Category Archives: Tales of the Cocktail

Year Five

Pepe et femmeWith another February sneaking slowly out the door, we’ve reached another milestone at A Dash of Bitters–our fourth anniversary–and with it comes another look back and forward.

Looking Back

When we last celebrated an anniversary, I was feeling a little glum. Unemployment had cruelly struck and I was lamenting my limited prospects for the future. Well, year four turned out rather better than I was expecting it to. No, I didn’t make it to Tales of the Cocktail, but that wound up really the only bleak part of my cocktail calendar. I made three trips to NYC for cocktail events and racked up a lot of Amtrak miles in the process. In April, I participated in the Beefeater 24 Thursday Drink Night at Quarter Bar in Brooklyn (special guests Dan Warner and David Wondrich); in November, I made it down for the Live portion of the Bar Smarts Advanced certification; and in December, I participated in Junior Merino’s Liquid Lab.

I was a judge for Rhode Island’s statewide IronTender competition, which introduced me to some … well, interesting drinks but more importantly to some great new friends. Ted Haigh included me along with some great vintage friends in the latest edition of his Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. Then came the Foodbuzz nomination, which still surprises me.

I became a published cocktail/spirits writer during this last year, with a regular column in Edible Rhody magazine. (Locals should look for the Spring issue to–yes, I’m going there–bloom around March 20.) Speaking of print media, this past year also saw Jen’s mug gracing the New York Times (which has fuck-all to do with me, but hey, I’m still proud of and stunned by that.)

Jen’s burst of fame came as a direct result of her participation in the Food52 website and cookbook project. And just this week, I was startled to see a familiar face in Food52’s Cook Spotlight feature. (Which reminds me, I should post more cocktail recipes to that site.)

Sooooo, yeah, it wound up being a very good year.

Looking Forward

But it’s Year Five that excites me even more: I’ll be moderating a panel at Tales of the Cocktail and editing the official Tales blog this year. (Which reminds me, I should arrange my flight and hotel soon.) And of course, there’s this baby:

cook and brown logo

And some of you may be wanting another update. We’ve been very busy, I can tell you that much.

We’re planning to open in mid-March; the date right now depends a lot on the contractor because we’re mostly set. Our DIY demolition work is finished and we’re ready for the contractor’s team to come in and rebuild the bar and dining room. Nemo and Jenny have hired pretty much the entire staff–cooks, servers, and dishwasher–and our first staff meeting is tomorrow afternoon. We have a preliminary menu and a full cocktail menu for both brunch and dinner. (The food is preliminary because Nemo’s cooking is ultra-seasonal. If he’s planning a braised lamb shank and it’s suddenly 60º out, there’s no sense in having announced braised lamb three weeks in advance.)

On the beverage front, I’m putting together a list of spirits and barware that we’ll need to order. Adam Mir, our sous chef is in charge of the beer list. We’re talking with beer distributors and hope to have a fun announcement to make, soon, regarding our beer program. Nemo’s fronting the wine program; we’ve been tasting wines all week and have another tasting tomorrow, so we should have our list of Old World wines ready next week. We’ve tasted coffees from New Harvest Coffee Roasters in Pawtucket. And finally, I’ve been in touch with a local soda bottler, Yacht Club Beverage, and we hope to speak to them soon about supplying our soft drinks.

DISCLAIMER: I am no longer a part of Cook and Brown.

Haigh’s pioneering champions, part 1

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.

Tales of the Cocktail 2009

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.

Notes from the underground

First up, those of you who listened to my radio debut might want to know that my wife, Jen, will be appearing on tomorrow’s edition of Jen’s Dish, on WNRI radio. Listen live at wnri.com

Second, having just returned from Indiana (for family) and NYC (for the Beefeater 24 TDN), I’m off again, this time with Jen, to see her family.

Finally, and this is directed at you who are going to Tales of the Cocktail this year. (We’re still working on getting me there, but it’s looking gloomy.) The Hotel Monteleone, which hosts Tales, is sponsoring a cocktail contest. Here’s what the Monteleone has to say about it:

The Hotel Monteleone is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Carousel Bar on May 21, 2009. From 1949 until about the late 60’s or 70’s there was a drink on the specialty drink menu called the Monteleone Cocktail. Unfortunately, we have no idea what the exact recipe or ingredients were. The Hotel Monteleone is hosting an online contest to accept drink recipe nominations for a new official Monteleone Cocktail. The recipes will be judged by VIPs who will be at the Carousel anniversary celebration on May 21. There are no requirements on types of liquor or style of drink, but all drink entries must be received by May 18, so that the ingredients may be acquired and drinks prepared at the May 21 event. Participating bloggers should post their entries online, and all participants should e-mail their drink recipes, along with their name, address and phone number, to athornton@hotelmonteleone.com. The winning entry will become the new official Monteleone Cocktail, and the winner will receive four free nights at the Hotel Monteleone during Tales of the Cocktail 2009.

Best of luck to any of you who choose to participate. I might try to create the killer drink myself, since it’s probably the only chance I have of making it down this year.

Shrubbin’ and shrubbin’

My fellow cocktail bloggers have been working on shrubs and gastriques for a while now. I don’t know why I’ve held off until now. Lack of ambition, perhaps. But I came back from Tales with a drive to try it out, and I’ll credit that impetus entirely to the Cabana Shrub.

