“Utilitarian approach gave us vodka, creative approach presented us with gin ” – Pavlo Yanchenko
Pavlo Yanchenko does not simply like cocktails. He is fond of their history and knows when and how everything started. For more than 10 years Pavlo have been writing a blog – “Science of Drink – How to drink without being thirsty”, owing to which many people learned about Ukrainian bar culture. He is called Ukrainian Wondrich, he gives lectures on cocktails in various parts of the country and he loves Dry Martini. He was talking about this cocktail last year at BAROMETER and he had even invented a “Time Machine” devoted to the cocktail. Pavlo does like discussing martini (this interview is a testimony to it), and he considers Gin today’s most trendy alcohol. His own collection counts 60 bottles of different types of gin and, according to Pavlo, this does not stop there. To find out how to choose a gin and is it possible to limit yourself to just 3 bottles – please read on.
In what century should we look for origins of cocktail mixing?
If I really had a time machine, I’d set off to New York of 1830s. This was the city, where at the beginning of the XIX century such exotic cocktails as Iced Mint Julep, morning tonic for the real gentlemen Whisky Cocktail (prototype of the Old-fashioned), and one of my favourite – Cobbler – were getting popular. Literature offers many descriptions of these incredible practices – first a bartender juggles with a drink, throwing a mixture of sherry, syrup and a lemon slice from one glass to another, then he serves it over perfectly clear ice lumps with a straw. And next to you some yankee immediately slurps this delightful amber-colored mixture at a gulp with such a deafening sound that prim and proper Victorian ladies nearly faint ☺After that, I would go to New Orleans of 1850s to treat myself to Crusta, which was considered to be the closest to the Cocktail, although it included lemon juice, probably, as a modifier. To be honest, I am not yet confident about my ability to properly reconstruct Brandy Crusta, so tasting would be of help ☺
Are there cocktails that have gone down to history forever?
I’m sure, yes. And the first one is the Cocktail itself – a simple mixture of strong alcohol, sugar, water and bitter. Now we call it Old-Fashioned, but contrary to the name it has not been out of fashion for more than 200 years! Its laconic composition is aimed at respecting the basic alcohol and striving to perfect it, which is a very important philosophical concept for the cocktail culture and industry.
Why do you call gin super trendy and ultra-modern alcohol?
I do actually ☺It’s all about the method of production and the freedom of expression and creativity that it gives. Let’s refer to the history of alcohol: first our ancestors used to eat fermented fruits, then they began to plant cereals to brew beer and grow vines to produce wine. Then it was a turn of distillation – a revolutionary technique that allowed to extract spirit – the “soul” of fermented materials and helped retain its aroma. That means, like many centuries ago, you could enjoy the original products and their terroir. And then the human mind came up with another revolution – applied rectification – a process allowing to get virtually identical product from anything – high rectified spirit or neutral alcohol. It is, well, neutral, it’s already stripped of the taste of original materials and it has nothing to do with nature. People were choosing two opposite ways regarding this spirit, and I consider it an illustration of the structure of our society – physics and lyrics, romantic and pragmatic personalities. The utilitarian approach produced to vodka, while creative approach gave rise to gin. We take the neutral canvas of the rectified spirit and color it (using the science-intensive technique of redistillation) at our own taste, bringing back the connection with nature, but this time 100% man-made. This is why “super trendy” – because up to now people haven’t invented anything more modern in this field. And gin distillers, despite all this old-times entourage, make use of the latest achievements in organic chemistry.
Where do people like gin as much as they do in London?
Well, this is an interesting question ☺ Statistics show that there are places where gin is even more popular than in its homeland in England. For example, Spain is probably the second most important gin market (and the first in terms of consumption, when it comes to a high-quality beverage), which gave us a Spanish-style Gin-Tonic culture. It is served, as a rule, in a large glass for red wine with a lot of large lumps of ice and is garnished with citrus fruits slices and peel, spices, herbs, juniper berries and the like. Each type of gin should be chosen its garnish and even its own tonic. Therefore, a seemingly simple drink easily turns into a separate subculture, which always has something to surprise with.
