Well folks, sad as we are to say it, Tales of the Cocktail 2016 has officially come to an end. It was another year for the history books, with some of the best and brightest minds in the biz sharing stories, innovations, and the secrets that go into making the best drinks in the world.
It can be hard to get a handle on everything that goes on at such a vibrant (and, at times, rowdy) conference, so we decided to distill the week down into the five best things we witnessed at our very first Tales of the Cocktail. There’s plenty more to come about each of these very soon, so don’t worry if you’re itching to hear more—just give us a few days to get our livers back in working order.
1. Dave Wondrich and Jeff “Beachbum” Berry Sharing a Stage
As enormous fans of both presenters, Wondrich (author of Imbibe! and Punch) and Berry’s (owner of Latitude 29 and author of Potions of the Caribbean) seminar Members Only: Club Cocktails in History was a serious treat for the Bevvy crew. The talk covered the history of private clubs—from the Satan-worshipping Hellfire Club of the 18th century to the raucous punk joints of the 1970s—and the drinks that made them great, unique, or just plain weird.
It was packed with hilarious stories, a sampling of those aforementioned cocktails, and made for the most fun we’ve had in a seminar since, well, probably ever. We’ll be doing a rundown of those drinks and the legends behind them soon, so keep your eyes peeled.
2. We Finally Understand What the Hell Shochu Is
Shochu is one of those spirits that has eluded our understanding for quite some time. Is it distilled? Just fermented? What is it even made out of? Where do you get it? Why does every bottle taste so completely different from the last?
Luckily for us, this year’s Tales featured a crack team of shochu experts who came prepared to set the record straight. The tasting included a flight of seven wildly diverse varieties, made predominantly from rice, buckwheat, or sweet potatoes, and an in-depth explanation of how various local traditions shape the flavor of the spirit today. Bevvy is crafting a guide to help you sort it out yourself as we speak!
3. Geeking Out with Gaz Regan
There are few larger, more endearing personalities in the cocktail industry than Gary “Gaz” Regan, founder of master class Cocktails in the Country and author of one of our favorite books, The Negroni. The man has seen it all, having grown up in a bar in the ’60s and starting his own career behind the stick just a few years later.
At the wonderful seminar Braintending: Cognition Across the Bar, Gaz was joined by fellow presenters Nick Kennedy (owner of Civil Liberties Bar in Toronto), Adam Rogers (Articles Editor at WIRED), and Andrew Toplak (spirits importer and practicing psychotherapist) for a fascinating discussion of how the brain affects and is affected by what we do when we drink.
The talk covered everything from the poorly-understood interactions of alcohol with our brain chemistry, to techniques for making your bar a psychologically healthy place for people to relax and connect with their communities. And, as usual, Gaz had everyone rapt with his storytelling.
4. Parties, Parties, and More Parties
It wouldn’t be Tales without a few late-night shindigs, and this year was no different. Memorable events from Absolut Vodka, William Grant & Sons, Bacardi, Diageo, and Pernod Ricard capped off each day of rigorous study (no, we can’t say that with a straight face either) and kept everyone busy into the wee hours of the morning.
They also may have kept us from making it to some of those 10 a.m. seminars, but hey, where’s the fun in going to bed early?
5. San Francisco Cleaned Up at the Spirited Awards
Last, but certainly not least, we were extremely proud of our hometown bars for making a great showing at the 10th Annual Spirited Awards. ABV came home with Best American Bar Team, Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant won World’s Best Spirits Selection, and Smuggler’s Cove was officially crowned Best American Cocktail Bar.
Of course, hometown pride aside, we’d like to congratulate all the rest of this year’s winners, the complete list of whom can be found here. But it was a great night to be representing San Francisco, and we can’t wait to celebrate with our neighbors back here on the West Coast. Just don’t forget about us now that you’re all famous!
Cover Photo: Ann Tuennerman talks to a Tales crowd outside the Hotel Monteleone | Will Shenton, Bevvy