DC Drinks

Reviews, rantlets and ribald on all things alcoholic.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

OCD Martini-Drinking Behavior

Gin, vermouth, lemon peel, and a dash of orange bitters. Couldn't be easier, right? Wrong. Food & Wine magazine hailed 2005 as "The Year of the Cocktail", but DC Drinks now declares 2006 as the year of the OCD cocktail. Thank christ we've arrived. Let's start with the Martini.

Preparation: All your utensils, glasses, spoon, knife, etc must be laid out perfectly before you start. And timing is everything. If you pour, then start tearing up the kitchen for the fucking bitters or what-not, the drink will get warm. Go too fast with the stir, and you'll create a cloudy slurry of "floaters" (tiny ice chips - a big no no).

Chronology: The true Martini drinker (and by "true", I mean "manly") prefers a lemon twist to olive. Don't believe me? Ask Robert Bork. But the lemon rind must be cut first, otherwise while you're pouring your drink and a minute later you're carefully cutting the lemon peel, the drink is warming up, and that cannot be done. The first sip is always the best, so you don't want to miss out. Make sure you put lips to the glass before you start the process of cleaning up your mess, but after you've given the cocktail a few seconds for the lemon peel oils to float to the top. The timing is like splitting the atom.

Technique: All Martini connoisseurs stir their concoction, but it's best to put the handle of the bar spoon inside the ice and liquid ("upside down") for the stir. Otherwise, you stir with the scoop side downward, the ice breaks up, and you end up with floaters. A Martini is not a bowl of ice cream, people; it should be sharp and crisp, and not watered down.

Swiftness: Every step must be done with a snap of the wrist and a flick of the equipment but lacking any Tom Cruise Cocktail flair. Your party guests should be in awe and make comments like, "You make it look so easy". This includes not over-pouring the gin so it dribbles over your thumb, and not dropping the ice into the shaker 'til it splashes your face.

"Spirituality": Like most of you, I'm a godless atheist, and the only things I worship are the fine products that surround me. But think of the perfect Martini (not the Perfect Martini---there's a difference) as the holy grail of secular humanism. If you love humans and secularism, chances are you're an OCD Martini drinker, too.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

An Interview with Robert "DrinkBoy" Hess

Ever googled a bitters recipe, or wanted to know about the world of Brandy? If you were lucky enough to find Robert Hess's website http://www.drinkboy.com/, chances are you found satisfication.

Robert Hess has, admittedly, never worked as a bartender, but as a "cocktail evangelist" and educator Hess has had a wide influence on the world of mixed drinks joining such industry legends as Ted Haigh and Gary Regan in the pursuit of great libations. One thing's for sure, you would be lucky to find him moonlighting behind a bar.

DC Drinks: Unlike other well-known mixologists, it's my understanding that you didn't come to the business through bartending. How did you get involved with mixology and is there any particular drink that was your touchstone?

Drink Boy: True, I have never officially worked as a bartender, I suppose you could think of me as the “Julia Child” of mixology…

I'd gotten into “wine thing” early on and in the 90’s I was in England, and tried many of their beers. Pubs were using something called a “Beer Engine” to serve their beers. I decided that if I ever built a house, I’d put a beer engine in it. But if I had one, I should also have a soda gun, and a glass washer, and an ice machine, etc. I also realized that I’d want a full stock of liquor on the back bar… So I decided to teach myself how to mix cocktails. That's how it all began.

DC Drinks: I have read where you assail bartenders for not living up to their craft. What do you believe are the finest traits of a bartender and, conversely, the worst?

Drink Boy: "Assail" is probably too harsh of a word. I try to be accepting of all bartenders and I rarely turn back a drink.

Bartenders have to embody the culinary craftsmanship of the chef, but you have to interact with the customers and be personable. Some bartenders are great mixologists, but bad bartenders (i.e. poor people skills), while others are great bartenders, but poor mixologists. Jobs can often be broken down into four different types: Chore, Trade, Craft, and Art form. The job of a burger flipper at a fast food restaurant is a Chore. Line cook at a chain restaurant is a Trade. Cook at a respected restaurant is a Craft. Head Chef at a three star Michelin restaurant is an Artist. I have no problem with a bartender in each of these categories, as long as they aren’t thinking that they are something else. And bartenders can be “great” in each of these categories.

