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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Vodka Takes a Positive Turn

Big Vodka continues to breed the worst habits among drinkers, convincing them that the most desirable qualifier in liquor is "smooth," that a 17th distillation actually means something, and inundating than with ludicrous, infantilizing new flavors like marshmallow.

But a happier trend can be found among America's craft distillers, which have in the past couple years have emphasized their vodkas' source material and provincial bonafides. Message: our vodka tastes like something and has, perhaps, a terroir of sorts. Vodka is still vodka, of course, but this embrace of specificity, instead of packaging, is certainly a step in the right direction.

Here is a brief article I wrote for the December 2011 issue of GQ about three of the newer, better vodkas out there.
This Year, the Choice Is Clear
For the last decade or so, the badge of honor in the vodka world was how many times you distilled. Three times, five times, ten. The more flavorful rough edges sanded off, the better. It was a breakneck race toward smooth, anonymous nothingness. Not any longer. The best new American craft vodka makers want to actually taste like something. Taking a tip from locavore trends, they proudly trumpet the provinciality and specificity of their source material. Here are three small-batch vodkas you won't mistake for one another. 
BOYD & BLAIR, Glenshaw, PA. Made from local spuds, this vodka is rich, round, creamy and slightly sweet. The savvy B&B recently made a play for bartenders' hearts by releasing the 151 Professional Proof, perfect for infusions. (Don't worry: Consumers can buy it, too.) ($32) 
DRY FLY VODKA, Spokane, WA. Dry Fly is one of a number of vodka distillers that now boast of using wheat from local farmers. Fashioned in a German-made pot still, it's a lightly bready, balanced, understated dram. ($32) 
SPIRIT OF THE HUDSON, Gardner, NY. Long before wine, whiskey and summer homes took over, the Hudson Valley was known for its apple orchards. That's what Tuthilltown uses to make this light, unusual and appealingly fruity spirit. If there's a way to drink an Appletini without shame, this is it. ($35) 

—Robert Simonson 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Getting Your Thanksgiving Bar in Order, Part III

Here is the third and final piece of Thanksgiving drinking advice I wrote for the New York Times' Diner's Journal blog.
Q. A number of the people coming for Thanksgiving have a taste for, well, "girly drinks." (I'm sorry, but you know what I mean). Is there a cocktail that will I can make for both them and also those with more, er, sophisticated tastes? 
A. By "girly," I'm assuming you mean a drink that is on the sweet side. And possibly pink. And very possibly a Cosmopolitan. I can't help you on the latter two points. The discerning drinkers at your gathering aren't going to touch a pastel-hued libation, no matter what the pedigree. But a bit of sugar shouldn't be a divisive issue. Contrary to popular belief, a sweet drink need not be a unsophisticated one. Much of the history of cocktail creation has been striking the right balance of liquor, sweetener and acidity (usually in the form of citrus). 
You might want to start people off with a simple Champagne cocktail. French bubbly satisfies every taste, from the frivolous to the dignified. If the serious imbibers balk, remind them that this is what Victor Laszlo drank. And he won both World War II AND Ingrid Bergman. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Getting Your Thanksgiving Bar in Order, Part II

Here is the second of the Thanksgiving drinking queries I tackled for the New York Times. The reader asked for suggestions on how to make a wealth of different cocktails from a poverty of bottles. I was happy to point out that you don't need to buy out the liquor store to attain a liquid variety at home. The overwhelmingly positive reaction to this article from the cocktail industry reaffirmed my belief that many in the industry favor the simplicity of the classics over the increasingly ornate drinks being produced today. 

Can You Recommend a Few Nice Cocktails That Use the Same Spirits?


Q. Can you recommend a few nice cocktails to serve before dinner? We don’t own a lot of liquor. So, ideally, we’d have the option of three to four cocktails that use the same liquors (so that we can get away with only buying a bottle or two). — TLD, Boston

A. The rococo, nine-ingredient inventions of today’s mixologists notwithstanding, you can do surprisingly well, variety-wise, with just a few elixirs. Get yourself a bottle of quality London dry gin and some dry vermouth, then pick up a dozen lemons and limes each (fresh squeezed juice is always best), and you’re set for successive rounds of martinis, gimlets, rickeys, fizzes and Collinses.

It you’re brown spirits people, buy a good rye or bourbon (depending on your tastes) and some sweet vermouth, plus a bottle of Angostura bitters, as well the aforementioned citrus (add an orange or two), and you’re in for an evening of manhattans, old fashioneds, whiskey sours and, yes, Collinses. And, don’t forget, that vermouth makes a great pre-dinner cocktail on its own and is nothing to be scared of.

Furthermore, if somewhere in the back of your bar or kitchen cupboard you find a bottle of Scotch your brother gave you a few years back, and some stray, neglected standbys like Cherry Heering, Cointreau, Bénédictine and grenadine, you’re good to go for a few other less famous, but no-less-classic, cocktails, like the ward eight, blood and sand, Bobby Burns and white lady. Enough possibilities? Get mixing!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Getting Your Thanksgiving Bar in Order, Part I

One of the happiest assignments that have fallen my way in months came last week when the New York Times asked me to field Thanksgiving cocktail queries from readers. I love the idea that there are people out there who consider the pre-feast tipple an intricate part of the day, and want to get it right as much as they want the bird to achieve a perfect brown. I also like having a direct line to inquiring cocktailians.

Here's the first question that came my way:

What Are Some Festive Cocktails That Are Easy to Make for a Big Group?

By Robert Simonson

Q. My future in-laws always have a holiday cocktail contest. What are some sure-to-please recipes which are festive, and relatively easy to put together for a big group?

A. For a pre-cornucopia cocktail to get the gathered into a convivial mood, the temptation is to go with something brown and warming. It’s fall, there’s a nip in the air, and a harvest-like scene awaits on the table. Something in the whiskey or port family seems in order. But you’ve got a heavy dinner ahead of you. The last thing you need is an equally heavy drink.

With that in mind, here a few recommendations that split the difference. (All of the below are stirred drinks, and thus readily made in large batches.)

Simplest solution first. I’ve always found a batch of Negronis — equal parts London dry gin (I recommend Beefeater or Plymouth), sweet vermouth and Campari — makes for a light and enticing opening act to any meal. The gin won’t weigh you down, and the Campari will enliven your appetite. Also, the drink’s as easy as a martini to make.

