Potables, Reading and writing

New mag for drinks nerds!

logo for Imbibe magazineHaving seen a number of bloggers discussing the new magazine Imbibe, I dispatched my lovely wife last week to track down a copy, to read during our flight to Alabama. She found the first issue for sale at Borders and brought it home for me. I’m still working my way through it, but so far, I’m really enjoying it.

Imbibe is a drinks magazine, and as such, it covers a range of beverages–coffees, teas, beers, spirits, and wines. (I’d love to see features on specialty colas, root and ginger beers, and other soft drinks.) The first issue contains articles on hotel bars, the drinks culture of Oaxaca, Ted Haigh, Trappist ales, and organic wines. It’s a fun magazine that fills a heretofore open niche.

A lot of magazines have come and gone in the last couple of years–Radar (twice) and Chow are the ones I most lament. This seems to be a hard time to keep a new magazine afloat, but then perhaps it was ever thus. It’s hard to say how long Imbibe will succeed. Nevertheless, I’ve voted with my credit card and purchased a subscription. (Actually, due to incompetent use of a web browser, I seem to have purchased two subscriptions. I’ve been on the web for a decade; I have no excuse.)

As I mentioned earlier, the premiere highlights twelve hotel bars. Among the bars featured is Bistro Moderne in Houston’s Hotel Derek. The write-up discusses a Moderne specialty cocktail, the Texan, providing only the ingredients (Woodford Reserve bourbon, Sauza Conmemorativo tequila, and lime juice) and not the proportions.

I was intrigued but nervous about the bourbon/tequila mix, but since we have both ingredients at home, as well as plenty of limes, I wanted to try it. I had no idea what proportions to use, so I winged it. In a mixing glass, I poured three ounces Very Old Barton bourbon, two ounces Herradura Añejo, and one ounce lime juice (for two cocktails). I sampled just a bit of that and found it a little harsh, so I added half an ounce of simple syrup. I shook that over ice and strained it into two cocktail glasses.

Jen and I both liked it, but we felt it was lacking complexity. The sweetness was fine–any more than half an ounce of simple syrup would have been too sweet. I started thinking about bitters, and since triple sec is a common companion for tequila, I thought about Gary Regan and his orange bitters.

Good thought. Our second batch went as follows, and it was, we felt, a better mix:

1½ oz. Very Old Barton bourbon
1 oz. Herradura Añejo tequila
½ oz. lime juice
¼ oz. simple syrup
3 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters

Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

I’ll happily entertain suggestions for garnishes. I left the drink naked. Salted rim? Lime twist?

Meanwhile, let’s all raise a toast to Imbibe’s long life.


MxMo Roundup

Paul, at Cocktail Chronicles, posted a good roundup of the first Mixology Monday event. The other entries are all well worth reading, so if you’re interested, you won’t waste a minute of your time.

Rick, from Kaiser Penguin, commented here that he tried the Dempsey cocktail, after reading my post. He judged it syrupy, which is a good observation. I think a little citrus and possibly some bitters might help balance the flavors, but then it probably wouldn’t be a Dempsey anymore.


Mixology Monday: Pastis

Mixology Monday: PastisThe first Mixology Monday is upon us, and the theme is pastis. I’d never worked with pastis, but it’s an ingredient I wanted to learn about and experiment with, so I looked forward to this challenge.

Or, rather, challenges, because the first question is, what do you buy? I don’t know from pastis at all. I’ve sampled ouzo and real absinthe, but I’d never purchased any of the anise-liqueur family, so I didn’t know what was good or what to look for. I still will need to play around with this liqueur category before I feel comfortable with it.

There’s a saying that the French keep the best pastis for themselves; when you consider that the best-known pastis bottlings in the U.S. are Ricard and Pernod, neither of which are particulary loved by connoisseurs, you might have to admit that the old saying is true.

Jean Luc PicardSo, what do you look for? Luckily, we shop at the best liquor store in New York City and I trusted LeNell to help me out. She doesn’t even seem to carry Picard or Renault–excuse me, Ricard or Pernod–or at least, I never found them on her shelves. Among the brands she does stock, however, is Charbay, from California’s Napa Valley. LeNell explained that Charbay produces her favorite pastis; since it contains nothing artificial, the flavors are cleaner. A blog for French expats in California, Silicon Valley frogs, called it “un pastis entièrement naturel et sans colorant.”

Charbay pastisSo we brought home the Charbay, in part, I must say, because Jen loved the bottle. One fun thing about purchasing wines and spirits is that among the wide range of bottle designs, you’re sure to find a few to collect to display or to use as bottles to bring water to the table when you have guests. So, hell, why not consider aesthetics when you’re making your decision? Engage all your senses, dammit!

