Spirited Award finalist! This one is for the bartenders.

Cocktails_for_a_Crowd_COVEROver the Memorial Day weekend, I received some particularly exciting news: Cocktails for a Crowd was named a Spirited Award finalist in the “Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book” category. The awards – part of the Tales of the Cocktail conference held in July – are a very big deal within the drinks industry, honoring bars, bartenders, brand ambassadors, and writers/authors from all over the world.

Though I’ve attended the awards before (this will be my 7th time at Tales!), this is the first time I’ve been been a finalist. And it’s particularly meaningful that the nod is for Cocktails for a Crowd, because the book has its roots at Tales – where I first saw really good drinks being batched in enormous quantities – and incorporates advice and recipes from so many bartenders I’ve met there over the years.

Take a look at the full list of finalists – I’m up against some hard-hitters and winning this is a long shot (although wouldn’t that just be the alcoholic frosting on an already booze-soaked cake?!?).

So I’m going to go ahead and say thank you now to the bartenders who contributed recipes and insight for Cocktails for a Crowd:  Jason Asher, Scott Baird, Corey Bunnewith, Martin Cate, Kevin Diedrich, Tasha Garcia-Gibson, Charles Joly, Ryan Maybee, Jim Meehan, Stephen Savage, Colin Shearn, and Kelley Swenson. Many of these fine folks are up for awards themselves this year, and at the awards ceremony, it’s for them I will be cheering myself most hoarse.

5 Things I’ve Learned About…Spiced Rum

The August 2011 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine is out, and it includes (among other things) my review column on Spiced Rum.  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio.  Here’s what I learned:

1. Spiced rum has a bad reputation. It’s fun. It can be too sweet. You knew someone in college who tossed back too many Captain-and-Cokes. But that doesn’t stop many from taking spiced rum very seriously.  Maybe too seriously. 

2. Dry vs. sweet spiced rums. I didn’t realize there were different styles until I started tasting. But it’s a rather pronounced difference, and the “dry style” spiced rums were particularly nuanced and delicious.

3. Spiced rum is made with actual spices. Not just flavorings. Vanilla is perhaps the most commonly found spice. However, cocktail geeks mostly  disapprove of “vanilla-forward” rums. Taste thoughtfully, and you may detect spices like clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Ginger and black pepper also may appear. One particularly spicy Cajun brand also used cayenne pepper.

4. Spiced rum is not part of the classic cocktail canon. Old school tiki bars would make their own. Some newfangled tiki lounges still do. (I’m lookin’ at you, Martin Cate!)

5. How to use spiced rum in cocktails. Tiki driks. Hot drinks like spiced cider. The Cable Car is a new classic. In other words, spiced rum is more versatile than I had thought. Check out some drink recipes here.

If you have a favorite spiced rum or cocktail made with spiced rum, I’d love to hear about it!

Tales of the Cocktail Preview: Fern Bars

Wait, we’ve barely finished detoxing from the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, and already I’m talking about Tales of the Cocktail? You betcha. Already I’m looking forward to attending The Smooth and Creamy History of the Fern Bar, to be led by tiki tastemaker Martin Cate.  In a nutshell, Cate traces a line from “fern bars” to frozen-Margarita-slushie-abomination chains like TGI Friday’s and Bennigan’s, as well as the Regal Beagle of Three’s Company fame.

Cates’s tiki-themed Spirited Dinners are always one of the highlights of Tales, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to inquire what polyester-attired mischief he’s up to this time.

Kara:  Tell us about the Fern Bar concept you have planned for Tales.

Martin Cate:  The event started as a conversation between me and Jeff Berry, we were talking about this forgotten and despised era in history. It came up recently because I became interested in Norman Hobday – his name is mentioned in Tony Abou-Ganim’s book as a legendary cocktail figure. I did some research and started to learn more about him. His bar, Henry Africa’s in San Francisco, was considered by most to be the first Fern Bar. Hobday was an esoteric character. He wore safari suits and was a larger-than-life figure. He had the idea to do this bar, more like your grandmother’s sitting room vs. a dark, dungeon-y space. It attracted professionals, girls, and changed the bar into a more relaxed, familial atmosphere.

