Friday, September 25, 2009

Manhattan Cocktail Classic Preview is looming on the horizon

As most of you probably know by now, New York finally has its own cocktail extravaganza.

Tickets for the Manhattan Cocktail Classic preview (Oct. 3-4) went on sale on Labor Day. According to Manhattan Cocktail Classic founder and director Lesley Townsend, tickets for Sasha Petraske's seminar on the home bar sold out in a blazing three seconds.

However, I've been hearing it through the grapevine that there are still some tickets available, especially with certain details got hammered out a little later than others. For example, tickets are still up for grabs for the late add-on barware seminar with Don Lee, Alex Day and Greg Boehm .

You can still buy tickets to pick Phil Ward's brains at Mayahuel, hear about Prohibition in cool accents from Charlotte Voisey and Simon Ford, and party and rub shoulders with folks at the Gala.

Seriously, though, three seconds? Even last week's much hyped pre-sale of tickets for the first of Pavement's reunion shows didn't sell out that fast.

"It was really really fun to watch," Lesley said over the phone about tracking ticket sales. "The first 10 minutes were absolutely ridiculous. I was laughing and screaming the whole time."

If you note, the word "preview" is in the title. So to alleviate any confusion that might still be out there, this is a preview of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. The actual Classic is taking place May 14-18. Funny story: Lesley said that at first the plan was to make it a sister event with San Francisco's Cocktail Week, but too many people wanted to celebrate drinking and drink-making on both coasts, so the date was shifted by a whole week. There's still a small overlap, but enough of a buffer.

"I certainly didn’t think it’d get this much attention. The whole point of preview initially was to drum up media attention for the main event," Lesley said.

It's not hard to see why the preview itself is such a big deal. It's the anticipation. With the history and current cocktail and bartending millieu in New York, it sort of makes you go, "Why wasn't this organized before?"

Exactly the thought that Lesley had when she sent out an email about a year and a half ago, innocently asking the folks who now make up the advisory board why New York didn't have its own event like Tales of the Cocktail or San Francisco Cocktail Week. Next thing you know, a chain of emails started.

"Every time I saw any of them over the course of the next year, they’d kick me in the shins. And I finally just realized if I didn’t do it right now, it was going to happen. It was only a matter of time because there was such a desire and a need for this to happen," Lesley explained. "Truthfully the cocktail community in New York is so strong...for us to not have our own event? It was long overdue."

The preview is supposed to be a little taste of what the real thing will be like. It's a little bit of education and a little bit of the New York bar experience. There are seminars, but also several of the city's bars and cocktail lounges, like the Clover Club and Pegu Club, are part of "Stories from Behind the Bar." For the "Stories" series of events, people can purchase a ticket to hang out in some of the bars on Saturday afternoon to see the place when it's not packed and doing business and get a chance to talk to the people working there. And, of course, sip on some drinks.

The idea is not only to break down any preconceptions of exclusivity that might keep some people away from visiting these bars and encourage them to go out and enjoy the establishments in New York, but also to acknowledge some of the blurring of lines between the consumer and professional world when it comes to New York and cocktails.

"There will always be a big consumer aspect to this. In NY there’s this huge degree of overlap between the enthusiasts and the cocktail geek community," Lesley explained, and trying to separate the two is not a necessarily easy task. However, for the Classic proper there are still some plans in the works for more specialized skill and trade seminars to help further educate other bartenders in the city who want to learn more about their craft.

Gin and musing about cocktails and drinks in general

After Tales, I needed a break from the blog. A month-long one sounded about right. I guess most people announce they're going away for a sabbatical or some such, but that's if they decided ahead of time to take such a break. For me, it was more like I was simply elbow-deep in as we continue to make things better and shinier for folks. Yes, some of you might forget I have a day job. Well, I guess this too is part of my day job, but I mean day job as in duties I handle proper when I'm not out there breaking it down on this blog with what's popping with cocktails.

It's events season. Is there really a season for events? I don't know, it certainly feels like it though. You kind of notice an ebb and flow of things.

For one thing, I've been in Madam Geneva way more times than you should be able to count in the past week. About two weeks ago, I met some folks representing Oxley gin, a new small-batch gin that is coming out. I couldn't help but note that it went back to the trends panel at Tales, where folks basically were talking about gin becoming the new vodka. More varieties, different producers and the like. And also, just how this sort of local, organic, whatever church of food you go to way of thinking that people have nowadays is also definitely making a mark on alcohol. People paying attention to more of the small-batch, independent or even local joints that are making their own thing.

You even see it in how some of the larger spirits brands are marketing themselves to consumers. They still highlight the beautiful young people living it up, but there's definitely a noticeable spin on that they're going for a certain image whether you want to credit that to the steady rise of craft cocktails, trying to convince people of something being worth a luxury during times when people are trying to spend less or the popularity of "Mad Men" and their retro drinking habits and tastes.

For example, Tanqueray has had new ads that both talk about the type of fun-seeking cosmopolitan sophisticate that would drink their product and also the crafted mix of botanicals and ingredients that go into their product.

Ketel One has its GQ-looking versions of the "dudes' night out" commercial trope that seem to be playing on a modern version of dapper "Mad Men" attitude.

Or how about Bacardi, which recently started airing commercials talking about the brand's place in history? Right down to the detail at the end with a beautiful bar with a marble top being tended by mustachioed gentlemen who is supposed to be the master bartender of yore, but in all seriousness looks like half the dudes I know working behind the stick.

These ads come about from trend spotters noticing which wave to catch that will grab the attention of those spending money out there. More people nowadays are aware of crafting sophisticated drinks. The bombs and kamikaze club crowd isn't going away any time soon, but there is a growing crop of sophisticated consumers with a certain edge to it. Beer geeks, cocktail geeks, whiskey afficionados, what have you. They're young DIY-ers expecting more and wanting to learn more when they walk into your bar, or quite possibly they're coming in already armed with some knowledge of their own.

The democritization of cocktail geekery isn't really new. Just tracking the careers of some of the folks in the game nowadays can show you that. People who had day jobs not having to do with bartending or the nightlife at all, yet are in the biz thanks to passion for the trade; the folks I've met when I started this thing two years ago that shot up into the stratosphere in that span of time easily; and even the constant waves of new people I meet. It's both exciting, and...just crazy how all of this is blossoming right before your eyes. The feeling that I can probably date myself to a "generation" of New York night life is just ridiculous to contemplate. Though I guess the people nowadays waxing nostalgic about Palladium and The Limelight and seeing James St. James guest on "America's Next Top Model" might not have anticipated this themselves in the 80s-90s.

And now I feel like there's a new generation coming up. Last night I was at Madam Geneva again. This time Tomas Delos Reyes, who recently started bartending there, sent me an invite for a Nirvino event sponsored by Tres Generaciones. Nirvino is basically a sort of community for drink and bar reviewing. The crowd was a mix of people in the biz and amateur afficionados.

As jokes passed around about having 50+ friends in common with people on Facebook and the idea of tweetups, all of the sudden I found it kind of funny I had started rereading "No Country for Old Men." I began to hear Tommy Lee Jones' voice in my head sounding something like:

I started writing this blog when I was 23. Just two years after Uncle Sam says you can start drinkin. But he was no uncle of mine. Got to know a lot of bartenders in my day. It's always been a community. A town of sorts that existed along the river beds of bar tops where booze flowed freely, but you needed to pay to get across for a sip. Like that Charon character I remember readin about in a textbook in the fifth grade. Had my first sip of gin then. Thought that was probably pretty close to what the Styx would taste like. But nowadays these kids got technology. I had a notebook and a pen. A digital camera if I was lucky. I guess luck had everything to do with it. I reckon though most people make their luck nowadays...

Not that I mean that I felt like I need to quit before I get shot in the back during a drug deal gone bad or a "get of my lawn" kind of way. It was more just the similar sentiment of awe in seeing a new model of doing things just unfold. It reminded me of back when I interviewed Dave Wondrich for a story in our NRN 50 special issue about food and beverage industry survivors. Talking to him about cocktails and how they've survived ups and down throughout the years, I had to ask Dave how he felt about the future of cocktails. He said (part of the quote ended up closing out my story) that sure, maybe the whole thing was trendy, maybe interest would cool a little, but it'd never go away. It certainly wouldn't disappear like it did during Prohibition. There's just too many people with the knowledge out there, and too many ways for people to share it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Blogging Tales of the Cocktail 2009 post Tales: Day 2

So I got back and I've finally recovered and got some time gather my thoughts on Tales. They really shouldn't end Tales on a Sunday just for the people who have to head back to regular 9-5 jobs after the whole, but I digress.

