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.