Update! New head bartender as of January 16, 13.
The Devil’s Dream The Brothers Beam Bourbon Cocktail Dinner at Market by Jean-Georges
First comes vodka then rum, then gin and now bourbon, and maybe eventually whiskey and tequila. Baby steps though. I promise to keep having a sip of tequila until I actually start to like it.
My appreciation for whiskey and bourbon is recent, and by that I mean only this year. During Tales of the Cocktail in Vancouver I went to A Spirited Dinner featuring whiskey cocktails at Hawksworth Restaurant – see here. It was at this dinner I discovered that whiskey wasn’t an old man’s drink. It’s an immature thought, but I had never been introduced to it properly until that night. Since then I’ve been much more open to jumping on the bourbon bandwagon. I needed someone to hold my hand and not my hair… I don’t intentionally drink to get drunk, but sometimes it’s inevitable.
I had to hold off before writing this. First I had to sober up… which took maybe 2 days and then sleep off the bourbon headache which took maybe another 2 days. They weren’t joking when they called it “Devil’s Dream”, the cocktails were pretty strong and it took some time to recover.
I know. He looks pretty harmless in this picture, but that’s Lead Bartender Jay Jones at Market by Jean-Georges. He was enRoute Magazine’s Bartender of the Year 2012 too. He was also responsible for 50 hangovers (all at this one dinner) and his execution was a standing ovation and a well deserved applause. I must say it is a smart career to get into since you can get away with bloody murder… or just Mary’s if you wish! But let’s put Mary aside because this dinner was about the Devil.
I was invited to “The Devil’s Dream The Brothers Beam” which was a 5 course dinner paired with bourbon cocktails. Actually let me rephrase. It was a dinner with 5 courses of bourbon and some food on the side. To be fair the dinner was very good, but it was a cocktail forward event and the drinks were the highlight.
In most cases the menu starts with the food and drink pairings are considered after, but in this case there was a reversal of roles. The food ended up catering to the cocktails which were the “meat and potatoes” of this dinner. Cocktail pairings are becoming a popular “trend”, so it’s nice to see bartenders and chefs working together much like sommeliers and chefs do. The working relationship between chef and bartender is a key component to a successful cocktail paired dinner. There has to be a mutual respect and understanding and sometimes one has to take the lead or the pairings won’t dance.
My personal bias is that I prefer wine pairings over cocktail pairings. The refined cocktails nowadays are so creative that I consider them works of art, and quite often they are liquid meals on their own (if made well). I find it can get complicated when matched with the food and I typically enjoy cocktails before and after a meal and wine with my meal. That’s not to say I’m not open to the idea, but naturally I would choose wine with food.
My other bias is that I’m not a well trained drinker or cockail conisseur. I’m a light weight Asian who can eat more than I can drink. So why the heck was I here? Well cause I trust the bartender! It was Jay who gave me my Amaro 101 lesson and first sip of Fernet-Branca. I know. Why the heck would anyone trust someone after that?! But I did. He’s confident in what he does and he’s patient to educate others. That being said I can also be honest with what I had and what I liked.
The Bourbon Breakdown
Corn, wheat and barely. These are essentially the three ingredients used to make bourbon. Wheat can be exchanged for rye, but corn and barley are the mainstays. To be classified as a bourbon it must be 51% corn. The other 49% will be either wheat, barley, or rye although some distilleries experiment with oats and other grains. If it’s not 51% corn it’s a whiskey which is less sweet. Bourbon is still a whiskey, but an American style whiskey and it’s aged in new charred oak barrels. That is about as intense as I’m going to get because anything beyond that right now will be meaningless to me.
As for the food (of course I’m going to talk about the food) it’s a tricky post to write. It was a special event which is not really representable of Market on a regular night. On the other hand the menu has to stay consistent with the brand since the event was hosted at Market by Jean-Georges and made by Executive Chef Wayne Harris. This means the recipes had to be chosen from the bible of Jean-Georges’ recipes (not a bad thing), but at the same time they couldn’t be specifically catered to the drink. Chef Harris did make tweaks and reinterpreted the recipes to suit the cocktails, but for the most part the idea had to come from the bible. Therefore his culinary creativity was still a bit limited, but I think generally the cocktails worked with the food and the flavours and concepts were close enough that I saw the picture and got the point.
