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.



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Manhattan Variants

The Manhattan opens the door to a myriad of variations on the theme.  The primary change is with the vermouth, substituting other things for the sweet vermouth.

One of my favorites is using port wine instead of the sweet vermouth, and since the port is often not as sweet as vermouth I add a little dark maple syrup to the mix.  The resulting drink has some interesting complexity which I really like.  It also stands up to some other bitters well, particularly Fee Brothers Black Walnut bitters.

Other possibilities for vermouth substitutions are in the “what’s that stuff?” aisle of your favorite liquor store, things like Dubonnet, Lillet, Amari, and sweet sherries are all candidates based on your tastes.  As with my port selection, you can add a bit of sweetness if needed to restore balance.

And, of course, you can change the primary liquor.  For example gin plus vermouth is a traditional Martini- but we’ll visit the Martinez, a more complex alleged precursor to the Martini before diving into the Martini and the horrors perpetrated in its name.

Coming up next, we’ll take a look at another Old Fashioned variant, the New Orleans classis Sazerac.  After that, I’ll dive into some tools and techniques that I’ve been glossing over in recent posts.



Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Manhattan

Let’s use the Old Fashioned as a launchpad for more cocktails.  Up first, the classic Manhattan.

Swapping one of the “building blocks” in an Old Fashioned (using sweet vermouth instead of adding sugar) and adding a change in technique(straining) gives us the Manhattan.

Ingredients needed:

Rye Whiskey

As with the Old Fashioned, you can use whatever rye or bourbon you have on hand that you like, but the Manhattan is almost universally agreed to be best when made with rye, not bourbon.


Again, the ubiquitous Angostura bitters work great, I suggest using those.  But as always, experiment away if you are so inclined.

Sweet Vermouth

Any sweet vermouth will work, but better ones like Dolin, or my favorite Carpano Antica, will make a much better drink in my opinion.


Equipment needed:

Two glasses

We could start getting picky here, but let’s skip that for now.  Something that holds 6 or so ounces (drink from this one) and something else that holds  at least 8-10 ounces (for mixing) are all you need.

It would be ideal to have the drinking glass chilled, as this drink is served without ice.  To chill a glass, put it in a refrigerator for a few hours, or fill it with ice water for several minutes and dump it out right before pouring the drink.

A spoon

Nice to have but not needed equipment:

A strainer

A drink strainer, or anything else that will filter out ice.  You can just pour carefully and end up close enough for now.

And now, the drink:

Pour two ounces of rye over ice in your mixing glass.

Add one ounce of sweet vermouth.

Add two dashes Angostura bitters.

Stir well until thoroughly mixed and chilled.

Strain into a chilled glass.


Tuning to taste is fairly simple- change the vermouth, change the rye, change the ratio of rye to vermouth.

Up next, more fun swapping building blocks.



Tuesday, February 3, 2015

About that Old Fashioned…

That was a very basic recipe, no fruit, no frills, no garnish- and so it is a great starting point for experimentation and finding your own preferences.

First, if you want to do some experimentation without falling over drunk, you may want to cut the base recipe in half, or better yet, find a friend to split the drinks and compare ideas on tastes.

The first few variations are pretty  straightforward:

Increase or decrease the amount of sugar.

Use a different sugar (white, turbinado, demerara- I suggest avoiding commercial brown sugars).

Use a different bourbon or rye (sharper or smoother depending on your preferences)

Vary the amount of bitters, try other bitters (there are a myriad of bitters out there to try, but if you can find some Fee Brothers Black Walnut I suggest that for a great alternative to Angostura aromatics for Old Fashioneds).

I find that the aromatic bitters and sugars are balancing forces, if a drink is a little too sweet adding another dash of bitters may balance it better than adding another ounce of whiskey- but you should try it and see if you agree.

You aren’t limited to traditional sugars, try maple syrup as a sweetener. This fails more often than it succeeds in my opinion, but it can be very good.  You need to use real, pure maple syrup, and match the grade to the whiskey.  I generally prefer sharper and stronger whiskeys, these want grade B dark maple syrup.  If you are playing with smoother whiskeys you may get away with grade A light/amber, but even there I prefer the dark.  Honey is another alternative sweetener, but that is probably a post of its own- but don’t be put off by the mediocre honeyed whiskeys on the market, you can do better.

What about fruit, Jack?

