Wine & Mixology: (Good) Bad Combination: Toilet Paper, Gender Issues, Sake, Beer, Wine, and Cocktails

Wine & Mixology: (Good) Bad Combination: Toilet Paper, Gender Issues, Sake, Beer, Wine, and Cocktails

Pairing Sake Out of the Bento Box

Roger Dagorn of Porter House discussing sake pairings

Roger Dagorn of Porter House discussing sake pairings

Roger Dagorn, renowned sake sommelier, introduced the world of sake today, and who knew the rice wine included such variety of sweet and dry, cloudy and clear, warm and cold, and even some bubbles. He started off by pairing Tsukinokatsura Junmai Daiginjo Sake with a Lobster Crudo with Peppery California Olive Oil. This “champagne” sake had aromas of buttermilk and chestnuts, and married nicely with the creamy notes of the dish, exemplifying the theory of pairing “like with like,” explained Dagorn. One of the crowd’s favorite pairings was the Venison Wrapped in Bacon with Oyster and Sea Urchin Foam. To show a synergy in opposites attracting, he paired this dish with Narutotai Junmai Dai Shu 1988 sake, whose aged notes of smoky funky moldy aromas brought out the funk and brine in the seafood. This was an amazing example of two components creating a third, even better creation. Further explaining the diversity of sake, Dagorn noted that in Japan, natives drink sake cold in summer and warm in winter, and sometimes leave rice residue in the wine for a cloudy more complex style. Another variety is sweet sake, which is what Americans would call off-dry, as it’s only slightly sweet. This one-hour workshop was just an introduction to a lesser known world of wine, but one that left us wanting more.

Burger Pairing Showdown: Beer vs. Wine

Does this burger deserve an ice cold beer or glass of wine? Fred Dexheimer and Michael McAvena battled it out during the Burger Pairing Showdown

Does this burger deserve an ice cold beer or glass of wine? Fred Dexheimer and Michael McAvena battled it out during the Burger Pairing Showdown

Most Americans are familiar with the combination of an ice-cold beer and a good old-fashioned hamburger. But with Adam Fleischman of Umami Burger at the grill, ICC attendees experienced the next level of burger and bun. Fleischman's burgers— merguez, duck confit, scallop, and truffle—called for something more special than a Bud. So Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer and second-level Cicerone (beer sommelier) Michael McAvena of The Publican in Chicago were enlisted to see if beer or wine was the better accompaniment. No clear winner emerged from the showdown, but the variety of beers (Hefeweissbier Dark, Russian Imperial Stout or Flanders Oud Bruin) showed caramel, fruit, nut and floral notes, while an equal variety of fruit, flowers ,and terroir shined in the wines. Fleischman noted that just like food, grains are cooked (toasted, caramelized, roasted, and burnt) and marry perfectly with almost any food. Dexheimer showed a variety of wine styles, and both sommeliers were happy to call it a draw, telling the audience to happily drink both with their burgers.

Ichi-go Ichi-e: The Art of Being in the Present Moment

Stanislav Vadrna explains his Japanese take on cocktails

Stanislav Vadrna explains his Japanese take on cocktails

One of the most metaphysically, psychologically, and spiritually tuned-in workshops in ICC history began with a roll of toilet paper. Stanislav Vadrna of the Analog Bartending Institute used the roll (his “best friend”) first to relax his audience (we each took as many squares as we wanted, and shared as many personal facts as we had squares) and then to introduce one of the core messages of his philosophy: humanity. Whether you’re a chef, a junkie, a celebrity, or a Slovakian bartender, “we all come from the same source”—and what better equalizer, what more humbling environment than the bathroom? The workshop was more about the concept of hospitality than the craft of the cocktail (though, Vadrna stressed, that must be perfected, if only so the tools, like the toilet paper, can become an “extension of your body”).

With the production of just one cocktail, a swizzle made with lemon, simple syrup, angostura bitters, mint, and Bulleit bourbon (a last minute stand-in for a Japanese whiskey being held in customs) Vadrna demonstrated how this industry depends on a fundamental and authentic connection to people. Beyond taking the toilet paper (which he advised attendees to keep, but not for the obvious reasons) Vadrna asked the audience to make eye contact, swizzling sexily, and touching foreheads—all in an effort to break down the barrier between the self and the presentation we typically give each other (especially customers). And from the jigger—which represents the past, the future, and the connecting NOW—to the Hawaiian “aloha” philosophy at the core of his beliefs, Vadrna finds meaning everywhere. And he applies it all in the present moment, because, as he concluded, “we’ll have this moment forever, but never again.”

Je Ne Sais Quoi: Feminine Finesse in Mixology

Ode to Aud cocktail from Naomi Schimek

Ode to Aud cocktail from Naomi Schimek

What happens when you combine four talented women, collective decades in the industry, gender issues, and booze? The final session of MIX@ICC, where Audrey Saunders, Christy Pope, Katie Stipe, and Naomi Schimek led a roomful of attendees of all hormonal varieties through their thought processes and roots in the industry—with an emphasis on the factor (if it’s a factor) of being a woman. Saunders, who came through the mixo-ranks in decidedly manlier times, never approached her craft through the gender lens, focusing instead on the science of the craft. And her presentation backed it up, with an explanation of the structure and aromatics of two cocktails, including her world-famous ode to Brits, the Early Grey Martini. She got an ode in return from Naomi Schimek, who flew in all the way from LA and came down squarely on the gender-neutral side of the question with her Ode to Aud, a drinkable manifestation of their shared love of florals with Japanese green tea-infused Millers Gin and a lavender foam (standing in for egg white and lavender essence). Saunders, for her part, identified the “je ne sais quoi” factor in the cocktail—Indole, a compound that’s found in jasmine and dirty diapers alike, that imparts a elusive, sexy funk. Christy Pope of Cuffs & Buttons explained how she basically learned the craft “backwards,” immersed in the meticulous craftsmanship of Milk & Honey before ever (and rarely) making her first Cosmo; her woody, chocolatey, chili-infused Hocus Pocus was also an ode to trailblazing Savoy barwoman Ada “Coley” Coleman’s Hanky Panky. And Katie Stipe’s Kindred Spirit showed off the seasonality she learned at Vandaag with years of experience (starting at Flatiron Lounge). Opinions were divided, sparked by apparently divisive concepts like “feminine intuition,” but the final conclusion—voiced by Stipe, and agreed upon by all, Martians and Venutians alike—was this: “at the end, you’re taking care of people.” (Women just might know how to do it better.)

by Emily Bell and Jeff Harding