Tales of the Cocktail, the famous New Orleans festival of drinks, returned for its second annual Vancouver, BC, edition earlier this week, with tastings, seminars, "Spirited Dinners," parties, and the streets of the city pretty much paved with cocktails. The $195 conference started and middled and ended with huge celebrations—the kind with floral arrangements with feathers in them, jazz quartets, and red-carpet paparazzi shooting cocktail celebrities. One party featured a mock wedding accompanied by kazoo, fake mustaches on sticks, and a real dog with a little cask hanging around his neck. (The dog's name, according to the person on the other end of the leash, was Huxley. How did he come to be at the party? "He's a rental.")
During the day, the drinking officially began at 9 a.m. with a coffee-and-booze bar, and it was theoretically possible to just keep going from there. A still-popular 2009 post on the Tales of the Cocktail blog offers information on "How to Drink All Day at Tales Without Getting Too Drunk" (summary: eat, drink water, take vitamins, sleep, and just don't drink too much). But, as most attendees were professionals, pacing didn't seem to be an issue, even through a solid workday of eight overlapping tasting sessions.
The Spirited Dinners took place at multiple Vancouver restaurants on Monday night, with cocktail-paired menus addressing important questions like "Is Vodka Truly 'Dead'?" At the posh Jean-Georges restaurant Market, located at the also-posh Shangri-La Hotel, the topic was the Dutch spirit genever. This rediscovered predecessor of gin is pronounced along the lines of "yuh-NAY-vurr," though you can also get away with "YUH-never"; revered London bartender Agostino Perrone was scheduled to be present to give the British pronunciation but, alas, he had suffered a herniated disk. The Shangri-La's lead bartender, Jay Jones, suavely ran the show himself instead, including a drink called, coincidentally, the Stranger, involving Bols Genever, VSOP cognac, cherry brandy, espresso, and Angostura bitters. He poetically described the mysterious meeting of ingredients, the darkness of it, as the genesis of the name. It did not, he said, have anything to do with the Billy Joel album.
In the seminar sessions, the star pairing was food-science author Harold McGee and super-expert bartender Audrey Sanders—two names to make eating and drinking geeks go weak in the knees—speaking on the (exciting, really!) topic of dilution. Spotted from Seattle: Oola owner/distiller Kirby Kallas-Lewis, Liberty owner Andrew Friedman, and industry man Rocky Yeh (who had unwisely told the border agents, "We're coming to party," which led to someone in his party getting strip-searched).
Hottest new/old things at Tales Vancouver, besides genever: punch, as in punch bowl, and shrub, as in fruit vinegar—ask your bartender, and witness the respect.