July 9

Some seminar highlights worth mentioning:

"Mixologists and Their Toys"
Moderator: Erin Williams, Cointreau brand ambassador
Panelists: Don Lee, PDT; Evan Wallace; Xavier Herit, Daniel; Fernando Castellon

This seminar was packed. Don quickly demonstrated his atomizer stencils (previous mention), then peaced out to go back to work with the apprentices. For anyone interested to in making their own stencil laser cutting, check out to get the files necessary for the PDT logo stencil to try out. The little lines you see breaking up the logo are little bits of plastic necessary in the stencil to hold it together, so Don advised that the more complicated the image, the harder it would be to make it look good AND have it all in one piece on one stencil.

Fernando Castellon and Xavier Herit both talked about spherification.

"Everything you see, you must taste it...quality should be first, looks second," Fernando said about using new mad scientist techniques for cocktails, before going on to show off the Cointreau caviar he created when Cointreau approached him to make a cocktail with gold inside for Cannes.

Just looking at the set up on the table like beakers and magnet stirrers, you could tell how crazy scientific things were going to get.

Fernando made sure to tell those attending, "Everything you see you must taste it...quality should be first, looks second."

Using a gelifier that reacts to a calcium bath, Fernando made his spheres that he explained were more capsule like with a sort of burst of flavor/liquid in the middle.

Water, juices, any liquid works well as long as the ph isn't too low, but gelifier doesn't mix too well with liqueur or spirits. So, he mixed a gelifier (sodium alginate) with water, but also mixed it with maltrodextrin to help with the texture. He then mixed that mixture (one part sodium alginate to 3 parts maltodextrin) using a magnetic stirrer adding the gelifier powder mixture little by little to not make clumps, and added the Cointreau and gold flakes (obviously, edible 24 karat gold flakes) right before making the spheres.

While calcium chloride has been used plenty of times for this type of process for the calcium bath, Fernando said he found calcium chloride to be a bit aggressive as well as leaving an aftertaste, so instead he prefers to use calcium lactate.

One protip Fernando offered was that using a syringe to make spheres causes a small problem. The first liquid you drop into the calcium bath is going to sit in the bath longer than the last drop, becoming harder and harder. Also, it's a little time consuming when you have to make a whole bunch, so he found out that he could make a whole bunch by putting the liquid into a pearl dispenser, or in layman's terms, a parmesan cheese dispenser. The if you mixed the gelifiers properly, the liquid should be thick enough (and not clumpy) for droplets to rain into spherification ready droplets out of the cheese dispenser's holes.

Next was Xavier Herit, head bartender at restaurant Daniel here in NYC. He was also showing off the strawberry pearls he makes over at Daniel used in the Strawberry and Pearls, which is a strawberry margarita served with the pearls.

On thing that stood out to me about what Daniel was saying was his enthusiastic announcement that, "I'm here to show you that you can do it."

Xavier began serving the pearls a year ago, and he's been able to serve this product in an actual working bar. Daniel also added that it definitely helped with garnering attention as well as publicity for the bar.

"People would say, 'Oh, did you see the bartender with the syringe?'"

"Chemistry of Cocktails (How Alcohol Works and Its Implications for Mixology)"
Melkon Khosrovian, Modern Spirits

I think the most interesting bit I got out of this, and I think several other people from the seminar would agree with me, is the role of the proof of a beverage and the fat content of the food when it comes to pairings.

I have to admit, I'd never personally given that much thought when it came to cocktail and food pairing situations.

I mean, yes, things like flavor, portion, temperature and the complexity of flavors make a difference as well, as Melkon explained, but some people forget to think of proof.

The fact is that the higher to proof, the better the drink is at cleansing the palate of fatty foods. Melkon explained in depth about how fat is hydrophobic, so it repels water. Wine usually does not have enough alcohol to absorb and cleanse the mouth of some fattier foods.

To illustrate that point, everyone got a bit of cheesecake with two small glasses, one was just vodka, and another diluted. In a side by side comparison, I could tell that the full strength vodka definitely cleared up the mouth almost like an astringent to an oily teenager's face.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Our (wo)man in New Orleans

July 8
As I sat in Laguardia airport after my delayed flight was canceled, I thought to myself, "Man, maybe I wasn't meant to go to Tales of the Cocktail this year."

Somehow the ineptitude and just plain terribleness of an airline that shall remain unnamed I found myself on one of the last flights out of NYC to Atlanta...where I'd, I guess, just stick out my thumb and hope a plane takes me to New Orleans in the morning.

Compared to the last time when I flew down to New Orleans last flight down, I found myself on a plane to Atlanta stuck behind a little girl who kept trying to sublimate herself into the airplane seat, and a row before her, a kid trying to sneeze his entire endocrine system out at 2 minute intervals, and a seat that stiffly wouldn't move back at all, I was in my own personal hell. And if that wasn't punishment enough, three hours of sleep at a dingy hotel/motel that had me worried I'd wake up covered in insects of some sort.

Luckily, in the bright light of day, with a breakfast of four Krystal sliders at the airport, things started to look up. I managed to find a seat on the first flight out of Atlanta and I arrived in New Orleans in time to attend the first session of Tales of the Cocktail, Big Trends 2009.

With moderator Ryan Magarian, co-founder of Aviation Gin and president of the cocktail consulting firm Liquid Relations, the panel included im Meehan, co-owner of the cocktail lounge PDT in New York, Michael Waterhouse, proprieter New York's Dylan Prime and Devin Tavern, and Simon Difford, owner and editor of Sauce Guide Publications.

Fresh and seasonal fruits and veggies as ingredients, as well as the popularity of gin were discussed as the group on stage talked through different trend worthy elements for 2009.

While the panel agreed that gin was big, the panel had differing opinions on what other spirits are on the rise. Jim mentioned how mezcal and tequila seemed to be something to pay attention to from what he's seen in New York, naming Death and Co. alum Phil Ward's new tequila and mezcal cocktail lounge Mayahuel.

Jim also thought that rye whiskey was the "giant white elephant" in the room. Even without a lot of innovation with the spirit itself, "you can't help but be astounded by the success of rye whiskey this year."

“We can't keep it on the shelves."

Simon though, commented that in Europe, rye whiskey is still something behind the bar for the bartender, and that general consumption by the bar going public isn't up there yet to be considered a trend there.

Waterhouse said that while mezcal wasn't a spirit that has a big call in the type of operation he runs, definitely tequila and gin are

More importantly, people are beginning to take notice of smaller artisan distillers. "It's green, it's small, it's local it's homemade, people are looking for this...People love that there is someone handcrafting products. People love that. You see these little soda companies. That's the big thing in spirits that I find."

Being proactive and taking control was the theme for the panel discussion on managing costs.

“My initial gut reaction to that is we're all living in this recession, which is the biggest bargaining tool I've had all my life. Especially in wine. There are a limited amount of buyers and a lot of wine going unpurchased. If you're not out there negotiating prices as a mult-unit chain you're doing yourself a disservice,” said Tylor Field, vice president of wine and spirits at Morton's Steakhouse.

“A lot of people put the ix-nay on new products or development coming in. For those people that are forward thinking and are ready to go when the turnaround hits, those are the people that are going to see the results of keeping the development flying,” Kathy Casey, president of Kathy Casey Food Studios and Liquid Kitchen said.

I was still tired after my almost 16-hour trek to New Orleans, but made an effort to stop by the reception party hosted by Beefeater Gin in order to see who I could run with.

Don Lee and John Deragon were heading up the apprentice program this year. With a lot of the juicing outsourced to kitchen staff, the plan was to give apprentices more time actually batching and preparing the different drinks and attending seminars. At the reception Don told me that this year the group was definitely larger than the last with more than 30 people on the apprentice list.

I saw Daniel Eun, who now lives on the West Coast studying law, but he still finds time to bartend.

A lot of last year's apprentices, like Daniel, returned for a second go around. Folks like Cassie Fellet, LaTanya White, Thomas Waugh and Jacquelyn Leon.

I saw some new face working the events as well like Nicholas Jarrett from Apothecary in Philadelphia.

I walked around saying hi to folks when I found myself at a table Stephen Beaumont and his wife Maggie were stationed at. The last time they'd seen me was when I almost mowed them down drunkenly stumbling out of the phone booth as I was leaving PDT quite a while back. I was sheepish to say the least.

Stephen Beaumont said, "I've been telling several people...this year is the year Tales goes huge."

Not that last year or the year before weren't huge affairs, but this year it definitely seemed...well...just humongous. I was curious as to what this year was going to be like.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Some photos from the World Cocktail Day party

or Ain't no party like a MOTAC party, 'cause a MOTAC party don't stop

May 13
I almost didn't make it to this party at Pranna, since I found myself working late, but I still decided to make it down there only to find out once again, that really, people in the bar industry don't know anything like late, or going on too long. So even though I'd walked in approximately 2 hours late, the party was still going strong. that John Hodgman? Why would John Hodgman just be chillin'here...

Anna Jovovice of handcrafted PR informed me that indeed, I was looking at John Hodgman, and that John Hodgman and Dave Wondrich are friends.

"Of course they are," I thought myself. For some reason I was not surprised at all by this revelation. In fact, if someone had told me that the cocktail historian wasn't friends with the guy responsible for crafting "The Areas of My Expertise," I would've been highly disappointed.

Bartenders worked as teams at Pranna's bar, each shift's team making drinks using a sponsor's ingredient. In all honesty, I didn't get a drink for like the first hour because the bar was 2-3 people deep. I eventually managed to grab a Pisco Punch (pisco, pineapple syrup, gum arabic, fresh lemon juice) from Naren Young when he was at the bar with his team of bartenders. I also tried an Old Fashioned that Tal Nadari made. It tasted different, not just because it had genever in it, but there was something else. Tal fessed up that he'd accidently used aloe rather than simple syrup in the one he gave me. I smacked my lips for a second or two. It actually wasn't a bad mistake. So I went on drinking.

I've been told that one way to get out of being in photos is to volunteer to take photos. Which is exactly the technique Don Lee used on me in this photo here, so now *I'm* in this photo, and I'm usually uncomfortable about being photos. From l-r: An uncomfortable me, Tal Nadari, Jeff Grdinich, Joaquin Simo

Dave Wondrich: cocktail historian and friend of John Hodgman

A Pisco Punch

Naren Young making the above-mentioned punch

An Old Fashioned with Aloe, created accidentally by Tal Nadari

Friday, May 8, 2009

Meeting Count Branca

May 4, 2009

When Jonathan Pogash sent out an invite letting people know that Count Niccolo Branca of the Distillerie Fratelli Branca would be attending a USBGNY mixer, I had to attend, because you know what? Everyone's life needs a little Merchant-Ivory touch to it.

Count Branca lays down what is what with Fernet Branca. The ghostly visage of a curious Jonathan Pogash looms over the count's shoulder.

Well, that's part of the truth. It actually had a lot to do with the fact that while I was aware of Fernet-Branca as a product, I felt like I didn't really know it beyond the cursory knowledge that a) it was an amaro, and b) it tastes bitter when I put some in my mouth. Oh, and c)in San Francisco people drink it like it's going out of style.

When I arrived at the World Bar, I grabbed a Brandy Branca, one of the drinks being made for the special occasion (brandy, Fernet-Branca, lime juice, 10-year tawny port, simple syrup) and it looked like of the people in attendance also were there for a chance to learn.

"Yea, I kind of realized, I don't really know Fernet...besides what I've Googled previously," I confessed to Nicholas Jarrett of APO in Philadelphia. He was armed with a notebook and ready to take notes.

Nicholas answered that info is pretty scarce, so having the count, as well as representatives of the company, coming in person was a rare and eagerly anticipated event.

Obviously other bar trade folks in attendance, like Tad Carducci and Eryn Reece, had more knowledge than I did, but the consensus seemed to be that there was a bit of mystery if not confusion about the product. And the swirling mists of time and anecdotes didn't help in cutting through those mists.

LeNell Smothers asked the count that Fernet-Branca is categorized as an amari, but there are other products that describe themselves as fernet, or incorporate it in their name somehow, so what makes Fernet, well, fernet?

This one question of what is Fernet, or what defines it seemed to stump everyone equally and resulted in about 15 minutes of discussion that basically boiled down to, it's a distinctive product, so it just sort of defines itself within a category.

The reasoning was that Fernet technically counts as its own category because of brand recognition. While other brands have lost bitterness over time, as trends have moved on toward easier drinking and sweetness, Fernet-Branca still maintains the same level of bitterness and flavor. Not as a putdown to other products, it was quickly pointed out by a company representative, but simply stated as a fact.

Even the count admitted that it was difficult to weed out what is history and what is legend when LeNell asked about one origin story that floated around. The story that iron was used in apurification process, resulting in the "fernet" portion of the name from "ferro."

Tad Carducci wanted to know if the Dr. Fernet character really was created to give some sort of Madison Ave.-esque medical credibility to the product back when it was marketed for its medicinal properties.

The count also admitted that this is one of the legends having to do with the product's creation, but in reality there are several out there with no conclusive proof as to what is entirely true.

Even though that particular discussion seemed to run around in circles, people seemed to be pleased to have the opportunity to talk, discuss, and possibly debunk or any previous theories they had about the product. For example, as people asked about the base spirit, it was interesting to learn there isn't really a specific grape that goes into the spirit because, as the count put it, "the character isn't from the spirit but from the herbs." Just further goes to prove my point that as cool as they seem, bartenders are total nerds. They just happen to be nerds about alcohol.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

May Day Bar-nanza

May 1

I promised Adam Ramsey that I'd try to stop by Phil Ward's new tequila and mezcal themed spot Mayahuel this week. And I also needed to stop by Dutch Kills since I received a text message from Richard Boccato that folks should show up at 9:30pm to enjoy the official opening of Dutch Kills. It was time for a twofer evening.

I almost walked past Mayahuel on 6th street, until I noticed that I was walking past a structure I hadn't seen on that street before. It looked like the outside of a wooden shack, if a wooden shack were to be well-made and finished with a dark stain that is. I paused and stared at it from across the street before informing an NRN co-worker accompanying me, "I think that's the place."

Sure enough, a small unassuming framed sign hung on the doorpost simply said, "Mayahuel".

It cozy interior was decorated a plenty with mosaic, glass tiles and the Virgin of Guadalupe candles.

Our bartenders for the evening were Adam and Rob. Besides tequila and mezcal, Mayahuel's cocktail menu also features a beer cocktail section so I started off with an El Jimador's Shifty (pineapple infused mezcal with lime, sugarcane and Negra Model with spiced salt rim). What I liked about this was the beer's flavor wasn't lost in the mix and instead worked with the very slight underlying fruitiness and sweetness of the pineapple infused mezcal and sugarcane. You could taste all the ingredients in the drink without too much fuss. I asked Adam what the spiced salt was made of and he informed me it was a mixture of salt sugar and cayenne. Even though it was light and refreshing, at the same time the spiciness from the cayenne with a little smoky mezcal gave it an oomph in the "is this substantial?" column.

The next drink I ordered was from the section of the menu featuring drinks incorporating tea. My Git Ur Lapsong Souchong (Smokey Tea infused Blanco tequila, lime, agave nectar and tamarind soda) got a "mmm" of approval from my companion.

I stole a sip off of my fellow tippler's Division Bell (Joven mezcal, Aperol, Maraska and lime). The bitterness from the Aperol bounced off of the mezcal in an interesting way.

As soon as the Division Bell was done with Rob had a Raspberry Charade, a drink made with raspberry tea infused tequila, ready because he had overheard my companion say that she would order that next. We both gave our thumbs up to this amazing display of attentiveness and timing.

Adam treated us to an R'Cobbler (Blanco tequila, Campari, Carpano Antica, Punt e Mas with xocotatl mole bitters), which he said was a favorite of his from the menu. The closest flavor comparison I can make is that it reminded me of a bar of dark chocolate with orange zest/candied rinds in it.

I had asked Adam earlier if Phil was going to be in and Adam said that he was floating around, sure enough Phil came in and was busy bustling to and fro, greeting people at the door, getting people settled with an air similar to that of an anxious, yet proud dad pacing in front of the delivery room and handing out cigars.

I congratulated Phil on the new place and asked him when it had officially opened. From what I'd heard, technically May 1 was the official open date, with a sort of soft opening type set up fro the past week or so.

"That's what we've been telling people," Phil answered. "But I consider we've been open since we started accepting money."

Speaking of money, for those of you thinking of stopping by, keep in mind that Mayahuel is cash-only at the moment.

The rain that drizzled, then came pouring, once again turned to drizzle and finally stopped and I decided to take advantage of the break in the weather to make my way towards Queens to visit Dutch Kills.

I went from damp and drizzling to melting away in the humid heat inside of Dutch Kills. I overheard someone say that the air conditioning would be in place in three days. Despite the wilting humidity, the place was full of people, and at the same time the almost oppressive damp heat lent an odd bit of atmosphere to the place with its tile floors and wooden fixtures. You almost felt like you really were sitting in an actual speakeasy or juke joint. The the scent of fresh varnish lingered in the air as a testament to the newness of the place.

People were crowded around the bar in the back. I hung around the edge of the crowd and witnessed a lone Richard Boccato manning the bar, working like a drink-making automaton. I was hoping to lean over the bar to give my congratulations, but I felt like an interruption and loss in concentration at that moment would just be a danger to him and the people around him. He was in a groove.

There was one other service bar, and I could see several servers, including familiar faces like Vito and Sasha Petraske moving back and forth hurriedly with their trays to serve the crowd.