Negroni1 ounce London dry gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce Campari
Orange peel, sliced.

Stir over ice and strain into a glass, preferably one filled with ice. Garnish with a fat swath of orange peel.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Christina Turley Goes Home

With a name like Turley, you can't hide from the wine world for long.

I first met Christina Turley in her short, but celebrated, pose as the sommelier of several of David Chang's New York restaurants. She got a lot of attention during that time, as only a beautiful woman with a winning personality holding a bottle of wine can. Last year, she returned to the family farm to take up her part in the Turley wine dynasty. (Her father is vintner Larry Turley, her aunt Helen.) Here's a profile I did of the young turkess for Imbibe.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Liquor Program at Brooklyn's Nitehawk Cinema Up and Running

Word that the Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, intended to make moviegoing just that much more fun by serving drinks was handed down a month or so ago. Last weekend, the spigots were finally opened, with drinks being served in the street level cafe and at the upstairs lobby bar.

We're not just talking wine and beer here. There's a good-sized selection of quality spirits, including Lagavulin Scotch and Fernet Branca. And bar manager Jen Marshall went so far as to embrace that popular trend, barrel-aged cocktails. Two are on offer: a Negroni, and a Manhattan made with corn whiskey, Dolin Blanc and Dolin Rouge vermouths, and orange bitters. Each of them are aging from six to eight weeks, and were batched late September, so they will be ready in a few weeks.

I haven't been, but apparently service is a thing to see. People crowd the bars only just before the show after all, so the bartenders must do about 150 covers in 30 minutes with every screening.

Among the current specials is a "Rum Punch" to accompany a viewing of Johnny Depp's "The Rum Diary."

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bellocq, New Cocktail Bar from Cure Team, to Open in New Orleans

Neal Bodenheimer and Kirk Estopinal, two of the men behind Cure (above)—arguably the best cocktail bar in New Orleans and one of the best in the country—are opening a new cocktail lounge in NOLA this fall. It will be called Bellocq and will be situated inside the Hotel Modern. 

Named after John Ernest Joseph Bellocq, a photographer who secretly photographed the madames living in pre-prohibition New Orleans, the bar will feature live music from international artists, burlesque and original cocktail creations that evoke the city's past. Most interesting to drinkers, however, is the focus of their cocktail menu. They will be dedicating their list to just one genre of pre-Prohibition cocktail: the Cobbler.

The Cobbler was was a very Royal of drinks in 19th century American. The Sherry Cobbler, in particular, won international fame. In days of old, this class of beverage was typically marked by a straw, some adorning fruit, a bit of sugar and a glassful of tiny ice. The liquor in the drinks at Bellocq will vary, but the style of each cocktail will remain the same. The cobblers will be served in metal glassware with real straws, made of actual straw, to replicate how cocktails were served in the 19th century.

The Hotel Modern is located on Lee Circle, near St. Charles Avenue. Opening is set for late November.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Other Acid

I had my first vinegar cocktail back in 2008 at PDT. It was called Paul's Club Cocktail, invented by Jim Meehan. Gin, simple syrup, a shrub made of concord grapes and a dash of Ricard. Relatively simple, but it was a revelation at the time. I liked it immediately. Vinegar has been a cultish ingredient in the cocktail renaissance for a few years now, but lately the trend has blossomed. I began noticing vinegar drinks in greater number a few months ago, shortly before and after having attended a seminar on the subject at Tales of the Cocktail in July. Two of the speakers at that seminar—Kelley Slagle and Ashley Greene—are quoted in the below article, which I wrote for the Times.
Make Mine a Vinegar Solution
Like many restaurants, Saxon & Parole likes to tantalize a diner with an amuse-bouche. But at this new Bowery restaurant the waiter doesn’t deliver a lightly grilled scallop or some tuna tartare on a slice of cucumber. No, he hands you a glass of vinegar.
Well, not quite. Saxon & Parole’s palate cleanser of choice is a shrub, which is not a leafy bush in this case, but a genus of sweetened vinegar-based beverage that has its roots in Colonial days. Lately the beverage director, Naren Young, has been assembling a pomegranate shrub, from pomegranate seeds and a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses left to macerate in cabernet vinegar and water, topped with a float of fino sherry.
Make no mistake: the piquant shot will prime your senses plenty for the coming meal. As Kelley Slagle, a former beverage director at Hearth and a shrub advocate, put it, “Vinegar’s the Zamboni for the tongue.”
In the public mind, vinegar doesn’t send off terribly positive vibrations to the drinker. It’s what wine turns into when it goes bad. But a collection of mixologists across the country are reaching back through the centuries to reclaim vinegar’s more palatable past.
“You can trace vinegar drinks back to the 18th century” in America, said Wayne Curtis, the liquor writer and historian. “The berries and fruits came and went so quickly, that people used vinegar as an acid to preserve them.” With the addition of sugar and water, refrigeration-bereft American pioneers had a tart, bracing beverage. Of course, it wasn’t long before someone realized that shrubs made dandy mixers. “You threw in some rum or whiskey, and that has a nice effect as well,” Mr. Curtis said.
Crack a 19th-century cocktail book, and you’ll find a shrub or three. But vinegar lost its position in the back bar early in the last century. Not until recently have restlessly inventive bartenders fetched it up from the pantry, embracing it as “the other acid,” an alternative to same-old-same-old lemons and limes.
And some have gone beyond simple shrubs — “the darling of vinegar cocktails,” in Ms. Slagle’s estimation. They’ll deploy vinegar straight in some drinks, as does Cabell Tomlinson, beverage director at Frankies 570 in the West Village, whose Tossed and Turned is a Dark and Stormy derivative pricked with balsamic vinegar. Or they’ll use a flavor-intense shrub reduction called a gastrique, as does Lynn House, the mixologist at the Blackbird restaurant in Chicago, who uses an apple cider vinegar gastrique in her Cognac-based Oz cocktail.
This fall, Peels, just across the Bowery from Saxon & Parole, will introduce a switchel. Modeled on a popular early American cooler, it combines molasses, ginger, apple cider vinegar, apple cider and dark rum. Ashley Greene, the bartender responsible for that drink, has also been toying with Manhattans, lacing them with a tincture of white wine vinegar and fennel seeds. “If you add a tiny bit,” Ms. Greene said, “it brightens up the acidity in a way that’s really attractive.”
Nonalcoholic vinegar beverages are also back from the dead. At Peels, the beverage director Yana Volfson has a short list of un-spiked shrubs, including raspberry, cranberry and beet versions. So does the Queens Kickshaw, an Astoria restaurant.
“We were making our own pickles in house,” said Ben Sandler, the owner. “The pickling liquid was being thrown away. Shrubs were a way to reduce waste, but also make something delicious.”
Jen Snow, a spokeswoman at Russ & Daughters, the Lower East Side smoked-fish store, told a similar eureka story born of thrift. “We pickle and cure beets when we make our beet, apple and herring salad, and we use the pickled beet juice that results from that step to make a shrub drink,” she said. The beet-lemon shrub was introduced last year and sells well.
Mr. Curtis attributes mixologists’ growing fascination with vinegar to “the restless search for something people haven’t done, and scouring history books.” That may well have been the genesis, but bartenders have found other reasons not to sour on the ingredient.
“For one thing, it’s shelf-stable,” Ms. Slagle said. “I’ve never had a shrub go bad. Flavor-wise, it has a lot more complexity than citrus.”
Noah Ellis, who regularly keeps two or three vinegar cocktails on the menu at Red Medicine, his restaurant in Beverly Hills, Calif., likes the acid’s talents as a fire-delivery system.
“Instead of throwing in a chile in a drink and muddling it, if you use just a little bit of chile or ginger in vinegar, it is a good carrier of that heat,” he said.
Vinegar is also a potential cost saver. “You don’t have to use a lot,” said Damon Boelte, the beverage director at Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, where you can order a Sidewalker, a beer-and-apple-brandy cocktail laced with apple cider vinegar. “You can buy one bottle per season.” (Bonus: vinegar doesn’t have to be squeezed every day.)
Many bartenders have found that their acidulous concoctions have received a surprisingly warm welcome.
The Celery Gimlet — Naren Young’s drink made of gin, lime juice, celery juice, green Chartreuse, chardonnay vinegar, celery bitters and a lightly pickled celery-strip garnish — is the most popular cocktail at Saxon & Parole. Still, it pays to tread lightly in drink descriptions.
“I never flat out say vinegar on the menu,” Ms. House said. “I use words like shrub or gastrique. Most people are shocked when they find out what the secret ingredient is.”

