Blog in review ’08

2008 has been good year for this blog. Due to more frequent posting, the popular morning links feature I added in January, guest blogging at The Agitator, and various publications elsewhere, traffic has nearly doubled from this time last year. In personal life I finally escaped the East Coast and moved west to Portland. Though I’m not completely settled here yet — a regular income would sure be nice — things are off to a great start, thanks in large part to the friends I’ve made through writing and tending bar.

Looking back at the end of a year, I’m always amazed at the many random things that have happened. Here’s the annual highlight reel:

January — Disappointment with Ron Paul, Tom Firey and I write against smoking bans for The Washington Post, the Virginia ABC bans sangria, and a few friends and I taste the newly available absinthe.

February — I get snarky in the Washington Times, Grape and Bean opens in Alexandria, and I play around with a Sazerac.

March — Magicians get no respect, Starbucks gets sued for distributing tips, I talk about secular sabbaths with the AP, and why I like tipping.

April — The BBC broadcasts a miracle fruit party from my apartment, I mix up a Massa Mojito, and the Blue Beetle cocktail gets blogged.

May — Baltimore says no cigars for poor people, libertarians suck at being corrupt, I visit a raw milk dairy, Starbucks pushes “scooped on” dates, and I make enemies in Detroit.

June — NYC pushes fruit carts, Paul Roberts and I have a friendly debate in the LA Times, my friend Amy’s mom gets a cocktail named after her, I go on a rant about cocktail shakers, and a discussion of menthol racism.

July — Why McCain’s health plan would be good for service industry workers, Flash websites bad for restaurants, precious coffee policies, I make a Hothouse Fizz with the new Plymouth sloe gin, and sampling miracle fruit tablets.

August — Bashing the bartender, my 10 desert island bottles, what’s wrong with mandatory calorie counts, how to baconify your bourbon, and I begin my journey west.

September — Conservatives and coffee, organizational tweeting, Thorfinn for president, why we need a magicians lobby, I get vermouthy, and why prices are better than information.

October — The McCain that could have been, Oregon neglects the pipe smokers, LEED hates tobacco, everybody loves an Irish car bomb, Rocky Mountain oysters get eaten, and my trip west comes to an end in Portland.

November — Advantages of a secular Christmas, the Arthur Kaler award, recounts of no significance, and overcoming blend bias.

December — Hello to my new Oregon neighbors, an Oregon smoking ban prediction, stocking your home bar parts one and two, smoking ban stupidity, an ode to Repeal Day in the American Spectator, Doublethinking about Starbucks, and my most missed places in DC.

I’m hoping to keep the momentum going to make 2009 even better. Tonight I’ll be celebrating with my last legal cigar at my favorite pub in Portland, the legendary Horse Brass. Thanks for reading, and have a happy new year!


Links for 12/31/08

Fantastically simple, yet brilliant, solution for giving glasses to the global poor

Accentuate the positives of 2008

Why municipal wifi is an epic fail

Once again, conservatives against the gay pro-family agenda

Do free markets increase moral character?

Eminent domain abuse in Houston

How eBay’s ivory ban harms elephants

“We sell more seats than the governor!”

Unlikely contenders to be the next Batman


Saying hello to my new Oregon neighbors

I’m in the Oregonian today, calling BS on the idea that our upcoming statewide smoking ban is motivated by an interest in saving workers’ lives. If the response is anything like that to my previous anti-ban column, there’s a lot of hate mail and nasty comments headed this way and to the Oregonian website. That’s fine, I’m happy to receive criticism. But before you hit send, make sure you’re not saying what we’ve all heard many times before:

Secondhand tobacco smoke is dangerous! — I agree. Chronic, extended exposure to environmental tobacco smoke has been shown to correlate with moderately greater health risks. But if you think the guy smoking next to you in a restaurant is shaving years off your life, you’re going way beyond what’s scientifically plausible.

Smoking shouldn’t be allowed in public buildings! — I agree. Courthouses, public hospitals, police stations, and similar places could all justifiably ban smoking. You could even make a case for banning smoking on common carriers like railroads and buses. But a privately owned bar? That’s a competitive business, not a public building. If you don’t like the atmosphere you don’t have to go.

Smoking bans are just like any other workplace safety regulation! — Most safety regulations don’t ban jobs entirely, as we’re now banning working in a smoke-friendly bar. Nor do we need to protect bar workers from hidden risks; if anything, the dangers of secondhand smoke are exaggerated. Given the high rates of turnover in the hospitality industry, there’s no reason employees can’t decide for themselves whether to keep working in smoke-filled rooms.

Smokers can just step outside — In the Oregon winter? Cigarette smokers, maybe. Pipe and cigar smokers? Not my idea of high fun. For many of us, bartenders included, the ban will kill a bar culture we know and love. Besides, you’re just going to ban it outside next (see Boston, San Luis Obispo, Calabasas, Belmont, etc.).

