The world’s premier cocktail festival begins in just over a month. Are you counting down the days?
Tales of the Cocktail is an annual gathering of bartenders, distillers and spirits professionals from around the globe. Hosted in New Orleans, the festival was founded in 2002 and has since become the industry’s yearly meeting place for the exchange of new ideas, products and techniques. This year, the influential festival runs July 15–19 and offers over 200 events, including seminars, tastings, spirited dinners and networking events. As a bartender, you need to be there.
At its core, Tales of the Cocktail is about spirits education. Philip Duff is the festival’s Director of Education and an industry veteran who understands the importance of constant development in the field. Who better to explain the massive impact Tales can have on a bartender’s career? In a recent interview, Duff talked about his own path to getting involved in Tales of the Cocktail and his top recommendations for getting the most out of the festival:
You’ve been in the industry a long time. What led you to the role of Director of Education for Tales of the Cocktail?
I was an old bartender back before cocktails were fashionable. After opening one of the top cocktail bars in the world—Door 74 in Amsterdam—I became one of the first global brand ambassadors, visiting 40 countries a year back in the ’90s. This position required communicating effectively with bartenders and cocktailian consumers, and I eventually became a member of the education committee at Tales. I’ve always encouraged the notion that education is central to the festival and that Tales requires having someone thinking about education all year long. That translated into a formal position as Director of Education.
Tales is featuring its first-ever keynote event this year. Who will be presenting?
This year’s first keynote speaker will be Danny Meyer, the celebrated restaurateur behind Union Square Hospitality Group. Danny is the perfect person at the perfect time to share insights from his 25-year career. He’s a celebrity in the world of food who owns a global company and he’s created a new approach to the industry that combines professionalism and production skills with warm hospitality. He’s the man. Tickets to this keynote discussion with Danny are close to selling out, so get your tickets now! (Use the hashtag #AskDannyMeyer on Twitter to post questions for this event).
A major recurring event from last year’s festival is #SEDTalks:
#SEDTalks is my baby. I adore watching TED Talks on my laptop and they made me realize that we have a luxury problem at Tales. We have 80 odd seminars and even experienced attendees can’t get to all of them. The TED Talks approach (speakers present their most interesting industry insights in 14 minutes, like an elevator pitch) is a great way to take in a seminar’s most valuable information in a shorter time. We started with #WEDTalks for whiskey specifically, and the seminars were so popular that they sold out. So we decided to make it more inclusive and are now in year two of #SEDTalks (Spirits, Education, Development), which have also proved remarkably popular, presented by the likes of Angus Winchester, Ryan Chetiyawardana and Nicholas Morgan.
What are some of the can’t-miss events at Tales that everyone should try to attend?
This year, we have a rock star lineup of over 80 seminars. From my personal schedule, I’m looking forward to Cocktail Photography 101 with Daniel Krieger, Drinking WWII with David Wondrich (in which the historian delves into the ways a thirsty planet reacted to this huge event), What’s the Right Deal to Take? (which offers advice on the pros and cons of different financial and distribution deals for your business), Physiology of the Shake 2 (which teaches bartenders how to shake in a safe way to avoid injuries) and all the rare tasting seminars. And, of course, I have to mention #SEDTalks again.
The Tales of the Cocktail app has a new feature this year that allows attendees to leave seminar feedback:
Yes, and this is so important. I encourage everyone to download the app, have a plan for what events you’ll attend and stick to it. Otherwise, Tales will be frustrating, as you’ll always be worried you’re missing out. Whenever you go to a seminar, make sure to fill out the feedback section in the app, as it contributes to us making Tales better each year. The most important people are the attendees and we want to hear your voice. Feedback lets us know what we need to work on and helps us when considering which speakers to use next year. So if you really like something, please use the app feedback and tweet at us. We’re listening all year long.
What are the benefits of using Tales365.com?
Tales 365 gives you access to exclusive Tales of the Cocktail content and events all year. It was one of my first instincts as Director of Education because we put on seminars with an incredible lineup of people that have never been in the same room before. But we only do it once and you might not be able to see it again. Tales 365 is a perfect vehicle for housing that exciting content. The site aggregates all the videos, audio streams, podcasts, demos and powerpoints that seminar presenters provide and makes them available for free download all year. Paying members also have access to professionally-filmed seminars and guided tours of distilleries, early ticket access and discounts to partner organizations like Cocktail Kingdom and more.
Do you have any helpful tips for first-time attendees at Tales?
Definitely make sure to download the app and plan out your choice of events and seminars to attend ahead of time. Stick to your plan and try to get to bed before midnight every night. Don’t forget to eat (there are tons of options in the French Quarter) and wait until Friday or Saturday night to let loose—when everyone does. Tales also offers a pretty substantial wellness program including morning yoga sessions, mindfulness and meditation programs. Make sure to drink lots of water!