Category Archives: Food

Review: How to Manage a Sucessful Bar

book cover How to Manage a Successful Bar

How to Manage a Successful Bar

If you are as big a bookworm as I am you have been wondering in a used book store and had a title jump out and grab your interest. That is what happened to me with Christopher Egerton-Thomas’ book “How to manage a Successful Bar”. Now I have never wanted to work in a bar, lot less manage one, but I kept coming back to that book. I was shopping with “free” money, I had sold books and magazines to the store and was using that money, so I grabbed it. I am glad I did, it was one of the most fun books I have read this year.

First I did a lot of patting my own back. Dad owned a bar for a few years way back when I was turning into a teenager and I spent many hours in the basement sorting beer bottles and stocking the bar before opening. I remembered a few things. I learned a few hints and shortcuts. For instance if you are going to be making Pina Coladas mix your cream of coconut with pineapple juice ahead of time, it really does save time and simplify making the drink.* All of his cocktail related information seemed to make sense but I felt he was a little rough on beer, although my memories of sorting dead soldiers in the basement of Murphy’s Pub are not all good and cleaning the pipes for the draft beer was not part of my responsibilities beer seemed simple to sell. I can’t judge his comments on wine. The only wine I bought for myself was a bottle of port for mulling.

The real fun of the book had to do with its age. Published in 1994 it is now old enough to drink and I found it fascinating how things have changed in such a short time.** Listed as necessary items for a bar are phone books and ashtrays. One ashtray for every two bar stools. Today it is illegal to smoke in a bar. Phone books? I would guess it has been a decade since I saw one. I have to say the same about TV Guide. When I read credit card slips I had to stop and think for a second. I started a retail business in 1993 and the bank did not want to allow me to use the old fashioned paper slips for credit card sales. They were very instant that I get a phone line and use an electronic card machine even though my “store” was a truck and I drove from customer to customer. How were bars getting by with the old paper slips? The only thing that made sense to me is that possibly the book sat around a few years before being published.

After reading his advice on dealing with personal problems, coworkers and bosses I had to accept that there was good reasons someone would hesitate to publish this as a legitimate “how to”. Christopher Egerton-Thomas is no Dale Carnegie, you won’t learn how to make friends or influence people here.

Still, I think it was worth reading. Not for the business advice but for the advice on bartending, sure, why not. While writing this I started reading a book about alcohol and Ernest Hemingway, in life and in his fiction. I have to say that Egerton-Thomas helped me understand how Hemingway lived as long as he did while drinking like he did. His bartenders had to be watching over him and, after a point, watering his drinks down.

* Now I know not to premix an entire bottle for a gathering of six responsible adults. My wife and I will be drinking Pina Coladas for the rest of the week.

** Ok, I am old or at least getting there but to me 1994 seems like yesterday.

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Review: The Curious Bartender

book cover The Curious Bartender

The Curious Bartender

I was leary of this book, The curious bartender : the artistry and alchemy of creating the perfect cocktail, when I first picked it up. The cover is elaborate, it is printed on heavy, marbled paper, I would almost call it cardstock. Every page has a full color illustration, very often a full page photograph. Overproduced was what I thought and I expected it to be more flash than bang, pretty but shallow. Then I started reading the introduction and the author, Tristan Stephenson, was talking about molecular gastronomy, rotary evaporators, “sous vide”, and other terms that were Greek to me. My expectations plummeted. When I crack open a bottle of spirits I want to find grain or fruit, yeast, heat, oak essence, and centuries of experience. When I mix a cocktail I want simplicity and tradition, fresh fruit juice, spirits, maybe a liqueur or a flavored syrup. I don’t want to have anything to do with a chemistry set. If not for the pictures of delicious looking drinks I might have not bothered to read the book but it was a gift and those pictures did look good. Then he explained that an emulsion is nothing more exotic than meringue on a pie or the foam on top of a Ramos Gin Fizz. So I carried on.
The first section covers techniques needed to make traditional and new age drinks. Stephenson writes well and does a good job explaining the techniques. The only problem is that I have no interest in using smoke or dry ice, or dehydrating something to make my guests a drink. Still the parts I was interested in, even something as simple as using ice, the difference between shaking and stirring a drink is explained so clearly that I was surprised at how much I did not know.
The second section recipes, it is divided according to type of spirit, gin, vodka, brandy, whiskey, rum, and tequila. He focuses on popular drinks that have been around the block a few times. I appreciated this, I see a book or app full of drink recipes and I have know idea which are popular and which are filler. Stephenson’s years experience behind a bar shows in his selection of drinks. He lists two recipes for each drink, the traditional way and his new age, molecular, distilled, aged, frozen alchemy. How many frozen alcoholic lollipops or daiquiri sherberts do we really need? I was skeptical and I suspect that my lip was curling up in disgust at a few of the renovated drinks.
Then we got to the rum drinks and I started to soften. He pointed out, as I have suspected, that the first Cuba Libras had a bit of cocaine in them courtesy of the coke in Coca-Cola. He gives a great “traditional” recipe then uses his wizardry to recreate the original drink. He recreates the original Coke, even concocting a basil-clove infusion to mimic the mouth numbing effects of the cocaine Coke. Then he moves on the the Flip, a century old hot rum drink that originally was made by plunging a red hot poker into the drink to heat it. He explains the evolution away from the hot poker to using an egg for the texture but then he writes, “but there’s no substitution for a hot poker in life” and proceeds to explain how and why to make it the old way.
By the time I got to the appendices, a very useful glossary, index and list of suppliers for the standard and exocit tools and ingredeants in the book, my opinion had softened. I still think the book paid too much attention to production but there is good solid information for even an unambitious home bartender like me. The modern techniques are not my style but, I have to confess that I would not turn down a chance to try some of them.

