Measure & Stir

A Craft Cocktail Blog for the Home Bartender that Focuses on Original Creations Drawn from Culinary Inspiration.


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Conrad Hotel Lobby Bar – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #5

Blah blah blah Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm)….

Rounding up our trio of bar suggestions from Serious Eats, my companions and I visited the lobby bar of the Conrad Hotel, located in Higashi-Shinbashi, right next to the Park Hyatt, where they filmed Lost In Translation. But Joseph, didn’t you want to visit the famous bar from the movie? Answer: No, I don’t give a dash of a bitters about that. If their biggest achievement is a Manhattan with Carpano Antica, (a fine thing!) then it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.

The Conrad, on the other hand, is boasting a “mixology” program featuring barrel-aged Negronis and Manhattans, and four “molecular” cocktails, of which we ordered two.

  • Strawberry Cheesecake Topper – Gin, white chocolate liqueur, strawberry puree, and flamed parmagiano reggiano.
  • Edible Campari – Vodka and grapefruit juice, shaken and served over ice, and topped with campari jelly.

They also had a drink with a roasted apple and calvados, and a drink with strawberry and basil. Unfortunately, the Conrad hotel really fell down for us. The service was the most negligent that I have had at any establishment in Japan, and the drinks, though cool in concept, were poorly executed.

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The Strawberry cheesecake topper was overwhelmed by the white chocolate liqueur, to the point that I could scarcely notice the other ingredients in the drink. The flamed parmagiano reggiano on top was tasty, but it was arranged in a little ball in the center of the drink, such that it clumped together and made it difficult to imbibe. It was also fatiguingly rich by the end of the drink.

The edible Campari was similarly problematic. The Campari jelly seems to have been made using xanthan gum, but whatever the hydrocolloid, it stayed completely solid and did not flavor or mix into the drink in any way. We were left simply drinking grapefruit juice and vodka, while the Campari sat in gigantic gelatinous pieces on top of the drink, with no easy way to consume it.

Combine that with the frankly poor service, and I cannot suggest this bar to anyone. The one redeeming feature, and I must grant, it is significant, is that the Conrad bar commands a breathtaking view of the Tokyo harbor. It might be worth a visit just for the view, however you’ll probably want to order wine. =[


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Mandarin Oriental Hotel – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #4

Next up in Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm), we will take a quick detour to visit a couple of hotel bars.

Located on the 37th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, the Mandarin Lobby bar commands a beautiful view of the city, and the lounge decor and ambience are truly beautiful. That goes for the entire hotel, in fact. The lobby bar is richly adorned with waterfalls and ceiling-to-floor glass windows. It also has the virtue that it opens at 11 AM, so it can be a great respite from the chaos of the city below, even in the middle of the day.

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This was the second location that I found through the Serious Eats article, but unlike Gen Yamamoto, the drinks were nothing about which to write home (but wait, isn’t that exactly what I’m doing…?) Mandarin offered the full menu of classics that are standard to all Japanese cocktail bars, such as the Manhattan, Gimlet, Daiquiri, and so on, as well as a menu of house cocktails, and a small selection of tiki drinks such as the Mai Tai, Painkiller, and Zombie.

The house cocktails were still painted with that particular seventies palette that contains liberal quantities of blue curacao, midori, and creme de cassis, but their two seasonal cocktails were interesting and unique enough that we ordered both of them.

My drink was a Sakura egg white cocktail, and it contained gin, cherry blossom liqueur, egg white, lemon, and simple syrup. The egg white foam on top of the drink was extremely stable and frothy. It did not mix with the drink, and it did not break down at all. I did not get to see them make it, but I suspect the foam was added using an iSi, which in Japan is called an espuma. The flavor was light and pleasant.

My friend Dave ordered a Champagne cocktail with shiso and light rum. The shiso flavor was very subtle, but the presentation was lovely.

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My friend Tom ordered some kind of grapefruit and vodka drink, colored with the ubiquitous midori and blue curacao. I don’t know if it was delicious, but it was beautiful.

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Dave finished off with a Halekulani, a tiki drink with which I was not familiar, but which used a bourbon base with lime, pineapple juice, and grenadine. This was my favorite drink at the Mandarin. If you find yourself here, my suggestion is to keep it Tiki.

