DC Drinks

Reviews, rantlets and ribald on all things alcoholic.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Where Have All the Vermouths Gone? An Interview with Winemaker Michael Blaylock

Michael Blaylock is the winemaker for Quady Winery, a premium winery in Madera, California that is producing remarkable aperitifs and offbeat but serious dessert wines. With what Michael describes as "an alchemists' alliance," he has worked with vineyard owner Andrew Quady for 23 years to create a twist on older more traditional-styled wines or obscure varietals. Quady's Vya Vermouths have put vermouth back on the map and given us OCD Martini Drinkers a new reason to obssess.

Whether he's creating boutique vermouth, Orange Muscat dessert wine or a Port-style wine called “Starboard”---so named because it's the other side of Port---Blaylock makes spirits and wines that are against the grain of the vodka, Cab and Chard commerical landscape. Think about it: who in their right mind would make vermouth in the land of dry martinis? Thank God Andrew Quady and Michael Blaylock's minds are twisted.

DCDrinks: When did you decide to start making vermouths? Was there a particular inspiration? And why vermouth over other fortified wines and spirits?

Michael Blaylock: Our first vermouth was formulated a little over 8 years ago. We had been playing with the whole new/old category of aromatized wines. Flavored spirituous products were showing up everywhere. Staying with our tradition of taking something old and giving it a twist, we thought vermouth had been neglected for far too long.

DCDrinks: What does Vya mean?

Michael Blaylock: Vya has absolutely no meaning. But then... “a rose by any other name.” We originally had a full promotional agenda to have patrons of great martinis ask for Vya with an up-raised hand and two fingers displayed in the traditional “V” for victory sign. This, I’m glad to say, was not just twisted but stupid. So the meaning of the name “Vya” is up to you.

DCDrinks: Did it take you awhile to find the right formula for each vermouth, and is there a touchstone ingredient?

Michael Blaylock: The "Mad Professor," Andy Quady, worked long and hard through many a night to come up with new vibrant vermouths that were not just a reiteration of those tired formulistic insipid wines that are often passed off as vermouth. For the Vya Dry Vermouth we tried to capture the essence and feeling of a spring meadow just after a light shower. The Vya Sweet Vermouth calls to mind those holiday memories of sugar and spice. These vermouths stimulate not just aromas and tastes, but memories.

We have tweaked the formula a couple of times, especially when we find a new and exciting herb.

DCDrinks: Are there other vermouths you respect, or do you think the market is a little dry right now (pun intended)? Is the tendency to order vodka Martinis sans vermouth to blame?

Michael Blaylock: If, God forbid, I have to order a Martini sans Vya, I like either Noilly Pratt or Cinzano. Lillet on ice with a twist can do in a pinch. Ever since someone started to equate a Martini with Dry Vermouth to a Dry Martini (sans vermouth) the world has lost one of those quintessential delights of grace and harmony. Making and drinking a well made Martini is comparable to an elaborate Japanese tea ceremony. All of your senses are stimulated: the vision of the perfectly shaped glass on a thin stem, the sound of the ice in the shaker, the complex and intimate aromas of fresh botanicals, that chilling touch to the lips followed by an oily clean spirituous taste.

DCDrinks: Amen. Do you have a ratio for making Martinis with Vya Dry Vermouth? And what gin do you recommend?

Michael Blaylock: I am very partial to Tanqueray 10. Its citrus notes pair well with Vya Dry. I find that I like a mixing a ratio of about 3 to 4 parts gin to 1 part Vya.

DCDrinks: Do you think there is a resurgence of craft distillers/wineries?

Michael Blaylock: There is definitely a resurgence of craft distillers. Many are researching old often forgotten recipes and using ingredients that lead to whole new expressions in distillates. Some of the flavored vodka distillers are actually using fresh ingredients in the distillation instead of flavorings. Domaine Charbay and St. George Spirits come to mind.

DCDrinks: Any new products or experiments you want to share with us?

