Sunday, October 4, 2015

the overnight in Glasgow to catch a boat in the morning


Islay's always had this mystical, storied sheen to it - the sort of place only people who know talk about, a sort of misty, rolling hills place of dreams. Last October, I was privileged to spend 3 days on this magical island on a tasting trip with classmates, all of whom were whisky enthusiasts. As the only one who had a background in wine & spirits, I wanted to firstly learn about the whisky category as a whole, before understanding the specificities of Islay whisky. And as someone who rarely drinks whisky, what started out as an intellectual interest quickly turned into something much, much deeper ...

That cool cat in the red is my buddy Hiro. Hiro-San is a finance guru from Tokyo who also is an extremely experienced whisky drinker. We met during Intensive Spanish classes, before school even began. Our first conversation, during one of the first BoW (Bar of the Week) events, went something like so:

Hi, I'm Hiro, from Japan. My dream is to go to Scotland, and taste whisky. 

      Oh really? What do you like? I've actually always wanted to visit this little island called Islay.

I love Islay. That is my dream too. Let's plan a trip.

And so, nearly 13 months later, we found ourselves boarding a Ryanair flight to Glasgow. During the summer, as I was planning the trip, we recruited 2 more classmates to join - we would be the IESE contingent on the whisky trail, spreading our good name and hopefully making some connections for the Wine & Spirits Club. After a dinner and quick nap in a Glasgow hostel, we set out at 3am for the ferry dock, a good 3 hour drive away. We had a full day of classes the day before, and by the time we boarded the ferry, I was wrecked. Passed out on the sofas on the upper deck the entire ride. It was nearly 10am by the time we caught glimpse of Ardbeg, saw the smokestacks of the Port Ellen malting factory. 

We were finally on Islay - mystical, storied, magical Islay.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ein Prosit, ein Prosit ...

Last year, on the first weekend of October, I flew to Munich with a big group of friends. We had been planning this trip since June.
We saw monuments and the cathedral - the only pre-war building remaining (Munich was nearly razed flat by British bombs).
We saw beautiful gardens, despite the gloomy weather that was a world away from bright, sunny Barcelona.
But really, we were here for this. To experience the madness of Oktoberfest.
And what madness it was.
We brought a little bit of Catalunya with us to Bavaria ...
... but amidst the haze and singing ...
... toasting and napping ...
... we decided it would be more fun to make some new friends ... 
... and begin accumulating Maß ...
... after Maß after Maß ...
... until we (I) had drunk ourselves to oblivion. Ein Prosit, ein Prosit, Der Gemütlichkeit!! What a trip.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I see you too ... the London Dry Gin reimagined as a Spaniard

A crisis of identity? 

I happily drowned in a sea of gin tonics during my time in Spain. Budgeting for a healthy stock of gins and tonic waters meant meals were often reduced to eggs, lettuce, and rice, but we have to make sacrifices for what we love, don't we. And thus went my education - or rather, obsession - with the gin tonic. This one, Gin Sea, a London Dry Gin-styled gin distilled in Galicia, Spain by a well-known sommelier, Manuel Barrientos. Bright, fresh, with a slight herbal bitterness on the finish - makes a gin tonic that's incredibly clean, with enough complexity to keep things interesting. Garnish with a lime wheel and sprigs of fresh thyme.

What does it mean, for a drink to be from somewhere? Is it the provenance of the ingredients that decide its origin? The production method/traditions? In the end, what we don't give enough credit to is simply the tastes and preferences of the distiller - the creator, if you will. Alcohol, in particular, is not natural, despite what the marketers want you to believe. No, it's a product that is the result of human intervention and manipulation, to create a drink that fits a certain taste. Hopefully, we would want that taste to be good ... to be a representation of what the creator (distiller, winemaker, etc.) thinks is of high quality ... before we assign labels to it. The romantic old world notion of a drink's origin actually meaning anything is gone. Dead and gone, let's get that clear right now. We are now in the world of creators, who create drinks in their image first.