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Review: The Drunken Botinist

The Drunken Botanist

The Drunken Botanist

The first thing I want to say is that I enjoyed Amy Stewart’s “The Drunken Botanist”. The book is well researched, well crafted in a reader friendly voice that manages to explain science and history while still being entertaining. Stewart is through, if something contributed to the contents of a bottle on the liquor shelf she discusses it and she does not let the “Botanist” is the title restrict her to plant life. I am the annoying type of reader that needs to share particularly interesting bits of information as I read them, my wife is lucky that she was not with me as I read this. Most pages would have started me going, repeating some factoid that I thought was fascinating. The thing is I understand that most people do not share my interests.
Sure, most people, not all, like to drink but most don’t garden and, as far as I can tell, they don’t care that they can’t tell one plant from another. People are interested in history but most are interested in one era or subject. Stewart tells, indirectly, the history of world trade, the movement and development of agriculturally important plants. and the development of the technology for using them and she wraps it all up in the story of booze. Then again people do like to drink and eat, and every plant discussed in Stewart’s book can be or has been consumed in one way or another. The descriptions of the plants, their histories and uses might seem like they go on forever, with much repetition, if you sit down to read the book in one sitting. I grab a little time here and there to read which mostly prevented me from experiencing information overload but at least once I felt is coming on.
Every book on alcohol contains drink recipes and “The Drunken Botanist” is no exception but there are not as many as I would have guessed. Stewart carefully picked the recipes to feature the plant under discussion which means that some have very specific ingredients. Home bartenders like me will need to think twice about before adding a bottle to their bar that might only be used once. However Stewart’s drinks looked interesting enough that I have already decided to try a few of them. A bottle of Karlsson’s Vodka, which will get used even if I don’t like it on rocks with cracked pepper, some ingredients from the baking section of a good grocery, a little time making a syrup is not much of a cost to pay if the drinks are interesting. After all I have been trying new things since the day I was born.

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Review: Bitters: a spirited history of a classic cure-all

Book cover Bitters

Bitters : a spirited history of a classic cure-all, with cocktails, recipes & formulas

This year for Christmas my wife gave me three books on cocktails. She knows that when I get interested in a subject I tend to go all in. I am not sure why I chose to read Brad Parsons’ “Bitters: a spirited history of a classic cure-all, with cocktails, recipes & formulas” but I am glad I did. Parsons covers a lot of territory in this book. The history of bitters, in cocktails and otherwise, turns out to be more interesting than I expected. Prohibition plays a big part in the story but bitters are much older than the cocktail hour.

Parsons includes recipes, to  make your own bitters and for cocktails that use them. To demonstrate their importance, after all how much difference can a “dash” of something make in an entire cocktail? I found that it can make a lot of difference. Parsons offers a demonstration, make two of a simple cocktail recipe, one with and one without bitters. The difference between the two is more than noticeable.

A section titled “Setting up Your Bar” has the best advice I have seen for creating a home bar. It leads you through the tools you will need and those you might want, it discusses glassware, mixers, and even the spirits you might want to stock. Except for his endorsement of Mason jars for drinking I think the advice is sound. I was a little confused after looking up the word Amari, a subset used in his listing of spirits. It is just Italian for bitters. Sure they, mostly come in bigger bottles than the bitters pictured on the cover but I would have hoped for some discussion of them. I know it is always possible that I read over it so I checked the index. There was no listing. It is not a big problem but I have to wonder if something else was missed.

