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Cocktail Culture

New Orleans History in a (Sazerac) Glass

This week on GoNOLA Radio, Tales of the Cocktail founder Ann Tuennerman joins our hosts to talk about this year’s event and New Orleans summer festivals.

New Orleanians don’t mess around when it comes to spirits. And today, we’re talking cocktails, not ghosts (though we’ve got those, too). Some of the most classic and famous cocktails originated down here in the Big Easy, and on this episode of GoNOLA Radio, our hosts and special guest Ann Tuennerman explore cocktail culture and New Orleans’ influence on drinks around the world.

Ann Tuennerman is the founder of Tales of the Cocktail, a world-famous cocktail festival of seminars, spirited dinners, competitions and tasting rooms; oh, and she’s also the woman responsible for making the Sazerac the official cocktail of New Orleans! Tales of the Cocktail started as an event celebrating the one year anniversary of Tuennerman’s extremely successful walking tour of New Orleans bars and restaurants 11 years ago, and this year it continues May 17 – 21 with close to 200 spirited events, including a bitters market with unique and finely-concocted bitters from around the globe.

GoNOLA RadioIt’s no surprise that time-honored potations like the Sazerac and the Ramos Gin Fizz were invented here in NOLA, because down here one of the ways we express ourselves and our culture best is through food and drink. As we continue the tradition of being leaders in the world of cocktails, well-respected mixologists, like Abigail Gullo from SoBou, and savvy cocktail writers have migrated south. Even Bittermen’s, one of the largest producers of hand-crafted cocktail bitters and flavorings, set up shop in New Orleans because they wanted to “be somewhere with a connection to cocktail history.”

In this episode we also give you a run down of the upcoming summer festivals that you should not miss like Oyster Fest, the French Market Creole Tomato Fest, and the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival, to name a few.

GoNOLA Radio is a free New Orleans podcast hosted by Sunpie Barnes, Lorin Gaudin, George Ingmire and Mikko about the food, music and culture of the Crescent City. Subscribe to GoNOLA Radio on iTunes or download to your mobile device on Stitcher. GoNOLA Radio features music by Cale Pellick.

Podcast Transcript

Sunpie: Welcome to GoNOLA Radio. My name is Sunpie Barnes, and I will
be your host of hosts as we explore New Orleans to learn about
the city’s rich cultural heritage, food, and music. We bring you
experts, the real-deal experts, who will talk with me about the
people who make New Orleans such a wonderful place to live and
visit. It’s GoNOLA Radio.

Lorin: Hi. You’re listening to GoNOLA. I am Lorin Gaudin, New Orleans
Food Goddess. Every couple weeks or so, we get out here, we
being me, George Ingmire, and our buddy Mikko, who is not with
us today. It’s just me and George.

George: I’ll say hi for him.

Lorin: Will you say hi for Mikko?

George: Hi.

Lorin: Most excellent. Well done. We talk about what’s going on in the
city of New Orleans and environs as it relates to music,
culture, and of course deliciousness; food. Today, we’re adding
one other element, that’s drink. There are a number of cities
that have a cocktail, right? Do you know . . . you have the
state bird, you have a state flower? We have a cocktail. It is
the city cocktail; it’s not the state cocktail. Joining us
today, the person who is responsible for the cocktail revolution
in New Orleans, and probably well beyond, to be perfectly honest
with you. The renaissance of the cocktail really rests in the
palms of one fabulous woman who we adore. Her name is Ann
Tuennerman, the founder of Tales of the Cocktail, and the gal
who is responsible for the city cocktail, which is what, Ms.
Ann?

Ann: The Sazerac.

Lorin: Naturally; the Sazerac.

Ann: Thank you very much for that wonderful welcome.

Lorin: It’s tue.

Ann: I was the instigator behind the Sazerac becoming the official
cocktail of the City of New Orleans. It was all about preserving
our authenticity. We were the first city ever to have an
official cocktail, and now, a lot of other people have been
trying to make that happen. DC is trying to make The Ricky their
official cocktail.

Lorin: That’s an interesting choice.

Ann: There are people in California that are trying to make an official
cocktail for San Francisco. People are trying it now.

Lorin: You work really hard to get the Sazerac to be declared the
official cocktail of the City of New Orleans, which suggests
some back story which is that, obviously, there’s a growing and
evolving cocktail culture. I think unless you were living under
a rock, you have to know that that’s happening. New Orleans
seems to have been really the place that really kicked it off,
and you were really were responsible for that whole thing, which
resulted in you going after this official cocktail. Tell us
about Tales of the Cocktail. When did that begin?

Ann: Tales of the Cocktail actually started, this will be our 11th year;
it’s hard to believe 11 years ago. It really came out of the
fact that I started a walking tour of New Orleans bars and
restaurants and wanting to tell people that story of all of our
famous dining and drinking establishments, and all the famous
cocktails invented here, from the Sazerac, The Ramos Gin Fizz,
The Brandy Crusta, on and on from spirits invented
here. I wanted to tell that story, and honestly, the first Tales
of the Cocktail was meant to be a 1-year anniversary to
celebrate that tour, which had about 100 people in the lobby of
the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone. People just responded
well and said, “You ought to keep doing this.” That’s just how
it evolved. Some of those cocktails had never gone away from New
Orleans, but it was really about starting to re-appreciate them.