Of course, there are those who remain champions of the old ways, those peasants in Burgundy, the country gentlemen (and women) of the Moselle ... but what a minority. What a dying breed of heroes. Few now are cut from that cloth, and you know what? Consumers have a responsibility in this masse rejection of tradition in favour of 'commercial' products. Products with mainstream appeal. Dead, soulless, meaningless drinks that tease you with promises of profundity, but eventually reveal themselves to be cheap distractions. And consumers eat that shit up. They want wines and spirits that are easy to drink - that horrible, horrible phrase born of the mass commercialization of alcohol beverages. And the traditionalists, the old-timers? They trudge on, supported by an increasingly smaller group of enthusiasts who may not have profound knowledge, but certainly possess great appreciation for the drink. How do we reverse all this?

I like Gin Sea a lot. I like this project a lot, and as I've said before, idealism counts for naught if what you're producing tastes like shit. And this gin is delicious. So maybe to answer this question of identity, that's really all we have to consider for now - that someone is doing something unique and of high quality.

The rest, well ... we'll leave discussions about what origin means to the marketers.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

the demi-bouteille of Château Fourcas Hosten

On my last evening in Bordeaux, I wanted something rustic. That old-school French cooking. I found it at La Tupina.

Wood burning grill ... game meat hanging ... thick tablecloths and heavy cutlery. I really, really love France. And French people, for that matter. It's the little things they do, that marks them so differently than the Spanish, or at least the Catalans. I don't want to be picking on them, but for example - a Spaniard restaurant will always assume you speak no Spanish, and give you an English menu. They won't care if you (try to) speak Spanish, nor will they deign to attempt any English. I've even had people laugh at me for my admittedly poor castellano. The French, in contrast, welcome you trying to speak in their language - they appreciate the effort. Why is that? We're all just trying our best, aren't we? I'm in your country, I want to at least try to learn a bit of your language, not fumble around with poorly translated English menu items.

We, however, shouldn't generalize. After all, when we are in a foreign country, we have an obligation to understand and respect local customs and traditions. If the Spanish choose to act un-civil and boorish to visitors, well, that's their prerogative. The staff of La Tupina were a delight, recommending me to start with the classics: frog legs mounted on a parsley and garlic sauce, followed by grilled duck breast. All I had to think about was what to drink.

2004 Château Fourcas Hosten, AC Listrac-Médoc. I know, I know. A half-bottle?! In my defense, I just finished a long day driving around Sauternes, and I had an early appointment the next morning at Château de Fargues with Philippe de Lur Saluces - not the kind of rendezvous one shows up tardy and disheveled for. So I contented myself with a simple red Bordeaux, just approaching maturity. This wine was a joy. Lustrous red in colour, fully open aromas - dark fruit, minerally and fresh. Tight-knit tannins showing its as yet unreached plateau, but with an already elegant and fine texture. Utterly satisfying, and proving yet again that 2004 is a vintage that will dance at 20 years of age.

It's the little things that matter during this job search too. At the risk of sounding boorish myself, it's important to remind yet and again that it's my duty - my obligation - to stay true to the things I gained during the MBA, and its value. It's hard, most definitely. But as even this half-bottle of simple Bordeaux showed, there's a character in all of us that takes just the right circumstances to reveal itself.

What a magnificent 4 days in Bordeaux.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

finding happiness in Bordeaux

Exactly one year ago, I was in Bordeaux, France, to visit a few châteaux in Pessac-Léognan, Sauternes, and Barsac. I was thrilled beyond imagination. I was also very, very hungry. You see, for the duration of my summer internship in Zaragoza, I committed myself to working hard at the office, exercising, and sticking to a diet of egg whites, sausages, toast, and lettuce. Something about not being a sponsored student, and having to make that money stretch for another 10 months.
But the internship was over. I was in France. I was hungry. On the recommendation of my Airbnb host, I went to a local joint, Le Petit Commerce for fish. Lots of fish, starting with a tuna tartare ...
... whole roasted dorade ...
... and because I couldn't be drinking a Sauternes alone ... I had found happiness in Bordeaux.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Ferran's choice

How many more times are you going to talk about tonic water? We get the point, and besides, who cares about the gin & tonic, poster child for the (incredibly lame) Friday night clubbing crowd, content with mass-produced gin and soda gun tonic water. 

