DC Drinks

Reviews, rantlets and ribald on all things alcoholic.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The End

"I have written much less than most people who write; but I have drunk much more than most people who drink." - Guy Debord

Thank you DCDrinks fans.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Guide to Drinking in Muslim Southeast Asia

In the past two weeks I've met more Muslims that in my entire life. At first, I thought they were going to go all Ian McKaye on me when I mentioned that I needed a beer after a long day working in the tropics of Indonesia and Malaysia, but I was wrong ... sort of.

If you find yourself in this part of the world, fear not; there are ways to live a sane drinking life in the land of Allah.

Rule #1: Make friends with the local Chinese. Even though the Chinese have been living in southeast Asia for 600 years, they're discriminated against by law and sometimes attacked and killed by fanatical Muslims. That's cause to drink. Lots. As you can see in this picture during a presentation I gave to a group of farmers, Tiger Beer is no enemy of the Malaysian Chinese. And dinner for these guys is wild boar liver that almost rips your teeth out. I heard in China they drink like in this picture, except it's Chinese rot-gut liquor instead of beer.

Rule # 2: Don't let your Muslim friends buy the beer. When my Muslim business partners found out I drank, they stocked our car with a six pack. Nice gesture, right? No. Having no idea that beer is supposed to be kept cold, the cans were hot to the point of exploding from sitting in the car all day by the time I knew they were there. Depending on religious conservatives to get you booze is like depending on a virgin to write a sexual positions book. Oh wait, that's what happened with the Kama Sutra.

Rule # 3: Don't let your Muslim friends prepare the beer. Beer on the rocks? Beer mixed with Coke? (The cola settles in the bottom of the glass into a black sludge, I swear to god). Yep, I've had to choke that shit down here. And when you squeeze lime into the local brew to make it half drinkable, they give you shit! Fight back with all you've got.

Rule # 4: Lose your snobbery. Get used to the ubiquitous international lager because you'll be lucky to have it at the end of the day. Indonesians drink Bintang (Star) Beer and Malaysians drink Tiger Beer. Tastes exactly like Isaac described months ago. But it definitely beats not drinking at all.

Monday, January 08, 2007

DCDrinks Communique #1

At DCDrinks we write for Drinkers, capital "D". We have scoured recipe books from 1911 for the first jello shooters; We have experimented by making Creme de Menthe and still realized there is no way to make the Stinger taste remotely good; We have cried at a perfectly made Martini, cold rim beckoning our quivering lips; We have lined up 130+ proof ryes to taste and pass out in pursuit of finding the exact proof that one reaches Nirvana; We have eschewed flavorless beverages and crowned craft producers of the world king; We have even argued how much pulp to put in a Gin & Juice; We are brothers and sisters bound to the glass, mug and cup, feverishly driven by the pursuit of drinking the very best booze we can.

Drinkers of the world: You are our people, and we are yours.

As this community grows, we rejoice that the world is right and good. However, at DCDrinks we don't care if we were read by one single solitary reader, provided that reader whinces at the thought of leaving bitters out of a Manhattan, or has raced home after the pounding drudgery of the day to pour poetry in a shaker, carefully, measured by a jigger and steady hand.

But over the past year we've entertained and amused thousands of passerbys who are searching for dirty martinis, cosmos and roofies (and, anyway, what's the f-ing difference). We appreciate your curiosty but we don't like you. We don't want you. Unless you're willing to try something better, to take a leap and reach beyond the safety of Grey Goose and soda, we despise you.

However, we'll give you one last chance. (It is a new year.) One chance to join the fold. To be a better drinker and by doing so enrich the world. But listen. And no negotiations. If you haven't tried the following cocktails, go to your local watering hole and demand them right away. This is my personal favorite list. There are many more. But I believe it's a good start.

Just make sure to consult the cocktail database for recipes. Don't let the bartender screw them up. If you must, buy the ingredients and make them yourself. If you haven't tried these cocktails than don't read DCDrinks anymore until you have. No interest in drinking them. Don't come back now, ya here.

1. The Martini
(Gin, Vermouth, Orange Bitters NOT Vodka)

2. The Sazerac

3. The Aviation
(This is tricky, I've only known one person to make this drink so beautiful that I wept like a losing Top Model contestant)

4. Apple Ginger Sangaree

5. Corpse Reviver #2

6. Pisco Sour

7. The Bronx

8. The Blinker

9. The Americano

10. The Mai Tai
(The REAL Mai Tai: Aged rum, lime juice, orgeat syrup, triple sec, simple syrup, mint leaf)

(Where's the Manhattan? #11. Sorry Manhattan fans!)

Anyone care to amend?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Hungover Easy: Egg Drop Soup for the Drunk Soul

I'm still hungover. The day-after the night-before party may have contributed to the mild nausea, aches and pangs I feel. Magnums of Gosset Champagne, Alto Moncayo (16.5% alcohol!) Garnacha and good old Thomas Handy Rye are all to blame. But I'm not even slightly detered.

Folks, ladies and gentlemen of the cyber-booze world, children, pets and your respective owners, I have unequivocally discovered the cure for hangovers: Egg Drop Soup.

That's right. Egg Drop Soup is a little miracle from the land of the Great Wall, political oppression and Chairman Mao paraphernalia. Take the long march down to your local Chinese food source and order it now, and never fear the perils of "over drinking" again.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Isaac's Annual Gift Giving Guide

This year for my Gift Giving Guide, "Classic" is the theme. Classics never go out of style and are sure to impress the boozehound you're buying for. OK, the truth is that this is my own Christmas wish list, so people take note!

Expensive ($50 or more)
Thomas H. Handy Rye Whiskey
Forget about throwing another log on the fire. This one is going to set fire to your log. (OK, even I don't exactly know what that means.) High proof and proud, this Rye is rich, confectionary and spicy--a great addition to the Antique Collection.

Not Cheap ($50 or less)
Monogrammed Shaker
Oh yeah, baby. Style and function. Plus it's nice to see your initials in steel. Williams Sonoma will let you preview your personalized shaker. Check it out.

