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Before You Tales: A First Timer's Guide for Tales of the Cocktail

It's that magical time of year once again when we (and by "we" I mean bartenders, industry folks, and cocktail enthusiasts) all head to the land of jazz and embark on the biggest cocktail party the world has ever known. That's right, I'm talking about Tales of the Cocktail. For those of you who are new to the business, or have been living under a rock for the past fifteen years, Tales of the Cocktail is the largest industry event for cocktails, spirits, and everything involving the business of imbibing. This year the event's official slogan is "Craft Your Future." Today we have some insight from around the industry to help you do just that.

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Founded in 2002, Tales of the Cocktail, or Tales for short, has grown from a small gathering of cocktail-obsessed fanatics into the world's premier cocktail event. The event takes place every July in New Orleans and is filled with educational seminars, tastings, brand sponsored parties, and dinners for the professional and enthusiast alike. Tales is the annual meeting of the minds for the entire spirits industry.

There are always some do's and don'ts when attending a spirits-fueled trade show, but New Orleans can have unique pitfalls for the unprepared. The heat and unlimited revelry can turn what should be a magical week into a painful lesson if you don't go in with a plan. On the other hand, New Orleans is one of our favorite cities in the world for many of the same reasons. We spoke to several Tales veterans who have shared some of their tips for the first time attendees.

It's gonna be hot!

Let's just get this part out of the way right now. If you've never been to Southeast Louisiana during the summer, you're probably not prepared for this kind of heat. Think Amazon jungle with more sun and less rainforest. You're surrounded by wetlands and the temps will near 100 degrees most days. The humidity is very similar to being in a giant sauna with all of the bodies and garbage of a major US city. Celebrated cocktail author Warren Bobrow says "Drink plenty of cold water with mint. It's refreshing, and it helps with the smell." Don't let the mention of heat deter you, though. Just dress accordingly; light pants, shorts, and dresses are all key for this week. Hydrate. Most Tales events will take place inside with air conditioning, though, so if you get cold easily you’ll want a light sweater or similar layer. This is merely a disclaimer for those who haven't been to New Orleans in July.

Some of us live here.

In case you don't know, New Orleans is a hospitality driven city. In 2015, the ratio of tourists to residents was 25 to 1 (but not all at once!). The local bartenders, waiters, cooks, and hotel employees are what keep the city running. That being said, respect that it's a city like any other with people working, living, and going about their daily lives. These people are happy you came to their city to spend your hard-earned money. They just ask you to respect New Orleans and the people who call it home. Yes, you can drink in public; that doesn’t mean you should feel free to act like an a-hole. Though there are great cocktail bars and world class restaurants in New Orleans, there are also plenty of low-key places perfect for unwinding. Hotel concierge and former bartender at the famed Sazerac Bar, Lydia Ballard, says "respect the dive bar. Just because it's New Orleans doesn't mean every bar can make you a Sazerac." Enjoy the laissez faire of the Paris of the South, and you'll understand why this is the only place some could ever call home. Seek out tips from the locals when it comes to food, as well. Some people eat to live, but in New Orleans they live to eat!

Don't overdo it!

I understand you're in town for a non-stop cocktail convention in a 24-hour city. You're still subject to the same fatigue, tolerance, and time restraints you experience in your normal life. There will be seemingly endless seminars, tastings, and events taking place during Tales. You won't be able to do everything, and that's all right. Author, cocktail journalist, and 2017 Spirited Award nominee Wayne Curtis suggests, "Make a list of all the events and workshops you'd like to attend. Cut that list in half. Pour yourself a drink. Cut that list in half again." Soak in the Louisiana culture, and take time to relax. The biggest tip anyone can give you when first attending Tales of the Cocktail is don't overdo it! You're here to learn and to network. Make sure the impression you leave is a lasting one in a positive way. If you have a morning fitness or health regiment, stick to it. Try to get your normal amount of sleep—really! This can help you maintain energy during a hot, boozy, non-stop week.

Tales of the Cocktail Founder, Ann Tuennerman suggests “It can be tempting to try squeezing as much as possible into your first Tales. Seminars, tasting rooms, networking events—there’s something to do day and night. But the key is to pace yourself. Try to really immerse yourself in the events rather than running from one to the next. Meet as many people as possible. Oh…and drink water. Lots of water.”

A word about packing…

These days, many people focus on traveling light, and that's usually a good thing. One note we would like to make: you will go home with more than you brought. These events give out tons of branded swag and if you're lucky, you might even end up with some rare bottles you'll want to bring home (it's happened to us!). Plan extra space in your luggage so you don't have to leave any of your treasures behind. If you're flying, those rare bottles will have to go in your checked luggage, and you'll want to seal and insulate the bottles as much as possible. There's nothing more depressing than an alcohol-soaked suitcase full of broken glass. We like wrapping bottles in absorbent material (towels or old sweatshirts work well) and putting the whole thing in a large zip-top bag before packing.

Don't be shy now!

You came all this way to learn from and meet the icons who make this industry what it is today. Don't be afraid to network and introduce yourself to the people around you. If you are afraid, do it anyway, especially if you are attending Tales for your career. It’s worth it. We're all here for the same event, so make the most of it. That being said, I usually order extra business cards before heading to Tales, because I know I'll be handing out dozens each day. We are very fortunate to be in a business where so many leaders and mentors from around the world are this accessible, and Tales is when they’re all in one place. In the words of Angostura Brand Ambassador, Daniyel Jones, "The sharing of knowledge is key to the growth of this craft and one's individual talent. From building brands, promoting establishments/signature serves/competitions, creating friendships, meeting your soul mate (my case), to simply witnessing the global span of a cocktail. Tales of the Cocktail illustrates the true power of networking. They have created a platform that facilitates a bartender from the Caribbean to share with bartenders from USA, Mexico, London, Greece, Brazil, Paris....etc. through its events....where the responsibility is on us to capitalize and network. Hospitality is the core of this a first timer use the opportunity to learn, grow and widen your paradigm."

Tales is truly the week to make your mark, network, and "craft your future."

I hope to see you all in New Orleans this year! Until next time thirsty readers, keep shaking!

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