Wow, the blog’s been dead dead dead since October. I think that’s the longest fallow period I’ve ever had here. Back to life soon, I promise.
I have never had the honor of meeting Murray Stenson, the legendary Seattle bartender. I’ve, unfortunately, never been to Seattle. But I can say with all certainty that Murray’s long years behind the stick have influenced every word I’ve written on the topic of spirits and cocktails. You see, I’ve been blogging here since 2006, and writing professionally on this subject since 2009.
Stenson’s influence has been mostly indirect, unfortunately, but it’s certainly here. When I sat at Milk & Honey, in the company of several bartenders and a founder of Martin Miller’s gin, and we tasted a Last Word, Murray Stenson was there with us in a way of speaking. He didn’t create the drink, but he rescued it from oblivion and put it on the menu at Zig Zag. Just a few years later, I sat on the opposite coast and mixed one up myself.
When I wrote extensively about the Diamondback Cocktail, I mentioned its heritage and the fact that it, too, was resurrected and promoted by Mr. Stenson. So here are two excellent drinks that Murray forced out of retirement to trick them out for his guests.
But there’s more to a bartender than technique and recipe, and what truly sets Murray apart is his emphasis on hospitality, remembering his guests (and their previous drink orders) on return visits, and his willingness to share the love of his craft with his guests, with other bartenders, and with writers such as Paul Clarke and Chuck Taggart. The man has a true generosity of spirit, coupled with an open and transparent approach to his work.
But Murray needs some help; he’s got a heart condition that prevents him from working presently, and he’ll need an operation to correct it before he can return to his job. Bartending is a demanding job, physically and emotionally. Not only is bartending a tremendously laborious job, but it requires you to be “on” constantly. A night behind the stick can wreck even a young person, and Murray’s been at this for many years.
Bartending is not normally a job that carries health benefits, and Murray’s among the group without them, so the care he needs is not going to come cheap.
Some of his friends have set up a page where they’re asking for donations. They also have a Facebook page where they’re providing updates on his condition and their fundraising efforts. Do what you can to help, please. Finally, Paul Clarke has more information on Murray’s work and career on his site.
Paul could probably use some help of his own, frankly. Last night, Rachel Maddow tweeted this:
Cocktail enthusiasts rally for one of the greats: is.gd/PXjDZP Someday we won’t have to do this – everyone will be covered
— Rachel Maddow MSNBC (@maddow) October 23, 2012
Paul wound up with thousands of visits to his site in just a 20-minute period. I hope his web hosting was up to the traffic. But if you see Paul around, online or in person, offer him a drink.
Lifestyles of the 1%.
Prince Alexis Obolensky was a real guy, and a colorful figure at that. His family fled the Bolsheviks and traveled through Europe and, apparently, the United States. Incidentally, the prince would have been about to turn 18 when this ad ran, so he came upon his sophisticated after-dinner beverages as a youngster. He died fairly recently, in 2006.
[Life; October 18, 1937]
Here’s one you cocktail geeks mighta missed.
I haven’t been watching this season of the HBO show Treme because we didn’t pick up HBO when we moved to Brooklyn. Apparently, though, the 3rd season has featured a couple of bars that should be familiar to anyone who’s been to Tales of the Cocktail or otherwise sought out good drinking in New Orleans — namely the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone, and the French 75 Bar at Arnaud’s.
But you don’t need to subscribe to HBO to learn more. The excellent blog “Inside Treme“ is an official HBO production, written by Lolis Eric Elie, who’s a lifelong New Orleanian, journalist, and story editor for Treme. Elie features the Carousel and the French 75 in a couple of his posts. Both are worth a read, even if you don’t watch the show:
Will Elie delve any deeper into the world of cocktail blogging? For his sake, I certainly hope not, but you might check back to “Inside Treme” from time to time to be sure.
From Food Republic comes this rundown of cool and interesting beer-can designs. I was never a can collector; my next-door neighbor was, when I was a kid, and he was a fat, sweaty, loud-mouthed bully, so y’know, fuck those guys. But nevertheless, when I go through the vintage ads, I always see the flat-top steel cans and think, damn, those look kinda cool.
So one can in the FR lineup in particular stands out:
Churchkey has a website, so head on over to read more.
I got a funny sort of PR email today. A country artist I’ve never heard of, Kelleigh Bannen, has a new song out, and to promote it, she did a video in which she makes a Manhattan.
Ordinarily, I’d let this sort of thing pass me right by, or if I were mildly interested, I’d watch the video and then forget about it entirely. A couple of reasons I’m not doing that now. Watch the video; it’s under three minutes. I think you’ll see the first notable thing right away.
Tell me you weren’t surprised by the whiskey. Oh, and she chose rye, which sadly is notable in itself. The cherries aren’t a bad call, either. Technique? Y’know what, I don’t sweat shaking vs. stirring when it comes to mixing a drink at home. The primary reason to stir a Manhattan is to maintain clarity in the drink when you serve it. Shaking agitates the cocktail and makes it hazy looking. Aesthetics matter in cocktail making, but they’re not always crucial. Serving it on the rocks? Well, first, it’s the giant Tovolo tray, so there’s that. Second, here’s my shameful secret: I prefer Manhattans on a giant rock like that.
My only real quibble is why she’s so adamant that the bitters go on at the end.