"The best sip is always the first sip," declared San Francisco-based mixologist Jon Santer. From that crucial point on, "every sip is a slide." His view of cocktail consumption might strike some as perhaps dark and defeatist, but it's the type of realism that leads to practical problem solving. Just look at Cook's Illustrated; it's built an entire brand based on these empirical edible quandaries while striving for perfection.
Yet at an instructional seminar focused on local brand Névé Ice at Church & State Monday night -- the first of its kind in Los Angeles -- Santer offered hope. "How well you control that slide" is in your hands, oh skillful bar practitioners. And the key to managing this experience? Ice, of course. It's the only way to modulate temperature and dilution, i.e. the really hard part. That's in addition to great spirits, fresh juice, the right tools, and using the best ingredients available.
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Santer, who unabashedly relishes some good competition, points to ice as the reason "why the guys in New York were kicking our ass" until the West Coast began to see the light. Or rather, the light as refracted through the gorgeous, Lucite-clear, dense as bricks blocks of Névé samples that were put through the paces that night. Michel Dozois, who's been the brain behind the bars at Church & State, Comme Ça and STK, has been slowly expanding distribution of his delicate product line over the past year to keep raising bar standards. (Note pun duly avoided.) Dozois says about eight local places are converts to the Collins/Hi-Ball, Rocks/Old Fashioned, and Shaking ices, with more surely to follow.
Professional bartenders and mixologists, other assorted liquor industry types, journalists, and voyeurs at Monday's hands-on workshop Downtown were charged with making three drinks twice. First with chip, or what Santer calls "deli ice," and followed by a pass with the Névé goods. After each of the 42 Below vodka, Cazadores tequila, and Bacardi 8-based cocktails were stirred or shaken, then sampled and compared, Santer came around with a small insta-read thermometer to show the preferable, lower temperature of the ice block drinks. His full-on, geek out, Mr. Wizard style demo session behind the bar during which he combined different factors (chip ice, tin-on-tin shaker, tin-on-glass, etc.) proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that cocktails shaken with block ice in tin-on-tin are the coldest and strongest.
Nothing better than some good trial and error to get you through the dark drinking times ahead. If all else fails, just keep looking forward to that next perfect, innocent first sip.