Chow Town

Kansas City’s talent shines at New Orleans’ Tales of the Cocktail

Sidecar The Kansas City Star/Ink

While setting up for a seminar on the Old Fashioned at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, Scott Tipton realized there weren’t any sugar cubes.

It’s an essential ingredient, one the roomful of attendees would need to mix three variations of the drink for tasting.

So Tipton, a bartender at Julep Cocktail Club and one of Tales’ Cocktail Apprentice Program team leaders, sent volunteers to nearby grocery stores and pharmacies in search of a fresh supply. They returned in the nick of time with just enough cubes, and Tipton shrugged the incident off.

“There’s always something. It all works out,” he told me just as Robert Simonson, author of The Old Fashioned, launched into his presentation about the classic cocktail’s history, evolution and modern incarnations.

Tales is the oldest and biggest cocktail festival in the country, drawing more than 20,000 participants to 200-plus seminars, tastings, dinners and events each July. And none of it would happen without the involvement of pros like Tipton, who in 2013 served as a CAP and this year earned a coveted team leader position. Only 40 bartenders from around the globe become CAPs each year, with another 30 serving as team leaders and managers, all of them helping prep some 150,000 cocktail servings throughout the week.

Tipton wasn’t the only Kansas City talent in town, though. Doug Frost, a Kansas City Star columnist who also holds the master of wine and master sommelier titles, moderated a panel discussion on the marriage of rye whiskey and cognac. It wasn’t confined to the Vieux Carre (a cocktail containing both) or Sidecar (which can, too), but instead ranged afield to explore the effect of aging rye in cognac barrels and cognac in rye ones.

The experiment, conceived at last year’s Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival in Kansas City, is ongoing, but Frost and Ryan Maybee, co-owner of Manifesto and The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange in the Crossroads Arts District were happy to join David Pickerell, master distiller for Hillrock Estates & WhistlePig Rye, and Alexandre Gabriel, distiller and producer of Pierre Ferrand Cognac, to discuss its possibilities.

Maybee also helped create cocktails for the sold-out Motorcycle Diaries spirited dinner at NOLA’s 12 Mile Limit before heading home. Berto Santoro, bar manager at Extra Virgin, stuck around longer to help Phenix Brands showcase its Samogon, Stiletto Vodka (until recently called Shpilka) and London Vodka.

He and many of the Kansas City-based company’s Master Bar Czars collaborated with the guys from Coco Jack (an ingenious tool for opening young coconuts) and El Guapo Bitters to create Tiki-style cocktails one day, a creative cocktail lab another and other demo and tasting opportunities in between.

Ray Edwards, Phenix’s owner, oversaw it all while hosting master distiller Urkalieva Damira during her first trip to the U.S. Damira is one of eight women master distillers in the world and oversees an all-female team that manages the distillation and lab operations at four distilleries in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Caitlin Corchoran’s focus was half a world away as the Port Fonda bar manager competed in Tequila Ocho’s Viva Sangrita national finals. Her version was smoky and potent, with coffee overtones thanks to beans from Oddly Correct, and it certainly wowed me even if it didn’t earn the title.

Brandon Cummins, a freelance image-maker and bar consultant, helped organize the competition in his role as Missouri’s Tequila Ocho ambassador. He also photographed a Jaegermeister event before jetting back to Kansas City.

Beau and Keely Williams, owners of Julep; Howard Hanna, The Rieger’s co-owner and chef; and Casey Bond, the brand ambassador for Crown Valley Brewing & Distilling Co., also attended Tales to support staff and friends.

Didn’t make it along? No worries. You can get a taste of the fun, education and camaraderie at the upcoming Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival, Aug. 20-24. They’ll be plenty of it all for everyone.


Ryan Maybee of Manifesto and The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange sees rye whiskey and cognac as complimentary ingredients in drinks like the Sidecar. Traditionally made with Cognac, adding rye brings spicy, dry notes to the drink — how much of that you like is up to you. Try this version served during the Cognac & American Whiskey — Legendary Duet seminar at Tales of the Cocktail. Or, swap the proportions to use mostly rye with a hit of cognac.

Makes 1 cocktail

1-1/2 ounces cognac (try Pierre Ferrand Cognac 1840)

1/2 ounce rye whiskey (such as WhistlePig 10-year-old Straight Rye Whiskey)

3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

3/4 ounce Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao

Sugar, for rimming glass (optional)

If you want a sugared rim on your glass, prepare that first by following these directions. Then, combine cognac, rye, lemon juice and curacao in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until cold, and then strain into prepared cocktail glass.

Anne Brockhoff is an award-winning spirits writer who writes a monthly column for The Star’s Food section, as well as food features. She blogs at food_drink_