All week long, Tales of the Cocktail is an unending parade of events, seminars, tasting rooms, and competitions. What does it take to pull it all off? A small army of volunteers, TOTC Cocktail Apprentices, bartenders, brand reps, and ambassadors put in the hard work to get scheduled coordinated, drinks slung, and the messy aftermath cleaned up. Every year as part of the wrap up, an impressive list of stats is published, detailing the hundreds of thousands of drinks served, tons of fruit juiced, and gross upon gross of eggs used. With their hard work, that small army of worker bees are the ones who make all those impressive stats, tasty concoctions, and epically awesome hangovers happen. This year, I had a real inside scoop as I worked a few of the events alongside with a great crew of boozy compatriots.
One of the most heavily promoted events during Tales is the series of Spirited Dinners. The Spirited Dinners match talented local chefs and their food with cocktails from some of the best bartenders in the country, with the idea being to bring together great food and drink together in harmony, showing that cocktail pairings are just as complex, entertaining, uplifting, and enhancing as any wine or beer pairing. The dinners all have various themes, ranging from the very serious to incredibly silly and free flowing.
I somehow managed to be scheduled at two of this year’s dinners, with the problem being how I could be in two places at once. The planning was kind of the easy part – once you do this a few times, you pretty much know every thing that you’re going to need and what your needs are going to be. After that, it just comes down to running around like a chicken with its head cut off. The first thing to do when asked to do a Spirited Dinner and accepting is running down people to help you out. Actually, that’s the first, second, and third thing you should do. There is never too much help. Then, throw out the first ten ideas you have for drinks right away. They’ll all be too complicated. After that, sit back and try to simplify your drinks even more…and be thankful for a chef who sends you his menu in a timely manner!
Held at American Sector, one of chef John Besh’s newest creations, my first dinner that night was featuring Tito’s Handmade Vodka. The theme of the dinner was Americana, but reinvented and updated, allowing for a fantastic way approach to vodka cocktails as it allowed for creativity and the ability to escape from standard vodka drinks. I was able take Tito’s in directions I hadn’t before, updating a classic like the Bloody Caesar for one drink, creating a digestive cocktail for another, punches, you get the idea.
Done with the first, I made a beeline for the second dinner, the Left Coast Libations dinner at GW Fins. The gathering, of course, proved to be a cavalcade of one-upmanship and ridiculousness as bartenders from the east and west coasts sent forth duelling cocktails and skits to prove for all time that the West Coast produced better bartenders and drinks. This dinner was a massive production though. There were over 150 guests in attendance with two elaborate drinks per round to go out. Thankfully, I wouldn’t have to send a drink out until the very end and I would be doing so with Brandon Wise from Portland’s Beaker & Flask on hand to assist. All of a sudden, the drinks started flying out, guests devoured the food, and we collapsed in our chairs, ready for a drink. Or five.
In fact I’m going to go find one now.
~Rocky Yeh, spirits strategist and writer at NW Vivant
**Photo credit: Tales of the Cocktail 2011 / Rocky Yeh