Monday, January 31, 2011

A Good Hot Drink

As a rule, I like hot cocktails more in theory than in practice. I'll order a hot buttered rum or make a Blue Blazer for myself, and contentedly sip it. But my enjoyment lies mainly in the novelty, and in thinking of the drink's pedigree and antecedents, it's place in the cultural landscape, the history behind the warming intoxicant. I'll think thoughts of Jerry Thomas, ski lodges, colonial America and Merrie Olde England. But, when it comes down to it, I like a chilled cocktail better then a hot one, even when the temperature outside dips below zero. (This may just be my quirk; I drink iced coffee in summer and winter both.)

The Old Tom Gin Hot Toddy currently being serves at Red Hook's Fort Defiance, however, arrives as an exception. I'd order this elixir anytime. Spicy, smooth, robust and flavorful, with a bite of citrus—but not cloying or weirdly unbalanced like so many hot drinks—it went down like silk on a recent mildly chilly afternoon. And paired beautifully with a roast beef sandwich. The Whiskey Hot Toddy (made with Power's) that followed was only marginally less satisfying. Less than $10 bucks, folks.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Nine-Decade Whiskey Flight to Be Sold at Plaza

The nine whiskeys from the Brown-Forman library—dating from the 1930s to the present day—which I wrote about in a previous post, will be sold as a flight at The Rose Club at The Plaza.

The limited-time offering (The Plaza has only one bottle of some of these Bourbons) will be available for the month of February (or while supplies last). The ridiculously low price of the flight is $25—absolutely crazy cheap when you consider that all but three of these bottles are no longer available, and you get 1/2 ounce of each. 

Once again, here's the line-up:

King Blend 1930's
Old Forester 1940's
President's Choice 1950's
Old Forester 86 1960's
Frost 8/80 1970's
Jack Daniel's 1980's
Woodford Reserve Batch #1 1990's
Master's Collection - Seasoned Oak Finish 2000's
Early Times 354 - 2010's

A Beer At...The Gibson

Someone told me that, at a certain point in the evening, to encourage the clientele to get the hell out, the owner of this place turns the heat off. No idea if that is true, but I'd like to think it is.
A Beer at...The Gibson 
The Gibson's presence is announced by a brass plaque to the left of the door, like it was the Yale Club or something. That's OK. I would picture a bar that names itself after the Martini's quirky cousin to be a kind of class act, all 1930s elegance and chrome. But the interior confounds that expectation. It's wide, deep and woody, and vaguely blue-collar. There a fireplace with a fake fire in it, a dart board, a foosball table, video poker and a plasma TV tuned to hockey coverage. 
It's a place that screams: beer drinker. And, indeed, everyone is drinking one of the eight drafts, which include locals (Kelso) and nationals. Fine. Except the bar menu is filled with interesting things that nobody is drinking. There's a cocktail list that is not for the uninformed. A Sazerac can be ordered, a Brooklyn, a Scofflaw and, of course, a Gibson, complete with pearl onion and Plymouth Gin. Thirty Bourbons ranges from $5 a pour to $35. There's a good list of ryes and Irish whiskeys, and even five different Tennessee Whiskeys, for Christ's sake! (There are only two makers Tennessee Whiskey in the U.S.) 
All that liquid wealth, but one senses that few take advantage of the bounty. The coming festivities surrounding the Super Bowl are made much of through paper flyers posted here and there. There will be cheap beers and cheap chili, complete with Fritos. Advocates on Yelp cheer about the lack of Wburg hipsters in this joint. They're right. Despite the exposed brick and neat backyard patio and haute liquor list, this is a regular bar. There's no attitude. No pose. When I asked if there was anything to eat, I was handed a folder stuffed with Chinese and Mexican take-out menus. It's as if the owners planned a hipster bar, but no hipsters showed up. 
—Robert Simonson 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nine Decades, Nine Whiskies

Prohibition Era whiskey.

Those are three words that will easily secure a spirits journalist presence at a liquor event.

The other day, the folks at Brown-Forman invited a select group of booze journos to taste through a collection of whiskies from their library, the earliest dating from the 1930s. The event was meant as a way to publicize the distillery's latest release—the return to full-Bourbon status of Early Times. (I've written about this everything-old-is-new-again product here.) But the tasting had a historical appeal all its own.

