At the 9th annual Tales of the Cocktail conference, held last week in New Orleans, thousands of attendees poured into the famous French Quarter’s Hotel Monteleone, where imbibers, distiller, mixologists and chefs gathered to celebrate all things cocktail. And as always, distinguished trends emerged from the morass of drinking, networking and reveling:
The hunt for the “next big thing.” It appears the industry is casting about for fresh inspiration, looking to various time periods (such as the Colonial era) and countries (Europe, Japan, “South of the Border”). In the meantime, that didn’t stop anyone at Tales from partying like it was 1945 at a World War II-themed welcome bash.
Tools are cool. Seminars and tasting rooms featured an array of tools and toys for making drinks: Chainsaws for cutting ice, carbonators, liquid nitrogen, miniature flamethrowers for charring fruit garnishes, foam-making canisters and more. One of the most exciting seminars featured “mad food scientists” Dave Arnold and Harold McGee creating a mint caraway-infused vodka using a Rotovap (rotary evaporator) machine—then distributing the liquid in disposable plastic eyedroppers
Small is beautiful. Some of the most exciting products came out of small craft distilleries: “Hopquil,” a Tequila-like spirit distilled from beer; red absinthe; coffee-infused Bourbon; barrel-aged aquavit; and a citrus-infused vodka that tastes like gin, minus the juniper.
A sea of rum. Last year, you couldn’t swing a cat at Tales without hitting a bottle of whiskey. This year, it seemed the same was true of rum. Cognac also got a good push. It should be interesting to see what will be the next category to explode.
Complex, layered flavors in cocktails. At events like the Diageo “Cocktails Around the World,” bartenders featured drinks with exotic spices and herbs, teas, bitter and herbal liqueurs like Zwack, Becherovka, Fernet, plus loads of new bitters. Subtle touches of umami and savory flavors were also highlighted.