Friday, December 23, 2011

It's a Bar, It's a Distillery

From the NY Times. The Perry's Tot Navy Strength Gin makes a good, if dangerous, Gin & Tonic:
A Brooklyn Distillery Lets You Order a Drink
By Robert Simonson
Spaces next to distilleries where you can sample liquor are not unusual. They’re called tasting rooms. Spaces where you can enjoy a mixed drink made with that liquor, or other spirits not produced at that distillery — now, that’s unusual.
In early December, Allen Katz and Tom Potter, the founders of the New York Distilling Company in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, opened the Shanty, a tavern under the same roof as the distillery. Sitting at the bar, in fact, you can gaze through a large plate-glass window onto the 1,000-liter, German-made still that produces the company’s two new products, Dorothy Parker American Gin and Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin.
Mr. Katz, who is director of mixology and spirits education at Southern Wine and Spirits and a familiar figure in the spirits and cocktail world, said the saloon was long in planning. “A tasting room is lovely,” he said. “It’s useful and a nice retail setting.”
But the company is not using it for retail. “We want to support local retailers,” Mr. Katz said. “We want people to come here and say, ‘Hey, where can we get your gins?’ We’ll give you a list of stores. You cannot buy the gin here.”
The Shanty has a separate entry on Richardson Street, around the corner from the distillery’s official Leonard Street address. Its bar is as well-stocked as any in Brooklyn and, while drinks featuring the distillery’s two gins are amply featured on the menu, you can order any cocktail or spirit you wish without shame.
The distillery has a special farm distiller’s license from New York State that allows it to run a bar — granted because 100 percent of the grains used for its rye whiskey will come from New York farmers. “I can’t open a bar across the street,” Mr. Katz said. “I can’t open a bar in another borough. I can open a bar in the same bonded facility that is our licensed distillery.”
Putting in a shift or two at the Shanty are some of the best bartenders in Brooklyn, including Brad Farran (of Clover Club), Katie Stipe (Vandaag,Frankies 570) and the head barman, Nate Dumas (formerly of Prime Meats). Mr. Katz himself tends bar twice a week.
Mr. Dumas was a natural choice to head the anomalous bar. “He’s a one-of-a-kind person, in that he is an extraordinary barman, but has also spent a year in Scotland going through the Heriot-Watt University brewing and distilling program,” Mr. Katz said. “It was a no-brainer to have him be the head bartender but work on both sides of the wall. He’s got some wonderful contributions in mind.”
The distillery has already bought a year’s worth of rye from the New York farmers it has contracted with, and plans to start distilling it in a month’s time. But don’t expect that rye whiskey to grace the bar anytime soon; unlike other boutique distillers, Mr. Katz and Mr. Potter are not going to rush out a lightly aged liquor, but intend to wait until it is at least three years old. In the meantime, the Shanty will provide a financial cushion for that waiting game. “The bar, I hope, will mean revenue that we can invest in rye whiskey production,” Mr. Katz said.
There will, however, be one rye product out as early as next year. The distillery plans to release a rock and rye, a once-popular American liqueur that mixes whiskey and rock candy with other flavorings. The two gins, meanwhile, are now available only in New York State.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sasha Petraske Founds a Cocktail Convention

Sasha Petraske—owner of Milk & Honey, Little Branch, Dutch Kills, and one of the Mount Rushmore faces of the neo-classic cocktail era—has founded his own cocktail convention. It's called the San Antonio Cocktail Conference, and the inaugural event will take place Jan. 26-29, 2012.

That Petraske would launch such a venture is somewhat surprising. Among the leading lights of the cocktail world, he is perhaps also the most elusive. He avoids talking to the press, and has only rarely presented seminars at other cocktail confabs, such as Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans and the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, where he sits on the founding advisory board.

Petraske said he decided to create the convention because he had become enamored of San Antonio during his various business visits to the Texas city. Moreover, the bash will not be for profit. Conference proceeds will benefit HeartGift San Antonio, "a group of surgeons, pediactric cardiologists, medical personnnel, volunteers, and host families dedicated to providing life-saving heart surgery to disadvantaged children living in developing countries where specialized treatment is scarce or nonexsistent."

Many seminars during the four-day event will be manned by an array of bartenders from the Petraske circle. Eric Alperin, a partner with Petraske in L.A. The Varnish, will present "Ice the Old Fashioned Way." Courtney Munch, another Varnish bartender, will teach "Yoga for Bartenders, Waitresses and Drinkers." Sam Ross, barman at Milk & Honey, will talk about bitters in "The Bitter Truth."  Lucinda Sterling, senior bartender at Little Branch, will talk about sweetening agents in "Not Too Sweet." And Abraham Hawkins of Dutch Kills will discuss "The Old-Fashion Cocktail."

