Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Some drinks from the Summit

March 31

Bartenders attending the Grand Marnier and Navan Mixology Summit were picked based on numbers based grading system that wasn't totally explained to me in detail. But one thing was for certain, they wanted as many different recipes as possible using their products.

The bartenders submitted four recipes each and demonstrated two out of the four. From flipping through "The Big Book o' Cocktails," as I have dubbed it, and sitting in on a few of the labs to watch the bartenders do their stuff, it was fun to see how many different ways different bartenders managed to bring their preferences and styles to two ingredients.

As JC had told me the day before, the idea was to find ingredients that used "creativity and something unexpected" as I watched Sean Bigley (Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas), put his twist on a Negroni with the Grand Milano.

Grand Marnier, Campari, Fee Brothers Grapefruit bitters, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and Plymouth Gin were shaken and poured into a cocktail glass, and garnished with an orange spiral.

Today Erik Hackinen from Seattle's Zig Zag Cafe made a La Roquette and La Nouvelle Vague. Erik described Zig Zag's cocktail menu as one that featured a lot of rye and whisky and the La Roquette channeled a bit of that by taking Rittenhouse Rye 100 Proof and stirring it with Grand Marnier, Peychaud Bitters, Regan's Orange bitters, Torani Amer and absinthe in a mixing glass. The drink was then strained, and garnished with a lemon twist.

Steven Kowalczuk, cocktail chef for Room at Twelve Centennial Park in Atlanta, Ga., enjoys using fresh vegetable as well as fruit juices in his cocktails. He created a Navan Carrot Cake using fresh carrot juice, Navan, cinnamon schnapps, Grand Marnier and ground cinnamon. Heavy whipping cream and sugar are shaken before hand to make thick. Then the liquid ingredients are shaken and poured into a martini glass. Cream is poured on top, and garnished with a bit of cinnamon. In today's case, a bit of graded carrot was used.

Some bartenders showed adaptability when they had a curve ball thrown at them. Ronaldo Colli (Americano Restaurant, San Francisco) didn't have fresh raspberries or creme fraiche on hand for his Sweet Tart demonstration. He went ahead and made it with strawberries and heavy whipping cream. After muddling the strawberries, lemon juice, agave nectar and a splash of water are added and shaken. The liquid is then strained into a tall glass filled with ice. Grand Marnier and heavy whipping cream were mixed in another glass, then poured into the cocktail.

When asked about using agave nectar, Ronaldo said it was something naturally sweet with the consistency of honey. Tad Carducci, part of the staff for the summit and consultant with Tippling Bros., chimed in that the nectar is a low glycemic index food that makes it a less processed, healthy addition to drinks.

Tad commented that he was seeing a lot of bartenders starting to use organic and or all-natural ingredients in cocktails. Whether it was by using certified organic spirits or ingredients, green or simply less-processed. He said, "It's shifting towards the attitude of wanting to put better things in our bodies."

Monday, March 31, 2008

Fat washing and you: Grand Marnier & Navan Mixology Summit edition

I take a lot of notes. A lot. When I talk to bartenders I sometimes like to glean info on techniques as well as recipes. Many times I tend to file it away in my on repository of cool things to keep in mind or it gets buried in an entry, and that's kind of unfair. So, in the spirit of freedom of information, I decided I'm going to try and do "...and you" blog entries that break out shop talk separately. And if possible, try to illustrate these with photos.

Luckily, the Mixology Summit has a seminar hosted by Steve Olson with his Wine Geek staff holding stations explaining different techniques and styles of bartending.

In this edition of "...and you" I grabbed a visual of fat washing, demonstrated by Mr. Don Lee himself, who with Phil Ward, was also explaining how to make bitters. I've mentioned fat washing plenty of times before, and not that it's hard to understand the process, but I really wanted to show a visual of how it looks. Also, I wanted an excuse to talk about the Buttered Popcorn Rum cocktail.

When I previously talked with Don, he had mentioned the bacon-infused bourbon and brought some to the seminar. And yes, it definitely has smoky bacon flavor. He also showcased his buttered popcorn rum.

The buttered popcorn rum starts with 10 Cane Rum. Air popped popcorn is added to the rum, then processed through mesh bags to get all the popcorn flavor, but none of the kernels. Then clarified butter is infused in the rum for four hours before being fat washed.

Don did a quick ice bath demonstration of fat washing to illustrate how easily the fat solidifies for extraction.

When Don makes his fat washed spirits, he makes five gallons at a time and uses a blast chiller, but for those of you who want to make smaller batches and fast, Don said he's previously used liquid nitrogen as well for quick demonstrations. As long as you can chill the spirit enough to solidify the fat, that's what matters.

