Talking and tippling with the 3 “Vermouth-kateers”

The "Vermouth-kateers":  Carl Sutton, Neil Kopplin and Andrew Quady

The “Vermouth-kateers”: Carl Sutton, Neil Kopplin and Andrew Quady

Julia Child splashed French vermouth into much of her cooking. James Bond added Italian vermouth to his famous “shaken, not stirred,” martinis. But American-made vermouth is what’s now taking the cocktail world by storm.

So on April 8, it was my pleasure to moderate a panel of West Coast wine and vermouth producers, “Fountain of Vermouth,” at the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in San Francisco.

The three panelists- who jokingly refer to themselves as “vermouth-kateers“-  were Neil Kopplin, a former bartender and current partner of Portland, Oregon’s Imbue Cellars, who makes his Bittersweet Vermouth with Willamette Valley Pinot Gris; Carl Sutton, owner of Sutton Cellars in Sonoma, Calif.; and Andrew Quady, a Madera, California-based winemaker who also produces vermouth under the Vya label.

Quady first provided the attendees with a definition of the aromatized, fortified “wine-but more than just wine,” including an overview of some of the botanicals used to flavor it.

That was followed by a lively debate between Kopplin and Sutton, who have divergent philosophies about what makes for good vermouth. Sutton said he starts with both wine and brandy that is “absolutely neutral” in character: “I want a completely blank canvas, something I can project onto.” He then adds as many as 17 ingredients for flavoring.

Kopplin, for his part, insisted that since the wine makes up 75-80% of what’s in the glass, it should be “the bright shining star” that the botanicals are selected to complement. He fully expects his vermouth to change from year to year, he added, since he switches up the base wine with each vintage. This year, he’s using local Pinot Gris; next year, the base will be Sémillon.

To cap it all off,  Sutton mixed up a round of Bamboo cocktails for the crowd – here’s the recipe:

Bamboo Cocktail

1½ oz. Lustau amontillado sherry

1½ oz. Sutton Cellars dry vermouth

2 dashes orange bitters

1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir together all ingredients with ice, and strain into a cocktail glass.   Garnish with a lemon peel twist.

Literate drinking: Drink.Think heads to San Fran on Feb 5!

image courtesy Monica BhideDrink.Think is going on the road…to San Francisco!

If you’ll be in the Bay area on Tuesday, Feb 5, I hope you’ll come out to Cantina to enjoy a drink and hear an amazing group of writers read from their work about beverages.

In addition, Karlsson’s Vodka and Santa Teresa Rum will be pouring samples of their products.  (The regular bar also will be available.)

Date & Time:  Tuesday, February 5, 2013.  The bar will be open starting at 6pm – the reading starts at 7pm.

Location:  Cantina, 580 Sutter St at Mason St, San Francisco, CA

Admission: FREE admission and samples of Karlsson’s Vodka and Santa Teresa. Drinks will be available for purchase.

Featured Readers:  Curated by wine and spirits writer Kara Newman, participants include:

  • Camper English, cocktail/spirits writer for San Francisco Chronicle, andFine Cooking
  • Courtney Humiston, columnist, 7×7 Magazine and founding editor,
  • Duggan McDonnell, writer, bartender and boozy entrepreneur
  • Gayle Keck, food and travel writer
  • Virginia Miller, food and drink correspondent, San Francisco Bay Guardian and blogger,
  • Jill Robinson, travel writer, San Francisco ChronicleAmerican Way and more
  • Michael Shapiro, freelance travel writer, National Geographic Traveler and Islands magazine
  • Stevie Stacionis, wine writer and Director of Communication at Corkbuzz Wine Studio
  • Liza B. Zimmerman, editor-at-large Cheers and contributing editor to Wine Business Monthly

I hope to see you at Cantina on Feb 5 – come thirsty!

Spirited travel, brought to you by the letter “S”

I’ve been hoping to post more drink recipes and photos here, but a few things have kept me from tinkering much at the bar.

One of those things is an exciting new column I’m writing for Reuters, called “The Spirited Traveller,” all about where business travelers can find great cocktails in far-flung locales.

Now, I wish I could say that I’ve been traveling around myself…but rather, this has been a lot of armchair travel and interviews. Still, I’ve been learning quite a bit in this adventure.

Here are the first three columns for your own armchair-traveling pleasure — and yes, I do plan to branch out beyond the letter “S”!