The seven whiskies pulled from the Brown-Forman stores were: King Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey from the 1930s; Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey from the 1940s; Old Forester President's Choice Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky from the 1950s; Old Forester 86 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey from the 1960s; Frost 8/80 Dry White Whiskey from the 1970s; Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 from the 1980s; Woodford Reserve Distillers Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey from the 1990s; Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Seasoned Oak Finish from the 2000s; and the new/old Early Times, representing the current decade.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Counting Room Goes for Batching Drinks and Pared-Down Program

The Counting Room, one of the best and most unappreciated of the Williamsburg cocktail bars, is making some changes to its drinks program.

Whereas in the past one stayed upstairs to drink wine, and went to the basement if cocktails were the order of the day, now one will be greeted with a unified menu for both floors. According to a press release, the change "is necessitating not only a new cocktail list, but a new type of cocktail program, one that increases the speed of production, while maintaining the unusual style of cocktails, headed by Maks Pazuniak, that The Counting Room has been known for."

In the name of speed, the cocktail list has been pared down to five selections, and each of those will be pre-made, or batched. This method is used by a lot of bars around the country, but hasn't been touted by the new cocktail movement, which prizes freshness and the individual crafting of each drink. The downside of this attention to detail is that drinks often take a while to reach you. "In the growing market of artisanal cocktails, speed is an area where there is a lot of room for opportunity, and The Counting Room is jumping on it," read a press release from the bar.

One can't help but agree, but one wonders whether such a system will effect the quality of the cocktails. Time will tell. But it's hard to imagine Pazuniak allowing a poor drink to leave his bar. A talented mixologist, he is a veteran of New Orleans' Cure and has been praised for his use of bitters and other unusual flavors in cocktails.

The five drinks on the menu are as follow. Good to see they've retained the Salt & Ash, which I've previously praised as one of the best cocktails in town.

Parade of Lunacy - Sparkling Wine, Wine Aperitif, Orange Bitters, Lemon Peel

First Transmission from Space - Cynar, Homemade Ginger Syrup, Apple Brandy, Mint

Salt & Ash - Mezcal, Lapsong, Sweet Vermouth, Fresh Lemon Juice, Grapefruit Peel

Look Both Ways - Gin, Fresh Lime Juice, Chartreuse, Wine

The Last Slow Dance - Whiskey, CioCiaro Amaro, Apricot Liqueur, Bitters, Orange Peel

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Visit to the John Dory

That Sasha Petraske (Milk & Honey, Little Branch, Dutch Kills, etc.) is behind the cocktail program at the new opened reincarnation of April Bloomfield's fish palace John Dory would be obvious even if one didn't know the information walking in. The staff is clearly schooled in the Petraske method. The glasses are chilled. The measurements are precise, and the drinks built carefully. Most tellingly, the ice is tapped, chopped and hacked to order and by hand.

No question, Petraske brought his usual game to the restaurant, the second this season (after Lambs Club in Midtown) to stamp its drinks program with his imprimatur. But the menu itself is a bit of a departure. As I mentioned when it debuted, it's leans pretty heavy on the Prosecco and white liquors and is in general light and fruity in tone.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Early Times Is a Bourbon Again

In the early times, Early Times was a Bourbon.

Then, in 1983, Brown-Forman, which purchased the old label back in the 1920s (that's right, during Prohibition), started called the stuff "Kentucky Whiskey." This is not because the formula had changed at all. Rather, Brown-Forman began aging the liquor in used barrels, rather than the new charred American oak barrels required by law if one is to use the name Bourbon. No doubt this was a cost-saving measure.

Now, Brown-Forman is rolling out the new barrels again. There will soon be two Early Times whiskeys on the shelf: the Kentucky Whiskey we all know; and  Early Times 354, a full-fledged Bourbon with a flashy new bottle. 

One can easily tell the difference between the two. The old Early Times is smoothly and more innocuous. The new stuff has more spark, spice and depth. The 354 is not exactly Earth-shattering, simply a decent bench-level Bourbon. But I definitely prefer it, and it makes a decent Manhattan or Old Fashioned. 

Back in 1958, Early Times was actually America’s number one selling straight Bourbon whisky and Brown-Forman’s biggest seller. Don't know if history will repeat itself itself now, but anything's possible. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tapping Into the Wine on Tap Trend

Some trends are inescapable. The four you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting in 2010: tiki; barrel-age cocktails; punch; wine on tap. Not that I'm complaining. They're all good ideas in their way. But one gets a bit weary of the lock-step thinking evident in the drink world.