I won't stop. My enthusiasm for the Gin Tonic - no '&' - will never abate, not until these silly misconceptions about what it is and what it is not are shattered. But until that day comes, the message is worth repeating. Gin Tonics, like all grand cocktails, are an exercise in utter simplicity. But like all simple things, perfection comes from the quality of its ingredients, and the thoughtful, skilled manipulation of the barman that brings it all together.

Thought. That's a good word, and a good concept in bartending. At this point, I want to just talk about the people in the business I admire, instead of poor, and sometimes idiotic practices. I've been very fortunate to meet many bartenders in Barcelona who I consider to be aces - Dani and Bruno at Old-Fashioned, Davidé of Slow Drink Movement, Cristina who just left her old bar - not to mention Benoit of L'Anima del Vi, but that's for another time. These bartenders have talent, but more than that, they have thought. No, not some overwrought idea of a cocktail with garnishes stuck in every inch of the glass, ridiculous ingredients for the sake of novelty, the great black-eye to the industry *flair* bartending ... nein, if I want to see a juggling act, I know where to go for that, and it's not a bar. What I mean by thought is a careful consideration of what makes each drink special, and part of cocktail tradition ... the guest experience, why someone would order a Martini over a Manhattan, how each element of the cocktail interacts with the other. You notice I don't mention creativity. Such a bad word, creativity, used to cover all sorts of excess. There's room for it, obviously, but never at the expense of the aforementioned. If I order a Gin Tonic made with Gin Mare, I have certain expectations ... I want a drink that expresses the gin I have selected first, before seeing the specificities of the bartender who prepared it. You see what I mean? When you order lobster at a restaurant, do you want to taste a dish that reminds you nothing of lobster, but is somehow supposed to be unique because the chef is a *quote unquote* culinary visionary? No! You send that shit back, because what's the point if an ingredient stops tasting like itself?!

So what do my favourite bartenders do so well? First of all, no one calls themselves a mixologist. My goodness, I hate that word. As a Spanish friend told me we're very cosmopolitan in Spain ... we call them barmen. My boy Dani over at Old-Fashioned is a one-off. A throwback. Outside of IESE, one of my favourite people in Barcelona, because he understands one thing - bars, like restaurants, are about hospitality first, and keeping guests happy is a winning strategy, everytime. During my second year in Spain, I was missing good bourbon a lot, so whenever I'd step through the door, Dani would be pulling out the Yarai and sugar cubes for my Old-Fashioned de Maker's Mark. But his talent comes through in his Gin Tonics. You select a gin, or ask for his suggestion, based on a scale of dry versus citric gins. They use 1724 Tonic Water at Old-Fashioned, lending their Gin Tonics great freshness and expressing full gin aromas. The garnish - as I've said before - is where you see the barman's creativity at work. What I want to see is the selection of the appropriate garnishes that complement that character of each specific gin, and with a delicate hand. You can overload with a glassful of garnishes that looks impressive, but really is just that ... a show, and not a real cocktail. Dani selects two garnishes at most - a type of citrus peel, and usually a savoury garnish that complements that dominant notes of the gin. Of course, presentation and style is all there, but what impresses me the most is his confidence in presenting a simple-looking drink with full aromas and flavours. Putting thought into cocktail making.