Sling them Back in Singapore

Crafty Sipping in San Francisco

Tilting the Glass in Shanghai

3 things to know before doing TV demos

remote_controlLast week, I did my first-ever TV appearance, on San Francisco’s View From The Bay show (click here to watch the  segment, on festive drinks for the holidays). Here are three lessons I learned, which might be helpful for anyone else promoting a book or demonstrating how to make drinks or food on TV for other reasons:

1. Be flexible. VFTB runs on the local ABC affiliate, which is owned by…Disney.  That means family-friendly up the wazoo, which translates into NO BOOZE for the TV host. Yes, showing bottles of tequila is allowed, but I was discouraged from making cocktails for the segment. I’m sure you can see where this would be problematic for someone promoting a book on cocktails.

The solution: mocktails.

“Mocktails?!?”  Can you hear my incredulous, frustrated tone? After all the time creating and testing (and discarding) cockails to fill out the book with the best possible cocktails, I was expected to make no-booze variations? After I passed through the classic stages of grief (denial, anger, acceptance) I set out to create mocktails that would represent the “Spice & Ice” flavor profile and — to be perfectly blunt — that wouldn’t suck. After all, someone was going to be drinking these!

I took some inspiration from Natalie Bovis-Nielsen’s book Preggatinis (literally, an entire book of mocktails that do not suck. Yes, that’s an extreme understatement – I’ve only tried a couple of drinks from the book but they were quite lovely), and created mocktail versions of the Dragonfire, the Sparkling Ginger Daisy (recipe below), and the Jalapeno Mojito.

2. Be creative.  You need some weird stuff for mocktails — white grape juice, bitter lemon soda (surprisingly hard to find in the Bay area!), lots of citrus to approximate the bite of alcohol. Instead of Domaine de Canton in the Sparkling Ginger Daisy, I relied on spicy ginger beer. But sometimes they can be insipid, so when I shopped for ingredients at Whole Foods (4th St & Mission), I asked one of the clerks which one was spiciest.

“I don’t know,” he replied, “let’s try them and find out!”  He fetched a bottle opener and some small plastic cups, and together we sampled four different brands, right off the shelf. People in New York are never that accommodating!

PS, the spicy ginger beer taste-off winner was Fentimans, by a wide margin, trailed by Ginger People and GUS brands.

3. Be fast! Despite all the prep time needed to make drinks on live TV, the air time goes by in a flash. The producer wisely recommended that I prepare one of each drink to completion ahead of time. It was a good thing I did; apparently something went wrong with the “robo-camera” (whatever that is) back at the studio, and that meant the segment wrapped up rather abruptly, and I was rushed through the last two drinks. I give the host, Lisa Quinn, a lot of credit; I don’t think I would have maintained composure with someone yelling “wrap it up! wrap it up!” in my earpiece.

Sparkling Ginger Daisy (Mocktail Version)

Adapted from Spice & Ice – 60 tongue-tingling cocktails, by Kara Newman (Chronicle Books, 2009)

Sparkle sugar, to rim the glass

Lemon slice, to rim the glass

2 coin-sized rounds of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
2 oz pomegranate juice
2 oz white grape juice
3 oz spicy ginger beer

Moisten the rim of the glass with lemon and rim a champagne flute with sparkle sugar. Set aside.

In the bottom of a mixing glass, muddle the fresh ginger. Add pomegranate, white grape juice, and ice. Shake vigorously and strain into champagne flute. Top with ginger ale.

Scenes from San Francisco

I’m wrapping up a busy week in the Bay area — here are some quick snaps and stories to share.

Chronicle Books Store

The Chronicle Books Store - I didn't realize my publisher had standalone stores - very cool.

Book Display

The drinks books display at the Chronicle Books store. Spice & Ice, baby!


Visiting with the dapper Tim Stookey at Presidio Social Club. What a fabulous, old-world vibe the place has. So does Tim, don't you think?

Presidio 2

Tim made this lovely "Hoop-La" aperitif. I think it was equal parts gin, brandy, and Lillet.

Presidio 3

Check out the stainless steel apothecary cabinets lining the back bar (did I mention that marble bar top is 35 feet long?) And what's that splash of hot pink in the cabinet with the antique bar books and bottles? Spice & Ice, baby!


The effervescent Celia Sacks, owner of Omnivore Books. What an amazing bookstore.

Omnivore 2

Celia's collection of 1930s miniature liquor bottles, above the wine & spirits book display.

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.