1. What is Mr. Ott's job?
2. What projecs has he worked on?
3. What does he claim to be able to do?
4. Do you think his claims are true? Would you like to try his concoctions?
The Sorcerer of Shaken and Stirredfrom the New York Times
By JEFF GORDINIER
Published: March 15, 2011IT is not unusual for a bartender to offer you something that’s supposed to make you feel good. You might say that’s what the job of making cocktails is about: delivering a brief splash of bliss.
But Alex Ott sees himself as much more than a bartender, and when he talks about making a drinker feel good, what he has in mind tends to be something more specific and lyrical than your run-of-the-mill lightness in the head and looseness in the limbs.
“I can make a cocktail that will take you back 30 years,” he said the other day. “If you tell me what you had as a child, I can take you there in one second — take you back to when your mommy tucked you in and gave you a hot chocolate. The same exact scent.”
Mr. Ott, 37, was born in Germany, and when he talks, the cadence of his voice makes him sound ever so slightly like a mad scientist in an H. G. Wells novel. “I can make you feel relaxed,” he said. “Up. Nervous. I can make you hungry. I can add ingredients that will make you spend money.” He vowed that he could free me from the agonizing aubade of a hangover. He could even, he assured me, bring about stirrings of a carnal nature.
“I’ve been doing a lot of research on 500-year-old Druidic recipes that are absolutely better than the Spanish fly,” he said.
Although you’re not likely to find Mr. Ott sporting a handlebar mustache and carving ice cubes in a bow tie — he’s more inclined to wear a San Diego Padres cap and blue jeans — he is no stranger to the mixology boomlet of the last decade. On display in his apartment near Times Square is the muddling stick he once used to smash the mint for mojitos at Sushi Samba.
He worked in outposts of that restaurant from 2000 to 2006, and during his moment in the mixology sun Mr. Ott became notable enough to appear as himself in two episodes of “Sex and the City” on HBO. A wall in his apartment serves as a scrapbook of his encounters with the likes of Uma Thurman, Ashley Judd and Luke Wilson. “There is not one person in Hollywood,” he said, “that I haven’t made cocktails for.” And while the cast of “Gossip Girl” has a habit of hanging out on his couch in the wee hours, lately Mr. Ott has phased out the standing-at-the-bar aspect of the job. Like many of his peers, he’s branching out and becoming entrepreneurial. The challenge, said Gary Regan, an author and expert on cocktail trends who oversees the Ardent Spirits Web site, is “how do you make bartending a viable career?”
“It is only over the past decade that the role of the bartender has been taken seriously,” Mr. Regan said. “It’s similar to what happened to the world of chefs in the 1970s.”
For his part, Mr. Ott has worked as a consultant and a “brand ambassador,” concocting drinks for spirits like Svedka vodka and New Amsterdam gin and mapping out the cocktail menus for scores of restaurants — most recently, in New York, at Nuela. After becoming spellbound while touring the Cincinnati labs of the scent-and-flavor maker Givaudan, Mr. Ott became a sort of roving trend-spotter for the company, scouting out bars and reporting back on what palate-stimulators seem to be on the rise. “He’s got a broad understanding of flavors and how they pair well with each other,” said Derek Elefson, a marketing expert at Givaudan. “He knows the origins of things.”
These days, Mr. Ott is even trying to help people feel good after a martini marathon. He recently teamed up with the creators of Mercy, a hangover-prevention drink making its debut this month, to figure out how to make the drink — a canned fizz of milk thistle, chamomile, B-vitamins and other ingredients — taste more mouth-watering than medicinal. To achieve that, he went with subtle traces of lemon, lemon grass, jasmine and ginger.
“The beauty of bringing Alex on, beyond the flavors, is the science,” said Dave Shor, Mercy’s chief exexcutive officer, during an interview in his SoHo office. “He understands all the chemical interactions. I wouldn’t consider anyone else.”
After years on the cocktail circuit, Mr. Ott experienced what you might call a mixologist’s midlife crisis. Getting customers tastefully tipsy was no longer enough. He found himself drawn to the sort of procedures that we tend to associate with chemists and psychiatrists — or at least sorcerers in Harry Potter novels. He began to see his customers, he said, as “individual biospheres that I could manipulate with my drinks.”
For him, sorcery begins at home. Beneath a mounted surfboard in his apartment is the nook where Mr. Ott, who studied organic chemistry during his younger years at the Braunschweig University of Technology, likes to tinker.
It’s like a dorm-room version of a laboratory, complete with a microscope, a bouquet of pipettes and a spice rack crowded with essential oils “worth about $2 million,” he claimed. He even has a gas mask. “When you work with some oils, they’re very strong,” he said. “They’ll burn your nostrils.”
Mr. Ott’s curiosity about the mood-altering potential of various aromas and ingredients led to an immersion in “Meaningful Scents Around the World,” a dense 2006 book by Roman Kaiser that explores the chemical properties of unusual scents and flavors, from “watermelon snow” algae in the Swiss Alps to pine resin in Italy to Cordyceps sinensis, the prized “caterpillar fungus” of China. “I was hooked,” said Mr. Ott, who became so obsessed with bark extracts and botanicals that he now owns a signed copy of the tome. “It explained everything about volatile molecules, your brain, your olfactory bulb, memories. The juices and herbs and spices that I choose come from the studies that I’ve done.
“There are people who do research and read books, and then there are people who just do cosmopolitans and sling drinks, and they know nothing about these things. They’re more entertainers. Bartenders should never be people who come up with cocktails, because they have no education.”
Told of these experiments with mood-altering potions, Mr. Regan of Ardent Spirits suggested that Mr. Ott might just be onto something pioneering. “I’ve never heard of it before, and I think it’s just fabulous,” Mr. Regan said in a phone interview. “Homeopathic remedies make all the sense in the world to me.”
The other night at his apartment, Mr. Ott sequestered himself in the kitchen and provided some examples. There was the Fountain of Youth, a whirl of Pimm’s, gin, white cranberry and cucumber that he promised had “anti-aging, anti-inflammatory” properties. There was an energy-jolter called the Tobacco Vanille, which somehow reached an accord among spiced rum, pear juice, lime juice, tobacco-infused honey, fig jam, vanilla essence and a pinch of powdered sandalwood.
Mr. Ott then decided to whip up an aphrodisiac. “I’m going to seduce you now,” he said, reaching for a baggie of loose-leaf damiana tea, known as “lover’s herb.” He brewed it in hot water, let it steep and then mated it, over ice, with an unlikely pair of partners: single-malt Scotch and a swig of German raspberry syrup.
“I’ve never done this before,” Mr. Ott said. The cocktail was delicious, calling to mind a Rob Roy by way of the spas of Sedona, Ariz. He didn’t even have a name for it. He thought it over for a few seconds and then found inspiration in a suggestive dash of French slang.
“How about I call it Little Death?”