After all that - we still haven't talked about Fever-Tree. A superior tonic water to all others, in my opinion. As mentioned several times before, the tonic water is the heart of the Gin Tonic, comprising nearly 2/3 of the entire drink - isn't it important then, that you use a sensible tonic water to hold up your expensive gin? Fever-Tree is a fairly young company founded by two Londoners - story here. I remember the first time I came across it, in a bar called Dry Martini Speakeasy. Fresh, vibrant,  and elegant, all those good descriptors. It has full quinine flavours, yet is done in a way that is so harmonious that it never obfuscates the character of the gin. Fantastic, and yes, it does have the seal of approval from the godfather of modernist cuisine. Unfortunately, hard to find easily outside of Europe, so for those of us stuck in Toronto, you can order here, from Mr. Case.

How many more times am I going to talk about Gin Tonics? As many times as it takes.


Monday, August 17, 2015

forging katanas

Dip, hammer, dip, hammer, dip, hammer, dip ...

This day, two years ago, I boarded a plane to Barcelona, and started on an adventure. An adventure that would test me, painfully at times, but one I threw myself into with everything I had. I can honestly say that I wasted not a single minute of my time as an IESE MBA - emptied the tank, as they say. And now, two years later, back where I started - sort of. When I can't sleep at night, I like watching these forging videos. There's something deeply soothing about watching craftsmen at work. Something inspiring too. The care and attention paid at every step of the way ... the concentration required. What's that line about getting back what you put in? 

It's been getting progressively more hot and humid in Toronto. Since unemployment more than 2 years ago, I haven't seen the inside of a gym, preferring to run, hop, and grunt outdoors. Easier in Barcelona, and much more pleasant too - those bright sunny skies leading all the way to the beach. Not quite the same here, what with our muggy, dark ravine leading to power lines and empty suburban streets. One has to enjoy the good times while they last, I suppose.

Post-MBA justification is a long, slow, steady road. Dip, hammer, dip.


Monday, August 10, 2015

the sherries that are just a bit more

I promise to stop bitching about my job hunt.

As a friend said, in between handfuls of M&M's ... guys, it's not about the destination, it's about the journey. We'd all like to think that, wouldn't we. In any case, it's a good philosophy, easily applicable to many things. Including wine marketing. I was asked what I would do to boost slowing sales growth of traditional wine brands - the kind of brands that were once moving well, but are now boring and old-fashioned. We're constantly looking for the next best thing, so how do we keep old brands alive? The answer - one I should have expressed clearer when I was asked - is simply marketing fundamentals. Who are your customers? What are your targets/KPI's? Getting solid data will let you decide your marketing mix. Is digital/social the answer? In my opinion, no. Not for traditional brands. What is then? Today's wine drinkers are savvier than ever, and far more adventurous than mature consumers. But if we're not using digital to reach them, because let's be real, digital won't solve this problem, how do we find these consumers, engage them, and keep them coming back to these brands? We do two things, both with a mind to engage new and mature consumers, as well as to leverage the vast amount of data available. Firstly, it's all about going small. With the data we have now, we can create ever more customized, smaller marketing campaigns that are targeted to the specific niches being served by each brand. Secondly, these smaller campaigns allow for brands to be presented in the way they were meant to be - intimately, making them unforgettable.

Last year this week, I was happy. I was midway through my second internship, in Zaragoza, and taking advantage of their annual week-long summer vacation, I was back in Barcelona. Nothing but sun, long runs to the beach, dinner and drinks with friends. Never, not for a single minute, was I ungrateful for the summer I was having - the opportunity to do wine-related projects that I loved, meeting super cool people outside of the MBA. Having the time of my life, as they say. I drank this pair ... and what an incredible find. Equipo Navazos is a project that looks for rare and excellent soleras, bottling them in limited quantities. Story here. Very hard to find, and while not priced aggressively, they certainly aren't in-expensive either. Incredibly interesting, unique wines, that I feel fortunate to have tasted. The first, the 2010 La Bota de Florpower Nº 53 "Más Allá - a non-fortified palomino, essentially a vintage manzanilla, aged under flor but with no brandy added. As you can see, it's labelled MMX ... something about a regulatory issue preventing them from vintage labelling. Bright, pure, expressive with lots of dry extract and texture. A powerful example of what this varietal can do as a table wine. The second, the La Bota de Manzanilla (42) - shades of the same colour. Tensile and vivid minerality, with great concentration and focus on the palate. Almost hard to describe, the pair of them. I hope 'wow' suffices.

