Randall Layman, a bartender at Vesta Dipping Grill, is just back from New Orleans, where he attended his first Tales of the Cocktail. We'll be printing his dispatches all week.
Passing the Superdome and several cemeteries before landing in the epicenter of Bourbon Street at my hotel on Desire corner, I feel like the $33 cab ride from the airport was more of a tour than a shuttle.
Having never been to New Orleans, much less Tales of the Cocktail, a weeklong celebration of spirits, my notions of the city have been shaped by news coverage and folklore. Immediately, I know that most of the stories are true and that I greatly underestimated the wildness of this place. Beautiful architecture, small crumbling streets and a watering hole called the Old Absinthe Bar that only carries frozen "daiquiris," all book-ended by strip clubs -- the French Quarter.
I spend my first hours infusing rye whiskey with Earl Grey tea and orange zest on my hotel-room desk, getting ready for the William Grant & Sons welcome party that Sean Kenyon of Steuben's and I will be working later this night for Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum. I can't tell if I'm sweating from nerves or the heat (most likely both) while Sean and I mix drinks for some of the best and brightest of our craft. The venue is the Elms Mansion, about three miles west of downtown New Orleans, and we are shaking drinks in the study at the vintage mahogany bar with New York's Lisa Hare. About twenty bartenders from around the country are mixing drinks for 500 guests spread throughout the mansion. The glassware is gone before we have a chance to fill it with ice, it's so busy.
This is one of my favorite experiences behind a bar to date. The highlight of the night comes when King Cocktail, Dale DeGroff, tells Sean that his "Turning Japanese" drink is the best of the night -- and orders up his second. It's a huge home run for the Colorado Bartenders Guild and our state's mixology scene. Here's the recipe:
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"Turning Japanese," by Sean Kenyon
2 oz. Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum .5 oz. Orgeat .5 oz. Mathilde Peche .25 oz. lemon juice 1 egg white 3 dashes Angostura bitters
Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a peach slice dusted with nutmeg. Enjoy.
Day two: grits, boudin, po' boys, headcheese, rabbit and alligator. Yes, please.