Meet your drink’s maker at New Orleans cocktail fest

Here’s a fun fact: America invented the cocktail.

A more fun fact: You can get up close and personal with the cocktail’s history and its future at the world’s largest gathering to celebrate bartending and mixology. The event is called Tales of the Cocktail, and it happens every July in New Orleans.

Bartenders, booze makers, spirits journalists and everyday enthusiasts will descend on the city July 17-21 this year (attendance is expected to crest at 20,000 people). They’ll be enjoying educational seminars and networking events during the day — and pool parties, dinners and lavish shindigs every night.

Tales of the Cocktail is not only about making cocktails and making money. It’s got a charitable side as well. Festival proceeds go to benefit The New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society, a non-profit organization committed to preserving the unique culture of cuisine, including cocktails, in New Orleans and beyond. Since its founding in 2006, this organization has supported members of the hospitality industry through programs like the Flo Woodward Memorial Scholarship, set up for those who want to study the bartending craft but need a bit of support financially.

One of the week’s biggest charity functions is organized and hosted by a group of San Francisco gentlemen called The Bon Vivants. Led by cofounders Josh Harris and Scott Baird, the group hosts events at annual cocktail gatherings around the country, including Portland Cocktail Week in Oregon and the Manhattan Cocktail Classic in New York.

At each gathering, they invite people from the bar industry to do a day of service for a nonprofit organization in that town. For New Orleans this year, they will help by volunteering at KIPPS Charter Schools on July 16.

On Saturday evening at Washington Square Park, it’s time to party. The Bon Vivants host massive pig roasts, with 100 percent of proceeds going towards charity. A $30 donation gets guests T-shirts, all the pork they can eat and all the punch cocktails they can drink.

“Last year, we had nine whole pigs cooking in Caja Chinas, six trash cans filled with craft punch, lawn games, kickball, some other funny tricks and epic music ripping all afternoon,” Baird said. This year, they are, of course, going for bigger and better.