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.
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.
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.
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.)
If you’re in Portland, you’ve had all summer to watch magic for free at First Thursdays and Last Thursdays. Now my frequent performing Grey Lerner and I are taking the show indoors. Good news: Indoors there’s a full bar! Bad news: Now you’ve gotta buy tickets. Fortunately tickets are only 10 bucks for a full night of entertainment that includes music, art, photography, fashion, and entertainment from an eclectic group of local creative talent. Plus you’ll be helping out your friends, as this is a great professional opportunity for us. We’d love to have your support at the October showcase and we each need to sell a few tickets. The show is October 18 from 8 pm to midnight at the Bossanova Ballroom in Portland, Oregon.
Tickets can be purchased from Grey here and from me here.
In the note below, Grey explains what this is all about, as does the video above. We hope to see you at Bossanova in a couple weeks!
To all my Friends,
I’ve got a great opportunity for some publicity, and I would sure appreciate your help. Publicity for what!? For my ongoing career as a magician!
A national organization called Raw ‘Natural Born Artists’ hosts a night of Art, Music, Fashion, and Performance Art once a month here is Portland at the BossaNova Club.
The venue is a great chance for some publicity and experience. I’m obliged to sell tickets to the show (no free lunch…damn), and they are $10 bucks each. I would greatly appreciate it if you’d support me and my artistic endeavors!
Please click away on the link to my Rawartists.org page. Once there you can choose (if you’d be so cool) to purchase a ticket to the show. The essentials are taken care of: There’s a bar, there’ll be art, music, and interesting people. I would love to do some magic for you.
My buddy Jacob Grier and I will be wowing the crowd with close up and stand up magic to mystify and astonish. We were performing street magic at a local street fair here in town when the Raw talent scout ‘found us’. Perhaps this’ll be our next big break. Please try and make it to the party, and we’ll try to blow your mind.
If buying a ticket isn’t in the cards (oy!) then maybe you’d take a quick sec to click on the link anyway and continue clicking on the “Vote Now” button above the picture of me (everything is a competition). If I win, I’ll share the million dollar prize with you!
Denver: I’ll be back in Colorado this week to do some work for Bols in Aspen and Denver. While there I’ll be doing a guest bar shift at the Coupe Bar at Denver’s Ghost Plate and Tap. The event runs from 5-10 pm on Wednesday with cocktails featuring Bols Genever, Galliano L’Autentico, and Damrak Gin.
Portland: It’s that time, you guys. That time when I turn 30. A time to reflect on how I should take some responsibility in life and get a real job and stop drinking out of animal bones and wonder how I let my youth escape so easily. Or, alternatively, a time to drink awesome beer and sip excellent rum and smoke great cigars. Yes, let’s go with the latter.
My 30th birthday is this Thursday, July 12, and I’ve planned some fun events for the night. We’re going to kick things off at Breakside Brewing, where we’ll be tapping a beer brewed for just this occasion. Brewmaster Ben Edmunds has created several cocktail-inspired beers in the past and for this event we wanted to make a beer inspired by the Harvey Weissbanger beer cocktail, which was in turn inspired by the classic Harvey Wallbanger. That’s a weird lineage for a beer but we have high hopes for it. We made a traditional German hefeweizen and are going to spice it with many of the same flavor notes found in the Weissbanger cocktail, including orange peel, star anise, and vanilla. (All references to “we” really just mean Ben, as he did all the hard work of creating and executing a recipe while I just lifted, poured, and cleaned stuff.) This will run from 6 pm to at least 8 pm.
I’m not sure where we’ll go after that but there’s no better place to end the night than at Rum Club. Starting around 11 and going till close I’ll be there for cigars and rum on the patio. Blue drinks may happen. Galliano bottles may be emptied. You won’t know if you don’t show. I hope to see you there!
New Orleans: On Wednesday, July 25, from 6-9 pm, I’ll be behind the bar at Avenue Pub. I’ll be mixing drinks but if you want to take a break from cocktails, this is the spot: This two-story pub on St. Charles Avenue is one of the best beer bars in the country.
Then on Thursday, July 26, is the big Brewing Up Cocktails Spirited Dinner at Emeril’s Delmonico Steakhouse, held in association with Tales of the Cocktail and sponsored by El Dorado Rum and Drambuie. The dinner will feature four courses from Chef Spencer Minch paired with four original beer cocktails. Tickets and full menu are available here.
I’m flying to Amsterdam today along with the rest of the Bols USA team to hunt the Kopstootje in its native habitat of the Netherlands. I’ll be back on Thursday, hopefully with a suitcase full of genevers, kruidenbitter, and maybe even the intriguing Bols yoghurt liqueur.
My schedule will be pretty packed, but any recommendations for site-seeing or places to get good coffee (by which I really do mean coffee) are appreciated.