I have grandiose plans in wine. In wine marketing and brand management. I just need a chance now to prove it. Thinking about the summer I had in Barcelona and the steps I've taken since to get here ...


Saturday, August 1, 2015

some really cool stuff. like real cool.

The wine scene in Barcelona can be pretty cool, if you know where to look. One shop that's a favourite of mine is Vila Viniteca - well worth the journey to El Born. Last summer, for dinner at a friend's, I wanted to bring some interesting bottles. Whether we would like them or not was sort of not the point. We just wanted to drink some cool shit. This one, the Battliu de Sort Biu Blanc from the Costers del Segre DO, was certainly one of them. A blanc de noirs made from 100% pinot noir, all those aromatic, floral pinot notes in a bone dry, textural style.
Buying French wine in Catalunya? Maybe not a great idea. But this, I couldn't pass. For about 20€, a taste of the earth, the minerals, the sublime elegance of even the most simple country wine.
Mencía, particularly from Riberia Sacra, was one of the great discoveries I made in Spain. What a wine, what a DO. Lithe, mineral, tension filled wines that I wish I could have more of in my cellar.
A gift from a friend who visited Croatia. Sadly, on my list of places I was not able to go to during my time in Europe. Fresh, bright wines that are sublime with grilled meats.

Long weekend here in Canada, as we ease into August. I'm trying not to be demoralized as I continue job-hunting ... trying to stay positive. You have in your head all these great things to do, great contributions to make now that I've earned my MBA. I just want a chance to prove myself - now I need someone willing to take me on.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

crown to crown to crown tonics

Where does it all go?

But first, I want to draw your attention to those huge chunks of ice. Look at them. LOOK AT THEM!! In Spain, they're sold everywhere - gigantic, uniform, perfect cylinders of ice. You see what I'm saying about the Spaniards having superb cocktail culture? It's not just about a town having good bars. For a culture to form, there needs to be traditions, collective behaviours, habits ... an environment that allows top bartenders to succeed, with a clientele that is enthusiastic, and a trade that brings it all together. Si, and those ice-makers too.

Schweppes does this line of flavoured tonic waters that is an exercise in how much of an impact each ingredient of the gin tonic has. As we talked about earlier, the tonic water is the *heart* of the gin tonic, to borrow a sushi shokunin saying. We know who wears the crown in that relationship, so to speak. So naturally, to express each at its fullest, we use only one gin - Citadelle - and the same garnish - a lime wheel. But really, the ice, in my opinion, is an oft-forgotten element, that crucial piece that takes a good gin tonic to the sublime. Why? Well, what purpose does ice serve, in any cocktail? Two purposes, as a matter of fact - dilution and chilling. So why are large ice cubes crucial to a great cocktail? In a word, control. As in all things, the more factors you can control, the more of yourself you can put in. With large ice cubes, one can carefully monitor both dilution and temperature, and can better achieve that most elusive drink - the one that gets better as you drink.

