Monday, August 22, 2011

The Greatest Drink Book Ever Published (Pt. 2)


Once again I'm paging through Cocktails for Two in my mission to share the splendor that is the Greatest Drink Book Ever Published. For this installment I've selected the Shamrock, an apparent tribute to Ireland, based on both its name and green color.

Speaking of green, this drink does an admirable job of being just that. Chartreuse and green crème de menthe are key ingredients and certainly do their part color-wise. But I found myself perversely wishing they had also thrown in some Midori to blow the green right off the chart.

Here's the recipe as written:

SHAMROCK Stir one part Irish whiskey with one part dry vermouth, three dashes of green Chartreuse and three dashes of green crème de menthe.

(according to the photos and the little symbol next to the recipe, this drink is served in a cocktail glass)

So how does it taste? It's lousy. Don't make it.

Sure, the drink is unfortunate. But as we've learned in the previous GDBEP post, the recipe is only half the fun. There's also the photo to consider.


Fun Fact: she's also Annette o'Toole's stunt double!

Let's see what we've got: Green-eyed redhead holding a drink (the most enduring symbol of Ireland, as we all know). Tam o' Shanter-style hat and matching scarf (in case of inclement weather inside the pub), and a nice splash of tartan to drive the point home. As with many of the ladies pictured in this book, blazing red nail polish is the order of the day, and in case we still weren't quite clear on the Irish connection, our lovely model is standing in front of a green backdrop. The expression of fright/surprise is a nice touch, as are the very visible fillings in her teeth. If it weren't for the relatively restrained use of makeup, I'd say the shot comes off as a fine portrait of prescription medication abuse.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Cocktailing: The Early Years

If you hang around booze geeks long enough, eventually you find yourself discussing a topic that's become a perennial favorite: what kinds of stuff you used to drink before you got turned onto a wider spectrum of adult beverages. (Despite what they'd have you believe, in their youth, cocktail nerds weren't sneaking off into the woods to make Negronis or lounging around the frat house basement trying to find the perfect Singapore Sling recipe).

No, like most other people, their teens and early twenties were the age when most drink enthusiasts were only dimly aware of spirits. Hard liquor was likely something you knew only from advertisements, your parents' liquor cabinet, or whispered, cautionary tales of how somebody's brother got completely wasted that one time drinking way too much (insert liquor brand here).

I'm no different. I was actually a latecomer to the drinking scene, not really getting my feet wet until a year or so before I was legally entitled to do so. Prior to that, I'd have a couple beers now and then, but didn't really go much for the hard stuff. That changed sometime during my sophomore year of college.

Of course, this is not to say that I woke up one day and decided to responsibly explore the world of spirits and cocktails with a scholarly approach. Nope. I had a brief trial-and-error period with various things and when I ended up shelling out for my first honest-to-goodness bottle of giggle water, I ended up going with Jack Daniels. Why? Simply because it was a name I was aware of, and I knew you could mix it with Coke. No experience required.

And like most other college students, I drank my share of beer too (pretty much any brand was acceptable), and I often ponied up $2.99 for my weapon-of-choice, MD 20/20 (a surprising variety of flavors!). However, when it came to the hard stuff, I stayed loyal to only a few brands: The aforementioned Jack Daniel's, Bacardi rum (whichever one was cheapest), and bottom-shelf vodka. All three could be dumped into Coke and that pretty much covered my cocktail ambitions at that time.

But this isn't really so much about what I drank as how I drank it. While at school, my two main concerns cocktail-wise (aside from catching a nice buzz) amounted to:

1) How can I take booze with me to places where I'm not necessarily supposed to have it?

2) How can I bring along enough booze so that I won't be stuck somewhere needing a refill?

Fortunately, I had two weapons in my arsenal that weren't remarkable in any way individually, but when combined, provided the perfect traveling drinking rig: The Sports Bottle and Jean Jacket.

