2013 ICC Mixology Wrap-up

2013 ICC Mixology Wrap-up

Day 1: Getting in the Mix

Titans of (Beverage) Industry
Dale DeGroff of KingCocktail.com – New York, NY
Audrey Saunders of Pegu Club – New York, NY

Dale DeGroff discussing modern cocktails to a full audience
Dale DeGroff discussing modern cocktails to a full audience

“The story of the bartender has not changed since Pompei. What we serve has,” said Cocktail King Dale DeGroff to a room full of attentive and sipping ICC workshoppers. DeGroff and his esteemed protégé and cocktail titan in her own right, Audrey Saunders, shared stories about how they single-handedly popularized now ubiquitous back-of-bar items such as gin, vermouth, and even Luxardo cherries.

Both Saunders and DeGroff are at the point in their careers where their protégés have protégés. Having influenced generations of bartenders, they offered perspective on the nature of the job. “We’re historians, we’re creatives, we’re inventors,” said DeGroff. “These places, bars, are our communities,” added Saunders.

Saunders has a beverage school in the works for her sprawling 14-acre estate in Washington, complete with edible forest for foraging, solar panels, and hydroponic gardens.

Of all the Gin Joints in the World!
Joe Raya of Gin Join – Charleston, SC
Joe Raya tinkering with craft cocktail tinctures and cordials

We can confidently say South Carolina exports more than just Sean Brock and peaches. And luckily for those at Day 1's hands-on mixology workshop, Extraction for Attraction: Building Signature Cordials, we had on hand South Carolina’s latest spirits expert, Joe Raya of The Gin Joint and Bittermilk to craft custom cordials.

Raya, standing beside a veritable pantheon of cordials, syrups, infusions, and seemingly extravagant science projects, discussed various methods for creating cordials, which would easily propel any plain Jane cocktail to a belle of the ball status. Using a siphon filter, he infused toasted cedar chips into an alcohol solution. And with a distillation set designed for kids, he produced a dill cordial that was bright and vibrant. Raya may be a young man, but he is a true modern day mixologist with a depth of knowledge that spans far beyond his year's and a future as bright as his Devil’s Claw Cordial.

Day 2: Shake it like a Polaroid Picture

The Keg Keepers and the Business of Draught Cocktails
Tad Carducci and Paul Tanguay of Tippling Bros. – New York, NY

Tad Carducci pouring George Dickel Tennessee Sour Mash Whisky
Tad Carducci pouring George Dickel Tennessee Sour Mash Whisky

Tad Carducci and Paul Tanguay may be (tippling) brothers in name only, but they are bonded by something that most assuredly runs thicker than water: kegged cocktails. Carducci and Tanguay—the self-christened Tippling Bros.—with decades in the industry between them, brought their keg cocktail savvy to the mixology room to wrap-up Monday’s cocktail program.

“How many people here have been to a mixology bar and waited 20 minutes for a cocktail?” asked Tanguay as the duo served cocktails to a room packed with thirsting attendees. The Bros.’ goal is to maintain the integrity of the craft cocktail via the keg delivery system. On Friday nights at Tavernita, one of their Chicago hot spots, they use three bartenders to serve the city’s efficiency-oriented throngs. Not that it’s all batch-and-forget. As fast as service might be, it took Carducci and Tanguay a substantial amount of time to work out the kinks: agitation, dilution (to maintain authentic cocktail “behavior”), sanitation, freshness, ingredients, etc. And it’s still a work in progress, inevitably, but a very successful one.

As a final flourish, the Tippling Bros. had one attendee prepare three of the Devil’s Claim (their batched, spicy take on a Gold Rush) while Carducci made three from scratch. The difference—23 seconds—added up to 26 hours per month. Assuming quality is there (a must, otherwise you’re left with a massive amount of kegged, unusable cocktails), that’s a winning formula.

