Friday, November 23, 2012

Mixologist of the Month: Mike Lay

The "Mixologist of the Month" columns in Wine Enthusiast often cause me to chat with bartenders I wouldn't otherwise. Which is a good thing. For this edition, I found out a thing or two about the way Mike Lay does business at Restaurant 1833 out in Monterey. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bill's Reborn as...Bill's

I was among those who were not thrilled when the landlord of the midtown Manhattan building that held the old bar Bill's Gay Nineties decided to end the owner's lease, cutting down the former speakeasy's 88-year life at a New York watering hole. Bill's Food and Drink, the much tonier replacement, opened for business this week, following an extensive renovation of the old townhouse. It's not Bill's Gay Nineties, but is does retain some aspects of the old joint, as I found in this New York Times "Starter" column:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Boite: Dear Bushwick

The Thursday Style section of the New York Times has a lovely running column called "Boite," in which a new bar is profiled in a series of piquant bullet points. I've always admired it. Recently, I got to write one. Here it is:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thanksgiving Cocktails—Not So New an Idea

I used to think that the notion of a pre-feast Thanksgiving cocktail was a relatively recent notion, the product of our cocktail-crazy times. Not so. Doing some research for this article turned up a number of old articles that proved that the question "What to drink before Thanksgiving?" was a question mulled by Americans as far back as the late 1800s. One pre-Prohibition article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer stated "Of course you're going to have a cocktail at Thanksgiving!" Such confidence. Here's my article in the New York Times.
Fall's Flavors Come in a New Glass
THANKSGIVING and cocktails are not as odd a match as you might think. Both are distinctly American, and have been long thought so.
Back in 1929, a reporter for The Chicago Tribune, waxing indignant at the notion that the French had invented the cocktail, wrote, “Every one knows that it is as authentically American as griddle cakes and sweet ‘salads’ and pumpkin pie.”
Still, downing a bluntly spiritous drink just before you sit down to that pumpkin pie or other heavy holiday fare is not a smart move. Bright and balanced is the order of the day.
And it is one easily filled by today’s generation of mixologists, who regularly compound ingredients to harmonize with a specific occasion and season.
Seasonal is an important idea. A pre-turkey tipple ideally performs a secondary function as an aesthetic, sensory signpost, instilling all the flavors associated with fall and harvest into a single cup.
That symbolic function was partly on the mind of Julie Reiner, the owner of Clover Club on Smith Street in Brooklyn, when she recently created the Crystal Fall for the bar’s autumn menu.
“I wanted it to be the quintessential fall cocktail, the kind of thing with all the flavors that you just expect this time of year,” Ms. Reiner said. “Apple, spice, ginger.”
To portions of toasty Cognac, rich Demerara rum and nutty sherry, she added fresh apple cider, lemon juice, ginger syrup, sugar and bitters. Served over a tumbler of crushed ice, the drink is simultaneously warming and cooling, and, despite the fairly heavy liquor payload, surprisingly light.
At Clover Club’s neighbor, the JakeWalk, the bar manager Timothy Miner achieved his particular liquid orchard by using as a base Laird’s bonded apple brandy (perhaps one of the most American of spirits, if using domestic produce on the fourth Thursday of November is important to you). He added cinnamon syrup, lemon juice, Galliano liqueur and a couple of dashes of allspice liqueur. The drink is topped with freshly ground nutmeg.
“I grew up in New England,” Mr. Miner said. “I have a strong affinity to apple-picking and all that. I thought, ‘I wonder if I can make apple pie in a glass.’ ”
The drink, called Mr. October, tastes not only like apple pie, but apple pie à la mode, thanks to Galliano’s vanilla notes.
If these drinks seem a bit too complex, or modern, you can go Colonial and surpassingly simple in one stroke by pouring a Stone Fence. This centuries-old concoction is nothing more than two ounces of whatever dark liquor you choose (rye, bourbon, Scotch, applejack, rum) filled out with hard cider and served over ice. Easier than gravy.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Genever by the Barrel

Cocktail bars that have their own private barrel of whiskey, personally selected by the owners from a distillery in Kentucky, have become a dime a dozen. But if you suddenly start seeing bars with their own barrel of genever, you can blame Boston-based mixologist Jackson Cannon. Cannon is a persistent fellow. After years of nudging the uncomprehending Lucas Bols, he got them to part with one of their casks. He know uses the juice to make drinks in his three Boston bars. As a result of determination, Bols has seen the light. They company is now open to rolling out personal barrels for other receptive taverns. Here's the story:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Drinking History

I am a considerably more educated man today than I was a month ago, when I started doing research for this article. Since that time, I've sampled a 1950s Chartreuse, a few blended Scotches from the 1960s, a few gins from the 1940s and '50s, a Cognac from the '60s, a Creme de Menthe from the 1940s, Bourbons from the '60s, '70s and '80s and even an aged vermouth.

Conclusion of all this learning: the old saw that spirits don't change once bottled is nonsense. They grow softer, more rounded, more integrated. Even more untrue is the notion—put forth by nearly every liquor company on earth—that they have made the same product year in and year out. The assertion is not only improbable, but impossible. Improbable, because recipes alter with changing times and changing tastes, not to mention adjusted quality standards. Impossible because no company has consistent access to the exact same grains and botanicals.

We live in a time of great, across-the-board quality in spirits. Still, based on what I sipped, it does seem that some things were done better in the past. The creme de menthe did not taste chemical, as its counterparts of today do. It was fresh and clean. It tasted like something, well, you'd want to drink. I like Gordon's Gin. It's a fine workhorse London Dry gin. But the specimen from the '50s I had was fuller and much more interesting. And the '60s Hennessy I savored had a restraint and dignity that one no longer finds in the sugar-bomb, major-label Cognacs of today. I wish I could drink more of this stuff. But, at $150 a drink, it's a pricey habit.

