Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Don't Want to Wait Another Year!

The 15th arrived quietly, but the serenity of the morning belied the storm on the horizon. The storm that was to be the second annual Pfiff! beer/food fest. It was a perfect San Francisco day to eat tasty food, and drink tasty beverages in a glorious oasis, and all I had to do to earn my keep was labor under a harsh taskmaster. I've said many times that I am far from a beer expert -- My brain can only handle so much information, and I've chosen to spend that capital on spirits, cocktails, and 80's pop culture (with a focus on cartoons, and D&D). Rather than give you a full, blow by blow write-up I'm just going to spew out some random observations. Also, I was a little bit too busy to take notes.

Rob is nothing less than ambitious in the kitchen, and he didn't pull any punches when putting together the menu.

-- The opening salvo was a great way to kick things off. If you've never had peaches with goat cheese, you're missing out. It's a beautiful match that was bolstered by the peppery arugula and matched beautifully with the La Fleurette which was light, and crisp with a nice bit of "earthy" citrus.

-- The Chiostro, which contains wormwood, wasn't quite what I expected. This was a case where I was somewhat sabotaged by my cocktail loving ways. I was expecting a much more bitter punch such as one gets with Absinthe -- While there was certainly a bitterness from the wormwood, and it made a nice addition to the aroma, it wasn't the slap on the tongue I was expecting. Unlike me, it seems brewers know what restraint means.

-- Not only was Nora the home run beer of the homerun beer of the day, it has magical healing abilities. The use of the kamut flour made the batter a bit thinner than I'm used to working with which wasn't a problem except for the flipping. The hot oil was flying my friends, and at one point a hasty flip bathed my forearm in boiling rain. It actually wasn't that bad, but I was feeling the distinct tingling of hot oil action when I popped the top on one of the Nora bottles. The loud pop was followed by a cascade of foam running down my arm. I scrambled for glasses to save the precious beer, and when all was said and done folks were drinking and my arm felt great. Some would say it was just the effect of cold liquid on the burn zone, but it was magic I tell ya, magic!

-- The pairing of the Strada San Felice with the soppressata, polenta, and tomato was one of my favorites of the day. The soppressata (for me anyway) sublimated some of the more dominant flavors in the beer, giving me stronger hits of the more subtle flavors. It was a great way to taste the layers of this complex, tasty beer. Also, I could have bathed in that tomato sauce.

-- The Palanfrina/fig and honey cake was another excellent pairing. The sweetness of the figs and honey really made the chestnut accent in the beer sing.

Everybody who came out deserves a big thanks as this sort of thing can't happen without folks actually, you know, being there, but there are few folks in particular who get a little extra round of applause.

Rob and Des -- The amount of work that goes into these things is tremendous, and I get the pleasure of swooping in for the easy part after Rob and Des have done all the real work. As a bonus I get to learn about beer that I would probably never even think about.

Dave Hauslein -- As the beer manager for Healthy Spirits Dave was instrumental in securing for us the grand array of beers we had on hand. Not only that, but he brought along an amazing post-meal beer that I pretty much missed out on as I was occupied with another conversation elsewhere. He was kind enough to donate to me the rest of his sample. I still feel kind of bad for taking it from him, but not that bad. Because it was amazing.

Erik E. -- After some "enthusiastic encouragement" on my part, Erik was kind enough to bring some punch to the affair. Not just any punch mind you, but a Modernist Punch. One which was an experiment in blending into a punch the essential flavors of beer. Even better it was quite tasty. Even better than that, he gave me a bottle to take home.

Jordan Mackay -- The fritters were the cause of a bit of a slow down, but Jordan came to the rescue risking hot oil to lend a hand in the kitchen. At the end of the day, as we were cleaning up, I was joking asking Rob what we would be doing next month. I was only
half joking in so far as I knew such a thing wasn't going to happen, but sweet gravy I wish they were monthly events.