Obviously we aren't talking Batman-grade technology here. These were just a couple of things I already owned that I realized could suit my needs quite well. Neither was expensive or appeared special in any way, which were key parts of their simple charm. They were just a couple commonplace items any college student could use to roam around campus clandestinely hauling hooch. Here's how it worked:

First up, the sports bottle. It was made of heavy, durable plastic and came with a screw-on cap and sturdy re-usable straw (see Fig. 1 below). Virtually every convenience store and gas station with a soda fountain had them and they could be gotten for less than a buck (or sometimes free) by buying a large soft drink. It held somewhere between 24 and 32 ounces.


This was my shaker and glass in one convenient package. To make a drink, I first poured in whatever liquor I had handy (No measuring...I just eyeballed it until it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/4 to 1/3 full, depending on how festive I was feeling). If I had ice handy, I'd toss in a handful and top everything off with Coke or Pepsi (see Fig. 2 below) and give it a few gentle swirls. Brutally simple and effective.


The other half of the combo was a bit of outerwear made by Levi's that everyone I knew referred to simply as a "jean jacket."* You don't see them too often these days, but for a while it seemed like half the world owned one. It was cheap, durable, and comfy. It came in different colors. It was machine-washable. You could layer other stuff under or over it when it got cold. John Bender wore one, and if that's not an endorsement, I don't know what is.

All these things made it a great garment, but for me it's greatest feature was two enormous pockets located on the lower inside front of each of the jacket's sides. They were big enough you could stash surprisingly large items in them without being noticeable from the outside. I often used those pockets to carry a magazine, snacks and my Walkman, and it didn't take long for me to realize a sport bottle filled with a giant rum & Coke fit perfectly in there as well (see Fig. 3 below).


So once I had the bottle/jacket combo established, I was off to the races. I could easily smuggle my oversized cocktail anywhere. One one of my favorites places to do so was the student movies, where alcohol was not permitted, but somehow always managed to be in abundance.** It worked great in a bunch of other situations too, and if I got caught (which I never did, by the way), I could just toss the bottle. My net loss would have been a couple bucks worth of booze and a drinking vessel I could replace at the nearest Speedy Mart.

Sophisticated? Certainly not. Clever? Not terribly. All it really amounted to was a big flask tucked into a coat that hid things well. But it got the job done and then some.

I no longer drink cocktails out of sports bottles (usually), and I don't have a jean jacket anymore, but I still occasionally get nostalgic about my early days of cocktailing when what my drinks lacked in style and preparation they more than made up for with ingenuity and longevity.

* According to their website, Levi's calls this item a "trucker jacket", but I have never heard anyone use this name. They also now make it in all kinds of frou-frou materials and styles, which is the very antithesis of the jean jacket in my opinion. I remain unconvinced.

** I was clearly not the only one who regularly did this...the lecture hall where they showed the films would always be littered with bottles and cans after the crowd left. Make whatever judgments you like, but at least I get points for not being an inconsiderate slob who leaves his empties all over the place.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tales of the Cocktail: Random Observations


So here it is a few weeks after Tales of the Cocktail. Much as I did two years ago, I find myself sifting through notes and compiling a loose collection of info from the event. It's difficult to do justice to a five-day booze extravaganza with just a few words, but hopefully what I've listed below can help illustrate a small fraction of what takes place. Just like last time, I call this handful of disjointed thoughts...

Random Observations

- If seeing a bunch of people wearing seersucker suits, vividly-colored bowties and brimmed hats with deadly seriousness unnerves you, then Tales of the Cocktail may not be the event for you.

- My advice to anyone attempting to schedule a meeting with anyone for a specific place and time during Tales is to scrap that idea immediately. Just sit in the lobby of the Monteleone for a bit, and whoever you want to see will eventually walk by (Okay, they might be staggering or crawling, but you'll see them nonetheless).

- While we're talking about the Monteleone lobby, do not be surprised if while you're there someone produces a full, sealed bottle of booze from a backpack or purse and gives it to someone else. In most cases, the person offering up the bottle is a brand rep, and the other person is someone who happened to mention they liked the particular brand the rep works for. I tell everyone I like everything, just to be on the safe side.

- However, if you see someone produce a half-full bottle from their backpack or purse, it's harder to determine where it originally came from. But they'll likely share it with you, so go strike up a conversation.

