Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tales of the Cocktail 2008: Spirit Award winners

Part one of the end of my Tales blogging. Some of the nominees were previously mentioned, here.

I'd never been in a place quite like Harrah's and I felt like I walked miles to get to the theater where the awards ceremony was being held.

"Oh many people! And tables! I'll be at tables with people!" I thought, beginning to panic once I saw all the dinner tables set up. I camped out with Hanna Lee from Hanna Lee Communications for a while and I'd like to thank Mr. Eben Freeman for taking me under his wing so that I didn't freeze up and die by painful shyness.

Here are the winners:

Best Drinks Selection
1806 Melbourne Australia

Best Classic Cocktail Bar
Milk and Honey, NYC

World’s Best Cocktail Bar
Le Lion - Hamburg, Germany

Best New Cocktail Bar
Ruby, Copenhagen, Denmark

Mixologist/Bartender of the Year
Nick Strangeway - Hawksmoor, London, England

Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book
Imbibe by David Wondrich

Best Cocktail Writing
Gary Regan (San Francisco Chronicle)

Best New Product
Fever Tree Mixers

Best Cocktail Menu
Ruby - Copenhagen, Denmark

Best Drinks Brand Representative/Brand Ambassador
Jason Crawley - Maxxium, Australia.

Helen David Lifetime Achievement Award
Dale DeGroff - King Cocktail

Tales of the Cocktail 2008: Seminar highlights

A, I hope, quick run-through of things that I wanted to mention that stood out from a few of the many seminars I attended:

Molecular Mixology, Thursday, July 17:
(Led by Jamie Boudreau with panelists Eben Klemm, Eben Freeman and Claire Smith)

Eben Klemm talked about his background in molecular biology at M.I.T. and how at the time that particular area of study was more of a collection of techniques that were used by other branches of studies such as oncology. Molecular biology was considered more of a tool and in the same way he compared how molecular mixology more or less defines technique and tools used for creating drinks.

One thing that I paid attention to in particular was how even though "molecular mixology" sounds interesting and sexy and gets thrown around a lot, Eben pointed out that honestly it's not exactly something new under the sun. He said that while some people might say molecular gastronomy is technique-based, many of the techniques being used are duplications of techniques already in existence; just carried out more effectively.

For example, a lot of people think of foams as a hallmark of molecular gastronomy, but think about classic cocktails such as a Ramos Gin Fizz or a Pisco Sour with frothy heads created by egg whites. Sure nowadays you might use some kind of ingredient to create a foam with just about anything and not having to rely on eggs, but the basic idea of manipulating flavors and or textures through technique or ingredients isn't exactly a new.

He warned that these are tools that should not be relied on and "we should be focusing on making good drinks."

Claire Smith, a mixologist working for Belvedere Vodka, commented that with her molecular mixology was more micro mixology with the idea of being able to control flavor delivery in new ways.

"It's not our job to scare them off, it's our job to make a good drink," she said echoing what Eben Klemm said earlier.

Eben Freeman addressed the topic of maybe molecular mixology being "over" due to being overplayed. When people ask "Aren't foams over?" Freeman compared it to asking, "Is grilling over?"

Techniques "don't get removed from the lexicon," he said and in fact bartenders owe it to themselves to learn as many techniques as possible, but not just for technique's sake. "This isn't about the shock value."

Eben Freeman brought Sazerac gummy bears and Ramos Gin Fizz marshmallows for every to sample, while Claire presented an elaborate three-piece "vodka and Red Bull" set up with cotton candy, a glass of Belvedere vodka, and a grapefruit flavored marshmallow since, to her, Red Bull had a sort of grapefruit flavor to it.

During the Q and A portion of the seminar, someone asked Eben Freeman about his hard shake video online and Eben actually stood up to say that was his approximation of the technique and it does not do justice for the real hard shake method. He went on to explain that the hard shake isn't about just being a fancy technique that magically create great cocktails. It's not some kind of snake oil to your cocktail ills. It has just as much to do with a way of thinking as you prepare a cocktail and the idea of being conscious of what you're shaking in your shaker. I sat riveted listening to him talk about the technique. It was sort of the first time I actually heard an account that went beyond "here's this cool mystical thing from the East," when talking about the topic of the hard shake.

Not that the extended conversation made it sound any less like a secret ninja training technique, but the gears just sort of finally clicked in place in my head as to why this isn't really a big deal but is at the same time. You can read the recipes, talking about consistency, ice quality, proper tools, but in the end cocktails are still a hand-made product. I'm going to go off the loopy end now.

You could say a cocktail, is a cocktail, is a cocktail, but it's basically an artisan product custom-built every single time someone serves you a glass of something. If you're doing it properly that is.

Eben mentioned how many bartenders are beginning to develop their own shaking styles either based on the hard shake or just from what works for them, and watching bartender do their thing in what probably comes across as highly uncomfortable intensity that's borderline the subject of a song by The Police, you can see it. And not just see it, but even hear it. Whether it's a clinkita-clinkita-clinkita or a chugga-chugga-chugga, whether it's a tight up and down motion or a loose figure eight type of deal, it's basically like a bartender signing his John Hancock on your drink. And a bartender could have several different ways he or she would shake different cocktails. That's what this whole hard shake business seemed to say to me. Thinking about how you shake a drink makes you sort of take a pause. You don't treat the drink making process as just throwing in different tasting liquids into a canister.

