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!