Sunday, January 31, 2010

Be Sure to Have Paul Henreid Order Your Drink

I recently rewatched the 1942 Bette Davis melodrama "Now, Voyager" and was struck by the confidence and specificity with which her co-star Paul Henreid orders drinks. On two occasions during the pleasure cruise on which Davis and Henreid's characters meet, he talks the reins and orders with flawless taste. At an outdoor cafe, where they are having red wine, he tells Davis, "I hope you don't mind. I took the liberty of ordering us two Cointreau." Later, in the ship's dining room, Davis asked him to order drinks for them and he immediately suggests "Bourbon Old-Fashioneds." Very particular, given that rye would be the norm back then.

This made me think of Henreid's other big 1942 film, "Casablanca," and how he would always order Champagne Cocktails at Rick's. The actor's suave, elegant, yet self-effacing characters always seemed to know exactly what they wanted. No pause, no hesitation, no glance at the menu. No wonder Davis falls in love with him.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Sipping News

Sasha Petraske to open a cocktail-jazz joint at 39th and Lex. I've been saying Midtown needed a decent cocktail place for years. And, to tantalize me further, he mentioned the words "Mad Men." [Fork in the Road]

Eben Freeman is all about cocktail carts, saying the "future is tableside." [Fork in the Road]

Freeman also announced the line-up of his "Cocktail All-Stars" thing,  which runs Feb. 8-10. Evening will focus of Eastern influences to drink-making and there will be an "Old-Timers" night, just like, you know, they do for baseball. [Grub Street]

Ravi DeRossi's Carteles will have a Rum Bar upstairs, with Charlotte Voisey in charge of the menu. [Grub Street]

The Way of Tiki Bars in NYC, Back When. [Diner's Journal]

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Roar of the Growler, the Smell of the Beer

My latest assignment for the New York Times allowed me the pleasure of driving my wife crazy by saying the word "growler" around the house several times a day. You have to admit, it's a amusing word, and a lot of fun to say. Nor was it a burden to visit several growler purveyors and invest in a few jugs of their delicious, fresh-pour, craft beer drafts. And, of course, any drinking prop with a pedigree that goes back centuries is of particularly interest to my drinking arcana-hungry brain.

The New Old Way to Tote Your Beer

By Robert Simonson

BY midafternoon on a recent Saturday, Bierkraft, the beer emporium and grocery on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, was half-filled with customers, many of them parents with babies or toddlers in tow. They were browsing the more than 1,000 varieties of bottled beer or surveying the listing of selections available on the 13 taps and 3 cask lines. Some carried a good-sized satchel.

Diaper bag? Gym clothes?

No. It was a tote for their growlers.

Growlers — 64-ounce glass vessels that look like a moonshine jug — have become the beer accessory of the moment. And the jugs, filled at taps in bars and stores, are not just the toys of the bearded, flannel-shirt, beer-geek set.

“In the beginning we tried to figure out, ‘Who’s going to be our market?’ ” said Ben Granger, 32, an owner of Bierkraft, which began filling growlers in spring 2006. “We thought, mullet-heads and beer-bellied dudes. But the first run was ladies with strollers. They will tell you they’re buying them for their husbands. Three weeks later, they’ve got two. One’s his and one’s hers. The next one that caught me by surprise was dads coming in with their kids. Then there’s the beer crowd who’ll rush in to get on this or that before it’s gone. There’s no age limit.”

Michael Endelman, a journalist at Rolling Stone, is one of those growler-loving fathers. “I don’t go to bars too much anymore,” he said, gesturing to his baby daughter Mimi. “It just seems like a great way to be a beer geek without going out.”

Some customers appreciate growlers for reasons of economy (refills range from $8 to $20 or more) or ecology. And as more craft brewers choose not to bottle their products, many fans like the idea of getting fresh beer that until recently was sold only in specialized bars.

Liz Thorpe, vice president of Murray’s Cheese, said she had two to four growlers at home at any given time. “Good beer makes everything more special,” Ms. Thorpe said while stocking up for a recent National Football Leauge playoff game. “I like me some football, but I don’t like me some Coors Light. So I’m ensuring I will be happy this afternoon.” Barely a week has passed in recent months without some bar or beer store in New York City trumpeting the arrival of growlers, which are typically embossed with the name of their business. Even the Gristedes grocery chain has gotten in on the act; the University Place store in Manhattan began carrying them in November.

Offerings can change daily, even hourly.

Some new growler users believe they’re getting in on the latest thing, but beer lovers know better.
“Growlers have been around since Christ was a child,” Mr. Granger said. “We’re not doing anything new.”

In the late 19th century and the early 20th century, both The New York Times and The Brooklyn Eagle regularly published contentious stories about the containers, which then took the form of small galvanized pails. The articles cataloged the complaints of saloon keepers, who thought growlers cut into their profit, and those of temperance groups, who hoped to curb home drinking.
“Rushing the growler,” connoting children hustling pails of beer for adults from bar to table, was a common expression. The curious name is thought to be inspired by the rumbling noise escaping carbon dioxide made as the beer sloshed about in the pail.

In more modern times, growlers could be found at brew pubs like Heartland Brewery, which has served beer to go since opening in 1995. The jugs — which, according to the New York State Liquor Authority, have always been legal at both retail outlets and bars — have proliferated lately, said Heartland’s founder, Jon Bloostein, because there are more interesting beers to go in them.
“People’s palates have become more sophisticated,” Mr. Bloostein said. “Look at the number of beer bars in Manhattan, and especially Brooklyn. And the offerings at regular bars are leaning toward craft beers.”