Although the Mandarin lobby bar is everything that you would expect from a world class hotel, I don’t really reccommend it as a serious mixological enterprise. This probably comes as no surprise to those of you who are seasoned travelers, but here at Measure and Stir we are committed to giving every cocktail bar a fair shake.


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Bar High Five – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #3

Welcome to episode three of Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm). Today, we are visiting Bar High Five in Ginza.

I did not know what quite what to expect as I came in to Bar High Five. It is located in a bustling restaurant district in Ginza, on the fourth floor of a building full of bars and restaurants. The bar seats about ten, and there are a few small tables to the side. The wall is adorned with awards proclaiming High Five to be one of the fifty best bars in the world. Certainly, their customer service was matched only by Uyeda-san’s Bar Tender. The professionalism and dedication of the staff was truly a thing to behold.

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In terms of the drinks, they were not a “mixology” bar, but more in the classic style. As an adventurous drinker, it is my preference to ask for the bartender’s choice (so long as the bar is not too crowded), and Bar High Five was happy to oblige me. Among the drinks that I and my cohorts enjoyed were:

* A stirred drink made with rye, two types of ginger liqueur, and a black tea liqueur.
* An Alaska with VEP Green Chartreuse
* A Whiskey sour sweetened with grape liqueur
* A “Black Negroni” made with fernet instead of Campari, and garnished with a lemon peel.

They also served the black negroni and the grape whiskey sour to other guests who were in the bar, so I take it those drinks are among their house specialties. Indeed, the senior bartender told us that his grape whiskey sour was a competition winner.

I realized only after the fact that their customer service may have let me down in one minor way. On their website is a menu with some intriguing drinks, but when I and my compatriots entered the bar, they never gave us a menu nor implied that there might be one. It is a small thing, and it does not tarnish the experience, but had I known, I would have ordered differently.

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It is easy to understand why High Five has the reputation that it does. They serve classic drinks with perfect execution, and offer a level of customer service that I have never seen in an American bar. If you are looking for more exotic and adventurous drinks, they might not be the first on your list, but if you are looking for a quintessential experience of a Japanese cocktail bar, this is the place.


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Kazuo Uyeda’s Bar Tender – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #2

Welcome to episode two of Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm). Today, we are visiting Bar Tender in Ginza.

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Ah, Uyeda-san, the grandfather of Japanese bar service. Kazuo Uyeda has made his reputation as the best bartender in Japan and the Magician of Color by winning many cocktail competitions. An enterprising cocktailian would be remiss to have missed his book, which explains his drink philosophies and contains instructions on such details as how to grip a shaker, how to hold a spoon, and how to arrange the bottles on the bar in front of the customer before making his drink. Uyeda-san is also the inventor of the famous “hard shake“, a shaking technique designed to maximize aeration and flavor.

In his own words:

Every Movement Counts

You take the bottle down from the shelf. You twist off the cap. The liquid streams into the glass. Every action is natural and the result of focused concentration. The bartender never shows off and yet nothing is accidental.

Your job as a bartender is to make good cocktails, but it is also important to make them look delicious. To refine your skills, you have to closely study not only the flavor but also the movements that go in to making a cocktail. You have to practice the basics and focus on making your movements flow while presenting a clean, neat image.

The intent isn’t to look cool bur rather to refine the entire cocktail drinking experience for the guest. herein lies the biggest difference between an amateur making cocktails at home and a professional bartender standing in front of the bar doing his job while all eyes are on him.

Tender serves very classic drinks, but the menu is also peppered with Uyeda-san’s original and award-winning drinks. Uyeda’s palette of ingredients is straight out of the seventies, and he uses many ingredients such as blue curaçao, midori, and green tea liqueur to achieve a very specific appearance. His consideration of cocktail colors has earned him the name “the magician of color.” In his book, he explains how he created a drink specifically to match the color of a lake near a cocktail competition that he attended.

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The service at Bar Tender is excellent almost to the point of parody. To be honest, the drinks themselves are a little bit dated, but the honor of being served a drink by such a prestigious and important bartender as Uyeda-san more than makes up for it. He has carefully orchestrated every aspect of the customer experience; as he works his movements are so crisp and consistent that it feels like a ritual. He and his staff all wear white coats, which they somehow manage to keep immaculate even with so many brightly colored spirits flying around.

Because Uyeda-san’s English is not so great, he showed us the entries in his book that pertained to the drinks that he ordered. It greatly enhanced our appreciation to read about the history and thought process that went into each drink.

