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Tales of the Cocktail: Trends and flavours

The only question remaining, one I was asking myself as I stared at my bloodshot eyes in the bathroom I’d just written off, was whether I could escape the Tales of the Cocktail caper in one piece.

Absolut Craft flavours by Nick Strangeway
The three Absolut Craft vodka flavours created by mixologist Nick Strangeway

Any rare moments of sleep I’d snatched so far had been so heavily infused by cocktails that my dreams were fearsome things I was keen to wake from. My hotel room looked like a Delhi slum and I had become genuinely scared of the thunder – its daily bass drum pounded the back of my eyeballs.

By the end of the New Orleans adventure I wasn’t sure what I was saying to people, but then they were not always sure what they were saying back so, on the surface, I think we were all getting away with it.

Before I legged it though, there was time for a few more tastings. The themes of craft that have imbued much of my own experience here continued through an unlikely source this morning.

Nick Strangeway’s Absolut Craft

Absolut, a brand iconic for being a brand, has launched some new flavours. I say Absolut, but the Absolut Craft flavours are the brainchild of the talented Nick Strangeway who even has his name on the bottle.

Nick has been mixing drinks for decades now and is highly revered for his passion and his knowledge. Such badges of honour are likely to catapult this product to the forefront of mixing minds.

Not least since they’re extraordinary flavours, properly intense and painstakingly researched and created over two years. Herbaceous Lemon using lemon myrtle, lemongrass and lemon thyme is complex but approachable, while the Absolut Craft Bitter Cherry is a mind-blowing journey through cherry wormwood and cacao. It’s powerful stuff, not for the faint-hearted, but well worth a sample and an innovative direction for the Swedish vodka brand. A third flavour, Smokey Tea, is infused with lapsang souchong tea, cloves and bitter orange.

Belvedere Lemon Tea

Elsewhere LVMH took centre stage, with its pool party celebrating Claire Smith’s latest Belvedere vodka flavour, Lemon Tea – featuring black and green teas, ginger, chamomile, lemongrass, honey and (of course) lemon. The Belvedere flavours are also excellent exponents of this craft and Claire, who was with me in the Absolut tasting, was quick to point out that her vodka has long been taking care of crafting its brand extensions, using real fruits and delivering genuine taste.

Once I’d been vodkad up, I skedaddled to the airport (in a limousine no less in what proved to be one final surreal moment) and tried to reflect as I sat alone in Chicago airport.

In short, I can report that Tales was an event any bar professional would do well to get to next year. True that the people there make it what it is, but by being in the city for only a few days I felt I had more productive conversations here than I have during the months in my office in London.

Tales of the Cocktail’s Top Trends:


Is it back? Possibly too early to call, but the fact that Nick Strangeway is committing to experimenting suggests there’s more to this oft-dismissed spirit than bartenders think.

Fruit spirits

Historically they were at the heart of America’s distilling history and it seems there’s a renewed affection for apple and peach brandies plus spirits with a host of other fruits.

Craft distillation

Artisan is genuinely alive and well in America. Now much more than a whisper, it’s starting to shout loud about its virtues and bartenders too are on board


There was a bit of a buzz about les Francais, and news (I think may be secret) that a very famous London based bartender is about to open a venue there is sure to get that buzz even more buzzy. A bar review of the city will be coming up in the October edition of The Spirits Business

Tales of the Cocktail 2013

It’ll be back on the agenda next year and anyone who has an interest in spirit and cocktail culture would do well to make it


Bar of choice:
French 75, 813 Bienville Avenue
The Negronis here were excellent, made all the more impressive because manager Chris Hannah and his team at this bar had the challenge of making around 12 of them in one order. Seasonal drinks on the menu, a love of the past and stunning, classic décor, this is a quality cocktail haunt for any visitor to New Orleans.

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