Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Absinthe - A Play in One Act

Act I, Scene I

Scene: House of Shields.
Enter swarthy young fellow of dubious breeding.

Fellow: Do you have absinthe here?
Barmaid: Yeah, we have the Lucid, but we're out of the - What was it?
Barmaid looks at me
Me: Kubler.
Barmaid: Yeah, the Kubler.
Fellow: Is it real Absinthe, or that fake American stuff? I mean, does it have the wormwood in it?
Barmaid: It's the real stuff.
Fellow: Sweet! I'll have some. Me and a friend were at this other bar last night drinking some, and we were just, like, chillin' ya know? It must have been that fake American Absinthe that doesn't have any wormwood.

Act I, Scene II

Scene: Elixir.
Enter couple, seeking shelter from the heat.

Man: Is that Absinthe over there?
Ed: Yup, we have a few different kinds right now.
Man: Is it the imported stuff?
Me (internal): Oh gee, I wonder why he's asking that question.
Man (later, to his girlfriend while sipping on a glass of absinthe): The imported stuff has wormwood extract in it. That's got thujone, which is a hallucinogen. Two or three glasses of this stuff, and you're on your way to a real good evening!

Exaunt stage left, chased by a bear.

When Absinthe first became legal, I figured there would be two primary stages post-release. The first would be a fair number of people trying it, only to find that the heavy anise flavor was not at all to their liking. After that they would be devout non-absinthe drinkers. The second stage would be, for lack of a better word, education. There was no doubt in my mind that there was going to be a significant group of people who knew nothing of Absinthe other than the rumors that it would make you trip your balls off.

It seems that the balls bit is taking a bit longer to happen than I had thought, as many folks are content to chug their Absinthe not being mindful of the fact that Absinthe's clock in at around twice the proof of regular spirits. Maybe you're not hallucinating because of the wormwood, but because you're shitfaced drunk? That, coupled with the fact that many people experience a "clear headed" drunk when consuming Absinthe (essentially one is more aware than one generally is when trashed on other liquors, a clarity that is generally believed to be caused by the array of herbs used, and is not hallucinatory) it is easy to imagine some folks slipping into a psychosomatic coma of delusion and thinking that they are on the green fairy express.

Ah, fuck it. Maybe I should just move to the Czech Republic and make a fortune selling shitty, "super wormwooded" up Absinthe.

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

Monday, April 28, 2008

31) Denomination

2 oz. Bar Sol Pisco
.25 oz Lime Juice
.75 oz. Pineapple Juice
Bundaberg Ginger Beer

Add all ingredients except the Ginger Beer to a shaker with ice. Shake till chilled, strain into a Collins glass filled with ice, and top with the Ginger Beer.

Holy crap, we're back with a real live drink!

Ed and I got this idea from a drink that David Nepove whipped up for Ed last week at Cantina. With a sudden appearance of some stunning weather, it seemed like it was a good time to shoot for a refreshing, tall drink that would make for some fine sipping. I initially pushed for Bourbon seeing as, well, I think everything should be made with bourbon. Ed was having none of it however - He thought the Bourbon wouldn't really work too well with the pineapple and ginger beer. It was a long, tense standoff which only ended when he said, "What about Pisco?".

The initial iteration of the drink contained .5 oz. each of the lime and pineapple juice. The result wasn't too bad, but the lime in that quantity made it a bit too tart, and dulled the pineapple flavor a bit too much. On the plus side, the Pisco came through well which we thought might be a problem as Bundaberg is a rather potent ginger beer. We lowered the lime, and upped the pineapple - The result was a much more well balanced drink. Somewhat surprisingly, the Pisco and ginger beer made for a really nice combination.

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

Friday, April 25, 2008

I Blog Therefore I - Actually, That's a Good Question

Who is that spectacled, bearded chunk of fine man meat? Sadly, the world will never know.

But seriously folks.

In the wake of this week's beer mania, Rob raised an interesting question in that post. Once which frequently haunts the dark hallways of my mind as well. So much so, that I have often started to write something down about it, only to decide that it's just not worth wasting the digital paper on. Essentially he asks himself why stay in the beer-o-sphere when it is currently wall-to-wall-to-wall with bloggers already? Admittedly, I believe the beer side of blogging is far more crowded that the cocktail (my reasoning is convoluted, and not really needed here), but still he raises a good question.

