Monday, June 30, 2008


My good buddy Phil Mauro found this video.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008

Future of Cocktails

This article is why I am worried about the future of the craft.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Good Advice, Well-Traveled

Fair warning: I feel a long-winded post coming on.

I just read a page of advice for aspiring Sommeliers that I found very energizing. It came to my screen in a kind of a cool way too.

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Chicago's Ms. Jane Lopez of Lush and The Violette Hour (just started there) at my bar. She was the best kind of guest, curious and completely open to new drinks. As I am planning a trip out her way this Fall, we traded emails which led to trading blogs. Today she posted a note given to her by my friend Christie Dufault, Somm. at Quince here in San Francisco.

I giggled to myself as I read it. Jane and her friend (sorry, I cannot remember your name, but thanks for all the Tea!) had just come from Quince when I met them so I kind of felt like I was a part of meeting in a tenuous way. As you can see, the advice is straight forward and general so I kind of whipped through the first time and went on with my morning emailing. I couldn't get it out my head though so I went back to it.

With just a little translation, these simple 5 points are the absolute best advice for aspiring bartenders I could ever hope to give.

Below is a copy of the note wherein I have swapped the words Bartender for Sommelier and Cocktails or Spirits for Wine (except at the very end where I feel it did not quite fit).

Jane ended her post by saying. 'Thanks, Christie.' I will do the same.

Not Necessarily Invited (but well-meaning) Advice for Aspiring Bartenders

1. Be certain you love SERVICE.
Being a sommelier is above all about service- and not just serving cocktails. A bartender must be able to perform every job in the front of the house and jump into all aspects of service when the team needs it. Remember, being a bartender means working in the restaurant/hospitality industry. It does not mean working solely in the cocktail industry.

2. Study Study Study. Taste Taste Taste.
Be sure that you have the desire to train your palate and to learn to be a fastidious taster.
Tasting spirits analytically is not always fun at 9 o’clock in the morning. Tasting wine professionally is obviously not the same as drinking wine. In addition, be prepared to taste and to study spirits laws & regions of spirits that you may not even like.

3. Be an Assistant Bartender.
You could be on the fast track to a great bartending career if you assist an accomplished bar director. Be a sponge- learn everything you can about wines, service, purchasing, public relations and more. Work your butt off for your boss. Always make her look good.

4a. Get serious about food.
Eat. A lot. Know food. Cook-when you have time. Love food as much, no- more, than you love wine. Converse with chefs & cooks. Go to the farmers market. Smell everything. Taste everything you can. Try as many different foods as possible: be open-minded. Think about which Cocktails or Spirits would pair well with the foods you are tasting/cooking/receiving. This will teach you MORE about Cocktails than you could ever imagine. I promise.

4b. Dine out a whole lot.
Spend your rent money at restaurants you really cannot afford. (Okay- don’t do that regularly, but once a year is acceptable.) Rather, dine out a lot, even at restaurants you can afford. Observe service. Study the menu. Study the wine list.
Ask questions. Recognize what you appreciate in service and food & wine pairing.

5. Be a cocktail ambassador to everyone.
Never be a cocktail snob- but you knew that. Rather, be a cocktail ambassador. Encourage people to try new spirits, to make discoveries. Always remember that wine in moderation is healthful, so embody that. A glass of wine at lunch? Naturally. The world might just be a more peaceful place if people drank more wine and drank more wine together.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Moonshiner Tribute in Virginia

The Virginia Historical Society (the above is completely unaffiliated) is paying tribute to its underground booze heritage by an exhibit titled "Moonshining in the Blue Ridge." The Daily Press had a great piece on it today and I encourage you to follow the link and watch the video. What I like about it is that it highlights negative effect of over regulation (look at how many gallons of hooch were being produced!! during the so-called ban.) If conservatives like good folk at the VA Historical Society can come to understand this, maybe there is hope for a rationalization of of current liquor distribution system.

Friday, June 13, 2008

What is going on in Greece?

I was just alerted to a new service by GfK (a Greek marketing concern...I think) that tracks, in depth, the drinking patterns of their islands' clubs and bars. There are two points that really blow me away.

Firstly; Whisk(e)y out sells vodka!!!

Whisky: The "hard spirits" leader
With more than 10,000 bars and clubs in Greece, when the sun goes down, the nightlife begins… and with a contribution share of 40% and almost 10 million litres of on premise consumption, Whisky is the leading category among the "hard spirits" categories (e.g. Vodka, Gin, Rum, Tequila and Liqueur), placing Greece in the Top 10 markets of Scotch Whisky globally. This percentage is greater during Christmas, where the seasonality of the category reaches its peak with 45%.


Secondly; Sweet, sweet agave.

In 6th place among the top 10 Tequila markets worldwide is the small country of Greece! This is a result of treating tequila shots along with long drinks being very common in bars. During recent years, the plentiful supply of agave has increased the production of Tequila and its strong growth has also come to Greece, with the category increasing by 3%.

This is just plain amazing to me. I wouldn't have thought there would any tequila in average Greek bar.

Democracy, olives and now good booze... I love Greece.

Monday, June 09, 2008

San Francisco Bartenders

My bestest buddy, in the whole world...ever, Gary Regan and I have been bantering a bit recently about a piece he is writing on the differences between SF and New York barfolk and their cocktail styles. Dangerous ground if you ask me...but interesting. I might even broaden it a bit just to get everyone fired up and say East and West Coast schools to bring Portland and Seattle in our side (sorry LA, not yet.) and add Boston and Chicago to the Eastern scene.

I just found a very cool piece in Men's Book San Francisco (yeah, I never heard of it either) on 8 people I respect quite a bit. It is wonderfully conceived and beautifully shot. Check out pages 48 -55.

