Tag Archives: Bar culture

A Tequila Sunrise for grown-ups

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The first mocktail I ever had was a Virgin Tequila Sunrise:  orange juice with a bit of grenadine poured on top for a dark-to-light effect, but no tequila. Around age 12, we’d order them non-stop at bar and bat mitzvahs, until the harassed bartender would pretend to run out of grenadine. (PS: no, I don’t count the Shirley Temple, which is not a “mock” drink – if anything, it’s the rum-soaked Shirley Temple Black that’s the “mock” version of the original).

Later on in college, the standard Tequila Sunrise was one of the first drinks I learned to order by name. It was fruity and it wasn’t beer, and that was all that mattered at that point in time, well before the craft cocktail movement brought better options even to college dive bars.

And that was probably the last time I sipped a Tequila Sunrise — until about a month ago. While researching this story for The Wall Street Journal about revitalized 1970s cocktails, I found my glass full of minty green Grasshoppers and vanilla-citrus Harvey Wallbangers. And this updated classic, which didn’t make it into the final article, but is worth making at home. It speaks volumes about how much has changed in recent decades:  non-mixto tequila, fresh-squeezed juices, and pomegranate juice or syrups instead of sugary fake grenadine. Finally – it’s a Tequila Sunrise you don’t have to be embarrassed to drink as a grown-up.

Tequila Sunrise

Created by Don Lee for Golden Cadillac

1 ½ ounces Siete Leguas Reposado Tequila

1 ounce Passion Fruit juice

1 ounce Orange Juice

1/2 ounce Pomegranate juice

In a cocktail shaker, combine the tequila, passion fruit and orange juices with ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into a Collins glass over pebbled ice. Gently pour the pomegranate juice over the rounded bowl of a spoon to “float” the juice over the top of the drink. Garnish with a half orange wheel.

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Filed under Drink recipes, Drink trends, My writings, Uncategorized

Pictorial: throwing booze around

Who knew there were so many different ways to do this? As in, quite literally tossing it around, whether from bottle to cup, cup to cup or even from vessel directly to thirsty, open-mouthed consumer. Here’s exhibit A:

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Dave Wondrich, demonstrating the “Blue Blazer” technique he has re-popularized. You can’t tell from this image, but he takes a flame to high-proof hooch, and pours the flaming liquid from one pewter mug to another, and back again, increasing the distance between the two until he has a thin blue flame streaming from one mug to the next.

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This pitcher-like vessel, called a porron, is sometimes used to serve (and share) wines in Spain. Here, it’s used for pisco (this was at the StarChefs International Chefs Conference a couple of weeks ago). Bottoms up!

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And finally, here is a pourer in action during cider week, at Tertulia.  Apparently, this is part of the culture of the Asturias region in Spain:  the cider typically is held up high above the pourer’s head….

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…and poured in such an elongated stream that I couldn’t capture the action in a single shot. The more experienced pourers don’t even look down while they pour.

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Low Octane Libations: “cocktails are balanced libations that bring people together to celebrate life.”

From left to right: Amanda Boccato, Greg Best, Joaquin Simo, Kirk Estopinal

This good-lookin’ crew was my panel from Tales of the Cocktail. We had assembled to talk about “Low Octane Libations” — and although I’ve long been a fan of lower-alcohol cocktails, there’s nothing like hearing the gospel straight from the bartenders. In retrospect, I think this topic hit a sweet spot, sandwiched among seminars and tasting events that focused on vermouth, sherry and other lower alcohol options, and I’ve been tickled to see post-Tales roundups listing “lower alcohol” as a trend in the making.

Although I was preoccupied with moderating the panel, I did manage to scribble down some insightful comments from the panelists. Highlights included:

