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Mixing Drinks at Noble Experiment

December 2, 2011 1:47 a.m.

KPBS arts and culture reporter Beth Accomando visits Noble Experiment.

Related Story: Noble Experiment


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ANCHOR: Noble Experiment is a hidden downtown San Diego bar that revives an era when mixing a drink was a craft. KPBS arts and culture reporter Beth Accomando takes us on a clandestine visit.

Unlike most businesses, Noble Experiment doesn't make its presence known. It has no outside signage, never advertises, and no one answers the phone. If you want to get into the bar, you have to text them for a reservation. Then, as patron David Klowden says, you have to find the place.

DAVID KLOWDEN: In the back of a certain restaurant, you walk in the back, past the restroom s you'll a freezer, you'll see a ladder, and some old beer kegs stacked up here, and what you do is push on the beer kegs, this is the secret door...

Now you're inside Noble Experiment. The bar discourages the term speakeasy although it does have a similar kind of exclusivity says Klowden who's written extensively about the bar.

DAVID KLOWDEN: Because there is a sense of exclusivity about it people think that is a gimmick but here I don't think it's a gimmick... here it helps maintain the integrity of what they are doing because there won't be so many people in here that they can't take the time that it takes to make a great drink.

Making a great drink is what Noble Experiment is all about. Cocktails are a distinctly American invention says Klowden, and the bar revives the craftsmanship of a previous era.

DAVID KLOWDEN: A cocktail should be very cold. This one was very cold to the point you could almost not touch it, it's still cold.

And what keeps it cold is ice. But not just any ice says bartender and manager Anthony Schmidt. It needs to be hard, cold, draft ice.

ANTHONY SCHMIDT: This type of ice and the reason we purchase this ice is that it's crystal clear there's no impurities it is the same ice they would use for ice sculpting.

Schmidt purchases 300 pounds of draft ice every other week.

ANTHONY SCHMIDT: We use this ice for spirit forward presentations, typically our old fashions is really what this is relegated to or a Manhattan on the rocks where the spirit is by far the emphasis.

Because you don't want to dilute it says David Klowden.

DAVID KLOWDEN: So if you use cold draft ice, which they do here and you use hand cut ice or hand cracked, then it won't melt as fast it won't ruin the quality of the drink.

Schmidt hand carves each cube.

ANTHONY SCHMIDT: I am working the corners off. You can see most of our glassware actually has that V shape, so then it fits nice and neat. I have to mindful that every block I use, every piece is carefully shaped and that's takes time.

Time well spent because ice can alter the quality of a drink. Schimdt uses a second, less clear kind of ice for drinks mixed in a shaker can.

ANTHONY SCHMIDT: Less air inside the ice means denser ice so we can shake harder, we can stir a little bit longer, we can control temperature...

This ice is more of a tool than an aesthetic element. But there's nothing like dropping a perfectly shaped cube into a shaker can.

ANTHONY SCHMIDT: That sound is like the magic sound right there that snap on the bottom of the can that is music to my ears... I don't want to start shaking right away, especially if I have just taken the ice out of the freezer, the ice is brittle, so... I really want it to keep it's form so I go into a little warm up and then I go into my[shaking]. That pounding is the goal and I can't do that unless I have those perfectly fit ice cubes,

Shaking a drink like a dacquari creates froth and Schmidt gets anxious if people don't sip the drink immediately to appreciate the fleeting foam.

ANTHONY SCHMIDT: You can't compete with that presentation, the aroma that you get from your first sip is so memorable and so profound. It's what Harry Craddock in the classic cocktail manuals claims as the laughter of the drink.

The right ice allows Schmidt to create that laughter and much more.

ANTHONY SCHMIDT: It gives us more flexibility with the presentation so when the drinks are finally on the tray they are going to be right.

That pleases patrons like David Klowden.

DAVID KLOWDEN: I recognize when someone cares passionately enough about something to do the research.

Schmidt has done his research and displays the kind of craftsmanship that turns a cocktail into a thing of beauty.

For KPBS News, I'm Beth Accomando.