Here's my article from the New York Times:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Cocktail Fundraiser for Murray and Sandy

The cocktail community is a generous and industrious one.

When it became known that esteemed Seattle barman Murray Stenson was ill and needed surgery, bars instantly began organizing fundraising events. Among these was Audrey Saunders' Pegu Club. Then, when Hurricane Sandy laid waste to the east coast, bartenders and bar owners went at it again, putting together a new slew of money-making events. 

Saunders had scheduled her Murray fundraiser prior to the arrival of Sandy, choosing Nov. 11 as the date. Post-Sandy, she reconsidered, and decided that half of the money raised would go to Stenson, and half to Sandy relief. Here's the announcement I wrote in the Times:
Bartenders Pitch In for Pegu Club’s Storm Benefit
Pegu Club, the SoHo cocktail bar, will hold a “50/50″ fund-raiser on Nov. 11 to benefit two causes. Half the money raised will go toward Hurricane Sandy relief. The rest will aid Murray Stenson, a veteran Seattle-based bartender who has a heart ailment that requires medical attention. Mr. Stenson’s plight has inspired a Web-site and fund-raisers across the country, with more to come.
To work the bar during the benefit, Pegu Club’s Audrey Saunders has drawn from the cream of the New York bartending world. Among the mixologists expected to put in shifts are Richard Boccato of Dutch Kills; Meaghan Dorman of Raines Law Room; Brian Miller, formerly of Death & Co. and Lani Kai; Ivy Mix of Clover Club; Toby Maloney of Pouring Ribbons; Del Pedro of Tooker Alley; Julie Reiner of Clover Club and Flatiron Lounge; Dushan Zaric and Steven Schneider of Employees Only; Giuseppe Gonzalez of Mother’s Ruin; the bartending legend Dale DeGroff; and Pegu Club’s own Kenta Goto, Raul Flores and Timon Kaufmann.
Each bartender is expected to offer a specialty drink. Drinks will be full price. Doors open at 5 p.m. The event runs through 1 a.m.
Ms. Saunders is also adding a new drink to the cocktail list called the Sandy Relief Cocktail. It will be priced to move ($10), and all the money it brings in will go to the Red Cross and other charitable organizations.

Post script: The event ended up raising more that $17,000, meaning more than 1,300 drinks were consumed over the evening's eight hours. That's not counting tips, of which I'm sure there were many. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hemingway, the Drinkingest of All Writers

Last May, I attended a seminar called "Do Not Resuscitate." The subject was classic cocktails that did NOT deserve to be revived. Among those that took a beating at the hands of the historians on the panel was the Papa Doble, better known at the Hemingway Daiquiri, a drink of great strength and little compensating sweetness. According to a couple of the speakers, when it came to mixing drinks, the sugar-averse Hemingway "always got it wrong."

Well, maybe those panelists didn't try every drink Hemingway advocated. For he liked a lot of different liquids. In his breezy new book, "To Have and Have Another" (great title!), Philip Greene takes a look at every one of them. The ones Papa drank, and the ones his characters drank (which were almost always also one that Papa drank). That's more than fifty separate libations. Take a look:
How to Drink Like Hemingway
Even a casual student of the novelist Ernest Hemingway knows the man liked to drink. But a quick skimming of Philip Greene’s new book, “To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion,” reveals exactly how much the man enjoyed his cups.
Each chapter of the book, due out in November, is dedicated to a libation that either Hemingway or one of his characters (or both) tipped back. There are more than 50 chapters, and the drinks are listed alphabetically; you reach Page 70 before you get past A, B and C.
“I don’t know if there’s enough critical mass for a Faulkner or Fitzgerald book,” Mr. Greene said. “I think I could put together an anthology of other authors combined. But I don’t know if there’s another writer with that wide a palate.”
Mr. Greene’s interest in the Hemingway began as a teenager, when he read the short story “Big Two-Hearted River.” It first occurred to him to make a drink from one of the author’s books in 1989, when he was visiting in-laws in Florida who had a lime tree and a coconut palm tree in their yard. He took the ingredients on hand and made a Papa invention called a Green Isaac’s Special, which appears in the pages of “Islands in the Stream.” (The recipe is below.)
“I think my in-laws thought I was a little crazy,” Mr. Greene said.
If you’d rather make like the characters in “The Sun Also Rises,” the applejack-based Jack Rose is recommended. “A Farewell to Arms”? Champagne cocktails. “To Have and Have Not”? An Ojen Special (that is, if you can findojen, a sort of Spanish absinthe that is no longer made).
If you want to approach the thing from the opposite direction, just have a whiskey and soda. Someone drinks one in almost every book Hemingway ever wrote.
“Certainly, the protagonists drink drinks that he liked,” said Mr. Greene, whose day job is as trademark counsel to the Marine Corps. It follows that the chapters on the daiquiri and martini — Hemingway favorites — are considerably longer. (Mr. Greene also dispels the widely held belief that the sugary mojito was the author’s favorite.)
Incidentally, Hemingway would have known how to ride out a tussle like Hurricane Sandy. In the book, Mr. Greene, quoting the Hemingway biographer Carlos Baker, describes a sailing trip in Key West, Fla., that Hemingway went on with his editor, Maxwell Perkins. They were caught in a storm and had to spend several days marooned at Fort Jefferson, in the lower Keys: “First they ran out of ice, then beer, then canned goods, then coffee, then liquor, then Bermuda onions, and at last everything but fish. Ernest did not care. He said he never ate or drank better in his life.”