Monday, December 28, 2009

Tom and Jerry

Not the loveable cartoon characters. Rather, the even more lovable winter sipper (or gulper, at times).

But first, two non-related items:

1) Today, Caroline on Crack identified my cocktail, the Superstizione as one of her top 10 favorite cocktails of 2009. Thanks for the compliment, Caroline. The Superstizione can be experienced in all its Caroline-approved glory at Drago Centro.

2) On Christmas day, I was able to taste the ("double?") Russian Imperial Stout that my brother in law brewed last year in honor of his son's birth. It'll be aged for 21 years and enjoyed by family and friends each year until then. This year, in honor of the newly toddling Iain, we tasted the concoction after it's first year of resting. W. T. F. That stuff was CRAZY good. I don't even like stout, but the flavors were so intriguing, so well-balanced, that I gave it a 97/100. It's possible that I'm a little biased, and it's not that I'm some world-renowned expert on beer, but I have a decent background in the stuff and I feel pretty confident in saying that it's one of the better-made beers I've had in my life. I only wish he had made more bottles. Maybe he'll go along with my idea of re-brewing every year with the same recipe so we can have side-by-side vertical tastings of a sort.

On to the drink...

There are a great many of drinks with very strict ingredient lists. I often get called a cocktail snob for berating the use of the word "Martini" to refer to anything other than a concoction of gin, vermouth (sweet or dry depending on the type of Martini), and bitters, garnished with a lemon twist, or if you absolutely must, an olive. Though even that's a somewhat loose definition in my eyes. Anyway, the Tom and Jerry doesn't have to follow such strict rules. There are many great recipes out there... and many not so great. In order to introduce you to this tasty warm beverage, or to add another recipe to your binderful of Tom and Jerry variations, I'd like to share my own version, frankensteined together from the recipes of some folks I respect from the blogosphere, and then adapted to my own tastes and style. And even though Christmas is over with, the winter is young, and a nice Tom and Jerry hits the spot just right after dinner on a cold night, or even to slowly wake up with in the late morning of a lazy day.

Tom and Jerry batter:

6 eggs (separated)
1 cup sugar
1 oz rum
1/4 tsp ground clove (preferrably freshly ground)
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg (VERY preferrably freshly grated)
1/4 tsp ground allspice (preferrably freshly ground)

Beat the egg yolk in a mixing bowl. Beat in the rum, spices, and slowly, the sugar. In a different mixing bowl, beat the crap out of the egg whites until they form those magical stiff peaks. Mix everything together until it has about the consistency of a pancake batter. The batter should remain tasty for 1-2 days. After that though, definitely think about throwing it out. Remember, there's raw egg in there.

Tom and Jerry:

3 oz Tom and Jerry batter
1.25 oz rum
1.25 oz brandy
hot milk
hot water

To a mug, add the batter and liquors. Top with the hot milk and hot water at a 2:1 ratio respectively (or higher, if you're not using whole milk). Stir. Grate a little nutmeg on top, and serve.

As I said before, this is a great drink to experiment with, so feel free to try adding or substituting some cinnamon or orange peel. Or maybe substitute in some rye. Have fun.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sam Adams Utopias No Longer World's Strongest Beer?

Tactical Nuclear Penguin from BrewDog on Vimeo.

While a lover of the classics of the booze world, I also love people trying new things. So I was intrigued when I heard that there was a beer stronger than Sam Adams Utopias (which is about 25% ABV, depending on which release you're drinking). But this video notes that unlike Utopias, Tactical Nuclear Penguin utilizes the process known as fractional freezing, or freeze distillation. While regular distillation utilizes the difference in boiling points of water and ethyl alcohol, freeze distillation takes advantage of the difference on the other side of the scale, the freezing points. Basically, when you chill an alcoholic beverage cold enough, it starts to freeze. The part that freezes first is the part lower in alcohol concentration. Remove that and you've got a higher ABV. Do it many times, and you have a MUCH higher ABV. This isn't a new process, even for beer. We've all been subjected to drinking or preferably watching somebody else drink a Bud Ice, Natural Ice, etc. And notice all the times I used the world distillation above. This is a distillate. Not a beer. I still want to try it as soon as possible, but I say the title still belongs to the Utopias.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Partida and Tequila Ocho at Rivera

