Cigars at The Daily Beast

My first contribution to The Daily Beast explains what’s at stake in the proposed FDA cigar regulations:

Ever since the FDA was given authority over cigarettes in 2009, cigar makers have been pushing a bill in Congress to keep stogies out of the agency’s purview. That an industry would try to protect itself from FDA regulation is not surprising. That the FDA might agree with them is. And given the agency’s record on cigarettes, keeping its hands off of premium cigars is the right idea.

Read the whole thing here.

Oregon’s war on vaping

The Oregon legislature recently failed to pass completely sensible restrictions on selling e-cigarettes to minor, an effort undermined by more extreme anti-smokers who were more intent on banning vaping in workplaces, bars, and restaurants. In today’s Oregonian, I write about lawmakers’ misguided attempt to include e-cigarettes in the smoking ban and their next proposal to impose new taxes on them. An excerpt:

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m actually getting nostalgic for the original smoking ban debate. Advocates exaggerated the dangers of secondhand smoke, but at least they made an effort to ground their views in science and demonstrate that non-smokers were being harmed.

The same cannot be said for those seeking to extend current bans to cover vaping. They’ll be the first to tell you that more study of e-cigarettes is needed. But why wait for results? They’re ready to ban first and ask questions later.

Read the whole thing here.

New at Reason

After a long absence (my previous article was in 2008!), I’m back in the pages of one of my favorite publications today. Over at Reason I take a look at the FDA’s latest actions against tobacco, explain why they accomplish nothing for public health, and spell out what they imply for the future of cigars and e-cigarettes.

The article also updates the case of Hestia Tobacco, whose regulatory tribulations I profiled at The Atlantic one year ago. Unfortunately, they are no closer to coming to market than they were before. See that article for a more in-depth explanation of the laws that allow the FDA to keep new tobacco products in regulatory limbo.

Finally, be sure to check in at Michael Siegel’s blog, where he has been tearing apart the FDA’s action this week from a slightly different perspective.

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.]

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.

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.]

Tobacco tax skepticism

My latest article for The Atlantic provides four reasons to oppose the new tobacco taxes proposed in the White House budget.

Markets not in everything

My article today at The Atlantic looks at the anti-competitive effects of the FDA’s regulation of tobacco:

David Sley wants to sell cigarettes. This, by his own admission, does not make him the most sympathetic person to feature in an article about excessive government regulation. Yet Sley, an aspiring entrepreneur who has spent more than two years trying to navigate the Food and Drug Administration’s new tobacco regulations, has legitimate cause to complain. The entire cigarette industry has been brought to a standstill by the FDA, forbidden from introducing any new products since March 2011. Tobacco companies contend that the agency’s actions rest on uncertain scientific and legal grounds — and, for once, they may be right.

In the article I document Sley’s attempt to launch a new cigarette brand, a process which has dragged on for more than two years without resolution. As you may remember, the Tobacco Control Act was backed and negotiated by Philip Morris, who just might have anticipated such a result.

The extremely slow approval process also bodes poorly for the premium cigar market, which is even more dynamic than that for cigarettes. Cigar lovers should pay close attention when the FDA issues its proposed rules for cigars later this year.

Read the whole thing.

Playing catch up

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. A few things that have come up in the past few weeks:

For Drink Portland, I took a look at three new rye whiskeys that have entered the market.

Year of Aquavit: EcoSalon is on board.

Department of Unlikely Coverage: Gizmodo discovers the Bone Luge. A very in-depth article!

The Oregonian gave Metrovino our first major review since Chef Dustin See took over in the kitchen and gave us high marks.

Reform Oregon’s smoking ban

An Oregonian editorial last week was refreshingly libertarian, calling for same-sex marriage, tuition equity for some undocumented immigrants, restraint on gun control, and even opposition to the state’s smoking ban. I sent in a letter about the last item, which they published today:

The Jan. 12 libertarian-leaning editorial “Protect and expand personal freedom: Agenda 2013″ was a breath of fresh air, especially in regard to our state’s excessively stringent smoking ban.

Current law makes few exceptions for businesses that cater to smokers, making it essentially illegal for entrepreneurs to open new cigar bars or smoking lounges even in stand-alone tobacco shops. Regardless of whether one supports a broad smoking ban, it’s difficult to justify forbidding these businesses to open.

Sensible reform would replace the current exemptions, which apply only to venues that have been grandfathered in, with objective guidelines that would allow both existing and aspiring business owners to offer smokers an indoor refuge.

As I reported in the Oregonian in 2011, the promised decline in heart attacks that the smoking ban was supposed to usher in never developed.