Cocktail Camp PDX returns next Sunday after a successful debut last year. This time it’s going to be bigger (at the Armory!) and better (we can serve full drinks!). Ezra Johnson-Greenough and I will be there giving a session on beer cocktails. Tickets are $40 if you buy them now; they go up to $50 starting tomorrow. I’ve copied the full schedule below; it’s a great line-up, so if you’ll be around Portland be sure to check it out.
10:30 — Lillet Meet & Greet and social hour
Morning social hour with complimentary low-alcohol cocktails served by Lillet. Come have a morning refresher and meet some of your fellow cocktail enthusiasts before the day gets started.
11:00 — The Art of Tasting Beer and Spirits
Set the stage and your palate for the day by learning how to really taste your spirits and beer. Learn what makes spirits different and how to pick out their defining characteristics. Lee Medoff (Bull Run Distillery), Nathan Gerdes (h50), and Alex Ganum (Upright Brewing) will lead the discussion.
12:15 — Beer cocktails: Why Have One When You Can Have Both?
Jacob Grier (Metrovino) and Ezra Johnson-Greenough (Upright Brewing) will teach you how to craft fantastic cocktails using the unlikeliest of ingredients.
1:00 — Northwest Distillery Social hour
Complimentary cocktail and punch bar hosted by Northwest Distillery and served by Nathan Gerdes.
2:00 — The New American Whiskey
The other whiskeys that have been taking bars by storm and redefining what “American whiskey” means. Learn more from Lance Winters (St. George Spirits), Lee Medoff (Bull Run Distillery), and Sebastian Degans (Stone Barn Brandy Works) about this growing movement.
3:00 — House Spirits social hour
Complimentary cocktail and punch bar hosted by House Spirits Distillery and served by Kyle Webster (St. Jack).
3:00 — Yes, You Can Entertain!
Learn how to plan your own amazing cocktail parties with the help of David Shenaut (Beaker and Flask, Irving Street Kitchen) and Jacqueline Patterson (Lillet).
4:15 — DIY Sodas, Syrups, and Bitters
Expert instruction on doing it yourself from San Francisco’s Jennifer Colliau (Small Hand Foods, Slanted Door) and Columbine Quillen (10 Below).
Times are approximate and subject to change as the event approaches.
After a quick stop at Rickhouse in San Francisco tonight, I’ll be catching a flight to Guadalajara with a group of bartenders to celebrate Día de los Muertos and tour tequila distilleries. Call it vacation, call it professional development, either way I won’t be blogging. I’ll be back late next week.
I’m personally involved with several of the events. First up is Thursday Drink Night Live, in which participants will improvise cocktails and compete for a spot at the Portland Cocktail Invitational. Somehow they’ve talked me into emceeing the event live on camera with no script and lots of alcohol in the room. This could be dangerous.
If I’m still alive on Saturday morning we’ll kickstart the day with coffee cocktails. I’m moderating a panel with guests from Intelligentsia, Water Avenue, and possibly a couple other roasters, discussing all aspects of coffee and its role behind the bar, and serving up a drink or two. They’re passionate about great coffee and promise to bring some fun things to demo, so I’m very excited to hear their thoughts. (Relatedly, here are my suggestions for seven spots to caffeinate during Portland Cocktail Week.)
On that same day is the first round of the Portland Cocktail Invitational. It’s a great group of bartenders competing and I’m thrilled to be invited back. This time I’m fortunate to be mixing with Encanto Pisco, which opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities. We’re changing the format to allow more sampling of the drinks by the audience, so this is guaranteed to be a good time.
Bols will be involved in a few events as well. On Wednesday, mixologists Chris Churilla and Adam Robinson will be pairing cocktails with a four course meal prepared by Chef Alyssa Gregg at Spints Alehouse, including cocktails made with Bols Genever and Galliano. This is not to be missed. Then on Saturday, experience the history of gin and genever at the Juniperlooza! seminar.
That’s just the beginning of events going on next week. There’s also a masquerade ball, a March for Mezcal, a tiki party, a full slate of informative seminars, and much more. Go get the full schedule and tickets here.
I’m headed tonight to Upper Peninsula Michigan. Door to door this trip will require a train, 3 planes, a car, and a boat. I tried to work a dirigible into the route too, but tickets were unavailable. While there I’ll do some blogging, but hopefully most of the time will be spent in lakes, boats, or hammocks, and at night taking in the peak of the Perseids meteor shower under spectacularly clear skies. I’ll be back in Portland late Friday night.
Two years ago today I drank this cappuccino and hit the road west from DC, destination unknown. According to some psychologists there was a good chance this decision was based on a focusing illusion, and that my actual happiness would be unaffected for long. However my own experience and that of everyone else I know who’s escaped DC for this coasts suggests otherwise. For some of us, at least, coffee, beer, good weather, and a more relaxed lifestyle really do count for a lot.
