Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cleaning out the closet pt. 2: Not just grape juice and kids

Dec. 2

I'd received an invitation from Jonathan Pogash about a cocktail event. A cocktail even hosted by Welch's.

"Intriguing," I thought to myself. The event was in the middle of the day, but luckily it was being held someplace within walking distance, so around 2 pm I made my way east to the World Bar at Trump World Tower.

The event was specifically catered towards the company's refrigerated juice cocktails. According to the good folks representing Welch's that I met there, based on a consumer study they had done, they were surprised to find out that many bartenders were purchasing their juice for use behind the bar. The line features flavors such as mango, guava and passion fruit, and some bartenders who wanted these flavors, but either couldn't access them readily and conveniently in fresh form or found these fruits to be out of season, were purchasing these juices for their use. Welch's wanted to acknowledge that avenue of using their juice cocktails so they decided to hold the event at the World Bar at Trump World Tower and hired Jonathan Pogash to create some cocktail recipes using the juices from the refrigerated line. The recipe cards provided at the event even included fun facts regarding cocktail history and trivia.

Leti Taft-Pearman, product marketing manager for the refrigerated line, explained that for this group of products, the number of flavors available goes through changes. About one flavor a year is introduced and slower moving flavors are retired.

The event wasn't just interesting because, "Hey, it's Welch's and remember when you were a kid and drank their grape juice all the time? Well, here's some cocktails." It was interesting because it was another company putting in their marketing dollars towards cocktails. Again its hard not to make comparisons with how the whole foodie culture is a big part of consumer advertising nowadays. Watch an ad for Swanson broth and you see chef Christopher Lee as the spokesperson letting the home cook know food can get a boost of flavor from stock. The ad even makes a point of mentioning that he's a winner of the James Beard Foundation's Rising Star Chef award. A sort of pitch that wouldn't have made all that much sense to a good chunk of the population a couple of years ago. Go on Welch's site or watch TV and you can see foodie geek favorite Alton Brown talking about polyphenol antioxidants in Concord Grapes.

While this event was geared more towards the industry, this product is available in supermarkets as well. And with the availability of recipes for these cocktails, what's to keep from home bar enthusiasts from trying their hand? You kind of already see the sort of bar expert marketing geared towards consumers in liquor ads.

Drinks from the Welch's Mixer at the World Bar (recipes courtesy of Welch's from the event):

Welch's Punch Cocktail
1 oz. light rum
1 oz. dark rum
1 1/2 oz. Welch's Berry Pineapple Passion Fruit
juice of 1/2 a lime
dash of bitters

Shake well in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain over ice into a rock glass.
Garnish: Grated nutmeg
*NOTE: this can be made in large, punch-bowl

Independence Sparkler
1 oz. Welch's Strawberry Breeze
1/2 oz. vanilla liqueur
3 oz. premium Brut Champagne

Add ingredients to mixing glass with ice and stir briefly. Strain into chilled champagne flute.
Garnish: Strawberry slice on rim of glass

Kuava Martini
1 1/2 oz. Welch's Guava Pineapple
1 oz. gin
1/2 oz. elderflower liqueur
juice of 1/4 lemon

Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass.
Garnish: Edible flower

Cherry Smash
2 oz. Welch's Tropical Cherry
1 1/2 oz. bourbon
3 lemon wedges
handful of mint leaves (approx. 8-10(

Muddle the mint and lemon in the bottom of a mixing glass. Add remaining ingredients with ice and shake briefly. Pour into rocks glass.

Grapes and Pears
1 oz. Welch's Grape
1 oz. pear cognac or pear liqueur
3 oz. premium Brut Champagne

Stir ingredients briefly in a mixing glass with ice and strain into a chilled champagne flute.
Garnish: Pear slice and sliced grapes

Cleaning out the closet pt.1: Vanilla liqueur and amaro

I think it was Gore Vidal who said, "I'm sorry mama, I never meant to hurt you, I never meant to make you cry, but tonight I'm cleanin' out my closet."

...Wait, that was Eminem. And that's not exactly the sentiment I was going for.

Anyhow, I know there was sort of a chasm there for a couple of weeks to make it almost reminescent of the 400 years of silence between the Old and New Testaments. Year end things and hectic schedule in general made me very terrible about updating and I realize that there is now a small backlog of odds and ends. So, rather than let these experiences go to waste, and in the spirit of releasing all the old things of this year, I'm cranking out as many entries as I can using these odds and ends as the new year rings in. Working backwards in chronological order.

Vanilla liqueur and Amaro, or Two out of three ain't bad
Dec. 15

My first stop of the evening was at Pranna, where Navan was hosting a cocktail pairing dinner. The thing I find kind of interesting about Navan's events are they're rarely just a "Hey, here's our product, try some of it," type of thing. The events always try to bring in different elements that seem to make it more like an overall atmospheric lifestyle marketing in a way. With heavy emphasis on vanilla or the whole exotic angle of where vanilla comes from.

For example, at a previous Navan event I went to, besides cocktails, but there was also food, a little vanilla educational area, as well as a sort of booth/set up from a New York flower shop that specializes in rare and exotic flowers and arrangements.

The dinner at Pranna, one of several that Navan holds, wasn't an exception. Scarves and Panama hats were set out as party favors.

Aisha Sharpe of Contemporary Cocktails, the outfit that created Pranna's beverage program, and Pranna bar managers Elba Giron and Justin Noel created the drinks served for the evening.

Before the dinner itself, two seperate cocktails were served with hors d'oeuvre. The Jayakarta was made with kaffir lime leaves, yuzu juice, guava puree, freshly extracted giner juice, Navan, and Aperol. The drink was then topped with brut sparkling wine and grated kaffir lime leaves. The Winter Punch was made with Sialor Jerry spiced rum, Navan, fresh pressed apple juice, fresh lemon juice freshly extracted ginger juice and angostura bitters. The drink was then garnished with pomegranate seeds and freshly grated nutmeg.

The dinner's first course of Penang Chicken Spring Rolls, Spinach Potato Curry Puffs and Crispy Paneer Lollipops was paired with a first course flight of cocktails were served amuse-bouche style in small shot glasses. The three different drinks reflected sweet, spicy and sour flavors. The Berry Twist for Thailand reflected sweet and was made with strawberries, Thai basil, fresh lemons and Navan, garnished with a strawberry heart and Thai basil sprig.

El Diablo, the Spicy Spice of the trio, got its heat from Thai Bird chile-infused Navan. Additional ingredients were Navan, El Tesoro blanco, fresh pressed pineapple juice, fresh lemon juice and Calamansi honey. Then a sprinkl of dried chile powder and sea salt for garnish.

The third drink, the Luzon Sour, was made with Granny Smith apples, fresh yuzu juice, fresh lemon juice, Tio Pepe Fino Sherry and Navan.

For the second course, we were served with several dishes family-style. There was Pandan Warpped Halibut with Navan Red Curry Sauce, Ancho Airline Chicken with a Navan Lemongrass sauce as well as Cumin-crusted Hanger Steak with a red wine peppercorn sauce.

The cocktail paired with this course was the Pandan Smash. Pandan Leaves, lemongrass syrup, fresh lemons and Navan was topped with sparkling water and garnished with a lemon wheel and Pandan strips.

I couldn't stick around for the third course that featured the rich-sounding dessert trio of Chocolate Fudge Cake with a Navan Chile Zabaglione, Navan Caramel Ice Cream and Banana Ginger Cake with a Chocolate Navan Cream and Vanilla Caramel. The drink for this course was called Winter Island. And the menu told me that this particular cocktail was to be made with Cruzan Single Barrel Rum, Navan, ripe bananas, green cardamom, Moscovado syrup, and angostura bitters.

Though I was curious, sadly, I had to leave that final drink untasted because I was scheduled to make an appearance at the Averna Appreciation Party and the dinner was running a little later than expected. The party was at Louis 649 all the way down on 9th street between avenues B and C.

I managed to pop in just as Bret Thorn was making his escape.

"Do you guys work in shifts or something?" Tad Carducci asked me as he saw me pop up at the bar with Bret heading out the door.

Tad and Damon Dyer were working the bar that evening. Don Lee was supposed to make an appearance since the party was supposed to congratulate him on his winning cocktail, La Cola Nostra, from the Averna competition a while back. Unfortunately, continued medical care for the arm he broke right before the aforementioned competition kept him from the event.

Damon was making toddies the good old-fashioned way that grandma used to make them when you had a cold, or maybe you couldn't fall asleep (or extra strong for those nights when she really needed you to sleep now), Blue Blazer style. Come on, everybody loves fire. I know I do.

I tried Don's La Cola Nostra Punch (Amaro Averna, Fantinel Prosecco, Zapaca Centenario rum, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, lime juice, simple syrup and lime wedges as garnishes), as well as two different toddies. I chatted a bit with Thanh-Nam Vo Duy (Hennessy) and J.C. Iglesias (Grand Marnier), talking about various fun topics, like having the three-tier system broken down for me.

