Alchemy Consulting: Toby Maloney, Troy Sidle, Joaquin Simo, Jason Cott
Alchemy Consulting is the dynamic team behind the celebrated bar programs at The Violet Hour, Hotel Williamsburg, The Bar Downstairs at the Andaz, and many more. The dapper gentlemen are true cocktail aficionados who aim to constantly elevate the caliber of libation being served, as well as extend the concept of hospitality to the bar. In this hands-on demonstration, Toby, Troy, and Joaquin discuss how time expands and contracts during a drinking session and how this perception affects a guest’s experience.Troy began by explaining that a bartender is constantly aiming to shorten the time before a customer gets a drink—“when you’re standing at a bar with $20 bill in your hand, a minute seems like an hour.” Engaging the patron is the preeminent tool to use during a busy night; if a guest is entertained, the wait inevitably appears to be shorter. With those words we had our first cocktail in front of us, the “Tattooed Seaman.” This creation combined Sailor Jerry Rum, Root Beer Bitters, and Orange Peel. The idea behind this cocktail was to take something that not a lot of people are familiar with, Sailor Jerry Rum, and combine it with a flavor profile with which many can identify, Root Beer. The team often uses homemade bitters to add a different dimension to a drink. Troy explained that the proper way to taste bitters is to put a drop on your hand and commented, “Don’t take shots of this unless you’re an off-duty bartender.”
Next, four separate cups were placed in front of us and we were asked to sample the contents of each. Whew!…not the most enjoyable part of the demo. Toby let us know that we tasted a cheap vodka, gin, scotch, and Jose Cuervo, aka “what you drank in high school.” He explained that many people have a bad association with one or all of these spirits because they have memories of drinking a low-end brand straight (and probably warm). Alchemy often crafts “gateway” cocktails to re-introduce peoples’ palates to an alcohol they might think they dislike.This led into our second cocktail tasting, a variation of a Whiskey Sling made with Peach Bitters, whiskey, Lemon, and Laphroaig Scotch spray. Each glass was sprayed with a mist of the Scotch, which gave a smoky note indicative of the spirit, but was counteracted by the peach and lemon, making it a perfect introductory libation. Toby commented that, “Giving someone a 10-year-old Macallan is a nice hand-holding into Scotch.”
One of the biggest challenges, the team explained, is that they’re not conjuring up childhood memories, they’re introducing new flavors to the American palate. Chefs have the ability to utilize taste memories and take advantage of positive associations a guest has with an ingredient. Because alcohol is not a product that’s consumed from the time we’re young, adults have to train their palates to enjoy different spirits. The “gateway” cocktails, infusions of bitters, and use of culinary products such as herbs, citrus, etc. are tools that aid in this process.One flavor profile in particular that is nearly absent from the American diet is bitter (this was a theme addressed in many lectures during this year’s ICC). The next spirit we were given to sample was Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum—if the essence of “bitter” was distilled into a liquid, this is what it would taste like. From the expression across most peoples’ faces in the room, it was clearly a challenging sip. What this spirit has the ability to do is keep a drinker’s palate lively, particularly for a bartender who’s been sampling cocktails for several hours. Out of this necessity came the “Fatigue Variation No. 1,” a drink made with the Smith & Cross Rum, Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6, and Maraschino Liqueur (the original “Fatigue” was made with equal parts Jack Daniel’s, Maraschino Liqueur, and Angostura Bitters). The team explained that this was meant to be a combination so unique, that it would be novel even to the trained palate of a bartender—it was certainly new to me. The meta-sense of time refers to the different senses collectively contributing to the idea of what time is. The men of Alchemy Consulting skillfully use a combination of taste references, new flavor profiles, and overall bravado to create an experience for guests that controls their perception of time in front of the bar. This demonstration also brought to mind a topic that has warranted much discussion with the rise of cocktail culture in the past few years: mixologist vs. bartender. Jim Meehan of the acclaimed New York City bar PDT says, “A mixologist serves drinks, a bartender serves people–many of my favorite bartenders can’t make a good drink, while some of the best mixologists in America can’t carry on a conversation.” After meeting the Alchemy Consulting team, and sampling their cocktails, I think a new term is in order—bartendologist?
All photos by John M. Sconzo, M.D. Copyright Docsconz LLC 2011 – All rights reserved.