A view from the city: New Orleans

Hamish Smith speaks to Co-chair of Tales of the Cocktail, Neal Bodenheimer

Tell us about the drinking traditions of New Orleans.

New Orleans is really fortunate in that it has a cannon of classic cocktails we call our own. Even before the craft cocktail revolution you would have seen these drinks being consistently made. The Sazerac is the first one that comes to mind, but the Ramos Gin Fizz is equally revered here. Not to mention the Brandy Crusto, the Pimm’s Cup, the Grasshopper and other drinks that are evocative of New Orleans. There are so many drinks associated with our city that there’s always been this tradition of making cocktails at home and going out for cocktails. It’s what makes New Orleans a great home for Tales of the Cocktail.

Who and what are the pioneering bartenders, cocktails and bars?

You have to look at Chris McMillian and Paul Gustings when talking about the pioneers in the city. They were the people who, very early on, were extremely engaged in the history of cocktails, and doing things to a certain, higher standard. Without them, we wouldn’t have the next talented generation of bartenders here.

Tell us about your own contribution to the NOLA drinking landscape.

I’m a New Orleans native and it’s been remarkable to watch the progression of NOLA’s beverage landscape. I own and operate two bars in the city, Cure and Cane & Table. Cure is considered an early trailblazer of the craft cocktail movement in New Orleans, the outpour of support and warm reception from the community has been there since day one. I continue to be impressed by this talented pool of bar professionals who have come together to support and grow this movement across New Orleans.

How did the takeover of Tales come about?

My partners in Tales of the Cocktail, the Solomons, have deep roots in New Orleans entertainment and have worked with Tales for a number of years through their event and production firm, Solomon Group, across various festival events. The Solomons began a conversation to purchase Tales back in November 2017.

They were actively seeking a partner to engage with industry perspective – ensuring Tales of the Cocktail accurately represents and serves the trade is an utmost priority. At the same time, I was searching for a way to keep Tales in New Orleans and was contemplating what the loss of Tales would mean for the local community. So with that, the stars aligned and we formed a partnership.

To oversee the organisation, we appointed Caroline Nabors Rosen, who hails from a New Orleans non-profit background, as Tales’ executive director. With a team that offers robust events, spirits, and philanthropic experience in place, we plan to grow TOTC into a resource that directly benefits the spirits industry as well as our shared city.

This is a show with great history but a controversial recent past. What went wrong, what will you change and why should Tales continue to be the not-to-be-missed festival?

The troubles from previous ownership have been well documented and there’s not much value I could add in rehashing it. However, an aspect of Tales that we are deeply committed to addressing is the response to the social issues that surround the spirits industry – substance abuse, sexual harassment, diversity, to name a few. Our approach is layered, and as we’ve just assumed ownership, it is still being developed and formalised. That said, there are a few early updates we are excited to share:

The New Orleans Culinary & Cultural Preservation Society will be rebranded as Tales of the Cocktail Foundation and commits to giving $250,000 to causes that support the spirits community in its first year.

Following TOTC 2018, a grant sub-committee will be formed of representatives from the spirits and cocktail industry who will oversee the donation process and where the funds will be allocated. The organisation will strive to increase education access, diversity and inclusion while addressing other issues impacting the industry. We’re committed to taking care of the community and working on these big issues our industry continues to grapple with.