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Tales of the Cocktail 2012: A festival with a split personality

August 01, 2012|By Jessica Gelt
  • Tales of the Cocktail VIPs (and clear winners) including cocktail historian David Wondrich, second from left, "King Cocktail" Dale DeGroff, center, and prominent NYC mixologist and "Libation Goddess" Audrey Saunders, right, ride in a posh party bus after the Spirited Awards in New Orleans.
Tales of the Cocktail VIPs (and clear winners) including cocktail historian… (Jessica Gelt / Los Angeles…)

It's Wednesday afternoon, and the many L.A. bartenders, bar owners, spirits enthusiasts, bloggers and brand ambassadors who converged on New Orleans last week for the five-day 10th anniversary of Tales of the Cocktail are still talking about how they just can't get used to real life again.

That's not hard to believe considering the festival -- the largest of its kind in the world -- is a veritable Pleasure Island for the booze hound. A carnival of blunted senses, Tales pivots around the all-important pillars of partying and education.

"There are two Tales," says The Varnish  mixologist Eric Alperin on Saturday in Washington Square during a rowdy daytime picnic called Pig & Punch. "The daytime events and seminars and then Tales at night."

The split personality of the festival, which this year drew a street-and-door choking crowd of more than 21,000, couldn't be summed up better.

If you're an early riser and an eager beaver you can avail yourself of more than 50 seminars in niche subjects including "New World Vermouth," "Russian Drinking Culture" and "Traditional Chinese Medicinal Ingredients." These seminars start as early as 10 a.m., so you have to watch your liquor intake at the festival's many late-night parties, which tend to have cheeky names like "Juniperlooza."

It seems that the more years attendees have been coming to Tales the more likely they are to stockpile asprin and coconut water and emerge from the dark caves of their hotel rooms in the late afternoon just in time to catch the snazzy tasting events and another endless round of parties.

"I bet you made every rookie mistake in the book," said Sadie mixologist Giovanni Martinez upon running into me at a party and hearing me lament the state of my overtaxed liver. "Always drink water if you see it -- even if it's not yours; always take a nap when the opportunity arises, even if it's just for a minute. Don't finish every drink."

His list was long, and he was right. I was a rookie. I looked rumpled and faded, and he looked great in an amazingly wrinkle-free suit.

In that sense, there are two classes of people each year at Tales: winners and losers.

Next year, I'm going to get it right.

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-- Jessica Gelt

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