Thrills & No Spills
So it seems that most of the news you read these days is bad with credit crunch, global depression and a general sense of unease and worry… well we at Alconomics only have good things to say and tell you about so consider this a Pick-Me-Up with a chaser of good stuff! As we travel around we still see so much to wonder at and so much we feel the need to share and shout about… from great drinks to awesome bars and bartenders and innovation aplenty.
As many of you know already the fact that I am tall, cool and filled with great gin has finally been recognised and I have been appointed the Global Ambassador for the House of Tanqueray. In practice this means I speed around the world talking all things juniper. From Genever to Old Tom to London Dry to 21st Century gins I am doing my bit to spread the good word and show how gin is in again. For many years Gin was a rather moribund category for several reasons – people seemed to forget the vast repertoire of servings for gin and fell back on the G&T and the Dry Martini and also the lack of innovation in the category meant that the only brands we had were the same brands that our parents drank which frightened the ‘cool kids’ off.
Now however we have a plethora of new brands and new styles and also as we see the renaissance of Bartending we are seeing increased interest in old drinks and also the brightness that gin gives drinks. From Red Snappers to Basil Smashes and premium tonic waters the great bars of the world are smelling of aromatic juniper, coriander and angelica how would we know? Cos we have been to them!
And not all of them are the usual suspects. I have as always managed to find some hidden beauties that I would definitely add to my (long) list of Must-Visit bars for bartenders and drinkers alike in the world.
Widder Bar in Zurich is one such bar. Expertly managed by Markus Blattner this bar is dominated by a back bar to die for a huge range of Whiskies for sure but also a discerningly collected array of lovely liquids that are equally expertly served by a great team who said the Swiss just did banking well?
Also a new one to me is the BarFlys Club in Vienna. Set up over 30 years ago by Mario Castillo this American Bar has a huge amount of very cool spirits (I always like to see Makers Mark Black label.. sort of a touchstone of good bars for me) and the feel of a real drinkers bar. Also in Vienna I finally managed to spend time in Halbestadt Bar with the great Erich Wassiczek and in between making Tanqueray Ten Sazeracs and sampling delicious Vermouths made by a local religious order (love the monks and their various potions and potations) I was reminded that size is not important.
But I haven’t just been hanging out in bars I was lucky enough to spend some time in the studio doing s ome filming. Now it has often been said that I have a face for radio but the fine folks at Diageos Reserve Brands decided I rated a position as one of the bar worlds Magnificent Seven and included me in a video to promote their World Class Cocktail Competition. A day with such luminaries as Michael Menegos, Peter Dorelli, Hidetsugu Ueno (see Sams bit later), Gary Regan and others in front of a green screen and with special FX guys aplenty the results are as awesome as the competition itself well worth watching even tho I am in it.
I have also been playing about a lot with technology and in particular my iPhone. Now it has always been a good posing device but now it has numerous great cocktail Apps on it. Cheryl Charming, CocktailDB, Diffords Guides and even our hero Gary Regan have developed useful little programs and I am flattered to say I feature in some way on two of them tho I wont spoil it by saying which just go and get them and enjoy them.
My travelling as always has allowed me to meet some great people. My 24 hours in St Martin in the Caribbean (judging the Domaine de Canton bar chef cocktail finals) allowed me to meet Doug Frost, one of only three people to simultaneously hold the Master Sommelier and Master of Wine accreditation and makes me want to attend the BAR Program even more it must be the best bartending course and qualification on the planet. Also meeting such US bartending up-and-comers such as Adam Seger, Todd Thrasher and (eventual winner and chum) John Lemayer was great and I even managed to catch up with Vegass top bar consultant Tobin Ellis again after ten years
Finally I have been hanging out a lot online mainly on Chanticleer which is the new incarnation of the old DrinkBoy forum and is the coolest spot on the interweb for those of a mixological bent very very cool.
What does the future hold for me tho? Lots of good stuff, the highlights of which are all New Orleans based Firstly I am honoured to have been invited to speak at the Museum of the American Cocktail in June where I will be expounding on The Global Cocktail Bar Phenomenon to a terrifyingly knowledgeable crowd of NOLA residents and then just for good measure heading back there for six (yes, SIX!) talks at Tales of the Cocktail in July its a good thing I can talk eh?