The Whole Foods beer store on Houston Street began its program in 2007. The chain’s first to carry the vessels, it has done as much as any store to introduce New Yorkers to growler culture. The manager, Jeff Wallace, said he saw other reasons for the trend.

“It’s basically a really good way to promote recycling, because you bring back your jug,” Mr. Wallace said. “And it’s a cheap and affordable way to get fresh draft beer.” He said growlers made up half the beer store’s business. Whole Foods stores in TriBeCa and on the Upper West Side also offer beer for growlers.

That much-vaunted freshness, however, depends on how the bottle is filled.

“There’s always the possibility that someone may not fill the growler properly,” said Shane Welch, founder of Sixpoint Craft Ales brewery in Brooklyn, which sells its products in stores in growler form. Most stores and bars run the beer straight from the tap to the bottle. “If you don’t fill it to the top, if you don’t purge the air out of there, when you close the container it will be stale beer,” Mr. Welch said. “You probably have to drink it that night.”

Mr. Granger, who says growlers constitute a large percentage of his sales, has tried to avoid that possibility. He has a system in which bottles are filled under pressure through a plastic hose to keep out oxygen. Filled that way, he said, they could stay fresh for months unopened, and three to five days when opened.

“Ergo, no flat beer,” he said. “No oxygen in the bottle, no foaming beer, no waste."
No bar tab, either.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Sipping News

A couple Milwaukee resident go on a search for the burg's best Bloody Mary. One thing we learn: in Wisconsin, it's customary to get a beer chaser with your Bloody. But we should have guessed that. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

Dr. Vino, the perpetual thorn in Robert Parker's side, asks, "Does the Wine Advocate Buy Over $700,000 Worth of Wine a Year?" I think we all know the answer to that one.

Dr. Vino also quizzes wine importer Terry Theise on one of my favorite topics, the state of Riesling.

Jonathan Miles at the NY Times files his last "Shaken & Stirred" column.

The latest issue of Imbibe looks at second-label wines.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Beer at...O'Connor's Bar

From my latest Eater "A Beer At..." column:
It's twilight outside O'Connor's bar on Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn. It's always twilight inside. The upper reaches of the narrow, high-ceiling room seem to fade into a dark night sky up near the old tin ceiling, and the lighting below is never too bright. Which is a good thing. People don't come in this old place to see things clearly or shine a spotlight of their life's progress. People come here for a respite from the daily grind, to be reminded that some bars still serve the same escapist purpose they did in the 1930s, when O'Connor's opened. A beer, a tune from the jukebox, a temporary loss of memory, a bit of weightless, nonconfrontational rapport with your fellow man.

Most of the men lining the bar on a recent evening kept their winter coats on, as if shielding themselves from the cold, cold world. They made for a slightly shabby crew, but longtime bartender Chris served each with respect, alacrity and good humor. You don't hear much about the owner at O'Connor's (who is not named O'Connor—he died a few years back), but everyone likes Chris. He looks like a figure clipped from an old photograph of a 19th century bar: tall, fit, bald and with a moustache. He hustles when, given the clientele (nobody's in a rush to go), there's no need to, and if he gives you the wrong change for the weirdly eclectic juke box (The Waterboys, Hank Williams, Syd Barrett), he makes up for it but shoving in some dough himself.
There's a line of old, beaten booths, some composed half of wood, and half of what looks like couch cushions or the back seat of a Chevy. But the regulars seem to prefer the equally beaten metal bar stools, so as to be closer to Chris and the booze and the soundless televisions. I was pretty sure some of the patrons didn't exactly have a home to go back to. Others who did, like a young husband who was expecting a child soon, weren't missing the hearth too much. When he finally got up to go, he announced his intention to hit Freddy's Bar, and that he would be back tomorrow at the usual time.
Conversation varied, but never died. One man walked in with the huge news that the new LIRR Atlantic Avenue Terminal Pavilion had finally been unveiled. "It's bee-ootiful!" he declared, as if he had just seen the Aurora borealis. An old, bent man on the way to the bathroom instructed this writer to not "give up the ship." There were amused remembrances of the youngsters who had to be instructed on how to use the rotary phone in the bar's old wooden booth. (O'Connor's has to pay the phone company to keep it.) And the owner was mocked for his plans to spruce up the place and add a kitchen and back party room, "so nice people won't have to see this dirty bar." He's also responsible for the TVs, apparently, and the new awning outside. Why would anybody buy a place like this with the idea of "fixing" it? It's bee-ootiful.

—Robert Simonson

What Did Ben Franklin Say Again?

Looking at the Six Point Brewery website recently, a quotation at the bottom caught my eye: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." It's attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

I've seen this quote a lot lately. In books about beer, in articles, on t-shirts and stickers. It's very popular. Only problem with it is, it's wrong.

Franklin was praising wine, not beer. Or, more precisely, the rain from the skies that feeds the vines that produce the wine. As recent research has shown, the origin of the quote is a letter Franklin wrote to André Morellet in 1779, in which he said: "Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy."