Last night, was the best tequila tasting I've ever been to. Okay, so my tequila tastings to date are a bit limited. I must admit, that it's never been my favorite spirit, though it certainly has been growing on me more and more as of late, and last night at Rivera may have transformed me into a true tequila lover. For those who don't know, Rivera has become THE go-to place for quality tequilas and tequila based cocktails. And one can hardly say enough good things about Partida tequilas. I've been somewhat familiar with them for a while thanks to the likes of former brand ambassador Damian Windsor, who now focuses on his newest venue the Roger Room (go if you haven't). Tequila Ocho, I hadn't tasted until last night. I had only heard of it and their goal to familiarize the consumer with tequila terroir.

Terroir, a term more often used when referring to wine, simply refers to the set of conditions which play a part in the growing of the agricultural product to be fermented and/or distilled. So for wine, it refers to how one malbec grape vine grown in Europe produces a wine much different from the same grape grown in Argentina due to differences in elevation, days of sunlight, average temperature, rainfall, soil composition, etc. In fact, this particular difference in terroir is a great example (in my opinion) because Malbec grown in the old world is useful pretty much only in blends, whereas in Argentina, it's great on its own. However, terroir can often differ vastly even when plain geography does not. Many claim that the terroir of one vine can differ from the terroir of another mere meters away.

Anyway, the concept of terroir is now becoming more and more accepted as applying to various spirits, and Tequila Ocho definitely believes (and demonstrates) that this should very much be the case for fine tequilas. Tequila Ocho offers quality platas, reposados, and anejos (and allegedly, extra-anejos in the not too distant future) with specific vintage years from single estates, or "ranchos". Very tasty product. Get your hands on every vintage you can find. A couple certainly stood out as superior, but none disappointed in the slightest.

While all of the tequilas were well worth having, the highlight of the night would probably have to be finally getting to try Partida's extra-anejo, the 3-year-old, $300, "Elegante". Simply put, aptly named. All in all, a good night.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Any Dry Sherries?": A Lesson Learned

Been really busy with work lately, but I've got a few minutes, so I thought I would share a learning experience from behind the bar recently. A nice couple sits down at the bar waiting for the restaurnt to open so they can be seated. Before I can get them a beverage list, they ask "any dry sherries?" Then I have that moment which I'm not too fond of, and until I was actually bartending, rarely happened. That moment is the moment I realize that I've been asked a booze-related question and that I don't know the answer. Thankfully, I'd happened to notice at some point that there was a bottle of oloroso behind some ports on the backbar. So, I quickly retrieved it, showed them the bottle, and they agreed that this was acceptable. They liked it, but when I got a minute to look at our spirits list a little later, I noticed that we had an amontillado listed along with the oloroso. Like most Americans, I don't know much about sherry, but I was pretty sure that amontillados were drier than oloroso. Upon conferring with my beverage director that evening, I was informed that the amontillado was stored in the fridge. Well, at least I know now, and will be ready should the couple return or other like-minded, like-palated customers take up a seat at my bar. In the end, they still enjoyed their sherry, and I learned something new. All in all, a new bartender success.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My First Job Behind the Stick

That's right, I'm no longer "just" an enthusiast. After a sufficiently successful working interview at Drago Centro, I've been graciously given a position behind the bar of the upscale restaurant at 5th and Flower in downtown Los Angeles. While the beverage program is predominantly wine focused (which will be a fun challenge for me), they have a surprisingly good bottled beer selection and a pretty respectable cocktail program as well. Oh yeah, they have some pretty quality food there, too. In the interest of preventing this post from turning into basically an advertisement for the restaurant, I'll end it simply by saying that I'm excited to finally get behind the stick, and hope to see you all come down to Drago Centro soon.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cedd's New Venture