One of the common Old Fashioned variants uses muddled fruit, orange and cherries.  These are often served using “maraschino” cherries, which are just neutral balls of chemical and sugar laden cellulose; they are an abomination to me.  The orange bits are often full wedges, complete with the bitter white pith; this is not ideal, either.  It is fairly common to get these drinks with no added sugars, the orange juice and the sugar in the cherry-like objects provides the sweetening, but I think these rarely live up to their potential.

Before going down the fruit-laden drink route, I suggest trying a bit of citrus and decent sugar instead.  Make the drink as previously described, but cut a decent sized chunk of orange peel and bend it tightly over the drink to release the citrus oils, then run the peel side around the rim of the glass and drop into the drink.  The key to this is getting a good peel section with little or none of the white pith, a good vegetable peeler makes it easy with a little practice, a sharp knife and steady hands work well with a little more practice.  The size isn’t a precise measurement, but 3/8 to 1/2 inch wide and 1 1/2 to 2 inches long is a good range.  If you have used an orange with a fresh, healthy peel you’ll be amazed what a difference a small amount of citrus oil can make.

An even easier way to get some fruit complexity into they drink is to add a dash or two of orange bitters.  There are a lot of different orange bitters, and they vary widely.  Angostura makes an good orange bitters, but be careful with this one, it is strong and can easily overpower a drink.  Fee Brothers makes a couple of West Indian Orange bitters, these are sweeter and smoother that the Angostura.  One of the Fee Brothers orange bitters is aged in gin barrels, I like this one- but not for whiskey drinks, stick with the regular orange for these.  There are several other orange bitters available, Regan’s is another good one and not too hard to find.

If you want to try a fruited Old Fashioned there are a couple of things I believe dramatically improve the results.  First, good cherries- they are expensive, but real Luxardo Maraschino cherries are vastly better than those nasty day-glo things.  If you can’t find , just use decent pitted cherries instead.  For the orange, use only peeled orange segments and orange peel- avoid as much of the bitter white pith as possible.  Make the Old Fashioned as previously described, except reduce the amount of sugar, and muddle in the fruit before the stirring and chilling cycle.

Next up, we’ll wander further from the classic Old Fashioned, but keep its basic structure.



Monday, January 26, 2015

The Old Fashioned

First: there is no One True Recipe.  There are probably dozens claiming to have the One True Recipe, but they are wrong.  As with most folks who offer you the One True (anything), be skeptical of anyone promoting The One True Old Fashioned.

I’m going to give you a stripped down starting point, where you go with it is up to you.  More on that in the next post.

Ingredients needed:

Bourbon (or Rye) Whiskey

Whatever you have on hand that you like, don’t go with rotgut, nor with very high-end expensive stuff.  If you really want a suggestion, I find it hard to go wrong with Bulleit, bourbon or rye.


The ubiquitous Angostura bitters work great, I suggest starting with that- you can find them readily almost anywhere.


Plain white sugar works fine, but if you have a more rustic or raw sugar, try that for a more complex flavor.  Loose, or cubes.


Equipment needed:

A glass

If you have an old fashioned or “rocks” glass, use that, otherwise, anything in the 6-10 oz. range is OK.  Really. Lacking that, any vessel capable of holding more than 6-10 oz. is fine, just ignore how empty the glass looks.

A spoon

Oooh, high tech.

Nice to have but not needed equipment:

A muddler

A muddler is a stick you use to mash stuff.  Muddling is indispensible for making many drinks, but you don’t need a thing called a muddler to do it.  The back end of a wooden spoon or other kitchen utensil works fine.  (I used the back end of wood-handled grill tools for many years before blowing $4 on a proper muddler).

And now, the drink:

Put two teaspoons of sugar (or two cubes) in the glass.

Add a couple of dashes of bitters and a couple of drops of water to the sugar and muddle into slush (no alcohol yet, it doesn’t really help dissolve the sugar).

Measure two ounces (four tablespoons if you don’t have an ounce measure) of bourbon/rye.

Add a splash of the bourbon or rye to the glass, continue muddling until smoother.

Add the rest of the bourbon/rye and stir until most of the sugar is fully incorporated (it doesn’t have to be complete, just mostly dissolved).

Add ice, stir well until thoroughly chilled.  Then stir more until it really is thoroughly chilled.


How’s that taste?  Perfect? Cool.  Not quite perfect, don’t fret:

Too sweet? Add another dash or two of bitters.  Too sharp?  Add a little more sugar.

And that’s it.  In my next post we’ll start building on this foundation and see what we can do to make your old fashioned really yours, and then we’ll head off into the cocktail wilderness.



