Stepping into the Hotel Monteleone during Tales of the Cocktail for the first time gives you an instant buzz.

The lobby teems with attendees, a side table offers bitters to taste while cocktail writers sign their works and a corner bar showcases spirits and cocktails. It’s a lot to take in but don’t let the sheer number of seminars, tastings and parties daunt you. Divide and conquer, as they say. And hydrate with the excellent Mountain Valley water whenever you can.

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As an industry source, we are always looking for trends and this year we see the continuing buzz for all things bitter. The bitters share a room with books on spirits and cocktail with numerous ones available for tasting. Strega showed their version of a mule courtesy of Miami bartender extraordinaire Julio Cabrera – it is the year of the Mule after all at Tales – with just the right amount of herbaceousness. Elsewhere, Fratelli Branca held down two ballrooms with cocktail mavens from the U.S., Europe and Taipei, Taiwan shaking and mixing for the crowd. Carpano Antica, Fernet Branca and Brancamente all starred in a creative bounty showcasing those brands versatility.

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On the Monteleone roof, St. George Spirits from Alameda, CA showcased their new Bruto Americano, a just released liqueur made with gentian root, balsam fir, buckthorn bark and a few other proprietary ingredients. Bartenders from around the country took part in a launch party with a diverse set of cocktails. Standouts included Ace Hotels LA own Dan Sabo with a Bruto, Lustau Amontillado and orgeat creation and TJ Pamieiri of USBG in Gainesville, FL with another sherry-based drink – this time Williams & Humbert Dry Sack with St. George’s vodka. Bruto Americano is in Illinois and California now, rolling out to the rest of the country soon.

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At the Sonesta, we dropped into the competition to crown the ultimate Montenegro cocktail and enjoyed the winner from William Perbellini of Bar Toscana in Los Angeles. Presented on a breakfast tray, the Montenegro a Colazione married the host spirit with orgeat, lemon, apricot jam, peach bitters and egg. Creamy, smooth and yes, perfect for colazione, breakfast in Italian.

Diversity and flexibility continue to be the industry’s calling card. Distilleries small and large alike are experimenting more than ever. Absolut is even oak aging vodka and the result is complex -working well in an Old Fashioned riff called the Oak Fashioned.

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Island hopping is always in and this year we took a trip to three Caribbean islands courtesy of Kenny Chesney’s Blue Chair Bay Rum, Puerto Rico, Barbados and the British Virgin Islands. Their take on the swizzle highlighted both the white rum and coconut rum.

Check back for another update on everything Tales soon. As they say in the Crescent City all week, Happy Tales to You.