Tag Archives: cocktails

Review: Slippery Tipples, weird and wonderful liqueurs

Slippery tipples : a guide to weird and wonderful spirits & liqueurs.

Slippery tipples : a guide to weird and wonderful spirits & liqueurs.

Joseph Piercy’s “Slippery tipples : a guide to weird and wonderful spirits & liqueur” is another “booze book” that I picked up at Half Price Books. First published in the United Kingdom the book catalogs the odd liqueurs and spirits the author has found in his travels. Each entry is short and sweet, the author gives a short history of the product in question, describes its ingredients, gives his opinion of it, and lists a few drink recipes that use it. Although I doubt I will be able to find and try the more exotic liqueurs mentioned in the book I have already been able to use my new found knowledge of the Chinese drink maotai in a dinner conversation with two gentleman from China. It sparked an interesting conversation about Chinese drinking customs that was entertaining and educational. The book provided valuable fuel for cross cultural conversations.

I do wish that Piercy was better at trying new things. His descriptions of the drinks taste, some powerfully negative, most just negative, and his selection of poorly named and poorly conceived drink recipes are off putting at times and occasionally funny. I hope he was aiming for funny.

I would have to say that this is a book only for someone interested in learning a little about the various exotic alcoholic drinks available around the world and I would advise that person to borrow, rather than buy, a copy.


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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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My 100 Proof Hobby

I seem to have developed a new “hobby” over the last year or so. I was with my wife at one of the conferences at the JW Marriott in Washington DC in the winter of 2013. We had just flown in, tired and hungry we went to the hotel restaurant for dinner. Of course the first thing they give us was a drink menu. On the menu they claimed to be the hotel that served the first Gin Rickey over a century ago. I had recently read a book, “America Walks into a Bar”, and in it I learned something about how “cocktail culture” developed. Their claim sounded reasonable so I ordered one.

This shocked my wife. We joke about being a mixed marriage, she drinks wine and I drink beer. When I say I drink beer let me clarify, a six pack can last me a month. And I have had cocktails before. Dad made Mai-Tais for us kids on the holidays and mom’s “cold medicine” is better known as a Hot Toddy, but that was the first cocktail my wife ever saw me order. She still should not have been shocked. I bought a bottle of cognac when we got married and occasionally drank a shot of it. That bottle lasted almost a decade so the key word here is “occasionally”. We also, at times, had vodka and bourbon in the house. My wife made a killer Cranberry Vodka Pork Chop and her Bourbon Sweet Potato Pie is the best anywhere. I occasionally had a shot of the bourbon or made someone a Hot Toddy when they were sick but no one would have said we were into cocktails. Good liquor, I said, should be enjoyed straight.

That Gin Rickey was great. Even my wife agreed. So when we got home I went and got a bottle of gin, a bottle of lime juice, and one of club soda and I mastered the Gin Rickey. The same conference this year was in San Diego. My wife had lived there when she was fresh out of high school and she took me around town to see the sights. We had a late lunch in Old Town and the waiter asked if I would like some Tequila. At first I said no, but I had second thoughts about that. We had ridden the train and walked to get there. One shot was not going to be a problem and after all, where else could I expect to get good Tequila? So I told him to bring me a shot. When he asked what brand I confessed to him that I had never tried it before and asked him to pick something good. I wish I had paid attention to what brand he picked, it was good. (He stood there and watched me take the first sip, I think he was expecting a reaction from a “non-drinker”. If that was the case he went away disappointed. I may never have had tequila but I grew up in the land of bourbon.) The next day at a restaurant near the museums in Balboa Park I decided to try something else new to me, a martini. It was nasty, all sugary sweet, no bite, and, no taste except sweet. When we got home I started thinking about how bad that martini was. Would James Bond drink something like that? Not a chance.

I remembered that, in our collection of cookbooks, we had two about cocktails. A 1984 printing of Mr. Boston’s Guide and a 1934 book titled “Charles’ Book of Punches and Cocktails”.  There are also a lot, a lot, of free and low cost apps about mixing cocktails that I found when I started looking there. So I started looking, reading the little recipes, some sounded horrible, some sounded interesting. I decided to have the kids, and their kids, over for a Labor Day party where I would let them try some of the different concoctions. Even the teenage and younger grand-kids got into the act with Shirley Temples, Arnold Palmers, and Roy Rogers, all non-alcoholic drinks. I think we all had a good time and I am planning a Halloween get to get together with drinks with names like Zombies.

Now that I am paying attention I notice that I am not the only one looking into the cocktail culture. In August I learned that I was to review “Of All the Gin Joints : Stumbling through Hollywood History” and  recently I heard the author of “The Curious Bartender: The Artistry and Alchemy of Creating the Perfect Cocktail” interviewed on NPR. I have seen articles on “shandys”, drinks for when beer is too heavy, for example, one part lager beer and one part fruit juice. Another one on making your own bitters was more surprising. There is even a book devoted to bitters, “Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-all”. I have not even gotten far enough into mixology to use bitters. These days, around 8:00 in the evening you can find me mixing a cocktail, one I have never tried or a “revised” recipe of one that did not seem as good as it should be.

Bond was right, martinis can be very good when done right. Trying these recipes can be a bit of an adventure. In the older books measurements are vague or even optional. Thankfully with Google I have a hope of learning how much a “pony” or a “wine glass” is supposed to be. (1 ounce and 4 ounces) Unfortunately dashes and splashes are still just as vague as they were 80 years ago. Some of the drinks I have tried I should have known better, a White Plush, equal parts whiskey and milk, is not going to be a modern hit. Some are much better than their names suggest, an Ambassador or a Cincinnati Cocktail for instance. If you are feeling thirsty you might try my newest favorite, an Incider. One part Bourbon with six parts Apple Cider. Just pour the whiskey over ice in a rocks glass and top off with the cider. When I offered my wife a sip of my first attempt at this cocktail I never got the glass back.

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