Sips of Spirits, or Tasting Rooms at Tales


So of the free things at Tales, that are officially sanctioned, the primary events are those of tasting rooms; having spent quite a bit of time in quite a few tasting rooms, I thought I’d point out some of the more interesting ones this year, and what they were doing well.

So beyond he piles of tasting cups inscribed with either Tales insignia or a brand logo, he preponderance of liquor bottles throughout each tasting room provides a sort of familiarity between each room despite the differences in label or type of liquor.  There is just something comforting about finding yourself in a room with tables set up, little plastic cups, and drinks being poured in the smallest, yet quite satisfactory, volume.  The diversity in products, as well as the frenzy and hordes of imbibers at tasting rooms, makes them both a pleasant and unpleasant space to be in, depending on whether or not you know anyone, or can find yourself a little bit of something to sip and about which to ponder.

Tasting rooms varied from more formal seminar style environments, to the informal, yet familiar, pours and measures of liquor from bottles with representatives dispensing liquid euphoria to the masses.  In the case of the former rooms, while lots of information was presented, there was a problem of access, in terms of which the parties curious about the liquor or spirit were not necessarily allowed to taste what they wanted, and quite a few people were refused at the doors for a couple tastings (no names will be mentioned), because there simply wasn’t enough space.  While this orderly format does allow for a more controlled tasting environment, the idea behind a tasting room is to simply sip and sample things, and while information, which is duly appreciated among many liquor enthusiasts, the types of questions and information desired differs depending on the imbibers’ background, and as such some information is clearly too much for quite a few people.  Having met a myriad of native residents of New Orleans, who were attending Tales mainly for the liquor and not for the information, the tasting rooms offered the primary source of fun and delight, but demonstrated a set of problems for quite a few people who wanted to move on through and try as much as they possibly could, especially since multiple tasting rooms ran simultaneously.  Even I am guilty of that, but in reality, it is a common trait to go taste the things that interested you; and as such, for many of those who wanted to taste and get drunk, the tasting rooms with the names that provided specific contexts to their favorite spirits were the first tasting rooms to be visited, and quite often the ones which were flooded with a plethora of imbibers.  The tequila or rum tastings this year were exacerbated by the sheer masses of people trying to get tastings, and for the early morning tasting rooms, the rooms with hors d’œuvre and small bite offerings had quite a few people gathering around the foodstuffs, as was the case for the Pierre Ferrand tasting.
As such, since there is a traditional format to tasting at larger conventions, one which allows people to come and go as they please, seeing what interests them, I can say that the open access or more informal tasting rooms were the best to attend; Haus Alpenz was fantastic, with knowledgeable staff behind each station, willing to provide information which was asked of them, as well as give a both interesting and short analysis of the product that you were about to be sampling; in other words, they were acting as excellent salesmen, appealing to a sense of demand in the imbiber and consumers’ subconscious that the expert knowledge and plethora of minute details could very well demonstrate a quality product.  At the Haus Alpenz tasting room, perhaps the best thingswere the Champagne Lanson, which was just fun and fresh wih a lot more tart acidity and sharpness than usually found in Champagne, specific o heir offering because they choose not to engage in malolactic fermentation, thereby requiring wice the set amount of time to age a spirit.  Of course, the offerings from Alpenz such as Zirbenz was a great demonstrating of their obscure spirits as well, bu the mezcal and appearance of delicious aromatic wines such as Cardamaro or Cocchi assisted in showing the diversity of their portfolio.  he star for me from them was the damson gin liqueur, which was not cloying and used fresh juice from damson plums in the gin rather than an infusion or maceration process.  The fresh juice gave it a bit of a sharp and tart flavor, showcasing the liqueur as a fresh element rather than what could easily have been an industrialized one.

Pierre Ferrand had an excellent tasting room, in a semi informal manner, with a bit of flair and interesting history set about, both with the antiquated bottle of extremely old Cognac, but also with the Chanticleer  cocktails which were bottled and ready to be taken home, a product of David Wondrich’s own historical efforts.  The Chanticleer presented by Ferrand was a Cognac Sazerac, which supposedly predates the Sazerac, being an ancestor to it.  The fact that the cocktail, which was prepared on site, was also bottled to showcase the product line, demonstrates truly what Tales is all about: not necessarily specific spirit brands, but what these spirits can do in drinks.  Plus, Ferrand had the right idea, with tasting old exclusive lineups of Cognac, such as a 70 year old and a 50 year old; y not showing just the normal consumer market, it gives the spirit a rich background and history, and enthralls the visitors and spectators into the brand, selling them on the name rather than just the product (which is fantastic anyhow).