That said, I had a great time talking with the enthusiastic, personable Carla Rzeszewski, the beverage director at the disconcertingly hip The Breslin, for this article. (I try to enjoy the drinks there, but keep getting distracted by the laptops, black clothing and utter coolness.)

My kneejerk impression of tap wine: They're simple and fairly one-dimensional. Next to their bottled brothers, they don't cut it. But the price is right (you won't catch me ordering a $13 glass of tap wine), and if you just want a simple accompaniment to your meal, they do the trick.

Here's the article, in this month's Edible Manhattan:
Move Over Brew; At the Breslin, Wine's on Tap
By Robert Simonson
If you place a drink order at the bar at the Breslin by pointing to a tap, don’t assume you’re getting a beer.
The Breslin has four draft lines dedicated to wines on tap. That’s right—wine. They change seasonally, but in November there was a riesling and cabernet franc from New York State, and a syrah from California. Keg wine, fairly commonplace on the West Coast for some years, has become trendy very quickly in Manhattan. Red Hook Winery juice flows at SoHo’s Burger & Barrel, riesling fanatic Paul Grieco has his favorite white in keg at Terroir Tribeca and Michael White’s Osteria Morini has two Italian wines at spigot.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Morrell Wine Bar, the 12-Year-Old "Stately Classic"

Several years back, when I was taking coursed at the International Wine Center in New York, it seemed no class went by without the various instructors invoking some wine they had recently drunk at the Morrell Wine Bar. Times have changed since then. Dozens of additional wine bars have opened in New York, boasting every imaginable focus, and no one needs to go to Morrell anymore for a good by-the-glass experience. 

And, indeed, it doesn't seem like many oenophiles who considers themselves in the know do go there. It's become like Sardi's or the "21" Club; too traditional to even think about. While researching this article, I found it devilish hard to find wine critics or experts to speak on the record about the place. The fear of sounding un-cool is a great and terrifying motivator for the cultured New Yorker. They dread the stigma one might earn in naming the wrong restaurant or bar or book or play as a favorite. In asking oenophiles if they liked Morrell, I felt like I was asking theatre critics if they'd been to "Phantom of the Opera" lately.

That's a shame. Morrell may not be cutting edge, but I find it still serves a purpose, and that purpose is in part an important one: introducing the average person, even if they be a tourist (!), to a wide variety of good wine by the glass in an elegant setting. 

Here's the article I wrote for Edible Manhattan:

Morrell Authority
By Robert Simonson
Last October, a wine bar called V-Note opened on the Upper East Side. It was trumpeted as a “vegan wine bar,” and offers biodynamic, organic and sustainable wines to pair with its animal-free food.
No New Yorker blinked.
Why would they? Gotham is awash in wine bars of every stripe, and has been for some years. They have become so idiosyncratic and specialized that it’s possible to find one precisely catered to your taste no matter how specific your oenophilic tendencies. Like South African wines with your South African cuisine? Head to Xai Xai in Midtown for your dose of pinotage. Think the wines of southern Italy are undersung and underdrunk? Point your feet toward In Vino in Alphabet City, where Basilicata and Calabria are never forgotten. Worship riesling? Terroir Tribeca, where Germany’s noble grape is on tap even, is your fatherland.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Rum House Gets Specific

The Rum House, the old Times Square dive now taken over and spruced up by the Ward II crew, has released its cocktail menu. There's a list of rum drink, as previously promised. But another interesting aspect is the specificity with which the classics are offered. They taste war over Martinis (gin or vodka) and Old Fashioneds and Manhattans (rye or Bourbon) has dragged for eons without any of the new bars putting the predilections of the customer before those of the mixologist and/or owner. Not here. See below:

Old Fashioned 

Rye: Jim Beam ($12) or Templeton ($14)
Bourbon: Johnny Drum ($12) or Maker’s Mark ($14)


Rye: Jim Beam ($12) or Templeton ($14)
Bourbon: Johnny Drum ($12) or Maker’s Mark ($14)


Vodka: Luksowa ($12) or Ketel One ($14)
Gin: Beefeater ($12) or Plymouth ($14)

French 75/76 

Gin (75) or Vodka (76)

Can you imagine the minutes of superfluous back and forth between the bartender and the patron that this will eliminate. Kinda genius in a way. One gripe: Cognac should be an option for the French 75.

