Monthly Archives: July 2008

MxMo in the Crescent City

Mixology Monday logoFor this month’s Mixology Monday, which has a New Orleans theme, I’m going with a couple of drinks, both inspired by panels that I attended at Tales of the Cocktail.

The first drink is the Sloppy Joe’s Mojito, inspired obliquely by the To Have and Have Another panel, on the drinking life of Ernest Hemingway. Whether Hemingway actually drank Mojitos appears to be in some dispute. The eminent Eric Felten argues persuasively that he probably did not, but it is clear that old Papa frequented the Havana bar that originated this version of the classic rum drink. He even apparently persuaded the proprietor of a Key West saloon to rip off the Havana original’s name. So, who knows?

Charles Baker, writing in The Gentleman’s Companion, describes the drink thus:

Put several lumps of ice into a 16 oz collins glass, toss in 1 tsp sugar or gomme, insinuate a spiral green lime peel about the ice, turn in 1-1/2 jiggers of Bacardi; white, or Gold Seal, and the strained juice of 1 small green lime–not a lemon. Stir once, fill with really good club soda and garnish with a bunch of fresh mint.

What I love about this variant is that a) it’s not too sweet, and b) it’s not too minty. I don’t feel like I’m chewing rum-spiked Doublemint gum.

The second drink comes straight from the Beefeater reception at Palace Cafe and also the Juniperlooza session. I had heard of this drink prior to Tales, but I had never tried it. It’s the Jasmine cocktail, devised by architect and booze writer Paul Harrington. It tastes remarkably like grapefruit juice even though it contains no grapefruit whatsoever. Honestly, this is one of those drinks that I often post where I’m sure the majority of my single-digit readership is thinking, “What! New to the Jasmine? He needs to crawl out from under Plymouth Rock or wherever the hell he lives and actually drink from time to time!”

No argument here, Skippy. I will say this, though. I’ve mixed a lot of cocktails at home, and I’ve had many others out. It’s a rare treat when something passes my lips and earns a spot in my regular drinks rotation. The Jasmine is right there. Jen and I both adore it. It tastes like an old-school cocktail, even though it’s not old enough to drive, let alone drink, and the ingredients are perfectly balanced. A new favorite.

Jasmine

  • 1-1/2 oz gin
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz Cointreau
  • 1/4 oz Campari
  • lemon twist for garnish

Technique: Shake, strain, add garnish, sip, and smile.

Many thanks to Paulernum Clarke for hosting.

Photos by Jennifer Hess.

Tales of the Cocktail Webcast

Natalie Bovis-Nelsen from The Liquid Muse has a series of webcasts from this year’s Tales of the Cocktail. In installment 3, she attends the blogger party and invites each blogger to introduce himself or herself to the camera. I’m in there, too.

I have lots more to say, but since I had to dive back into the freelance life today, I haven’t had a chance to write much. More soon, I hope.

Also, I plan to announce soon what I hope will be fun new feature of this blog, so stay tuned. Next up, though, will be tonight’s Mixology Monday post, as if I haven’t blogged enough in the past week. (ETA: I just noticed Paul’s announcement of the extension. Whoo hoo!)

For Whom the Bell Bols*

My first panel of Tales 2k8 was also among the discussions I most eagerly awaited. I am not what you might call a dedicated Hemingway fan, but I’ve read many of his books and they never fail to entertain me. Now that I am also a drinks nerd, I like reading them with a barfly’s eye.

Led by Phil Greene, cofounder of the Museum of the American Cocktail and Hemingway enthusiast, we romped through passages from Papa’s novels, short stories, and letters, and tasted some of the giant’s favorite cocktails.

We began with the Jack Rose, and may I say, this was the finest version I’ve had of this drink. I suspect the Fee Bros.’ grenadine played a role in that, and I should order a bottle when I return home.

Jack Rose

Next, was the Green Isaac’s Special, a drink that Hemingway himself invented and named after a Caribbean island:

Um, no, it's not green. Nor it is supposed to be.

