Drink in the New Year

Tonight is New Year’s Eve and, for me, that’s kind of a big deal. You see, this is the first year since I’ve been of legal drinking age that I’m not employed as a bartender and thus, have the evening (and tomorrow, for that matter) to enjoy a tipple or two of my own! It’s snowing here now and I’m on my way out of the office, but I’ll be stopping into the grocery store to pick up some raspberries for this tasty delight. I suggest you give it a try yourself and toast to a happy, healthy New Year! Cheers!

Raspberry Bellini

2 oz. Leblon Cachaça
6 raspberries
A dash of lime juice
2 tsp. superfine sugar
Top with Perrier Jouet champagne

Muddle raspberries, superfine sugar, and fresh lime juice in a shaker. Fill the shaker with ice and add Leblon Cachaça. Shake vigorously. Strain into a champagne flute and top with Perrier Jouet. Enjoy!


Christmas Cocktail

Looking for a tasty tipple to serve to your Christmas guests? Try this classy cocktail from Leblon Cachaça -The Cafe Mocha. Yum!

Cafe Mocha:

2 oz Leblon Cachaça

1/2 oz Kahlua

2 oz Half & Half

1 oz Chocolate Syrup

Shot of Espresso

3 coffee beans

Shake all the ingredients sharply with crushed ice. Then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a sugared rim and three coffee beans.


8 Crazy Nights with OVAL Vodka

Like my artwork? Hanukkah officially begins this Monday, December 22nd and if you’re looking to throw a party that caters to all your guests, keep OVAL in mind. OVAL Vodka is a structured vodka, distilled from Italian summer wheat and made in Vienna, Austria. It also just happens to be certified Kosher! Try OVAL in this winter warmer:

Warm Spiked Cranberry Cocktail:

2 oz. OVAL Vodka
4 oz. cranberry-orange concoction*
½ tsp. grated nutmeg
Orange peel (for garnish)

Heat the cranberry-orange concoction and pour into a coffee mug. Add OVAL vodka and stir. Garnish with a little fresh nutmeg and an orange peel.

*Cranberry-orange concoction:

4 ½ cups cranberry juice
1 ½ cups orange juice
8 whole cloves

Combine ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and discard cloves. (Makes 6-8 servings)

Enjoy & Happy Holidays!!!

Artisanal vs. Industrial Cachaça

Curious about Cachaça? Check out this video from Leblon, which features interviews with some of the leading authorities on Brazil’s native spirit. Here, they talk about the important differences between Industrial and Artisanal Cachaça.


Visit to Western Carriers Warehouse in NJ

For those who aren't aware of it, Western Carriers is the dominant warehousing and logistics company in the US beverage alcohol business. They have two huge warehouses (actually a complex in NJ) and handle just about every supplier and brand wine and spirit sold in the U.S. Western was one of the sponsors of the U.S. Drinks Conference 2008 in London. I had the pleasure of getting a tour of the facility in NJ from Mike Hodes who joined us in London and runs the Western operation along with Marc Cohen.

A couple of observations of note:
-People: It's what makes the difference here. I know, we've all heard that a lot but MBWA (Management by Walking Around) is the defining management strategy and I bet we saw about 200 people during the tour and Mike knew everyone by first name, and had a personal comment for each and every one.
-Scale: Western is huge, with something like 8 warehouses in NJ and a big operation in CA as well. Pretty much every distributor in the U.S. is getting deliveries from Western at least once a week and many once a day.
-Business scope: They not only handle receiving and distribution of imported goods coming into the country but also have divisions that deliver to retail accounts throughout the metro NY area. Standing in the control room for that operation was like being in Minority Report...super high tech.
-Wine Collections: A big part of the biz is with the auction houses...much of what gets auctioned through Christy's and Sotheby's passes through Western's careful quality control.

So, a big thank you to Mike, Marc, Joel Rubins and Joe Pollack for taking the time to show me around, and also for sponsoring the USDC.


Happy Repeal Day!!!

Happy Repeal Day! Everybody's talking about it. Today is the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, which lasted for 13 years in the United States. So, raise a glass and share a toast because....you can!! Here are a few links to what other bloggers have to say about Repeal Day:

Matt Robold, a.k.a. Rumdood discusses the long-term effects of Prohibition on bartending and cocktail culture in America over at the Mixoloseum Blog.

Jeffrey Morgenthaler, king of Repeal Day, will most likely be covering his Repeal Day adventures in Washington, DC on his blog.

Camper English explores the “Upsides of Prohibition” on Alcademics.

Natalie of The Liquid Muse offers a prize for the person who sends in the best photo of their Repeal Day celebrations.

Michael Dietsch of A Dash of Bitters has put together a Repeal Day Playlist.

Erik Ellestad provides you with a Repeal Day Round-Up of events in San Fran. Enjoy!


The New York Times on Booze

The New York Times had a couple of great articles in Wednesday’s Dining Section (thanks to Paul Clarke of Cocktail Chronicles for bringing this to my attention). I especially enjoyed “Let 100 (O.K., 8) Bartending Philosophies Bloom,” which taught me that I’ve been wrong in my discussion of “pre-prohibition” cocktails and cocktail culture. It should really be referred to as “pre-repeal” as there were a whole lot of cocktails invented during prohibition. Touché NY Times, Touché.

I also liked “A Brotherhood Formed with Cocktails and Ice,” which celebrates cocktail geekdom. I’ve got to say though, I understand where Dale DeGroff is coming from when he mentions some of the new bar scenes are “getting a little too sacred.” Check out the article and you’ll see what I mean.


Steve here...was on a quick trip to Vienna and had the chance to sample the cocktail scene there. I had heard a lot about Bar Italia which was one of the finalists in the TOTC "best international cocktail bar" competition. Unfortunately, the only time I had for a visit was Sunday night. It's a very unpreposessing storefront on a busy commercial street just outside the first district, with a short bar and about 10 tables. I was disappointed when I sat down at the bar, rubbed my hands together and asked the bartender what cocktail specials they had. The answer..."none...we don't serve cocktails on Sunday nights, just straight regular drinks." With only about 4 other people in the bar, it didn't bode for an exciting evening, so I trudged off into the spitting rain and drowned my disappointment at the Sacher Hotel with a melange (Viennese coffee drink) and the eponymous Sacher Torte.

Monday we had a bit better luck at Dino's American Bar where Rene van de Graaf greeted us like long lost friends. Rene has been a big help to us in developing signature cocktails, and is, in my view, the archetype for what a professional bartender should be. As he explained it to me,as a kid he took a parttime job as a bartender and knew right away that's what he wanted to do as a career. When you ask him what he recommends, he asks a couple of questions about your preferences, thinks a bit, makes a couple of recommendations for you to consider, and proceeds to create something that's always special. Skill, style, flair (not "flipping bottles" flair, but the real kind) and great conversation. Turns out there were a couple of other bartenders on our side of teh counter, one from Prague, the other from Berlin who were really interested in picking our brains about brands and the U.S. cocktail scene. I know I should have quit after the 4th "Dark Knight" (I'll have to ask Rene for the recipe...I sort of forgot) and a Montecristo Lonsdale. But all in all, a perfect evening of conversation, cocktails and culture.


