Notes from the Oscars of beveraging

En route to Team Beretta's victory, Enrique Sanchez of La Mar mixes drinks at a Tales of the Cocktail event.

FOOD AND DRINK It was another humid, sweltering year at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. The world's biggest cocktail event drew thousands of attendees July 25-29 for a week of nonstop tastings, seminars, and parties in the great queen of the South.

Any reason to be in Nola is a good one and with the city overrun with some of the world's best bartenders, brand ambassadors, writers, and distillers, it was as usual, one long party. Here's a few highlights — read the rest online at


Though Tales' Spirited Awards continue to be dominated by winners from Europe and New York , particularly London, this year San Francisco made a dent that still only hinted at our long-established cocktail culture. At Thursday night's Bar Room Brawl, bars from six US cities fielded teams that served up special drink menus as brass bands blew. The winner of this showdown, and by extension, the tile of best cocktail bar in America? Our own Beretta. Ryan Fitzgerald, Jennifer Colliau, Enrique Sanchez, and a hard-working crew of SF bartenders ecstatically accepted a giant trophy.

Scott Baird, Josh Harris, Alex Straus of the Bon Vivants deservedly won the John Lermeyer award for good behavior at the Spirited Awards. It was a joy watching them be acknowledged for their humanitarian work. In addition to painting over 30 New Orleans charter school classrooms with a team of volunteers, the group threw its third annual Pig and Punch school fundraiser on Saturday in Washington Square Park. With delicious barbecue (whole hog, y'all), Don Julio and George Dickel punches, and a crowd of over 800 people, it raised over $21000, a shining example of how to have fun and give back at the same time.

With two of the four nominees for Spirited Awards' best restaurant bar award being from SF (the other was the wonderful Bar Agricole), it was a delight to see the ever-talented Erik Adkins win for the Slanted Door. He's done equally impressive work behind Heaven's Dog. I wish more US bars would win awards at Tales — and that the list of those honored would be a little more up to date. Often, places are nominated that were great or established years ago. Though I adore the town and have been to all the bars that were nominated from London, I can't help but notice that the US isn't represented at its Cocktail Week. Why shouldn't we reserve a platform to more specifically acknowledge the fantastic bars right here in the States?


Thank you to Suntory for what was my top highlight of Tales: an intimate, invite-only tasting room in a warehouse district loft. Down a candlelit hall stood a white room punctuated by glowing bar, decorative kimono on loan from a Paris museum, and mini-tables lined with vials of single barrel whiskies from the Suntory line for us to mix and pour over hand-cut ice.

Michael Mina corporate chefs Lincoln Carson and Gary Lamorte flew out to cook four exceptional bites. I'm still dreaming of the 76-degree sous vide egg strained through a siphon, so creamy served over vanilla brioche and bacon. Cool banana mochi on top of golden raisin puree elicited a long sigh of delight. The space's zen-like peace and the camaraderie I found there with my fellow whiskey aficionados were spectacular, and the afternoon was made a landmark event by a bar stocked with Hakushu 25-year, Yamazaki 1984, Hibiki 30-year, and other extremely rare, unavailable in the US Japanese whiskies. While I would be hard pressed to chose a favorite, Yamazaki '84 lingered on my palate long after I returned to the blinding heat outside.

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