Dan Smith Will Teach You How To Drink

If you’ve lived in New York for any amount of time, you’re familiar with the fliers posted in every record store and coffee shop promising, “Dan Smith Will Teach You Guitar.” They’ve been around for at least a decade, possibly longer. So I was gleeful to see that a new East Village restaurant, King Bee, had created a drink with that name when it opened last week, wink-wink all you long-time New York denizens. So gleeful, in fact, that I promptly tweeted:

Sometimes I forget that celebrities have twitter accounts. Even NYC micro-celebrities. So I searched, and lo and behold, there he was.

I was pleasantly surprised when he replied, though he dashed my meta-dreams of trying out his eponymous drink with me:

How many of us have a drink named after us? A little (sincere) flattery seemed in order.

Now, here’s the kicker. I guess the moral of the story is, if your brand ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Ask the bartender: what’s your favorite NYC tiki memory?

Tiki pirate gnome outside Apt 13 on the last Tiki Monday held there

Tiki pirate gnome outside Apt 13 on the last Tiki Monday held there

I was asked to write an obituary for NYC’s tiki scene. But I found it alive and kicking, in some unusual spaces. You can read my article on Thrillist (The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again, and Fall Again) of NYC’s Tiki Scene), and I hope you find some new favorite places to indulge in a Mai Tai. I surely had a blast researching it and immersing in NY’s thriving tiki pop-up parties. But my favorite part was reminiscing with the tiki-literati about their experiences, most of which couldn’t fit into the already-dense article, unfortunately. For example, I asked each of the following individuals (admittedly, not all bartenders) for their favorite NYC tiki memories. Here’s what they said:

Mahalo-ween. It was a Halloween event – it was on a Monday that year. We did a Tiki Monday, and it was such a fun event. That’s the one I have the photos for. I had a photographer come in …it was the people who came to it, we had an all-star cast of characters that attended the event. It was awesome and so much fun.” –Julie Reiner, co-owner and beverage director, Clover Club

“If you ask anyone, all the best memories involve Julie and Brian, because that synergy is unique among tiki. I don’t think anyone has the level of collaboration they had on a weekly basis. He would have Damon [Boelte] come in and do a Famous Grouse tiki night. Eight tiki cocktails with a Scotch base is crazy! To have that unique take every week. It was like a family that developed around that event with that amalgam of enthusiasts, casual participants, industry – it became a must-attend kind of thing. Julie’s willingness to let enthusiasts behind the stick – I did two or three Mondays With Miller. It’s extremely nerve-wracking to have Julie as your cocktail waitress!” — Adam Kolesar (“Tiki Adam”) and owner of OrgeatWorks

I don’t have a favorite memory. I’m too concerned that there is no Tiki bar in NYC and when I say that, I’m referring to bars that take the craft of Tiki cocktails seriously – like Three Dots & A Dash and Smuggler’s Cove.” –Brian Miller

My favorite tiki memories would not be from Painkiller, it would be from the Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That is in my opinion the most sacred manifestation in physical and spiritual essence in America should be. It’s been owned and operated by the same family for the same 50 years and there is not a place in there that does not exude tiki spirit, from the decor, staff, cocktails, nightly performances – every time I go there it prompts lasting memories for me of that genre. Sadly, I can’t really say that my favorite tiki memories took place in the bar formerly known as Painkiller.” –Richie Boccato, proprietor, Dutch Kills

“One of the first bars to have a specialty cocktail menu dedicated to quality classic tiki drinks was Elletaria, a now-defunct Asian-fusion restaurant that was in the West Village.  Before that, we pretty much had to make these drinks (and their component ingredients) at home.  In these earlier years, making drinks at home and then having one specific place to go for the specialty tiki night allowed us to get to know a group of “tiki-regulars”, many of whom continue to be some of our best friends in NYC.   This group has become our NYC “ohana” (or “family”) and we continue to get together to celebrate events, holidays and until recently, Tiki Mondays with Brian Miller.  Aside from seeing our regular group of friends, a big part of what we loved about Brian Miller’s Tiki Mondays was the guest bartenders.  It was always fun and interesting to watch them take on the classic tiki drinks, as well as seeing them invent new drinks, based on the spirit sponsor that week or their own personal preferences.  When Tiki Mondays moved to Mother’s Ruin, there was then a frozen drink machine available, which Brian and the other bartenders were able to employ in very unique ways.  For example, it was a fantastic kitschy idea for them to turn the Jungle Bird, a classic Campari-based tiki drink, into an amazing frozen drink.” –Nicole Desmond, Rhum Rhum Room