That's right, Cedd Moses is opening another bar downtown, bringing his total to just over 9000. Not that I'm complaining. Far from it. Most of my favorite bars in LA are Cedd's doing. Anyway, the new place will be heavily based in mezcals (Cedd says at least around 50) and will be conveniently located less than two blocks from me. You may know this place better though as 103 E. 6th Street. That's right, it's just across the street from Cole's -- well, really it's closer to across the street from the Association, but come on, Cole's is way better. Anyway, the new venture is still in the construction stages so don't be lining up outside the door quite yet. Cedd says that they're looking to open in November, but if they get a little behind schedule, as can happen with such projects, it'll still be a great Christmas present or start to the new year.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Downtown Move

Yes, this past weekend, I finally moved downtown. I'm very excited as some of the best bars in LA are now within walking distance. Cole's/Varnish is literally less than two blocks away. Already been there twice in two days. Oh crap, maybe I'm too close. Wait, too close to quality booze? Never.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Boozin' in Boston

So, It's about time I talk a bit about my visit to Beantown. Afterall, that was last month.

Weeks before flying across the country, I made sure to do my homework, collecting information on bars I wanted to try out. I mean, who knows the next time I'll be in Boston. Of course, I had several non-drinkers (including my infant nephew who's a real lightweight) in tow, so it was a bit too tough to hit ever bar on my list (there were over a dozen). Still, we managed to make it to some pretty enjoyable drinking locations.

Fortunately, one of our destinations was the Samuel Adams Brewery. Mind you, what's brewed here is not what you buy at the grocery store. The Boston location is strictly an R&D brewery. Each of their recipes comes from this location, aside from the most ubiquitous, the Boston Lager, which was first formulated in a plain old kitchen. We were able to taste some of their beers, which is always nice, and picked up a few souvenirs from the gift shop. All in all, a good tour.

While we were at the brewery, we were informed that a local restaurant, mere steps from the brewery has the privilege of being the only place you can get a certain beer Sam Adams brews. It was tasty. This is a picture of the tap.

My first cocktail experience in Boston was during our dinner at Green Street (formerly Green Street Grill). It's tough to judge a cocktail program solely by the menu. I take that back. Usually, it's quite simple to do so. If I see the words "sour mix", "chocotini", or a plethora of suggestive cocktail names, I've got a pretty good handle on their cocktail program. On the other end of the spectrum, however, it's a bit more difficult. From the menu alone, I was excited about Green Street. That changed when I tasted their take on an East India House Cocktail. Or, at least I THINK that's what they were trying to do. The predominant flavor was that of the orange juice, and not fresh orange juice. It may very well have been freshly squeezed at some point. Maybe the day before? On top of poor taste, the numerous tiny glaciers pointed to poor training for the bartender who poured it. Shaken drinks served up should have absolutely no floating pieces of ice. If there's a few, I'll just ignore it, but it was as if he had actually tried to get as many ice chips in as possible. This is why I double-strain my shaken drinks and tip my hat to all the barmen who do the same. Needless to say, I switched to beer, which was a much better experience. A good beer menu, it seems, is less likely to betray you than a good cocktail menu. Makes sense.

On Sunday, we made it out to brunch at Eastern Standard. It. Was. Awesome. The cocktails ranged from great to fantastic, and the food, likewise. Cocktails imbibed include: Pimm's Cup, Pisco Sour, Sazerac, Harvey Wallbanger, etc. We shared. Almost everything was very well balanced. The Sazerac was one of the best I've ever had, though just a whisper on the sweet side. After a nice discussion with one of the resident cocktail folk (Kevin, I think?), we were graced with free samples of a lovely sour topped with foamy egg white and Fee's Barrel Aged bitters, giving a delightfully sharp cinnamon nose. A fantastic brunch I would love to repeat. It's near Fenway, so know if it's a game day or not, but certainly make your way down for some tasty treats, both potables and edibles.

