Friday, December 18, 2009

Moonlighting: Dec. '09


If you feel that the ill-conceived collision of booze, words and drawings shouldn't be confined to just this blog, then you're in luck! This month you can check out more Dr. B. product at two other places...

First, encouraged me to contribute to the destruction of countless eggs in pursuit of a light and festive seasonal tipple. Want the scoop? Then head on over.


Santa demonstrates his lethal "Double-fist Snow Dragon" shaking technique.

This month also brings another issue of the periodical that is unparallelled in covering uncovered women: Bachelor Pad Magazine. Java and his hardworking crew of retro-philes are right on schedule with another dead-tree installment of the most spectacular atomic-age culture rag out there. It's full of holiday goodies, including yours truly's "Last Call" column (which you may want to check out just in case you weren't getting enough booze this season).

Go here to subscribe and increase your yuletide power to astonishing levels!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Olde Tyme Fizze


I just wanted to give a quick heads-up to everyone about Darcy O'Neil's new book Fix the Pumps. Darcy's name will be familiar to anyone who cruises the boozeblog circuit, as he is the person behind the fine site Art of Drink. Also, if you've been to Tales of the Cocktail you've probably attended at least one of his presentations where he drops some serious knowledge, often showing how chemistry and cocktailing are intertwined.

With Fix the Pumps, Darcy directs his efforts toward shedding light on the soda fountain and the myriad concoctions it dispensed. These wonderful palaces of fizz are no longer with us, but reading Darcy's new book will fill your head with historical info, fun facts, and images detailing what a visit to one of these bygone watering holes would have entailed. Time travel never tasted so good.

Darcy also asked me to design & illustrate the cover, so if you like books with drawings of attractive, mechanically-inclined women on the front (and don't we all?), go check it out!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tailspin/Bijou/Oh Come On Already


This month I somehow managed to not forget Mixology Monday
(something I'm exceptionally skilled at), so I really wanted to find something decent to whip up. Considering the theme is "money" (which according to the rules could be interpreted as using "the good stuff" to prepare a top-shelf version of an otherwise pedestrian cocktail), I was eager to find an old concoction and dress it up nice-like with some quality ingredients. Plunging into my modest collection of bar guides, I unearthed a recipe I thought fit the bill pretty well: The Tailspin.


I pulled the Tailspin from the 1936 edition of the Old Mr. Boston DeLuxe Official Bar-tender's Guide and it looked like a winner: Gin, green Chartreuse, and sweet vermouth in equal proportions all topped off with a dash of orange bitters. I like all those ingredients, so it was the perfect drink to spruce up with some of the spiffier denizens of my liquor cabinet. Here's what I ended up with:

Tailspin (as written)

1/3 Old Mr. Boston Dry Gin
1/3 Italian Vermouth
1/3 Green Chartreuse
Dash Orange Bitters

Sir well in ice and strain into 3 oz. cocktail glass Squeeze lemon peel on top and serve with cherry or olive.

Tailspin (my "money" version)

3/4 oz. Old Raj 110 proof dry gin
3/4 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
3/4 oz. Green Chartreuse
1 Dash Angostura Orange bitters

Sir well with ice and strain into 3 oz. cocktail glass Garnish with lemon twist.

A couple notes about this recipe:

1) The Tailspin comes out a rich amber color and is gorgeous to look at. On the tongue it's a pungent medley of herbal goodness, with dense, powerful flavors from top to bottom. It's slightly on the sweet side, but there's enough alcohol presence to rein it in. The saffron-infused Old Raj brings another flavor component into the mix with the Carpano and Chartreuse, and definitely ratchets the whole affair up a notch or two. For comparison, I made one using some other dry gins, and while they ended up producing a sharper, brighter drink, the Old Raj version has more depth and will probably be my go-to recipe.

2) Half the cocktail blogging community has discussed this freaking drink to death already.

I discovered this when I did a simple search online for "Tailspin Cocktail." I made several versions of the drink, took notes, and thought I'd better just take a quick peek and see if anyone else had tried it out too. A BUNCH of people had (Did I mention I'm frequently "late to the party" where this kind of thing is concerned?). And there was much discussion of what this drink actually contained, and what it should be called. Turns out the Tailspin is very similar to a drink called the Bijou, and that similarity has contributed to a good bit of head-scratching and bewilderment amongst us booze geeks.

On my end, I was using a series of Mr. Boston's editions spanning 70-some-odd years as my starting point, and these books revealed some interesting quirks, both mixological and editorial. I compared Tailspin and Bijou recipes in the editions I had, and here's what I found:

1936 edition: Exact same recipe, except the Bijou is garnished w/ a cherry *only*, instead of a hunk of lemon peel and cherry/olive for the Tailspin. Also, the ingredients are listed in a different order for some reason.

1940 edition: Same as in the 1936 edition, except now the Bijou is supposed to be shaken.

1959 edition: Same as the 1940 edition.

1966 edition: Same as in the 1959 edition, except now they want the Bijou to be stirred again.

1996 edition: Same as in the 1966 edition

2009 edition: Bijou same as in the 1996 edition, but the Tailspin now has a dash of Campari in place of the orange bitters.

Moving on to other bar guides, I consulted The Official Mixer's Manual by Patrick Gavin Duffy, which lists the Bijou as being the same gin/Chartreuse/vermouth/bitters combo, but with only a lemon peel as garnish. I also found it listed in The Ultimate Book of Cocktails which indicated that curacao could be substituted for bitters and that Plymouth gin must be used.

If you're still with me at this point (God help you), you've probably determined I'm a bit of a masochist. Allow me to reinforce that assessment by providing just a few links to some places where the Bijou and/or Tailspin discussion has taken place.

Oh Gosh!


Cocktail Chronicles

Underhill Lounge

The Spirit World

If you looked at any of those (including the comments), you can see that going online often raises as many questions as it answers. So is there a conclusion to be drawn here? It seems there's a loose consensus that when made with Campari, it's a Tailspin. When made with orange bitters, it's a Bijou. It really depends on the source though. This sort of thing is what makes the type of alcoholic archaeology we practice simultaneously exciting and frustrating.

And I'm beginning to see why sometimes it's easier to just get a damn gin & tonic.

Friday, December 4, 2009



This time of year I find myself making drinks fairly often (I make 'em fairly often the rest of the year too, but keep your judgments to yourselves please). Since I've accumulated a good bit of gear to go with my giggle water, I'm frequently rummaging through my heap of tools and assorted cocktail-making paraphernalia looking for those items that I end up needing more than the others. What causes certain bar tools to become absolute necessities while others drift slowly to the back of the shelf like phantoms, eventually forgotten?

Who knows? Everybody's got their favorite tools, and while there are some constants, the stuff we use to make drinks can be mighty varied. Booze geeks are fiercely opinionated about the stuff they drink, so it only makes sense that their preferences toward the gadgets they employ would be just as intense.

Much like Jeffrey's knife, Tiare's jigger, or Matt's "Murdler", I've discovered I have a piece of beloved barware that I consider indispensible and use more than any other:

The Frankenshaker.

Reminiscent of Eddie Van Halen's legendary "Frankenstrat", its ugly, made up of disparate components, and gets the job done like nobody's business. It's essentially a Boston shaker with none of the parts matching, and I reach for it almost 100% percent of the time.

What makes this motley assemblage so dear to my heart? Lemme break it down:

1) Tin: First off, I'm not even sure it's a cocktail mixing tin. It may have been intended for milkshakes for all I know. The only indication of its origin is "Capco 18.8 stainless steel Korea" etched on the bottom. Despite being covered in nicks, scratches, and assorted abrasions, it's got nary a dent and is sturdy as heck. It's thicker than most other tins I've seen and has some pretty good heft. Not bad for a flea market find.

2) Glass: A thick-walled, hefty mixing glass with garish red, green and yellow graphics of fruit printed on it along with recipes for Whiskey Sour, Martini, Daiquiri, Manhattan and Tom Collins. It was apparently originally part of a kit that included a spoon and strainer, but mine is all by its lonesome. The printing is worn off in many places but I don't care because this baby is all about function over form. Another flea market find.

3) Strainer: A Hawthorne strainer that was included in a bartender's kit given away as swag by Plymouth gin at Tales of the Cocktail in 2008. I have several Hawthorne strainers and I find most of them either too heavy or too flimsy. This one is very balanced and feels just right to me. The Plymouth logo printed on the handle has long since rubbed off, but that just goes to show how often I use it.

When all three are used together, it's joy. The tin & glass fit together superbly, yet never get stuck, and the strainer sits in the tin comfortably, with a little bit of play (which I happen to like). Like I said, it's certainly nothing you're going to see in a design museum or upscale watering hole, but I'll take my Frankenshaker's ramshackle elegance and utilitarian charm over a shiny bit of bartop objet d'art any day.