Friday, January 23, 2015

What is a cocktail anyway?

As with many things, the definition of “cocktail” depends on who you ask and how pedantic you want to get about it.
Classic definitions generally refer to a combination of four ingredients- liquor, bitters, sugar, and water.  I like to relax that a bit by considering those as four classes of ingredients- liquors, bitters or bittering agents, sweeteners, and water.  Liquor is self explanatory, but the others need a little elaboration.
Bitters provide balance, sharpness, and complexity to drinks.  The ingredients which fill this role generally come from a bottle with the word “bitters” on the label, but they don’t have to.  And there are a myriad of different types of bitters, from the ubiquitous and versatile Angostura bitters, to dozens of craft bitters, to all of those Italian bitters liquors, to the original “digestive” style bitters.  The herbs, spices, and other wonders which go into bitters can sometimes bypass the bottle and go right into your drink (although you’ll probably strain the big chunks out before serving).
Sugar certainly doesn’t just mean the refined white powder in the sugar bowl, there are a wide variety of sweeteners available, many bringing their own flavor complexities to your cocktails.  White sugar, or more rustic sugars like demerara, turbinado, and sucanat all have their place, and their flavors.  Sweeteners such as coconut sugar, maple sugar and syrup, honey, and others also expand the flavor horizons.
Don’t take “water” to mean you have to pour water in your glass.  The water that frees up flavors in many drinks comes from the ice alone- the shaking and stirring both chill drinks and add water, they aren’t just about mixing ingredients or aeration.  Of course any fruit juice, soda, wine or almost any liquid will add some water to the mix.
Keep in mind that many ingredients span more than one class of ingredient.  Fruit juices are sweeteners and add water, grapefruit juice goes further and covers bittering, sugars, and water.  Ginger ale adds sugar and water, ginger beer goes further and adds ginger’s bitter zing.
At this point you are probably thinking something like “great, but I want a drink”.  Fear not, in my next post we’ll start with the classic Old Fashioned, it includes the four traditional ingredients, encourages experimentation, and provides a framework for a wide variety of derivative drinks.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Boozliography , part two


If you are going to go out and purchase cocktail books I do have some recommendations.  I suggest starting with Brad Thomas Parson’s book “Bitters”.


Bitters are a key component in good cocktails, and this books has bitters and cocktail history, some bitters making guidance, and quite a few good drink recipes with a bit of context or a story to accompany them.  It is a well rounded and readable book, and it’s laid out so that you can easily skip over bitters history or other sections if you just want to dive into recipes.  But don’t skip over much, this is a good primer on cocktails as well as bitters.

On a recent trip to The Boston Shaker I picked up a couple of very different books, one pretty small, and one quite large.  I like them both and can recommend them both, for different reasons.

Home Bar Basics is the little one, and it is just what it claims to be.IMG_0682

This great little book is compact, spiral bound so it lays flat when you put it down to mix your drinks, and the entire book is resistant to damage from spills.  Home Bar Basics has bar layout, equipment, and glassware info, but isn’t pedantic about it.  The book contains twenty-five drink recipes, covering the standards and a bit more.  If you want a good basic home bartending book that fits in a pocket, this is it.

The big one is 901 Very Good Cocktails, it is great for great for lists, 68 of them in fact- followed by, you guessed it, 901 recipes.


Not much extraneous information here, this is a monster drink recipe book, with drinks indexed by a variety of factors, including ingredients, flavors, styles, seasons, geography, and even color.  901 Very Good Cocktails also has basic bar info, simple rules, and other advice.

I do need to mention a couple of great books I do not recommend for most beginners.  David Wondrich is a cocktail guru, some would say he is THE cocktail guru.  Wondrich has written several books, his “Imbibe” and “Punch” are fantastic… if you are interested in the history of alcoholic beverages, often in deep detail.


If you are making your living serving craft cocktails, or are just somewhat obsessed as I am, these books belong on your shelf.  If you just want some recipes, you may be frustrated with the detail and narration surrounding the recipes.  These are good books, just not for most beginning or casual bartenders.  Of the two, Imbibe is the more versatile, Punch is more of a specialty.  If interested, 12 Bottle Bar has good, if slightly gushing, reviews of both books.

And then there are the books from specialty bars, often high-end craft cocktail bars.  These vary as much as the bars themselves, and can be intimidating when you see how much effort goes into some of the drinks.  Reading through Liquid Vacation, the house drink book from Frankie’s Tiki Room, you’ll be amazed at the effort and craftsmanship that goes into their drinks- especially at a mere $9 a drink.