Below are the rum cocktails, a nice accessible selection that I think will ensure that people will actually order them:

A Beer At...Desmond's Tavern

I'll go to any bar with a connection to Veronica Lake.
A Beer At...Desmond's Tavern
Veronica Lake was a film actress famous for her smoky voice, sultry look and blonde peek-a-boo bang that set off a national fashion craze. She had a brief Hollywood heyday in the 1940s ("Sullivan's Travels," "This Gun for Hire").
Popular lore at Desmond's Tavern—an Irish bar on Park Avenue South near 30th, that has been in business, under one name or another, since 1936—is that Lake worked as a barmaid here. It was called the Blarney Stone during Lake's period of employment. This, according to a nice old bartender with the comb-over and the roll of flesh around the beltline that hinted his thin frame was once a hefty one. Twenty years ago, he said, the joint switched to the name Desmond's, which was the corporate name of the Blarney Stone chain of bars. (Desmond's is no longer affiliated with any of the other Blarney Stones in town.)
On a recent evening, the bartender was probably the only one old enough in the bar to remember who Lake was. A solitary businessman in a fine topcoat silently nursed his beer as he watched a televised basketball game. Two men in dreadlocks loudly beat out, on the bar and the floor, Etta James' "At Last" with their palms and feet. A thin young man dressed like a member of The Jam, circa 1979, chatted with the friend. A group of young male and female cronies laughed and brayed about dating, hiding their winter bulk under shapeless sweaters.
Into this scene, a chic young woman with a Gucci purse breezed through the old breakfront, looking for someone. She ever so slightly blanched. Yes, miss: this is the bar. Ain't no secret panel in the back leading to a swank retro-speakeasy. And that empty Marlboro vending case behind the bar isn't there for irony's sake. It's just an empty Marlboro vending case. She put on a brave face, grabbed a stool and ordered a Bud Light.
A wooden arch just past the bar led to a large dining area, which was deserted except for a couple Indian gentleman having a soft conversation about something serious. Nobody was taking advantage of the food specials: $5 burgers Monday, Wednesday and Friday; $5 sandwiches Tuesday and Thursday; Buffalo wings specials 3 to 6 PM. (There's also free Wi-Fi back here, oddly enough.)
This is the only area that hint's at Desmond's secret history. In the corner, lost among the countless framed photos of past Yankees and Mets baseball teams, and pictures of Olde Ireland, is a studio shot of Veronica Lake. They say she worked here in the 1940s, but that dog don't hunt. She was in Hollywood by 1939 and remained a hot commodity for a decade. No way she moonlighted as a Manhattan waitress during that time. She did, however, turn up slinging drinks in a New York bar in the early 60s, when her film career was long washed up. She had a drinking problem throughout. Bar work: probably not the best gig for her. 
—Robert Simonson

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Arrives

The whiskey world has been talking about Knob Creek's new Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon for about six months now, but mine came in the mail yesterday, so I'm talking about it now. It will be on shelves in February.

The Single Barrel Reserve is aged nine years, the same as regular Knob Creek. The main attraction here, as others have noted, is the proof. It clocks in at a heft 60% alcohol, giving the whiskey a heat your nose detects right off. (Standard Knob Creek is 50%.) Added alcoholic punch always makes a spirit catnip for the mixologist crowd (note the enduring popularity in bars of Rittenhouse Rye 100) and I expect that will be the case here. And the price—$40—puts it in reach. It makes an excellent, if heady Old Fashioned, the dashes of water and sugar aiding in sanding off the rough, firey edges here. (Do not have two; stop at one.) Otherwise, if you like Knob Creek, you'll like this. It's a superior Bourbon.

The press release calls this "easy to sip," but I'd recommend some water here. I suggest a drop of water in whiskey-drinking in general, but I think it's more urgently required here. The stuff is too hot otherwise. Also, you're missing an array of flavors if you don't spur them on with that water.

According to Chuck Cowdery, the folks at Beamlooked for darker whiskey for the Single Barrel to help distinguish the two bottles on the shelf.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Strange Brew in Brooklyn

Not as strange an idea as you might think. But strange nonetheless. An item I wrote for NYT Diner's Journal:

Something in the Air Is Brewing
By Robert Simonson
It seems that no part of Brooklyn can be left untouched by its ever-striving culinary scene, even its microorganisms.
As part of his ongoing “Mad Scientist” series of limited-release drafts, Shane Welch, the founder of Sixpoint Craft Ales in Red Hook, plans to tame the wild yeasts swirling about New York Harbor.
“I was enjoying a crisp evening in the fall on the roof of the brewery,” said Mr. Welch. “After a couple of beers, I was looking out at the harbor and thought, ‘You know what I should do? I’m going to make a malt solution and put it in a sanitary petri dish and place it on the roof and see what kind of stuff comes into the harbor and grows in the dish.’” He did just that. Soon after, he was peering at the findings through a microscope. “It was amazing,” he recalled, “the blend of crazy, wild yeast. A very interesting spectrum of critters.”
Most of the time brewers employ carefully cultivated strains of yeast in the creation of their brews, but the use of wild yeast is not unknown. The lambics of Belgium are routinely produced through exposure to wild yeast, and other American brewers are trying similar approaches.
Still, the idea of conjuring beer out of the little beasties riding the Red Hook breeze does give one pause. Mr. Welch, however, has no qualms.
“Air that comes in from the harbor is hardly the air that you breathe when you’re riding your bike behind a New York City bus,” he pointed out. “You’re pulling the live microorganisms that might be living in the air, and you’re fermenting the beer with that. It’s not like you’re extracting the pollution.
“You get a lot of ocean currents,” he continued. “You get air from all over the country. It’s a sort of natural, ambient soup that is circulating in New York Harbor, which is a very interesting confluence of currents, because you have the East River, the Atlantic Ocean, the Long Island Sound and Harlem River. It stirs up a lot of interesting wild yeast.”
Moreover, Mr. Welch said he wanted to “get in touch with the flora of where we are” and work with a genuinely indigenous strain of yeast.
The brewing process will begin sometime in the next two months, with the beer to be ready this fall. “With these type of beers,” he said, “they generally take longer.” He will likely used a grain base of malted barley and wheat.
Once the beer is ready, Mr. Welch plans to put some of it in stainless steel tanks and the rest of it in barrels, as is common practice with lambic beers. Sixpoint is using some charred oak barrels custom made for the brewery. Mr. Welch expects the result to have some lambic-like qualities.
The beer does not have a name as of yet, which is unusual at Sixpoint. “Normally I think of the name and concept first and then work on the beer,” he said. “But I don’t have the nomenclature yet.”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Look at the New Rum House

I was relieved when I heard that the owners of the TriBeCa bar Ward III were going to take over the lease at the Rum House. The Times Square dive had long been an area favorite of mine and I was fearful the place, with its singular, quirky architecture, would be gutted or turned into a Dunkin' Donuts.

I met with owner Michael Neff last night to inspect the space, which the Ward III boys (who include  Kenneth McCoy and Abdul Tabini) hope to open for business next week. They were approached by the Edison Hotel to take over the place; the owners of the Edison also own the Cosmopolitan Hotel, which is a Ward II neighbor.

Some of the good news has already been reported. The name Rum House will be retained, as will the general layout and woodwork, and the saloon's reputation as a piano bar. But I learned more cheering developments. The unique copper-topped bar is not being stripped away. Instead, its various bumps and bubbles are being welded and repaired. (See above). "People work hard to get that old look in a bar top," said Neff "and here were have it for real. Why would you rip that out?"

"We want people to come here and leave thinking they had a real New York experience," he added. "You go to a lot of hotel bars across the country and they're so anonymous, you could be anywhere. Particularly when people are saying that Times Square is losing a lot of its character, we wanted this bar to feel like it was in New York."

One thing he did rip up with the dirty green carpet that covered the floor. In its space has been laid an intricate white tile floor which brightens up the previously pitch-dark room. One of the distinctive, maritime-flavored, wooden wheel chandeliers has been kept and cleaned up. (Though the hope that the lanterns that hung around its edge were brass was dashed when polishing revealed them to be nickel-plated.) The other chandelier, which hung over the bar, has been taken down in the name of airiness and headroom. Its lanterns, however, now hang over the bar.

The tartan plaid the dotted the walls has been removed and replaced with antique mirrors—another fountain of added light.

Neff and his partners decided to make red leather a design motif when they discovered a series of red leather rectangles along the bar (above). There are now leather banquettes, and panels along the wall, including a few arched ones that were once the top halves of doors found in the Edison Hotel storerooms.

The space once hogged by the huge piano with now be filled with tables and seating. The new piano will an upright positioned snugly against the north wall. There will also be a small space reserved for a DJ.