So we got it home. I poured a little into a glass and we had a sip. (Actually, Jen just sniffed it.) Strong! The flavors of the botanicals were really overpowering, and the pastis alone was also very sweet. This needed cutting, so it was time for mixing up some drinks. I had done a little research beforehand, and I found a few classic French drinks using pastis; I wanted to try three: la tomate, le perroquet, and la feuille morte. I made up some mint syrup and away we went.

The first concoction was la tomate: 1 part pastis, 1/2 part grenadine syrup, and 5 parts water. I mixed up two of these and brought them over. The water and grenadine cut the stronger flavors of the pastis, and yet the pastis still predominated. The amount of water in the drink made it really refreshing and hydrating with a touch of flavor from the other ingredients. Great for a hot day outside, after work, maybe served with a little ice to chill it.

Next up was le perroquet, sort of. My mint syrup wasn’t really green, and the pastis was colorless. The perroquet is supposed to be green, like a parakeet (hence the name), but the mint and pastis mixture was clear, so we skipped it, and I skipped ahead to la feuille morte–that’s 1 part pastis, 1/2 part grenadine, 1/2 part mint syrup, and 5 parts water. The color should approximate that of a dead leaf–again, hence the name. But again, because my mint syrup was so pale, the drink was just red like the tomate.

The mint added complexity. We both felt that although the tomate was refreshing it was ultimately a little dull. The feuille morte was better, but still not quite what we’re used to drinking. I still think this will be a good drink on a hot day, but otherwise, it didn’t send me.

Dempsey cocktailBy this time, we were up for serious drinking. The alcohol in the previous drinks was so diluted by water that we felt no buzz. Cocktails are about flavor as much as alcohol, of course, but don’t kid yourself. Cocktails are also about buzz. We needed buzz.

Difford’s Guide had a cocktail called the Dempsey: gin, Calvados, pastis, and grenadine. The apple and gin seemed like they’d contribute the complexity and balance that the earlier drinks lacked. So I mixed a couple up. Jen liked it quite a bit–the layers of flavor really appealed to her. I still thought it too sweet.

This was fun. I got a little tired of the anisey flavor after a while, but I still like the stuff. It’s just something I’ll have to drink in small quantities and not very frequently. I am, though, looking forward to experimenting further.

NYC stories, Potables

Gary Regan at LeNell’s

Jen’s got a photoset up of Gary Regan’s visit this weekend to LeNell’s. Imagine seeing Dale DeGroff, David Wondrich, and Gary Regan in the same week! Wow…

Anyway, Gary Regan is so charming and fun in person. He discussed mixing techniques, cocktail ingredients, and bar equipment, all while mixing drinks and passing them out to the crowd. He started with the sidecar. He discussed his theory of mixology–how everything reduces down to several basic recipes. The sidecar is cognac, triple sec, and citrus juice. The margarita–tequila, triple sec, citrus. The kamikaze–vodka, triple sec, citrus. The cosmo complicates things, but only barely–citrus vodka, triple sec, cranberrry, citrus juice.

This is a powerful idea, and Gary attributes it to Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh. But whomever the originator, it’s an idea worth remembering–a strong spirit, a liqueur (or other sweetening agent), and citrus juice. The spirit is your base; so many of Gary’s recipes are in the proportion of 3-2-1. Three parts spirit, two of liqueur, and one of citrus. Add other ingredients, maybe some vermouth, an additional liqueur, but keep the spirit as the predominant flavor, and just experiment.

On the subject of experimentation, Gary talked about coming down on the train to LeNell’s and thinking, Hmmmmmm, I love an aviation cocktail. (That’s gin, maraschino, and lemon juice–oh look! spirit, sweetening liqueur, and lemon!) Could you make an aviation with tequila replacing the gin? Well, why not try it. So he tried that with us. We got a Gary Regan original.

He said, well, you know that lime is traditional with tequila, so why are we using lemon? It seems that one night he wanted an aviation but was out of lemon. He tried lime juice instead, and it was vile in the drink. Just doesn’t marry well to the maraschino apparently.

So he mixed up this new drink and sampled a little. Not bad. Not bad at all. He poured up some and passed them out to the crowd, dubbing it the LeNell–which flattered and charmed the hell out of our hostess. And it’s a good drink.

Jen doesn’t like the maraschino (Stock) that I’ve used for drinks, but Gary used the Luxardo, and she liked it. Her only quibble was that the drink might be better if were drier, with a bit more citrus. Gary overheard her telling me that and mixed up a bit more lemon and added it to her drink.

He then said that a good bartender will, if he or she has enough time and isn’t in the weeds, remember a regular’s preferences and, for example, mix my drink with less lemon juice and Jen’s with a little more.

