Tales of the Cocktail from a First Time Goer
Nov 06, 2017
Spirits Specialist Adam Parker’s Romp through
My first trip to New Orleans was a three day romp with my old high school chum in 2003. Initially intended to be a quick leg of our leisurely cross-country drive, once we tasted the sights, sounds and soul of NOLA we quickly adjusted our itinerary to soak in (literally) as much culture as we could.
So, 14 years later, when Quady Winery was kind enough to invite me to participate in the Vya Reinvents Vermouth presentation at this years “Tales of the Cocktail,” I changed my itinerary once again to set my sights on the sultry shores of the Mississippi.
The Quick Sip on “Tales of the Cocktail”
Picture a comic book convention where you have replaced all of the books and graphic novels with bottles and bitters, supplanted pop-culture icons Robert Downey Jr and Ian McKellan with the likes of spirited-superstars Guillermo Sauza and Andrew Quady…pretty much keep the nerds. But these aren’t just your average nerds – it is a sea of geeks for fat washing, exotic bitters, and tiki-all-the-things (We did, however, watch the new Thor trailer at midnight- Nerds Unite!) It is a Technicolor mad-cap exercise in excess, stirred up with an unparalleled layer of education and illumination, strained into the iconic Hotel Monteleone and surrounding bars and restaurants, garnished with the best and most passionate industry innovators.
But enough allusions and assonance- let’s talk about Andy Quady.
Andy Quady is equal parts farmer, dreamer, mad-scientist, and bon vivant; spectacles dangle around his neck at all times, ready to scrutinize and ponder at a second’s notice, and his wolf gray coiffeur launches out in several directions with the flair and kookiness of Doc Brown from Back to the Future.
His Quady Winery was the first craft Vermouth producer in the United States since the dark days of Prohibition, with three distinct offerings (Vya Whisper Dry, Vya Extra Dry & Sweet Vermouths) hitting the market at a time when bartenders at the time (myself included) still thought of vermouth as the appallingly bitter or shockingly sweet Martini & Rossi stuff at the cob-webbed end of the speed rack.
The rise of mixology and the general market shift towards family-owned, artisanal products have been a boon to Vya Vermouth and I was thrilled to help showcase their products in some signature and classic cocktails at our Vya Reinvents Vermouth Seminar.
It was a wonderful, attentive crowd for each session on a blisteringly hot Thursday morning- time for a cocktail!
Andy guided the attendees through a cheeky history of vermouth, his winery, and a tasting of all three expression- followed by several cocktail demonstrations. In the end there were probably too many different drink stations (six altogether- with Andy himself insisting he bartend the station with the most complicated drink!), however I had the privilege of manning the Negroni & Manhattan station, both made with Vya Sweet Vermouth- to much fanfare.
In particular I was a big fan of our Vya Manhattan, which, in a departure from established cocktail norms, showcased equal parts sweet vermouth and rye whisky (rounded out with Reagan’s Orange Bitters).
This “50/50 Manhattan” wonderfully showcased the spice of the rye, along with stewed fruit sweetness and zip of the sweet vermouth; this is also a nod towards the original proportions of martinis and Manhattans, where in the early 1900s the ratio of vermouth to whiskey was generally 3:1!
There was a universal acknowledgement from the attending bartenders and bar owners that this was premium stuff, a modifier that holds up in a variety of cocktails and also wonderful when sipped on its own- slightly chilled and perhaps with a citrus peel.
Outside of our clandestine class on the virtues of good, hand-crafted Vermouth, Andy, wife Laura and the rest of his sales team were a riot to play with. We had several outstanding, memorable meals (seriously Andy will order appetizers and dessert even at lunch- I think I need to buy a new belt), conversations, and some pretty zany late-night dancing on Frenchman Street. I’ve made some lasting friendships with all of them and I can’t wait to share some more laughs, octopus head cheese, and Vya vermouth with them soon!
The Quady Clan skipped town early on Friday, and were kind enough to extend my stay to support other Wine Warehouse products and continue tumbling down the rabbit hole of Tales. While the compulsion to explore swamp tours and ferry boats loomed, I was diligent and fortunate enough to carve out time to experience some wonderful seminars.