There was another cocktail/bartender industry event planned at Pranna later in the evening, but I called it a night after the Averna Appreciation Party. It was drizzly and my shoes were killing me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Vino de Jerez sherry competition

December 9

I showed up at Clover Club around 7-ish. It kind of worked out because I wasn't really sure if I was going to be allowed into the live competition part and the live competition started at 5 p.m., so that was going to be a little hard for me to make, what with having a regular office job.

I found myself a bit confused when I first showed up because it looked like business as usual in the front bar area. I figured that the competition was going on in the back bar and that I'm supposed to hang out here after all until the after party started at 8:30.

But to make sure I wasn't there on the wrong day or something I asked the folks up front where I should be for the Vino de Jerez competition.

"Are you a friend or here to see a competitor?" the hostess asked.

Good question, I thought. "Um, hmm...well, no, I suppose. I don't know. I just got an invite and RSVP'ed so I'm kind of not sure."

But somehow it was cool for me to be back there and I got ushered to the back. I wasn't expecting to see what I saw though. The place was lit up with video cameras and dudes with like headphones and laptops and stuff. It was a huge production.

"Dude, I wasn't expecting it to be like this," I said to Daniel Eun, who'd I'd just missed.

"Yea, the presentation is part of the judging process too," he answered.

So the finalists in this competition were:

Marshall Altier, Insieme and Terroir, New York
Joel Baker, Bourbon and Branch, San Francisco
Nathan Dumas, Clover Club, New York
Matt Eggleston, The Milk of Paradise Spirits Co., Los Angeles
Daniel Eun, PDT, New York
Chris Hannah, Arnaud's, New Orleans
Perez Klebahn, SUBA, New York
Timothy Lacey, The Drawing Room, Chicago
Carlos Olarte, Jaleo, Washington DC
Antonio Trillo, Nora’s Cuisine, Las Vegas
Neyah White, NOPA, San Francisco

And our judges for the evening: Dale DeGroff, Dave Wondrich, Julie Reiner, Andy Seymour, Jacques Bezuidenhout (who won last year) and Steven Olsen.

I snuck in all kinds of awkward and quickly said hi to folks before settling down on a bar stool to see what sort of things the competitors were bringing to the table. I'd come just as contestant Matt Eggleston was getting ready to do his thing.

His El Toro en la Colina, or Bull on the Hill, cocktial made with oloroso sherry, gin and bitters demerara and chartreuse. Now, where does the "bull" in the name come in? Believe it or not, this cocktail has some demi-glace in it.

Dale DeGroff asked Matt, "How does the chef feel about you using the demi-glace?"

"He doesn't know about it yet," Matt answered.

The cocktail also uses peppers in it so it's got a lot of flavors going on, but once Matt was done with his presentation, Julie called me over and told me to try it a bit and the thing was actually balanced and subtle. And there really was a beefiness hiding in the background. Well, beefiness doesn't sound right. More like a pleasingly phantom savory meat presence lurking in the background.

He'd even brought along his own antique glassware that the judges commented on. Dale said he liked the length of the stem as well as the size of drink the glass held.

Besides the actual taste, the cocktails picked had to be featured on a "working, existing restaurant or bar cocktail program" and the contestants were also judged by their written explanations of: "Why their cocktail is great. When to serve, and how. The precise recipe, proper garnish and ideal glass. The exact preparation method and steps of assembly. The perfect (bar) food match (and why?)"

You couldn't just spit good game on paper, you had to talk it to the judges as well. They did ask questions about what food they would go with or how they'd simplify the recipe for service. Questions by the judges, cameras and lighting all sound like things that would make me supremely nervous as separate entities, but the finalists I got to watch held up pretty well.

Nate Dumas got some good-natured ribbing from the judges about his "homefield advantage" because he works at the Clover Club (and you can catch him at PDT on sometimes).

Nate said that his cocktail, The Crossing, is pastry-inspired, taking into account flavors present in the Don Nuno oloroso like molasses, cocoa and coffee. Nate also explained that it's a nod to Don Nuno, since in his research (on Google, he added), he found that Don Nuño was an archbishop in the sherry region.

Nate chose the Don Nuño because of it's nutty and molassesy characteristic, and its dryness allowed him to be in control of the sweetness. Lemon and orange juice provided acidity, demerara sugar syrup for complexity and Laird's Bonded Applejack boosted the fruit flavors of the sherry, Amaro Carciofo. And to bring out some body and richness, egg whites.

Nate explained that previous he double-strained to get rid of the coarse bubbles, but found out that if he strained slowly, there's no need for him to take that extra step.

Nate finished off the drinks with a cross of Fee's aromatic bitters as well as some nutmeg.

Miguel Trillo of Nora’s Cuisine in Las Vegas also presented an egg white cocktail, and used cantaloupe and rosemary in his as well as bourbone and agave nectar. The drink had a bit of Vegas showiness to it with some flame action and a garnish skewer of candied cantaloupe, candied lemon and rosemary.

Joel Baker from Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco intrigued the judges with his use of Scotch for his Matador cocktail (name derived from his favorite 80s movie, "The Breakfast Club"). Joel said "the writing was on the wall...or on the bottle in this case" for his idea because the scotch he chose to use was aged in sherry barrels.

OK, but you don't want to hear me yammer on and on, you wanna hear who won. So we got shooed out for a bit while the judges had time to deliberate. I do best when left to my own devices. I make a nuisance of myself. I bugged Eben Freeman about some ridiculous theories and and half-baked conjectures I had been hashing out after being presented with a random cocktail question from somewhere else, Willy Shine and I asked Matt Eggleston about cocktails in Los Angeles, Alex Day told me he sent me an email that got lost in the ether about the new D&C menu was out and I jokingly accused him that he probably didn't want to tell me, then I forgot Pegu bartender Scott's name again even though Kenta Goto introduced me to him and mentioned his name to me more than once, and I demanded that Giuseppe Gonzalez make me some alcohol.

The back bar area finally opened up people got to sample the finalists' drinks. Thomas Waugh and Leo DeGroff busily made the drinks using batches the finalists made.

After folks got a chance to try out the drinks and nosh a bit, Steve Olsen announced the winners. The scoring was tough and close enough to result in a tie for third place between Daniel Eun and Joel Baker. Second place went to Nate Dumas and first place was Neyah White.

"California represent," Daniel Eun said, since he and Nate are originally from the West Coast.

The industry party in the back bar was supposed to go on in the wee hours, but I ducked out early (seeing a pattern here?). I wish sticking around longer was an option, but it was a school night.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

What I did for Repeal Day

Honestly? Not that wild. In fact, I was trying to see how much I could get done before midnight so I could be home at a reasonable hour. I wasn't planning on upping the punx or anything like that. I was tired, man. By the time Friday rolled around I was just not in the mood for putting up with ridiculousness, so when you add Friday night crowds with Repeal Day, that's too many possibilities for ridiculousness. I wish I had some crazy party stories about me drinking out of a comically huge martini glass and doing body shots of George T. Stagg or something, but I was in grumpy old mode.

Regardless of my grumpiness, I wanted to go and check out the DISCUS party at the Back Room since Jonathan Pogash was nice enough to invite me and I wanted to see what kind of shindig DISCUS would throw. When I got there, a band was playing away and I spotted Jonathan busily making Mary Pickfords. He said he marinated his own cherries using pitted dark cherries you can buy in a jar and letting it sit with some Jerry Thomas Decanter bitters and Woodford Reserve for 24 hours.

I asked Jonathan if he had an insane night planned, hoping to live vicariously through him, but he said he was probably going to finish up the DISCUS event then go home to celebrate it with his family his own way. Considering up until a day or two ago, my plans for celebrating Repeal Day was to go home and sample all the random bottles of booze I had (it's called spirit EDUCATION), I nodded in agreement. But Jonathan said I should try and stick around since Dave Wondrich was going to give a brief talk about his bathtub gin.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Toby Cecchini was there as well and making Manhattans. He also brought along his own homebrew cherries. His recipe called for half of maraschino liqueur and half rhum agricole with some vanilla bean pods added for extra flavor. He asked me if I wanted a Manhattan. Who was I to argue with Toby Cecchini? I knocked back the rest of the Mary Pickford in my teacup.

After the Manhattan, I strolled up to the bar and asked for a Girl Friday. The fruity sloe gin and crisp cucumber flavors perked me up a bit.

Terence Miller was there, and I hadn't seen him since the Marie Brizard event. It took me a second or two to recognize him and I stared at him for a bit thinking over and over in my head, "That dude is way tall and totally looks familiar."

"Is it just more does it seem like more people are celebrating Repeal Day?" he asked me.

I KNOW, I thought then explained to him how I made a similar observation in a blog post previous to this one.

Dave Wondrich got up to give a little talk about the significance of Repeal Day. How immigrants helped to perfect the art of creating single-serving drinks. How the use of ice was also a very American thing. The art of the cocktail mirrored the melting pot aspect of America.

Thanks to Prohibition, the bartender, considered to this point a gentleman with a trade that the learned, became a criminal.

