A Letter from Director of Education, Philip Duff

Tales of the Cocktail® 2018 is Just Around The Corner!


In fact, if it’s anything like 2017, I can’t wait. In 2017, we put on the most seminars we ever have – 89 (instead of our usual 84) as on the Tuesday we hosted (together with Tin Roof Drinking Community) the wildly popular Sustainability Summit of four seminars, plus the free Sexual Assault Prevention seminar.

Whether you bought a ticket for a seminar, attended a tasting room or an official event, volunteered, worked as a CAP or a Fellow or indeed alongside me on the Tales team: well done. You gave back in the most meaningful way, to Tales, and your contribution means Tales can continue to fund scholarships, the cocktail world’s largest peer-mentoring program (a/k/a the CAPs) and Tales’ charitable mission that includes helping bartenders with further education and emergency expenses.

What’s new for 2018?

Here are the formats you can submit as:

  • (NEW) Bar Indepth (90mins). Cocktails from your bar must be served. This is not just getting up on stage and waffling on about your bar. It’s a very structured deep, deep dive into your bar: its finances, staffing, operations, logistics, challenges, concept and real estate. You’ll need to be comfortable sharing those details.
  • Traditional Seminar (90mins). Tastings and cocktails may be served but are not mandatory. The idea is to weave any cocktails or tastings served into the content, but only when it makes sense.
  • Traditional Seminar (Point-Counterpoint debate) - identical to a Traditional Seminar, but featuring a genuine debate between two or more people whose points of view on a topic genuinely differ. Tastings and cocktails may be served but are not mandatory.
  • Technique Seminar (90mins, 50-70 attendees). A seminar teaching a physical skill, for example a bartending technique. This should be hands on. Tastings and cocktails may be served but are not mandatory.
  • Exclusive Tasting Seminar (90mins, 20-50 attendees). A seminar featuring more tastings than are normally allowed, and each tasting must be "unobtanium" - spirits that are unattainable due to price, rarity or because they are never released to the public (e.g. the components of blends). Nothing that is generally available for sale is acceptable as an Exclusive Tasting.
  • #SEDTalk (max. 14mins per speaker, but in a room for 80-200 attendees). A www.ted.com – style, no tastings or cocktails, offering new information, new perspectives, captivating speakers (and sometimes all three). A single overarching theme is interesting for a #SEDTalk.

You do not need to have sponsorship in place to submit a proposal.

Having or not having a confirmed sponsor at the time of submitting a proposal has no effect on whether your proposal will be accepted or not; no-one who receives any payment or compensation from Tales of the Cocktail sits on the Seminar Committee.

Every year we have many seminars that are not sponsored but are put on anyway, as they were scored highly enough by the Committee.

The Committee only cares about great ideas and content. We will be announcing the 2018 Committee soon. Click here to view the 2017 Committee

The only extent to which having a sponsor in place would help (and we actively encourage this) is when the sponsor's presence in the seminar proposal improves it, by (for example) offering access to liquids, archives and personnel (such as distillers or coopers or archivists) that would otherwise be unavailable. That would (potentially) make it a better seminar, and the Committee respond well to better seminars.


The best thing you can possibly do it take a few minutes to read through the titles and descriptions of Tales seminars from 2015, 2016 and 2017 - and then think of a seminar for 2018 that is significantly different from those three years’ worth of seminars.

“Significantly different means EITHER a brand-new topic, OR, a topic covered in those years but with a significant amount of new information (such as new research) or a significantly different perspective.

Be as specific as you like, as there very likely will be other proposals on the topic you choose, and yours needs to be different from the next one (as both may wind up being accepted). The more specific the better. You will not get a chance to rewrite the proposal.

How Are Seminars Selected?

(This hasn't changed since 2017, so if you read this last year, you can skip this part).

First, the committee evaluates the proposals.

I am always looking for new members for the Committee, and the criteria are straightforward:

  1. He/she has to have been to Tales of the Cocktail, in New Orleans, at least once.
  2. He/she has to be experienced and respected in the field of spirits, mixology and/or bars.
  3. He/she has to represent a significant geographical region that isn't currently represented.

No-one who earns any money from Tales of the Cocktail® sits on the committee - I don’t, for instance, although I read every submission.


Each member of the Seminar Selection Committee get a link to start evaluating all the proposals, and they sacrifice a great deal of time – in December, during Christmas and New Year! - evaluating the hundreds of proposals.

Scoring is not a yes-no situation: each Committee member scores each aspect of the proposal with a number. For example, “quality of title” 1-5, “quality of panelists” 1-5, etc.

These scores add up to a “points total” for each proposal, which Committee members don't see; that goes straight to me. Committee members skip evaluating their own proposals, proposals on which they are listed as panelists, and proposals sponsored by the company that employs them.

