At 3pm Eastern today, I’ll be in sitting in the kitchen, surrounded by bottles of scotch. How is this any different than a normal 3pm in Chez Dietsch? Today, I have an excuse. Johnnie Walker’s black-label blend turns 100 years old this year, and to celebrate, Johnnie’s jetting his master blender, Andrew Ford, over to New York City, to lead a webcast focusing on the blending process.
I received an invitation to the webcast a couple of weeks ago, and shortly after I accepted, the FedEx man brought me a large box of kit.
Inside the box, I found seven sample bottles of single malt and grain whiskies, a small bottle of Johnnie Walker Black, a nosing glass, a measuring beaker, a funnel, and an empty bottle.
Andrew Ford will be walking us through the process of blending scotch whiskies. He’ll also be taking questions, so if there’s anything you want to know, leave a comment here, and I’ll try to pass it along.
One question I have is why the grain whiskey appears to have been barrel-aged. I’m also curious about the number of whiskies they sent–one grain whiskey plus six bottles from various regions of Scotland (or in the case of the sherry-cask whiskey, a type of finishing method). Black Label is blended from at least 40 different whiskies. I know that Walker couldn’t possibly have sent 40 bottles without breaking their bank. Even this shipment wasn’t cheap, I’d wager. Now, what I don’t know is whether each of those bottles is actually a single malt, or if each bottle has a blend of several malts–say, several malts from the Islay region–to approximate the 40 whiskies that comprise Black.
Following up on part 1 of this series, here’s the second batch of online “pioneers” featured in Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails:
- Darcy O’Neill, Art of Drink. Darcy brings a unique perspective to the world of bartending and drinking: he’s a chemist, who understands the complex reactions that occur when you mix a drink. If you ever want to know what it means to be a super-taster, Darcy’s the man to ask.
- Marleigh Riggins Miller, Sloshed! Graphic designer, nerdling, and all-around all-right gal, Marleigh’s been at this just a little longer than I have. Her new husband, Dan, has joined her in her blogging efforts. I met them both in New Orleans last year, and they’re good people. Check ‘em out.
- Michael Dietsch, A Dash of Bitters. I’m including myself just to show where I fall in the line-up.
- Rick Stutz, Kaiser Penguin. A gifted photographer with an yen for creative garnish, Rick blogs from the Keystone State. One excellent feature of Rick’s blog is the recipe comparison, where he tries several variants on a single recipe and discusses what works for him and what doesn’t. Rick’s also a helluva cook, from what I hear, and a fan of throwing cocktail parties, so if you’re planning a trip to PA, invite yourself to Rick’s. Everybody comes to Rick’s, as an old movie once said.
- Natalie Bovis-Nelsen, The Liquid Muse. As a mixologist, cocktail-book author, and educator, Natalie’s usually got a pretty full glass in front of her. Her first book is Preggatinis, which features virgin cocktails for expecting mothers, and frankly for anyone else who’d prefer an alcohol-free sipper.
- Lauren Clark, Drinkboston.com. New York, San Francisco, and Seattle usually top the list of cocktalian cities, but I believe that Lauren’s beloved Boston deserves a place in that list, with such excellent bars as Eastern Standard, Green Street, and Drink. A founding member of the Boston chapter of Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails, Lauren set out to document Boston’s bar scene, putting her on the front line for the cocktail resurgence in the Boston area. Lauren’s been branching out lately into video presentations of classic and new cocktails, and the videos are excellent, so check them out!
- Karen Foley and Imbibe Magazine. Huge fan of Imbibe magazine. Huge. If you’re not familiar with Imbibe, the first thing you need to know is that it’s not just about alcohol. Imbibe covers all liquid culture, whether that’s coffee, tea, soda, or yes, beer, wine, or spirits. Imbibe Unfiltered is the blog portion of this endeavor, and it’s excellent. In fact, if you go there now, you’ll see the scope of Imbibe’s coverage–riesling, beer, the French 75 cocktail, mango green tea, a wine shop, and a daiquiri video are all on the front page right now.
- Camper English, Alcademics. Camper, like Paul Clarke, is living the dream–he’s a full-time, paid spirits writer. His blog has a different focus from many here. He doesn’t write up cocktail recipes, for example; he tracks news about spirits, bartending, drink trends, and the like. His is one of the most informative blogs in my RSS reader.