Lorin: So it’s gathering people to drink. George, that doesn’t seem
like a difficult quest in New Orleans, does it?

George: No, it doesn’t. I’ve just got an obscure question. I’m not sure
if it was, I think it was Huey Long, flew a bartender . . .

Lorin: Shaker Boys.

George: . . . to New York . . .

Ann: Yes, he did.

George: . . . to show them how to make . . .

Ann: A Ramos gin fizz.

George: It’s a gin fizz. It wasn’t a Sazerac, but it was like . . .

Lorin: It was a gin fizz.

George: . . . that’s how seriously he . . . he flew somebody up to
break it down for them, which is pretty amazing.

Lorin: You know the whole story, don’t you?

Ann: No, it really is. He flew that gentleman to New York, to the
Roosevelt Hotel there; there’s still pictures of that
everywhere, to be his personal mixologist. Bartenders were
celebrities like that for a long time. Then prohibition came
around and the craft lost its luster. Now they’re definitely
that way again. Yes, he was serious about a well-made cocktail.

Lorin: It makes it sound like we’re such lushes that it’s all about
the drink and chugging it back. That isn’t what this cocktail
culture about, is it?

Ann: No, not at all. When I was lobbying for the Sazerac as the bill, we
had to communicate that to people, that it wasn’t about
quantity, it wasn’t about drinking, it was about history in a
glass. The bill itself did not even have an exact recipe in it.
Again, it was about preserving that authenticity. It’s not, it’s
just like people get around and talk about food; we communicate,
that’s how we express ourselves here, is over food and drink.
It’s a very intimate thing.

By bringing these bartenders from around the world, it really
started changing what was happening, because there were people
that had never met Dale DeGroff, or Dale DeGroff never met
somebody else from New Zealand or Russia. Now all these people
gather and talk, and have conversations. New Orleans is the
bloodline, then that then they take that back to their
communities.

Lorin: The whole thing has evolved, not just the cocktail culture, the
bartending and bartenders; the drinks themselves have evolved.
Do you think we’ve hit a critical mass? Have drinks gotten . . .
are we going back to something really simple and clean; a great
gin and tonic? Do we still love that multi-component crazy
cocktail?

Ann: I think it’s both. People definitely appreciate artisanal products,
and I think they appreciate those drinks. They do want them in a
timely manner, though. Every ingredient needs to add to the
drink. Don’t add whip cream and a cherry just for the fun of it.
Does it really contribute to the drink? At the same time, I
think people are starting to appreciate the simple complexity of
a gin and tonic. We have a whole event this year on gin and
tonics, and we’ll have 24 gins. A gin and tonic, to make it, to
update it or use a syrup, a flavor, or whatever, but still have
it recognized as a gin and tonic, to me, is more challenging for
a bartender than just saying you have a clean slate to do
anything.

Lorin: It’s very, very interesting. What you’re saying is . . .

Ann: I think it’s more challenging.

Lorin: . . . you can maybe muddle some basil leaves in there. At the
end of the day, it still has to taste like a gin and tonic.

Ann: Right, exactly.

Lorin: You mentioned the event. What is the event, and when?

Ann: Tales of the Cocktail, July 17th through 21st, and that’s just one of
about 200 events we’ll have going on during those 5 days. We’ll
have 59 seminars, tasting rooms, special events like that. We
literally do have a little something for everyone, whether
you’re that beginner in the hospitality industry, which is
really the person I want to focus on this year.

George: There’s a Bitters company that just recently . . .

Lorin: Yes, moved here.

George: . . . relocated from Brooklyn, which is another epicenter.

Lorin: Bitterman’s.

George: Bitterman’s is a perfect example of that cocktail movement in
New Orleans.

Ann: Bitters coming to New Orleans was really huge to me, because it
really threw down a gauntlet, obviously with Home of Peychaud’s
Bitters, but unfortunately, that hasn’t been made here in many
years. To have a Bitters company back here, again, moving from
New York, I think that does have to do with the quality of life,
as well. We have so many stories like that.

They come to New Orleans . . . we’ve had so many people. We have
a write from Wine Enthusiast, she just moved here. We have many
cocktail people. We have Abigail at SoBo; she moved here from
New York.

Lorin: Abigail Gullo, she’s amazing.

Ann: The list goes on and on of people that . . . exactly, they came here.
You know how it is, you either get New Orleans or you don’t.

Lorin: I think it is that way.

Ann: When you do, you’re like, “Okay, you know what? I need to be there.”
They love it. Then that business aspect of Bittermans, again, I
think it’s a whole another level because that tells people,
“Hey. There’s something going on down there.” At the same time,
we have a new distillery in Thibodaux.

Lorin: Exactly, and in town.

Ann: We have a new distillery in Lake Charles. Right. We have Atelier Vie
in town.

Lorin: Or New Orleans Rum.

Ann: Finally, people are starting to make products from what we have.