Lastly, we made it to Drink. While they do have a great program there, I was less impressed than I intended on being. Large ice, good. Small cocktail glasses, good. Recommending flavored "martinis"? Shame on you, Drink. I know it's tough to say no to a customer, but steering them to a more respectable libation is perfectly acceptable. If they ask for a "chocotini", teach them about the Brandy Alexander. If they say "anything with vodka" (overheard three times in under an hour), it becomes more difficult, though still not impossible. I am glad that one bartender (I believe in response to one of the aforementioned vodka requests) suggested a Last Word, so there is certainly an effort to improve the clientele, even if it's not by refusing to make espressotinis.

One of the things I noticed is that even the cocktail bars have some pretty good beer lists, a concept not found much in Los Angeles. If I ever make it back, I'll definitely try Drink again, but most of my effort will be spent getting back to Eastern Standard. I miss it already.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Battered Beaver

Yes, that's actually the name of a bar. And yes, I have actually gone there... several times. Each Thursday, the Mixoloseum holds what we call Thursday Drink Night, where we select an ingredient, style of drink, etc. and come up with original drinks based on our chosen theme. There are even small (but very good) cocktail related prizes to be won. I make it a point to show up to this chatroom boozefest pretty much every Thursday, even when I'm out of town. Though, when I tune in from out of town, I'm more of a spectator than usual as I generally am far from adequate ingredients to partake. The evening's libations often contain things as uncommon to the average person as rhubarb bitters, cinnamon syrup, and bitter liqueurs flavored with artichoke. Heck, the average person hasn't even heard of the theme ingredient for this past TDN, the South American brandy known as Pisco. While my home bar is happily stocked with these items, most other places I might be caught at on a Thursday night do not.

This past Thursday, I was visiting my parents in the town I grew up in, Oakdale, CA, which proudly claims itself to be "The Cowboy Capital of the World." No, I'm not kidding. My usual bar when in town is even called The Cow Track, and no, I don't know what a cow track is. "The Track" as it is affectionately called by its regulars isn't the type of place you order a martini or an old-fashioned, but the whiskey is cheap and the beer is cheaper. The vast majority of drinks go for well under $4, so it's not a bad place to have a beer and enjoy some (often live) music.

Recently though, I've been more and more attracted to another local bar called The Battered Beaver. This is partly due to the name, but mostly because it's within easy walking distance from my folks' place. While complaining to the TDN crew that I couldn't join in on the fun, I briefly mentioned The Battered Beaver and was promptly instructed that this would be where I consumed my booze that evening, and that I needed to post pictures on my blog (likely to prove to them that a bar with such a name existed in my charming hometown of Oakdale).

While many consider me to be a cocktail snob, I actually opt for cocktail geek because a snob refuses to "slum it up," which is something that I rather enjoy doing now and then. Hey, we all have our guilty pleasures. So, I saunter on down to the Beav' and I order up, you guessed it, a light beer. While I enjoy my non-snobby beer, I notice mere feet from my pint glass none other than Angostura bitters. WHAT?!? I try to deal with my excitement mixed with confusion. Why in the world would the Battered Beaver have bitters? I say a quick prayer of thanks and frantically debate in my head what to order next, a Manhattan, or my favorite, an Old-Fashioned.

I decided that while they might not know how to make either, they've certainly at least heard of a Manhattan... and we have a winner. The first bartender asks another bartender as I insist I can lead them through it (in fear that the other bartender might have been taught how to make a poor Manhattan). Eventually, I'm able to walk one of them through making me a passable Manhattan. Next, I teach a different bartender how to make an (almost) equally passable Old-Fashioned. No, neither was what I would call well-balanced, but both had all the right ingredients in roughly the right proportions, so it was much better than I expected to be drinking before I walked in.