Also presenting are Christy Pope, Chad Solomon, John Lermayer, Michael Madrusan, Lauren Schell, Toby Cecchini, Brian Miller, Don Lee and Theo Liebermann. 

Tickets and info are available at I

Thursday, December 15, 2011

More on Drinking Myths

In my Dec. 7 New York Times article about popular drinking myths, I was only able to fit a portion of the commentary I culled from mixologists, bar owners and distillers. To trim the article down to the necessary 900 words, I had to dispense with many a wonderfully tart remark. Many were too good to lose. So I've gathered them here, arranged by topic. Enjoy.


Derek Brown, Washington D.C. owner of The Passenger and Columbia Room: "I make my Dry Martini fifty-fifty, or equal parts, which will shock people who consider 'dry' leaving out the vermouth altogether. To them, I apologize, because it's likely as surprising as finding out that Pluto is no longer a planet or the Triceratops is no longer a dinosaur. Historically, the Dry Martini was equal parts, 2:1 or 3:1. Some time in the 1940-'50s, 50 or 60 years after the Dry Martini's invention, people began passing on the vermouth. Why? Because of dipsomania, I suppose. Macho writers like Hemingway left it out in his famous Montgomery (15:1) to make a political point, but also because vermouth is the least alcoholic part of the drink. It became popular. People would order super-dry Martinis without thinking. But without vermouth it's no more a Martini than gnawing at the leg of a cow is a steak. It's unfinished, unmixed."


Frankie Marshall, bartender at Monkey Bar, Manhattan: "I hear this all the time, almost solely from men who are worried if what they've described as wanting to drink is a 'girly.' 'Does it come with an umbrella?' 'Is it pink?' Insert self-conscious 'he he,' then they're still looking at me as if to say meekly, 'Well... does it?' A lot of males also have a problem with glassware: champagne flutes and martini glasses in particular. Ok, so you'd like a cosmo but want me to put it in a shot glass?"

Alla Lapushchik, owner of Post Office, Williamsburg: "What I find interesting is that when people say they don't want soothing sweet, when you recommend something less sweet, they order a sweeter cocktail for the second drink."

Greg Seider, owner of Summit Bar, East Village: "There's a kind of question of manhood if you order a drink that is not so spirit-driven. But it still could be an amazing drink. It's all proportional. It's not necessarily going to be sweet. It's going to be balanced. But any mention of something sweet will dissuade them from trying it."

Derek Brown: "Oh, I love this one too. It plays to that masculine concept of drinking. It needs too be dry and it needs to be strong. Pardon me, but what about tasting good?"

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Liquor and Its Myths

If you cover the drinking world, you can't help but take note of the ludicrious notions and habits people pick up in regard to how they order, drink and think about liquor. As much as mixologists like to think of the modern bar as a classroom, few barflies learn their lessons. Instead they cling to myth, superstition, marketing notions, and stuff they learned back in college or on television. Recently, I collected a number of the misguided, but stubborn beliefs stubbornly held by the American drinker into an article for the New York Times, drawing on the experiences and viewpoints of a couple dozen notes bartenders and distillers (of which I managed to cite an even dozen in the piece). As expected, the feature got a strongly positive response from the bartending community. What the public thought of it, I do not know. But if I've caused just one person to stop asking about the worm in mezcal or order their whiskey based on the age statement, I've done my work.

