Friday, June 22, 2012

Another Brooklyn Distillery, But With a Difference (Well, Several)

The founders of Industry City Distillers are five young guys with beards and a lot of toys, but no background in liquor. Yet they have created what is without a doubt the most unique distillery in Brooklyn, a borough that is collected a new liquor-maker every few months.

Like the specialists gathered together in a glossy heist films, the quintet partition themselves into areas of expertise. Peter Simon, a former yoga instructor, handles the marketing and administration. Rich Watts is in charge of design, copywriting and printing. Watts' corner of Sunset Park industrial building ICD calls home is dominated by a printing press. Zac Bruner is the resident machinist. His area resembles the room where you reported for shop class in high school. Zac designs anything made of glass or metal that the other guys ask for. If you need a custom gizmo for the still, or a special gimcrack for the fermentation tank, he's your man. Dave Kyrejko is what any conventional distillery would call the master distiller. He devised the company's original fermentation and distillation processes. Max Haimes, assistant distiller and jack of all trades, helps Dave turn out the distillery's initial product.

That product is vodka. ICD began distributing its spirit to New York liquor stores in April. That would seem like an end game to most businessmen. Not these guys. As I write these words, the bottle was called "No. 2." But by the time this article hits the street, however, it's probably sailing under the name of "No. 3" or "No. 4." You see, Industry City vodka—like everything at Industry City—is a work in progress.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Napoleon House Gets a Second Pimm's Drink

The Napoleon House's house drink has been the Pimm's Cup since the 1950s. Owner Sal Impastato favored the light-bodied cocktail because it suited the hot New Orleans climate and did not send his patrons under the table with undue speed. (Perversely, for a saloon owner, he did not want his customers to get drunk.)

Today, Napoleon House sells two cases of Pimm's No 1 a day. The bar is Pimm's' largest account in the U.S. Almost all of that goes into the making of Pimm's Cups. But this July that will change.

Impastato is using this year's Tales of the Cocktail convention to launch a new Pimm's-based libation. It will be called the Pimm's Ginger Julep. It will basically be a Julep made with Pimm's and ginger beer and, presumedly, mint. Another cooling drink well-suited to the climate. But one, I'm thinking, that will get customers drunk, and pretty fast. Also one that will take bartenders considerably longer to make. (I've watched them makes Pimm's Cups. They can whip out out in roughly five seconds.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Not Just for Wimbledon and New Orleans Anymore

I had my first encounter with Pimm's No. 1, appropriately enough, in Wimbledon. It was 1999. Business has relocated a college friend there temporarily. While visiting with him in his lush back yard, he made me a Pimm's Cup and told me he was mad about the stuff. Didn't I love it?

I'll be honest. It didn't make much of an impression at the time. I assumed that my friend was passing through an acute case of Anglophilia and had lost all sense of perspective where English-made goods were concerned.

Pimm's didn't truly leave its mark on me as a drink until 2006, when I stepped across the threshold of the Napoleon House in New Orleans. Everyone was drinking Pimm's Cups, and the bartender was making them by the half-dozen. When in Rome, I thought. 

I liked the drink immediately this time. That it was July and scorching outside, and the cocktail was light and refreshing, certainly helped stoke my affections. I've had many Pimm's Cups at Napoleon House since, as well as at other bars across the world, and at home, where I build them fairly frequently between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

It was a pleasure to report, in this article for the New York Times, that you can walk into almost any respectable bar in NYC today and order a Pimm's Cup with confidence.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cocktails to the Maks

There are two things every serious New York drink should do at least once on a Monday night. One is take in a "Tiki Monday" at Lani Kai. The second is experience one of bartender Maks Pazuniak's "Something Like This" sessions at the Counting Room in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The menu is different every week, featuring five of Pazuniak's original, bitter and beguiling liquid creations (and sometimes a classic or two). Monday is the only day of the week Pazuniak works at the Brooklyn bar (though he designed the place's entire cocktail menu). So if you want to experience his work first-hand, that's when you go. If you merely want to taste one of his drinks, go to the The Counting Room any night and order a Salt & Ash, or Wire & String. Or go to nearby Maison Premiere and take in a Carondelet—a remnant of his short bartending stint there.

Here's a story I wrote for Wine Enthusiast about him:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What I'll Be Drinking This Summer

By mid-June of every year, I've usually settled into a general notion of what I'll be drinking during the hot summer months. The libations that make the cut are usually dictated by one of three factors: One, undying allegiance to certain summer classics (Southside, etc.); Two, the appearance of attractive new products perfectly suited for summer sipping; and, Three, fate. By that last item I mean liquors suggested to my mind and thirst by whatever assignments I happen to be working on around Memorial Day Weekend.

Much of my past month's drinking has been framed by articles-in-progress about the Pimm's Cup, Cachaca and Old Tom Gin. As a result, there are a number of bottles of said spirits sitting around the house, making it a safe bet that there will be more Pimm's Cups, Caipirinhas and Old Tom drinks in my future. The former would have my made summer cocktail list anyway; it always does. But the addition of Old Tom to the menu in unexpected. I doubt I would have devoted much of the summer to the Old Tom Tom Collins if I hadn't been conducted some "research" into the new/old spirit. 