Cheap($20 or less)

Waldorf Astoria Bar Book by A.S. Crockett

Classic cocktail recipes, lore and history. And you thought you had to hang around old used book stores to get your hands on a gem like this. After you give the bar book as a gift, make sure you follow up with your mixologist-in-the-making to see what he or she has been trying out. Maybe even sample a few yourself. This is the gift that keeps on giving.

Dirt Cheap ($10 or less)
Homemade Grenadine
Grenadine has multiple uses from kiddie drinks to ice cream topping. But there's no better use than in a classic cocktail like the Blinker. The problem is most people don't know the delicious tart and sugary red sap from the juice in an empty bottle of maraschino cherries. Teach through example.

Peanuts ($5 or less)
Fee Brother's Lemon Bitters
Get off easy and help people make better drinks at the same time. I collect bitters so this is a no-brainer. Lemon is my next purchase unless my Mom reads this blog and is looking for a stocking stuffer (wink, wink).

Friday, December 08, 2006

Keep On Drinking in the Free World: Repeal Day Revelry

Now that we've recovered from pounding Dogfish Head 90-minute I.P.A.'s, Manhattans and (gulp) 137 proof rye whisky, its time to tell the tale of Repeal Day.

We got started later than expected, around 5 P.M. Although Lonnie and I had a tipple or two winding up for the festivities. Billy Martin, Jr. greeted us and cheered the holiday by telling us a story or two. We pitched camp at Lyndon B. Johnson's booth and were joined throughout the night by 20 or so of our close friends.

We agreed that Billy Martin's was the right place, but we needed a tradition. Something generations of dedicated drinkers could get behind for Repeal Day. Something they could raise their mugs to. So we decided toasting was the one.

Every participant had to have their own unique toast. Over the coarse of eight hours, from 5 P.M. to 1 A.M. we heard quite a few. Here are the highlights:

Adam Birdbath gave us the most poetic toast of the evening with:

To the liquid of our fortunes and our ruin.

In the category of too true, Lonnie gave us something to ponder with:

Here's to you and here's to me,
Never two friends better be,
But if we should happen to disagree,
F-ck you, here's to me.

Your very own Isaac Washington did a little flag waving with this ditty:

There are few things Utah has done for us all,
But there's one thing they've done when we call:
"Hey Bartender, another whiskey," and he breaks the seal,
For it was on this Day in 1933 Utah's vote did repeal,
The damndest legislation to ever be passed,
To the enemies of freedom, you can kiss my ass!

And, finally, a toast to Jeffrey Morgenthaler for lighting up the bloglines and promoting the second g-damn most important day next to the birth of Jesus.

Whaddya say we do it all again next year?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Join DC Drinks in Celebration of Repeal Day, December 5th

As a drinker, the date December 5th should ring a warm tone in your soul. For teetotalers and prudes who don't know, December 5th, 1933 was when the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) was repealed by the lovely 21st Amendment---ushering in freedom and stamping out gangsterism for a generation. It's a juicy example of democracy in action and worth a proper celebration.

Thanks in part to the efforts of Portland bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler, DC Drinks is hosting an ad hoc Repeal Day celebration at Washington DC's oldest bar, Billy Martin's Tavern on Tuesday, December 5th starting after work and we're not going to stop celebrating until at least December 6th.

We welcome all DC Drinkers to join us.

We urge you to put aside your dainty hang-ups about drinking on a worknight to show your patriotism and loyalty to that great document, the US Constitution. I'm saying that if you live in DC, and you don't come to our Repeal Day celebration, you're simply a Pinko PC Left Fascist Bastard.

Here's a classic Repeal Day video to get you primed and ready:

Billy Martin's Tavern: 1264 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Georgetown.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

No Class Turkey: How to Handle Your Drunken Relatives

As a bartender, I've become accustomed to avoiding talking to drunken idiots. While relatives stewed in egg nog and Miller Lite pose an entirely different challenge, there is something to learn from those of us who do it for a living.

First thing is to look for pressure points where drinking can get out of hand. For example, my wonderful grandmother has a hand of steel when it comes to punches and nogs. Everyone knows this and scoops from the bottom, where enough alcohol to poison a baby elephant awaits the first, lucky customer.

Be first in line and dump that batch. It may be alcohol abuse, but you'll thank me when you're free from your drunk uncle's free flowing tirade on how fat such-and-such's kids are, the natural outcome of the first sip.

Next, avoid the "lounge." So named because it's where the smokers/heavy drinkers congregate aside from the older folks and more religiously inclined. At my family get-togethers, it is damn near a tailgate party. There in the driveway one of my uncles would pull up his car with a cooler of cold beer. Walking through this cluster of krunk is where the worst family gossip and fond memories of glory days past exist. If you smoke, make this the occasion to quit.

If prevention and total evasion haven't thus far worked, try spot maneuvers. My grandfather--God bless his heart--will pull me aside for a lecture on the castlization of Europe after pounding a couple non-alcoholic brews. I truly enjoyed this lecture the first time. After that, it became an hour of my life that I wanted back.

What I do is take the new guy, AKA my cousin's new boyfriend or husband, and signal him to come over. I act as though I want to involve him. That gives the dupe a sense of comfort and then--powwwiiiee--I say I'm going to get a glass of water. Sticking the newbie to hear grandpop's lecture.

If it's a drunken aunt, then you have to be a little more careful not to offend (lest you get a call from your mom the next day). My tactic here is pick up whatever snotty-nosed youngster is nearby. The child will give you some reasonable excuse to exit within five minutes or less, then hand him off when you turn the corner.

Lastly, going to the buffet always affords a reasonable excuse to escape. If you're peacefully watching the game and you're assaulted by your cousin's discourse on just how bad the Skins are this year and why Brunell is not to blame (right), just excuse yourself to get a plate of bird. Done.

Hopefully, you can spend the extra time I've saved you creating cherished memories. How come I think I've just earned you more drinking time for yourself?

Friday, November 17, 2006

The crappier the liquor, the more awesomer the promo party.