The Myths of the Bar, Debunked
EDUCATING the average drinker on the qualities of firewater, and how to best enjoy it, has been one of the central credos of the new generation of mixologists. “Knowledge!” they cry, as they throw back shots of Fernet-Branca.
But some booze-addled misconceptions continue to cling like vines to the lizard brain of the American tippler. An army of bartenders can protest that a wetter martini is both more delectable and historically accurate, but certain committed fanciers of the cocktail, channeling their inner Gray Flannel Suit, will still maintain the drink attains perfection only at its driest, when vermouth is banished from the barroom.
Such antiquated contentions are like “nails on a chalkboard,” said Eric Alperin, an owner of the Varnish in Los Angeles. “I think the reason people stand by those myths is because it is a sound bite they’ve acquired, and a bar is a place to feel confident with yourself and exude a little know-how.”
Many reinforce a drinker’s virility, particularly with regard to the most manly of spirits — whiskey.
Some of those idées fixes:
OLDER IS BETTER “It’s absolute nonsense,” said Ronnie Cox, director of theGlenrothes, a Speyside Scotch. “It’s not about oldness, it’s about maturity. Age doesn’t mean anything other than that whiskey’s been in that cask for that amount of time.” Making whiskey requires finding the right balance among myriad elements. A few whiskeys prosper with advanced age, but many fall off a cliff into sensory disharmony at a certain point. Rittenhouse Rye 100, from Kentucky, takes only four years to reach the chewy, spicy sweet spot bartenders swear by. But the Old Pulteney 21-year-old Scotch probably needed to attain drinking age to hit its briny perfection.
Tonia Guffey, a bartender at Dram in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, offered an anthropomorphic analogy. “Not every human hits their peak of beauty at the same age,” she said, “and neither does every spirit.”
WATER IS AN ABOMINATION John McCarthy, head bartender at the Lower East Side bar Mary Queen of Scots, thinks the aversion to diluting whiskey is a matter of machismo. “We’re American men,” Mr. McCarthy said, “and if it doesn’t hurt, it’s not good!” But softening the blow, said Franky Marshall, a bartender at the Monkey Bar, is far from a bad thing. “Adding a little water to whiskey serves to ‘open up’ the spirit, releasing an array of subtler flavors. It can truly show you a completely different profile of a whiskey.” It’s also what most Scots do, and they ought to know. Alla Lapushchik, owner ofPost Office, a Williamsburg bar with a vast whiskey list, offers water even when customers don’t ask for it. “You don’t put water in beer or wine, so it doesn’t occur to people to do it with whiskey,” Ms. Lapushchik said. “I’ve had people order Booker’s 127 proof neat.”
SWEET IS SILLY Another fallacy that hurts the pride of many a modern mixologist is the widely held belief that sweet cocktails are inherently insipid. “I think expectations are still informed by the cocktails of the pre-craft era, when people added sour mix and cranberry cocktail,” said Tom Chadwick, owner of Dram, who insists that all his cocktails, even the sweet ones — like the bar’s current Loose Noose, a mix of bourbon, sweet vermouth, amontillado sherry, and touches of cinnamon syrup and allspice dram — are balanced, with the spirit, citrus, sweetener and other elements cohabiting in the glass. “It’s a way of communicating that you’re sophisticated — ‘I don’t want a Mudslide. I want something complicated.’ ”
GIVE THEM THEIR PROPS The reputation and quality of tequilas and mezcals has risen recently. But drinkers fall back on frat-boy practices, like asking for a lime and salt, a ritual that dates to the days of lousy tequilas. “I say, ‘Whatever spirit I serve you is good, ” said Ivy Mix, a bartender at the Clover Club in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, “and you don’t need to cover it up.’ ” Then there’s the worm in the mezcal bottle. “It was created by Gusano Rojo in the 1950s,” said Steve Olson, an owner of the Lower East Side tequila and mezcal bar Viktor & Spoils, of the widely sold mezcal brand, “when the tequila market had boomed and left mezcal far behind, as an enterprising marketing attempt to get mezcal away from its image as moonshine.”
MISCELLANEOUS MYTHS Despite the avalanche of articles after absinthe’s reintroduction to the United States a few years ago, some ideas about it remain rooted in the 1890s. Customers “really hope they’ll hallucinate,” said Maxwell Britten, beverage director at Maison Premiere, a Williamsburg bar well stocked with absinthe. “I tell them, ‘If you drink enough alcohol of any category, I guarantee you will hallucinate.’ ” Karin Stanley, a bartender at Dutch Kills, in Long Island City, Queens, rattled off her litany of ripostes: “ ‘No, you aren’t going to see anything’; ‘no, you aren’t going to cut your ear off’; and ‘yes, it is supposed to taste like that.’ ”
Other delusions as tough as jerky: that vodka has no calories and is better for you, Ms. Stanley said; that “Jägermeister is made with deer’s blood,” offered St. John Frizell, owner of Fort Defiance in Red Hook, Brooklyn; and that Irish whiskey brands are Catholic or Protestant, depending on where they’re made. “If you look into the ownership, it’s all international corporations,” Mr. Frizell said. “I don’t think the Irish even care.”
Odds are, many misconceptions will survive. The bar has ever been a greenhouse of hyperbole, folklore and rumor. “I’d say a good 30 percent of what’s said over the mahogany is generally baloney,” said Derek Brown, owner of the Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington. “Why wouldn’t that apply to myths about alcohol, too?”

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Beer At...McLoughlin's Bar

Don't say I don't suffer for my work. To write this column, I had to sit next to the know-nothing, loudmouth, blowhard barfly of all time for a solid hour. It was painful. The bartender, however, was completely charming.
A Beer At...McLoughlin's Bar
"Don't be too successful," said the sage with the load on at the end of the bar. "It's not the Irish way. It's egotistical." The Colleen next to him gave him the same Am-I-Really-Sitting-Here-Listening-to-You stare she'd given him all night. It was the look of an opinionated woman who's only tolerating your bullshit because you happen to be the pal of her boyfriend. The boyfriend was smartly not mixing in. He just looked on with a big open grin, thoroughly enjoying himself.
The McLoughlin family have not taken the sage's advice. They've made a nice go of their small Astoria pub for 46 years. Their generosity might have a lot to do with that long run. Since 1965, they've laid out a Thanksgiving buffet on the night before Turkey Day. It's open to all, free of cost. A free dinner is also offered on one other calendar date. As to that day, I'm only going to say: this is an Irish pub. You figure it out.
The pre-holiday showdown doesn't mean McLoughlin is shut down on Thanksgiving. They'll be open. (They're open 365 days a year.) If you've got nowhere else to go, and are in the mood for a bucket of Little Kings for $10, come on in. You'll be served by a kind-faced bartender with the gentlest Irish brogue and the cleanest white shirt I've ever seen. Even the sage is welcome. "You should read Francis," he said. "Francis Bacon?" asked the Colleen. "No. St. Francis of Assisi." The Colleen said she wasn't the religious sort, and didn't put a lot of stock in a book written 2,000 years ago by people she know. Did he know who wrote it? "It was divinely inspired," he replied after some hesitation. "You're a smart man," she told him. "You're smart. But I don't know how much sense you got."
"We haven't had a real President in the White House since Teddy Roosevelt," said the Franciscan, launching into politics. "Teddy. Not Franklin Delano. Obama is an idiot. He was once asked what his favorite baseball team was. He said, since he grew up in Hawaii, it was the Oakland A's. So he was asked who is favorite player was. He said, uh, ah, um. He couldn't name one! He looked like an idiot. Now, if George W. Bush had done that, it would have been news all over. Take away his teleprompter, Obama isn't that smart. Before he was elected, he didn't work a day in his life. My father always said, don't trust a man who hasn't worked a day in his life."
"But," said the Colleen, "you're unemployed!"
—Robert Simonson

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

You never where people are going to fall on certain issues. When this column came out on Eater a week ago, I had regular readers attack me for voicing even the slightest support of Coors Light. Meanwhile, respected bartenders took me to task for knocking Coors Light. 

A Beer At...Connie O's Pub
There are two taps at Connie O's. One says Coors. One says Coors Light. They both draw Coors Light.
"I know it says Coors, but it's always Coors Light," said the blonde woman behind the bar with the careworn face. If you want something else, there's Bud Light in bottles. If you want something other than that, go find another bar.
"$1.50," said the woman. $1.50? I looked at my watch. 9 PM. Not happy hour. I laid down two soft, crumbled dollars and got two quarters back. Hell, Coors Light ain't worth much, but it's worth that.
The woman retreated to her high, cushioned chair under the television. "You want to watch something else," she asked her two customers, an unsmiling, unmoving woman wearing a pony tail and a blank stare, and a sweatshirt-wearing retiree who had spread a bunch of dollars on the bar to make sure the mugs of Coors Light never stopped coming. The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree ceremony was suggested.
The channel was switched on both the TVs behind the bar, but to two different networks. So the program was never quite in sync. What Al Roker chirped on one set, he chirped three seconds later on the other. A Mariah Carey-Justin Bieber Christmas video premiered. 41-year-old new mother Carey, dressed in fur-lined Santa mini-dress, all but did a lap dance for the virginal Bieber. No one at the bar blinked, though the ponytail did say, "She just had twins." Michael Bublé lent his harmless head tones to "Silver Bells," back up by a African-American sextet. "Who's that singing with him?" asked ponytail. Roker said. "Naturally 7" repeated the bartender, "whoever the hell that is." "Who they singing with?" asked the retiree. "Michael Bublé," said ponytail, somewhat surprised. Pause. "Who's that?" said the old man.
"You got a tip at the end of the bar," the retiree informed the bartender. "No, that's Byron," she corrected. "He's coming back." Byron did come back. He didn't have long to walk to get to the end of the bar, where he sat alone and said nothing. Connie O's is a snug joint, with low ceilings and a very short, but very old, wooden bar. Video games, a pool table, and boxes and boxes of Coors Light make the Greenpoint dive seem even tighter than it is. And two small windows at the front give the room a bunker-like feel.
But Connie O's is not without spark, especially this time of season. The owner goes all out with the Christmas decorations (as, apparently, she does for every holiday). The lights in the lanterns are red and green. A shelf opposite the bar is laden with Santa and Snowmen statuettes. Lights and tinsel are everywhere you look. Even the bricks outside are painted green (they're always like that). It's damn cheery. As far as real holiday spirit's concerned, Connie and Rockefeller are pretty evenly matched. 
—Robert Simonson