What is a good gin like? What should we keep in mind when choosing an alcohol for the home bar?
Gin is a “still-life in a bottle” that requires a talented artist. Gone is the time when gins were pretty similar and could be considered universal. I advise you to have at least three bottles of gin in your bar: something classic – juniper, something lighter like citrus and something fancy – floral or even fruit or even berry-forward. You can experiment with gin in your favorite cocktails – it’s really exciting. When you learn better to tell the difference between these three categories, don’t hesitate to add bottles to the one which appeals to you most. It can easily turn into an endless process – I already have more than 60 bottles of gin in my liquor-cabinet! Well, as for the choice of gin, the advice is simple – first you’d better rely on the opinion of reputable sources or a renowned manufacturer. But if you have little insight into gin, then opt for the legendary brands, as a rule, they provide long years of experience and deserved popularity.
Tell us about the phenomenon of Martini in the US culture, why were Americans so fond of this drink?
I’m ready to talk about my favorite cocktail for hours! Indeed, a Martini really was at its zenith in America almost the entire XX century. It left its mark on literature and cinema, in fine arts and even in politics. The secret of such recognition is easy to understand – just try this exquisite cocktail with its peculiar effect (of course, it should be mixed well). At the same time, a Martini is very laconic, it can be mixed at home. If you want to do it, remember that the main challenge is not the rarity or complexity of ingredients, but the need to pay great attention to details. The understanding that you learned these details, is an additional factor of Martini’s popularity. By the way, you can get acquainted with its amazing history and evolution here in Kyiv, in the Parovoz Speakeasy Bar. Together we created a special menu with 8- significant versions of this cocktail, which is called accordingly “Martini – Time Machine in the Glass”.
Do current trends drive their predecessors out or cocktail classics is eternal?
I’m absolutely positive cocktail classics is eternal. This is the foundation, the cornerstone of all the good appearing now. In fact, not so many original trends have been invented recently, let alone taking root. I can only name offhand barrel-aged cocktails and fat-washing. And of course a great increase in DIY ingredients (Do It Yourself – the author’s note), which are becoming more complicated. On the other hand, the classics itself is subject to the influence by fashion. In the modern cocktail culture, creativity comes in the first place, and it is fueled by numerous contests, bar awards, online competitions in social networks. This shifts the focus from the classics and sometimes transforms its appearance to such an extent that it’s almost impossible to figure out whether it’s a modern trend or cocktail antiquity. A good example is relatively new Gin Basil Smash Cocktail – smash-cocktails are in fact about a hundred and fifty years, but now they’ve started to make it with basil, and this fashion spreads through blogs.
What trends are expected in the cocktail world in the next 3-5 years?
It is thought that the so-called Cocktail Renaissance is over, and what is happening now is the Craft Cocktails Boom or even Madness – cocktails are becoming more and more complicated, and creativity is reaching the cosmic level. Rotovaps (rotary evapovators), refractometers and other extraordinary devices in bars no longer seem very surprising. Many cocktail cards are based almost entirely on sophisticated homemade ingredients and the most exotic local products. Cocktails have reached such intricacy that they cannot be reproduced by anyone other than the author. I think this trend will last for some time, although it is not easy and perhaps even dangerous to keep pace with it. Another trend of the near future is the social responsibility of the industry. I’m talking about such a delicate fact as the effect of alcohol on the human body. This gave rise to such trends as Low ABV cocktails (with low alcohol content) and even new style non-alcoholic cocktails. I say “new style”, because today’s taste, complexity and creativity of experimental non-alcoholic cocktails are in line with the common ones – they are even made with tasting distillates, bitters, etc. I think this is a powerful trend, which is not yet widespread in this country.