Lorin: The festival is July 17 through the 21st. Tell us where we can
go online, or in the world, to get tickets and do the whole
thing.

Ann: For everything, go to TalesOfTheCocktail.com; tickets, information on
our presenters, bios, photos, anything you need to know is
there.

Lorin: It’s really amazing; there are seminars, there’s a bookstore,
literally, there’s book signings; great new books coming out.

Ann: We actually have a Bitter market, which is what I was going to mention.

Lorin: Fabulous.

Ann: We actually now have Bitters from all around the globe that we sell
at the event, because again, these things aren’t available
everywhere.

George: No.

Ann: Again, the bookstore, that’s their Number 1 offsite event of the
year.

Lorin: It’s amazing.

Ann: Octavia’s been with me since year-1. We have such good people that we
work with. We have about 30 spirited dinners this year. We
really do have a great line up, and you can go peruse any of
those things on the website.

Lorin: You can say, “Chin-chin to Tales of the Cocktail”, right?

George: Absolutely.

Lorin: George, you know that this time of year there’s a million food
fests. We have the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, which
takes place in the third week of May. Then we have Oyster Fest
in June. The New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, I think
that’s pretty self-explanatory; the grand tastings, the wine,
the foods. It’s a fabulous, fabulous event.

Ann: We love them. We always say we start the summer wine and end with
cocktails.

Lorin: How beautiful is that? Then you have Oyster Fest, and how
delicious are oysters? We love those. French Market Creole
Tomato Fests. This is your baby, music fests.

George: There’s the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival. They’re still
working on the playbill, but I just got a text from Scott Aiges
over there, the hardest-working man in the music festivals
scene. He says Rosie Ledets going to be playing there, Geno
Delafose, Nathan Williams, and Lost Bayou Ramblers. Lost Bayou
Ramblers are these young lions that are preserving Cajun
culture, but they’re also giving it a rock-and-roll edge.
They’ve got somebody from the Violent Femmes that collaborates
with them.

Lorin: That’s cool.

George: That’s worth . . . I would say it’s worth the price of
admission, but it’s free. It’s worth getting to New Orleans,
which is going to cost you a little bit of money. There’s all
these festivals going on at the same time downtown, and around
the French Market and the French Quarter. There’s just so much
happening.

Then there’s the Essence Music Festival, which starts on the 4th
of July and goes all the way through the 7th. There’s 8 stages,
4 full days. Some of the people playing, you may have heard of
this woman, Beyonce.

Ann: I might have heard of her.

George: New Edition, Mia Borders. We’ve got some local representation
there.

Lorin: Fantastic.

George: Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs.

Lorin: They’re fantastic.

George: Some great New Orleans stuff, some great national acts. Then
you’ve got speakers. I’ve actually done some documentary work at
Essence Fest, and it’s very inspirational. They’ve got all these
workshops, as well. In addition to music, you’re going to have
people like Reverend Al Sharpton and Representative John Lewis
from Georgia. Steve Harvey, who’s a comedian and an author, and
he has a clothing line.

Lorin: Television show.

George: I have a couple of hats of his.

Ann: He’s funny.

Lorin: He’s hilarious.

George: He’s great. Essence Fest is a perfect time to come to New
Orleans.

Lorin: Sometimes they invited chefs, too. In the past, they’ve had Govind
Armstrong, who . . . all I have to say about him is yum.
Hopefully, they’ll have more delicious chefs.

George: Something that has been going on for a couple years now is
FestiGals.

Lorin: Phenomenal.

George: That’s going to be all kinds of stuff. There is a musical
element there on one night; they’re going to do a crawl down
Frenchman Street; that’s the Saturday night. It’s running from
June 20th to 23rd. There’s going to be workshops at FestiGals,
as well; health and well-being. There’s going to be a Bloody
Mary get together and there’s even a Hangover Hospital on the
final day, with the perfect cocktail remedy. They’re already
thinking about how . . .

Lorin: I’d like to know what that is.

George: It’s a great event.

Lorin: Good for them.

George: In fact, since GoNOLA and NewOrleansOnline.com are a sponsor of
New Orleans All the Way Live at Merritts. In the
coming weeks, there’ll be a program with the focus on FestiGals
and nothing but a female chef and female musician. It’ll be an
hour of . . .

Lorin: Brilliant.

George: . . . female-centric. New Orleans has got quite the scene, and
this is a chance for woman coming into to town to have a great
time together. They say its women’s night, but it’s women’s
weekend.

Ann: Right.

Lorin: That’s amazing. From May to July, its festival season; you get
your food, you get your drinks on, you get your music on. I want
everybody to come. I want to thank Ann Tuennerman for joining us
today to talk.

Ann: Thank you for having me.

Lorin: Thanks, George.

George: Of course.

Lorin: Of course, I’m Lorin Goudin. You’ve been listening to GoNOLA
Radio.

Sunpie: GoNOLA Radio is a production of New Orleans Tourism Marketing
Corporation, in conjunction with FSC Interactive. Music by Kale
Pellet. My name is Sunpie. Tune in next week by subscribing to
GoNOLA Radio on iTunes or GoNOLA.co

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