Apparently that's a known truism among the restaurant-working set, but I saw it for myself tonight at Smirnoff's hot sneak preview of the new James Bond movie, Casino Royale.

See, vodka is the most boring choice among the pantheon of alcohols, but through slick marketing and the public's lazy tastebuds it's become the liquor du jour.

Strangely, at the bottom of the vodka slag heap (at least in consumers' minds) lies Smirnoff---technically the first vodka exported to the West (France) after WWII.

So since all the vodka makers can't compete on the taste of their product (it has none), and there's a new brand of the shit hitting the shelf weekly, vodka producers throw all sorts of razz-matazz, pomp and circumstance at potential consumers. Hence, the promo party I attended tonight.

Smirnoff gave 100 people free liquor at an expensive DC restaurant, hor douvres were offered like it was a wedding reception, and they gave out free cocktail shakers and box sets of the entire Bond collection. Then they loaded our drunk asses into two massive tour buses to escort us four (4) blocks to the movie theater.

One word about the new Bond flick: it contains the most homoerotic S & M scene that rivals even Top Gun and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. No kidding.

Go see it. Smirnoff wants you to!

Friday, November 10, 2006

How To Avoid Looking Like A Prick While Ordering Wine

Don't know exactly what to order when you're ordering wine? Here's a tip from a professional: you look like a prick when you improvise. Cut it out.

I learned this lesson best through karaoke. The performances that the crowd clamors for are the ones that are rehearsed. Every time I get a wild hair and stray from my standards, I watch the crowd thin, gleeful expressions dwindle and the host cringe. Time to take a hint.

So here are a few tips to avoid improvisation and pricktitude at the table or bar.

1.) Never, ever listen to servers. Servers know wine like health food store clerks know how to cure cancer. I wish it wasn't so, and sometimes a rare example proves an exception, but servers are generally studying political science, in a band or finishing up their novel. They only care about wine as much as they are told to by their employers. Generally, simple and idiotic phrases like "I like it," "it's dry" and "one of my favorites" are as detailed an explanation as you'll get from the server-kind.

2.) Order by style and price. Don't bitch after you ask for a certain style of wine and then you get hit for the $300 bottle. You weren't specific. It's your fault. Of course the server or sommelier wants to get the big sale--that's how they make money, numbnuts. As long as they don't lie to you, they're well within their right.

3.) Don't stand there stammering about how you once had a wine but you can't remember the name of it. Nobody has a ready catalogue of what you drank and ate except the good Lord himself, and he'll reckon with the f-cking Pinot Grigio you had with a steak when judgement day comes. We don't know what it is; you don't know what is. Guess what, it wasn't that good. Move on.

4.) If you've had French before, but you really don't know anything about the region, you can visit this brand new, radical website called "Google." I realize French wines are tough, but visit Terroir-france.com and within 30 minutes you'll have a working knowledge of some important regions.

5.) Call ahead and ask to speak with the wine buyer or sommelier. Especially if it's an important occasion. Tell them you are a novice, some general characteristics and what you want to spend. In fact, you should at least have a few general descriptors: fruit-forward, spicy, red, etc. While some people will be annoyed, others will appreciate your sincerity.

Glad I can help.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Before the Cocktail, They Drank Sangarees

My favorite new drink is a riff on a very, very old one: the Apple Ginger Sangaree*.

The original Sangaree is Madeira, water, sugar and nutmeg. Although they are commonly made with spirits or beer as well. The Sangaree dates back to colonial times and was a favorite of tavern-goers, along with grogs, flips, punches and mulled wines.

Nutmeg is the key. Colonists were such big fans of nutmegs they used to carry their own nutmeg around in a little silver case with grater in tow.

The cocktail, a Johnny-come-lately in comparison, wasn't really a common term until after the 1800s. The "cock tail" is first mentioned in 1806.

I realize Sangaree sounds a lot like Sangria, but its cold and rainy outside so I'm done with boxed wine and chopped fruit. Sangaree does, however, mean the same thing: Blood. I remember reading its origin is in the West Indies.

Anyway, from now on I'm going to be more annoying than a college "indie" radio DJ, "I like their early stuff." All my drinks are going to be pre-cocktail, colonial concoctions. I'm so f-cking cool.

* I substitue White Port and Falernum for Ginger Wine.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

To Shake A Martini

"The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry martini you always shake to waltz time." - Nick Charles in The Thin Man (1934)

You're determined to shake the Martini. You've heard the purists, such as DCDrinks, denigrate the shaken not stirred crowd, but you still appreciate the cool shards thrown from the shaker as the ice crashes against the tin walls and causes little pools of cool water to form atop the oily skin of the Martini. What we consider an annoyance and distraction, you relish as the only rightful way to cool the gin and vermouth combo. OK, we'll have to agree to disagree, but then we must clear a few things up first.

There is a difference between shaking and stirring. Shaking reduces the temperature quicker and, in the case of fruit juices, sugar and eggs, is a better way to blend the ingredients. Sugar and eggs need to be obliterated in the shaker, as Lonnie mentioned in his last post on the Pisco Sour. Therefore, for fruit juice, sugar and egg drinks, shaking makes sense.

Stirring blends ingredients in a less forceful way, and reduces the amount of water and air added by shaking. Water isn't a bad thing, but overdone can diminish the botanicals from the gin and vermouth. Air voluminizes the beverage creating a frothy top. Who wants frothy gin and vermouth? That's why we stir.

Ice is a big deal, too. To shake, you must start with proper ice cubes. Small, whitish cracked cubes will double your efforts causing a frothy, watery mess. Use large cubes without holes and virtually clear of white blotches. White blotches are pockets of air.

Lastly, never-ever order a Martini "shaken not stirred" unless you're f-ckin' James Bond. Bond originally ordered the Vesper Martini anyway, at least according to the man who wrote the book: Ian Fleming. "Shaken not stirred" comes from the Bond movies and is part of a marketing spiel for vodka. It's as lame as going to Burger King and saying "Where's the Beef?" (See Top Ten Five Mistakes.)

