Thursday, August 18, 2011

TOTC2011: Nonstop to Tokyo

As I mentioned previously, my favorite thing at Tales of the Cocktail this year was the Nonstop to Tokyo. It was by luck, and the kindness of my friend Nathan Luchansky, that I was even able to attend - the event was completely sold out at least two months ahead of time and Nathan gave me a ticket.

Here are some pictures from the event, as well as some details to give a sense of why it was great.

Departing NOLA
Starting out, we headed into a suite and were given a boarding pass for our trip to Tokyo. The event was sponsored by Suntory , and featured a variety of their whiskys (they don't use the "e") as well as a few other spirits that they handle in Japan. My friend Neyah White, now an ambassador for Suntory, but formerly head barkeep of one of my favorite places in San Francisco, was there as our tour guide.

On entry, we were given access to two side rooms - one where a cocktail with Hibiki 12 was being served, and one where we could sample a variety of Japanese whiskys and play a little putt-putt golf.

One of the spirits we were invited to taste was called "Chita." Not available in the US on it's own, it is used as part of the blend in the Hibiki whiskey. It's a really interesting, delicious spirit - made from 100% Japan-grown corn, and aged in used bourbon barrels. It tastes like a fine aged rum and was quite sippable.

The Main Event
After while, we were invited into the main room of the suite, where there was small bar with seven or eight seats. Hidetsugu Ueno from Bar High Five in Tokyo greeted us, and presented us with a menu of cocktail options. And then, essentially, he made us cocktails and told us a bit about cocktail culture and cocktail making in Japan.

Some of the highlights:
  • He cracked ice by hand, using a three-pronged ice crusher
  • He carved an ice block into a diamond-shaped cube for one of the cocktails
  • One of the cocktails was served at room temperature in a tulip glass, with undiluted honey in the bottom, so that the drinker could adjust sweetness to taste by swirling the glass.
  • The techniques he used, and the fluidity of his motions, were beautiful to watch.
A couple of trivia bits I learned:
  • Both Midori and Southern Comfort are very popular in Japan.
  • It is common to use knives completely up - the knife he used on the ice block was used for other things in the past, but the blade has shrunk over time and now it is only good for carving ice.
Thiswas a truly unique experience, and a wonderful introduction to the cocktail culture in Japan. And, I got to try a couple of new whiskys and get a couple of good ideas for cocktails, too.

Thanks again to Nathan for finding me and giving me the ticket!

Friday, July 22, 2011

TOTC: Day 2 Hijinks

Another great day at Tales, filled with lots of great conversations, drinks and good times. Here are a few highlights from day two:
  • My friend Nathan Lutchansky absolutely made my Tales by offering me a ticket to the Nonstop to Tokyo event. After a false start, we were able to sit at a tiny bar and enjoy wonderful drinks and conversation with master Hidetsugu Ueno from Japan. We tried some wonderful spirits from Japan not available here, as well. It was fantastic, and I'll write a more detailed post about it shortly. Thanks Nathan!!
  • Great company, conversation and punches at the Spirited Dinner I attended with a good friend at Bourbon House (delicious drinks and entertainment by Bridget Albert and Jeffrey Morgenthaler). I wasn't planning to go to an official dinner, but my friend graciously secured a seat for me. It was the most fun I've had at a Spirited Dinner, despite the weirdos at our table (more on that below).
  • I learned a few things from the seminars. Like, for example, that it was illegal for women to work behind the bar in Chicago until March 1970. Yes, you read that right, 1970.

And just one lowlight:
  • Some guys showed up to the spirited dinner already three sheets to the wind, and one of them was especially obnoxious. To the point where it was required to say to him "how old are you? are you 8? because you're acting like it right now." They left, but not before popping some balloons and making them whistle, and having one more go at harassing the single girls at the table. Amateur (and immature, etc.).
It's raining in NOLA today, so it's especially sticky out. Good thing I get to stay in the Monteleone most of the day!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

TOTC: The First 24 Hours

After arriving in NOLA yesterday, I hit the ground running in the parties, drinks and good time departments. Perhaps a bit more than I should have, in retrospect, given that it's early on in my TOTC tenure.

Here were some highlights from Wednesday:
  • Running into many friends from many places, many of whom I haven't seen in quite awhile. This was honestly my favorite part.
  • Sipping Lagavulin 16 at the Diageo "Behind the Distillery Doors" panel. The event started late, and wasn't quite what I expected. However, I very much enjoyed the Scotch and learned a few things about how other spirits makers handle issues, and how they search for innovations.
  • Wonderful cocktails and dinner at Sylvain with a good friend. Several writer friends recommended it, and they were absolutely correct. Go there. Now.
  • The drinks at the Old Absinthe House have improved, from the looks of it. I still had a beer, but I actually considered getting a cocktail.
And a few lowlights:
  • The Pimm's Cup at the Napoleon House was not as good as I remembered. Tasted like bad sour mix, actually. Did not even finish it, even.
  • The elevators at the Monteleone are even slower than I remembered. More people in them this time around.
All in all, a great first 24 hours. Now, off to a seminar!