Right. The tonic waters. Schweppes Premium Mixers, in 4 expressions. The Original Tonic - slightly sweet, letting some of the Citadelle's alcohol come through. As you drink though, with more dilution, becomes dryer, more powerful. Well extracted on the palate. Next, the Pimienta Rosa (pink pepper) - aromatic, very peppery, sort of a combination of the aroma of white pepper with the heat of black pepper. A slight note of curry powder as well. Great balance, although too sweet (take a note of personal preference). What you end up with is a really floral tonic water that in some ways obfuscates the gin. Third, the Azahar y Lavanda (lavender and orange blossom) - quite aromatic, but more subtle, bringing forth more of the herbal notes of the Citadelle. Slight bitterness on the palate, which I enjoy. Subtleness rules here. And the final, the Ginger y Cardamomo (ginger and cardamo) - very dry, distinctly floral. I love using cardamom as a garnish, but this tonic doesn't give you so much of those aromas as much as a slight curry power again, with a touch of sweetness on the finish. The alcohol of the Citadelle slips through again, breaking the balance a bit. Overall, for all 4 - great work on the texture, on the finesse of the carbonation, but just a touch too sweet, which obscures the gin, Citadelle being a more neutral example. I would, for instance, never use a Spanish gin such as Gin Mare, or Xoriguer here - far too much going on. You want love-making in your mouth, not a shouting match.

I miss long, quiet, hot summer nights in Barcelona. Last year around this time, I had just wrapped up the final draft of the business case I was authoring, Oliver Conti - A Dream with a Glow. I was getting ready to move to the town of Zaragoza, to begin my second project. So as I send out yet another application/CV/cover letter, I'm reminded of how great, how lucky I was to do an MBA, to study at IESE, and to have lived in Barcelona. The times we spent in class. With friends. With gin tonics in hand. 

Where did it all go?! 


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Post No. 3001

The last one of these stupid things, I promise. Although, super interesting to see what I was doing a hundred ago ...

January 1, 2014, check it out. In Madrid, with the homies, sleeping off the New Year's hangover. Good times. So much excitement at finishing the first term of the MBA, finally out with friends to do a bit of travelling, spending the holidays in Europe ... so where did that excitement go? Somewhere, dormant, under the heaviness of the job hunt. Everyone's saying don't worry, it's just a process, you'll find something. I KNOW. It doesn't make it any better, nor does it help to hear it over and over again. I'll figure something out, something great will come along, I always manage - just please, leave me alone.

Good. Chin up. What are my expectations, moving forward? I want to keep LCF going, even if it's just me reading, which it most likely is. But if you're here, many thanks dear reader. Will I find a job in wine & spirits, trade or otherwise? Jury's still out on that one. I know what I offer, the value I bring - nay create -  for a firm. I'm not industry-specific because the principles of marketing are completely transferable. Good marketing, like all things, are based on good fundamentals. And I has it. 

Here, you see my pride and glory - I'm a published business case author! Oliver Conti - A Dream With a Glow, the story of a little family owned winery in the north of Catalunya, producing wines of great style and character. And yet they struggle - with nature, with the market. So what do we do? Call it a day, wipe your hands clean of the mess? Of course not. You (I) find a way, think, put that 150K€ education to use. And then we find a way.

The last one of these stupid things, I promise ...


Sunday, July 12, 2015

tonics should have their moment of glory too

We say, the sushi rice is the *heart* of the sushi.

So goes the wisdom. Perfection you see, as they say, is achieved not when you cannot add anymore, but rather when you cannot take anymore away. Gin tonics, like sushi, like all things which strive for that elusive perfection, is about simplicity, about minimalism, about a deep respect for the natural character of each ingredient. Forget about this trendiness in foodyism spreading like a virus - you don't create a drink or a dish, so much as discover the essence of what you're working with. Bear with me ... I'm in that mood this week

One year ago, I was in Pamplona with friends, taking in the festival of San Fermin. Good times. But that's neither here nor there. What's here is this situation I'm in - job hunting is like death by a thousand cuts. I'm ten times the man I was before leaving for Barcelona, and I'll be fucked before I go back to the sad sucker I was. Hell gon' freeze over. Let's keep things simple, no? Do things the right way, with patience, with humility.

