Thursday, September 29, 2016

The overlooked ingredient in ice: water

Wanna know how to ruin almost every one of your drinks?  Use foul tasting water for ice making.  It seems pretty obvious, but I’ve experienced this a lot lately, and it pains me.

Whether shaken or stirred, ice not only cools a drink, it dilutes it- and if the water used to make ice tastes like chlorine, swamp funk, or whatever else, your drinks will too.

I’ve even encountered places where they didn’t filter the funk out of water for the soda systems and everything from soft drinks to iced tea tasted as if it was made with bilge water.  I would hate to think what bizarre things grow in those lines and on the icemakers after a few months.  I generally go for a bottled beer at places like this- and don’t return.

Solving water quality issues can be  a big challenge for bars and restaurants given their scale and volume of water usage, but at home you should be able to adequately filter your water or used bottled water to get decent ice and better drinks.

Or just drink your whisky neat- but that leaves the whole world of cocktails behind and we don’t want that.




Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A little map thing

OK, so I’ve been a bit slow to post over here.  I feel guilty, are you happy?

But I did start a thing you might find interesting.  I’m populating a Google Map with bars- some from my travels, some word of mouth, some from David Wondrich (via his Twitter feed and in Esquire), more to come from Martin Cate and Jeff Berry’s lists of Tiki bars.

No reviews, just locations and basic categorizations.  I have low standards, but I’m only putting in places I like, or that are recommended by folks who actually know what they’re talking about.




Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Longitude: upscale Tiki in Oakland

Last week was the Death March of the Liver known as RSA week in San Francisco.

The trip started with getting some work done in my favorite co-working space in the city, Vesuvio.  I know many will think a bar to be less than ideal for productivity, but these people are probably used to being wrong.

After a few hours at Vesuvio, it was time to regroup and head over the bridge to Oakland to try out a relatively new place, Longitude.


Longitude is best described as an upscale Tiki bar, probably because that’s what it is- but it is more, your non-Tiki-loving friends (why are these people your friends exactly?) will find a solid craft cocktail program and good selection beyond the Tiki realms.  The Tiki menu is a mix of well-executed classics and inventive new takes on Tiki.  Longitude also has a tasty selection of appetizers and even a few classic British meals on the menu.



Friday, April 10, 2015

kybecca and coffee, Fredericksburg, VA

I found this gem on a recent trip.  kybecca started life as a wine place, and over the years has evolved into a full restaurant with a killer wine list and solid bar program.  I had some fantastic drinks and good conversation thanks to Calvin, a great bartender.  And I had some very good shrimp and grits- not as good as mine, of course, but very good indeed.  (For reference: the recipe for mine starts with 24 ounces of smoked uncured bacon, and ends hours later with two pounds of wild-caught shrimp).

I sat at the bar as I often do when traveling, my fellow barflies all seemed to enjoy their food and drink as well.  Worth the trip if you are in the area.  And say hi to Calvin for me, he’s a master at his craft.

And in the morning, head over to Hyperion Espresso for some great coffee and morning munchies- and a little local chatter.  It is just a block down the road from kybecca.  You will really appreciate Hyperion if you enjoyed a few more cocktails than you planned at kybecca and didn’t stay well hydrated.  So I’ve heard.



Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Fells Point, Baltimore

Another overdue post where I don’t give places the review they deserve, but here goes.

The Fells Point area of Baltimore is loaded with bars and restaurants, many of which seem to cater to the “WOOO let’s get DRUNK!” crowd- but there are also some great places in the area.  This list is by no means comprehensive, but I stand by it.  I have three places I can count on for craft cocktails, two of which serve god food, and one just plain dive bar.  Be aware that parking can be ugly in the area, so find a decent place to park and wander, don’t plan on moving your car.  Or, of course, take a taxi and then you don’t face parking annoyances or risk that “walking around for hours to sober up” problem.

Probably best known is Bad Decisions, a fun place with an awesome name for a bar.  They have a very good drinks menu and are happy to go off-menu to make great drinks.  They serve a pub-style food menu, with some creativity.  Oh, and they love bacon.  It is a popular place, so be patient if it is packed.  To recap: great drinks, bacon, and it’s called Bad Decisions.

