Hi friends! This week we take a look behind the scenes of Copenhagen’s most exciting spirits venture, Empirical Spirits. Then we’ve got a review of Jim Meehan’s newest Illinois-based drinkery, a Chicago cocktail conference with a political and philosophical twist, and Oxford (the university, not the town) releases its very own gin. Cheers!
Enough with this already: “A self-proclaimed feminist has created a new gin liqueur ‘tailored to the female palate’, called Pomp and Whimsy.” There is no such thing as a female palate, there is such a thing as raising women in a culture that believes they only like fruity and floral things. Dr. Nicola Nice however, apparently disagrees. She created Pomp and Whimsy because she believes that “major producers” have “systematically ignored or misrepresented their female audiences for years.” Not wrong, per se. Things get dicey when her own branding is pink and floral, though. Basically, it’s a misuse of the word feminism in the hopes of selling a bottle or two. Nope. No. Nada. Niente. NO.
Empirical Spirits and Their Weird & Wonderful Creations
Copenhagen-based Empirical Spirits, led by former Noma employees Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen, wants to bring new flavour to alcoholic drinks. Empirical Spirits have made quite a splash in the short 12 months they’ve existed. Williams and Hermansen are, we’re told, “eagerly leading an investigation into brewing and distilling, looking at flavors, traditions, technologies and techniques to see if things could be done differently. Why can’t spirits be seasonal, as food can, or have vintages, as wine does? Why should spirits be required to have an ABV of 40 per cent when they could taste far better at 20 per cent?”
“Noma famously embraced unusual and unexpected ingredients, from rarely-used plants to insects, in its pursuit of taste and experiences, and Empirical is similarly devoted to exploring new flavours. Additions might include mugwort, wild beach roses or even roast chicken skin, before the spirit is distilled over eight to ten hours for further refining.” The brand sometimes releases new products on Fridays via their Instagram feed. “According to Empirical’s excitable brand manager, Ian Moore, the last batch of 300, each costing 485 kr (£43) sold out within 30 minutes.” 2018 will see the increase of production capability with the arrival of new machinery. A move that’s sure to excite drinkers all around the world.
Bar Review: Jim Meehan’s Prairie School
After famously opening PDT in New York’s East Village in 2007, Jim Meehan has opened his second drinking establishment in his native Illinois. Punch went to see if it lives up to the hype. Prairie School is named after the architectural style of Frank Lloyd Wright. “That the bar is an overtly ambitious undertaking, in almost every respect, is apparent the moment you enter. Though the room’s clean, controlled lines will be familiar to anyone who has ever toured a Wright house, the design is not all Wright. The bright, rose-gold-tinted mirror and flagstone bar is inspired by Donald Judd, and the boldly colored carpet panels are influenced by Joseph Albers. It may well be the artiest bar in America.”
Punch’s impression is that the menu seems to be minimalist, precise, and Midwestern. Meehan himself says “The Midwest has a number of great brewers, distillers and winemakers and there’s so much civic pride in Chicago. Channeling Wright and the Prairie School architects, I feel like they would have used local artisans wherever possible for their buildings and materials as well, so it fits the concept.” They note that Prairie School most likely hopes to become a destination bar, continuing “The best way for a customer to approach it would be to view the Wright concept simply as an attractive backdrop, and to think of Prairie School as a hyper-regional drinking den that makes the most of local products. In a way, it’s in keeping with Wright, who often built with his natural surroundings in mind. Prairie School’s greatest asset is that gets us drinking along similar lines.” Certainly sounds worth a visit to us.
A New Cocktail Conference With a Political Twist
More news from Illinois: The New York Times reports that “Chicago will host a new cocktail conference this spring. Called Chicago Style, it will take place May 7 to 10, after the gala for the James Beard Awards.” What at first glance seems to be a normal convention, a closer look reveals its philosophical mission. “The three founders, all women, plan to use the gathering to address social problems, including sexism, substance abuse and a lack of diversity, that the bar business has started to grapple with over the past year or so.” One of the founders, Shelby Allison, says “Where we will differ from other conferences is the diversity of our panelists and participants, and our inclusion of discussions directly addressing race, gender and sexual identity within these panel topic.”
As is so often the case, those underrepresented take it upon themselves to not only showcase the diversity of their gender, but of all humanity. A sight sorely lacking in most other bar events. While last year’s BCB panel discussion on “diversity behind the bar” focuses on race and ethnicity, all of the seven panelists were men. This seems not to be the case at Chicago Style. Panels will include one on the “cross section between race, gender, sexuality within the hospitality community,” said Ashtin Berry, one of the panelists and beverage director of Tokyo Record Bar in New York City. Also on the panel will be Don Lee, a New York bartender and developer of barware who has long been outspoken on social issues. A full schedule of events will be released mid-February, and ticket sales begin March 1.
Oxford Unveils Historic Gin
Oxford, the oldest institution of higher education in the English speaking world, just released its own gin label. Neat Pour reports “A collaboration with Toad Distillery, Physic Gin is a proprietary product made from 25 botanicals grown in the school’s famed Botanical Gardens.” Unfortunately, not all of TOAD’s botanicals could be sourced from Oxford. “The required quantity of juniper berries was simply too much. And, then there was the grain. For this ingredient, the distillers turned to John Letts. Letts specializes in growing medieval strains of grain. The gin features hand-scythed, machine-threshed barley.” Bottles are currently available exclusively at local shops in Oxford.