Imbibe wins James Beard Award

The hits just keep coming for David Wondrich. His book Imbibe!, has been much revered in cocktailian circles since day one, which was to be expected. A serious and scholarly look at the 'Grandfather-of-us-all' could not help but be a success with us. I was pleasantly surprised however, when I saw Mr. W on Late Night with Conan O'Brien promoting it. How much more mainstream can you get? Well the book is going even further and I couldn't be happier.

Mr. W has been awarded the James Beard Foundation Book Award for Wine and Spirits writing! Not that I keep up with these awards too much, but I have to think that it is a unique thing to have a cocktail book honored by the Beard Foundation.

In keeping with my conservative skepticism concerning the explosive growth of cocktail culture, I will say that this book is righteous and its' popularity (and hopefully readership) is working wonders to improve the industry as a whole by bringing to the forefront our roots and original techniques. Everyone should buy it. Every bartender should read it, front to cover, at least twice.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Purple Drank

I had this forwarded to me by two people this morning and I still am not sure that I believe that it is real. I suppose I should embrace it as I am well known for my disdain of energy drinks and their effect on humanity (just say no...I beg you.)

The press release states, "It's the world's first anti-energy drink! Combining Rose Hips, Melatonin and Valerian Root with a great tasting beverage to create the world's first anti-energy drink, "

It's the logo that got me however, "Slow your Roll."...That's restaurant quality lemonade right there.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Thoughts on Grappa and Such

I have sort changed the way I think of drink/food pairing recently with respect to fat versus acid. When balancing a dish or plate, chefs do this as a matter of fact, almost without thinking about it. Vinaigrette is the perfect example of this, oil and acid in balance act as a vehicle for pretty much any flavoring imaginable. Behind the bar, we don't get to work with fats very often. I know the more contrarian reader is muttering 'eggs and milk' to himself right now, but I counter that dairy is really more about texture than flavor in respect to cocktails.

So what do we do about pairing a drink to fatty (I say this in a good way) foods. The easy answer for me used to be acid in the form of citrus. Margarita's vs. avocados, whiskey sours vs. bacon, sidecars vs. cream get the idea. While this does work well, it is a little too easy and kind of clumsy at times.

I have found myself drifting towards using alcohol alone as a foil and compliment for fat, most specifically, with desserts. It started with simply pairing sipping rums and whiskies which can be brilliant with heavier desserts. I always had trouble with the lighter stuff till recently. A good buddy of mine and beautiful barman, Ryan Fitzgerald, was at my bar the other night finishing his meal with a chevre cake. Think cream cheese cake, but with some goaty funk (awesome btw!!!). I like rolling out new cocktails for guys like R. and I clearly didn't want to go citrus both because this was dessert and because the cake is so delicate that I could easily run it over.

Enter grappa. The high proof and clean burn of grappa cuts right through the cream and goatiness of the chevre much the same way as citrus would, but without leaving any kind of residual acid on the palate. My first thought was Veloce/Dimmi, a favorite of us both. I tried a mini trial 50/50 of grappa di brunello and Veloce... not bad. Then I subbed in an aged Aquavit for the grappa to bring in some spice to the mix and it was perfect. Think of taking a bite of sweet goat cheese then washing it away with peach blossoms and cardamon.

That's nice.

Fitzy's Foil:

1 oz. Veloce/Dimmi

1 oz. Aquavit (I like the stuff from North Shore in Chicago)

build in cordial glass, do not chill, do not garnish

Sunday, June 01, 2008

For your Nofriendo

Is it wrong that I find this hilarious?


On the other side of the country, in an often overlooked corner of Brooklyn there is a beautiful shop called LeNell's. Ms. LeNell Smothers runs a tight ship and has become one the authorities on American spirits and rightly so. Well, she is in trouble. The following letter was posted on

Our lease is officially up this month. I know it will take months for a formal eviction should it come to that. Sad to say that the space that we had a draft lease for fell through this week. It was for the vacant lot across the street next to the Good Fork. This lot is co-owned by Jimmy Buscariello and Greg O'Connell (who owns quite a bit of Red Hook including the Fairway building). We had architectural drawings, had agreed on basic lease points, and I've been thinking all along that we were just finalizing details...

The space included the store on the first floor and the bar on the second. After discussing this project for nearly a year now, I get a visit from Greg recently telling me that he has just realized constructions costs will be more than he wants to pay. He won't entertain thoughts of my partnering in building out the space. Just flat out pulled out at the last moment...which happens to be a few days before the end of my current lease. I'm in shock. I really thought this deal was practically done when Greg had me pay an attorney to draft a lease. Rarely is LeNell speechless. I am.
The other space we thought was workable in Red Hook, turns out to be a dud, as well. The owner has been telling everyone that we are moving into the space. Months ago I asked him for lease points and told him that I could not agree to anything less than a 10 year lease. Today out of nowhere, he tells me that he only wants to sign a five year lease. I won't do it. It's just not good business sense at this point. I refuse to keep working to pay someone else's mortgage while I barely pay myself and have no hope for me and my hardworking staff to get ahead.
So folks, I just don't know the future. I had really hoped to announce that we had a lease signed for this lot across the street and was so eager to break the news to you. I'm really just in shock. Storefronts in Red Hook sit vacant, vacant lots side idle, landlords daydream, and proven businesses like mine get put through hell. A boss of mine told me years ago, "If you can survive in New York, you can survive anywhere." Well, I think I've proved myself long enough. Maybe it's time to head back South. Own a real home, eat real bar b que, and have a life. LeNell is broken.
When you come in and I'm dazed, bitchy beyond normal, on the phone like a lunatic, please don't take it personally. Everything I've worked so hard for is hanging in the gallows."