The Art of Mixing
The name Hidetsugu Ueno has become a staple in the world of mixology. Ueno-san shows off his cocktail flair at Cork & Screw, Plaza Indonesia, omakase -style
To have a world-famous mixologist in town, serving up drinks omakase -style is like seeing a blue moon rise in the sky. So when we heard that the Union Group invited the industry guru Ueno-san to one of its establishments, Cork & Screw, at Plaza Indonesia, we had a big smile on our face, feeling stoked to experience his magic. Ueno-san, who started his career as a bartender in 1992 at the Nobuko Lounge & Bar in Japan, has made a name for himself in the industry by winning or becoming a finalist in numerous cocktailing competitions. He once worked for the popular institution Star Bar in Ginza before setting up his own haunt, High Five Bar (also in Ginza), which is famed for its straightforward setting and has amassed devout patrons.
To Ueno-san, cocktail making is a form of art. It’s a ritual that requires perfection and precision in concocting, proportioning, decanting, and even sometimes measuring the temperature of a drink. Extensive knowledge of the ingredients used in cocktails, their tastes, and aftertastes is also part of the sine qua non of the art of mixing.
At Cork & Screw, flanked by a couple of in-house assistants, Ueno served a limited number of guests on a long, makeshift table with improvised bar shelves stacked with all kinds of liquor in the backdrop. Omakase, which means “I’ll leave it to you” in English, is a unique, Japanese way of seeing and doing things, which has gained a cult following both in fine-dining restaurants and high-end bars all over the world. When we arrived, Ueno-san was tense and busy preparing all the elements he needed to surprise us, and we tried to make him relaxed a little by praising how dapper and sharp he looked that evening in his crisp white t-shirt laced with a button suspender. He smiled and asked us, “Are you guys ready?” We nodded in unison, excitedly.
Although we surrendered to Ueno-san’s authority, he was still kind enough to consider our taste preferences. “Tell me about your feeling,” he said, “and I’ll suit the drinks to your mood.” We then politely asked him to create a drink that his patrons in Japan would order when they see him or hear his name. “Oh, Harvester,” he said curtly. Soon after, he dashed to the bar shelves where he fetched a bottle of fine Yamazaki 12-year-old whisky, mixing it with fresh lemon juice and red grape liqueur.
Voila—a beautiful Harvester in a Martini glass made by the hands of the venerated Uenosan was finally on our table! Harvester is a pale pink drink with a well-balanced aftertaste— fruity but not too sweet (the Yamazaki’s rooty note is so smooth that it gives equilibrium to
the overall zest). The session continued with Ueno-san serving up drinks to the patron sitting right next to us. He surprised him with a Negroni, a serious drink comprising dry gin, sweet vermouth, and the bitter orange Campari. Negroni in general is not for everyone, as it veers much more toward bitter and wild undertones; it’s an acquired taste, to be precise. The one that Ueno-san made was impressive—the traces of herbs, spices, and bitter orange blended together perfectly, making it a must-drink classic. The cocktail gastronomy treats continued for another two hours, and we noticed that Ueno-san’s barmanship was predicated not only on pulling off his skills and ingenuity but also on creating human connections, while ensuring that we felt comfortable.
The omakase -style with Ueno-san was the first-ever event of its kind in the country and definitely has set a new benchmark on barmanship in Jakarta. And the success of the Union Group’s maiden attempt to up the ante on the local bar scene would definitely lead to more world-class bartending shows at their other establishments, such as Union, Loewy, Casa, and E&O. So, keep your eyes open for the next cocktail degustation event.
For more information on Cork & Screw at Plaza Indonesia, please refer to page 38