Michael Blaylock: A new twist on something old: we will release a new Amontillado Flor Fino Sherry made from biodynamic grapes. Call us crazy, but Frazier can’t be the only sherry drinker out there. An exciting and twisted new product is our new wine called “Deviation.” It's an Orange Muscat dessert wine infused with Damiana (a Mexican herb with reputed aphrodisiac properties) and Scented Geranium (a potent "love" herb). The intriguing aroma and flavors are otherworldly.

DCDrinks: Anything you wish to add?

Michael Blaylock: Not much else except our flavor of “twisted” around here sure is fun. I think one of my favorite drinks is a Negroni: one part each of Vya Sweet Vermouth, Plymouth or Malacca gin, Campari with a burnt orange peel.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Of Kangaroos and Cocktails

Here at DCDrinks our heroes are the greats, from Professor Jerry Thomas to Gary Regan. One lesser known legendary mixologist is the late David A. Embury, author of the seminal "The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks".

Recently I was reading through The Fine Art... and I was reminded that the Vodka "Martini" was originally called the Kangaroo Cocktail. Maybe it's time to revive that name, giving proper respect to the real Martini (AKA the Gin Martini).

Nevertheless, here's an inspirational quote from Mr. Embury in the Third Edition (1958) of his book. Perhaps the last voice of sanity before the vodka craze swept the nation and obscured great cocktails for almost fifty years.

"...There are various new drink mixtures, some, in my opinion, decidely inferior, which have hit headlines and created at least a temporary furor about which my readers might like to know. What is the Moscow Mule, the Waltzing Matilda, the Bloody Mary, the Screwdriver, the Grasshopper?

Perhaps the outstanding example of what I mean is vodka--a wholly characterless, dilute grain alcohol that has streaked across the firmament of mixed drinks like Halley's Comet... It is hard to conceive of any worse cocktail monstrosity than the Vodka Martini, the Vodka Old-Fashioned or Vodka on Rocks."


Enough said. However, if you are like us and can't stop beating this dead horse until the wincing mare screams: "No more, no more vodka...arrrrgggghhh," turn to the Art of Drinks for more.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Your Bartender Hates You ... Here's Why

I'm going to say it even if no one else will. Secretly and passionately, your bartender hates your f-ing guts. Yes, I mean you. He or she loves your money but if you're prone to commit one or more of the following bar faux pas--and be honest with your self--then you're the bane of the barman.

1.) "I'll take that with no ice, in a large glass and make it strong."
Ok. Fine. But you're still getting 1.5 ounces. You see, the company pays for all the liquor on the shelves. It's not free and you're essentially asking something for free. The mark-ups are not outrageous; we order the liquor, polish the glassware, build the bar, pay rent and more with the pennies on top. Try it at a bank. Walk up to the teller and ask them to top off your pay check with an extra $20. See what happens.

2.) "Is [so-and-so] working tonight?"
File this one under "C", along with the last one, for cheap-ass. If they're asking for someone else, who is--after all--clearly not in sight, it's because they have no intention of paying full price for drinks. Once again, for the slower set, bars are businesses. Someone giving you free drinks is essentially selling the stool upon which you sit to the debtor's house. Don't get me wrong, a comped drink is nice, but much less so if you come to expect it.

3.) Hitting on Women That Clearly Hate You More Than the Bartender
It sounds like a joke. How about the guy who, after hitting on a solitary girl at the bar that left in disgust, turned to the lady bartender and laid down the same rap. The lady bartender, of course, laughed. That is, laughed at his expense. Too bad its not a joke. I've seen somebody play the line all the way down the bar. So why not read the non-verbal cues! If the whole bar knows your striking out, why don't you?
Walk away while you still have a shred of diginity. (They never do, do they?)

4.) Ordering Tea When the Bar is Three Deep
So why do we get upset when you order tea when the bar is busy? Because tea involves multiple steps, with each step being in-depth and at some far away, remote point in the restaurant.

Step 1: There is usually a box of tea. It gets used every third night and is kept somewhere shoved over, under or by the coffee machinery. It's rarely stocked and rarely kept in an obvious place. First we find this, bring the selection to you and you stand their stammering: Morrocan Mint or Lemon Verbana?