When you really study the line, you realize that Franklin's point was more to do with God and faith than wine. (There's also the not significant point that the original quote was God "loves to see us happy," not "wants us to be happy"—two very different things.) Still, it's wine, not beer. And while I'm sure Ben had a beer from time to time, it was wine that the Founding Fathers truly loved and revered. I have no doubt that Franklin tastes a high number of the fine wines his pal Jefferson collected.

According to some sources, the misquote started taking hold a decade or so ago (though you'd still see the "wine" versions of the saying at the same time.) No doubt, brewers embraced it with gusto and felt no urge to rust to the library to double-check it's authenticity. It was so widely adopted that, in 2006, in celebration of Franklin's 300th birthday, a special beer was made in his honor. Of course, it's easier to make a beer than a wine, and maybe the idea was a last-minute thing. I'm sure Ben wouldn't have minded much. He was easy-going and well-adjusted to human foibles. Probably, he would have found something witty to say about the matter, and then quickly drained a tankard or two.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kids in Bars, and the Adults Who Don't Love Them

For some time now, I've contemplated writing a piece on the increasing phenomenon of parents bringing their children to bars. But one Risa Chubinsky has beaten me to the punch, publishing on the topic in the Times' fine metro blog, City Room.

Of course, it's not quite the article I had in mind. More of a rant, the kind that twentysomething childless urbanites periodically lob like spitefull word bombs at the thirty- and fortysomething uber-parents who chose to live in a land that could be called Strollers Without Borders. These two groups have little patience for one another, it seems, particularly in New York. The breeders are in denial, unwilling to accept their roles as adults, indulgent or neglectful of their children, are self-righteous with a sense of entitlement, the hipsters howl. The post-grads are selfish, callow, shallow, thoughtless posers with misplaced priorities and no idea of what real responsibility means, merely larger version of the babies they complain about, retort the oldsters.

Both are right to an extent, though it must be pointed out that the younger set are merely bitching about their ruined good time, while the older group are actually wrestling with the lifelong charge of caring for someone other than themselves. Still, I can see Chubinsky's point. I have a kid, and I would feel odd and sheepish and inconsiderate taking him to places she mentions, like The Gate, which is an unmitigated bar, dark and old, and should be a destination for adults. (I could, however, see kids blending in nicely in the outdoor patio during the midday.)

However, I would argue that, with the maturing of the beer and cocktail scenes in Brooklyn, and the ever-more-mature attitude of the people who partake of them, kids have a place in some bars at certain times of the day. Strollers and toddlers are common sights at Clover Club in Cobble Hill, during that cocktail haven's popular Saturday and Sunday brunches, when light pours into the place and the atmosphere is quite wholesome and welcoming. And families are encouraged to visit Fort Defiance, the Red Hook cocktail bar and restaurant, during all daylight hours. The same goes from Henry Public, the new drinking and eating joint on Henry Street near Atlantic, where the strollers often pile up near the front of the bar. Tellingly, the owners of all three bars are new parents.

I can't think of many Manhattan bars where family time would be as welcome. But Brooklyn is another place, and Chubinsky should have taken that into account. It's an outer borough. And, no matter how hip or trendy that county may be at the moment, outer boroughs mean families and schools and playgrounds and a general vibe that speaks more of neighbors and community than it does of pub crawls and night trolling. Furthermore, living in Park Slope and complaining about strollers is like living in Little Italy and complaining about all the red-sauce joints.

Perhaps some of these parents are not as attentive to their progeny as they should be, and, given the circumstances and the environment, I think they should be especially watchful. (If you bring you kid to a bar, that kid should be by your side at all times.) But there's another aspect to this change of mores that's worth looking at. Exposing children early on to the existence and nature of bars and the beverages they serve is, I feel, a far more healthy approach to schooling kids about alcohol than the typical American diet of silence, mystery and ignorance. In rural Wisconsin, where I grew up, most of my friends were told absolutely nothing by their parents about alcohol or drinking. As a result, when the teens finally did meet a keg or a bottle, and no adult was looking, they overdid it. Binges, drunk driving, the works. Booze was the cookie jar on the high shelf that Mom and Dad would never bring down. And they were going to get those cookies.

In contrast, my son asks me curious, thoughtful questions about the wine I'm having with dinner and whether I like it and why. At first, his questions unnerved me. But after a while, I was happy for them, and I answered the queries in the same spirit as if he had asked me why Saturn has rings around it. He was interested. He's doesn't want any wine, and he knows full well that he's not going to have any until he's of age. He understands that it's serious stuff, to be taken seriously and with discretion. But he's not scared of it. It's no mystery. It's what adults drink. He drinks ginger ale and likes it.

This is not to say he belongs in a bar. He doesn't. He can learn those lessons at home. Still, I have to say, on the rare occasions when I do take him to a bar, he behaves beautifully.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More Ingredient Trouble For New York Cocktail World

First the Angostura shortage, now this.

Bret Thorn has the stunning scoop that the Department of Health has a problem with Audrey Saunders' Pegu Club using eggs in her drinks! An inspector stopped by the cocktail den last night and took a look-see at the menu. When he got to the part that warned patrons that some drinks, such as the Saunders signature the Earl Grey MarTEAni, use raw eggs, he went "Zoinks!" and told the bar owner that she would have to use pasteurized eggs in her cocktails from now on.

