Tales of the Cocktail, one of the top cocktail festivals in the world, makes its mark on New Orleans every year around this time. Having missed the experience personally in prior years, I was determined to attend this go round. The festival was founded in 2002 and what began as a small gathering of cocktail lover’s, has quickly transformed itself into a 5-day event filled with educational seminars, tasting rooms, meeting new people, and of course, parties. For me, Tales of the Cocktail was my destination for learning what’s new, what’s hot, and even what’s not. Given what I learned, I wanted to share what I was most impressed with categorized by Cocktail Trends, Raves and Faves, and Don’t Call it a Comeback.

Cocktail Trends

Mirella Amato, Master Cicerone

Throw any preconceived notion about coffee cocktails out the window. I’m a fan of a cappuccino laced with brandy, but I’m not speaking of your typical after dinner beverage. Spiked coffee drinks aren’t leaving dessert and brunch menus anytime soon, but coffee is being used much more widely lately as an ingredient in craft cocktails (versus as the main component). Think coffee infused cocktails like the Creole French Toast made with coffee infused rougaroux rum, cognac, sparkling wine, and orange or an Espresso Martini that combines coffee infused oryza vodka, vanilla syrup, and espresso.

The Moscow Mule is getting a ton of attention. You’ll find this classic spun in more ways than one. The Mexican mules switch out this vodka-based cocktail with tequila, you can try the Irish version on for size using Jameson (whiskey), order a Yankee made with bourbon (my cup of tea), and you can even have it frozen.

Another trend is the pairing of beer and spirits. The Boilemaker event at Tales of the Cocktail was a highlight of my weekend. The pairings were brilliant and tasted as though they were meant to be: Sazerac Rye with a Goose Island IPA, Hennessy with 10 Barrel Pina, and Fortaleza Blanco with Blue Point Hoptical Illusion. The beer and liquor can be enjoyed “chased” (one after the other; a shot a liquor then a shot of beer or vice versa), you can go “blended”, or sake bomb style as I like to call it dropping a shot glass of liquor in a larger glass of beer.

Raves and Faves

Oppidan Spirits’s Barrel Old Tom Gin

The best part of Tales of the Cocktail is seeking out new liquors and the schedule was filled with opportunities to taste spirits from all over the country. The number of up and coming liquors can be overwhelming, and having the ability to sample a variety of different types all in one place is the icing on the cake. Bourbon is my go to, but I was excited to add a few newbies to my home bar. From well-known brands to indie and small batch distilleries, your amount of exposure was completely up to you.

Oppidan Spirits’s Barrel Old Tom Gin was my all-time favorite. Aged in a barrel with notes of grapefruit, maple and cinnamon, your typical gin is completely transformed. My love for this gin was closely followed by my admiration for a ginger liqueur called Barrow’s Intense. In the rum category, Montanya Distillers took me by surprise as rum is sometimes forgotten; they are in a league all by themselves. For those that must have their vodka, I recommend Babicka. This vodka is smooth, which is not a word I typically use when describing this type of spirit. Bourbon lovers rejoice…the Hudson Maple Cask Rye Whiskey will knock your socks off. And a special shout out to Merlet for their “Fruits Liqueurs”.

Don’t Call It a Comeback

Banana Daiquiri

What comes to mind when you think of a daiquiri? Frozen may be the first thing that appears, and strawberry may be the next. Well, you’re not alone. For many years, an overly sweet frozen concoction that sometimes carries a not so pleasant aftertaste, was my limited exposure to this family of cocktails. Which is why I was elated to come across so many variations of the drink at Tales of the Cocktail.

Using rum as the base liquor, a daiquiri is not something you order only on Caribbean vacations. Daiquiri ‘s are even more popular today than they have ever been, especially in New Orleans. Along with the wonderfully boozy Milk Punch, the daiquiri has remained on pretty much every bar menu you visit there. And although I don’t see it as often when I am elsewhere, the comeback is here and now. Daiquiri’s can be served straight up, packed with cracked ice, and of course frozen. Banana Daiquiri’s are my favorite – light and refreshing and but don’t let the smooth taste fool you! Here in Houston, you can check out the Watermelon Daiquiri at Moving Sidewalk. I dare you to try and drink just one!

Shanna "Urban Girl" Jones

Shanna is the co-founder and editor of Urban Swank. She focuses on food and travel.

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