And that’s Gary Regan. Smart, accommodating, charming, drinker-driven, and damn good behind the stick.

NYC stories, Potables

Mixed and muddled at Balance

Cocktail king Dale DeGroff and Esquire columnist David Wondrich educated 40 happy cocktail geeks, bartenders, and other spirits-industry types on Tuesday evening at a Garment District bar called The Balance. My ticket in was a Valentine’s Day gift from my lovely wifey, and I can’t think of a better present.

I arrived early, before The Balance opened, and waited on the sidewalk. Another guy was lingering on the sidewalk as well. A woman approached us and began friendly conversation: Are you here for the mixology seminar?

She asked if I was “in the industry” and I said, No, I’m just a cocktail geek. The other guy, Ted, was also a geek like me, but the woman, Hanna, does PR for the food and wine business.

Hanna also knows Dale DeGroff, from her time in wine PR, so she very graciously offered to introduce me to him as we entered Balance. So we walked up the stairs, went around the corner, and saw on the bar an array of full champagne flute. The bartender said, “Please! Have a champagne cobbler.” We each grabbed a drink (YUM!) and with flute in hand, I met Dale DeGroff.

Aside to mko: Eeeeeeeeee!

Hanna had already told me what I’d heard from so many others–that Dale is warm and friendly and a very damn nice guy, and that his wife, Jill, at least equals, if not exceeds, his charm. I didn’t, unfortunately, take the chance to talk to Jill, but Dale is down-to-earth, friendly, and approachable.

After we milled about and chatted, Dale opened the seminar. He made a few brief comments about his champagne cobbler recipe and introduced David Wondrich. David discussed very briefly the history of alcohol and drinking, explaining that among the first “cocktails” was beer or wine fortified with a little spirit. From there, he described the history of the punch and provided a recipe that he says approximates an old-fashioned spiced rum punch, from British-controlled India.

From punch, he moved on to the birth of the Gin Cock-Tail. To oversimplify his explanation a bit, the cocktail seems to have arisen as a way to make bitters more palatable. As the name implies, bitters are bitter-tasting–they’re a compound of spirit and botanicals used for medicinal purposes and to aid digestion. The idea arose to make the bitters more palatable by diluting them. To paraphrase a certain dotty nanny, just a spoonful of gin and sugar helps the medicine go down.

This idea has pedigree: British sailors fought scurvy by consuming limes and their juice; cutting the bitter lime with gin–hence the gimlet. The same happy breed of men quaffed quinine-laced tonic water in India, to fight malaria. The tonic was so bitter, they cut it with gin and citrus–hence the G&T.

Getting back to the point, a Cock-Tail was initially any strong spirit, sugar, and bitters, shaken over ice.

Wondrich is a crazy man. The bitters he used Tuesday were Stoughton bitters, a common sight in the 1800s, but virtually unknown since at least Prohibition. His batch was a brew that he’d cooked up himself, adapted from recipes found online.

Wondrich’s cocktail The Enchantress comes from a rare bartenders’ manual by a fellow named Charles Campbell. How rare? Only one copy is known to exist, and that’s in a rare-book room at a library in San Francisco. (mko, if you’re still reading, you have homework.)

Holy God, but I could go on and on talking about Tuesday’s seminar: how charmed I was by the space, how much I liked sampling each cocktail, how I talked LeNell‘s ear off after the seminar, asking her tons of questions about how and why she got into this business. (I’m still embarrassed that I inadvertently broke up her conversation with Jill DeGroff, but they were both gracious about it.)

But David and Dale were great–funny, open, super-knowledgable, open to questions (lots and lots of questions). I can’t wait to do this again [that's a PDF--be careful].


Ap. 7: Fizzy Friday

Ganked from the Spirit World is tonight’s fizzy Friday libation:

Junipero 102

from Tempo – Brooklyn, NY

2 oz Junipero gin
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tsp simple syrup
2 oz chilled Moscato d’Asti

Shake first three ingredients over ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Top with Moscato and garnish with lime twist.

This is so appropriate: Jen loves fizzy Friday because it’s a weekly commemoration of our wedding day. What better way to celebrate than with Junipero, the gin introduced to us by the lovely Mimseys. Plus, it’s a cocktail with Brooklyn origins, and of course, it’s fizzy.

I’ll letcha know how it goes.

Meanwhile, Brenda from Spirit World mentioned in her post that Food and Wine’s Cocktails 2006 was ready for preorder. I saw it tonight at Hudson News, so we’ll have to pick up a copy soon.

NYC stories, Potables

Red Hook

Jen and I have been taking the long ride on the B61, every so often, to trek down to Red Hook. We both love that area. A Brooklyn-waterfront neighborhood, Red Hook was known for freighter shipping until the industry went into decline. Its shipping inspired Elia Kazan’s classic film On the Waterfront.