To break from the red drinks, we had a Montgomery martini. If I remember Phil’s story correctly, it’s named such because British field marshal Montgomery was said to avoid leading his men to battle unless they enjoyed a 15 to 1 advantage. Hemingway mixed his martinis to that ratio, and, thus, the Montgomery Martini:

Mmmmmmartini

Next, the Papa Doble Daiquiri; his love of the daiquiri is legendary, so I’ll say no more:

Papa Doble

Finally, the Death in the Afternoon. This apparently originated in a recipe that Hemingway submitted to a book (So Red the Nose, or Breath in the Afternoon) collecting the tipples of famous writers and actors. A fine drink:

Death in the morning before the afternoon

*N.B.: Bols played no part in this. Don’t blame them for the pun.

TotC, Day 1

Blew in to New Orleans, La., yesterday morning after a layover in Charlotte, N.C.  Got my luggage and met the Airport Shuttle. The driver was delightful, full of wit and good stories about the city, pre- and post-Katrina. I was happy I was toward the end of his route so I could listen to him a few minutes longer!

Checked in to the hotel without a hitch, and they even had a room ready, even though I arrived about 3 hours before normal check in. Even better, I have a top-floor room with a window view!

A room with a view

(I’m not crazy about this picture, actually, but it’s the best one I have of the view. I want to fix the colors, so it looks more like this picture, from the Riverview Room on the rooftop, but that will have to wait.)

I settled in to the room and then stepped out for a bite to eat. I wanted my first meal in town to be a muffaletta and Pimm’s Cups at the Napolean House, and lo, it shall be done.

Napolean House

It wasn’t until after I got my bearings that I realized I was seated right next to a table with Misty Kalkofen, from Green Street in Cambridge, Mass., and several of her peers from other Boston-area bars. I wanted to say hello, but then again, I didn’t want to interrupt a lively conversation.

I came back to my room after half a muff and two Pimm’s Cups. I wanted to shower the airplane stench off of me and change clothes. I made my way to the rooftop, where the Toast to Tales of the Cocktail kickoff was scheduled. I met up with a Twitter friend, John Martin, and he introduced me to Joe Gendusa, who leads a cocktail tour, year-round, through New Orleans. Shortly thereafter, I heard someone say, “Mike?” I turned, and Blair, from the blog Trader Tiki, introduced himself to me.

I met several of the booze bloggers (and a hanger-on or two), and we made haste to have a drink at the Swizzle Stick Bar, before 4:30’s Booze Blogger Meet and Greet. I had a delicious Mai Tai:

Mai Tai, at the Swizzle Stick Bar

Then, it was back to the Monteleone, for the blogger meetup, sponsored by Cabana Cachaca, which served up two drinks–a Cabana Shrub, with raspberry shrub syrup, and a classic Caiphirina. I met a lot more bloggers there, and then we repaired to the next room, for a Sloe Gin cocktail tasting.

I went up to my room for a bit, to call Jen and rest. Our next stop was the Palace Cafe, for a Beefeater-sponsored reception, with good food and gin cocktails. I ate, drank, and mingled. Ran into Matt Rowley again, who introduced me to author and Esquire columnist David Wondrich, with whom I chatted briefly before Dale DeGroff distracted him. The Beefeater reception was crowded and loud, and the room was warm, so although I was enjoying the food and drink, I was too uncomfortable to stay.

I came back to the hotel and got a couple of Sazeracs at the Carousel Bar. I had apparently just missed Cameron and Anita, so I texted them and arranged to meet at the Carousel. We chatted a little while, but they needed to freshen up a bit, so we parted for half an hour and re-met in the lobby to go to the Daiquiri party at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar. I stayed there about an hour, and met Erik Ellestad and his wife, but I was beat, so I came back to the room.

I’m about to head downstairs for the Hemingway panel and the start of Day 2. Salud!

