Lessons Learned at Tales of the Cocktail

Ramos Gin Fizz at Sazerac Bar

With last week marking it my first time at Tales of the Cocktail, I figured I was somewhat prepared. Or really, prepared as I could be. There were tips gathered from friends who are long-time veterans, and jaw-dropping stories told that were too creative to have been embellished. The scared-yet-excited anticipation for my four-day initiation seemed healthy.

Of course, hearing about it and talking about it is nothing compared to living it, and … well, live it I did. And I came out! I survived! If we were to be honest about things, it’s always the case of “the more you know, the more you find out what you don’tknow.” As in the stuff they teach in 10 AM seminars.

I did a few of those, but I was always way more into real-life application:

  • Order a Ramos Gin Fizz at The Sazerac.
Sazerac Bar, Roosevelt Hotel

It may appear counterintuitive, I know. But without discounting their Sazerac (it is, of course, fabulous), you’ll want to start with the Ramos Gin Fizz first. It was the best one I’ve had in my life. That foam was at the most perfect density-to-fluff ratio. And the taste was of the glorious, refreshingly eggy essence only dreamed of, before.

And I guess it would make sense that this would be the place, since (according to their website) it was from this very bar that Huey Long, the governor of Louisiana (1928–1932), flew his top bartender to The New Yorker Hotel in New York so that he could teach them how to make a proper Ramos Fizz.

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Exploring Bar World Myths at Tales of the Cocktail

Taste Test

I’ve never sat in a classroom-like setting in regards to cocktails before, but when David Wondrich, Dave Arnold and Wayne Curtis are “lecturing,” you better choose your battles wisely. The Thursday of Tales of the Cocktail, they explored bar world myths for those eager to learn the truths and untruths of the cocktail world.

It’s time to get geeky with some bartending bullet points:

Dry Shake? From L-R: Cold, warm
  • Do you discard vermouth after it has sat around in the refrigerator for one month?

Ultimately, there is a difference, but it’s so slight that there may as well not be. Refrigerate always (this is a must), but oxidation in vermouth isn’t really a killer. I picked the “wrong” one (or in this case, the un-fresh choice), and preferred the cocktail made with 6-week old vermouth as opposed to the just-opened one.

  • Is dry shaking BS?

No. Shaking warm ingredients without ice makes for better aeration and emulsification in cocktails – especially with egg. Warm eggs are integrated into the cocktail better than cold, and this makes for a better creamy foam top. And by the way – it’s better to keep room-temp eggs at your bar than cold ones. Cold eggs give your bar that “wet dog” smell.

  • Fresh limes are always better.

Surprisingly, the room came to a majority opinion that the cocktail with 5-hours-old lime juice was favorable to the just-squeezed lime juice. Fresh-fresh lime juice is actually too tart.

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Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards: The Varnish is America’s Best Cocktail Bar

The Varnish, Downtown Los Angeles – Photo courtesy of 213 Nightlife

“Five years ago at Tales [of the Cocktail], it was just a small group of us from L.A. The guys from Portland, New York, OH MAN SAN FRANCISCO … would ask, ‘Where are you from?’ … ‘L.A.? Oh, that’s nice. How’s the bottle service?'” – Aidan Demarest, Tello Demarest Liquid Assets

“The Varnish didn’t just win. All of us, all of L.A. won.” – Cedd Moses, 213 Nightlife

I’ll never forget my first time in New Orleans this past weekend at the 10th Anniversary of Tales of the Cocktail. There’s something about getting to witness your favorite bartenders in your home city come together to celebrate their craft with their big shot counterparts from other cities. Going from seminar to tasting room to industry party to Spirited Dinner (while catching some not-to-miss eats of the city in between) in the humid, 90° swelt of The French Quarter was a new junket to me, but the presence of Los Angeles was unmistakeable, making Tales all the less intimidating and more familiar, much faster.

Post-Spirited Awards Celebration at One Eyed Jack’s

We are all bartenders, brand ambassadors, educators, writers, photographers and more – with many wearing more than one hat – and as with every year at The Spirited Awards on the last night of Tales, the best of the best are officially recognized. A winner in each category is announced after an initial top ten finalists are narrowed down to four. Though Eric Alperin and The Varnish have been our bastions of Los Angeles in these awards for the past couple years, it was the 2012 Spirited Awards when the L.A. bar community finally felt taken seriously.

There was a plethora of Top 10 finalists representing Los Angeles, announced back in May. Their mentions are below, with the Top 4 denoted by an asterisk: Eric Alperin(*) and Vincenzo Marianella of Copa d’Oro were recognized in the American Bartender of the Year category. The Huston Brothers and Steve Livigni’s and of course Pablo Moix’s Harvard & Stone and 213 Nightlife’s The Varnish(*) were both nominated for Best American Cocktail Bar(*) and World’s Best New Cocktail Bar.

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