My Sherry Amor: Cocktails and Ibérico Love
Derek Brown of Mockingbird Hill – Washington, D.C.
Cortador Mario Hiraldo Regalado of Brindisa Ltd. – London, England

Sherry and jamón. The O.T., Original Tapa, or so we learned today as Sherry-champion Derek Brown and esteemed Cortador Mario Hiraldo Regalado took a packed mixology room through the histories and, most importantly, the culinary intersections of two classic Spanish ingredients. (The original tapa, by the way, came about when a wise Spaniard thought to use a slice of jamón—or bread, in some versions of the origin story—to cover and protect his Sherry; “tapa” means “cover”). This really wasn’t a history lesson so much as a sermon, with Brown and Regalado exalting the glories of their respective (and mutual) passions.

“Most people have an idea about Sherry,” Brown began, “that is completely wrong.” He sought to correct any misconceptions over the course of our hour and fifteen. First, attendees tasted an incredibly light, complex Tio Pepe Fino—a dry style made with the Palomino grape. It’s typically characterized by what Brown calls the “three F-words”: fortified (to 15 percent alcohol by volume, lighter than it often tastes); flor (the protective yeast cover that prevents and/or yields oxidization, depending on Sherry style); and fractional blending (the solera system by which Sherry is made).

That glass was enough to convert most: a subtly sweet, almost honeyed nose followed up with a dry, nutty, bracing finish—palate cleansing. When paired with Regalado’s four cuts of Ibérico (varying in flavor, salt, and silken fat, depending on where they were cut from the leg) attendees ascended into salty-sweet heaven.

Brown covered as much as he could of the categorical complexity of Sherry. He poured two Sherry cocktails that exemplify how Sherry’s various characteristics (nuttiness, salinity, caramelization, etc.) practically beg for inclusion in structured cocktails. Behold The Adonis, like a Manhattan made with Amontillado but lighter and dangerously drinkable (but coming in at a much lower ABV).

Brown’s PX Sweet Tea (a hit in a crowd made up of about 50 percent Southerners) was a testament to the power of sweeter Sherry to replace sweeteners in cocktails. We warmed jamón on the backs of our hands to bring it to room temperature to eat with our tea.

The takeaway: “Sherry is the best thing in the world,” more complex than you know, hardly a fad (it was on the ship with Christopher Columbus), and prime for expansion in beverage programs. It doesn’t hurt that Brown’s Sherry-centric Mockingbird Hill is busy converting D.C. power-players.

Cocktail Innovations at barmini
Juan Coronado of barmini by José Andrés – Miami

Juan Coronado charging a cocktail glass with smoke

If you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t met Juan Coronado, the Master Mixo himself. Coronado, who came up to New York City from his “cocktail lab” at barmini in Washington, D.C., brought all his zest, expertise, skills, charm, and joie de vivre to ICC on Day 2. “Cocktails can be just as powerful as food when it comes to creating memories,” he said as he shared his do's and don’ts for exploring the boundaries of the bar, all while mixing and doling out cocktails to a thirsty crowd. He invited us down the cocktail rabbit hole.

Coronado declared that the end of a cocktail should actually be the starting point—the final goal being to “always surprise the guests’ palette”. Whether it’s substituting the sugar cube in an Old Fashioned with cotton candy, adding agar agar to Sazerac, or creating a brand new toasted peanut inspired cocktail to an already prolific repertoire (he’s got 110 cocktails on his menu at barmini), the process is just a means to that end.

He explained that for bartenders, complexity should be paramount. The more flavors, colors, and “serial ideas” that they embrace, the more they will be able to cultivate a true craft cocktail culture. Along with the flavors, the aroma, temperature, and “looks” of the composed drink are equally crucial. “If a cocktail isn’t sexy, I don’t want it.” He went on to stress the importance of the seasonality of ingredients—not only does he visit the farmer’s market every Thursday, but he has dedicated a lot of time to learning about plums and apples from different trees. Each one has a different flavour, a different subtlety and so, a different use (infusions, syrups, garnishes).

Coronado took us for a magical, mystery tour through his Alice in Wonderland world of infusions, extractions, Rotovaps, CO2, “clouds”, and smoke, and brought us out on the other side in an intoxicated headiness, armed with powerful memories indeed.