A Taste of Brazil for Thanksgiving

One day to go and I bet you’ve got the turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and pies ready to bake. But what about cocktails? Why not try and be a little inventive this year with a signature cocktail or punch? Here are a couple of recipes using Leblon Cachaça (Brazilian Rum). They taste great and your guests will think you went out of your way to please them. Happy Thanksgiving!!

Pumpkin Caipirinha
1 ½ oz. Leblon Cachaça
½ Lime
½ oz. agave nectar (or substitute honey)
1 ½ oz. Pumpkin Puree
½ oz. Canton Ginger Liqueur
Cut lime and place in a shaker with agave nectar and muddle. Add crushed ice, Leblon Cachaça, pumpkin puree and Canton in the shaker. Shake well and garnish with nutmeg, pumpkin flesh twist and lime wheel.

Leblon Punch

1 Bottle of Leblon Cachaça
½ Bottle brandy
¼ Bottle Cointreau
¼ Bottle Amaretto
3 Bottles Medium body red wine
1 lg. Bottle of soda water
½ Cup of fine white sugar
3 Oranges-sliced
20 Cherries – pitted
3 Apples – chopped
10 Cinnamon sticks
8 Cloves
10 star anise

Combine all ingredients except the soda water into a punch bowl. Let stand for two hours. Just before serving add soda water. Serve over ice in a wine glass.

OVAL Vodka at Cognac Brasserie

On a recent business trip to New York City, I had a delicious lunch at Cognac Brasserie in Midtown. The food was excellent and the atmosphere lively, but the drinks were, by far, the highlight.

Cognac’s got a new cocktail on their menu created by Ben Demarchelier. The Litchi is a well-balanced cocktail that pairs OVAL Vodka with the flavors of lychee fruit and lemon. It’s delightful and not overly sweet.

If you’re in the area, I highly suggest dropping into Cognac to give this one a try. Not planning an NYC excursion anytime soon? The recipe is below so you can give it a try at home. Impress your holiday guests with this simple yet tasty tipple!

LITCHI (as made by Ben Demarchelier, Brasserie Cognac, NYC)

2 parts OVAL Vodka
2 parts Lychido
Splash of Lychee Juice
Splash of Fresh Sweetened Lemon Juice

Mix the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake thoroughly. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a fresh Lychee heart.


Hartford Courant Features Brand Action Team

The Hartford Courant ran a nice piece on our work with Absinthe Mata Hari
Avon-Based Company Helping To Distribute Absinthe, Once Banned In U.S.
By KENNETH J. ST. ONGE | Special to the Courant
November 13, 2008

Absinthe is an herbal-based liquor from France that until last year had been outlawed in the United States. (PATRICK RAYCRAFT / HARTFORD COURANT / October 9, 2008)

Vincent van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso all drank absinthe, a supposedly hallucinogenic liquor popularized in Europe in the late 1800s. But until last year, absinthe had been banned for nearly a century in the United States.

Now, two former executives of Heublein Inc. — once headquartered in Hartford and now part of Diageo, the world's largest liquor, beer and wine firm — are working with an Austrian-based beverage maker to help import and distribute a new domestic variety of the licorice-flavored, translucent green beverage in the hope that it will gain favor among American mixed-drink lovers.

To do so, Steven Raye and Jeff Grindrod, managing partners of Avon-based Brand Action Team, have tapped an informal network of several dozen former Heublein colleagues, all of whom have a different expertise and their own contacts in certain areas of the country.

So far, that recipe has been a major boost to Brand Action Team clients looking to sell their products through the often confusing, state-regulated distribution system.
"We're a small company — there are basically four of us — but through this virtual network of former Heublein [colleagues] we're a much bigger company, and we're able to do the same things as the bigger guys," Grindrod said.

Brand Action Team was born out of that attitude of collaboration. Grindrod and Raye left Heublein in the late '90s and worked on various beverage-industry products until they teamed up formally in 2005 to do marketing and other services for overseas beverage companies looking to gain a foothold in the U.S.

Over the last few years, their clients have include Ukrainian vodka companies and importers of cachaça, a rum-like Brazilian liquor made from sugar cane, and pisco, a brandy-like Peruvian liquor made from grapes.

The absinthe Grindrod and Raye are working with is called Mata Hari, a bohemian style liquor that differs from the French-style absinthes that are the only others available domestically.

Absinthe is in its own category as a drink, the two said, having a special aura of mystery and infamy. Absinthe is distilled from the herb Artemisia absinthium, or wormwood, that contains trace amounts of an oily compound called thujone, which is believed to possess mildly hallucinogenic qualities, although that has never been established. Regardless, absinthe enthusiasts claim that the drink induces "clarity," and rumors about its mind-altering effects have enhanced its scandalous reputation.

One story holds that Van Gogh was imbibing absinthe when he lopped off part of his ear. That type of publicity is difficult to buy.

That might be one reason Brand Action Team was able to get Mata Hari to market in 32 states over a 60-day period. That's unheard of, Raye said. Normally that would take 18 months or longer.

"It speaks to the demand for this drink," Raye said.

Still, it will take more than a buzz factor to support the long-term sales of absinthe. To get it established, Grindrod and Raye say the drink must possess a quality all widely drunk American liquors share: mixability.

"We live in a cocktail culture, and Mata Hari is far more mixable that the French-style absinthes," Grindrod said.

Part of the strategy is to develop new drink recipes that call for the $57-a-bottle Mata Hari, and Grindrod and Raye have been working with bartenders in Connecticut to come up with new ideas. They include the Hemingway (with champagne), the Bohemian Mojito (with equal parts absinthe and rum) and the Courtesan (a shot containing absinthe, whisky and lime juice).


Imbibers One Hundred

Darcy O’Neil of Art of Drink posted this and I couldn’t resist joining in on the fun. It’s a list of the 100 things you should drink before you die. Here’s what to do if you want to play along:


1) Copy this list into your blog, with instructions. 2) Bold all the drinks you’ve imbibed. 3) Cross out any items that you won’t touch 4) Post a comment on Art of Drink and link to your results.


If you don’t have a blog, just count the ones you’ve tried and post the number in the Art of Drink comments section.”

