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T h e C o C k Ta i l R e n a i s s a n C e 1 Recalling certain gentlemen of other days, who made of drinking one of the pleasures of life—not one of its evils; and who, whatever they drank, proved able to carry it, keep their heads, and remain gentlemen, even in their cups. Their example is commended to their posterity. —A framed sign in the bathroom at Milk and Honey, excerpted from The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book, by A. S. Crockett, from 1935 In 1919 the Volstead Act brought a swift end to nightlife, and the refined craft of the American bartender was outlawed. It was thought that to drink alcohol was to live a life shadowed by death. It was thought that these were death and company. It’s taken us nearly a century to restore flavor to the drink and class to specialty cocktails. In our time, a night to celebrate life’s simple pleasures with fine wine, exquisitely crafted cocktails, beautifully prepared food, and impeccable sipping spirits is a rare gift. To those who shun the night, we tip our hat. To those who shine after dusk, we offer a warm embrace. Welcome to the new golden age. Welcome to Death & Co. —A framed sign in the bathroom at Death & Co. The July air in New Orleans is like thick soup. Every year at this time the extended world of craft cocktails descends on the French Quarter for the annual Tales of the Cocktail festival. They are bartenders and bar owners, people in the liquor industry like brand owners and ambassadors, drinks writers and bloggers, lifestyle media members, restaurateurs, hoteliers, people who sell highly specialized products like vintage barware, ice machines, and bottled ingredients for tiki drinks, and the PR reps for each of these groups. Many ‹ 26 › C h a p t e r 1 members of the lay public, such as cocktail enthusiasts and casual consumers , attend (and pay the full price), but the real festival—the networking, the hotel room parties, the secret stashes of homemade hooch—is for community members only. Tales is the global craft cocktail community’s largest event. At it they rejoice the cocktail renaissance, see old friends and make new ones, share drink ideas, consider business plans, and regale themselves with awards and praise. The people in New York who do not attend joke that the city’s cocktail bars may as well shut down during Tales, due to lack of staff. Some do. A nocturnal bunch, cocktail people huddle inside the historic (and airconditioned ) Hotel Monteleone with its rooftop pool and rotating Carousel Bar (where the classic Vieux Carré cocktail was invented) during the day.1 They attend and host panel talks and demonstrations, tastings and seminars, book signings, broadcasts and podcasts, until the sun goes down. Then they hit the city, and stay out all night. They repeat this same day five times in a row. I spend a Friday afternoon in the Monteleone, at seminars. In one, named “Twenty-first Century Gin,” four brand ambassadors for different gin companies discuss the history and current state of the spirit. Audience members in the packed room sit in rows behind tables with plastic cups filled with clear liquids. Charlotte, a former bartender from London who works for Hendrick ’s Gin, introduces the panel and the topic. She tells the audience about the seven different types of gin on the tables in front of them, each representing a particular style. The panelists will refer to them in their talks, and audience members can taste each one as they go along. Charlotte then provides a brief history of gin, from its roots in Holland as genever in the 1500s to its migration to London, where the Old Tom and London dry styles took shape. While gin remained a popular spirit in the twentieth century, she explains, not many producers innovated within the category, until recently. “Five years ago we couldn’t have done this seminar and had this many gins on the table,” says Charlotte. “I certainly couldn’t have named four or five gin brands ten years ago. So things are definitely changing. And with that in mind, with all these new gins that we have, we’re very pleased to have them, what do we call them? Do we need to call them anything? Is it appropriate to call these new gins new? Or do we need to find...


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