The Art of Mix­ing

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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

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