Tuesday, November 11, 2014

:: the aperitif hour ::

One of the first talks I attended at Thirst Boston was The Aperitif Hour hosted by Naren Young and Nick Korn and sponsored by Campari. The event guide's description declared, "Where once 'stirred, brown, and strong' was the inspiration for many bartenders, now it is low alcohol aperitifs that are again providing inspiration for new creations while resurrecting old classic drinks that deserve our respect." Naren began by stressing the importance of aperitifs especially in restaurants; the word aperitif comes from the French aperire meaning "to open" such as the palate. Perhaps bartenders should begin the conversation with guests with the question "Where are you in your evening?" to figure out what drinks to make or suggest for people. Before or after meals, needing lighter libations when out with colleagues, etc. are all perfect moments for aperitif style cocktails.

Naren split the talk into two aspects. The first was the more expected -- suggesting aperitif recipes, while the second was how to heighten the experience by making it memorable. For example, why put a Dry (Vermouth) Martini on the menu? If you can do it well or unique, call it out. At Saxon & Parole, Naren's 5:1 Martini was listed as "Dry Martini Service" with gin, vermouth, and "accoutrements." An old school sized glass, a sidecar carafe with the rest of the drink stored in crushed ice, and a trio of garnish possibilities of an olive, onion, and a knotted lemon twist all aesthetically displayed. Instead of relying on store bought pickled olives and garnishes, why not make them in house with matching botanicals?
Even the classic Gin & Tonic can be a playground of variations. In addition to making your own house tonic water, Collins ice molds produced by Cocktail Kingdom can be utilized to add seasonal touches like cucumber water, chili water, or ginger water ice. At Bacchanal, Naren honed in on the Spanish interest in the G&T where some places have as many as 150 gins and menus with 25 or more G&T combinations with different garnishes listed. Even elevating the drink with a frozen glass, a metal straw, and fresh citrus garnish can assist in making the drink alluring to the senses.

While Fernet Branca may be the bartenders' shot, the Negroni has become the bartenders' cocktail over the last 5-6 years. It is a safe drink and good even when made poorly. Naren's preference is a little extra gin heavy at 1:3/4:3/4 to help to dry out the sugar-laden amaro and vermouth components; moreover, stirring on ice and straining over fresh ice, especially a single large ice cube, is his go-to technique. Also take a step backward from Negroni and consider the Americano a/k/a Torino Milano for an aperitif. At Bacchanal, Naren served a variety of seasonal Negronis on tap such as the Chocolate Negroni:
Chocolate Negroni
• 1 oz Gin
• 3/4 oz Campari
• 3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth
• 1 dash Creme de Cacao (or other white chocolate liqueur)
• 2 dash Chocolate Bitters (to dry out the drink)
Serve with a dehydrated orange wheel garnish (quicker to garnish with attractively during service) and fresh orange oil (so that the fresh twist does not need to look perfect).
The Boulevardier and the Old Pal, the rye Negroni variations with sweet and dry vermouth, respectively, from 1927's Barflies and Cocktails are other classic ways of tinkering with the Negroni. Two other variations, the Negroni Sbagliato (1 oz each Campari, sweet vermouth, prosecco) from 1972 and the Negroni Bianco (1 oz gin, 3/4 oz Aperol, 3/4 oz bianco vermouth, 2 dash lemon bitters) were also noteworthy. In addition, Naren shared his thoughts on the bottled Champagne Negroni (pictured below). Bottling equipment is rather cheap and most of the work is backend time. While guests wait for tables on a busy Friday or Saturday night, it will boost the guest experience. Moreover, the staff will love making the sale with the only front end work being popping a cap.
The revival of punch is another aperitif idea. The communal experience allows the bartender to prep a single bowl instead of a hodgepodge of drink orders for a group. Other drinks mentioned were the Bamboo, Aperol Spritz, pastis drinks, Upside Down Dirty Gibsons, Classic Champagne Cocktails, Highballs, and Horse's Necks. The final drink I have in my notes is the Jasmine; besides the proportions in that link, Naren offered his ratio of 1 1/2 oz gin, 1/2 oz Campari, 3/4 oz Cointreau, 3/4 oz lemon juice, and garnished with an edible pansy.

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