Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Eric Scouten - Bartender, Alchemist and Maritimer on the move!

Sometimes you meet people and you think to yourself: What the hell just happened?! Well, that's what took place the first time I met Eric. He was a whirlwind of kindness, enthusiasm and passion all rolled into a pretty cool package! From the get go three things were very apparent to me: 

1) He knows beer and cocktails like I know whisky! 2) He could likely make a drink from the ingredients in a bachelor's refrigerator and 3) Eric is bar smart. Many people are hired to be bartenders. I would say, likely, most are not in it as a full time lifelong career. University students, entry level position into the hotel/tourism industry, etc... Not to say these people are not serious about their jobs but the reality is, they will make drinks, sling beer and within a few years move on to something else.

I met Eric while he was employed at one of the best restaurants/bars on the boardwalk in Saint John. HE loves what he does and it is a career path he's chosen. Eric was there for quite some time until a fabulous opportunity presented itself: Port City Royal.

Established in 2014, Jakob & Eric consistently push the boundaries of traditional turn of the century Maritime fare by preparing it with today's technology and creativity. Two masterminds: One has a mad scientist/genius approach for drink, the other a 'Group of Seven' artist touch when it comes to food. It garnered them Spot #2 in Enroute's Canada's Best New Restaurants of 2015. 

Eric recently embarked on a 21 day trip to Japan. I followed along on Instagram and was truly envious of his discoveries. I asked if he would be interested in writing a small piece for me when he returned and... write he did. The adventures of a bartender, abroad...

Ladies & gents I give you Mr. Eric Scouten.

"32 hours in transit is enough to make anyone go a little stir crazy but I knew the experience that was in store for me would be more than worth it. I... was going to the motherland of bartending culture for the first time in my life -> JAPAN and I was willing to travel the 9800km to live out that dream.

I landed in Chitose just south of Sapporo, made my way north to Japan’s beer capital and checked into my first destination - a hostel called Untapped. It was by far the nicest one I have ever seen. It had a great restaurant on the first floor that was tremendously popular with locals. The owner, Teruya Jin, and a young American/Japanese server from the restaurant offered to take me out on the town to show me some of their favourite bars and thanks to their kind generosity I discovered a beautiful community surrounded by mountains, centered around tourism and a vibrant night life. So prominent, in fact, that they have an entire district dedicated to it - Susukino. That’s where I found my first gold mine of a bar.

Chosetsuan was nestled in a maze of back alleys so it's likely I would have never found this little gem on my own. Teruya knew I was looking for a unique experience so he was very excited to take me there as it was his friend’s place. The bar seats 8 total and specializes in Japanese Whisky and French Rum. Much like myself, I found the owner to be passionate and excitable, and with the help of Amy’s translations we had a fabulous conversation about some of the products he carried. He told me whisky is available everywhere in Japan but that it was highly unlikely to to find his rum selection anywhere else. How could I not be excited as we set out on a rum tasting paired with dehydrated citrus and cured meats with Calvados and Brandy thrown into the mix. By the time we left I was feeling a bit rosy cheeked but ready for another round and that’s when pure magic happened in the form of food. Genghis Khan! 

This local favorite is the equivalent of our Maritime drunk Donair and Poutine run. The only difference is in Sapporo, it’s a midnight endeavour and not a night cap. It consists of grilling lamb over a wood coal grill built into the counter top. Served with onions, garlic and spiced soy sauce along with ice cold Sapporo Classic Pilsner. If you know me, you know that lighter beer styles are not usually my thing, but this combination was to die for and a truly unforgettable experience.

The next find came as a complete surprise. I was in Aomori after leaving the northern island of Hokkaido. I wanted to go there because it’s the birthplace of Sake and has 40+ 'breweries' in the surrounding area. After a long day on trains and failing to find a hostel I reluctantly rented a room at the Richmond hotel. I don’t like staying in hotels when traveling because you don’t meet other travelers without going out of your way. Mind you a private room is nice from time to time. 

I went for a walk but soon found that like in my home province of New Brunswick, most things are closed on Sundays. I searched for hours but gave up looking for a restaurant so resigned myself to getting supper from a 7-11 on the way back to my lonely hotel room. 'Supper' in hand I decided to take the back streets hoping to scope out interesting finds for the coming days. I saw a sign and walked past it at first but somewhat frustrated by my thus far fruitless walk I decided to turn back. As I past the door step into Bar Familiar I was greeted enthusiastically by a young bartender/owner named Sakurai Toshitsugu. I quickly realized this man could make one hell of a mean drink. As I sat in his quaint and beautiful bar that sits no more than 26, he made me several drinks but by far the highlight was trying out Nikka’s Apple Brandy.

I also sampled a locally produced Shōchū, and tried Suze for the first time. If you've never had Suze, please do as it is quite the treat! 

My last 'wow' moment ended up being 14 in 1! On the last leg of my trip I found myself in Kagoshima. Again no hostels in the area but managed to find a hotel where I asked the front desk about local bars. I was told to check out B.B.13 Bar. This place was amazing! Old French China cabinets filled with decadent glassware and bartending tools. Bottles lined the back of the bar, and the bartender Shinya Miyauchi was looking quite sharp in his white tuxedo. 

He offered me some 1984 single malt from the Mars distillery - Malt of Kagoshima. It was absolutely fantastic, smooth and smoky. As I thanked him and prepared to return to the hotel he offered me a map. In a heavy accent with a thick lisp he said “Cocktail Map”. The map had fourteen bars on it including B.B.13 Bar and I spent the next three days on one of the best bar hops I have ever experienced! I had never been so blown away. Each one had at least one competitive bartender on staff and I was taken on a flavour escapade that left me so astonished I truly fail to put it in words what I was fortunate enough to experience. Kagoshima was the highlight of my trip and the best of all the surprises.

And... just like that it was time to leave and make my way back to Canada. The trip home - 29 hours. That's a total of 61 hours (2 1/2 days) in airport lounges, cramped economy class seats and little to no sleep. I wanted to go to Japan because the bartending culture there is of the highest caliber. Their national association helps elevate the skills of that profession. Canada has a long way to go in that sense, so it was important to me to go to this country and see for myself how these people practice their craft. I was so touched by what I experienced and it's made me question my own abilities and knowledge. This has led me to not only learn more but to achieve a higher level of hospitality. I went to Japan to try whisky, cocktails and ramen and ended up coming back not only inspired but a changed bartender. My creative juices are flowing so I can't wait to get back to the bar and start working again. Something else has come out of this: The desire to have a better Canadian Bartending Association for bartenders to network and elevate their skills."

Sometimes, you meet people and know they are different from the get go. Then you watch as they exude the combination of hard work, a bit of 'crazy' and passion. I get that, because I feel that way about myself. I love what I do, I love where it's led and I see that emulated in Eric's choices. There is no stopping him now. He's one part Maritimer, two parts alchemist and one part driven = Someone who knows what he wants and how he's going to get there.

Since asking Eric to write this piece for me, he was also named one of the top 10 mixologists that are putting Canada on the map (Destination Canada Magazine, March 2016). Like I said... sometimes you meet someone and say: "What the hell just happened!!?..." 

Well Saint John, Eric Scouten happened and I can't wait to see what he does next.  

Thanks Eric...  I'll be in soon for a 'smoke and mirrors'...  ;)


1 comment:

  1. "What the hell just happened!!?..." Been wondering that since the day he was born. Congrats on the recognition you deserve bro.