Now you know.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Egg?: Why the Pisco Sour is Fuckin' Awesome

Back in the year 2000, Peru was the first Third World country I'd ever visited. It was the first place I drove at 65 miles per hour wasted out of my gourd, barreling down lane-less highways past trucks with no fenders and fewer headlights. It was a three week haze of lemon-juice-cooked seafood, eye-searing poverty, and altitude sickness.

Regrettably, I dismissed their national cocktail, the Pisco Sour, as a local yokel novelty---akin to stooping gutter level to drink Jägermeister back home.

But Peruvians promote the drink like they would their local soccer team or the resident hippie tourist magnet, the ruins of Macchu Pichu.

It's taken six years and help from DC's newest and, IMHO, best bar to convince me that the Pisco Sour should be ranked among the top cocktails in a mixologist's repertoire.

Normally, DC Drinks considers it a tad passé to list a cocktail recipe, but an exception must be made for our new-found master of drinks. I trust Mr. DeGroff:
Pisco Sour
1½ oz. Pisco Brandy
3/4 oz. Fresh Lemon
1 oz. Simple Syrup
Several drops of Angostura Bitters
One Small Egg White

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a small cocktail glass. Sprinkle a few dashes of Angostura Bitters on the foam created by the egg whites.
I'd add one thing to that: you should shake that shit until your hand bones ache with cold and you have to pry your fingers from the ice-caked metal. Otherwise, you've done it wrong. The raw egg needs to be destroyed, and there's no other way to do it.

This drink is simply amazing and is a fair rival to a well-made margarita. I'm just sad that my prejudicial perceptions of Peruvian backwardness prevented me from enjoying this cocktail for six lonely years.

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.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Rum and Coke: Drink of the Shiftless, Idle and Indolent

It was mid-day at a resort just south of Castries in St. Lucia and a round, pink-faced British kid was tugging at my leg for a rematch. I'd just mercilessly beat him in a game of giant-sized chess (the pieces themselves were bigger than the youth) and the teary-eyed tyke sought revenge. I obliged. What's better than beating a suckling youth once in a game of skill? Doing it twice.

By luck he'd escaped capture in the first three moves, but shortly thereafter I decimated his scattered defenses like they were the Iraqi Republican Guard. I lept and howled as I captured his queen and stared down his king. His sister ran off, presumably to get his parents. But defeat is defeat and I told him to ante up. He'd have to give me the shells he collected along the beach earlier that day.

When his parents arrived I told them I was only joking. They dragged him off after some intercontinental banter and a few uncomfortable laughs, and decided no police involvement was necessary.

What could have proceeded this misadventure? Two words:

Rum and Coke.

Or rather twelve words:

Rum and Coke,
Rum and Coke,
Rum and Coke,
Rum and Coke,
Rum and Coke
Rum and Coke.

For breakfast, I'd decided to take advantage of the resort's free bar and started drinking Rum and Cokes at 10 A.M. A few hours later, I challenged a fat kid to a game of chess.

You see, Rum and Cokes are the drink of leisure. Born of struggle (during the Spanish American War not Fidel's) Cuba Libres, another name for rum, Coke and lime, were destined to be the drink of the next generation, the one that didn't have to fight. The lazy one.

Rum and cokes are easy to drink, easy to make and easy to get the ingredients almost anywhere in the world. The recipe is in the name (unless you call it a Cuba Libre); Coca-Cola's cheaper and less complicated than lime juice (see Lonnie's post); and almost any proportion works. Try it. Coke is a magical mixer, it seems to almost always balance out as opposed to tonic, which requires skilled mixing.

With that kind of ease, Rum and Cokes are downed quicker and with less thought than cocktails that require patience and precision. Damn the "nothing-better-to-do" persona of the sweet devil! Idle hands are Rum and Coke's playground.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

New York's Oldest Bartender is a God Damn Teetotaler

I have mixed feelings about 90-year-old Hoy Wong, the oldest barman in the best drinking town in the United States of America. While he has served drinkers from John Lennon to Joe Di Maggio to Marilyn Monroe, he himself quit drinking 30 years ago.

To be sure, our inspiring 90 year-old Hong Kongian immigrant is still working and loving his craft of mixology, but having not tasted a single drink he's shaken or stirred since Isaac and I were three years old (!), he loses serious credibility.

What if Colin Field or Dale DeGroff hadn't actually tasted their own concoctions since 1976?

Better yet, what if Anthony Bourdain's face twisted with repugnance at the sight of Chinese pan-seared sheep's stomach or if Emeril Lagase was truly nauseated every time he shelled a craw-dad?

Mr. Wong's 90th birthday raises important questions for the mixology community. Can we accept teetotalers into our fold? Or are they posers, through and through?

Perhaps this just further proves that New York isn't the scroungy-old drinking town that exists in modern mixologists' minds; it's just another stop on the highway where the oldest drink-slinger can be a teetotaling Christian (cringe) or anything else he wants ...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Seeing Red: Craft Grenadines

If you were reading along in a bar recipe book and as a third and fourth ingredient it read, "Three drops Red Dye #40, 1/2 oz. of Corn Syrup" you'd close the book and wing it from the balcony like a foam boommerang faster than I can say polypropylene.

Making good drinks requires chemistry, but not chemistry alone. Craft products and natural ingredients are reemerging at the forefront of an "ingredients matter" philosophy of bartending.

Chief among the mixers to take a death blow is none other than the chemical syrup itself, grenadine. The reason why is simple: Corn syrup and dye just don't belong in well crafted libations, even if it's the cornerstone of the number one selling children's "cocktail."

Let's start with the shocker for those of you who have yet to explore the outerdepths of the speed rail, past the peach brandy and green creme de menthe: grenadine is made from pomegranates. Or I should say, is supposed to be made from pomegranates. (The mass produced stuff rarely is.) In fact, "granada" is the Spanish word for pomegranate.

Fortunately, alternatives to the mass produced Bols and Dekuypers Grenadine exist and they actually contain pomegranates or pomegranate extract. Even better, I've drank them with such enduring cocktails as the Jack Rose and they're delicious.