This meant many went on to foreign ports like Europe or Asia, but some stayed. Maybe working for private country clubs.

Nonetheless, they had to get the wares for their trade from other criminals, and this usually meant booze with quality that couldn't be accounted for, sometimes adulterated. After Prohibition was repealed, some of the old-timers returned, but pretty much bartenders "had to build up from the ground."

"We're living in the second Golden Age of the cocktail," Dave told the crowd that gathered. "If you like to tipple...you can get a cocktail as good as it comes."

However, to "commemorate the Dark Ages," Dave gave a demonstration of bathtub gin creation.

The base of bathtub gin was grain alcohol. Dave explained that sources varied. Either they were industrially made with unwanted chemicals included in the mix, or maybe something made from table scraps in a basement in Brooklyn.

For his demonstration, Dave Wondrich used some good quality vodka, joking that this was probably the best quality bathtub gin you could get.

The next important ingredient for bathtub gin was creating the gin flavor, which is juniper. The juniper extract/flavoring could be created by boiling juniper berries and straining them out.

"Now this is the really important part," Dave added. "The aging...it's aging even as we speak."

Everyone laughed and he went on to "bottle" his gin and even added a label.

The bar was serving Dave's bathtub gin martini, but I skipped out to go to Devin Tavern an Old Forester event I'd RSVP'ed to. It was A Repeal Day event as well as a media preview for the limited release for the Old Forester Repeal Bourbon. The bar was serving classic cocktails using Old Forester and had some Prohibition-era extras. Such as Fritos and chicken salad sandwichs made with WonderBread and Tootsie Roll Pops with a little bit of history on the items.

I didn't rest my feet too long in Tribeca and inched my way up towards the East Village. I don't know if it was because it was Repeal Day or drinks I had, but the grape-flavored Tootsie Pop I snagged from a bowl at the Old Forester event put me in a Kojak mood. I stuck the lollipop in my mouth and said "Who loves ya, baby?" to myself as I stuck my hands deep into my coat pockets and stalked the night streets.

I had a feeling Death and Co. would be filled to the gills, because again, come on, Friday+Repeal Day, but it was on my way so I turned my feet in that direction.

Just as I suspected there was pretty much no way in. I tried to walk past as several other parties tried their best to see if they could at least get a foot past the threshold, but something was slowing my gait. Maybe I was going crazy, but thanks to Alex Day telling me about the Rittenhouse 23 special, I felt like I could feel it beckoning me from inside. I could hear its heartbeat; practically taste it. The expectation of silky amber fire asking me to at least take a chance. "Couldn't hurt to leave your number right?" the velvety imagined voice purred in my head.

"Aw, crap, I have a problem," I thought. I left my name and number at the door, even though from the look of the list my chances of getting in at a resonable time were nil.* I sighed, then girded myself to head towards Yerba Buena.

Before leaving the country, Don Lee had dropped me an email telling me I should check out Artemio Vasquez's drink program. Artemio's an alum of both PDT and Pegu Club. Every now and then you might've seen him at Pegu when Audrey needs to call in folks for back up. He was there during the Blue Blazer event as well, working the behind the bar.

Yerba Buena was also like a can of sardines, but I wasn't going to be rebuffed so I found a corner of the bar I could squeeze myself into. Since the Prohibition special menu list was basically classic cocktails, I skipped that to take a look at their regular stuff.

The regular menu also featured some classics like the Aviation and the Dark and Stormy. There were also a few featured friends drinks such as Dale De Groff's Whiskey Smash, Milk and Honey's Dominicana and Audrey Sander's Pisco Punch.

I decided to try out the Pisco Guava first. Made with pisco, guava puree and fresh lemon juice, it was tart and not too sweet. The very slight muscat-y grapiness in the pisco paired really well with the guava.

I saw that the Desert Rose was clearly the star of the menu. I'd tried it back when Artemio's drink was featured in one of PDT's old menus under their friends and family section. It was sellng like hot cakes that evening and as I stood at the bar waiting for my drink I counted, two, five...six of them go out before I got mine. They continued to fly out from behind the bar long after too.

I introduced myself to Artemio and chatted a bit. He mentioned he made a new drink called the Peruvian Kiss, which was basically a Pisco Sour, but using blue corn "liqueur." He asked if I wanted to try it and intrigued, I said I'd like to. He got one of the servers to bring over a plastic tub of inky liquid. It was the corn, the he'd cooked down for four-five hours, releasing the flavors and color into the water. I asked for a little bit of the corn on it's own. I popped an indigo kernel of corn into my mouth and chewed on it. Yep, it was corn all right. With no special seasoning or anything. Just corn. But then Artemio gave me a glass of royal blue cocktail. I took a sip. The drink was a pisco sour all right, but there was definitely adding a certain I don't know what to it.

"Did you put any bitters into this?" I asked trying to figure it out. Artemio smiled and said no, that it was just the corn's liqueur. I took several more sips. It didn't taste like corn, but there was a different sort of vegetal something or other going on. Artemio said he called it the Peruvian Kiss because the blue corn colors your tongue a little bit.

The crowd loosened up but I was starting to feel the drain, so I packed up shop and promised to stop by again to try some of the other drinks some other time.

And that was how I spent my Repeal Day.

*I'd like to nip another rumor in the bud. I've had friends and other people ask me if I'm like the unofficial mayor of Boozetown and I just kick in doors all over New York and I drink all my drinks for free. People, this could not be further from the truth, and I've seen folks get this really disappointed look in their eyes when I tell them that. Honestly, I wish this were true because it'd make my job so much easier, but I'm just like you. I put on my pants one leg at a time and I sometimes have to deal with lines and wait lists. Every now and then I might get lucky and I admit I might have a disproportionate amount of dumb luck. However, in the spirit of keeping it real, not only am I quite rubbish at throwing my name around, but also, what name? I'm kind of not a big deal. In fact, it makes me all kinds of uncomfortable when such a thing gets suggested, because I really wish I was as cool as some people think I am.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Happy Repeal Day everybody

As I said to a friend, Repeal Day is kind of like bartender Easter. Except, instead of the stone rolling away and Christ not being in his grave, it's more like the stone rolled away and the Volstead Act disappeared. Alcohol has risen, forever and ever, amen.

It seems like Repeal Day's prominence grew in recent years along with the whole classic cocktails and the professional cocktailian in the bar scene business. Of course, that could just be bias on my part since I've only started observing this section of the service industry in the past couple of years myself.

Either way, Repeal Day is starting to look more and more like an actual holiday. Not like day off holiday like Christmas or something, but more like...Halloween! Yes, that's exactly it. You don't get a day off, but you're more than willing to try and have some kind of fun with it, consequences be damned.

And just like this year's Halloween, Repeal Day falls on a Friday. You get a whole weekend to recover from it.

The folks at Dewar's Scotch Whiskey say that they were one of the first liquors to be served legally in the United States 75 years ago today, and to commemorate that, they're holding events in several cities. For example, in New Orleans, several historic bars and restaurants like the Hotel Monteleone Carousel Bar, Napoleon House, Court of Two Sisters, Antoine's and Commander's Palace, are participating in Repeal Day celebrations with drink specials.

There are 20 locations in New York also participating in the Dewar's Repeal Day festivities, with bars like Puck Fair, Old Town Bar, DBA and Side Bar serving Prohibition era drink specials and actors in period costume showing up to kick off the events.

Yerba Buena's Artemio Vasquez has a special drink list of classic cocktails for a Repeal Day menu that'll be available until the end of the month. Enjoy a Jack Rose Vieux Carre for just ten bucks and keep the party going until the New Year is knocking on your door.

I got an invite from Tad Carducci about Apothecary's Repeal Day party, but it's out in Philadelphia so it's not exactly a quick subway ride away.

Interestingly, these were the only bits of news I'd received about Repeal Day, and that didn't seem right at all. I tried hitting up Don Lee for some leads on what might be going on. He was getting ready to leave for Bordeaux and had only some fuzzy details about several events out of town (like in D.C.) and a possibility of drink specials at Death and Co.

I guess it was time to start using modern technology to my advantage.

I hit up Facebook and wrote "Hey, there better be some Repeal Day bartender shenanigans happening that I can write about. It falls on a Friday. Seriously, guys. Or I'll be a sad panda" as my new status.

Soon Jonathan Pogash informed me that DISCUS would be throwing a party at The Back Room. Neat, and noted. Anybody else? I ventured over to Alex Day's wall to leave a guilt trip message. He soon responded that Death and Company would be serving Old Fashioned, Manhattans and Sazeracs at a discounted price using good brown spirits ("Rittenhouse 23, last year's Antique Collection," he said).

I then pulled out my phone. And you have to understand that it's serious when my phone gets involved because I don't really like the telephone as a means of communication all that much. I compromise by copiously texting rather than actually talking. So I texted Kenta Goto if Pegu had anything planned and he responded that a bunch of classics would be on the menu as special drinks.