So what's your favorite bar tool? (And don't pretend you don't have one...Dr. Bamboo knows when you're lying!)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Moonlighting: Oct. '09


Ignoring good judgment, the fine folks at continue to let me take up valuable space in their monthly newsletter with my words & pictures. October's column has been posted here, and is a must-read if you have an irrational fear of Piranhas (and who doesn't, really?)

If that's not enough booze-centric musing for you, all my previous columns can be seen here. I also strongly recommend you check the archives to peruse the news from ALL the people who contribute to the newsletter. They love a good cocktail, and spend countless hours awash in liquor for your benefit. That's real dedication!

Read early, read often.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Un-Review: Spiced Rum Summit (Pt. 2)


Continuing my exploration into Things I Am Profoundly Unqualified To Do, (in this case, discussing the relative merits of specific liquor brands), I put five more spiced rums under the microscope. Join me, won't you?

- Kilo Kai Spiced Rum -


Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: No (But it does have a Jolly Roger-esque emblem, so it gets an honorary mention)

Overall Packaging Coolness: Medium/High. Minimalist design with smoked, nearly-opaque bottle emblazoned with a stylized skull-and-crossbones logo and small paper label. There is also a thin strip of high-friction tape around the neck of the bottle that I guess helps you maintain your grip if you're pouring drinks while snowboarding or participating in a mixed-martial-arts tournament.

Proof: 70

Spice-itude: Medium. Vanilla & cherry flavors come through most prominently, and there's a buttery tone overall. Fine to sip straight, but it's kind of limp on its own. This stuff is clearly meant to be mixed.

Coke Compatibility: Medium. It syncs up with the Coke seamlessly, but rather than both standing out AND cooperating flavor-wise (what I believe a good "Rum & Coke rum" should do), it sort of just amplifies the existing Coke flavors without adding anything new.

Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Medium. The bottle design is slick and edgy-looking, but maybe a wee bit too trendy/clubby for a Flamboyant Badass to fully embrace. Unless we're talking about the future... This is totally the rum that Aeon Flux or a cybernetically-enhanced Hong Kong gangster would drink.

Another Round Likelihood: Low. (Rum & Coke that is...but I definitely will be trying it in other applications)

Overall Assessment: I like this stuff a lot- just not necessarily in traditional rum roles. I tend to think of it as less of a true rum and more of its own thing entirely...almost like a rum liqueur that would really shine as a flavoring element rather than a base spirit. Lots of mad-scientist potential.

- Old New Orleans Cajun Spiced Lousiana Rum -


Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: No

Overall Packaging Coolness: Low. Standard bottle with restrained, text-only label is very distinctive and well-designed, but says "classy" rather than "cool."

Proof: 80

Spice-itude: High. Plenty of aggressive spice goodness without being overly sweet or having any one flavor dominate. A nice medley of flavors makes this great to enjoy by itself.

Coke Compatibility: Medium/High. Rum character tends to retreat, leaving the spice as a residual element detectable in & around the Coke. You could definitely do worse.

Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Low/ Medium. I can envision the blood-red label catching the eye of a Flamboyant Badass in mid-ransack, but the smoothness and spice-forward flavor profile tames the bite that a true F.B. would probably be looking for.

Another Round Likelihood: High (Only if I'm having it straight...mixing it with Coke verges on creating a liquid cookie)

Overall Assessment: Superb balance between spice and "real rum" flavors. Manages to walk the line without sacrificing spiciness OR conventional rum taste.

- Sailor Jerry Spiced Navy Rum -


Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: No (But there is an anchor printed on the cap as a nod to seafaring themes. Besides, it's called "Sailor Jerry", so nautical adventure is pretty much implied.)

Overall Packaging Coolness: Medium. Standard bottle with label bearing an old-school-style tattoo of a hula girl and a smattering of text. Overall effect is minimal, vintage, and slightly seedy.

Proof: 92

Spice-itude: Medium. Spice is evident, but takes a back seat to the straightforward rum flavor. The slight overproof heat overshadows the spiciness a bit, leaving a slight caramel tinge most noticeably.

Coke Compatibility: Medium. Fades to the background except for caramel & vanilla flavors....sort of makes the Coke taste like Vanilla Coke rather than adding a rum aspect.

Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Medium/High. Classic yet irreverent packaging combined with no-nonsense contents would likely put this in the loot sack or footlocker of any given Flamboyant Badass.

Another Round Likelihood: High (On its own. Not so much in a Rum & Coke)

Overall Assessment: Drink it straight. And if doing so compels you to get a tattoo, at least make it a good one.

- Admiral Nelson's Premium Spiced Rum -


Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: Yes (boat, map). Admiral Nelson is also featured prominently, but since he was technically not a pirate, it doesn't count.

Overall Packaging Coolness: Low. Standard bottle with spiced rum label trifecta of map/boat/adventurous nautical personality...which is fine, except the overall effect is rather chintzy-looking. As an artist, I definitely appreciate the use of an illustration, but in this case the character depicted looks like a strange hybrid of Gordon Lightfoot and Eric Stoltz. Doesn't really do it for me.

Proof: 70

Spice-itude: Low. What little spice is detectable is chemical-tasting, and the only single flavor I can pick out is something akin to artificial vanilla.

Coke Compatability: Low. It doesn't outright clash with the Coke, but seems to sit on top of it rather than merge. It's not entirely unpleasant, but it does give the drink a slightly synthetic, medicinal tang.

Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Low. Like Castillo, it comes in a 1-liter bottle, so you get some bonus hooch to fuel your badassery. Aside from that, there's not much that would garner approval from a Flamboyant Badass.

Another Round Likelihood: Low.

Overall Assessment: I remain unconvinced.

- Calico Jack: Bonney's Best Spice Flavored Rum -

(No image available, but it's pretty much identical to Calico Jack)

Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: Yes (scroll, boat)

Overall Packaging Coolness: Medium. Standard bottle with parchment-ish label showing a detailed illustration of a ship flying the Jolly Roger in a tropical setting. The Jolly Roger reappears on the back label, and there's lots of gold foil accents throughout (That means extra-classy, folks!)

Proof: 70

Spice-itude: Low. Hard to pick out any specific flavors. Very mild with just a touch of spice...end result is innocuous and bland.

Coke Compatibility: Low. Just sort of makes the Coke taste sweeter without bringing any noticeable rum component.

Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Low. Rum itself needs to be a bit coarser, and bottle needs to be less fussy if it wants to be considered solid Flamboyant Badass material.

Another Round Likelihood: Medium (only if drunk straight)

Overall Assessment: Not particularly remarkable in any way, but not necessarily bad either. This what you'd have if Kraft made rum.

Two additional items of interest:

1) I'm not 100% certain what the name of this product actually is. There are three separate labels of varying size on the bottle, and one reads, "Calico Jack: Bonney's Best Spice Flavored Rum", the second reads, "Calico Jack Premium Spice Flavored Rum" and the third simply says, Premium Spiced." Name issues aside, at least we know there's spice involved.

2) The label on the back of the bottle contains a brief, colorful bit of copy informing us that Calico Jack was "Pillaging his way through the West Indies with his famous female cohorts Anne Bonney and Mary Read..." This is worth noting, because it means that Calico Jack may have the distinction of being the first guy to use cheap rum and a boat to facilitate a threesome.

More on the way soon!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Un-Review: Spiced Rum Summit (Pt.1)


Why spiced rum?

1) Because rum snobs and cocktail geeks hate the stuff. And as we've already established, I have a perverse compulsion to embrace liquor that everybody else writes off. Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the people who publicly sneer at spiced rum are closet consumers. I mean, someone's buying all that Captain Morgan.

2) Because some of it is perfectly decent, and I'm loathe to dismiss an entire category of spirits without at least trying a few of 'em.

3) Because I've gone to great lengths to avoid doing product reviews and I love nothing more than contradicting myself. And if I'm going to completely go back on my word, I'm going to try to be original about it, since as far as I know , no one has done a roundup of spiced rum. (But I didn't really's just a hunch. I honestly didn't have time to research this, since I was busy drinking a truckload of rum).

A note on this last point: The following should in no way be considered "reviews" in the conventional sense. For example, I will not be discussing things like price of a product, detailing how it was made, or recommending whether you should buy it or not. I will also be largely avoiding tasting notes. If you want someone to tell you about stuff like "woody undertones" and "citrusy top notes" I'm not your guy. Even though I clumsily attempt to do it from time to time, I don't consider it my strong suit.

Therefore, I will be adopting the term that bartender extraordinaire Fred Sarkis used to describe my recent discussion of his fine joint Embury: "Un-review"

So what will I be discussing?