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This is the Uyeda-san’s original creation, the City Coral. In his own words:

The most noticeable feature of this cocktail is probably the coral frosting on the outside of the glass. Decorating the rim of the glass with colorful liqueurs instead of a fruit juice is a style that has been around for a long time, and this is an extension of that. The first cocktail to popularize this style was the City Coral.

Using this style was a large part of my original intent in creating this cocktail. There is a road spectrum of colors to choose from, depending on the liqueur you use, but blue curaçao and grenadine (which is red) were two colors that did not lose their intensity when combined with salt, so I limited myself to these two ingredients. I combined this style with various cocktails, and found that blue was the best match.

Also, please note that while I say they drinks are slightly dated, that is not to detract from their excellence. They are perfectly made, and there is still much that is of interest to a seeker of novelty such as myself. In fact, it is impressive that Uyeda-san can make midori palatable at all.

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I ordered his original drink “Shungyo,” which is made with sake, vodka, and green tea liqueur, garnished with a salted cherry blossom. I took my time with this drink, and by the end, the flavor of the salted blossom had infused the whole drink, which was very nice. In the words of Uyeda-san:

The Shungyo (which means spring dawn) is a typical Japanese-style cocktail designed to evoke one of Japan’s four seasons. In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it was through creating these cocktails that I succeeded in establishing my own unique style.

When creating a Japanese-style cocktail, spring is typically represented by a soft hue, summer by primary colors, fall by misty color combinations and winter by warmer colors. Japanese ingredients are used too, such as sake, shochu, umeshu (a plum liqueur) and green tea liqueurs. I decided to use sake in this cocktail.

I started by choosing a name. I wanted to evoke an image of an early spring sunrise, and to do this I planned to incorporate cherry blossoms. I used cherry blossom petals that were salted and then rinsed in warm water to dial back the saltiness. Green was the obvious choice to bring out the beauty of the flour petals. Menthe or midori were too bright for an early spring morning, so I chose a green tea liqueur. I used vodka as a foundation to push the flavor of the Japanese sake to the fore. And, while there is more vodka in the recipe, this is essentially a sake-based cocktail.

It isn’t often that one can recount a cocktail experience in the bartender’s own words! If you are looking for an avant-garde drink, you might want to skip Bar Tender, but if you are a cocktail fanboy like me, then Tender in Ginza should be on your list.


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Mixology Bar Gen Yamamoto – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #1

Our first stop in what I’ve just now decided to call Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm) was Gen Yamamoto in Azabu-Juban. For those of you who followed the link to the serious eats article, it was the only one they visited that is worth your time. Gen opens his bar at three pm, and we were the first to be seated. Immediately as I walked in, I was struck by the simple elegance and minimalism of the place. The walls are bare, and the only decoration is the beautiful wooden bar counter, which is made of only two pieces of wood cut vertically from a single tree. There are exactly eight seats, all at the bar.

Side note: Huge thanks to ulteriorepicure for letting me use some of his beautiful pictures for this post. You can see the full set of his pics on Flickr, it’s definitely worth a look. It is easy to tell which pictures are his because they are the ones that are well-lit and composed.

The menu at Gen lists only six drinks, which can be ordered a la carte, or as a four or six drink tasting menu. We opted to taste all six, of course. Gen’s drink-making philosophy really exemplifies my understanding of the Japanese approach to cuisine, which is to create flavors that are light, subtle, and thoughtful.

In Gen’s own words:

The tasting course reflects “shiki”, Japanese seasonality, using fresh ingredients while building on a progression of flavors and harmony.

Each drink contained a beautiful expression of a single spirit with a seasonal piece of produce. It is clear from Gen’s drinks and his service that he is very passionate about his work. He exemplifies the Measure and Stir Maxim: “Your drink is only as good as the worst thing you put in it.”

The order of the courses was also smartly chosen, which each drink flowing nicely into the next.

We started with a highball of gin, club soda, spices, and a house-made syrup of Kochi golden ginger. This was the most complicated drink in terms of flavor, because the spice syrup contained ginger, coriander, lemon grass, and clove, among other flavors.

