Archive for January, 2009

Worm salt and fried grasshoppers

Posted in Left Coast Libations on January 30, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

Ted just sent me the recipes for 14 new cocktails from seven bartenders, which brings the total number of logged drinks to 62 (including a few carry overs from the last book). Only 34 more recipes to go, 17 more bartenders to answer the call.

Once the drinks are logged and all the ingredients recorded, I usually have a few questions which I send off to Ted. He then spends hours, days, weeks, tracking down the “responsible” bartenders, trying to get answers for me. I’ve learned to be patient. I’ve also learned to be persistent.

I thought it might be interesting to share the current list of inquiries, to give an idea of the sorts of things which have to be resolved to ensure every drink in this book can be made. And I ain’t saying it will be easy, just that it can be done.

Here we go:

Does anything else get added to the lime-thai chili tincture before using it? (Ted thinks there might.)

Can you provide the promised details on the thai jasmine syrup you specified for your drink? (My research indicates this may be a commercial artificially flavored product, probably Hale’s Blue Boy.)

Can anything be used as a substitute for the impossible to get Repeal Day Bitters from The Bitter Truth which you specified? (I’ve now tried these myself and I don’t have a clue what I’d use instead.)

Can you recommend a brand or style of gin/rye/rum for your cocktail? (More of these than you might imagine.)

Can the celery juice for your cocktail be obtained by muddling some celery and then straining or must we use an extraction juicer?

Can we get more details on dried apricot pisco? (I see some very scant evidence on the web that this is a commercial product but no mention of a brand. Or perhaps this is something the bartender in question made – for which we now need the recipe.)

And finally, my favorite:

Can you tell us if there’s really a source for the sal de gusano and chapulines you specified as optional ingredients for your cocktail? (That’s worm salt and fried grasshoppers with chili and lime for those of you not already in the know. These come from Oaxaca and I’ve searched high and low for a source in the U.S. or even outside of the U.S. that will send ’em to me. Nada.)


“Forth on the godly sea…”

Posted in Musings on January 23, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

I’ve just spent the last 20 or so minutes surfing the cocktail blog-o-sphere or rather, my little self-selected fraction of it, a collection of about 20 sites which I like to check at least once a day for updates. All the time I am doing this I am hopelessly aware that these sites represent only a very small fraction, at best, of the totality of cocktail-related blogs and websites. There is an almost endless number of places in which to peek and poke and learn something new, every single day. And, as usual, I find myself asking: “What possible value could I add to what’s already there, to what keeps pouring in daily from around the world?” I think in some ways I only started this blog to find out the answer to that question.

“And then went down to the ship,
set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea…”

That’s a quote from “The Illiad” by Homer, by way of “The Cantos” of Ezra Pound. (Yes, in another life I studied both these works.) I quote it here as a way to help locate myself. My “godly sea” is one made up of fine blogs, magazine articles, reviews, books, lectures, contests and conferences. My ship is this blog. And I am just past the breakers now, facing at last the limitless horizon of a wine dark sea. Bon Voyage.

The Candied Manhattan

Posted in Cocktails, Manhattans with tags , on January 21, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

In which I wax poetic on my favorite drink and learn how hard it is to take a good photo of a cocktail…

The Early Years

I’ve never heard of anyone putting together a list of desert island cocktails before (and a quick peek at the web proves me right) but for certain, the Manhattan would be #1 on my list. That is, as long as I could make it using my favorite ingredients.

The Manhattan is for me something of a primordial cocktail experience. I can recall when Martinis started to become popular and fashionable again in the early 90’s but while I could appreciate the aesthetic, I couldn’t really get behind the flavor. My inclination was to order a bourbon on the rocks and be done with it. Of course bourbon pickins’ were generally slim back then and I drank more Wild Turkey than I’d care to admit. If I was lucky, I’d find a bar with a bottle of Old Grand Dad, a brand I still use to this day.

I am sure it was my little brother who steered me towards my first Manhattan. No, that’s not quite right. What he steered me towards was a Maker’s Mark Manhattan with an orange peel garnish. Very precise and at that time, often a challenge to manifest. Not every bar had Maker’s (yet) and not every bar had oranges laying about (isn’t that funny to think about today). Oh, and pretty much every one of those drinks had the shit shaken out of it till it was frothy and often a bit too diluted. Still, I was hooked and the Maker’s Mark Manhattan became my first real cocktail.

Tweaking Begins

Some years pass, the dot com boom…booms and Maker’s becomes the well pour at a lot of bars. Single barrel and small batch bourbons are the rage. Orange peel still cannot be counted on. I learn I must ask to have my drink stirred, not shaken. I decide it would be fun to make drinks at home. After a bit of tinkering, I gravitate away from Maker’s and towards Old Grand Dad 100 Proof Bottled in Bond. My palate is shifting.