In the interest of thumbing my nose at the traditional review process, I have come up with a several categories which are geared toward spiced rum. They are:

- Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?
Is there a pirate, boat, map or scroll on the label?
- Overall Packaging Coolness
How sweet-looking is the bottle?
- Proof
Okay, obviously not unique to spiced rum, but you still need to know how much armor your liver will need.
- Spice-itude
How well does the product embody "spiced rum" vs. just "rum"?
- Coke Compatibility
Does the product work well in a Rum & Coke?
- Flamboyant Badass Quotient
Is the product something that can be envisioned being drunk by a Flamboyant Badass (i.e. a pirate)
- Another Round Likelihood
Do I want to drink more of this?
- Overall Assessment
Pretty self-explanatory, I think.

A few more notes, disclaimers, and pre-emptive ass-covering maneuvers:

1) My rigorous, scientifically sound tasting process consisted of me: A) sipping a shot or so of the rum neat in a rocks glass. B) making a Rum & Coke with it*- rocks glass, ice, no lime. C) taking notes. I also only tasted one rum per day.

2) The list of rums I will be discussing is by no means exhaustive. As nice as it would be to get my hands on every single spiced rum that's out there, we must remember that I live in Pennsylvania, so I'm lucky if I can find anything other than vodka, Jack Daniels and peppermint schnapps.

3) What I do have on hand is a combination of products that I bought myself, was provided by a brand directly, or given to me by fellow booze nerds. My opinions on a given product are not influenced in any way by the circumstances under which it was obtained. (In other words, I'm not saying I like something just because it was free).

On with the show...

- Spiced Jack #94 Spiced Rum -


Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: Yes (scroll)

Overall Packaging Coolness: Medium. Has a neat label with a fake scroll/parchment motif emblazoned with a winged skull wearing a military hat and aviator's glasses. It's what I imagine Hunter S. Thompson would look like if he was undead and in the Air Force. The bottle is oddly shaped and falls somewhere between a an ancient urn and your grandmothers perfume spritzer.

Proof: 94

Spice-itude: Low. Mostly tastes of vanilla, with a noticeable alcohol burn and disturbing sweetness. Strange artificial taste on the finish.

Coke Compatibility: Low. It almost disappears entirely into the Coke, save for the's more like drinking a Vodka & Coke.
Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Medium. The scary label is offset by the foo-foo bottle shape.

Another Round Likelihood: Low

Overall Assessment: Not terribly rum-like. Pass.

- Original Trader Vic's Private Selection Spiced Rum -


Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: No

Overall Packaging Coolness: Medium. Nicely-designed retro label, with the Trader Vic "mask and crossed weapons" emblem shown prominently. Looks like something you'd find while cleaning out the liquor cabinet at your great-uncle's vacation home. Plus, if you buy the 1.75 liter size, the handle makes it convenient to tie to your belt, leaving your hands free for swordfighting or rope-swinging.

Proof: 70

Spice-itude: Medium/High. Pretty punchy assortment of flavors. Vanilla most noticeable, but doesn't dominate.

Coke Compatibility: High. Makes an excellent Rum & Coke. The spice cuts through the sweetness of the Coke quite well.

Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Medium. It gets points for size (If you buy the 1.75 liter), and the Trader Vic connection, since Vic was definitely one of the original Flamboyant Badasses.

Another Round Likelihood: High

Overall Assessment: Good stuff.

- The Kraken Black Spiced Rum -


Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: Yes (boat)

Overall Packaging Coolness: High. 750 ml bottle with small jug-style ring handles on the neck. Label has an old-school illustration of a giant, bug-eyed octopus crushing a ship- pretty hardcore. It's evocative of something you'd see on the shelf of a 19th-century waterfront a movie. The only thing this needs is a wax seal or palm leaf wrapping to put it over the top.

Proof: 94

Spice-itude: Medium. Enough sweet- & spiciness to enjoy sipping on its own, but it's got a nice burn that keeps it from going into candyland.

Coke Compatibility: Medium/High. Meshes almost too well. The overall flavors are extremely complementary, and if it were a lower proof, it would probably not punch through.

Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Medium/High. "Kraken Black Spiced Rum" sounds Flamboyantly Badass to be sure, and the fact that this stuff is nearly opaque gives it some intimidation factor.

Another Round Likelihood: High

Overall Assessment: Nice. Tastes like rum, and may be the only one so far that works better on its own than mixed.

- Castillo Spiced Rum -


Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: Yes (map)

Overall Packaging Coolness: Low. Safe, uninspired type treatment over old-timey map creates a look that verges on "discount brand."

Proof: 70

Spice-itude: Medium. lots of strong rum character with noticeable caramel. Could easily be sipped on its own...the most like a "real" rum out of this bunch.

Coke Compatibility: High. Not overly sweet. Manages to cut through while simultaneously melding extremely well with the Coke.

Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Low. But since it comes in a 1 liter bottle, a Flamboyant Badass would likely appreciate the extra 250 ml over the standard bottle.

Another Round Likelihood: High

Overall Assessment: Very much like a "regular" rum without sacrificing the spicy aspect. Thumbs-up.

- Lady Bligh Spiced Rum -


Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: Yes (pirate, boat, map)

Overall Packaging Coolness: Low. The only bottle I found was the plastic, roughly flask-shaped style that is clearly intended for concealing in your clothing. The label depicts what is essentially a slight variation of the Captain Morgan label, except with a female character that looks like Julianna Margulies dressed as a theme park pirate.

Proof: 72.5

Spice-itude: Low. Has a cheap, hot taste overall, and a flavor I can describe only as "butterscotch cough syrup."

Coke Compatibility: Low. Despite having a decent amount of alcohol heat, it vanishes almost entirely...except for that synthetic butterscotch flavor that lingers on the finish.

Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Low. This is pretty much what the kids from Superbad would have grabbed in a desperate panic.

Another Round Likelihood: Low.

Overall Assessment: Pour it on your ice cream for an alcoholic dessert treat!

More to come...

UPDATE: Doug Winship from The Pegu Blog gave me a well-deserved 20 lashes with a wet noodle for forgetting to mention "International Talk Like a Pirate Day" when I originally posted this. Unfortunately, ITLaP has come and gone, but you should still scoot on over to his site and revel in a series of pirate-themed posts that will have you hankering for rum in epic quantities.

Seriously, the guy knows his pirate lore. He has "ship" in his name for goodness' sakes.

* I selected the Rum & Coke as the sample drink because 96.3% of all spiced rum is consumed in Rum & Cokes. However, this may or may not be true because I completely made up that statistic.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Moonlighting: Sept '09

I've been falling down on the job. From time to time, I'm apparently supposed to use this space to alert visitors to other places they can go see my stuff. Many of my hooch-soaked colleagues do this, and it's high time I got on the stick too.

Here's a couple other places you can go see some more of my booze-centric words & pictures:


Brains from outer space need quality cocktails too.

Since late '07, I've had the privilege of writing and illustrating the "Last Call" cocktail column for Bachelor Pad Magazine. BPM is a quarterly periodical* that brings you the finest in retro living: Classic movie reviews? Hip lifestyle advice? Interviews with swell people? Zany cartoons? Nifty fiction? Shapely & seductive women by the truckload? Bachelor Pad Magazine has 'em all.

Subscribe here and find out why I drew a brain in a flying saucer filled with liquor (aside from the obvious reasons).


Monkeys make fine bartenders if provided with the proper tools and motivation.

I've also been writing & drawing a monthly column for since about this time last year. It can be found in their monthly newsletter, which contains a multitude of drink recipes, photos, and news from the world of cocktailing. So if you want to keep abreast of compelling issues such as the evolving relationship between primates and mixology, you can subscribe here, and also catch up on previous installments in the archives.

Thanks for stopping by!

* Made with real ink and paper! Not like those flimsy online magazines that disappear if you kick the plug out of the wall.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Save the Date...and Save the Whales!


If you haven't already seen a slew of other boozeblogs alerting us to the fact that tomorrow night (9/3) we celebrate the one-year anniversary of Thursday Drink Night, then here's the highlights:

~ TDN has been going on for a year, and we're celebrating!
~ There'll be a bunch of prizes awarded in a number of categories!
~ Jeff Berry and Martin Cate will stop by!
~ It's open to everyone, so don't be a wallflower!
~ Oh, and the theme is "tiki".

Speaking of tiki...