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

Friday, August 7, 2009

Old Fashioned Ode

When I first moved to San Francisco, Rob was one of my roommates for several years (by the way, if you ever have the chance to live with a home-brewing beer nerd I highly suggest you take it). Along with being the primary architect of my move out here, he took it upon himself to show me his favorite local spots. One of the first places he took me to was Spec's. Spec's is a mecca to the age of bohemians and beatniks, full
of old timers, and knick-knacks from by-gone days. I loved the place immediately, but that's not what Rob had brought me there for. Here, he assured me, was where I needed to go to get an Old Fashioned. This was not a terribly popular beverage during my college days, so while I was familiar with the drink, it was one I had not yet had. Fortunately for me, I like booze and I trusted my native guide, so an Old Fashioned it was going to be.

With the 20/20 hindsight I have these days, I must say that in its construction there were many things I think are wrong with the typical Old Fashioned that are found these days. At the time, however, it was a minor revelation -- One that would be another piece in the puzzle of geekery that would come together many years later. Watching the drink being made, I kept thinking that something so bare bones couldn't be that much better than the Whiskey alone. I was quite happy to find myself completely in the wrong, and it wasn't the last time I'd head over to Spec's for an Old Fashioned.

When I started getting serious about cocktails, it's no surprise that the Old Fashioned was one of the first drinks I really dug into. This drink is about as simple as it gets, yet the whole is truly more than the some of its parts. As I experimented with the drink, I eventually settled on the recipe that, for me, is perfection.

(My) Old Fashioned

2 oz. Rittenhouse Rye BIB
1 cube white sugar
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 tsp. water

In an Old Fashioned (surprise!) glass muddle the sugar cube with the water and bitters until the sugar is dissolved. Add the Rye, some ice, give it a stir, and garnish with a flamed orange peel.

There are a couple of things you'll notice missing that are frequently found when ordering this drink these days -- First is the muddled cherry, and orange. This is referred to by purists as "fruit salad", or "garbage", and I am inclined to agree. There are some who insist that a reasonably small slice of orange muddled into the drink is a tasty addition. I bear those folks no ill will, but I've always found it unnecessary. The giant hunks of muddled orange most often found? What the hell people? This not a drink that needs to be diluted with a cup of juice. Ranting not withstanding however, the slightest hint of orange is rather nice. Thank God for garnishes. The second, and far more important, is the slug of seltzer. This "addition" is unequivocally not ok. I would attempt to wax poetically about this, but I'm already getting riled up. This is not a drink that wants or needs to be lengthened.

So what's your Old Fashioned recipe of choice? I'd be especially interested in hearing from folks who disagree with my stance on the muddled orange and/or soda. Am I missing something?

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Does All Italian Beer Suck? Find Out With Pfiff!

It was around this time last year, as the San Francisco summer was thinking about maybe staring (or not), that my friend (and huge beer nerd) Rob decided it was time to gather fellow beer lovers for a American wild ales tasting, complete with food pairings. The event turned out to be a great time all around, and even before the day was over Rob and I were talking about how he would need to do a tasting again.

August, it seems, is an auspicious month, because the date has been set for another grand tasting.Once again Rob has selected an intriguing theme -- Italian beer. If you're anything like me, you like to dunk your toast in your egg yolks, love monkeys, and don't think of Italy as a producer of great beer. This is your chance to put one of those notions to the test (hint: it involves beer. Well, maybe also monkeys if we can figure out a way to break into the zoo). Once again, each beer will be paired with food and I'll be lending had hand in the galley -- Since this time around I have the use of both hands it won't be as funny to watch me wield a knife, but the food should get on the table quicker. As an added bonus, all the beer is being provided by the fine folks at Healthy Spirits which means that should any of the beer you try really strike your fancy, you won't have to run all over town collecting your favorites.

Head on over to Rob's site for details, or keep on reading for the quick and dirty info.

When -- Saturday, August 15, at 3:00 p.m
Cost -- $45 (worth every penny I might add)
Location -- You'll have to RSVP for that, but it's pretty centrally located and has a plethora of public transportation options.

You can RSVP to rob_denunzio [at] yahoo [dot] com or head over to his site and leave him a comment.

Last year was a great, casual way for beer nerds, and novices (like myself) to taste and talk about interesting beers, and I expect this time around to be no different so get to gettin' already.