  • Amanda Boccato, brand ambassador from Lillet, noted that “historical cocktails can be reinvented using lower proof spirits as the base, such as a Lillet Julep.” Unprompted, later on in the session Joaquin Simo of Pouring Ribbons noted that he had tried out a Lillet Julep spiked with Green Chartreuse. “It was so good,” he said.
  • This comment, from Greg Best of Holeman and Finch:  “As stewards of cocktail culture, we’re obligated to define cocktail culture endlessly. No one ever said it has to be boozy with bitters – there’s no rule.” Then he paused to define what cocktails are: “Balanced libations that bring people together to celebrate life.” The audience applauded!
  • Joaquin Simo on the rising phenomenon of Bartender’s Choice cocktails: “It’s an opportunity to bring out that coffee-infused vermouth – not Red Stag. If [guests] are giving you that much latitude, let’s not abuse it.”
  • Kirk Estopinal’s Pineau de Charentes Cobbler. All the cocktails were top-notch (and props to our Cocktail Apprentice leader, Christopher George and his team for making that so), but I especially loved how he defined the garnish:  as “good snacks on top.” His cobbler was topped with a quarter-wheel of lemon,  sprinkled with bitters and then sugar. How to get more guests at bars drinking cobblers? Here’s Simo’s idea: “Tell them the Cobbler was the Cosmo of the 1800s.”
Here’s the drink recipe:
Pineau de Charentes Cobbler  (Kirk Estopinal, Bellocq)
1 1/2 oz Ferrand Pineau de Charentes
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup (1:1)
¾ oz Calvados or Cognac
Boston Bitters-coated lemon pieces, for garnish
Powdered sugar, for garnish
Add all (except garnishes) to a tin and shake hard with big ice. Strain over crushed ice and top with garnish.

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July 25, 2013 · 3:58 pm

Is this the future of cocktail menus?

Cocktails are seeing all kinds of innovation these days — but not often the menus that list those drinks.  Sometimes it seems like nothing much has changed since the invention of those always-sticky laminated menus.

But in recent weeks, I’ve noticed some innovative and compelling approaches to cocktail menu presentation. Of course, there’s the “axis approach” on Pouring Ribbons’ menu, which plots all the drink on an axis spanning from “comforting” to “adventurous,” and from “refreshing” to “spirituous.” And there are the growing ranks of iPad menus, which sometimes use technology to provide a little extra information about items, such as winemaker videos.

But the two following menus display a tremendous amount of thought about design and drink concepts, as well as high production values.  Are either of these  likely to set a new template for cocktail menus going forward?

Exhibit A:  Menu-as-Book:  Dead Rabbit

The Bar at The Merchant Hotel in Belfast made waves years ago when they started publishing cocktail menu books, and I spotted a couple of copycat menus-as-books during a trip to Dublin a few months back. But the idea hasn’t caught on here in the U.S. But now that Sean Muldoon has moved stateside to open his new Dead Rabbit outpost in NY’s Wall Street area, he’s brought his menu books — and their high production values — here as well.  A look at the menu:

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This is the full monty: the hard-backed drink menu book on the left, a seasonal drink update in the middle, and the soft-backed spirits list book on the right.

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A closer look at the cocktail menu. It feels like soft leather, and is published by Drinksology.com. Can’t help wondering how the cover will hold up after a few drinks are spilled on the outside.

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A look inside the book: one of the few spreads with more than a minimum of color.

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A listing of punches, served in individual portions. The format here follows throughout the menu pages – illustration and quote on the left, menu on the right.

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It’s an extensive little book – so extensive as to require a Table of Contents to navigate.

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Here’s a look inside the Spirits List. It lists not only product name and the price per pour, but also extensive tasting notes, the proof, the country of origin, and for ryes and whiskeys, the mash bill! I’ll be hanging on to this document for future reference.

 

Exhibit B:  Menu-as-Newspaper:  The Vault at Pfaff’s

Another interesting use of medium – instead of the super-permanent book, The Vault at Pfaff’s has opted to go with the super-disposable newspaper format. The top lists cocktails, and wines are listed inside, spirits on the back. It’s a clever nod to the fact that The Saturday Press was published in the same space that now houses the bar — 157 issues of the literary weekly were published from the 1850s through the 1860s, with a hiatus for the Civil War. (An aside: thanks to Lehigh University, you can browse copies of The Saturday Post online.)

Although it’s an eye-catching and tactile experience to hold newsprint, a nice nod back to the historic space, it has failed in one way, beverage manager Frank Caiafa confided:  “We thought people would want to take them home, as a keepsake,” he said. “But people seem to think they’re too nice to take!” Luckily, I had no such compunctions, and here are a few snaps of my menu:

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The front of the newspaper-style menu. Insane scrawlings and circles are mine – not part of the design!

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A look inside the newspaper. I’m not sure how this works on nights when the bar is crowded – I have trouble finding space to open a newspaper on a subway, let alone a crowded bar.

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A closer look at one of the “ads” on the inside — they’re not advertisements at all, and no one has paid to be featured in the menu, Caiafa says. Some are antique scraps of text, others provide information about a specific brand (here, Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin) that Caiafa thought guests would want to learn more about.

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Why the best cocktail doesn’t always win

Make that cocktail work.

Last night, I fell asleep while watching Project Runway. While the contestants  buzzed about the workroom in the usual frenetic panic, the on-screen mayhem manifested itself in an unusual way:  I dreamed that I too was a contestant — in a cocktail contest. “Taste this,” I urged an imaginary co-contestant in my dream. “It’s missing something, isn’t it?” I raced around the workroom in my head, pressure building as the clock ticked down (“we’re out of ice!” I screeched), my hands shaking as I tried to pleat a lemon peel into a “make it work” garnish.

Oh, the drama.

I don’t have to be Freud to interpret this particular dream:  I’ve been judging a number of cocktail contests lately. This is a task I enjoy – tasting drinks from talented bartenders, hearing the stories behind the drinks, rendering an opinion.

But usually, I’m one of a panel of judges.  (Hey, just like the panel of judges on Project Runway!)  At the weekly Mixology Mashup held at Coppelia, I was one of three; at the Caorunn Gin “Storytellers” competition at Tales of the Cocktails, one of four; and at the Coffee/Cocktail Mash-Up held at Weather Up to benefit baristas and bartenders, one of five judges. Obviously, the greater the number of judges, the greater the number of opinions. And the drink I think is best isn’t necessarily the one that takes home the prize. Here’s why:

Different judges bring different viewpoints to the table. The Coffee/Cocktail Mashup is a prime example:  I voted based on which cocktail I preferred. But the coffee expert sitting next to me was more interested in the characteristics of the coffee varieties used.

Sometimes one judge gets the deciding vote. This is particularly so at more informal confabs. For example, at the Coppelia event I attended, Chef Julian Medina selected the winner, breaking a tie. (On Project Runway, I suspect that Nina Garcia always casts the deciding vote. But I digress…)

Showmanship often trumps the drink. On paper, it’s all about the drink — and a great recipe can get a bartender to the contest finals. But in person, it’s also about the bartender’s attire and demeanor and their ability to wow the judges. At the Coffee/Cocktail Mash-Up, the winning drink was delicious, but it didn’t hurt that it was also the only drink that came with a Polynesian soundtrack and was set on fire!

A poor story can undermine a great drink. When presenting a drink, usually a bartender will explain a little about the inspiration behind the drink. This was especially true at the Caorunn event, which was explicitly about “storytelling.” One bartender presented a drink…and then proceeded to tell a long story about tuberculosis. I don’t even remember the drink — the offputting sad-sack story completely torpedoed what was probably a perfectly fine cocktail. But my notes — full of detail about the other drinks in the line-up — had just one pleading line for this contestant. Please stop talking about tuberculosis, I’d scrawled.

The next time I fall asleep watching Project Runway, I hope I dream about Tim Gunn instead.

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Is this the last Irish whiskey you can taste only in Ireland?

During a recent trip to Ireland, I stopped into the Palace Bar, the oldest bar in Dublin. It still has all its original Victorian-era fittings, including a “Writer’s Bar” – now, how could I possibly resist that?

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While seated at the bar, I noticed a display of private-label Palace Bar Irish whiskey. Although it’s becoming a novelty for U.S. bars and restaurants to have their own private-label brand or barrel, it’s not a widespread practice across Ireland. At least…not any more. (A side note: I saw very few people drinking Irish whiskey during my stay – it’s broadly a beer and wine culture– and very few bars offering more than a handful of bottlings. And no wonder:  it turns out that a whopping 90% of Ireland’s spirits are exported.) But here was a rare Irish whiskey that can’t be obtained anywhere else but in Ireland.

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I asked the barkeep for a closer look at the bottle. It’s a 9-year-old single malt, single cask whiskey, bottled at a fairly strong 46% abv, and touts the bar as “Famous for Intellectual Refreshments.” It’s also made by the Cooley Distillery, newly acquired by U.S. spirits company Jim Beam. Cooley was the last indie whiskey distillery in Ireland; William Grant owns Tullamore Dew; Diageo owns Bushmills; Pernod Ricard owns Jameson. Cooley had been the last indie holdout.

Would Cooley continue to make the Palace Bar whiskey? “No, they have no interest in smaller bottlings,” the barkeep said mournfully. He’d been working at Palace Bar for fully four decades, and was there when they’d launched the Palace Bar whiskey not even a year prior. In the 1940s, he continued, it was traditional for pubs to have their own brand, but that practice had largely died down. The Palace Bar last had a private-label whiskey maybe 50 years ago.

So that means that the remaining Palace Bar bottles may soon be rare. Priced at 50 euros, it doesn’t sound like they are in danger of selling out right away, however. At least not according to the bartender: “People come in around Christmas time and buy a bottle as a gift for family, or for friends who stopped in 20 years ago.”

