So much driving to do

Apropos of yesterday’s post, National Geographic offers up 50 “drives of a lifetime.” I’ve spent time in proximity to many of them but only taken two: California’s Pacific Coast Highway and Italy’s Amalfi Coast (as a passenger). Two of the others are in Oregon, so I have no excuse not to visit those. Oddly, they leave off Crater Lake; the drive along the rim roads offers stunning views from every side.

As a bonus, here’s 10 more from ABC.

[Both links via Craig Newmark.]

Hitting the road

I really enjoyed Paul Theroux’s Smithsonian article describing his first trip driving across the United States. Paul had traveled the world but hadn’t seen many of the vast spaces between American cities, remarkable for their varied landscapes and cultures and the freedom from official road blocks. It’s worth reading.

About a year ago I took a round-about route from Arlington, VA to Portland, OR over the course of two months. Though I love Portland, like my job, and am generally happy here, if I could put my stuff in storage and hop in my car again I’d do it in a heartbeat. This time I’d take fewer Interstates,* as Paul did, and get to the deserts of the southwest and the wilds of Montana and the Dakotas. I’d schedule my departures better so that I don’t hit some of the best sights in darkness; I hear Big Sur is amazing, but having driven through it at night I really couldn’t tell you. And I’d try not to go solo for some stretches of the trip, which caused me to pass on some places (like the Grand Canyon) that I’d rather experience with others.

*That said, there are some amazing Interstate drives. The Utah desert rivals the California coast in beauty and the wind farms stretching across Kansas are unimaginably large.

[Via Idea of the Day.]

Crater Lake

crater lake

I’m headed there now. Links will post in the morning but I expect to be disconnected from phone and internet for most of the next day, back on Monday night.

[Photo from Flickr user Sacred Destinations.]

A perfect Oregon day

The rain in Portland can be a bit much today sometimes, but every once in a while we get a perfect winter day with cool weather, mist, and Sun. Today was one of those days, so wine blogger A.A., a few friends, and I ventured out west to sip pinot noir and take in the beautiful scenery:

photo.jpg

(There’s actually a second rainbow there, but it’s hard to see in the iPhone photo.)

There are enough wineries to the southwest of Portland that one can drive out without a particular destination in mind. We visited three today, Torri Mor standing out as my favorite for both the setting and the wine. A.A. has a longer write-up here.

A Repeal Day for the ages

Free to Booze Bar

With the end of December almost here, it doesn’t look like I’m going to get to that big Repeal Day wrap-up I had planned. Luckily Tom Pearson’s all over it with Repeal Day and post-Repeal Day entries, so check over at his site for the links. See also Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s adventures in DC and “libertarian kind of guy” Lance Mayhew’s thoughtful reflections about Prohibition and the growth of government.

I was in DC too, kicking off the day at Cato’s Free to Booze event. I wasn’t able to watch the forum, being too busy setting up the bar in the lobby and teaching the interns some practical skills like how to juice citrus for 200 people. Thanks to their help, spirit donations from DISCUS, and a very last minute purchase of sweet vermouth, Jeff and I were able to mix up some tasty vintage cocktails for the thirsty mob. Here’s what we served:

Manhattan: Bulleit Bourbon, Sweet Vermouth, and Angostura Bitters
One of the first uses of vermouth in a cocktail and a true classic to this day

Martinez: Beefeater or Tanqueray Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Maraschino Liqueur, and Orange Bitters
Forgotten cousin of the Dry Martini, also born of America’s love affair with vermouth

Sidecar: Hennessy VS Cognac, Cointreau, and Lemon
An early mix of spirit, orange liqueur, and citrus, a versatile combination enjoyed today in the Margarita and Cosmopolitan

Aviation: Beefeater or Tanqueray Gin, Lemon, Maraschino, and Crème de Violette
A beautiful classic regaining popularity thanks to new imports of violet liqueur

Stone Fence: Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Cider, Angostura Bitters
Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys drank a rustic version of this drink before storming Fort Ticonderoga. What are you gonna do?

