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Highlights from last weekend’s Tales of the Cocktail

Just a hop, skip and a stagger from Baton Rouge, New Orleans’ Tales of the Cocktails wrapped up its seemingly never-ending array of seminars, tasting rooms, brunches, snack stands and lunches last weekend. There was even a flash mob that interrupted founder Ann Tuennerman’s opening press conference where she announced next years Tales on Tour location, Mexico City. The aspirin has been taken, the naps have been had and the recuperation has begun.

With such a whirlwind of activities, food writer Monique Evans did the hard work for you, pounding the pavement around town and recapping some favorite events.

Favorite tasting room:
“Disco Inferno Saloon on the Move with Bittered Sling,” featured disco music and inventive, distinctive craft bitters. We visited the tasting late in the game and, as a result, got some one-on-one time with co-proprietor/chef Jonathan Chovancek. Along with fellow proprietor Lauren Mote, a talented mixologist and sommelier, these two Vancouver residents began the company in 2010, and are creating one of the most exciting lines of cocktail bitters in a market that has quickly become oversaturated with expensive, lackluster selections. Definitely worth hunting down a bottle or three.

Favorite seminar:
“Which Rum, What Cocktail and Why,” sponsored by Plantation Rum and expertly paneled by two giants in the tiki world: Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (author of several books on tiki culture, drinks and cuisine) and Martin Cate (owner and designer of San Francisco’s Smuggler’s Cove, what many consider the top modern tiki bar in the country) along with Plantation Rum distiller Alexandre Gabriel. These three gentlemen, with moderator Philip Duff, took participants on a humorous jaunt through the history of rum and rum drinks. Along the way, attendees were treated to several single tastings of various Plantation Rum products as well as three different takes on mai tais and two rum—yes, rum—negronis.

Favorite local finds:

Bayou Satsuma Rum. When I was first made aware of this product, I thought it would be just another flavored rum on the shelf, but I was pleasantly surprised by the aroma, taste and quality of this Lacassine-based brand. The flavor of the warm citrus was like spring in a bottle (though, obviously satsuma season is in the winter). Speaking with distiller Jeff Murphy, he explained, “We have enough juice this year for 3,000 cases. We mix the juice with [our] barrel-aged rum, add cane sugar, and you end up with a glass of lusciousness.”

1888 Dirtiest Martini Mix. Begun by LSU graduate Kenneth Hamburger, currently based out of Dallas, this lower sodium alternative to regular olive juice is extracted from premium Spanish olives, offering the flavor of olives without the salty punch. It also boasts a shelf life of one year.

Favorite merchandise:
The unending array of bitters in the Octavia Books room. I had to slow my roll at six bottles of Bittered Sling. Luckily, they came neatly packaged in a gift box ready for takeaway. If ever at Tales, set aside some time to peruse this room’s selections that include an encompassing exhibition of reading materials as well.

How the Tales team chooses who, what and where for each year’s Spirited Dinners:
“Our process for the Spirited Dinner is fluid and a true collaboration between the restaurant, the bartender and the brand. We like to create unique experiences that will be interesting and enjoyable for all parties involved,” said Tales founder Ann Tuennerman.

My Spirited Dinner:
Peruvian Tiki Gods hosted by Tiki Tolteca above Felipe’s Taqueria in the French Quarter. Our evening began with an impressive flame dancing atop the first drink. I found the pace of dinner this year a tad slow compared to others I’ve attended, but the cocktails were potent, the food was inventive and distinguished, and my impatience with the tempo was placated with a tiki mug gift for all participants embossed with the year and name of the event.

How Tuennerman chooses her Spirited Dinner:
“It really just varies. It is a combination of the menu, the venue, the partners, etc. We like to support a different restaurant and brand partner every year. However, it is tough as they are all so good!”

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