Call me biased, but at my fourth Tales of the Cocktail, the global rum family seemed front and center at the annual cocktail and spirits show. I didn’t do a rigorous analysis, but more than any other spirit, rum seemed to be on the rise–the most sessions, tasting rooms, and special events. As much as I wanted to attend every rum-related event, there were simply too many! So what follows are my personal highlights of rum-related events at Tales, with no slights intended to the events I missed.
Before we start with all the fun photos, I must confess that, to my delight, I frequently found myself with Privateer’s badass president and master distiller Maggie Campbell. Here are a few photos of her with Bacardi National Rum Ambassador Juan Coronado and the legendary Joy Spence from Appleton.
Plantation Rum used Tales to announce a foundation for rum history and research to be based near their headquarters at Chateau Bonbonnet in Cognac, France. (Mrs. Wonk and I were among the first to visit the future site during our April visit to Bonbonnet.) The center will start off with a bang by taking possession of Stephen Remsberg’s mind-boggling collection of vintage rums he’s collected over many decades.
At an intimate invitation-only dinner, Plantation master blender Alexandre Gabriel honored Stephen’s contribution to the rum world by unveiling a highly limited special edition blend created to replicate Remsberg’s all-time favorite rum. The proceeds from this special release rum –dubbed The Collector–will help fund the foundation.
Guests at the dinner included all of the original O.F.T.D “Brothers,” sans David Wondrich, as well as other rum royalty. A particular highlight of the evening was Stephen and Jeff Berry describing how they collaborated in the early years via old-fashioned snail mail communications to bring the early Tiki revival to life. The short version: Jeff discovered the secret, encoded recipes, while Stephen interpreted which rums were called for in the code.
Appleton Rum unveiled Part 2 of their three-part short film series on Jamaican Rum, dubbed Rum Rising. Attendees first enjoyed Smuggler’s Cove and Lost Lake Tiki drinks, served up by Martin Cate and Paul McGee themselves. Afterward, about 150 of us gathered in the cavernous living room of an old New Orleans mansion to watch the twenty-minute video. Despite air conditioners working overtime, the sheer number of people plus the no joke New Orleans summer heat provided what I imagine might have been an authentic old time Jamaican movie house experience at the turn of the twentieth century.
A Wray and Nephew after-party followed with coconut limes and punch for all. I snuck away early and found myself drinking Appleton Joy rum with Richard and Gayle Seale, Stephen Remsberg, Ian Burrell, and–wait for it–Joy Spence herself. I can now say I drank Joy with Joy!
Kicking off the rum-related sessions was Appleton’s The Jamaican Difference: Bring In the Rum, Bring in the Funk. This was a panel discussion like last year’s, with the same crew, except for Martin Cate filling in for Jim Romdall. Don Lee narrated, Joy Spence spoke about Appleton’s unique rums, Arielle Johnson covered the science-y aspect of funky flavors, and Martin provided color commentary. My key takeaway? Appleton uses the term “sophisticated funk” to describe their premium range, such as the Rare Blend.
On Friday I participated on the Whiskey vs. Rum: A World War panel, alongside Fred Minnick, Campari National Portfolio Brand Ambassador Anne-Louise Marquis, and Bruce Russell, National Brand Ambassador for Russell’s Reserve and Wild Turkey – and son of master distiller Eddie Russell himself! In the end, the war was more of a love-fest: Bourbon lovers are starting to dig rum, and rum folks have no problem enjoying a good bourbon.
Saturday’s highlight was a two part panel discussion, Looking Back to the Future of Rum, moderated by Ian Burrell. The first panel was comprised of Richard Seale (Foursquare), Alexander Kong (Worthy Park), Maggie Campbell (Privateer), and Nelson Hernandez (Diplomatico). The second session switched things up, bringing in Silvia Santiago (Serrallés), Kiowa Bryan (Spiribam), Calbert Francis (Antigua Distillery), and Nestor Ortega (Santa Teresa). There was simply too much discussed to even remotely cover here, so keep an eye out for the videos when Tales releases them.
Plantation made a big splash on Wednesday with a tasting room for their new Xaymaca release, a blend of pot stilled Jamaican rums aimed at the mixing crowd. More than just an opportunity to taste Xaymaca solo and in cocktails, the event also featured the Plantation crew pouring cask-strength samples of two funky component rums found in the Xaymaca blend. (Check out my video from the event here.)
Also on Wednesday was Avua’s tasting at the recently opened Manolito. The full range of Avua’s cachaças were on hand, including the just released Bálsamo, with bartenders from NYC’s Death & Co were mixing Avua-based cocktails.
Manolito was also the locale for Friday’s meetup of Velier lovers attracted by Kate Perry’s arrival in New Orleans with Haitian clairin in her magic bag. Although not an official Tales event, the event also featured noted rum author Wayne Curtis signed copies of his newly revised And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails.
On a more personal, one-on-one level, I was privileged to spend some very wonky time with Diplomatico’s Nelson Hernandez, their newest Maestro Ronero, who joins Tito Cordero in the role. Over ninety minutes we dug deep into the DUSA distillery equipment and techniques. Nelson surprised me with some samples of DUSA’s unaged and aged distillate from each of their stills, and let me know that one of them will be a third release in their limited edition Distillery Collection, i.e., No. 3.
The traditional end of official Tales festivities is the Spirited Awards on Saturday night. Yours truly appeared briefly on the big screen as one of the final four nominees for Best Cocktail & Spirits Writer. Although I didn’t take home the fancy, engraved plate (this time…), I was super excited to see some of my rummy friends take home awards. First was Ian “Global Rum Ambassador” Burrell, who after seven years finally got his much deserved Best International Brand Ambassador title and is no longer the Susan Lucci of the Spirited Awards. A few minutes later I was overjoyed to see the Lost Lake crew take home the Best Cocktail Bar in America trophy–Shelby Allison and Paul McGee have been tireless advocates for great rums and amazing Tiki drinks. And more than a little hometown Seattle pride went toward cheering on Chris and Anu (Apte) Elford for Navy Strength’s win for Best New American Cocktail Bar.
Each Tales of the Cocktail has been very different for me. This one was particularly special because of the Spirited Award nomination, and my first time being a panelist. But more important, I left having made ever more industry friends and experiencing some truly bucket list items, only a few which I’m able to share here. I can’t wait to return to Tales in 2019!