This week, treat yourself to some fantastic cocktails at MO Bar's fourth annual Masters of Mixology (MoM) event from 13 to 16 June 2012.
The four-day event at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental features different themes each night and an all-star lineup of mixologists including Manabu Ohtake, winner of the Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year Award 2011 and Jim Kearns of Rye House fame (which was named by Time Out New York as the best new cocktail lounge in 2010).
Other big names include John Lermayer from Boston, Adam DelGiudice from Miami, Sebastien Reaburn from Melbourne and Eric Alperin from Los Angeles. Alperin, who honed his craft at Lupa, Milk & Honey and Little Branch before opening his own cocktail lounge The Varnish in 2009, spoke with us ahead of MoM about the world of cocktails and what's in store for us this week.
LifestyleAsia: What can we expect from you at Masters of Mixology 2012?
Eric Alperin: First of all, I'm glad to participate in the annual Masters of Mixology (MoM) at MO Bar, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, and particularly at this fourth annual event, working along with five other award-winning mixologists from New York, Boston, Miami Melbourne and Tokyo.
It isn't heavy handed but on each night I try to stay in a cultural vain. On the 13th, which is the Celebration of USA evening, I picked a few boozy cocktails as well as a punch. On the 14th with the East Meets West theme, I've chosen a bit of an Asian influence ingredient wise: ginger, Sochu, Oolong tea. I'll leave it up to the drinker's palette to decide...
LSA: The Varnish was recently voted the "Best American Cocktail Bar". What is an "American cocktail" and how do they differ from other countries?
EA: Cocktails are an American invention. They are evolutions of the punches that the Brits brought over from the Motherland during colonisation. Once the pace of the industrial revolution took hold people still wanted punch, but it needed to be the quick quaffable version and not hours around a punch bowl catching a buzz and singing the afternoon away.
Also ingredients for punches like citrus became less available at points in the year as you moved inland so that is why you got recipes like Crustas & Juleps that require minimal or no citrus. I think it's really that we are an American cocktail bar located in downtown Los Angeles. We definitely have the feeling of being a bar from an earlier American era. We are not a theme bar, but just happen to enjoy the tastes of the past.
LSA: You only serve five cocktails at The Varnish -- why?
EA: We actually only have five cocktails on our menu which acts as a starting point for guests. The sixth cocktail is "Bartender's Choice - Allow Us". After a visit or even after their first round guests might not see their fancy in the first five and will adventure into a mutual creation between guest and bartender in finding the right libation.
We ask if they like aromatic or sour? Boozy or refreshing? Sweet or spicy? Any allergies? What they usually like to drink? Questions of that nature to get a gauge of their palette. Then we make a cocktail for them. It's always a tried and true recipe. We're never pulling cocktails out of our hat on the spot.
LSA: How do you make yourself stand out from other bartenders?
EA: I don't try. I just do what makes sense for The Varnish. We don't do molecular. We are a classic cocktail bar, not reinventing the wheel, just trying to help it turn smoother.
Now I can't say that my behavior at events isn't sometimes a little raucous... I wore risque clothes and cut my hair into a mohawk for a competition once -- that got the crowd going. All in all though when it comes to work I like to try the different styles the craft of bartending has to offer, but that is to keep my personal skills sharp. At The Varnish it's a straightforward program and we don't want to muddy it up.
For fans of molecular mixology, check out Quinary cocktail bar in Hong Kong.
LSA: What are your thoughts on molecular mixology?
EA: It has its successes and failures like anything. Sometimes it just looks cool, but tastes blah. Other times it can be successful, but consistency I think is the greatest challenge in molecular, although I'm not an authority. That's just my personal experience in visiting bars that do it nightly.
LSA: What's your go-to cocktail?
EA: Negroni, Old Fashioned. I know ... boring, eh?
LSA: People seem to love reviving the past with cocktails but what about the future? What's next in the world of cocktail making, and has everything already been done?
EA: Everything hasn't been done now, but it's been done before, but now we have new techniques, tools, knowledge and an incredible crop of talent the world over, so there is a pretty exciting movement in swing at the moment.
I like reviving the old stuff, doing it consistently and riffing on those classics with original recipes. This will be the style I am planning to bring to the Masters of Mixology event at MO Bar for this visit.
For example I enjoy how the modernisation of freezers and saws allows us to take old techniques of ice harvesting large clear blocks and cutting them down for each of our cocktails.
LSA: Can you share a signature cocktail recipe from The Varnish with us?
EA: Sure, the following drinks will be also served at the Masters of Mixology event.
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- 45 ml Dolin Dry Vermouth
- 45 ml Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
- Benedictine Rinse
Stir all ingredients sans Benedictine. Rinse chilled coupe w/ Benedictine. Strain and garnish orange peel.
- 22ml fresh lime juice
- 22ml house made 3:1 honey syrup
- 60ml Sagatiba Cachaca
- Float Yellow Chartreuse
Whip it and dump into a double rocks glass. Fill with crushed ice and then float or dash a full barspoon of Yellow Chartreuse atop the cone of crushed ice. Then slap a sprig of mint in there and add a straw.
Besides bar snacks, MO Bar will also be offering a five-course dinner for 12 each night of Masters of Mixology in the intimate upstairs area, where two masters will stay tableside to create unique cocktails for each guest.
This exclusive experience is priced at HK$15,000 per table plus 10 percent service charge and must be booked in advance.
MO Bar, G/F, Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen's Road Central, Hong Kong, +852 2132 0077, www.mandarinoriental.com