I apologize, but I cannot remember the exact nature of the second drink. I think it used sake, yuzu from Chiba, and a green herb.

kumquats and shochu

The third drink was made with shochu, and a mix of cooked and raw kumquats from Kagawa. It was garnished with tiny pieces of daikon, cut into cubes. They had very little flavor, but provided an intriguing crunch

The fourth was made with vodka and muddled kiwi from Shizuoka Koryoku. In the past I have never cared for vodka, but it’s light and clean flavor is well-suited to Gen’s style, and this trip really helped me to discover its uses.

bloody mary

The fifth was a bloody Mary using an heirloom tomato grown by the Shizuoka Ishiyama family. Apparently it grows in winter. It was unusually sweet and fruity. The flavor of the fresh tomato was beautifully paired with a “rye vodka” (or an unaged rye??) and shiso leaf. This drink was truly spectacular.

We ended with a drink made of white kabocha (japanese pumpkin) from Chiba and a touch of cream. I shamelessly appropriated the above photo of it from DrTomostyle‘s twitter.

After touring through so many bars in Tokyo, I can say with confidence that this is one of the best. If you are anywhere near Azabu-Juban, it is not to be missed. Be warned, though, that it is a patient, contemplative experience. If you’re just looking for a quick drink, it’s probably not the place to go. If you are looking for an elevated experience of Japanese mixology, however, you can’t afford to miss it.


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Tokyo Craft and Mixology Bars

Hello. Normally in this situation a blogger would write something like “I’m not dead, I swear!” but for me, I haven’t posted in three months, and I am clearly dead. Fortunately, I have been post-humously bar-crawling in Tokyo, a journey whose story I shall now recount for your imbibing pleasure. So mix yourself a zombie, ladies and gents, and let’s get reanimated.

As I was gearing up to go to Tokyo, I happened upon this Serious Eats article on the Tokyo cocktail scene. I was intrigued by several of the drinks therein, and I decided to add their recommendations to my list. In the course of my research, I quickly discovered that there is a paucity of resources for the intrepid international drinker looking to make his way through Tokyo. In this series of articles, I aim to (help to) fix that.

Japanese Cocktail Philosophy

I do not know exactly when Japanese bartending branched away from American bartending, but it is clear that when they picked up the art and the practice, it was a much earlier era. This is not to imply that there has been no cross-talk in the interim, but the average Japanese cocktail bar hearkens back to a forgotten era. The Japanese are dedicated students of the classics; their Martinis and Manhattans never lost their vermouth as they did in the states, and their old fashioned never sprouted wings and soda water and muddled pineapple.

All this is not to say that I never saw a bottle of Rose’s, but one certainly suspects that their gimlet was always made with fresh lime. I am aware that there is some debate within the cocktail community as to the truest nature of the gimlet: is a true gimlet a gin lime sour, or is it gin with lime cordial? But regardless, there was never a need for a cocktail revival in Japan, for the patient never died as he did in the USA.

But even though the drinks are classic, the Japanese have made the practice of bartending their own; their culture places a lot more weight on customer service than we do in the states. In a Japanese bar, every aspect of the experience is treated with gravity and precision. Nowhere is this better-illustrated than in Bar Tender, the bar of Kazuo Uyeda, who considers and perfects every motion that the bartender makes, so that doing his work is as much a dance as it is a drink service. There are prescribed ways to hold the jigger and the spoon, prescriptions about how to open the bottle, and where to place it upon the bar. But more on that later.

Another key difference is that the Japanese have lower alcohol tolerance, on average, than most of us Westerners. As such, the pours tend to be smaller, and the drinks tend to be lighter in both alcohol content and flavor. In my efforts to recreate some of the drinks I had on this trip, I have found that I use about one ounce of hard liquor per drink. Chasing a buzz in a Japanese bar can be a tricky proposition.

Subtle Flavors

Although the lightness of drinks is partly practical, it is also a deliberate aesthetic choice, which reflects a distinctly Japanese sensibility. On the internet I found this list of travel tips for a Japanese person visiting the US, and this line struck me:

American food is flat to the taste, indifferent in the subtle difference of taste. There is no such thing there as a little “secret ingredient.” Sugar, salt, pepper, oils, and routine spices are used for family meals.

The Japanese author of the post felt that US food is lacking in subtlety. As silly as it sounds, I carried and developed this awareness as I sat and drank in many Japanese bars. Their flavors lack the visceral punch of popular American cuisine, but they draw attention instead to what is delicate and nuanced. It almost becomes a game: to search in the soft and continuous space of the drink for the borders that delimit its character.