It doesn't have to be anything spectacularly special to celebrate Repeal Day, though I'd be surprised that more bars or alcohol serving establishments aren't taking advantage of today. Especially in an economy like this, why not have drink specials for a day that's all about celebrating the ability to drink? It seems like a great promotional opportunity to bring up beverage sales — particularly mixed drink sales — during the weird limbo we spend sandwiched between two holiday seasons that put more emphasis towards staying in with families than going out to celebrate.

And you know what, let people who don't drink join in on the fun. No need to hold grudges; Prohibition is in the past. In fact, use it to your advantage. Non-drinking friends on a night out with boozers need to drink something too. Especially if you're not a drinks-focused place like a cocktail lounge and more of a restaurant, think about the fun you could have. I think it'd be hilarious to feature a versus drink menu. One side could be called "The Prohibition Party" or "Dries" featuring either virgin versions of cocktails or some good non-alcoholic beverages while the other side has a cocktails section with names like "Wets" or "The REAL Party".

Either way, don't feel bad if you don't find yourself celebrating Repeal Day with bells and whistles. You don't have to retrain your staff to make fancypants cocktails if that's not what they do. Beer and well drink specials are fine. Maybe a boilermaker special called the "Because I Can"? The point is people can drink alcohol if and when they please! Wooooooo!

Or how about commemorating Repeal Day by simply providing great beverage service in honor of all that could've been lost in Prohibition. In fact, give your servers a background into the history as a bit of trivia they can provide their customers with that might edge them towards getting that glass of wine they were on the fence about.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tuesdays with Eben pt. 4

or Second Tuesday: Learning that what goes on behind the bar also is about what goes on in a bartender's head and learning that the bartender not only serves up drinks, but his personality

Oct. 21

Note: I apologize for the delayed entries for this series. It's been a little hectic here. I hope to have the rest of the installments for this blog post series wrapping up in a more timely fashion

Tuesday, 2 p.m., once again I was at Tailor. Eben was going to be late, so I was informed I could go downstairs and set up the bar and practice while I waited.

Whoa, wait, what? Set it up? I vaguely remembered that there were some shakers to the right and some jiggers to the left...I was hoping that would be end of setting up. I breathed a sigh of relief when I got downstairs and saw that some guardian angel already had the bar ready to go.

I tried practicing a little (*cough*cramming*cough*), but started looking around the bar in case I would be expected to set it up again. It felt weird as I poked in the nooks and crannies, because even though I had permission to do so, the set up of and the space itself felt really personal and I felt ridiculously out of place. I couldn't help but feel a little bad about gingerly touching and moving things. I felt like Goldilocks messing up something someone had set up just right.

I took a little step back and looked at the bar and thought how nice the sort of symmetry of things were.

"Man, there's a lot going on back here," I thought looking at the sinks, the ice, the different bottles, the dishwasher and all that was usually hidden by the front of the bar.

Then I turned around to look at the shelves lining the wall behind the bar. I'd looked at those very shelves many times before, but now I was actually seeing a pattern. It was so fascinating I hastily sketched it out on my notebook.

Soon Eben showed up.

"Wait, did you do all this?" he asked extremely surprised.

After a brief moral battle I answered sheepishly, "No, it was already like this when I got here."

"I was going to say, I would've been impressed if you did. I wanted to test you on setting the bar up just from the last time."

Very fitting because today's lesson was centered around the bartending mentality and having a limber brain. We'd sort of touched on it in a way talking about filling the gap and things of that nature on the first Tuesday. Today we were going to talk about what was quite possibly my worst enemy, memory.

Memory plays an important part in bartending. One of the more obvious roles it plays is for learning cocktail recipes. But it doesn't just come down to poring over recipes.

Eben said that you have to be somebody who can remember something for the first time because many times you're simply shown how to make a cocktail once, and after that you're expected to execute it in the same way every time you make it.

Eben said that he himself has tried to do a better job of archiving his recipes, but many times, he'll come up with a concept for a drink, then sit around with his bartenders and have they taste it, maybe give some input, and that right then and there is where they learn how to make it.

Memory is also a part of service since you need to keep track of orders through all the craziness that is a night of bar service on top of being able to remember all the recipes to fill these orders. Think about it, how many times have you seen bartenders write down your drink order unless its a table order handed to them by a server? And even then we're talking about fitting in table orders while fielding orders from the bar itself. On top of that while you're filling an order, someone might ask you for an order or cut in to ask for the check. You still have to have the wherewithal to keep track of all of that.

"You need to be somebody who can remember something the first time because a lot of times you'll be shown something and you have to execute it that way...it's one of those unseen things of bartending that people on the other side don't realize."

Eben admitted though that nowadays it's a bit of a different game with the widespread use of credit cards as well as having point-of-sale systems. Even though you have a machine remembering things for you, Eben said it was important to try and keep an ongoing tally in your head for those sitting at the bar. It just helps in providing service. A customer might want guidance when they don't kno needs guidance in where they'd like to go next with there drinking, and you

Credit cards have changed service. For one thing it affects tips. It's harder for bartenders to take home cash tips. Also, for a bar, there are fees and payments can take days to clear.

Another matter of service that memory plays into is customer relationship. Eben said it's important that a bartender is able to remember customers, and not just to remember them so you can say, "Hey, Joe, what's it going to be? An Old Fashioned as usual?"

"It plays into your safety," Eben said because you also need to remember if anything bad has happened with customer.

So how could a novice bartender practice and exercise their brain. I thought maybe I should start playing Brain Age or something, but Eben had a more low tech solution for this.

Create several sheets of paper that have drink orders on them. Place them at random spots on the bar face down. For those of you playing at home, you can just put the papers down on a table or wherever you find yourself practicing. The next step is to flip the pieces of paper over, and like a game of Memory, remember what each "customer's" order is then proceed to make and serve those customers in the order you looked at the pieces of paper. Mix it up. Two at a time, three at a time. Maybe look at five different orders from left to right or like some kind human form of liquor dispensing Simon Says machine, look at them at random and remember to make those drinks in that order.

Bonus level: Include a price with each sheet of paper.

As one of Tolstoy's most trotted out quotes go, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." When you have a pleasant interaction with a customer. It's generally the same. You've helped someone had a good time, get an adequate to good tip for it, maybe even gained a regular. But when things go bad, it can go bad in so many ways. Getting shafted on tip after a long evening with a customer you thought you had a good rapport going with. Getting a drink order wrong or not making a particular cocktail in the style a finicky customer enjoys it. Then how about meeting one of those picky customers where you can't tell if they really have very particular taste buds or just a sadistic desire to see you dance for them behind the bar. Then sometimes you might find yourself in a situation where you need throw somebody out or possibly get five-o involved. As a person selling alcoholic beverages, you have to take responsibility and try to keep things under control because it affects everyone in the room. A customer getting angry at you and storming off without tipping sure can ruin your night, but their loud tirade against you and your establishment also ruins the night for other customers at the bar.

Again, some customers are just bad apples period. Customers can become belligerent or difficult to deal with, and the addition of alcohol to that mix probably doesn't help with some people. However, even without the alcohol, some people just have an attitude. While you might not be witness to one-armed knife fights every night, there are toxic customers. The type who are never satisified and are basically there to take out their day's frustrations out on you.

Eben said, then it comes down to having to figure out how do I deal with this person or do I have to make this person leave. It's not always so easy unless someone's behavior is particularly egregious. And it's not just a matter of grabbing someone and throwing them out because you want to handle the situation as gracefully as possible because you don't want the person blowing up in your bar, nor do you want to deal with getting shanked. You have to gauge for yourself what the proper response is depending on your bar's personality, the comfort of other guests and the safety of you and everyone else in the bar.

Eben told me that Jim Meehan has good "dealing with bad customers" stories by the millions, and this is very true because I've heard some of them firsthand myself (in fact, read about the customer service panel Jim was a part of at Tales this year, here). Eben recounted to me one incident when a customer threw a nut at Jim's head to get his attention. This person got promptly shuffled out of the place. Some might think the reaction to this patron's behavior was a bit much, but think about it. Someone who lacks the basic respect of others enough to show that contempt by throwing something at someone isn't simply boorish, they are a possible liability thanks to their inconsiderate behavior. If you can't be bothered enough to civilly address someone when ordering your drink, how can a bartender guarantee you won't be a brash, obnoxious drunk loudly disregarding everyone else in the bar once you do get your drinks?

"When you've been in the business long enough, one thing you learn is that usually the guy 86'ed from every bar in the city is the first to be at your bar when you open [a new bar] up," Eben said.

Nowadays, Eben said, with a lot of the more upscale joints, you get the bouncers or hosts and hostesses who can regulate incoming traffic to a bar. In a way, a lot of bars are more insulated. That doesn't mean that you can't be on alert.

Eben told me a story about how at Tailor he once spotted a suspicious duo come down to the bar. He felt something was fishy when he saw one of two make a beeline for the bathrooms. At the time, Eben was out from behind the bar, so he was able to observe the other guy's partner sandwich himself between two patrons and slowly begin to fiddle with a female customer's purse that was hanging on the hooks underneath the bar. Eben sent someone to go collect the bathroom dwelling member of the duo while he put himself between the suspicious guy and the lady customer he was about to rip off. Eben tried to warn the lady that she might want to collect her belongings.