Not good news for the cocktail circle. Egg drinks, like flips and fizzes (including my beloved Ramos Gin Fizz), have come back in a big way in recent years, as mixologists have rediscovered classic cocktails from years back. Every haute cocktail list in the city worth it's salt has an egg cocktail or two on the menu. And they've been doing it for years. Where's the DOH been until now? Why enforce this rule now? Judging by the Pegu ruling, will every cocktail place have to cease and desist?

If so, that would be a terrible shame. Most bars that use eggs in drinks put a disclaimer on the menu warning of the possible (extremely small) health risks. It seems that should be enough for anyone. A patron can read the warning and then decide whether or not to take their chances.

New Red Hook Wine Store Dry Dock Close to Opening

Work has been stepped up on the new Red Hook, Brooklyn, wine store on the southwest corner of Van Brunt and Van Dyke—but a block from the storefront formerly occupied by the late, lamented LeNell's. (The space has not been empty for almost a full year, continued proof of the greedy landlord's stupidity. LeNell Smothers, meanwhile, has decamped to La Paz, Baha, Mexico, and made good of her pledge to open up a bed and breakfast, called Casa Cóctel.)

New windows, outside lighting and a nice angled doorway are in place. A twitter on Jan. 7 has the place opening in "a few weeks." Also, the name has been revealed: Dry Dock. I get the maritime, Red Hook reference. But is a name with the word "Dry" in it good for a wine and spirits store?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

WALL-E, Make Me a Sazerac

Sarah Schmeler's blog, which usually tackles art and art-related stuff, has republished an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal a while back about a new tech phenom called "hackerspaces." These caves of creativity are hotbeds of tinkering, where nerds gather to put together cool stuff, including some things which are absolutely Jetsons-crazy and useless—such as a robot that can make a Sazerac.

With Angostura Gone Missing, Bitter Truth Sees Its Moment

The Angostura bitters shortage that has shaken some cocktail quarters in New York has been bad news for high end cocktail bars, but it represents a golden opportunity to the folks at The Bitter Truth.

The German line of bitters is well known to many bartenders, but hasn't been easy for the average Joe to lay his hands on. Until now. Just as the Angostura well runs dry (temporarily), Bitter Truth bottles have finally found American distribution and reached U.S. shores.  And the company has sent out a press release to let everyone know about it.

Spuyten Duyvil Owner's New Wine Diner, St. Amselm, Close to Opening

Joe Carroll, the man behind Williamsburg drinking emporia Spuyten Duyvil and Fette Sau, is close to opening his third, slightly-hard-to-pronounce Brooklyn drinkery, St. Anselm.
St. Anselm, located right next door to beer bar Spuyten Duyvil, at 355 Metropolitan Avenue, was supposed to open last November, but has been delayed. Carroll said he expected it to be unveiled next month.
St. Anselm will be more food oriented than its neighbor. "It will be a mix of high-brow, low-brow stuff. We're doing burgers and dogs and also doing old school diner, blue-plate special things.  A lot of offal, a lot of organ meat dishes, and a pretty sizable wine list. We're trying to do something simliar in wine to what we do at Spuyten Duyvil with beer."
They're be a diner with stools in the space. A peek inside revealed a charmingly roughhewn look made of hand-cut wood, creating wavy, layered designs on the ceiling and a kind of country-fence look along the counter.

Monday, January 18, 2010

LeNell Smothers Makes Good on Mexican B&B Pledge

I was in Prime Meats recently, talking to bar manager Damon Boelte, when the name of his former employer, liquor store owner extraordinaire LeNell Smothers, came up. Last we heard from Smothers, she had closed her famously well-stocked Red Hook liquor store and announced her plans to move to Mexico (!) and open up a cocktail-oriented bed and breakfast (!!). When that news came out, I—and I expect, others—received it with a certain amount in incredulity. But Damon said she had indeed gone and done it. So I looked into it.

Indeed, the joint has a website and everything. It is called Casa Cóctel, and is located in La Paz, near the tip of the Baha California Sur peninsula. Smothers has opened the place with Demián Camacho Santa Ana. The house is five blocks from the beach in Baja California Sur, and can accommodate six guests (with one bedroom done up in "brothel red").

Friday, January 15, 2010

Brooklyn Brewery Reaches Into the Cookie Jar

Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver has come up with something particularly comforting for his winter-months edition of the Brewmaster's Reserve, the limited-edition beer he whips up every two months of so.

The grew is called Cookie Jar Porter. "One of our brewer's is friends with somebody who works for a bakery in Jersey City called Feed Your Soul," said Oliver. "They make these stupendous oatmeal cookies. We were sitting around eating them one day and we said, 'Wouldn't it be really cool if a beer tasted just like these cookies?' So, now one does."

The beer is made with toasted oats, roasted malt, brown sugar, whole vanilla beer, and raisin puree. "It's an oatmeal raisin beer," said Oliver.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Not Every Bar's Worried About the Angostura Shortage

Not every barkeeper in New York is fretting over the Angostura Bitters shortfall.

Yesterday, the owner of Bamonte's, the age-old Italian restaurant in Williamsburg, was leaning over his bar, reading an article about the shortage in the New York Post, which had just gotten wind of the story.

"You see this?" he asked his longtime bartender. "Bitters shortage."

The bartender, there since 1965, scoffed. "Who cares?" he said. "How much of that stuff do you need? You use a bottle a year, you're lucky." He strode to the center of the bar and plucked up a jumbo Angostura bottle. It didn't look like it was in danger of hitting empty anytime soon.

