Meet the guy behind Tales of the Cocktail: Simon Ford

You are Chairman of Tales of the Cocktail

Technically I am just the Chairman of the Spirited Awards. Ann Tuennerman is the founder of Tales of the Cocktail and she appointed me for this position, presumably because of my dedication to traveling in search of great bars that care about the service and quality drinks or maybe for my dedication to education from within the bartending, cocktail and spirits community.

Firstly what is Tales of the Cocktail?

Tales of the Cocktail is the largest cocktail event in the world. Over 6000 professional bartenders gather in New Orleans for education and events surrounding spirits and cocktails annually. It was founded in 2002 when just 50 people attended and now it is attended by people from over 50 countries around the world making it the most internationally attended cocktail event.

Why is it so important to the cocktail industry?

It is a place where you can share ideas with your peers and learn from industry veterans as well as the rising stars of the industry. People can rub shoulders with each other and be entertained at the incredible events that happen each year but for me the reason it is so important is the people who attend are the ones that are pushing the hospitality industry forward and you can listen and learn from people from so many places and cultures around the world. This drives everyones knowledge. I feel that Tales of the Cocktail embodies the spirit of community for our industry and it makes the world a smaller place for everyone who attends.

What are you looking forward to this year?

This year The 86 Co is hosting an event with our friends from Del Maguey Mezcal called ‘Bar Fight’. The idea of the Bar Fight is that several bars from around the world travel to New Orleans and recreate their bar experience under one roof for the attendees of Tales of the Cocktail. The reason I am so excited about this event is because the line up of bars we have is incredible. Whitelyan from London, The Aviary from Chicago, Candalaria from Paris, ABV from San Francisco, Pastry War from Houston, the Black Pearl from Melbourne and Extra Fancy from Brooklyn, NY. I can’t believe that this event has engaged such a great pool of talent and I can’t wait to see what the bars do because each one the establishments taking part has such a unique approach to hospitality and cocktails and I am excited to see all of that contrast and talent in one room. The other thing I am looking forward to is seeing my friends from around the world. I don’t travel internationally as much as I used to so Tales of the Cocktail has become a week where I get to sit and catch up with some of my best friends and fall back into old habits.

BarChick hasn’t been nominated for two years, are you are outraged as we are?

I am. You have become a go to for me when it comes to picking places to drink around the world. I think there is so many people, publications and places that sadly don’t make the final nominations each year. Winning an award several years ago was much easier but now its become more of a journey and as your brand gets bigger then it is more likely that people will notice your work which in turn leads to judges voting for you for the awards. I have faith that you will be on the final nomination lists one day and I definitely think you deserve to be there

Why did you start 86 and co?

The inspiration and motivation came from conversations I kept having with friends in the bartending world. I would often ask them ‘what would you like to see from a spirits company?’ and it was the answers to this question, coupled with the need for a new challenge in life that led to the creation of The 86 Co. The sentiment of our company is quite simple, everything we do we do to try and make the bartenders experience better. This ethos led to four spirits that were made for their mixability in cocktails. It also inspired our ergonomic bottle designed for easy handling by the professional bartender and labels filled with useful and honest information for those who are passionate about spirits knowledge.

What makes a good bar for you?

I like the attention to detail that certain bars give. It is the little extras that make your experience special. Things such as educated staff who can guide your evening, attentive service so you aren’t waiting all the time for something be it a drink or the check, music that fits the vibe and is played at a good volume so you can enjoy it but also hold conversation. I also like thoughtful gestures such as being served olives at the side of your Martini. There is a science to a good bar that is hard to explain. it is the combination of good people, good drinks and a good atmosphere. If you have all three chances are its a good bar. I also like the inclusion of Guinness on tap and a jukebox where possible

What makes a good bartender?

A great bartender reminds me of an orchestra conductor who is looking at every musician constantly. The bartender conductor is the one that makes sure everyone in the bar is a part of the vibe. They are the bartenders that looks at the crowd to see what they need no matter what they are doing at the time and can read what their audience wants before they do. Personality plays a big part and the best bartenders always have their egos under control, that part usually comes with experience. A bartender who knows how to make creative and balanced drink is also important. To put it simply, a great bartender is master of hospitality and makes great drinks too.

We’re going for a drink, what are you ordering me?

Pre Dinner I will order us Champagne, Negronis and/or Martini’s. During dinner it will be wine, the finer the wine the better, budget pending of course. After dinner is when I would suggest that we hit a few cocktail bars and try our their crafted speciality drinks and at the end of the night we would switch to neat spirits, may a suggest Tequila, Mezcal or Calvados?

Introduce us to someone in the industry who you think we should we look out for?

Michah Melton and Julia Momose at the Aviary in Chicago. Micah took over the beverage program from bartending legend Charles Joly and he has taken it to a new level. If you don’t heaven’t heard of Bobby Huegal already please look him up, he is a bartender who has very interesting perspectives and ideas for our industry. Just as Ryan Chetiyawardana and Ian Griffiths are moving things forward for our industry on your side of the pond with their ideas of sustainability behind the bar Bobby has opened a non-profit bar in Houston, Texas and is working with a similar ethos. He is also very passionate about the spirits he orders and what is behind their production both sustainably and in quality. Finally, watch out for Giuseppe Gonzalez (again). He has been on sabbatical which only means he has been thinking up cool and crazy shit for his next project ‘The Suffolk Arms’. I am not sure when it is set to open but I am certainly looking forward to it.

Favourite bar in the world?

Adres Carne de Res. Its in small superb of Bogota, Colombia, called Chia and it is always one of the best nights of your life. I have travelled to Bogota just for night out there.

If you could make a drink for one person dead or alive, who would it be?

Eddie Vedder (lead singer of Pearl Jam). As much as I wish my answer was something cooler such as a global leader that changed the world we live in like Nelson Mandela of Mahatma Gandhi, I would chose Eddie Vedder because he is the man behind the music that has gotten me through some of my hardest times as well as the music that was the soundtrack to some of the best times of my life. If Joe Strummer could join us that would be even better.

Desert island bottle?

A bottle of Romanee Conti 1945 - I was working for a wine company once and one was opened. I was allowed a small sip and I still remember the taste. I dream of one day having a whole bottle to myself. Thats my unrealistic choice…being realistic I would chose a bottle of Del Maguey Pechuga