- It's been said before, but it bears repeating: The people in the Cocktail Apprentice Program are a truly vital component of Tales and need to be recognized for their efforts. They work like crazy, get little rest, and generally grind themselves to a nub so we all can enjoy nifty drinks throughout the event. Big thanks go out to all of them.

- Speaking of the CAP folks, I was lucky enough to get a brief guided tour of one of the "backstage" areas where they prepare the drinks. I don't think you can grasp the scope of what they're doing until you see a floor-to-ceiling wall of lemon crates. I wish I could have hung around, because I'm pretty sure later on Jackie Chan crashed through it.

- Telling someone in New Orleans you're a vegetarian will get you the same reaction as telling someone in Pittsburgh you don't care about football.

- Whoever put a Walgreen's a half-block away from the Monteleone has my deepest gratitude. I know New Orleans is famous for its world-class restaurants, but Clif bars and Gatorade from the big W are what kept my engine running most days. Plus, the people-watching there is sublime.

- Thanks to branded keycards, every time I unlocked my hotel room I thought about gin. Actually, it had nothing to do with keycards...I just think about gin a lot.

- You know some serious cocktailing is taking place when a local remarks he can't understand how so many people can be drinking hard liquor at ten in the morning,

- Someone described all those unorthodox drink-making techniques involving iSi whippers, sous vide, liquid nitrogen, lasers, etc., as the "'Gee whiz!' school of bartending." That is now my favorite bit of cocktail terminology.

- Seeing the look on people's faces who are trying to board the Monteleone elevators on any floor other than the lobby or the roof is priceless.

- I ate a crappy meal at a crappy sports bar purely because I was in a hurry and it was convenient. But they had beer, so it was still kinda worth it.

- If you enjoy hearing two different bar bands playing two different classic rock covers at arena-level volume 20 feet away from each other, then the French Quarter is your kind of place.

- I don't know what the current homicide rate in New Orleans is, but I'm fairly certain a few of the murders last month were committed by Monteleone staff trying to get from point A to point B around tipsy, oblivious Tales attendees clogging the high-traffic areas.

- Whoever says that Bourbon Street has the highest concentration of boisterous drunks in town has never been to the Spirited Awards ceremony.

- Security measures at the swag room continue to be top-notch. I thought the retinal scanner was a nice touch.

-Craft distillers like to talk about their products and how they make them. A lot. On the off chance you're feeling lonely at Tales, find someone who works at a small distillery and ask them how their product differs from other similar products.

- Apparently, attending Tales of the Cocktail without a smartphone is equivalent to attending a Phish concert without can still enjoy the show, but everyone will look at you with a mixture of pity and suspicion.

- Liquor companies continue to shell out absurd amounts of money to promote themselves at Tales of the Cocktail. I know there are no easy solutions to the US debt crisis, but I think one approach could involve telling multinational spirit brands that they can use Montana as "The World's Biggest Tasting Room" and watch the cash roll in.

- If you blew up the Monteleone during Tales of the Cocktail, 97% of the world's moustache wax supply would instantly disappear.

- I saw two guys almost come to blows debating the merits of the seamed vs. seamless Yarai mixing glass.

- Watching someone start their morning with a brisk treadmill session in the hotel gym is inspiring. It inspired me to hit the pool and grab a drink.

- Holding a tasting session for a very popular liquor brand in the smallest room in the hotel goes from "intimate and convivial" to "potentially fatal mosh pit" rather quickly.

- Media access was severely restricted this year, which resulted in many fine cocktail writers being noticeably absent. I don't know if this was intentional or simply an oversight, but let's hope the situation improves next year and we can look forward to a greater volume and variety of coverage.

- Judging from the faces and sounds they were making, I can only assume that for many people, consuming oysters is analogous to a sex act. (Note: this also applies to oyster po' boys.)

- Speaking of sex acts, adult film icon Ron Jeremy was in town promoting his namesake rum. I actually got to see him late one night in my hotel on the TV in my room.

- People are still obsessed with ice. Round ice, clear ice, Martian volcano ice, you name it.

- Someone created vodka that tastes like cupcakes. Which reminds of the saying, "Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should."

- There's always room for one more gin & tonic.