I've had this recipe kicking around for a while now. It came with a tiki mug I bought from the Queequeg Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Moai., which is an organization of fine, upstanding tiki freaks. I'd been meaning to make it for some time, and I finally rounded up most of the ingredients, so make it I did. Here's the recipe:

Queequeg's Harpoon

1 oz. Lemon Hart Demerara Rum (80 proof)
1 oz. Gosling's Black Seal rum
1 oz. Hurricane rum
.75 oz. lime juice
.75 oz. Queequeg's Blood*
.5 oz. simple syrup
.5 oz. club soda

Shake all (except club soda) w/ 8 oz. crushed ice. Pour into Queequeg MS Society mug. Add club soda. Garnish with cranberries and pineapple chunks on a bamboo spear. Repeat as necessary.

*Queequeg's Blood (cranberry syrup)

2 parts dried cranberries
1 part water
1 part cranberry juice (NOT from concentrate)
.5 part sugar
.5 part brown sugar
1 pinch whole cloves
1 three-inch cinnamon stick

Boil everything together at low heat, stirring constantly for 40 minutes. Let the mixture cool. Remove cinnamon stick. Blend mixture in blender until consistent. Strain multiple times through cheesecloth to remove particles. Bottle & enjoy!

Now the first problem I ran into was not having Hurricane rum, which is a small-batch, aged, slightly overproof gold rum that isn't exactly a commonplace item. Tiki guru extraordinaire Jeff Berry told me suitable substitutes would be something like a gold Puerto Rican (such as Bacardi 8) or amber Cruzan rum.

But because I like to ask people for advice and then not follow it, I subbed Old New Orleans Crystal rum and thought it worked fine. I also left out the club soda because it didn't really seem necessary.

The second problem I ran into is that even on paper, the "Queequeg's Blood" looks like a pain in the ass to make. I made it, and rest assured, it is. Plus, when I made it (using a "1 cup = 1 part" ratio), it yielded a paltry 3-4 oz. of liquid. So I came up with a recipe that's a lot less labor intensive, yields much more usable end product, and tastes the same in my opinion:

Queequeg's Blood (ver. 2.0)

1.5 cups dried cranberries
1.5 cups unsweetened cranberry juice
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
.5 cup brown sugar
15 whole cloves
2 three-inch cinnamon sticks

In a medium saucepan, bring everything to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved.. Lower heat, and simmer lightly for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool, strain and bottle. Yields approx. 2.5 cups liquid.

So when all this tinkering was concluded, I ended up making this:

Queequeg's Harpoon (12" dance remix)

1 oz. Lemon Hart Demerara rum (80 proof)
1 oz. Gosling's Black Seal rum
1 oz. Old New Orleans Crystal rum
.75 oz. lime juice
.75 oz. Queequeg's Blood (ver. 2.0)
.5 oz. simple syrup

Shake everything with cracked ice and strain into double old-fashioned glass or tiki mug filled with crushed ice. Garnish with cranberries and pineapple chunks on a bamboo spear.

So instead of punching holes in an innocent sea creature, gather up your giggle water and make a few of these. If that still doesn't satisfy your bloodlust, there's always Deadliest Catch.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

R-E-S-P-E-C-T for VS & FC


Same great and improved!

If you talk to enough booze nerds, certain patterns emerge. Cocktail enthusiasts tend to share an affinity for a lot of the same things (i.e. bitters, Hawaiian shirts), and you'll begin to hear specific names get dropped frequently if you hang out with these folks long enough.

There are certain people, products and publications that are perennial favorites- every drink geek worth his or her salt will be at least vaguely familiar with them. To try to list them comprehensively is an ambitious task, but let's just say that if you found yourself in the average booze nerd's house, you could make pretty accurate guesses as to what you'll find on their bookshelf and in their liquor cabinet.

For now, we'll leave the subject of people's liquor collections aside...analyzing what bottles people let reside in their homes is a pretty tall (and contentious) order. Book-wise, there tends to be a bit more agreement on what volumes are "must-haves." And there's one title that crops up again and again when you ask discerning drunks about books that they always keep within easy reach and refer to with great frequency: Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails.

This book, assembled by Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh performs an admirable double-duty. It's a great collection of drink recipes and related historical info. But it's also responsible for the creation of many drink geeks. Ask your average cocktail obsessive what got them started on their pursuit of quality tipples, and you'll find that several of them credit running across a copy of VS & FC as being responsible for kick-starting their quest.

That's what happened to me. Back in the 90's the Bamboo Babe had given me an edition of the Mr. Boston's guide, which gave me a glimpse into what you could do with booze and a few mixers. But it wasn't until her mother gave me a copy of Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails a few years ago that the hook was set (apparently both these women want me loaded as often as possible).

Full-throttle geekery ensued. I imagine my trajectory wasn't terribly different from anyone else's: Wondering what the hell half the ingredients were. Then trying to FIND those ingredients. Discovering through trial-and-error which things I did & didn't care for. Learning proper mixing techniques. Spending unhealthy amounts of time online researching and sharing info with other enthusiasts. Wondering if there were any actual bars making these drinks anymore, or were they being crafted solely by hermits with outsized liquor stashes and a penchant for history?

So I ended up doing what many booze nerds embrace as the next natural step in the progression: Blogging. I don't know why so many of us feel the compulsion to document our drinking publicly, but there you have it. I began to notice a lot of boozebloggers were frequently posting recipes from VS & FC, and we compared notes. Clearly there were lots of others who were using this book as their bartop lodestone, and with good results. I also told anyone I met offline who expressed curiosity in drinking well that VS & FC was one of the first books they should get.

Then I discovered the damn thing was out of print. After telling everybody and their brother to go get it , the only place one could apparently be obtained was on the secondary market for well above the cover price. I guarded my copy like a religious artifact and refused to let it leave the house.

Except for when I toted it to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail in 2008. You see, by then I was deep enough into my obsession to have reached the next stage in the game: making the annual pilgrimage to Tales. I knew that Ted Haigh would be there and if I ran into him I wanted to tell him how much I enjoyed his book and possibly get him to sign it. Also, he had been nice enough to comment on one of my earlier posts, and I wanted to thank him for visiting my site.

Fortunately, that happened. He was gracious, funny, knowledgeable and kind enough to invite me and the people who introduced us to have a couple drinks with him, despite his being short on time and sleep. Like I said, a heckuva guy.

It was at that time that Ted mentioned the possibility of a revised and expanded second edition of VS & FC. Several months later, it had apparently become a reality, because Ted emailed several people (including me), asking our thoughts on the role blogging plays in the current resurgence of interest in cocktails. I was tremendously flattered he wanted my feedback, and I answered his questions as thoughtfully as I could, assuming that I probably hadn't offered up anything particularly insightful or that hadn't been better articulated by others.

Fast-forward to this past June, when I was able to get my hands on a copy. It turns out that the blogger-specific content that Ted had described ambiguously as perhaps a small sidebar feature or occasional bit of color commentary ended up becoming an entire section of the book. It's titled "Pioneering Champions of the Forgotten Cocktail: The 25 Most Influential Online Cocktail Pioneers" and includes profiles of people who have used (and are still very much using) their access to the internet to advance the cause of good drinking.

As I scanned the list, I recognized many people, several of whom I've had the pleasure of meeting personally, and others I knew by reputation. Almost all have some presence of one kind or another on the internet, and they represent a truly frightening volume of booze knowledge.

Oh, and there's also this one guy who gets buzzed and makes cartoons about it.

Yeah, I'm in there for some reason. To me, that section of the book is 24 people who really know their stuff, and one dork who drinks and draws. But I'm incredibly honored to be in such good company. Most of them are listed over there on the right, and if you have the book you know who they are...and you should be stopping by their sites as often as possible.

If you don't have the book, I strongly recommend picking up a copy of the new edition, even if you're just mildly interested in making good drinks. It's got all the stuff from the first edition, plus a bunch more...and I guarantee there will be at least one drink in there that you'll like well enough to revisit many times.

However, I won't reveal which drink in VS & FC I find myself going back to again and again- I don't want to create any preconceptions. When you get the book, I suggest you simply do what I did, which is to explore with abandon.

Just don't get mad at me when you find yourself typing "Amer Picon" into a search engine at 2:30 am.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I Never Go To Bars


I realized at some point over the last couple years of boozeblogging that there is a key difference between myself and the majority of my fellow drink geeks: I almost never find myself in bars.

It's not that I actively avoid's just that I never seem to patronize them with any real frequency. Odd, considering I adore bars. I think they're absolutely fascinating places. I love dives and swanky joints alike, and I've had wonderful, memorable times in almost every watering hole I've stepped into. Yet I do 99% of my drinking at home.*

This puts me in direct contrast with most of the other bloggers, bartenders, and assorted booze nerds I know who chronicle their public drinking escapades online. These people do some serious traveling, and not only do they hit up seemingly every bar in within reach, they can pretty much find hooch everywhere. On any given day of browsing blogs, social networking sites and emails, I encounter a flurry of miniature liquor-centric travelogues such as:

"The Moroccan Mixologists' Guild is sponsoring a VIP event...I'm sitting on a camel and sampling concoctions from 478 of the finest bartenders in North Africa!"

"Having drinks in New York's hottest new cocktail spot. To get in, you have to use a jetpack to fly to the roof, then rappel down 18 floors and climb through an air-conditioning vent. Totally worth it- best Negroni EVER!"

"I'm crouched in an igloo drinking Inuit moonshine!"

"Finished judging the Pan-Asian Craft Cocktail Showdown in Hong Kong. Jackie Chan just invited me to the rollout party for his new vodka!

"Got off the plane in Madagascar, and I'm being whisked to the island's only rum distillery for a VIP tour by the owner's daughter. She's been pouring me samples the whole time in the back of the limo. Did I mention she's a lingerie model? "

"Who knew a commercial whaling vessel would have a fully-stocked absinthe bar??"

And so on. Now, if I documented my drinking this way, it would essentially be endless variations of:

"Went to the basement and rummaged through the liquor shelf. Made a weird drink I found in some old bar guide and then watched 'Intervention.' Maybe I can draw a dopey cartoon about it later."

However, despite the fact that I rarely travel past the end of my driveway,** I've recently made several trips to what I'm confident is Pittsburgh's only craft cocktail bar: Embury.

I should point out that in addition to not doing product reviews here (much to the chagrin of the many brand reps who kindly send me samples, I'm sure), I don't review bars. I don't see myself as a critic, and I try to avoid going into that territory as much as possible. That being said, I do need to say just a few words about Embury :

Go there.

If you're in the greater Pittsburgh area and enjoy well-crafted cocktails, you need to go there now. Embury is the domain of Fred Sarkis, a phenomenally skilled & talented bartender who is using the cozy ground floor of the popular Firehouse lounge to bring pre-prohibition bartending to the 'Burgh.

Fred's been doling out the hospitality at Embury since March, and he continues to do so with a high degree of enthusiasm and class five nights a week . As I said, I won't attempt to do the place justice with a ham-fisted review. I'll just say that if premium spirits, fresh juices and homemade bitters & syrups are what you like in your drink, go there. If uncompromising attention to detail and technique in cocktail creation is your thing, go there. If original recipes that can stand alongside the classics sound appealing, go there.

To see a proper review and a photo of this fine gentleman in action (with FIRE!), go here and here.

I should also mention that Fred and the good folks at the Firehouse/Embury recently hosted a live Thursday Drink Night event and good-naturedly let a flock of booze nerds slap their laptops and webcam on the bar, much to the curiosity of the other patrons. Fred gallantly endured us barking pisco-themed recipes at him all night long while the management tried to avoid a wi-fi meltdown from the sheer volume of geekery. Many thanks, gang!

And because it bears repeating...

Go there.

* there are number of reasons for this, among them being that I'm a cheap bastard (according to the Bamboo Babe)

**A notable exception is that big yearly event in New Orleans that all the booze nerds go to. If you're reading this, there's a halfway decent chance you go there too.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Drinking AND Writing

Recently a fine, enterprising group of booze nerds formally known as the Cocktail & Spirits Online Writers Group descended upon New Orleans and held its first official conference. Waving a giant banner bearing Stan Jones' likeness, they invaded a fairly sedate stretch of Rampart street and set up a base of operations from which both cocktails and cocktail knowledge would issue forth.

The 2-day extravaganza dubbed "drink. write" took place in two locations: a stately Victorian dwelling dubbed the "Mixo house" and a cozy gathering spot located literally across the street . Two days worth of intense drink-related knowledge was shared in the conference facility, while the casual swapping of booze-centric info, socializing and imbibing took place largely at the Mixo house.

Camper English, Jay Hepburn, SeanMike Whipkey and Paul Clarke drop some science.

The presentations and panel discussions covered topics such as how to be a better writer, connecting with the cocktail community at large, how to optimize your blog's effectiveness, taking nifty photos of your drinks, and making dazzling garnishes. These events drew upon the collective skill and talent of people like Jay Hepburn, SeanMike Whipkey, Paul Clarke, Tiare Olsen, Rick Stutz, Martin Cate, Jamie Boudreau, Darcy O'Neil, Camper English and Chuck Taggart , who were kind enough to get up in front of a herd of knowledge-hungry cocktail geeks and dispense wisdom.

After the PowerPoint glare had faded and all the citrus carcasses had been swept up, the gathering eventually shifted to the Mixo House, where the surprisingly named "Mixo Bar" formed the centerpiece of the proceedings. Seemingly everyone took a turn behind the stick, and if you couldn't get a good drink, it was probably your own fault- the generosity of the sponsors ensured that product was in good supply, and there was always someone on hand who knew what to do with it.

Chris Stanley personifies bartender bushido at the Mixo bar.

I could attempt to do a blow-by-blow chronological narrative of the whole conference, but as I mentioned in my Tales of the Cocktail wrap-up, I'm better at disjointed commentary. Bearing that in mind, here's a handful of thoughts filtered through the hazy lens of my memory (and barely legible notes)...

~ After a few nights of wondering why my bed felt so cold, I realized an AC vent in the floor was positioned dead-center below my bed (or more accurately, my bed was positioned dead-center above an AC vent). Thereafter, I began keeping bottles of vermouth under my mattress.

~ The "Foxy Cocktail Garnish" session resulted in more slaughtered produce than I've ever seen in my life. It was like those old civil war battlefield aftermath photos. Except the North was limes, the South was lemons, and the horses were oranges.

~ You can really test the performance envelope of an ice machine by placing it in a poorly-ventilated utility shed. In New Orleans. In July.

Our ice machine makes its feelings perfectly clear on where we chose to put it.

~ Every night ends with scotch (regardless of how large a variety of drinks you may have consumed up to that point).

~ Banging a muddler up and down a flight of wooden stairs is a traditional old New Orleans method used to rouse revelers who may be flagging late in the evening. Or maybe someone just made that up to justify their doing it at 1:30 am.

~ You can never have too many bitters.

~ When a third of the house's liquor supply is stored in your bedroom, you wield unimaginable power.

Me realizing my bed is probably underneath all that liquor.

~ Next year I will be organizing a scavenger hunt. The first person to find a restaurant offering an item that contains neither pork nor shellfish wins.

~ Pouring Branca Menta directly into an open wound will not only disinfect it, but will give you +2 on your saving throw vs. breath weapon.

~ If you enjoy cigars, I can think of nowhere better to have one than a secluded, quiet, brick-paved courtyard surrounded by lush greenery. Having a fully stocked bar mere feet away in the air-conditioning is also a bonus.

~ Despite claims to the contrary, you CAN make a meal out of nothing but cherry tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese.

Joana Marquette making sure we ingest something other than hooch.

~ A broken toilet does not seem that urgent or troubling when you are holding a glass of 23 year-old-rye.

~ With great karaoke comes great responsibility.

~ A 6-month old child was able to weather several days in New Orleans with more resilience and fortitude than I could. He can probably out-drink me too.

~ I consider the large patch of mint growing next to the Mixo house a gift from the Garnish Gods.

~ When Tiare moves to New Orleans, she's hosting all the afterparties.

Also, a few quick words of thanks & recognition need to go out to the following:

~ Matthew Rowley for his fine work moderating the discussions.

~ Joana Marquette for her seemingly endless stream of top-notch munchies.

~ Nathan Lutchansky for barbacking above and beyond the call of duty.

~ Sponsors and representatives for supplying us with product and stopping by to help sling it.

~ Fellow members of the CSOWG who all contributed to making the event a success!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fails of the Cocktail


Here in the Liquor Lab we endeavor to do the best we can when making drinks. If we're making a classic, established cocktail, we attempt to do the necessary research so as to have at least a cursory idea of what it is we're doing. Bar guides are perused, online resources are tapped and fellow booze nerds are consulted.

If we're trying our hand at coming up with an original drink, the process is similar, although a lot more trail-and-error is involved. Still, the goal is the same: To make a drink that someone will enjoy...and hopefully want again.

This has been on my mind lately because the annual hooch-centric extravaganza known as Tales of the Cocktail is less than a month away, and I'm looking forward to marinating in a continuous stream of finely-prepared cocktails assembled by a legion of skilled and talented mixologists who bring their considerable powers to bear. These folks take drink-making very seriously, and it's a wonderful experience to be on the receiving end of their abilities.

But what happens when this isn't the case? What if you don't find yourself in the capable hands of a conscientious bartender? What about that moment that occurs between idea and execution when things go terribly, terribly awry?