It's been a rather interesting week for us over here at Drink A Week central. A couple of cool little things (not worth mentioning) happened, and one very awesome thing (not gonna talk about that for a bit) is going to happen for the site, and it (along with Rob's musing along the same vein) combined to make my pondering of 'why blog' go into overdrive.

When Ed and I started this venture, it was mostly because we were taking the time to write down the recipes we came up with during our experimentations, and I was all, like, "we should blog this!" The problem, it turns out, is that I seem to have a bit of a blogging pathology. At first I felt as though one post a week just wasn't enough content (even though our only readers were two friends of mine, and a ten year old, arthritic dog named Emperor Pugpatine). So, if something relating to cocktails plopped into my noggin I'd go head and write up a little something. When football season got into full swing, Ed's weekend shifts became too busy for us to dabble in drinks. The idea of no content at all made my insides wiggle uncomfortably, so I tried to fill in the gaps with whatever caught my fancy.

Then I became a stat whore.

As I watched our visits increase every month (not by much, but still) I figured it was a safe bet that we were actually attracting readers - And search engine bots. Those ethereal readers, I decided, deserved more than just a drink recipe every now and then plus the highly occasional missive about whatever. Most importantly, I suppose, I love spirits and cocktails. I love trying, and learning, and interacting with others who feel the same way - And at the core of my pathology is an inability not to share that as long as I've got the ramble-space to do so.

But the real problem with blogging is that it's so easy to do, one can head right into the deep end of the pool without thinking about it. If one is serious in regards to what they are writing about, they will be serious about what they are writing as well. Eventually you (i.e. me) realize that there is a great horde of people more talented and knowledgeable about the world of cocktails and spirits than you. With those kinds of resources out there (from all of which I have learned a great deal thank you very much) what the hell's the point? Why not just create a static page with God knows how many links and let other people click away? Is Boozle taken?

Most often, when describing the dyad that is Ed and myself, I say that he is the mixologist and I am the reckless enthusiast. It's this reckless enthusiasm, I think, that is the main force that keeps me from turning out the lights, laying off the monkeys, and sticking to drinking exclusively. I'm just having too much fun. However, I don't think the question of whether or not the writing half of this isn't worth the investment of time and agony (writing is not a pleasant task kids) isn't going to go away anytime soon.

And by the way - If you're as tired now of reading the word 'blog' as I am of typing it, please accept my most profound apologies.

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Witness the Firepower of this Fully Armed and Operational Dogfish Beer!

Let's talk about beer shall we?

Rob has always spoken of Dogfish Head beer in quiet, reverent tones. His eyes shimmering with lust, like two shimmering things - One of his great beer laments that he could not get this mythically delicious beer here in California. Last week, when he sent me an instant message letting me know that Dogfish was finally making its way to our golden state, and that there would be a fancy launch party at our very own beer paradise, the Toronado, I enthused that he had me at beer. I mean, when Rob makes the beer call, you gotta accept the charges!

As soon as I got off work, I made a frantic run across town as I knew the small space was likely to become quickly filled to overflowing. I was not disappointed. As much as I love the comforting, pungently scented arms of the Toronado, it is quite possible the worst bar for beer events ever. It's small. And beer nerds are drawn to events there in droves rarely seen by non-nerds. It was already two deep at the bar when I arrived, and as I waited. And waited. And waited some more to get my greedy hands on a beer, I began to wonder if it was worth it to even be there.

Before doubt could sink its claws too deeply in me, Rob arrived and grounded me with his forceful gaze of desire. He would not be letting me leave anytime soon. Sacrifices must be made for the cause of delicious beer! We finally had our chance to order, and were mortified to find that the object of our mutual desire wasn't going to be served until the event officially began at six. Oh no! I had to make do with a paltry Pliny The Elder! My life is very hard. The buzz built steadily as the magic hour approached, and when we heard a bell ring there was a pavlovian rush to the bar. Seriously, they rang a bell and it was as though the running of the bulls had begun.

They had six beers available, and fortunately for me the choosing was easy as three of those beers were only available for the event. Time for a flight!

