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Posts Tagged ‘Tony Conigliaro’

Cutting Edge Mixology Techniques | Tony Conigliaro | Pioneers in Mixology | Part Three

In Chefs, Drinks, Innovation, Restaurant on April 12, 2011 at 11:32 am

The relaxed Zen attitude suddenly shifted to a much more zestful spirit for the Mixologists in attendance. This session promised to make accessible the leading-edge techniques that Tony, who has a reputation for turning the cocktailery world on its head, is exploring.

With his jovial British air, he introduced the methods he’d be covering: Aromas,
Rota Evaporation, Why Ingredients Go Together and The Vintage Manhattan, whatever that might be!

1/ Aromas
Parallel to the culinary world, aroma makes up 80% of the flavor in beverages. In everyday bar use, you experience this aroma emphasis via zest garnish, vermouth misting and such flairs. Tony takes a twofold approach to pushing the envelope of aroma: 1/ referencing the world of alchemists and perfumery as inspiration, and 2/ applying science to crafting aromas in cocktails – specifically using herbs, which can become liquid ingredients when their essences are absorbed in alcohols, waters and oils.

As an extreme example, Tony held up a simple egg, the froth of which is used in many classic cocktails like the Peruvian Pisco Sour. The shell is semi-permeable. This got Tony to thinking about how to infuse these froths with flavor before even cracking and whipping the egg. After experimentation, he landed on a process of MacGyver-ian straightforwardness. Place a few drops of herb essence on the cardboard container of your eggs, store in airtight Tupperware refrigerated over night. Suddenly, he presented Calvados (an apple Brandy from Northern France), sour mix, added lemon and an egg-froth with a distinct hay flavor. He had infused the egg froth with an essence of cut grass. Even knowing what was coming, the taste turned out to be an incredibly surprising and pleasant experience.

From the perfumery world, he explained that in cocktails there are also Top, Middle and Base notes, which is why both perfumes and cocktail aromas can “unfold.” These note demarcations come from molecule size – citrus lighter, wood notes heavier. This thinking inspired an infamous cocktail Tony created, the Chanel No. 5.

While the name of the cocktail is no longer in existence (thanks to a call from the attorneys at a certain renowned fashion house), you can still make a wonderful Rose Champagne cocktail, a rose cocktail by another name.

Add a few drops of Rose essence (in essential oil, which can be broken down with a strong neutral spirit, like Everclear) to a sugar cube and drop into a glass of champagne. The champagne is filled with carbon dioxide, the sugar (which has been infused with Rose essence) activates the carbon dioxide, pushing the Rose flavor through the cocktail. It’s a drink that literally blooms Rose flavor as one imbibes.

Where oils do not mix very well with water, there are Hydrosols, water-based essences, made by distilling the essential oil through a still and suspending in water to be used in aroma exploration.  So see, not complex at all.

2/ Rota Evaporation
Honestly, it looks like something from Doctor Frankenstein’s lab and is a contraption that could set you back $6000 – $7000, but it has been used to amazing effect in the culinary world at places like Alinea in Chicago and both El Celler de Can Roca and el Bulli in Spain. With Tony, the beverage world is not far behind.

Rota Vap Rotary Evaporator Tony Conigliaro

RotaVap | Under (reduced) Pressure

What a Rota Evaporator does is distill liquid under a vacuum, which lowers the boiling point, allowing ingredients to evaporate at lower temperatures. This maintains the integrity of the initial liquid – no denigration. Got it? Well, what does all that mean?

Things like horseradish vodka can be whipped up for spectacular Bloody Marys.

With a Rota Evaporator, the distillation process can make straight distillations, hydrosols (remember those?), alcohols, salts, separations and reductions. It’s quite a toy for the intellectual mixologist, even pushing the boundaries into non-food distillates.

Gewürztraminer white wine is most renowned for its flinty notes. With a Rota Evaporator, one could literally distill the essence of this wine varietal into myriad cocktails, using just flint from the region. Why stop there? Next up, a syrup of wine barrel to add Chardonnay woody notes to cocktails.

3/ Why Ingredients Go Together

Beefeater’s Master Distiller knows when to cut the heads and tails (a decision that separates the quality spirit from the beginning & end of the distillation process, which contain contaminants and unappealing flavors) just by the smell of the distillery … a licorice scent in the evening.

Most likely for you and me, we would need help mastering pairing flavors at the level Tony is discussing. These guys use gas chromatography coupled mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to measure chemicals and taste. They then think about overlapping chemicals in flavors, bridging flavors, tastes that we are hardwired to enjoy (sweet) or not (bitter). The takeaway is that there is an entire science behind this for those who want to dig deeper:

Bernard Lahousse | Food Pairing website with Flavor Trees/Wheels
Hervé This | Molecular Gastronomist blog, which is in French so fire up Google translate

Tony encouraged all to use instinct enhanced by science.  Check out this Flavor Wheel for pairing Whisky.

4/ The Vintage Manhattan

What are they? Simply put, aged cocktails. Unfortunately due to many bad, bad factors (oxidation, blending, wood, “stretching”), it’s not as simple as applying the wine vintage process to cocktails. Tony has been experimenting with perfecting a bottled version of The Manhattan for years, and he opens a bottle every few months for patrons at his lounge, 69 Colebrooke Row. He’s gotten all scientific on it using the GC-MS (remember?) to measure the complexity of The Manhattan vintages over time. The idea is to have craft cocktails that can last a week or a week and a half once opened. Even more, it’s to highlight the complexity that goes into the art of the cocktail and create a beautiful product.