“In 2008, 2009, I saw a New York Times article about Jeff Berry. Quote: ‘you can’t get a good Zombie in NY.’ He was talking about Otto’s Shrunken Head. At the time, no tiki bars existed. And places said, let’s do something about that. As soon as I was able to legally go out and drink, I went out to those places (i.e Flatiron Room). When I got back to NY, Lani Kai and PKNY were up. I’m an Angeleno transplant, where we have Tiki Ti and some smaller places. It was great to see the evolution of the people doing this and their bars, and going to the openings of both of those places. Participating in that first Tiki Monday, and the rush of people coming downstairs. That was something I’d been waiting for a good five years to do. And having people love the drinks and having a good time.” –Garret Richard, bartender at Prime Meats, and host/creator of the Brooklyn Luau

Negroni Sbagliatos for a crowd

Image courtesy Manhattan Cocktail Classic

The Manhattan Cocktail Classic has officially drawn to a close. This is one of those epic events where bartenders serve hundreds — in some cases thousands — of cocktails at a go.  There were plenty of mediocre offerings, to be sure. But there were a great many memorable drinks too. And this was perhaps the most memorable drink of them all.

Likely, I was particularly attuned to this drink because of the Cocktails for a Crowd book. No doubt I was paying closer attention than ever before to how batched drinks were presented, ranging from the punch served in painted ceramic punchbowls at Dead Rabbit to colorful pink and orange Palomas decanted into swing-top glass flasks and arrayed on silver platters during a seminar.

But Campari topped them all, offering wee cans of Negroni Sbagliato cocktails. It’s a relatively simple classic cocktail:  Campari, sweet vermouth, and dry sparkling wine, like Prosecco. I first heard of it after Frank Bruni wrote about it a couple of years ago; it started popping up on drink menus shortly thereafter, though it’s still lesser-known vs the Negroni (Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin).  The cans were handed out at the splashy MCC gala, as well as at a party thrown by the brand a couple of nights later.

Apparently, the genesis of this canned cocktail began at last year’s gala, where Negronis were pre-batched, carbonated and bottled. At the event, bartenders merely popped off the bottle caps and inserted a straw. It was on-trend — arguably, ahead-of-trend– fun to drink and speedy to serve. The canned cocktails had been floated for the 2012 gala, a PR rep told me (as we sipped Sbagliatos, natch), but tabled until 2013.

Apparently, a great deal of effort went into those canned cocktails. They had to be specially made, the cocktail had to be made in large quantities, and they had to be shipped over. The red-and-white striped plastic straws (not paper, which disintegrate quickly), were sourced from Etsy.

Everyone noticed them. From a drinker’s perspective, it was a good cocktail — truly, the most important part of this equation — and it was fun to drink, so people actually walked around and drank from the cans. It wasn’t too big and it wasn’t too boozy, so it was one of the few cocktails I actually finished at the Gala. From a marketer’s perspective, it was clearly branded — no mistaking the distinctive Campari red, and it was labeled in big letters anyway, identifying the brand and the name of the drink. It was memorable and everyone asked where to get one. It was clever and not too ostentatious. Even the straws reinforced the branding, but in a tasteful way.

Now here’s where things fall apart. Despite this marketing coup, no one can buy this product. And I heard many people say they would gladly purchase a six-pack of Sbagliatos (I was one of them). You can buy a cans of Pimm’s at convenience stores in the UK, yet in the United States, the Ready-To-Drink category is limited to pouches of awful slushy Margaritas made with fake lime flavoring. If Campari brought the canned Sbagliato product to market, I would consider it to be an outright marketing success. If not, it was just a clever flash-in-the-pan that will need to be topped again next year.

Cocktail recipe: East River Defense

Image

My article, Your Cocktail’s Been A-Saltedappears in the March/April 2013 issue of Arrive Magazine, which –for once!– I got to read in hard copy format as I trundled along from NY to Baltimore and back again last week on Amtrak.

Gotta love any publication that lets me get away with a pun like that in the headline!

I’ve been looking forward to showcasing the East River Defense cocktail in the photo above ever since I first went to Northern Spy, a sweet little locavore spot in the East Village about a year ago.  I was there to interview Co-owner and Beverage Director Chris Ronis for a Wine Enthusiast feature about Aperitif Cocktails, and although it wasn’t part of the article, this was the drink I walked away thinking about — it had the strangest sweet-salty-tart-refreshing combination.

Northern Spy doesn’t have a full liquor license — they can serve only wine and beer. Luckily, that includes fortified wines (like sherry) and aperitif wines, so the drinks list still is robust and interesting.  In part, it’s that way because Ronis brought in mixologist Erick Castro to create the drinks. (If Castro’s name sounds familiar, perhaps that’s because you’ve been reading about his buzz-y new bar in San Diego, Polite Provisions.)

