Part 1: Smart Bars
I’ve been in Seattle for the past four days, here to attend the BARSmarts Live day which took place on Tuesday (yesterday). It’s certainly a relief to have the testing behind me, in particular the practical exam, which was certainly the most intense part of the program, least ways for someone like me not used to performing behind a bar day after day. More about all of that in my next post.
To be sure, when not studying or attending the Live day, I made what I think was very good use of my time here by visiting as many of the LCL bars and bartenders as I could. My guide was Ted Munat, the brainfather (?) of Left Coast Libations and the force behind Le Mixeur. (Ted’s also took BARSmarts with me so we liked to tell each other we were actually studying when we got together for cocktails on Sunday and Monday. Actually I just made that up. We had no such pretense.) Here now are some notes and photos from those visits.
Jamie Boudreau @ Knee High Stocking Company
Our first stop last night was the small and speakeasy-like Knee High Stocking Company where Jamie Boudreau is currently working. It was my first time watching him work (other than when he made cocktails for the Creme d’Yvette launch at Tales last year…we’re still waiting for product) and certainly the first time getting to try so many of his original cocktails. Most stunning of the batch was something he made for Ted using Pacifique absinthe in which an entire pineapple had been allowed to macerate ala Tequila Por Mi Amante. We tried some of this lovely stuff straight and it was simply delicious. The pineapple really complemented the herbaceous absinthe, the proof of which had been tamed by all the juice it had extracted from the fruit. I would definitely like to try this at home some time.
Here’s a couple of photos of Jamie at work. Note his incredibly swift and fluid stirring technique, just barely caught on camera.
Anu Apte @ Rob Roy
After consuming a few more of Mr. Boudreau’s ‘work in progress’ cocktails (one with topped with a delicious maple foam) we
staggered made our way over to Rob Roy for a visit with Anu Apte who was working a solo shift. Anu and Zane bought Rob Roy a few months back and have been working really hard to turn it into a first-class cocktail destination. One of the things they’ve started doing is buying large blocks of ice which they then saw up to make “blanks” for carving ice balls for serving brown spirits. Here’s a shot of Anu making one for me:
In addition to the ice balls, Anu and Zane are also provisioning something you just don’t see in too many places any more, fresh cut seasonal produce in the urinals:
I can only assume this is organic or at least pesticide-free.
They’ve also seen fit to publish many classic cocktail recipes on the walls behind the urinals. Here, for example, is the recipe for an Old Fashioned:
Before I left Anu honored me by handing me one of the silver markers and allowing me to add a cocktail recipe to the collection. Visitors to the restroom will now note a recipe for the Brooklyn on the mirror to the left of the sinks.
Robert Rowland @ Oliver’s Twist
Ted used to live within walking distance of this bar, situated in the homey Phinney Ridge neighborhood of Seattle, across the river from the city center. The place has a definitely ‘locals mostly’ kind of vibe but Robert’s cocktail program really makes it a worthwhile destination. I had met Robert when he was visiting San Francisco the weekend we did the photo shoot for the book. He never seemed quite ‘at home’ when behind the bar at Flora or Beretta where he was guest bartending. But at Oliver’s he was clearly the master of his domain. Here’s a photo of him demonstrating his ability to adjust his opacity to suit any situation. Handy, dude!
Jim Romdall @ Vessel
There was a party at Rob Roy on Monday, hosted by Pernod Ricard for the BARSmarts folks. Quite the blast to be sure. A bunch of us remained cogent enough to head over to Vessel afterward. It was my first time there and I was not disappointed. However, I did fail to take a good photo of Jim or any of the cocktails I had. I know one was the Vessel 75 but I can’t recall the others. I think in part that’s because two spirits took possession of me while I was there. The first was half an ounce of LeNell Smothers’s legendary Red Hook rye. I had never even seen a bottle of this before. I knew it had been sourced from KBD, same as the Black Maple Hill bottles but Jim felt pretty sure it wasn’t from the same set of barrels. It was quite delicious.
The second was downing a shot of Fernet which had been ‘enhanced’ using Vessel’s Perlini Carbonated Cocktail System. Jacking the bitter bartender’s shot with CO2 gave it slight froth, a bit like root beer. Went down really smooth.
Oh, and this is kind of random, but Jim had mixed up some kind of potion using edible metallic powder from a baking supply store to make cocktails for some metal working/smelting group or thing or whatever. Anyway, when you swirl the bottle around it looks like a storm on Jupiter.
Andrew Bohrer @ Mistral Kitchen
I had really been looking forward to meeting Andrew. I loved making his cocktails for the book and I am a big fan of his blog, Cask Strength. Even after all the great drinking I’d done in the previous two days, Andrew’s cocktails were all standouts. Andrew started out by making me a couple of things from the menu: the Bergamot Blue Blazer (made with Earl Grey tea, served in a tea cup, accompanied by a couple of little shortbreads) and a Bee’s Knees, made with some kind of lavender syrup. Damn fine. (And what’s with the Seattle obsession with the Blue Blazer? No one makes these down here, let alone making them a regular offering on a cocktail menu.) The next two cocktails were even more exciting.
First I requested one of the cocktails from the Left Coast Libations, Ueno San, named in honor of the Japanese master bartender Hidetsugu Ueno, famous for, among other skills, his hand-carved ice balls. Andrew of course serves the Ueno San cocktail over a hand-carved ice ball, a skill he apparently learned from Ueno-san himself. (I should mention that Andrew buys ice with Anu and Zane for this purpose. He had a little freezer full of pre-sized blocks which he trimmed down as needed into lovely spheres or faceted gems.) Here’s a photo which unfortunately fails to show this drink off very well. There’s a long wide peel from most of one orange spiraled around the ice ball.
Second, I spied a bottle of the grappa-based liqueur from B. Nardini in Italy called Tagiatella, which is made with cherry and other flavorings and which has little or nothing to do with the similarly named pasta shape, tagliatelle. Andrew wasn’t content to simply give me a taste when I asked him about it. Instead he concocted what turned out to be an amazing flip. I was truly blown away by how good it tasted. I’m pretty sure the primary alcohol was the 6-year-old Russell’s reserve rye. I am definitely going to try to recreate this one at home.
Murray Stenson @ Zig Zag Cafe
After completing BARSmarts Live on Tuesday, most everyone found themselves at Zig Zag Cafe by then end of the evening where the legendary Murray Stenson was on task. I had never seen Murray work before and I have to say the man is something of a machine. There are like 15 or so seats at the bar plus all the folks milling around at the tables. Murray was handling all of it. I thought Andrew Bohrer works hard and moves fast (and, man, he does) but Murray puts him to shame.