The recipes that I have tried were good. I have not tried to make my own bitters yet but the instructions were very straight forward. Parsons divided the cocktail recipes into three sections, Hall of Fame, Old Guard, and New Look. Often cocktail recipes suffer from demanding specific brand name spirits or exotic liquors that the home bar will only need once. That is not a problem here except for in the “New Look” section and needing a variety of flavored bitters. But then that, bitters, is what the book is about. The final section of recipes, Bitters in the Kitchen, looks very good. The Bitters Vinaigrette is on my to do list.

In appendices Parsons’ includes a list of web resources for spirits, liquors, mixers, bar supplies and the herbs to make your own bitters as well as a bibliography. I am hopeful that these will lead me to a source for mixers that are not syrupy sweet. I should also mention that the book won two awards, the 2012 James Beard Foundation Award and the 2012 International Association of Culinary Professionals (ICAP) Cookbook Award in their Wine, Beer, and Spirits category.

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2014 Reading List

Father Time

Father Time marches on.

I only managed to read 22 books this year. Even considering that several of them were well over 400 pages long I am a little disappointed. I did manage to review all but the last on, which I am working on right now and should be ready to post next week.

The worst was Peter Bronson’s “Behind the Lines” where he tries to explain away the 2001 manslaughter of Timothy Thomas by an inexperienced police officer unfamiliar with the area who, against instructions, chased Thomas down a dark, narrow walkway and shot him dead as he reached for his phone. It turned out to be a story that kept repeating through the year. Just like today the reaction against the unjust killing was blamed on the victims of police violence.

On a personal level Christine Sismondo’s “America Walks into a Bar” might be the most important. That is the book that made me want to try a Lime Rickey and got me started on the path to a home bar. In the larger world Martin J. Blaser’s book “Missing Microbes” could turn out to be the book of the year. His argument that we and our bacteria evolved together, that we could have a myriad of symbiotic relationships with the bacteria that lives in and on us and that indiscriminately eliminating them can be, has been, detrimental to our health opens up vast field of investigation for medical researchers.

Here is the complete list.

1. Edsel, Robert M., and Bret Witter. The monuments men : allied heroes, Nazi thieves and the greatest treasure hunt in history. New York: Center Street / Hachette Book Group, 2010

2. Deetz, James. In small things forgotten : an archaeology of early American life. New York: Anchor Books, 1996.

3. Sismondo, Christine. America walks into a bar : a spirited history of taverns and saloons, speakeasies, and grog shops. New York, N.Y: Oxford University Press, 2011.

4. Stiglitz, Joseph E. The price of inequality. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013.

5. Larson, Edward J. Summer for the gods : the Scopes trial and America’s continuing debate over science and religion. New York: BasicBooks, 2006.

6. Blaser, Martin J. Missing microbes : how the overuse of antibiotics is fueling our modern plagues. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2014.

7. Purdum, Todd S. An idea whose time has come : two presidents, two parties, and the battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. New York: Henry Holt and Co, 2014.

8. Murtagh, William J. Keeping time : the history and theory of preservation in America. Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley, 2006.

9. Bronson, Peter. Behind the lines : behind the lines of action, between the lines of truth, the untold stories of the Cincinnati riots. Milford. OH: Chilidog Press, 2006.

10. Shriver, Maria, and Olivia Morgan. The Shriver report : a woman’s nation pushes back from the brink : a study. New York, N.Y: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

11. Connell, Robert L. Fierce patriot : the tangled lives of William Tecumseh Sherman. New York: Random House, 2014.

12. Cronkite, Walter, Maurice Isserman, and Walter Cronkite. Cronkite’s war : his World War II letters home. Washington, D.C: National Geographic Society, 2013.

13. Johnson, Jacqueline. Western College for Women. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2014.

14. Purdum, Todd S. An idea whose time has come : two presidents, two parties, and the battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. New York, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2014.

15. King, Quentin S. Henry Clay and the War of 1812. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2014.

16. Bradley, David. The historic murder trial of George Crawford : Charles H. Houston, the NAACP and the case that put all-white southern juries on trial. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2014.

17. Potter, Maximillian, and Donald Corren. Shadows in the vineyard : the true story of a plot to poison the world’s greatest wine. Solon, Ohio: Findaway World, LLC, 2014.

18. Bailey, Mark, and Edward Hemingway. Of all the gin joints : stumbling through Hollywood history. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014.

19. Krist, Gary. Empire of sin : a story of sex, jazz, murder, and the battle for modern New Orleans. New York: Crown, 2014.

20. Trudeau, Noah A. Southern storm : Sherman’s march to the sea. New York: Harper, 2008.

21. Henry, David, and Joe Henry. Furious cool : Richard Pryor and the world that made him. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013.

22. Levin, Phyllis L. The remarkable education of John Quincy Adams. London New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

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100 Proof Hobby: part 2

Christmas Martini

A professorially made craft cocktail. Mine are not as attractive.