Save the stogies

My forthcoming article that I’ve alluded to a couple times this week is now up at The Atlantic:

If a time traveler from the early 1990s were to arrive in the U.S. bars and restaurants of today, what would notice first? Perhaps that the food has become more interesting and varied, or that a perplexing number of diners are photographing it with their remarkable phones. The most obvious change, however, might register on the nose: the nearly complete absence of indoor smoking.

California implemented the United States’ first modern statewide smoking ban in 1998. Today twenty-nine states and 703 municipalities require bars and restaurants to be smoke-free, according to data maintained by the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation (North Dakota brought the tally to thirty states this month). Tobacco use has been banished from our culinary radar along with the question “smoking or non?” Most of us don’t miss it. Yet as a slew of new bans, taxes, and regulations drive smoking to the peripheries of society, it’s worth giving tobacco another look.

Read the whole thing. And for more context on some of the arguments, see my recent posts about the effects of new tobacco taxes and the failure of the FDA to establish an effective regulatory regime.

Spirit of Scandinavia

aquavit

Last month I completed my collection of all the commercial aquavits distilled in the United States. That’s not as difficult as it sounds, since there are only four of them. However I think that aquavit is a very underrated spirit for mixing into cocktails, so hopefully these four are just the tip of the iceberg. I won’t be surprised if we start seeing aquavit appear on more and more cocktail menus. My latest article for Culinate reviews aquavits from Krogstad, North Shore, Sound Spirits, and Gamle Ode, along with a cocktail recipe for each. Check it out here.

[Photo courtesy of Culinate.]

Behind the scenes at a Spirited Dinner

blender

What does it take to put on a cocktail pairing dinner of four courses for sixty guests with 140 eggs? A lot of shaking, help from friends, and one very powerful blender. My latest post at The Drink Nation goes behind the scenes at our Brewing Up Cocktails Spirited Dinner in New Orleans and includes the recipe for our decadent closing cocktail, the Chocolate Stout Flip.

New posts at The Drink Nation

My first articles for Drink Portland/The Drink Nation are online. This week I review Pierre Ferrand’s Dry Curaçao, the new orange liqueur that bartenders seemingly can’t get enough of. And from a while back, a guide to visiting breweries in Portland’s north and northeast quadrants.

Give the gift of blue drinks

It’s December 1, which means Christmas is coming up and Sinterklaas and Repeal Day are right around the corner. If you need a gift for the cocktail lover in your life, my recipe guide from 2010 is selling for about six bucks with shipping on Amazon right now and is perfectly sized for stuffing into stockings.

collective-cocktail-cover_10

“A bartender would be hard-pressed to use this as his reference at a bar where the average age of the clientèle was under 40. Missing are the Sex on the Beach, the Red-Headed Slut, the Orgasm and the Washington Apple, just to name the first few that come to mind.” — A satisfied Amazon reviewer.

The Cocktail Collective includes more than 200 recipes grouped into chapters by spirit: brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, whiskey, and assorted spirits like aquavit, genever, and amari. There are also introductory notes to each chapter, along with advice for mixing drinks and stocking a home bar. The emphasis is on spirits that are widely available and fresh ingredients that are easy to buy or make, and the spiral binding allows the book to lay flat while in use. (Oh, and there aren’t any actual blue drinks in the book. Sorry.)

Most of the recipes are classics, but there are also a few from me and a bunch from a stellar list of guest contributors:

Anu Apte, Stephen Beaumont, David Buehrer, Frank Cisneros, Ryan Csanky, John Deragon, Michael Dietsch, Ron Dollete, Jabriel Donohue, Meagan Dorman, Camper English, Andrew Finkelman, Ricky Gomez, Peter Gugni, Jenn Hegstrom, Neil Kopplin, Mindy Kucan, Tom Lindstedt, Kevin Ludwig, Elizabeth Markham, Lance Mayhew, Jim Meehan, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Blair Reynolds, Adam Robinson, Matt Robold, Jim Romdall, Stephen Shellenberger, David Shenaut, Chris Stave, Kelley Swenson, Jeremy James Thompson, Keith Waldbauer, Stephen Warner, Allison Webber, Neyah White, Rocky Yeh

Pick it up here to ensure your friends and loved ones don’t have a blue Christmas.

Sherry cocktails at Culinate

px-flip

My latest column at Culinate gives a little sherry 101 and suggests three ways to mix with it, along with the newest addition to the Metrovino menu, the PX Flip:

2 oz. Pedro Ximinez Sherry
1/2 oz. Angostura bitters
1 whole egg

Shake hard with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg. For the sherry I suggest the Lustau San Emilio PX, which is balanced by more acidity than some other PX sherries.

Sherry has appeared in a few other cocktails on this site, including the Decatur, Walking Spanish, and the Two Item Rule.