It has been a good year to be British so far: our Queen celebrated 60 years on the throne by throwing a party in London and giving us an extra day off, the 2012 Olympics rocked, giving us a chance to show the world how it should be done, and our bars and bartenders showed that London is still the cocktail capital of the world. The first two reasons may have grabbed more headlines, but honestly they pale in significance when compared to our achievements at Tales of the Cocktail this year. You see every single ‘International’ category at the Spirited awards was won by a UK bar or bartender (Angus, we’re still claiming you even if you spend more time away from the UK than in it, you have the accent, you’re ours!)… yep, every single one! Now I’m not one to gloat, but that’s pretty amazing really!
Having been at the awards I can tell you that I felt proud to know all the award winners and consider many of them to be friends, and the feeling of seeing one after another walk onstage to collect their trophies was amazing. So upon arriving back in the UK my first thought was that we should get all those trophies together and make a few drinks to toast this amazing feat. To be honest I’ll be surprised if we scoop so many awards again, with bars from the US, Australia and many countries in Europe nipping at the heels of London when it comes to cocktails.
If you’re in the drinks industry or a serious cocktail aficionado, you might just have noticed a lot of talk recently about New Orleans and Tales of the Cocktail. Now that the week-long gathering has passed and we’ve had a couple of weeks to recover, I thought I’d have a stab at trying to understand what makes this gathering the biggest, and arguably the best of the year when it comes to all things cocktail and spirit related. When over 20,000 people travel not only from across the US but from around the world, you know there must be something special about it: but what?
If you really think about it New Orleans is a strange place to hold a cocktail and spirit related event. It certainly has a history when it comes to cocktails, with drinks such as the Ramos Gin Fizz and the Sazerac hailing from this city as well as the famous Peychaud’s bitters, but history alone isn't enough to make it a cocktail epicentre of the world. There are many other cities that have a much more developed modern cocktail scene, with New York and London immediately springing to mind, and in fact there are only a small handful of bars in new Orleans where you’ll find it easy to get a great cocktail. So why do so many people make this pilgrimage every year?
There are invitations, and then there are invitations! When Jim Meehan of New York’s famous PDT bar, asked me if I might consider being involved in an event at Tales of the Cocktail this year, of course it got my attention. When he explained the event and listed the people involved in the project, it became the sort of invitation you simply can’t say no to. A group of bar luminaries coming together to honour the work of a bartending legend, in a unique and compelling way is hard to resist. Make the setting for this event in New Orleans on the Mississippi river, and get four fantastic brands involved and there was no way I could say no!
Colin Asare-Appiah, decided that it was about time someone paid homage to Tom Bullock, the first African American to release a cocktail book, back in 1917. If you don’t recognise the name, there’s more information below about why he remains an important historical figure in the world of bartending. Anyway, while he seldom gets the spotlight, making way instead for the likes of Jerry Thomas, Harry Craddock and Harry Johnson, his book, The Ideal Bartender, has done more to record the history of pre-prohibition cocktails than any other I can think of. So the idea of building an event around this character from our cocktail past was instantly appealing, but the method for doing so needed to be something special.
But first more about the man himself, Mr Tom Bullock…
As you will know if you have been following our recent travels we have been pretty busy what with Tales of the Cocktail and our American Whiskey trip, but we thought it was about time we combined some of what we learnt in New Orleans with some of the new ingredients we have picked up along the way and come up with a few drinks.
We met the guys from Boiron at Tales and they have been kind enough to let us have some samples to play with. They produce a fantastic range of fruit purees that are ideal for all your cocktail making needs. Their range consists of 48 flavours all of which are made from pure fruit and other than adding sugar (only when seasonal variations in fruit demand it) they are additive, preservative and colouring free, so in other words using them is like adding fresh fruit to your drinks only better.
Sitting in a hotel somewhere in the backwoods of Mississippi, Sarah, Steve and I are reminiscing about the last 5 days spent at Tales of the Cocktail. All three of us agree that it has been an amazing experience and that we will be back to do it all again next year. We also are all of the opinion that a day or two off the sauce wouldn’t be amiss.
So here are our thoughts on what makes Tales such a good event and why we expect you to start saving your pennies now so that we can see you in New Orleans in 2010.
You may have gathered that I have not been blogging as much as I promised... firstly my apologies for that but here in my defense New Orleans during Tales of the Cocktail is a crazy place! this is my fourth day and I think I have had about 7 hours sleep so far. At every turn there is someone you know, somewhere to go or a party that you just have to attend!
That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!
This will be a brief blog for 2 reasons...
Firstly, the really interesting updates will be made over the next 5 days from New Orleans so honestly there is not much I can write now that will top that. The whole B&T team will be attending Tales of the Cocktail so hopefully we will end up with a stack of stories, ideas, thoughts, pictures and tasting notes to throw at you over the coming months!
Secondly, I still need to pack!
It has been a little while since my last blog, so I thought I had better do a quick update before getting back to the grind stone.
Tequila and Jager up for grabs
A quick word about the competition I announced last time. I will be putting a section up on the website which will be dedicated to Gregor de Gruyther and will have some of the drinks he came up with as well as some drinks made up in his honour.