September 18, 2012
This past July, the culinary and spirits festival Tales of the Cocktail (a.k.a. Tales) celebrated its 10th Anniversary. The world’s best craft bartenders, taste makers, brand ambassadors, cocktail bloggers, liquor sponsors, and cocktail aficionados plus a legion of media and public relations people descended on the Crescent City for a week of booze filled seminars, “Spirited Dinners”, tough talking competitions, liquor tastings, and brand sponsored parties. The highlight of the festival for me is not the countless commercial-focused events and seminars but a charity BBQ held in Washington Square Park on the outskirts of the Marigny neighborhood called the Pig & Punch Party.
Josh Harris and Scott Baird of The Bon Vivants, a band of bar consultants based out of San Francisco, get to Tales of the Cocktail early each year. Instead of Tales pre-gaming, they devote their time and energy to helping paint and refurbish KIPP Charter schools in neighborhoods that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, is a national network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public charter schools with a track record of preparing students in underserved communities for success in college and in life. This year, 70 bar professionals joined the Bon Vivants early in the week and painted 30 classrooms of Frederick Douglass High School.
Then on Saturday, they hosted a free BBQ party in Washington Square Park. The organizers proudly proclaim that “Pig & Punch is NOT about cocktails, it is about fun and memories and charity.“ This message resonates with the crowd who after four days of cocktail soaked events, appreciate the chance to take it down a notch and support a great cause. Attendees were encouraged to purchase Pig & Punch T-Shirts ($30) with funds donated going right to the KIPP Charter school program.
The Bon Vivants and their industry volunteers spit roasted nine whole pigs over an open fire. The pigs were brought into the park after being marched down Frenchman Street in a ceremony, which included a New Orleans brass band. It was reminiscent of a pagan ritual that truly honored the pig.
Once the pork was cooked, the attendees queued up with mouths watering. The pork was so succulent, served pulled-style, and steaming hot. Various BBQ sauces and gravy added to decadent flavor. The delicious sides included boudin from Cochon Restaurant, Creole tomato salad, Cajun Cole slaw, a spicy German potato salad, piggy beans, and hand cut watermelon.
While the pork and trimmings took center stage, there were other traditional classics for non-pork eaters: Quartered BBQ chickens and plump bratwursts were accompanied by plenty of toppings such as pickled onions, jalapenos peppers, and loads of Louisiana Pure Crystal hot sauce.
To keep Pig & Punchers well-lubricated, six complimentary boozy punches were self-served out of 32-gallon trash containers with gigantic blocks of ice a fresh fruit. The punches featured spirits from sponsor brands like Don Julio Tequila, George Dinkel bourbon, Don Q Rum, Ocho Tequila, Michael Collins Irish Whiskey, Chivas Regal scotch, and many more.
Our favorite punch was a Bon Vivant original called the Bare Knuckle Bocce Punch. BKBP is a thrilling concoction of Michael Collins Irish Whiskey, Becherovka, Noilly Pratt Rouge, Luxardo Sangue Marlacco, Apple Juice, Lemon Juice, and Black Currant Darjeeling tea.
Frosted kegs of Abita beer were also available for all to enjoy and various brand folks circulated among the crowd offering samples of Templeton Rye, Fernet Branca, and others liqueurs out of pocket flasks.
During the first two years of its existence, the Pig and Punch Party was not part of the official Tales of the Cocktail festival but rather a guerrilla pop-up event, which was attended by hundreds of Tales event goers and members of the community. The first year the event was attended by several hundred people, last year attendance doubled to five hundred, and this year it exceeded expectations with approximately one thousand attendees according to the Bon Vivants.
The year after year exponential growth, genuine goodwill, and a non-commercial focused attention on the community must have been the clincher. Tales organizers now understand that the bartenders and industry professionals giving their time and efforts to give back to the kids of New Orleans can only make their TOTC festival stronger. I was happy to see this event in the official festival line up and to hammer home this support of Pig and Punch, The John Lermeyer Award for Good Behavior was presented to the Bon Vivants at this year’s Spirited Awards.
This year’s Pig and Punch raised over twenty thousand dollars for the KIPP Charter school program and exemplified the spirit of community and giving back that makes the craft cocktail industry stand out.
*Got a cocktail question? Reach Fredo on twitter @loungerati, email me at fredo(at)loungerati(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below!
**Fredo Ceraso is the editor-at-large of the lounge lifestyle blog Loungerati.com. He is head cocktailian and a co-producer of The Salon parties. Fredo is a member of the USBG New York chapter and rolls drinks at many Lounge, Swing, Jazz Age, & Burlesque events in New York City