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Beer At...The Pig 'n' Whistle

My latest Eater column:
A Beer At...The Pig 'n' Whistle
The way Irish pubs crowd the Theatre District, you'd think that George M. Cohan and his fellow Hibernians still dominated the New York stage as they did in the first decades of the 20th century. One of the oldest is the Pig 'n' Whistle, which, the sign says, was founded in 1969. This is one of a handful of bars in the City that go by that name, most under the same ownership. It was founded by John Mahon, who ran an Irish music hall in London, and Peter Magee, who owned a bar in the Bronx, also called the Pig 'n' Whistle. The website brags that the original location was in a W. 48th Street townhouse owned by President Taft, and that the place "quickly became the meeting place for New York's literary and banking elite." What bankers and writers were doing hanging about that part of midtown—or hanging out with each other—I have no idea.
The new location, on W. 47th near Time Square, is the meeting place of tourists and sports fans. Or maybe just tourists who are also sports fans. Anyway, no bankers. To my left at the bar was a Englishman who groaned or grunted with every triumph and failure of Manchester United. To my right were two strapping young German girls, sipping slowly through their glasses of Stella Artois, the ubiquitous Budweiser of imported beer. "Vat is that duck beer?" one asked the bartender. She meant the Goose Island IPA. The tap handle did kind of look like a duck. The bartender gave her a sample. She ordered a Boddington's instead. There is a long menu of Martinis, not a single one made with gin or vermouth. Also a Pig 'n' Whistle Ale on tap. But the bartender didn't know who made it for the bar, so I opted a pint of duck beer.
The guests over at the Doubletree Guest Suites across the street seem to like the Pig 'n' Whistle. Who can blame them? In the costly world of Times Square, it ranks as a cheap date. It's clean and there are t-shirts if you feel the need to take away a souvenir. A mother and two heavily-made-up daughters were given a whole booth, even though they announced their intention to only drink coffee. Most everyone else came in to watch the soccer game. The bartender killed the sound on the television when the commercials came on, but forgot to put it back on when the match returned. Nobody seemed to notice; they kept watching the game. The Englishman ordered another foamy Boddington's, "the cream of Manchester." He handed the barkeep a fifty. She held it up to the light. "It's OK," he said. "I just made it."
—Robert Simonson

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Danish Drinking in the East Village

I have heard from a few colleagues recently that the cocktail scene in Copenhagen had come into its own. I took in the news and then sighed heavily, knowing my chances of experiencing it anytime soon were narrow. But living in New York is great that way. Very often, the thing you want to experience will come to you, rather than you having to go to it.

On Oct. 5, PDT, the East Village speakeasy, played host to Nick Hobbernagel Hovand, a bartender at the Danish cocktail bar Ruby—which, like PDT, has a secret entrance. For the occasion, Hovand, a friendly chap in a brownish-reddish scruffy beard, came up with a guest menu of five drink, all of them served at Ruby.

The theme of the menu was "Salt and the Sea." Indeed, salt could be found in four of the five beverages. Hovand explained that he simply wanted to have the menu stand out from PDT's usual choices; salt isn't necessarily a staple ingredient at Ruby.

I tried two drinks. The first, the Rapscallion, has been on the Ruby menu since it open in 2007. It's a Manhattan riff featuring 2 parts Talisker Scotch, 1 part Pedro Ximinez sherry and a dash of Richard, which is used like bitters in this case. It's a simple, silky, sweet drink, but complex in taste. The ingredients almost war with one another, but stop just short. Instead, you get an ever-intriguing interplay of flavors.

I preferred my second choice, the 866, an on-the-rocks sipper made up Dild Aquavit, Campari, Grapefruit juice and salt. Dild is a modern Danish brand of Aquavit unavailable here. Its key note is not caraway, but dill. It has a fragrant, freshly cut nose and a taste to match. The drink was refreshing and piquant and only slightly bitter. I know from Beta Cocktails how well salt can play with Campari, and it did the same trick here. But, really, it's the unexpected taste of dill that makes the drink. For some reason, I thought the cocktail would go wonderfully well with pickled herring.