- Craig Mrusek, Dr. Bamboo. The only cat I know who illustrates every post with a new line drawing. As I said in this space a year ago, I think Craig’s a damn good cartoonist. Anything else I could say about the guy I’ve already said, but I’ll add this. His monicker always reminds me of perhaps my favorite character from Bewitched.
- Jeff Berry, Beachbum Berry’s Grog Blog. Here, I think, is where we start to move into some new territory. For the most part (Karen’s an exception, and there may be one or two others), everyone I’ve talked about so far became “known,” to the extent that we’re known, because of our online writing. Jeff, though, was a published author first and a blogger second. One of the finest minds in tiki, the Beachbum peered past the kitsch to see the craft behind tiki classics. He interviewed retired tiki bartenders to learn the recipes they used and the techniques they employed. The Beachbum shows that there’s more to tiki than palm fronds, coconut-shell glassware, pink umbrellas, and cheap rum.
- Gabriel Szaszko, Cocktailnerd. Writing from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Gabriel’s a generalist like me; he’ll try just about anything, and if he screws up with a drink, or if something just doesn’t work for him, he’ll talk about why instead of just dumping it in the sink and making an old-fashioned.
- Blair Reynolds, Trader Tiki. Having just come off a week as a cocktail apprentice at Tales of the Cocktail, Blair’s one wiped-out tiki nerd, but he hasn’t let that slow him down. Check out his site for rum reviews, tiki drinks, and explorations of tropical culture.
- Gary Regan, World Wide Bartender Database. Listen. Gary Regan merits an entire book, let alone a few lines in an appendix at the back of one. Gary’s The Joy of Mixology was the first cocktail book I owned, and I’d suggest it to anyone who wants to start mixing drinks at home. But Gary’s in this book for another reason, and that’s the bartender database he started. Open only to people who work in the hospitality industry (and the marketers who cater to them), the database provides resources for bartenders–job listings, news about mixology competitions, events, and the like. What people don’t seem to know is that for many bartenders (Jeff Morgenthaler and Jamie Boudreau among them), tending is a career. These folks are pros. They’re not pulling pints and shaking drinks while looking for a “real” job or going to school. What Gary’s given them is a virtual watering hole where they gather to exchange information and support each other. It’s huge.
- Sonja Kassebaum, Thinking of Drinking. As Ted points out in the book, Sonja stands alone in this list. She’s not just a drinker and a cocktail nerd, and she’s not just a blogger. Oh no, Sonja’s actually a distiller to boot. She and her husband own North Shore Distillery in the Chicago area, making gins, vodkas, and other boutique spirits.
And that wraps up this look at Haigh’s pioneering champions. You’ll have to read the actual book to see what we all have to say about drinks and spirits and whatnot, but I wanted to provide a run down of the list for those of you unfamiliar with my fellow Internet wonders.
As I mentioned a couple of posts ago. Ted Haigh’s seminal cocktail guide, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, entered into a new edition this week, and I’m honored and humbled to have a small part to play in the book. I’m part of an appendix to the book, called “Pioneering Champions of the Forgotten Cocktail,” in which Ted profiles 25 people he terms the “most influential online cocktail pioneers.”
In his introduction to the appendix, Ted explains that the forgotten cocktail is about more than just the drink itself, it’s also about those who mixed, drank, and popularized them in the media. Ted’s first edition profiled many of the bartenders, bon vivants, and scribblers who contributed to the birth and growth of cocktaliana.
Cocktail writing online has blossomed in the years since that first edition; I’ve seen it expand manifold in the three years I’ve been doing it, and Ted says that we have “influenced recipes, bartending, and even the spirits industry.” I’m honestly surprised to think of my blog playing such a role, but if Ted says it, I won’t dispute it. Ted wanted to ensure that we too have our place in the historic record.
The company is humbling, I must say. I have long respected everyone on this list; it’s a bit like finding yourself up for a James Beard award. Ted has them in chronological order by the date the Internet forum, discussion board, or weblog was established, and that’s the order I present them. Where the site in question still exists or is actively maintained by its founder, I’ve provided a link. If my site merits your attention, the others do all the more so.
Here’s the first batch; the remainder will follow later this week or early next:
- Craig Goldwyn: America Online Food & Drink Network. Goldwyn appears to be no longer associated with the network he founded.
- Paul Loberg: Webtender.com. The web design may appear dated, but the message boards are very active and peopled by influential bartenders and other cocktail experts.