Alex Day managed to find me amidst the people gawking about the bar. I hadn't seen him in forever and I crashed his table of friends and family. I ordered a Queens Park Swizzle (rum, mint, sugar and angostura bitters) and was very happy with my choice when it arrived. It was in a tall sweating glass filled to the brim with crushed ice with three distinctive layers. The bottom, a green undergrowth of muddled mint, the middle a pale golden glow of light rum and lime, and the top a soft mahogany sfumato of angostura brown. I know I sound like I'm describing Shangri-La, but I think in that heat you can't help but get hyperbolic over something looking that cool and inviting.

Everyone at the table fell in love with the menu's design. The wooden cover was inlaid with patterned and finished paper while the actual, replaceable paper menu looked like a page out of a store's log from the early 20th century with the company's logo and product art. At the same time it was editable by hand since the menu had spots where drinks and their description could be handwritten.

Other drinks on the menu (written in and dated May 1 by Sasha it looked like):

Astoria Cocktail - orange bitters, gin, dry vermouth

Flushing Cocktail - vermouth, brandy, Angostura bitters

Holland Razor Blade - Holland gin, lemon, cayenne pepper

Steinway Punch - whiskey, curacao, lemon, sugar

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Blue Owl's springtime cocktails

A little while back I missed out on an opportunity to attend a party hosted at the Blue Owl Cocktail Room hosted to introduce their spring cocktail menu. So instead, I sat down with Charles Hardwick a little while back to talk about the spring menu, try out a few drinks, and make up for the horrible truth that I never visited the place though I feel like I see Charles all over the place.

Charles said that he tries to keep Blue Owl's menu seasonal, but added, "If a drink is popular and well-suited, it'll carry over."

The menu has a broad range, however "at the same time it slightly subverts what normal patterns of drinking are."

So for people who would not regularly drink gin, Charles said something like the Barrelhouse Fizz would be appealing. Especially with its color and raspberries, from across the room it's visually appealing enough to make a guest ask for it.

Charles usually limits his cocktail menu to 12 drinks, but he still tries to mix it up.

"I try to have several long drinks and not make it all martinis," Charles said. He also tries to showcase a wide variety of spirits such a gin, rye whiskey and cachaca.

Located on 2nd Ave., between 12th and 13th street, the lounge's location seemed like the type of place where where the crowd would vary. It also has a mix of atmosphere going on, because it serves cocktails the quality of those you could find at some of the more buttoned-down, Prohibition-reminiscent places in the city. At the same time if you check out the lounge's calendar online, you see that Blue Owl also hosts regular events with live music and DJs, making it a sort of occupy a plane of existence in between cocktail lounge and chill club. It probably works in the Blue Owl's favor considering the mix of people that populate the surrounding area. It's residential in the sense that people live there, but it's not far off from offices where people work and is in the vicinity of NYU. On top of that, it's got public transportation on lockdown since it's within walking distance to Union Square and then there's the L along 14th that let's people off just two blocks up.

"It's fairly diverse and depends on the day and time of day," Charles said about the clientele, whether it's working professionals or people from the neighborhood.

According to Charles, the bar gets a lot of professional women patrons who find the lounge to be a spot where they don't feel the pressure of unwanted attention and can relax and enjoy their drinks. Charles said that there's also a younger segment of those coming in from Williamsburg who are very much into cocktails and have done their own research or reading into the topic.

What I wasn't expecting to hear was that the spot attracts a lot of people who are on Internet or blind dates. In Charles' opinion, this was because Blue Owl is a place where people can feel comfortable and works as either a starting off or ending point to an evening.

Charles was generous and I got to try out a good chunk of the spring cocktail list. The following are a couple of the drinks I tried:

The first drink I got to try was the Rube, (Plymouth Sloe Gin, Lillet Rouge & fresh Orange Juice, garnished with an orange slice), a drink named after Rube Foster, the famous Negro League player, Manager, and founder of the Negro National League in 1920.

The Kipspringer (Bols Genever, Dolin Bianco Vermouth, Orange flower water, Orange bitters, garnished with an orange twist) packs an orange-scented punch, but has a bit of that little something with the flavors of genever and vermouth, that to me seemed to recreate the flavor of orange in a kind of abstract way. Charles said that when he sets out a cocktail glass and sprays it with a bit of the orange flower water, the scent creates a sort of anticipation and attraction.

Charles called The Ellison (Hendrick’s Cucumber and Rose Petal-infused Gin, muddled mint and cucumber, fresh lime-juice, with a dash of bitters. Shaken and served up, garnished with a slice of cucumber) "the most popular cocktail" on the menu. It's one of the holdovers from the previous season that's also been around the block. The recipe was given to Jim Ryan to be part of a list of recipes for Hendrick's Gin, then Charles was hoping to have it added in the new Mr. Boston's book that Jim Meehan was putting together. It then just sort of spread out from there and roams the wild now like a feral child, with reported sightings every now and then. Charles said he frequently meets customers who tell him, "Hey, do you know they also make this at...?". In an effort to reclaim the drink, Charles tweaked it by adding a spritz of rosewater.

The Madero, made with Milagro Tequila, Green Chartreuse, Cointreau, agave syrup, cilantro & fresh lime juice, caught my attention with cilantro, because seriously, I know some people can really, really, REALLY dislike cilantro. The whole thing comes together in my humble opinion because the cilantro kind of teams with the herbal complexities of the Green Chartreuse. Then the agave syrup and tequila sort of their own flavor going on so really you're not necessarily being hit over the head with the cilantro. It's still there, but it plays well with the other ingredients.

Charles said that his thinking behind The Marisco Sour (Bar Sol Pisco, Marie Brizard Crème de Banane & coconut water) was in trying to create a tropical drink with the flavors, minus the syrupy sweetness. Photographed in the middle.

Dutch Kills to finally open?

Well, at least according to Giuseppe Gonzalez's Facebook status update from this morning, the long elusive opening date of the Long Island City bar is within reach:

"Giuseppe Gonzalez is telling the world that "Dutch Kills" is officially opening Friday, May 1st... Come and have a drink... or several."

You can be sure I'll be there to confirm this with my own two eyes. Hey, it's on my way home. Or at least in the same borough as home.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bartender Lunch at Fatty Crab

April 14

Events that take place in the middle of the day always throw me off a little because for me it's an interruption in the middle of the day. Now, I mean this in good jest, because while I like to poke fun about how the hours of my desk job existence differ from the hours of the many good folks I meet, there are those with a day jobs who are up and about before noon. Still, I couldn't help myself as I wisecracked if this lunch was more like the first meal of the day for some of the bartenders attending.

Today's lunch was a little something put together by Domaine de Canton. John Cooper, founder of Domaine de Canton, told me that the ginger liqueur company's previously hosted other lunches like this in other cities.

I took a glance at the lunch menu and the number of drinks outnumbered the food. Besides the ginger liqueur's signature cocktail (Domaine de Canton, lemon, Angostura bitters), there were also four other cocktails created by Fatty Crab's Adam Shuman.

Far East Side Cocktail
Domaine de Canton, cucumber, cilantro root, yuzu

tequila, chili-infused Domaine de Canton, watermelon-kaffir, lime

gin, Domaine de Canton, green Chartreuse, kalamansi, maraschino

The Post Coital
Domaine de Canton, Cynar, Martini Bianco, dry sherry

True to its word, the event itself was a relaxed lunch atmosphere with people mingling about, talking, catching up. When we all sat down to partake in the lunch it felt like a bit like a huge family and friends get together.

I found myself seated neatly in a corner next to Damon Dyer, directly across from Jonathan Pogash and diagonal to Jason Littrell. As I took a quick glimpse down the table I spotted other familiar faces like Marshall Altier, Terence Miller and raven-haired Eryn Reece, who I bump into plenty of times, but I could never quite place where I'd met her for the first time. She figured out for me that we first met back when she worked at Bar Milano. Porter House's James Menite was also sitting one person away from me.

I had to admit, even though I'd left the office grumbling thanks to an interrupted work day, I was pretty glad to have made it. The lunch format made it feel more casual and I got a chance to catch up with people as well as see what the word on the street was without my pesky notebook getting in the way and being all rigid and...professional? Soon the conversation turned to topics of who is working where these days, who was out of town, any tentative plans coming down the pike, Who's going to Tales, and OMG ME TOO. Obviously, the bartenders had more shop to talk about than I did, but at one point I looked around the table with a mixed look of skepticism, intrigue and horror as Damon started up a half-joking (I hope?) thread of conversation with Jonathan about what bitters could possibly consumed shot style (some from experience), and how.

I knew I couldn't stay long since I had to get back to work, but funnily enough, some folks couldn't stick around because they had to be going off to work too...

