Category Archives: Cocktail happenings

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Originally made from slender tree branches, they’re meant as stirring tools for a type of cocktail called a “swizzle.”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.

He Lives!

How sad. I log in to my blog’s dashboard so infrequently these days that it doesn’t even remember who I am anymore. But! That doesn’t mean nothing’s going on. Oh, there’s plenty going on.

Happy Anniversary, Baby

I completely missed the fact that A Dash of Bitters turned five last month. I normally spend some time at my blogiversary looking back at the previous year and forward to the year ahead. But oh man, the last year was one of some major churn. I seem to recall that I was, albeit briefly, actually behind the stick in 2010, working my ass off, climbing a steep learning curve, and generally having a great time, and I’m still just like wha? That happened?

More exciting was the presentation I led at Tales of the Cocktail, which now seems like a million years ago, on the topic of introducing basic mixology to rookies. I was pleased to have one of the foremost experts on the subject at my side that day, Robert “Drinkboy” Hess, along with Adam Lantheaume, proprietor of the Boston Shaker, a wonderful Massachusetts shop that sells drink paraphernalia and teaches cocktail classes for newbies.

What I never expected was that the Cocktail 101 idea would become a thing that I write about every week, but thanks to my editor, Maggie Hoffman, and the other fine folks at Serious Eats and Serious Drinks, that’s just what’s happened.

But now for the looking-forward part, and if you thought I was giddy with excitement last year, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

One Dead Rabbit

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you already know the biggest thing that’s happening around here these days: my wife and I are expecting our first child this year, in September.

This has meant a few changes to our drinking rituals, as you can imagine. Jen is abstaining entirely right now. We’ve yet to decide whether rare, small portions of beer or wine are safe, later in the pregnancy (and that choice will probably remain entirely our business at any rate), but she’s off spirits and cocktails–not just through the pregnancy but while she’s nursing, as well.

For me, it’s also meant changes, and that will probably be a post in itself at some point. I tend to drink more when I have a drinking buddy, and now that my main one’s off the market, I’ve found myself slowing down. However, I’m also perfectly happy to drink an Old Fashioned (or two) every evening, which isn’t exactly interesting to write about.

So to keep things moving along, I’m planning to feature a new drink a week here, starting next week. Since I’ll be whipping up NA cocktails for Jen, expect some of my drinks of the week to be mocktails.

I also have some product reviews to work on, and I hope to feature those each week as well. I want to tackle new projects, such as milk punch. Erik Ellestad has several recipes up at Underhill Lounge. Honestly, I was skeptical about milk punch, but then Misty Kalkofen served us some at Drink one night, and I was hooked.

I want to sample new ingredients, whether that’s spirit categories that are somewhat new to me, or just bottlings I’ve never tried. And, finally, Ad of the Week will probably come back in some fashion, although I haven’t decided how yet.

Oh, and I should probably get back into this Mixology Monday thing at some point. It’s been months.

Seminar Preview: Rolling Out the Red Carpet for Rookies

Rookie. Newbie. Freshman. Dare I say, virgin? Cocktail enthusiasm continues to grow in the United States as more and more people are developing an interest in craft cocktails. Cocktail bars are spreading across the country, and there are even brick-and-mortar stores now that sell cocktail equipment and tools. So, say you’re a bartender and it’s a slow night. You’ve got a patron across from you who’s finishing up her beer and puzzling over your cocktail menu. “I don’t really know much about cocktails,” she says. “What do you recommend?”

So, hotshot. What do you recommend? And if this patron becomes a regular at your bar, diving fully into the cocktail ocean, how do you help her navigate the shoals?

Tales of the Cocktail 2010 represents a first for me: I’ll be moderating a seminar called Rolling Out the Red Carpet for Rookies.” My fellow presenters–Robert (DrinkBoy) Hess, Adam Lantheaume of the Boston Shaker in Somerville, Mass.–and I will lead a discussion of techniques and tips bar professionals can use to teach the world of cocktails to customers. Whether you’re a bartender, bar manager, brand ambassador, spirits writer, or other bar professional, we hope to have ideas you can use to turn a patron into an aficionado.

Robert will discuss his book, The Essential Bartenders Guide, as well as his work at Small Screen Network, producing video tutorials of cocktail recipes and techniques. Adam will describe the classes he teaches in his store and lead a demonstration of a technique he uses in his Bitters class, in which he provides a flight of martinis, each made with different bitters. We’ll all discuss our own journey from novice to knowledge, we’ll talk about cocktail mentors and gurus, and talk about perfect starter cocktails for newbies. And we’ll take questions and ribbing from the audience. It’ll be a good time, so join us.

Rolling Out the Red Carpet for Rookies
SAT, 24 JULY 2010
La Nouvelle Orleans Ballroom, Hotel Monteleone
10:00 AM – 11:30 AM
$40 (advance), $45 (door)


first batch
photograph © Jennifer Hess

Oh, hey. I knew I left a blog laying around here somewhere. I guess I should breathe a little life into the poor thing again.

Things have been slow around here. I grabbed a couple of rent-a-tender shifts over Memorial Day weekend, doing catering-bartending for Brown University’s commencement and alumni-weekend ceremonies. It was mostly beer and wine, but it was fun and I got tipped out well. Mostly, it keeps me fresh and in front of people.

There’s a lot ahead to look forward to, sitting like a jar of tequila in a cool closet consummating a marriage with strawberries, but it’s hard to talk about stuff that hasn’t happened yet. There’s Tales of the Cocktail, and oh yeah, that’s next month already. I’m moderating a panel there, and I’ll preview that, here, soon. (Can I just admit right now that I’m a little–more than a little, in fact–terrified by this?) In addition, I’m working on something for this blog that I hope will be really cool–not Tales related, but still cool.

My honorary cousin Emily, just published her latest column for Providence Monthly, in which she talked tinctures. (It’s not online, unfortunately, or I’d link out to it.) She even obliquely name-checked me; while researching her piece, she asked me for some advice, and I gave her a few words. She closed out the piece thusly:

[M]y honorary cousin M. induced envy, for instance, when he described plans to use leftover celery cuttings for his own tincture experiment. Clever, clever, M. I can taste it in my gin and soda now. Care to organize a trade?

Oh, what’s this “honorary cousin” business? Just one of the most fun coincidences I’ve ever experienced in my life. Emily, you see, is also a spirits and cocktail columnist in Rhode Island. The odds of this small state having two writers in this niche are already pretty daunting, but here’s what makes it better: Emily, you see, is Emily Dietsch.

And although we’ve both fielded questions about whether we’re related, we aren’t, and in fact have never even met in person. What’s especially remarkable about this is how rare the Dietsch name is in the United States: out of every 1 million people in the U.S., only 30 of us are Dietsches. So to have two of us writing in the same niche, in the same city? You’re more likely to be struck by lightning at the exact moment you contract salmonella poisoning while climbing a tree in Death Valley.