"What about Old Fashioneds?" asked a barfly. "And Manhattans?"

"Old Fashioned, yeah," said the owner, who remembers decades past when his bar used to be lined with drinkers who would linger for hours, all drinking straight booze and buying rounds for one another. "But Manhattans, people don't like them with bitters. We leave 'em out."

Chances are Champagne Cocktails are none too popular at Bamonte's, either.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

It Came From Thailand

I first encountered Mekhong, the national spirit of Thailand, in a tasting room at the 2009 Tales of the Cocktail convention in New Orleans. I had never heard of it, and wouldn't say it was exactly love at first sip, but I couldn't get around the fact that I had never tasted anything quite like it. The flavor staid with me, and since then I've seen it put to good use in several New York cocktails. Here's an article I wrote about the spirit for the January/February issue of Imbibe:

A YEAR OR SO AGO, few had ever heard of the Thailand-made distillate Mekhong other than the Thais themselves, Far East tourists and fans of the Pogues. Yes, the Pogues. The spirit is mentioned on the Irish band’s 1990 album Hell’s Ditch: “She gave me Mekhong whiskey/Put me on a breeze to Kathmandu.” But the Pogues got it wrong. Mekhong isn’t whiskey, though its copper color might fool you into thinking so. What is it? That’s a little tricky.

Describing Mekhong as a spiced Thai rum would, perhaps, be easiest, but not very accurate, or fair. The spirit is, like some rums, primarily distilled from sugar cane, but it’s blended with a five-percent injection of rice distillate, giving the flavor a distinct, sake-like backbone. Add an infusion of native Thai herbs and spices and you get something that doesn’t resemble anything else on the back bar: a light (70-proof), vaguely exotic spirit smacking of toffee, citrus, nuts and

The initial U.S. marketing plan was to place Mekhong in Thai and Asian restaurants, where it would have a ready clientele. But when it was discovered that many of these places lacked liquor licenses, the company that owns the brand turned to the craft cocktail movement. Today, Mekhong is rolling out across the United States and already appearing on cocktail menus in New York, Chicago, Miami and Boston. Bartenders have found that it combines surprisingly well with other cocktail ingredients, from herbal Chartreuse to spicy ginger to rich chocolate bitters. “Mekhong mixes so well,” says John Freeman, head bartender at Elizabeth in Manhattan. “The reason you get a different flavor profile than what you might get from rum is because of that five percent rice.”

In Thailand, spirits don’t have the long pedigrees that they enjoy in, say, Scotland or Kentucky. Mekhong, in fact, is the country’s first domestically produced, branded spirit. The Sirivadhanabhakdi family created the spirit in 1941 and still runs the company today. They named their product after the Mekhong River, which flows along Thailand’s eastern border—a good choice, as shortly thereafter the French attempted to divert the river out of Thailand, and Mekhong sales were
boosted by a wave of nationalistic Thai pride. It quickly grew to 20 million cases a year during that period (today productions stands at 1 million cases a year).

Fortunately, Americans don’t need an international incident for an excuse to drink Mekhong. The exotic taste, and the novelty, are more than enough temptation.
—Robert Simonson

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mission Dolores, New Tavern from Bar Great Harry Owners, to Open Soon

Mike and Ben Wiley, the owners of Bar Great Harry, the best beer bar along Smith Street's restaurant row, will have their new place, Mission Dolores, open by late January, early February at the latest.

Located at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Carroll Street, in Gowanus, it will be another craft beer haven, but with a larger draft selection and a big courtyard out back. Dub pies will be served, just as they are at Bar Great Harry.

With Mission Dolores' arrival, Gowanus East can safely be called a beer-lovers destination, what with Draft Barn at Third Avenue and 12th Street and Bell House at 7th Street near Second Avenue.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

One Man's Search for Angostura

As a journalist, products shortages make me suspicious. Sometimes, as with the George Dickel No. 8 Tennessee Whiskey shortage a couple years back, they're real, and you truly can't find the bottle in question. Other times, as with Knob Creek, there's a little hype involved, and the item is not that hard to come by. When I first posted about a potential shortage of one-of-a-kind Angostura, I wondered if New York would truly feel the pinch. If so, I was certain I'd hear about it. Bartenders who are suddenly unable to fill an order for a Manhattan or Old Fashioned are likely to howl about it.

As previously reported by The Guardian back in early November, "Trinidad's House of Angostura has blamed a shortage in ingredients and a financial restructuring. The firm is owned by CL Financial, a Caribbean conglomerate hit by a liquidity crisis, prompting an emergency bailout earlier this year by the government of Trinidad and Tobago. Patrick Sepe, chief executive of the US distributor, Angostura USA, said the production line ran dry in June and was only just getting back on track. "There has been a shortage," said Sepe. "You can't just turn on and off supply of bitters. It's not like producing bottled water – it's a very delicate, intricate process." "

The food blogs picked up on the shortage only this past week with a couple of alarmist posts. So I decided to follow up on the story. I went to local watering hole in Red Hook, where the owner told me he had to go to a friend's bar in Carroll Gardens begging for an extra bottle of Angostura. Was it really that hard to find? "No store between Atlantic Avenue and here has any," he told me.

