By Natalie Migliarini, Foodable Contributor
Every year, bartenders, brand ambassadors, cocktail enthusiasts, and distillers come together in the wonderful culinary cocktail capital of New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail. Various places in city become the host for all things cocktail, including tasting rooms, seminars, pool parties, invite-only parties, spirited dinners, and the renowned Spirited Awards. Given the infamous drinks that have been created in New Orleans, it is the perfect place to host this amazing week-long event. I had the opportunity to attend for the first time this year as a “Tales Virgin,” and it did not disappoint. In appreciation for the event and the city of New Orleans, here are three of the top trends seen at this year’s “Tales.”
1. Foraging for Finer Spirits: I had the pleasure of joining Caorunn Gin on a foraging journey in a local park in New Orleans. This journey was led by a local foraging expert who taught us how to uncover various edible botanicals and herbs that would be perfect for creating cocktails. When the journey was over, Caorunn distillery hosted a tasting room, where four different bartenders from four different cities created cocktails based on the foraged ingredients. This trend was also noticed beyond the tasting room, with two different seminars: Garden, Field and Forest to Bottle and Glass, and The Exotic World of Botanicals, which presented and provided tips on how this specialty can be utilized in bars. Exposure to new herbs, how to create gardens with limited space, harvesting, and extracting flavors highlighted this new trend of using local and seasonal ingredients to make new and unique cocktails.
2. Mezcal: Mezcal is not a new spirit, but one that, in the past, has had a somewhat bad reputation. This reputation has slowly turned around — more bartenders are utilizing mezcal as a staple in their cocktail menus, and the modern palate craves the smoky taste. Given the spirit’s increased popularity, it’s no surprise that Del Maguey Iberico Mezcal won the best new product at the Spirited Awards this year. This single village mezcal is very unique because it is made with Iberico ham, cultivated in Spain, which creates a flavor that enhances the earthiness and smokiness of the mezcal. In addition, mezcal was highlighted through A Spirited Dinner presented by Mezcal El Silencio, which paired five courses of food with mezcal cocktails. The menu included mezcal mixed with bitters, fresh fruit, and unique syrups which showcased the versatility of the spirit. My favorite combination of the night was the octopus paired with a cocktail called “The Soho Brunch in Tulum,” which included El Silencio Mezcal, Yellow Chartreuse, Blueberries, Orgeat, Orange Bitters, and Strawberry Kombucha.
3. Using Local Craft Bitters: Using bitters in cocktails has always been popular, but there has been an increase in the demand for new and innovative bitter flavors. Local craft bitter companies are stepping up to the plate by making bitters with creative flavors for the modern bartender. To showcase this trend, Tales of the Cocktail hosted a bitters market that provided attendees with access to a large selection of bitters from around the globe. These artisanal companies are formulating unique and local flavors into their bitters to enhance the classic cocktail. The trend is increasing in popularity because using bitters is a way to add unusual flavors into a cocktail without spending a day infusing spirits. As people are searching for more flavors in their craft cocktails, bartenders are evolving to adapt and create unusual flavor profiles. I tried many bitters in the market and one of my favorites was a company called Bittercube — they offer slow crafted bitters that are created by hand in Wisconsin. My favorite bitter from Bittercube was the Blackstrap, which has aromatics of molasses, clove, sassafras, and sarsaparilla. This bitter would be perfect in rum, egg white, and whiskey cocktails. Cocktail creation possibilities are endless with bitters and most bartenders are now able to find locally produced small-batch bitters within their local community or city. What is your favorite bitter brand?
Tales of the Cocktail is a great way to explore all new things happening in the world of mixology. It provides access to trends through seminars, tasting rooms, and special events. Foraging for finer spirits, mezcal, and using local craft bitters are just some trends that I identified on my short stay in New Orleans. Have you been to Tales of the Cocktail? What trends did you see?