From there, we rank the scores and then my work really begins.

We have a limited number of seminars and in 2017 we had 89 total including all the different types of seminars: Traditional, SED, Exclusive, Technique, etc.

Each year, we have many proposals on the same or similar topics, and I have to decide if we should have more than one seminar on a particular topic; my preference is not to do that, so we can have a diverse range of topics.

Sometimes, I will ask if the people behind two proposals on the same topic would consider working together, to present the seminar.

I especially like it when two people with opposing points of view collaborate to present a seminar; I don't tend to enjoy seminars where everyone onstage is in agreement with each other. Arguments – when polite, well-reasoned and based on experience and facts – are to be encouraged.

As Director, I have a veto on seminars, but I use it sparingly.

I frequently do have to make decisions on which seminars get in when there is very little to choose between them. I try to make the best judgment calls I can, and my guiding principles are a diversity of topics and encouraging new presenters at Tales.

Neither I, the committee nor the Cocktail Apprentice team (CAP) care if a proposal has a sponsor at the time of submission: we are entirely guided by the quality of the proposal. It's not widely known that every year Tales presents many seminars without any sponsors at all, purely because the Committee scored them highly enough.

The CAPs have to give their seal of approval to each seminar, based on its do-ability, and they, too have the power of veto.

After the Cocktail Apprentices' have screened the proposals, we notify the people who submitted them that their proposal has been accepted, and request that they agree to requirements of being a Tales presenter. And then we announce the seminars!

How Do I Get Accepted?

(This has new dates, and new information, so you should read it)

  • Have a kick-ass title and description. I can't stress that enough.
  • Have a clear vision of what you want to achieve: make it do-able.
  • Be different. Look the last couple of year's seminars
    • 2017 Seminars
    • 2016 Seminars
    • 2015 Seminars
      • These are the titles and descriptions that got accepted in 2015 & 2016 & 2017, but we try to wait 3 years before recycling topics unless you have genuinely new information derived from research, or a significantly different perspective.
  • Have everything squared away. For Tales 2018 we are requiring you have your speakers, research, content, recipes and tasting mat (if applicable) all confirmed at the time of submission. No more “we hope to...” or “if our seminar is accepted we will.....” or “something like a Clover Club...”. Take all the time you need to make your proposal complete, but get it in before Dec 1st. If there is a research component to your proposal - for example, if you plan to conduct or commission research - include in your proposal a timeline of when all that will happen. If your proposal gets accepted in late January, that research would need to be planned, executed, data collected, collated, and incorporated into a Draft Powerpoint or Presentation that is finalized and delivered to the director of education (that's me!) no later than April 17th, 2018. This will allow me to review it, before your final presentation is due on June 2nd, 2018. The moderators of some “accepted” seminars in 2017 were “fired” (removed from their own seminars after being accepted) because they consistently missed every deadline. Don’t let that happen to you in 2018.
  • Don't just bolt-on a sponsor. Sponsors supply money, sure, but they can also be a source of expertise, allowing you access to people and information you couldn't otherwise reach. Try to develop a relationship with a sponsor before you submit your proposal, so you can integrate them into your seminar in a credible way. If your proposal was accepted without a sponsor, and Tales subsequently finds you a sponsor, you should reach out to that sponsor to find a way to work with them as a resource. Read the Seminar FAQ's Sponsorship Section for information on what the 2018 sponsor fees will be.
  • Take ownership of your proposal. Don’t let anyone else write it. The person who writes it must be the person who will be the moderator of the proposed seminar and that person is Tales' single contact person for that seminar. Everything will go through him or her. If you are that moderator, the buck stops with you; you are responsible for meeting all the Tales deadlines, no matter what, answering all the emails (no matter what), and getting everything you may need from the panelists you chose so you can hit those deadlines. No excuses! Writing the PowerPoint and putting on a Tales seminar is a moderate amount of work if you spread it out between February 1st and April 17. It's hellishly difficult if you leave it until the second week of April.

What If I Don't Get Accepted?

(This bit is the same as 2017, too)

It's not the end of the world. It doesn't mean your proposal isn't a good one – it may just be that your topic has been recently covered at Tales, for instance. If it isn't accepted at Tales you are now free to propose it to another cocktail festival. If your proposal is too branded, you might consider re-submitting it as a Tasting Room or Brand Education: Tasting Room and Brand Education are designed to be branded, and in many cases are better fits for some of the ideas we see on submissions.

Tales of the Cocktail® is YOUR festival: more than just a fun week or a collection of seminars, it's a coming-together of the whole community, and I am honored to be a part of it.

I'm at your disposal, from now until July, and I hope I'll see you in New Orleans (and, for the hardcore, Edinburgh for Tales on Tour!)

Kind regards,

Philip Duff


Ready to submit? Fill out the submission form.