Day 3: Pisco, Whisky, and Bourbon Rule the Day

The Zombie: What One Rum Can’t Do, Three Can
Brian Miller of Tiki Mondays with Miller at Mother's Ruin – New York, NY
Ryan Liloia of Clover Club – Brooklyn, NY

Bartender, tiki God, and rum advocate Brian Miller of NYCs Mother’s Ruin cares about what you drink. That much came across emphatically in his rum workshop with Ryan Liloia of Clover Club, a fellow tiki proselytizer. With the added support of energetic Puerto Rican Rums ambassador Esteban Ordonez, the duo preached the gospel of rum to a willing, largely industry-entrenched, but still rum-confused crowd.

The point that Miller, Liloia, and Ordonez continually clarified is that rum—often maligned as a main ingredient in too sweet fruit-juicy drinks and daiquiris—is indeed as complex and cocktail- and sip-worthy as Scotch, bourbon, and mezcal. (Two important points of differentiation: rum is made with any sugar-authentic product, anywhere on earth, hence the variety, plentitude, and regional pride.)

Starting with a bright but surprisingly anchored San Juan Swizzle, we sipped our way into two Puerto Rican rums: DonQ Anejo and Ron del Barrilito Three Star. Two Zombie cocktails were mixed and served while the history of Don the Beachcomber—the originator of the drink—was told. We tasted our way through rums and Don’s original 1934 Zombie Punch recipe, complete with Puerto Rican gold, dark Jamaican, and Demerrera. The emphasis was on our palates—not simply because Miller and Liloia are good bartenders, but because they know rum producers are constantly aiming to gauge consumer palates. The takeaway lesson: train your palate, and/or liver, like a muscle. And respect rum. “I’m the parent that has chosen his favorite child,” the saronged Miller professed.

After a tasting that varied from woody, leathery caramel notes (the Barralito) to tropical, spice-inflected highlights of banana, pineapple, and vanilla (the DonQ), we all understood the rum favoritism. Don the Beachcomber’s recommends a limit of two Zombies, but rules are made to be broken. Salud!

The Business of Bartender’s Choice
Meaghan Dorman of Raines Law Room – New York, NY
Theo Lieberman of Milk and Honey – New York, NY

Meaghan Doorman and Theo Lieberman teaching the art of bartender's choice
Meaghan Doorman and Theo Lieberman teaching the art of bartender's choice

On Day 3 of ICC, the humble and endlessly talented Meaghan Dorman, along with her quickly rising protégé Theo Lieberman, brought their experience with bartender’s choice programs to a group of eager restaurant owners and fellow mixologists. Like two old friends finishing each other’s sentences, they walked attendees through how to “build a relationship,” train your staff, and consider the well-being of your patrons.

The main premise behind bartender’s choice is to bring the customer into the conversation that many bartenders and owners have behind closed doors, basically flat-out asking a customer, “What is the best way for us to give you the best experience.” Lieberman, describing it as building a relationship with your customers, provided a quick overview of how Milk & Honey does it.

During service, he introduces himself and explains that the bar doesn’t have a menu, but “we would be more than happy to find something for you. What kind of spirit do you prefer? Do you like citrus or spirit-forward drinks? Do you usually prefer something shaken or stirred?” Dorman follows a similar approach but offers a printed menu, as well. From this starting point, the customer is engaged and feels part of the creative process. Both Dorman and Lieberman have a laundry list of hundreds of cocktails their employees commit to memory. At the drop of a dime, they can cycle through variations on variations to find something customers will enjoy. They don’t always get it right, maybe getting one or two send-backs a night, but rest assured the customer leaves happy. To deal with costs and supply, Milk & Honey skips a digital POS system and does things the old fashioned way. Dorman separates her regular menu from the bartender’s choice program and provides slight variations of classic cocktails as options for her staff to sell.

And the final point they made, and one that many bartenders may never consider: keep your patrons safe and happy during their experience at the bar. By creating master documents of cocktails that employees must learn, they are able to analyze the ABV of each cocktail. Those with lower ABV are recommended to patrons who may be on the edge of ruining their night and the night of those around them.

Contributing Writers: Emily Bell, Dan Catinella, and Sean Kenniff

Photos by: Anna Beeke, Clay Williams, Ellen Wolff, Ester Soligue, John Keon, Ken Goodman, Laura Thompson, Mark Kohlman, and Shannon Sturgis