A slighty woozy look back at Tales of the Cocktail.

Photo from Tales of the Cocktail

The challenge at Tales of the Cocktail is not to fall in a hole, or not to do so too soon. The festival that takes fine drinking seriously started most mornings with drinks before 9 or 10, and while they were rarely big drinks, they added up. In one tasting room, I sampled two cachacas followed in short order by Hine's Rare VSOP and Hine's Antique XO cognacs--both cognacs that make you want a winter night that they could warm--in a 10 minute stretch. Even though the portions were moderate, I needed a water break afterwards.

Some companies found novel ways to draw attention to their brands. Oxley Gin teamed with Meltdown Pops, the local popsicle company, to produce frozen gin cocktails on sticks. Auchentoshan's lovely line of scotch whiskeys was available for sample at Aidan Gill on Fulton Street, where drinks were served to accompany shaves. As a scotch drinker, I could see their distilled-in-three-different-wood-casks Three Wood as an everyday scotch (without looking at the price, which might change that assessment). In one tasting room, I tried a rhubarb tea spirit and really wish I'd have spent more time at that table since what I had was a knockout--gentle and novel, but hardly a novelty. On Sunday, Afternoon, "Street Food & Go Cups" presented food from New Orleans' food trucks and summer-friendly cocktails, the best of which was Leblon's blueberry and cachaca daiquiri-like cocktail. It went with everything, especially 3 p.m. in Lafayette Square. 

But there was more to Tales than drinks. There was an entire program of seminars aimed at bar owners, most of which I carefully avoided since the bar business is one I've never wanted to be in. Still, "Good to the Last Drop" took a counterintuitive look at a bar's green footprint, particularly where water and ice are concerned. Presenters Brad Farran and Nicholas Jarrett applied the lessons they learned trying to open a pop-up cocktail bar in the desert during Burning Man to explore water use. The limits to how much ice they could bring in and make forced them to be creative and consider how to limit their waste and reclaim much of the water used in the process of making cocktails. 

If nothing else, Tales of the Cocktail has to exist to give people a place to tell stories like Martin Cate did in his talk, "The Third Man." The owner of Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco told the tale of the forgotten man in the history of tiki culture, Stephen Crane (the other two: Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic), a rogue's tale from Old Hollywood. Crane parlayed good looks, good moves, ambition and a complete lack of interest in the truth into a place in Hollywood, where he was Lana Turner's second husband. She thought she was marrying a tobacco heir, and when she learned that the closest he got to tobacco was what was smoked in his dad's speakeasy pool hall in Crawfordsville, Indiana, she ended the marriage, but not before she gave birth to his daughter, Cheryl. Cate traced Crane's progression as he made and lost fortunes, shamelessly rode others' creativity, stretched the truth beyond the breaking point and helped shape the tiki landscape, particularly with the success of his career-defining club, Kon-Tiki and the tiki chain that followed. Needless to say, Cate's talk was accompanied by tiki drinks including a first at Tales of the Cocktail, a bowl drink. The gauntlet has been thrown down for 2013.