Friday, March 28, 2008

What I've Learned


Last month I looked at the calendar and realized that I started this blog a year ago. I remember thinking that the absolute last thing I was going to do was one of those “Happy Birthday/anniversary”-type posts.

But then I changed my mind. I do that.

What prompted me was a regular feature that Esquire magazine does called “What I’ve Learned”. It’s my favorite part of the magazine*, and for those who haven’t seen it, the magazine asks a notable personality to provide whatever observations on life they feel are worthwhile. Here's a good one.

Never one to shy away from freely spouting my own crackpot take on things, I decided it was high time to jump in myself:

~~~ What I’ve Learned in OneYear of Boozeblogging~~~

~ The boozeblogging/online cocktail community is comprised of unbelievably friendly, generous, and encouraging people. Although I’ve yet to meet any of them in person, I’ve had many fun & informative exchanges via email and comments, and everyone I’ve gotten to know has been very kind. Interacting with my fellow drink geeks is a big reason why I continue to be enthusiastic about learning as much as I can about cocktails.

~ Starting a blog when you’re expecting your first child may not have been the brightest thing to do from a frequency-of-posting standpoint.

~ Pennsylvania has got to be one of the lousiest places in the entire country to buy booze. I knew this prior to starting my blog, but I didn’t fully realize just how maddening it can be until I attempted to try to lay hands on some slightly-off-the-beaten-path drink ingredients.

Rather than going into a full-bore rant, I’ll direct interested readers to this article, which does a pretty good job of providing a glimpse into the lunacy that is PA’s liquor sales system. This one is good as well. (Thanks to Cynthia for bringing these articles to my attention)

~ There is no substitute for fresh squeezed juice.

~ A year ago I hadn’t the faintest idea what the hell Falernum, Orgeat, or Pimento Dram were. Not only did I learn, but I now know people who actually make their own from scratch.

~ Don’t fear the brown! ’07 was the year I really embraced whisk(e)y. My mother-in-law turned me onto Scotch, and I discovered I really, really like rye. And though my taste for Bourbon has been spotty over the years, I recently ran across a few that I’d knock small children aside to get at (I’m talkin’ about you, 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle!).

~ Oregon apparently has a disproportionate amount of skilled and talented bartenders. While they are indisputably nifty as individuals, they recently decided to increase their prowess by several levels of magnitude and become collectively awesome.

~ People can get excited about bitters. Really excited.

~ I am now unable to go past any used book store without stopping in to forage for old bar guides.

~When properly made, tiki drinks are fantastic. They’re definitely worth the time and trouble

~ On recycling day, all my neighbors’ bins empty out with a series of dull thuds. Mine sounds like an avalanche in a chandelier store.

~ People who enjoy making quality drinks also tend to be damn fine photographers. Like this guy, this gal, and this guy, just to name a few.

~ I own an antique lime squeezer and not one, but two manual ice crushers. People will give you these things once they become aware of your interest in cocktails.

~ Even though I knew this before starting a blog, I have an incredibly loving, patient, and understanding wife. Aside from allowing my bottles & barware to take up an inordinate amount of space in the house, she also is willing to try all the recipes (no matter how odd) I scrounge up.

And if that wasn’t enough knowledge & wisdom for you, Gabriel over at Cocktailnerd recently posted a fun and educational list that highlights the things he learned about crafting cocktails during a lengthy power outage. Print it out and store it with your extra batteries and candles!

*Apologies to Mr. Wondrich

Monday, March 17, 2008

Identity Crisis



I’ve noticed a fine tradition among many boozebloggers is to try a recipe and then tinker with it to suit their personal taste. I’ve done this occasionally, but more often than not, I tend to be happy with the initial results yielded by most recipes. I take this to mean one of two things:

1) I’m fairly lucky when selecting a particular recipe
2) I’ve got pretty low standards

Regardless, when I was looking for a high-octane drink to try out for this month’s MxMo (kindly hosted by Rick over at Kaiser Penguin), I figured I wouldn’t have too much difficulty finding something tasty and interesting. I scrounged up a candidate in Alex Barker’s 1001 Cocktails, and here’s the recipe exactly as it appears in the book:

Indian Summer

1 measure vodka
2 measures Kahlua
1 measure gin
2 measures pineapple
tonic water

1) Shake the first four ingredients well over ice until frosted.
2) Strain into a medium cocktail glass or wine glass and top up with tonic water to taste.

(I took “measure” to mean “ounce” in order to satisfy the minimum alcohol content requirement)

The tinkering began immediately. I felt that instead of straining it into a cocktail/wine glass, this drink needed to be served over crushed ice in a double-rocks glass (if for no other reason than a double-rocks would be able to hold more). Other than that, I prepared it as indicated.

It was, well, okay. Tasty? Sort of. Interesting? Not terribly. The Kahlua and pineapple completely dominated. It was also too sweet for my liking, so I wanted to get some tartness happening. I knocked a half-ounce off the Kahlua & pineapple juice, upped the gin to 1 1/2 ounces and added ¾ ounce of lime juice, resulting in this:

Something Like The Indian Summer

1 oz. vodka
1 1/2 Kahlua
1 1/2 oz. gin
1 1/2 oz. unsweetened pineapple juice
¾ oz. lime juice
tonic water

Again, I shook everything and poured it over crushed ice in a double-rocks glass, topping with tonic water. This time around the balance was better, but it still tasted primarily of Kahlua & pineapple. An improvement, but it still wasn’t doing much for me overall.

Here’s where I kinda went off the rails and realized my obsessive fiddling would be taking this drink somewhere it never intended to be. First, the tonic water seemed unnecessary- it really didn’t add anything, and it just seemed to thin the flavors, so I left that out. Second, I scaled the Kahlua back another half-ounce. Third, I eliminated the vodka and substituted one ounce of rum.

The rum I chose was Brugal anejo. I’ve had a bottle for while now, and I have yet to use it in something where I’ve liked it much. To me, it has a bit of a harsh bite that I have a tough time getting past…but bite was exactly what this drink was lacking. I also threw in a couple dashes of Angostura bitters to pull things together.

So now I had this:

Something That Really Isn’t The Indian Summer Anymore

1 ½ oz. gin
1 oz. rum (Brugal anejo)
1 oz. Kahlua
1 ½ oz unsweetened pineapple juice
¾ oz. lime juice
2 hearty dashes of Angostura bitters

I shook it all and once more used the trusty double-rocks/crushed ice combo. And I actually didn’t think it turned out too bad. The rum and bitters give it some decent spice, and the ingredients seem to level out much better. It’s got some depth, and I like it.

Keen-eyed readers will of course notice this haphazard concoction is seriously verging on tiki territory (if it isn’t already there). For all I know, there may be actually be a tiki-style drink that uses this exact combination of ingredients- I’ll have to check that out sometime. Either way, I don’t think I’m quite done fiddling yet. Perhaps a few drops of mint bitters might be in order…

Wednesday, March 12, 2008



I know what you’ve all been thinking: “Dr. Bamboo’s blog is okay…but what would really be neat was if there was some way his crackpot musings and goofy pictures could be printed on paper and sent to my mailbox!”

Oddly enough, this can happen.

Since last Fall, I’ve been moonlighting as the drinks columnist for Bachelor Pad Magazine. I probably should have mentioned it back then, but I tend to procrastinate.

BPM is the brainchild of Java, all-around swell cat and proprietor of online hot spot Java's Bachelor Pad. He was kind enough to ask me to contribute, and I was happy to oblige. Aside from lifestyle advice, movie reviews, entertaining tips and nifty pinups, the magazine also contains a cocktail recipe and original illustration by yours truly. (The above image is from my column in the premiere issue…if you can guess which drink it represents, you will win a valuable cash prize *)

So why am I bringing it up now? Because issue #3 is now available! To check it out, go here.

*Not really