A phrase so synonymous with Tales of the Cocktail someone went and made T-Shirts. The other phrase: “I think I met you at tales…”

Tales of the Cocktail celebrated its 11th birthday this month. That’s eleven years of cocktail celebration, hundreds of thousands of attendees, hundreds of thousands litres of citrus juice, uncountable mint sprigs and enough laybacks to fill an olympic sized swimming pool more than a few times. If you’re just now learning about Tales of the Cocktail, the best source of information is here…or here.

A quick Google search of Tales will send you to websites like SpiritsBusiness.com, Alcademics, ClassMagazine and even GQ. That is what hosting the biggest cocktail gathering in the world for 10+ years will get you. The sheer number of cocktails made at this 5 day festival would astound you. Boxes of compostable 5oz Tales of the Cocktail branded cups hold 2500 cups. Tasting rooms during Tales will go through about one of these boxes in an hour. An hour.

(to put this photo in perspective: each tray holds 50 cups. The trays are stacked 3.5 high and there are 8 stacks = 1400 cups for one seminar’s tasting. There were also 3 cocktails yet to be trayed up: 3 x 125 = 775 more cups for one seminar of 1.5hours. Part 1 of 3.)

Seminars taught by the best and brightest minds in the beverage industry run for 1.5hours at 2 hotels in blocks of 2-4 per hotel per timeslot (host hotels being the historic Hotel Monteleone and Royal Sonesta). Each seminar will sell out (inevitable) and will offer a theme and sponsor (depending on the topic). This year, the seminars covered everything from ‘Modifiers’ (liqueurs, sweeteners and bitters to augment the taste of drinks) to ‘Fun with Hydrocollides’ (thickening agents… think Jello… there you go). At one point Jacob Briars stood on stage dressed as a Pan Am pilot while co-host Charlotte Voisey played stewardess as they ran through the storied history of air travel drinking. The session culminated with a top 10 list of the best airport bars in the US.

A new twist on seminars this year was what I’d like to coin the ‘Trilogy effect.’ Past Presenter of the Year Winner Phillip Duff et al hosted two different series of multi-part seminars: ‘How to Build a Better Bar Business’ (parts 1-3), a three-part look at the tricks and techniques to turn your bar into a better business. They covered everything from costs to service. A must attend for young bar owners next year. The other multi-seminar seminar was ‘The Vermouth Institute’ (parts 1-3). 4.5 hours on the history and mixability of Vermouth. This series alone saw 18 different panelists, 20 different vermouths, 9 cocktails and to top it off a three course lunch pairing to finish off part 3. Certificates were handed out at the end to those in attendance.

So who executes these seminars? Who creates 220 tasting mats each with 9 different whiskeys/rums/tequilas? Who pulls 25000 mint sprigs for the Juniperlooza event? The Cocktail Apprentices (CAPs). 70 bartenders from 8 countries of varying degree of experience and bar styles. A team of strangers that comes together two days before ToTC to bond and prepare for the week. A group that needs to (as one key member of the team puts it) “accomplish something pretty epic.” Tight deadlines, last minute seminar changes, delayed transport, you name it, the CAPs deal with it in stride. A bar owner would be lucky to have even one of these talents on their team let alone 70 of them. A team that gels so quickly that the majority of them end up with a matching tattoo after five short days of knowing each other. If you’ve ever known a CAP personally, scan their Facebook page – you’ll likely see these tattoos come together show up in subsequent photos taken all over the world.

Once the seminars are complete for the day sponsors like to throw parties. Whether it is the Absolut Welcome or the annual William Grant extravaganza you will not be disappointed if you attend. Big budgets, big production and big attendance. The drinks are plentiful and the scenery amazing. This year proved to be the biggest yet – venues that hold thousands bursting at the seams (in a good way).

There is a respite from the partying though. Once you’ve had your fill of the cocktail events you can hit the streets of the French Quarter, arguably the most exciting neighbourhood for music in the entirety of the United States. Three bars in the Quarter stand out as the ones to stop by: 1) Absinthe (open 22 hours daily), DBA (an industry favourite) & Erin Rose (home of the world famous Frozen Irish). These are the places to go when you’re separated from your group. Industry types from all over the globe gather here and it is at these three bars where you’ll always find Tales staff, Presenters and Alumni. It used to be to run into people at Tales you loitered in the lobby of the Monteleone. These days Erin Rose is the place you’ll find what you’re looking for.

A typical Day in the Life of an attendee at Tales of the Cocktail:

Start the day with a Bloody Mary (SorryNotSorry), have a 10am Whiskey Tasting Seminar (SorryNotSorry), Lunch cocktails of St. Germain (SorryNotSorry), followed by a mid-day seminar on the Simplexity of the Vodka martini (SorryNotSorry) an afternoon Sazerac (SorryNotSorry), the afternoon seminar on Garnish (SorryNotSorry), finishing the daytime events with a pre-dinner pint of Abita at Carosel (SorryNotSorry), off to a Spirited Dinner (SorryNotSorry), Taxi to Frenchman St. for more Cocktails & Music (SorryNotSorry), back to Erin Rose for a shot of Jameson, a Guinness and to catch up with the rest of your group (SorryNotSorry), Sunrise in the Quarter as you stumble back to your hotel (SorryNotSorry), sleep for an hour to replay the day all over again five times over (SorryNotSorry). Or on that last day, catch your shuttle to the airport (SorryNotSorry). You’re Sorry because 5 consecutive days of this type of schedule can be draining and sometimes painful. You’re not sorry because you simply cannot have a better experience than that of Tales of the Cocktail.

Cut to: You are sitting at your departure gate after a lengthy trip to New Orleans. You have just on that last day figured out which staircase gets you to the La Nouvelle Ballroom, and more importantly, which elevator gets you to the Rooftop pool and it is time to depart. As you drink an electrolyte beverage and try to stop the terminal from spinning a familiar face sits down on the chair across from you. You look across and catch their eye and that feeling of familiarity comes across their face as well. There is a short pause and then almost at once you both say “I think I met you at Tales…”