Please note that my ability to analyze beer flavors is stupendously shitty. Everything I say about these beers other than how good they are should be treated as comedic relief. A much more cogent take can be found here.

Immort Ale

The first thing I noticed was that the nose wasn't a strong as I had expected it to be, but that belied an extremely smooth and drinkable beer. The main things I got was a really nice earthy flavor as well as hints of whiskey which, of course, made me very happy. There was also a secondary flavor that I couldn't put my finger on. Fellow beer nerd/friend/Rob's wife Des had a sip and immediately proclaimed "gorgonzola!". I hid my thoughts of how crazy she was as I took another sip, and son of a bitch she was right. That may sound like an odd flavor for a beer, but it worked beautifully. Overall I liked this one the least of the three, though given that it still fell into the category of one of the best beers ever, I was pretty happy.

Chateau Jiahu

This one had really nice floral hints in the aroma that were delicate but forceful. The flavors were redolent of honey and citrus, and the beer overall was crisp without being too light. This one pretty much blew me away with its beery awesomeness.

Olde School Barleywine

Here's my dirty beer nerd secret. I really don't like barleywine. It's always been too much of a funky kick to the groin for my delicate (yet manly!) tongue. But this stuff? Oh this stuff was nothing short of a revelation. It was sweet in the nose and on the palate - Rob called it perfectly, that the sugar was pretty much like table sugar, and yet it was anything but cloying. It took me a couple of tastes, but I also got a very nice note of cognac on the finish. I'd be more than happy to get blackout drunk on this stuff. Far and away this was my favorite of the three.

Near the end of the evening I commented to Rob that I was going to be filling my refrigerator post-haste to which he replied that I shouldn't be so hasty - That he had many more beers he wasn't to show me in the future. To that I say: I need another drink obsession like I need another one inch wiener.

Oh, I also, had a sample of the 90 Minute IPA that Rob bought, and it was by far the best IPA I've ever had. Those Dogfish Head kids might actually know what they're doing.

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

Monday, April 21, 2008

San Francisco Bartender Guild Booze-Off!

As I mentioned at the end of my last entry, I had spent the day at two cocktail contest events. The first one I attended was the San Francisco Bartender Guild's drink-off, with the winner to head out to Long Beach for the nation Guild competition. I heard of this event because our very own Ed was one of the participants! As it was generously open to the public, I couldn't imagine not going to root Ed on, and help calm his jangly nerves (I was useless in that capacity by the way).

The first thing that kind of surprised me was the rather formal set up of the competition. Each contestant had a limited time to set up all of the items they would be using, as well as a limited time in which they were to mix up four drinks (three for the judges, and one for display/tasting by the onlookers). Each ingredient had to be shown to the technical judge (David "Mr. Mojito" Nepove. Perhaps best known for his reign behind the bar at Enrico's) as they were used, and contestants had to show that they had used all of the contents of their shakers when they had finished pouring their drinks. To a hobo like myself, it seemed a little but over the top, but in this cocktail day and age, I can't really blame them for honoring traditions.

There were 20 people taking part in the event, and I was rather pleased to see a diverse array for cocktails being churned out. Not that I thought I'd be seeing a lot of bartenders grinding out the same derivative sorts of drinks, but with a fairly serious bounty of local fruits hitting the markets, I wondered if most (if not all) folks would be thinking the same thing - The strawberry syndrome if you will. While certainly there were many appearances by ingredients I would have expected, there was plenty of variation to be had. Several folks turned out tasty desert drinks, and one individual took an interesting tact and used vinegar as one of his components.

One of the things I liked the most about the structure of the competition was that all ingredients used had to be readily available to anybody. Homemade syrups, tinctures, and the like could not be used. Now, I loves me some house made products in my drinks - I think it's one of the better ways to really see the creativity of any given bartender - but it's nice to see a playing field that isn't necessarily altered by one bartender having more knowledge in the creation of additions that another, more neophyte bartender, might not be able to do to compete. It also made those participating either focus more on getting the most out of simplicity, or look to more novel/creative combinations of standard fare.

While I certainly learned a lot from just observing all those folks work their boozy mojo, the thing that most impressed me was seeing what a fantastic array of seriously talented bartenders this town has. And, goddamed it, I have an even larger list of places I need to drop by for a drink now.

