“You’re gonna taste a bit of history now, guys,” said Salvatore Calabrese as he uncorked a bottle so old that the dust had fused to the glass, giving it the look of a frosted window pane (pictured above). The dean of London’s expat Italian bartenders, Mr. Calabrese was in his element: at the Super-Bar show in Milan, where he’s held in the same awe that the country’s fashionistas reserve for Armani; at the head of a hotel dining room table, surrounded by cocktailians addressing him wholly without irony as “Il Maestro”; and holding a bottle of vintage spirits, which he has become famous for collecting and decanting at his bar in London’s Playboy Club.
This particular bottle was a circa 1905 Bacardi Carta Blanca rum, which for over a century had rested in a North American hotel basement amid 160 other vintage bottles — including an 1860 rye, an 1848 cognac and an 1885 Château Lafite Rothschild — which all went up for auction last year as a single lot. Il Maestro pooled his money with a Russian wine collector for the winning bid. “The Russian guy got the wine and I got the spirits,” he said as he ceremoniously poured a thimble full of ancient rum into the glasses of his fellow diners, treating us to a low-proof but dramatic dram redolent of hazlenut and tobacco leaf.
This wasn’t the only highlight of Super-Bar, where the Beachbum also enjoyed:
– Ben Belmans’ historical survey of genever, which laid bare the centuries-long rivalry between Holland and Belgium as the home of the malty spirit, a dispute not unlike the pisco wars between Chile and Peru. Can you guess which side Belmans was on? (Hint: He’s Belgian.)
– Hidetsugu Ueno’s tutorial on Japanese bartending, which he concluded by hand-carving ice into a perfectly shaped diamond with the speed of a Tōkaidō Shinkansen bullet train.
– Daniele Dalla Pola’s Piña Colada gelato, which he made a la minute on a Coldstone Creamery-like pushcart and served in a hollowed-out pineapple.
– Peter Dorelli, who decanted the wisdom he’d gained during the 1970s behind the American Bar of the Savoy Hotel; after serving musicians from Frank Sinatra to Bruce Springsteen and actors from Peter Sellers to Elizabeth Taylor (but not Savoy regular Noël Coward, whom management deemed too persnickety for the newly hired Dorelli to handle), Dorelli came to the conclusion that “75% of what sells a cocktail is what it looks like.” (He got no argument from the Tikiphiles in the crowd.)
– Alex Kammerling’s session on “The History of Alcohol as Medicine,” which defended the restorative powers of booze with this rebuttal to the overconsumption argument: “If you have a headache, you don’t take a whole bottle of aspirin.”