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Scenes from the Manhattan Cocktail Classic – Sunday

At this point, I’ve been asked a few times how I make it through booze-soaked events like the MCC without becoming utterly sozzled. My response is a simple one:  Receive a drink. Take 3 sips. PUT THE DRINK DOWN, and move away. If I continue to hold the drink, I’ll continue to sip it while I’m chatting with someone.

This was a valuable strategy yesterday, since I believe I went through easily 2 dozen cocktails and spirits pours in this manner. Rather than list every drink, here are a few highlights.

The cocktail I most wanted to finish (but didn’t): Brompton Cocktail (Tito’s Vodka, Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Bitters, Licor 43, Lillet Rouge, lemon twist)

Most intriguing and maddening spirit:  At a tasting held at Amor y Amargo, I sampled the intriguing Sir Walt’s, an oddly savory liqueur with caraway and anise notes, and a gin-like finish. Maddening because the rep insisted it had ginger notes, and I didn’t detect any. Maddening because I want some and it’s not sold in the U.S. (although another rep suggested I could purchase it online from the UK’s Whiskey Exchange).

Best marketing attention-getter:  Patron effortlessly coaxed me over to their flavored tequila corner of the world with whoopie pies infused with their coffee tequila and orange tequila. The enormous branded cell phone charging station also brought lots of people over….who stayed to babysit their precious devices while sipping drinks like the  “Ultimat Breakfast” (Patron XO Cafe, Ultimat vodka, Hershey’s chocolate syrup, heavy cream, dusting of cayenne pepper).

Wildest bartender technique:  Chad Solomon used a Cryovac to infuse an orange slice with curry spices, which he used to garnish a drink at last night’s Campari event. I foolishly did not capture a photo of the drink, but here’s a shot of another curried Campari drink. This photo shows suave Italian bartender Francesco LaFranconi finishing a Campari drink (dosed with a teaspoon of curry powder) with coconut foam.

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Scenes from the Manhattan Cocktail Classic – Friday/Saturday

It’s been a crazy couple of days here at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, so I’ll let the photos do the talking:
 

Friday Night  – Gala

I couldn’t fit a camera in my teeny vintage purse. The following 3 photos are courtesy of belathee.com.

MCC  signage inside the New York Public Library 

 

This shot-sized drink was made with gin, chamomile tea, and raspberries, and was garnished with a rose petal.

 
 

  Adam Seger, looking fab as usual.  

Saturday: MCC Seminars

For me, the big highlight of the day was my “Whiskey Is The New Black” seminar. I was pretty much consumed with making sure all went well behind the scenes, so I didn’t take many photos. (I’ll save my tales about panic over the whiskey that almost didn’t show, transporting 15 pounds of cheese for whiskey/cheese pairings, and the supreme awesomeness of my panelists – Michter’s distiller Willie Pratt and mixologist Jason Asher – for another day). The couple of snaps I managed were taken “backstage” in the kitchen area, and were taken hastily with my cellphone. I’m a little embarrassed to have them on the same page as professional-quality photos, but they do more or less reflect the hurried quality of my day.

Oranges roasting on the stovetop – I think these were intended for the Italian Aperitivi seminar, as Negroni garnishes.
 
 The amazing sideboard of ingredients for the volunteer mixologists to use in batching the hundreds (thousands?) of drinks being served in seminars.

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What is a cocktail recipe?

Most food writers, recipe developers, and cookbook authors will agree that a recipe contains a few basic elements:

1. The full list of ingredients.

2. The advised proportions for said ingredients.

3. Instructions for combining and preparing the ingredients, including cooking instructions and suggested tools to use.

4. Instructions for presenting and serving the finished product, i.e. “ladle into a bowl,” or “garnish with mint sprigs.”

If I’d been hired to create a recipe (food or drink), and omitted any of the above elements, I’d be fired, and deservedly so. Anyone who has tried to successfully make a recipe with any of the above elements missing will also likely agree that all of these are critical elements — and the leading reasons that otherwise good recipes fail is because the instructions are unclear, incomplete, or key ingredients have been omitted.

It puzzles me that lately, when I’ve requested drink recipes from PR pros representing bars or restaurants, what I’ve received has been a description hurriedly skimmed from an online menu. For example (and I’m deliberately excising the name of the bar and the drink’s name, since it’s not the bar’s fault), the following to my request for a punch recipe:

Pisco, Lemon-grass Syrup, Fresh Lime Juice, Ginger Juice, and egg white. Dusted with Chai Green Tea and Angostura Bitters

This is not a recipe.