...yea, I was going to try and end with some cutesy tie-in about how it's so Alanis Morisette ironic, but I can't bring myself to do it.

And now, food porn!

Sadly, the few drink photos I snagged didn't come out too well, so all I have are food pictures. Not photographed, the super peppery Singaporean Black Pepper Mussels. Oh, and there's a drink hidden in one of these pictures, so play "Find Waldo." I mean, "Find the Chupacabra cocktail."

Raw quail egg topped with dried shredded pork

Jalan Alor chicken wings (particularly good with the cocktails)

Watermelon pickle and crispy pork

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Emails I get: Earth Day

Once again, from the "stuff that comes across my desk" department. Warning: This is just a collection of various things I've received via email that I'm sharing simply as data points. But by all means, read the NRN story on organic spirits featured in this month's NRN Beverage Trends E-Newsletter.

One email from the Gerber Group was about their Earth Day tie-in with Veev Acai Spirit. By RSVP-ing at a participating bar, you get a complimentary "eco-friendly" cocktail made with Veev. But wait, there's more. For every bottle of Veev sold, the producers will donate $1 towards preserving the Brazilian rain forest.

In related news, an email from back in March from folks representing Veev stated that the company would also plant a tree for every Veev "Treetini" cocktail ordered at participating New York bars bars and restaurants through the rest of April until the end of May. Check out the Treetini website for more info and other participating locations elsewhere.

Earlier this month, TRU Organic Spirits released results from two independent studies that stated TRU's line of organic vodkas and gin are "the most radically carbon negative consumer products on the market." The company also said that the makers Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Mathew of TRU are working with hotel groups, creating all-organic fresh ingredient cocktail menus with major chains such as the Marriott Group, Wyndham Hotels and Resort and The Mandarin Oriental.

Other establishments chose to highlight existing green beverage efforts. One email blast I received was about Harbour's FRESH Water Filtration system that purifies water on-site, as well as the restaurant's reusing of glass water bottles.

Counter, an organic and vegetarian joint in the East Village, is holding an Earth Day celebration on the 23, with tickets available for $10. There will be music (promises of "electro-funk, disco and 80's dance") food, and of course, organic beverages. The party is in actuality an after party for Project Earth Day, runway show and student competition that puts the spotlight on green design principles and sustainability. The announcement boasted a long list of donations from beverage producers like EEL River Brewing Company, Doc's Hard Cider, Martin Scott Wines, Q Tonic, Rain Vodka, TRU Vodka & Gin, Peak Organic Brewing Company and Tequila Terras. Oh, and for every bottle of TRU Vodka consumed, TRU will plant a tree (One Tree per Bottle).

Diageo also announced some of their own Earth Day initiatives, with the company's employees from Norwalk, Conn., Plainfield, Ill., and Amherstberg, Ontario participating efforts to increase environmental awareness. The company also announced that Sterling Vineyards Winery in Napa Valley, Calif., has been certified as a Napa Valley Green Winery by the Napa County Department of Environmental Management. Daigeo also announced in the press release that the company recently b egan construction on a new high-capacity rum distillery in the U.S. Virgin Island with LEED certification principles in mind. The distillery is slated to begin production in 2011, with goals to supply all the rum used to make Captain Morgan products for the United States beginning in 2012.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tales of the cocktail announces official cocktail: The Creole Julep

In the annual Official Cocktail Competition finals that took in April. Maksym Pazuniak, mixologist at Rambla and Cure, snagged the honor of creating this year's official cocktail for Tales of the Cocktail.

Creole Julep
Created by Maksym Pazuniak, Cure/Rambla

2 1/4 oz. Cruzan Single Barrel Estate Rum
1/2 oz. Clement Creole Shrubb
1/4 oz. Captain Morgan 100
2 dashes Fee Bros. Peach bitters
2 dashes angostura bitters
8-10 mint leaves
1 Demerara Sugar Cube

Muddle sugar, Creole Shrubb and bitters until sugar is dissolved in a 10 oz. tall glass. Add mint and press to express oils. Add cracked ice. Add Cruzan and Captain Morgan 100 and stir until frost appears on outside of glass. Garnish with mint sprig.

In second place was the Joie de Julep, created by Corey Bunnewith of Drinkin. And awesomely enough, third place went to the Ginger Peach Julep, created by Wayne Curtis, a freelance journalist. One for the writers!

Judges included Author David Wondrich, Mixology Research Engineer Robert Hess, TV Personality, Lorin Gaudin, Yuri Kato, Editor of and Chris Hannah of Arnaud's French 75 Bar.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Flatiron Lounge's spring menu

April 7

I was messing around on Facebook when I saw that Damon Dyer was online. I hadn't seen or talked to him in a long while so I asked him what nights he worked Flatiron Lounge. I was due for a visit to the joint as well as to stop by and say hi to Damon.

My timing couldn't have been any better, because Damon told me that the new spring menu would be debuting on Tuesday. This worked out great, I was going to be (sort of ) in the neighborhood anyway, since I was going to sneak into the School of Visual Arts to listen to one of my favorite artists give a lecture.

So after I was done feeling thoroughly uncool and old surrounded by art school kids, being star struck by how cool and awesome my favorite artist and totally embarrassing myself by tripping over my words and mumbling my way to having my shoes signed (they were the only things I had on me that could be signed), I needed a drink.

I made a quick jaunt from SVA to Flatiron Lounge. I waved hello to Damon over the heads of people sitting at the bar.

"So are these new like spring new or new like new new," I asked over the tops of heads as I stood on the tips of my toes.

"Both," Damon shouted back over the heads. "I got the recipes like two hours ago."

I looked over the menu and immediately saw there were a bunch of spring-welcoming ingredients and flavors like strawberry, rhubarb, cucumber, honeydew and white peach.

For example, the Beijing Peach sounds like a light, floral drink with its combination of vodka, pearls of jasmine and white peach.

I wanted to start off with the Imperial Daiquiri (white rum, lime, rhubarb and strawberries), but Damon said that was sadly the only one I could not have because there was no rhubarb. So I amended my order to the One Inch Punch.

The menu listed a blend of rums, youngberry, fresh grapefruit and lemon as the drinks ingredient. It also said "spiced with abit of velvet and a bit of tiki." I didn't pay good attention to any this latter part, but you should in light of the following realization.

So the drink was really light and refreshing. I could see someone easily sipping it in the middle of a hot and humid summer, just as much as I could see someone enjoying it in the early warmth of spring. But there was something. Something familiar about it.

The more I thought about it, the more it crept up on me. It reminded me of...ginseng tea? Sweet, yet kind of like an herbal tea. And if anyone's ever had ginseng tea or nibbled on a bit of ginseng, you know the spicy herby flavor I'm trying to discuss.

But first things first, I asked Damon what the blend of rums was, and he answered it was aged Barbados and light Jamaican rums in the drink. Good to know. What is this youngberry business?

"Think of a flavor profile that's something like raspberries and blackberries," Damon said.

OK, now for the last question. What is this mystery ginseng-like flavor going on in this drink. It's something I can't put my finger on.

"That's exactly what we's falernum."

Ooooh, the "velvet" was velvet falernum. Though I was surprised because in this drink the falernum took on a totally different flavor personality.

Speaking of mystery complex flavors, I tried out the Gypsy Dancer, a concoction of Damon's featured on the spring menu.

The ingredients list was deceptively simple: rye, Benedictine, yellow chartreuse and lemon.

Damon said that the drink was an equal parts drink that's very loosely related to the last word.

The result is a drink that tastes like you're drinking two different drinks at the same time. As you take the sip, the initial flavors and smells that stand out to you are lemon and sweet, making it like the usual cocktail with citrus and almost reminiscent of lemonade or lemon drink. However, as soon as the liquid touches your tongue, the drink itself transforms so that you feel like you're drinking a spirits-based drink.

I was chatting with bartender Adam Ramsey, I'd forgotten where we met, but he remembered that Alex Day had introduced us before. He was telling me about Phil Ward's new tequila joint that was in the works when I realized I had to cut myself off at just two drinks due to it being a school night. I reluctantly got up, promising Adam I'd stop by again sometime to finish up the others I didn't get a chance to try.

Learning about shochu with the Tippling Bros.

March 31

Louis 649 hosts regular Tuesday Night Tastings with different spirits and brands. Paul Tanguay and Tad Carducci of the Tippling Bros. were hosting their mini lecture of sorts on the topic of shochu.

Paul started off by explaining that the kanji used for sake is the kanji for alcohol and can be also pronounced shu or chu.

"Sho" means to burn or to concentrate, so the word "shochu" means something like "burned alcohol," so it's talking about distillation.

In creating sugars necessary to ferment and create alcohol, whether the end product will be shochu or sake, koji is used.

For a shochu to be considered a Honkaku shochu, Paul explained that the list of ingredients that could be used was limited. Rice, barley or sweet potato could be used. In sweet potato it's harder to propagate koji, so the koji is mixed with rice to create a rice mash first, then mixed with the sweet potato. Dates also fell into this group of approved base ingredients, though dates aren't a native fruit.

Paul talked about how regional temperature and climate affected alcohol production in Japan. Paul pointed out that Kyushu is well known for shochu, with Kagoshima prefecture on the island of Kyushu is famous for shochu production. Temperature in particular affects rates of fermentation. In the more northern regions, the sake is crisper, but in warmer climes like in Kyushu, super fast fermentation makes sake almost undrinkable. So put the stuff in a still and distill, and what do you get? Shochu.

So, one of the questions of the evening was, why is shochu not vodka? Paul explained that it wasn't the distillation that set shochu apart, but the use of koji in the fermentation process. As someone mentioned, the koji acts similarly as flor in sherry. And there are koji of different types that can produce different affects in drinks.

Paul said that since 1972, sake sales have been going down in Japan because it's considered an old man's drink while shochu's gained considerably popularity. And not just in Japan. Paul pointed out that shochu is only second to vodka as one of the world's best-selling spirits.

Shochu can be aged and there's no real age limit to it, but Paul said that one producer told him that shochu can't be aged past three years. So where's all the aged shochu? It's a matter of whiskey producers having a tight grip on aging and coloring.

For the tasting we got to try a barley shochu, then a sweet potato shochu, and finally a detsu shochu.

As we tried the sweet potato, Simon Ford asked if something like sweet vermouth would go with it.

"No..." Tad said, but then after a beat he added, "...but that's not entirely true."

Tad said that it can work, but there isn't that much of a complexity or bitterness for the shochu to stand up against the vermouth, so it can be used more as a base.

Tad went on to say as he worked with barley and rice shochu he played around with it until finding that the classic vodka model drinks work. He also reocmmended pisco-based drinks because, "If you think about it, there are pisco-esque qualities."

Tad further explained that when working from existing recipes or combination, they have to be tailored for shochu because of the spirit's more delicate nature. For example, if a drink would ask for 1.5oz, up it to 2 oz.

I agreed with that statement and also found it interesting how you could really taste the base ingredient in the shochu. The sweet potato one really did taste like sweet potato.

After we tasted the shochu, we got to drink a cocktail created by Tad called Blind Date in Manhattan. The drink is based on the Manhattan and uses date shochu.

Blind Date in Manhattan
date shochu
Maraschino liqueur
sweet vermouth
lemon peel

Events I cannot go to: Gin-soaked get togethers

Sometimes, things are out of my control and there are events that I cannot attend. Sometimes it's geographical, but a lot of times it's just a matter of timing. I managed to get to different invites to some interesting-sounding drink-related upcoming events that are upcoming that I cannot attend. And in an odd coincidence they are both gin-related. So as a service to some of you out there who are spirits and cocktails minded and possibly interested in attending, I'm going to put these up here. Maybe try and live vicariously through any of you who attend.

Day: Saturday, April 11
Reason I cannot attend: Hosting friends' engagement party
The event: A gin and cheese tasting at The Artisanal Premium Cheese Center.

Why I wish I could go: It's cheese and cocktails! How can you say no? Not that I haven't seen plenty of cheese plates around in my drinking. However I was mainly intrigued to actually hear about some of the reasoning or flavor pairing ideas with cocktails or just gin for that matter. Interesting for a cheese place to take an interest in cocktails.

Day: Monday, April 13
Reason I cannot attend: I have a class on Mondays that don't end for another 2-3 weeks.
The event: Dining & Libation Society.

Why I wish I could go: Jordana Rothman over at Time Out New York was nice enough to let me know about what sounds like a good and informative time. Charlotte Voisey is hosting. AND it's going to be at the Eldridge. I am sadly unavailable during those hours, but hope to one day attend once I finish up these Monday night classes.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Random Tales of the Cocktail update: Danny DeVito

Some of you probably already know about this, but for anyone who's on the fence about going to Tales of the Cocktail you should know that Danny DeVito will be there.

That's right, according to the good folks of Tales, Danny DeVito will be in attendance. Mr. DeVito is a producer not just of films but of premium liqueur as well. Unless you've been under a rock, you've probably heard of Danny DeVito's Premium Limoncello. He admitted to having overindulged in the stuff with George Clooney during a now infamous appearance on The View. Me? I say you can't even possibly buy celebrity endorsement any more raw than that. It was freakin' awesome. I'm also a fan of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," so I could be biased.

Tangent: Speaking of celebrity endorsements, I was watching Lady Gaga's video for "LoveGame" a little while back and realized the pretty prominent presence of Campari and wondered how "LoveGame" stacked against Busta Rhymes, P Diddy and Pharrell's ode to the cognac of Napoleon, "Pass the Courvoisier" when it came to songs about specific alcoholic beverages. Though I thought it was weird because I don't know how much Campari would catch on with the "kids trying to relive the Club Kids days that truthfully they aren't 'reliving' because they were still in diapers then" crowd.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Month of brunches: Buttermilk Channel

March 29

"So how's your month of brunches going?" a friend had asked a little while back and I answered that I'd been to two places and he looked a little disappointed. I guess a grandiose title such as "A month of brunches," made it sound like I'd be eating brunch all the month long. Logistically impossible when you even base it on just the days and times brunch is available. The weekend. Note to self: Stay away from sensational headlines.

As much as brunch is popular in New York and with all the places serving it, I found it weird that I ended up not visiting as many as I thought I could. Maybe another month down the road I'll try this one more time and do succeed in eating brunch both days of every single weekend.

With the last weekend of March staring me in the face, I decided I'd visit Buttermilk Channel in Brooklyn.

It's a bright spot on the corner it sat on, daylight spilling inside. I peered at the menu because, like with the other spots I'd visited during March, it was the Bloody Mary selection that caught my eye.

I ordered the Court Street($10), a Bloody Mary made with rosemary infused vodka and garnished with Esposito's antipasti (a bit of really good cured meat, a piece of cheese and an olive speared through).

The name of the drink obviously comes from the restaurant's location and Buttermilk Channel seems to revel in the neighborhood its located in. The restaurant is named after a tidal strait located in the area that connected Brooklyn to Governor's Island. The restaurant's site tells of the two different legends associated to the tidal strait's name. Either it was because the rough waters could churn butter or could when the tide was low Brooklyn farmers would walk their cows to Governor's Island to graze.

Another shoutout to the neighborhood came in the form of my next drink, the Star of the Sea, which I enjoyed with my burger. I was kind of jonesing for waffles or pancakes, but felt that combined with Bloody Marys, it probably wouldn't bode well for my stomach. This one was another Bloody Mary variety made with cucumber and dill infused vodka and garnished with a freshly shucked east coast oyster. The drink is named after a local church called St. Mary Star of the Sea.

As with previous Month of Brunches encounter, as someone who was never all into Bloody Marys, I was surprised to find myself polishing both off rather quickly. Also, while I was drinking the Court Street, I felt like the Bloody Mary had an ingredient in it that I could only describe as being "meaty" in texture. There was something there I was chewing, and I like whatever it was. While drinking the Star of the Sea I realized this "meatiness" I could chew in the drinks was fresh horseradish. I'm a big fan of being able to see and chew bits of ingredients in a Bloody Mary. It tastes of...housemade mix.

I chatted a little with owner Doug Crowell who admitted that he doesn't quite get the big deal about Bloody Marys like me, but realized that it was something pretty important to have on a brunch menu. And if he was going to have them on the menu, he was going to have the best. I said it was kind of weird for me because Bloody Marys feel like full meals to me, like some kind of zesty liquid meal substitute, so to pair that with even more food was kind of funny. Nonetheless, I managed to find room for two Bloody Marys on top of a burger.

Brunch at Buttermilk Channel also comes with a choice of juice, mimosa, bellini or sparkling wine. The other two Bloody Marys on the menu include the Classic ($8), garnished with a housemade dill pickle, and the Otis mad with Jameson whisky, topped off with Sixpoint Otis Stout ($10).

Gratuitous burger shot

USBGNY: Story time with Gary Regan that makes us think about customer service

March 23

Last week I stopped by the World Bar at Trump World Tower to attend the USBGNY monthly mixer. I'd come just in time to hear Jonathan Pogash make a couple of announcements about upcoming contests and events.

For those attending the NY Bar Show, USBGNY will have a huge presence there this year with its own separate area.

It was the usual thing you'd expect at a meeting like this of this sort, a gathering of industry folks to talk about industry related matter. Except we got to have that there were plentiful booze, mainly in the form of Old Fashioneds made with Pierre Ferrand Cognac Ambre.