If you ever get a chance to go to something like this, I couldn't recommend it enough.

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Averna Mix-off!

Recently, Averna Amaro ran a contest for cocktails featuring their delightful dram, with the winners getting a fat stack of cash. Having picked a slew of finalists, they set up regional semi-finals with winners of those getting sent off to Italy, and fortunately for me one of those semifinals happened to be here in San Francisco at Cantina (seriously, shouldn't they just get it over with and put me on the payroll at this point?).

I'll take a moment to go ahead and admit that Averna is an Amero that I wasn't familiar with prior to my arrival at Cantina. Sacrilege I know, but were you to see deeper into the areas my radar has a tendency not to cover you would almost certainly brand me a wretched sham of a cocktail geek. To remedy this I had myself a wee pre-finals taste of the stuff, and - Hot damn! It's a fantastic bitter, though calling it a bitter is hardly fair. There certainly is a bitterness (duh), but it was melded to a contrasting sweetness and a really nice, spicy depth.

While the semi-finals were open to the public, it wasn't so much structured to be a "show" so much as the contestants doing their thing for the judges. Because of this, I wasn't really able to keep tabs on the participants, and as several sample drinks were sent out to the floor before it was made clear where they were located, I also lost track of who made what drinks. Basically this is the worst event write up ever - Still, my desperate need to chronicle the booze related minutia of my life demands I do my best, so here's something I can actually testify to.

On the menu were several Averna drinks cooked up by the surprisingly well dressed Duggan McDonnell (serious guys. Payroll?), and of course I tried many of them.


This was a combination of Pisco, Averna, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, and a few dashes of the house bitters. I suppose some might think piling bitters on top of bitters would be a disaster, but (as I said above) using the term bitters to describe an Amero in the first place is something I think is somewhat misleading. Bitter in the right amount, with the right complementary flavors is plenty delicious, and there's no doubt that Averna's got it right. The drink had a nice spicy kick with an enhanced floral quality, and a somewhat buttery mouth feel. Tasty, but not a super home run for me.

Midnight Smash

I am, for some reason, very odd when it comes to the muddling of things in my drinks. I honestly don't know why, other than that I often times think it's something that's overused as a way to try and look good rather than really add non-trivial flavor. So I was a bit hesitant about the Smash - Muddled blackberries and meyer lemon, Creole Shrub, Averna, and a little bit of ginger beer. You're probably already thinking I'm an idiot or freak or idiotic freak, and you'd be right. This was a seriously tasty piece of work, and I thought it did a great job of representing the West Coast "style" of mixology in its excellent use of fresh, seasonal ingredients.


This was my hands down favorite - Averna, lemon, lime, and ginger beer. The ginger beer had a much stronger presence in this drink than the Midnight Smash, and that's a damn good thing. Averna and ginger beer, it turns out, is a lusty match, made in delicious heaven, living blissfully in a palatial estate in my belly. It was also a great testament to the fact that simple doesn't always make for an inferior drink.

The one downside to eight-plus hours of cocktail geekery (did I mention this was the second event of the day I had been to)? I couldn't stay for the whole event. I was tired, sobriety impaired, and visions of pizza past were haunting me. I wasn't too happy about it as I really wanted to make it all the way through, and perhaps chat with some of the fine folk who were floating about, but sometimes you just gotta pack it, head home, and drink a gallon of water.

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

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sloe Gin for a Slow Tuesday

The first cocktail book I ever owned was a 60's edition of "Old Mister Boston" that I took from my parents when I was in college. Having no real knowledge of what made (of even what was) a good cocktail, I just sort of flipped through it looking for something that caught my eye. Eventually my eye was ensnared by the intriguing looking Sloe Gin Fizz. I headed on down to the liquor store and picked me up a bottle of, appropriately enough, Old Mister Boston Sloe Gin. It was the delectable color of liquid bruise, what could go wrong? When I got home I took a smell and though Smells nice and sweet - I'm a fancy lad now!. I pulled out a glass and threw in lemon juice, some sugar, the Gin, and then topped it all off with soda water. Feeling quite self-satisfied I took a big 'ol gulp.

The carbonation from the soda water opened my palate up just enough to really be able to taste the overly sweet cough medicine that was Sloe Gin. If that was its real name! I promptly dumped the rest of the bottle down the drain never to return to that foul land of liquid shame again.