Red Hook is, to put it simply, a neighborhood in uneasy transition. Ikea and Fairway are both planning mega-developments in the area, and a number of high-rises and conversions are planned to bring in a wealthier residential base.

But Red Hook is currently known for great restaurants, a wonderful bakery, and a charming-but-funky bookstore. We’ve been to all of these places. We went to 360 when I still lived in Park Slope, and Valentine’s Day 2005 featured Baked’s chile-accented spicy brownies. We’ve been to Freebird a couple of times, and I never fail to walk away with something cool.

We’d actually probably seriously consider living down there, except for the fact that it’s pretty much out of the way of reliable transportation. The B61 is fine, as are a couple of other buses, but it’s a real schlep past the public housing projects, to get there from the F train. Also, the neighborhood isn’t really convenient yet for grocery shopping (although I do think it gets Fresh Direct). It’s really a place that rewards car ownership. If you’re Jen, working late and walking home from the train at 10pm, it would be nice to have your hubby there in a waiting car.

Leopard bagBut our favorite Red Hook spot is LeNell’s, a charming boutique devoted to well-curated wines and spirits. I don’t remember how I heard of LeNell’s, but we’ve now been there a few times. LeNell is a southern gal, who relocated to New York to open this shop. She told us it’s exactly the kind of place she always wanted to shop in but never could.

LeNell specializes in whiskeys, but her selections of gins and bitters are quite impressive as well.

She offers regular wine tastings, bourbon classes, and cocktail lessons. She had David Wondrich in recently, and Gary Regan is scheduled for this month.

LeNell runs a great place, and she and her staff are supereasy to talk to, so I know we’ll be back. I just wish we could go daily.


Mott Haven Cocktail

The Mott Haven cocktail is a variation on the Bronx, a blend of gin, vermouth, and orange juice. “Created” early February. I say “created” because I really doubt I’m the first person to vary the recipe in this way. Mott Haven is a beautiful neighborhood in the south Bronx, currently popular with the artist/musician/bohunk crowd.

Jen is allergic to fresh oranges and orange juice, but she can drink margaritas and sidecars. Triple sec, Cointreau, and other orange liqueurs are okay for her in small quanties, provided they’re diluted with other ingredients, so I killed the orange and used a combo of triple sec and lemon juice in its place. I added lemon juice because triple sec alone seemed like it might be too strong. Also, because fresh orange juice is such a crucial part of the original Bronx recipe, I wanted the bite of fresh citrus.

Gary Regan’s recipe for the Bronx was my base recipe, so if you’re a Regan fan, the proportions will sound familiar. Regan uses orange bitters in his drink, and I also “borrowed” the Angostura bitters from the Income Tax cocktail.

Having tried both the Bronx and the Mott Haven, I actually prefer the latter. After the break, the recipe.
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Bottled water

Stories like this always amuse me, in part for stating the blindingly obvious and in part for ignoring the blindingly obvious.

If you pay any attention to anything, you pretty much already know that the brands tested–Dasani and Aquafina–are bottled by Coke and Pepsi, respectively. And if you know anything about anything, you already know that neither one is anything other than bottled tap water.

But these articles always have to quote someone who’ll tell us what idiots we are for buying the stuff. Here’s the Chronicle‘s “expert”:

“We’re falling for something we shouldn’t be falling for,” said David Assmann, deputy director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, paper cup in hand. “You really can’t tell the difference.”…

“People buy a lot of things they don’t need,” he said. “I wouldn’t call bottled water a swindle, exactly, but it’s certainly something people are paying for without getting any benefit.”

Forgive me for going juvenile, but thanks, Assman, for telling me what I already know: I’m buying water. In a bottle. And, OOOOOOH, I’m paying for something I could get from the tap! But I’m not getting any benefit? None at all?

I’m happy, Assman, that you, Cocklad, and Wonder Tit always have the forethought to fill up a water bottle before you leave the house so that if you get thirsty while fighting crime, you’ve got fresh water handy.

Me? I drink from the tap at home and at work. It’s chilled, filtered tap water, but it’s tap water all the same. But when I’m out around the city, I don’t want to hassle with carrying a giant water bottle around, so when I’m thirsty, I just find a street vendor and buy a bottle. There’s the benefit. I buy it on the street so I don’t have to schlep it around.

I’m not a fucking rube, Chronicle. The only problem I have with it is that I’m buying yet another plastic bottle that’ll probably wind up landfilled. Otherwise, I know what my buck-twenty-five is buying me: 16 oz. of bottled tap water, and guess what? I DON’T GIVE A FUCK.