Category Archives: Cocktail happenings

Kickstarter Watch: Neat Ice Kit

Here’s a … neat idea: the Neat Ice Kit, by a couple of guys out of New York City. For those who care about the clarity of ice they use in cocktails, here’s a way to make perfectly clear ice at home, without wasting any of the cloudy stuff.

See, ice normally freezes from the outside in, which forces gas into the center of the ice. That gas clouds up as it freezes. There’s not normally any way around this, unless you insulate the ice tray in some fashion. (Camper English has done A LOT on this topic, if you want to know more.)

What this kit does is insulate the sides and bottom of a brick-shaped ice mold. The ice freezes top down, forcing the gasses to the bottom, where they freeze cloudy. The top freezes clear. So you lop off the top, use it for cocktail presentation, and use the cloudy bottom for crushed ice or for shaking drinks or whatever.

(Don’t touch my cloudy bottom, though. Mrs. Bitters will have words.)

The kit, if the Kickstarter pans out, will include the mold, an ice chisel, a mallet/muddler, and a bag in which to hammer ice into crushed form.

I’m not normally all that bothered by cloudy ice at home, but even I think this is a nifty project.

By the way, these guys have a track record of successful Kickstarter products, if that matters to you. The Glif iPhone holder/tripod looks really cool to me.

MCC: Where to find me

Oh yeah, there’s a blog here.

Anyway, I’ll be at Manhattan Cocktail Classic this weekend, and an ancillary event or two. I’m not going out for everything possible because I have a kid and a pregnant wife and not a lot of money for childcare and ticketed events. As it is, Jen’s taking off Tuesday afternoon so I can do the Expo, which means I’m skipping Monday’s events and hopefully submitting a writeup of the weekend to Serious Eats.

Schedule

Tonight, 6pm – 10pmSpeed Rack Finals, Element Nightclub, 225 E. Houston.

Tomorrow, 9pm – 1am, MCC Gala, NYPL.

Saturday, 11:00am – 7:30pm, Industry Invitational, Andaz Hotel, 485 5th Ave

Sunday, 11:00am – 7:30pm, Industry Invitational, Andaz Hotel, 485 5th Ave

Tuesday, 3:30 – 5:00, Indie Spirits Expo, Penn Club, 30 W. 44th St.

Grand Centennial

Friday, Grand Central Terminal marks its 100th-anniversary with a grand celebration, and with that fête comes a bit of cocktail news.

First, some of the station’s vendors are offering 1913 pricing on some items. For example, a nickel will buy you a shoe shine, or six pennies will earn you a loaf of rye bread. But Michael Jordan’s Steak House in the main concourse is offering a 75¢ Adirondack cocktail, from its transit-themed cocktail menu.

Meanwhile, DNAinfo reports that for the 2013 price of $15, The Campbell Apartment offers a glass of Centennial Punch, a mix of papaya, pomegranate and lemon juices, plus Hendrick’s Gin, Sandeman Founder’s Reserve port, and champagne.

I’ll probably be at GCT tomorrow to enjoy some of the festivities, but I’ll have a baby strapped to my chest, so I don’t think I’ll partake in a libation.

Appleton Remixology

I don’t really know what’s up with these faux holidays. Today, for example, is National Rum Day. I have no idea why, who declared it such, or why we don’t have a day off work for it, but such it is.

One night last week, I found myself at Sons of Essex bar, on Essex Street on the Lower East Side. The event was Appleton Estate’s Remixology competition, meant to coincide with Jamaican Independence Day. The concept was simple: five bartenders were invited to choose a song they really liked and devise a cocktail to accompany the song.

Sons of Essex had bartending stations set up around the bar, with the five cocktails in various forms of premix. (So, for example, a cocktail might be premixed up to the point at which the bartender would top it with something that needed to be fresh, such as champagne or ginger beer.)

The winner was a cocktail I found a little odd, a blend of Appleton Estate, lime juice, falernum, and black bean soup.

Yes. Bean soup. Probably one of the strangest ingredients I’ve had in a cocktail.