And on that note I will shut up and let the other esteemed Alconomics faculty members have a go
My highlights for this month focus on the innovation of Tokyo and the small but positive growth of the Taipei bar scene.
Tokyo Innovation Taisin Ice Sphere Mold
This months visit to Tokyo introduced me to the producers of the Taisin Ice Mold and gave me the opportunity to see for myself the ease of ice sphere making due to the metallurgic magic of proprietary alloys (!).
The trend to focus on ice purity, clarity, density and quality has long been established in Japan due to the culture of Sushi and the importance of ice recognized as a factor in the freshness and quality of the fish brought to table. The respect for ice transferred into the drinks industry after WWII and the emergence of the cocktail throughout Japan. The rest of the world is following suit at various speeds and ice programs are establishing themselves in many of the best bars to compliment spirits and drinks of quality. But in Japan, excellence in ice comes as standard.
Without the history of ice carving craft found in Japan, the rest of us have struggled to show the attention to detail the Ginza bartender allocates to ice. But struggle no more. Available in a variety of sizes the Taisin ice mold works by melting a cube into a perfect sphere to fit into a rocks glass with millimeter precision offering slower dilution, temperature reduction and eye catching aesthetics. The process takes 45 seconds and requires no skill on the part of the bartender or server. A simple but expensive innovation that replicates the end result of ice carving without the years of apprenticeship training perfect for the instant gratification of the western bartender. I bought one on the spot and ordered more for hotel clients of Alconomics. View this cool piece of kit in action here and orders are available through Sam, Pete or Angus @alconomics.com .
Bartending Innovator Hidetsugu Ueno
Playing an enormous role in Japans bartending and ice carving world is Ueno-san, owner and bartender at High-Five Bar, Ginza. Having appeared with Angus on Tanqueray No. Ten’s viral competition invite video The Magnificent 7, I had heard of Ueno-san before, but it hadnt prepared me for the inspiring impression he left me with.
An innovator himself, Ueno-san seamlessly combines the best thoughts and practice of Japanese and global bar styles to create new techniques and bar skills. Famed for his ability to carve ice into perfect spheres and diamonds the size of baseballs Ueno-san is a figure of fame and stature in Japans bar world. But it wasnt the ice carving alone that got me (though it is an awesome sight to watch). The plastic shakers (my drink was made in a Tupperware box!), the small hand-held electric whisker and larger hand blender were used in every drink containing citrus, cream or fresh fruit. As explained to me, muddling alone does not combine the fruits sugars and alcohols as well as hand blending. Both whisking and blending unify flavor and increase the aeration of the drink prior to shaking, achieving maximum flavor and froth with little dilution. Next comes the shaker, a 3-piece Japanese standard, the larger Continental and the US Boston shakers are all used alongside the quirky acrylic shaker. Choice of shaker depends on the drink being made, the style of shake needed for the cocktail and the rigidity of the shakers materials in damaging or chipping the ice during production.
Aside from the gracious hosting I was treated to an awesome fresh fruited virgin Colada and Kumquat Sour (I was off the sauce that day). Both drinks utilized the whisker, blender and acrylic 3 piece, shaken with a solitary hand cracked ice cube to chill the mixture while offering minimal dilution. Ueno-san has even developed a shaking style for the acrylic shaker that stops the ice in the shaker from touching the top and bottom of the vessel in a further effort to minimize dilution.
Ueno-san is owner in resident of High-Five Bar and can be found there 6 nights a week. You may also find him at the Hong Kong Hofex in early May and the Paris BarShow. A genius and friend to Alconomics and certainly providing the highlight of my trip, Ueno-san is helping to open up the once-closed world of Japanese bartending with inspiring results.
Positive Growth – Taipei
Having seen the empty bar stools, vacant dance floors and tell-tale signs of recession from Tokyo to Beijing in recent times, it is refreshing to see the growth of one of Taipeis most successful lounge bar.
