Friday, May 30, 2008

Camper and Tequila

I feel like I have been pointing this blog at Camper a lot recently and here I go again. I picked up a copy of Wine & Spirits at the airport last week which had a tequila piece by my buddy Mr. English. It is accompanied by another piece by David Wondrich decimating the Highland and Lowland classifications. Together, I think these two articles might be the best writing on Agave I have seen this year.

Also, C's article is the first mention I have seen of Ocho, a tequila that just launched in Europe oddly enough and is not available in the US yet. Jacques Bezuidenhout (a major source of Tequila knowledge for me) and I were just lamenting a few months ago the lack of attention being paid to terroir and the growing of agave. Well it looks like this brand is not only paying attention to it, they are capitalizing on it by using vintages and field designations. I am overjoyed. Even if the juice doesn't pan out (which I find highly unlikely given who is making it), the fact that a brand with this kind of backing is positioning itself to rely on education in such a big way bodes very well for my vision for the future of my craft. Who knows, maybe this could lead to Bourbon labels actually listing the stills in which they were made.

I am having drinks with the American importer of Ocho later this week and I hope to have more info then.

PS The pic above is of the controller for my seat on the Virgin America flight I was on when I read these articles. Notice the cake button....they have a friggen button for cake!!!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Maraschino Confusion and Cocktail Recession

I have decided to use my humble digital outlet as a soap box today. I really find it criminal that people who consider themselves a part of the bar industry on a professional level do not have an understanding of what Maraschino is. Here is the Wikipedia page on it, which is pretty complete as far as I am concerned. I cannot stress enough how frustrating it is when bar people conflate the liqueur for the glow-in-the-dark plastic sugar balls meant to garnish sundaes, or worse yet, the toxic juice that has been stewing for weeks in a the garnish tray insert on the bartop. The average guest is almost never up on their Maraschino lore, which is completely understandable because lets face it, the backbar is loaded with bottles full of stories that are really only interesting to a select (and noble!!!) few.

However, for someone who considers himself a beverage professional to not be familiar with this classic bar staple....

The impetus for this rant is a recipe of mine being butchered in an industry magazine this month. While I am not all that concerned about anyone thinking that I would use '1/2 maraschino cherries' in a drink (pros know better, others...oh well), the fact that this slipped through the editing process kind of irks me. I know I am coming off whiny and nit-picky here, but things like this worry me.

Cocktails are hot right now, we all know this. Any reasonable person knows also that this is not going to last forever. I personally think there is actually going to be a bit of a lash-back in a few years. There are too many incomplete and overreaching programs in the world and they are going to spoil many guests taste for cocktails. The only way my career and craft are going to have a future is if enough of us have built righteous programs based on technique and education to withstand this 'cocktail recession.'

So spread the love...make a proper cocktail with maraschino for someone today. Here is one I like if you get stuck.

Improved Tequila Cocktail

1 1/2 oz. Blanco Tequila

1/2 oz. Maraschino

1/4 oz. Absinthe

1 hit bitters (I use a coffee/chocolate/cherry tincture, use whatever you think is clever)

Stir gently over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon zest.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

PX in Virginia

I am just back from my annual pilgrimage home to the Eastern Shore of Maryland and am quite ready to dry out for a bit. The bad news as far as the blog goes is that we pretty much just drink cheap light beer all day long over the Memorial Day Weekend, so not much to report there.

However, I had a lovely experience at PX in Alexandria, VA last Thursday night. PX is a speakeasy above a Fish and Chips shop in Old Town that focuses on customized versions of classic cocktails. The menu seems to have doubled since my first visit last year, but the basics are still the same, lots of housemade ingredients worked into the classics.

I personally found most of the drinks to be sugar heavy (I feel like I have been saying that a lot lately) and I was a bit heart broken when my Manhattan arrived with a bit of a head on it (when will people stop shaking these!). As well, our main server was pretty much disinterested in being there. The positives more than out-weighed these negatives though. The Barman, whose name I did not catch, was dedicated and cheerful. The space was neat and well appointed and the server-in-training that took care of us for the second half of our visit was fine.
Cool ingredients sampled;
Tobacco Syrup
Homemade elderflower liqueur
Homemade sweet vermouth

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Notice the placement of the Galliano bottle!

