Well, it looks like we survived another week in New Orleans at Tales of the Cocktail. It was by far my busiest and craziest yet, and we are already counting down the days until we get to go back and top it next year. For those of you who haven’t listened to me ramble on about this event before, Tales of the Cocktail is a weeklong gathering of anyone and everyone in the beverage and spirits world, professionals and amateurs alike. It is a conference, family reunion and bartender’s Christmas all rolled into one hot, muggy week every July in New Orleans. I could write a book about our four-day excursion, but I thought I would keep it simple and give you my top three moments (well, kind of) from this year.

A tequila lecture was one of the highlights of the conference for me. (Photo: Contributed)

Digging into the roots of tequila
Yes, while in New Orleans with thousands of other bartenders, we do find time to learn something. How do you hold the focus of even the most attention-deficit bartenders? Appeal to their inner nerd. We all have lots of quirky passions that drive us, and getting to listen to experts in these specific fields discuss what makes us, our bars and spirits tick is a real joy.

My seminar of choice this year? Tequila! Led by a panel that included Elayne Duff, Enrique De Colsa, Amy Stewart, Miguel Cedano Cruz and Don Lee, we listened to the breakdown of the heart of tequila, the agave plant. Sampling tequilas made in both highland and lowland regions of Jalisco (where 90 percent of tequila is made), we got to see how the soil type, rainfall and weather of different areas affect the final composition of tequila. My favorite part? Getting to eat a piece of agave heart from both regions (nerd alert! I know). Tasting the influences of the lowland’s volcanic soil, which creates an earthier, spicier plant, and the highland’s iron-rich earth that makes for a sweeter, more floral agave aided in understanding why the final product tastes the way it does. We wrapped up by discussing the genetics of the agave plant and possible dangers for the future of the plant and tequila industry. Did I mention it’s only noon?

You can find the slideshow for this seminar here.

A crowd gathered outside the Old Absinthe House daily. (Photo: Contributed)

Gatherings outside of the Old Absinthe House
We pretty much ended up with a cocktail in hand outside of the Old Absinthe House, finding new friends, on a daily basis.

Highlights from our adventures here would include making friends like Freddie Sarkis from Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago, chatting it up with Chris Hannah of Arnaud’s French 75 bar as we tried to find food at 3 a.m. and getting to be a part of the United States Bartenders Guild Fernet Branca toast.

If you’ve never been, the Old Absinthe House is a dive bar go-to while in New Orleans. Between here, the Erin Rose and The Alibi, some rather serendipitous moments always occur. There's nothing like hanging out at a dive bar with a Miller High Life in hand as legendary cocktail historian Dave Wondrich walks in. 

"Fernet about it" T-shirt=awesome. (Photo: Contributed)

Meeting Roberto Bava and Eduardo Branca
For those of you who don’t know me, I am a lover of vermouth and bitters. As I’ve mentioned, New Orleans is one of the most serendipitous cities I’ve ever visited, and sometimes, that leads to meeting incredible people, like Roberto Bava, producer of the Cocchi vermouths and wines in Asti, Italy. Upon meeting Roberto, he quickly poured me what he is famous for—sparkling wine—and dragged me off to the kitchen to find the perfect bleu cheese to pair it with. All I could think to myself was, "Is this real life?" Yes. I also managed to snag a poster he signed with ink made from vermouth. Needless to say, it was a ridiculously perfect afternoon.

We (the Easy Bistro & Bar crew) also got a chance to meet our favorite producer of bitters: Eduardo Branca of the Fratelli Branca distillery. I had the pleasure of meeting him last year at the spirited dinner they sponsored but couldn’t pass up the chance to thank him again for all that he does. Of course, we also couldn’t pass up a photo opportunity or asking him where to find a "Fernet about it" shirt. Sadly, we only got the photo.

Thank you, Ann Tuennerman (AKA Mrs. Cocktail and founder of Tales of the Cocktail) for another amazing week in New Orleans. Until next year, cheers!

Laura Kelton is a recent graduate of UTC and currently runs the bar program at Easy Bistro & Bar. Feel free to reach out to her by email with any questions, comments or requests. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.