A deluge of new aquavit

A few days ago I joked on Twitter that every time I get my hands on a new American aquavit, a new one springs up within 24 hours to make my collection incomplete. That couldn’t be more true than in the month of November, during which four — or maybe 3 1/2 — new aquavits distilled in the United States came on to the market. I’ve also heard through the grapevine of several more in the works for 2014.

This rendered my comprehensive guide to aquavit available in the United States rapidly out of date, so I’ve updated it accordingly. Here are the new arrivals:

Riktig Aquavit – A brand new offering from Old Ballard Liquor Co. in Seattle. Flavored with caraway, mustard, and spices, then rested on local alder wood. Only six cases released in the initial offering. I really like it, so hopefully there will be more on the way.

House Spirits Small Batch Aquavit – This is a very limited edition spirit, with just over 100 375 ml bottles available for sale at the House Spirits tasting room. Apparently aged for several years and flavored with caraway, anise seed, grains of paradise, and dill. If you’re in Portland, swing by the distillery ASAP to pick up a bottle before their gone forever.

Montgomery Distillery Aquavit – A new aquavit from Missoula, Montana, infused with caraway, dill, citrus, and other botanicals.

Green Hat Ginavit – Not quite an aquavit. A gin-aquavit hybrid from Green Hat in Washington, DC, aged in Laird’s apple brandy barrels. A limited release for the winter.

In my year-end post for 2012, I predicted that 2013 would be a big year for aquavit:

Small distilleries need to generate revenue by making products that they can release with little or no ageing. Gin and vodka are the usual choices, but both of these markets are very competitive. The aquavit market is uncrowded and offers great opportunities for creativity with new botanical profiles. This is complemented by growing interest in the “New Nordic” cuisine.

A couple years ago, the only two domestic aquavits in constant production that I am aware of were Krogstad and North Shore. Now there is also the aged Krogstad, Sound Spirits, Gamle Ode, and a limited release from Bull Run. In 2013 I predict more new aquavits and more bartenders discovering the spirits’ versatility in cocktails.

A month ago this wasn’t looking like a great prediction, but now it looks like it’s finally panning out.

Mixologists and the Teamaker trip to Sri Lanka

When I was 21 years old, living in DC for the first time, and knew nothing about alcohol, my friend Courtney took me to a bar and handed me a drink. “Try this,” she said. “It’s a Long Island Iced Tea.”

“No thanks,” I replied. “I don’t like tea.” It was then that I learned that while a Long Island Iced Tea does use practically every other ingredient on the face of the earth, it doesn’t contain any actual tea. Ten years later, I would still politely turn down this cocktail, but for different reasons. And real tea, I now know, is wonderful stuff.

I thought of this story a few months ago when I was offered an incredible opportunity to travel to Sri Lanka to learn more about tea and explore its use in cocktails. As part of a collaboration between Lucas Bols, with whom I then worked more directly, and Dilmah Tea, a unique Sri Lankan tea company, I joined nine other bartenders from around the world — England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Australia, and New Zealand — for a ten-day tour of the country packed with tea tastings, tours of tea estates, and Iron Chef-style challenges to create tea cocktails at various stops along the way. It was in many ways the trip of a lifetime.

But first there was the matter of getting there, which required nearly 24 hours of travel. Surprisingly the northern route took about as much time as heading west, taking me from Portland to Seattle, from Seattle to a seven hour layover in Dubai, and finally from Dubai to Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo for an early morning arrival. I was the first bartender to land, and despite the time change, was stir crazy from all those hours in planes and airports. So I left my bags at the hotel and wandered off in search of fresh air and street food.

I might as well have had a large “T” for tourist written on my forehead for as obvious as it was that I’d just arrived. It wasn’t long before a friendly off-shift employee of one of the hotels offered to show me around. I didn’t want a tour, I just wanted to walk and find a place to eat. But he was persistent, it soon became obvious that going on foot wasn’t getting me anywhere interesting in that area, and my schedule for the rest of the trip was out of my hands, so I eventually thought what the hell and gave in. We flagged down a tuk-tuk, the ubiquitous three-wheeled taxis, and were on our way for the most whirlwind tour of a city I’ve ever been on. To where? I had no idea.

As the tuk-tuk drove us up an isolated dirt road, I began to doubt the wisdom of zipping off with this stranger in an unknown city. But I needn’t have worried. Our first stop turned out be a towering Hindu temple, which was strikingly ornate, although deserted at the moment. We walked around, snapped a few photos at my guide’s insistence, and were on our way to the next stop within a few minutes.

This turned out to be another temple, Buddhist this time, bustling with people. And one elephant. I wasn’t expecting to find a live elephant right in the middle city, but there he was, getting a good scrub down.

Also present: the temple elephant’s predecessor, preserved in the courtyard. The inside, too, was packed with stunning works of ivory that I hoped were at least few decades old.

Our next stops were political landmarks, including what I think is the capitol and then Independence Square, built to commemorate Sri Lanka’s independence from British rule in 1948. It was empty save for a snake charmer performing on the steps, from whom I kept my distance.

From what I can figure from Googling, the next place we visited was Viharamahadevi Park, the largest public park in the city. Though a nice place, I wasn’t sure why my guide was walking us through it. It was almost entirely full of young couples in various states of making out and that definitely wasn’t on my agenda. Then we got to the tree above. The things hanging from it? Those are flying foxes, among the largest bats in the world.

These are amazing creatures, circling the tree even in day time. It was fantastic getting to see them in person, and I only caught glimpses of them the rest of the trip, so I was grateful that my guide brought me here.

Through all this we still hadn’t stopped for what I initially set out for, which was food that didn’t come from a plane or airport. I finally convinced him to take us somewhere for us to have lunch. By this time I had no idea of where we ended up, but it served some of the best crispy chicken I’ve ever had.

Finally it was time for me to get back, but the guide insisted on one more stop, trying to sell me on bargains at a dubious gem store from which he’d presumably get a kickback. Then there was an offer of stopping for a massage with implied extra services, which I also declined. The tuk-tuk brought us back, and I paid for the tour — a little too much, in hindsight, but it was a side of the city I wouldn’t see during the more structured experience to come.

Back at the hotel I went to the pool and found a David Wondrich book left open by a chair, a good sign that other bartenders had arrived. Our first day was mostly free of responsibilities, so we spent it drinking Dilmah teas and spirits from our home countries. The next day, however, we had a our first challenge: Presenting a variety of tea cocktails to about 70 guests visiting from all over the world to learn more about tea.

My usual go to for tea cocktails, smoky black lapsang souchong, was picked by someone before me. But Dilmah had something even more interesting, what they called their Ceylon Souchong. Instead of firing the tea over pine, they use fragrant wood from cinnamon trees, which are often grown right alongside tea plants. I made a simple syrup with the brewed tea and it worked perfectly in a variation on one of my drinks from a few years ago, the Smokejumper:

2 oz Bols Genever
3/4 oz Ceylon Souchong syrup
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz orange juice
1/2 oz Galliano
freshly grated cinnamon, for garnish

Shake and serve on the rocks.

Here’s a short video of the event, which was a fun way to kick off our week of events:

This was the first of five cocktail challenges we had throughout the trip, so I’ll be posting the rest soon, along with notes from the more official parts of our tour.

[Photos that are not my own courtesy of Bols and Dilmah.]

Aquavit Week 2013

Aquavit Week returns in its second year with new aquavit, a new location, and a new aquavit barrel-aged beer from Breakside Brewing. A new website and a new logo too. Check out the site for all the details.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.]