Monthly Archives: April 2012

Meanwhile, on Kickstarter …

Swizzle sticks are interesting devices. I don’t mean the plastic straw-like things that we know today as swizzle sticks. I mean true wooden swizzle sticks.

Originally made from slender tree branches, they’re meant as stirring tools for a type of cocktail called a “swizzle.” The swizzle is a tall drink, made of rum, lime juice, crushed ice, and sugar. In a way, it’s similar to a mint julep. The stick is a long-handled device with four or five “spokes” radiating out from the end in a star-like pattern.

Plunge the swizzler into the glass, all the way to the bottom. Take the stick between your palms and spin it. The spokes will spin around in the bottom of the glass and get the ice moving. Then you move the stick up and down in the drink, you’ll see the glass frost over.

The problem of the swizzle stick is not an easy one to solve.

Swizzle sticks are unique in cocktail ephemera, and they’re very hard to find; you normally have to import them from the West Indies, or have a friend bring some back. They’re natural products, so they vary a lot from stick to stick. Further, for working bartenders, true swizzle sticks can be a pain. They’re delicate and break easily, which means they need to be replaced often. And then you’re stuck, again, trying to ship some in from Martinique.

Two guys in the Boston area think they have a solution. One of these guys is Adam Lantheaume, friend to A Dash of Bitters and proprietor of The Boston Shaker, the awesome barware store in Somerville, Mass. He’s teamed up with a product designer, Brian Johnson, to develop and test a plastic swizzle stick, one that looks and works just like the wooden model but lacks its drawbacks.

The only thing is, the plastic model is a complex piece of product design, and it requires a special steel mold — one that’s expensive to produce. So Adam and Brian have turned to Kickstarter to fund the production of the mold. Further, to launch a product like this, they need to meet minimum order quantities, and the Kickstarter campaign will fund those, too.

So check it out. Like all things Kickstarter, there are fun premiums if the project is fully funded.

Incidentally, what Adam and Brian are doing here is surprisingly normal in the cocktail world. If a bartender needs a tool or ingredient that she can’t find, there’s nothing stopping her from just making it for herself or adapting another item to the task. Bartenders used to make their own liqueurs and tools all the time, so this DIY approach is right on target.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Denizen Rum

The PR powers recently saw fit to send me a bottle of Denizen Rum, a relatively new product that’s available in New York and via online merchants such as DrinkUpNY.com and Astor Wines.

Denizen is a white rum, but if you’re expecting it to be bland and lackluster as a result, you might be surprised. Denizen is a rum with character and body. The promotional literature tells me that Denizen starts with rum from the Angostura distillery in Trinidad. That rum is charcoal-filtered to remove the color, leaving a clear rum. The blenders then add trace amounts of 15 types of aged Jamaican rum (which I assume is also filtered).

The resulting spirit is richly bodied, with aromas and flavors of tropical fruits and flowers, and the grassy, vegetal notes of fresh sugar cane. Funky enough to be sipped on ice, Denizen also mixes well. I put it up to the daiquiri test and absolutely loved it.

Denizen retails for about $15.99 for a 750ml bottle, and at that price, I want to keep it constantly stocked on my home bar.

Blog Move

The time has come for a few changes to the blog. For years, I’ve paid a web host to host ADOB and the never-updated michaeldietsch.com on my behalf. With a baby in the house, and what appears to be an intercity move pending, I just can’t justify the monthly expense.

I recently moved Mrs. Bitters’s various blogs over to WordPress.com, and those moves were successful. In a nutshell, WP.com is hosting the blogs for free. For 12 bucks a year per blog, WP is now providing name server wonkery for each blogs — in other words, Last Night’s Dinner lives at lastnightsdinner.net, where it always has, rather than at foo.wordpress.com.

So, that’s what I’ll be doing, paying WP $12 a year instead of another host $25 a month. Unlike LND, which is now largely a legacy site, I do plan to keep updating this blog, so I may drop a few extra shillings on some of the custom-design options that WP offers.

What this means is a redesign. About time… This current design dates to 2008. It also means some shuffling of content, a wider post area (so those damn ads can display in a larger format, for example), and maybe even some new types of material. I do hope to post more frequently, but I’ve made that promise before.

I’ll be working on it on and off, whenever the baby lets me. So I have no timeframe on the relaunch, unfortunately, but I hope to move things by the end of April, so I don’t pay another month’s hosting costs.

Ads of the Week: Four Roses

Something a little different, as I resurrect this feature. Instead of grouping ads by theme or product, as I have in the past, I’m just going to start moving chronologically through LIFE magazine, starting with the first issue in 1936, and moving forward. Now, at this rate, I’ll have enough ad content to keep this feature going for the next 50 years, so I’m probably going to rethink this feature again at some point. But for now, I just want to get going again, and this is the easiest way. So, first up, some Four Roses ads.

The first ad up is from the November 23, 1936, issue, the first issue published of LIFE.

4roses-full

Detail (click the image to view it in a legible size):

4roses-detail

And a Christmas ad, from the December 21 issue, from the same year:

4roses-full

Detail (click the image to view it in a legible size):

4roses-1

The sizes on these early ads will be inconsistent from ad to ad. I snipped all of these a couple of years ago, and I hadn’t yet set on a consistent procedure for snipping and sizing the ads. Apologies.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Bastille 1789 French Whisky

I recently received a sample bottle of a new French whisky, Bastille 1789, from the Cognac region of France.

First thing I want to note is the producer’s preferred spelling: whisky. If you note there’s no e, that might give you a clue as to the style of whisky on offer. Bastille offers a blended whisky in a Scotch style. The whisky’s made of malted barley and wheat, and distilled in alembic pot stills; what sets it apart from blended Scotch is that Bastille is aged in Limousin oak, cherry, and acacia casks.

The color is light, in keeping with most blends. The flavor is malty, fruity, spicy, and lightly sweet; what I really enjoyed about it were the unique flavors from the cask. Body is medium.

Overall, I found Bastille pleasant to sip on its own at the end of a long day, caring for my son. My favorite cocktail use of whiskey these days is in Old Fashioneds, and there I don’t think I’d care for the Bastille. It’s a little too light to hold up to the hefty amount of bitters I like in an Old Fashioned, and it’s sweet enough on its own that it doesn’t need sugaring. Likewise, although the promotional literature recommended mixing it into a Manhattan, I can’t see it playing well with sweet vermouth. But I speak as a guy who prefers rye whiskey and rye-forward bourbons, to softer, wheatier whiskeys, so my prejudices may be showing.

If you, your friends, or your customers prefer softer tipples, you may be pleased with how it works in cocktails. For myself, I quite enjoyed just sipping it on ice, and also neat. As a sipping whisky, it may well find a steady home on my bar, for days I want something lighter than rye.

Bastille 1789 is currently available in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. It launches nationally in May. Suggested retail price is $29.99. 40% alcohol by volume.