The rest of the menu is below.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Byrrh to Return to U.S. Shelves

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. (It's hard-to-pronounce name couldn't have helped.) In 1961 the business was sold to CDC who made Dubonnet and Cinzano, which was later merged with Cusenier. In 1977 the brand was bought by Pernod.

Byrrh hasn't been seen on the American market for many years. But, as with many another European aperitif and digestif in recent years, it is now on its way back, it's return instigated by the demands of mixologists, the passion of liquor aficianados and the diligence of quixotic importers like Haus Alpenz. That house, run by Eric Seed, is in fact the one brining Byrrh in.

Byrrh is gentle by quinquina standards: fairly sweet, only mildly bitter—it reminds me of Bonal (another Haus Alpenz import) a bit—and has a fuller body than some aperitifs. The red wine used as the base hails from the Languedoc Roussillon—in the past the source of tons of very middling plonk, but lately the home of vintners of fine, affordable and experimental reds. It's generally drunk cold, straight or on the rocks.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Not Wine-Barrel Finished—Wine-Barrel Matured

Barrel-finishing has grown so common in the Scotch world as to have become cliched. Nearly every distillery from the Highlands to the Lowlands, it seems, now rolls out whiskys that were finished in Port barrels, in Sherry barrels, in Sauternes barrels, or whatever used wine barrel you care to mention. Some of these experiments are warranted and rewarding. Most are simply "interesting," or just plain outputting, and smack of publicity-seeking stunts aimed directly at the completist whisky collector's wallet.

And so I approached Auchentoshan's new 1999 Vintage Bordeaux Wine Matured Limited Edition with suspicion. Much as I love Auchentoshan, it looked like more of the same trend. But there's a difference here. The distillery didn't just toss some of its aged distillate into another barrel for a few months, called it "finished" and slap a different label on it. This whisky was aged in its Bordeaux barrels the entire time. A full 11 years, in fact. So this commitment began long ago, with the distillers tasting the juice from time to time until they decided it was time to release it.

It's a beautiful, and unusual, Scotch. The color is what strikes you first. That French red did its work, giving the whisky a unique and lovely burgundy hue. It is, unsurprisingly, winey on the palate, a beguiling marriage of the Scotch and wine characteristics, like Auchentoshan wrapped in a Bordeaux cloak. The wine notes don't feel temporal and pasted on, like they do in so many barrel-finished Scotches. It's bottled at cask strength (58%), so it gives quite a kick; water is recommended.

The price is $99.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ken Burns' "Prohibition" Premieres Tonight.

"Prohibition," the new six-hour, three-part documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, premieres tonight on PBS, with the second and third parts airing on Monday and Tuesday. 

That Prohibition, which was repealed in 1933, is far from a dead issue in the U.S. was aptly illustrated just weeks ago when California struck down an age-old law that prevented bartenders from creating infusions. Loopy laws like this have lingered for decades on state government books, all part of the long, irritating hangover perpetrated by the Volstead Act. 

"Sunday blue laws date back to the colonial era," said Ben Jenkins of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, which devotes a lot of time, money and lobbying to junking Prohibition-born laws. "But keep in mind Prohibition outlawed all alcohol in the United States. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the 21st Amendment gave states the power to regulate alcohol. As states began making laws, as a practical matter most banned Sunday sales at that point." (They are called Blue Laws is because the Puritans in Massachusetts printed them on blue paper.)

Over the last ten years, states and localities have steadily been repealing Sunday bans across the country. Georgia was the latest state to roll back its Blue Law banning Sunday alcohol sales, becoming the 15th state since 2002 to pass such legislation. Pennsylvania is advancing a bill right now that would increase the number of stores the state allows to open on Sundays. Other states likely to repeal Sunday sales bans in upcoming legislative sessions include Connecticut, Texas, Minnesota, Indiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma and West Virginia.
Another leftover from Prohibition are state bans against liquor sales on election days. Delaware and Idaho dropped their bans in 2008; Utah in 2009; Indiana in 2010; and West Virginia this year. 

Tennessee recently became the latest state to repeal its statewide ban against liquor tastings by passing legislation allowing tasting events at restaurants, bars and liquor stores. States likely to repeal tastings bans in 2011 or 2012 legislative sessions, include North Carolina, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The only downside to this trend: reporters such as I will soon be robbed of juicy stories about the ridiculous enforcement of weird, antiquated liquor laws. 

As for the documentary, Burns and Novick do a nice job with the subject, though the telling is a bit sedate and, um, sober. The filmmakers deploy the patented Burns mix of still photographs, well-lit talking heads, celebrity voice-overs and chapter-designating titles. The episodes are nicely divided into "A Nation of Drunkards," "A Nation of Scofflaws" and "A Nation of Hypocrites." It's engrossing enough, but could have used a little more fizz, given the subject. This might have been accomplished by including a few liquor history experts along with the usual assortment of academic historians and stentorian authors. (What, Ken, don't you have my number?) And surely there are more inventive devices than the dramatic, close-up pourings of beer and whiskey into glasses. Saw that coming a mile away.

For Tea Party advocates out there, fair warning: Burns and Novick draw a clear and politically charged line between the fate of the unbending, overreaching, intolerant temperance forces and today's political action groups. If the Tea Party didn't borrow the Anti-Saloon League's playbook, then they're doing a nice imitation. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Beer At...Rockaway Beach Inn

I went pretty far afield for this one, all the way to the end of the A line, and then a few stop on the S shuttle. All to get to a crummy dive that caught my eye one day when I passed it on a bus. But, then, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who think a trip miles out of their way just to go to a run of the mill bar is a kind of adventure; and those who think such a detour is a boring waste of time. You know which category I fall in.

It just occurred to me that the bar's initials spelled RBI. Which would be a great thing for a sports bar. But I don't think people come here to watch sports.
A Beer At...Rockaway Beach Inn
I had a grudge against the Rockaway Beach Inn going in. The seedy denizens of this sketchy dive chased my photographer away when she tried to get some shots off. And she doesn't scare easy. I was not as abused by the rummies. But then I'm six feet tall and male. And I entered through the side door, not the main entrance, which gives out onto one of the most forlorn intersections in outer-borough slumdom. 
The Rockaway Beach Inn—a rather grand title for this saloon—has a capacious interior. The black-and-white checked floor stretches on forever, past the long, hulking wooden bar, past a beaten-up dart board and a platform lined with a drink-resting ledge, and finally sloping down to a room pool table area. The giveaway that this address has long been a bar are the massive, twin, wooden doors to the ice box—one behind the bar, one around the corner near the bathroom.
The people who drink here tend to have matted hair, like they've just returned from the sea. Most don't look like they're in a hurry to go anywhere, but a few seem to have jobs. One had an impressive array of keys hanging from his belt. Another wore a sweatshirt from a local bait company. The most active barfly kept bouncing back from his stool to the jukebox, plugging in once, sunny hit from 1970 after another. Jackson Five, The Osmonds, The Partridge Family. The bartender knew all the words to "The Love You Save." "I Want You Back" got the bag lady in the pink sweatpants bouncing in her seat.
She was sitting in one of the ponderous round booths made of rough wooden slats that line the western wall. The middle one had a round table, on which was carved the life-size image of a baseball player I couldn't identify. Prying eyes from outside were held at bay by windows armed with both lace demi-curtains and rattan blinds.
The odd ducks at the bar were two young, short bicyclists, who were obviously on a tour of Brooklyn and had stopped in for a fortifying shot and a beer. (Later, I saw them at Rockaway Taco.) At one point, an old guy wandered in from the street with a shopping bag in one hand and a bicycle pump in the other. "Bicycle pump," he said. "Bicycle pump for sale! Anyone want a bicycle pump?" I looked up at the bikers. They paid no attention to the man. Not their pump, I guess.
—Robert Simonson

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Portland Cocktail Week to Have Food Cart/Liquor Cart

I will not be going to Portland Cocktail Week Oct. 20-23, and this picture almost makes me sorry about it. This is no no mere food cart. It is a food cart-liquor cart. You can order various munchies, sure, but also alcoholic concoctions to wash them down, like punch, boilermakers, gin and tonics and Jell-O shots. Makes our New York food carts seem positively unsophisticated. 

The Oregon Bartenders Guild first opened the "Craft Cocktail Cart" on September 23 in the Cartopia Pod on SE Hawthorne and SE 12th Street in Portland. The wheeled boozer purveyor has been fully approved by the local liquor authority for a total of 10 "activations," including each Friday and Saturday night through Portland Cocktail Week. Cart partner Pernod Ricard will be providing the liquor. 

All proceeds of the cart benefit the Oregon Bartenders Guild, a chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild which is a non-profit dedicated to education and the craft of cocktails.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Flying Lobster, Le Petite Crevette's Wine Bar, Soft Opens

The Flying Lobster, the new wine bar from Neil Ganic, the owner of the popular Carroll Gardens seafood eatery, Le Petite Crevette, quietly open on Sept. 24.

The bar, which sits in a corner storefront at Hicks and Union Streets, right next door to the restaurant, has been in the works for more than a year. The space was formerly the home of the Coffee Den.

Ganic opened with a modest selection of three white wines, three reds and one sparkler. Prices ranges from $7-$10 a glass, $30-$36 a bottle. The list will grow as the weeks go by, focusing mainly on small European producers. The initial array of wines were promising, including a 2009 Carpineti Capolemole, an excellent white from Lazio; and a 2009 Decencio Rioja Joven, a restrained, light-alcohol, yet full-flavored wine which harkens back to the old-style Riojas.

There's a small beer selection, and some aperitif-style, wine-based cocktails are in the works. Ganic also plans to serve cheeses and cured meats. Music will sometimes be feature on weekends.

The wine bar's curious name is a joking reference to an incident involving Ganic which received a great deal of publicity in 2009. As the story goes, a couple at Le Petite Crevette sent back their lobster, complaining about how it had been cooked. Ganic reportedly responded to this affront to his cooking by bringing a fresh lobster to the diners' table, asking them, "You think my fish is not fresh? Look how fresh this is!" Some accounts had him throwing the crustacean on the table. Thus: The Flying Lobster. So, I guess the man has a sense of humor about himself.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Another Silly Prohibition Law Bites the Dust

The upcoming Ken Burns documentary "Prohibition," set to premiere on Oct. 2, couldn't ask for better publicity than this.

California Gov. Jerry Brown just signed into law a bill that permits Cali mixologists to use infusions in their cocktails. Of course, bartenders have been doing this for a decade, and drinkers have been thankful. But in 2010, state liquor authorities dug up an 80-year-old law that stated it was illegal to "alter" alcohol in any way. Harassed bars began to howl about the nonsense, and State Senator Mark Leno got to work. Here's the story:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Suze to Finally Reach U.S. Shores

Peruse the back bar of the better cocktail haunts in New York, San Francisco and elsewhere and you'll predictably spot a few bottles that aren't sold in this country, liquors determined mixologists have smuggled in from Duty Free shops around the world. Havana Club, the Cuban rum, is one. Amer Picon, the French aperitif that is a critical ingredient in a Brooklyn Cocktail, is another. A third is Suze.

Suze, a bitter, wine-based French liquor flavored by yellow gentian, has been produced since 1889. It was invented by Fernand Moureaux, and Picasso immortalized it in 1912 in his Cubist work "Verre et bouteille de Suze." It is still fairly popular in France and Switzerland. And in the U.S. you'll sometimes see a bartender slip it in as an ingredient in a new cocktail. But mere mortals can not purchase it at the local liquor store.

Finally, however, the Suze drought it over. Domain Select has decided to import and distribute the Pernod-owned product. (Pernod bought it in 1965.) It will start showing up on shelves in January 2012. 

According to Domaine Select, the Suze recipe isn't exactly what it was in 1889. Like so many other French and Italian liqueurs and aperitifs, it "evolved" into a more "consumer friendly taste." Which is another way of saying: sweeter, lighter, less bitter. But, for the U.S. launch, Suze is getting back to its roots. Domain Select will be importing Suze d'Autrefois, which is described as "a return to the original intensity and flavor profile." It will be modeled after the original 1885 recipe. 

$30 will be the price.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Tangled Vines They Weave

The Tangled Vine wine bar is one of only reasons I'd consider living on the culturally denuded Upper West Side. Seriously, if this wonderful bar was in my neighborhood, I'd go once or twice a week, the wine list is so good, and so ever-changing (while remaining good, no matter how much it changes).

Here's the profile of the place I wrote for Edible Manhattan:

Bottle Shop: Tangled Vine Wine Bar
UPPER WEST SIDE—Victoria Levin has a ready defense for every one of your wine attacks.
Come to the Tangled Vine, the Upper West Side wine bar where she is beverage director, and ask for a pinot grigio, America’s insipid white of choice, and she’ll charm you into trying a sterling example of Gavi, the Piedmontese white. Request something in the line of a malbec, the South American reds now in favor, and you may end up sipping a Cahors, a French wine region where malbec was born.
Don’t misunderstand. These Gavi and Cahors buyers do not feel they’ve been played in some vino version of three-card monte. They’ve merely benefited from Levin’s talent for countering an everyday order with an uncommon bottle.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The South Africa Wine Conundrum

It took a trip to South Africa to get me to fully wrap my mind around the hard-to-categorize South African wine scene. But I came back with an appreciation for the area's diversity and promise, the incredible beauty of the Cape winelands, the seriousness of the winemakers and the undervalued quality of many of its wines. I went down with an established affection for Iona's excellent Sauvignon Blancs and Mulderbosch's reliable rose. I came back devoted to so many more: Sadie Family, Raats, Boekenhoutskloof, Peter Finlayson, Vergelegen and Klein Constantia, not to mention the country's version of Champagned, Cap Classique, which is super-cheap and absolutely wonderful. (Also, Andrew Gunn of Iona has a great red blend and a pinot noir in the pipeline.)

Unfortunately, a lot of the best wines I tasted aren't easy to find here. The place where you'll find the greatest quantity of them is Union Square Wines. Go and take a look. For combining price and value, South Africa has few equals in the wine world. Here's the Edible Manhattan article: 
Message in a Bottle
By Robert Simonson
Nothing about the South African wine industry is simple.
Start with their grapes. The country’s most widely planted white varietal is chenin blanc but, as in France, that grape wears many masks, from desert-dry to dessert-sweet, clean and crisp to dense and oxidized. Sparklers, too. The country’s best-known (but not most widely planted) red grape is pinotage, a cross between pinot noir and cinsault that’s grown almost nowhere else and despised as much as it is loved. The Cape Winelands are very old, and yet, the country’s categorized as a new-world wine region, its liquid bounty largely unknown to oenophiles until Apartheid fell. It’s a region that experiments with as many different grapes as any country in the world, despite being a beer- and brandy-drinking nation that largely ignores its own (ridiculously affordable) wines, exporting 50 percent of them elsewhere. This is a wine capitol that cannot even decide whether to say “syrah” or “shiraz.”
Stateside, this makes South African wine the face at the cocktail party that nobody can quite place. Even the savviest New York wine drinker’s mind can cloud over a bit when confronted with the South African section of the wine list (if, indeed, such a section exists). France is Bordeaux and Burgundy. Germany is riesling. California is cab and chard. And South African is…what, now?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Dale DeGroff Sings

Dale DeGroff is so old school. He actually wanted to be an actor!

Long before this age of self-serious mixologists, most bartenders you met in New York were frustrated would-be actors. No they're frustrated would-be brand ambassadors. Dale's from another time. He began his bartending career in L.A., waiting to break into film. (Not the movie star good looks.) That didn't happen, so instead he turned the bartending world on its head.

DeGroff will be premiering a cabaret show at Cornelia Street Cafe in October. I've heard him sign. He's good, and has stage presence. Here's an item I wrote for the Times. It combines my two bailiwicks: liquor and theatre. I suspect this won't be the last time that sort of reporting mash-up happens.

Dale DeGroff, From the Bar to the Stage
Dale DeGroff, the man called by many the father of the craft cocktail movement, began his career as many a bartender has — slinging drinks while waiting for his acting career to take off.
Mr. DeGroff will return to his roots on Oct. 5, when he’ll sing and tell tales in a show called “On the Town With Dale DeGroff: A Salute to Saloons, Neighborhood Bars and Legendary Cocktail Palaces,” at the Cornelia Street Cafein Greenwich Village.
The show “is an opportunity to reveal bar life in the way it naturally unfolds at the bar — telling stories,” said Mr. DeGroff, who has been known to croon a tune or two at liquor industry events and the occasional wedding. “As for the songs, ‘saloon singing’ has a long history and I, for one, want to hear more of it.”
The barman will lend his voice to Hank Williams’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “This Is So Nice (It Must Be Illegal),” by Fats Wallers and George Marion Jr., “Lulu’s Back in Town,” by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, and “Scotch and Soda,” a hit for the Kingston Trio. While he is singing, audience members will sample three cocktails— an absinthe frappe, the Major Bailey and the yuzu gimlet — and hear the stories behind them.
“On the Town…” will play a longer run at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, N.J., next May.
“This show gives me a chance to bring performing together with bartending,” Mr. DeGroff said. “They aren’t that far apart to begin with.”
“On the Town With Dale DeGroff: A Salute to Saloons, Neighborhood Bars, and Legendary Cocktail Palaces,” the Cornelia Street Cafe, 29 Cornelia Street (Bleecker Street), Greenwich Village, (212) 989-9319. Tickets are $20, including three drinks.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Beer At...Whiskey Wind Tavern

For this Eater column, I went out of town—a first for "A Beer At." Actually, I didn't go out of town expressly to write about this bar; I was already out of town, and found a bar to write about. But I knew about the Whisky Wind anyway. I've love it at first sight by name alone.
A Beer At...Whiskey Wind Tavern
On this, the last big weekend of summer, "A Beer At" follows the vacationers to the east end of Long Island, to the North Fork, where the wonderfully namedWhiskey Wind Tavern has been comforting old Greenport salts for three quarters of a century.
Most of Greenport's Front Street shuts down when the air turns cold, but the Whiskey Wind keeps its beacon on, offering the locals pool, foosball, a jukebox and a line of draft that includes regional pride Blue Point beer. Decor-wise, the only thing inside as interesting as the unique neon sign that heralds the bar's presence to the passerby is the old wooden bar, the round-framed mirror in the middle of which evokes a ship's wheel.
Old photos indicate this is the same bar installed by Bill Worth in 1940, when he founded the joint as Bill Worth's Rendezvous. Worth was a bootlegger who ran a Prohibition-era roadhouse by the name of the Worthwhile Inn. The bar was was then Meyer's Bar & Grill for a while before James Kuhlman bought it in 1993.
There's a sign behind the bar that reads "It's tourist season—why can't we shoot 'em?" But on a recent night, the Whiskey Wind wasn't dealing with too many tourists. And this being the north, not the south, fork, there was little danger of any slumming celebs. The stools were filled by locals and regulars, all men, all chatty, all about twice the age of the sweet, short, blonde and very young barmaid. The tavern is open until 2 AM, which is plenty late for this hamlet. You can be sure that the Whiskey Wind's lights are the last to go out to go out in sleepy Greenport.
The odd name, by the way, supposedly harkens back to the days when fisherman would wait out hurricanes or nor'easters—called "whiskey winds"—in their local saloon. So, was Irene a whiskey wind, then?
—Robert Simonson

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Of Pitcher Cocktails and Cecchinis

Pitcher cocktails will play a central role in the cocktail program at Greenwich Village's Frankies 570 Sputino, the latest in the growing Frankies empire, set to open Sept. 6. Staking out a middle ground between cocktails and punches, pitcher cocktails (and we're not talking Sangria here) have been picking up steam for a couple months now, popping up at Mayahuel, 1534, Prime Meats and Vandaag (whose erstwhile beverage director will now be working some shifts at 570).

One other intriguing aspect to the Frankies 570 cocktail menu, which didn't make its way into the Times article below, is the fact that new restaurant will have a seasonal cocktail called a Cecchini. "We don't have cranberry juice behind the bar, so we're not going to make Cosmopolitans," said Cabell Tomlinson. "Instead, we're going to do a season 'pink drink' and call it a Cecchini, after Toby Cecchini. It will be a variation on the Cosmopolitan." Cecchini is the well-known New York bartender who helped to popularize the Cosmopolitan in the late 1980s, and has never quite escaped from the shadow of that modern "Sex and the City" classic. Tomlinson checked with Cecchini before using his name. "He said, 'I'm never going to get that albatross off of my neck, so go ahead.'"

Monday, August 29, 2011

Beta Cocktails

At this summer's Tales of the Cocktail convention in New Orleans, in a room off the lobby of Hotel Monteleone, was an impromptu bookstore featuring only books about beer, spirits and cocktails. The pop-up book shop is a feature of every Tales. This year, the best-selling tome was, somewhat predictably, David Wondrich's "Punch." The second-best-selling volume, however, was a dark horse: a thin, square, white, self-published item called "Beta Cocktails."

"Beta Cocktails" is the second coming of "Rogue Cocktails," a tiny book put out a couple years ago by two New Orleans bartenders with the intense names of Kirk Estopinal and Maksym Pazuniak (called Maks for short). They then worked at New Orleans' much-vaunted cocktail den Cure. (Kirk is still there, while Maks has moved to New York.) Their intent in putting out the booklet was to shake up the working cocktail paradigm by introducing some truly radical recipes that relied not on the usual liquors and liqueurs, but Italian amari and bitters.

I stupidly did not buy a copy of "Rogue Cocktails" when I first saw it in July 2009. But I sampled a few of the cocktails therein at Cure, and was duly impressed by their originality. They frankly amazed me. One used Angostura bitters as its base, the other Peychaud's bitters. As anyone knows, these products are typically employed by the dashful. Kirk and Maks' drinks used full ounces. I also tried something called The Start and Finish (by Rhiannon Enlil, another name that's hard to wrap your tongue around), which combined Averna, Lillet Blonde, dry vermouth, absinthe and orange bitters. It was remarkable.

When Maks started making drinks at Williamsburg's Counting Room, I started bugging him about publishing a new run of "Rogue Cocktails." He told me he had a new version of the cocktail book in the works. It took him more than a year to finally get it together. Beta Cocktails made its debut at the Tales book store. (I, in fact, bought a copy just minutes after the books had been delivered by Maks and Kirk.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Carroll Gardens Gets a New Cocktail Bar

Until now the residential blocks of Carroll Gardens between the bars of Smith Street and Court Street (Clover Club, Jake Walk, Prime Meats) and Fort Defiance in Red Hook have been a desert for the cocktail thirsty. But the recent opening of Bar Bruno on the largely dry Henry Street fills that vacancy. Previously, this corner opposite the iconic Mazzola Bakery was occupied by a series of unsuccessful delis and cafes. The owner of the most recent coffee house, Cafe Marius, has take a year to convert the space into a restaurant and bar.

I had low expectations for the place, but my hopes rose when I surveyed the impressive back back. It wasn't the usual array of flavored vodka and blended Scotches, but an intelligently curated array of choice liqueurs and spirits nearly on par with the best bars in the area. A brief chat with the personable bar manager, J.T. Almon, shed some light on this happy circumstance. Almon is friends with bartender Tonia Guffey, who works the bars at Flatiron Lounge and Dram; the two grew up together in Orlando. Guffey consulted with Almon on the initial cocktail list and the selection of the back bar, and will later this year come in to train the staff.

Bar Bruno is wisely starting slow in their cocktail program; the opening list is a mere five drinks long. The presence of The Last Word shows an allegiance to classic cocktails. The other five are simple, but smart riffs on standards. Their version of a Hemingway Daiquiri is served on the rocks as a refreshing highball. A spin on a Gold Rush substitutes Dewar's for Bourbon, infused with chilis for a little heat. Their signature drink, the George Best, is an orange juice-laced riff on a Negroni. Best was a famous Irish soccer star; the joint has an odd soccer theme, with old photos of soccer teams on the walls. Cocktail go for $10. There's also a selection of beer cocktails and the usual beer and wine.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Beer At...Teddy's

A reader at Eater said the Mae West story I include in this write-up is apocryphal. Could be. Certainly, old taverns dispense their share of self-aggrandizing lies. But I found the tale in two sources. True, one of them was Wikipedia, but the other was the well-respected "Historic Shops and Restaurants of New York." It's funny: another old New York bar I've covered in this series, Neir's in Queens, also claimed a Mae West connection.
A Beer at...Teddy's
Is Teddy's an anonymous, unknown bar? Not exactly. I remember, back in the days when Williamsburg was an actual artistic enclave—when scruffy young men wore wool caps because they were cold and poor, not because it was part of the hipster uniform—Teddy's was a key artist hangout. But today this wonderful old tavern is overshadowed by dozens of trendier new watering holes. 
Teddy's is the oldest bar in Williamsburg. It's been around since 1889. For its first 30 years, it was a franchise bar serving a local brew whose name can still be seen in the beautiful stained-glass window facing the street: Peter Doelger's Extra Beer. That the sign is still there is a bit of a miracle, since Doelger's hasn't been made since Prohibition. Doelger was a millionaire beer baron, and probably a bit of a capitalist bastard; an anarchist once left a bomb on his doorstep. He also disapproved of his daughter Mathilda marrying a boxer named John West, even though that union gave the world Mae West.
One would love to picture Mae lifting one or two here at some point. But Mathilda remarried in the 1890s—wedding the son of another local brewer (sounds like daddy's doing)—so it's hard to say. Tammany Hall pols almost made good use of the place back in the day when saloons did double duty as political centers. An Alderman actually lived upstairs once.
The food served here is a relatively new phenomenon—new, meaning the last couple decades—and the weekend brunch is popular. Live bands play here Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays as part of a series that goes by the rather square name of "Williamsburg Nights." Television sets are tuned to the night's game. I always considered televisions in a historic bar a desecration of sacred space. But such are the compromises that must be made to please a modern clientele, for which drinking and talking is not entertainment enough.
The patrons on a recent night seem strangely not of Williamsburg. Parents with children, older couples, a group of visiting Japanese tourists. Or maybe this is just theother Williamsburg, the one that doesn't get the press. And maybe in twenty years, when the current crop of tattoo-parlor habitues have moved on, and the hot bar of the moment is a distant memory, these unglamorous barflies will still be here. And so will Teddy's. 
—Robert Simonson

Monday, August 15, 2011

What's New

More new spirits and associated liquor products are introduced at the annual Tales of the Cocktail convention in New Orleans than at any other place. This year was no exception. I think I tasted more new things this past July than at any previous Tales. Here are a few of the libations that will soon find their way onto the shelves of your local liquor store.
  • Fee Brother Black Walnut Bitters: Joe Fee always arrives at each Tales with a satchel full of bottles of the company's latest invention. This year's addition: Black Walnut Bitters. Not sure of the applications, beyond offering a nice change-up for Angostura in an Old Fashioned. I'll wait for mixologists to figure that one out.
  • Lillet Rose: Building on the Lillet line of white and red aromatized wines by 50% is the new Lillet Rose. It is made by blending the wines that form the base of Lillet Blanc and Lillet Rouge, and infusing it with "Bordeaux fruits." You won't be able to get this in the U.S. until April 2012.
  • Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac: According to the Ferrand people, this new iteration of their Cognac was inspired by an old bottle of original Ferrand that was bought at auction, and was selected (from among many such old bottles) by Ferrand cellar master Christian Guerin and cocktail historian David Wondrich as being the best and closest example of the sort of spirit that was put out in the 1800s. The more questions I posed as to how such a guess at the formula was hazarded, the less I understand the process. But this much is clear: it is bottled at 90 proof, higher than most Cognacs, and in keeping with the proofs observed in those times; it is fully intended to be a mixable Cognac, to be used in cocktails; and it tastes quite good. 
  • Drambuie 15: This ancient Scottish liqueur has been trying to find a place for itself in the new drinking world for a few years now. They redesigned their bottle a couple years back, making it look less like Drambuie and more like a Scotch vessel. Now they've come out with the first-ever new expression of the producer. To appeal to Scotch fans who find old Drambuie too sweet, they've devised a drier expression that uses less honey and only employs whiskies 15-years-old or older. They're going to market it the way you would a Scotch, and are pushed a drink that uses half Drambuie and half Drambuie 15. There's a way to move product!
  • Hochstadter's Slow and Low: This is the latest from Rob Cooper, the man people who brought the people St. Germain and Creme Yvette. It's his take on an old-style Rock & Rye, which is to say, Rye whiskey sweetened with rock candy syrup. All the famed 19th century American mixologists mention this potion it at one point or another. Slow and Low uses six-year-old rye, infused with citrus, honey and horehound, and bottles at 98 proof. It could be argued that this is basically an Old Fashioned in a bottle, though much hotter and much sweeter. It's made in Philadelphia. Unlike the high-toned St. Germain and Creme Yvette, the rauchy marketing for Slow and Low aims low. (Check out the name.) No gracious sipping here. Straight shots—the "full pull" mark on the souvenir shot glass I was given was at the 2 1/2 ounce mark. 
  • Merlet Liqueurs: The Cognac-based Merlet clan has been making liqueurs for 150 years. Their line is just now reaching out shores. I tasted through their line, and found not a dud in the bunch, with the rich, dense, bright Creme de Framboise and light, but strong Creme de Poire standouts. The Creme de Cassis is infused with the same fruit twice, with the result decidedly potent.
  • Brugal 1888: The latest from the venerable Dominican rum distiller. It’s a blend of rums aged 5-14 years, first aged in American white oak and then in Sherry Oak casks from the same source that The Macallan Scotch Whisky uses in Spain. In case you're wondering, yes, Macallan and Brugal are owned by the same corporate body. 1888 is being marketing as a premium sipping rum. It certainly is a smoothy, all caramel, oak and vanilla and just a little spice. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Carroll Gardens Goes Bourgeois

As was previously reported elsewhere, a second iteration of the East Village bar Bourgeoise Pig will soon open in Carroll Gardens, the Brooklyn neighborhood that is already home to the cocktail bars Prime Meats, Brooklyn Social and Jake Walk. The venture is collaboration between Ravi DeRossi (Death and Co., Mayahuel, Cienfuegos, Amor y Amargo), the stealth force behind the East Village cocktail scene, Luis Gonzalez (chef at Death and Co. and Mayahuel) and Frank Cisneros, bartender of Dram and co-fonder of Drink, both in Williamsburg. 

"The beverage program will retain the approachability and affordability of the original's French wine cum sultry-lounge feel yet expand it's horizons, incorporating the whole of the Continent's best wine and spirits," said Cisneros. "Though whiskey, gin and rum will still abound, lesser utilized European libations such as Spanish brandies, Flemish sour beers and German eau-de-vies will play an important role in the cocktail list, which is inspired-by the individuality of each major European region."(Spanish brandies would certainly qualify as a lesser utilized liquor in these parts.)

Food-wise, there will be fondues, cheese, tapas-style dishes, a raw bar and house-made charcuterie. 

Bourgeoise Pig will take the space currently held by the Calpurnia, a curious Italian wine bar that looked like a bordello and was forever unpopulated.