It didn’t have the texture of bean soup, so I have to assume it was pureed or strained. I generally liked the flavor it added to the drink, I have to say. I just thought it skewed the drink farther into savory territory than I normally like in a cocktail.

(Although I have to say, that alone made it a pleasant surprise; some of the drinks that night were far too sweet for my tastes.)

The winner was Lubens Besse from Mister H and Imperial No 9 in the Mondrian Soho. He moves on to a finals round on September 10, versus winning bartenders from similar events in San Francisco, Boston, and Miami.

Ads of the Week: Beeeeeeer

I meant to post this just prior to Mother’s Day, but you know how life can be…

The New-York Historical Society Museum and Library is hosting an exhibition on the history of brewing in New York. Prior to Prohibition, NY had a thriving brewing industry, with vast plants in Brooklyn (we lived down the street from a former brewery site in Bushwick), Queens, and even Manhattan.

The museum’s Tumblr is posting images from the exhibit, including some great old advertisements. For more on the exhibit, here’s a piece from the WSJ.

The exhibit opens today, May 25, and runs through September 2.

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.

Tales 2011

This week marks the beginning of Tales of the Cocktail. In its ninth year, Tales opens on Wednesday with a set of professional seminars, and then on Thursday, seminars for the general public begin.

I would like to be blogging excitedly right now about the events I’ll be attending and covering, but I will not be at Tales this year. Let me flash back a year and give a little context that might help explain why. Last year, I was at Tales, and I had a great week, even presenting a seminar for the first time.

Strangely, though, as hot as it was in New Orleans last year, it was even hotter in Providence and I left my poor wife at home to suffer while I caroused, ate way too much, took a few too many spins at the Carousel Bar, and made much merry.

This year looks like much and more of the same kind of weather. Right now, for example, it’s 86º in Providence, and 77º in New Orleans. (And raining. Ha!) Tracking the forecast over the next few days shows a roughly equivalent level of misery in New Orleans and Providence. 87º, 93º, 92º, 87º, 88º. Those temperatures appear on both five-day forecasts, the only difference being the order in which they’ll befall each city.

The biggest difference this year, of course, is that we’re expecting a baby.

I had to make a decision in the first part of the year about whether to attend Tales, and this thought — that Providence might well be as steamy as NOLA — was at the front of my mind. Jen’s pregnancy is proceeding very well, luckily. She and the baby are both doing great. But we couldn’t have assumed that, five or six months ago, when I would have been applying for a media pass and making travel and hotel arrangements.

Third trimester, 90º+ weather. Sounds like hell.

When I’m at Tales, I’m not always easy to find. Sure, I carry my cell around everywhere, but my AT&T reception in NOLA is sketchy. There are areas within the Hotel Monteleone where I get no reception at all. Events during Tales take me to various venues in the city — and those are the official events. Because these events feature alcohol, they’re sometimes loud and crowded–not great places to take an emergency phone call. And in addition to the official events, I often decide on a whim to have lunch at Coops, take dinner at Lüke, or enjoy a cigar and a cocktail at the French 75 Bar.

With the forecast as it is, and with Jen having a ninety-minute commute in each direction, my choice wasn’t a difficult one to make.

The chances that Jen might need me to be suddenly be at her side during the next five or six days are pretty low, and thank whatever deity you worship for that. But if she did need me and couldn’t find me, I would feel like the world’s biggest asshole.

I’ll miss Tales this year, and I’ll especially miss catching up with friends. But there’s more than Big Fun at stake. Those who’ve never been might think it’s just a giant party, but the opportunities to actually learn a few things, meet influential and important people in the industry, and get your name and face in front of people who matter — those are immeasurable advantages of being in New Orleans in mid July every year. Jen feels bad that I’m missing it this year, and this post might well make her feel a little worse, but my regrets are few.

I’ll mix a Sazerac tomorrow or Wednesday, lift it in the general direction of New Orleans, and start scheming for 2012. After all, that’ll be TotC’s 10th anniversary, and I’m sure it’s going to smoke.

Sazeracphoto © Jennifer Hess. All rights reserved.

And we’ll be a little more careful and try not to make Baby #2 between now and then.