Measure & Stir

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


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Las Vegas Bar Crawl: Mandarin Oriental Hotel

Continuing with my Las Vegas bar crawl, I visited the Mandarin Oriental. Long-time readers may remember my visit to the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo. I have also patronized the one in Hong Kong as part of an apocryphal and unblogged bar-crawl I performed in that city. Maybe someday, I will tell you about it.

Being a serial patron of Mandarin Orientals, I entered their Vegas incarnation expecting a safe menu and a pleasant, luxurious space. They met my expectations on both counts. There are not very many places in Vegas that strive for understated class; even the upscale bars strive for bombastic opulence. After two day days striding through gaudy casino floors, the Mandarin was a welcome exercise in tasteful restraint. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that it draws an older crowd.

It was the only time in the whole trip when I did not feel like a million demons of avarice and hedonism were bearing down upon me. For that, they get a very high score.

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Above is a shot of their menu. As you can see, the decadent nihilism of Las Vegas is fully manifest in the flowery language used to describe the drinks. I’m going to say some critical things about these drinks, but I want to emphasize that all of them were balanced, drinkable, and inoffensive, which is more than I can say for the other bars in my Vegas crawl. This was the best of the bunch.

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Robin’s Hood
Dried apricot-infused Glenmorangie, Cognac, Drambuie, Carpano Antica, Benedictine

This was one of the bar’s signature drinks. In the two years that have elapsed since my earlier visit to the Mandarin Oriental, my respect for them has grown. Relative to Tokyo, their overall score was average, but in other cities, they are a reliable place to order a well-made drink.

As you can see, there are a lot of ingredients in this cocktail, and the outcome is a predictable brown, bitter, and stirred. The split base and the apricot infusion (one or the other would have been fine) was exactly the sort of unecessarily baroque choice that is typical of Las Vegas.

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Tea-Tini
Bourbon, chilled jasmine pearl tea, apple juice, agave nectar

Aside from the name of this drink, I found it to be unimpeachable. The contents of the glass fulfilled all of the promises made by the menu, and the flavors were successful together. Tea drinks can be difficult, and the Mandarin’s bar contains several of them. I would drink this again.

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The Harmonious Pear
Pear-infused tequila, apple, clove, cinnamon, cognac, lemon, ginger liqueur, honey-sage syrup

Good grief! No fewer than eleven ingredients, and half the drinks on the menu are like this. This feels like two interesting drinks poured together: Pear-infused tequila, lemon, ginger liqueur, honey sage syrup. That’s one. Apple, clove, cinnamon, cognac, that could easily be another. You get a bit of a pass since half of the ingredients could be called a “winter spice melange”.

That said, this drink was light, refreshing, and fruity. It managed to have a complexity of flavor without turning completely into mud.

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The Golden Leaf
Hendrick’s, Aperol, muddled mandarins, pineapple, lime

To be honest, the picture above might have been a different drink. The presentation was all a bit samey. I remember this drink having a nice orangey flavor from the aperol, and very little pineapple. It was less tiki than it sounds.

In closing, if you are seeking a pleasant mixed drink in a tasteful bar in Las Vegas, you probably won’t do better than the Mandarin.


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Bar Aliviar – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #10

Aliviar is not a big-name bar like some of the others in “Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm)”.

In fact, it is in every way a neighborhood bar, the little convenient watering hole that you visit for a nightcap after a long night of hard drinking… Man, I know how that sounds. They made it onto this list because they were on the ground floor of the building where my AirBnB was located in Ebisu. Unfortunately for Aliviar, there are two other bars in Ebisu that you should probably visit first, but that is in no way a slight against them.

Aliviar is small, classy, welcoming, and everything that you would expect from a Japanese cocktail bar. The bartender’s movements are precise and elegant. Like most cocktail bars in Japan, the glassware is of a quality that puts any bar in the USA to shame, even the top bars in New York and San Francisco. I mean that, the Japanese have taken barware and glassware into the stratosphere, and meanwhile here we all are, still stuck on the ground.

