Jeff Josenhans is Director of Venues for the grand U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego, California. In 2010, he partnered with a distillery to produce probably the first commercially-available barrel-aged cocktail, sold in 750ml bottles and initially only available at the hotel. Recently he has pioneered the Cocktails Sur Lie programme, in which cocktails are fermented, bottled and fermented a second time in the methode Champagnoise. Thanks to his research, large bottles of cocktails are now opened with a celebratory pop of the cork.
I started out bar-backing in Stockholm, Sweden in the early- to mid-nineties, and from there on in I bartended. I worked nightclubs before I got into cocktail bars. I was working at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm and I won some local competitions and then I was on the Swedish bartending team, believe it or not. I got into management from there but I always stayed in the whole mixology scene.
As Director of Venues at the U.S. Grant Hotel I basically manage the bar, restaurant, room service, and mini-bars, as well as all the banqueting and catering events, conferences, weddings and that kind of stuff. But I'm also the hotel sommelier and mixologist. So anything that has to do with alcohol in the hotel is basically run by me.
I think there's still a place for hotel bars with large drinks menus, but for us it accompanies the restaurant and everything we do remains tied to one concept. The food is more local, farm-to-table with French influences, and the bar is produce-based - there is always some type of seasonal play on all of our menus. We were one of the first places to do a cocktail garden: our rooftop has a garden and we did a whole section dedicated to cocktails up there. That's not to say we don't do super spirit-forward cocktails, but that's not what we focus on.
We originally created a barrel-aged cocktail to mark the hotel's centenary. But we didn't want to just do it in the bar, so after much research we ended up in Utah with High West Distillery. We went to the distillery, hand-picked the whiskey we wanted to use, and then they barrel-aged it for 100 days (one for every year of the hotel's existence) and had it shipped to us. It was a 55 gallon barrel, making roughly 325 bottles, each with our own labels carrying a picture of the hotel. We're now on our fourth barrel.
Cocktails Sur Lie stemmed from a bunch of different ideas. We wanted to be able to reproduce the same standard of cocktails at our banquets as we do at our bar, so it was always a question of how we were going to do that without me being hands-on at every single event. We were working with hops for a little while too, and we were carbonating cocktails with chargers. So I finally started experimenting with bottle fermentation using the second fermentation used by winemakers in champagne. I got the recipes down to where I liked them, but I found it was kind of inconsistent.
I ended up seeking the advice of a local winery to help me work out the kinks and make it happen in real life. In our interpretation of a Moscow Mule we start out with a lot of ginger, fresh hops, water, and a little bit of Muscat that has the sugar to it, and we let that cold soak for a week. From there we add yeast and it ferments for a couple of weeks. Then we bottle it and add (more) yeast and it ferments another month or so in the bottle.
After that there we disgorge it, which is the removal of the dead yeast cells or the lees. Just like in Champagne, we freeze the necks of the bottles, pop off the temporary crown caps and a good portion of the yeast sediment, along with some liquid, pours out. Then we add the dosage, in this case vodka and a little bit more Muscat and then cork it using a special machine. So you get your vodka and ginger Moscow Mule at that point, but it's definitely a little more complex than normal, particularly with the character of the yeast. We've gone through a couple of pallets of it so far.
The Cocktails Sur Lie programme is small but expanding slowly. We also have the Le Grenade Cocktail Sur Lie on the menu now. It's pomegranate, hibiscus tea, black pepper, bay leave and brandy, uses a different yeast and then cognac for dosage. In the future we're looking at a Between the Sheets Cocktail Sur Lie - rum, lemon juice, orange flower water, fermented with juniper berries and Pinot Grigio yeast, and with a dosage of cognac, rhumbero (wine-based rum) with pinot grigio concentrate - we're shooting for Valentine's Day with that one.