The right gin with the right tonic with the right garnish. See how smooth I did that? The right tonic water has to be aromatic, bubbly, and dry. Yes, dry - a subtle sweetness is needed, of course, to balance out any roughness you may get from the gin. But it has to have that dryness, that extract on the palate that gives you a feeling of freshness. Schweppes has that, particularly these Premium Mixer bottles. A whisper of citrus, a balanced bitterness, all over a layer of dry extract that gives you everything you want in a tonic.

Simplicity, perfection - important in all elements of a cocktail. Supporting players need some love too.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

the bitter truth

So it's June 27th, I've been home for a few weeks now, and it's pouring rain outside.

Is this really summer here in Toronto? Is this it? Never thought I'd be complaining about June weather here, but damn, it blows. Hard. Yet another reason to wax poetic about the bright, sunny skies of Barcelona. Wind blowing softly on that run to the beach, visions of vermut and jamón waiting for me on the mind. Alas ... alas. Those days are no more, but, hey, life goals right? I can live very simply, but I do like to have a lot on my table.

Bitters! In gin tonics!! I'm a big, big fan of finding the right orange bitters to give a bit of lift and spice to a gin tonic. Turning an otherwise very good drink to a great one. Complex but with balance you see - always with balance. Too much and you completely destroy the drink - the bitterness overwhelms the palate. Too little, and well, what's the point then? Balance. The most difficult, yet the most key element in food and booze. This particular one I really like. Rich orange oils, a slight spiciness, and quite powerful - only a few dashes needed.

Job hunting has been rough. It's soul-sucking, really, to send application after application into cyberspace, like this dark, empty void where nothing ever returns. It's a truly humbling experience when you spend an hour crafting the most poetic fucking cover letter only to be sent an automated rejection in 30 minutes. You know how after grad school, you're supposed to know what you want to do? I mean ... that's why we went to get a masters right?! And the bitter truth of it all? We have these grandiose dreams of coming out with an MBA to be agents of change, of contributing to whatever company and industry we join, to doing something different. But a month out, it's getting harder to stay so hopeful.

Chin up. Always hustle. What a trip back to reality.


Monday, June 15, 2015

France's gin game strong

Gin is the truth.

Two German classmates visited Toronto last week, on their Canadian leg of a big trip through the East Coast. Big vodka guys, one told me he liked vodka because 'it's the most honest drink there is'. I've been thinking about what he meant by that. Maybe just a random one-liner between (somewhat) drunk friends, but while we're on the topic of honesty ...

I've always loved gin, even before living in Spain. But man, that first real glass of gin tonic changes you. Even on a student budget, I drank oceans of gin tonics during my time in Barcelona, learning to see cocktails in an entirely different light. Spanish bartenders take a culinary approach to the cocktails, what North American hipster mixologists < BARF > call craft cocktailing - an excuse for them to completely sissify a good solid drink. They don't do that shit in Spain. No, the approach they take is always to respect the base spirit they use, in this case, gin. So you look at the character of the gin you're using to decide what tonic to marry it with, and what to garnish. And always, like any good chef, the star is the gin, not yourself. You can throw a half-dozen garnishes in the glass to appear impressive, but really, you have no clue - using flash and superfluousness to overcompensate for professional insecurities.

So of course, living there meant that I had access to the most amazing Spanish gins. But I want to talk about this one first, because I think Citadelle is an incredibly, almost criminally, underrated gin. Fresh, vibrant, floral with a touch of spice - but most impressive is that texture, a silkiness that hides the alcohol and leaves your mouth in full happiness. So when using a gin like this in a gin tonic, what approach do you take? You look at the elements of the gin that you want to emphasize - for me, it's the elements of freshness and texture. First thing to decide is what tonic to use. After all, the tonic makes up 2/3 of the drink. Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water is my preferred choice. It has that freshness from the herbs that's fully integrated in the aromas - not too sweet - and just enough dry extract to give you a sensation of texture while still remaining elegant. Garnish of a lime wheel to play up Citadelle's floral notes and give some citric lift.

