Cocktail throwers, flash mobs, historians, innovators and tastemakers attended Tales of the Cocktail (www.talesofthecocktail) in New Orleans July 16-20. The international convention is for bartenders, spirits writers and liquor producers. Events kicked off with a Harvey Wallbanger flash mob on Royal Street, reviving the 1970s-era highball, essentially a screwdriver with a Galliano float. Here's what was new and popular this year.
• The most memorable drink of this year's Tales was the Ideal cocktail, served during tiki expert Jeff "Beachbum" Berry and drinks writer David Wondrich's seminar on La Floridita, the Havana bar where the sublime sipper was created. The Ideal features equal parts dry gin, Italian vermouth and French vermouth, plus grapefruit juice and a trace amount of maraschino liqueur. Elegant, with nutty undertones, it more than lives up to its name.
• Lillet was this year's St. Germain, featured in a well-received citrus-spiced Lillet Rose cobbler. Drinkers also gladly waited 15 minutes or more for the Raspberry Beret, a fun pour of Lillet Rouge, raspberry syrup and club soda topped with Lillet Blanc-infused whipped cream.
• VEEV turned its tasting room into a dance club, where bartenders (including Cure's Ricky Gomez) served drinks showcasing the wheat distillate, which is infused with acai berries and treated like vodka. Guests drank boozy lemonade (VEEV, ginger, lemon, agave, coconut water) and VEEV's variation of the Ramos Gin Fizz, adding orange marmalade and maple syrup to the mix.
• The colonial-era pineapple Syllabub returned to Tales via a seminar tracing alcohol's influence on the New World presented by drinks writers Wayne Curtis, Derek Brown and J.P. Fetherston. This lively drink is made with pineapple-infused white rum, honey syrup, lemon zest and juice and cream.
• Caribbean rum-maker Angostura announced the launch of a molasses-spun amaro in September. The digestif is rich and cardamom-spiced; the brand also created a cocktail pairing with its signature aromatic bitters, plus lemon juice and simple syrup — tart, earthy and worth the wait.
• It's not a cocktail, but St. George's spiced pear liqueur is gorgeous, making fans eager for the release of its aged apple brandy later this year.
• Sandeman port used spiced apple ice cream to add flavor and heft to its Port of Julius, which also featured rum, vanilla and orange juice.
• El Dorado rum went slushy two ways, blending its white rum with lemon sorbet, topped by a drizzle of Monin's blood orange syrup and swirling its dark rum with mango sorbet and raspberry syrup.
• Amaro Montenegro served cocktails pairing the amaro with everything from banana liqueur and tequila (very good) to gin and absinthe (not as much). Just for simplicity, nothing beat pouring this juicy, mild-mannered amaro over vanilla ice cream.
At Amaro Montenegro's room, bartender Theo Lieberman riffed on the tiki classic Jungle Bird by swapping out blackstrap rum with Gosling's rum and dark cacao liqueur, and added the amaro and lime juice.
• "Tiki's a mindset," a Texas bartender said in a room where fellow Texans re-interpreted tiki in cocktails straying from the Caribbean model of rum, sugar and lime juice. Even the names conjured up the dusty Southwest rather than a Polynesian paradise, such as the Coyote's Den (VEEV, aquavit, grapefruit, lemon, orgeat, Peychaud's) and Boots on the Beach (rye and oat whiskeys, pineapple, lemon, coconut water, spiced simple syrup). Unnamed but just as bold was Bacardi Gold rum shaken with peach-sriracha puree and Jarritos orange soda.
• Enterprising bar owner Kristian Niemi (of Bourbon Columbia) has a craft response to customers asking for a shot of Fireball: Rittenhouse rye, infused for a week with Chinese tung hing cinnamon sticks. "Even at $4, I make a profit, and my guests get a craft shot and an educated palate," Niemi says.