The menu featured local and seasonal ingredients, but it wasn’t all local. It goes along with Jean-Georges restaurant ABC Kitchen in New York which emphasizes ingredients within 100 miles. That concept isn’t new to Vancouver, but regardless it’s nice to see it being celebrated. The food was catered for a group of 50-60 as well which is always a challenge.
Unlike the regular menu at Market, this menu wasn’t as Asian influenced. It actually didn’t seem all that “Jean-Georges” to me in style. There was an absence of his quirk for a bit of spice in each dish, but it was true that everything tasted better as a collective bite (which Chef Harris reminded us about). What I like most is that all his dishes usually consider sweet, salty, sour and spicy and this is likely due to his love for Asian cuisine. Most Asian cuisines include all those flavours in one bite. The food was good, but the cocktails made it better which is understandable in terms of the purpose of the event. Personally I prefer the food on a regular night, but this evening was to showcase the beauty of bourbon so there wasn’t anything I didn’t expect.
This was the first cocktail paired multi-course dinner event at
Bourbon, I mean Market! I’m still suffering from burger brain, no I mean bourbon brain! @$#%. Anyway I expect there to be more of these dinners because at $125 (tax and gratuities included) for a 5 course dinner and cocktails at Market by Jean-Georges, it was a bargain for your bourbon! I shouldn’t say that too loudly or the future ones will fill up so quickly before you even get a seat.
Everyone went away happy… or at least loaded and loaded with gifts too! They had a bourbon swag bag and our table called it a whiskey Christmas! It was the perfect gift to give to the boss the next day for explaining why you were late for work… that is even if you showed up. And if you’re your own boss then I hope someone was there to open the doors.
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
On the table:
- I’m so mad I didn’t include the crunchy bread straws underneath the rolls in this photo. Those were addicting!
- They were crunchy cheese straws seasoned with a smoky sweet and salty barbeque seasoning.
- They tasted like freshly made Snyders of Hanover pretzels which is one of my guilty indulgences.
- The bread was served warm and it was actually quite soft with a crusty exterior.
- There was the occasional hard as a rock bun, but for the most part they were okay.
- Lemon gelée & crème fraîche
- I love Northern Divine Caviar (sustainable BC caviar) and it’s not that I didn’t enjoy this course, but it would have been better with more caviar (of course).
- The stuff is expensive so I didn’t expect to get much in a $125 meal though. 30g of Northern Divine Caviar is $104 to put things into perspective.
- This course was the palate cleanser and I ended up eating the caviar on its own or it just got overwhelmed by the lemon gelee and crème fraîche.
- The lemon gelée was tart and not sour, and although lemons and crème fraîche are classic condiments for caviar the ratio was just a bit off to enjoy together with the amount of caviar given.
- The caviar is truly divine and it’s probably the most common luxury caviar being used in BC fine dining restaurants at the moment.
- For black caviar it’s a bit larger in size and the eggs are plump, and the texture is smooth, and just slightly creamy in flavour and mouthfeel.
- They don’t have a crunch or a pop since they’re not soaked in borax, which is a preservative used in some French and Iranian caviars. Borax is illegal in the US, and this caviar is clear of it.
- Northern Divine Caviar has a very delicate flavour because they use less salt in the curing process.
- The flavour is very natural, not salty, and not fishy with a fresh and clean finish on the palate.
- The sturgeon is raised in a highly controlled environment and natural food production process required to keep it sustainable.
- I listed Northern Divine caviar in my 10 BC Ingredients and Products too.
- It was still good, but the caviar on a Kusshi oyster and some lemon sorbet or balsamic pearls would have done the job as well.
- By Colin Turner (At Cin Cin Ristorante + Bar)
- Jim Beam ‘Devil’s Cut’, Aperol, Bittered Sling Moondog Bitters, Lillet Blanc, Aperol Foam
- I hate genderizing drinks, but in simplest terms this was a “girly” drink.
- It was fruity and fun and it was most appropriate as a starting cocktail which it was.
- It went down very easily and it was well balanced with sweet and sour.
- It was almost a mini meal in itself, but there wasn’t too much going on.
- The bite of compressed orange made me want to take another sip which is what I think a well made cocktail garnish should do.
- If you find bourbon and whiskey too aggressive then a cocktail like this would ease you into it.
- Pink lady apple & shaved fennel salad
- This was perhaps the forgotten course, but there was nothing wrong with it.
- If anything it was perhaps more ordinary and something you might have had before, but I really enjoyed it.