List of Drinks You Must Try Before You Expire

1. Manhattan Cocktail
2. Kopi Luwak (Weasle Coffee)
3. French / Swiss Absinthe (Did a tasting of four, actually)
4. Rootbeer
(A&W is clearly the best…mmm…rootbeer floats!)
5. Gin Martini
6. Sauternes
Whole Milk
8. Tequila (100% Agave)
9. XO Cognac
10. Espresso
(hate it)
11. Spring Water (directly from the spring)
12. Gin & Tonic
13. Mead
(In Salem, MA)
14. Westvleteren 12 (Yellow Cap) Trappist Ale
15. Chateau d’Yquem
16. Budwieser
Maraschino Liqueur
18. Mojito (first Mojito was at the Parrot Bar in Puerto Rico…very good!)
19. Orgeat
20. Grand Marnier
21. Mai Tai (original)
22. Ice Wine (Canadian)
23. Red Bull
24.Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
(had to fresh squeeze as a bartender…pain in the ass but worth it)
25. Bubble Tea
26. Tokaj
27. Chicory
28. Islay Scotch
29. Pusser’s Navy Rum
30. Fernet Branca
31. Fresh Pressed Apple Cider
(every Fall)
32. Bourbon
33. Australian Shiraz
34. Buckley’s Cough Syrup
Orange Bitters
Margarita (classic recipe)
37. Molasses & Milk (not together….)
38. Chimay Blue
39. Wine of Pines
40. Green Tea (obsessed)
41. Daiginjo Sake
Chai Tea
43.Vodka (chilled, straight)
44. Coca-Cola (far superior to Pepsi)
45. Zombie (Beachcomber recipe)
46. Barley Wine
47. Brewed Choclate (Xocolatl)
Pisco Sour
50. Speyside Single Malt
51. Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee
52. Champagne (Vintage)
53. Rosé (French)
(a favorite…had them at my good friend’s bachelorette party)
56.White Zinfandel (Blush)
57. Coconut Water
Cafe au Lait
60. Ice Tea
61. Pedro Ximenez Sherry
62. Vintage Port
63. Hot Chocolate (craving it right now…it’s that time of year)
64. German Riesling
(at a recent holiday show actually…)
65. Pina Colada
(oh how I love thy sticky sweetness)
66. El Dorado 15 Year Rum
67. Chartreuse
Greek Wine
69. Negroni
70. Jägermeister
71. Chicha
72. Guiness
73. Rhum Agricole
74. Palm Wine
75. Soju
76. Ceylon Tea (High Grown)
77. Belgian Lambic
78. Mongolian Airag
79. Doogh, Lassi or Ayran
Sugarcane Juice
Ramos Gin Fizz
Singapore Sling
Mint Julep
Old Fashioned
85. Perique
86. Jenever (Holland Gin)
87. Chocolate Milkshake
88. Traditional Italian Barolo
89. Pulque
90. Natural Sparkling Water
91. Cuban Rum
92. Asti Spumante
(every New Years, it seems)
Irish Whiskey
94. Château Margaux
95. Two Buck Chuck
96. Screech
97. Akvavit
Rye Whisky
99. German Weissbier
100. Daquiri (classic recipe)


The People Have Chosen...

On Election Eve voters turned out in droves…to decide the Official Drink of the OVAL Office. Sponsored by OVAL vodka, the OVAL Office Event took place at the Bryant Park Cellar Bar in NYC Monday Night, and featured fabulous judges including fashion designer Richie Rich of Heatherette. On the ballot were five delicious finalist cocktails, chosen from the hundreds submitted online by mixologists and cocktail enthusiasts across the country.

Guests (and judges) had a taste of each cocktail and then cast their ballot at our polls. The results were a little bit controversial, as the Monica Lewinsky cocktail (scandalous yet tasty) beat out the Obamatini (a strong favorite in New York). Unlike its namesake, the Obamatini had to settle for a First Runner Up showing, followed closely by The Dirty Victory (recipes and creators listed below).

The Monica Lewinsky by Nicole Gorden of New York, New York

2 oz. Oval Vodka
1 oz. X Rated Liqueur
1 oz. Fresh Lemon-Lime Sour
Sugared Rim

Prepare a chilled cocktail glass by wetting the rim and dipping in sugar. Fill Shaker with ice. Add OVAL vodka, X Rated Liqueur, and Fresh Lime Sour. Shake thoroughly and strain into the cocktail glass. Garnish with fresh strawberry and a lemon slice.

On her home turf, Nicole Gorden won out with this yummy cocktail featuring OVAL vodka and X-rated Liqueur. The cocktail was a little bit sour for my taste, but the sugared rim helped to balance it out. The crowd loved it and as you can see, it’s a beautiful drink. Congratulations to Nicole Gorden who will receive the grand prize of $500.

The Obamatini by Sasha Dylan King of Ventura, California

2 oz. OVAL Vodka
1/2 oz. Navan vanilla cognac
1/2 oz. Chambord
1/2 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 lemon juice
vanilla bean infused sugar
splash of champagne
3 fresh raspberries

Combine OVAL vodka, Chambord, Navan, pineapple juice, and lemon juice in a shaker and shake until your arm hurts. Strain in a chilled martini glass rimmed with vanilla bean infused sugar. Finish with a splash of champagne and garnish with raspberries. Enjoy (unless you’re name is John McCain).

The Obamatini had a very good showing, but fell just short at the finish line. It was my personal favorite of the night. The smoothness of the OVAL vodka, and the combination of Navan and Chambord just sang. The only complaint I heard the whole evening about this drink was from one person who found it a bit too sweet. If you find the same problem, I’d suggest using a dry champagne to top and perhaps a bit more lemon juice. Still, I’ve got to say the Obamatini got my vote.

The Dirty Victory by Katelin Reeves of Indianapolis, Indiana

2 oz. OVAL Vodka
1/4 oz. Bloody Mary mix
1/2 oz. olive juice
dash hot sauce (optional)
2 olives
1 lime wedge
1 small celery stalk

Fill shaker with ice. Add OVAL vodka, Bloody Mary mix, olive juice, and hot sauce, if desired. Shake well and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with celery, lime, and olives.

If I’m being perfectly honest here, I need to admit that I did not taste the Dirty Victory before casting my vote. Why, you ask? Well, I’m not really a fan of Bloody Marys (of which this drink is a variation) and I’m a total wuss about hot sauce. What I can say, however, is that everyone at the party that did taste it raved about it (especially the judges) so it must have been pretty damn good!

Congratulations to the winners and thanks to everyone who participated in the event. Make sure and give all of these a try. Pick your own favorite and mix it up on January 20th to welcome our new president the right way! Cheers!


U.S Drinks Conference 2008

The U.S. Drinks Conference BAT helped organized was held last week in London, and was an unqualified success. Here's the news release we're sending out

This was the second year that we’ve put on the event in London and this year we had a larger number of delegates from 14 countries (that's if you count Scotland as a country. And we had some notable sponsors come on board this year including Beverage Media, Drinks Business and Just-Drinks.

