Monthly Archives: November 2009

Raising a glass in thanks

With Thanksgiving approaching, it’s time to plan for festive cocktailing! Mrs. Bitters has already started prepping our locavore Thanksgiving (there’s a story behind it being locavore, but you’ll have to wait for it), so now’s the time for me to plan my approach. I haven’t quite figured it all out yet. I know I want to get some Calvados and make a batch of sage simple syrup, so that I can mix up the Apple Sage Old Fashioned I created for the autumn issue of Edible Rhody (still on the stands, so if you’re local, grab a copy–it’s the one with the cranberry bog on front).

For my second drink, I’m still working my brain on it. In Friday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, Malt Adovocate editor John Hansell edited a small advertising supplement on whiskeys. Included was a piece on cocktails by Gary Regan, or gaz regan as he apparently prefers to be called these days. Old gaz included four cocktails in the piece, one of which I think I’ll adapt for Thanksgiving. Here’s the gaz version:

Babbling Brook

  • 1-1/2 oz. scotch
  • 3/4 oz. B&B liqueur
  • 1/4 oz. absinthe
  • 1 lemon twist, for garnish

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.

As gaz discusses in his piece, scotch marries well with anise flavors, and we definitely found that to be the case here.

Earlier this year, I picked up a bunch of anise hyssop from a local herbalist. Back then, I used it in a variation of the New Orleans classic cocktail, the Vieux Carre. On Saturday, when we were at the market, we stopped by the Farmacy table to pick up some local honey for Thanksgiving baking. They happened to have as well some small jars of honey infused with the anise hyssop. I immediately started thinking about cocktail applications and eagerly bought a jar. I might do a variation on the Babbling Brook. Or, I might do a scotch Sazerac instead, with a syrup made from the hyssop honey. I don’t think I’ll go wrong either way.

How about you? What Thanksgiving-themed drinks are you planning to mix this year? Do you have special Thanksgiving snacks that pair well with cocktails? Sound off in the comments!

Bacardi viral ads

Last week, I was catching up on my RSS feeds, when I saw a post by Helmut Adam, of the German magazine Mixology, about a series of viral ads the Bacardi company is running. The series begins with an ad called “The Samurai” (running time: 1m:59s). A man enters a Japanese bar, while a voiceover tells us, “There’s only one bartender in the world that I’d have mix me this drink. He’s so in tune with his surroundings, he knows your drink before you do.” The man approaches the bartender, who bows slightly and says only, “Daiquiri?” The man nods.

Now, watch the video and pay attention to the bartender’s tools and his technique. Both are, from what I’ve recently learned, common among the best Japanese bartenders. But just watch. We’ll talk more when you’re done:

[or click, to watch it in large HD video]

Look at those beautiful bar tools! The beaker-shaped mixing glass, the tall jigger, the spoon with the fork at the end. Lovely. (And by the way, you can buy this stuff at my friend Greg Boehm’s website, Cocktail Kingdom.) Watch how gracefully but precisely he mixes the drink. Lovely. That’s just the kind of bartender I could watch all day. And yet, he’s an actor, trained by bartender Marian Beke of London.

London, by the way, is the source of this ad, which was created by a marketing firm called Think Espionage. And if you’ve fully read Helmut’s blog post by now, you’ll know there are two more of these videos on the way. Now, I enjoyed the first enough that when I read that, I was intrigued and wanted to see them all. To my surprise, the very next day, I received a nice e-mail from a Think Espionage employee named Liana Wilson-Fricker. She described the purpose of these videos and offered to send me links and passwords to watch the next two. Liana told me the same thing she wrote to Helmut:

To give it a bit of context, they aren’t ads but pieces of film content aimed at and created for the world’s top bartenders. It’s about celebrating the unique skills that each bartender at the top of the game possess.

Now that I’ve seen the other videos, I don’t think Liana’s bullshitting me. I mean, obviously, the videos are about promoting the Bacardi brand, front and center. But once you accept that, it’s easy to see that Bacardi and Think Espionage chose to do so in a way that also highlights the skills of great bartenders. In video 2, “The Hummingbird” (1:48), the man enters a busy club. A bartender nods at him and without speaking, puts ice into a glass to chill. She slices and chunks fresh pineapple, straight from the fruit and drops that into a mixing tin with sugar. She muddles that and then (get the fuck out) hacks into a fresh coconut and pours its juice into the tin. (Helmut’s right; this just wouldn’t happen at a busy club, but it’s so damn cool to watch, I’m happy to suspend disbelief.) On goes rum, then ice. She shakes the drink and straw-tastes it before double-straining it into a chilled glass with a slice of pineapple. (Liana told Helmut that the actor was trained by Bacardi Global Ambassador David Cordoba.)

Video 3, “The Apothecary” (2:12) is set in a bar similar to PDT or Milk and Honey. As the camera pans the room, you see a shelf of vintage cocktail manuals. (I saw an old copy of the Savoy and the Esquire Handbook for Hosts, but I can’t place the rest. And one of the volumes isn’t even a cocktail manual, so I assume there’s other “filler” there.) Then you see jars of spices before the camera settles on a bartender grinding spices with a mortar and pestle. The man asks the bartender to surprise him, at which point the bartender brings out trays of fresh herbs. As he works, you see flashbacks of the bartender smelling herbs, tasting tinctures, and taking notes. He pulls down a jar of eucalyptus-infused sugar and then muddles it with mint and lemon verbena. Then ice, rum, and a splash of soda.

It’s only in this final video that you clearly see the Bacardi marque and logo. In the first two, you can make out that the bartenders are pouring from bottles of Bacardi, if you pay attention, and when The Samurai video hit the web, viewers figured out this was some sort of Bacardi viral even before Think Espionage confirmed it. That seems to be the hallmark of a successful campaign: you can figure out the source if you choose to. I think Bacardi and TE have succeeded in two ways here; one, they’re getting people talking about the brand. I don’t even normally like Bacardi, but here I am anyway. And that’s specifically because they chose to highlight good bartending and found a way to convey the skills and talents of good bartenders.

When the Hummingbird and Apothecary videos are publicly available, I’ll link out to them. They’re fun to watch.

Ad of the week: a four-for-all

Still tripping through the 1/35 ish of VF (click through for large):

Bollinger Dawson Robin Benedictine

It’s hard to see this here, but what these brands had in common then were their importer, who took out this ad. Julius Wile Sons & Company was a renowned name in wine importing. In 1995, the New York Times spoke with Julius Wile–not the one who founded the company, but his grandson who shared his name.

My so-called month of rum: Mai Tai

Boy, this has been the longest “month” ever. My month of trying new rums and rum cocktails began August 18, with a look at the excellent Royal Bermuda Yacht Club cocktail. I explored the Lytton Fizz and the Corn and Oil, and I tested a couple of El Presidente recipes. Along the way, I grew to love the following rums, some of which were new to me:

  • Mount Gay Extra Old
  • Mount Gay Eclipse
  • Cruzan Black Strap (and if you want to try something delicious, get yourself some homemade orgeat syrup, and blend that into an old-fashioned with Cruzan Black Strap and a dash or two of Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters)
  • Myers Platinum
  • Myers Dark
  • Both Tommy Bahama varieties (sent as samples and not used for any of these recipes)

I’ve even gone a bit mad and made my own damn orgeat syrup, using a variation of the method Rick Stutz wrote up here. I bloody-well love the stuff now. I want to mix it into everything; I want to eat it on my cereal or top a steak with it. I want to wash my mustache with it so I can smell it all day. I want to–oh, nevermind.

To go out on a high note, I decided to mix up the possibly most famous tiki drink in the world, the Mai Tai. Better writers than me have already detailed the history of this drink, and you can see an excerpt from one such writer’s work here.

I can’t even improve on Curtis’s recipe: one ounce of Jamaican rum, an ounce of Barbados, orange curacao, lime juice, and orgeat (although I decreased the amount of curacao), so what I will say is which rums I used. The first time around, a couple of weeks ago, I used Myers Dark and Appleton Estate, which of course are both Jamaican rums. Not sure why I went that way, but I did. Last night, however, I used Mount Gay Eclipse and Appleton Estate. It’s hard to say which I prefer: both are delicious.

And behold, the Mai Tai:

Mai Tai

photograph by Jennifer Hess

We have a winner!

