Friday, October 3, 2008

Genever and cognac

Sept. 29

Despite early warnings this weekend from my body about my seasonally affected lack of immunity, I found that I'd managed to finish coding the Weekly e-Newsletter quickly enough on Monday to head out to the Bols Genever event. I was a little late and missed out a bit on the presentation, but hung around to bug some of the bartenders who had come out.

I'd only seen the words "genever" and "Holland gin" in older cocktail recipes, so my understanding of it was purely academic. I understood that it was a gin predecessor, with flavors of juniper. Bols was relaunching the product in the U.S., in some part, thanks to increased interest in "lost" spirits from bartenders who study classic cocktail recipes. I was told that Bols intends to have it available stateside in a week or so.

"So you never tried it?" Alex Day asked me during a recent Death and Company visit prior to the event.

I shook my head. He poured me a bit of the stuff. The first thing that struck me was how the thing smelled. It was so...malty. The juniper and botanicals were there of course and it was a very aromatic spirit, but I couldn't get over that almost cereal and the salty and cooked sugary smell of malt. When I had to describe it to someone later on I had to think really hard for a bit before finally saying, "It's kind of like really light rye, you know? Does that make sense? But if they got really heavy with the malt and made it with juniper."

Jim Meehan was making some Very Old-Fashioneds at the event, and I made a bit of small talk with him about using genever in the Old-Fashioned formula.

"So is genever considered a brown spirit?" I asked mildly confused. Jim answered that, no, it was a white spirit, but I'm guessing the fact that genever is made with maltwine and has a pretty complex flavor balance allows it to straddle the flavor profile fence.

I hung around a little bit to chat with some folks. I was shocked to learn that not only had Don Lee of PDT injured his wrist, but his foot as well.

"Didn't you hear? I had the foot replaced with a muddler," he joked.

The wrist is on the path to healing and that day he wasn't wearing a cast but some sort of brace type thing, but he said the doctor told him to keep from doing any sort of high-volume bartending until the wrist fully healed. The foot was also in some sort of orthopedic contraption, but he wasn't on a crutches nor rocking a cane "House"-style.

I also got introduced to Brian Miller. I'd seen him around and knew his name, but I'd never personally met him. A fact that some found positively scandalous for some reason or other. You'd think I would've just walked up and introduced myself, but to be honest, I was scared of him a little. Why? I don't know. I really wish I could explain the exact particulars except that the few times I'd seen him in person he really intimidated me. My mistake was telling Don this, because he decided to call Brian over.

"Oh no, oh no, oh no," I thought.

"Have you met Sonya?" Don asked.

"No, I don't think I have. Nice to meet you," Brian said with a smile as he held out his hand.

"Hi, nice to meet you," I said shaking his hand. Whew, well at least now we're introduced and he seems really ni...

"She's afraid of you," Don said.

I shot Don a stricken look.

"What? Why??" Brian asked me.

I stammered a rambling explanation that it was nothing personal, and I'm just a neurotic person who is easily intimidated with social situation type things.

The place was chock full o' bartenders and cocktail persons. As I snuck in for the latter part of the presentation, I spotted Allen Katz, Dave Wondrich and LeNell Smothers. A good chunk of the Death and Co. crew was there, with Joaquin Simo, Alex Day, Thomas Waugh and the above-mentioned Brian Miller. Don, Jim and Daniel Eun were representing PDT. Audrey Saunders also showed up with her posse of Pegu Club Boys. I got to say hi to people who I hadn't seen since Tales, like Jonathan Pogash and Jim Kearns. Even San Francisco's H. Ehrmann attended since he was in town and would be hosting the Bols Genever event out there.

Then I started getting asked repeatedly if I was going to the Hennessy event. What Hennessy event?

It turns out it was some sort of, mildly hush-hush, "industry only" thing that required pass codes inputted into websites and the like. Luckily, some of the very people asking me if I would be attending had the pass code on hand. High-five. So yea, I guess *now* I was attending the Hennessy event.

I had to stay at work late to make up for the two hours I skipped out for the genever event anyway, so I did my work thing then showed up at the Brandy Library later that evening.

The event was in conjunction with Hennessy's Artistry Series. On the consumer side, this meant a concert series featuring Ne-Yo, but for those in the industry, this meant an evening hosted by Junior Merino and Tony Abou-Ganim. People got a chance for to sample some Hennessy's products; specifically the X.O., Paradis, and Richard Hennessy. I asked John Deragon to explain to me the economics of pricing a glass of the (very expensive) stuff. He threw a bunch of really complicated math at me starting with how many servings you tried to get out of a bottle based on ounces in the bottle and ounces in the glass. Then you needed to try and recoup at least 25% of the bottle price or some such to make a profit. I furrowed my brow listening, and while it made all kinds of sense while I was listening, afterward I remembered why I became a journalism major.

Those in attendance got to vote on drinks created by Don Lee, Elba Giron and Gen Yamamoto to determine who won the New York title and would go on to compete in Las Vegas to win a trip to Cognac, France. Elba Giron won. Don was at a close second with a 12 vote difference.

I thought the evening was over with. As I was loitering outside saying my good-byes and getting ready to leave Don yelled at me and Daniel Eun to "GET IN THE CAR."

"OK, OK!" I thought. "Is there a lion or something??"

A cab ride later I found myself at Little Branch, so I nursed a daiquiri and hung out a bit. I was glad I did since I got to see Vito, Richie B. and Mickey.

Jeff Grdinich, a New Hampshire-based bartender I first met in Vail, Colo., who I seem to run into pretty frequently, was also there. He was in town for the Bar Alcohol Resource training and I'd been bumping into him at various events throughout the day. He was disturbingly intent on getting everyone to do shots of Fernet Branca and I eventually got suckered into doing one. (NO.)

This all resulted in my body deciding it quite honestly had had enough of my BS and was going to yank the emergency brake. I got laid up with what I think was some kind of version of an ear infection; an ailment I thought people didn't really get past the age of 1. Initially I misdiagnosed it as me feeling crummy over something I ate until my ear decided to blow up with a "OW OW WAIT STOP TOUCHING THAT KIND OF HURTS AND ITCHES A LOT AND IS HIGHLY UNCOMFORTABLE. I'M NOT SURE HOW TO RESPOND TO THAT SO HERE'S A HEADACHE AND SOME DIZZINESS FOR ADDED MEASURE. WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRY OUR SAMPLE PLATE OF VARIOUS BODY DISCOMFORTS? IT COMES WITH A NICE 'WHINE' PAIRING." I wound up spending most of a day I was out sick with my left ear nestled in a heating pad looking like some kind of Victorian plate illustration of people who have toothaches and have that bit of cloth tied around their jaw.

Kids, be good to your body.