I think almost everyone who enjoys a cocktail even semi-regularly has had the misfortune of being served a drink so puzzling, so ill-fashioned, so irredeemably wrong, that it sears itself into memory. Attempts to completely block them out inevitably fail, and their resurrection can potentially be triggered by almost any drinking occasion, even years later. These unfortunate mental spectres lie dormant, almost forgotten, but always somehow spring back to the fore.

My own encounter with a very wrong drink occurred several years ago, and went pretty much like this...

At a wedding reception held in a fairly nice country club-type place, I approached what looked to be a reasonably well-appointed bar. The staff was polite, sharply dressed, and was speedily (though not carelessly) dispensing cocktails. To all appearances , this was a crew who knew what they were doing, and I was optimistic.

I was in the mood for a Martini, and I figured its few ingredients and ease of construction would make it a good choice as far as the staff was concerned...I try not to make anyone's life difficult if I can help it. As I stepped to the bar, one of the bartenders slid over and I was glad to see he had a head of fully gray hair. He was well into his fifties at least, and I thought to myself, "If anyone here knows how to make a Martini, it's this guy."

He gruffly asked what I'd like, and my response was, "Could I get a Martini?"

Now, there are times in one's life when you say something and immediately realize you never should have said what just emerged from your mouth. These are the times when you wish life had a rewind button. This was one of those times. Whatever instinct that signaled me I should never have asked for a Martini from this particular gentleman at this particular event came about 3 seconds late.

His expression immediately turned sour, and with a grunt, he rummaged below the bar and produced a bottle of gin.* Next, he swiftly placed a clear plastic cup that resembled a miniature double-old-fashioned glass on the bar and shoveled three small, dripping ice cubes into it. The final step was to haphazardly slosh an indeterminate amount of gin into the cup. He then pushed the drink my way and briskly spun off without a word to attend to someone else. The entire transaction took approximately 8 seconds.

I won't even attempt to itemize the myriad ways in which this drink was wrong. Like many drinks, the Martini is subject to a degree of personal interpretation, but there are some ground rules nonetheless. (and if you read this blog, I'm confident you know what they are). This drink violated a bunch of them.

Like a dope, I actually took a couple sips. I don't know what I was expecting, but a lukewarm plastic cup of gin did not transmogrify into a bracing, refreshing cocktail just because I wished really hard. Maybe some perverse part of me wanted to see just how bad it actually could be. I found out, and relegated it to the nearest trash can.

Let's just say that bad booze +bad preparation + bad customer relations = lousy drink.

This isn't meant to be an indictment of this particular bartender- Who knows why he made such a poor drink? (misleading tips from dubious online bartending videos may be the culprit. Jeffrey Morgenthaler has been unearthing tons of them lately) . If there's a lesson here, I think it's that a bad drink can be just as memorable as a good one. Maybe more so. However, I've had far more good drinks** than bad ones, so I chalk that up as a win overall. But when the opportunity presents itself, I still like to ask people:

What's the worst drink you've ever had?

* I can't recall the specific brand, but it was not good. Really not good.

** Several of these were made during Mixology Monday, which happens to be today...and I completely forgot about it yet again.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sample Jamboree and Traveling In Your Own Mind


Blimps over Bangkok

1 oz. Mekhong
1 oz. London dry gin
.5 oz. Aperol
.5 oz. Cynar
.5 oz. simple syrup
1-2 dashes Fee’s mint bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Float a very thin lime wheel on surface of drink.


I don’t travel much. But I do have a healthy wanderlust, and I satisfy it vicariously through TV shows, books, magazine articles, and travelogues on the Web. Cocktails also will do the trick, in their own way.

Sometimes a cocktail will be the catalyst for a journey that takes place entirely within your own mind. Aided by the smell, taste and appearance of a well-crafted drink, your imagination can take you down roads and rivers even though your body remains at rest. You needn’t leave your recliner or barstool- The trick is simply to have the right beverage.

I was recently experimenting with a bottle of Mekhong, and ended up making a drink that kick-started one of these mental journeys. The combination of flavors, aromas and colors had my mind drifting along the currents of a 19th-century adventure epic…a sepia-toned, steampunk saga replete with bold travelers questing for knowledge, experience, and perhaps a little treasure. Peering through goggles at faded maps, explorers clawed their way through dripping jungles and glided above crumbling temples in rickety, patchwork airships.

No doubt they needed the ropes, machetes, compasses, and rifles they packed at the outset. The one-of-a-kind book of ancient symbols purchased at the bazaar might be handy. And that shiny little talisman the old man in the hut gave them certainly couldn’t hurt. Everyone can use a little magic now and then.

Who knows exactly what they encountered? Were they imperiled by creatures only thought to exist in myth? Had their resolve been tested by treading upon forbidden pathways? Did they commune with a lost race of people, receiving a glimpse into unseen realms?

Regardless, I’m sure the travelers used their wits and whatever other resources they commanded to make their way home again. There were likely a few scars and certainly some good stories. Maybe even a strange, ancient object to hang on the wall of the club…a tangible reminder to be pondered while sipping a well-made and well-deserved cocktail.

Have a drink. Take a trip.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cinco de Moai


According to the ads in the local free weekly paper, I’m supposed to be celebrating Cinco de Mayo somewhere that offers both Tequila and Mexican beer in colossal quantities for very reasonable prices. As appealing as I find stock photos of bikini-clad women with sombreros Photoshopped on them, I decided to ignore them and the ads they populate in favor of other diversions.

Diversion #1 was spending a chunk of Saturday afternoon watching the Kentucky Derby and some of the pre-race hype on TV. I don’t know squat about horses or why they like to run in circles, but it gave me an excuse to brush up on my Mint Julep technique.

Diversion #2 was using the Bourbon I had leftover from Diversion #1 to continue tinkering with a recipe I’ve been playing with for awhile. It’s a tiki-style concoction that features a conspicuous lack of rum*, but still (to me anyway) has the requisite “tiki taste.“

Bluegrass Blowgun

1.5 oz. Bourbon (I used Bulleit)
.75 oz. Agwa de Bolivia coca leaf liqueur
2 oz. unsweetened pineapple juice
.5 oz. simple syrup
.25 oz. cinnamon syrup
¼ tsp. Absinthe
2 dashes Angostura orange bitters

Shake with ice and strain into ice-filled double old-fashioned glass.** Garnish with orange wheel and any other tiki-themed paraphernalia that looks fun.

The secret weapon here is the Agwa, and I think it’s something that should be in every tiki drink enthusiast’s arsenal. It’s got a distinctive flavor- mellow, herbal, somewhat sweet, and with a borderline medicinal snap. It’s pleasing on it’s own, but it mixes so well it’s too much fun to not experiment with. Mr. Bali Hai over at Eye of the Goof apparently thought so too.

So even though I eschewed the fiesta crowd this year, I still think I should get some credit. Tiki drinks are technically south-of-the-border, right?

* I love rum…but I seem to have become enamored of rum-less tiki drinks lately.

** For bonus points, double the recipe and dump it into a Moai-shaped mug!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sample Jamboree and the Tribulations of Tequila


Tequila is the base spirit I reach for least often. It’s not because I dislike it, it’s just that Tequila’s flavor is something I rarely feel myself wanting. The other reason I rarely drink it is a bit more complex. For me, the smell & taste of Tequila has become inextricably linked with a specific time and place. And when I’m having Tequila outside that specific time and place, it just seems somehow…less.

What I’m referring to is a Jimmy Buffett concert.

You see, I’ve attended almost every concert Jimmy Buffett has played in my hometown since about 1993. I’ve missed a few years here and there, but for the most part, I’ve managed to faithfully attend the show with my friends & family every year. Just like clockwork, Buffett rolls into town each Summer…and going to the show is an annual pilgrimage.

It’s difficult to describe the full scope of a Jimmy Buffett concert using only words. (and if you aren’t terribly interested in my feeble attempt to do so, please feel free to skip ahead to the recipes- My feelings won’t be hurt). Ideally, you should simply go to a show and let the experience wash over you, but most people want to have some idea of what they’re committing themselves to beforehand. So here goes…

A Buffett show can perhaps be described as an unruly, glorious mishmash of a luau, Mardi Gras, backyard cookout, and Spring break…all crammed into an arena, ballpark, or wherever else they put on jumbo-sized concerts. A clumsy analogy to be sure, but I’m doing my best here. (If you ‘re a picture person rather than a word person, simply do an image search under the term “Buffett tailgate” and you’ll get the idea).

It’s essentially an all-day party that happens to have a bit of music at the end. Depending on the venue, the revelry can start anywhere from 9 am to midday, and goes full-blast until around 8 o’clock when the concert starts. Attending the concert is purely optional. Many people spend the day having a good time regardless of whether they’re able or willing to see the show. Here’s a few reasons why:

~ The weather is almost always warm and sunny. But even if it wasn’t, this would not deter the hordes of partygoers from wearing their best tropical-themed good-time regalia, which includes, but is not limited to grass skirts, Hawaiian shirts, coconut bras, bikinis, and any combination thereof. And giant, elaborate hats. Serious hats. A more accurate term would probably be “headgear.” The kind of thing Carmen Miranda would wear to the Kentucky Derby. Shame does not exist in a Buffett parking lot.

~ People bring their own bars. Not just a cooler. Not just a card table with a few paltry bottles and a stack of keg cups on it. An honest-to-gawd BAR. Almost always homemade and tiki-themed, these marvels of engineering somehow fit into a normal-sized van or pickup truck and miraculously unfold to grace the parking lot with a welcome oasis of shade, rest and refreshment (many of them include roofs and stools). Did I mention that they often feature nicer décor and offer up better drinks than you can get at the kinds of bars that are made of bricks and can’t be packed into your trunk? Innovation and a can-do attitude are alive and well in America.

~ Serious eating. Like most tailgate events, food is not in short supply. In addition to the grilling of almost every conceivable type of land and sea creature, people are always finding new ways to cook stuff out of the backs of their cars. I’ve seen full-scale shrimp boils and people steaming mussels with real seaweed. If it was ever traditionally caught & cooked within a few miles of a coast, someone has figured out a way to replicate it in a Buffett show parking lot. You can also probably find almost any Summertime side dish provided you look hard enough. If you go hungry, it’s your own fault.

~ People bring their own beach. Much like the folks who bring their own bars, the beach people don’t mess around. If you’re craving the feel of sand between your toes, walk no more than 50 yards in any direction and your problem is solved. Untold hundreds of pounds of sand get hauled into the parking lot each year, destined to be spread as widely as possible, creating beachfront real estate between every row of cars. Kiddie pools are filled, tiki torches are staked & lit, and chaise lounges appear. Lifeguard towers too. I still don’t know how they manage those, but they’re there. Safety first, I guess.

~ Nudity. It happens with surprising frequency.

~ Booze. It’s all fueled by booze. Truly staggering amounts of booze. If you’ve got an empty hand, your fellow tailgaters will give you a drink. If you’ve got two empty hands, they’ll give you two drinks. There’s beer in colossal quantities. Hearty portions of rum. Inexhaustible, roving trays of jello shots. And Tequila. Whether straight from the bottle, in shot form with the ever-present lime and salt, or mixed with orange liqueur and lime juice and poured from a bicycle-powered blender, there is an epic amount of Tequila coursing through the parking lot at Buffett shows. All this Tequila worship stems primarily from a little ditty that Buffett recorded back in the 70’s called “Margaritaville.“ (I needn’t explain further… you’ve heard the song.).

So the association persists: Tequila equals tailgate. Conveniently enough, I prefer my Tequila in a Margarita, and it’s the sacred duty of the Bamboo Babe to provide them each year. She skillfully batches them in a large beverage cooler the morning of the show, and helping out has become one of my favorite traditions (If you’ve never had your entire house filled with the pungent aroma of Tequila at 9 a.m., you’re missing out. It’s an olfactory sensation that signals a good day will only get better).

However, if you prefer not to make your Margaritas by the gallon, here’s a recipe you can use to enjoy them one at a time. It’s the same one we scale up on concert day:

Laura’s Famous Margarita*

1.5 oz. Blanco Tequila
1 oz. lime juice
.5 oz. Cointreau

Shake with ice and strain into Margarita glass filed with cracked or crushed ice. We don’t salt the rim, but if you want to, then doowutchyalike.**

Our go-to Tequila brand for this drink is Sauza, but the kind folks at Tequila Ocho recently sent me a sample and I found it to be outstanding. They both work extremely well here…it just depends on how much zing you prefer (The Ocho is a bit more genteel than the Sauza, which has a snappy bite I enjoy ).

But not wanting to limit myself to Margaritas in perpetuity, I found this recipe in the most recent edition of the Mr. Boston’s book, and after trying it, I can say it’s darn good.

The Interesting Cocktail

2 oz. Blanco Tequila
.5 oz. Aperol
.5 oz. Crème de cacao (dark)
.75 oz. Lemon juice

Shake w/ ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

(The Bamboo Babe suggested a better garnish for this one would be a thin wedge from a Terry's chocolate orange, and I think she’s exactly right.)

The Interesting Cocktail suffers from the “it doesn’t look good on paper” syndrome, but it’s worth a try- It has a great 3-way balance of Tequila, chocolate and citrus, and tapers off with a peppery finish. This would be a great gateway drink for the Tequila-shy.

By the way, the concert is June 23rd. If you’re going, let me know…we’ll have a drink waiting for you.

* Although my wife obviously did not invent this drink, it has become known by this name among our friends & family. Such things happen.

** In my opinion, one of the better tracks from Digital Underground’s acclaimed 1990 release, Sex Packets.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sample Jamboree and the Strange Allure of Unpopular Ingredients


As I mentioned in my previous post, I have a strange fascination with drink ingredients that no one seems to like. I don’t know whether I simply feel sorry for them in an orphaned-puppy kind of way, or if it’s more of a desire to find a way to successfully employ something everyone else has deemed unusable. Probably a bit of both.

One ingredient that appears to have been resoundingly written off by the cocktail community (or at least the part of it I communicate with regularly) is Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur. (I‘ve also seen it listed as “Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur of the Alps“, which to me sounds less like a beverage and more like a 1920’s adventure novel . For the sake of brevity, I’ll just call it “Zirbenz” from here on out).

Does this innocent distillate deserve to be lumped in with the other pariahs of the drink world? I should clarify right up front that I’m not saying Zirbenz isn’t good…it’s just that I don’t know anyone who uses it.* I know several people who own a bottle, but rarely (if ever) go back to it after the initial breaking of the seal. Whether this is because they don’t care for the taste or find it difficult to mix with I can’t say. What I can say is that I hate to see something get kicked to the back of the liquor cabinet without a fair shake. And I also have a sick compulsion to salvage stuff that gets rejected. The more people claim something is unworkable, the more I’m intrigued by it and endeavor to find a use for it.

For those that haven’t sampled it, it’s piney. Extremely piney. Imagine grinding up a Christmas wreath, adding the floor sweepings from a 7th-grade shop class and steeping it in a jug of Everclear for a month. Now you’ve got the picture. Which again, doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s just that a lot of people appear to have an aversion to things that taste of evergreen. Rick over at Kaiser Penguin recently discussed this in his investigation into why gin is such a hard-sell for many people.

Without going into the boring details of my personal quest to redeem Zirbenz, I’ll cut to the chase and say that I found gin to be an excellent base spirit to combine it with. I also discovered later on while browsing the Zirbenz site** that plenty of other folks apparently thought so too- most of the recipes listed are gin-centric.

So it’s at this point you’re probably thinking, “By all that is good and decent, why in the world would you pair a pine liqueur with another ingredient whose detractors cite overwhelming pine flavor as its biggest flaw?”

The answer is that I spent a tremendous amount of time and energy combining Zirbenz with virtually every other brand and style of base spirit in my liquor cabinet until I could definitively say that gin works best.

Actually, this is a complete lie. I came up with a drink name first and then hoped that the combination of ingredients that reflected the name would actually make a decent drink. The cosmic forces that govern booze nerd activity must have been on my side, because I think it actually does…

Zirbenz Kingsley

1.5 oz. gin
.5 oz. Zirbenz
2-3 dashes orange bitters
3 oz. tonic

Build first 3 ingredients in rocks glass with ice. Top with tonic and stir. Garnish with lime wedge.

Yep, it’s a just a Gin & Tonic. With Zirbenz. And a blip of bitters to wrap it all up. (It also helps the drink immensely to squeeze the lime wedge into it.)

A simple drink to be sure, but here’s the trick: The gin makes or breaks it. I won’t reveal how many different ones I tried, but I found that a lot of straightforward London drys don’t work well. Plymouth isn’t bad, but the ones I’d put at the top of the heap were North Shore #6 and Right. They’re both very soft, and I think it’s exactly this lack of sharpness that makes them match up so well with the Zirbenz, dulling it’s bite and making it whisper rather than shout. (I take this as some kind of divine sign, since both these gins arrived right in the middle of my experimentation period.)

So the moral of the story is this: If you’ve got some ingredient that just doesn’t seem to work in anything no matter what you try, do the following:

1) Persevere. There’s gotta be a use for it somewhere.
2) Tell me what it is. I have an irrational need to find homes for these things.