The word on the street (or behind the bar anyway) is the Galliano is coming back. Not that it ever really went away, but I for one did my best to forget it about it for awhile. I remember about ten years ago Remy made a big push with it, playing phallus-shaped bottle with lots of lame one-liners custom designed for baby-t's on shot girls. The problem was, they dumbed down the liquor to go along with add campaign by lowering the proof (read, 'uping the sugar'), reducing the bitter components and neutralizing the signature golden color. Yay for sugar flavored vodka!

I was lucky to score a little sample bottle of the new formulation (Thanks A.) and I am happy to report that the proof is back up, 43.6% abv, and the bitter notes are back. I am not sure how I feel about them keeping the ionic bottle shape, but I do know that it is an inconvenience I can live with in order to get this classic back in the tool chest. Their new website is pretty as well.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bay to Breakers, Hangover Remedies

As Jack Handy would say, yesterday was a beautiful day, in a beautiful city full of beautiful people...and I was drunk. I don't think I acually drank that much, but the lack of sleep, food and overload of the total awesomeness that is Bay to Breakers was too much for me and I went down at around 3:00 PM from what I hear.

Here was I ended up drinking to get my act back together:

6 oz. beer

3 oz. tomato juice

3 oz. orange juice

4 hits Tabasco

juice of 1/2 lime

...feeling much better now.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pisco Punch!!!

What a day. In the midst of the shenanigans that are San Francisco Cocktail Week (I did not participate this year due to some personal bad), a truly beautiful event took place today. My friend Diego Loret de Mola, of Barsol Pisco, took a busload of bar folk on a pilgrimage of sorts to our own City of the Dead, Colma, CA. It seems Diego and local bar historian, John Burton, had discovered the relocated grave of Duncan J. 'Pisco John' Nichol, creator of the Pisco Punch and in my opinion, the Spiritual Father of all San Francisco bartenders.

I call Mr. Nichol this not just because of his career here, but because of his style of doing business. Lets look at what the modern San Francisco bar has in common with him:

  • Unique Spirits. Pisco was clearly not a widespread bar product in the US. There was plenty here because of the all the South American miners chasing gold, but it definitely was not a sweeping trend. Modern San Francisco bartenders are quite well known for doing the same. Have you seen how much Creole Shrubb is being poured?

  • Housemade Product. Nichol made his own pineapple gomme and kept his recipe secret. While we are not so concerned about protecting our tricks, you are not a serious bar if you don't make at least some of your own stuff these days.

  • Citrus. We like our juice out here on the Left Coast, 'nuff said.

PS. I just realized I put the pics on the wrong post. Here they are.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Exercizing While Intoxicated

May in San Francisco is a great time. We get our few hot days of the year (I feel like I am still in New Orleans!). There is Oysterfest (I am still on my oyster kick, even if they don't come in po boys,) and this Sunday we will have Bay-to-Breakers where you can drink on the street (what the!?! I am still in NOLA!)

I was linked to this very useful blog, exercizingwhiledrinking, this morning. I knew I would like this guy right from the get-go when I saw the photo at the header where he doing his best Hunter S. Thompson. The research for this one post much have cost millions of dollars and hundreds of lives so I will encourage all to follow the link rather than me lifting his words.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

New Orleans Part 4.5

The Tito Shimmy!
I can't believe I almost for to talk about this.
So, the last stop on Mr. Joe Gendusas Cocktail Tour was the The French 75 bar at Arnoud's. This an absolutely beautiful room in a very grand restaurant with a very cool history and I cannot recommend it enough. Again, the cocktails were a bit a sweet for my liking, but the atmosphere was just the best. The man behind the stick introduced himself to me as Tito (I heard another name being tossed about about as well) and he taught me something I have dubbed the 'Tito Shimmy." As I was on a Sazerac kick, I bucked the French 75 trend. These guys use brandy instead of gin and very little lemon, I know they invented it, but I really don't like this recipe as much as the modern one. I was curious to see if you would use both Angostura and Peychoud's (totally WRONG btw) and he did. I was curious to see if he would over sugar it and he did. I was getting used to these things though and they don't exactly kill the drink. I was very worried about the chilling however. I really hate it when whiskey/bitters type drinks get shaken. It is a total deal breaker for me and Tito was building my drink in the tin rather than a glass...bad sign. Well, rather than killing my cocktail with foam and water, he picked it up with both hands. holding the tin between his palms, then moved them back in forth like he was starting a fire with sticks. He did this fairly rapidly, but I could hear the ice swishing gently, without too much abuse.
The drink looked like a properly stirred cocktail when presented. When I asked him what was up, he said he couldn't find a spoon. I kind of doubt that though. I have been giving it a try with my Sazeracs and I find the move to be an echo of the tradition of spinning the glass in the air to coat it with Absinthe...and that is pretty cool in my book.