And we come back to trying to understand what makes a drink honest. At this point, all I want to say is - honesty comes from respecting the ingredients going into your drink, and being thoughtful in what you put together. What gin with what tonic with what garnish(es). And always, always, always ... leaving your ego out of it. The gin tonic ... the most honest drink there is.

Gin tonic de Citadelle

Citadelle Gin
Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water
Lime wheel

Fill a gin tonic glass with large chunks of ice

Pour 3 ounces of Citadelle gin

Stir for 30 seconds to lower the temperature and texturize the gin

Pour the Fever-Tree into the glass slowly, over the back of the barspoon

Stir once to integrate, and garnish with a lime wheel


Thursday, June 11, 2015

the pride of Peru

So ... does one shake or blend?

It was really cool meeting the parents of some of my Spanish classmates. After months of cramped quarters living with roommates (men in their late 20's/early 30's - supposed adults - can still be dirty animals), it was nice to go into a real house, make drinks in a real kitchen. A lot of these parents, particularly the men, recall their trips to Peru in their youth fondly. And a lot of those memories revolve around the pisco sour.

Pisco is a brandy that's the subject of much contention as to its origin, particularly between the Peruvians and the Chileans. But there's really no need to fight. Both countries seem to have unique ways of serving it - the Chileans drink piscola (pisco and cola, duh), while they do it like this in Lima. Personally, I have my foot in both camps, with good friends on both sides not to mention a delightful young Chilean chica I met in Barcelona who, can I say, is just my kind of woman. Now, if I had to choose - had to - based purely on my personal, subjective preferences, as an outsider - I'll go with a pisco sour. This pisco sour.

The IESE pisco sour

Fresh lime juice
Sugar syrup
Egg white
Angostura bitters

In a cocktail shaker, pour 2 ounces of pisco

Add 0.75 ounces of sugar syrup, 0.5 ounces of lime juice, and half an egg white

Dry shake until egg white emulsifies

Fill shaker with ice and hard shake for 45 seconds

Strain into a chilled glass, allowing the egg white to create a half inch layer of head

Finish with a few drops of Angostura bitters

I've been told (by my Peruvian teammate) that most households in Lima employ a blender, crushing the ice into essentially a boozy slushie. I don't like it. It's lazy and we can do better. This is a pisco sour done in the IESE way - staying true to its roots, with a touch of refinement.

It's now nearly 5pm. Pisc-o-clock.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

David Fang, MBA

What a ride.

Growth. Development. Learning. All these buzzwords giving justification about why we moved to Europe, why we went deep into debt, why we called timeout on 2 years of our lives ... the endless questions about why in the f*ck would you go to Spain?! Well, at the end of this journey, you realize that all this, it's just noise. Because if not from school, then from Barcelona - the city changes you, changes your outlook on the things that are important (and just importantly, superfluous). Am I better person? Or simply a different person?

We graduated as IESE MBA's, Class of 2015 on May 15. What a day. Bright and sunny, perfect Barcelona weather. Prof. Lago held a presentation in the morning. A good idea, to explain to friends and family that no, despite what we've been posting online the past few months, we haven't just been partying/travelling/boozing. Graduation ceremony in the afternoon on the North Campus terrace, reception, and dinner. And then of course, a blowout party at Astoria and then Bling Bling, stumbling out at dawn. I stayed in town until the 27th - out of the sunshine, back to grey, muggy Toronto.

There will be plenty of time for reflection, I suppose. We've certainly had a few months already to reflect on what we've taken out of the MBA, what IESE has meant for us. At this moment, I simply feel gratitude and pride, for the experience, for the friends I've made, for truly giving all of myself to the program. It's been a precious two years that I will treasure forever. Many thanks to my teammates ... #LaFamiliaB5 forever.

And now it's back (hopefully temporarily) to Toronto. Slowly getting back to real life, to disconnect a little from our IESE bubble, and figure out our next move. Plenty of things I want to share though, about life in Barcelona. The food. The gin tonics. The travelling.

What a ride it's been.