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

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Clock Bar -- Year One

In just a few short days, the one year anniversary of Clock Bar will be upon us, and they've got a hell of a celebration about to begin.

Like all good birthdays, they are setting them selves up for a birthday week, with new guest bartenders each day beginning on Monday -- An amazing line up at that. They're also having a different spirit sponsor each day. Normally I would be wary of liquor sponsors for something like this, but they happen to be ones which I quite like (or, in the case of Chartreuse, love in a way which is illegal in several states).

Here's the line up -- Plan your week accordingly.

Monday, July 13: Scott Beattie and Jacques Bezuidenhout. Sponsor: Partida Tequila.

Tuesday, July 14: Brooke Arthur and Neyah White. Sponsor: Domain Canton and Chartreuse.

Wednesday, July 15: Their birthday proper -- Steven Liles. Sponsor: Plymouth and Beefeater 24.

Thursday, July 16: Erik Adkins. Sponsor: Bols Genever.

Friday, July 17: Dave Nepove. Sponsor: Flor di Cana.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Reflections on Two Years Down

Just like that, two years have come and gone since we started this humble blog. While it is somewhat on the moribund these days, we've still got a pulse. We've had a great time doing this blog, and don't plan on going anywhere soon.

Before we go any further, A huge thanks goes out to H. Joseph Ehrmann, proprietor of Elixir -- He has been kind enough to allow us to conduct our experiments, and be generally supportive of our endeavors (he even asked Ed and I to come up with a Hot Buttered Rum variation to put on the menu last winter which was pretty cool).

To be sure, the last two years have been quite an experience for both Ed and I -- We learned pretty quickly that I jumped the gun in naming the blog Drink A Week, because actually coming up with a drink a week is, you know, pretty hard. Making an average drink isn't that hard, we've made plenty of those, but really knocking something out of the park takes the kind of resources, and time that we just don't have. There are a fair number of bartenders out there who are constantly creating, and tweaking drinks and I've developed an even greater respect for that aspect of their job than I had before.

Ed and I have also been able to meet a really terrific group of folks under the guise of being bloggers. This has been a bit more the case for me, as I am not in the industry, but beyond bartenders, distillers, and the like we have also had the pleasure of meeting numerous other cocktail geeks and bloggers. Cocktail geeks are a great bunch, and beyond having a great time meeting those folks, one frequently learns a little something along the way.

Speaking of learning, the downside of chronicling what is essentially their personal learning process is that, for me at least, the more I learn, and write about what I'm learning, the more I realize there's a lot I don't know. There is no shortage of people putting their opinions on the internet with mixed results. Trying to create an informed opinion on anything, however, and blogging about the process is a decidedly more dicey matter -- There's a big difference between, "This is just my opinion.", and "This is my opinion, but I actually know what I'm talking about."

On one of our earlier posts, I had just about finished it up when, in looking at something else for another idea I had, I realized I had written something incredibly naive in the post I was about to publish. I corrected it (and no, I won't tell you what it was), and ever since then there's been a tiny voice asking me if I really should be doing this. On the other hand, part of the reason I wanted to blog about our experiments was precisely because we thought it would be interesting, at least to somebody, to watch us (myself in particular as I'm the total novice in this equation) learn by exploration.

Finally, a big thanks to our readers who have stuck with us through our shenanigans. Writing is hard, and doing so when you feel as though you are working in a total vacuum it's torture. It's nice to know we've got a posse on this trip. Big thanks are also in order for those folks in the industry who have been exceedingly generous in sharing their time, and expertise in helping me to learn more about spirits and cocktails. Whenever I mention that I have a blog to a bartender I'm just hoping they won't laugh at me. To not only not be laughed at, but have my enthusiasm taken seriously has been fantastic.

Here's to another year ya'll -- Cheers!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

40) Siesta #1

1.5 oz. Tezon Blanco Tequila
.5 oz. Plymouth Sloe Gin
.5 oz. St. Germain
.5 oz. Lemon Juice

Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass

Sweet Jebus! We done actually threw down with a drink for the first time in for the ever.