New Orleans Part 4

Now, we get down to some serious drinking. Mr. Venegas, Mr. Ehrman and myself start out on the Carousel Bar again with Marvin. A couple of drinks in he comments on how much he loathes working on Mothers never saw three guys go for their cell phones faster. I can say that I had made prior arrangements for the Day but, a call was definatly in order.

Afterwards we had a solid lunch (yup, po boy number 3 for me) at Café Maspero and headed out for more drinkin'. Fortunately, we had a respectable plan, a New Orleans Original Cocktail Tour with Mr. Joe Gendusa. Joe himself is the original, a native, from the family that perfected the bread for my beloved po boys. Rather than give a total spoiler for the tour, I will just say that it is in itself, worth the cost of the whole trip. Joe walked us through a three and a half hour documentary on one of the most intriguing cities in the Country. The one highlight I will share relates to the pic above. As we were walking the last bar on our tour. Joe stops in front this building and tells us in a very reverential tone that without this building, we would not be together at that moment. This was the site of the Sazerac Coffee House, the birthplace of the cocktail. I had walked by this building a couple of times each day since I had been there and had no idea... I almost cried.

The quote that endeared this man to me forever: "This is not just a tour for me. This is my home."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New Orleans Part 3

Day 3: The Pain Begins.

I was quite hungover on Saturday and there was no relief to be had. A group of us headed to Mothers for brunch. It was hot and there was a longish line so I was quite worried about my ability to make through till an owner type popped out and suggested we come on in and get some bloody marys to keep us busy while we were in line...marvelous. I had po boy number 2 (for those of you keeping count) and did me just right. Refreshed, we did a little hat shopping and Meyer the Hatter (great!), bought some Gold Bond and wound out way to the Swizzle Stick Bar at the Cafe Adelaide. I had a couple of fabulous Whiskey Smashes courtesy of Kevin who was kind enough to recommend them even though his ice crusher was down and he had to break cubes by hand in a bag with his muddler. Other drinks sampled (House Swizzle, Julep, Pisco Sour, Sidecar) were all a tad on the sweet side for me, but that seems to be the way of it in New Orleans. I can tell many bartenders want to make their drinks a bit more serious, but the American drinking public demands more sugar.

New Orleans Part 2

Our second day in New Orleans was much more packed than the first. Out of bed at the crack of noon, we headed to down to the carousel bar (it goes round once every 15 minutes in case you wanted to know) at the Monteleone to meet Marvin. Pimm's Cups, Bloody Mary's and Pisco Sours...saved our lives he did. Marvin is a man of fine humor who is very proud of his drinks.

After a couple of Po Boys, we found our way to Pat O'Briens to get out of the heat and refresh. There we met Glenn, a fine maker of Juleps, who had been working that bar for 35 years. Blew me away. The bar was exactly the opposite as the rest of the French Quarter that afternoon, empty, dark and cool. This kept us there until it was time for the Nuptials. I normally don't go for Pat O's because of the hordes of tourists pounding Hurricanes, but I couldn't picked a better bar that afternoon. Here is what we didn't drink. It does turn out however, that they do have a good rum in their house brand bottles. Pat O's has a deal with Cruzan Rum of St. Croix for their private label...not bad.

New Orleans

I am just back from a long weekend in New Orleans for a wedding (beautiful btw K and M!) I was lucky enough to tend bar for bit at the rehearsal dinner with my main man Dominic Venegas, then spent the rest of the night on the street in front of the Absinthe House, home of the most beautiful absinthe fountain I have ever seen (you the know, the kind so pretty that you forget to take a pic of it.)
We went looking for the legendary Chris McMillian at The Library Bar at the Ritz-Carlton, only to find out that the room had been turned to a members club for cigar smoking. I couldn't help but find it odd that they felt the need to create a space like that in a town where you can smoke in the Hospital if you feel like it. Here is a video of what we missed.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Octomore has Come!