It’s widely thought that he invented the Lemon Drop. He was something of a crazed character. He invented a chain, went out of business, came back later, started another. He’s a cocktail impresario of the era…but unlike Don the Beachcomber or Jerry Thomas, he’s alive.

Is he coming to Tales?

No, he won’t be there, but I’ll be interviewing him for the event. Has a place in San Francisco. He has this cat – a Katrina rescue cat, named Mr. Higgins. He’s huge – he has to be the biggest cat I’ve ever seen. He sleeps on the bar. It has to be one of those strange, only-in-San-Francisco stories. It’s a story of the era, the style, the look and feel of the era.

We’ll be talking about what made these places popular, what was their appeal, their draw. The cocktails – universally hated now, these ice cream, syrupy drinks. But people were crazy about them. I don’t think the trend will go back. But when you look at the drinks you can say – what were the inspirations? What were the flavors? That you can apply to current mixology. Sure you can dismiss the ingredients as high fat, etc. But what was it that people got a kick out of with these drinks? Tastes change, but there’s something to be learned.

It will be fun, a lively affair, with music and entertaining apparel. We’ll keep it light and breezy, like a top AM hit.


The Regal Beagle - the ultimate Fern Bar

So a Fern Bar is…what exactly? 

The look and feel is Victorian looking. It’s got brass rails and Tiffany lamps and lots of things like lots of ferns and potted palms. You can see that example in films. It’s a place for yuppies – the 70s into the 80s. Great example:  The Regal Beagle in Three’s Company is the archetypal fern bar – California yuppies with feathered hair enjoying ice cream drinks in a Victorian parlor-esque setting.  It started in very early 70s, popular through the 70s, and petered out in mid 80s.

You’re going to single-handedly revive this, aren’t you?

I hope not!  But it’s a change of pace from tiki. I just thought it was uncovered territory. People want to shove it under the mat. I hope people get a kick out of it.

What drinks are you planning to serve up?

We’re putting the final touches on it now. I don’t want to spoil it by telling too much. They’re going to be frozen. They’ll be the lesser-known ones from the era, rather than go to the Lemon Drop, Harvey Wallbangers, wine spritzers, Fuzzy Navels, Pina Coladas.

Wanna share one?

No. I’m afraid if I share one people will stay away. My descriptions will challenge your concept of “good.”

One thing I can tell you is that we’re devoting the latter part of it to a singles mixer – we’ll put on mellow 70s tunes and say hello to all the pretty ladies.

It’s like that Saturday Night Live skit with Steve Martin –

Two Wild & Crazy Guys? It’s not entirely unrelated.

California, here I come

I’ve survived week one of the Spice & Ice promo-fest here in New York. Now, I’m packing my bags and heading to San Francisco for a few days — one of the most exciting cocktail cities in the world.

On Monday, November 9, I’ll be at Cantina (580 Sutter, at Mason Street) from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. Along with master mixologist Jacques Bezuidenhout, who has two (!) cocktails featured in Spice & Ice, I’ll be mixing up Partida tequila drinks made with jalapenos, hot sauce, and other fun, fiery ingredients. Stop by and you’ll also have an opportunity to try your hand at making your own spicy cocktail!

On Wednesday, November 11, I’ll be at Omnivore Books (3885a Cesar Chavez Street) from 6:00 to 7:00 pm. I’ll be signing books, talking about spicy cocktail trends and techniques, and YES there will be cocktails!

Also, keep an eye out for me on the View from the Bay TV show on Wednesday, November 11.  I’ll be live on the air on ABC, mixing drinks and talking about Spice & Ice.

But what am I looking forward to most? Trying out as many Bay area bars as I can while I’m in town, of course! Is Martin Cate’s new tiki palace open yet? I’ll be looking for drinking buddies, so ping me if you’re up for an adventure.