A few more years pass. Many Manhattans are consumed. I have switched from commercial “maraschino” cherries to the candied ones from Italy called amarena. This is a big step up in flavor and cost. I eventually found a store that sold these cherries in bulk. They also sold candied orange peel in bulk as well. Hmm…. Since I like candied citrus peel (yes, and good fruitcake too) I decided to buy some and see if it would work as a garnish in the Manhattan. After my very first drink I knew I was onto something and the first version of the Candied Manhattan was born.

The next thing I tried was to see the effect of soaking the peel in different liqueurs. I tried Luxardo Maraschino but it didn’t quite mesh with the other flavors. Orange cognac on the other hand worked much better. Then I added a vanilla bean to the mix which made things even yummier – so much so that I decided to slip a scant teaspoon of the orange-vanilla cognac into the drink itself. This became the second version of the Candied Manhattan.

Next I discovered the effects of using better and more exotic vermouth. For a while I settled on Carpano Antica and then someone turned me onto Vya. I think the distinctive orange note (from the Orange Muscat, natch) complemented what I had already put together just a bit better than the Antica (which if you’ve never had straight, is totally delicious). Behold version three.

Bear with me pilgrim, we are almost to the recipe…

The Joy of Rye

About the same time as I started playing with the vermouth. I discovered the joys of drinking rye (cue sound of heavenly choir). I read all I could find out about rye and the history of American whiskey making. Wow! The Manhattan had clearly been a rye based cocktail back in the day and so I would start to make the Candied Manhattan with rye as well. I tired several brands like the newly revived Michter’s, Sazerac and Rittehouse 100 Proof. (I eschewed Pikesville and Old Overholt, brands which I cannot quite bring myself to take seriously.) I liked the Michter’s the best but it’s rather an odd fish: a bit of an expensive pour for a mixed drink but not quite in the “sipping neat” class of some other ryes. I also liked the 6 y/o Sazerac but not in the Candied Manhattan. I find it’s got a tendency to “top” the other ingredients in most any of the drinks in which I’ve tried using it – though it makes a great Old Fashioned where it can reign unchallenged. Ultimately, I settled on the Rittenhouse 100 Proof Bottled in Bond for my “everyday” rendition of the drink.

Sliced, Not Stripped

The final tweak involved the candied fruit garnish. Last time I went to the store to replenish my stock of orange peel strips, I found they were also selling candied orange slices. I bought a package, soaked ’em in my orange-vanilla cognac and totally fell in love with them them. With the slices you have the added flavor dimension provided by the flesh of the fruit along with the more earthy peel. A perfect reward at the end of the cocktail – if you can wait that long.

The Candied Manhattan

2 oz Rittenhouse 100 Botttled in Bond Rye
1 oz Vya Red Vermouth
1 scant teaspoon of Orange-Vanilla Cognac liqueur (recipe below)
1 – 2 dashes bitters (Fee’s Whiskey Barrel Aged recommended)

Prep a chilled martini glass by putting 2 amarena cherries (*) and one candied orange slice or two strips (if this is what you are using) on the bottom.

Stir or gently shake ingredients to mix and chill.
Pour into prepared glass.

Orange-Vanilla Cognac Liqueur

1 cup orange cognac liqueur (e.g. Prunier Liqueur d’Orange)
1 vanilla bean
A small clean re-sealable plastic container
4 – 6 oz. candied orange peel or slices

– Score the vanilla bean with the tip of a knife and put it into the container.
– Pour the orange cognac liqueur over the bean.
– Add some or all of the candied fruit.
– Store in the refrigerator.
– Soak for 4 – 7 days before using.
– Replenish with orange-cognac liqueur as necessary.
– Replace the vanilla bean after it no longer adds significant flavor to the liqueur, about one month.

NOTE: If the candied fruit sits in the liqueur too long (more than about 2 weeks) it will start to become soft. I recommend only soaking moderate amounts of the candied fruit at a time, keeping pace with your Manhattan habit.

(*) – Most of the Italian candied cherries you find are actually amarenata – not the true amarena which is wild, smaller and softer. Both are pretty delicious however. One day I will write about my cherry fetish. Promise.

It’s full of stars…

Posted in Left Coast Libations on January 19, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

I should explain first that by nature and background (umteenmillion years in the software biz) I am something of a compulsive organizer – especially when it comes to complex tasks AKA workflows. This is I suppose one reason why I’ve found myself working on this book.

At any rate, one of my favorite tools for organizing things is the Excel spreadsheet, one of Microsoft’s gifts to the world (and yes I know they didn’t invent the damn thing but they sure as hell did a good job bringing it to the masses). For example, for the original version of LCL I decided it would be “fun” to catalog every ingredient called for by every recipe in the book, categorize (and sub-categorize) each one and then be able to perform various kinds of sorts. So I know now that of the 67 original LCL cocktails, 21 are based on Gin, each of the 10 rum cocktails specify a unique brand, 10 drinks call for St. Germain Elderflower liqueur and 24 require lemon juice. (FYI, there is exactly one vodka cocktail in the book). Ultra-geeky shit, I know. And I’m doing this again for the new version of the book as well. (As of this post I’ve got 48 drinks logged which in turn call for 174 mostly unique ingredients.)