The roster of speakers this year included some of the top executives in the American Drinks market including Rudy Ruiz, EVP of Southern Wine and Spirits, Vincent O’Brien, Senior Counsel at Nixon Peabody, John McDonnell, COO of Patrón Spirits, Bill Earle, President of the National Association of Beverage Importers, Roy Danis of AV Brands, and conference co-organizer John Beaudette, President of MHW Ltd. The subject matter included case histories and lessons learned by brands that have been successful in the U.S. and a wealth of data on the American market structure. Our Jeff Grindrod and Mike Ginley, President of Next Level presented results of “hot off the presses” research on consumer trends and preferences.

Several themes recurred through the conference including the impact of the global financial crisis on the Drinks industry, aligning distributor and supplier expectations, and the shift in marketing strategies toward more online and non-traditional spending.

Impact of Financial Crisis

“The economic crisis we’re going through is certainly having an impact on the business, but the research results clearly demonstrated that the U.S. beverage alcohol industry is recession-resilient,” commented Ginley of Next Level.
Grindrod added that “we see continued growth in volume and revenue, albeit slowing, and a shift in consumption from on premise to off premise. This is very timely data since much of the survey was completed in the two weeks preceding the conference. Perhaps the most interesting thing we found is that for those folks going out to restaurants, the last thing they tend to cut out is the cocktail, wine or beer part of the meal,” he noted.

Aligning Expectations

Ruiz of Southern Wine and Spirits gave some well received advice to suppliers looking to export their brands to the U.S. “The key to a successful relationship between supplier and distributor is in aligning expectations,” he stressed. “When presenting new brands to Southern, expect to come in with a three year plan including a detailed one year operating plan with realistic expectations on case volume. It is more worthwhile to consider launching in smaller markets, proving your success with programming that demonstrates it’s repeatable.” According to Ruiz, the best demonstration of brand traction is when they see bars and retailers calling Southern and asking for the brand.

Evolution of Internet as Strategic Tool

Steve Raye of Brand Action Team brought home the importance of new online tools such as blogs and social media marketing for brand building. “It’s a noble goal to get visitors to your brand website, but at the end of the day, it’s more important to get your content out to where prospective customers already are spending their time…reading blogs, searching for recipes, reading comments on wines that other consumers have posted. Indeed, research shows that 65% of consumers read reviews online before purchasing a product.”

The US Continues As The Worlds Best Beverage Alcohol Market For New Brands

As John Beaudette summarized at day’s end, imports continue to drive growth across all beverage alcohol categories. “Considering the emergence of Eastern Europe, the Far East, and the rest of the world, we recognize that suppliers have many options in terms of investing behind new or existing brands. We hope we’ve clearly demonstrated that America is still the primary destination you should target”.


Vote for the Official Drink of the Oval Office!

Get to the polls and fulfill your civic duty before it’s too late! No, I’m not talking about politics—I’m talking cocktails. Oval Vodka is looking to find the Official Drink of the Oval Office and it could be your very own creation! Thousands of submissions have already poured in, so don’t miss your chance. All you have to do is create an original cocktail recipe that features Oval Vodka. The polls close Saturday, October 25th at 11:59pm so get to it!

The entries will be narrowed down to five finalists, and those cocktails will be available for tasting and voting at the Oval Vodka Launch Party, which will take place Monday Nov 3rd at the Bryant Park Hotel Cellar Bar. The judging panel, which will include fashion designer Richie Rich of Heatherette, Mike Dawson of MAXIM Magazine and others will announce the winner just in time for Election Day, so we can all welcome the new president with a delicious cocktail. Head over to the Oval Office Site to make your mark and do your part today!


Absinthe Mata Hari Wins Gold!

Absinthe Mata Hari just received a gold medal from the Beverage Tasting Institute. The full review will be up on Tastings.com soon but Mata Hari received a score of 93 and was the second-highest rated spirit in the Absinthe category!


New Absinthe Mata Hari Cocktails!

I actually got to be the taste-tester for these original Absinthe Mata Hari cocktails, developed by Bryce Hardy. I can tell you my personal favorite is The Bohemian Mojito, but the Cherry Life Saver is delicious and tastes just like the candy, and the Courtesan packs a punch but tastes great too. If you’re thinking about throwing an Absinthe Party, serve up a few of these along with the traditional ritual—it’s a modern spin with the mixable Absinthe!

Cherry Life Saver

1 1/2 oz. Cherry Vodka
1 oz. Absinthe Mata Hari
1 oz. Hiram Walker Triple Sec
1 oz. Cranberry Juice

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake thoroughly. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry.

The Bohemian Mojito

6-8 Mint Leaves
2 lime wedges
2 dashes Simple Syrup
1 oz. Bacardi Limon
1 oz. Absinthe Mata Hari
Soda Water to top

Throw the mint leaves in the bottom of a Collins glass. Squeeze in the juice of two lime wedges, and add the wedges to the shaker. Add the simple syrup and muddle. Add the remaining ingredients and tumble. Return to Collins glass. Top with soda water and garnish with a generous sprig of mint.

The Courtesan

1 part Absinthe Mata Hari
1 part Southern Comfort
1 part Lime Juice

Combine ingredients in a shaker filled with ice and shake thoroughly. Strain into a chilled shot glass.


OVAL Vodka Launch Party

Last week Oval vodka officially kicked off in Georgia with a huge bash at Opera Nightclub in Atlanta. The launch party drew in over 1,000 guests and E! Entertainment Television was there filming for their new show “Wild on VIP,” hosted by Mark Long and Trishelle Cannatella from MTV’s Road Rules and Real World. In one segment, Mark & Trishelle learn how to make an Oval cocktail and get to taste-test the results! The show will air on E! in late November (more updates when I get an exact date).

Also in attendance was Jamal Anderson, former Atlanta Falcons running back, who got the crowd going with a guest spot as emcee. All the bars in the club were stocked with Oval Vodka, and the VIP section featured Oval bottle service and premium cocktails. The club’s several flat screen televisions ran Oval’s distillation animation on loop throughout the night. The party was a great success. Thanks Atlanta, for the southern hospitality!


Oval in Hotlanta

Steve & I just returned from Atlanta, where we were busy selling Oval to local bars, restaurants, and liquor stores. This was my first trip to the ATL, though I’ve been through the airport many-a-time. I guess I expected the city to be like New York, just smaller and hotter with everyone dressed like Lil’ John or Scarlett O’Hara. Those Southern stereotypes were not fulfilled, but just for giggles, here’s a few that were:

1. I met a liquor store owner named Bubba who talked about a recent Toby Keith concert for about 45 minutes.
2. Every female server I encountered called me “Hun” and said “Bless Your Heart.”
3. The TGI Fridays I visited had a “No Guns Allowed” sign on the front door.