“Mixology” vs. “Cocktail Bar”

As I noted above, Japanese bars mostly stick to the classics, with some small variations. Most of the bars that break out into more modern and original styles, such as what you might find in the US, are called “mixology” bars. Molecular mixology techniques are common in such places. Indeed, the line between “mixology” and “molecular mixology” seemed to be quite blurry, as it is elsewhere.Regardless, “mixology” is the magic incantation that can coerce Japan to yield up its bartending treasures. “Craft Cocktail” did not get me very far.

Tune in tomorrow, where we will talk about some bars.


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Rumba, Seattle

A while ago I asked Joe a question I’m sure all booze lovers ask themselves at least once: if you were stranded on a desert island and could only drink one spirit for the rest of your life, which would it be? After a while of careful consideration, Joe responded “rum”. I think we may have found that desert island’s bar.

Rumba, a rum bar, in Seattle is an excellent bar, focused on serving choice rum-oriented cocktails. Located on Capital Hill, in downtown Seattle, Rumba offers great tiki drinks, punches, daiquiris, and authentic island-style drinks, as well as an impressive selection of rums. Not only do they mix a mean drink, but they also offer some tasty, cuban-inspired food.

The first thing you notice at Rumba is their vast rum selection, which fills most of their backbar. In fact, Joe and I weren’t even sure if they had other spirits in the bar, but, of course, they did. Rum is certainly at the heart of Rumba, but they are a cocktail bar, after all. But back to the rum. It’s why you go there. Their menu of rum is even organized geographically, so you can try rums from different parts of the globe, if you so desire. I ordered a taste of Angostura 1824, which was great; spicier than their 1919 rum, with some fruity notes.

Their array of daiquiris was delightful, and I think Joe ordered the No. 3 variation for his first round. As for myself, I ordered the Queen’s Park Swizzile: Lemonhart 151, bitters, lime, mint, and sugar. For my second round I went tiki, and ordered a Port Antonio: rum, coffee liqueur, falernum, and lime. The drinks were all top-notch, skillfully prepared by the bartender, who was a great conversationist and very attentive. I’ve been back a few times since Joe and I first went, and they’ve consistently impressed me with their drinks, food, and service. It has quickly become one of my favorite bars.

As the evening came to an end, we needed some snacks to help absorb some of that alcohol, so Joe and I split an order of empanadas. I’ve also had their cuban-style rice and beans, and chicken wings, which are marinated in hibiscus and served with a side of fried yucca chips. The food at Rubma is as legit as their drinks, so make sure to order a bite to eat while you’re there.

If you’re a fan of rum and you’re in Seattle, you’d be silly if you didn’t make your way to Rumba. Their enormous rum selection, exciting and exotic drinks menu, and delicious food make this place one of the best bars on Capital Hill, and definitely one of my favorite bars in Seattle.


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Angel’s Share in New York

In my latest travels I visited Angel’s Share in New York City, which is a brilliant and elegant Japanese craft cocktail bar. The phrase “angel’s share”, as I am sure we are all aware, refers to the portion of scotch whiskey which evaporates over the course of barrel aging, and which fills the air in the storage facility with alcohol and with aromas of peat. Indeed, the workers in such facilities must take care to limit their exposure, lest they become drunk by absorbing the alcohol through their skin, or so I have heard. I am not going to look it up just no, so even if it isn’t true, it’s still a great story, and I encourage you to spread it.

Angel’s Share is a cozy, intimate venue, and the mixologists who work there are truly artists. In stark contrast to the tasteful classicism of the Pegu Club, every single drink at Angel’s Share is unique, original, and modern. Long-time readers will no doubt be familiar with hunger for novelty in this arena, and it is a true joy to visit a bar which presses to the forefront of the craft, rather than basking in the comfort of the venerable. Their menu is superb, not only for the quality of the recipes, but because the bartenders are kind enough to write a small blurb describing their thought process for each drink.

Daahound
The best drink I had was a mixture of Rye, sherry, bitters, and benedictine served in a snifter which had been previously filled with smoldering (and thus smoking) cinnamon bark, and garnished with a Lagavulin-soaked lemon peel. The presentation was marvelous. The waiter brought an overturned snifter to the table, covering a plate which contained the smoldering cinnamon, and then returned with the drinks of the other members of my party. Thereafter he decanted my drink into the snifter, and with a pair of tongs, rubbed the scotch-soaked peel around the inside of the snifter before dropping it in.

