Monday, July 28, 2008

Tales of the Cocktail

Posted By on Mon, Jul 28, 2008 at 1:40 PM

Unless you own a bar or work for a distillery, attending the Tales of the Cocktail convention in the heart of New Orleans' French Quarter is one of the more self-indulgent things a person can do. Also fun, informative, entertaining and, yes, intoxicating. The seminars – and thus, the drinking – begin at 10:30 a.m. and the mood is predictably convivial. It's perfectly acceptable, almost unavoidable, to maintain a day-long buzz.

Created only six years ago in the birthplace of the cocktail, and housed in the historic Hotel Monteleone, the annual convention has grown substantially in just the last couple of years. I had the good fortune to attend last year's event and was pleasantly surprised this week to note the larger crowds and the more numerous free events. This is a prime venue to debut a liquor and grab the attention of some of the world's top bartenders, industry insiders and booze critics.

Last year's event saw the launch of two French liquors: La Fee, one of the first of the new absinthes to hit the American market, and St. Germain, a versatile cordial flavored with elderflower. This year, the new entries are too many to count, including several absinthes, a tequila line, an artisan American gin and an herbal vodka.

Apart from the drinks, one comes to Tales for the fascinating historical tidbits. Did you know, for instance, that cocktails gained mainstream popularity in the U.S. during Prohibition, when various mixers and ingredients were used to mask the skunky taste of bathtub gin? Well, you, too, would find such trivia fascinating if you were half-hammered.

As I write this, I'm sitting in a seminar titled, "Potions of the Caribbean: Lost Cocktails of America's Post-War Playground." Already I've learned that the Hemingway-endorsed Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West stole the name, but none of the Prohibition-era ambiance, of the original Sloppy Joe's, the greatest bar in pre-Castro Havana. And that the Trader Vic's bar in the old Havana Hilton, opened only months before the Cuban Revolution, sits intact and nearly untouched by time, waiting to be reborn by a new generation of capitalist dogs as the world's most authentic tiki bar.


Like most of the seminars, this one features a series of cocktails, all centered around the nectar of the islands, demon rum. My favorite was the last, Jasper's Jamaican Cocktail, mixed up by bartenders in Hawaiian shirts and served by female volunteers wearing colorful sarongs. Very tasty. Here's the recipe:

1 1/4 oz. Cruzan Estate dark rum

1/2 oz. St. Elizabeth allspice dram

1/2 oz. fresh lime juice

1/2 teaspoon Fee Brothers Rock Candy Syrup

Shake well with ice cubes. Strain into glass dusted with nutmeg.

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