Don also mentioned that another thing to keep in mind when fat washing is to not use a bottle or any container that tapers to a small opening. Try to use wide-mouthed containers that allow as much surface area contact between the spirit and the fat for maximum flavor transfer.

Don said that adding coke to the rum created a flavor experience that's like "going to the movies." Cocktails using the buttered popcorn rum and bacon bourbon are both currently on the menu at PDT.

Mixology Summit, seminar bonus!!

Making bitters, and you: (Don Lee, PDT)
"Patience...it really takes a long time. When you're making new drinks you can mix one up, taste it, and if you don't like it dump it out in 30 seconds. With bitters it takes months."

So instead of making large batches of bitters, Don suggested that if you want to play around with different flavored bitters, make small batches of tinctures, alcoholic extracts made by leaving herbs and herbal ingredients in alcohol. Don prefers neutral grain spirits, but you can experiment with other spirits, just remember the infusion time may differ depending on the spirit used. They don't require as much time as bitters and they provide single note flavors you can test before moving on to more complex bitters.

Booze and high altitudes

March 30

A low-frequency headache continued to thud in the back of my head. An 8 am flight from New York, a layover in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and a bumpy turbulence-happy plane ride later I found found myself in Vail, Colo. for The 2008 Mixology Summit sponsored by Grand Marnier and Navan. I wasn't incapacitated, but the altitude was affecting me in a slow nagging manner that was hard to ignore.

Headache, slight nausea and dry mouth. I already felt hungover even before a single drink had passed between my lips.

"Well, since I already feel like I've been through an all-night bender, I guess there's only one solution," I thought to myself. "I think I'm just going to drink until I conveniently forget how I feel."

And the Mixology Summit was the perfect place to do it. For three days, the Marriott-Vail Mountain Resort was overrun with mixologists who came from all over to demonstrate their drinks, ski, and drink. And you know you're going to be able to get a hold of something to drink with bartenders running around. The event provided a full bar with everything each participating bartender needed, from mescal and absinthe, to oranges and carrots. That didn't stop some people from bringing their own stash just to make sure they had everything they needed.

This year 300 bartenders and mixologists from around the country applied to be part of the summit. Participants were asked to submit four drinks using Grand Marnier or Navan as an ingredient. Out of the 300, 100 made it to Vail where their drinks are recorded for posterity's sake in video and/or photo form and their recipes bound in a large tome.

While the whole deal just sounds like a big excuse to get a bunch of bartenders together and hang out and drink at a picturesque ski resort, they are in fact working while they are here. It's legit. They fill out tax forms and everything.

"This isn't a contest," JC Iglesias, business director for Grand Marnier, told me as he busily fluttered around one suite where the lab was taking place.

I had walked into a consulting session where bartender Myong Park from the Drawing Room in Chicago was painstakingly demonstrating for the videographer how to make an orange peel garnish for one of his drinks.

The winners are actually working since they are consultants for Grand Marnier and Navan. They receive a consultant's fee, and though they have to pay out of their pocket for hotel and air, they can write it off on their taxes. The drinks are then used by Grand Marnier and Navan as part of their cocktail directory. This is useful for many reasons. For Grand Marnier and Navan, it's great to be able to show possible bar and restaurant clients how their products can be used, but also, JC explained that bars will sometimes contact them asking what cocktails can be made using such and such ingredients and the company can provide them with recipes or recipe possibilities using the database they've acquired through the summit.

The labs were a flutter of activity as bartenders were in and out, grabbing at bottles and asking for ingredients. The radio crackled through with requests for ingredients from other rooms and staff members zipped in and out.

Speaking of staff, the people helping with keeping the lab bars stocked and also mixing behind the bars for events included familiar faces such as Jim Meehan and Don Lee. I even got to finally put a face to Phil Ward who I'd only talked about or heard of like some mythic folk character.

The reception in the evening featured several cocktails from Mixology Summit alumni.

I got a chance to talk to Jacques Bezuidenhout who I'd only talked to on the phone previously for the interview I did with him when I was writing my NRN 50 story on cocktails as survivors.

I also got to meet Leo DeGroff again who pointed out we hadn't seen each other since when I visited PDT last year.

"But we talked on the phone, right?" I protested.

"No, no," he corrected me. "It wasn't even on the phone. It was email."

Oh, well, the important thing is we got to meet up. Right?

After several cocktails and generously poured champagne I witnessed people dancing to Skee-Lo. I wondered if that would be indicative of the rest of the three days I'd spend here.