"She looked at me and laughed like I was kidding, so I told her again, 'No seriously, you should move your purse.'...I was definitely putting myself in a bad position."

Eben said he takes the safety of his bartenders as well as his customers very seriously and again pointed out that it is a bartender's responsibilty to be aware of such things since he is in fact serving alcohol. Not that this should scare all of you out there into expecting the worst in customer interactions. As a bartender, you may find yourself burdened more with keeping up civil pleasantries than with throwing people out on their ear. "Burdened" might seem like an unfortunate choice of words, but being able to hold a court while doing your job can be a tightrope act for a bartender, and it's just as much an equal mix of natural talent as well as hard work.

Eben said that there was "a loss of the art of conversation in modern bartending." Too many times bartenders get bogged down in the creation of their cocktails that they run the risk of forgetting the human aspect of it.

"Being able to have abbreviated conversations is a skill," Eben said, because it's possible to be too much of a conversationalist. At the end of the evening, you still need to fill out drink orders, not just gab with people. You have to know when, how and how much of a conversation should take place. A bartender could get engrossed in a converstaion with one customer then you can watch as "all the other customers disappear."

According to Eben, the bartender needs to be what he called, "a master of distilled interactions." Especially so in today's cocktail bar climate, where customers want to watch and get involved with what's going on. Some might just say, "Hey, how about that weather we're having?" Other will want to get into a full on discussion with you about what bitters you are using behind the bar even though you might be up to your elbows in orders.

Eben said that the ability to be humble and to have a bit of a self-deprecating wit can go a long way as well. You don't have to be servile, but there's no room for the customer at the bar anyway if your ego's taking up all the seats. It's OK to acknowledge when you do make mistakes and in fact, it can make you more endearing.

"You can't take yourself too seriously," Eben explained. The bartender already exists as a sort of authority and expert behind the bar. Nothing wrong with professionalism or being serious about what you do, but you already cut an intimidating figure behind that bar. When you do make a little mistake and can laugh at yourself about it, everyone can relax. Eben pointed out examples such as Dale DeGroff or Tony Abou-Ganim. Guys at the top of their game that Eben said still managed to be "a total mensch" without any ego.

I could see how this intimidation could bring out several customer responses. Nervous or unfamiliar guests can be easily scared off or soured by the slightest thing. Then again, you might get those that want to knock you down a peg.

Besides, being too cocky about what you do can actually stagnate you as a bartender if you're someone who wants to continue to grow and improve.

"You should never feel that you got something down or perfected anything," Eben warned, since recipes and variations are out there all the time and something can always be improved on. "You should think, 'I like the way that I make this,' but be open to anything out there or what a customer wants...There's always something to be learned, even if it's learning how not to do something."

Say you go out to another bar and order a drink. You taste it and you think you can do better. Don't stop the smug train of thought right there at Complacentville station. Actually think about what it is you think you could do better. Do the juices taste not so fresh? Is the presentation a little crap? Maybe the drink's just fine. Then what would make it spectacular?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Don Julio Bowling Tournament

November 24

Thanks to the fact that I seem to have a Whac-A-Mole like ability to pop up at various functions, a while ago Jim Meehan started a running joke with the PDT guys that an event isn't official until I showed up. So when I showed my mug at Lucky Strike on Monday for the Don Julio Bowling Tournament Daniel Eun spotted me and said, "Hey, I was wondering when you were going to show up and make it official."

While I protest that the rumors of my ubiquity are greatly exaggerated, I can concede to the fact that I suppose I show up in a random places quite a bit more than the average person. Though honestly, I've taken to the description of "annoying kid sister of the bartending world" that I gave to Jill DeGroff over anything too fancy, like "industry insider."

I managed to grab way more photos of bartenders hanging out and behind the bar rather than photos of them bowling. At the same time, can you blame me? It's bartenders and folks in the alcohol business! Besides, there was a whole cocktail contest component running in tandem with the bowling tournament. Teams participated with people ponying up a $50 entrance fee per person. For bars wanting to having their bartenders represent their establishment, they paid $150 in addition to the per person fee with all the money going to benefit City Harvest. The team with the highest bowling score would get to to visit the Don Julio distillery in Mexico, and the team with the winning cocktail would be treated to a nice dinner.

So as the teams bowled, those who were not bowling mixed drinks for everyone to sample. I tried to grab one or two and have a quick sip and prod some folks about what they made. I tried Dale Degroff's Spicy Abbey. James Menite of Porter House, who was on the same team with Dale and Dale's youngest son Blake, told me the drink was made with pepper jam, Don Julio Reposado tequila, lillet, lemon and lime juice and a smoked lemon peel.

"But you should check with Dale," he said, since it was Dale's cocktail. Darn, I'd just missed him.

Giuseppe Gonzalez was hanging out with Adam Harris of Maker's Mark. I'm glad the first photo didn't come out too well because the second one is hilarious.

Kenta Goto was there as part of Team Pegu Club with general manager James Tune and bartender Raul Flores.

The last time I saw Jim Ryan, he was in New Orleans and was the beverage director for Dresser, Dumont and Dumont Burger. Now he works for Hendrick's Gin. As an advocate for the promotion of dandyism and well put together personal style, I was glad to see he was still rocking the mustache hard and bringing it together with mustache-conscious outfits.

If you're a dandy-approving, facial hair aficionado, New York bartenders are totally the folks you should be hanging around. Observe the photo below of Thomas Waugh and Maxwell Britten.

I didn't get to try the Lily Pad Maxwell made with his team, but he told me it was a drink made with Don Julio Blanco, Apple Juice, Lillet Rouge, Lillet Blanc, fresh lime juice and agave nectar. It sounded good and I was sad I missed it.

Thomas was on a team with Allen Katz and Death and Co.'s Phil Ward. The cocktail they made used Don Julio Blanco, Lillet Blanc, celery bitters and a grapefruit twist.

I had to duck out early since I had to run back to the office and finish out my work day. Phil saw me scribbling in my notebook and asked me what I was doing. "Are you working??"

Yes, I'm still on the clock when I go to these things. In fact, I have to say that events like these really help me out. I can't go drinking in all the New York cocktail places to keep up with everyone all the time. This is a one person operation. Not that I haven't had friends offer to "help." Sorry, guys.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hey, bartenders, reminder to bowl for charity

Just got an email from Naren Young about the Don Julio Bowling Tournament happening on Monday at Lucky Strike.

Plenty of you bar and alcohol/brand ambassador folks probably already know about it or are planning to attend, but if you need some extra poking, remember, all the proceeds from the event are going to City Harvest. And Naren said in his email that it's also a chance to bring the New York bar community closer. So it's both an industry charity event as well as an opportunity to bring people together. Two feel-good feelings in one event.

I'm going to try and stop by to see what happens when you get the city's bartenders drinking beer and handling bone-crushingly heavy bowling balls. Oh, and, um, of course to report on bar community and whatnot.

What hath God wrought

From the Unnecessary Updates department: Elizabeth Licata just yelled over our cubicle wall that Grub Street (grumpily) picked up on the sexiness business that I wrote about yesterday. I don't have enough of a swollen head to say I played any significant part in this; I only did it for the lulz.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

'Don't cross the streams!'

This whole thing took on another level of meta and I might've inadvertently started the internet on a path of collapsing upon itself regarding Sasha Petraske's sexiness because Eater is now linking to this top ten list as part of "Petraskewire" with a via credit to this blog. We just need to get NYMag's Grub Street in on this and it'll all start to come together. Come oooooon Grub Street. Everybody's doing it!

White Star cornering the market on media-approved hotness?

A little while ago, New York Magazine's Look Book section featured Colin Donahue, who besides being a set designer, also happens to be a partner in White Star. Throughout the day, several people either a) asked me about the guy and if I knew him, b) forwarded me this by email to talk to me about option a, or c) gave me the actual physical copy of the magazine to talk to me about option a.

Fast forward to today when a friend sends me a link to Jezebel's list of "everyday" sexypants dudes. YMMV on what their definition of everyday is, but that's a whole other argument.

My friend Marc asked, "Is the S---- P-------- they list the same S---- you write about?"

Cue to me hurriedly scrolling down to number nine in the top ten to see a familiar face.

Ambience Chaser's Elizabeth Licata had to aptly comment, "Well, good looking bartenders are part of the ambience, right?"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Marie Brizard East Coast competition

(photos at the end)

Nov. 7
I didn't know that Madison Square Garden had that Club area going on. When I first heard about the competition being held there, I imagined it was going to be some caged arena match, which would have been AWESOME. Instead it was held in a sort of steakhouse meets clubhouse setting.

The competition area was set up in a sunken area a couple of steps down from where the main bar was located. In a little dining nook tot he left of the competition area, the contestants were busy making any last minute changes.

