Tales from Tales of the Cocktail

by David Burnette

Summer in New Orleans is a hot, sticky mess.  Torrential downpours pop up sporadically in the tropical city like an unwanted houseguest, soaking unsuspecting tourists and flooding the streets…

”It’s not called Canal Street for no reason.” A local once quipped.

The air then gets hot and heavy in an almost suffocating way, like an aggressive call girl on a night when one is not in search of a paid date.

However, one week in July a party that is worth braving the heat and humidity comes to town.  Unlike Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest, this one is geared toward those more specifically infatuated with the craft of cocktails, the love of booze, and a passion for hospitality.   It is know as Tales of the Cocktail.

In 2011 I had the distinct honor of being chosen for the CAP program at Tales of the Cocktail.  I was one of roughly 50 or so “Cocktail Apprentices” picked from around the world for a week of hard work and even harder partying, and the exposure I received to the world of bartenders who really dedicate time, energy, and spirit to the craft of cocktails and hospitality was actually a bit overwhelming.  It changed the way I perceived going to work every day, and made interacting with guests even more fulfilling than I had ever imagined.   It was the point where my job turned into a career, and any thoughts of ever “leaving the business” became very cloudy.  I realized that I love what I do, and that it was okay, because other people love doing this, too.

Needless to say, to have the opportunity to attend this event, in any shape or form, was very welcomed.  When Andrew Quady of Vya Vermouth fame (Quady Wines) sat at my bar last fall and expressed interest in using me to make a cocktail to showcase his vermouth at Tales, my answer was an emphatic “Yes, Please!”

He explained that he wanted to showcase lengthened, Spanish-style cocktails where vermouth was the star of the show.  Think bubbly water, food friendly, a touch of flair, yet caressingly bitter…(at least that’s what I took from our conversation).

I spent months pondering what I would do.  This was not going to be the type of room that wouldn’t judge me if my cocktail was not spot on, but I also wanted something to help beat the NOLA heat, and I wanted a touch of Little Rock personality to the beverage.  I turned, as usual, to the awesome team of chefs at South on Main, and figured out that watermelons were going to be peaking right when I needed them.  This made my decision on the recipe easy.   I would use fresh watermelon juice from melons grown by our favorite farmers, Mtn. Valley Sparkling Water, Vya Whisper Dry Vermouth (Seriously!  Go buy a bottle!), a touch of lemon for acidity, a touch of raw sugar to balance, and garnish with compressed watermelon-one of my favorite summer treats. 

The resulting beverage went over extremely well!  I was able to serve roughly 300 guests a little taste of Arkansas, and helped them a bit in charming the swampy devil that is summer in NOLA.  I hope that the following recipe helps a little bit with the Arkansas Dog Days, as well, should this beautiful weather we’re currently experiencing give way to what we’re all referring to as “Real August” around these parts.

Read more about Vya's event here: 


Arkansas Melon 

Vya Whisper Dry Vermouth: 2 oz.

Fresh Arkansas Watermelon Juice: 2 oz.

Raw Sugar Syrup: .5 oz.

Splash Mt. Valley Sparkling Water

Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice: .5 oz.

Garnish of Compressed Watermelon