I’m headed out to New Orleans this morning for a return trip to Tales of the Cocktail along with the rest of the Bols team. Obviously this isn’t the most conducive environment to blogging — not the sort of blogging for which I’d to be remembered anyway — so this may be the last post of the week. I’ll be twittering while there though, and if you’re also in town for Tales let’s be sure to grab a drink at the Carousel bar.
This morning I’m heading back to DC for the Cato Institute’s first-ever intern reunion, a massive event bringing together veteran interns from the think tank’s long history. This will be my first time back in well over a year. On my last visit I’d only been gone a few months and it felt like coming home. This time the city and my lifestyle there seem more distant, though perhaps I’ll slip right back into once I’m there. I will say this for DC: Despite the political world’s constant careerism and its priorities that are often not my own, I do miss the intellectual engagement the city always had on offer and the camaraderie shared by libertarians living in the belly of the beast. Where else could one pack a bar to the walls by offering drink specials and airing a Milton Friedman documentary?
In any case, the weekend will be fueled with copious food and drink. I already have a reservation at Columbia Room and Sunday brunch plans at my old hangout Eatbar (even if we can’t light up stogies there anymore). The lure of pollo a la brasa is strong. I’d like visit all the places on my old list, though that’s impossible. Eventide and Birch and Barley have opened since I left and I would love to visit them. What else is new that I should seek out?
I initially wasn’t going to link to this New York Times piece about how marijuana has “fueled a new kitchen culture” focused on delicious, casual food that stoned back of house staff like to eat. As causality goes that’s a bit of a stretch and it’s not news that people in the service industry like to light up now and then. However I agree with Radley Balko and Will Wilkinson that the more successful people who come out as marijuana users the better chance we have of changing our disastrous drug policy, so for that reason alone the article is worth pointing out. The main reason I’m linking though is this appearance from Portland:
Duane Sorenson, the founder of the coffee roaster Stumptown, said that fat buds of marijuana often end up in the tip jar at his shops.
“It goes hand in hand with a cup of coffee,” he said. “It’s called wake and bake. Grab a cup of Joe and get on with it.”
This happened to me once even in the staid atmosphere of Carlyle. A customer (service industry, of course) left me a large bud along with his cash tip. According to my coworkers it was a generous gift but unfortunately it was wasted on me. Not knowing any better I took it home and put in my humidor. It turns out this is not the correct way to store it, which is apparently common knowledge among my friends who would have gladly taken it off my hands. It turned into a big ball of mold that went straight into my trash can the next time I opened the lid.
I consider this story karmic revenge for all the times people have told me about the fantastic Cuban cigars they’ve been saving for a special occasion without keeping them humidified.
Jason Zengerle’s New Republicprofile of Tucker Carlson is worth reading in full, but it’s this paragraph that stood out for me:
More than three years later, Carlson is still defending his “Dancing With the Stars” turn, if not his dancing ability. “Oh, I loved it,” he insists, professing that his recent trajectory has not bothered him in the slightest. “I never take the long view on my own career. I don’t even know that I have a career or have ever had one–and I’m not sure I would ever want one.”
This reminds me of an anecdote from Steve Martin’s autobiography Born Standing Up. Martin, whose interests had meandered from learning magic to playing the banjo to performing stand-up comedy, was finally earning his first appearances on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson as host:
I was able to maintain a personal relationship with Johnny over the next thirty years, at least as personal as he or I could make it, and I was flattered that he came to respect my comedy. On one of my appearances, after he had done a solid impression of Goofy the cartoon dog, he leaned over to me during a commercial and whispered prophetically, “You’ll use everything you ever knew.” He was right; twenty years later I did my teenage rope tricks in the movie ¡Three Amigos!.
Perhaps this is just rationalization — my income this week: a few bucks in Google ads — but I think there’s something to be said for doing whatever one finds most interesting at the time and accumulating a diverse set of skills. At least twice I’ve thought about settling into more stable careers and looking back I think I’d be missing out terribly if I had. As for whether I can make this erratic approach work long-term, well, that remains to be seen.
For mixologist Jacob Grier, his blog “Liquidity Preference” helped him land a primo bartender job at the Carlyle Restaurant in Portland, Ore.
Grier started blogging about making unusual cocktails two years ago as an outlet for his love of food and drinks. While working for a bar in Washington, D.C., he decided to move to Portland because of the culinary scene.
Thanks to the blog, he had already connected with two well-known mixologists in Portland. Those contacts ended up taking him to an industry event where Grier met the bar manager at the Carlyle, and the rest is history.
Yes, this is a bit ironic after just getting the news that my bar is closing. Time to start the search all over again, eh?