Although Ronis told me that this is based on a classic Cobbler, I think it’s even closer to the Paloma, a tequila drink made with grapefruit soda. Either way, it’s a perfect cocktail to transition into early spring.

East River Defense

Created by Erick Castro for Northern Spy ((New York, NY).  Nubbly “sea-salted ice” plus briny Manzanilla sherry gives the drink a refreshing salt-air tang.

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

3 ounces Manzanilla sherry

1 ounce lemon juice

1 ounce simple syrup

3 dashes Scrappy’s grapefruit bitters

Soda water

Scoop ice into a Collins glass, and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. In a cocktail shaker, combine sherry, lemon juice, simple syrup and bitters. Shake well, and strain into glass over the sea-salted ice. Top with soda water. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge and serve with a straw.

NYC friends: an All-American Whiskey and Cheese pairing event

Though I haven’t yet seen the new film about Abraham Lincoln, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what Lincoln might drink.

That’s because I have the joyful task of procuring whiskeys for an upcoming event in honor of President’s Day:  A President’s Day Toast to American Whiskey and American Cheese! This event, to be held on Monday, February 11, is produced by the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance, an organization of which I’m proud to be a member, and will be hosted at The Flatiron Room,  a new “whiskey and spirits parlor.”

Heather Greene, an outspoken advocate of women and whiskey, will be talking about the hooch; cheese expert Diana Pittet will be explaining the cheeses.

A few seats are still available — but this is a limited-seating event, and truly, they won’t last long. So if you’re interested in attending, I suggest booking sooner rather than later. (And yes, boys are allowed!)

I don’t want to spoil the surprise by telling you exactly what will be poured — but I can tell you this:  we’re doing four whiskey pours, paired with four cheeses, all of American provenance. There might be a fifth “bonus” pour (shhhh). But here’s a little hint as to what’s going in the glasses:

A delectable single barrel bourbon that retails for $400 to $500 per bottle. (if that’s not worth the price of admission, I don’t know what is!)

One of the few American-made single malts around. And this is a special one:  smoky like an Islay Scotch, and just snagged a prestigious award for best artisan whiskey! I was pleasantly surprised that the distillers were willing to part with a bottle for our event – this will soon be a tough whiskey to get.

My new favorite bottled-in-bond rye whiskey for my new favorite cocktail, the Final Ward.

A locally-made bourbon finished in sherry casks. Think caramel mixed with dried peaches and plums. It’s delicious, trust me, and there’s a great story behind the bottle too.

That’s all I’m going to say about this event. Snag a ticket while you can.

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:

DR_full monty

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.

DR_cocktail menu

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.

DR_illustrations

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

drink page

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.

DR_TOC

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

DR_Spirits

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:

VP- menu

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

VP_inside

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.

VP_ad

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.

Pictorial: Four Whiskeys, Old and Rare

A couple of weeks back, I attended an auction preview event at Bonhams. I knew that auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s often sell off old and rare wines, but this was the first time I’d seen spirits up for auction. While the main event was a bottle of 50-plus-year-old Bowmore Scotch (estimated to fetch between $160,000 and $190,000 – a real bargain, don’t you think?) a number of other old and rare whiskeys on display caught my eye, particularly the following four.

Maryland Rye Whiskey (priced at $200-$300). It’s not just the half-gallon milk jug or the wooden carry-handle. It’s that Maryland was once known as a rye-producing state, famed for its sweet, light style of rye (vs. the intense, spicy rye we know today), and it’s not something you see much of anymore. This was a bottle I’d be curious to try, if I ever had the opportunity.image

American Medicinal Spirits Co. – Special Old Reserve (priced at $500-$700). Seven one-pint bottles of “Prohibition bourbon” (distilled in 1916, bottled in 1933) were on offer, all labeled “For Medicinal Purposes Only.” Mmm-hmmm. If you say so.

image

image

John Hancock Whisky (no price listed). Oddly, this bottle wasn’t listed in the auction catalogue, so I have no benchmark on pricing. The best part is the label note:  “Pure and without drugs or poison.” Yikes! Although it’s hard to tell from the label alone, based on that telling little line, I’m guessing that this bottle is either Prohibition era, or even earlier, since the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was intended to combat such adulteration.

image

Hanyu Distillery (priced at $400-600 for two bottles). This limited release bottling of 18-year-old Single Nippon Malt Whisky was a limited release bottling, and the distillery is now closed. Released in 2006, this is by no means an old whiskey, but apparently it sold out with lightning speed and the “shameless but classic” label is iconic in Japanese whisky circles.
image