Cocktail culture is thriving in large part due to a passionate contingent of exceptional bartenders and mixologists. This feature places a spotlight on the craftspeople behind the bar, and not just the structure itself. Meet Michel Dozois from Névé Luxury Ice in Los Angeles.
Josh Lurie: Do you consider yourself a bartender or a mixologist? What’s the difference?
Michel Dozois: I consider myself neither a bartender nor a mixologist. To me, a mixologist is one whom only works for a liquor company. They are hired to make cocktails in order to sell the brands products. And unfortunately the word bartender has come to be associated with a pump and dump style of making drinks such as vodka sodas and dirty martinis. I’m not sure it will ever be associated with the original and true meaning of bartender again. So, as my friend Gregor would say… I am a Drink Smith.
JL: How did you become interested in mixology?
MD: I began mixing drinks when I was fifteen. I “bartended,” if you can call it that, my way through college. When I moved to LA I met a man named Eric Davidson. He is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He was one of the original members of the cocktail movement in LA, although now a forgotten name. He constantly challenged my mind and palate.
JL: What’s your first cocktail memory?
MD: Wow, that’s a really tough question. The first drink I remember having was a beer when I was seven years old. It was non-alcoholic, but my elders didn’t realize at the time that even non-alcoholic beer has a touch of alcohol in it. And so my godmother, taught me what a hang over was.
JL: What’s your current favorite spirit or liquor?
MD: Whiskey is my favorite spirit. To break it down, I prefer Scotch out of all of them, and Islay Scotch of all scotches.
JL: Which cocktail is past its prime?
MD: I think Marcos [Tello] and Eric [Alperin] are correct in saying that the Martini is past its prime, however for a different reason. Most bars serve everything in a cocktail glass (i.e. martini glass) because they are using bad ice, even though they might not know that. They strain it into a martini glass because they need it to stop diluting. It’s become such a habit that bartenders aren’t sure why they do it anymore, or what the reason is behind it. To them a cocktail is just served in a martini glass.
I also concur with Matty. Every time someone orders a dirty martini it rips out a piece of my soul. Those people desperately need and want to know a better cocktail, but they’ll never admit to it.
JL: What’s the cocktail of the future?
MD: Anything served on big ice cubes. Ice is the next progression of cocktails. Although big ice may not be new, it is new to anyone who’s not a great grandfather.
JL: Describe one of your original cocktails. What’s it called and what was your approach?
MD: This is one of my favorite stories:
While I was training with Sammy Ross at Comme Ca, I made this cocktail:
¾ oz of crème, ¾ oz of honey, and 2 oz of scotch
It turned out to have a very calming effect over me. It was like giving milk to a baby, so I named it Michel’s Milk. Turns out this reporter came in and heard me talking about it to my regular customers. She wrote a huge article about how perverted the name was, and I was asked never to make it again by our chef. I later retold this story to Marcos, who looked at my disappointment with a grin on his face. “What’s milk called in French,” he asked. “Lait,” I replied. “So, name it that and keep making them.” Therefore, it is now call the Lait Michel.
JL: Do you have a cocktail mentor, and what did they teach you?
MD: I have had several cocktail mentors. I’m a firm believer that everyone has something to teach. Whether it be something you should do, or something you should not do. The guys I look to for mentoring now are usually bartenders I consider amazing gurus’ on ice. Like Sasha Petraske or Jon Santer, and some others. They really get it!
JL: Outside of your bar, what’s your favorite bar in town and why?
MD: Does my house count? If not, then it would have to be Rivera, Providence, or Doheny.
JL: Who’s another mixologist you respect and why?
MD: There are so many out there. Some I have worked with. Some I haven’t. One of these days I would love to work with Vincenzo Marianella and I’d love to work again with every one of the Bartenders I’ve worked with before.
JL: If you had a bar of your own, what would you call it?
MD: I’m working on two concepts right now and therefore cannot disclose their names. Sorry.
JL: What’s the best simple cocktail for people to make at home, and what’s the recipe?
MD: The Gimlet. It is so versatile, so simple, and yet so complex.
1 oz of fresh squeezed lime juice, ¾ oz of simple syrup, 2 oz of gin
One may add almost any fruit or vegetable to this little concoction and make it a whole new drink.
JL: How does Névé Ice enhance cocktails?
MD: Let’s start with our Rocks and Collins cubes. These cubes are designed so that they take up 50% of your glass (just like normal bar ice), but since it is a single cube in your glass, and not an ice scoop full of small ice cubes, the surface area is less; therefore allowing the ice less contact with liquid, therefore allowing for less dilution (ie. less melting/ less water in your drink). But since the cube is larger it will chill your cocktail more. And as you see in all the pictures, it looks amazing!
On to the shaking cube. This is the most important cube! Névé’s shaking cube has no corners. Corners are the problem with ice for the simple reason that as soon as a corner hits something flat it will cause the ice cube to shatter into smaller pieces. That creates a lot of surface area, and a lot of dilution. We also age the cubes a bare minimum of 48hrs, allowing for greater density. The same concept on temperature also applies here. The drink will be much, much colder! The way I demonstrate this to bar owners and managers is by making a simple gimlet. I take two shakers; make one gimlet with their ice, and one with Névé ice. Although some may say this is ballsy, the results are always the same. The cocktail with Névé ice creates a colder cocktail, a better mixed cocktail, (which is more visually appealing), a less diluted cocktail, and allows the drinker to enjoy the flavors of the fresh lime juice, simple syrup and gin, in all of its beautiful harmony, known as the Gimlet.
1JL: Where can people purchase your ice?
MD: Névé Ice is currently sold exclusively through the retailer Bar Keeper located in Silverlake. We will be expanding into other regions soon. Until then there are some great bars that use it 🙂 Please see the website for those establishments!