- Paul Harrington, Laura Moorhead, and Graham Clarke: Cocktailtime.com. Owned and formerly operated by Wired magazine, this site is unfortunately defunct. Harrington tells Ted that he and his partners tried to buy the rights from Wired and revive the site, but were shot down. Harrington also wrote a book, Cocktail, that is out of print and now somewhat expensive to purchase.
- Chuck Taggart, Gumbopages.com/looka. A New Orleans native now living in California, Chuck’s the first of many in this appendix whom I’m honored to call a personal friend. Like me, he’s not a spirits professional, just an aficionado. His blog is excellent, and he has personally helped revive one of the finest cocktails around, the Vieux Carré–rye, cognac, vermouth, Benedictine, and bitters. I’ll be pouring one tonight and toasting Chuck. UPDATE: Looka just turned 10; amazing work, Chuck!
- Robert Hess, groups.msn.com/DrinkBoy. Defunct. Never fear, though, Robert’s still active at Drinkboy.com, the Chanticleer Society (where you’ll also find me), and the Cocktail Spirit series of video podcasts. Robert, incidentally, shares a name with my father in law, but I don’t hold that against either of them.
- Hanford Lemoore, Tikiroom.com. I’m not much of a tiki drinker, so I’ve never spent much time here, but the forums are poppin’!
- Jamie Boudreau, Spiritsandcocktails.com. Another friend, Jamie tends bar in Seattle, and he has an Amer Picon replica I’ve been threatening to make for over a year now.
- Jeffrey Morgenthaler, jeffreymorgenthaler.com. Two things you need to know about Morgenthaler: 1) He loves Aquaman, 2) He’s an avid vodka collector, 3) He’s one hell of a juggler. Wait, that’s three things. Damn, that Vieux Carre is smoove. Jeff tends bar in Portland, Oregon, and we learned recently that we have a mutual friend, someone I met in NYC who later returned home to Oregon. Small world.
- Jimmy Patrick, Mixographer.com. I’ve never met Jimmy, but his was among the first cocktail sites in my blogroll. A direct inspiration for ADOB.
- Paul Clarke, Cocktailchronicles.com. Like Jimmy, Paul’s was another direct inspiration for this blog. When I chose to start a blog, I hit Google and started searching for other blogs. Paul’s, Jimmy’s, and Jamie’s were among the first I found. Paul’s a helluva guy and one of the most prolific cocktail writers on the scene. You can find his work in Imbibe magazine; the San Francisco Chronicle; the New York Times‘s Proof blog (currently on hiatus); the website Serious Eats; and the Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener and Country Gentlemen. If Paul’s writing career in any way sucks, it’s because he has too much to do.
- Erik Ellestad, Egullet’s cocktail forum, Underhill-lounge.flannestad.com. Erik’s a busy guy. Between posting at the Egullet forum (his nick’s EJE; mine’s Dietsch), and writing up his epic Stomping Through the Savoy posts for his own blog, Erik holds down a day job and also guest-bartends every week. I don’t know how he does it. It can’t hurt that he has a charming and patient wife.
More to come.
Despite the ad to the right of the screen, I’m not currently at the drink.write conference that’s heralding in this year’s Tales of the Cocktail, which starts tomorrow in New Orleans. Despite the ad to the left, I will also not be attending Tales this year. My long bout of underemployment left me no way to scrape up the funds to attend, I’m afraid. I am still, however, co-editing the Tales blog, along with Paul Clarke, Gabriel Szaszko, and Anita and Cameron Crotty.
Wanted to let Boston-area readers know about an upcoming fundraiser to benefit the West End House Boys and Girls Club. On Your Feet Project, a local non-profit organization working to get young professionals volunteering, is holding this event at Mantra this Thursday, June 18th, from 6 to 9pm.
Join us at Mantra in Downtown Crossing for an evening of old-style cocktail making, drinking, and eating.
Complimentary appetizers and drink samplings are included in ticket price. Lessons will be given by the Boston Shaker’s Adam Lantheaume. The evening will benefit the children at The West End House Boys and Girls Club.
The West End House is Boston’s most diverse after-school program in Boston, offering life-shaping opportunities to more than 1,000 youth representing 40 countries. Through caring relationships with trusted adults, as well as experiences and instruction in education, fitness, leadership and the arts, Boston youth receive the guidance and support needed to grow into strong, healthy, self-sufficient adults.
Other sponsors include Berkshire Mountain Distillers, Preiss Imports and Vin Divino.
Let me tell you something, kids. If Adam’s involved, this will be a good event.