Is it necessary? I’m not sure. Most likely the only places that would ever serve vintage cocktails, would have a well-trained bartender who could mix one helluva Manhattan him-or-herself.

For a second I thought, this is the epitome of Tony. If he were a cocktail, he’d be a Vintage Manhattan. Of course the next thing out of his mouth was that while pursuit of the aged cocktail process had been a passion of his dating back to at least 2004, he’s already on to cooking Manhattans Sous Vide and has recently been playing with Sous Vide Negronis.

Yes, all of the Mixologists in the room got a handful of cutting-edge techniques to play with as soon as we find our local (or Amazon-shipped) hydrosols and essential oils, but what Tony really challenged us about was to keep taking from pure science and turning it into applied science, noting that flavor and consistency are as much part of the cocktail world, as the culinary.

And with that, I’m closing up my notebook, now much filled with pure science, & heading off for a Negroni, one of the miracles of applied science.

Pioneers in Mixology

A view from my seat at Pioneers in Mixology

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Introductions to the Elite | Pioneers in Mixology | Part One

In Chefs, Drinks, Innovation, Restaurant on March 27, 2011 at 5:49 pm

It’s early Tuesday morning at the W Union Square.  Well, 9 a.m., not early, but bartender early.  Pernod Ricard is hosting 120 of the most influential mixologists in the Northeast on the first leg of its “Pioneers in Mixology” series, to hit Chicago & LA sequentially.  The day launches an engagement program with bartenders certified by BarSmarts, the only comprehensive spirits & mixology education-and-certification program in the U.S.

After being greeted with coffee and offered a Kahlua topper, I’m taking my seat next to the head bartender of James Beard award-winning chef Jose Garces’ Village Whiskey in Philly, who just arrived in Manhattan via Bolt Bus.  In front of me is an airplane-bottle sized Absolut and pitchers of fresh-squeezed OJ & Grapefruit juice.

Absolut Grapefruit and Orange Juice

An Absolut Good Morning

This 9-to-5 business day will not be a typical 9-to-5 day.  Although judging by the talent in the room, they clearly mean business.  I’d just wrapped up a discussion with chef Jean-George Vongerichten’s leopard-print patterned hair-dyed head bartender of Market in Boston, when the lovably puckish Gary Regan, master of today’s ceremonies and author of many bartending books including The Joy of Mixology, flips on his lavalier mic, takes the stage with a spa-esque zen sound-scape emanating from the speakers  and begins talking about “mindfulness,” a recurrent theme of the day, only to follow with a brief mass meditation exercise and only then onto an overview of the day’s agenda.  All this doled out with expletives worthy of bleepings like the memorable Old-Man-fighting-the-furnace scene in “A Christmas Story”.

Centered, humored and with heady focus in check, we see that Gary has organized the day to be administered mostly by legends of London’s mixology scene, including:

Nick Strangeway | 2008 Tales of the Cocktail “Best Mixologist/Bartender in the World,” the man behind many notable cocktail programs around the globe including the impressive “always fresh” cocktails at London’s HIX, and “colonial” cocktails at New York’s famed Pegu Club, a seminal institution in reviving the mixology movement in Manhattan.

Tony Conigliaro | Proprietor of a two-story venue in London at 69 Colebrooke Row, which drew global attention for introducing molecular mixology to both the vernacular and the palate, all despite initially having no name, only an address.  Upstairs is his cocktail lab where he also does much of the R&D tinkering for DrinkFactory, his global cocktail consultancy.  Downstairs his innovations meet patrons, in what has been termed the coolest lounge in London.

Dushan Zaric & Aisha Sharpe | Dushan, hailing from Eastern Europe, owns Manhattan’s acclaimed Employees Only, and Aisha is a veteran bartender of many bars and a trainer with the aforementioned BarSmarts program, which puts her in a peer set with Dale DeGroff, F. Paul Pacult, Doug Frost and Steve Olson.

Today, this marquee-worthy talent will administer three hour-and-a-half long sessions, each covering one unique aspect that is currently pushing the frontier of the already rapidly expanding mixology culture … and again, interestingly with an overarching theme of Zen mindfulness:

  • Mastery of Service | Dushan & Aisha | a sort of metaphysics of bartender-hospitality
  • Scientific Methods Applied to Bartending | Tony|  bringing even more avant-garde ideas to an audience that already discusses applying the Sous Vide process to hand-crafted bitters amongst themselves
  • Craft of Bartending Using Local Ingredients | Nick | You’ve heard of “farm to table;” meet “field to glass.”
Pernod Ricard Brand bottles

A few more bottles

While I typically like for each post on Stewps to be full of information you can use immediately, in this case I feel like the introductions of this crew and day alone are worthy of a post.  Over the next few posts, I will share the distilled insights, guidance and mastery of these Pioneers in Mixology sessions.  For now, feel free to click the links above to get to know more about these leading forces on the international cocktail scene … and if you’re interested in delving in deeper into the world of mixology knowledge yourself, definitely take a look at BarSmarts.

Check out my take on Tony’s “Scientific Bartending” and Nick’s “Field to Glass” presentations.

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