Friday, February 12, 2010

NYC Cocktail All-Stars: A Night for Old-Timers at PDT

So it snowed on Wednesday. A lot. That wasn't going to keep me from going to the third and last Cocktail All-Stars event. If I could make it into the office, I sure as hell could make it to a PDT.

"You came just in time to miss my turn," John Deragon said reproachfully from behind the bar by the time I'd finished cross-countrying my way in. It was still snowing when I slipped and slid my way along to the “Old-Timers Night: An Old-Fashioned Experience". Older gentlemen and aged spirits behind the bar.

I'd missed a couple of others, like James Menite, but there were still other bartenders to come. The format of the event was four hours, 12 bartenders, 20 minutes behind the bar each.

Dave Wondrich kicked it old, old-school in Wondrich style and made a Jerry Thomas style gin cocktail with genever, aromatic bitters and gum arabic syrup. Toby Cecchini's drink incorporated both White Whiskey from Death's Door (made with red winter wheat)and corn whiskey, creating a distinctive flavor.

I honestly wish I could've stayed, for the full evening (I came pretty close), but I basically came in for the middle and peaced out since I had to slip and slide my way back up to Queens. So to make up for my lack of words (some of you are probably breathing a sigh of relief), I instead present to you some pictures:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

'Old Shanghai on the Bowery' at Madam Geneva and talking ice with Mr. Ueno

Round 2! Tuesday night was "Old Shanghai on the Bowery" at Madam Geneva, the second event in the three-day line up for the New York City Cocktail All-Stars tour.

The cool surprise of the evening was Mr. Ueno showing off some of his ice carving. I cornered him after his time behind the bar to ask him a quick couple of questions (unfortunately, leaving Kenta Goto standing by holding a heavy bucket of ice and things. Sorry about that, Kenta...)

"Ice balls are popular in Japan, but ice companies started making them after they became popular," Mr. Ueno said, but nonetheless as a bit of eye candy, it's still a draw because, "It is something you can't create in your own home."

However, he added, "The main eye candy in a drink is the liquid."

Kenta chimed in, that the carved ice are part of the package of providing an experience for the guest. "People come into his bar looking for this experience."

I couldn't help but notice that Mr. Ueno wielded a small knife when carving the ice from it's base square shape. I asked him about this, since most people (OK, me) are probably more familiar with the ice pick.

"I haven't carved with an ice pick recently...maybe not for the last 10 years," Mr. Ueno answered.

While he still trains young bartenders to start off with an ice pick, he stopped using an ice pick himself because the results can sometimes be a bumpy surface.

As for the knife he uses, it's a folded iron knife, "the same material as a Japanese sword, so it's really sharp, but it also rusts really easily."

This means proper care, and making sure to wipe water off of the knife immediately after use.

Believe it or not, Mr. Ueno made this tool himself. It started off as "15 cm fruit knife," but through eight years of sharpening, he brought it down to its current 4-5 cm length.

Kenta explained that the ice Mr. Ueno uses is frozen about 2-3 days. At least three days being the optimal length of time. In Japan, ice is bought from a vendor who brings in blocks of the stuff.

"After three days there are no bubbles...the ice is harder and clearer and that is the ice he uses," Kenta said.

As Mr. Ueno explained, the ice is so clear that when in the glass, you should be able to see through to the bottom of the glass and read the logo of the bar on the napkin.

Mr. Ueno also shined light onto a diamond shaped ice he carved (it was shaped kind of like an old single cut, or the candy gem in a ringpop). This, he explained is also part of presentation.

"Like how a diamond is cut, the edges have a reflection," Mr. Ueno said, and explaining that with bars usually being dark, it's hard to see how beautiful the ice can be. So he helps demonstrate using a laser pointer or pen light.

A line up of 9 bartenders took turns serving their concoctions to a packed house.


Parkside Fizz: Buddha's Hand vodka, lemon, orgeat syrup, club soda, mint

Indochine: Aged rum, Domaine de Canton, pineapple, pastis, lemon bitters

Gin & Leaf: Vodka, sake, kaffir lime, yuzu, ginger, soda

Delhi Daisy: Tequila, elderflower, lemon, curry simple syrup, aromatic bitters

Tunnel Vision: Cachaca, sherry, lime, creme de peche, Angostura bitters

Pepper Smash: Gin, red bell pepper, lemon, mint, honey

Full Bloom: Scotch, cherry blossom liqueur, anisette

Trans Continental Clipper: Five spice Pisco, lemon, house made grenadine, Absinthe rinse

Buckshot: Bourbon, dry vermouth, orchard apricot, orange bitters

The theme of the evening seemed to be "BIG BOLD FLAVAH." Misty's drink had sweet and tangy amped up to an 11. The curry simple syrup added a little something without making the drink taste exactly like curry. Marshall's drink, on the other hand, didn't shy away from its spice base. It totally punches you in the face. The menu said "five spice pisco" but at the time I was getting more of a garam masala feel. I couldn't help but puzzle over this a bit. I finally figured out that when I read the "five spice" I instantly thought of Chinese five spice, but I was totally forgetting about panch phoron. How dumb of me. I need to ask Marshall this the next time I see him or over Facebook or something (or, I don't know, leave a comment. Hint, hint).

Did everyone agree to a dress code beforehand? All the folks scheduled to be behind the bar came in dressed pretty snazzily.

Epilogue: When I left Madam Geneva's I left with the fire of mezcal burning in my belly. Just as I was about to leave I was pulled into doing a shot of mezcal with Misty Kalkofnen, Alex Day and John Deragon.

This made me think. You know, I've been recently playing Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner on the PS2 (I sometimes like to kick it old school like that), and I'd forgotten how flippin' hard that game was. I couldn't walk even two or three steps before finding myself in a battle.

Wait, wait. I had a point in mentioning waaaassss...oh! OK, so, yea, as I was walking away from Madam Geneva with mezcal heating me all up in my midsection like a boiler, I realized that bar events are like playing a RPG. The more you walk around without a glass in your hand, the more you're just asking to trigger a battle sequence, a.k.a., having a drink put in your hand.

I mean, the way that mezcal encounter went down it would've gone something like this:

Little icon of me wandering around a map, all of the sudden!

[Sonya encounters a band from the Order of Booze]

Oh, noooooo! I totally don't have the experience points to get through this AND I'm outnumbered.

[Dram of mezcal thrown!..-10 HP!...+10 STR! +10 MP!]

Because if anything, mezcal would probably boost your magic points/mana and overall strength, but with the unfortunate side effect of taking some health points/stamina, amirite?

I littered glasses all over the bar all evening since I couldn't juggle a drink and a camera. I'd put down a glass, only to have another one thrust in my hand just a couple of minutes later.

I have to admit, it's kind of freakin' awesome.

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,, 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.