Giggles aside, Atlanta was a great city—sprawled out with more green spaces than is typical in major U.S. cities. Everyone I met was friendly and helpful and I had a great time.

Oval got a great reception from those I visited—everyone thought it was extremely clean & smooth, and enjoyed the warmth of the Italian summer wheat. One store owner even went so far as to say it was the best-tasting vodka (and yes, you actually can taste this one) he had in the store. The only problem managers seemed to have was figuring out which of the vodkas they already had needed to go to make room for our lovely bottle.

Georgia was our first market & the folks at Georgia Crown distributors were fantastic. Next stop, New York! If we’re not in your area yet, don’t stress! Keep an eye on the E-Commerce sites we have listed here—the ones based in New York should be offering it soon!


We're On Facebook!

Who isn't these days? Check out our new facebook groups for Absinthe Mata Hari and Oval Vodka. There are cocktail recipes and photos (including some from "Tales of the Cocktail") up already. Keep an eye on it, because we plan to post videos in the near future as well. C'mon, be a joiner!


What 'll You Have?

Couldn't resist posting this pic of "The Ancient Bartender." It's a picture of me at the ruins of a tavern in Pompeii. The big holes in the counter are where they used to keep amphorae of wine cool for customers. Mix the local falernium with honey and you have the original classical cocktail known as mulsum. I'm guessing the drink didn't taste much better than the name sounds.


Tales of the Cocktail: A Reflection

The blogosphere is still a-buzz with tales of Tales of the Cocktail and I must admit I can’t take my mind off it. Since I’m having trouble consolidating and organizing these random thoughts and memories, I thought I’d just throw them all out there. Rick of Kaiser Penguin has already done something very similar with his “Lessons Learned” from Tales of the Cocktail (check it out, it’s hilarious!), so I apologize if I seem like a copycat, but I feel this is the best way of communicating my thoughts. Here goes:

1. Tales is bigger than I imagined, and seems, unfortunately, to have outgrown the lovely Monteleone.
2. The food in New Orleans is fantastic, even for people who don’t like spicy or seafood.
3. The halls of the Bienville House remind me of “The Shining.”
4. If you are even slightly claustrophobic, do not attend sessions in the Riverview Room. You will be packed in an elevator with 45 others for at least 15 minutes.
5. If you are a man in New Orleans, you must wear a panama hat.
6. Bananas Foster is the best creation ever!
7. On Bourbon Street there are good-looking people and there are topless, body-painted people, but never a combination of the two.
8. Bloggers are awesome in person.
9. No one at the Carousel Bar knows how to make a Caipirinha.
10. New Orleanians don’t have a Southern drawl.
11. Horses should never be made to wear top-hats.
12. If you flip an alligator on its back, it will instantly fall asleep.
13. Making candy out of booze is genius.
14. You will have to annoy the girls at the registration desk to figure out where your session is.
15. The Riverwalk is beautiful.
16. If you’re 22 but look 17 you will not be carded anywhere in New Orleans (except Harrah’s Casino).
17. People with accents (be it British, Irish, or French) make better Brand Ambassadors.
18. The Napoleon House is not always open when the sign says it will be. For that matter, neither is Willie Mae’s Scotch House. Call ahead!
19. Never take a child into a New Orleans souvenir shop.
20. If you are a blogger, journalist, brand owner, distributor, ambassador, marketing or PR professional, cocktail enthusiast or just plain drunk, YOU CAN’T MISS THIS EVENT!


The Renaissance of Grappa

I was guilted into attending the Grappa seminar led by Francesco Lafranconi of Southern Wine and Spirits. My experience with Grappa,k like so many others was with what I referred to as "lighter fluid gone rancid". We used to import some grappas from Ceretto and other producers and as much as I tried to appreciate it (I'll never like it), I just couldn't. Francesco explained that producers used to just ship off the pomace to large distilleries and then essentially copacked the grappa for the wineries. The ones in the seminar...Poli and Marolo...are artisanal producers whose only business is grappa. And the results were there...well made, not harsh, aromatic and innovative. There are five regions in Italy that are allowed to produce Grappa, all in the north. Having just been in Venice, I was particularly interested in Poli's range because that's where he's from (Bassano).

Beer Cocktails

Great presentation by Stephen Beaumont on beer cocktails. Certainly a category we've heard a lot of talk about but Steve did a great job of presenting the category in an understandable way: they fall into three different types: 1) beer blends (e.g. black and tan which by the way is an American, not Irish invention), 2) Spirits, juice or wine with normal size beer and 3) Beer as flavoring agent in traditional cocktails. Some general guidelines Steve noted are that ales work better than lager in cocktails and bitter beers, especially IPA's take spirits better, especially rum. Lighter beers do well with fruit juice. One of the best combinations is Weissbier and fresh squeezed OJ.Regarding wine cocktails he advised that since hops are naturally tannic, so don't try to pair with highly tannic wines like Cabs. And when mixing spirits and beer, measurement is critical...absolutely do not free pour. One of the recipes we tasted was great, The Green Devil. 1 oz. Martin Miller's Gin, 2 drops Absinthe and one bottle of Duvel (he told us it's pronounced Du' vel)I asked Steve later for a recco with Heineken and he suggested trying something like Chartreuse and also maybe some light fruit juices.

TOTC Seminars and Samples

I finally made it to a seminar…Latino Libations presented by Tony Abou-Ganim. Always an entertaining presentation, Tony was helped by some fortuitous finds in the audience that almost upstaged the master. Aided by the able talents of Diego Loret de Mola of BarSol Pisco. Tony gave an informative history lesson and current take on Cachaça and Caipirinhas, Pisco and Pisco Sours, Rum and Mojitos. I recognized someone in the audience and stopped to say hi and it turned out to be Stacey Smith, Beverage Director of Pappas Restaurants in Houston whom I shared a great dinner with at the Sante’ Restaurant Symposium last year. Also attending the seminar were Herbie Loebl of Pisco Montesierpe Jean Francois Bonneté of Mystique Brands and Michael Trujillo, New Mexico mixologist for SWS.Next it was downstairs to the Cocktail hour with about 30 stations serving some incredibly diverse cocktail creations. Frankly though, I didn’t like many of them. It struck me as though everyone erred on the side of “creativity” in a palette of flavors I’m not really in love with… a lot with hot peppers, unique combinations of spices and fruits, interpretations of classics substituting tequila for rum or in one case a Brandy Alexander made with Absinthe that quite frankly, smelled like mildew! We did get to meet Natalie Bovis-Nelson aka The Liquid Muse and enjoyed her creation the Nolita Heat.

