For my whole drinking life, warm, watery drinks were considered the worst possible drinks—but Pip Hanson, head bartender and guiding light behind the bar at The Bachelor Farmer and the Marvel Bar, wants to change all that.
“One of our working hypotheses right now,” Hanson told me in a phone interview, “is that cocktails as they’ve been made have been too cold and too strong. The bracing ice cold cocktail—it’s certainly pleasant, but if you’re looking to appreciate a really good gin or Calvados, they should be warmer.”
Warmer? Why? Blame food, and evolution, Hanson says.
“I’ve been messing around with food-friendly cocktails,” ones made with wine, sherry, shochu, and cognac, especially, Hanson told me. “The more I work with food-friendly ingredients, I’m starting to wonder how food-friendly liquors really are. Bartenders pay lip service to the idea of balanced cocktails, but there is so much sugar in some of them—even ones that don’t taste sweet—that food is overwhelmed. There’s so much sugar in some of the Italian bitters [the finished drinks] end up having as high a Brix [scientific sugar measurement] as an apple martini. As a bartender, you can’t help but notice; People start with Lemon Drops. That’s natural, everyone likes lemonade, right? They’re sour, they’re sweet. You start on a cocktail life, but it always ends, disappointingly, at single-malt scotch or wine. What is there for a sommelier or a single-malt scotch connoisseur or a cicerone [beer sommelier] in cocktails? Now I keep asking myself, how can we create the Burgundy of cocktails, how can we create the lightest, most subtle, and delicate of cocktails? Once you are no longer looking for cocktails to go to 11 in terms of alcohol and flavor, what are your new tools?”
Your new tools, Hanson says, are hyperdilution, and warmth. “I have this idea that cocktails, they’re still in the folk-art stage. Only recently have we begun branching out into carbonated cocktails, in retrospect that seems pretty basic. And now I’m thinking, the next step for the art form is hyperdiluted cocktails, or hyperdiluted cocktails at room temperature, for the aromatics.” For instance, The Great Gatsby, is a drink made with Oban 14-year-old single-malt Scotch whisky, and a little bit of apricot liqueur, Benedictine, and salt, the whole thing blended with two ounces of super-chilled distilled water, which makes the whole thing about 55 degrees, or ‘cellar temperature.’ The drink, like some other of Hanson’s new hyperdilute cocktails, is served in a Riedel wine stem.
And the drinks are weak, too! “The proof of a Martini is probably 30 percent,” alcohol by volume, Hanson guesses. “After the gin, the vermouth, the water from the ice. But the drinks we’re serving are probably closer to wine proof, around 18 percent alcohol by volume. But nothing has surprised me more than the reaction to this one, The Great Gatsby. It’s a great drink. It’s one of the greatest drinks we’ve ever done. And it’s selling like hotcakes. Nothing has surprised me more in my bartending career than the way we went through a case of Oban just for the Gatsby last week.”
That’s a lot of Scotch. For myself, I haven’t had the Gatsby, though I did try a few of Hanson’s other hyperdilute, ice-free, wine glass served cocktails as part of a cocktail-paired dinner at The Bachelor Farmer. They were striking, potently fragrant without being potently alcoholic. One made with Calvados, Benedictine, Farigoule, salt, and distilled water was particularly memorable, the smoke and herbal notes like a Malbec, with the fruit ripped out. Haunting. A shochu, gin, rosé wine, sake, and elderflower cocktail was so pretty and delicate, it practically floated.
“The embryonic idea actually came from an interview I read with Booker Noe,” the Bourbon legend. “He said he likes his bourbon one-part bourbon, and six-parts water. If you try it, you see why it’s called Kentucky Ice Tea, it has tannin from the barrel, some grain and oak, a little sweetness—and it’s delicious, like iced tea.” So that’s where it came from, and here’s where it’s going: “Stay tuned,” Hanson told me. “We’re heading in some weird directions. Warm and watery—it’s such fertile ground.”
The Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar, 50 2nd Ave. N., Mpls., 612.206.3920, thebachelorfarmer.com
What are you doing the weekend of November 2–4? Want to get out of town? Drink wine? Have fun? Then come to the Bluefin Bay Wine Lover’s Weekend! I’ll be there, and I’m so looking forward to it. A couple of fancy wine dinners with food from Thunder Bay, Ontario chef Jean Robillard, a chance to sit in Bluefin Bay’s outdoor, heated pool behind the wind-screen and look out at frosty, magnificent Lake Superior, and of course great wine—the Saturday wine tasting should be glorious, and I’ll let you in on a little secret, it’s going to be all Pinot Noir, reds from the great wine regions of Burgundy, Oregon, and California, and also blanc de noirs bubbly. Come!