Saturday, June 25, 2011

Classical education, Part II

After the Campari fête, I headed straight to bed since I knew I had to wake up relatively early the next day.  As I mentioned before, I had volunteered at the event, and so I was instructed to show up at 10:30 to help set up and get organized.  When I arrived, I was assigned to man the front desk for check-in and greeting duties.  Since it was a Monday morning, however, it was very quiet.  If it weren't for the guy running a blender to make liquored smoothies with Ben & Jerry's, you could hear a pin drop.  Having settled in and with little traffic, I helped myself to a coffee "corrected" with a bit of fair-traded Fair Café liqueur.  One nice benefit of it being very quiet was the chance to chat with my fellow volunteers, including Justin and Ali, and bar fellows.

 Very, very quiet.

A lot of free time on my hands

After having worked the morning shift, I was free to attend any of the afternoon seminars.  I was drawn to a couple seminars in particular: Gin is In! (sponsored by Tanqueray) and Age: The Final Frontier - Barreling Spirits and Cocktails.

In the first, the seminar really became about Tanqueray and little else.  While I cannot say that I was surprised, I do wish that the presentation had a bit more breadth given the title.  However, it was quite interesting to hear how Tanqueray is made, especially since Tom Nichol, the master distiller of Tanqueray was there in person.  My overall impression from Mr. Nichol is that gin distillation is very much an art, perhaps more so than the distillation of other spirits because of the careful balance of botanicals to which one must attend.  Sourcing the botanicals can become a rather ponderous endeavor given variations between harvests.  For instance, the crop of angelica root from Saxony this year was of inadequate quality, so instead the remainder of last year's harvest is still used to produce this year.

Additionally, I was interested to hear that different batches of Tanqueray No. 10 have very slight differences in taste that Mr. Nichol can recognize.  Differences arise since the whole citrus fruits that go into the basket of a given distillation run are purchased individually the morning of.  Another nice tidbit that I learned was that the citrus notes in gin can often come predominantly from coriander.  Although citrus peels often do find their way into the list of botanicals added to gin, coriander itself brings a very noticeable citrus note to stand up to the juniper.  While we were treated to a number of cocktails as well as tasting the standard Tanqueray and Tanqueray No. 10, the most special part of the seminar was tasting the undiluted, unadulterated distillate from the "Old Tom" still, which was rather powerfully botanical.

Tanqueray seminar with Angus Winchester, Tom Nichol and Steve Olson (from L to R)

In the second seminar on barrel-aging, I heard about the effect of wood and atmospheric conditions on the aging of spirits and cocktails.  I must briefly digress here to say that from a pedagogical point of view, the presentation could have been more appropriately arranged since I felt like there were long periods of speaking followed by short, rapid periods of tastings.  If tastings were more evenly spaced through the course of the spoken presentation, I feel that I would have gotten more out of it.  Anyhow, that minor point aside, it was certainly a very interesting experience.

We first heard about the history of barrels and how they are made, as well as how climate can affect the aging process.  Then, we had a chance to sample a number of aged tequilas (Excellia) to compare and contrast.  I must admit that I had not heard of the Excellia brand prior to the tasting (the same parent company as G'Vine gin, with which I am familiar), so the experience was entirely novel.  The tequilas we had to taste included the unaged spirit, one aged in Sauternes casks, one aged in Cognac barrels, one reposado blend and one añejo blend.  I found it truly remarkable how different all of these were, owing their differences almost entirely to aging conditions.  Unfortunately, I had regrettably consumed so much liquor by that point that I was forced to spit for most of the spirit tastings in order to maintain a sensible palate.

After tasting the spirits alone, we then moved on to the aging of whole cocktails.  Ted Kilgore had initially introduced me to this fashionable process through an aged Negroni variant, so I was already somewhat familiar with the idea.  What was nice about this seminar though, was the side by side comparisons between aged and unaged cocktails.  We first tried the Hanky Panky cocktail in unaged, Cognac cask aged, and new oak barrel aged forms.  Although oxidation and evaporation will tend to improve many cocktails, I had my doubts in this case as I felt like the unaged version was the most balanced.  The aged versions were dominated by wood and menthol, the latter from the Fernet Branca that seemed to become overpowering.  Second, we were served a pair of aged and unaged White Lady cocktails.  Since the White Lady calls for lemon juice, which oxidizes to an unpalatable form, the aged version was made with lactart (lactic acid) instead of lemon juice.  The resulting aged cocktail was one in which I could not get past the disconcerting texture that was simultaneously both watery and powdery.  Delicious or not, however, the seminar was certainly an interesting exercise that allowed for a rather effective exploration of the effects of aging.

Aged spirits and cocktails

While I had planned on swinging by the Indy Spirits Expo afterwards, my liver protested.  Thus, I grabbed a delicious dinner at my friend's establishment, Xi'an Famous Foods, before hightailing it home to rest before the final day of the Classic.

Final drink tally for that Monday:
Astor Center main bar
-Caffé corretto
-Suffering Bastard
-Something with ice cream, tequila, goji liqueur, fernet...
Tanqueray seminar
-Punch with Tanqueray No. 10, mezcal, oleo saccharum and tea
-Tom Nichol
Aging seminar
-Hanky Panky
-White Lady
*Unfortunately, as I write this over a month later, I have completely forgotten what goes into the Xibalba and sadly have no notes for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment