Nicotine and regulatory capture

horsebrass 021

The FDA is expected to announce very soon new regulations governing chewing tobacco, cigars, and likely electronic cigarettes. If you’ve followed my writing on this, you know I don’t think this bodes well for the quality side of the tobacco market. The law giving the agency authority over tobacco products was brokered by an alliance of Philip Morris and anti-smoking groups, and the new head of the FDA’s tobacco division, Mitch Zeller, came to the job straight from consulting for GlaxoSmithKline on nicotine replacement therapies. The agency’s record so far has been distinguished much more by its anti-competitive effects than by any actual achievement improving public health.

The Boston Globe recently interviewed Zeller to get some indication of where the agency may be headed. As expected, it appears likely that Zeller will pursue mandating the removal of nearly all nicotine from cigarettes:

1. Create a non-addictive cigarette. We have the authority given to us by Congress to reduce nicotine in cigarettes down to nearly zero,” Zeller said. Since nicotine is the addictive chemical in cigarettes, teens who start smoking products that are almost nicotine-free could, in theory, never get hooked in the first place. Researchers now have access to 9 million cigarettes with varying amounts of nicotine to start testing whether products with lower amounts will lead to less addiction among new smokers. But don’t expect an ultra-low-nicotine product for at least a few years, Zeller added, since the studies are just beginning.

A few notes on this:

1) This would obviously be good news for Zeller’s former client in the pharmaceutical industry. Removal of nicotine from cigarettes would leave smokers craving nicotine and many of them would likely turn to patches, gums, and the like. Zeller indicates in the same interview that the agency should perhaps remove warning labels from nicotine replacement therapies that discourage consumers from using them long-term, noting that using these products for life is healthier than smoking.

Even if this is good policy, Zeller’s previous job casts doubt on the FDA’s ability to consider the issue impartially. As many warned at the time of his appointment, his role as lead regulator of tobacco creates a blatant conflict of interest at the agency.

2) Mandated removal of nicotine could be good news for makers of electronic cigarettes, which now include the Big Tobacco companies. But it’s not clear that the FDA will turn a favorable eye to those, either. If the agency’s performance on cigarettes is any indication, e-cigarettes could be caught in a bureaucratic morass that keeps new products off the market with scant scientific justification.

3) Rather than turn to pharmaceuticals or e-cigarettes, at least some smokers will likely switch to cheap, low-quality cigars. Even if the FDA does not initially regulate nicotine levels in cigars, this will provide the impetus to extend the regulation. We’ve seen this before with bans on flavors or changes to tax policy when producers and consumers respond with products that technically qualify as cigars or pipe tobacco. Lawmakers and regulators then attempt to close the “loophole.” Makers of high-quality, traditional cigars would be caught in the crossfire. Whether or not one has any personal interest in cigarettes, if you enjoy an occasional pipe or cigar, then the FDA’s path should have you worried. There may be no way to produce a traditional cigar and comply with the FDA’s demands. This is the road that could lead to the complete destruction of the industry.

For more on how the FDA is getting tobacco regulation wrong, see my articles from the past year:
Who’s killing the electronic cigarette?
How the FDA is keeping new cigarettes off the market
The case against a smoke-free America

Recent reading

In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America, Maureen Ogle — I first heard of Maureen Ogle through her engaging history of beer in the United States, Ambitious Brew. I enjoyed that book, so I was pleased to receive an advance copy of her newest work.

In both books Maureen tells the stories of industries that began with local producers, consolidated into industrial scale, and then saw the rapid recent growth of smaller, quality production alongside the corporate giants. But she doesn’t she go for an easy narrative of good versus evil. The story of meat is driven by changes in production, transportation, regulation, and the incentives they impose on the market. This is very much a microeconomic history: the industry is the way it is because entrepreneurs made understandable choices in the pursuit profit.

Maureen takes an ambivalent view of modern meat production, as, in reality, do most of us. We abhor the cruelty of factory farming and the environmental destruction wrought by consuming so much meat. We also like being able to enjoy meat in plentiful, affordable quantities, whether it’s humanely-raised and artfully prepared or greasily devoured at a fast food restaurant. As she notes in the introduction, meat is like gasoline. It’s easy to extol moderation when it’s cheap, but few desire the hardship of making it expensive.

To readers seeking a condemnation of modern meat production, this book may come across as insufficiently damning. Even so-called “pink slime” gets its due. “[The] process was simply a high-tech version of what frugal cooks have done since humans stood upright: it allowed processors to utilize every available morsel of protein and calories,” she notes in the concluding chapter. “Only a food-rich society like ours enjoys the luxury of dispensing with frugality.” But this hard-headed approach to the subject is exactly what makes In Meat We Trust worth reading. There is probably no better source for understanding our carnivorous society, in all its plenitude and horror.

Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation, Tyler Cowen — This is Tyler Cowen’s follow up to The Great Stagnation, examining economic trends stemming from what he describes as “some fairly basic and hard-to-reverse forces: the increasing productivity of intelligent machines, economic globalization, and the split of modern economies into both very stagnant sectors and some very dynamic sectors.” The basic ideas are summed up pretty well in this New Yorker interview. One exchange from that apltly describes my friend circle in Portland:

I think there will be much larger numbers of people who live somewhat bohemian, [freelance] lifestyles, who culturally feel very upper-middle-class or even upper-class, but who don’t have that much money. (Think of many parts of Brooklyn.) Those individuals will be financially precarious, but live happy, productive lives. How we evaluate that ethically is very tricky. Still, I think that’s what we’re going to see.

Initially reading the book, I didn’t think my own career in the spirits industry was likely to be affected very much by the need to work with intelligent machines. Robotic bartenders? A novelty, and change-resistant regulators would be wary of taking humans out of the exchange. Smart software to create novel recipes? That’s only part of the job, and we already have The Flavor Bible. But on further reflection, I realize a lot of my relative success in the industry comes not because I’m good at making drinks — lots of people are — but because I’ve combined that well with social networking and blogging. The topic of how to make a long-term living making drinks is one that comes up often, and understanding how to use SEO and online platforms is a factor to consider in this and so many other lines of work.

If you follow Marginal Revolution or have read Cowen’s other books, you’ll know whether or not you’ll like this one. I found it thought-provoking throughout and even enjoyed the long sections on competitive chess, a field in which Cowen sees signs of where other jobs and life pursuits are headed. (Freestyle chess, which combines teams of humans and computers, reminded me very much of David Brin’s recent science fiction novel Existence, recommended in the previous round-up.)

Smoke: A Global History of Smoking, Sander L. Gilman and Zhou Xun — Given the ubiquity of cigarettes in the twentieth century, its easy to forget that tobacco was unknown to Europeans prior to the arrival of Columbus in the New World. It’s easier still to forget that tobacco has been enjoyed in many forms and contexts, from pipes and cigars to religious rituals and enemas. There’s much more to tobacco than addiction and cancer, and this compilation of essays gets at nearly all of them.

“Havana Cigars and the West’s Imagination;” “The Houkah in the Harem: On Smoking and Orientalist Art;” “Smoking in Modern Japan.” These are just a small sampling of the subjects covered, all of them amply illustrated with art, photos, and vintage advertisements. I know of no other book like it, and if the topic of tobacco is at all of interest than it is worth picking up.

Yuzu Sour

Yuzu Sour 1

Here’s another of our new cocktails at The Hop and Vine, this one using a delicious drinking vinegar from Genki-Su, a new company based here in Portland:

1 1/2 oz bourbon
3/4 oz yuzu vinegar
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
lemon peel, for garnish

Shake, strain into an ice-filled rocks glass, and garnish with a lemon twist.

The Genki-Su vinegars are very good and can be purchased online. I especially like their shiso flavor, which I’ve used in a very similar cocktail with rum.

[Photo by Julia Raymond.]

New cocktails at The Hop and Vine

Red Right Hand

My bartending these days has migrated from the west side to the east side of the Willamette River, allowing me to trade in monochrome dress slacks for denim and plaid. But the approach to cocktails remains the same. In addition to picking up occasional shifts at the exceedingly cool Expatriate, I’ve taken over the menu at one of my favorite places and long-time collaborators, The Hop and Vine.

With their frequently changing tap list and expansive bottle shop, The Hop and Vine is a great place to work on beer cocktails. The Mai Ta-IPA and Averna Stout Flip are both featured on the new menu. Of course we’re doing more than just beer though. Here’s a look at one of our other new cocktails, the Red Right Hand:

1 1/2 oz Novo Fogo silver cachaca
3/4 oz Aperol
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz honey-chamomile syrup

Shake and serve up. To make the syrup, simply mix equal volumes of honey and chamomile tea.

Bartenders will often tell you that the hardest part of creating a new cocktail is naming it. I came up with this recipe for a Bars on Fire event at The Coupe in Washington, DC. I’d been stuck on the name and forgot to send it in before deadline. I remembered while listening to “Red Right Hand” just as the gong hit; thanks to a red hue provided by Aperol, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds solved my naming problem.

[Photo by Julia Raymond.]

GMO labeling: Bad science, good politics

Rally to Support GMO Food Labeling

Over at The Umlaut, I have an essay up today about why mandatory GMO labeling is probably inevitable in the United States, and why that may not be a good thing:

I would be more sympathetic to the cause of GMO labeling if its advocates were not so intent on stigmatizing genetic engineering. Instead, whether for reasons of political expediency, profit, or simply poor judgment, they too often associate with any idea that could bolster their cause, regardless of its scientific merits. Thus we end up with labeling advocates on stage in front of a Whole Foods banner, sowing fear among foodies that exposure to genetically modified crops may cause autism in their children.

Read the whole thing here.

[Photo via CT Senate Democrats.]

Oola-la!

Oola-la! Oola bourbon, dry vermouth, Gran Classico, Seven of Hearts late harvest viognier.

It’s been a while since I posted a cocktail recipe here, so here’s one that was slated for a menu I never got to put together — maybe for the best, as the name is a bit too cute. It features bourbon from Oola in Seattle, a very nice bourbon made with a blend of aged bourbons and Oola’s own four-grain mash. A high rye content comes through in a pleasant spiciness.

The other Pacific Northwest ingredient I planned to use in this one is the delicious Seven of Hearts Ice Princess dessert wine pressed from frozen viognier grapes, which goes very well here. Mostly this drink shows once again the fantastic flexibility of the Alto Cucina and why it’s one of my favorite cocktails to play with:

1 oz Oola Bourbon
1 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz Gran Classico
1/2 oz Seven of Hearts Ice Princess Viognier
orange peel, for garnish

Stir, serve up, and garnish with an orange peel.

These are fairly local brands, so feel free to make substitutions.

The costs of convenience

Abandoned liquor store

Over at Blue Oregon, politico and former pub owner Jesse Cornett argues against liquor privatization, satisfied with the system the way it is:

Bar and tavern owners obtain their liquor almost the same way that anyone in Oregon does: they buy it from a liquor store. It comes with a small discount and can include delivery. When I called in my order, they would ask when I wanted it. Right away? Sure. See you in 30 minutes. At a certain time? Great, we’ll see you then. Run out of a particular product late in their hours? Just pop by. Call on your way and it’s sitting at the counter waiting for you. The system works exceptionally well for Oregon’s pub, bar and restaurant owners. Obtaining liquor was much more convenient than any other product.

Jesse is absolutely right about this. Oregon’s system makes buying liquor simple. To stock the bar I manage, I make one phone call, receive one delivery, and write one check. Easy! In contrast, our wine buyer deals with more than a dozen distributors, taking separate deliveries and writing individual checks for each of them. Pain in the ass!

So yes, the current system is convenient for bar managers. But that’s a terrible reason to keep it in place. It leaves unaddressed, for starters, the cost to the bars. Licensees in Oregon receive only a very small (about 5%) discount off retail. The set price means we don’t spend time bargaining or making deals, or what is known in less regulated states as “doing your damn job.” It also means we pay more for our liquor, making it harder to put quality spirits in our menu cocktails.

The situation is even worse when we want to bring in relatively esoteric spirits from other states. Oregon distilleries benefit from the fact that the state’s monopoly buyer, the OLCC, gives them de facto favorable treatment. The agency is very likely to “list” their products, meaning it will purchase them in bulk and sell them at a lower price. That’s good for local distillers, but not so good for out-of-state producers and the consumers who want to buy their spirits.

As an example, I requested aquavits made in the Midwest as special order items this year. To the OLCC’s credit, they both eventually arrived, but our system renders the prices exceedingly high. The Gamle Ode Dill Aquavit sells in Oregon for $42.45 a bottle. In its home state of Wisconsin, I see it selling for $29.99. The North Shore Aquavit from Illinois? $47.25 in Oregon, $27.99 at Binny’s in Chicago. Shipping costs account for a portion of the difference, but not nearly all of it.

Advantaging local distillers over out-of-state producers shouldn’t be the goal of our distribution laws. It may even be unconstitutional. I have no doubt that skilled local producers will continue to thrive in a private market, just as they do in the privatized beer and wine system. And if there are some producers who cannot survive without the government buying their product in bulk, then maybe they shouldn’t be in the business.

(As a point of contrast, Matt Yglesias notes at Slate today that Washington, DC’s unique openness to importing spirits is part of what has made the city’s bar scene so fantastic. Oregon would do well to follow its lead.)

If Jesse’s argument were correct, there would be no reason not to extend it to restaurants’ other inputs. If a state monopoly on liquor is so great, why not monopolies on beer and wine too? Or on meat and cheese and fish and bread and vegetables? It would be so much easier on the chefs! But no one would take these ideas seriously, because we’ve long since figured out that essentially free markets are the best way to distribute normal goods. Liquor is a mostly normal good – and to the extent that isn’t because of negative externalities, taxes are a far better way of addressing that than inefficient distribution is.

As I never tire of reminding people when it comes to questions of distribution, markets are for consumers. Not only consumers who want local products, but all consumers – even the ones who just want stuff that’s basic and cheap. They would very much like to pick up a bottle for a few dollars less than they pay now and not have to visit a special store to get it. This is why privatization is likely to happen eventually, regardless of how it affects bar managers and local distilleries. Consumers are tired of dealing with a distribution system designed for the 1930s.

And this is where Jesse has a good point: There are going to be winners and losers with privatization, and distributors and large retailers are going to exert their influence to ensure that they get an advantage. This is one reason that Washington state’s privatization measure bars entry to new, smaller stores. If Oregon privatizes via ballot initiative, as appears increasingly likely, then we may end up with similar problems.

The solution to this is acknowledge that getting privatization right is difficult, but doable, and to demand that the legislature write a bill that learns from Washington’s mistakes and puts consumers first. The alternative is to wait for ballot initiatives written by retailers, one of which will inevitably pass.

[Photo by Joseph Novak used under Creative Commons license.]

[Disclosures: In addition to working as a bartender, I consult for several spirits brands and beverage-related products. I have not worked for retailers or distributors.]

New cocktail books — and a reader giveaway

In the past few months a slew of cocktail books have come out that share one detail commending the excellent taste of the authors: They all include a recipe or two from me. That’s all I need to know to conclude that a book is worth buying, but for those with more exacting standards, here’s a little more information about them.

901 Very Good Cocktails: A Practical Guide, Stew Ellington — For truth in advertising, it’s hard to beat the title of Stew Ellington’s book. It is what it says it is. Still, I didn’t know quite what to expect from it. The size is the first surprise. The book is big, with a nice hardcover, and spiral bound so that it lays flat while open. This makes it ideal for referencing while mixing. Like the title says, it’s practical.

After a brief introduction the book launches into “68 lists of the cocktails by type, flavor, theme, and more” to fit every mood, occasion, or whim, including “postprandial” and “expensive.” Then comes the meat of the book, 901 Ellington-approved cocktails presented in alphabetical order and given a star ranking.

My Shift Drink is one of the cocktails, earning a ranking of 4 1/2 stars. Before this goes to my head, I’ll note that other 4 1/2 star cocktails include the Surfer on Acid and the Goober. Part of the fun of this book is that it’s so eclectic and isn’t afraid to slum it with ingredients like coconut rum and Midori. These drinks appear right alongside mixologist favorites like the Brooklyn and Boulevardier. Stew is a passionate enthusiast rather than a professional bartender, and even if I question some of his selections, he reminds me to take off my blinders and try things I may normally overlook.

One of my frustrations with many contemporary cocktail books is that in the hunt for originality, they call for ingredients that are too esoteric or require too much preparation for easily trying things out. These books certainly have their place, and I enjoy them, but making complicated drinks is what I do for a living. When I come home, I want a book I can flip through to find something to try on a moment’s notice. Generally eschewing homemade or hard-to-find ingredients, 901 Very Good Cocktails is perfect for that. Anyone wanting a cocktail book that rewards casual and frequent exploration will be very happy with it.

Savory Cocktails, Greg Henry — Greg is a food and drink writer based in Los Angeles. His collection of savory cocktails rounds up mostly contemporary drinks in chapters focusing on sour, spicy, herbal, umami, bitter, smoky, rich, and strong. This is a very culinary approach to cocktails, and many of the recipes will require some shopping or preparation. They look like they’re worth the effort. A couple beer cocktails, including a take on the Dog’s Nose garnished with porcini mushroom powder, I have bookmarked for trying soon.

My own Golden Lion and Smokejumper are included, along with classics, Greg’s originals, and contributions from other notable bartenders. Greg is also a professional photographer and the book is very attractively shot. Definitely recommended for fans of strong, unusual flavors and those willing to put some work into making fantastic drinks.

Mezcal: Under the Spell of Firewater, Louis E. V. Nevaer — Where to begin with this one? A friend alerted me that my Mexican Train mezcal cocktail appeared in this book, so I ordered a copy expecting a solid introductory guide to the spirit. How could I have anticipated that Mezcal 101 would include a chapter on mezcal and sex?

You deserve just the right kind of mezcal. The kind that will make your nipples erect and irresistible to your partner. (Who needs ice cubes when you have mezcal on hand?) The kind that will make oral sex explode like fireworks. The kind that will mix with the taste of sweat, and salt, and the pheromones that emanate from each other’s nether regions to create something that, if it were to be bottled, would sell millions of flasks at Bergdorf Goodman.

If I’d written a chapter like that, perhaps The Cocktail Collective would have sold better. So maybe this book could have used a little editing, but in few spirits guides does the voice of the other come through so directly. It’s a slim volume, very offbeat, and you may find better resources for straightforward, factual information about mezcal. That said, it’s a fun book, and would probably be a useful reference if you’re visiting Oaxaca (which I’ve yet to do). The recipes for mixing and cooking with mezcal are also intriguing.

The Cocktail Hour: Whiskey, Brandy, and Tequila, Scout Books — You may remember Portland-based publisher Scout Books’ first trilogy of pocket cocktail guides, devoted to vodka, gin, and rum. They’re back with a sequel collection for the spirits above, once again featuring recipes from a bunch of mostly West Coast bartenders and writers, along with charming illustrations.

As with the first collection, I’m giving away a few sets of this new one to a few lucky blog commenters. To enter, just leave a comment on this blog post, one comment per person, before the end of the day this Friday (PST). On Saturday I’ll randomly select three winners and send them the set of books.

On the brand ambassador lifestyle

What being a brand ambassador is like the other half of the time. Photo from N. Huisman, Dubai Airport.

For the past three years, I’ve had one of the most fun jobs the hospitality industry has to offer: brand ambassador for a major spirits company. Being a brand ambassador means you get to be a bartender without committing to actual shifts. You get to be a salesman without having to actually do sales. You’re paid to combine the roles of educator, enthusiast, and bon vivant. You travel. You visit the best bars and bartenders around the country, try their drinks, and put the tab on the company card. The job’s got its perks.

My work as a brand ambassador was strictly part-time. I expect that doing it every day would have taken too destructive a toll on the body, like being a professional athlete but without the ennobling physical struggles and achievements. Unfortunately, my role was scheduled to change in July. The company was growing and it was decided that ambassadors would need to leave their other work behind and take the job full-time. I was naturally in line for the position, which offered the kind of compensation I haven’t enjoyed since leaving DC to make drinks and write for a living. A salary! Benefits! Paid vacation!

It was certainly tempting. But I’d already become frustrated with the extent to which my professional life was tied to alcohol. When your job involves spending a lot of time in bars sampling tasty cocktails, complaining about long hours isn’t the sort of thing that earns one sympathy from friends in more traditional lines of work. And I’m not going to lie: Having experienced both, a bad night at the bar is generally better than a good day at the office.

Even so, work is work, and it’s more satisfying when it’s doing something productive than when it’s simply logging hours. At times the brand ambassador job can feel like the latter. Regardless of whether the activity will accomplish any concrete objective, one feels the pressure to visit accounts. When there are more fulfilling ways to spend the time — writing, reading, cooking, being at home with a significant other — this gets to be a lot less fun than it sounds. But hey, it beats digging ditches.

Nearly every source of income I’ve had for the past few years involves some amount of drinking. The brand ambassador position does, of course. So do managing a quality bar program and writing about spirits and cocktails, both of which require tasting at the very least. This combination clearly wasn’t sustainable for the long-term, and going full-time into the most consumption-oriented job of them all would have been much worse. I could already picture the weight gain, the frequent meals in restaurants and airports, the late nights and groggy mornings. Some people manage to pull it off while remaining in reasonably good shape, but I doubted I’d be one of them. I figured I could do it for six months, max. Long enough to pay off some debts and maybe move to a new city.

That was my intention going into what should have been a breezy phone call to work out the details of a position that I’d already been essentially offered. But over the course of the conversation it became clear that what I wanted from the job and what the company needed weren’t in alignment. I mentioned my concerns about balancing health with the demands of constant travel and time spent in bars. I mentioned the book proposals and other projects I had in the works, and the priority they would take if they go forward. I’m not really sure whether it was excessive commitment to honesty or unsuppressed desire to tank the interview that led me to bring these things up, but bring them up I did. They needed someone more committed. The conversation went south. I knew, hanging up the phone, that I would not become a full-time brand ambassador. This was financially challenging. It was also a relief.

Having the job for a few years was a fun ride that took me all over the US and to Amsterdam and Sri Lanka. It was great while it lasted as a part-time thing, but taking it on full-time and exclusively began to be, despite the perks, a prospect I greeted with considerable ambivalence. I’m glad to be moving on and am already feeling healthier from easing out of the role the past few months.

The company and I parted on friendly terms and we’ll still work together on occasion. And lest this post sound too preachy, I’ll note that I’ll be working with some other brands and beverage-related products too. I’m not leaving the business (and I still like to Bone Luge — I’m hardly one to rail against excess). However my work going forward will be much more focused on discrete projects and events; these are the most interesting parts of the job for me anyway. And when I’m off work, I’m really off, so I’ll be free to devote more time to projects outside the industry.

In the months ahead I’ll be more often on the non-drinking side of the bar. I’m still running the cocktail side of things at Metrovino, and also picking up one night at week at my friend Kyle Webster’s new spot, Expatriate. I’m currently working with six different companies in the drink world on a variety of projects. Recent forays into street performance have reignited my enthusiasm for magic and led to actually earning some money from it. And as mentioned above, I have book proposals in the works, so if all goes well I’ll be having to write furiously in the not too distant future. For now I’ve narrowly avoided full-time employment once again, but this is more than enough to keep me busy and may even loosely resemble a career.

Mixing with Yogurt

In December 2011, when I wrote my annual year-end list, I included an item for the spirits product I most wanted to see in the US. It was Bols Yogurt liqueur, one of the handful of bottles I smuggled in my suitcase from Amsterdam. Strange as it sounds, this is a low-alcohol liqueur that captures the aroma and taste of real, tart yogurt. It’s unlike anything else on the American market and I was intrigued by the possibilities of using it in cocktails. It was a hit in Europe, but for various contractual reasons Bols was unable to bring into the US until this summer. Now it’s finally here — ironically, just as I leave my role as brand ambassador with the company.

Now that I can pick up a bottle any time I want, I’ve begun mixing with it. This has included a few obvious failures — my attempt at a “Yogroni” came out looking like Pepto Bismol — but also some really tasty drinks. One cool thing about this liqueur is that it doesn’t curdle with citrus. Mixed with lime or lemon, it gives a softer edge to tart cocktails. As a basic formula, complementary base spirit + citrus + fruit + Yogurt will make a drink that works pretty well, and that’s how I’ve been using it behind the bar with the great Oregon berries we get in the summer.

Another opportunity to use the spirit just came up with a cocktail competition from Veev, a spirit flavored with acai berries. I figured the fruit flavors in the spirit would play well with the yogurt and tried out a simple drink that I assumed would need some additional layers of flavor. As it turned out, it was good as is, and I didn’t add anything more to it. The use of trendy superfruit spirits and weird liqueurs might cause you to pass this one over, and it’s not something I would have tried if not for the competition, but sometimes deliciousness comes from unlikely sources. So here’s the Leite de Baga:

2 ounces Veev
1 oz Bols Yogurt liqueur
3/4 oz lime juice
berries or other seasonal fruit for garnish

Shake hard with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the berries.

Obligatory competition note: The first round of the competition is based on online voting, which I probably have no shot at winning since I won’t be clogging Facebook and Twitter with repeated posts about it. But the grand prize is a trip to Rio de Janeiro, so I will provide the link should you be struck by the urge to vote.

Navigation cocktail

Navigation cocktail at Metrovino: Reposado tequila, jalapeno tomatillo jam, Ferrand dry curacao, lime, and egg white. Cinnamon on top.

Lisa Fain’s The Homesick Texan Cookbook is a title that called out to me, especially after seeing many positive reviews for it. Though I don’t have any strong desire to move back to Texas (except on income tax day), I do miss the food. And while Portland’s restaurant scene is taking a few stabs at Tex-Mex, nothing I’ve tried has fully hit the mark yet. My best bet is cooking at home, and Lisa Fain’s recreations of Texas cuisine from her New York City apartment have been an excellent guide.

The recipes are consistent winners. One of the standouts is a tomatillo jalapeno jam spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. I made it to serve with chevre, but it’s so good that I knew I wanted to work it into a cocktail too. The Navigation, a play on the Margarita, is the result of that experimentation:

1 1/2 oz reposado tequila
3/4 oz dry curacao
3/4 oz lime juice
1 egg white
2 barspoons tomatillo jalapeno jam
cinnamon, for garnish

Shake the ingredients without ice to aerate, then add ice and shake again. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a dusting of freshly grated cinnamon.

We use Ferrand for the curacao at Metrovino, but other cognac-based orange liqueurs like those from Combier or Mandarine Napoleon would also work well. For the jam recipe you’ll have to buy the book. If you happen to be in Portland, this is on our current menu.

Recent reading

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, David Quammen — David Quammen is one of those writers whose books I’m guaranteed to pick up when they come out. He writes about nature with a deep love for the subject and explains the science behind it with a rare clarity. His latest, on how infections leap from other animal species to humans, is fascinating throughout, and could unfortunately become relevant in an upcoming flu season.

Every Grain of Rice, Fuchsia Dunlop — In the realm of cookbooks, Fuschia Dunlop is another writer whose books I’ll buy sight unseen. Her Land of Plenty was the first book that got me into cooking. Her newest is her most user-friendly, with a focus on Chinese home cooking that tends to steer away from techniques like deep frying that are more easily accomplished in a restaurant. This book also has a greater emphasis on vegetables and has single-handedly led to me buying more of these and eating more healthily. This became one of my most used cookbooks as soon as it arrived, and I can’t give it a higher recommendation than that.

Existence, David Brin — Very good sci-fi; touches on themes from his previous books The Transparent Society and the Uplift series, and offers a very creative answer to the Fermi Paradox.

In Praise of Hangovers, Evan Rail — Sounds like a Slate pitch but is actually a recent Kindle Single from beer writer Evan Rail. it’s not an easy case to make, but Evan makes it enjoyable and informative.

Tales itinerary 2013

As I do nearly every year, I’ll be attending Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans next week. This time I’m staying longer than ever before with a bunch of events lined up. If you’ll also be at Tales, I hope to see you there!

Toast to Tales of the Cocktail (2 pm Wednesday at the Hotel Monteleone) — I’ve never made it to town in time for the opening ceremony, but this year my drink was selected as the official cocktail, so of course I want to be there. Come be among the first to try the Portland Rickey.

Indie Spirits that Rock (12:30 – 2 pm Thursday in the Fleur de Lis Room at The Royal Sonesta) — I’ll be here with Dragos Axinte sampling Novo Fogo Cachaca and cachaca cocktails.

Ritual Drinking Spirited Dinner (8 pm Thursday at Sylvain) — Daniel de Oliveira, Jason Littrell, and I team up with Altos Tequila and Chef Alex Harrell for a Spirited Dinner to remember (or not). Sold out!

A Noble Experiment (5:30 – 7 pm Friday at Batch in The Hyatt French Quarter) — Come try barrel aged cocktails and Batch’s own house-aged Bols Genever while flappers dance to a live band.

Uncorked (Saturday 12:30 – 2 pm in the Fleur de Lis Room at The Royal Sonesta) — Dragos and I will be here once again with even more Novo Fogo Cachaca cocktails during the Sidecar by Merlet competition.

Spirited Awards (7 – 11:30 pm at the Celestin Ballroom in the Hyatt Regency) — Another first-time event for me, I’ll be wrapping things up at Tales here on Saturday night, then staying in town until Monday morning.

Dudley’s Solstice Punch

Solstice Punch: Raspberry infused aquavit, lemon, Pavan, sugar, and sparkling wine.

As it turns out, I didn’t have time for a proper midsommar celebration, but we made up for it with a party this past weekend at which we imbibed nine different aquavits, enjoyed Swedish meatballs and gravlax, and sat by a big fire. Before turning to the traditional schnapps, we kicked things off with an aquavit punch:

2 cups raspberry-infused aquavit
3/4 cups lemon juice
3/4 cups Pavan
1/2 cup sugar
peel of four lemons
2 bottles dry sparkling wine, chilled

Start by infusing the aquavit with a couple dozen or so raspberries. This can be a quick infusion; about an hour is fine. We used Krogstad Festlig but feel free to substitute others.

Then make an oleo-saccharum with the lemon peels and sugar — Michael Dietsch explains how here. Combine this with the aquavit, leaving the macerated berries in, along with the lemon juice, Pavan, and sparkling wine. Add a block of ice if you have it and ladle into ice-filled glasses.

Pavan is a new liqueur on the market. Made with muscat grapes and orange blossoms, it’s lightly floral, sweet, and tart. It’s an easy match with fruit and sparkling wine, and I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to use it. This punch turned out to be the perfect application.

Two new cigarettes, now authorized for sale

This week the FDA sent out a press release boasting that its Center for Tobacco Products has finally issued a few decisions on new tobacco products:

For the first time since the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products, the agency has authorized the marketing of two new tobacco products and denied the marketing of four others through the substantial equivalence (SE) pathway. [...]

“Today’s historic announcement marks an important step toward the FDA’s goal of reducing preventable disease and death caused by tobacco,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “The FDA has unprecedented responsibility to protect public health by not allowing new tobacco products under FDA’s authority to come to market without FDA review.”

To put this into context, when I wrote about the FDA in March the agency had received about 3,500 new product applications. The most reasonable interpretation of the law giving the agency authority over tobacco implies that these reviews should take only 90 days, and certainly no more than 180, yet some of these have languished in a bureaucratic quagmire for years. Issuing only six decisions since 2009, with more than 100 employees at work reviewing them, is hardly an accomplishment worthy of praise.

(If you’re wondering, Hestia Tobacco, the brand I profiled for The Atlantic, remains tied up in the review process with no end in sight.)

It’s also worth emphasizing what these approvals don’t mean. They don’t mean that these two new cigarettes are any safer than products already on the market, only that they don’t raise any new questions of health. In other words, they’re just as lethal — though no more so, we are told to believe — as other cigarettes. New cigarettes like Hestia, which by any sensible standard also raise no new questions of public health, continue to be blocked. It’s difficult to see what good is accomplished by requiring them to go through this lengthy approval process.

And in the midst of this, the future of e-cigarettes remains unclear. As I explained at The Umlaut this week, this product that is indisputably safer than real cigarettes may soon fall under the same heavy-handed regulation that has brought the tobacco industry to a standstill. If that happens, the FDA will have even less to brag about that it does today.

Introducing Cocktails on Tap

The first lesson I’ve learned about the world of publishing: Publishing a book is hard! As many of you know, for the last few years I’ve been collaborating with Ezra Johnson-Greenough and Yetta Vorobik on a series of beer cocktail events called “Brewing Up Cocktails.” I realized early on that there was potential to create a book based on our exploration of beer as a cocktail ingredient. People love beer and people love cocktails, so this seemed like an easy sell. I wrote up a long book proposal, which was a learning experience in itself, and began the long process of pitching publishers and agents.

Unfortunately, despite getting great feedback about the content of the proposal, it turned out that traditional publishers didn’t agree with my assessment of the book’s potential. They deemed beer cocktails too niche — surprising when I look at the number of niche cookbooks that do make it into print — and weren’t confident that it would find a market large enough for their needs.

Not long ago, my only likely options from there would have been to either drop the project, settle for a small publisher with lower production values, or self-publish. Thanks to Kickstarter, I’m trying a new way to go forward. I’ve teamed up with Ellee Thalheimer of Into Action Publications to try a different model that combines some of the best attributes of larger publishers — ease of distribution, lower printing costs, and quality production — with the nimbleness of a small imprint. If we meet our funding goal, we’ll produce a book that looks fantastic and get it into stores faster than a traditional publisher would.

Of course, there are trade-offs. Had a larger publisher picked up the book, I’d likely have received a small advance and, if it sells well, modest royalties. It would have been a low-risk, low-reward proposition. In contrast, our approach is high-risk, high-reward. I’ve put in a lot of work and expense upfront. Even if our Kickstarter is successful, I may be working on practically no advance, with no income coming from the project for a long time. And if the book doesn’t sell well, none of that will be recouped.

But, obviously, I believe in the book and in its appeal to beer and cocktails lovers, so I’m taking the chance. And if it succeeds, I’ll have a much greater stake in the project than most first time authors ever do.

If you’re a regular reader of this site and enjoy the drinks I post here, I hope you’ll give it a shot too. For $20 you can be among the first to get a copy of the book as soon as it’s off the presses, and we have other rewards built into the Kickstarter for higher levels of support. Smaller contributions are appreciated as well. You won’t be charged at all unless we reach the minimum amount we need to produce the book — enough to cover printing, graphic design, photography, and the other costs associated with bringing a real physical book into existence. Please check out our Kickstarter here.

I couldn’t be more excited about the creative team assembled for the book. I’ve already mentioned Ellee, who’s also the co-author of Hop in the Saddle: A Guide to Portland’s Craft Beer Scene, by Bike. We also have the extremely talented David L. Reamer as photographer and Melissa Delzio as graphic designer. With them on board, I can guarantee this book is going to look fantastic.

Finally, I’d like to offer a few words of thanks to those who have helped get us this far, regardless of what happens from here: Yetta and Ezra for kicking off our series of events; author Diane Morgan for invaluable advice on getting started; Natalia Toral, Dave Shenaut, and Raven and Rose for letting us shoot in their Rookery Bar; our video crew, including Ben Clemons, for doing an amazing job; and Todd Steele, owner of Metrovino, for indulging my beer cocktail experiments over the years, even when they are of questionable cost-effectiveness.

Press so far for Cocktails on Tap:
Allison Jones at Portland Monthly
Anna Brones at Foodie Underground
Erin DeJesus at Eater PDX
Marcy Franklin at The Daily Meal
Jeff Alworth at Beervana
Mutineer
Imbibe
Drink Nation

Who’s killing the electronic cigarette?

That’s the topic of my article for The Ümlaut, a new website published by Jerry Brito and Eli Dourado:

Since no one seriously disputes that using e-cigarettes is far safer than habitually inhaling cigarette smoke, allowing them to compete should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the law allows the FDA to ban new tobacco products even when they are irrefutably safer than what is already for sale. The agency evaluates applications based not only on the risk to individual users, but also on how they impact smoking cessation and initiation in the population as a whole. If the FDA decides that these effects outweigh the health benefits, it could ban e-cigarettes not because they are dangerous, but rather in spite of their safety.

I feel obliged to make one update to the story. In it I say that the nadir of fear-mongering about e-cigarettes is a doctor from the Mayo Clinic telling journalist Eli Lake that the propylene glycol used in some brands is “similar to antifreeze.” He was recently outdone by a North Carolina doctor who appeared on a local news segment to warn viewers that e-cigarette vapor could be “several thousand degrees” when it hits your lungs. The physics of this would be rather remarkable, as would e-cigarette users’ ability to endure the product if it were true. Michael Siegel has the details and you can watch the segment here.