For instance, there's Fee Brothers' American Beauty Grenadine. Fee Brothers also make several flavors of bitters, so it's no surprise to find them selling craft bar mixers. Presumably named after the cocktail of the same name, American Beauty is a little medicinal with a rich character.

Then there's my personal favorite, Stirrings Authentic Grenadine. It's the real deal. With a deep red color and satisfying sweetness, Stirrings Grenadine is so delicious you could have a Grenadine over ice with soda water.

So don't toss the recipe book yet. There's still hope for Grenadine.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Please Don't Molest the Bartender: A Cautionary Tale for Wild Women

I don't know, maybe my posts are growing more and more socially conservative but I have to admit that as a bartender I've seen people at their absolute worst.

I remember repeatedly chastising two obstinate, well-soiled senior-citizen-aged drunks (a man and women) for raising their voices at the bar only to watch them slap each other's face and then make out--drool pouring from the sides of their mouths like St. Bernards and seemingly doubling their high by inhaling the alcohol from each other's breath. That was bad.

I have to report that despite seeing this and worse, I'm certain I have not truly seen the worst--not yet. In the meantime, here's close.

Some fifteen women came in to my bar the other day. They were carrying a blow-up doll and one was dressed in the pre-requisite bridal headgear for a bachorlerette party. They were all skanked out and "wild" acting, meaning drinking shots and using sexual terminology freely and loudly. Oh, so wild. It was embarrassing.

Now before I get lambasted for holding double standards, if they were guys with a female blow-up doll and saying the same they would have been removed for making obscene and lewd gestures. So the double standard worked in these skanks' favor.

As one of the bartenders walked outside of the bar, a women from the gaggle of trixies grabbed him and whispered, "Wanna do something wild?" And then molested his lads as if they were stress relieving Chinese metal balls in the palm of the hand.

What's worse is that another women filmed it. Perhaps for the next episode of Bartenders Caught Off Gaurd by Really Wild Women Who Like to Fondle Nuts. He shrugged it off but it was obvious he felt like a jackass.

So this is a cautionary tale. Women, men too, stop acting like complete morons when you come in contact with alcohol. Drunkeness is the not the problem. Egging each other on to do progressively stupider and stupider things is the problem. When reaching the point where you lose self control, consider leaving the public realm. And, above all, don't molest the bartender!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Lime: The Bitch Sister That Won't Put Out

Answer this, margarita purists: if margarita premix is so evil, why is the process of squeezing enough limes for a decent-sized party so f'n hard?

On the invite for my last cocktail party I shunned premix like any good cocktail snob. Just like a "vodka martini" isn't a real Martini, a real margarita is not authentic unless freshly squeezed lime juice is the base. A no-brainer, right? But try doing it.

First off, I lack a proper electric juicer, so I'm stuck doing it by hand. And after the 8th lime squeezed, your arms feel wrenched and you want to give up. The taboo thought enters your head: maybe I should've just bought premix. NO, god dammit. You know fresh is better; it's axiomatic. So you slog on ...

At lime number 25, you look into your pitcher and realize there's only enough juice for fewer than three glasses. Christ. At some point you need help. In fact, it's a three person job if you're wanting more margaritas than for just you and your S.O.

You may not know it, but limes are small and dry. There's not much juice in them compared to lemons, and their innards are like green desert clay. A lemon is luscious---covered in thick, oily skin and full of wet fruit that keeps on giving. You only need a few lemons to get most cocktail jobs done. But the lime is the lemon's bitch sister that won't put out.

How god damn hard is it to make quality margarita premix? DC Drinks demands that the public should be able to obtain it. Just remember, there was once a time when we accepted coffee from a can as something drinkable.

Change is in the air ...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ex·pec·to·rate, or Why I Spit

ex-pec-to-rate v.
To eject from the mouth by spitting.

Sorry for the radio silence. I've been building a wine list and have spent the last few weeks in a semi-permanent haze from the fumes of three hundred or so wines I've been sniffing, swirling, sipping and spitting out. That's right, I said "spitting out."

I freely admit that I spit.

Even so, some percentage of alcohol is still absorbed through the mouth walls. I've heard ten percent. Especially when you gargle something bad-ass (the "absorption" rate grows the better the wine). I can only imagine the rate of absorption for first-growths.

That ten percent haze you feel after drinking, say, eighty wines is comparable to the feeling of waking up sans hangover after a hard night of drinking. You feel a slight body numbness and react slowly and clumsily; you forget what you've just said and then remember what you were thinking right before you forgot what you said.

What was I saying? Forget about it. Another Pommard "mouth rinse," please.

Nevertheless, spitting is important. Otherwise, you'd be straight hammered and that wine you thought had the subtle taste of soap and some unknown bacteria might seem a little more pleasant while you're slurping down the bunch.

I know what you're thinking: Can you taste the wine if you don't swallow?

Think about it. There are no taste buds in your throat and stomach. Actually, most of what you taste is in your upper nasal cavity anyway. You smell it. On your tongue there are only four tastes (although the Japanese say there's a fifth as well, umami).

With that said, you could probably get most of the information you need about a wine from sight and smell alone, but mouth feel and the wine's "leave" are also important for pairing and overall evaluation. So you swish it around a bit.

I think I feel the "haze" wearing off. Time to start building my whiskey list.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

That Age-Old American Stereotype is Withering

Falsehood number one: America is prudish about drinking while the rest of the world finds it perfectly normal to get so blotto that they end up punching a fist through some drywall and waking up next to a trollop named Tammy who smokes menthols. This is the typical line that you hear from foreigners time and again. Ms. Mimi in New York, a British journalist-come-stripper, echoes that sentiment:
"America - It's OK to get drunk. It's OK to have casual sex with some arsehole you wouldn't even let lick your shoes in the morning. It's OK to get so fucked up you fall asleep on the toilet. That's living sweetie. It's fine to fall in a bush and laugh about it the next day. Tell your colleagues. It doesn't mean you can't do your job, you're less of a person, you're not 'marriageable' material. It means you need to get a fucking promotion. Anyone who can drink with me and make it into work at 9am deserves a better job. This country needs to loosen up a little."
But my anecdotal evidence tells me we have loosened up.