Each contestant would have to make a total of six cocktails in 10 minutes. Three of one of the cocktails they submitted and three of another cocktail they created using a secret ingredient they received that day. Besides taste, skill would also be included in the judging process. Contestants went two at a time, each with a judge observing them and their presentation.

Out of the 10 contestants scheduled to compete, nine showed up, so Pichet Ong went first on his own. It came right down to the wire with his two cocktails. The first, his tall drink submission, the Late Night Blush. Even though there were tables filled with numerous drink ingredients, from fresh fruit, to one full of Marie Brizard's product line, contestants could bring whatever they needed to make their cocktails. Pichet brought the mint ice he created for the Late Night Blush. Water, Marie Brizard Creme de Menthe, and mint leaves frozen in a shallow pan were broken up to created the jagged flavored ice pieces.

Ice actually ended up being a pretty big deal for some of the contestants. While a large bowl filled with what looked like your usual catering ice was available, some people lugged in their own ice of varying size.

Some tried to create three cocktails rather than two in the time allotted. Tony Perez of G in Philadelphia and Eben Freeman of New York's Tailor both did exactly that.

One of Eben pulled the Creme de Cacao as his secret ingredient, so he made his South Central that uses a mole tincture.

Dona Maria mole sauce is dissolved in vodka, but the resulting liquid is more of muddy slurry, so a technique called gelatin clarification was used to refine it. You mix gelatin into the liquid you wish to clarify, freeze it, and allow it to drip through cheese cloth. However, for this tincture the freezing process had to be different. Eben told me that Tailor chef Sam Mason pointed out a hitch in his plan: alcohol doesn't really freeze. This ended up only being a minor roadblock since they figured out they could use liquid nitrogen to freeze the mixture for the gelatin clarification process.

The mole tincture has a sesame flavor in the middle and ancho on the finishing, which Eben said are defining characteristics of mole sauce.

Miguel Aranda, bar chef at the Plaza Hotel, and Don Lee of PDT were next. Miguel's two submitted cocktails were named the Clovis and Clotilda, named after the Frankish king and his Burgundian wife. A delightfully nerdtastic naming convention that I can get behind.

Next it was the battle of two tall dudes with the last name of Miller. Even last year's East Coast winner and this year's emcee Tad Carducci called it the "Battle of the Millers." Death and Company's Brian Miller and Megu Midtown's Terence Miller. Brian's Bourbonnais Swizzle used some of the pecan infused bourbon I'd tried before in a hot toddy Phil Ward made for me at Death and Company. I forgot to ask for a taste of the stuff on its own, and I think I will the next time I'm there. According to some eavesdropping I did as they discussed the Bourbonnais, the current pecan-infused bourbon was an improvement from previous version. The improvement was credited to Brian's toasting of the pecans as well as keeping the pecans whole, because I heard Eben say that the breaking of the pecans releases tannins. I dutifully jotted this down for later reference. The perk of eavesdropping on a group of bartenders isn't the idea of hearing some new juicy bit of gossip, it's that they are a naturally talkative and sharing bunch about talking shop and will say things about ingredients, techniques and tools that you wouldn't have thought of asking.

The final pair to go were Jason Cobb from the Brandy Library and Gen Yamamoto from New Jersey's Lounge Zen. Gen's bio info states that he likes using seasonal and local farm produce, and it showed because his table looked a bit like a produce stand with cucumbers and tomatoes.

After a bit of time for the judges to calculate all the scores, everyone got back together to hear who had one. For the online-only Hospitality Award, the winner was Tony Perez.

Eben Freeman was awarded second place, and Don Lee won the first place prize to visit Bordeaux, France and compete in the international competition as part of Team America with the West Coast champ, Jackie Peterson of San Francisco's Zinnia.

The runner-up for the West Coast competition was Joel Baker of Bourbon & Branch, and Sierra Zimei of the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco took home the Hospitality Award.

Pichet Ong

Tony Perez

Two of Eben Freeman's three cocktails. Sobieski Sorrel Sour on the left and the South Central on the right.

Miguel Aranda

Don Lee operating heavy machinery despite his injury.

"'Blackbeard the Bartender' action figure comes with swizzle kung fu grip action." I mean that in the nicest way possible, because this picture does not do justice to the big burliness of Brian Miller.

Gen Yamamoto

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Happy Birthday, Joaquin...oh hey, Johnny Iuzzini just showed up with cake

also, some changes forthcoming for Sasha Petraske's White Star at the end

Today, er, I mean yesterday, was the birthday of Death and Company's Joaquin Simo. It must be pretty gangsta to be Joaquin on his birthday because apparently Jean-Georges pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini will show up hand-delivering a fantastical confection he made for you.

(photo courtesy of Joaquin's lovely girlfriend Rhea Wong, via Joaquin's iPhone)

At the Marie Brizard competition Don Lee asked if I was coming to the b-day celebration at the Clover Club later in the evening. I wasn't sure if I was going to at first, but I when I finished things up at the office and saw that it was now 9:30 pm, I shrugged and hopped on the F train to Brooklyn.

When I got to the Clover Club I asked Giuseppe if Joaquin was in, and was told he was in the back bar with everyone else, just then John Deragon came out from back and I said hi. I went to the backroom and said hi to Don Lee, Daniel Eun, and then Richard Boccato showed up, and Alex Day, and even Sasha Petraske and, and...you know what, I'm just going to stop here because I realized I should probably just name who wasn't there. It'll probably make this a much shorter paragraph. Joaquin knows how to throw a party. When Don told me "Everyone's going to be there," he was not joking.

The party was split between the front and back bars as more people arrived to wish Joaquin a happy birthday and the back space got crowded.

Johnny Iuzzini showed up with a cake he made for Joaquin as well as some pretty ouch looking sear marks from the Blue Blazer Mix-Off. Technically it was also for Jim Meehan whose birthday is on Monday as well as a lure to bring him out to Brooklyn, but hey, Joaquin's the one that got his name on the cake.

After singing happy birthday, the cake was divided amongst those gathered and I overheard Johnny describing the cake to John Deragon. I caught chocolate mousse, and raspberries, but then I distinctly heard "pop rocks."

"Oh, he's just messing with John," I thought as I took a bite of cake only to pause for a second and realize this really does have pop rocks on it. Deliciously ridiculous? Ridiculously delicious?

I got to talk to Sasha a bit about changes over at White Star. Due to customer demand and expectations he's switching it over to serving cocktails. It started off as a no cocktails place and Sasha wanted it to be a simple one-man behind the bar operation where people could come in without much fuss and just hang out without worrying about loud noise or music. The no cocktails rule was more like a, "no citrus" rule since you could wrangle the bartender into making you something that's stirred as well as being able to get a Bellini, but too many customers were expecting to get mixed drinks only to be disappointed. So Sasha decided to switch it up and is planning to make it more like a mini Little Branch.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Voting with your glass

I was recently reading a press release from DISCUS talking about how several states still have an Election Day alcohol sale ban. The press release said that Kentucky, Indiana and South Carolina banned Election day alcohol sales in restaurants, bars and package stores. Utah, West Virginia, Alaska and Massachusetts don't allow alcohol sales at package stores, though Alaska and Massachusetts governments can provide exemption.

Certainly didn't seem like there were still such laws in place in some states considering all the press material I've managed to collect about places offering drinks with some sort of election theme. So let's take a look at what I have here.

Some went with red vs. blue. Hudson River Cafe in New York announced it'd be offering a Blueberry-Acai Caipirosca (muddled lime, fresh mint, Van Gogh blueberry-acai vodka) and a 12th Ave. Secret Red Sangria (a red wine sangria with calvados) for you to sip on election night as you watch everything go down live on TV.

SushiSamba also went two-toned, offering both The Obamarama and The Maverick (both $11). The Obamarama is a blueberry lemonade made by muddling lemon and blueberries with sugar then adding Pearl Bluberry Vodka, blue Curacao, and shaking all the ingredients. The drink is then topped with club soda and garnished with a lemon wheel.

The Maverick is a raspberry white tea drink, made by muddling four raspberries with sugar, then adding raspberry rum, triple sec, grenadine and unsweetened white tea. The shaken and strained drink is garnished with an orchid.

Another New York establishment, the organic and vegetarian-friendly Counter, departs from the color theme with its drinks, and instead mixologist Tonia Guffey decided to play with names (all $12). The McCain Campaign on the Rocks is a Penn 1861 vodka "in celebration of the year McCain was born." The Palin Whine Spritzer is American white wine with a splash of club soda and homemade grenadine. The Obama Mama is Papagayo white rum, Papagayo spiced rum, coconut milk, muddled blueberries. The Joe the Plummer, a plum-infused vodka with homemade lemonade.

Indebleu in Washington, D.C. has had candidates' home state-themed cocktails available since early October. The drinks will be available until Nov. 4. Note that the vice presidential cocktails cost less than the presidential ones. They include:

Arizona Hard Iced Tea ($12), a savina pepper-infused Long Island Iced Tea, is made with Hangar One Chipotle Vodka, rum, gin, and whiskey. It also includes home-made sour mix and grenadine and is garnished with dried whole red chilis.

