Late in the day on September 23, 2017, Tales of the Cocktail, the world’s largest cocktail industry festival, announced that its co-founders, Ann and Paul Tuennerman, were stepping down from their roles in producing the event. The announcement came in the wake of outrage following the plan to reinstate Paul Tuennerman to the Tales of the Cocktail organization. He had resigned in March after making public comments that were seen by many in the industry as racist.
Here’s what happened.
February 28, 2017: Ann Tuennerman appears in blackface at Mardi Gras in a photo on a Facebook post. The caption of the image, written by Ann, read:
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“Paul G Tuennerman, interviewing me on Mardi Gras Morning from the Zulu Den. As he said ‘Throw a little Black Face on and you lose all your Media Skills.’ He did his best as the interviewer.”
The post sparks many angry responses and promises to boycott Tales of the Cocktail by some bartenders.
March 3, 2017: Ann Tuennerman issues a public apology and explanation for the incident. She writes, “Earlier this week, I rode in a Mardi Gras parade with the Zulu organization, in which participants, both people of color and of all races, traditionally wear blackface makeup, and shared photos of myself in costume on social media. I now recognize how deeply offensive this is to many, and I am sincerely sorry.”
The same day, Paul Tuennerman’s resignation from Tales of the Cocktail is announced. He writes, “My comment to Ann about blackface prior to the Zulu parade was meant to be a husband’s innocent teasing of his camera-shy wife, not a belittlement of others. In retrospect, the words were insensitive, hurtful and just plain dumb and I feel horrible for the pain they have caused. I take full responsibility and it is with a very heavy heart that, effective immediately, I am resigning from Tales of the Cocktail.”
March 25, 2017: Tales of the Cocktail announces the establishment of the Diversity Council in response to the incident. The announcement states: “The mission of the Diversity Council is to ensure that every aspect of Tales of the Cocktail’s programs and internal structure is designed to promote diversity and inclusiveness in regard to race, ethnicity, and gender.”
April 21, 2017: Diversity Council leaders are announced: “Colin Asare-Appiah and Jasmine Haralson to Lead Diversity Council.”
June 29, 2017: The full list of Diversity Council members is announced.
July 18–23, 2017: Tales of the Cocktail takes place in New Orleans.
September 22, 2017: Writer B.E. Mintz of NeatPour.com reveals in a story called “Controversial Decision Rocks Tales of the Cocktail” that Ann Tuennerman announced to the Diversity Council in a phone call and email that she was “asking Paul to come back to Tales.” The story further reports that Diversity Council co-chair Colin Asare-Appiah resigned in response.
September 23, 2017: Asare-Appiah confirms his departure in a public Facebook post. He writes, “I have taken the difficult decision to resign from my position as Co-Chair of the Diversity Council at Tales of the Cocktail…. Earlier this year, after well publicized errors of judgement by Paul and Ann Tuennerman, a dialogue began surrounding the issues of diversity and inclusion within the cocktail community and the wider bar industry. This led to the creation of the Diversity Council and upon accepting the role of Co-Chair, I was dedicated and committed to the team.
“After resigning from Tales of the Cocktail, Ann made the independent decision to recently invite Paul Tuennerman back into the Tales organization, without consulting or advising the Diversity Council. In doing so, her action has undermined the Council’s very existence as a group providing strategic and informed advice, endorsement and support in decision-making surrounding issues of diversity… From this point, I choose to advance the important agenda of diversity and mindful practices outside of the Tales of the Cocktail organization.”
Facebook buzzes with mostly furious bartenders reacting to the news and debating their future involvement in the event.
Later that evening, Tales of the Cocktail announces: “Co-Founders, Ann and Paul Tuennerman, will be transitioning away from their roles in producing the world’s renowned cocktail event, Tales of the Cocktail, effective immediately.
“Melissa Young, who has served as Director of Operations for the past nine years will assume the reins of the operating company behind the event, MOJO911, LLC, as President.”
MOJO 911 owns trademarks on Tales of the Cocktail and was described by the NeatPour.com story as “the company that produces the annual cocktail festival” with Paul Tuennerman as a 50-percent owner, even in his absence from the Tales organization itself.
It is not immediately known what the Tuennermans’ roles and financial stakes in the Tales of the Cocktail and MOJO 911 organizations will be going forward.
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Camper English is an international cocktails and spirits writer, speaker, and consultant, with a focus on the science of booze and big clear ice. His work has appeared in Popular Science, Cook’s Science, Whisky Advocate, Saveur, Details, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many other publications.