It set out to investigate. I went to Met Food, Union Market, Stinky NYC, Key Food, Sahadi, Fairway, and several smaller markets. Sure enough, the place on the shelf where Angostura ought to have been was vacant. Store owners—those who knew what Angostura was and what it was used for, that is (outside of the bar world, people don't do a lot of thinking about this product)—seemed surprised they didn't have any, and unaware of any shortage.

OK, so there did actually seem to be a lack of the stuff. I hate not being able to get something I want, so my investigation turned into a mission. Too many cocktail bars in South Brooklyn, I thought. I'll go to some neighborhood where bartenders aren't combing the shelves and buying up the stock. I had to meet a friend for dinner in Morningside Heights, so I aimed for that area. Food Emporium? All out. Garden of Eden? Nertz. I tried about six big markets along Broadway. Then I hit paydirt in a Gristedes around 100th Street! One lonely bottle sitting by intself, all it's brothers having long ago flown the next. I grabbed it and header for checkout.

The girl cashier looked at my only purpose as she scanned it. Twisting up her face into a quizzical expression, she asked, "What's this stuff for?"

If she only knew.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Brooklyn's Stinky to Carry Beer, Maybe Growlers, Soon

Patrick Watson and Michele Pravda are adding beer to their Brooklyn mercantile kingdom. The owners of wine shops Smith & Vine and the newly opened Brooklyn Wine Exchange, and the bar Jake Walk—all in Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens—have just gotten a beer license for their cheese shop Stinky Bklyn. They plan to carry a select array of bottles and, if all goes well, the inevitable growlers.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Laphroaig, the Cocktail Scotch

A few weeks ago, I went to a dinner at Daniel Boulud's new Bowery joint, DBGB Kitchen and Bar. Accompanying the food were several cocktails, some made with Laphroaig. Full bottles of the single malt Scotch sat on the table as well. At the end of the meal, a press agent who represents Laphroaig in New York asked me if I thought the whiskey had a future as a cocktail ingredient. I said no. It belonged by itself in a glass, or on the rocks.

I'd like to eat my words. In the past few weeks, I've encountered a couple drinks that have reversed my opinion of Laphroaig as a mixer. I now believe that the Islay Scotch may very well be the single malt most suited to mixology purposes. The dawning came while I was working on a recent article for the New York Times about significant cocktails of the past decade. Not wanting to overlook the West Coast in my survey, I asked several California cocktail experts about any iconic drinks that came to mind. Journalist Camper English mentioned the "international phenomenon" The Laphroaig Project. This drink was created by Owen Westman of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco about six months ago, and instantly caught fire in the Bay Area. It has since been picked up by bars in London and Germany—thus, it's quasi-international aspect. (I was not compelled to include it in my final article, however, because too many knowing cocktailians I interviewed had not yet heard of it.)

The Laphroaig Project has the added advantage in that it contains only six ingredients, all easily obtained by a civilian. No infused this or fat-washed that. Here's the recipe:

The Laphroaig Project

1 oz Green Chartreuse
1 oz lemon juice
½ oz Laphroaig
½ oz maraschino
¼ oz Yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes Fee Brothers Peach Bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain in to an ice-filled old-fashioned glass. Garnish with lemon zest twist.

I have made this several times in the last couple weeks. It is an absolutely smashing drink. And, while the two Chartreuses do their work, and the lemon juice played a dominant role, it's the Laphroaig that makes it. Why? Well, basically it's the smoke. Islay single malts are known for their peaty, smoky flavor, and Laphroaig is considered the smokiest of the lot. Smoke is hot right now, and my theory is that mixologists, seeking that smoky component to add depth to their concoctions, are using Laphroaig the same way they are using Mezcal. They're both liquid smoke without being, you know, Liquid Smoke.

Soon after learning about Westman's creation, I was reminded of two earlier drinks which served to jog my memory that folks had been playing around with Laphroaig for some time. One was Audrey Saunders' Dreamy Dorini Smoky Martini, a very good drink (with a over-involved name) that I've posted about before. Not sure when Saunders came up with this one, but I'm guessing the early half of the Aughts, when she was at the Beacon. (Nobody thinks of the Beacon as a cocktail destination, but it's amazing how many of Saunders' signature creations were whipped us during her short reign there.) It's an unlikely mix of Laphroaig and vodka that really works. Again, it's the smoke that makes it.

Dreamy Dorini Smoky Martini

2 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce Laphroaig
5 drops of Pernod
1 lemon twist, for garnish

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish.

The other Laphroaig harbinger is the Penicillin Cocktail, created by Sam Ross at Milk & Honey. It is perhaps the bartender's best-known creation and well-thought-of by many. Harder to make this one at home, because one has to whip up a batch of ginger-honey syrup. You'll notice the lemon juice again. Something about lemon and Laphroaig go together.

Penicillin Cocktail

2 ounces blended scotch
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce ginger-honey syrup
1/4 ounce Islay scotch (I used Laphroaig)

Combine blended scotch, lemon juice and syrup in a shaker, fill with ice and shake well. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and float Islay scotch on top.

Of the three, I have to give my vote to Westman's drink as the champion. But all are worth ordering, or making. On the evidence of this trio, bartenders should keep experimenting with our friend from Islay with the hard-to-pronounce name.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

R.W. Apple Jr.'s Wine Collection to Be Auctioned Off

Legendary New York Times correspondent and gormand and profligate spender of Roman proportions, R.W. Apple Jr., died in 2006. He doubtless would be happy he is not here today to read the news that his beloved wine collection will be put up for auction by his widow, Betsey Apple.

