Dispatch From the LuckyRice Festival

Pyrus Martini and Baiju
Pyrus Martini and Baiju

All photos by Aliza Kellerman.

Why Baijiu is sometimes translated as “white wine” is completely beyond me. It’s distilled and distinct, a little reminiscent of a maraschino liqueur. Last Tuesday, the Japanese spirit tangoed with Bombay Sapphire East in a Pyrus Martini, the creative work of drinks specialist Orson Salicetti, who whipped up cocktails at LuckyRice’s Lunar New York Kick-Off Feast.

LuckyRice celebrates Asian culinary culture at large by throwing a series of booze-soaked parties across America. As it was the Year of the Sheep, lamb was the ingredient du jour. While I cornered many an hors d'oeuvres tray, the emphasis was really on the booze.

The featured spirit was Bombay East. Bombay Sapphire was the first gin I ever tried (I started things off right) so it holds a dear place in my heart, but Bombay East is a lovely, delicate variation. Gin initially seemed like a bit of an odd choice to pair with meat, but as Salicetti puts it, the key is in the spice. “Bombay Sapphire East has more citrus and spice notes than other gins.  It works well with meat based dishes because the citrus in the gin cuts through the heavy meat and fatty dishes.”

Cocktails of the Night
Cocktails of the Night

The Baijiu in Salicetti's  Pyrus Martini (named after the Pyrus pear tree) gave the drink a deliciously thick quality. It was like a tanged up Last Word. The Feeling Sheepish cocktail, created by Bacardí's Nick Kosevich called on chamomile infused Bombay East and a touch of ginger, which made the cocktail light and floral. My final drink was the Gin & Tonic Reimagined. Although the most traditional cocktail of the night, the G&T Reimagined used one of my favorite mixers (and one of the more innovative products out there): Fever Tree Tonic.

I enjoyed all three cocktails, but Salicetti's Pyrus took home the gold for me, simply because the Baijiu put it out there. A word on Salicetti: his culinary background is impressively diverse, with training in Spain, Holland, Miami, and New York.

And how does the breadth of his experience affect the cocktails he makes? “Living in NYC for the last 15 years and working in the hospitality industry gives you the opportunity to try and learn about lots of different cuisines.  Asian cuisine has a strong influence in the culinary world and influences the bar scene as well.  I have been developing bar concepts for several venues and some of them have been inspired by Asian culture and ingredients. Also, I was the head bartender at Apotheke bar in Chinatown where I used to incorporate various Asian herbs.”

I can’t remember a time when Asian cuisine wasn’t popular in metro America’s eating habits, but the fact that I couldn’t buy Yamazaki 18 in any of my local liquor stores until recently shows me that Asian influence in American booze culture is spreading, thankfully.

Salicetti notes that the marriage of food and drink can be credited for the popularity of Asian-inspired cocktails:

Pyrus Martinis
Pyrus Martinis

“I call it the global food and global cocktail experience, where you can enjoy in almost any high end NYC cocktail bar a cocktail with Asian ingredients.  For example, a mojito with yuzo and shiso mint... Also, some of the most important restaurants and bars in NYC and America have cocktails that are influenced by Asian cuisine and they are not necessarily traditional, such as Momofoku NYC and Pok Pok.  NYC has great bars like Angels Share, that not only represents the Asian culinary/cocktail scene, but also their food and cocktails have become mainstream in NYC… Asian cuisine and ingredients… are part of NYC culture.  The culinary lines are blurred in the best way possible.”

Salicetti predicts the Baijiu market in NYC will grow exponentially, which would make for an interesting string of cocktails, because Baijiu is umami defined, it’s very kind of this but not really that. Please try it. Where, you ask? At Salicetti's upcoming bar, Lumos. You know we’ll be visiting soon.

Buy tickets for the next LuckyRice Festival and gorge yourself silly.

Pyrus Martini - Created by Orson Salicetti

  • 1.5 oz/44 ml Bombay Sapphire East Gin
  • .5 oz/15 ml Baijiu
  • 2 oz/60 ml White Pear juice
  • .25 oz/7.4 ml Maraschino Liqueur
  • Lumos Spice Elixir (Lumos house elixir is made from an infusion of Baijiu, allspice, clove and cinnamon)
  • .5 oz/15 ml Agave Syrup
  • 2 fresh leaves of Sage (one in the cocktail, one for garnish)
  • .75 oz/22 ml Lime

Shake all ingredients (slap the sage to release oils before adding) with ice until well chilled. Double strain into chilled coupe glass. Top with second sage leaf as garnish.