Wednesday 13 May 2009

Lunch and more in New York, March 2009

I have the dream job: to sell high quality Swiss absinthe to the world. In this capacity, (and as I manage to sell to more countries), I am doing more and more travelling. I don’t claim to be the best salesman in the world and have never had any sales training. However I have probably sold absinthe in about 20 countries.

So, having launched La Clandestine in the USA in fall 2008, I was pleased to return to help the follow-up. At the end of March 2009, I went to New York (then LA and San Francisco). The percentage of trained mixologists in those cities is probably as high as anywhere else in the world, and it’s easy to be in awe (maybe too much so) of their skills. So I wasn’t too sure what to expect when I met up with Jen Blanchard of Viridian and Ted Breaux of Jade Absinthes fame to plan our campaign to sell La Clandestine and Nouvelle-Orléans to some of the top bars in Manhattan.

We agreed to meet for lunch in the Fatty Crab on Hudson Street (co-incidentally its uptown sister is reviewed in today's New York Times): first instance of time travel for me since Hudson Street was where I stayed when I first visited Manhattan in 1981. My time travels continued when I discovered the cuisine was Malaysian: I lived in Kuala Lumpur from 1999 to 2002 and La Clandestine has just been successfully launched in KL. Luckily (over-spiced food doesn’t work for me), the spice was tuned down to low, allowing the various flavors to really come through. Native Malaysians may find the food less hot than they like, but the three of us were very happy with the mix of Fatty Duck, Green Mango Salad, Fatty Sliders (not very Malaysian that one!), Steamed Buns and more.

We didn’t drink too much with lunch (we were planning to visit another 10 bars and knew a few drinks might be served), but as we ended our lunch, Adam Schuman, Bar Manager, joined us and served the house absinthe cocktail;

Spring Snow

1 oz Tanqueray Rangpur Gin
1 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
¼ oz Lucid
¼ oz Peychaud’s Bitters
¾ oz Lemon Juice
¼ oz Yuzu Juice

This worked well for us, although some absinthe salesmen might have wanted a bit more absinthe!

So it took the absinthe saleswoman, Jen, to produce from her bag our two new jewels, and you could see Adam’s eyes light up. OK, I am biased, but the blue bottle of La Clandestine and the elegant labelling of Nouvelle-Orléans ARE eye-catching, attractive, and aspirational.

Adam nosed, then tasted the new absinthes. Now you could almost see his brain and taste buds at work as he imagined cocktails to complement the more delicate flavors presented to him. I’d have to admit to a little scepticism at times about mixologists, but to see Adam at work, it was easy to see him as a chef inventing a great liquid dish, with all the complexity of an entrée at a Michelin 3 Star restaurant. Adam dazzled the three of us, literally, with the way he measured, mixed, re-measured and re-mixed an astonishing variety of cocktails over the next 60 minutes or so.

Here are a few – the ones that we were able to take notes of. I think there may have been others, but these were certainly the best. All excellent; all conceived to work superbly with the different flavor profiles of the different absinthe styles.

No Name (bitter fruit aperitif)

½ oz Nouvelle-Orleans
½ oz Campari
1 Dash Mezcal or Peaty Single Malt Scotch
2 oz Watermelon Juice

Lower West

1-1/12 oz Silver or Reposado Tequila
½ oz Lucid
½ oz Simple Syrup
¾ oz Lemon Juice
Top with Ginger Beer

Chill and add to glass with muddled mint and Thai basil

No Name

1 oz Mathilde Pear Liqueur
¾ oz Cynar
¼ oz Lustau Dry Sherry
¼ oz Lucid

Adam's White Christmas

Serve in champagne flute

½ oz La Clandestine
¼ oz simple syrup
1 oz Grapefruit Juice
3 dashes St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
Top up with Prosecco

Can I get back to you on that?

½ oz Cynar
¼ oz La Clandestine
1 ½ oz Pineapple Juice
Top up with Ginger Beer

My favorite? Well, I am a little biased since I said that I wanted a White Christmas cocktail. Adam’s brilliance here lay in inverting my dream of falling snow with the rising bubbles of the Prosecco, but this was way more complex than the classic Death in the Afternoon cocktail.

As we chatted towards the end of the session, Adam told us that he was not a trained mixologist but had just “picked it up.” During a subsequent conversation, when I praised Ted’s selling skills, he told me that he is not a trained salesman (nor me). So it was interesting to reflect on the similarities between these two self-taught "craftsmen" (of course Ted has other skills too!).

Adam’s craftsmanship really opened my eyes up to the art (or is it science?) of cocktail creation: the imagination and intuition that went into the delights he conjured up made this an afternoon to remember.

As we emerged into a rainy mid-afternoon in Manhattan, we had lots of work still to do. But we felt inspired to take on the challenge!

Thanks, Adam, and santé!


Unknown said...

That sounds like way too much fun. Are you SURE this was purely for business?:)

Alan said...

Thanks, webmaster.

It WAS fun, although we were subsequently punished for it by having to walk from bar to bar in Manhattan in the pouring rain for more than an hour. Normally three parts of water is fine by me, but we had about 3 million parts.

The most painful experience of the day was visiting one bar where they make their own absinthe and burn it on-site, but they don't need any more publicity from me. Anyone who wants to burn $50 or more on a cocktail which is ruined by flames should just send the money straight to me, please.

Anonymous said...

"he is not a trained salesman (nor me)"

Really? Then why are you known as the "Swiss Tony" of Absinthe?

Alan said...


You mean "Swiss Toni."

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