Sam Harrigan and crew have chosen a winner and it’s Blair Frodelius of Good Spirits News! Blair, Sam will contact you directly to arrange shipping. Congratulations, Blair, and thanks to all who entered! (sorry if anything looks wonky on this post. I’m using the WP app for the iPhone, as I’m currently on an Amtrak train in Connecticut.)

Get smart! Get Bar Smart, that is!

Ah, bartender-training courses. Get a bunch of young people in a room, equip them with bottles of artificially colored water, and make them memorize such classics as the Sex on the Beach, the Fuzzy Nipple*, or the Where the Fuck Did I Park My Car?. Then, grade them on speed and teach them to juggle!

I think we’re ready for something more serious than that. Since 2006, though, the Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR) team has happily provided that. BAR’s intensive five-day program aims to match the rigor of a Master Sommelier program. The brains behind it are Dale DeGroff, Doug Frost, Steven Olson, F. Paul Pacult, Andy Seymour, and David Wondrich, each of whom has many years of experience in the spirits industry. I like to say this is like taking a cooking course from Thomas Keller, Alice Waters, and Dan Barber–the BAR guys are that well regarded in the spirits world.

Conducted once yearly in New York City, the BAR program runs you through the whole of cocktail artistry:

  • How spirits are distilled
  • Spirit categories (gin, vodka, tequila, rum, whisk(e)y, etc.)–how they’re distilled, aged, filtered, and so on
  • History of mixology
  • Classic cocktails

This program is so rigorous, from what I understand, that when it’s time for a blind tasting, it’s not enough to say, yeah, this is an aged cognac. No, you need to identify it by brand. If you can’t tell your Remy Martin VSOP from your Hine Antique XO, well, sorry chum. Or as Richard Dawson would have said, “XXX.”

Did I mention the price of the BAR program? $3,500.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is a great program, and some of the country’s best bartenders have graduated from it. I would start to name names here, but I know some of these people personally, and I don’t want to leave anyone out. But it’s not for everyone, and the BAR team knew that. In partnership with Pernod Ricard, then, they came up with BarSmarts, a study-at-home program. You start by studying the supplied materials, laid out in four modules. At the end of each module, there’s a quiz you need to pass before proceeding.

BarSmarts is available in two expressions, Advanced and Wired. The differences between these are small but worth mentioning.

Advanced is open only by invitation. With a special invitation code, you can lock in a spot by registering online. Wired, on the other hand, is open to all comers. Advanced costs $65; Wired, $45. Advanced gets you a printed workbook, a set of instructional DVDs, and a bar kit with tools selected by DeGroff. Wired gets you those same bar tools, but (and this is the crucial difference) everything’s done online. You study online, you watch the videos online, and using a special interface, you even “mix” drinks online. (I haven’t completed Wired, so I don’t know exactly how this works.)

The other major difference between Advanced and Wired is that the former concludes with a feature called BarSmarts Live. You gather together with the others who completed the course for a day with the BAR founders. The day starts with a morning of further instruction and discussion. After breaking for lunch, it’s exam time–both written and practical. The written exam includes 100 multiple-choice or true/false questions, taken from the material covered in the workbook.

The practical exam includes a blind tasting in which you identify a spirit. (For example, you might have four glasses of brown spirit, and you’d have to say which is aged rum, which is bourbon, which is scotch, and which is cognac.) Finally, one of the BAR guys will approach each student and ask for three specific drinks, chosen from a list DeGroff assembled of 25 drinks every bartender should know.

Lest you think Wired is any less rigorous for lacking the live exams, another difference between Advanced and Wired is in the quizzes I mentioned earlier. In Advanced, the quizzes are 10 questions each, and you need to answer 8 correctly before you can advance to the next module. In Wired, though, there are 25 questions per quiz, and you need to get 20 of them right before you can move on.

The Live event has already happened twice this fall, in LA and SF last month. This Tuesday (11/3), it runs in New York, and then next month, it’ll happen in Vegas. I’m excited because I’ll be attending the New York event. I leave for the city tomorrow morning and return Wednesday afternoon.

BarSmarts Wired is not currently available, but it’ll be offered again starting February 1, 2010. After registering, you’ll have 30 days in which to complete the course.

*I thought I was making that up. Woe is me, but I was wrong.