Mixologist. Sommelier. Architect of potions, tonics and elixirs. Accomplished emcee, writer and cocktail judge. International spirits diplomat. Award-winning bar personality Lauren Mote wears many hats, but she’s perhaps best known as the co-proprietor of Bittered Sling — a wildly successful line of high-quality, small-batch cocktail and culinary bitters— and bar manager of the downtown Vancouver hotspot UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar.
What makes a great bar?
The interesting part about being a bartender is that you get to meet some of the most interesting people. I work in a boutique hotel and the people that come into UVA are often very well traveled, well-educated and intuitive people. I’ve been able to have some of the most interesting, intelligent and engaging conversations with guests, while making them drinks. In these experiences the cocktail is the compliment that can brings the conversation together -- that’s what makes a great bar.
What do you do, and what do you plan to share with delegates at Terroir 10?
I've Been bartending for 15 years and in that time I've run many bar programs, progressive cocktail, spirit and wine programs. I moved to Vancouver in 2007 and I was the bar manager at Lumiere (which at the time was one of the best restaurants in Canada). In 2012, I opened Bittered Sling Bitters, with my partner and chef Jonathan Chovancek, and we started Kale and Nori culinary arts.
Bittered sling is an award winning product, and is used to inspire creativity from chefs and bartenders alike, both professionals and amateurs across Canada and now into the US and abroad. Being that our company is about 4 years old, it's been pretty exciting to see the growth of something that’s so niche. It's fascinating to see a product like Bittered Sling grow when it’s so focused on olfactory nasal and palette perception. It feels like the right time to focus on this, to bring these concepts to Terroir 2016.
Can you describe a bit about how you approach the process of concocting new flavours and inventing bitters?
Creating bitters is an interesting process and both Jonathan and I approach things quite differently. Jonathan looks at it like making a sauce - being that he’s been a chef for almost 23 years. I look at bitters as being tools to use in bartending as a way to dry out a cocktail and to add balance and complexity. So the two of us look at bitters from a completely different perspective. To create a bitter, we start from experimenting with the ingredients that we’re inspired by, for example, orange and juniper. We’ll bite into them, play with them in as many different forms as possible, and start recording all of the flavor notes that we sense from them. From there, we compare our notes, and from the beginning we were always surprised to find that our notes were so similar except for the fact that our weights were different because he was building a sauce and I was building an accompaniment to a drink. Then together, we begin the trial and error process of experimenting with these flavor notes and those of other ingredients, to create a final finished product.
We like use the analogy of taking apart and engine and putting it back together again. If you were to describe what orange tastes like, looks like, smells like, and feels like to somebody who has no sensory perception, how would you explain it?
So that’s what we do with our bitters, how we build them.
Would you consider yourself a supertaster?
I think it would be very hard for me to say that I’m a supertaster, but I know that when I build flavours, bitters or anything to do with sensory perception with notes or palate, I’m able to identify and associate names and words and colours and extractions to everything that I taste. I know that I can go toe-to-toe with any sommelier, any chef, with anyone who knows how to taste and understand flavors and palate.
I read Francois Chartier’s* book, Taste Buds and Molecules, and I read his analysis of different flavour compounds. I found that there were many things that I already could taste and knew on my palate, but I just needed more information on exactly what characteristics and chemical codes I was tasting and smelling to better identify them.
I think that the ability to “super taste”, doesn't mean much anyways if you don’t have the sensory education and vocabulary to identify the things that you smell and taste…
Absolutely. There was this craze about 10 years ago when bartenders were putting up to 15 different ingredients in cocktails and I did the same thing! I would go down one path, trying to express the flavour of a strawberry, for example, and I would find 15 different ways that I could do that. Over the years, I’d learned better to condense many ingredients into less and more complex ones to achieve the same quality of flavour but in more interesting ways.
What do you think we could do more of in terms of education, as an industry, to expose a larger and more inclusive demographic to the value of better understanding flavour and taste perception?
I think that there is a large percentage of people that are interested and passionate about food and beverage, than there are people that aren’t. To reach these people, I think we just have to keep presenting more opportunities, that can act as gateways for people to really get involved in the industry.
To get people involved in this level of understanding of food and beverage, I think it’s just a matter of finding the hook of how to bring people in and make them feel comfortable. Once they get in they’ll never want to leave.
The entire reason that I chose bartending, over continuing to pursue my postgraduate education is that I get to have face-to-face contact with people that will eat and drink every single day of their lives. Through beverage and within this industry, I can actually have a much greater impact on these people.
This interview had been edited and condensed from its original format.