TotC: Tentative Schedule

Next week, as I’m sure you’re aware by now, is 2008’s Tales of the Cocktail. This will be my first time attending, and I’m pretty excited about it. And also more than a little scared of it–all the pounding my head and liver will take.

Regretfully, I have to tell you that Jen will not be joining me this year. She’s working a new job and doesn’t have ample vacation time amassed yet. We talked about having her fly down on Friday after work, but that’s a little grueling. She’d have to get up at 6am, work a full day in Boston, grab a flight from Logan to NOLA, and arrive probably no earlier than 10:30pm. So, alas, this ain’t the year. But 2009? Stay tuned.

So, I’ll be arriving Wednesday and flying back Sunday morning. Unfortunately, this means missing one of the most intriguing discussion of the week, Sunday morning’s look at the life and times of Gentleman Charles H. Baker, Jr. Gah! I don’t know what I was thinking when I made my flight arrangements, and I can’t change them now without incurring a huge penalty. Blast and damn.

For those of you who will be at the Baker panel, please write up a kickass blog post about it. Please? Baker really fascinates me, and I’m kinda pissed off at myself for my scheduling gaffe.

Onward. Instead of lamenting what I won’t get to do, lemme talk about what I will be doing instead.

Wednesday: I drop in at around 10:30am and will be getting the airport shuttle to the Monteleone, where I’ll be staying. I’ll probably grab a muffaletta or some gumbo and then hit Toast to Tales, the blogger reception, and the Beefeater-sponsored welcome reception that evening.

Thursday: I’ve got the Hemingway panel at 10:30 and then a dilemma at noon-thirty. Should I attend Juniperlooza or Molecular Mixology? 2:30 is Hausgemacht, followed by Artisan Still Design at 4:30. I have nothing from 6 until 8, so I’ll probably explore the city a bit, or just drink at the Carousel Bar. At 8 are the Spirited Dinners, and although I had a tough time deciding, I finally chose the dinner at Bourbon House, in part because of the bar chef, LeNell Smothers, whom Jen and I know from shopping at her store.

Friday: Another busy day. It begins with the Jerry Thomas panel, slides into the absinthe discussion, louches along to the history of the bar trade talk (which I might skip in favor of more exploration–we’ll see), and finally dribbles out into Essential Guide to American Whiskey. This latter panel conflicts with one on rye, and it still baffles me that two American whiskey panels were programmed opposite each other. But Essential Guide is hosted by Gary Regan and the aforementioned LeNell, and if you’ve never seen those two together, you’re in for a hootenanny. Gary did an event at LeNell’s a few years back that Jen and I attended, and it was great fun.

Saturday: Beachbum Berry’s tiki panel leads the morning, assuming I’m not in my undies in my room, watching cartoons and holding a gun or an ice pack to my head. I may do the Herbsaint panel at 12:30, or I might wander through town. I remember some charming shops on Magazine Street, from a pre-Katrina visit in 2002. I’d love to know whether they’re still open. At 2:30 is Cracking the Egg, hosted by Eric Seed and that LeNell woman again, and if she hasn’t gotten a restraining order by then, I’ll probably be there. At 4:30 is the Roll Yer Own talk, and I’m eager to see whether Paul and Erik are going to poison us.

Sunday: Plane leaves at 8:45am. I just know I’m going to deeply and bitterly regret this.

Raspberry-Thyme Smash

I don’t talk about this here, since this ain’t the right venue for it, but my first geek love, long before I ever enjoyed bourbon or gin, is the comics. Not the stand-up sort (although I love them, too–don’t get me started on NYC’s Moonwork, or I’d-be-here-all-week-try-the-veal), but the printed type. Peanuts, Bloom County, New Yorker gags, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, Jules Feiffer, Little Annie Fanny, the beat goes on.

