Born to Mix!

Born to Mix Spirits Made for Mixing

I’ll confess. Tales of the Cocktail 2011 took its toll on me. While in New Orleans I missed my seminar on “Vinegar: The Other Acid” due to a self-induced illness from the previous evening. But when my seminar on “A History of Cocktail Glassware” was cancelled due to Angus Winchester’s legitimate illness, I was only disappointed until I heard the next piece of news. The ticket had become an all-powerful talisman that allowed me admission into ANY other seminar, including those previously sold out.

I felt like I had just unwrapped a Wonka Bar and seen the wild gleam of gold foil. My decision was immediate and outspoken: “I want to hear the guys behind Employees Only“.

3:30PM Saturday arrives like a freight train of reality, and I make it to the Hotel Monteleone with minutes to spare. I wave my newly upgraded ticket in the face of the volunteer door person like a VIP pass to the hottest club in the city. She looks at me tiredly as I mumble something about a seminar cancellation, and then waves me through with a beaten look in her eyes. It’s been a long three days for everyone.

Dushan Zaric looks just like his picture at the back of “Speakeasy“, the Employees Only cocktail book released in 2010. Thin and tall, with a quirky sense of dress and frantic with passion for all things liquid. He paces in front of the podium with nervous energy. His counterpart Jason Kosmas appears calmer and more self-assured behind the panelists table. I can picture the two of them in the short days and long nights approaching the Employees Only opening in 2004. Dushan brushing the transcendental with wild ideas and creativity bordering on madness, Jason reeling in his outlandish spirit and giving it direction and structure. They also have included thirteenth generation Master Distiller Marko Karakasevic on the panel to enlighten us on all things Spirit.

The subject of the seminar is very broadly “Born to Mix: Spirits Made for Mixing”. Excellent; a favourite topic of mine as well. Dushan begins the seminar by discussing the origins of distillation, which the Arabs mastered during the dark ages while Europe was still scratching in the mud and beheading witches. After some other interesting trivia, we are handed to the master distiller to begin our education. I know the distillation process fairly well, but today we go deeper. Marko tells us of the many control parameters needed to correct the amount of Head, Heart, and Tail Distillate that make it into the bottle. Incessant monitoring and obsession appear to be requirements for a master distiller, which I would find issue with after a tasting or three.

Born to Mix Seminar

Jason tells us of the limitations of a copper pot still. Namely, vodka cannot be distilled in a copper pot still, as you simply cannot get the proof high enough. He is careful not to bash the clear spirit, but makes one point exceptionally clear: If you want to distill with body, texture, nose, flavor, mouthfeel, you must aim for a lower distillation proof. To strip out everything, column stills are fine.

They finish the seminar with a discussion of how to taste, consider, and appreciate well-made cocktails. Dushan validates the Sweet/Sour, Strong/Weak framework that is introduced by Bartending Schools in Toronto and elsewhere, but he frames it as a first step in a bartenders development. “Speakeasy” challenges us to consider the dominant flavour in a cocktail as well as its accentuating or contrasting flavours. If a bartender is to move beyond the categories of Sour, Collins and Punch, they must be able to command body, texture, and finish. Each cocktail also needs a Third dimension, a magic element that makes it unforgettable and impossible to replicate. He sparkles with vigour as he conveys his life’s work in a few short sentences.

TOTC Mixing it up

I hang on their every word until the the very end, then meekly make my way to the door. There is much to learn, and more to taste.

Matt Holtom

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