I suppose I could take this as a compliment, a suggestion that surely, I’m such an insider I’ll know how to piece this list together into a cocktail recipe.

No. Not even close. There’s a big difference between 1 ounce and 1 1/2 ounces of spirit, shaken or stirred or something else altogether. Do the first two ingredients need to be combined together first before the third is added? What of those ingredients commonly omitted from menu descriptions, but critical to a successful finished dish? In the food world, you’ll rarely see olive oil or seasonings listed on the menu, for example; in the drink world, that often applies to acid/citrus and sweeteners. In this case, lime is specified, but this is not always the case. Is that simple syrup a 1:1 or 1:2 sugar to water ratio? What type of sugar is used? And a common thorn in the side of drink recipe writers (and followers) is those custom-made ingredients, such as “house-made” bitters, tinctures, etc. Tell me how to make ginger juice and lemongrass syrup.

That doesn’t mean that every drink recipe has to be standardized to the point of boring. The earliest cocktail receipt writers were masters of descriptive language. More recently, I love Dave Wondrich’s drink descriptions, in which drinks are shaken “viciously” rather than merely shaken. It’s no coincidence that Wondrich has probably logged more time immersed in early drink recipes than any other living writer. But even the oldest and floweriest recipes still contained all the needed elements for a reader to successfully replicate the drinks. For example, consider the following, from Jerry Thomas:

Glasgow Punch

(From a recipe in the possession of Dr. Shelton Mackenzie.)

Melt lump-sugar in cold water, with the juice of a couple of lemons, passed through a fine hair-strainer. This is sherbet, and must be well mingled. Then add old Jamaica rum—one part of rum to five of sherbet. Cut a couple of limes in two, and run each section rapidly around the edge of the jug or bowl, and gently squeezing in some of the delicate acid. This done, the punch is made. Imbibe.

Is this a recipe? YES. It’s not the format we commonly use today, but it tells the reader about the ingredients, how much to use, and how to prepare and serve it (jug or bowl). And extra points to Mr. Thomas for giving credit to Dr. Shelton Mackenzie, rather than simply stealing the recipe, as so many would-be recipe writers do today.

Now here’s a second, more modern, and unorthodox format, a tweeted recipe. The source here is the Mixoloseum, an online chat board populated by amateur and professional cocktail geeks, who invariably know more about cocktails than I do. Okay, this punch recipe required two tweets, which I’m conflating, but still, it shows what can be accomplished in a streamlined format:

New Zealand Rum Punch: 1oz Coruba, 1oz Oronoco, 1oz grapefruit juice, 1oz Don’s Spices, .5oz lime juice, shake with ice and dump into a pint glass, top with soda water, garnish with a lime spiral (@cocktailnerd

Is this a recipe? YES.  Ingredients and proportions? check, check. Suggested prep? check. Presentation? check. And all in 140 characters or less (times two).

So once again, I’ll present the response I received to my request for a drink recipe:

Pisco, Lemon-grass Syrup, Fresh Lime Juice, Ginger Juice, and egg white. Dusted with Chai Green Tea and Angostura Bitters

and I’ll ask:  Is this a recipe?

I”d love to hear your thoughts.

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Historic Hotel Bar Cheat Sheet

I’ve always had an attraction to hotel bars with history.  It’s almost like going to a museum, with cocktails. In addition to great drinks, the best places (like Peacock Alley inside the Waldorf Astoria) also have great architecture and well-preserved details like a chiming clock in the center of the lobby — and fabulously old-school bartenders who can spin a tale as well as shake a drink.  With all those elements in place, it’s practically a time machine.

Those are the bars I sought out when setting the agenda for my Historic Hotel Bars & Restaurants walking tour, which I’m doing again next week for the 92nd St. Y Tribeca. (It may be full now, I’m not sure.) 

For fun, I pulled together a “cheat sheet” of hotel bars I tried out for the tour (see image below – click on it and it should open up to full, easy-reading size). Anything that didn’t rate a triple ‘YES”  (if not a “HELL YES!”) wasn’t even considered for the walking tour. And of course, some tri-Y’s were sadly out of walking distance.

A disclaimer:  this is something I created for (my) entertainment purposes, and represents my opinions and sometimes cloudy and/or boozy recollections. It’s not even close to a complete list of all historic bars in the city.  Take this as gospel at your own risk. 

And an invitation:  if you have other historic or semi-historic hotel bars to suggest adding to this list, I’m happy to give  ‘em a go and if I have enough to add, I’ll post an update to this list. Enjoy!

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