Cabana Cachaça (link, NSFW) was a sponsor at Tales, and more specifically, Cabana sponsored both the Tales blog and the blogger meetup party at Tales. At the meetup party, Cabana served up two drinks: a traditional caipirinha and the Cabana Shrub.

No bullshit here: I could not get enough of the Cabana Shrub. My memory’s a little hazy, but I think I remember that Chicago bartender Bridget Albert came up with this drink. (Edited to add: Danielle Sarna, who represents Cabana at Nike Communications, confirms my memory on this. Bridget Albert did create the Cabana Shrub.)

It’s fabulous–balanced and refreshing, with each ingredient present but not overweening. I could taste the cachaça, the fruit, and the tarty vinegar, but no single element predominated. I kept going back for more, to the point where I honestly lost count of how many I drank. In a long weekend with many fine drinks, this one was among my favorites.

Here’s the recipe that Tales provided:

Cabana Shrub

  • 1-1/2 oz. Cabana Cachaça
  • 1 oz. Raspberry Shrub Syrup*
  • 1/8 oz. lime juice
  • 1 oz. Fever Tree Premium Ginger Ale
  • Sugar-cane stick, for garnish

Technique: Build in a short ice-filled glass. Top with ginger ale. Add garnish.

*Raspberry Shrub Syrup

  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 pints fresh raspberries
  • Splash of water

Technique: Bring ingredients to a boil. Stir. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain into a glass bottle.

When I tasted this drink, I had two reactions–Wow, this is good; and, Jen is going to love this.

By the time I got home, raspberry season had ended in our part of New England, but blueberries and gooseberries were going strong. So over the weekend I cooked up some shrub syrup, using champagne vinegar and a mix of gooseberries and raspberries. I tinkered a bit with the recipe, in part because I had no ginger ale/beer ready.

Modified Cabana Shrub

  • 1-1/2 oz. Cabana
  • 1 oz. Blueberry-Gooseberry Shrub Syrup (prepared in same proportions as Rasp. syrup above)
  • 1/4 oz. lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
  • 1 oz. soda water (mine, from my new seltzer bottle)

Technique: Build in a short ice filled glass. Garnish with nothing. (The printed recipe calls for sugar cane, but it wasn’t served that way at Tales, and how easy is it to find sugar cane sticks anyway?)

MxMo in the Crescent City

Mixology Monday logoFor this month’s Mixology Monday, which has a New Orleans theme, I’m going with a couple of drinks, both inspired by panels that I attended at Tales of the Cocktail.

The first drink is the Sloppy Joe’s Mojito, inspired obliquely by the To Have and Have Another panel, on the drinking life of Ernest Hemingway. Whether Hemingway actually drank Mojitos appears to be in some dispute. The eminent Eric Felten argues persuasively that he probably did not, but it is clear that old Papa frequented the Havana bar that originated this version of the classic rum drink. He even apparently persuaded the proprietor of a Key West saloon to rip off the Havana original’s name. So, who knows?

Charles Baker, writing in The Gentleman’s Companion, describes the drink thus:

Put several lumps of ice into a 16 oz collins glass, toss in 1 tsp sugar or gomme, insinuate a spiral green lime peel about the ice, turn in 1-1/2 jiggers of Bacardi; white, or Gold Seal, and the strained juice of 1 small green lime–not a lemon. Stir once, fill with really good club soda and garnish with a bunch of fresh mint.

What I love about this variant is that a) it’s not too sweet, and b) it’s not too minty. I don’t feel like I’m chewing rum-spiked Doublemint gum.

The second drink comes straight from the Beefeater reception at Palace Cafe and also the Juniperlooza session. I had heard of this drink prior to Tales, but I had never tried it. It’s the Jasmine cocktail, devised by architect and booze writer Paul Harrington. It tastes remarkably like grapefruit juice even though it contains no grapefruit whatsoever. Honestly, this is one of those drinks that I often post where I’m sure the majority of my single-digit readership is thinking, “What! New to the Jasmine? He needs to crawl out from under Plymouth Rock or wherever the hell he lives and actually drink from time to time!”

No argument here, Skippy. I will say this, though. I’ve mixed a lot of cocktails at home, and I’ve had many others out. It’s a rare treat when something passes my lips and earns a spot in my regular drinks rotation. The Jasmine is right there. Jen and I both adore it. It tastes like an old-school cocktail, even though it’s not old enough to drive, let alone drink, and the ingredients are perfectly balanced. A new favorite.

Jasmine

  • 1-1/2 oz gin
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz Cointreau
  • 1/4 oz Campari
  • lemon twist for garnish

Technique: Shake, strain, add garnish, sip, and smile.

Many thanks to Paulernum Clarke for hosting.

Photos by Jennifer Hess.

Tales of the Cocktail Webcast

Natalie Bovis-Nelsen from The Liquid Muse has a series of webcasts from this year’s Tales of the Cocktail. In installment 3, she attends the blogger party and invites each blogger to introduce himself or herself to the camera. I’m in there, too.

I have lots more to say, but since I had to dive back into the freelance life today, I haven’t had a chance to write much. More soon, I hope.

Also, I plan to announce soon what I hope will be fun new feature of this blog, so stay tuned. Next up, though, will be tonight’s Mixology Monday post, as if I haven’t blogged enough in the past week. (ETA: I just noticed Paul’s announcement of the extension. Whoo hoo!)