Bleu Illinois ($12), a version of the Cosmo made with Bombay Sapphire Gin mixed with home-made sour mix and blue Curacao then garnished with an orange wheel.

Drunken Baked Alaska ($10), a martini made with Stoli Vanilla Vodka, Frangelico, and pineapple juice. A whipped cream topping is supposed to be an homage both to the state's mountains and the eponymous dessert item.

Delaware Stinger ($10), a version of the Stinger made with green Creme de Menthe blended with Crown Royal Canadian Whiskey.

DISCUS sent out a their own suggestions of electoral elixirs created by Jonathan Pogash:

The Maverick

1 oz. Bourbon
3/4 oz. Simple Syrup
3 Lemon Wedges
1/2 of a Ripe Peach
1 oz. Champagne

Directions: Muddle the peach and lemon in the simple syrup. Then add the Rye and ice and shake well. Strain into an ice-filled old fashioned glass. Top off with champagne and garnish with a peach slice.

Cocktail for a Change

1 oz. Gin
1/4 oz. Biscotti Liqueur
1/4 oz. Dry Vermouth
2 dashes Orange Bitters

Directions: Stir ingredients in a mixing glass with cracked ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel.

Red State Round-Up

1 oz. Tequila
1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
3/4 oz. Homemade Grenadine**
1/4 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Egg White
Club Soda

Directions: First, shake the egg white to emulsify. Then add remaining ingredients to cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with sparkling water and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg and lemon wheel.

**to make home-made grenadine, simply take 1 cup of store-bought pomegranate juice, and 1 cup of superfine sugar, and shake until all the sugar is dissolved.

Blue State Build-Up

1 oz. Light Rum
1 tsp. Blue Curacao
1/2 oz. Elderflower Liqueur
1/2 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
1 dash Aromatic Bitters

Directions: Stir ingredients in a mixing glass with cracked ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with 3 floating blueberries.

In my social circle at least, it seems like many people are planning to make an event of the evening on election day to go out and enjoy a drink and meal to watch the polls close like the would a sporting event. Whatever reason you find yourself drinking tomorrow night, at least remember to vote before doing so.

Edit: As we go into election day I'm getting more notices. It looks like Employees Only is also hosting an Election Night Radio Coverage Party from 6pm-4am. Looks like they're taking dinner reservations, so call them up.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pranna opening party

Oct. 29

I stopped by Pranna and was surprised at how huge the space was. There was a ground floor, a basement and also a second floor/mezzanine area accessible by several staircases in an intricate glass and steel kind of setup.

Yet with all this space, the place was PACKED.

The restaurant is a Manhattan debut for two of the partners, Rajiv and Payal Sharma, who previously had establishments in Long Island. They are partnered with executive chef Chai Trivedi (Sapa, Sitar Restaurant).

The information provided by Bullfrog and Baum said that Trivedi's menu focuses on flavors from Southern Asia with influences Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and India.

I did manage to snag two bits of samplings in the hubbub. I tried out a lamb slider with definite Indian spices, another was a fried tofu appetizer with a bit of cilantro on it so I got where they were coming from.

I wound my way up and down between people, ducking under servers' trays. Somehow, like a marathoner, I found a glass of champagne in my hand without any recollection of doing so. I took a breather at the upstairs bar and quickly downed the bubbly stuff so I could grab another drink. I caught only the "Butterfly" in its two-word name over the din, but saw the guy muddle some kiwi before adding liquid and garnishing it with a rose petal. The flavor hinted at there possibly being some rosewater or other floral liqueur added to it. I took a deep breath to get ready to head back downstairs and quite possibly escape when I found out that Jonathan Pogash and Tad Carducci were there.

I told Jonathan of my plans to make an early escape and asked him if he knew who was responsible for the drinks here.

"Oh it's Willy and Aisha," Jonathan said.

"What? Really? I did not know this."

"Yea, Aisha was up here a couple of seconds ago, but Willy should be at the bar downstairs. You know Elba Giron? She's the bar manager."

Ooooh, it all clicked. I remembered Elba telling me about the new place she'd be working for when I saw her at an event for Sobieski Vodka. So this was the place.

I decided to maybe try and catch Willy Shine or Aisha Sharpe from Contemporary Cocktails then tuck and roll out and away from the increasing crowd.

As I wriggled and snaked my way around downstairs I walked right into Akiko Katayama. It was kind of funny, because after referring to Andrew Knowlton as, "You know, one of the judge dudes from Iron Chef: America?" to a non-foodie friend when I was recounting who I saw at the Blue Blazer Mix-Off on Monday, I instantly thought to myself, "Hey, I haven't seen Akiko in forever. I used to run into her ALL the time."

I told Akiko what a coincidence it was since I'd just been thinking about her earlier in the day. How'd she been doing?

"I was up in Washington making wine," she answered.

The past two months she'd been busying getting involved with the wine making process and learning about what actually goes down.

"I now have a better appreciation for what I'm drinking," she said holding up her wine glass.

I circled around trying to approach the downstairs bar a little better from a different angle and found myself again at the exact same spot. This time I managed to spot Willy through the dense crowd, and turned right to see that Jacques Bezuidenhout and Charlotte Voisey.

Willy finally saw me and came over.

"Hey, I found out, like, just ten minutes ago that you guys were doing the drinks here," I said.

Willy said he and Aisha had been working on the menu for about four months now to make sure it went well with the food and the concept. Besides developing drinks, they also trained staff members so that they can serve the drinks properly. They are contacted to work with Pranna for a year and will probably come up with some more cocktails throughout that year.

"This is not a club, it's not a lounge, it's a full restaurant," Willy told me.

I said I'd come back to try out the cocktail menu sometime when the place wasn't too busy. Willy said I needed to come in and try the cocktail with the food since they worked hard to make sure it all worked together.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Blue Blazer Mix-Off at Pegu Club

(videos near the end of this post)

Oct. 27

"...90 percent of the reason I'm here is because I want to see fire," I said to Alex Day as I nursed a Whiskey Smash.

The setting? Pegu Club. Six contenders were set to duel in their mastery of the most basic of elements required for human life. Fire and alcohol.

To kick off Slow Food NYC's first annual "Slow Drink Week," Audrey Saunders was hosting the launch reception at Pegu. Slow Foods NYC announced last week that several restaurants and bars in the city would be participating this week with their own menu of "slow" cocktails.

Pegu was serving its own list of slow cocktails that evening with a list of hors d’oeuvres.

(Part of the proceeds from Slow Drink Week, as well as the ticket sale for the opening reception, will go to benefit Slow Food NYC's Harvest Time Program, including Good Food Education, a Youth Farmstand, and Edible Schoolyards at schools in East Harlem and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

For a list of participating locations and dates provided by Slow Food NYC, click here.)

Earlier in the evening I greeted Eben Freeman, Alex Day and Joaquin Simo at the door of Pegu as we got ready to enter. I was asked how my cocktail education with Eben was going. I answered that it wasn't going too bad, but practicing with the shaker wasn't going too well because, "it sounds like nothing."

"It's all right as long as it sounds like a good nothing," Eben said with a smile.

Wait, was he just messing with me or did he just drop some kind of Yoda-like aphorism that I needed to get to be the best cocktail shaker EVER? I decided to go with the former to make it easier for everyone involved.

Upstairs the crowd was pretty big, but it wasn't too packed, which was nice. Pinballing around I found myself bumping into folks like John Deragon, Phil Ward, Jim Kearns, Don Lee and Naren Young. I spotted Dale DeGroff in his snazzy red jacket and Dave Wondrich's top hat teetered around in the crowd.

Now that I was feeling better, I figured I could slowly wade back into drinking, but was still mildly worried about my body taking terrible offense to that. I sipped at a French Pearl that went unclaimed. Just then Gary Regan walked by me and cryptically warned, "You behave yourself now."

Though I knew he said that independently of what I was debating in my head, I couldn't help but reluctantly put down the half-empty glass.

After a few words from Audrey Saunders and the drawing of straws, the Blue Blazer Mix-Off started with Dave Wondrich and Jim Meehan. They went for a historical and patriotic theme with their presentation of Jerry Thomas' Spread Eagle Punch. The liquid was Blue Blazerfied then poured into glasses with a gelatin (I didn't catch what was in it, if anybody could let me know what was in the gelatin, that'd be awesome).

The second group to go was Gary Regan and Phil Ward. The two warned that they had not practiced their Blue Blazer beforehand, but had a "special ingredient" on hand that they said was a tip of the hat to Eben Freeman. After a couple of false starts, Phil fortified the mixture a bit more and Eben jumped in to offer the service of a blow torch.

The third team was Dale DeGroff and Kenta Goto. With a recipe concocted by Kenta with the help of Audrey, Dale showed off his liquid fire taming skills as Kenta added some (literal) flare to the presentation by tossing cinnamon powder into the line of fire to create sparks. Instantly, the place was filled with the scent of what seemed like apple pie. The drink was then poured into cored apple halves.