DC Drinks: What do you think about bar chefs and the new renaissance in culinary-crafted drinks?

Drink Boy: It’s all about using quality ingredients and getting them to balance against each other in such a way as to prevent any one ingredient from taking control of the drink.

Many people mistakenly see the “bar chef” as somebody who is adding all sorts of strange and bizarre ingredients together to make a drink. Mango infused tequila, Passion fruit coulis, muddled tarragon … When in fact the art of the cocktail is just as well reflected in a drink as simple as the Manhattan, Martini, or Daiquiri.

DC Drinks: Do you have a specialty mixed drink, something you invented?

Drink Boy: One very popular drink that I’ve come up with is the Trident. It is a variation of the Negroni, but reflects my personal interest in slightly obscure products. Chances are good that most bars don’t carry the products necessary to make this drink:

- 1 ounce dry sherry
- 1 ounce Cynar
- 1 ounce aquavit
- 2 dashes peach bitters.
Stir with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist.

DC Drinks: Where do you think the best drinks are being made in and outside the U.S.?

Drink Boy: I have to recommend Le Bar Hemingway and Colin Field. It was early on in my cocktail adventures that I encountered him, and he in fact single handedly restored my faith in bartenders after my early “Old Fashioend” experiences. It was after spending some time with Colin that I realized that some bartenders really did understand what it was all about, and where there was one, there could be more.

I’ve also got to recommend several bars in the London area. They are doing absolutely fabulous things there. Trailer Happiness, Lab Bar, and Milk & Honey, just to name a few.

And in Barcelona I always try to drop into Dry Martini, Boadas, The Aris Bar, and Ideal Bar. Even with slight problems with the language barrier, I always enjoy the drinks I have there.

In the US, there’s Frisson, Tres Agaves, Myth, and Bix in San Francisco, but I would be remiss to not also mention the quiet little bar at the Majestic Hotel, and their bartender Tim Stookey as really being a treat to visit with. In New York, The Pegu Club is top on my list, followed by places such as the Flatiron Lounge, Milk & Honey, and Little Branch. On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I ran across great drinks at The Eifel Tower Restaurant at the Paris Resort, as well as at Commander’s Palace at the Aladdin.

DCDrinks: How has the craft changed since you started? Is there a greater interest now in mixology and, if so, why?

DrinkBoy: It's a natural evolution. Wine, beer, and even coffee have undergone radical advancements in their appreciation over the last couple of decades. I see that having this same transformation happen to cocktails is only a matter of time. It wasn’t that long ago that people actually thought you could get great coffee out of a can!

DCDrinks: What is in store for mixology? How does the future look for beginning bartenders or cocktail and mixed drink fans?

DrinkBoy: The transformation of the cocktail and its return to being considered a “cuisine” is right on the horizon. It may not be easy, and will take a new conceptual awareness from customers, bartenders, and restaurant owners to achieve. Until customers are asking for great drinks, bartenders won’t be motivated to supply them.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Equal Parts Publicity: the Modern Mixolgist Endorses Equal Sweetener

I remember the diatribes that erupted when Chef Rick Bayless endorsed Burger King's chicken sandwiches. It wasn't long until some unfurled the banner of gastronomic purity and barked, "sell out," which is one of the most meaningless terms I've ever encountered in the gastronomic world.

I mean, aren't you supposed to make money for cooking? Aren't restaurants businesses and executive chefs (notice the word executive and how it resonates in that business sort of way) businessmen? Sure, passion and craft are part of it, but that doesn't mean money shouldn't exchange hands.

So I'm bracing myself for this one. Tony Abou-Gamin, also known as the modern mixologist, has an endorsement deal with Equal sweetener. I heard it on the radio a few days back and subsequently emailed the mix master himself. I received this email response from Tony today:

Yes, your ears were not failing you it was me. I have been working with Equal as their spokesperson this year, developing recipes featuring Equal as the sweetening agent. I found in mixing drinks that not only does Equal provide the element of sweetness but also enhanced the flavor of many of the cocktails I fashioned with it.

My two cents:

First, it elevates our art in that it brings more attention to mixology. That can't hurt our choices in libations as more bartenders will see the value in bartending as a craft.