I am on my way to New Orleans this morning so I decided to save time and lift some content from other blogs. The big news (as I see it anyway) comes from Scotland. A side project from Bruichladdich, The Octomore, has been bottled for the first time today. This whiskey is named after a nearby farm and a long defunct distillery but is made at Bruichladdich. The interesting thing about it is that is the most heavily peated of all scotch whiskey, a title previously held by Ardbeg. I won't bore anyone with the science of it (120 ppm phenol if I remember correctly...I couldn't resist), just know that it is over twice as peated as any other contender.

I can attest to the truth of that. If you look closely at my pic over on the right, you will see me humping a barrel of this stuff.

It is mighty.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The 75 Skills Every Man Should Master

Esquire magazine published a great list yesterday entitled 'The 75 Skills Every Man Should Master.'

While the whole list is great, number 17 is classic:

17. Make one drink, in large batches, very well.

When I interviewed for my first job, one of the senior guys had me to his house for a reception. He offered me a cigarette and pointed me to a bowl of whiskey sours, like I was Darrin Stephens and he was Larry Tate. I can still remember that first tight little swallow and my gratitude that I could go back for a refill without looking like a drunk. I came to admire the host over the next decade, but he never gave me the recipe. So I use this: • For every 750-ml bottle of whiskey (use a decent bourbon or rye), add: • 6 oz fresh-squeezed, strained lemon juice 6 oz simple syrup (mix superfine sugar and water in equal quantities)
To serve: Shake 3 oz per person with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glasses. Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice or, if you're really slick, a float of red wine. (Pour about 1/2 oz slowly into each glass over the back of a spoon; this is called a New York sour, and it's great.)

Dead on.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Death at Dusk

This drink has been getting quite a bit of play recently and I treated myself to one (the first time I have actually had one start to finish). Man, is there nothing absinthe does not make better?

1/2 oz. Creme de Violette
1/2 oz. Absinthe
5 oz. Sparkling Wine
garnish with brandied cherry

I try to float to the Absinthe on top, eventually it will diffuse and look like this, but before that happens, it looks pretty fantastic.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Basil Happenings

We have developed a little bit of ritual for late spring here in San Francisco. Warmer weather brings fresh herbs, which in turn brings on the Wash House. Essentially just a basil gimlet, this little green monster has grown a cult following I am quite proud of.

Well, there has been some other fancy basil stuff going also. Danny Bowien, a young local cook I know from late-night at my bar, was in Genoa last month working out in some bakeries and kitchens with the the Chef from his restaurant Farina. As he related to me last night, he sort of inadvertently got entered in the World Pesto Championship along with his boss and 313 other Pestoiolos (yeah, I just made that word up) from around the world. Against all odds, the kid won! Our boy Danny is the World Pesto Champion for the next 2 years!
All the chefs were supplied with the same 5 ingredients (basil, pecorino, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil) in mortars and pestles. This made the contest one of pure technique rather than creativity or flash which is the best kind if you ask me. I am not sure if Danny made it, but I did have a handkerchief pasta in pesto at Farina a few weeks ago and it was tremendous. Pretty cool.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Leopold's Gin comes to California

Gin, gin and more gin.

Another gin has come to market in San Francisco and it confirms even further American Gin as a new category of botanical goodness. Leopold Bros. out of Ann Arbor, Michigan are doing some great stuff with their gin, peach, blackberry and cranberry liqueurs, Silver Tree vodka (yeah, I don't really care either,) and fruit infused whiskies.
They have taken the same approach as the Austrian Blue Gin I posted on last month and distilled all the botanicals separately and then blended them. This fractional distillation technique allows the distiller a high level of control over the more delicate elements in their product which is perfect for the light citrusy American style gin. While there is definitely juniper present, it is more of a base binding agent to all the citrus oils than the main thrust of the spirit like the London Dry style. Upon tasting, my first thought was Yuzu peel, which I now understand to be a mix of orange and pomelo.
My hope is that this new American Gin category (Leopold's, Blue Coat, North Shore, Death's Door, etc.) along with the new lighter style imports (Right and Bulldog) will help to bridge the Vodka and Gin markets the way the good Lord intended.

Forked Up!

Another completely nonbooze-related post, but whatever, it's my blog.

This came to me via this morning.