In terms of physical swag, Lillet had the right idea with the atmosphere of the room, and the fact it was raining outside, made it even better with the decor and paper umbrellas done in the art nouveau style. The room had some well executed touches, a lack of people inside (which was a shame because of the fantastic punches), and an interesting product to showcase (the new Lillet Rose).  And to top it off, they had an aged Lillet which was fantastic, giving the imbibers an opportunity to taste something which is not sold at all, and see, just like with Ferrand, a history behind the product, and a history behind the name, which once again reifies a sense of authority, dignity and sophistication in the overall ethos of the product.

The strangest, yet probably most fascinating tasting rooms were the one doing molecular mixology, but also the Whiskey and Tea Libation room by Diageo, which showcased the use of whiskey, including Scotch, in what amounts to, at the very base of it all, as punches.  While quite of a few of the punches, according to the creator of the drinks were lacking because of missing ingredients such as fresh grapefruit juice, the Lagavulin 16 year with Sherry and Lapsung Souchong tea was fantastic.   The molecular mixology room, which was done by Koerner, had some interesting stuff going on, but it wasn’t executed well, since so many people flooded to the half of the room with samples, and just stood there fighting to see what was going on and acquire a taste.  In the case of some of the tasting products, the complex requirement sot deconstruct a cocktail through machinery held up the line and slowed down the flow of samples, but the wait was pretty much worth it.  On the other hand, tasting rooms such as the Farmer’s tasting room, with its’ wide spread and diverse product line up, went over really well in execution.

Perhaps though, my favorite tasting room has got to be the one created by the people at Preiss Imports, now Anchor Distilling. Their product range, like Haus Alpenz is quite extensive, but unlike Haus Alpenz, they did a tasting showcasing their products in cocktails created by bartenders from Boston, entitled the Boston Cocktail Experience.  The drinks were exceptional in all cases, and really did represent the wide diversity that their portfolio can encompass.  Between classics such as Luxardo, and Springbank Campbeltown single malts, their product range is extensive and high quality.  They offered samples of the booze to take with, as well as some keychains and swag, but mostly the true shining stars of the tasting room were the cocktails in the corners, of which there were a large number, eight in total, to choose from.  And truly, the room was all about tasting, and offering information should you want it, letting the products speak for themselves rather than having someone speak for them.

The drinks showcased included the Causeway by Ben Sandrof, which was a fantastic rum curacao and maraschino drink with a simple, yet strong flavor profile that was pleasing and smoother; Jackson’s Flip Royal, which combined classic spice notes with tea, salt, and a delightful texture and body; Misty’s Space Age Pop, which had a lot of stuff going on in a very good way (one woman which I overheard had remarked that this was drink was a liquid orgasm); and John Gersen’s Pink Shimmy, an anisette based drink which was done frappe style, and overall a lovely change of pace from so many drinks a Tales).  The other four drinks, La Dolce Vita by Cleve, El Camino by Trina Strum, Bitter Bee by Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, and Joy Richard’s Modern Herbal were fantastic as well, and overall worked to showcase the talents of some of Boston’s finest bartenders.  Recipes of each drink will be put on the site, after I finalize getting the exact copies from the individual authors, and not just Jackson’s copy of the recipes, as well as permission to republish the recipes and any thoughts that the bartenders may have on the drinks.

Plenty of other tasting rooms were done extremely well, save for the few that started to refuse guests because they were poorly organized, but c’est la vie.  But overall, the tasting rooms were a highlight of the overall event, since of course, they are free (provided you had a wristband), and because of the wide diversity of individuals whom one could meet, as well as the wide diversity of products being showcased in a large manner.  Next year I hope o see the tasting rooms a bit more loose and free-form, and a bit more organization and better layout for a lot of the smaller spaces, so that the drinks were not being offered at one section of the room, where everyone would crowd and fight to get a sample.  Also, there needs to be better resource allocation, since some rooms were given way too many plastic tasting cups, while others had not enough; being aware of the sheer amount of stations is an important fact that contributes directly to sampling efficacy.