Secondly, the guy deserves it. Take a look at his resume. He's worked for some great bars, including running the bar program for Steve Wynn's Bellagio in Las Vegas and Harry Denton's Starlight Room in San Francisco atop the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. He's working on his first cocktail book and has a show on the Fine Living Channel, "Raising the Bar: America's Best Bar Chefs."

I know, I know, but what about using Equal in cocktails? I'll leave that to you to decide. I've never tried Equal in cocktails and, really, have no intention of doing so. But the future looks bright for mixologists.

Good job, Tony.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Cocktail Kings: You Could Be So Much More

Colin and Dimi, the Travel Channel's Cocktail Kings, deserve their royal titles, but should spend less of their 30-minute program on bullshit adventure activities and more on their field of expertise.

Their show is mostly footage of Colin and Dimi fun-lovingly running around each city doing things like riding in Hummers, going to DJ school, swinging from ropes with trapeze artists, or---gag---roller blading. WTF? I thought I was watching a show about mixology. In the end, each episode showcases about three cocktails---one classic in the beginning, and two at the end when our hosts have a "mixology off" in which they try and create a cocktail that most represents the spirit of their chosen city. Then, each cocktail is judged by a panel of non-experts, usually made up of random people they met earlier in the day. And the panel doesn't even describe why they chose a particular cocktail; it's just one or the other.

Cocktail Kings should be produced more like a cooking show, without any f'n adventure sports and filler. Is the Travel Channel just too afraid to seem like they're promoting alcoholism? I'm sure if it were up to Colin and Dimi, the show would be 100% drink-making and zero video of them barely being able to stand up in a pair of roller blades. Luckily, their home page gives the viewer some excellent videos of the guys doing what they do best.

But I can't complain too much. The fact that this show exists is proof that the quality cocktail resurgence is in full swing. And Colin and Dimi are the perfect duo, and really fun to watch.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Drink Right for Your Personality Type: What Your Vodka Says About You

Ketel One – The Motivator
Ketel One would have you believe they’re a luxury brand. I suppose it’s a matter of what you consider luxury. I used to call the aftertaste peppery when someone asked. More candidly, it tastes like odorless and colorless sewage. Not exactly a luxury, my friends. That’s why it takes the motivator to drink it, recommend it and ultimately support this failing brand.

Grey Goose - The Follower
Why do you order Grey Goose? Because other people order Grey Goose, because of suggestive marketing, because you read somewhere that it was distilled a kagillion times? It's French! Did you know that? Not only are you a follower, but you're following the French. Pathetique.

Belvedere – The Observer
Much like the solitary bottle of Belvedere on a bar shelf, you’re the observer, you sit around and watch while other people order Grey Goose. What is so distinctive about Belevedere? That thin layer of dust on the bottle? Not so much.

Absolut - The Enthusiast
I don’t know how this word cropped up, but no one is a hobbyist, fan or jock any more. You're now all enthusiasts: vodka enthusiasts, table tennis enthusiasts, modeling enthusiast, etc. And now it’s a personality term. As the enthusiast you believe two things that will be your demise: (1) Lenny Kravitz is edgy and (2) Absolut is smooth. Ahem, about as smooth as sandpaper. In a word (actually two): Isopropyl Alcohol.

Smirnoff or Stolichnaya – The Skeptic
Fair enough, you believe that Smirnoff or Stoli are just as good as those fancy vodkas and the Russians do it best anyway. I'll give you credit for that. But why apply logic to the illogical? If Smirnoff or Stoli are just as good as Grey Goose is purported to be, then why not take it a step farther and drink Nikoff. Come to think of it, why do you order a name brand with a Bloody Mary anyway? Douche bag.

Skyy - The Romantic
Leave it up to the romantic to believe you can make good vodka in San Francisco. Come to think of it, leave it up to the romantic to believe you can make good vodka.

Ciroc - The Thinker
Thinker... because you think, "Hmmm, grapes make wine... wine is good... therefore, vodka made with grapes is good." One crucial piece of information seems to float away in a big river of must: it's still just vodka, jackass. You're overthinking this one. Why would grapes make any better vodka then say wheat or potatoes? Especially when it's suppose to taste like nothing.

More to come...