American culture shifted some time in the 1990s and 2000s. I meet more and more people that are interested in the Art of Drinking than I ever remember. That lurking taboo against going out and getting stanko is hanging on a thread, people. In fact, A & E's popular reality show, Intervention, a program that films real life substance abuse interventions, has yet---to my knowledge---to have a single episode about an alcoholic. That's because over-drinking in itself (without driving) is hardly considered a problem anymore.

The only drinking survey I could find online was this one from 1999, which says that, "The percentage of the American population drinking alcoholic beverages has fluctuated greatly over the past 60 years, ranging between 55% and 71%. In Gallup Poll's most recent survey on this issue ... 64% of the adult population said they had taken an opportunity to drink." I'd be willing to bet that in 2006 we're closer to the 75% range.

Folks, we can now declare that drinking is no longer bad. Fucking finally. Let the world be fair-warned that the USA is no longer a country of prudes and stuffed shirts. We've stepped into the fray to get wasted just as diligently as any Brit or German out there.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Pink Gin ain't for bitches, bitches.

Isaac and I aren't dead. He's busy working as sommelier/bar manager with a hot new DC restaurant (shhh ... to open Memorial Day weeked) and I'm preparing for my annual Chesapeake sailing trip.

To hold you over, below is a little piece I included on my upcoming five-day sailing trip website (which Isaac has to miss because of the aforementioned restaurant opening).

You can be certain I'll be packing a bottle of Angostora Bitters to go with Jason's bottle of London Dry for our sail across the Chesapeake. It's a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. My point, simply put, from wikipedia:

"Pink Gin is a cocktail made fashionable in the United Kingdom in the mid-19th century, consisting of jenever and a dash of 'pink' (Angostura bitters, a dark red extract of gentian and spices, known from the 1820s at Angostura in Venezuela but now made in Trinidad and Tobago).

Pink gin is a typically English way of enjoying gin. It was made popular worldwide by members of the Royal Navy, where it rose to prominence because the Angostura bitters were a cure for seasickness.

Imports to Australia of pre mixed pink gin has soared in past decades due to the overwhelming demand in fine spirits."

Friday, May 12, 2006

Bucket-like Proportions

A modern dilemma for a modern drinker: you order your favorite alcoholic beverage and what clinks in front of you is a monstrous bucket-like abomination that offends all your senses. You sit on your stool, stumped with disappointment.

But isn't more better?

Contemplating this thing in your face, you wonder if aliens may have escorted this beverage from the heavens (or hell--whatevs).

Are you alone? No. You're among the many cocktail connoisseurs who're perplexed every day by this modern enigma: the oversized "cocktail bucket".

But how did this happen? And how do we deal with it? Was it the late '90s trend of oversized cocktails meant to get Sex-in-the-City types wasted? That's the cliché answer. Can we lay it on the doorstep of T.G.I. Fridays' margaritas? Or is it just the result of mixology-hungry people like me?

While it's true that people are more likely to believe a simple lie than a complex truth, let me start and end with the former.

Modern bartenders are doing their jobs; people want to get drunk, so that's what the alco-slingers give them. But that's pitiful. People in our camp want more. We want a freezing cold cocktail in small proportions, craftfully made, that doesn't taste like dishwater when it hits our lips. But the gigantic-cocktail-servers are out to destory us.

So how do we fight? Rule of thumb: if over 6 ounces, common sense it trounces. Ok, that's a horrible rhyme, but you see what I'm saying ...

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...

Monday, March 27, 2006

Confessions of an Oak Addict

I used to hum Fly to the Angels by Slaughter when no one was looking. I used to think Lindsay Lohan was hot. And I used to drink vodka. I'm now only ashamed of one of those things: drinking vodka.

You see, while it's a normal part of developing the drinker's palate to start with the colorless and odorless stuff, once you've had a taste of the complexity imbued by oak its hard to return to the watery, clear substances. The phenolics (flavor compounds, pigments and tannins imparted by wood) add a dimension to liquor that is nothing short of sublime. So much that law requires it for Bourbons.

Of course for Bourbon they char the wood by exposing new barrels to flame for about 60 seconds, depending on how much char the distiller wants. That helps to extract sugars from the oak--new white oak more specifically--and it's where all those lovely confectionary notes come from. Other brown liquors might be toasted (AKA burnt a little less).

Brown liquors include Cognac, Armangac, Scotch Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, aged Rum. The list goes on. And every one of them preferable to the slight hint of anise or citrus you might squeeze out of a trillion-time distilled artisanal vodka. I want to taste the wood.

OK, so there are some flavorful vodkas. There must be, otherwise Russia would be known exclusively for Dostoevsky and Communism. How depressing that would be! But Whiskey is what gets me up in the morning (not literally). So now it's time to unveil my new slogan:

Once you've had brown, white just won't go down.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Ben 'n' Jerry's of Whiskey

Just picked up a bottle of Jon, Mark and Robbo's whiskey, "The Smokey Peaty One". Following the same marketing philosophy as Nantucket Nectars fruit juices and Ben 'n' Jerry's ice cream, these three "regular guys" are trying to change the face of scotch. First off, who the hell doesn't like fun-lovin', whiskey-swillin' lads who decided to make their vice, er, hobby, into their careers? Second, it gives the whiskey buyer something that every other scotch has failed to do: be unintimidating to the novice. Genius. And their company was only launched in June of 2005! Wait, how long has scotch been around with its complicated regions, agings, labels and descriptions without doing this?

What can I say. I got exactly what I thought I'd get. There's no mystery involved, unlike buying a Lagavulin or Oban for the first time. The labels say it all. You have four choices: 1 - Smokey/Peaty, 2 - Rich/Spicy, 3 - Smooth/Sweet, and now---god help us--- 4 - Fresh/Fruity. Not sure if the average whiskey buyer (me) would purchase that last one, but maybe it's geared toward the wine cooler set ...

These pals have taken the mystery out of scotch buying. But isn't mystery part of the excitement of it? The feeling like you're about to put some kind of rare jewelry up to your lips? Jon, Mark and Robbo want to take that away from us with their delicious, inexpensive ($26), easy-to-understand blends, for fuck's sake.