It is a fun book, but don’t be surprised if you decide to pass on making some of the more challenging drinks found in Liquid Vacation.

The book from PDT (Please Don’t Tell, a world-renowned Manhattan speakeasy),


The PDT Cocktail Book” is one I recommend for higher-end recipes.  You may want to just jump to page 40 where the recipes begin unless you want the details of setting up and equipping a world-class specialty bar.  As your skills and/or curiosity grow you’ll probably want go back and check out those first 39 pages.  I suggest sticking to the recipes as described, at least as a starting point, including the specific liquors and additives.  PDT has the reputation they do for a reason, trust them the aim you in the right direction.



Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Boozliography , part one

For the first real installment in this series on getting started with home (or wherever) bartending we’ll dive into books.  Not because you need any, or because they are critical, but because I think many can lead you astray, or even turn you off to playing with your drinks.

This “internet” thing can be pretty handy if you just want a few drink recipes without building your own library of dead trees.  Your search engine of choice should lead you to plenty of sites to help you on your quest.  I tend to gravitate towards Esquire’s Drinks Database when searching online, but with the whole Internet at your fingertips don’t limit yourself to my choices.  I do find that a reduced range can be helpful when you are beginning; faced with seven different Sazerac recipes you could be forgiven for giving up and just grabbing a beer.  A book or two can help here, plus you can make your own notes to add context and preferences as you explore your tastes.

Unfortunately, even some of the best recipe books can be overwhelming, leaving you feeling inadequate for not knowing what the hell a “Nick and Nora” glass is and why your life is incomplete without a set of them.  This is nonsense, your life may be incomplete, but it isn’t because you lack certain six-ounce martini glasses in your cupboards.  Too many books dive right into long lists of spirits, glassware, mixers, equipment, bitters, and more.  If you plan on serving discerning cocktail snobs, or plan on bartending for a living, you’ll eventually need to master some of that stuff, but for now just make some drinks with stuff you have on hand.  OK, maybe a quick trip to the liquor store and/or grocery store will be needed, but you do not need $500 worth of tools, $3000 worth of liquor, nor do you need $1000 worth of specialty glassware.  Some of the best drinks ever consumed were served in red plastic Solo® cups, and you know it.  Don’t get me wrong, a few “old fashioned-like” glasses, and some kind of generic “wine” glasses are a big improvement on the ubiquitous plastic, but start with what’s handy.  Very few books will be that candid with you.  You hereby have my permission to skip or ignore large sections of booze books until you want to up your game after deciding you are having fun with your cocktail experiments and want to advance your craft.

Now that we have that out of the way, some practical book suggestions.  First suggestion: whatever books you already have, just apply the above advice.  Even if you have one of those books designed to push one brand of liquor, you can substitute what you have, or what you think might work.

In my next post I’ll share some of my favorite books and make a few recommendations.



Sunday, January 4, 2015

Better living through chemistry

I’ve become a crusader for decent cocktails.  Don’t get me wrong, I still like good whiskeys and certainly still enjoy beer and ciders, but over the past several years I’ve become a fan of the well-made cocktail.

Sadly, most cocktails are terrifying concoctions of cheap booze and cheaper sugars.  And don’t get me started on the unholy flavors of vodka spewed into the market in recent years.  Even in the face of the various “cocktail revivals” through the years, it is easier to get a bad cocktail than it is to get a good one in most places.  To be fair, it usually isn’t hard to find decent cocktails, but it is harder than it should be.

I am also an advocate of making good cocktails yourself.  Towards that goal, I gave a talk at BSides Las Vegas in 2013, “An Introduction to Bitters and Classic Cocktails” and at BSides Atlanta 2013 I joined Kati Rodzon in presenting “Five Cocktails Every Hacker Should Know” (we cheated and did more than five).  There have also been impromptu bitters tastings at DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas from my growing collection bitters, that essential component of so many great drinks.

And, I’ve recently become the resident bartender on the Security Weekly podcast, because every security podcast needs drinks poured from the in-studio tiki bar.

I’m not an expert by any means, it is a hobby and an amusement, but I’ve learned a few things that I wish I’d known when I started down this path.  I’ll share some of these tips and tricks in upcoming posts- quick takes on topics such as equipment, glassware, sweeteners, spirits, and books (spoiler alert: you don’t need much to get started, and you can do a lot with a little improvisation and creativity).