Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Venture out to Brooklyn: Jack the Horse Tavern

So, now that we're back to our regularly scheduled program after the Tales info dump...

Aug. 2
I'll be the first to admit that I might abuse my "this is research" privileges to occupy a stool at a bar for hours on end. I can only hope that my ability to really put it away mitigates any ill-will I might incur from my reluctance to leave my seat.

Having said that, I found myself yet again spending another couple of hours at the corner of a bar. I initially planned on stopping by Jack the Horse Tavern months ago. Now that I finally got around to it, I figured I should make up for lost time.

After getting just a tiny bit lost I ambled about the fruit-named streets until I got to the corner of Hicks and Cranberry. It was a restaurant with a trim storefront, wood floors and a large bar. The staff ferried about in denim shirts. The impression I got was "we just want to give you a hint of rustic, a mere whiff, but not look ridiculous while doing it."

I asked head barkeep Maxwell Britten, if the place was mostly a neighborhood haunt after a couple next to me explained that the friendly challenge they issued for a new drink at the end of their meal was a regular thing. Despite being slammed by an early evening rush, Maxwell obliged and created a cocktail for them to go with their dessert. Maxwell said that while it was a neighborhood joint, the place had been getting a lot of attention and increasing traffic from outside of Brooklyn Heights.

Maxwell tries to change the menu pretty often since he has room for only twelve or so cocktails on the menu. The easiest way for him to make regularly changes is through the weekly featured cocktail.

"It's a way to try stuff and if it's a hit I put it on the menu," he said. The one's that don't exactly make the cut get written down for future reference. "Sometimes in the dining room someone will ask for a drink from four years before."

Currently, he's excited about this week's featured cocktail, the Carthusian Shish (Ocucaje pisco, fresh mint, fresh ginger, fresh grapefruit juice, whiskey aged barrel bitters, yellow chartreuse float).

The resulting drink was a very light bright refreshing drink. Something my brain wasn't expecting after pulling out the flavors from the flavor vault as it read over the ingredients.

Maxwell told me the story behind the drink's fanciful name. First off, a little background. The word "punch" comes from the Farsi word for five (panj) because the drink was made with five different ingredients. The sailors of the East India Company took a liking to the drink, brought it back home, and that's how we got punch. So, taking his cue from the origin of the word punch, Maxwell christened his six-ingredient drink by looking up the Farsi word for six (shish) and while he was at it, tipped his hat to the Carthusian monks who first began producing chartreuse.

Maxwell said the drink was already doing decently so there was a chance it'd go on the menu proper.

I then tried the JtH Old-Fashioned (Rittenhouse Rye, house bitters, brandy poached cherry, scorched orange twist). I noticed the Maxwell first scorches the orange twist into the glass and muddles it with the cherry before adding the other ingredients. The scent of orange with a sort of fruity scent and sweetness kind of hits you on the front of your tongue and once it rolls back down your throat, the smell of bitters kick in.

The Royal Swagger (Famous Grouse Scotch, Grand Marnier, fresh lemon juice, topped with Prosecco and garnished with a lemon twist) was next and after I polished that off, I started mapping out the rest of my drinks for the evening. I blew through three cocktails with nary a food past my lips and I know my limit in such situations is six at the most.

"Which one do I really need to try before I go?" I asked.

"You should try the Robbie Robbie, but I suggest that you have that last," Maxwell answered after a brief moment of thought.

I certainly wasn't going to stop now, so slipped in the Nearly Water onto my dance card before I went for the Robbie Robbie.

The Nearly Water is made with grappa, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, fresh lemon juice, orange Curacao, and topped with Prosecco. Grappa was on the brain since I'd gone to a grappa seminar at Tales and recently we had a little office discussion about grappa. Well, actually it began about vodka, then we were talking about gin, then sloe gin. I busted out my two sample bottles of pacharan since we were talking about sloe berries, then somehow we wound up talking about grappa.

When I took a first sip of it there was almost a vegetal scent. After two more sips I figured out that it reminded me of how the discarded grape peels and seeds would smell once the neighborhood herbal/medicinal place squeezed all the juices and liquids out of grapes and seal it in little individual plastic pouches with the same machine they'd package the Chinese herbal medicines in. In Korea, a Concord-like variety of grape is most commonly consumed as opposed to the seedless reds or greens you see here sold as table grape so the mashed up grape skins would make the grape liquid thick and purple and the pouches would come out very warm from the sealing machine. It actually tasted better to me warm with it slightly tart and very grapey flavor. The color, viscosity and even warmth would make it look almost like liquid burgundy velvet sloshing around in the plastic pouch and the whole thing had a thick vegetal grape smell thanks to the peels and seeds that got pulverized in the process.

