the audience with absinthe in the interest of science. […]

  3. […] first became aware of anti-vodka-ism at Tales of the Cocktail 2009, when Audrey Saunders wondered out loud if she’d helped create a monster. She emphasized […]

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