Which brings us to the past weekends exercise. I decided to make a new spreadsheet listing all the contributors, their location on the left coast, current bar affiliation, whether they own the bar and whether they have a blog or other personal kind of website. What I discovered along the way, not surprising to everyone I suppose, is that this book is going to be full of stars. I knew some of the names on the list Ted gave me but, I mean, this book is simply packed with ’em. Here’s the working line up (and a prize to anyone who emails me and tells me how they’ve been sorted into this list, cause they are):

Kinn Edwards
Chris Churilla
Jeffrey Morgenthaler
Joseph Brooke
Damian Windsor
Matty Eggleston
Christine D’Abrosca
John Coltharp
Marcos Tello
Chris Ojeda
Eric Alperin
James Pierce
Lance Mayhew
Daniel Shoemaker
Evan Zimmerman
Kelley Swenson
Casey Robison
Andrew Bohrer
Andrew Friedman
Robert Rowland
David Nelson
Tara McLaughlin
Jamie Boudreau
Keith Waldbauer
Anu Apte
Jim Romdall
Zane Harris
Jay Kuehner
Erik Hakkinen
Murray Stenson
Dan Hyatt
Jon Santer
Ryan Fitzgerald
Joel Baker
Kevin Diedrich
Yanni Kehagiaras
Duggan McDonnell
H Joseph Ermann
Erik Adkins
Lane Ford
Jennifer Colliau
Dominic Venegas
Neyah White
Brooke Arthur
Marco Dionysos
Jackie Patterson
Jimmy Patrick
Josh Pape
David Wolowidnyk

Breathtaking, no? All I can say is that:

1- I am incredibly honored to find myself contributing to this project (amateur mixologist that I am).

2- This book should be the next “must have” item for everyone on the cocktail scene.

3- Those of you on this list who haven’t yet given Ted your recipes, get on it and don’t miss this boat.

I am stirred to write…

Posted in Left Coast Libations on January 19, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

OK, then, let’s start with something simple….

Some months ago a good friend shared a cocktail recipe with me for a drink that used bacon-infused bourbon. He knew about my love of a good Manhattan and of bacon so it just seemed natural. A number of things unfolded from there.

First, being a hard-core foodie, I totally immersed myself in this intriguing recipe, from a bartender in Portland named Lance Mayhew, trying to figure out how exactly one smokes sugar (to make the hickory-smoked pecan syrup, the drink’s other esoteric ingredient) and how one gets the maximum bacon flavor into bourbon w/o leaving it fatty and tongue coating. That whole process took about four weeks, during which time I copiously annotated the recipe I had been given, making small changes and additions. (*)

Second, my friend Scott Bodarky (who gave me the recipe) was looking to get into the business of publishing short-run books on esoteric topics. Someone had introduced him to Ted Munat, of the Munat Bros. in Seattle, who had just published the most amazing collection of cocktail recipes from some of the best, creative and rising-star bartenders and bloggers on the west coast – each of whom the book also briefly profiled. That book – where the recipe for the drink I was trying to make came from – was called Left Coast Libations. Ted was wanting to do a bigger and better version of the book with color photos of the drinks and an even bigger selection of bartenders. Scott and Ted soon formed a partnership in principle just for that purpose.

What happened next, roughly went like this: I gave Scott my notes on the bacon-bourbon drink (called The Screen Door Cocktail) which he forwarded to Ted. I then tackled another of the more difficult cocktails in the book, the Four O’clock by David Wolowidnyk (which requires you to make a vanilla citrus foam using a whip cream maker) making notes for that one as well. Eventually Ted read all my notes, ultimately concurring that some of the recipes were probably not as clear as they could or needed to be. I felt very strongly that if someone tried to make any of these drinks they should have a better than reasonable chance of recreating them at home – no matter how complex. Scott then pitched the idea to Ted that someone (me) should proof the recipes for the new version of the book. Fast forward another month: Scott and I met with Ted while he was in SF (over drinks, naturally) and we all agreed to move forward together. Also, someone was going to have to make all the drinks for photos. That someone was now me.

(*) – I want to confess, especially out of respect for Lance Mayhew, that some of the decisions I made regarding the original instructions for The Screen Door Cocktail probably resulted in creating a distinct variant rather than a totally faithful recreation. For example, the instructions for smoking sugar say: “smoke a block of brown sugar.” I had never heard of brown sugar coming in anything like a block and could find no obvious source for such a thing on the web. In what may have been a misguided moment of inspiration, I decided to use mexican piloncillos, unrefined cane sugar cones, which were very block-like. I also decided to smoke the pecans destined for the syrup along with the sugar, breaking up the halves into smaller pieces to maximize surface area for extraction (which Lance warned was hard). The resulting syrup was (and is) incredibly dark and full of smoky pecan goodness. I guess at some point I should post all my notes and modifications. I guess one day I should also ask Mr. Mayhew exactly what he meant by a “block of brown sugar.”