Whiskey & Wood was a master class in single-barrel selections.
It was an opportunity where you- the customer- can select a single barrel from a distillery with this type of program: In a sea of surging demand for exclusive, limited release whiskies, industry innovator Bill Thomas put it best: “The rarest whiskey you can buy is your own barrel.”
Take THAT, Pappy! (Contact your salesman for information on our policies and participating producers you may partner with in procuring your house whiskey blend.)
Also, a particular treat was seeing San Diego [rockstar bar owner] Eric Castro blow my mind with an astonishing presentation on the different styles of cognac.
Cognac, the revered and misunderstood golden grape based brandy from France, is poised to have its day in the American sun.
Wonderful selections like Camus VSOP Borderies are primed to be enjoyed neat, but Cognac is having a surging popularity in classic & craft cocktail showcases (Sidecar, Brandy Sling), and also as a fascinating cocktail substitute for bourbon, rye and rum.
Aside from these illuminated and interactive lessons in libations, I had the pleasure of visiting with some of our flagship brands, participating by way of seminars, happy hours, brunches, dinners and house BBQs.
Additional Wine Warehouse brands showcased: Bozal, Del Maguey, Fortaleza, High West, Pasote, and Uncle Val’s.
Spending some time with almost all of these brands in the balmy bosom of NOLA was a real treat (I unfortunately was fulfilling obligations with Quady while the Fortaleza events were going on- but next year I am parking there!)
In particular- if not the highlight of the entire trip- was my opportunity on Saturday to share a beer with Ron Cooper, patriarch and founder of Del Maguey Mezcal.
Easy to talk to, inquisitive and nurturing all at once- Ron had the quiet calm of a man saturated in thought. Cherishing the past, pondering the present, peering ahead to a future only his piercing black eyes can see. We talked about life, fast cars, theatre, Oaxaca, and of course- a little about Mezcal. It is a privilege to have met Ron, and equally if not more so- a privilege to purvey products of indigenous integrity like the wonderful spirits of Del Maguey.
Aside from some of the most tear-inducing meals, astonishingly refreshing drinks, and a couple bumpy mornings- the best highlight of “Tales of the Cocktail” is analogous to the real and most enriching part of enjoying distilled drinks-spending time with old friends and making lasting new ones.
It was a treat to bounce around most days with the inimitable “SD-bartender-at-large” Gareth Moore (currently employed at four innovating San Diego cocktail bars). Slamming frozen Irish Coffees (prolly best thing ever) with Paul, a beverage director from Chicago. Booze Smoothies at the Italian Villa slung by my pal Frank McGrath, GM of Polite Provisions.
And drinking unreleased Mezcal from clay copitas with Del Maguey Global Brand Ambassador Misty Kalkofen, who, at the prestigious seminar ‘Letters To a Young Bartender’ (At which only 4 people in the world are invited to pen a letter to up-and-coming professionals), spoke the most memorable words of the trip:
“The focus is not on the bar mat- it is on the guest.”
It is no wonder that at this years’ Tales of the Cocktail, mere hours after saying this to me, Misty won Brand Ambassador of the Year. What a vivid, wonderful notion she dropped on me.
As we chorizo-wash our Mezcals, peach infuse our bourbons, and charcoal-activate our drinks, it’s the hospitality business we fell in love with, which drives us to get up every morning and contribute to making someone’s day a bit more interesting with the perfect beverage to suit their moment.
Now, enjoying a Fortaleza Blanco at the Houston Airport anticipating a VERY long sleep sesh (And maybe a couple days at the gym), I’m galvanized and excited to return home and put the spotlight on you, our customers, to better serve your own guests.
I am eternally grateful to the Quady family for the experience, thrilled with all the new friends and memories, and most importantly am so excited to return. Boss, if you’re reading this, please put me down for some vacation days in July- what has two thumbs and is going back to ‘Tales of the Cocktail’ next year? <points to self awkwardly at airport bar> This guy!