I got out of bed early enough to make the media breakfast at Brennan’s. To start we had a tasty Bloody Mary with a splash of red wine in it, then more wine to follow during breakfast – baked apple with cream, two types of eggs (French conversant eggs that arrived on beds of spinach and the like), and Bananas Foster. They take breakfast seriously in New Orleans. The Bananas Foster was pretty good, but then Brenan’s was where it was invented so no surprises there. We didn’t quite get table-side service, but the chef came out to demonstrate how the dish was made. He came damn near burning down the old dining room while doing so.
At 10.30 I caught the session on the life and times of Jerry Thomas. A ton of people were there to hear David Woodrich and Ted Haigh discourse on how cocktails got started. It was covering pretty familiar ground if you have read their books and know a bit about 19th and early 20th century social history. However, it was great to see them speak in person and some interesting ideas were bounced around. There was a lot of talk of bartenders other than Jerry Thomas. I had nearly gone to the session on bitters and apparently I missed out on some good stuff here, with real samples of discontinued early 20th century products being passed around. There was a third guy on the panel in this session as well. I arrived a little late and missed the introductions but found out after the event that he was Brian Rea.
Next up I headed to Rum, Ron, Rhum with Wayne Curtis. I was hoping to learn more about rum, but sadly this turned out to be a quite average session. Wayne Curtis gave a good talk introducing rum. Unfortunately the brand sponsors took over the rest of the session, introducing their products, talking us through a very brief tasting (a basic white and aged product from each distillery), and serving a cocktail. I can’t say I got much out of the session itself besides tasting Rhum Clement. The Rhum Clement was nice but I think I have had better rhum agricoles. However, while the session itself did not exactly enthuse me, I got a chance to chat with Wayne Curtis afterwards. He had some interesting things to say about Havana Club rum and travel in Cuba. Apparently there are a lot of rum scams going on there, and even Havana Club themselves seem to have picked up a reputation for sometimes adulterating their own product (adding leather and the like to simulate aging). Jeff Berry stopped by to say hello while we waited for the session to start, so I got to talk rum with him for a while. I also had a chat about Tiki bars with Martin Cate from Forbidden Island – I really should have got to his place while I was in San Francisco.
During the next slot I ducked into Grape Expectations, a session on grappa. It was happening close by, seemed a better idea than fighting the crowds in the lift, and I find the whole grappa-pisco-marc category interesting. The session was chaotic in the traditional Italian manner, with numerous delays to start with, then a race to sample eight or so grappa in the final 20 minutes. The aged grappa were very interesting. There was a 50% vol 12 year old from the Marolo distillery with some great dry scented wood aromas. There was another aged product from Poli that was also really interesting, but we were literally tossing these final products back as we had to make way for the next session. There was also a great chamomile liqueur. The good thing about the session was getting a better handle on the differences between grappa and pisco, a question I have tried to resolve before with little success. They presented a product called Uga Viva, which they presented as being – more a pisco than a grappa on account of being distilled from a fermentation based on the whole grapes (i.e. juice, skins etc.). This stuff had great aroma by the way – almost like a hoppy pale ale. Anyhow, Diego Loret de Mola of Barsol Pisco was there at the end of the session and proved to be a great source of information on exactly how pisco is produced. According to him it had been a little misleading to present the Uga Viva as “pisco-like”, since Peruvian Pisco is distilled from fermented grape juice only (i.e. there is no solid matter in there whatsoever). So really Peruvian pisco is simply an unaged brandy, with the unique taste coming entirely from grape variety and distillation techniques.
Afterwards I went to Sensory Perception in Mixology where Darcy O’Niel conducted a scientific experiment that proved me to be a non-taster. Needless to say, this session completely sucked.
I grabbed some jambalaya and headed to Preservation Hall for Rum and All That Jazz. There were a bunch of cocktails made with product from the New Orleans Rum Company. To call this event incredible would be to do it a huge disservice. The rum drinks were great and the band was unbelievable.
Words can’t really describe the amazing old style jazz that was being played so I’ll just focus on the drinks. We started with a spiced rum punch. There was a little chili in the mix, but it was at that level where it was accentuating the other tastes rather than taking over the drink. Next up was a rum sour with egg white and a lemongrass and melon puree. The melon seemed to contribute to an enjoyably rich texture. At first I was wondering whether there was some yolk in there too. There were a couple more drinks as well, a daiquiri type thing and a creamy smoothie.
Back at the hotel I dropped by the St. Germain party and had a cocktail made from St. Germain, Sazerac Rye, and a pear brandy from the exceptionally good Shladerer firm. Some guy called Jamie Bourdeau mixed the thing up. Well, at least it was free booze.
OK. . . it was great, and Jamie is a really nice guy.