Sazerac: Hennessy VS Cognac, Pernod aux extraits de plantes d’absinthe, Peychaud’s Bitters, Angostura Bitters, and Sugar
Vintage New Orleans cocktail; though originally made with cognac, rye whiskey became standard in the 1870s

Pegu Club: Beefeater or Tanqueray Gin, Cointreau, Lime, Orange Bitters, and Angostura Bitters
A refreshing gin drink published in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) and credited to the Pegu Club in Burma

Jeff and I had a great time making the drinks. I hadn’t worked a busy bar shift since leaving Open City in March, so getting back into the groove and working through a long line of orders felt great. One of my favorite moments of the night was informing a person who ordered a vodka tonic that we had neither vodka nor tonic. Working with a limited bar and a small menu let us put the focus on introducing people to new experiences and I think we opened a few eyes to well-crafted cocktails.

If you missed the Cato event, it’s too late to make you a drink but you can catch video of the policy forum online. Organizer Brandon Arnold also recorded a podcast for the occasion.

Following a nice dinner with friends, I went off to DC Craft Bartenders Guild’s fantastic Repeal Day celebration, featuring drinks from some of the DC’s best mixologists. Then we took the afterparty to Gibson, the new speakeasy off U St. As Jeff notes, some of these speakeasy themed bars stand on ceremony to the point of inconvenience. At one I watched the host make a woman search her Blackberry for her forgotten codeword before granting entrance, despite the fact that every table but my own was unoccupied. There’s none of that nonsense at Gibson. There the focus is entirely on serving wonderful drinks in a comfortable, relaxed environment. And the drinks really are excellent. If you’re in DC, it’s absolutely worth visiting. I just wish it had opened before I moved across the country.

This Repeal Day will be hard to top, but the 100th anniversary is just 25 years away. It’s hard to predict what will happen then. Perhaps there will be blowback against the nanny state’s current excesses. Maybe we’ll finally overturn some of our outdated alcohol distribution laws. Given all the momentum in the craft movement right now, I’m hopeful we’ll see even broader interest in mixology and be closer to overcoming Prohibition’s legacy of crap cocktails. Whatever happens, we’re going to have one hell of a party.

Blog returns tomorrow

Sorry for the light posting. My internet access has been limited this trip and I’ve spent the past couple days orchestrating a last minute move of all my things that were still in storage in Virginia. Amazingly it’s worked out very well, given that I didn’t even have bids from movers until yesterday morning. It’s all on a truck now, so in a few weeks I’ll no longer be living with just two bar stools and a mattress. A couch, bed, assorted furniture, books, glassware, and several cases of liquor will be arriving soon. You can guess which items I’m most looking forward to receiving.

My flight leaves at 3:30 today, getting me back to Portland late at night. Regular blogging will resume in the morning.

An end to couch surfing

My lease in Arlington expired on July 31. Since that time I’ve been traveling the country, staying with friends and family throughout the US. Thanks to their incredible generosity I had to spend only two nights in hotels during the entire trip, in Kansas City and Las Vegas. I’m extremely grateful for their hospitality.

Thanks to the housing bust and the glut of new condos being converted into apartments here, it’s a good time to rent. Yesterday I signed a new lease at The Merrick. It’s in the NE quadrant, right next to the Rose Garden (meaning the basketball arena, not the actual rose garden Portland is famous for). As with most stadium areas, it’s a rather soulless neighborhood. Nearby are just a Starbucks, two fast food burger joints, a Subway, and a few other chain restaurants; it’s no comparison to my previous proximity to Murky Coffee, glorious Peruvian chicken, and all that Clarendon has to offer.

But on the upside, my rent is 30% less than what I was paying before and the location is nicely accessible to the rest of the city. It’s right across the bridge from downtown and the Pearl and within the no-fare zone on the train line. Groceries and restaurants are in the nearby Lloyd Center. And most importantly, it’s located within easy biking distance of the three coffee shops where I’ve been spending the most time: the wonderful Albina Press, the Stumptown on Belmont, and the Ristretto Roasters on Williams. In short, it’s going to be a great place for getting to know the city, and definitely good enough for a first year’s stay.

The United States is large

Hypothesis confirmed after driving 4,700 miles, visiting more than a dozen cities, and spending 71 days on the road.

Route 2008

I’ve finally arrived in Portland, having arrived last night after a brief stop for fantastic drinks from Jeff Morgenthaler in Eugene. This week I’ll be looking for apartments and jobs while getting back to regular, hopefully more substantive updates.