Though these were the three teams announced to compete, Audrey announced yet another surprise team that would be participating.

Johnny Iuzzini and Dave Arnold tried their hand at competing with a more of a "scientific" approach. Dave utilized a kinda sorta technically illegal ingredient of a 120 proof tea-infused vodka of sorts for a Blue Blazer twist on a tea and lemonade drink. Then using a hypodermic needle, the liquid was shot from across the bar into a caraffe/pitcher held by Johnny Iuzzini. His forearm caught on fire. And while it was insanely cool to watch, it did smell like burnt hair at the bar.

But before I go on, I'd like to apologize for my unsteady camera hand and lack of lighting. I'm still not used to capturing video and it was dark in that bar to better capture the flames. Kind of lame excuses, but what can you do. Hey, I'm the one providing a service here with a video for those who couldn't attend. Also, this is a hardy drinking group. There might be some blue language. Maybe not R, but perhaps a PG level. If salty language is not your thing...I really don't know what to tell you.

I didn't stick around to see who ultimately won, because in my mind everyone's a winner...or something like that. Instead I headed over to Death and Company to bug Alex Day (he had to leave in the middle of the Blue Blazer Mix-Off to start his shift) and Thomas Waugh for a bit. I tried to get a head start on trying some new drinks for when the menu update rolls around. Out of the couple I tried, Thomas' Strange Brew won me over. With gin, pineapple juice, lemon juice and falernum it didn't seem like the usual drink I'd go for unless I was in the mood for something light. However, Thomas topped it with a bit of Hop Devil IPA that gave it a hoppy kick. I have to say, the guys at Death and Co. have been doing a pretty decent job of helping me get over my fear of sweet drinks.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tuesdays with Eben pt. 3

or First Tuesday: Shaking, the end of the first Tuesday

I had been "ting, ting, ting" -ing the glass for a while, moving my straw back and forth in an empty glass. The fingers did cramp up a bit a couple of times, but it was starting to get less uncomfortable than when I first started out. I even practiced a bit more of pouring. Having no real counter space in my small apartment, I wanted to use the space and time I had as much as possible.

Eben came back downstairs and it was time to learn about shaking. We were starting off with a cobbler shaker. Eben said this while some would think it a bit old fashioned, this was good for getting the basic motions down.

He told me to hold out my left hand, palm up, and place the cobbler shaker, cap-side down facing towards me (fig. 1). Then I was to place my right hand on top of the shaker. My thumb on the cap and the rest of my fingers around the body of the shaker. Sort of like how you'd hold a football (fig. 2). The thumb's just there to make sure the cap stays in place, but not pressing down too hard or else, Eben warned, I'd end up jamming the cap and it'd get stuck since the shaker expands and contracts according to temperature.

In fact, that finicky tightening and loosening of a cobbler shaker also meant Eben had to show me how to close one. Cap on, OK, got it. But the top half of the shaker? Eben said not to just jam it on straight on, but to roll it on (not twisting it on like a bottle cap mind you). You didn't need to press down hard to make sure it was sealed or anything. Start at one point of the rim and just lightly roll it into a close position.

"I'm not teaching you the hard shake," Eben told me and I nodded. Instead, he explained to me how he was trying to explain to me the Japanese mindset of shaking. The idea of how you manipulate the ice in your shaker and thinking about the drink rather than just shaking away with brute force. It was similar to the the talk he gave at Tales after he was asked about the hard shake at a seminar.

Eben looked at the shaker in my hands. He handed me a different sized shaker, and said, "You have small hands."

I frowned wondering if this would he a handicap to my nonexistent bartending career, but Eben said, "Start off with a smaller one then work up."

I nodded. With ice and water in the shakers, now we were ready. To start off, I had to loosen up my wrists. With the shaker in my hand, I was instructed lift my arms up to around shoulder height with my elbows out (fig. 1). Once there, Eben told me to sort of "toss" the shaker forward using only my wrists. He told me to do that and try to hit three different points in front of me while doing that, but to not move my arms (fig. 2).

As I practiced this Eben told me that once I got the hang of this I could start to shake it. Starting off slow he began began to build up speed. He told me to listen to what sounds the shaker was making. I concentrated hard to hear how the ice moved and Eben did it several times. He said that if you do this right, your ice is hitting four different points in the shaker, and you can feel that.

I tried to follow along, but while I could definitely hear what Eben was talking about when he was doing it, I was a little rhythm/tone deaf when it came to the shaker in my own two hands.

After struggling to try and copy the exact noises he was making with the shaker, I said, "I think I get it, but it's hard making it sound just like that."

"You'll find your own rhythm," Eben reassured me. People figure out a rhythm that works for them he said. It wasn't that I had to do it exactly the same way he does it; this was just a basic stepping stone I needed to be more conscious of how I was moving the contents of the shaker.

Again I was left to my own devices to practice. I did the three points exercise a couple of times, but my arms started to get tired. I was starting to think maybe I could create a bartender workout plan. Hire famed infomercial spokesperson Billy Mays to be all, "Hi, Billy Mays here for Bartendercise! Are you a fitness junkie with another monkey on your back called 'a drinking problem'? Are you tired of weights and home exercise machines that you work on for hours with little to no results and definitely no booze at the end of it? Ever noticed the guns on your bartender? Wonder how that happened? Well, wonder no more!"

As I practiced I talked a little bit to Ludo, the relatively new guy, and found out he used to work at Opia, which is a stone's throw away from our office in Midtown. Eben jokingly told him to keep an eye out on me so I didn't steal anything. I tried my best to keep out of the way of folks were trying to set up the bar.

I practiced the shaking as much as I could, but soon my hands were freezing and itchy. I moved back to practicing jiggering and stirring as I read Eben's copy of The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David A. Embury that was on the bar. I was pretty engrossed in the part about brown spirits when Eben came back.

"All right, you need to stop or you're going to drive yourself insane," he said noticing that I was stoically "ting-ting-ting"-ing the a mixing glass.

He grabbed two different sized shakers and put rice in one of them. Wait a sec, I thought, Alex Day told me about this.

"You can practice hearing the rhythm at home with this," Eben said. I could of course use ice and water, but ice melts. Rice is a decent substitute so that you had a bit of weight in the shaker and could still practicing the listening part of it.

Again he said, I need to find a rhythm of my own. Even though I had been taught all these rules and exercises, I wasn't as overwhelmed as I was before. I got the idea that I wasn't learning that his way was the only way, I was more or less learning foundations to help put me on the path to being thoughtful about how drinks are made.

With a lot of the NRN staff out for MUFSO the following week, I knew I couldn't take a half day off the following Tuesday, and Eben was headed out of the country for a Mojito of the Future event the Tuesday after that one, so we agreed to reschedule the second Tuesday as soon as possible.

"I'll practice during the missing weeks." I said.

"Well, I expect you be like a ninja by the time we meet again," Eben answered.

"Oh man, because I really needed the pressure."

Eben chuckled but then got serious and said, "Really, though. You need to practice if you want to learn this. It's all about how much you want to do it."

Oct. 24

"Practice makes practice," Phil Ward, the guy who can stir four drinks at one time, told me when I made my visit to Death and Company on Wednesday.

Damn, I was expecting a different answer. Everyone had been saying practice.

"Yea, I did that rice thing," Don Lee said when he showed up at Milk and Honey on Saturday.

I'd just seen Eben earlier on Saturday at Tailor to try out some of the new stuff on the menu. He was leaving for the Mojito of the Future event the next day. He asked if I'd been practicing. I was, but I don't think it's enough. Let me put it this way. I wasn't too confident. I was having horrible flashbacks to back in the day when I took piano lessons. I was starting to seriously hate my freakish sausage fingers on the stirring side of things. On top of that, even though I tried the shaking at home, I couldn't tell if I was hearing it right.

"The thing about using the rice though is once you start using ice again, it's a different feeling from the rice. You almost have to relearn to hear it," Don said. "But at least you know what its supposed to sound like."

Don assured me though that it all came down to doing it often enough until you got it.

Even Kenta Goto at Pegu told me I just needed to practice when I stopped by on Monday.

"I don't think I'd make that great of a bartender," I dejectedly told Phil.

"You don't have to be a great bartender, you just have to be a good one," he said. "You could just learn how to make good drinks for yourself at home."

"Yea, but then I wouldn't have a reason to come bother you guys," I said with a raised eyebrow.

"It could even be about just knowing recipes and what goes into a cocktail," Phil added.

I quizzed him about his recipe learning technique and he said he started with the classics. Most other drinks tend to be variations of classics, so it's easier for him to think in terms of "Oh, so it's like this drink, except you're using x, instead of y."

Thomas Waugh described a similar process to me a couple of weeks back, but Phil said that each person remembers things differently, so I could figure out how to do that for myself. And of course, read some books.

With all this talk about figuring things out and a DIY attitude, bartending was starting to sound like the bastard child of the Arts and Crafts movement and punk rock. There's gotta be some kind of poetic comparison to be made from that statement, but I'm going to leave it for another day.