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…