Alconomics has had a long history with Barcode, found on the 5th floor of Neo 19 building in Shin Yi, Taipei under the shadow of the enormous 101 building. Part of a group that also owns Room 18, Baby 18, Barcode Taipei and Barcode Kaochung, owner Turtle has always had an eye for detail. Seeing the current climate of the hospitality industry as an opportunity rather than cause for concern, and while many competitors are closing down temporarily or otherwise, Barcode is on the up and opening its doors on April 3rd to a new Members Bar / annex named The Den.
The Den is a way to increase the customer experience of Barcode whose only real flaw is the level of custom at weekends. Packed to the rafters most Fridays and Saturdays, speed of service and sheer volume can occasionally outweigh customer service. With a capacity of 140 The Den offers a fireplace setting, cozy sofa seating, its own sound system and DJ booth as well as access to a 100 capacity terrace to ease the strain on Barcode allowing greater customer service in all areas and on busy nights. The Dens drinks menu is small but concise offering 13 classic cocktails with innovative variations in cut glass and crystal stemware. The speed rail and spirit selection raises the bar with Grey Goose, Patron, Dewars 18 and Bacardi 8 as standard serves. Try their Corpse Reviver #2 with 50ml Tanqueray No.Ten, 15ml Cointreau, 20ml fresh lemon juice and 2 drops of Absinthe shaken and strained served up and cold. A serious drink from seriously good bartenders.
Barcode is not the only Taiwanese bar/group to expand with success in recent times. Brown Sugar live Jazz Club on Song Ren Lu Taipei opened its Shanghai operation with amazing success and fanfare at the end of 2008. As success is achieved in Taipeis small but influential market, expansion plans favor Shanghais bustling nightlife, but it is not all a brain drain and one way traffic out of Taipei. Hong Kongs successful Red Bar in IFC building Central sees the comparative recession-proof Taipei as the venue for their latest operation opening in June 09.
Stay tuned for confirmation of Barcode opening an overseas operation in the summer months, and if you ever have the inclination, I recommend visiting Taipei and its growing reputation as a drinkers destination.
The Month Ahead
When in Taipei you can find me most nights with the Den and BarCode team. From the 15th April to 1st May I will leave Taipei and be in Singapore (15th -26th ) Thailand (27th and 28th) Hong Kong (29th 1st May). The travelling is to promote the Belvedere Beat campaign for client Moet Hennessy and the launch of their new nightlife vodka Belvedere 1X. Visit www.belvedereix.com for dates details and info on this unique vodka and its launch date in your market.
In recent months Alconomics Asia have secured a contract with an international boutique hotel group opening their exciting and lavish new project in HK at the end of the summer. I will be bartender in resident at this new venture relocating back to Hong Kong in the months ahead. Names of operation, bar and hotel group will follow in subsequent newsletters. We are very excited to be in venue and will invite all and more to come and share a drink and an evening with us at . Oops, almost gave it away!
Since the New Year my travel load has increased dramatically. I am in Beijing, Hong Kong, Chengdu and South China a lot more now with trainings, consumer sessions and product launches galore. We have also further developed our journalistic relationship with DRINK Magazine in Asia increasing our influence over the Asian bar scene. Not a good time to be an economist but exciting times for an Alconomist!
One of my recent travel highlights was a trip to Mexico on a Tequila discovery tour that took place just after Chinese New Year. Tequila has been my sprit of choice for as long as I can remember and this trip was my first to Mexico so, as I am sure you can imagine, I viewed this trip as a Spiritual Home-coming.
Having been training bartenders around Asia on Tequila for about four years now, it was fantastic to finally do what Id been training on for so long to assault the Pencas (spikes) on a Pina (heart of the agave) with a borrowed Coa(sharp long handled knife), to taste the Mosto (fermented agave nectar) from the tanks, to get stung by an agave nectar-swilling honey bee, to smell the heavenly aromas of the aging houses and to have no Excessive Product Loyalty (hang-over) after sharing a 1.75 litre bottle of Reposado with a Master Distiller. Money cant buy priceless experiences like that so I consider myself to be very privileged indeed!
One of the highlights for me was the extraordinary openness I was allowed while asking questions to the distillery teams. I had many questions regarding Tequila that I had never been able to find the answers to in books and my thirst for knowledge was not left unfulfilled. For instance, I was unaware that some Agave fields are left un-weeded to provide extra stress on the Agave plants allowing for more complex sugars to form, that some tequila producers actually make a different spirit for their Blanco, Reposado and Anejo variants and that dried cooked Pina slices are often handed out to the local kids as a street snack cool!