And like any proper meeting, we had a guest speaker speak to us about something relating to industry matters, except our speaker wasn't just any speaker. It was the always entertaining, yet insightful, and delightfully salty Gary Regan.

Reading from a sheaf of paper that he said was part of a work in progress memoir that he was working to get published, he began to tell us a bit about his life, and in particular, about his parents. He began his story explaining how he was brought up in the pub business. For a period of his life, his father owned a pub located in a lower class neighborhood near a council estate (public housing in the United Kingdom).

Gary had everyone's attention in the room as he told us tales with relish about the pub's house band. Or how as a youngster, he fell into a group of older boys and would go drinking. How his father "a regular superstar" of the council estate would get up on stage to sing. And he told us of the neighborhood tough guy, "the toughest motherfucker in town" as Gary described him, who'd come in twice a year just to sing "Danny Boy."

While everyone listened to the hilarious and heartfelt stories that Gary told, it became obvious that he wasn't just telling these stories because they were good stories, but he was actually trying to explain to us how deep the relationship between customer and bartender (or in this case, pub owner) can go.

Gary said that his father was almost like a father figure for the council estate through the relationships built with those that came into his bar and through caring about the people living in the neighborhood his pub was situated in, his parents weren't just the pub owners, someone one people could go to whether it was late night phone calls or a need to borrow a little money. Gary didn't find that his mother had slipped cash to those who needed it until 2001, a year after her death. He had no idea that his mother had provided some money for a barmaid whose daughter needed medical attention.

The magnanimity and hospitality his parents provided to those in the neighborhood created a sort of "fierce loyalty'

"He didn't want to fuck up in the last place in town where he could take some stuff off of his chest," Gary said of the tough guy who could intimidate the entire room into silence when he walked in, never caused any trouble for the pub.

"The most important part of being a pub landlords is that they must truly care for their customers...they must care in a very real sense on a very personal level," Gary said about what his parents taught him about the bar business. "Because nobody goes to a bar for a drink. They go for conversation, for cry on somebody's shoulders. And such is the path the bartender must walk."

For those who know Gary or at least have read his book, the message isn't new. Even in the age of bartending being sexy, with people trying out different techniques, new ingredients, old ingredients that are new by virtue of having been forgotten, Gary still preaches the importance of the customer and bartender relationship.

As Gary put it, it's not just about "making a great drink or creating a masterpiece," and that bartenders should remember, "He who chooses a life behind bars, chooses a life of service."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spring cocktails at Bobo

March 24

Naren Young sent out an email to remind folks in the industry to stop by Bobo for an official debut of sorts for the joint's spring cocktails. Naren told me that the drinks have been slowly introduced prior to the call for the get together, but tonight was the first time that they were gathered all in one place.

There are fifteen on the menu, all priced at $13 dollars, with flavor combinations and names like Tropic Thunder (cachaca, coconut, pineapple, kaffir lime) and That Kumquat Thing (42 Below, aperol, grapefruit, kumquat jam).

Naren said that the personality of Bobo calls for more food-friendly drinks that aren't too spirits heavy. He pointed out the closest thing to a boozy cocktail on the menu would be something like The Fordham, made with gin, St. Germain, dry sherry, cucumber and lime.

"The crowds aren't looking for anything too heavy or boozy," he said of guests expectations, though that does not mean that the cocktail menu is wimpy in any way or put together without much thought.

I dipped my toe into the menu Happy Hollow (Maker's Mark, peach, ginger, passion fruit and apple). Very smooth and easy with just slight prickles on your tongue and throat to remind you there's ginger in it.

I then tried out the Sanguine (Campari, solerno, fresh blood orange and sparkling rosé).

It basically tasted like a very good blood orange soda you would get at a specialty store or gourmet grocery. A little acidic, a little bit of fizz, not too sweet, and a slight bitterness made me think it'd be really good with a burger or something.

"I wanted to do something with rosé that nobody was really doing with in cocktails," Naren said, and added that the drink's been getting a lot of good responses.

(click image to enlarge)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Month of brunches: Clover Club

March 15

Sadly I was felled by a cold last week and couldn't make it out to brunch this past weekend. Instead, here's a write up of my visit to the Clover Club the weekend prior.

It seemed like trains in and out of Queens were running on crack on the weekends the entire month of March. Who would've thought I'd find the G to be a more reliable method of transportation? Though that's a little harsh, I've heard on good authority that the G doesn't really deserve the bad rep it gets. My own track record with it hasn't been so great so I'm still going to say: Surprisingly, it didn't fail me as I had to make my deep into the heart of Hipsterburg/Williamsburg for the NYC Beard and Moustache Championships. Any of you following me on Twitter probably noticed that I spotted Bartender Beard Off commissioner Ty Baker, who competed in the full beard freestyle.

So when on Sunday morning I found myself needing to go into Brooklyn from Queens, I made the cumbersome three-train transfer and nodded on and off as the G rumbled me into Brooklyn.

I skipped towards Clover Club like some kind of boozy Disney musical number saying hello to Allen Katz as I passed him by, like Belle saying "Bonjour!" to the townspeople.

"Heading over to enjoy a cocktail?" Allen asked me.

"Indeed I am! I didn't recognize you without the beard," I cheerily answered back and with a twirl of my skirt continued on my way.

The thing about brunch at Clover Club is, it combines two great things. Daytime hours and a full bar. Not that other brunch spots don't have a full bar, but sometimes you feel like you have stick with the stayed Bloody Mary or mimosa. No longer do you have to feel like you're hiding your drinking under the guise of enjoying "brunch."

Some places might even encourage you with a "Endless Bloody Mary and Mimosas!" brunch specials. Nevermind everyone else is guzzling down their fifth Bloody Mary, but try ordering a martini at brunch and all of the sudden everyone at the table looks at you like *you're* the one with the problem.

On the other hand, this sort of thing is understandable since those drinks are more tied with brunch hours and you might find it to be an interesting adventure to order a Bloody Mary at non brunch hours. It also helps that those two are probably the easiest to batch. Especially, with brunch times being so hectic in New York, you feel like a total jerk asking for something off the menu when the bartender behind the bar is up to his/her elbow in bloody mary mix and trying to open a bottle of champagne at the same time.

At the Clover Club, not only are drinks available at a very friendly $9-$10 range, but the drinks list doesn't end with a half-page list of cocktails. Though you might notice the grouping is a bit different from the usual evening hours, at the same time, don't hesitate to ask the bartender what else he could rustle up for you, or order a favorite if you had one.

The first page of the menu to greets you with a couple of Bloody Marys and a bit of trivia and history as well. Thomas Waugh came up with the base for the Bloody Mary drinks. It's an eclectic mixture of several ingredients, like soy sauce, fish sauce and wasabi and horseradish.

The latter are really noticeable since there's a low-burning yet constant heat going on that's a little different from the spicy or peppery heat you might get elsewhere. Bartender Brad Farran said that it's better to described it as a melange of spicy ingredients.

I asked Thomas which Bloody Mary to try out and he suggested the Barman's Bloody. Rye whiskey, basil, Fernet Branca with tomato and spice. I have to be honest, considering my past brush with Fernet Branca it looked pretty intense to me. It ended up being quite tasty. As I told the drink's creator, Giuseppe Gonzalez, later in the afternoon, it had a strong bitter, herbaceous flavor going on that was very complex and made you smack your lips a bit. I've had experiences with Bloody Marys that start off OK, but something about it is almost too tomato-y and the drink gets sweeter with each sip until you feel like you're in ketchup territory. This was in no danger of crossing that line.

Besides the Barman's, you can also get a Bloody Mary with vodka, a Red Snapper (with gin), or the Bloody Maria (tequila).

Clover Club also features a section of champagne-based Royales, as well as Bracers and Pick Ups.

I asked Brad how the different categories were picked for brunch and Brad explained that they tried to keep with traditional daytime tipples, like the Bracers & Pick Ups section. It's a nod to the fact that in the 19th century, cocktails were actually drinks for the day to help perk you up. Then there are sections like Sours and Daises, and the Swizzles. Drinks that are lighter for people who don't want anything too heavy before 6 pm.

After my Barman's Bloody, I decided to try and keep with the rye whiskey theme and ordered a Blinking Daisy (rye whiskey, raspberry syrup and grapefruit juice) from the Sours and Daisies camp.

Of course, it'd be hard to expect anything less in the drinks department from a place like the Clover Club, but the brunch spread isn't too shabby either.

As per Thomas' suggestion, I tried out the Pork 'n Grits, a dish of braised pork served over cheddar grits with sunny side up eggs. It instantly reminded me of my early forays into fusion cooking when I was 13 and hungry, with nothing in the house resembling food. So I decided to cook up some grits, because they reminded me of Korean juk, and top it with a fried egg, some soy sauce and sesame oil.

