Leo Robitschek & 1876 – One of Heering´s 200 years

Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe

“When we were opening NoMad, we took a walk through the area with David Wondrich,” Leo Robitschek recalls.

“There used to be this little area of bars and debauchery called Satan’s Circus, which was also where the theatres were. There was no area quite like this. It was centred around the New York elite, but also the underbelly of society. It was where Jerry Thomas opened his first bar. So the Satan’s Circus was the first cocktail I created for the NoMad using that background.”

Since joining the team at Eleven Madison Park, the world’s best restaurant per the 2017 World’s 50 Best, Robitschek’s career has gone from strength to strength. The NoMad NYC ranks an impressive #3 on the World’s 50 Best Bars, and #1 in North America. It’s been recognised with a James Beard award for best bar programme and Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards for best American bar team, best American hotel bar and best American restaurant bar. And, as we speak, Robitschek has just opened the bars at the new NoMad LA.

Robitschek chose 1876 for his Heering Anniversary year less for a specific event than as an emblem of a very particular era: a period when Gilded Age glories and Gangs of New York grime intersected to help launch the age of the cocktail. “1876 was a time when all those bars and saloons happened to be there,” he says. “It was a time when there was a lot happening, a mixture between all the different classes in the saloons and gambling halls. It was a time in New York when everything was starting to gentrify in a way, and the area was very popular with people that just wanted a good drink but also with people who had their vices.”

 A devilish, deceptively simple blend of just four ingredients: rye whiskey, Cherry Heering, chilli-infused Aperol and citrus, the Satan’s Circus demonstrates Robitschek’s culinary precision and laser-sharp detailing. “We use five different types of chilli for the infusion: split them in half, let them macerate for 5-10 minutes, then start tasting,” he says.

Although he now oversees a total of seven bars – one at Eleven Madison Park, two at NoMad NYC and four at NoMad LA – it took Robitschek a while to commit to bartending as a career. When he started the beverage programme at Eleven Madison Park, it was as a side job while he took additional college courses after his career in finance palled.

In fact, even when Robitschek started work on the NoMad, he was far from committed. “They sat me down at the table, said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I’m going to go to medical school,’” he recalls. “They said, ‘We have a project we might be working on, called the NoMad: do you want to work on it?’ I did it, thinking I’d join for a year and then go to medical school, and I’ve never looked back.”

 Overseeing the bar programme at the world’s best restaurant – where dinner will set you back $315 in the main dining room or $175 in the bar – has both rewards and challenges. “A lot of people get set in their ways: you become number one in the world, and you’re scared to change, so you continue down a specific path. We blossom and embrace change,” Robitschek says. “There’s a painter that said, ‘I change to continue being who I am,’ and that’s something we truly believe in, and that we embrace.”

Robitschek still works super-closely with Daniel Humm, chef at both Eleven Madison Park and the NoMad, taking inspiration from new ingredients he’s excited about, or new dishes he’s created. “We also work with one of our R&D chefs: they take the backburner and don’t impose ideas on us, but they’re there to help us extract any flavours that we want to,” Robitschek says. While the kitchen helps with specifically culinary ingredients and with fermentation, his team, which includes bartenders with a background in cooking, is self-sufficient most of the time.

 And the resources don’t stop at the kitchen. Robitschek bases his famous Reserve cocktail list on a wealth of rare spirits, sourced from auctions, estate sales and specialist dealers. Yet, surprisingly, one of the industry trends he’s most enthusiastic about is the rediscovery of fun. “I think for a long time, especially in New York with this cocktail renaissance, you were building speakeasies to showcase these craft cocktails,” he says. “Now there’s so many different styles of bars: they’re dive bars, theme bars, they have really good cocktails but they’re a bit loose and alive.”

 It’s a panoply of liquid wonders Jerry Thomas would likely have appreciated as he wandered through Satan’s Circus all those moons ago

SATAN´S CIRCUS

2oz Rye Whiskey

3/4oz Cherry Heering

3/4oz Chile-infused Aperol

3/4oz Fresh lemon juice

Glass: Coupe

Method: Combine whiskey, cherry liqueur, aperol and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, cover and shake

until outside of shaker is frosty, about 30 seconds. Strain into glass

David Wondrich & 1851 – One of Heering´s 200 year

Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe

Digging up long-lost bartending heroes is the stock-in-trade of drinks historian David Wondrich. So it’s small wonder that he chose to celebrate a 19th-century New Yorker for his Heering anniversary year. Her name? Martha King Niblo.

“Martha King Niblo (1802-1851), a native New Yorker, grew up inher father’s Wall Street porterhouse and went on to run the bar at the outdoor pleasure garden and performance space she founded with her husband, William Niblo,” Wondrich explains. “She certainly popularised, and might possibly have invented, the Cobbler, one of the most popular drinks of the nineteenth century.”