"Ah, that would be the grappa," I thought after that kind of weird Proustian moment rushed through my head.

Finally, it was the Robbie Robbie's turn (Famous Grouse scotch, Luxardo Amaro, dry vermouth, Regan's Orange Bitters and a flamed orange twist). It definitely was a nice end, but then it made me thirsty for a Manhattan...so I went ahead and ordered one. What was one more?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Tales of the Cocktail 2008: The end of the end

I'm going to finish up my blogging about Tales (a good two weeks or so after the fact) with some photos that I managed to snag. Not a whole lot since I spent much of my time eyes wide open with a deer in the headlights look on my face, but a handful nonetheless.

To tell the truth, plenty more happened down at Tales than what I pithily managed to record here on this blog, but they seem to be more of the "you had to be there," variety of stories — if they are publishable to begin with that is. Sort of like a really drunken dysfunctional family reunion. Or would that qualify as a typical family reunion? Which, OK, I admit sounds bad, but kind of speaks to how as far as conventions or conferences go, Tales is a pretty personal get together. And it really was a fantastic experience. Besides, you can't spell "dysfunction" without "fun"! Wocka, wocka, wocka!

But to get serious again, let me say that as I talk about cocktails, bar practices or techniques on this here blog, every now and then I wonder if I sound way too much like I'm attempting to be some kind of social historian. I just find it hard to divorce the drinks from their stories though. Without the who, what, when, where, how and if available, why of these drinks don't make their way in somehow, the cocktails get relegated to mere formula and that's a shame considering the conviviality that many find inherent in drinking culture. Besides, as its own class in the grand scheme of food and drink, cocktails are a chattersome bunch full of their own stories and characters. Could you really ignore talking about it? It'd be like standing up King Lear on stage to recite his lines without a set or the benefit of other characters. It'd make for an interesting one man show if done right, I suppose, but you're not exactly getting the full story. Pick up a copy of a good cocktail book, whether historical or present, and you can see that when attempting to track down some primogenitor of a classic tipple, the gathered pieces of fragmented narratives play a large part in piecing together the character of the drink. And while cocktail is alcohol and that's grand and all that, the figure of the bartender looms largely behind them.

All this of course is a very long and florid way of saying, I don't have much else to write about Tales, and here are some photos. Though now that I've uploaded it all, I kind of realized I didn't really think through how many photos I have. I guess I could just code in the photos and...well, I've dragged this thing out long enough so everyone will just have to deal with a long scroll down. I don't like it any more than you do. Click on photos to see a larger version.

Sazerac cupcakes!

Tales founder Ann Tuennerman and Sen. Edwin Murray, D-La., at the toasting of the Sazerac's official cocktail status

Paul Tuennerman and H. Ehrmann

Stephen Beaumont and his wife Maggie

Gary Regan

Ann Tuennerman and Robert Hess at the Tales reception party sponsored by Beefeater Gin

Joaquin Simo (Death and Company), Charles Hardwick (Blue Owl Cocktail Room), Jim Ryan (Dressler, Dumont, and Dumont Burger), Alex Day (Death and Company)

Julie Reiner, Tony Abou-Ganim

Eben Klemm, Jared Brown

Charlotte Voisey

Dale and Jill DeGroff

Eben Freeman (Tailor)

Natalie Bovis-Nelsen, The Liquid Muse, making her official Tales non-alcoholic...wait, wait! Where are you going? Come back! I actually kind of liked the NOLita Heat she was making. When I heard non-alcoholic, I thought it'd be a sweet super fruity thing, but it was super tart and spicy. To make it: Muddle 2 jalapeno slices with lime juice in a mixing glass. Ice and 3 oz. of mango juice are added and shaken. After straining into a champagne flute, the drink gets 1 oz of Prickly Pear syrup and topped with alcohol free Brut.

Tad Carducci and Paul Tanguay, Tippling Bros.

Dave Wondrich

Eben Freeman's Ramos Gin Fizz Marshmallow and Sazerac Gummy Bear

Claire Smith's deconstructed vodka and Red Bull (discussed previously with the above items in "Seminar Highlights")

John Lermayer during the Bar Chef Challenge

Aisha Sharpe

John Myers (five billion points on the scorecard in my head for hair and facial hair combo)

Alan Walter