Copenhagen Cocktail & Spirits Festival 2013 - Day 1
Last year at Tales of the Cocktail, I had the great fortune to meet Henrik Steen Petersen at the Spirited Awards dinner. In addition to owning Moltke's Palæ in Copenhagen, Henrik also puts on a shindig of his own, the Copenhagen Spirits and Cocktails conference. He was kind enough (over a bottle of cognac) to invite me to visit the 2013 version of his gathering, which I was only too eager to do, having lived in Copenhagen during my misspent youth, and remembering enough Danish to startle the average travelling Dane.
When I arrived on March 24th, Copenhagen was experiencing a bit of a cold front, not completely unusual for the time of the year but colder than normal according to the locals. Nevertheless, this wasn't enough to stop the Danes from riding their bicycles - København is certainly a city meant for cycling! As I walked from my hotel to the venue for the conference, my cold breath visible in the air, I reflected upon how appropriate it was that the same building that now hosted parties, conferences and Henrik's bar should once have housed the Craftsmen's Association of Denmark. For what are today's drinkslingers but craftsmen in their own right?
The queue at the door to the first seminar was wide and long. There was clearly a lot of excitement among the nordic bartenders for this event, and I was also eagerly anticipating the first speaker. Don Lee, former beverage director at New York's famous PDT, and now working with Cocktail Kingdom designing and prototyping professional bar tools, had a great presentation in store for us.
Don was trying to bust a few long-held bar myths, while entertaining and imparting some useful information to the many Scandinavian bar professionals in the room. This was how we got to spend the next hour listening to Don talk about (as his presentation was titled) Carbonation, Centrifuges and Bullshit.
Don began by describing a quick 'n dirty method of making dry ice by unleashing a canister of CO2 into a pillowcase, and went on to explain the history of forced carbonation, the difference between seltzer and club soda (there is none), and the invention of a machine to carbonate water by Johann Jacob Schweppe (yes, that one).
To the assembled beverage professionals Don went on to warn that you should not carbonate anything that you don't want to be acidic (carbonation imparts acidity to a drink), nor liquids that have nucleation sites (i.e. orange juice, which has pulp).
Don then tackled the top of clarification, which can help rid a juice of those pesky nucleation sites. Clarification has also been covered in great detail by Dave Arnold at Cooking Issues here and here (about which I'll have more to say in a future post).
In describing several ways to clarify solutions, Don covered all the usual suspects, from coffee filters, which can filter out things up to 200 microns, through büchner funnels and superbags, which can filter out particles bigger than 50 microns. He delved deeper into using the increasingly common gelatin and agar agar clarification methods, arriving finally at centrifuging, the ne plus ultra (but unwieldy and impractical for the average bar) method for pulling solids out of the juices used behind the bar and in the professional kitchen. Ultimately we all walked away understanding a bit more of the process by which new bar techniques are developed, and it gave us food (drinks?) for thought in terms of how many of these techniques we could adopt in our own practice.
The second noteworthy talk of the day (for me) was Jacob Briars, the global director of training and advocacy for Bacardi, who shared his thoughts on what makes a world class bar.
At the most basic level, world class bars (WCBs) set quality as the sine qua non of their existence. They use the freshest ingredients, the best products, and attempt to offer their drinks in a way that always exceeds expectations. But since every aspiring craft cocktail bar tries to do this, Jacob was arguing that there must be some other factors that propel a bar into the next echelon of drinking establishments.
According to Briars, when you look at a drinks menu at a WCB it's clear what the bar is trying to do. Sure you'll see classics on there, but at least half of the menu will be original creations. The drinks haven't been added to the menu in isolation, but rather the entire menu should work holistically, offering a way for you to progress through the menu. These bars do something first, they do something new, or they do something better than their peers.
Briars describes a bar as part living room, part movie set, and suggests that a WCB will have a theme and carry it throughout their establishment. There are world-class tiki bars, but they are world class in part because they commit to their theme.
The best bars recruit and retain great staff, and train complete bartenders who are comfortable with all facets of the bar, from knowing (and tasting!) all the bottles to making the syrups and prepping for service. These bars invest in their people, protect them from injury and have their backs in conflict situations. Jacob gave examples of bar rotating staff so as to rest people's wrists from shaking, preventing costly downtime due to injury.
The bars people want to return to offer a unique experience to their customers. They provide something that people can't get anywhere else, whether it be vintage spirits, as at Pouring Ribbons in NYC, or amazing presentation or ice programs, as at Aviary in Chicago.
Ultimately, however, the litmus test for the World's Best Bars comes down to this, Briars' "Golden Rule": the bar should take the craft seriously, while not taking itself too seriously.
Sounds like a recipe for success to me.
Afterwards, Briars took to Moltke's to make some of his signature blue drinks, and celebrations continued into the night at various bars around Copenhagen, where we tried to make sure we didn't drink too much to make Day 2's first session!
The Bax Beet Pinot
- 20 ml Fernet Branca
- 15 ml Martini Sweet Vermouth
- 30 ml Simple Syrup
- 15 ml Lime Juice
- 15 ml Beet Juice
Shake over ice, strain into a wine glass