San Francisco wi-fi blues

I’m in San Francisco now, enjoying the city’s abundance of excellent coffee. Yet for such a tech-friendly town, I’m having a hard time pairing it with working wi-fi. The new Four Barrel, where I had a really nice cappuccino this morning, doesn’t offer it. Ritual does, but they’ve removed their electrical outlets. I’m here now and when my battery dies I’ll be unable to catch up on work or give them any more money. Blue Bottle in Hayes Valley serves my favorite espresso in the world, but they’re just a kiosk. Their new store doesn’t have wi-fi either. Is there any place in town that combines great coffee, internet access, and free electrons?

To do in Los Angeles?

There’s lots to write about at the moment, but I’m leaving Denver in the morning and traveling on to Los Angeles. This morning’s links are already up; whether we have some on Friday depends on my internet access.

This is my first time in L.A. I want to stop by the newish Intelligentsia and Lamill Coffee, but otherwise have no plans for where to go. Anyone have suggestions for what to do there?

What could go wrong?

I was driving all day yesterday, again today, so sorry for the light blogging. Today I’m off to Denver, coincidentally at the same time the DNC madness is going on. Here’s Clive Crook on what to expect:

Security for the event is certainly daunting. Supposedly 42, or is it 53 or 55, separate agencies are involved in the exercise, run from a “situation room” in a secret location. That is a characteristically American solution: the bigger the problem, the more agencies you apply to it. Even at altitude, these things breed. You need agencies to co-ordinate the agencies, and so on.

Picture the scene: 42 (or 53 or 55) agencies, licensed to inflict limitless inconvenience on anyone in their way, seamlessly pooling their resources and expertise, so that the whole thing runs like clockwork. What could go wrong?

If I don’t update tomorrow, please put in a call to the “situation room.”

Sweating the hops shortage

Sighted at Bell's

Hops in deodorant? They’re an essential ingredient in Tom’s of Maine’s products:

Unpleasant odor is caused by skin bacteria when we sweat. The “bitter principles” that help hops to preserve beer also, it turns out, fight odor. Hops inhibits the growth of bacteria by causing leakage in the bacterial cell membrane, which impairs bacterial function and therefore prevents odor.

I wonder if they’ve been hit by the hops shortage too, and how beer could be made instead with all the hops people are rubbing into their armpits.

[Via Rob Kasper. Photo from the hops case at the Bell's Brewery General Store and Eccentric Cafe, which you should definitely visit if you're ever in Kalamazoo.]

Unemployment

It’s just after noon. I’m sitting by a rooftop pool in New Orleans enjoying free wifi and a surplus Chimay Red, on my fourth drink of the morning. Is this what unemployment is supposed to be like? Bring on the recession!

I’ve got no time for talkin’

I’m off to New Orleans painfully early tomorrow morning. Not sure if I’ll be blogging much there, but I’ll send plenty of live updates from Tales of the Cocktail via Flickr and Twitter. Back to our regular schedule on Monday.

Remember to drink lots of water

Early Thursday morning I’ll be catching a flight to New Orleans to join bartenders, distillers, and cocktail enthusiasts from around the world for Tales of the Cocktail, a five day cocktail extravaganza. There will be classes, cocktail dinners, parties, happy hours, competitions, and a tasting room that opens at 10:30 am, so you’ll understand if my blogging gets a little off schedule and/or incomprehensible this week.

This is my first chance to meet up with lots of cocktail bloggers I currently know only online. If you’re reading this, let’s get a drink! And for those of you not going to New Orleans, I welcome recommendations for what to do there. It’s my first time in the city, and while I won’t have a lot of free time, I’d like to try out some of the local favorites.

Here’s what I’m registered for at Tales so far:

First on Thursday, assuming my flight isn’t delayed, is Molecular Mixology with Jamie Boudreau, followed by The Scented Trail: Techniques on How to Develop Aroma in Your Cocktails and Artisan Still Design and Construction. For the spirited dinner I’m headed to Palace Cafe for what sounds like an amazing menu from Ben Thibodeaux, Paul Clarke, and James Meehan.

On Friday I’m taking things easier with just two classes, How To View Beer As An Ingredient Rather Than The Drink Unto Itself and Cocktails Of Old Raj: East Meets West at India’s Bar, followed by the Tiki Block Party and then whatever debauchery continues into the evening. Saturday I’ll be back in class for Making Your Own Cocktail Ingredients, and from then on the weekend is open for tasting, exploring, signing up for additional seminars, or trying to make the throbbing in my head go away.