Wondrich’s anniversary cocktail is an almost-classic Cobbler with brandy, madeira, Cherry Heering and a rum float borrowed from the mint julep. “They are ingredients that would have been known and popular there,” he says. “Cherry brandy, or cherry bounce as it was also known, was certainly a colonial favourite… Brandy was probably the most popular mixing ingredient at the time. And I thought I would soften it down with wine because obviously the cobbler was a wine-based drink.”

It was the Sherry Cobbler that made Martha King Niblo’s name, Wondrich observes, at the pleasure garden and performance space she ran with her husband, William. “People said that to get a Cobbler from her hands was the ultimate Cobbler,” he says. “So if you need a candidate for the Sherry Cobbler taking off, there’s no better place than Niblo’s Garden.” William would mourn her for 25 years after her early death, making the pilgrimage to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery almost daily.

Wondrich, who blends the academic enthusiasm of the English professor he once was with the rock-‘n’-roll edge of the musician he once tried to be, stumbled into his career completely by accident at the end of last century, just as New York’s cocktail revival was starting to take wing. Knowing that he liked cocktails and had some bartending books, a friend who was working for Hearst Magazines approached him to edit Esquire’s 1949Handbook for Hosts.

Esquirepaid me by academic standards incredibly well,” he recalls. “And, coming from a comparative literature background, I looked at all these drinks and immediately sorted them into families and arranged this chaotic lump of stuff into family trees.”

Over the last six years, that academic training has come in handy once again, as Wondrich ploughs his way through the monstrous task that is creating the Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails. He’s corralled scores of writers to produce a whopping 1200 entries in a project he refers to simply as “the behemoth”. “I’m on the final edit, so it’s getting there,” he says. “It’s a huge job so it’s taking forever. But it is – moving slowly – every month it’s getting there.” All gods smiling, the book should be released in autumn 2019.

Besides working on the Oxford Companion, Wondrich also has a weekly column on The Daily Beast, where he delves into topics as diverse as dive bars, Cinco de Mayo, and why it took America so long to have female bartenders. “It’s fairly all-consuming because it’s weekly and I can write whatever I want,” he says. “So I tend to write like deep dives into one thing or another: it’s a fairly long column.” He also presents regularly at cocktail gatherings around the world.

Whether as a presenter or an author, Wondrich’s influence on the global cocktail scene is impressive, with his two most popular books, Punchand Imbibe, required reading for the serious bartender. While Punch is his favourite, “Imbibehas definitely caught on as a textbook, so that’s kind of fun,” he says. “I’m pleased with the fact that it’s being used and taught and so on.” And even with the Oxford Companion still in progress, he’s already thinking about his next book, a history of bars and bartending in New York.

While it’s Wondrich’s researches we have to thank – at least in part – for the wave of solemn retro bars around the world, he himself is pleased to see a more nuanced approach coming into vogue. “The thing we’re seeing in the US right now is a new maturity where people are going back to running bars just like a normal place: not as a spectacle, but with a new high level of excellence and cocktails,” he says. “They’ll have short cocktail lists. They’ll pay a little more attention to the food and a lot more attention to the service, and a little less to dazzling the customer with mixology.”

It’s an ethos of which Mrs Niblo, for whom the saloon was only a part of the pleasure garden’s attractions, would no doubt have approved.

 

David Wondrich´s Cobbler

1 oz/30 ml Cherry Heering

1 oz/30 ml Rainwater Madeira

1 oz/30 ml VSOP-grade cognac

1 lemon wheel, cut in half

Strain into highball glass full of cracked ice and garnish with two more half lemon wheels,

Glass: Highball

Garnish: Two half lemon wheels in addition already in drink) slid between the ice and the glass. Float a barspoon of aromatic Jamaican rum on top and add a straw.

Method: SHAKE all ingredient (including lemon slice) with ice and strain into a ice-filled glass

The Resurrection of Cherry Heering on forbes.com

by David Rosengarten

In a sense, I am the living chronicle of Cherry Heering.

No, I wasn’t alive in 1818, when the cherry-flavored liqueur was first manufactured by grocery assistant Peter Frederik Suhm Heering in Copenhagen, Denmark…and shortly thereafter became a worldwide sensation, some would even say “the first global brand.” Damn, I missed the first 140 years or so.

But the last fifty years…such a turbulent era for Cherry Heering? Oh boy. I got it!

When I was a kid, growing up in New York City, Cherry Heering was one of the staples in my parents’ liquor cabinet. Mum and Dad weren’t proto-mixology types (I think the only drink that ever got mixed in my house was the Screwdriver). But like so many Old World Jews, they’d long for a lick of “schnapps” after dinner. And that’s when the deep-red stuff with the natural cherry flavor would often come out to moisten the miniature cut-glass crystal.

Then…a funny thing happened on the way to the 1970s. There were many, many cool things for kids like me to drink in the late ’60s, early ’70s hippie era…but Cherry Heering wasn’t one of them. In the minds of my Baby Boom generation…Cherry Heering was something, again, that your Mum and Dad had in their liquor cabinet while you were growing up.

For a long time in this era, Cherry Heering was not cool.

Intriguingly though…and that’s why I’m taking your time today…Cherry Heering clawed its way back and, today, is the very height of cool.