I ran into an old friend there and she insisted that I try a drink called a Mind Eraser, which she informed me had something like kahlua, vodka, citrus vodka, and 7-up. Despite being served in a double rocks glass filled to the brim, she also informed me that the drink must be consumed all at once from bottom to top via the given straw. Well... when in Rome. Apparently, on Thursdays, they have a buy-one-get-one-free deal so long as a lady is involved. So my lovely bartender and I erase our minds together, and I become convinced that the name is quite apt. This is clearly a drink designed to get as much alcohol in without the alcohol burn. Needless to say, I opted not to repeat the erasure. And when all is said and done, I'd say it was a pretty enjoyable Thursday Drink Night.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Reviving Drink-Well with San Francisco

Okay, so I said that I was killing off this blog, but it refuses to stay dead. I'll wait while you go mix yourself a Zombie.

In honor of the original beginnings of Drink-Well, it feels fitting to revive it with a post on Cocktail Week. This year, I was not celebrating in my current home of Los Angeles. Instead, I was able to make it up to the Bay Area for San Francisco festivities.

The Opening Gala on Monday the 11th was at Le Colonial, which can be a bit difficult to find (yes, it's back in that alleyway), but a very enjoyable venue. And despite the heavy influence of vodka, their cocktail menu is actually pretty decent. Of course, there was a special list for the evening containing a few select cocktails one could pick up in exchange for one of the two drink tickets included in the $25 price tag for the evening, with additional drink tickets available in advance for a very reasonable $5, or at the door for a still reasonable $7.

I had a chance to taste each of cocktails and was at least mildly disappointed. Generally, they were too sweet, and I would only have described maybe one as being "well balanced". Although Camper (from, whom I was finally able to meet in person (both of us being regulars at The Mixoloseum) actually quite liked the drinks that night. Maybe we got our drinks from different bartenders? H. from Elixir was even there to help out, but they seemed to be using him more as a barback. I still had a blast, loved the little bites being passed out, and was able to finish off the evening with a glass of Maker's, bought for me by some new booze friends. Thanks again.

Tuesday night was filled with lots of fun at the United States Bartenders' Guild National Competition (with the local San Francisco competition happening earlier in the day). The evening was held at Harry Denton’s Starlight Room at the top of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel (which was quite nice) and sponsored by Tres Generaciones Tequila, which meant that while the judges were able to taste all the competitors' entries, we all sipped on some (mostly) tasty tequila libations. And yes, despite coming from Sauza, these tequilas really are well worth drinking, unlike their infamous mixto tequila.

While there, I actually met up with some LA booze folks, so I ended up spending most of the event with them, cheering on our SoCal representative from the Tlapazola Grill. I apologize to the gentleman, as I can't recall his name. While the Tlapazola Grill isn't well known in the cocktail community, I'm told they've formed a pretty solid cocktail program, so I'll definitely have to check that out. Unfortunately, in the end, the title went to the Las Vegas representative, Armando Rosario.

Those were the only Cocktail week events I went to largely because I was flying to Boston mid-week (more on the booze of that trip later). Wednesday night, I was ticketless, which wasn't too bad as it freed up the evening for me to revisit Bourbon and Branch, which, in my opinion, is the best bar in SF. Sad to say, I was let down a bit there as well. Granted it was still at least a B+, it lowers my cumulative ranking from an A+. Bartender was very friendly, but the drinks were mostly a little off. Not much, mind you, but I hold Bourbon and Branch to a very high standard. Even my old-fashioned was slightly unbalanced. Despite small imperfections, every drink was still far more than drinkable and Bourbon and Branch remains my must-go-to bar whenever I'm SF.

The week in general gave me a mild fear that the cocktail culture of SF might be resting a bit on their laurels. I hope that this is not the case and trust that even if it is, they can't continue for long, given the number of quality bars popping up in Los Angeles and throughout the country. And we can certainly thank San Francisco for their role in that. Cheers!