To do in SF

I’m traveling to San Francisco this weekend for one last outing before I start having limited vacation days. Vacation days? Yep, that means I’ve got a new job. A “real job,” as some would say. We’ll talk about that next week.

In the meantime I could use some suggestions for places to visit while I’m in town. I have a few in mind and a few I want return to from my 2005 trip, but still a lot of time left to explore. Any tips?

Regular blogging will resume next week, perhaps a bit sooner depending on how many coffee shop hours I put in this weekend.

3 Cups — Doing more with less

Last week I was in Chapel Hill, NC for a family event. Ever since the lamented closing of Fowler’s in Durham a few months ago, I haven’t had a favorite coffee hangout in the area. Now I’m glad to say I do again.

I tried to visit 3 Cups for the first time a couple months ago, but the place turns out to be closed on Sundays. This time around I made a point to drop in when it’s open. My family and I stopped in on a busy Saturday afternoon to find the shop near UNC buzzing with people.

I already knew 3 Cups serves Counter Culture Coffee, as does my current employer, so I was looking forward to trying their espresso. I was in for a surprise: no espresso machine! The only coffee on 3 Cups’ menu is drip and French press, with an emphasis on the press. Cafes au lait are available for people who really want a milk drink, but otherwise it’s all about the coffee.

This is a cool approach to running a coffee shop. I’m sure the many other shops in the area surrounding UNC all sell espresso. By choosing not to, 3 Cups offers less than its competitors. Yet by offering less, it offers more.

First of all, serving only drip and French press coffee puts the emphasis on the kind of coffee customers can make at home. This fits with their goal of becoming their customers’ favorite coffee retailer. People love espresso, but except for the rare enthusiasts who invest in expensive equipment and put in lots of practice, the stuff they make at home is always going to disappoint compared to what they get from the pros. Anyone can make traditional coffee with a little care, and with the equipment and excellent selection of beans available at 3 Cups, they can recreate the taste experience at home.

Secondly, coffee fits in better with the shop’s focus on single origin, artisinal products. Espresso is pretty much always blended and it’s rare for a shop to switch blends very often. Very few customers are going to drink straight espresso anyway; most of them are going mute its flavor with a lot of milk. Coffee, on the other hand, comes from a practically endless variety of origins, making it easier to communicate the differences among them.

Finally, skipping the spro makes running the shop a lot easier, leaving room and time for complimentary goods. Serving espresso entails making space for the machine, grinders, and beans, paying at least one barista to be on duty, and devoting a whole lot of time to training. My guess is that sticking to simpler brewing methods allows the staff to be better informed about 3 Cups’ other offerings: tea, chocolate, and wine.

At most coffee shops, even really good ones, tea is something of an afterthought and chocolate and wine may not be available at all. 3 Cups has all three items in abundance, all with extensive information available. I didn’t get to spend too much time talking to the staff, but they seemed to be just as informed about these other products as they are about the coffee; the guy I talked to was definitely into the chocolate part of the business.

3 Cups doesn’t offer much food, but they have a cozy relationship with the neighboring SandwHich, an artisinal sandwich shop selling some delicious fare. A hallway connects the two places and customers, dishes, and employees are free to pass back and forth. They also share a courtyard. The friendliness between the shops is a great solution to the problem of fulfilling customers’ wants without getting distracted from one’s core mission. Why have a great sandwich shop with bad coffee and a great coffee shop with bad sandwiches when you can just put a door between them and enjoy both?

(SandwHich got nice write-up in the local press here. The chips sound tasty but they were sold out by the time I got there. That’s how you know the place is good: the owners would rather sell out of fresh stuff than only sell things they can guarantee to always have on hand.)

Visiting 3 Cups reminded me of the less is more design philosophy espoused by the 37 Signals crew. By taking away a feature that almost every other coffee shop puts at the center of its business, this shop has really set itself apart with its simplicity and focus. I like it — so much so that I even forgot to see if they have wi-fi. Either way, I’ll be sure to drop in from now on whenever I’m in town.

[Cross-posted on Smelling the Coffee.]