Tales of the Cocktail is a cocktail conference (yes, such a thing exists) that takes place annually in New Orleans, and, beginning last year, also in Vancouver, B.C.
There are drinks, and tastings-of-liquors ("Hendrick's Gin Tasting Emporium," "150 Years of Bacardi," "Havana Cultura"), and more drinks, and a Spirited Dinner Series (dinners-with-drinks at Vancouver's fancy restaurants), and conference sessions ("Rum for All Face Off" [!?], "Punch and Beyond: Colonial American Drinks," "Less Is More—Alcoholic Dilution" with the awesome Harold McGee and Audrey Sanders), and more drinks.
I have only been here for six hours and I already fell down a wide, lovely marble stairway (at the opening party at the swell, elegant Rosewood Hotel Georgia—IT WAS THE FAULT OF MY SHOES and I am uninjured, if you care).
Here are some people met so far:
DAVID BAIN, bar manager, Uva Wine Bar, Vancouver, BC
David thinks of Tales Vancouver as a "coastal exchange" of cocktailness. He somehow became the wine director at a place called Fiction (now closed; the poetry!) at the age of 21, which he describes as a crash course in figuring out the whole alcohol thing.
He had his first drink ever at the finish line of a vintage car race his father was competing in—his dad was driving a Triumph TR6 from Vancouver to Portland, and he and his mom were the pit crew. During the closing ceremonies, he snuck off and pilfered a bottle of crappy chardonnay champagne, almost put his eye out opening it, and shared it with the other kids who were around. He was eight.
KATIE MCDONALD, bartender, Veneto, Victoria, BC
Katie is pouring Helen's Punch, which involves sugar and orange and lemon zest and Gibson's Canadian whiskey and SMASHED-UP BOILED CEDAR PLANKS. Good lord, this punch was good. She explained that punch has traditionally been a citrusy thing, with the strong acid flavors meant to soften affordable booze—simple big batches of drinks for parties.
Katie's first drink ever was "Ohie," or Old English malt liquor. She and three other girls got some guy to buy it for them. They gave him $15 (Canadian, but probably about the same as U.S.), and he said "Do you want one or two?" (meaning 40-ouncers, or whatever the metric equivalent may be). They had no idea how much anything in the world cost and said, "Oh, just one is fine!" He kept the change. She was 15.
YING YING LEE, consultant/producer, Vancouver, BC
Ying Ying's business is (amazingly) called Sophisticated Adventure Consulting. She used to be a concierge, and she got this dress in Seattle but couldn't remember exactly where. She longs to open her own lounge. She's from Singapore but grew up in Vancouver.
Her first real drink was at Boston Pizza (apparently a Canadian chain), the house red wine, at age 19. She did not enjoy it. When pressed, she said she'd tried her dad's Tiger beer in Singapore as a kid, but spit it out. She loved the Blood & Sand she was drinking at the Tales opening party.
NISHANTHA NEPULANGODA, bar manager, Blowfish Restaurant and Sake Bar, Toronto
It was loud, but this guy telegraphed goodwill in the very best way a bartender can, and made the drink that follows, which was refreshing and nice. We couldn't hear each other well enough to find out about his first-ever drink. The possibilities!!!
JON SMOLENSKY, bar manager (I think), Hawksworth Restaurant, Vancouver
Jon gets the prize for nearly religious devotion to the cocktail cause. He made a punch that involved first making a sherbet (not the ice cream kind; there are two, we learned) with demara sugar and lemon skins, which he let get all gooey. (This is also called an oliosacrum, he said, "but you don't want to know that." But yes, we do.) Then Jon juiced the insides of the lemons he'd used the peels of, and then he made hot tea out of Grand Fir pine needles, and then he poured that through a strainer containing all the pulp of the juiced lemons. Also, he cooked dehydrated local Red Delicious apples with coriander, star anise, mace, cardamom, and cloves sous vide at 70 degrees for an hour. Wild Turkey, Hennessey VS cognac, and "regular mead" were then involved. Oh, wait: and local BC wildflower honey ("Honey is a world that I don't understand that I'd like to know more about," he said).
I'm sure I've left something out vis-a-vis this drink; apologies. Also, I forgot to ask him about his first drink, after all this. I'm guessing a graveyard (where you go in your parents' liquor cabinet and pour a tiny bit of everything into a jar and hope they won't notice).
His cocoction was served hot, and it was really, really delicious.
Good evening (or good day, as the case may be). Don't fall down any stairs.