As I did last year, I'm dividing the list into two parts: "Classics," summer drinks that appear on my sideboard year after year: and "Newbies," fresh balms to my parched throat. 


Southside. One of the rules of thumb of summer drinks is they should be easy to make. No one likes to work hard during the Dog Days. The Southside is an exception to that rule. It's not the easiest. You have to make the simple syrup; juice the limes (or lemons); muddle the mint; shake and strain the drink well; not to mention, you must have all the necessary ingredients on hand. But it's all worth it. Few drinks simultaneously calm and stimulate the way a Southside does.

Pimm's Cup. Owing to research for a New York Times feature on this timeless British refresher, I am in position of a number of recipe variations on Pimm's Cup, concocted by bartenders from across the country. I will probably give a few of them a spin. But, on the most scorching days, I'll likely fall back on a simple Pimm's-Ginger Ale-Cucumber formulation. Whatever floats your boat, you should go for it. All Pimm's Cups end up tasting like Pimm's in the end. For a liqueur with such an easygoing reputation, it has a flavor backbone as tough as steel.

Gin and Tonic: As always. I make my G&Ts with either Plymouth or one of the classic London Dry Gins (Beefeater, Bombay, Tanqueray, etc.), and with Brooklyn-made Q Tonic. I love homemade tonic, but the task of making it is too arduous, so I generally leave it to the experts. This summer, I might quaff a few G&Ts made with the newly available Navy Strength Gins, like Perry's Tot. Even though I know that's not exactly advisable, given the higher alcohol content, I'm a sucker for the novelty and the flavor of the stuff.


Old Tom Tom Collins: The simple Tom Collins is a perfect warm-weather drink. But the Old Tom Tom Collins—switching out the spiky London Dry for some soft and sweet Old Tom (Hayman's, preferably)—is perfection upon perfection. I do 1 1/2 oz. Old Tom, 1 oz. syrup, 3/4 oz. lemon juice, shaken and topped with soda. This drink is disarmingly smooth. Take care, or you'll down three before a half hour has passed.

Wire and String: This is a Pimm's Cup riff devised by bartender Maks Pazuniak. You can either visit the Counting Room in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where Maks works, and order one; or make the drink yourself. It's quite easy: 1 1/4 oz. Pimm’s, 1 1/4 oz. Campari, 3/4 oz. Lemon Juice and 1/2 oz. pineapple syrup (juice pineapple, measure, add equal parts sugar and stir to combine). Add all the ingredients to a shaker and shake vigorously, but briefly. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice and top with soda. The blend of bitter and sweet is bracing and tasty.

Byrhh: Byrrh is a French aperitif, a 125-year-old red-wine-based quinquina that thrived in the early 20th century. It was created by two brothers with the poetical names of Pallade and Simon Violet, and initially marketed as a health drink and sold in pharmacies. It's popularity declined after World War II, despite an heavy ad campaign. This year, it was returned to the American market. Gentle by quinquina standards, it's best drunk cold, straight or on the rocks.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Irish-American Whisky (?) Makes a Comeback

New bar concepts are getting more arcane and ornate. Bellocq in New Orleans has taken Cobblers, the ice-laden, 19th-century refreshments, as its focus. Demi-Monde in lower Manhattan may be as close to a soda fountain as a liquor bar can get, so much fizz and phosphate is there in their inventive drinks menu. Now there's Tradition Bar, the latest from the San Francisco team that brought you Bourbon & Branch and Rickhouse. The saloon has placed its bets equally on barrel-aged cocktails and overproof spirits, two hot trends right now. On top of that, it's menu is divided in types of bar. There's a dive bar section, an Irish pub section, a hotel bar section—you get the idea.

But perhaps the most singular, the most peculiar, the most interesting aspect of the program is Traditions Bar's determination to revive the lost (and perhaps better off lost) liquor category of Irish-American Whiskey. I don't know if this is something the world was dying to see recreated. But I, for one, am curious to see how it tastes.

Here's my New York Times article on the bar:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Milk & Honey Moves On, Reservation-Free

Speculation about the uptown move of ur-neo-speakeasy Milk & Honey has been so rampant for the past year, it was a particular pleasure to land the scoop on owner Sasha Petraske's plans for his Lower East Bar—not to mention the lowdown on longtime M&H bartenders Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy's designs on the old Eldridge Street space, which they will reinvent as Attaboy. (By the way, the Attaboy cocktail found in the Savoy cocktail book will not be on the men at Attaboy because, said McIlroy, "It's a disgusting drink.")

I learned a couple other mini-scoops from Petraske when I met with him, Ross and McIlroy recently. I politely agreed not to reveal these plans, as they might through various monkey wrenches into the barman's works. But keep your eye on Petraske and company. They have some surprises in store.

So, will the new 23rd Street Milk & Honey be the same without a secret entrance and a cryptic reservation policy? A better question would be, who ever went there for those reasons? I went for the atmosphere, the bartenders and the expertly made drinks.

Here's my Times article: