Thursday, March 27, 2008

Alembic Vs. Savoy: Showdown in Hobo Alley!

Last month (Valentine's Day to be exact) the Alembic undertook a monumental, and most impressive task - To serve their patrons cocktails from The Savoy Cocktail Book. Sadly I was unable to make it, but salvation was offered unto me when the good folks at Alembic decided that the first run was successful enough that they would repeat the event on the last Tuesday of every month. Huzzah!

Thus it was that last Tuesday Ed and I met up for a round (or three) of delicious, delicious booze. Here's what I had.

Honolulu Cocktail #2

1/3 Maraschino liqueur
1/3 Gin
1/3 Benedictine

This drink caught my eye with its tempting combination of three liquors I like very much. This one seemed like it was going to be an easy slam dunk of yum. I'm sure it would have been too if it weren't for the fact that the sweetness level of this drink was, on a scale of 1-10, somewhere around 8.I-can-feel-my-teeth-melting. Since hope springs eternal I prayed that perhaps, as the drink mellowed, the flavors would blend more and the sweetness would regress somewhat. Unfortunately, after plenty of chances for the drink to mellow, I was still sipping a concoction that to say was sweet would be kind of like saying Stalin wasn't a very nice guy. I finished it anyway because that's how I roll, but have to say I was pretty happy to move on.

Oriental Cocktail

1/2 Rye
1/4 Sweet Vermouth
1/4 White Curacao
1/2 Lime

This one was quite the opposite of the Honolulu - Very dry, almost too much so for my taste. The first sip left me with a "meh" sort of feeling, but the more I drank the more the flavors grew on me. The lime and Curacao worked well with the Rye, and the herbal notes of the Vermouth grounded the drink well. I could help but think that the drink would have benefited more than a little from a few dashes of bitters though.

Havana Cocktail

1 dash lemon juice
1/4 Gin
1/4 Swedish Punch
1/4 Apricot Brandy

I had known going in that I was going to have a drink using Swedish Punch. One of the amazing things about what Alembic is doing, is that many of the cocktail ingredients called for in the Savoy are either no longer produced or are impossible to get. So they replicate them to the best of their ability. One of those ingredients is Swedish Punch, of which a key component is Batavia Arrack. I had my first run-in with Batavia a few months ago at Slanted Door, and was surprised that a spirit which tastes so wretched straight could be made oddly compelling when (expertly) mixed. I figured it would interesting to try it wearing different trappings.

I thought I had a pretty strong sense-memory of the unique Batavia flavor. After the first sip I am now convinced that while it's one a person could learn to like, there's no way I'm ever going to get used to that first hit. The gasoline notes punched me strong, fast, and hard. I briefly wondered if I had perhaps jumped too deep into the Savoy pool, but since I roll in a particular way, I knew I couldn't abandon my tipple. Thank the Gods the next sip suited me a great deal better. The Batavia was still very front and center, but I was also picking up the sweetness of the Brandy and some of the botanicals of the Gin.

Overall I didn't find any of the drinks to really be at a "wow" level, but with the exception of the Honolulu they were very solid. It also made for a great opportunity to get a feel for the style of drinks that were being made at that time.

Of course, huge kudos go to all the folks at Alembic for doing this. It's a huge boon to those of us with an interest in cocktails, and I can't imagine how tough it is to hand somebody a cocktail book and say, "Here's your menu!" By the time Ed and I left, however, the place was packed yet the tenders were running like a well lubricated machine.

Perhaps most importantly, it turns out that when they do the Savoy thing, that's all they do. I can imagine some people being frustrated to be told they can't have a Vodka/Red Bull cause it's not in the book, however it warmed my drink nerd heart to see those people flip through the book and give a proper drink a try. I'd like to think at least a couple of folks left with a different idea of what really makes a good drink.

I'll certainly be doing my best to be there again next month. This time I'll probably spend more time going through my copy of the Savoy to pick out some interesting drinks to try. Did I mention that I had spent a few days before our visit going through the Savoy to prep? Yeah, I'm that guy.

Comments always welcome or feel free to e-mail us at drinkaweek [at] gmail [dot] com.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mr. Bitterness - Part the first

A few weeks ago I was having a post-work constitutional beverage of a spirituous nature at Cantina, and made an offhand joke about a particular type of bitters that I thought would be hilarious should it actually exist. Ever the helpful one, the rakish Duggan McDonnell enthusiastically encouraged me to give it shot. I laughed it off (with the help of another cocktail) but found that the next day the idea was poking at my brain. Could it be done? How would I get the primary flavor in? Would it taste as bad as one would think?

After a few days of mulling it over, I decided I would go ahead and give it a shot. I was thinking about which method to go about using to make the bitters - Another visit to Cantina and a bit of a chat with Duggan convinced me to go the route of making several tinctures and then mixing them to taste. So it was that I found myself traveling about the city collecting Vodka, jars, and spices. By the time I was done I had amassed a collection of allspice, cloves, bitter orange peel, star anise, cinnamon, and rose hips. They've been infusing for about a week and a half now, and last night I decided to try them and see if they were ready for stage two. Here are my highly scientific tasting notes in the order in which I, uh, tasted.

Cloves - They all smelled fantastic, so this is the only time I'll say it. It smelled fantastic. As soon as it hit my tongue it was like I had been assaulted with a baseball bat wrapped in a pound of cloves. Then the secondary burning began. If you've ever had the old timey Clove gum well, this is about twenty times more potent. So far so good.

Allspice - At first this one seemed rather tame. I was afraid I had not put in enough allspice, and that this would be a bust. Then it hit. Slow at first, then building to a mouth crushing level. I tried to get the flavor off my tongue, but found that I couldn't. It was as though I had just been assaulted by some sort of spicy napalm. It took several swishes of water to finally free myself from the clingy prison.

Rose Hips - Smelled like shit. Tasted even worse.

Cinnamon - From a straight tasting perspective this was my favorite. The cinnamon flavor was intense, but not overwhelming and the burn was mild and even. Of all the tinctures I made, this is the one I am planning to make another batch of for use in mixing. I could see a small amount of this in a drink making for a fairly interesting addition.

Star Anise - Sweet Jesus! It was as if God himself had reached down from the heavens, pulled black licorice from the very firmament, and made it manifest. Either I used too much anise, or that stuff infuses like a motherfucker.

Bitter Orange Peel - I was a bit doubtful that this wouldn't be bitter enough. Fortunately that wasn't a problem. Like some sort of oral booby-trap it took a split second before the full force of the peel began to careen into my system like a semi full of bowling balls. If nothing else I can be sure these bitters are going to be bitter.

Comments always welcome or feel free to e-mail us at drinkaweek [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

29) Fortunella

2 oz. Bluecoat Gin
.5 oz. Simple Syrup
3 kumquats
4 sprigs fresh thyme (about 1 inch in length)

Muddle kumquats and thyme in a boston shaker. Add the rest of the ingredients and fill with ice. Shake vigorously and double strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with soda and garnish with another sprig of thyme.

When I showed up at the bar, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the bar had gotten a nice rasher of late winter/early spring fruits. As Ed was running down the list of what had come in, I locked in on Kumquats. I've been a big fan of kumquats since I was a kid, and the idea of using them in a cocktail was a no brainer. Ed being Ed, he casually suggested tossing in some thyme. It was certainly an intriguing idea, and if there's anything we're good at it's trying something without the slightest idea of how it might turn out.

I have to admit that I'm not actually much of a fan of savory drinks, but this one came out pretty tasty. The bitter sweet components of the kumquats matched the subtle hints of thyme. The Bluecoat gin (rapidly becoming a favorite) added excellent notes both spicy and slightly sweet. Fortunately for me, it also happened to be one of the rarely hot days in San Francisco, and can say this is one nice summer drink. So I guess I'll be waiting till sometime in October before I get another.