This is all to say I really dig on what Doc Bamboo‘s been up to. I can barely even post once a month, let alone draw a crazy-lovely picture with each post. I know from cartoonists, and I think Craig’s a damn good cartoonist. And on top of it all, he makes a good drink.

Which finally gets to the point of this post: the Raspberry-Thyme Smash. Craig and Mrs. Bitters both read Bon Appetit, and the Raspberry-Thyme Smash caught their eyes. Craig’s already posted it, with a great cartoon, a funny story about a muddler, and the recipe for the drink.

Jen and I are lucky. When we moved to Providence, we landed in a place with raspberry bushes in our patio. And we’re growing thyme for cooking purposes, so the Raspberry-Thyme Smash was a natural. After all, we always have gin around.

So, without boring you any longer, our version of the Raspberry-Thyme Smash:

Raspberry Thyme Smash

Hausgemacht, part 3

And now, the end of my Leviathan conversation with Mike McCaw, Matthew Rowley, and Ian Smiley. Part 1 is available here, and Part 2 can be found here. I had a great time talking to these guys, and I expect the Hausgemacht panel to be engaging and informative.

Michael Dietsch: Now, Mike and Ian, do you find that home brewing and home winemaking is sort of a gateway drug for home distilling? Do people start off as brewers and winemakers and then become distillers?

Ian Smiley: Yes, I find a lot of my customers are that. Now, my book Making Pure Corn Whiskey is focused on making whiskey and vodka and other flavored spirits, so a lot of people who have been making what they call artisan beers, or making excellent product all-grain beers, or making excellent wines now want to move into distilling. They’re looking to do it properly, and they’re looking to do it for high quality, that this is often a segue that has come from the brewing and winemaking. In a manner of speaking, that’s how I started myself.

I do find, in answer to one of the questions you asked Mike earlier, is I see a lot of customers who really don’t feel too hands on with making the equipment, they don’t want to experiment with it, they don’t want to go through the phases of having equipment that doesn’t work very well, they often want to just buy, get it made, get it perfected right from the outset, and move forward like that so they can produce the excellent product because they are pursuing excellence.

So, in summary, to answer your question, yes in my business, I do have a lot of customers that come through the brewing and winemaking venue.

Mike McCaw: I’d say that it’s probably more than half. Where I especially see, though, people with no experience is people that are wanting to get in to the business end of distilling. So we get a lot of contacts from people saying they’d like to buy a PDA-2 and they want to set up a microdistillery because they’ve run the numbers on the back of an envelope and it looks like a hugely profitable business to be in. But they’ve got zero brewing or distilling experience. So those are actually my biggest challenge.

Dietsch: How does that wind up working out for them? Do they get started and then realize they’re in over their heads?

McCaw: No, what I usually do is gently dissuade them. What I do is I send them a big questionnaire to fill out, trying to make them think about the scale of what they’re proposing to do and frequently they haven’t thought at all about the whole front end.

If you’re going to be producing, say, 20 cases of vodka a day, you need to be fermenting several hundred gallons of grain-based or grape-based or sugar-based wash to process into that every day. And just the scale of the operation is much bigger and much more intense labor than they’ve usually thought and a large number of them simply drop out when they realize that. But much better to cull at the front end than have them spend several thousand dollars on equipment and then discover they can’t handle it.

Dietsch: That might be why a number of professional brewers, like Fritz Maytag, start a brewery and then a distillery—because he already has experience running equipment and working at that scale. They don’t have that naïve expectation that they can just start this without any sort of experience.

McCaw: Right. There’s one other aspect, at least in the States, which is that onerous process of getting a license. I’ve worked with people that I’ve sold the equipment to, for their fully legal microdistilleries, and it did in fact take them two and a half years to get all their licensing in order. But if you already hold a Federal license, as a winery or brewery, they already know you, they don’t have to redo the background checks, and you can get the additional stamp on your license to distill usually in a matter of a few months.