*I realize this sounds embarrassingly similar to the quote often (and apparently inaccurately) attributed to Pauline Kael about Nixon’s ‘72 presidential victory. Rest assured, I’m aware that someone has got to be using it.

**I also realized that I’m out of Zirbenz and need to get some more. I’ll bet there aren’t many people who have actually uttered those words.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What I've Learned: Year Two


Around this time last year I did a retrospective-ish list of stuff I'd learned during my first year of using the web to foist my booze-centric thoughts and pictures on an unwitting public. I figure if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

What I’ve Learned in my Second Year of Boozeblogging

~ Make your own syrups. It’s easier than you think and totally worth it.

~ I’m still surprised (and pleased) when people leave comments- especially people I don’t know personally. I just assume the only people who visit this site are the same seven booze nerds.

~ I like to use unpopular ingredients. I take it as a personal challenge to find some way to make them work in a drink. The more hopeless an ingredient appears, the stronger my compulsion to use it. Sick, I know.

~ Tovolo ice cube trays are a great investment. Please disregard the people who claim they are difficult to use. Yes, it takes *slightly* more time to remove the cubes than from a rigid plastic tray, but c’mon folks- anything worthwhile requires a little effort.

~ The first rule of Fight Club Liquors is: do not talk about Fight Club Liquors.

~ Even though Thursday Drink Night is big-time fun by yourself, it’s even more so if you can get several booze nerds in the same place for it. Not only does it help distribute the workload, but the conversation is priceless.

~ Apparently if you live in Sweden you have access to an unholy variety of rum.

~ Since starting this site 2 years ago, I’ve been asked to do the same sort of thing I do here for a magazine and a newsletter. I certainly appreciate the opportunities, but now I’m gripped by the question of whether people like articles about booze better when they’re accompanied by a cartoon…or whether they like cartoons better when accompanied by an article about booze.

~ A good channel knife makes all the difference

~ Boozeblogging may cause bottles of liquor to show up frequently and unexpectedly at your front door. I now know my UPS man very well.

~ Various vintages of Mr. Boston’s bar guides can be found for pennies at flea markets and similar venues. Even if you don’t like the recipes, they’re a great way to get a sense of drinking trends throughout the years.

~ I had a Bloody Mary in New Orleans that was so good I want to go back almost solely to have another one.

~ Some brand reps at trade shows are great and some are awful. For every friendly, knowledgeable outgoing rep there seems to be one who could care less. Hint: If you want me to be interested in your product, then YOU should appear to be interested in your product. If you ‘re trying to promote your stuff with no information whatsoever and are clearly unable (or unwilling) to answer even rudimentary questions, then you’re not really putting your best foot forward. And behaving as though you’d rather be anywhere else doing anything else and not even having a business card isn’t going to leave me with a terribly positive view of your product.

~ Steel juicers are better than cast aluminum ones.

~ If you’re a drink geek, you owe it to yourself to attend Tales of the Cocktail. If nothing else, you’ll meet several other people who are just as concerned about the coarseness of their crushed ice as you are.

~ This time last year, I characterized my fellow boozebloggers as unbelievably friendly, generous and encouraging. They continue to be exactly those things, and having met many of them in person since then, I’m glad to know them. I hope they’ll all still be here this time next year.

~ It would be a hell of a lot easier if I just took photos of the drinks.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hauling Hooch


I periodically have to move part of my liquor stash from point A to B. Sometimes it’s just a few bottles, sometimes it’s significantly more (Thursday Drink Night anyone?). In either case, I’ve used several methods to drag heaps of glass & liquid around, with the goal of having it all arrive intact.

So I decided to list the ways I’ve lugged booze and try to break down their relative merits and disadvantages. I wanted to do this for three reasons:

1) To toss out options to anyone who needs to move their booze from time to time.

2) To solicit ideas and find out what YOU use.

3) I really wanted to draw a picture of a milk crate.

Note: For purposes of this this comparison, we’re talking about standard-shaped 750 ml bottles, not goofy-ass ones like Patron and Galliano come in. I’m also assuming that you will be using a car to schlep this stuff- I have not factored in bus, train, skateboard, Segway, Rascal, golf cart or motorcycle/bicycle travel.


Milk Crate

Construction: Heavy plastic
Cost: Free (if you steal it). Price varies if purchased.
Capacity: Approx. 14
Availability: Widespread. Can be found in the wild or bought.
Pros: Virtually indestructible. Stable during transit. Convenient handles. Can be used as furniture at destination.
Cons: Moderately heavy when full. No inherent feature to prevent bottles clanking against each other.

The uses of milk crates aside from their intended purpose are legion. Chances are you have at least one in your house or apartment right now doing something other than holding milk. It’s also likely it technically belongs to a dairy company. I recommend *not* stealing these, but picking up inexpensive replicas which can be found at a variety of stores.

Milk crates are great for hauling liquor. They hold over a dozen bottles, have handles, stay put in your car, and are almost impossible to damage. They can also be lashed together (or to something else). Their primary flaw is that they allow bottles to bang around a bit, so you may need to rig up some method of cushioning them depending on how rough the ride will be.


Box From Liquor Store

Construction: Cardboard, staples, glue
Cost: free (around here they give ‘em away)
Capacity: 12 bottles
Availability: Plentiful
Pros: Can be easily repaired and/or reinforced with tape if necessary. Cardboard insert keeps bottles upright and slightly cushioned. Stable during transit. Recyclable.
Cons: Not waterproof. Often have no hand-slots.

These are hard to beat. They’re purpose-built, free, and disposable. Plus, there’s a virtually unlimited supply of them, provided you live near a liquor store. But before you use them, double-check that
a) they aren’t soggy, b) they’re in good shape. The main downfall of the liquor store box is that you usually need both hands to carry one, and they often don’t have handles.



Construction: Canvas, leather, metal
Cost: Varies (I got mine on sale for 8 bucks at Old Navy)
Capacity: Varies (mine holds about 6 bottles)
Availability: Common. Something similar can be found anywhere luggage is sold.
Pros: No-hands carry. Conceals contents.
Cons: Bottles lay on sides, resting against each other which may cause leakage & breakage.

The man-purse I use is a sturdy canvas satchel/messenger bag type thing. I‘ve carried liquor in it on several occasions, and it’s best when you’re only using it to lug 2 or 3 bottles at the most. More than that, and it gets pretty uncomfortable to have wrapped across your neck or shoulder for longer than a short walk. Plus, the bottles lie horizontally on top of each other which is less than ideal.

On the up side, it does have several side pockets which can hold smaller bottles of stuff like bitters, syrups, etc. The best feature is that you can have both hands free to carry something else…like more booze.


Wine Tote

Construction: Some kind of synthetic fabric
Cost: cheap (I got mine at Trader Joe’s for about a buck fifty)
Capacity: 6 bottles
Availability: Somewhat common. Can often be found at grocery stores that carry wine
Pros: Surprisingly strong. Sewn-in divider keeps bottles upright and slightly cushioned. One-handed carry. Fits in pocket when not being used.
Cons: May tip over in transit.

This a very handy item. It’s made of the same weird pseudo-cloth that reusable grocery bags are made of, and is pretty darn strong. If you’re carrying 6 or less bottles, this is a great option, although protection is minimal (in other words, don’t drop it). If you‘re carrying more than 6 bottles (like a case), you can use two and split the load and not have to juggle an unwieldy box.

The only flaw I’ve discovered is that it tends to tip in over the car, depending on how vigorously you drive. Use a seat belt or some other restraint to keep it upright in transit.


Bottle Shipper

Construction: Cardboard outer box, styrofoam or molded paper fiber insert, tape
Cost: free (if you re-use one that someone sent you).
Capacity: varies. Single and multiple unit shippers are available depending on manufacturer
Availability: Common (can be found in variety of shipping supply stores)
Pros: Superior protective capability. Conceals contents. Recyclable.
Cons: Bulky. Requires assembly/disassembly (though minimal). No handles

The bottle shipper’s best feature is also its Achilles heel. The thick, contoured inserts that keep bottles protected also take up a lot of space. I’ve only used a shipper once, and that was for a single bottle I really, really, didn’t want broken. They’re ideal for mailing booze, but not so great for hauling multiple bottles yourself- half your trunk will be occupied by packaging rather than bottles.

But if you want to be virtually 100% certain your giggle water doesn’t get destroyed, this is probably your best bet. The only better option I can think of is one of those snazzy, hard-sided, foam-padded cases that people use for camera equipment and the like. But I don’t have one of those, so testing will be delayed on that particular item.

Next time: wheelbarrow vs. shopping cart- which is better for transporting your passed-out buddy?