Every summer, the most talented and passionate members of the international cocktail community converge in New Orleans for the spirit industry’s premier festival. It’s like Art Basel, but for booze. Members of the trade, including dozens of familiar faces from Miami’s best bars, participate in academic seminars, presentations, book signings, demonstrations, and other esoteric activities to elevate the craft.
Here are the most interesting Miami-related tidbits and trends I extracted from the conference’s more spirited events (read: absolute ragers) at the 12th annual Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans.
If It Ain’t Broke
The Broken Shaker’s presence at Tales of the Cocktail was palpable this year. For the William Grant & Sons party, the talented Miami-based team went full circle constructing a replica of the unique bar that launched as a pop-up inside the Freehand. Bartenders Virginia King and Gui Jaroschy employed unconventional vessels for a twist on the Thai Pina Colada.
Nearly 500 reclaimed 8 oz. cans — once home to vegetables and other non-perishables — were cleverly transformed (aka sanitized) into industrial chic glassware. According to co-owner Gabriel Orta, the rum-based drink is now available in Miami in its campy vessel overflowing with crushed ice and a soothing combination of Thai coconut milk, Sailor Jerry, lemon verbena and grapefruit reduction.
I’ve Been Drinking, Watermelon
Speaking of vessels, brilliant minds competing in The 86 Company’s Bar Fight Club taught us how to repurpose a watermelon for drinking. Here, you can see Chad Arnholt of Trick Dog in San Francisco (winner of this competition and awarded Best American Bar Team at Tales’ Spirited Awards) laugh as John Gertsen serves a blend of Del Maguey mezcal and sherry to the esteemed Jim Meehan (PDT) from a melon suspended from the ceiling.
Miami-based bartender Robert Ferrara roamed the streets of New Orleans with a purpose during Tales of the Cocktail. The bar manager at Lure Fishbar in Miami Beach is quietly wrapping up plans for a new rum-centric bar with his Barrel Aged Management partners and fellow colleagues at Lure, Sol Alverez and Seth Alexander.
Rum Line, an alfresco and laid-back spot for inspired tropical drinks, opens Oct. 1 at the historic St. Moritz building on the south side of the Loews hotel’s property.
In spite of his position as a notable gin expert and member of the English Gin Team for Beefeater and Plymouth, Ferrara was preoccupied at Tales tasting and learning more about rum, cachaça, and rhum agricole from the masters.
We all know what rum is, but for many, rhum agricole may sound mysterious and possibly quite intimidating. Rest assured, it’s a fantastic spirit and you’ll be in good hands at Rum Line. Controlled by the French government in the West Indies, rhum agricole is made from freshly pressed sugarcane juice that has fermented. The result: sweet, grassy notes differing from the vanilla profile associated with rums made from molasses.
He hopes his time at Tales will help Rum Line’s recipes clinch a cutting-edge ranking. Expect playful originals, classics, tiki cocktails, rum flights, punch bowls, barrel-aged cocktails, cocktails on tap, and carbonated cocktails for two. All told, Ferrara says nearly 80 different rums and rhums will grace the back bar, along with rare labels like Black Tot British Royal Navy Rum, the Facundo collection, and El Dorado 21.
And, he tells us, “you’ll always be able to get a shot of mezcal with your daiquiri.” (Phew!)
Among cocktail cognoscenti, barware is big — especially behind the stick at a busy spot. The quality of the tools has become a bit of a status symbol, but more importantly, the thoughtful design and functionality provides a huge advantage to those who like to be on point at work or at home.
Enter the XXL Shaker, a 1.9 liter stainless steel monster for mixing in bulk made by Cocktail Kingdom. As the authority on manufacturing and distributing barware, Cocktail Kingdom’s founder Greg Boehm says the giant shaker ($49.95) was designed to actually be used, and not just look cool.
Miami-based Marc de Kuyper, 11th generation of De Kuyper Royal Distillers and brand owner of Mandarine Napoléon (mandarine/aged cognac liqueur), learned this firsthand at Tales of the Cocktail when he teamed up with co-founder of The 86 Co. and legendary NY bartender Dushan Zaric (Employees Only and Macao Trading Co.) to serve countless drinks in a short period.
“It was officially my first time making drinks behind a bar and I was still sore days after shaking the massive shakers for just a few hours,” said de Kuyper of his brand’s Dynamic Duos bartender series at the 200-year-old New Orleans landmark, Napoleon House.
The shaker is tooled to a high standard, according to Boehm, to make a batch of about eight cocktails at one time without causing a delay or spilling a drop. There’s even a round indent in the cap that lets you bury your thumb for a better grip. This is fantastic news for the professional as well as the at-home bartender who entertain large, thirsty groups of cocktail geeks.
New from Grey Goose
At the extremely elaborate Bacardi party at Tales of the Cocktail, the entrance to an elevated tasting room was hidden by a curtain. VIP guests with a certain type of wristband were allowed to climb the stairs to Grey Goose vodka creator and Maître de Chai François Thibault’s preview of Grey Goose VX (Vodka Exceptionnelle), a sipping vodka made with drops of cognac from the coveted Grand Champagne region in France.
The new hybrid expression, launching Sept. 1 in bottles inspired by decanters, is a tribute to Thibault’s former role as a blending expert/cellar master in his hometown of Cognac. This was before he developed the recipe for Grey Goose, a move that nearly cost him his reputation when the French shunned him and his vodka for many years. In a bittersweet twist, Thibault’s departure from the norm yielded incredible success, allowing him to eventually repair many broken relationships with traditionalists at home.
VX is meant to be served chilled on the rocks in a cognac glass, but with its silky texture, floral aroma (jasmine, lilac, iris) and fruity notes (peach, apricot, honeycomb), it’s highly compatible with premium liqueurs and other ingredients found in elegant cocktails. VX will be available for $74.99 (750 ml) and $97.99 (L).
In non-cocktail-related news out of New Orleans:
Bienvenidos a Miami
A thriving craft beer company in New Orleans is making its way to Miami this fall thanks to Brown Distributing. Nola Brewing Company’s brews — Rebirth Pale Ale, NOLA Blonde Ale, Hopitoulas IPA, Irish Channel Stout, and MechaHopzilla — will be available soon at craft-centric bars packed with beer lovers.
“Craft beer drinkers are philanderers,” Nola Brewing CEO Kirk Coco joked with his distinct drawl as we sat at the bar in his lively taproom. “They like to play around and try new things regularly. The more craft beers that hit the market, the better.”
Big beer brands frown on flirtation with other products yet the craft market continues to proliferate.
For socially- and quality-conscious drinkers across the board, the small production ethos is very attractive. In this case, New Orleans’ beloved Grammy award-winning Rebirth Brass Band is featured on the cans that are coming south. A portion of the proceeds from Rebirth Pale Ale will benefit The Roots of Music, an organization empowering kids in underserved neighborhoods through music education. It’s a win-win: you’ll be drinking craft beer for a good cause.
Rebirth is a deceivingly smooth American-style pale ale that dovetails nicely with Miami’s steamy climate. It has a tropical fruit/citrusy nose and a balanced flavor. It’s not a “hop bomb” and that’s why they call it “sessionable” (easy to drink more than one at a time).
The local release date is TBA, but this is an open invitation for the Rebirth Brass Band to return to Miami for a tasty celebration on a local stage.