Smiley: I can add to this. I’m a member of the American Distilling Institute, and I go to their conference each year, and I have a lot of give and take with them. More than 50 percent of the membership are actual start-up, small microdistilleries, and one of the things that’s become quite fashionable among them is to contract a microbrewer or a small or medium-sized brewery to make the wash for them. For example, there was Stranahan’s in Colorado who makes an American straight malt whiskey; they’ve got a brewery making their mash for them. I think they’re now starting to make their own, but one good way to get started is to contact a professional brewer to make your wash.

McCay: Sure, that reduces your capital costs a lot, too.

Matt Rowley: I see Charbay has been doing that in California. Although they’re charging $250 a bottle for their whiskey, which is a bit steep.

Dietsch: Now, Matt, to pull you back into this for a moment, you’re not manufacturing stills or that kind of thing, but how did you get interested in this?

Rowley: I was kind of tickled, listening to Mike and Ian talk, because we’ve never really talked about how we got started. Beer, for me, was the gateway beverage, again. I was in college, I was about 19 years old when I started making my own beers. I also liked big, heavy things—y’know, I did Irish reds, I did stouts. Back in the day, Coke still came in 16-oz. glass bottles, so I had my bathtub filled with bleach and water and Coke bottles. Then I got to really liking this a lot.

I was at a Derby Day party when I was maybe 20 or 21 and had some applejack made by the host of the party. No, not made by him, but by his family, who he claimed had been apple-cookin’ for ten generations or so, and it was fantastic. I had had some really bad moonshine before and been around stuff that from the smell of it I didn’t want to try, but this stuff was great.

So I started looking into it a little bit more. And this was 1990, 1989, something like that. There really wasn’t a whole lot of reliable information out there. Like Ian said, you could look in encyclopedias, and I remember the Foxfire book, the first one, from when I was a kid.

But the first thing I got that was specifically about moonshining was a guy giving directions, and his still was, well, you take two pressure cookers and you cut the top off one and the bottom off the other and you arc-weld them together and that point, I went, “No. No, I’m not going to be that guy. I’m going to kill myself if I do that. Or blow up the house.”

So I became interested in it more from an academic and historian point of view. I trained as an anthropologist and have been a museum curator, so my angle has been, sort of the stories about the people who are making it and why they’re doing it and sort of seeing how it differs primarily within the United States, but by extension you’re taking that back to, okay, why is the tenor of distilling and distillers different in Appalachia than it is in Washington State. Those are the sorts of answers that I like to find out about—why people are doing what they’re doing.

Camper English, from the San Francisco Chronicle, was doing an article last summer, and he asked me if I could put him in touch with some of the distillers I knew in San Francisco, and the guys I knew didn’t really want to talk to him. So I said, okay, here’s sort of my trick to finding distillers is to talk to craft brewers. Or go to bars where the bartenders are really known for doing exceptional cocktails. Because especially among the craft brewers, without exception, they either are distilling themselves or they know someone who is.

And that really is the clear pattern to me is to see that Ian and Mike both started with beer, I started with beer. It seems like beer just leads you to think in the direction of whiskey. Especially if you’re thinking about putting out a really quality product, and you think, “Okay, I’m happy with my beers, I’ve done some great stuff, and re-created old styles, I’ve got the Belgian beers down pat. What can I do with turning this into a whiskey?”

McCaw: It’s the new frontier, yeah.

Rowley: That’s one of the reasons that, because my own personal interest is more of a sort of anthropologist/historian take on this, as a distiller as well, when Ann [Tuennerman] originally asked me to do a presentation, I was really happy to do that, but I thought, I’m not the only voice out there in distilling, and it would be disingenuous to pretend that I am, so that’s why I reached out and asked Mike and Ian if they’d be interested too, because I thought, between the three of us we can probably give a pretty balanced view of what the scene is like out there today.

Hausgemacht takes place Thursday, July 17, from 4:30 to 6:00 pm at the Hotel Monteleone. Tickets may be purchased here.