Tales Of The Cocktail – Vancouver!

Every industry has its conventions.  Usually at these conventions, attendees will go to symposiums, panels and training workshops – and then move en masse to the bar until they have to go back to their symposiums, panels  and training workshops.  And…then!  Back to the bar.  At our conventions though?  We are nonstop knee-deep to the bar.

Have you heard of Tales Of The Cocktail?  ‘Tales’ is THE convention for those in the bartending industry and for those of you that sit at our bars.  For instance, you’ve had a Tiki drink, right?  You sat there at the bar, tiki mug in hand topped with a pineapple garnish or flowers or a cute, colorful paper umbrella?  But where did that drink come from?  Or, here’s another example – ice.  Have you had a drink with a huge block of ice in the glass instead of the usual crappy, common ice machine ice? What’s the connection between these two question?  The connection is that these are two examples of what we do when we convene together.  We talk about Tiki, and we talk about ice.  We talk about blending Japanese whisky and we talk about umami in cocktails.  That’s a good time for us.  We wake up, go to a breakfast sponsored by a spirit company…and drink.  We go to a few panels or workshop…and drink.  THEN! We go to lunch, where another sponsor feeds us and pours more liquor down our throats.  You get the idea, right?  These are our conventions.

Tales Of The Cocktail started eight years ago in New Orleans (or, naw’lins, if you are a local) as a small gathering of cocktail and spirit aficionados.  Since then, it has grown from a few hundred locals to over ten thousand industry professionals and adherents, such as bartenders, liquor reps, ambassadors and brand owners.  So, eight years later, for the first time they choose to have a satellite convention, and they choose – Vancouver.  Vancouver?  It was an easy choice; the Vancouver Cocktail Scene is under recognized for their accomplishments and contributions to the craft of the cocktail.“, says Paul G. Tuennerman, Cofounder & Chief Business Officer, Tales of the Cocktail.

Keefer Bar

And, he’s right.  Touring around this last weekend, I went to some world-class cocktail bars, chief amongst them Gastown’s The Diamond and their neighbor, L’Abattoir and the really impressive and interesting Keefer Bar.

What is most interesting to me is the amount of Seattle bartenders and bar habituates that go to both this Tales satellite in Vancouver and the main one in Naw-lins.  Dozens of Seattleites took the trains, flew and drove  the few miles to Vancouver, which is closer to us than is Portland.  And, I expect for there to be more to be in Naw-lins in July for the main convention.  But, what about Seattle?  We’re generally considered the #3 spirits & cocktails-related city, and the region?  Between Portland and Vancouver?  A scene which is a powerhouse.  In fact, one of the early habituates & promoters of Tales lives here in Seattle, Robert “Drinkboy” Hess, who is one of the nation’s loudest, most knowledgeable and longstanding voices about all things spirits & cocktails – especially where Seattle is concerned.  “I of course think that Seattle would have made a far better choice, but then I’m obviously biased. Vancouver is a great second choice, as a city it is internationally recognized for its culinary offerings, and it has also been building a nice cocktail heritage as well.”  Yes, Robert.  Spot on.  Was it the internationality that Vancouver presented in addition to what Paul said?  And, if one was there, it was impossible to not notice the exciting aspect of being in what seemed like another country.  They talk weird.  They eat strange things.  And, they make some great cocktails.

What Did You Miss?

The standouts for me were a few of the seminars and a couple of the parties (And some great swag, too!).  While the seminars and parties at the Naw’lins Tales are epic, these were not so bad, either.  My favorite seminar was easily Dave Arnold’s “The Science of Cocktails: New Techniques Behind the Bar”.  Here, Dave Arnold, who is the New York’s French Culinary Institute’s Director of Culinary Technology, spoke mainly about the science of how ice reacts in our mixing glasses from this perspective.  “For those of you that are big science buffs, this is not going to be a big deal for you.”  Well, that was good to know, because his graphs alone were the things of my high school science class nightmares.

Don Lee & toys

BUT, his science was incredibly eye-opening & engrossing, showing how ice responds totally differently than we would accept and expect it to act.  Also leading this discussion was New York’s great barstar and fine gent,  Don Lee.  Also discussed at length was the clarification of juices or cocktail ingredients through using a centrifuge or thickening agents such as agar.  Clarified citrus?  Cool.  Clear coffee?  Cooler.

Another interesting seminar also revolved around ice, “The History and Importance of Ice in Cocktails”,

Jon Santer

led by Hendrick’s Gin’s Ambassadors-extraordinaire, Charlotte Voisey & walking, talking, one-man party, Jon Santer.

Charlotte spoke about the history of getting ice into glasses of spirits all over the world (started here in the ‘State’s, you know, when ice from New England was shipped all over the world…), and Jon broke out his chainsaw and abused a large chunk of beautiful ice to show the attendees how to make baseball-sized ice balls in the manner for which he learned to do here last year in Seattle at one of our Washington State Bartender Guild’s meetings.

It was nice to see many of the the people that we only see when we’re in their town or they are in ours, the reps, the ambassadors, the drinkers and the industry pros.  It was good to see you all.

One more shout-out?  The Canadian Professional Bartenders Association.  A great group of great bartenders doing great things up there in Vancouver.  I look forward to seeing many of you again, soon.

All in all, it was a good trip. Vancouver is beautiful, the food & drinks are world-class, and I look forward to this year’s Tales…  See you there?

5 Responses to “Tales Of The Cocktail – Vancouver!”

  1. That sounds like such a great event. I’ll have to come next year. The large block of ice is intriguing. I’d love to know the story behind it.

    • alcohology Says:

      Well, that’s the fun part. In most medium to large size cities, there are companies that make large blocks of ice. It takes a few days to make this block, with one layer of ice forming on another to finally form a perfectly clear block of ice. They will then cut this up to blocks that are about two and a half by four, and then the fun part starts.

      Just take an electric chainsaw to the block, chop it up into two and a half by two and a half squares, and then chip away:

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed TotC Vancouver. I think because it was smaller it was significantly more intimate. Plus, it was a great excuse to explore Vancouver.

    • alcohology Says:

      I agree. Why it took me as long as it has to go to Vancouver, I don’t know. What a great city. It’s like a just-a-tad bigger Seattle, but a also a tad more cosmopolitan.

  3. That’s so cool! Thanks for sharing the video. I’ll have to try that.

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