- The quail was moist and tender with a semi-crispy skin and there were pieces of quail meat in the apple and fennel salad.
- The apple and fennel was classic and fennel goes hand in hand with orange which made the cocktail a nice pairing.
- The salad had nice crunch, acidity and tartness from the apples and it was a bit sweet as well.
- I wouldn’t have minded a bit of orange zest in it too, or maybe some orange juice reduced in the sauce.
- The sauce on the side was a very well reduced quail jus and it was sticky and syrupy with sweetness and tang (maybe from orange juice?).
- It had an intense savoury quail flavour and I almost wanted more of it.
- This would be excellent with a cured Steelhead Salmon as well.
- Basil Hayden’s 8 year old, Amaro Montenegro, Banane de Bresil, Bittered Sling Grapefruit & Hops Bitters & Fernet Branca
- This was the winner for many well seasoned bourbon drinkers. It was a true bourbon drinker’s drink.
- It was a modern interpretation of an Old Fashioned.
- It was an incredibly delicate and smooth drink that was pretty much perfectly balanced.
- My first sip I thought “this is bourbon infused water”, then my friend reminded me that it was Jay and that meant it was going to be deceivingly strong.
- The Banane de Bresi was such a unique addition which gave it body and almost a richness. It was subtle, but helped in texture.
- The grapefruit was a nice change from orange which was already done in the previous cocktail.
- If anything I would have liked one giant ice cube instead of a few large ones to prevent the ice from melting so quickly.
- It was the kind of drink you wanted to savour and enjoy, but it was very susceptible to tasting watered down.
- I enjoyed this cocktail better on its own because I found the corn in the paired course fighting the sweetness of the bourbon.
- Sweet corn & smoked bacon sabayon
- I did like the flavour of this dish a lot, but all I kept thinking when eating the clams was “I wish these were scallops”. The course would be a stunner with them.
- The clams were good although slightly mushy and I loved the sweet pops of corn.
- It was sautéed with the staple aromatics of onions, celery, and carrots and it was almost like a summer succotash without beans.
- The corn I was okay on and the niblets were a bit small. I personally love Steveston Farm Market corn (market in Richmond, BC).
- The smoked bacon sabayon was very light and I wouldn’t have been able to guess what it was.
- The sabayon ended up being like a foam rather than a rich creamy custard. Even if it was aerated I prefer it a bit thicker.
- I would have loved some bacon in the sautee or even if the corn was char grilled to intensify that smoky flavour which would compliment the cocktail.
- The corn and clam sautee was very well seasoned and savoury though.
- The crisp wasn’t that crisp because it absorbed moisture quickly so it was a bit soft and very delicate.
- Tiny croutons might have been better or even crackling although not Jean-Georges like at all.
- The crisp wasn’t strong enough to use as a chip to eat with the sautee and I’m not sure if it was intended to be used that way. I was using it for texture though.
- I didn’t realize until after speaking with Chef Harris at a later event, but this was actually a deconstucted version of clam chowder.
- Someone brought it to his attention as well and neither of us realized it, but I bet that was Jean-Georges intentions too.
- Maker’s Mark, mint, strawberry, Bittered Sling ‘Evolutionary’ Elderberry Bitters, balsamic vinegar, Lime Oleo-Saccharum & Herbsaint
- People really loved this drink and it was another favourite, but personally it was a bit sweet for me.
- It was a modern interpretation of a Mint Julep with a nice use of shrubs.
- It was fresh and refreshing and I could really get that balsamic vinegar.
- I found it quite sweet and I didn’t get much of that strawberry though.
- It didn’t taste fruity to me, but more floral and fragrant than anything.
- Muddling up the mint in the drink helped offset the sweetness.
- Fragrant pickled peach, licorice & mint syrup
- This was an aggressively sweet and sour dish paired with an aggressively sweet and sour cocktail.
- I almost lost the savoury factor in this dish.
- The pairing made sense because the intense levels of sweetness and sourness matched one another.
- I love sweetbreads and it’s such a cheap cut of meat.
- The sweetbreads were pretty much 3 to a clump so it was still stringy and not cleaned very well.
- It was a giant sweetbread lightly battered and fried to a golden brown and it was nice and crispy with a nice sweet caramelization.
- They were probably poached before being fried and you’ve never had them they’re creamy and have a very mild flavour.