Other dishes on the menu included baked eggs with chorizo and manchego cheese, ricotta pancakes topped with lemon-honey butter and a housemade apple compote as well as a bacon tasting with three styles of bacon.

Brunch hours are from 11-4 pm, and the kitchen shuts down for an hour before the place switches over to regular service. So keep that in mind if you plan on ordering food while there. The bar stays open during that hour, but if you want drinks at brunch prices, I'd advise ordering before 4pm rolls around.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Month of brunches: Prune

March 7

I could already see the crowds waiting for their seats half a block away before I even got to Prune's front door.

Since I was on my own, I realized seating would probably be a little tricky for me and I was given an hour and a half wait time. I was impressed because I was actually expecting it to be more. Man, people in New York love their brunches.

Don't get me wrong, I do too. Well, it's probably more correct to say that I like breakfast foods, period. I skim over all the sandwiches and things on a brunch menu and zero in on anything with eggs, or pancakes and waffles. I've had bowls of cereal for dinner not out of necessity but as a preference. Anytime of the day I will eat breakfast.

But my familiarity with brunch cocktails? I mean, I knew what kinds there are and have tried them before, but to be completely honest, my breakfast beverage of choice always was an ice cold cola. With more ice. Perks me right up. However, I recently had a very intense hankering for a Bloody Mary and so I decided to harness this hankering to try out different brunch cocktails and make myself wake up like I'm actually some kind of morning person or something.

Prune's brunch menu features several versions of the Bloody Mary. I counted 10. The number probably gets bumped up by one if you count that the Bullshot (vodka, beef bouillon, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce) is also available as a Bloody Bull (with added bloody mix).

The lineup also features the likes of The Deadly (classic Bloody Mary with vodka, but with a splash of tequila as well) and the Green Lake (vodka and wasabi with a beef jerky swizzler).

When I asked which one was popular, the answer I got was, "Today it was the Danish."

So that's what I ordered. It's made with aquavit and comes with a bushy sprig of fennel draping over your drink like a poetic weeping willow out of the mists of literature and several pickled white anchovies speared through with a wooden skewer.

I nibbled at the anchovies and sipped at the drink. As I took photos I noticed a mysterious, small container of another liquid. I was to learn that Bloody Marys at Prune also come with a beer chaser. I was told, "It's a Midwestern thing." No objections from me.

Actually, the beer chaser (in this case, a little under a shot glass amount of Red Stripe) works. The flavors compliment each other. On one level, the beer helps sort of clear your mouth out in a way. On another, the flavors of the beer tasted particularly more crisp and were amplified.

I ordered another, this time going with the Chicago Matchbox. I probably don't eat entirely enough veggies, and if you don't think the bloody mix is providing quite the amount necessary to fill whatever serving size of vegetables you need to consume that day, I'd say order this. It comes with skewer stick of pickled Brussels sprout and baby white turnip. And I was fishing pickled green beans and caper berries out of the drink to nibble on. These veggies that are pickled on the premises. For those of you constantly vigilant against the threat of scurvy, never fear, the drink is made with a homemade lemon vodka.

The bloody mix also looked homemade, the bottom of my glass was chock full of bits and pieces that hinted at flavor that doesn't come from a premix and I could chew bits of black pepper.

All of the Bloody Marys are priced at $9, and the separate brunchtime drinks menu also features additional beverages. There's a section of champagne cocktails with the familiar mimosa making an appearance. Other champagne cocktails configurations I made note of was one that called for Belle de Brillet and another called the Classic Cocktail that is made with that, of course, classic combo of champagne, sugar cube and angostura bitters.

For those who don't want to be greeted by alcohol with their first meal of the day, there's the essential coffee or tea. Being caffeinated isn't really your thing or not really feeling either? Why not try some steamed almond milk Ovaltine (served hot or cold)? The last two seemed pretty genius since it provides an alternative for the kiddies who are probably usually limited to fresh squeezed juices at brunches, which Prune also serves.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pretty, pretty pictures on your drink

Speaking of the Rust Belt in the last entry, today Don Lee emailed me some photos of a stencil that PDT is using for that drink.

"Mine didn't have a stencil =(," I emailed back, though I added that even without it, I enjoyed how the spray of color from the angostura bitters looked on top of the drink. I missed out on seeing the stencil because I visited a little too early to enjoy this new way of styling drinks.

Don emailed, "I made a prototype of the PDT logo stencil a couple weeks ago but then the filters for the laser had to be replaced so we weren't able to make them for use at the bar until last Thursday. We've been using them for the rust belt since Friday.

Don created the 1/16", clear acrylic stencil with help from NYC Resistor, a project group that also does work with [Dr. Evil voice]"frickin' laser beams"[/Dr. Evil voice]. Ahem, I mean laser cutting and stuff.

Oh, no, they even have an Etsy store. Must. Resist. Excess. Purchases.

Don has some photos of other concepts for stencils "to explore various ways the top of a drink could be used as a 'canvas'."

"Branding with our own logo is cool but I eventually want to use these stencils to provoke people to think. Magritte's 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe' was the obvious art historical inspiration so I tried doing that on top of a drink as well. The bold punctuations and emoticon was inspired by the documentary Helvetica."

Art and typography nerdery with your drinks. Love it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The New York Korean cocktail mafia loses one of its members

March 3

I was down over at Dumpling Man on St. Mark's and just managed to bite into pork dumpling four of six when suddenly my phone jitterbugged across the counter where I was sitting. I almost choked on the barely chewed morsel, but hurriedly got it down so I could answer the phone. Seat available at the bar? Is it OK if I get there in 5-10 minutes? Alright.

I closed the phone and proceeded to shove dumplings number five then six into my maw. I hopped off the stool and headed out to trudge over the stubbornly lingering snow and down a couple of doors to PDT.

As I previously mentioned previously here, Tuesday was Daniel Eun's last shift at PDT before he moved out to California to study law. My presence at PDT was more symbolic than necessary. All the time I'd known Daniel, I've tried drinks he's created, run into him at numerous events, but never, ever stopped by PDT during one of his shifts. It seemed a little unconscionable to send him off like this. I mean, he was probably had no problems with the current state of affairs, it just did not seem right to me is all.

I'd already wished him well and said my goodbyes on Monday when Pranna was taken over by bartenders and other well-wishers in a double feature party both for Daniel and also to celebrate Jamie Gordon's birthday. I handed Daniel a shot of reposado tequila and joked that if I'd been quicker on my feet, I would've also bought him a beer and made him a poktanju on the spot (Korean: "bomb drink," basically a boilermaker, except, you know, you "bomb" the shot glass into the beer. Come on guys, I don't need to spell it out). We both laughed heartily at that though I noted a bit of relief in Daniel's voice when he said, "Good thing you didn't think of that."

I asked him if he was fully folding his bar career. Or, you know, be like...a bartending lawyer.

"That really sounds like the plot of some kind of Japanese movie," I said.

"Yea, they'll show like a montage of me doing stuff like carving ice," Daniel added.

"Oh, and also scenes of you studying really hard for like the bar or something," I said all excited as I could practically see the trailer running through my head. [Note: I just realized what a totally delicious play on words the movie would have if you took into account someone studying for the bar, versus studying for B.A.R.]

"And I'd accidentally hit my hand while carving the ice and go, 'Ah!'," Daniel parried.

"...and you'd, like, examine and throw a series of ice balls that don't meet your standards in increasing frustration!"

I could only stick around briefly for one drink at the party, but I told Daniel I'd try to stop by for his last shift, which is how I found myself at PDT sipping on a Rustbelt (Barbancourt 8 year rum, Navan, citrus, egg white, orgeat syrup, angostura bitters) made for me by Amanda.

I liked it. Ah, my weakness for egg whites. What I liked about this cocktail was the two layers of flavor it had going with the separation between the liquid and the foaminess of the egg whites on top. The top sort of trapped all the aromatic scents and flavors, such as the bitters as well as the vanilla and almond scents, while the liquid packed the sour flavors.

I told Daniel I couldn't leave before he made me a drink. so he made me a Derby cocktail. I said that once I finished the drink I could leave in good conscience.

"What? You wanted a send off drink? You should've told me," Daniel said. "I could make you something else."

"As long as it's not poktanju," I said.

"Oooh, I wasn't going to before, but now that you say that..."

"Wait! You guys do not make that here!"

Luckily he was mostly kidding and I worked on finishing the drink I had so I could weasel out before he changed his mind, but not before seeing Richard Boccato, who'd also stopped by with Ari to see Mr. Eun.

I asked Mr. B what the haps was with Dutch Kills. I told him the buzz online about the place was pretty intense. It sounded like people were ready to pounce on the place the minute it opened.

He said they're gearing up towards opening. There were still some finishing touches being taken care of so the opening is definitely looming over the horizon.