It is a fantastic and rare experience to trace any sprit through from field to bottle and in Mexico I was allowed just this. I was walked through the Agave fields looking for ready and ripe Agaves (you can tell they are ready if the leaves are starting to turn brown) after which I harvested one or two leaving the rest to the professionals a back-breaking job that Jimadors make look ridiculously easy.
We then went down to the distillery with our Pinas ready to be chopped, cooked and crushed. I that many may have of a Tequila distillery is that of a rough and ready place, dirty, unkempt and ultimately backward when compared to modern, western distilleries. Let me dispel this stereotype now, the distilleries that I visited were a shining example of hygiene, high standards and perfection in pursuit of the ultimate spirit.
The Pinas are all hand cut to ensure even sizes with the Collogoyos (the fibrous tops to the female plants) trimmed exactly to guarantee only the finest sugars are allowed through to the cooking and fermentation stages.
The fermentation is in tanks using proprietary yeasts and I was allowed to taste the Mosto straight from these tanks (an honour I was not given in Scotland, France or any of the rum distilleries I have been to) which tasted sweet, honeyed and almost like a wheat beer. As it had active yeast in it I did need a cast-iron constitution, but it was worth it!
Tasting spirits from a still is something I havent done since visiting gin distilleries a few years ago and it is a truly heady experience. You never forget the head rush and subsequent buzz from still-strength alcohols and when containing agave flavours, it is a full-on and heavenly feeling if I could have felt my tongue, Im sure angels would have been dancing on it!
The aging warehouses were also a smell to behold. Canadian, American and French oaks are used in Mexico and the smells in the barrelhouses are a reason for anyone to get up in morning rich, sweet, agaved and spicy. Many of the warehouses are now climate controlled with water mists and cooling units to reduce the angels share which used to be as high as 20% per year for some producers. Through these measures, a constant 5% per year is maintained keeping more of it for the likes of you and me.
I was treated like family by my Mexican hosts who not only opened the world of tequila to me but also encouraged my enjoyment of everything from Sombrero touting Mariachi bands to Guadalajaras funkier night clubs. Mexico is a place I will be returning to for a longer spell to see more its rich and beautiful culture and generous, welcoming people. As 100% agave Tequila is on the rise the world over, Asia will be enjoying more of it and I hope to be at the front of the queue when it arrives!
Coincidentally, a new 100% agave tequila has now arrived in Asia. Last week saw the launch of Tequila Don Julio in Hong Kong with the Global Brand Ambassador, Brain Van Flandern. His visit was a huge success and I hope to see the availability and enjoyment of quality tequilas spread throughout Asia with the launch of the Mexican Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong and China. Through pure luck, the MexCham was having its launch party during the same week as Don Julio so the two teamed up for the event with 60 of Hong Kongs most imminent Mexicans toasting to the success of Mexico, all things Latin American and Tequila Don Julio! Salut!
Other than Mexico and tequila, I have been getting back into bartending. It is something that I have done increasingly less of over the past few years and it has been refreshing to get back behind the stick every Thursday in M1NT Club, Shanghai. They are busy launching a Martini Night in association with Ketel 1 Vodka and Tanqueray Gin and have requested my presence as a guest bartender much to my delight. I had almost forgotten how much fun bartending is and cant wait for Alconomics to one day have our own bar! Dare I say, it, watch this space In the meantime, M1NT tell me they are looking at new sites in Beijing and other cities around China so their particular brand of party will be available through the Middle Kingdom soon.
Ive also been writing for DRINK magazine, a new Shanghai based industry magazine run by Theo Watt and Dan Bignold. It is an industry magazine written specifically for the Asian market and is published in dual-language. With articles on Balancing Drinks, Service Procedures, Knowledge, What it Means to Sam and Myself to be Bartenders and the latest one on Speed, Alconomics Asia is spreading, diversifying and influencing bartenders more then ever before.
Angus, Sam and Peter
ps on a sad note we must call for a minutes silence for the demise of LeNell Smother’s Red Hook Liquor store due to property development… tho it looks like it wasn’t a miserable affair!