- The peaches were indeed pickled and very sour to offset the sweetness, but I kind of lost the flavour of any peach.
- The mint syrup was in an eye dropper tube and it was meant to be drizzled over the sweetbread.
- Mint and sweetbread was a very interesting combination because I usually see mint being accompanied with lamb.
- I could taste the mint when I had the syrup alone, but on the sweetbread it was very subtle.
- The pairing was probably my favourite pairing of the night though.
- Knob Creek 9 year old single barrel, Tio Pepe Fino Sherry, Cynar & Bittered Sling Cascade Celery Bitters
- I am very biased about this. The drink wasn’t for me. A few sips and Follow Me Foodie down and Jay 100.
- This was really strong and boozy and this just brought me back to that “whiskey is for old men” stereotype and mentality.
- I couldn’t do it and it was pretty much all booze.
- I found it pretty aggressive for the paired venison course as well and this was the only course that actually made me crave some wine.
- Baked endive, artichokes & horseradish puree
- I know it looks perfect and that veal steak looks perfectly cooked, but it was actually a bit tough and dry.
- The colour was convincing that it was tender and moist, but it wasn’t really.
- Venison is naturally a very lean meat so there is not much fat to keep it moist to begin with.
- It was prepared sous vide, but it had that mealy texture which can happen with sous vide products sometimes.
- The water can boil during the vacuum sealing process which can cause a mealy texture. I’m sure there could be other reasons, but this is one reason.
- I actually enjoyed the caramelized and tender veggies on this plate the most.
- The artichoke was a brilliant idea which matched the Cynar – which is an Amaro made with artichokes.
- That horseradish puree I though was parsnip puree and I couldn’t taste any horseradish in it and I wish it was stronger.
- The puree probably had so much cream and butter in it and it was almost like a pommes puree. It was silky smooth and I loved it.
- I loved the bitterness of the endive too which played with the bitterness in the drink, but the bitterness in the cocktail was much more intense.
- The whole grapes gave another level of sweetness to the dish and sour cherries would be lovely too.
- Maker’s 46, Amaro Averna, Abricot du Roussillon, Bittered Sling Denman Bitters
- So we meet again.
- I call these drinks Man Candy. Boozy drinks that are sweet and not fruity enough to be “girl drinks”. Again, please excuse the lack of better words.
- It’s completely sexist, but it gets the point across in simplest terms.
- This could be dessert for non-dessert lovers.
- It was on the sweet side and it was very rich and strong.
- Amaro Averna is like sweet syrupy gold and along the lines of a chocolatey espresso.
- I liked this more so than the Pitchfork, but both were very boozy.
- 1½ part Makers 46
- .75 ounce Averna
- .5 ounce Giffard Abricot du Roussillon
- 4 hard dashes of Angostura bitters
- Apricot sorbet & espresso tuille
- They were going for a coffee and bourbon duo here.
- For a chocolate tart it was actually quite light and not that sweet.
- The chocoalte filling wasn’t a ganache filling, but it almost tasted like a flourless chocolate cake. Either that or it was made with almond flour.
- It was very soft and almost airy with a mealy texture and it was bittersweet chocolate. It was around 65-68% dark chocolate I would guess.
- The pastry crust was very thin and a bit rough around the edges, but it was crisp.
- The apricot sorbet wasn’t the ideal pairing for it, but it was a change from expected cherry or orange even though cherry would have been perhaps a better fit.
- The espresso tuille I really enjoyed and it was crisp and nutty with a subtle espresso aftertaste and espresso grinds used to make it.
- There was perhaps a bit of espresso in the chocolate tart too, but I wouldn’t have minded more to stand up to the cocktail.
- Chocolate and coffee in one - I can’t complain. A coffee ice cream would have been nice too!
- At this point I couldn’t really do the pairing although I enjoyed each even more separately.
I mentioned Bittered Sling as one of my 10 BC Ingredients & Products I was proud of on BC Day and it was used in all five cocktails.
And a surprise guest appearance from the makers of Bittered Sling! Husband and wife team Lauren Mote (bartender and Bittered Sling creator) and Chef Jonathan Chovenak. They also have a catering company called Kale & Nori. I talked with Lauren for a bit and I really respected her choice to release her products to companies that shared the same philosophy as them. She could easily let anyone carry her Bittered Slings but she chooses to be selective. Current retailers for Bittered Sling extracts believe in sustainable and environmentally friendly practices.