According to an article in the Washington Post, Apple, at the time of his death, "still had hundreds of unopened bottles of fine wine stored at his weekend retreat in Gettysburg, Pa., and his main residence, an old Georgetown house." (I've always wondered why oenophiles accumulate more wine than they can possibly consume in their lifetime.) Betsey Apple is now preparing to sell those bottles, through an auction house or to an individual collector. Among the prizes are two bottles of 1945 Chateau Lafite, a rare Bordeaux that generally sells for $2,000 or more.

Sadly, the article does not include a detailed tally of the cellar. Since no auction house is named, I assume the article is something of a trail balloon sent up by Betsey to see if there's interest in the collection. I would be surprised only if there weren't.

Monday, January 4, 2010

What Italian Wines Do the Italians Drink?

I was recently charged by a major wine magazine to find out what wine young Italian wine enthusiasts drink in the course of everyday life. It was a fun assignment and confirmed a lot of suspicions I already had. Unfortunately, by the time I turned in the article, the magazine had taken a hit in advertising and no longer had the pages necessary to run the piece. It seemed a shame to scrap the story after having invested roughly 167 international e-mails towards it's completion. So I'm running it here.

When in Rome...

By Robert Simonson

Perhaps no youth culture in Europe likes their wine more than do the Italians. Roam through the centro storico of any major city after dusk and you'll see countless young Romans, Milanese and Bariese, vino in hand. Knowing that what the next generation of Italian wine lovers are drinking this year may be what the world's Italophiles will be drinking next year, we polled a small cross-section of locals on their current quaffing preferences. While individual tastes inevitable vary, some trends did emerge. Southern grape varietals, such as Falanghina, Primitivo, Aglianico and Nero d'Avola, are enjoying their moment, and Franciacorta, the Chardonnay-based, sparkling wine from Lombardy, has its advocates among the Champagne-loving Italians.

GEORGIA BASSANO, 32, Actor, Restaurant Worker, Rome

Bassano, a Roman who works in her father's restaurant and acts in her spare time, is a fan of Franz Haas A. A. Gewürztraminer, a white wine from the northern growing region of Alto Adige, on the Austrian and Swiss borders. But her friends typically go for a glass of Falanghina, from the southern Italian region of Campania. "I don't know why Falanghina is most popular in my generation. In Italy when we go out for a drink, one takes whatever is poured by the glass, and merchants prefer to serve falanghina because it's cheap, but also suitable for all. It is a wine that everyone can drink and that is wrong for no one."

ALEX DEO, 30, Opera Singer, Rome

Deo, an opera singer who lives in Rome, drinks wine "every time I can do it! About one or two times in a day. I prefer the red wines, especially Primitivo, Negroamaro and Nero d'Avola. I think that among my friends Nero d'Avola is the most popular." Deo sees a bright future for Primitivo. "First of all I think that Italians like to drink these kind of wines for their body and flavour. But I can't hide that there's a good marketing job behind the wines. You can find them everywhere (winebar, supermarket, restaurant) with every kind of price you want. And finally, in Rome there are many trends; now it's the 'wines from the south' moment!"

MATTEO VERONESE, 31, Mergers and Acquisitions Consultant, Udine

Veronese, a mergers and acquisitions consultant in the northeast city of Udine, counts pinot nero, merlot and Barbaresco among his favorite reds, while his preferred whites are Friulano, Pinot Grigio and Malvasia. While he, like many Italians, loves French Champagne, "Some of my friends think that Franciacorta is better than Champagne, but generally I do not agree." In the future, he sees Italians "increasingly oriented towards simple, I think woodless, wine that can be drunk every day."

BARBARA CIUFFATELLI, 36, Restaurant Owner, Rome

Ciuffatelli, a restaurant owner in Rome, has found that "Nowadays Italians prefer local wines which best represent the territory where the wines are produced, such as Nero d'Avola, Barbera, Fiano, etc. Very specific wines. Moreover, they are discovering grapes that are not trendy at all, but linked to the region, such as Pecorino" She has also noticed a lot of interest in "sparkling Italian wine, mostly Franciacorta."

GUIDO SETTEPASSI, 35, Lawyer, Milan

Settepassi, a Milan-based lawyer, calls wine his "hobby" and drinks it almost every day. He is a fan of French wines, including Pinot Noir from Burgundy, Merlot from Pomerol and Syrah from the Rhone valley, but also respects Barolo and Barbaresco from the nearby Piemonte, and adores "Aglianico and also Negroamaro from Salento." His friends, meanwhile, typically order Nero d'Avola, Blauburgunder and Dolcetto.

DAVIDE AREZZO, 28, Building Surveyor, Bari

Arezzo, a building surveyor in the Puglia coastal city of Bari, likes Greco di Tufo from Campania when he's drinking white and Aglianico, another varietal heavily grown in Campania, when drinking red. He's also a fan of chilled red wines, such as Fichimori, an Negroamaro produced by the Antinori-owned Puglia winery Tomaresca, which is meant to be served cold. Davide says simply, "Italian wines are the best."

FRANCESO MASCI, 35, Artist, Rome

Masci, an artist who divides his time between New York and Rome, says that "a very common summer white wine is Falanghina, which is kind of simple, but very fruity and dry. Greco di Tufo is another white, more articulate and intense, more alcoholic and it matches wonderfully with fish." Vermentino from Sardinia, made by Argiolas Costamolino, is another white that sells well with Italians, he said, while the Firrato wines Chiaramonte and Harmonium of Sicily are popular red wines.

