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!