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.

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

Spirits for the solstice

If you write about spirits and cocktails, you know all too well that there a thousand manufactured holidays that can be used as excuse to drink. My inbox overflows with tone deaf pitches urging me to feature a client’s product in my “coverage” of “National Hot Dog Day” or whatever the irrelevant tie-in of the moment happens to be.

None of these pitches ever mention aquavit, because aquavit doesn’t have that kind of marketing budget. But this weekend is actually a real holiday and a real excuse to drink aquavit. Tonight is the summer solstice, AKA midsommar, the longest day of the year. If you live in Scandinavia, that’s a great reason to stay up all night with food, fire, and spirits. And if you don’t live in Scandinavia, just pretend that you do.

As it happens, I have two new aquavits to celebrate with this year, courtesy of Gamle Ode. Created by Mike McCarron, based in Minnesota, and distilled in Wisconsin, Gamle Ode produces a Dill Aquavit that I’ve mentioned here before; I named it “Best New Spirit” for 2012. Now Mike has two more aquavits on the market.

Before reviewing those, let’s pause for a moment to note how unique that is. There are only five aquavit producers that I’m aware of in the United States. All of the others make a range of spirits, most of them much more familiar, like vodka and gin. Even European aquavit distillers don’t view the American market as a growth opportunity. Yet here is Mike building an entire brand around the spirit. And he’s not just making one aquavit, he’s making three of them. That takes a special kind of passion, or maybe even craziness. I’m sure it helps that he contracts with 45th Parallel to distill them, thus reducing the initial investment, but to my mind that makes Gamle Ode one of the most innovative and imaginative craft spirit brands in the United States.

Here are Gamle Ode’s newest spirits:

Holiday Aquavit — Just like it sounds, the Holiday aquavit incorporates traditional winter spices. This is a jule aquavit, released once a year in the winter. From Gamle Ode’s own description: “The Holiday Aquavit builds on Gamle Ode’s unique dill, caraway and juniper recipe, adding a holiday mélange of orange peels, mint, and allspice.” After distillation it’s aged for six months in red wine barrels from Alexis Bailly Vineyard, imparting a rich hue for such a young spirit.

The flavor profile on this very interesting. The dill comes through in the beginning, then the orange and spice notes take over for a long finish. I like it on its own and I can also see a lot of potential for it in cocktails; I can see it working very well with fortified wines and a dash or two of bitters.

Celebration Aquavit — Gamle Ode’s Celebration Aquavit takes the prize for most complex aquavit available in the US. The list of botanicals includes fresh dill, caraway, juniper, star aniseed, vanilla, orange, and lemon. This is then aged in a mix of barrels to give it a pale straw color: The Alexis Bailly barrels mentioned above, and bourbon barrels from 45th Parallel Spirits.

Mike describes this as his “aquavit’s aquavit.” While the Dill and Holiday offerings highlight less common flavors, this one emphasizes the caraway and anise a little more. No single ingredient dominates, however. It’s very well balanced, complex, and lingers for a long time. This is just a great spirit, my favorite of the three Gamle Ode aquavits. It reminds me a bit of an Old Tom, though obviously with a very different botanical profile. I’m sipping on it now in a Martinez and it’s working wonderfully.

Unless you live in certain parts of the Midwest, you probably can’t find these spirits at your local liquor store yet. But I encourage you to request them and see if you can get them in your state. In the meantime, NPR has some tips for enjoying a midsommar celebration. And if you’re looking for aquavit cocktails, my drink archive has a whole page of them.

As I’ve said before, if you like gin, there’s no reason you shouldn’t like aquavit. It can be just as botanically complex and deserves much more exploration as a cocktail ingredient. This weekend is a great time to give it a shot.

Skaal!

[Image courtesy of Gamle Ode.]

Mixology Monday: Cherries

Remember the Maine, with Ocho Reposado in place of rye.

Today’s Mixology Monday theme is cherries, a flavor that seems to go wrong more often than it goes right. Says host Andrea at Gin Hound:

Singapore Gin Sling, Blood and Sand, and the Aviation wouldn’t be the same without them… But cherries in cocktails are also horribly abused, few things taste worse than artificial cherry aroma, and the description of how most maraschino cherries are made can make you sick to your stomach. So it’s my pleasure as the host of Mixology Monday… to challenge you to honor the humble cherry. However you choose to do that, is entirely up to you. You could use Maraschino Liqueur, Cherry Heering, Kirchwasser, Belgian Kriek Beer, cherry wine, or any spectacular infusions invented by you in a cocktail. Or make your own maraschino cherries for a spectacular garnish.

A few years ago my go-to cocktail was the Remember the Maine, a classic combining rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, cherry Heering, and absinthe. It fell out of my rotation for a while, then this winter I picked it up again using good reposado tequila in place of the rye. This substitution works. It’s on our current menu as the Anahuac, in keeping with the battleship theme:

2 oz reposado tequila
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
1/4 oz cherry Heering
2 dashes absinthe
cherry, for garnish

Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with the cherry.

North Shore for Negroni Week

This year Negroni Week, the celebration of the classic cocktail hosted every year by Portland restaurant Nostrana, spread out to include bars all over the country featuring variations of the drink. Metrovino took part, and unsurprisingly, I reached for aquavit. The cumin-forward, barrel-aged aquavit from North Shore works great in this cocktail:

1 oz North Shore aquavit
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
orange peel, for garnish

Stir with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with the orange twist.

Don’t be quite like Washington

Today’s Oregonian editorial urges Oregon to make like Washington and privatize liquor:

It’s possible, even probable, that Oregonians will vote on same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization in November 2014, leaving the state one measure short of a following-Washington’s-footsteps trifecta. That spot may — and should — be filled by an initiative privatizing liquor sales. It’s time to drag booze regulation out of the 1930s.

I’m with them on this, but they oversell the case a bit in using Washington as a model. This paragraph in particular seems disingenuous:

Despite the initial price shock, Washingtonians bought more booze than they did the year before. It’s simply far more convenient to buy liquor at Safeway or Costco, as Washingtonians now can, than to make a separate trip to a state liquor store. And consumer choices have increased thanks to the appearance of popular store brands, says Gilliam.

I think it’s fair to say that the appeal of these “popular store brands” lies more in price than in quality. And that’s fine. I’ve said before that we shouldn’t force mainstream consumers to pay higher prices so that booze nerds can buy esoteric spirits. But let’s not pretend there’s no potential trade-off here. The OLCC, to its credit, has become quite good at placing special orders compared to other control states. (Trust me, I used to live in Virginia.) It’s also acted as an incubator for Oregon distillers. This seems at least partly because the agency is not a pure maximizer of profits. Depending on how retail licenses are structured in a successful privatization plan, the state may end up with a less responsive supply side.

The benefit of watching Washington privatize liquor first is that we can learn from its mistakes. So here are two to keep in mind:

Keep taxes reasonable — Washington gave privatization a bad name by packaging it with extremely high taxes, the highest in the nation. As a result, consumers associate privatization with price hikes instead of the lower costs they anticipated.

Allow small retailers — Washington’s initiative generally limits new retail licenses to stores that are at least 10,000 square feet in area. This is a classic “bootleggers and Baptists” dynamic: Temperance-minded voters didn’t want proliferation of liquor licenses, and large grocers didn’t mind restricting competition. This makes it difficult to open boutique stores appealing to consumers that Costco may ignore.

Both of these concerns will be a factor in Oregon’s eventual privatization, which may be broadly popular but will be driven by particular interests. The state will want to retain its revenue. Retailers and distributors will want to shape the law to their benefit. To get this right, voters and legislators will need to keep in mind that privatization is a means to the end of competition, not an end in itself.

Defining “craft” distilleries

Eastern Washington Wheat Fields

Following up on last week’s post about Oregon’s new craft distillery law that potentially violates the Commerce Clause, it’s worth mentioning that Washington may not be doing any better. But first, a couple articles that have come up recently about definitions of “craft” distilleries.

At The Atlantic, Wayne Curtis notes that right now anyone can call themselves a craft distiller, regardless of whether there is much craft to what they do:

It’s a little-known fact, but you don’t actually need a still to call yourself a distiller. The vodka makers I visited had adopted a simple and surprisingly common business model: buy a large quantity of potable alcohol from an industrial supplier (one vendor of neutral spirits offers it “in drum, truckload and railcar quantities”), run it through a tall charcoal filter to remove any trace impurities, cut it with water, decant it into bottles, and then slap on a label touting it as a local craft product worthy of its premium price.

At his excellent whiskey blog, Chuck Cowdery examines the so-called “problem” of non-distiller producers (NDPs), brands that simply repackage spirits under a new label with varying degrees of transparency. His suggested solution is a voluntary certification program:

Hence this modest proposal. The industry has several voluntary trade associations: the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS), the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA), the American Distilling Institute (ADI), and the newly formed American Craft Distillers Association (ACDA), to name a few. Several universities, such as Michigan State, have distilling programs. One of those entities, or a new one established for this purpose, could create a certification program. It would establish criteria, and a monitoring and enforcement system, and award certifications to producers who apply and meet the requirements. It would all be voluntary and funded by the participants. Then it is up to the participants to promote and support it, to imbue it with sufficient credibility so that concerned consumers will learn to look for and trust that designation.

I’m glad to see that both articles express some skepticism about using government regulations to address the issue. Washington is one state that has tried, and not surprisingly the state gets it wrong.

Washington law designates a special license for craft distillers. Qualified applicants pay a reduced fee, $100 per year instead of $2000. They’re also allowed to offer on-premise tastings to consumers. But there’s a catch: They cannot produce more than 60,000 gallons of spirits per year, and at least half of the raw materials used in producing their spirits must be grown in Washington. (Details on Washington’s various license types can be downloaded here.)

Like Oregon’s new law, the requirement that craft distillers use locally grown ingredients raises obvious Commerce Clause issues. It’s also an exceedingly narrow definition of craft. It practically* excludes the NDPs and instant vodka brands, which is at least arguably desirable. But it also excludes producers that most people would consider worthy. For makers of gin, aquavit, absinthe, or various liqueurs, the origin of the base spirits is often far less important than the distiller’s skill selecting and incorporating botanicals. And if a distiller wants to specialize in rum, forget about it: The banks of the Puget Sound are not known for their fields of sugar cane. (Washington absinthe distiller Gwydion Stone argues the same case.)

Craft distillers in Washington are making interesting, quality spirits from local ingredients, like Washington wheat whiskey or gins and vodkas distilled from local grains. But I wouldn’t say that they’re more deserving of the craft designation than an Oregon producer making quality gin from neutral grain spirits. How to source one’s base ingredient is a creative decision that should be left to the distiller, not codified into law to promote local agricultural interests.

Fortunately the advantages provided by Washington’s craft distiller license are not overwhelming, allowing distilleries that don’t meet the definition to still go into production. But it demonstrates the perils of letting regulators and legislators define craft instead of leaving it to the rapidly evolving market for spirits.

If the beer market, which has had more time to mature, is any guide in the matter, maintaining a meaningful definition of craft is going to get increasingly difficult anyway. Volume of output can be objectively measured. “Craft” means different things to different people. Beer writer Jeff Alworth offers a different list of brewery classifications that he finds useful, with no place for the c-word: “There’s really no use for the term and I am going on a personal campaign to eliminate it from my own vocabulary.” Legally speaking, at least, that may be the best advice going forward.

*Edit: Added the word “practically” to be more precise. As Gwydion notes, it may be possible to buy NGS or other spirits that comply with the local requirements. I’m not sure how this would be addressed.

[Photo: Field of Washington wheat, by Jimmy Emerson on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.]

Craft distilleries and the Commerce Clause

A new law in Oregon will allow the state’s distilleries to open additional tasting rooms and retail sales centers:

The bill allows distillers to offer tastings and sell their products at their distillery and five other locations. Current law allows distillers to perform tastings and sell their spirits one other location in addition to the distillery.

Distillers still must purchase their liquor from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the same way liquor store owners do now. And distillers must enter into a contract with the OLCC to sell bottles of their craft spirits.

The goal is to help the increasing number of craft distilleries continue to grow, though as it currently stands only two of them (McMenamin’s and Rogue) have enough locations to take advantage of the new opportunities. Spirits produced in Oregon now account for about 12% of the state’s liquor sales. That’s really impressive, and some of the spirits made in Oregon are fantastic. I hope this trend continues.

However this new law might not be the best way to help craft distillers. It may be nice in the short-run, but is it constitutional? I think that it’s vulnerable to legal challenge by out-of-state producers as a violation of the Commerce Clause, following the arguments that allowed wine producers to strike down discriminatory direct shipping laws in Granholm v. Heald. (I have no formal legal training, so take this as a layman’s reading. The case isn’t too complicated.)

Granholm explicitly addressed the balancing of the Twenty-first Amendment, which gives states broad authority to regulate alcohol, and the Commerce Clause, which generally forbids states from discriminating against out-of-state producers.

The Twenty-first Amendment reads in part:

The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

This has been interpreted to allow states great flexibility in deciding how to regulate alcohol, including the power of outright prohibition. The Court’s ruling in Granholm made clear, however, that these regulations must treat in-state and out-of-state producers evenly, not giving undue favor to the former. As Justice Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion:

The mere fact of nonresidence should not foreclose a producer in one State from access to markets in other States. [...] States may not enact laws that burden out-of-state producers or shippers simply to give a competitive advantage to in-state businesses.

The Twenty-first Amendment does not exempt states from this requirement:

The aim of the Twenty-first Amendment was to allow States to maintain an effective and uniform system for controlling liquor by regulating its transportation, importation, and use. The Amendment did not give States the authority to pass nonuniform laws in order to discriminate against out-of-state goods, a privilege they had not enjoyed at any earlier time.

In Granholm, the question at issue was whether states could allow their own wineries to ship directly to consumers while denying the privilege to wineries from other states. The Court ruled that they cannot. States can choose whether to ban or to allow direct shipping of wine, but they must treat in- and out-of-state wineries consistently.

The case doesn’t address liquor directly, but it’s easy to extend to the logic. Oregon’s new law allows in-state distilleries to open up to five retail stores, a privilege denied completely to distilleries from anywhere else. The law’s supporters say explicitly that its purpose is to promote local businesses:

“It takes advantage of Oregon agricultural products, it promotes tourism and it promotes small business development,” said Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, who is one of the bill’s sponsors.

The law clearly discriminates in favor of Oregon distilleries. For this to be permissible under the Commerce Clause, the discrimination must be necessary to achieve some other legitimate purpose. In Granholm, the states argued unsuccessfully that their laws were necessary for the collection of taxes and to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors.

It’s difficult to imagine either of these arguments faring any better for Oregon. All of the spirits sold in Oregon, including those in the new tasting rooms, retail at a set price through the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC). The state has no sales tax. Collection of revenue, then, is not a concern.

As for sales to minors, it would be hard to argue with a straight face that local distilleries are uniquely qualified to sell only to adults.

So if Oregon distilleries can open tasting rooms and retail centers anywhere in the state, why not distilleries from across the river in Washington? Or from Kentucky? Or anywhere else, for that matter? It’s easy to imagine an out-of-state distillery suing for access to Oregon’s market on equal terms,

This hypothetical case may be strengthened by the fact that through its monopoly on liquor distribution, the OLCC can grant de facto preferential treatment to Oregon producers. Though the agency doesn’t explicitly do this, there’s good reason to believe that it has this effect. From a recent article about the state’s craft distillery boom:

OLCC officials stopped short of saying the agency shows a preference for stocking Oregon-made products at its warehouse — but it hasn’t created many obstacles for start-up distilleries.

“We make it easy. They get a listing,” said Brian Flemming, director of retail services for the OLCC.

The makeup of the Court seems favorable to extending the Granholm interpretation. As Garrett Peck notes in his book The Prohibition Hangover, dissent in the case was associated with age, with all of the justices who were alive during Prohibition siding with the states. Dissenters Rehnquist, O’Connor, and Stevens have all since retired. If a new case involving distillers does reach the Court, they may get a sympathetic hearing.

That’s a big “if.” Even if a case is brought, it may never go that far. And lower courts may decide that since Oregon’s law presents a different set of facts, the ruling in Granholm doesn’t apply.

Nonetheless, promoting craft distilleries through laws that discriminate in favor of local producers is a risky strategy that may backfire when and if they are challenged in court. There are other ways to open up the market for craft distillers that would rest on more secure legal footing.

[Photo: Still at Grand Traverse Distillery in Michigan, 2008.]

[Disclosure: I do contract work in the spirits industry, often with brands not based in Oregon.]

Liberating Libations

The other podcast I recorded in DC is now up, “Liberating Libations” on the American Enterprise Institute’s “Banter” podcast. Dan Rothschild, Brandon Arnold, Stu James, and I discuss three-tier distribution, beer purity, homebrewing, and other drink related topics. Listen here.

Achievement unlocked: One decade of blogging

I realized late this afternoon that my blog turns ten today. That’s like retirement age in blog years. Blogging isn’t quite as much fun as it was when I first started, back when bloggers would gather for happy hours based solely on sharing a publication format, subject matter inconsequential. Because we were bloggers! And that was reason enough. Much of what I used to post is now better suited to Twitter and Facebook, and the professionalization of the web makes it more sensible to submit longer content to existing publications than post it here. Nonetheless I’m grateful for those of you who do read this blog and continue to find value in posting, even if SEO has become a bigger consideration than trying to build a daily readership.

I could go on, but in adherence this site’s rules for good blogging…

Rule #1: Be meaningful.

Rule #2: If meaning is elusive, be amusing.

Rule #3: If meaning and amusement are both out of reach, be brief.

… I should probably shut up and post a cocktail recipe.

The Plantain Pisco Sour is exactly what it sounds like, a Pisco Sour sweetened with the spiced plantain syrup I like so much. This is an updated version of a drink I made for competition a few years, minus the foam. Use a good pisco like Campo de Encanto, the kind of pisco that actually tastes like it was distilled from grapes, for best results.

2 oz pisco
3/4 oz spiced plantain syrup
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz Dimmi
1 egg white
bitters, for garnish

Shake everything without ice to aerate the egg white, then shake hard again with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with drops of aromatic bitters. Etch them into tiny hearts for that extra special mixologist touch. (I use Novo Fogo Cherribiscus Bitters that my friend Evan Martin made, but any colorful and aromatic bitter will do.)

And if you’re looking for more drinks to try, remember there’s a whole section of the site devoted to cocktails now.

[Photo by Will Ray.]

Links for 5/10/13

Cleared for Departure is one of our most popular cocktails at Metrovino, but I’ve been remiss in dedicating a post to it. The recipe is now up at the cocktail section of the site.

Italy meets Texas with Pecaño, a pecan liqueur that appears to be inspired by the bittersweet liqueurs of Italy. As a native Texas, this sounds very interesting to me. They launched a Kickstarter today to bring it into full scale production.

More than thirty years after federal legalization, homebrewing is now legal in all fifty states thanks to Alabama finally coming on board. Now on to home distillation!

Want to be a street performer in St. Louis? You’ll have to audition for the city first.

Culture of Competition at AEI

I’m excited to head back to Washington, DC this month to be on a a panel discussion hosted by Tim Carney as part of the American Enterprise Institute’s Culture of Competition project. The details:

Free beer: Liberating libations from ‘Bootleggers and Baptists’

For centuries, the manufacture and sale of beer, wine, and spirits has been a highly profitable and highly regulated enterprise. And where profit and regulation meet, cronyism and rent-seeking frequently follow.

From moonshiners buying off politicians during the Prohibition era to liquor stores trying to ban supermarkets from selling beer today, regulation has been used to keep start-up brewers, winemakers, and distillers from manufacturing alcohol; to preserve inefficient distribution systems; and to restrict choices available to consumers. Frequently, this regulation has been used for “noble social goals” — hence the famous public choice example of “Bootleggers and Baptists.”

Can markets and consumers win? Join us for a discussion of the history and future of federal and state alcohol regulation and competition, followed by a reception with beer, wine, and spirits.

The event takes place at 5:00 pm on Tuesday, May 21. Drinks will follow. Check the site for all the necessary information.

And since I know a lot people in the industry read this site, I’d love to get your feedback as well. How do existing regulations help or hinder competition? What laws would you most like to see changed? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.

Mixology Monday: East Indies Bloody Mary

East Indies Bloody Mary

April’s Mixology Monday theme is the deceptively healthy sounding “Drink Your Vegetables.” From Rowen at Fogged in Lounge:

Want to get more vegetables but you’re always eating on the run?… Well then, how about a vegetable cocktail? No, not that nice little glass of red stuff Grandma put at each place setting—we’re talking something with a kick in it. You can definitely start with the little glass of red stuff and expand it to a Red Snapper-style drink like a Bloody Mary. Or how about a cucumber-scented cooler like a Pimm’s Cup, or maybe a cocktail featuring a vegetable-based ingredient like Cardamaro or celery bitters? Maybe you’ve been wondering if you can get more mileage out of that juice extractor before consigning it to the garage sale. However you get them in that glass, be prepared for the most fun with vegetables ever.

A while back I was tasked with coming up with a creative take on the Bloody Mary. In a town with as many brunches and savvy bartenders as Portland, coming up with something unique and tasty was a challenge; here even the Aquavit Bloody Mary can seem routine. After quite a bit of experimentation with different spirits and spices, I eventually settled on one made with Batavia arrack — a funky, assertive spirit distilled from sugar cane and red rice — and accented with a spice paste inspired by Indonesian cuisine. To top it all off, the cocktail is garnished with house made pickles and a spicy grilled prawn.

I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for a while, so I’m glad to finally have the opportunity. To make it you’ll need a basic Bloody Mary mix, the spice paste, and Batavia arrack.

For the spice paste:

4 tablespoons sambal oelek
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

For the East Indies Bloody Mary:

1 1/2 oz Batavia arrack
4 oz Bloody Mary mix
2 teaspoons Indonesian spice paste
cumin salt rim, for garnish
pickles, for garnish
grilled prawn, for garnish

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, and strain (but don’t fine strain) into an ice-filled pint glass rimmed with a mixture of salt and ground cumin. Go crazy with the garnishes. A grilled prawn flavored with turmeric and other spices is a good touch. When we served this we pickled various vegetables such as long beans, green beans, lotus root, daikon, and cucumber in the brine from the Indian-style pickled cauliflower recipe in The Joy of Pickling.

Coming up on my to-do list: Trying this spice paste on grilled meat. In the meantime, drink up.

[Photo courtesy of Lush Angeles.]

What I’ve been drinking

Unexpected travel has made me a bit delayed reviewing spirits. Here are some recent arrivals to the home bar:

South Sea Rum — This is an “agricole” style rum distilled in Australia from first-pressed sugar cane. It goes through pot and column stills before resting for two years in old and new American oak. How to review it? Taken as an agricole rum, it doesn’t have nearly as much hogo, or distinctive funk, as counterparts from, say, Martinique. It is a very tasty rum though, with nice vanilla notes from the barrel and a long finish. I’ve gone through about half a bottle already, mostly drinking it neat. At $30-35 the price is right too.

Zumwohl Kirsch — It’s a dry, German style schnapps. It’s from New Zealand. And, oh yeah, it’s 132 proof. Sipping this neat is not for everyone, but if you try it you will taste cherries along with dark chocolate and a bit of a medicinal note. A more user friendly way to pour it is in a Straits Sling, where it fits perfectly. It’s not available in the US, so bug your Kiwi friends to send you a bottle.

Elixer Combier — According to the Combier website, this is a revival of one of their 19th century recipes, an herbal liqueur that includes “aloe, nutmeg, myrrh, cardamom, cinnamon and saffron” among its ingredients. At 76 proof it has enough heat to be enjoyed on its own without being too sweet. It’s very complex and I’m sure it could do great things in the right cocktail. But which cocktail? I haven’t figured that out yet, but I will be sure to experiment.

Concannon Irish Whiskey — For a spirits writer, March is the month when samples of Irish whiskey arrive. One year Lance Mayhew and I tasted nearly thirty versions of the spirit, a feat of endurance from which I’m still recovering. This year I tried just one new bottling, Concannon. Distilled by Cooley, it spends time in a mix of bourbon barrels and wine barrels from the Concannon Winery in Livermore, California. I picked up a slightly fruity note when tasting, which it turns out is also what the press release says the wine barrel finish provides. Like most Irish whiskeys it’s light bodied and easy drinking.

Using a jigger? You’re doing it wrong.

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“Making cocktails is a lot more like baking than it is like cooking.” I hear this all the time from bartenders, the point being that precise measurement is vital to making balanced drinks. A bit too much citrus, too little vermouth, and your finely crafted, expensive cocktail isn’t is as good as it should be. This is why we encourage bartenders and home mixologists to use a jigger. It’s more consistent and delivers better results than “free-pouring” as the bartending academies instruct.

But at the heart of this adage is a lie. We pat ourselves on the back saying we’re as precise as pastry chefs, without acknowledging the obvious fact: Pastry chefs know better than to measure by volume. Volume is inconsistent. Is your jigger held perfectly level? Do you pour to the meniscus every time? Have you taken into account the effects of humidity and elevation on the local atmospheric pressure? Is the Manhattan you make in New Orleans identical to the one you make in Denver? No, it is not, and it’s time for us to catch up with our flour-dusted friends in the kitchen. It’s time to start weighing our cocktails.

This requires some adjustment, but it can be done. I’ve already seen it accomplished in some coffee houses, where baristas measure their water in grams. I’ve seen wine poured this way. Mixology is lagging behind. As hard as we’ve worked to get people to use jiggers, it’s time to throw them away and replace them with digital scales.

It’s a simple set-up, really, using no more space on the bar than a set of jiggers. Place the shaker or mixing glass on the scale and tare it to zero. Pour in the first ingredient to the desired weight, then tare again. Proceed until all the ingredients have been added.

Measuring by weight entails rewriting our recipes. Take the Last Word, for example, a cocktail in which the right balance of flavors is crucial. Here’s the recipe in the out-dated, traditional form:

3/4 oz gin
3/4 oz Chartreuse
3/4 oz maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz lime juice

Since each of these ingredients has a different density, converting the Last Word into a weight-based recipe looks like this:

17 g gin
19 g Chartreuse liqueur
22 g maraschino
21 g lime juice

Yes, this is harder to remember than the volume-based recipe with its convenient equal parts, but keeping an encyclopedia of obscure data in one’s memory is part of the bartender’s art. With a little practice the adjustment comes easily.

Another benefit of weight-based bartending is that it allows for objective quality control. The finished cocktail can be weighed after being poured into the glass to make sure that it has been diluted by the proper amount, eliminating the inconsistency of testing by taste. The finished Last Word, for example, should weigh between 105-115 grams. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t get served.

Weight-based bartending also allows us to eliminate that embarrassment to the craft, “the dash.” Dashes of bitters are terribly inconsistent, varying with the amount of bitters left in the bottle, the size of the hole in the cap, and the hand of the individual bartender. Mixologists, save your sprezzatura for your wardrobe! By setting a standard — I suggest .33 grams — we can finally get this right. Thus the previously mentioned Manhattan can now be made like this:

53 g rye whiskey
29 g sweet vermouth
.66 g Angostura bitters

See, it’s easy once you get the hang of it.

A final reason to adopt this system is that it will ease communication between those of us accustomed to measuring in fluid ounces and those who use the metric system. Sharing recipes between the U.S. and Europe requires conversion, which is rarely done with any precision. Measuring by weight solves the problem by creating a universal standard. Just remember: “Dram for dram, a gram’s a gram.”

I don’t doubt that measuring drinks with gram scales will initially be met with resistance, but eventually it will prevail on the merits. Within five years, we will look at bartenders using jiggers the way we now look at bartenders free-pouring, and think maybe we should just have a beer instead of taking our chances on a cocktail. That is why starting today, April 1, all recipes on this site will henceforth be given in grams instead of ounces. I hope that the rest of the industry will follow suit and finally give our craft the precision it deserves.

Ritual Drinking at Tales of the Cocktail 2013

Bone Luge. Pickleback. Menu Backing. Mixologists do some weird things. Come try them with us — me, Jason Littrell, and Daniel de Oliveira — at our Spirited Dinner sponsored by Altos Tequila at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail:

The rebirth of the cocktail has given us exquisitely balanced, complex drinks. It has also given us some very strange drinking rituals. From the Pickleback to Menu Backing to the Bone Luge, odd drinking trends have a way of spreading virally and bringing friends together. Popularizers of these trends — Jason Littrell from New York, Daniel de Oliveira from Chicago, and Jacob Grier from Portland — bring them to the Spirited Dinner table along with some of their favorite craft cocktails, featuring the blanco and reposado expressions of Altos Tequila and food pairings from Sylvain.

Attendees at this dinner will not only enjoy multiple courses of food and cocktails, they’ll also have fun taking part in unusual drinking trends and gaining an understanding of why they spread.

Sylvain is one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans, so I know the food is going to be great and I’m thrilled that we’re able to work with them. The dinner menu is at the link, with cocktail and drinking ritual menu coming soon. There are only 30 seats and reservations are $100. I hope to see you there on July 18th.

[Pictured: Original Bone Luger Danny Ronen.]