n. pl. things that interest Stewart P. Slocum

The Craft of Bartending Using Local Ingredients | Nick Strangeway | Pioneers in Mixology | Part Two

In Drinks, Innovation, Restaurant on March 31, 2011 at 4:00 pm

In the spirit of why the heck not, let’s begin with the end – Nick’s ace presentation on “Field-to-Glass” cocktails ended the day with an appropriate call to action, “guerrilla gardening,” but more on that later. “Field to Glass” seems the simplest of concepts at first brush: just use local and fresh ingredients, but then take a look at your local seasonal crop chart (click here for link to find yours).

Nick Strangeway's Fruit and Herbs for the Bar

A Strangeway Bar Set Up

Early April in New York, as I write this, offers a bounty of: potatoes, turnips, carrots and onions. Not exactly the most appetizing toolkit with which to craft a single cocktail, much less an entire menu of them. Undoubtedly your chart will have a few fallow periods as well, most likely October through May.

Still after a few minutes of explanation Nick has us bought & sold that local is the future, and it’s easily accomplished — with just a little planning. First, feature drinks that highlight the fruits in season. Okay, we’re off to an easy start.

Rather than run from the offseason challenge and buy produce from outside the United States (from where 39% of U.S.-consumed produce hails,) Nick presents strategies to extend local produce to overcome the lean times:

Milk Punches – Settle down class. It is an unusual solution, but Nick has rediscovered this Colonial method of preserving fruits with alcohol that dates back to at least the age of Charles Dickens, who kept more than 12 dozen jugs of the stuff in his basement. Punch has a lush history in Europe, early America and the voyage between the two, as a blessed libation for our pioneering Argonauts. Largely due to Nick’s influence, punches are reappearing ever more on the international cocktail scene. This is all fine & dandy for high-end lounges but what about the fruit in your local green market? Punches could be called the perfect drink for home entertaining as they can be made days & weeks in advance, as well as being hand-crafted, pour-&-serve, and at this point, still a novelty. Click the link for history & recipes.

Infusions – We’ve all seen the large fruit & vodka, or tequila, or spirit-of-the-moment, filled jars with spigots lining back bars, acting as much as design elements as ingredients. Nick’s advice: if you’re truly planning to use local ingredients in your drinks year round, embrace infusions to craft complex cocktails, not just as shooters or decor.

Freeze – What!?! How can one talk about freezing and “Field to Glass” in the same breath? High pectin fruits & berries hold up extremely well. We’re not talking strawberries here, but cherries, black currants and such. These can be used in sherbets to flavor drinks. One of my favorite cocktails hails from Local in Dallas. The name of the resto is purely coincidental to the subject of this post. It features sparkling Italian Rotari with a frozen ball of grapefruit-rosemary sorbet. As the sorbet melts with the carbonation in the glass, the bubbles initially carry the citrus notes and as the minutes pass the herbs come into play. It’s fantastic, an evolution in a glass.

Jams – Curiously, over the past two months I’d stumbled into the phenomenon of selecting a favorite spirit base & then an unusually flavored jam at Flatiron Lounge, one of Manhattan’s earliest mixology dens and a noted haven for media types. I guess I’m saying the leading edge is experimenting with this so expect to see this trend grow. Also Nick introduced the room to Shrubs, which are a fruit textured liqueur, extending the life & flavor of your local produce.

Cordials & liquors – Nettles, what the heck is he on about now? As an example of how far one could take this, Nick showed us a recipe of a nettle (an herbaceous stinging plant more common in Eurasia than America) cordial, which I’m assuming he’d prepared as a novelty. Might not be right for guests in your home or your clientele but perhaps there is something locally appropriate. I’ve heard of Dandelion beer.

All & all some good, not too difficult to achieve strategies for extending the harvesting season while embracing Field to Glass, what Nick was truly discussing is the trend of “Rurbanization,” his term, which he described as city dwellers either getting in touch with their roots or connecting with idyllic simplicity in their hectic world, essentially incorporating rural practices (real or conceptualized) into their urban lives.

In addition to the green/farmers’ market phenomenon, Nick spoke of the exponential growth of urban & community gardens, where city folk can get a plot of dirt for themselves as well as three more interesting concepts:

– Guerrilla Gardening: Finding public dirt & planting something you cannot readily find in your neighborhood, for instance Chocolate mint, Borage, Lemon Verbena or even Wormwood. Naturally his examples can all be used in the craft of cocktailery. A quick google search can connect you with a group, but a conversation with your nursery on what to plant is the way to go for the most independent of you.

– Foraging: A little like the inverse of Guerrilla Gardening, this is finding herbs & plants within your local neighborhood. As an example Nick served Gin with a liqueur made of Pine needles foraged from Central Park.  (Click link for Wild Man Steve Brill who conducts tours in Manhattan.)

– Yard Sharing: This is a concept I love and a true example of how the modern age embraces “Rurbanization.” Via the Internet, people with excess land (or just little interest in tending theirs) whether it be small garden or yard are connecting with those who want to garden & sharing costs & bounty. After a few hours searching for a local yard, I couldn’t find any in Flatiron in Manhattan so if you know of someone, please ping me. Still, an amazing concept.

Nick Strangeway at Pernod Ricard Pioneers in Mixlology

A blurry Nick tastes Nettle cordial

All & all, Nick disguised presenting simple solutions to serving fresh produce year round in the bar while truly having a larger call to action for bars to further embrace and support the communities in which they operate. Not a bad nightcap thought for a full day.

New York Community Gardening Resources:

New York Community Garden Coalition

Oasis NYC – Community Garden Map

More Gardens – Manhattan Community Garden List

  1. […] Check out Tony’s “Scientific Bartending” or Nick’s “Field to Glass” presentations. […]

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