We ordered classics off of the unspoken menu of Japanese standards; Old Fashioned, White Lady, Gimlet. We haven’t had a cocktail recipe yet since I came back, so let’s take a quick detour here to note that in fact, a White Lady, which is not a very common drink in the States, is made like so:

1.5 oz Gin
.5 oz Cointreau
.75 oz Lemon Juice
Barspoon of Simple Syrup
Shake over ice and double strain into a cocktail glass.
Personally, I like to make mine with an egg white.

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With apologies for the poor photo quality. Anyway, the bartender at Aliviar served such a beautiful Old Fashioned that I had to write about it, though I will note that the strange Japanese practice of placing a bitters-soaked sugar cube on top of ice instead of integrating it into the drink meant that he basically served us a whiskey on the rocks. And Aliviar’s bourbon of choice? Wild Turkey 101.


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The Stella – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #9

On the last night of “Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm)” we found ourselves visiting three bars in a single night. Stella was the last stop on our journey, and I and mine were feeling quite fatigued. As a result, my memory of this bar is a little bit hazy, like a dream. I regret that our visit was not longer.

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When we entered the Stella, I admit, the decor did not give us the best first impression. It was a little cheesy. First impressions can be deceiving, however, our bartender, Takashi-san, was very skilled, and the drinks that he made were both delicious and creative. Like Codename:Mixology, the Stella is a molecular bar, and they serve drinks that are smoked, frozen, barrel-aged, and otherwise scienced.

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What a menu! For our first round, my friend Tom started with a Truffled Salty Dog, which was made with grapefruit, vodka, truffle essence, and truffle salt. It was exactly as advertised, and I certainly enjoyed it.

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Dave and I both ordered the “LN2 Lemond -196C”, a drink made with red wine, orgeat syrup, lemon juice, and panna cotta foam, but the twist is that both the drink and the foam were frozen using liquid nitrogen, such that it game out more like a granita. You can see it here, NO2 vapor rising lightly from the glass.

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After that we went with Bartender’s choice or “omaksase” as they say in Japan, and he served us a smoked bloody mary “dolce” with cocoa powder. Notice how the glass has a narrow mouth with a little lid to hold in the smoke.

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Also as part of the omakase service, I received an earl gray orange blossom, above, dusted with powdered sugar and garnished with whole spices. Takashi-san let us try a house-made amaro and a barrel-aged house blend of Islay scotches. Delightful.


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Tokyo Craft Bar Trench – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #8

As “Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm)” drew to a close, we found ourself in a cozy neighborhood joint known as Bar Trench…

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Gen Yamamoto told us to go to Benfiddich. Benfiddich told us to go to Codename:Mixology. Codename:Mixology told us to go to Bar Trench, and after a chain of suggestions like that, we simply could not say no. Bar Trench turned out to be in Ebisu, only a few minutes from where we were staying, so it was an easy choice. Trench is owned by the same people as a bar two blocks away called Tram, and both describe themselves as “Elixir and Absinthe”. Of all the bars we visited in Tokyo, Trench was the most similar to an American style craft cocktail bar. In fact, if you found Trench in Seattle, you wouldn’t think twice.

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We did not have a lot of time, and honestly, because it was so familiar, the menu had less to offer than a place like Codename:Mixology, but I want to commend them for creating a great atmosphere and for serving us a rock-solid drink, which they called “Gin and Jam”. Every week, they make a new gourmet jam, and then premix it in jam jars with a spirit as a sour. We were lucky enough to get Gin with homemade Apple-cinnamon jam, and everyone at the table drank it in record time. That’s how you know you did something right.

This was a two-man operation when we were there, and right as we were about to leave, the lead bartender came over to our table and hung out with us for a minute, even though the bar was fairly crowded, and he poured us all a shot of Zacapa 23 and took a shot with us. Little things like that can help take a bar from good to great.

Alas, we were a little short on time at this point, and we only had time for one drink. Still, it was a good time, and if you are in Ebisu, and looking for an American-style craft bar, Trench is the place.