...what was I saying? Anyway, as someone who over thinks details a lot of things this was delicious over thinking fodder and I kind of drifted off intently contemplating cocktail shaking.

The Scented Trail: Techniques on How to Develop Aroma in Your Cocktails, Thursday, July 17:
(Audrey Saunders and Tony Conigliaro)

Now I thought this was a pretty cool seminar. Hosted by Audrey Saunders and Tony Conigliaro, this seminar showed that different possibilities could be further explored in creating cocktails. And it wasn't just "Here, smell this," type of seminar talking about just how spirits might smell. Audrey and Tony talked about scents like perfumers pulling out hydrosols and essences that they make or use.

Audry explained the before people were distilling alcohol, they were distilling flowers and plants for a variety of uses. That's where people cut their distillation teeth. And Tony said that perfume works similarly as cocktails.

There were explanation of top notes, middle note and bass notes. How scents break down over time with more volatile smells that hit you first such as florals and citrus on the top end, to scents that come through more like flavors and linger longer on the bass end. Cocktails also have these properties. Smell a cocktail when you first get it all icy cold, then wait until it's warm and sticky to take another whiff and you can smell the difference for sure. Anybody who's ever taken a good smell of a bar after a night of people spilling beer all over the place could tell you that.

It was a seminar full of intriguing tidbits, such as different ways to create hydrosols. Maybe diluting essential oils or creating simple tinctures with neutral grain alcohol. Maybe even distill it to further concentrate the scent.

While Tony mentioned everclear as the an alcohol he might use for tinctures, Audrey said she preferred 80 proof vodka since everclear can be too strong and could "cook" some more delicate ingredients.

By using tinctures and the like, not only did you enchance the cocktail but as a bartender you also get a chance to use flavors and ingredients that are not easily accessible in drinks.

Tony brought out a cocktail inspired by an old Roman drink using mastic and wine. The champagne was absolutely bubbly and light, but got a little oomph to it with a richer richer note from the mastic resin (it needs to be cooked to bring out the flavors and scents!).

Cracking the Egg: The Traditions, Challenges and Potential of Eggs in Cocktails, Saturday, July 19:
(LeNell Smothers)

I only caught the tail-end of this because I had been down in the kitchen for the first hour or so, but I'm so glad I made it in for the last bit.

I'm a fan of egg in cocktails so I wanted to listen in on what had to be said since all I knew was it goes in your cocktail raw, you can use yolk, white or both, and it's delicious.

Little did I know there were issues like your shaker's seal being compromised once the egg and stuff ("stuff" is a technical term) expands inside the shaker. Everyone nodded and murmured thoughtfully when this topic came up. This seemed to be a problem for both Boston or Cobbler shakers. One suggestion was to seal the shaker again periodically whenever you'd feel the seal is not as tight as it could be.

LeNell ended the seminar by bringing up Prairie Oysters. I was puzzled at first because I thought she was talking about these, but she meant this. She wanted to give a demonstration to close things out and asked for a volunteer and Matty Gee got called up.

It all seemed like, you know, the typical audience volunteer thing. She helped him out of his jacket and then...she started unbuttoning his shirt. For those of you who did not go to this, you missed out on LeNell doing a bodyshot version of a Praerie Oyster out of Matty Gee's navel. Let me just say that I thank the Fates for allowing me to be there to be delightfully scandalized. Sadly, I snuck in near the end so I was in no position to grab a good photo, but I'd be very surprised if there weren't some Flickr streams out there right now with photographic evidence because I saw flashes go off.

EDIT!!! A kindly hero left me a comment linking to a fantastic write up on the egg seminar (with photographic evidence!). Thank you, commenter. Also nice to find out that Matty's a NOFX fan.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tales of the Cocktail 2008: Photos from the juice line

I was going to bust these out at a later date once I got through with some other photos I took of Tales and do a comprehensive photo blog entry, but I've been catching up to things at the office and my other two updates are slow in coming together. So here's something to tide you over for now.

Don Lee was nice enough not only to send me some photos he took of the juice line, but I also have permission to reproduce them here. He instructed me to make note that "the photos were at 9am and that they juiced 26 cases of fruit that day alone."

A mountain of citrus

from l-r: Armando Archundia, Thomas Waugh, Jim Kearns, Chris Hannah, Alex Day, Ryan Fitzgerald, Rhiannon Enlil

Breakfast of Champions

from l-r: Thomas Waugh, Jim Kearns, Alex Day and Ryan Fitzgerald. Yes, that's Ryan soaking a cookie with the communal Rittenhouse Rye. Supposedly, several food items were doused with rye whiskey over the course of Tales and I've heard from two different sources that cold beignets taste the best with the rye treatment. I haven't tried it, but my hypothesis is it would be like a baba au rhum, or baba au rye if you please.

from l-r (at least with the faces I can see): Jim Kearns, Alex Day, Joaquin Simo, Kimberly Patton-Bragg, Armando Archundia

from l-r: Rhiannon Enlil, Jim Kearns, Thomas Waugh, Alex Day, Peter Vestinos, and face not visible, but I know that's Jacquelyn Leon