The smokiness of the scotch accent, and the cinnamon notes of the benedictine were divine in concert with the burned cinnamon flavor of the smoke.

Moon at Noon
My friend anthony ordered this ingenious blend of Bacardi 8, soy milk, rice-koji jam, and shoyu. The saltiness of the drink was very subtle, and the soy milk was heavily frothed, no doubt from a dry shake. The real triumph of this drink was the synergy between soy milk and soy sauce. That should not come as a surprise, but it did.

Passion Dance
For my final drink of the night, I ordered this drink with passion fruit, mezcal, and jalapeno-infused tequila. I had recently been playing with the combination of passion fruit and mezcal, and so I was very excited to try this take on it. The drink came in a huge, heavy crystal goblet, with a single large ice cube and a sprig of cilantro for garnish. As we have recently explored the assonance between tequila and cilantro, I was glad to see that I am not the only one who appreciates this combination. This drink was phenomenal.

Speak Low
This was a reasonable drink, though not really up to the standards of some of the others. The combination of yuzu and matcha sounds very appealing, but in practice I found the flavor to be muddy, and I did not think that the matcha plus sherry combination was a home run. Perhaps I would need to drink it again to be sure. I have been wanting to experiment with matcha as a cocktail ingredient for a while, so this gave me a very nice baseline.

The glassware, the service, and the decor were all world class, and the menu was the best I have ever seen in a craft bar. Angel’s Share, I applaud you for taking risks, and I congratulate you on your successes.


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The Pegu Club in New York

In my latest travels I visited the Pegu Club in New York City, which is intended to replicate the spirit of the original Pegu Club in Rangoon. Its newest incarnation is a respectable place to seek a tipple, though it is far from mind-blowing. I was not expecting to have my mind blown; given the club’s history, I was expecting a very conservative menu, and that was exactly what I found.

Pisco Punch — I adore this pineapple leaf garnish.

The copy on the inside of the menu does a better job of describing the place than I am likely to, so I shall reproduce it here:

“Back when Britain still had an empire and the sun never set on it, the Pegu Club was a British Colonial Officers’ club in Rangoon. Not much of anything to do there, mind you, but as Kipling wrote in “Sea to Sea”, this funny little club “was always filled with lots of people either on their way up or on their way down.” If the club was famous for anything, it was its house cocktail: as master mixologist Harry Craddock wrote in the classic 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, the Pegu Club Cocktail “has traveled, and is asked for, around the world.” Small wonder–it’s a perfect indicator of the drinking culture of those randy times. But this bracing combination of gin, bitters, lime juice, and orange curaçao is no dusty antique. To this day, it remains as crisp, snappy, and briskly potent as when our grandparents were drinking it. As old souls, we cherish that.”

The menu continues in that vein, but you get the idea. I have mixed a Pegu Club or two in the past, but it had been quite a while since I had had one, and it was a delight to order the drink at the actual (sort of) Pegu Club. I am not as fascinated by this drink as some people, but as the Pegu Blog was my first encounter with the world of craft mixology, it will always have a special place in my heart.

Their technique was flawless, and it was a true pleasure to observe. Their menu features slight twists on many of the best and most famous classics. As I already noted, there is nothing mind-blowing here, but you have to respect a menu that features a negroni, a sidecar, a manhattan, a pisco sour, a daquiri, a whiskey smash, a dark and stormy, and a martini, and yet twists each of them in a way that maintains the drinker’s interest.

All of those drinks are the bedrock of classic mixology. The gin-gin mule seems to be very popular lately, and has received a lot of acclaim. I think this owes to the fact that moscow mules suck (vodka, yuck!), and the gin-gin mule is a way of reclaiming this classic.

The Pegu Club
1.5 oz. Dry Gin
.5 oz. Triple Sec (I suggest Patron Citronge)
.5 oz. Lime Juice
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
Shake over ice and garnish with a lime wedge, decoratively zested.

If you were a heathen, you might even call it a gin margarita with bitters, and no salt. And what’s this?! From the picture, and from my careful observations, I noticed that the Pegu Club did not double-strain their shaken drinks! It is for shame, Pegu Club, for shame!

Tantris Sidecar – with a very slight coating of sugar on the rim, difficult to discern.

