Heading into Tales of the Cocktail 2018 next week, I find myself thinking back to my top five cocktails of last year’s Tales. Some may prove continually elusive: will I ever have that many Rutte flavors before me ever again? Do I trust myself to experiment with chicken essence? Will I ever find the patience to make my own vanilla grapefruit shrub or track down a commercial version? Unlikely.
But I have attempted to recreate two of those top five.
Writing about Los Angeles’ Walker Inn has been, since this blog began, both an imperative and an impossibility.
The Koreatown bar’s menus, themes, and approach to cocktails are of history-making importance in West Coast drinking. (As far as this amateur is concerned, they are California’s Aviary. Let more knowledgeable drinkers dispute that.) Writing about the Walker Inn, like drinking there, is obligatory.
But my three visits differed so wildly that I abandoned my unfinished story every time. What I loved about my first time at that unique bar was miles away from what mattered on the third visit.
Recently, Walker Inn staff themselves provided the key to finishing this story. Their “Bar Indepth: The Walker Inn, USA” seminar at Tales of the Cocktail laid out details from architectural design to lab equipment to income. Missing pieces fell into place as they explained the service evolution that allows them to serve more cocktails to the ideal number of drinkers at a pace that shows off their carefully planned menu and exquisite presentation.
In return, I know what the consumer gains and loses in this service evolution.
It turns out that the story I wanted to write — the loving paean to the place that gave me my benchmark for superlative hospitality — is an ode to a place that no longer exists. The Walker Inn still exemplifies theme, scientific creativity, and spectacle like nowhere else west of the Mississippi, and my admiration is largely unchanged.
Over the course of one week at Tales of the Cocktail I sampled approximately 100 cocktails/spirits. (Why so few? I was a volunteer as well as an attendee, which meant no drinking for 15 total crucial conference hours.)
Acknowledging that every attendee’s list will differ, here are the cocktails that struck me most deeply:
#1 : Dale DeGroff’s Abeja Limeña
Event: Make It, Eat It, Drink It from the Trade Commission of Peru in Miami
This take on a pisco sour highlights the torontel grape’s aromatic notes against just the right citrus zing. Aromatic pisco (brand unknown, possibly Founding Farmers but I think DeGroff said it was a single-grape pisco), honey syrup, lime, yuzu, and a red shiso garnish. My goal in the next six months (hell, I may be haunted my whole life) is to find the right pisco and the right proportions of other ingredients to recreate this memory. Continue reading →