Step 2: Get the tea pot, tea tray, tea cup, tea saucer, tea spoon, sugar packets, Equal packets, Splenda packets, milk, honey and lemon. No explanantion needed of why this sucks, right?

Step 3: Stand there like a shithead waiting for hot water while the busboy amorously foams the cappucino.

Step 4: Serve and smile, wait for the 15 to 20% tip on $2.75. (For those who are slow, that's $.41 to $.55.)

5.) "I used to be a bartender."
I love this one. A bartender, really? I've studied and memorized the profiles of hundreds of liquors; even more, I know hundreds of recipes and how to mix them by heart; I've spent nights dreaming of the components of vermouth that you jokingly (not your own joke, I might add) say I should "wave" in front of the Martini; I know the recipe for a Mai Tai from the original made in 1944 and it doesn't have a drop of grenadine; I've studied wine for years so I can describe your Chardonnay that you thought was too expensive at $8; I've polished a thousand or more glasses; I might as well have a major in chemistry and a minor in pyschology; I know the history of bartending and have read every major recipe book from "How to Mix Drinks" to "The Joy of Mixology" and you, jackass, who have spent six months in some shitty bar or club slinging beer, shots and L.I. tea say to me: "Oh yeah, I used to be a bartender." Wrong, twat muffin. You were a bar jockey. So don't bring it up again.

Now it may seem as though I'm some bitter, bitter bartender, but I'm not. I love guests who love me, who respect the profession and don't want free shit. Everyone gets treated with respect at my bar. Even me.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Homo With A Gun: A Cautionary Tale for Drunken Dudes

Well, after my rant against wild women it was only a matter of time before I chastised drunken dudes for similar indecencies. The problem is that while women are often the most shocking drunks, men are the worst. Nine out of ten times (based on a highly scientific study of asking bartenders who's worse), men come prepared to act like complete jackasses. We essentially prepare ourselves for jackassiveness.

Special events like birthdays, bachelor parties, and winning the big game are all seen as permission to romp around sloppy and free-spirited. I can't say that I haven't downed a few pitchers, or mind erasers and roamed the streets on the verge of puking or fighting myself, harassing semi-sober citizens all the way. But I do try to keep it within the boundaries of "decent-indecent" society and often stay away from my neighborhood, co-workers and people who can identify me. Nevertheless a jackass is a jackass. And karma is a bitch.

As Lonnie and I were walking home last night from a beautiful pour of Gran Duque d'Alba we were shouted at by revelers at an outdoor bar:

"Hey homos... Those guys look like a bunch of homos."

Now, I can tell you Lonnie and I look like anything but homos (not that there is anything wrong with that). Lonnie is missing a tooth, has a beard and calls his guitar an ax. I have stylish glasses, well groomed hair, a very neatly ironed striped shirt and colorful Camper shoes. OK, now I know who they were yelling at.

Lonnie takes it personally; I don't. Lonnie walks over and flicks the guy in the face after the dude dared him to. Shouting ensues. We walk away. The dude's friend starts tailing us and yelling that it's his buddy's birthday. BINGO, jackassery.

Lonnie moons the two and one of the guys confronts me:

"What do you have in your pocket?"

I'm dumbfounded. I tell him I'm not showing him shit and "this is not going to happen." The latter statement reminds me of some teen movie tough guy refusing to fight because it'll be the third strike against him. But I have no idea what this drunken douche is talking about.

In retrospect, when I walked back to retrieve Lonnie, I may have reached in my pocket to make sure I hadn't dropped my wallet. The dude believed I was pretending to have a gun. Oh yeah. So he chases me down and says, "I'm not afraid to go to prison." Tough words from Loco MoCo (Montgomery County, richest suburb of D.C.) confronting a "gay" gunslinger.

Anyway, I decline the dance of douchbaggery and walk on. I wasn't trashed, celebrating or trashed-celebrating. But, really, this was completely unnecessary. They looked like absolute fools. Let's tone it down a notch, guys. Or, at the very least, keep it confined to fellow revelers and rowdy bars or strip clubs.