Finally, the Rum House will now finally live up to its name. Neff said that the menu will feature a list of rum cocktails, among other attractions.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Visit to Miller's Pub

Miller's Pub is the sort of place that reminds me of the origins of Chicago's Loop area, when the sidewalks being the train tracks were gritty and full of characters. Things have been scrubbed pretty clean in recent decades, matching the homogeneity that robbed midtown New York of much of its flavor. But Miller's Pub remains.

This cavernous, wood-lined bar was founded in 1935 on S. Wabash by the Miller brothers. It was purchased by another set of brother—Pete, Nick and Jimmy Gallios—in 1950, and remains in that family. According to legend, they didn't have the money needed to change the sign, so they left it as is. The bar moved to a different location on Wabash, also owned by the Gallios, in 1989, when the original location was renovated "to seat cars instead of people." The children of the original brothers not work the bar. (I think the current space must have had a history before the Gallios family got ahold of it. It's rather old looking and stained glass in the vestibule reads "Wabash Inn.")

The cocktail menu is a treat. It feature not only an Old Fashioned (with muddled fruit) but a Wisconsin Old Fashioned (brandy instead of whiskey). And the lengthy beer list has kept up with the times, including local craft breweries Goose Island and Metropolitan.

But the reason I went in was the sign that said "Try a Tom & Jerry. A Miller's Tradition." The Midwest is a place where the Tom & Jerry never lost it's status of a harbinger of the holidays. I don't know, but I'm guessing they've been dolling them out every December for half a century or more.

I stepped right up to the long and crowded bar and ordered my Tom & Jerry. The creamy liquid was scooped out of a traditional bowl sitting right on the back bar, ladled into a coffee mug, topped with nutmeg and served with two red straws. $9. There was no lack of brandy in the drink, and it was hot and warming. A fine, fresh Tom & Jerry.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

One of the Navy's Apricot Brandy Bottles Are Missing

In recent years, I've gotten into the bad habit of ransacking through peoples bars and pantries when I visit them. Not in an overtly rude or intrusive way; just a casual, but eagle-eyed perusal of their stores, one that (I hope) gives them no idea that I'm on the surreptitious hurt for odd, unusual, rare and hard-to-find bottles, which I will thereafter charmingly coerce them into opening. I've found this to a be a very useful way of finding spirits and wines that I wouldn't have the opportunity to taste otherwise.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Visit to Blackbird

Lynn House, previously of the Drawing Room and Graham Elliot, became the chief mixologist at Blackbird six months ago. The Chicago restaurant is a decade old and has long had a good reputation, but House's arrival has raised the profile of its drink program. She brought a farm-to-table approach to the bar that matched the one in the kitchen, and quickly attracted the attention of diners and critics. The owners had her begin with a four-cocktail menu. It sold so well—handily outselling even the desserts— that the number was quickly doubled.

House changes the cocktail menu seasonally, and used locally made liquors like Koval Rye, a white whiskey made in Chicago that, in its creamy profile, reminded me of the wheat whiskey Death's Door makes in neighboring Wisconsin. The bar is also stocked with the works of North Shore Distillery, which makes a vodka, gin, and absinthe, as well as an aquavit that House particularly likes. (I tried it; she is right to like it. It's an aquavit where the caraway does not take over.)

House made me a couple of her signature creations. First came the Oz (above), made of Pierre Ferrand Ambre, plum wine, apple cider syrup and sparkling wine. The syrup is actually derived from a mixture that includes vinegar. This gives a necessary tangy zip to a drinking that is otherwise smooth, soothing, lovely and peaceful-making. It's a beautiful drink that goes down easily.

The same can be said of the Blackbird Orange, one of Blackbird's most popular cocktails. It used Koval Rye as its base, blended with it housemade cayenne pepper-spiced honey, orange juice and Fee Brothers Aromatic Bitters. The peppery honey serves the same purpose in the Orange as the cider syrup did in the Oz, provided an underground tremor under a pleasingly placid ocean of flavor. Nice presentation on this drink to, served as it is in a low, bulb-shaped rocks glass. 

Based on my limited sampling, House's drinks has a elegant composition and subdued glamour. They're not simple, but neither are they too flashy. And they well match the hushed, sophisticated atmosphere at Blackbird. Other drinks on the menu include:

London Calling Plymouth, Pimms, Apple Butter, Cucumber Soda

Tequila Mockingbird Tejano Repesado, Original Pear Cider, Sage, Lemon

The Cranberries Barsol Pisco, Cranberry Sauce, Thai Basil

Starry Night Ron Zacapa, Jans, Coffee, Angostura Cream, Vanilla Sugar