Vodka DOES Matter

Steve attended the "Rediscovering the Traditions of vodka" led by Steve Olson and learned a great lesson on how to engage an audience. Throughout the whole TOTC event, Vodka was criticized, belittled, vilified, marginalized and ultimately disrespected. It's like the old Yogi Berra line..."nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded."But with 28% share of the total US spirits market, Olson eloquently made his points that it warrants respect and consideration and can't and shouldn't be ignored. He went on to walk us through a product tasting that was more about sensing the vodka as opposed to tasting it. Darcy O'Neil made the point in the sensory perception session that if you analyze vodka chemically, there aren't any flavor compounds in there... no citrus, no wheat, no potato and certainly no tobacco, peanuts or any other contrived descriptors. What there are however, are components that might trigger a flavor memory or association. And that's what we're really sensing, e.g. not citrus per se, but a compound similar to citric acid that sparks an association in your mind. Steve demonstrated a tasting protocol where you can separate the liquid flavor components from the aromatics. By coating the oral cavity with the vodka, then closing your mouth and breathing out your nose, you can segment the feel of the alcohol from the smell of the volatile compounds. Then breathe in only through your mouth to gauge the quality of the alcohol...it should feel cool like menthol or eucalyptus, not harsh or burning. He went on to demonstrate the difference between a number of brands and show how they not only differed, but had specific characteristics that would make a given vodka the preferable spirit for a given cocktail. At the end of the session, he had turned a roomful of skeptics into advocates.


Tales: Day 5

Last day in New Orleans! I took a break from drinking (believe it or not) to go on an Airboat Swamp Tour. About thirty minutes outside of New Orleans I was able to soak up the sun and see the sights, which included swampy waterways and several alligators.

For the third time, Steve & I attempted to visit the Napoleon House for lunch, but once again it was closed! We’ll have to put it on the list for next year’s adventures. Instead we grabbed a couple Moufalettas and I did a little shopping before heading out to the Wormwood Society Absinthe Soiree.

The Soiree was a great time. It was held at Muriel’s and featured small dimly-lit lounges with absinthe fountains throughout. Attendees included everyone from Gwydion Stone to Paul Clarke to local absinthe enthusiasts. It was the perfect celebration to end my week in New Orleans. I’m already planning for next year…

Tales: Day 4

Started the day with the best meal I’ve had in New Orleans thus far—breakfast at Brennan’s. Strawberries and Cream, Eggs Portuguese, and Bananas Foster (it’s more dessert than breakfast but it’s delicious!). To top it off, Steve & I enjoyed some great conversation with our guest, Darcy O’Neil who, just like all the other bloggers I was fortunate to meet, was extremely friendly and charming in person.

Next, I made my way over to the “Regional Trends” session with Camper English (though I was late thanks to a lack of elevators!). Took a picture of a lovely cocktail—the Fraser River Sour.

Lunch was at Bourbon House with Gabriel Szaszko, his wife Joana, Steve, and Cort Kinker. Once again, I enjoyed excellent conversation about cocktails, blogging, and New Orleans with some of the nicest people I’ve met.

I was probably still full from lunch when I met Jay Hepburn, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, and Steve for dinner at the world-famous Arnaud’s. I got so swept up in the conversation (about drinks, Tales, blogs, and for awhile there, Annie Hall—Jeff, I swear I’ll see it soon!) that I neglected to comment on the fact that the food was amazing!

After dinner, took a cab over to Harrah’s for the Spirit Awards hosted by Shooter McGavin (Happy Gilmore fans, anyone?). I was impressed by the venue, which featured a “winner’s circle” bar on stage. Nominees and winners were from all over the world and received lots of love from the lively (and probably tipsy) crowd. Just another night in The Big Easy!

Tales: Day 3

Started off the day with a little breakfast at Cafe Beignets before heading over to the Monteleone. Then it was back-to-back sessions for the day starting with Absinthe “Cocktails with a Kick.”
Next was “History of Liqueurs and Cordials” which featured some delicious cocktails and great insight into where the category has been and where it’s headed.
Took a couple laps in the Pernod Ricard tasting room next. To go along with the French theme of the tasting room, they had crepe chefs fixing up delicious treats. But after waiting in line for 15 minutes and being cut by a few guys (chivalry is definetely dead!) I gave up on that dream and headed to the long-awaited Sensory Perception session.
I found out I’m a Super-Taster which basically means most things taste awful to me! No, really, it just means my taste buds are more receptive to flavors, which explains why I can’t stand spicy food, coffee, grapefruit juice, or tonic water. Now, when people call me difficult I can just say I have superior tasting abilities that they wouldn’t understand!
After taking a cab out to the famous Willie Mae’s Scotch House and finding it closed (Damn!), Steve & I headed back to the French Quarter for a tasty dinner at K Paul’s. Took a stroll down Bourbon (yikes!) before calling it a night.

Tales: Day 2

Yesterday was fantastic. I started off with the Molecular Mixology session led by Jamie Boudreau. It was like Halloween for alcoholics-several boozey sweets were handed out and they were delicious! I was worried about where to grab lunch since I don’t do seafood or spicy (I know, I’m in the wrong town), but ended up really enjoying some red beans and rice. I was wowed by Tony Abou-Ganim at the Latino Libations session where I got to talking with a few mixologists from Southern Wine & Spirits. After wandering around the French Quarter, Steve & I landed at the Palace Cafe for a Spirited Dinner with Bar Chefs Paul Clarke (of Cocktail Chronicles) and Jim Meehan (of New York’s PDT). The drinks were like nothing I’d tasted before (I especially enjoyed the Canton Collins) and the Cumin-Crusted Wild Boar was excellent. Finished up the evening at Muriel’s for the Beefeater Jubilee, sipping punch on the verrendah overlooking Jackson Square. Ready for a new day & looking forward to Sensory Perception with Darcy O’Neil this afternoon.


Tales: Day 1

After a long day of travel I've finally made it to New Orleans! Started off with a great professional series headed-up by Lauren Clark of DinkBoston.com. After checking in at my hotel I made my way down to the "Reviving Absinthe" event which was packed with eager Absinthe-tasters. After melting into a puddle of sweat while walking the streets of this steamy city, I had a bite at the Beefeater Welcome Reception and decided to call it a night. I'm going to need a good night's sleep if I'm going to keep up with New Orleans!


Off To N’awlins!