DAVID WALDEN, 34, Tour Guide, Rome

David Walden is from Toronto, but he and his Italian wife have made Rome their home for many years. He drinks a half a bottle of wine every night at dinner. His tastes run the gamut from Cabernet to Sangiovese. His "big spender" friends opt for Amarone, Brunello di Montalcino and Barolo, while his pals of more modest means reach for Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Morellino di Scansano and Barbera d'Alba. He agrees that wines from the south are popular at present "since southern wines are decisively cheaper and not as refined." He says that in the future, we should "watch for reserves and aged barrique wines from Sicily and Puglia, such as Rosso Salentino, Negroamaro, Nero d'Avola and Primitivo."

MARCO LUNELLI, 28, Lawyer, Udine

As the sun sets, lawyer Lunelli pours a sparkling wine from Trentino. With dinner, it's a Sauvignon Blanc from his native Friuli or a Traminer from Trentino. And with dessert, he likes a Moscato from Piemonte. While the southern favorite Aglianico has a place with his friends, other southern grape varieties such as Fiano and Falanghina are "not so popular in the north of Italy in my experience." For the future, he think maybe "quality wines will be more popular. But maybe that is a hope, not an impression." 

ANDREA D'OSVALDO, 23, worker in family's ham manufacturing concern, Cormòns near Trieste

d'Osvaldo, who hopes to be a winemaker in the future, drinks Friulano and Sauvignon Blanc when she is at home, but prefers sparkling wine when she goes out, especially Champagne or Fanciacorta. "Other wines that I drink very gladly when I have a dinner are Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay (from Collio or Colli Orientali del Friuli), Pinot Nero (from Trentino Alto Adige or Bourgogne), Merlot (from Colli Orientali del Friuli), Napa Valley red wine, and Barbaresco and Barolo. My friends love Friuli's white wine, sparkling wine from Franciacorta,  the red wine from Tuscany (Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino) and Piemonte (Barolo, Barbareco, Barbera)." Other wines most popular in Italy, she said, are Greco di Tufo and Taurasi, Nero d'Avola, and Amarone. Finally, she notes, "I think that the sparkling wines, especially the Champagne, will be always fashionable." He particular favorite? Billecart Salmon Blanc de Blancs.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Beer at...Cody's Bar & Grill

Cody's of Cobble Hill is kind of a miracle. By ignoring the ongoing gentrification of the surrounding area, it's kept its low-key, no-frills, sports bar integrity intact. If you want to forget about the Joneses for a while, this is the place to do it in.

A Beer At...Cody's Bar & Grill

Cody's Bar & Grill does not feel like Cobble Hill, though it is situated dead center in the affluent, genteel Brooklyn neighborhood. It feels like Third Avenue. Or Woodside. And its patrons seem to have been bussed in from there, in addition to a healthy smattering of students. This Irish sports bar of more than 20 years standing has seen the area transform from a borderline nabe to real estate gold, but the joint hasn't changed its ways. There are no pretensions here, no allowances for changing times—aside, perhaps, from the local craft brew Kelso newly on tap and selling like hotcakes. Just 18 television screens, lots of talk of sports, and pretty decent hamburgers.

Cody is Kevin Cody, a big fella in a sweatshirt who acknowledges his regulars with a pat on the shoulder as he passes silently back and forth through the room. Among them one night was a woman in a wheelchair, who took what looked to be her usual place at the bar, and was treated with great solicitude. The bar is sometimes listed at Cody's American Bar & Grill, and one can see that Kevin is a died-in-the-wool supporter of true-blue causes from the many plaques adorning the bar wall. Most are from the Police Department, thanking Cody's for its unflagging and generous support of New York's Finest. Unsurprisingly, the place is popular with cops. I wouldn't be surprised if their money was no good here.

Cody's is purportedly a Steelers bar, but on a recent night various attractions on the tube included a hockey game and a college bowl. Look across the bar you see one game, directly above your head another, and behind you still a third. "Go Nebaska!" yelled a soused patron to no one in particular. He pivoted on his stool to face a set to the rear to unleash this encouragement, then returned to face a different TV's match of the day. Some regulars don't get their fill from real sporting events, so they participate in fantasy leagues. A young, Staten-Island-born man with soft, almost pretty eyes and bonhomie to spare insisted he had won a recent fantasy contest and was complaining of not seeing his name attached to a plaque behind the bar honoring this achievement. The outer-borough man mentioned this so frequently that even the laconic Nebraska fan scoffed. "He's got folks coming from out of town to see that plaque," joked Nebraska. The two men and the bartender, however, could agree on the matter of Tiger Woods. He should show some guts ("He so non-confrontational"), divorce his wife ("He screwed that up.") and return to golf, it was decided.

Despite the non-stop sports talk, a fair amount of people do appear to come to Cody's for dinner, ignoring the televisions and concentrating on the kitchen. The waitress is a friendly sort, who will put on mock flourishes like delivering a meal with a grand wave of the hand, or saying, "You check, suh." These touches have their desired effect; they remind people not to get too uppity at Cody's. You want fancy? Step outside and walk a block. You'll find plenty of it on Smith Street.