Monday, June 07, 2010

St-Germain Sessions: Spring 2010


On Friday night June 4, 2010, I attended the Spring 2010 version of The St-Germain Cocktail Sessions at Union Square Wines & Spirits


The tasting, spearheaded by St-Germain’s Philip Pepperdine, featured a total of five different types of cocktails where St-Germain elderflower liqueur was the highlight.  While Philip mixed both the signature St-Germain Cocktail and one other, there were also three other bartenders present to represent their own inventions for how they have used St-Germain to create original cocktails. 


Having tried the St-Germain cocktail many times (in addition to making it myself at home more often than I care to admit), I stopped by Philip’s table merely to say hello initially, but making sure to return later in the evening when he would be ready to start making his Salve Germainia, which I had before, in a Buffalo Trace tasting a couple of months ago. 

First stop was to try something called The 10 Cent Pistol, created by Preston Eckman of The APO Bar & Lounge in Philadelphia.  St-Germain gets added to Plymouth Gin, Charteuse “Jaune” liqueur, Averna Amaro and not one but two bitters:  an obscure one (at least to me), The Bitter Truth Chocolate Mole from Germany and the more familiar Regan’s Organge Bitters No. 6.  This drink was shaken in two metal shakers, then strained into either a cocktail (Martini) glass or coupe (the old fashioned Champagne glass).  I was unfamiliar with the Averna Amaro, so I asked Preston to tell me a little bit about that one.  He said that it was an Italian digestif that is normally sipped after dinner; this is done because some of the herbs that make up the liqueur have been known to aid in digestion.  By comparison, it is much sweeter than another Italian alcohol, Campari, which tends to be much more bitter and is usually offered as an aperitif because it has a tendency to make some of the glands in your mouth water, better preparing you for the meal you are about to eat.

One of the reasons that I enjoy attending these events is that I always manage to learn something from at least one of the bartenders.  This time, it was Preston’s turn to educate me on the manly art of cocktail mixing.  As I mentioned above, this particular cocktail was mixed in a pair of metal shakers – a small one and a large one; the small one contained all of the ingredients (including both of the bitters) and then, the ice was added.  All of this was then poured into a larger metal shaker before the two were interlocked, shaken and strained.  It occurred to me that I’ve seen some drinks – both shaken and stirred – made in a mixing glass instead of a large metal shaker, so I asked Preston about this.  He said that there are advantages and disadvantages to both.  Basically, the advantage to using a pair of metal shakers is that this makes the drink colder faster – as a matter of fact, you can actually see this (and feel it) when you’re mixing the drink.  By contrast, the advantage of a mixing glass is simply the fact that because of the fact that it is made of glass, it’s transparent – therefore, being able to see through it, you can actually see the ingredients of the cocktail you are mixing and make a decision about quantity (e.g., Do you need more of one ingredient and less of another?  Is this drink for one or two people?  etc.).

The Grassy Knoll was a wonderfully refreshing Summer-time cocktail designed by Eryn Reece of The Rye House.  On first glance, it seemed deceptively simple – until, of course, it came mixing time.  Naively, I believed the tasting menu and assumed that it only contained St-Germain and gin – then, I got a wake – up call.  As I stepped up to Eryn’s station, I saw she had two large jugs – no, I’m not talking about her anatomy, I’m referring to another pair of jugs … jugs on the counter, one of which contained sliced watermelon, the other sliced cucumber.  Immediately, I panicked, thinking that we were going to be forced to muddle those guys, but Eryn was quickly able to calm us down.  Rather than muddling, we were encouraged to “very aggressively shake” the ingredients.  I had no idea what this was going to do to the end product, but I did make a mental note to ensure that I was not within close quarters of another attendee when I was about to “very aggressively shake” this cocktail. 

Starting with a couple of generously – cut chunks of the watermelon and a couple of thin slices of the cucumber tossed into a small metal shaker, we then added the sugar cane syrup and lime juice before finishing with the St-Germain and gin.  Finishing off with a small shovel of ice, we poured it all into a larger metal shaker (as with the first drink), then interlocked the two and began our “very aggressive shake”.  The end result was eventually poured into a coupe glass, but not before double straining; the purpose behind this, as Eryn explained, was because, “I want you to sip your drink, not eat it!”.  This made sense, even to me.  So, after initially using The Hawthorn to strain the mix into a glass, we then used a more conventional food strainer to pour it one last time into the coupe.  Ultimately, it looked like a very girly drink – the pink color owing to the watermelon chunks – but the taste, fortunately, was not overly sweet.  So, from that aspect, at least, it was not a girly drink because it wasn’t so sweet that it caused me to make facial contortions as I sipped from the glass; perhaps this was due to the inclusion of the cucumber.  I’m not sure.  Nevertheless, it was a very refreshing drink and I could see myself sipping this during the summer except for the fact that it takes quite a considerable amount of effort to make.  (Slicing watermelon and cucumber, then double – straining?  This sounds like way too much work when you’re on vacation – unless, of course, you’re trying to impress some chick)

Next up was a visit to a familiar face at these St-Germain tastings, Jason Littrell, who I later learned was now tending bar in my very own ‘hood (The Dram Bar).  His latest invention was something called The Accidental Tourist, which contains honey, lime juice, St-Germain, Mezcal and Reposado Tequila.  A drink that contained both tequila and mezcal was a little scary to me – in fact, I admitted as much to Jason when he asked me what took me so long to drop by his station.  However, I am happy to report that my fears were not well founded because this is not the type of cocktail that will knock you on your ass immediately (well, not after only one, anyway).  The key to making this drink great is the mezcal, which adds this incredible smoky component to the drink’s profile that makes it really stand out.  As you may already know, the difference between mezcal (or mescal) and tequila is that tequila must be made from the blue agave plant and made in the town of Tequila, located in Jalisco, Mexico.  By contrast, mezcal is made from an agave plant that does not have to be a blue agave (nor from the town of Tequila).  Jason most definitely had a winner in this one. 

Finally, I wound up back with Philip as he taught attendees how to make the Salve Germainia.  Having tried this before at an earlier tasting, I knew exactly what goodness was to follow – as a matter of fact, since trying it at that tasting in April, I’ve made this cocktail at home a number of times.  This, by the way, is due in no small part thanks to Philip, who gave me his bottle of orange flavored Angostura bitters – a crucial ingredient of the drink, which I can’t manage to find in stores locally (although you certainly can find it online fairly easily). 

In teaching us how to make this cocktail, Philip stressed the stirring.  We stood there making the drink with instructions to stir hard the ice – filled mixing glass containing the ingredients.  “But how long?  How do you know when you’re done”, I asked Philip.  He replied by saying that how long you stir depends on how strong you want the drink to taste; if you prefer more of the bourbon’s flavor, then don’t stir too long – otherwise, stir up a storm, because the harder you stir – and the longer you stir – the more the ice will melt into the drink.  This, of course, will somewhat dilute the cocktail – which may not necessarily be a bad thing, depending on your tastes. 

So what was the best cocktail of the entire evening?  Once again, I would have to pick Philip’s Salve Germainia, but instantly, I would have to disqualify it because I’d tried it before.  That said, if I have to pick best cocktail based on the new ones I tried this evening, then I would have to pick Jason’s Accidental Tourist, if, for no other reason, due to that smoky taste from the mezcal.