It has been a while since I wrote about my new, alcohol fueled, hobby. Since then I have gotten better at mixing drinks and the number of drinks I am confident with has grown. My family seems to be enjoying it. Now they seem more interested in what I have discovered than fearful that I starting a long term impersonation of W. C. Fields. I have worked on menus for holidays and special events, drinks that are possible with my limited skills and resources. My wife sends me photos of craft cocktails she finds on Pinterest that she thinks are interesting. I track down the recipe, any odd ingredients, then we try them out. One of my Christmas guests posted a photo of one of my drinks to Instagram. It was not as attractive as a professional would have done but for sitting around the living room with family it was, well, nice.

Finding new drink recipes is not difficult, there are apps, web sites, as well as books new and old, even the first book of cocktail recipes is available online, Jerry Thomas’ “How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion”. Finding the ingredients, some exotic, some just out of fashion. Until I decided to offer Champagne Cocktails for Thanksgiving I had not seen a sugar cube since Mom and Dad gave me a pony for Christmas.* The whiskeys, gins, vodkas, tequilas, and rums are easy to find and I found a website called Proof66 .com that helped me find quality ingredients that I could afford as well as learn what I could substitute and create something acceptable if not exactly the same.

I have learned a lot from investigating the history of cocktails. Remember the first time you saw Rocky drink a glass of raw eggs? That is how I felt when I learned that raw egg, sometimes just egg white, was a popular ingredient in drinks. Of course I had to try it, just like I did when I first saw Rocky. As you would expect separating an egg, the white from the yoke, is harder than simply breaking one into a glass. Drinks, like politics and fashion have fads and cycles. In the 1950s and 60s it was Tiki drinks, the 60s and 70s featured orange juice in almost everything. Today it is artisanal bases, local, small distillery whiskeys and all the rest along with drinks low or free of alcohol. Which is why I have tried to have a bottle of both sparkling wine and sparkling grape juice available whenever the family sits down for dinner.

Which brings me to the younger members of the family. The four year old boy is happy to be included with a Roy Rogers or Shirley Temple in a glass served in a glass rimmed with red and green sugar sprinkles. The teenage girls have been getting low and no alcohol versions of champagne cocktails. One she really liked she calls the blue drink. It started as something called “Deep Blue”, a ½ ounce of Blue Curacao, 2 ounces of vodka and topping the glass off with champagne. I just eliminated the vodka and topped the glass of with sparkling grape juice which left about the same alcohol as in a ¼ ounce of whiskey or ⅓ of a bottle of beer. My one bottle of sparkling grape juice was finished off on Christmas Eve so when she asked for her “Blue Drink” on Christmas Day I told her I could only make it with real sparkling wine (even with her mom’s okay I was not going to put the vodka in it). Sh said that since she was now 16 years old she could have the wine, her mom agreed. By the end of the glass she was giggling quite at anything. I am happy to say she cut herself off. I hope that this exposure to alcohol is taking away its mystery and that if someone ever slips something else into her drink she will recognize it soon enough to get help. Such are the worries when you have young girls in a college town.

*Ponies are the meanest, trickiest, nastiest animals on the planet. If you want a child to grow up to be mean and ruthless give them a pony.

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Book Review: “Of all the gin joints : stumbling through Hollywood history

"Of all the gin Joints"

“Of all the gin Joints”: stumbling through Hollywood history”

When I asked to review Mark Bailey and Edward Hemingway’s book “Of all the gin joints : stumbling through Hollywood history” for LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program I needed a light, entertaining read. Bailey’s book is exactly that, it is a collection of stories of alcohol inspired bad behavior among Hollywood’s biggest names mixed with the background of some of their favorite “watering holes” Divided into four eras, silent cinema, the studio’s, post-war, and “modern” by which they mean 1960 to 1979 there is a lot of overlap and many names keep reappearing. It was revealing to see that a silent screen actress used the same hangover remedy they featured in the movie “Flight”, an 8-ball of cocaine. This was a fun book that is easy to read a bit at a time.

There were many illustrations, caricatures of the celebrities and drawings of the bars, restaurants, and hotels mentioned and, as the cover claims, over forty drink recipes are included. This is where I was disappointed with the book. I would have rather seen photos of the old buildings than drawings but I understand the expense in licensing and printing photos. However whoever did the layout of the drink recipe needs to take a class in technical writing. At least that is where I learned not to use a background that interferes with reading the printing. With the red and white striped background the white letters is very hard to make out when the print is small, as when there are fractions in the recipe.

It was a fun book to read although I have to agree with the authors that he silent era seemed the most fun. That era of sex and pranks gave way to generations of nasty violent drunks that were more disappointing than entertaining.

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