I’ve mentioned Rye before, it is a very good craft cocktail bar.  Rye doesn’t serve food, and doesn’t cater to the WOOO…DRUNK crowd, so it is often less crowded than other bars in the area.  If it is quiet, the bartenders are often up for conversations about cocktails and the craft.

Fork and Wrench which bills itself as a “boutique dive bar”, has some cool industrial d├ęcor, a great bar program, and good food. It is too clean and fancy for a real dive bar, but it is too laid back and industrial to be overly “boutique”, but the food menu is serious.  They strike a pretty good balance in my opinion.

Last, and some might say least, is 1919.  Dive bar.  Period.  If you know and love dive bars, you’ll like 1919.  If you don’t like dive bars you won’t like it.  But if you don’t like dive bars I wonder why you’re reading this blog.

The two furthest points on this list are Rye and Fork and Wrench, a mere .6 miles apart.  If you wander from one to the other and stop at Bad Decisions and/or 1919 (which are practically across the street from each other), the route jumps to a whopping 7/10ths of a mile.



Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sazerac- the missed option

In my last post we visited the Sazerac, and I skipped a bit of history and the corresponding recipe variant.

The original versions of the Sazerac called for cognac instead of rye, and that style is worth a try as you explore the classics and explore your preferences.

To make a cognac Sazerac, follow the directions for a rye Sazerac, but substitute 2 ounces of cognac for the rye, and skip the maraschino liqueur if you use any.

Some recipes will call for simple syrup instead of muddling the sugar in the glass, that’s a good option, but make you own, don’t use commercial simple syrups.  And yes, I’ll cover that in an upcoming post.



Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Sazerac, a New Orleans twist on the Old Fashioned

Let’s continue playing with the basic building blocks of the cocktail and create the New Orleans classic, the Sazerac.

There are only two new ingredients you need to add to the Old Fashioned, three if you count lemon zest.  OK, four if you want to get fancy.

Ingredients Needed:

Rye Whiskey

This needs to be rye, not bourbon or other whiskey.

Herbsaint or absinthe

It will be an investment as you will use very little for each drink.  I’ll skip the religious wars over which is better, at least for now.  I prefer Herbsaint for Sazeracs myself, but I won’t argue with anyone who prefers absinthe, especially if they are making the drinks.

Peychaud’s bitters

There isn’t a substitute here, you need Peychaud’s for both the flavor and color.

Angostura Bitters

Many recipes do not call for Angostura bitters, but I think it provides added balance.

A lemon for zest

The Sazerac needs lemon zest.


Luxardo Maraschino liqueur

This will offend some purists, I think it’s a good tweak, but it isn’t necessary- it isn’t in most Sazerac recipes, but I like to get creative.  Luxardo Maraschino comes in handy for a variety of drinks, but you won’t use much.


I’ve been glossing over types of ice, and will continue to do so here- but eventually we’ll talk about ice in depth.

Equipment needed:

Two glasses

The pedantic will insist on two Old Fashioned glasses, but any two glasses which hold 8ish ounces will be fine for now.

A muddler or reasonable facsimile

A spoon

A strainer (or careful pouring)

The drink start much like an Old Fashioned, but takes a couple of turns:

Put one or two teaspoons of sugar or sugar cubes into one glass (if using the maraschino liqueur, go light on the sugar).

Add two or three dashes of Peychaud’s bitters and one or two dashes of Angostura bitters to the sugar and muddle into a syrup.  Adding a couple of drops of water will help dissolve the sugar.

If you want to use maraschino liqueur, add 1/4 ounce.

Add two ounces of rye and ice, then stir well.

In the second glass, add a splash of Herbsaint or Absinthe, roll the glass to completely coat the inside of the glass and dump out the excess.

Note: I often use a food-grade mister to spray coatings such as absinthe inside glasses, then drain out the excess.  This helps assure complete coverage even on oddly shaped or textured glasses.  Completely optional, but a handy tip.

Strain the contents of the first glass into the second glass.

Cut a fresh chunk of lemon zest, making sure to avoid digging into the bitter white pith as much as possible.  Twist the lemon zest over the drink and run the zest around the rim of the glass.  Purists debate whether the zest should then be discarded or dropped in the drink.  I’m not a purist, so you’ll just have to make one each way and see which you prefer.


Next time we’ll talk a little about some basic tools.