Tales of the Cocktail, one of the world's premier cocktail festivals celebrated in New Orleans, is completing a decade. Its founder, Ann Tuennerman, gives a lowdown on what's whipping for the July fest

Think New Orleans and what do you get? Nah, move on from Hurricane Katrina…and what do you get? Isn't it its vivacious culture? Doesn't it remind you of a mass of effervescent people living by the Mississippi, celebrating life come what may? Termed the birthplace of Jazz, this port city in the United States' Louisiana State breathes joy and good cheer, be it during its annual Mardi Gras festival with a sea of people on the streets in their bright and vivid best, or through its unique cuisine (love their Jambalaya!) and the buildings that speak the distinct language of French Creole architecture.

Now, add to this vibrancy yet another annual gala — of cocktails. Yes, one is talking about Tales of Cocktail, one of the world's premier cocktail festivals celebrated in this American city. New Orleans resident Ann Tuennerman started this social event in 2003, combining her passions for the unique history of New Orleans and a well-crafted cocktail. Ten years hence, Tales of Cocktail is a premier gathering of cocktail lovers from across the world, attracting thousands of visitors to New Orleans every July.

Ann, excited to talk about her festival for Indian readers for the first time, terms this year's edition as special. “This is a milestone year, completion of 10 years.” In an e-mail exchange, she gives a lowdown on what's stirring for the five-day extravaganza beginning July 25 that would bring together people from 26 countries besides America.

“It is a platform that brings together the award-winning mixologists, authors, bartenders and chefs for five days of cocktails, cuisine and culture. The event will have something for cocktail professionals and enthusiasts alike with a spirited schedule of seminars, dinners, competitions and tasting rooms where brands showcase their latest products. In 2012, you'll see how Tales of the Cocktail only gets better with age,” she says.

Ann is pretty sure she could not have thought of celebrating cocktails in any place other than New Orleans. “It's only fitting that New Orleans, the birthplace of the Sazerac cocktail, serves as the permanent home of Tales of the Cocktail. The narrow French Quarter streets that gave rise to the Brandy Crusta and the Ramos Gin Fizz provide the perfect backdrop of history and culture for this affair.” The festival venue straddles some of the city's historic buildings, like Hotel Monteleone, The Royal Sonesta Hotel, The Roosevelt Hotel, Galatoire's, Antoine's, Arnaud's, The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, Harrah's New Orleans Casino, the Napoleon House and Brennan's, among others.

Ann says she is “involved at every level of planning, implementation and promotion of the festival.” Besides Paul Tuennerman, the festival CEO, she has three events managers to handle things, whom she calls “the angels.” Every new development is regularly uploaded on its website wwwtalesofthecocktail.com. “One will be able to purchase tickets for the festival in spring through our website,” she says.

Besides this annual gala, Ann is involved with other related programmes through The New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society, a non-profit organisation she founded in 2006 “to preserve the rich history of cuisine and cocktails in New Orleans and around the world by supporting those in the hospitality and cocktail industries.” The organisation runs a cocktail apprentice programme for “promising cocktail talent to apprentice with some of the biggest names in the industry at Tales of the Cocktail.” Bartenders selected for it are provided airfare and lodging at Tales of the Cocktail.

Then there is the Cocktail Apprentice Scholarship Fund, which “gives its past apprentices the opportunity to continue pursuing their education in mixology through both educational opportunities and special research projects.” Ann says in the first round of grants 25,000 U.S. dollars was awarded to eight former apprentices “for everything, from creating a universal descriptive language for spirits to studying cocktail herbs and plants.” She promises additional scholarships to apprentices in their pursuit of the next great cocktail.

Ann also runs an initiative to support the seafood industry that plays a large role in the culinary traditions of New Orleans. During last year's festival, she raised money for New Orleans resident “Nick Collins and his family, who lost their 90-year-old oyster business, The Collins Oyster Company, due to the flooding of the Mississippi river in 2011.” Way to go! And for you too, to New Orleans I mean, if you have the means and the zeal to taste some finest sips!

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