I had just popped into Elixir to say "hey" to Ed after running some errands, and found him keen on working on a drink. We were both feeling a bit loopy, so when he suggested Tequila as a base, I said we should mix it with Sloe Gin. We looked at one another, and decided to go for it. As we discussed what else to put in the drink Ed brought up the St. Germain, as its floral notes tends to work well with Tequila. Since St. Germain is fairly sweet, and the Plymouth Slow Gin is tart, yet has a sweetness to it we thought a bit of lemon would help round it out, and bring a bit of brightness to the drink.

We thought this was going to be a disaster of a cocktail, but were pleasantly surprised to find it was rather tasty. We tend to like our drinks on the dry side, and while we thought this might be a bit on the sweet side it suited our tastes well. The first few sips were Tequila forward, but as the drink sat a bit, the fruit from the Sloe, and the floral from the St. Germain began to work with the agave notes of the Tequila.

We're tossing the #1 in the name as the first thing Ed said upon tasting it was, "I think this needs an egg white." As we drank it, we became more convinced that this drink would work very well as a fizz. Ed (the lucky bastard) is currently off having fun in New Orleans, but when he gets back we are going to see what we can do with the Fizz variation.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Party Time

Recently I was asked by the girlfriend of a friend of mine, if I'd be willing to come up with some theme drinks for

his big birthday bash. I, of course, said yes. As the party grew closer, the logistics of the event (specifically that there would be anywhere from 50-100 people in attendance) began to make me a bit nervous. One of the biggest challenges was that I had no way of predicting what sort of cocktail tastes the guests would have. In the end I decided to play it on the simple side -- By being kind of a lame cheater, and for the most part just serving up fairly unimaginative variations.

Drink #1
Tequila, St. Germain, lime juice

While I don't remember it, I can't imagine I haven't seen this Margarita variation before. I would imagine it was one of the first things many people did when St. Germain first hit the streets. This one was squarely in the "meh" range -- Not delicious, but not terrible. Not surprisingly it was the least popular of the three. In my defense, I will say that a number of folks were staunchly against Tequila citing all sorts of prior poor experiences. I tried to convince them that it was probably due to the over consumption of mixto, but that did little to assuage fears.

Drink #2
Black Seal Rum, Ginger Beer, half a lime

Yeah! A Dark and Stormy with half a lime thrown in! With this level of creativity, I can't believe I haven't been nabbed by Bourbon and Branch. Sigh. I fall into the camp of people who find lime in a Dark and Stormy to kind of "water" down the drink, but this one was quite popular, and I even had a few people tell me they liked the lime -- Finding that it cut the spiciness of the ginger.

Drink #3
Vodka, Chambord, lemonade

I knew I was going to be doing a Vodka drink, and when I found out that my friend has an freakish love of lemonade I decided to just do a simple spiked concoction with Chambord to add a bit of extra flavor. This tasted exactly what you would think it would. For my tastes it wasn't very good, but sweet Jesus did this thing fly off the bar. The cocktail snob in me winced a bit every time somebody said, "Yum! Tastes just like candy!", but I was happy that so many people enjoyed it as much as they did.

Overall, I had a great time, and enjoyed seeing so many people enjoying their drinks. Were I to do such a thing again, there are a few things I'd do differently.

First and foremost, I'd set a definite "cocktail hour". Going into the party I had thought one of two things would happen -- 1) There wouldn't be much interest in the cocktails as people would be more interested on the kegs, and shot station (that's right. Shot station. I run with a classy crowd.) 2) There would be an early run (the party started at 3) after which folks would "slow down" by switching to beer. What actually happened was that the cocktails were consistently popular, and it wasn't until around 10:30 that I finally broke down the bar. By the time I was done, all I wanted to do was hop in a cab, and head home. Having cocktails from something like 3-7, and letting folks help themselves to whatever was left over after that would have allowed me to spend some time at the party proper.

I would also ditch the "make up drinks" bit. I think everybody would have been somewhat better served by a selection of carefully chose classics. It wouldn't have been too much trouble to seek out drinks that in and of themselves fit the theme I was told about while still being able to offer a selection of drinks that wouldn't be perceived as run of the mill.