Tales of the Cocktail is an event without equal. What once started as a modest walking tour of historic bars throughout New Orleans has blossomed into the beverage industry’s premiere trade show. Traditionally held in July, the festival combines a week’s worth of educational seminars with tastings, product previews, meet-and-greets, and its very own gala: The Spirited Awards. In a normal iteration, the confab draws over 30,000 people from far and wide — a true global phenomenon.

This year will manifest a bit different, of course, yet it promises to be legendary just the same. “Tales” is celebrating its 19th anniversary from Sept. 20 through Sept. 23 in unique fashion: a hybrid of digital programming and limited in-person engagements. Topping the bill will be signature educational initiatives including over 60 seminars and digital broadcasts, all of which can be registered for here. With no airfare required, it’s easier to attend than ever before. And every bit as essential to beverage professionals and enthusiasts alike.

“Tales remains relevant because of its ability to foster and strengthen a sense of community amongst our industry,” says Eileen Wayner, CEO of Tales of the Cocktail. “In part, Tales has the standing it does because it is for industry by industry. Some of the brightest minds serve on [our] committees to govern how we approach education and seminars, Beyond the Bar content, the annual Spirited Awards, and more.”

This year's event will be a hybrid of digital programming and limited in-person engagements.
This year’s event will be a hybrid of digital programming and limited in-person engagements.

Indeed, there is an unprecedented breadth of content to consider when signing up for seminars this time around. Bartenders and even curious consumers will appreciate insight on lesser-explored ingredients. And that’s precisely the sort of knowledge you’ll amass, for example, in “Koji Cocktails, From ‘Simple’ Syrup to Enzyme Magic.” Owners and managers, meanwhile, will gain valuable perspective from classes addressing Covid-era challenges, like “A New Operational Paradigm: Building a Personnel-Focused Future.” Those seeking out new employment won’t wait to miss the festival’s first-ever Career Fair, hosted in conjunction with Diversity Distilled. It’s but a small cross-section of what will be showcased this September.

“There will be opportunities for virtual Q&As and direct engagement with industry leaders,” adds Wayner. “Audiences should expect to feel challenged, to feel their horizons broadened, and to hear from multiple vantage points on pressing issues facing the industry.”

For Touré Folkes, Tales is an opportunity to keep pushing forward on issues of inclusivity. Based in New Orleans, the hospitality veteran is sitting on two educational panels at Tales of the Cocktail 2021. His non-profit, Turning Tables, promotes equity and diversity in the local bartending and hospitality community. The organization was founded, in part, through a Tales grant back in 2019.

“There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, of course, when it comes to equity, balance, and innovation [in our industry],” observes Folkes. “But the conversations taking place at Tales are a good start.”

And this year, those conversations will be carried from the seminars to the awards stage. The Spirited Awards has evolved its programming to include a prominent “exploration of key themes and trends moving the industry forward across global regions.” Now in its 15th year, the annual ceremony honors excellence in beverage craft, trade, and media. It will air live on Sept. 23 beginning at 4 p.m. Central Time. The broadcast is free of charge for registered attendees on the Tales of the Cocktail® 2021 digital platform.

Although this is the first “hybrid” version of Tales, the festival is well versed in the operational logistics of the digital domain. During the lockdowns of 2020, it went fully virtual. So you can expect a smooth sailing here and a seamless run of show.

“Last year, people from over 100 countries gathered [online] to explore our content and we hope to surpass that number this year,” according to Wayner. “All of our educational content is offered free on our platform and app, something we’re incredibly proud of.” It can be downloaded from iPhone and Android-based app stores.

TOTC CEO Eileen Wayner says the organization is "working hard to do our part to keep in-person events safe and still stay true to Tales’ brand and mission."
TOTC CEO Eileen Wayner says the organization is “working hard to do our part to keep in-person events safe and still stay true to Tales’ brand and mission.”

For those on the ground in New Orleans this autumn, Wayner and her staff certainly aren’t overlooking the experience. They’re looking forward to executing a memorable soirée with minimized risks. “We are committed to some in-person programming where we can safely pull it off and add value for those communities,” she adds. “For our Foundation events in New Orleans, there will be proof of vaccination required, responsible spacing, and adherence with all local guidance. We’re working hard to do our part to keep in-person events safe and still stay true to Tales’ brand and mission.”

Things can change rapidly, however. So if you are planning to be in the Big Easy this September, check the TOTC 2021 schedule often to keep up to date on the latest.

While we all wish we could be there in person, as Wayner points out, “Not everyone in our community can safely come this year. We feel a sense of responsibility to find safe ways for our community to convene.” By producing a multitude of digital content, Tales is living up to that high-minded mission.

“2022 marks our 20-year anniversary and we cannot wait to return to New Orleans to celebrate,” adds Wayner. She speaks for so many in the industry, anxious for a return to the city — and festival — they love. In the meantime, Tales of the Cocktail 2021 is unquestionably the next best thing.

This article is sponsored by Tales of the Cocktail.