A good showing from the Pegu Club, but if your tastes range to the more avant-garde and exotic, you might be better served elsewhere. Aside from the lack of double straining, mentioned above, I did have one other complaint. It is a subjective matter, but my review would not be complete if I did not mention it. I watched them make a number of sours and I observed that they used a ratio of 2:1 sweet:sour. This makes for an unobjectionable drink with mass appeal, but it is not to my taste.

I favor a dryer, more challenging sour, or in the words of Nietzsche, a drink which “kisses as it bites you”. The 2:1 ratio of sugar to acid is far too gentle. Even so, it would be an act of good taste for you to visit this bar.


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Vessel In Seattle

Back before I got into this whole craft cocktail scene, there was a bar in Seattle called Vessel, and they were famous for pioneering a lot of molecular mixology techniques, and for the general quality of their drinks and their atmosphere. Sadly, they closed in 2010, and I never got to visit them. They’re back, sort of, and at a new, bigger downtown location. When I heard that they were re-opening, I visited them that same week, but I didn’t get around to posting about it until today. That’s probably my loss, because I missed the buzz, but I think it’s still soon enough to care.

Their big gimmick this time is a rotating bar staff. It seems like the deal is, each bartender who appears there brings his or her own menu to the establishment. On my visit, the bartenders were Michael Bertrand of Mistral Kitchen and Kevin Langmack of Knee High Stocking Co. Their menus were thus:

To be honest, I was expecting a bit more. No offense to these seasoned veterans, but these drinks are all so safe. I want recipes that push the envelope! I want drinks on the cutting edge of mixology, with flavor combinations and techniques that I’ve never seen before. Instead you hit me with a vesper, a gin and tonic, and a sidecar with expensive brandy. This is the kind of menu I expect in an old money hotel, not a bar that was renowned in its heyday for molecular mixology. There’s nothing wrong with any of these recipes, but neither is there anything exciting.

Of course, if you go, the menu will probably be totally different. As such, I give them two out of ten for creativity, but nine out of ten for execution. All of the drinks we ordered were beautifully presented, and executed with technical excellence. John ordered a Preakness, which is not on their menu, but it is a common Manhattan variation containing Benedictine:

Very nice glassware. I ordered a Violette Fizz:

Truly a beautiful fizz, but alas, in a very impractical glass. As I drank it, a portion of the head persisted and ultimately clogged the flow of the drink through the glass when it reached the narrowest part of the glass, forcing me to tilt it to a precarious angle. This is a minor quibble however, as the glass was very elegant. Still, if the radius were constant across the length of the glass, I would have been better served.

James ordered the Batcat, a mix of rye, sweet vermouth, fernet branca, and elderflower liqueur:

I apologize for the terrible photo, but as you can sort of see, the drink came with a sphere of beautifully clear ice, cut to fit exactly within the glass, and the sphere was circumscribed by a spiral of orange peel for which a whole orange gave its life. James and I both tasted the drink and found the flavor to be very light. It was over-diluted, but it was probably not the bartender’s fault, it was probably the fault of the waitstaff.

The service was agonizingly slow, but I was willing to give them some leeway in their opening week. It takes a while to get all the bugs out of your service pipeline, I am sure. Did we sit at the table for fifteen minutes before anyone even took our order? Yes. Did it take them another twenty five to bring us our drinks? Also yes. But like I said, leeway.

Since I’m already slinging hate, I might as well take this opportunity to mention the acoustics, which are a crime against the fine art of architecting interior spaces. Maybe it’s the high ceilings, but every word of every patron echoes in this bar, and makes it very loud even when it is not particularly crowded. I wouldn’t take anyone here if I wanted to have a conversation with them. On the plus side, the hand soap in the bathroom contains rum.

The food was mediocre. We ordered foie gras popcorn, and it was a staunch reminder as to why no one sautes liver and then tosses it with popcorn. The high fat content of the liver killed all the crispness of the popcorn, while imparting only the scarcest flavor of foie gras. The hummus platter, though beautifully plated, was nothing I couldn’t get from Trader Joe’s. The carpaccio was adequate, however. Delicious and reasonably portioned for the price.

Over all, if you’re downtown, stick to the Mistral Kitchen or the Zig Zag Cafe. If you’re not tied to a particular locale within Seattle, may I recommend the Canon. It is clearly at the top of the craft bartending game in Seattle right now.