Part of me wants to rant but another part wants to celebrate. I remain conflicted. Let me have another couple of glasses before I make my final decision ...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Drinking Class: Industry Legends Create Harvard of Bartending Schools

Half the art of becoming a bartender is lying your way through the door. I got my first bartending job after the owner of a restaurant I waited tables at asked if I had bartended. The previous bartender had just quit. Without hesitation, I nodded yes.

She looked me up and down and before she asked another question I grabbed the shaker and told her I would whip something up. It was rum and fruit juice. Lots of both ingredients but especially more of the former. By the time she finished her dubious rum punch, I had the job.

So it goes without saying that I had little or no respect for the suckers at bartending school who take classes on blue drinks, pink drinks and how to flip bottles. What a bunch of idiots. That was until my present bar manager informed me she had attended bartending school and she's one of my favorite bar gals. (She hid that part during the interview.) I decided to revise my policy: only some bartending students are suckers.

Now I take it all back. Doug Frost, who is a phenomenal booze educator (both a Master Sommelier and Master of Wine) told me he is starting a bartending school with Dale Degroff and just about anyone who is anyone in the cocktail trade.

It's called the Beverage Alcohol Resource or B.A.R. It will be headquartered in New York and there are two-day, four-day and twelve-week courses. The courses are pretty pricey but I can imagine they'll be worth it. If for nothing more than spending time with living legends.

Can you imagine Dale Degroff as the dean of your school? Keggers will definitely be a little more sophisticated. Jello shooters will have to be made from a recipe in a 1911 cocktail guide using Cognac. Check it out.

Friday, March 03, 2006

DC Drinks' Whiskey Tasting

We recently got together with a motley crue of whiskey geeks, restaurant critics, bar managers and modern drunkards at Bourbon restaurant in Adams Morgan in what could be the most ad hoc, randomly-chosen whiskey tasting on historical record. Most whiskies listed were discovered by wine distributor, Jase Viennan, in dingy liquor stores from Anacostia to Baltimore.

The heat packed:

Pikesville Supreme Rye; bottled 1983; Michter's Distillery: Tasting Notes: "Not very interesting. Palate was a little jacked. Lemony with some spice notes. As boring as vodka. An insult to the good name of rye whiskey."

Pikesville Rye; bottled 1992; Heaven Hill Distillery: Tasting Notes: "A real surprise. Much more complex than the big bottle. I wish I had another bottle. $2.99 never purchased so much flavor. As good as top shelf."

William Larue Weller's 121 proof bourbon: Tasting Notes: "Brown sugar, cinnamon, and buttered peaches. Heavy and dessert-like. Pretty bottle with a taste to match."

Suntory Red Japanese whiskey, purchased in Cambodia, mixed with Russell's Reserve Wild Turkey: Tasting Notes: "Disgusting, really. Shite. Good lord, I could not choke this shit down. Poured out most of the glass."

Wild Turkey; bottled 1989 (out of production): Tasting Notes: "Blast of cinnamon. Spicy and aggressive. The kickin' chicken has definitely improved since '89."

Lot 40 Malted Rye; Corby Distillers (out of production): Tasting Notes: "Honeysuckle and caramel. Like rare jewelry."

Bush Pilot (Canadian); bottled 1982; Alberta Springs Distillers (out of production): Tasting Notes: "Piss water. Now I know why they char the inside of whiskey barrels. Canada is boring."

Motgomerie's Single Cask scotch; aged in Sherry casks (independent bottling of Glenlivet from 1976): Tasting Notes: "Light but firm. Some smoke and peat, but mostly just smooth golden drinking goodness. Needs more peat!"

Interestingly enough, the hands down winner was the pint bottle of Pikesville Rye bought for $2.99 from a dusty back shelf in a shitty liquor store in Baltimore. Just goes to to show you don't need an expense account to get good whiskey.


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Drinker's Block

You walk up to a bar and order, "Jim Beam, rocks." You pause, the bartender pauses. She replies, "We have Jack."

"Jack? Jack isn't Jim Beam."

For the love of Christ, how can they be out of Jim? You pause, search and collect your thoughts. "No problem, I'll order again." But what? Then the terror hits. But what!

Insert your own drink, but the phenomena is the same. The slightest change of plans can throw the habitual drinker in to gibbering idiot searching through the vast reservoir of drinks you drank before you knew what you drink covering everything from your first vodka tonic to goofy shit like a Campari and soda.

You even consider rum drinks before you remember that what distinguishes a Rum Punch from a Planters Punch from a Mai Tai to most bartenders is if they put three different kind of fruit wedges, four different kind of fruit wedges and/or a cherry on top.

Welcome to drinker's block. Fortunately, we can help. We've been through this enough times to know the stages of drinker's block and how to beat it.

It starts with denial. You stand with your jaw open for about five minutes (that's approximately ten drinks time to a bartender) as if it'll just come to you. The bartender politely starts polishing a glass. That's when you know time is ticking down. You hastily order a Pale Ale and then take it back. Really, when's the last time you enjoyed a Pale Ale? The bartender, disgusted, turns away.

Next comes anger. It's the bar's fault, right? They have 100 different kinds of liquor but they're out of one so "f--- them." Sounds fair. Maybe you should call ahead next time and they can special order a bottle for you, princess.

Then there's sorrow. You stare forlorn at the foot rail. You wish you went to the pool hall instead. Too late, you can't walk out now. Besides the bartender is hot.

Finally, there's acceptance. The bartender comes back, mocks you as rightly she should, and you just have to bite the bullet. Order something. Anything.

"I'll have Knob Creek instead."

There, you did it. Glad we could help.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Ubiquitous International Lager

Imagine a world in which the only wines were "dry" whites, distant, dumbed-down, derivations of a French Chardonnay. With the exception of Guinness (a stout) and Bass (an ale), all the widely known international beers are of the same type (very distant, dumbed down, derivatives of Pilsener lager, with little to distinguish one from another). - Michael Jackson

From Canada to China, India to Australia, every country short of Saudi Arabia seem to have their own home brew. The temptation to travel around the world in a pint glass is great. (I often wonder how many international beers I could put back in a day's worth of drinking.) The only problem is that as distinct as these countries are, with their great heritages, unique cultures and political differences, Molson and Tsing Dao, Kingfisher and Fosters all taste the f-ing same.

The BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) lists
this style as the "Standard American Lager," with "little to no malt aroma... light, spicy or floral hop presence... low levels of yeast character... very pale straw to medium yellow color... crisp and dry flavor with some low levels of sweetness... no fruitiness... [and a] slight carbonic bite on the tongue."

Don't get me wrong, these beers are easy drinking. They're also an excellent pairing to spicy ethnic cuisine, especially Chinese carry-out. But why the disguise of nationality? They should all have a plain brown label and read: The Ubiquitous International Lager.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

"Gin Was the Original Urban Drug"

"Time and time again men and women who might ordinarily have drunk a pint or two of beer drank a pint or two of gin instead, often with disastrous consequences." - Jessica Warner, from her book, Craze

I'm currently reading Warner's excellent account of the insanity caused by cheap-ass gin on British society between 1720 and 1751. During that period, the Brits drank more gin than they did beer. Anyone who's spent any time in England should be shocked by that statistic. For those thirty years, people were dying, puking and fucking in the shit-strewn streets, smashed on gin. And it wasn't the type of gin we sip from conical cocktail glasses with olives today. Oh no. The book describes a beverage akin to mixing up Mad Dog 20/20, cheap vodka, and spiking it with Pinesol. Now imagine 75% of your city's population wasted on that concoction on a daily basis. That was London way back when.

The often bloody chaos continued for decades, wreaking havoc on English society until Parliament passed the famous Gin Act of 1751 which completely outlawed the distillaion of gin, and things returned to some semblance of normalcy.

The book is a well-written historical narrative that never gets bogged down with facts and figures. It's worth purchasing. And it's even better if you mix together the aforementioned swill of Mad Dog and vodka while reading. It's like transporting yourself back to 18th century London ... Yea.

Monday, January 30, 2006

How Al Gore Invented the Manhattan

I'm no historian, but I find it fascinating how sometimes cocktails can illuminate history. How following the trail of one ingredient, or the perfect mix, you can come across some of the most interesting and, sadly, relevant, details of the past. I would take that a step further (and I will in a future post) that the story of our civilization could be told through the story of booze.

So with that in mind, here's an unusual twist on a classic cocktail. (No pun intended.) In doing research on the Manhattan, I came across the greatest election scandal of the 19th Century. Samuel J. Tilden, who won the popular vote against Republican Rutheford B. Hayes, was denied the presidency based on some unusual counting involving Reconstruction politics (Did they have chads back then? What is a chad again?). The details of which you can pursue on your own. Here's some help from Wikipedia. But it sounds eerily familiar.

The Manhattan was named after the Manhattan Club in New York but mixed for presidential hopeful, get this, Tilden after he was elected as Governor of New York. I can see why he won the popular vote. I would vote for him after being the inspiration for such a great cocktail, that's for sure.

With that said, we don't usually trade in recipes here at DCDrinks but I couldn't help it this time. Let me direct your attention to the ingredients for the perfect, but not "Perfect", Manhattan. The Perfect Manhattan being with sweet and dry vermouth (see here). The perfect referring to the best, IMHO.

1 1/2 oz. Wild Turkey Rye
1/2 oz. Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
2 dashes Angustora Bitters
1 Italian Preserved Cherry
Spoon a 1/4 or less teaspoon of cherry juice around the rim

DO NOT SHAKE, GODDAMMIT! Stir for three to four minutes. Enjoy.

Now the question is, should we rename it the Gore?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Bourbon Bunk: Hype and America's Greatest Spirit

I might not be the first to notice the strong correlation between alcohol and exaggeration, but reading some Bourbon labels you might be led to believe Kentucky is the one true home of Bourbon, the kind Abraham Lincoln drank and drinking it is synonymous with freedom. Bullshit.

As much as I love Bourbon--and I really love Bourbon--these marketing myths just aren't true. Now I suppose this is no revelation to the experienced Bourbon drinker, but it doesn't hurt to point them out to the novice or uninitiated.

Made in Kentucky
While most Bourbon is made in Kentucky, you could make it in sunny California and call it the same. Bourbon, in order to be Bourbon, only has to follow a few regulations. One of those regulations is that it must be made in the United States but not, necessarily, Kentucky. Look for "Kentucy Straight Bourbon" on the label to indicate it's made in Kentucky, not that you can't make perfectly fine Bourbon in, say, Virginia.

Abraham Lincoln Drank Here
The connection between Bourbon and Abraham Lincoln is the same connection you could make between Bourbon and just about anyone from Kentucky in Honest Abe's time. Lincoln, "...personally did not drink except for an occasional 'drop of champagne, just to be civil'," says Bourbon expert Chuck Cowdery. Lincoln fell in a creek. He lived near what is now the sight of the Knob Creek distillery. He owned a few bars. But don't expect Lincoln to be the great hero of Bourbon. Although he waffled on this point, he also signed legislation advocating temperance.

Freedom is Never Free... That's Why We're Charging You $80
Eagle Rare 17 Year Old is a really great Bourbon, truly great Bourbon, with the thickest America-loving, flag waving, gobs-of-shit story on the side. I truly expect the Eagle to turn toward the drinker/reader and shed a tear for polluted forests. I love the true Bourbon story. I love America. If I wanted to read this kind of propaganda I would move to a thoughtless mind-controlling police state (please no comments about the current administration). Whenever your heart strings are strummed, expect your purse strings to follow.

Here's an excerpt:

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is the ultimate symbol of our undying pursuit of freedom. It is that freedom that gives us our heroes, those individuals with an unparelled passion, regardless of the odds... buckety-buck.

I'll stick with Bourbon just the same, and I'll even praise Bourbon's unique American qualities. Just don't expect me to pledge allegiance everytime I drink a bottle.