Weddings: Leianna & Morgan

Last night was Leianna & Morgan’s wedding at the Bybee Farms Blueberry Farm in North Bend, WA at the foot of Mt. Si. The wedding had a country theme and an awesome bluegrass/jazz band, not to mention a beautiful and very entertaining ceremony officiated by Leianna’s cousin Billy.

My role was to provide the cocktails for the reception. A couple months ago I did a tasting with Morgan & Leianna to choose the drinks that we would serve, and, as I wrote about previously, they selected the following cocktails:

  • Gin-Gin Mule
  • Blue Lavender
  • Mai Tai
  • TBD Whiskey Punch
  • Dark & Stormy

Details for each of these can be found below.

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Bar Reviews: The Big Island of Hawai’i

For the week of Independence Day, my wife and I were lucky enough to take a trip to the big island of Hawai’i. As always, I spent a little time researching the bar scene in advance of the trip, and going into the trip I was not that optimistic. My fears were largely confirmed when the bartender at one of the fairly expensive hotel bars we visited agreed to make me a Negroni and returned with an odd combination of gin, campari, and soda water. I guess we can call that a Negronicano for the mixture of the recipes for the Negroni and Americano?

We did find two places that I liked however, and conveniently they are on opposite sides of the island. You’re always within an hour of a good drink no matter where you are on the island!

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Bar Reviews: Austin and Houston, Texas

One of the reasons that I created this blog was to be an outlet for the information that I collect about cocktail bars in the various cities that I visit.  In these posts I’ll typically publish pictures of the menu and say a few words about my experience at the bars.

I was in Austin, Texas for about a week back in early May, and then I spent one night in Houston on my way back. In Austin, I was amazed at the cocktail quality across the range of various bars that I visited. Even bars that looked like typical beer and well drinks places had cocktail menus that were interesting and bartenders with some education. Fernet was available at most places. Since I was only in Houston for a short time, I can’t evaluate the quality of the cocktail scene as generally, but I got the impression from the few places that I visited, and the bartenders at Anvil Bar & Refuge, that it doesn’t have the same quality across the board as Austin (no real surprise there, frankly). Anvil is at the same quality level as all of the top places in Austin though, so you can still get a great cocktail in Houston.

Coasters from La Condesa and Haddington's, and a menu from Anvil Bar & Refuge

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Quotes: David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks

I just started reading David Embury’s classic book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. Very early on I found this passage that I wanted to save for later:

The well-made cocktail is one of the most gracious of drinks. It pleases the senses. The shared delight of those who partake in common of this refreshing nectar breaks the ice of formal reserve. Taut nerves relax; taut muscles relax; tired eyes brighten; tongues loosen; friendships deepen; the whole world becomes a better place in which to live.

Found on page 33 of the reprint edition that I own.

Recent Acquisitions: Los 2 Compadres Single Cask Sour Mash Whiskey

Whiskey bottle and partially filled tasting glassOur neighbors here in San Diego are working on a bed & breakfast in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, where they live near the Destileria Los 2 Compadres. After they learned of my interest in whiskey (and spirits in general), they went out of their way to pick up a bottle of the destileria’s whiskey. They brought it back for me, and in exchange they asked me to write a review of the product.

Before I write anything more, I should start with a disclaimer that, while I have tried a lot of whiskeys and have a decent library to compare against, I don’t have any experience reviewing whiskeys or giving tasting notes. So, please take all of this with a huge grain of salt.

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Quora Answer: What are the best sources for cocktail recipes (online or book form)?

This is another in a series recapping answers that I’ve given to various cocktail questions on Quora. This answer covers some liqueurs most people may not be familiar with that are useful for making interesting cocktails.

The question: What are the best sources for cocktail recipes (online or book form)?

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Wedding Cocktails: Events 1 & 2

Over the past couple months, I have been asked to handle the cocktails for the weddings of two of my friends: Kelly & Ed from San Diego and Leianna & Morgan from Seattle.  Outside of throwing a couple cocktail parties, I don’t have a lot of experience in putting together a set of cocktails to cover the diverse tastes that come with the wide range of ages and backgrounds found in a wedding audience.

For both, I conducted a tasting with the couples beforehand to explore the range of cocktails that would be possible. The hardest step I found was to come up with a tasting list that covers a wide range of styles and base spirits while limiting the complexity of preparation of each drink.

Check out the details after the jump.

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Quora Answer: What are some of the most unusual cocktails?

This is another in a series recapping answers that I’ve given to various cocktail questions on Quora. This answer covers some liqueurs most people may not be familiar with that are useful for making interesting cocktails.

The question: What are some of the most unusual cocktails?

There are a ton of options to put here, and I think the answer is heavily dependent on how deep you are in the cocktail scene already.  The original asker mentions the Mojito and Long Island Ice Tea, which suggests relatively basic knowledge of the cocktail scene and a desire to learn about things that can be easily made in most normal bars.  To cover this group and people with more experience, I’ve divided my suggestions into a couple tiers.

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Quora Answer: How do I make a cocktail?

This is another in a series recapping answers that I’ve given to various cocktail questions on Quora. This answer covers some liqueurs most people may not be familiar with that are useful for making interesting cocktails.

The question: How do I make a cocktail?

Making a cocktail is a pretty basic process, but there are definitely some things that you can do to make your mixed drinks stand above those mixed by a total novice.

  • Always measure – you can use a jigger (a small measuring device, often with a concial shape) or just a small measuring cup. Professionals often learn to free pour, but keep in mind that they’re using devices like mental timing or liquid levels in the glass to get fairly exact measured pours.
  • Use quality ingredients – squeeze your juices from fresh fruit, don’t leave your vermouth and other wine-like ingredients in the fridge for months, and buy good liquor.
  • Mix with ice – Nearly all cocktails should be cold when served, and the use of ice while shaking or stirring will both cool down the drink to a reasonable temperature and dilute the mixture somewhat. Most recipes rely on this dilution to achieve the desired flavor profile…otherwise you’ll end up with way too much heat on the tongue.
  • Shake or Stir – A general rule is that you should shake anything containing juice, cream, or egg. Anything with entirely alcohol components (e.g. spirit, vermouth, bitters drinks like the Manhattan and Martini) should be stirred. These aren’t hard and fast rules however. Stirring will usually leave the drink with a pleasingly clear appearance, which is why most people say to stir martinis. Shaking is essential for cream and egg drinks to get adequate mixing. Drinks that use egg should be given a “dry shake,” which means shaking the ingredients first without ice before subsequently adding ice and shaking again. Drinks that use both egg and cream need to be shaken for an extended period of time to ensure proper emulsification (e.g., the Ramos Gin Fizz).
  • Strain – It is typically best to not serve the drink with the ice that it was mixed in, because this ice has already begun to melt and will be reduced in size (and possibly crushed when shaking) and will melt much more quickly than fresh ice. Thus, the best practice is to strain the drink out of the glass that it was mixed in, leaving the old ice behind, into a new glass with new ice (if ice is called for). If you muddle anything in your drink, you should also use a fine strainer to make sure none of the solid pieces from the muddled fruit or herbs end up in the final drink.
  • Serve in a cold glass – It is good practice to pre-cool your glasses before serving so that your cocktail stays colder longer and any ice melts less quickly. This can be done by storing your cocktail glasses in a fridge/freezer, or putting ice and water into the serving glass before beginning to mix the drink.  The ice and water in the serving glass is then poured out before straining the cocktail into the glass (obviously).
  • Use the appropriate glass – This is less important compared to most of the other rules. A tall, thin glass should be used for drinks that contain carbonated ingredients like ginger beer or club soda. This minimizes the surface area at the top of the glass so that the drink will stay carbonated longer.  Old-fashioned glasses or tumblers are often used for spirit forward drinks without carbonation that require ice in the glass. Stem glasses are used when you are not leaving ice in the drink.
  • Garnish – In many cases, the garnish is an important flavor element in a cocktail. If a fruit twist is called for, it must be added.  When creating a twist, it is important to squeeze some of the essential oils from the fruit peel over the drink to get these flavor components into the drink.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and having the right tools is also important, but with just this you should be well on your way to making a great cocktail.

The Reverse Manhattan

A new favorite drink of mine is the “reverse manhattan,” which consists of the same ingredients as a regular Manhattan but with the quantity of the principle ingredients of whiskey and sweet vermouth reversed.  This means that you get a big pour of sweet vermouth and a smaller pour of whiskey, leading to a cocktail with lower alcohol content but a more pleasant aroma.

I got the idea from a blog post by Camper English on the science of dilution in which he mentions that Audrey Saunders has been experimenting with “inverted cocktails” in order to play with stronger and more complex aroma profiles. Apparently, the idea is that drinks with lower alcohol content will be more aromatic because there are fewer alcohol “clusters” in the drink that will attach to the aromatic molecules in a drink and lower the rate at which they might escape from the drink.  I have no idea about the science behind this hypothesis, but in practice I have noticed that lower alcohol content cocktails seem to have stronger aromas.

The reverse manhattan is also a drink that I think falls into the new family of suppressor cocktails that have recently become a trend in Atlanta. The idea is to construct cocktails with complex flavors that are low in alcohol by utilizing lower alcohol ingredients, such as wines, vermouths, and fortified wines. I’m particularly drawn to this class of cocktails because I often have to work in the evenings with a cocktail next to my laptop, and I often find myself driving home from the cocktail bar afterward. Thus it’s important to choose cocktails with low alcohol content.

Most suppressor cocktail recipes that I’ve seen use a fortified wine like sherry as a base. That means that the reverse manhattan is still a little bit stronger than most suppressors, but can still have quite a lot of complexity depending on your choice of each specific ingredient. A high quality sweet vermouth, like Carpano Antica, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, or Vya is essential. I’m still exploring, but the choice of whiskey and bitters also has an important effect. There are so many combinations to try that I’m sure this is something I’ll be trying different variations on for quite awhile.

The Reverse Manhattan

  • 2 oz Sweet Vermouth (Carpano Antica works well)
  • 1 oz Rye Whiskey
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
I usually skip the garnish, but a brandied cherry would work well.