Why? In a word…mixologists.

For starters…where did this mixology thing come from? Then…why did they bring Cherry Heering with them?

David Wondrich, the guru of mixology, opines that the mixology movement—in which bartenders were transformed from guys stirring drinks in seedy bars to newly-minted rock stars in glam surroundings—picked up steam “about 20 years ago. The Internet allowed many drink-minded people to talk together, all over the world, about cocktails.”

If these folks were also doing their research on the Internet, if they were looking for established classics to fire their imaginations and enrich their retro-new wave drinks…there’s nothing out there with a more glorious tradition to be discovered than Cherry Heering. It was time to forget your parents’ liquor cabinet stodginess; in the 1990s Cherry Heering, to a new generation, was suddenly coming across as a venerated classic!

You have but to start googling. The sheer number of historic royal courts that took in Cherry Heering is staggering: the Royal Danish Court in 1876; the Imperial Russian Court in 1878; the Prince of Wales in the same year; the King of England in 1901. Then there’s the history of the Singapore Sling, one of the most renowned cocktails of all time—invented at Raffle’s Bar in Singapore in 1915, and requiring Cherry Heering (along with pineapple juice, lime juice, grenadine and other things). Another early 20th-century cocktail requiring Cherry Heering is Blood & Sand, taking its name from the 1922 film starring Rudolph Valentino. Cherry Heering, within a century, had developed iconic status.
With the same bartending spirit that stood behind the Singapore Sling and Blood & Sand, modern mixologists flocked to the glam-again Cherry Heering in the 1990s. Why, other than the historic record? “It adds a lovely cherry fruitiness to a drink,” David Wondrich says, “without being too sweet or sticky. And…it has a really nice acidity.”

I guess you could say it has something really important going for it as a mixer: it mixes really well.

To me, the beauty of the thing’s not just in the mixing. Completely my parents’ child, I don’t spend a lot of time mixing drinks…but the post-prandial nip is very important to me.

I had my personal reunion with Cherry Heering last spring, at a hipster bar in Brooklyn. I drank it straight, in a little glass. I was amazed.

The stuff was very serious looking—by which I mean, it had no tricked-up colors, no overwhelming visual seductivesness. In the glass, it looks like good red wine that may be 20-30 years old; it’s a mix of medium-hued garnet (NOT scary-dark) with a little encroaching brown…and the classic edge of onion skin that forms the meniscus of a good red wine. The nose is even better: cherries are olfactorily front and center, but not cliché cherries. Cherry Heering is made from a special strain of cherry: the diminutive Stevns cherry, which grows wild in Denmark, yielding the aromatic intensity that only cold-weather cherries can yield. The fruit is mixed on the nose with a jam-like dimension, a touch of prune, and an array of hard-to-nail spices that Cherry Heering holds out as a “proprietary secret.”

And then there’s the palate. If something about sweet wine is a turn-off to you, I would at least urge you to give this sweet elixir a try…for it is so much more than just a sweet drink. In fact, the world’s greatest wine connoisseurs often adore sweet wines—because their flavors and textures can be larger than life (or at least larger than wine!) In the Cherry Heering, the sweetness doesn’t seem “that” sweet—largely because it is cut by a spry, playful fruit acidity. The other thing you notice immediatey is the plush texture: this is one of the most viscous, seductive spirits you’ll ever taste…but one that actually encourages you to take another sip, and another. Lastly, the explosion of flavor. The liqueur was made by aging a mix of crushed Danish Stevns cherries in neutral spirits for five years…and all that time rings true on the palate, creating a cherry-jammy-spicy-almost minty layering of exciting tastes.

My first comparative thought last spring, while tasting? “This is like drinking really great Port, but with a dazzling array of extra flavors.”

Of course, the mixologists who brought on this glorious modern era of Cherry Heering are not going away…and you should definitely try the fruits of their labors, as well. In fact, to make sure there are plenty of fruits, the company itself holds an annual “Sling” competition, looking for great new cocktais all over the world that include Cherry Heering. Winners have come from far and wide, and they have left their cocktail recipes for the rest of us to enjoy. In October 2014, a Bar Director from Bar Ruby in Copenhagen, Denmark—Nick Kobbernagel Hovind—won the competition with a version of the Singapore Sling that included Aquavit; it showed just how flexible Heering mixing can be.

He was trying to make a Sling that is “more European in style,” he said—a direct reference to the oft-pineappley Slings you find in Singapore. He was elated after the competition, not for his personal triumph—but because, as he said, “I’ve brought the Sling back to Denmark!”

Its ancestral home, of course.

The Winner:

The Sloe Sling

1 oz. Cherry Heering
3/4 oz. Bitter Truth Sloe Gin
2 oz. Aalborg Aquavit
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
1.5 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1 small dash egg white
1 oz. soda wate

Combine the first seven ingredients in a Boston shaker glass. Shake hard for 8 seconds. Double strain into a very chilled Palais glass. Top with soda and stir. Garnish with a lemon slice.

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