Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Eben Freeman brings "Cocktail All-Stars" to New York

or Eben Freeman has a posse

For three nights bartenders from around the world are gathering in New York to show off their stuff.

Last night was the first of these events, "Things Eurasian: Ancient Flavors, Modern Science at The Monday Room in NoLita," held at the Monday Room in Public with a food menu inspired by Asian flavors created for the event by Public's executive chef Brad Farmerie.

I hung around in the in between section of Public's dining area and the Monday room, where the cocktail station was set up.

"The idea was I wanted to show people what I'd been working on," Eben said when how this event came about.

As most of you probably know, Eben's currently based out of Asia at the moment, working with the sort of amalgamate of restaurant/bar consulting, repping and overall creative agency, Mangkut Group. Most of his work is now more along the lines of development and introducing Asia to what's been happening here in the United States with bars and cocktails.

Eben first started doing these All-Star events with Linden Pride in Asia. The first one was in Singapore, and from there to locales like Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, and basically wherever Eben happened to find himself and bringing in others to demonstrate as well.

Just as he brought his style of cocktails to Asia, Eben said he wanted to introduce New York to some styles from other places around the world. He also wanted to get New York acquainted better with bartenders not from city as well as get it reacquainted with people from here as well.

"We tried to bring in some of Boston, some of San Francisco," Eben explained. "We also tried to get some people who don't get the recognition they deserve."

For example, to introduce folks to other Cocktail scenes in Europe besides, say, London or Paris, Nikolaj Brondsted, bar manager for the newly opened MASH Steak House in Copenhagen, Denmark, was brought on board.

Ginger Passion

For the event last night, Nikolaj made two different cocktails. Ginger Passion (vodka, lychee, passionfruit, ginger, lime) and Peach, Plum and Harmony (Bird's Eye chili vodka, peach, plum, umeshu). I noticed vanilla bean pods in his vodka and asked him about this and Nikolaj said that for his chili vodka he usually uses a vanilla flavored vodka as a base because he feels the spiciness works well with the vanilla flavor.

Jackie Patterson from Heaven's Dog and Smuggler's Cover in San Francisco had three drinks on the menu. The Prenup (Buddha's Hand vodka, dry vermouth, whit teal liqueur, lemon and ginger beer), Fleur du Monde (blanco tequila, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, Riesling) and the Spice Trade (aged rum, sweet vermouth, allspice dram and orange bitters).

Eben was mixing up two drinks. The Corn Flip (Hudson New York Corn whiskey, creamed corn milk, egg). The "corn milk" is regular milk infused with canned cream of corn, then strained. When Eben shook the cocktail, he added a shot of creamed corn for additional corn flavor boost. My impression of the drink was that it was kind of like boozy Corn Puffs. The Triad was made with gin, Shaoxing rice wine, elderflower liqueur, lemon and The Bitter Truth's Creole Bitters.

I was not expecting to see owner and bartender of Bar High Five in Tokyo, Mr. Hidetsugu Ueno, and had a little moment where I totally had a little geek freak out on the inside. Mr. Ueno made two drinks for the evening. A shockingly emerald green Japanese Garden (single malt scotch, green tea liqueur and honey) and the peachy, blushy United (aged cachaca, cherry blossom liqueur and grapefruit bitters).

At one point, I bumped into Dave Arnold, head of Culinary Innovation at FCI and beverage mad scientist at large, who was also contributing to the drinks menu that evening.

"We got the Rotavapor going in the other room," I overheard him say.

"Wha...what is this 'Rotavapor'?" I cautiously asked.

"Go on inside and you'll see," Dave answered cryptically.

So I set foot into the Monday Room and talked to Fabian von Hauske who was running the Rotavapor to make habanero tequila. Luckily, it was a familiar contraption, since I'd seen Dave demonstrate it at Tales last year.

So how it works is a mixture of pureed habanero and tequila are put in the Rotavapor. The glass bulb filled with the mixture rotates in a water bath which boils at a constant low temperature (usually around 50-60 degrees Celsius, and specifically 54 degrees Celsius when I looked at the machine that night). Dave told me to touch the glass that the mixture was in to illustrate how the mixture itself was cooler than the water bath it sat in. Dave changed the hardware up a bit to make it suit his distilling purposes, but more or less, before its Arnoldization, it's a contraption used for removal/separation of, um, things using evaporation. The additional distilling "hack" added to the machine helps pull the alcohol from whatever you put in the glass bulb in the water bath area and the resulting habanero tequila has all the floral notes and flavors of habanero with just a hint of heat (and curiously enough, none of the color). All the spiciness remains in the ominously red mixture left in the bulb. It reminded me of how nature usually uses bright colors and patterns to warn you, "Hey, this stuff right here will KILL you if you put it in your mouth!...Or at the very least, make your whole GI area feel all uncomfortable like."

I also got to talk with Stephan Berg of The Bitter Truth about a mysterious little box he had with him. It was the prototype packaging for a traveler's set of bitters that would be coming out. Stephan said the idea behind a small kit was for both bartenders and consumers. For the former, the "fun-sized" bottles would make it easier to carry a variety of bitters around and if you've traveled in the company of bartenders before, you've probably witnessed firsthand mysterious vials and small bottles of this and that.

I mentioned it's funny how he should say that, since it reminded me of Damon Dyer and his tiny bottles of stuff that he used to make drinks on the plane ride down to Tales two years ago and Stephan said, it was funny that I should say that, since Damon told him how enthusiastic he was about the idea. Hahahaha, ah, yes...hm...well, I guess you had to be there.

Anyhow, Stephan went on to say that the smaller size provides a way for consumers who are just trying out bitters or stocking their own home bar to own a variety of bitters without being straddled with huge honking bottle that just sort of sits around.

Currently the box just needs a bit more tweaking before being released.


erik_flannestad said...

The Corn Flip does sound like an improvement on Judge Jr's "Corn Popper"...

Damon said...

Yes, I think that the story about the bitters travel kit is funny. And yes, I wish that I was there.