This would probably be a good time to let you all know that upon the completion of the drink, I blurted out "Kumquat on Thyme" as the drink name. I'm not proud, then again Ed was insistent that I use that name because it's "awesome". Guess who won?

Still, it's kind of a cool name.

Comments always welcome or feel free to e-mail us at drinkaweek [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Oh. Hell. Yeah.

For those who haven't heard yet, San Francisco Cocktail Week is speeding this way like a booze fueled freight train covered with fluffy kittens. They've got a bit of a preview (.pdf) of the upcoming events, and I'm already pretty damn excited. A little insight as to my plans can be gleaned from the SFCW checklist I've just drawn up.

1) Take week off from work.

2) Acquire back-up liver.

3) Take out second mortgage on house.

4) Buy a house.

5) Acquire auxiliary back-up liver.

6) Learn how to pretend to know things about spirits and cocktails ("I'm a Boones Wild Island man myself. It's unfortunate so few people have the palate for its complexity. Though to be fair I suppose one must learn to crawl before one learns to walk, eh?").

7) Seems I'm developing a list fetish.

Monday, March 10, 2008

28) SF Cutter

1.5 oz. Tanqueray Gin
1 oz. Corralejo Blanco Tequila
.5 oz. Cynar
2 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters

Place all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist.

1) Ed and I aren't sure this is actually a good drink. The first sip wasn't a real wow moment, but after a few more sips we found the flavors oddly compelling.

2) This drink will put hair on your chest, as well as various other parts of your body. I myself awoke this morning with a full beard.

3) I suspect that after a few sips of this drink, one might find the flavor of socks oddly compelling.

4) "Well, let's find out." is not the correct answer when I say something like, "Do you think Gin and Tequila would go together?"

5) Cynar is an Italian bitter whose chief component is artichoke. 'Round these parts, we call them avocadoes.

6) Number five is an inside joke.

Comments always welcome or feel free to e-mail us at drinkaweek [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Fate seems to be conspiring to prevent Ed and I from actually having time to make a drink. Never fear! To give sustenance to your precious eyeballs, there's this.

Last night Ed and I had the pleasure of attending a Plymouth Gin event at the venerable House of Shields. For those who don't know me, Plymouth Gin is one of my two favorite gins (the other is Junepero for those who are interested) and any chance to get close to my beloved is one I wouldn't miss.

Folks sipped and socialized for a bit - Then the real show began. Along with the local industry people, the event was being graced with the presence of David Wondrich. David Wondrich, he of Esquire Drinks fame, and the titan who recently penned the blog-o-orbs number one darling tome of the moment, Imbibe. As a person who also happens to have some sort of presence on this ether, I'll go ahead and join the crowd and tell you that if you don't have this book you really need to get it. Like now.

He saddled up behind the bar and began to hold forth on matters both Gin and prohibition. Sadly, I wasn't able to pay much attention. It seemed my excellent position at the bar also made me the perfect candidate to assist in the next batch of cocktails. So while Mr. Wondrich was talking, and others were listening, I was putting fifty twists in fifty drinks and handing them out to the revelers. Fortunately, my duties were finished by the time Mr. Wondrich pulled out the mugs.

It was Blue Blazer time! Watching a Blue Blazer made live nerded me out all the way. I was like a 13 year old girl at a Hannah Montana concert. Only I'm a 33 year old man. Who likes booze. A lot.

The whole affair was great fun even though I didn't get to socialize nearly as much as I wanted to, partly because I'm a wee bit of a shy one, and also because, sort of, technically speaking I wasn't supposed to be there. Thought it would be wise to keep a low profile and all.

The only really bad part of the night was that one the couple of occasions that I was able to speak to David, while he acquitted himself well as a gentleman and a scholar, I was the perfect daguerreotype of a feckless, blithering idiot. Go me!

Comments always welcome or feel free to e-mail us at drinkaweek [at] gmail [dot] com.