Tomorrow I’m headed to The Big Easy where I will be boozing and schmoozing at the “Tales of the Cocktail” festival till next Monday. Steve will be joining Thursday. Check in often—I hope to be sharing all my experiences by updating here frequently. Always the control freak, I’ve assembled a detailed agenda (which will probably get thrown in the trash once I get there and get pulled in a million different wonderful directions). Here’s what’s on the list (for now anyway):


2:30- Professional Session: How to Get Your City, Bar, Recipe, or Bartender More Media Coverage
4:30- Professional Session: Emerging Spirits: What’s the Next Big Thing?
5:00- The Green Hour Absinthe Ritual
7:00- Welcome Reception by Beefeater Gin


12:30- Molecular Mixology
2:30- The Scented Trail: Techniques on How to Develop Aroma in Your Cocktails
4:30- Latino Libations
8:00- Spirited Dinner @ Palace Café hosted by Paul Clarke and Jim Meehan of PDT
10:00- Desmond Payne’s Ruby Jubilee by Beefeater


12:30- Cocktails with a Kick-Absinthe Returns to America
2:30- History of Liqueurs and Cordials
4:30 Sensory Perception in Mixology with Darcy O’Neil


9:00- Breakfast @ Brennans
1:00- Lunch @ The Bourbon House
6:30- Dinner @ Arnaud’s
8:30- The Spirit Awards


5:00- Wormwood Society Soiree d’Absinthe


New York, Part Five:

Bemelmans Bar:

My final stop in New York was at a Manhattan landmark—The Carlyle Hotel. My guests and I were greeted at the door by white-gloved men in impeccable uniforms who showed us the way to the bar. Bemelmans Bar is so-named because its walls are decorated with artist Ludwig Bemelmans’ mural “Central Park,” featuring the much-loved Madeline and her classmates. The room centers around a grand piano, which was played by Chris Gillespie on this particular evening, and the staff is attentive and informed.

My waiter explained the cocktail menu in great detail before suggesting their famous Carlyle Punch. When I inquired as to the drink’s ingredients, he said it is made different nightly and its exact contents could not be shared, though he did point out it featured several fresh-squeezed fruit juices.

There is certainly an emphasis on fresh ingredients and craft bartending at Bemelmans. Don’t expect the bartender to fix you a drink in seconds—they will not be rushed. Instead, sit back and enjoy the show, as the skilled craftsmen work their magic.

Not surprisingly, the Carlyle Punch was delicious. It was superbly flavorful and tropical with Rum, fresh-squeezed fruit juices, bitters, triple sec (which always pairs well with fresh juice), grenadine and many more ingredients I couldn’t quite determine. Refreshing, crisp, and a little bit sweet, it was the perfect drink to end a wonderful day in New York. Hopefully it will not be long before I visit once again.


We've had a second serendipitous business event in Rome including a breakfast meeting with Andrea DiCurzio from Luca Maloni SRL, who we've since found out is the Italian Robert Parker. After a detour south to see Pompeii, we are in Venice now and once again next door to Harry's Bar. We've only looked in so far and plan to stop in for the obligatory Bellini's tonight. We've also been sampling the incredible range of Limoncello's. And, we've discovered the variations in the way "Spritz"is served...from a wine cocktail all the way to a long drink...last night's version being the strangest...heavy on the orange, served in a tall glass with ice and garnished with an orange and an olive...strange. At the end of the day, though, I think I've become a Negroni addict.


New York, Part Four: The Ava Lounge

Veggie-Tails & Fruity Libations

Just a few blocks away from the W Hotel is the Ava Lounge at 210 W 55th. Since a rain shower had just passed, I had no problem getting a seat on the rooftop lounge, though it filled up in a matter of minutes shortly-there-after. The views were great and the décor was trendy yet casual.

After reading an article about the recent rise of vegetable-based cocktails, I felt I had to give the “Cucumber Cooler” from their cocktail menu a try. The drink featured vodka with cucumber puree, mint, simple syrup, and sprite. It might not have been listed as one of the ingredients, but I swear there was a fair amount of black pepper thrown in there that I could have done without. Overall, it was rather refreshing; though I’d swap out the sprite for some club soda and a squeeze of lime (you’re already getting the sweetness from the simple syrup).

For a second round, I took my server’s suggestion and ordered the “Lemonade Stand,” with Citron vodka, muddled lemons, fresh lime juice, Sprite, and club soda. I find you can’t lose with a lemonade drink on a hot day, but I also enjoy a little more flavor in the mix. Try this one to quench your thirst:

Booze-berry Lemonade:

1 ½ oz. OVAL vodka
½ oz. Blueberry Schnapps
½ oz. Triple Sec
Lemonade to fill.

Shake Vodka, Blueberry Schnapps, and Triple Sec over ice. Pour into a highball glass and add lemonade to fill. Garnish with a lemon peel.


New York, Part Three:

The New York Bar Show

I recently attended the 2008 New York Bar Show to get a taste of some new products in the market. This year, the show was held at the Javits Center on W 34th, and featured brands from all over the world.

Not surprisingly, the show was dominated by vodkas (There had to be at least 20), each trying to stand out in the crowd. But it was the unconventional new brands that captured my interest. Castries Peanut Rum Cream, a blend of roasted peanuts, cream, and aged rum, sounded intriguing, but I was skeptical about how it would taste. I ended up being more-than-pleasantly surprised by the product (which is distilled in St. Lucia) and found myself imagining a delicious dessert drink—The Peanut Butter Cup:

The Peanut Butter Cup

2 oz. Castries Peanut Rum Cream
1 oz. Stoli Vanil Vodka
1 oz. Chocolate Liqueur

Shake vigorously over ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with chocolate shavings.

Leblon Cachaca was another product that caught my eye since Cachaca seems to be all the rage right now. I’m finding it on every new cocktail menu in classics like the Caipirinha, as well as replacing more traditional ingredients in drinks like the Baybreeze, Mojito, and Margarita. Try their twist on a Cosmo:

Cosmopolitan Caipirinha

1 ½ oz. Cachaca
½ oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
1 oz. Triple Sec
1 oz. Cranberry Juice
Splash Simple Syrup

Shake vigorously over ice and strain into a frosted martini glass. Garnish with a raspberry.

Noticeably missing from the show: Absinthes (surprisingly, there was just one), and new-flavored liqueurs (no St. Germain or anything of the like). Ah, well, maybe next year…


Bellini's and Negroni's in Roma

Steve and his wife Sue are on vaca in Rome but still hard at work doing proprietary market research. Our data suggests that in fact, Negroni's taste better from the rooftop bar at the Minerva Hotel overlooking the Pantheon...even though they cost 16 Euro's! The next evening our locus of focus was Harry's Bar Roma (it just happens to be across the street from our hotel) where we sampled Bellini's, another new experience for Sue's palate which received rave reviews.

After dinner we got lost, (which occurs about every three minutes in Rome) and got directions from "Federico the First" who turned out to be proprietor of what is arguably a Michelin 2 Star restaurant on the Via Sistina where they make their own bread and pasta. We made plans for dinner the next night and were not disappointed. Starting with The Dalmore neat (wow!) for me and a house Prosecco for Sue, Federico recco'd a bottle of Pio Cesare Barolo. I have a great familiarity with Ceretto Barolo's and Barbaresco's from my days at Palace Brands, but I hadn't had much experience with other brands. This one was a bit disappointing at first, but then it started to develop, and develop and develop, and in about a half hour it blossomed into a hugely powerful and complex explosion in the mouth. Just right for the perfectly prepared lamb chops Federico paired it with.

As the conversation got more lubricated, old Freddie and me (we got to be best buddies by the time the main course was served) started talking bidness. Turns out he knows everybody who's anybody in the wine biz in Italy. At this point, our host pulls up a chair and a glass, the gold flatware comes out, a super dessert (all I remember it was chocolate and cream and really good), and a coffee liqueur that the Fredmeister said was better than Kahlua. Of couse by this time, my neutral researcher perspective has been severely compromised, so it's hard to tell. We ended the evening with Cappucino's which you're not really supposed to have after noon. But, since were were such old friends by now, Freddo checked with the Pope for a special dispensation. Then we staggered back to the hotel, and so to bed.


New York, Part 2: The W Hotel

After scrapping with strangers over cabs outside Bryant Park (it was about to rain and most were off-duty) I made my way to Times Square to check out the W Hotel.

Attached to the hotel is a seafood restaurant with a small bar and lounge called Blue Fin. Their cocktail menu is limited but they have an extensive wine list, and their location is perfect for people-watching, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that peer out into the heart of Times Square. I was only there for about a half hour, but there was plenty to take in (including miserable double-decker bus-riders donning ponchos and Adam Duritz from the Counting Crows…random).

Just upstairs, on the top floor of the W is a swanky, modern bar & lounge with a minimalist design. Like every other place in New York, I couldn’t get a seat at the bar (I’m no VIP), so I was forced to stand (in uncomfortable and non-sensible heels) to enjoy my “Peartini.” I thought Pear-flavored drinks were losing their popularity but there was at least one at every bar I visited. This one featured Pear-Flavored Vodka, Elderflower syrup, and Champagne, with a gorgeous fresh pear slice for a garnish (I wish I could show you a picture, but the bartender warned photos aren’t allowed). The drink was ok, but a little dry for my taste. Here’s how I would do it differently:

1. Switch out the pear-flavored vodka for regular premium vodka (like OVAL) and use a little less.
2. Add some pear-flavored schnapps to get that fruity, crisp flavor.
3. Use St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur instead of syrup (What can I say? I love the stuff!).
4. Use a sweeter Champagne (like Cuvee M. from Mumm Napa).

These changes make for a more balanced, less harsh cocktail that’s still fruity and fresh!


New York: Part One

I like Martinis! Like…the real ones…well, kind of…

Earlier this week I took the train into Grand Central to get a taste of the Big Apple. Of course, I’ve been there many times before but this trip was all business—and luckily for me, that means trying out cocktails at trendy bars!

Located in the lovely Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library, the Bryant Park Grill was my first stop of the day and featured a great outdoor dining patio and delicious food.

I’ve been trying to make it a habit to order whatever my bartender/server suggests to drink, or at the very least, something featured in a drink menu. But at my first destination, there was no cocktail menu, and my server only offered “We can make anything you want.” I froze. It’s been a long time since I had to think about drinking—the combination can be deadly.

My wonderful city-savvy hostess and lunch guest for the afternoon, Anu Rao interjected to suggest I try a dirty vodka martini. Gross! Or so I thought. I’d never tasted one and it had never occurred to me that I might enjoy it. Truth is, I loved it! If you’re in the city (and you like olives) go get one—they’re great. Anu (who seems to be something of a dirty-vodka-martini-aficionado) said it was one of the best she’d had.

I’m so hooked that when I got home, I fixed one up with some of my OVAL vodka. It was great—smooth, not at all harsh, like I feared a martini would be.

Ok, so maybe it’s not your traditional gin and dry vermouth, but it’s certainly a step up from “appletinis” (Sure, maybe they don’t qualify as “martinis” but whatever they are—
They’re delicious!) You’ll have to cut me some slack…


Vodka 101

In preparation of our new client Oval Vodka (http://www.ovalvodka.com/) entering the U.S. market, I attended a vodka tasting at Table & Vine in West Springfield, Mass to receive a little vodka education.

What I already knew about vodka is that it’s the most popular spirit among Americans and it’s also the most populated market. There are countless brands out there, which means newcomers must offer something new and different. For Oval, it’s the vodka’s structured quality that makes it unbelievably smooth and mixable. For a couple of the brands I tried at the tasting, it was their unique and all natural flavors.

Idaho held its own beside the big brands we all know from Russia and Poland with Zygo (http://www.fuelchange.com/) and 44° North Mountain Huckleberry (http://www.rockymountainvodka.com/). Both products are distilled in Rigby, Idaho and both are delicious. I tried them straight at the tasting but am looking forward to doing a little experimentation with a couple of recipes I snagged (see below).

Zygo is an energy vodka (it contains Taurine, Yerba Mate, Guarana, and D-Ribose) with a unique combination of natural flavors. Peach seems to be most dominant upon first tasting, but Zygo leaves a subtle vanilla taste on your tongue. Other flavors in the mix include mandarin orange and juniper.

44° North Mountain Huckleberry is distilled from Idaho Burbank and Russet potatoes and stepped in huckleberries for ten days. The result is a sweet, smooth vodka that I imagine would be great mixed (again, see below).

In today’s vodka market, it’s hard for a product to stand out among the millions, but these two certainly caught my eye and perked up my taste buds. Check out their sites to figure out where you can find them near you and give these recipes a try…

“Fother Mucker” (originated by John Libonati of Brite Bar, NYC)

2 ½ oz. Zygo Vodka
1 oz. Southern Comfort
Splash of Fresh Lime Juice
Splash of Cranberry Juice

Shake well and pour into a martini glass
Squeeze a Lime wedge and drop it in

“Huck & Cuke Caipiroska” (from their site)

2 oz. 44° North Mountain Huckleberry Vodka
3 Cucumber Slices
3 Slices of Lime

Muddle the Limes and Cucumber in a shaker
Add 44° North Mountain Huckleberry and Ice
Shake Well. Pour into a rocks glass, top with Soda, and garnish with a Cucumber Wheel



Welcome to Drinks for the House, a cocktail blog that’s all about sharing our experiences as beer, wine, and spirits industry insiders. Samantha Harrigan will be the principal correspondent for this site but you’ll also be hearing from Steve Raye and Jeff Grindrod. Our work often leads us to local (and some not-so-local) bars here in New England and beyond to taste the latest and most popular creations of very talented bartenders (sounds awful, doesn’t it?). Join us for a round if you’re interested in hearing bar stories, collecting tasty new recipes, or just want to say your piece about the cocktail climate. We’d love to hear from you!