Somewhere around a decade later, I heard tell that Plymouth was getting ready to release a Sloe Gin in the U.S. this year. My first thought was that my sweet beloved Plymouth had lost their mind. Why would they do such a thing to me? The flavor of that Sloe Gin still clings to my memory as a moment of great trauma. Fortunately a modicum of searching about quelled my fear as I was assured that this stuff is the real deal. Actual sloe berries are steeped in Plymouth Gin, based on a recipe from 1883. Hell yeah! Thus was the waiting game incepted. Also, I might be a whore for Plymouth. But I digress.

While at the Plymouth event I recently attended, the brand ambassador made mention of the Sloe Gin in relation to a fire that had occurred at the distillery (it was safe), and I tried to corner him at one point in the evening to get an actual date out of him. Unfortunately I was thwarted by the booze fueled revelry that was underway - Stupid cocktails. I had just about figured I would be waiting for all eternity for this damn stuff, when Ed sent me an e-mail invitation he had received to an upcoming industry launch event at Bourbon and Branch.

I was excited for him, and even more excited for me as I knew I would be able to get my mitts around a bottle of this stuff. Then I found out that they're only sending 1,000 half cases over here. I think it's a safe bet that some will end up here in San Francisco, but I would bet my chances of getting a bottle are slim. Stupid bottles.

So the question is - Do I create a byzantine plan to break into Bourbon and Branch during the event, or do I kill Ed and wear his face like mask?

I could go either way.

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

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Mr. Bitterness - Part the Second

With the tinctures ready to go, it was time to mix up some batches and see what happened. Coming as I do from a grand lineage of scientists, I just threw things into jars. Sort of. I took the time to measure as I wanted some sense of control over how the bitters would come out. Flavor-wise I really was just sort of throwing darts at a blind raccoon. I ended up with three different mixtures, and let them sit for a couple of days to let the flavors get to know each other. I gave them another try, and made some slight adjustments which were rather sloppy in as much as I didn't bother to measure - I just sort of added what I thought would be right. A bit of a habit I picked up when I started getting into cooking mublety years ago.

Then I introduced the Red Bull.

Yes my friends, I'm attempting to make Red Bull bitters. The first two batches are very subtle on the Red Bull tip. The first batch has a RB bite at the end, while the second batch has it more on the front. I added a bit more RB in the third batch to see if I could intensify the flavor without bringing too much sweetness in. That - Didn't turn out so well.

On the plus side, this (so far) has proved to be a good proof of concept that I can use to make more delectable and respectable bitters in the future (I hope). In fact I've got some more tinctures working away even as we speak. Or you read this. Whatever man!

With any luck I'll be able to get some feedback from some guinea pigs - er - helpful souls, later this evening. I suspect I’m going to have to go back to the drawing board, but with any luck I just might have me some real life bitters.

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

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

30) Mango Whiskey Smash

2 oz. Knob Creek Bourbon
.5 oz. Lemon juice
.5 oz. Simple Syrup
1/4 of a mango, coarsely chopped
6 mint leaves

In the glass portion of a boston shaker gently muddle the mango and mint leaves. Add the rest of the ingredients, ice, and shake vigorously. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass with ice.

Just as the marriage of chocolate and peanut butter is good and right, the combination of Bourbon and mint is a match which shakes the heavens. This paring is most well known in the Mint Julep, and often overlooked in its little brother, the Smash. While the Julep is meant to be sipped as a ward against the summer heat, Smashes (simply spirit, sugar, water, and mint) are more geared towards quick consumption.

Ed and I had been talking about a mango drink after the bar acquired a case of them which subsequently sat unused in the walk-in. With a great deal of David Wondrich's "Imbibe" still rattling around my brain pan, I was hep to the Smash jive. To be sure, the addition of the lemon juice is not quite trad, and the mango (while hardly a ground breaking maneuver) is a bit outside the box. Nevertheless, this drink came out quite good - A bit more lively than the standard Smash. Each of the components was mellow, but none overpowered the other.

About half way through this drink I was really wanting to be in a back yard with three more and some sausage on a grill.

Anybody got a backyard I can borrow?

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