I shouldn’t have to suffer smokers when I go out! — Then go to places that don’t allow smoking. Or, as I mentioned in the column, pass legislation that’s less restrictive than the ban but that would still encourage businesses to go smokefree. Shouldn’t smokers have places to go too?

But the one place I really want to go allows smoking! — Yeah, that sucks. Try complaining to the management. If enough people say something they might change their policy. Or maybe they won’t. Remember, the world doesn’t revolve around you. (Unless you’re William Shatner, in which case the world does revolve around you, and can I have your autograph?)

Smoking has made you bald! — Uh, no. That’s just some unfortunate photo cropping on the Oregonian website. My mane’s still doing pretty well, thank you.

Got something to add that’s not on the list? Now you can hit send.


Links for 12/30/08

“Would you like me to rush your drink or would you rather I did it properly?”

One year after Iowa smoking ban, businesses complain of lost revenue

Grieving son blasts hospice smoking ban

Russian government’s revisionist campaign to save Stalin

A Portland coffee shop’s six-page barista application

Opinion journalism’s well-funded future

Dave Barry’s 2008 year in review

The limits of buying local

Obama inspires surge in Real Superheroes

Jindal’s weird definition of market based health care

The NYT on where to drink in SF

This cannot be a good idea


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.


Crackdowns on the white stuff

A raw milk arrest in CA:

A milk processing plant near Santa Paula was shut down last week after allegedly selling dairy products without a license or pasteurization, authorities said Friday.

Sharon Ann Palmer, 48, was arrested in connection with the plant called Healthy Family Farms at 6780 Wheeler Canyon Road, Ventura County Sheriff’s Department officials said in a prepared statement.

Members of the department’s Agricultural Crimes Unit and other local health agencies began an investigation of Palmer in the first week of December and found she was operating the plant without a license and selling potentially unpasteurized milk products at farmers’ markets in Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties, according to the statement.

And in other California news, Organic Pastures Dairy, whose case I profiled for Reason, has had to accept a plea with the feds and cease selling unpasteurized milk across state lines. 2008’s final days continue to show that this is a terrible year for raw milk producers and consumers.


One more drink for the road

This morning I’m making attempt number two at flying out of Portland, but before I go I’ve got one more item to take a look at. The latest bottle to slide across the bar here at blogging headquarters is Sandeman 10 year old tawny port. I love port and don’t enjoy it nearly often enough. That’s party because of the price, but mainly because I worry about oxidation. The lifetime of an open bottle of port depends on a variety of factors, including style, age, temperature, air exposure, and personal taste. Buying a 750 ml bottle without guests to share it with requires making a commitment to drinking lots of port in the following days or weeks. Oh, such a terrible burden!

For those reasons I was happy to receive a sample of this Sandeman bottling. It has a thick, viscous mouth feel, appealing hints of raisin on the nose, and both raisin and vanilla flavor notes. I just glanced at the bottle, incidentally, and those are the same flavors the label writers highlight — a rare case where I tasted exactly what the marketers thought I would. It’s a delicious port that’s been calling me back for glass after glass and easily worth its $30-40 retail price. (By the way, the 10 year old designation for tawny ports is based on the average age of wines blended into them; they’re not made from grapes aged exactly 10 years.)

As much as I like this port on its own, this is a cocktail blog and I was sent this bottle with the intent that I’d mix some drinks with it. The first one I tried is the classic Coffee Cocktail, which, weirdly, doesn’t actually contain any coffee:

1.5 oz port
1.5 oz brandy
1 tsp simple syrup
1 egg
1 dash Angostura bitters (optional)

Shake well with ice, strain, and garnish with grated nutmeg. This is a fine dessert drink, but I didn’t find it very exciting.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with cocktails composed entirely of spirits, which can be more challenging than using sweeteners and juices and forces one to focus on harmonizing the flavors of ingredients. I’m not quite prepared to call the combination below a finished recipe, but it comes together nicely:

1.5 oz Cazadores reposado tequila
.50 oz Sandeman 10 yr port
splash of Benedictine
1 dash Fee Bros. rhubarb bitters

I’m especially happy with the tequila and rhubarb bitters combination. I picked up this new offering from Fee’s several months ago and it’s been sitting on my bar taunting me ever since. It has a wonderful flavor — so good that I’ll often dash some on my hand just to give it a taste — but I’ve been clueless as to what to do with it. I think the pairing with tequila has potential, the tart sweetness of the bitters just standing out above the spirit. If anyone else plays with the recipe above I’d be curious to hear your feedback.

Samantha Harrigan offers Sandeman port cocktail recipes from some other bloggers at Cocktail Culture. Robert Simonson suggests using the rhubarb bitters with Cynar; when my movers deliver the rest of my liquor in a couple weeks, I’ll have to give that a try.


Speaking of jumping sharks…

It’s too bad Michael Siegel is on vacation right now. I’m sure he’d have some choice words to say about this:

A coalition of health organizations honored two Helena doctors Monday, saying their work has helped lead to states and countries around the world acting to ban smoking in public buildings.

Dr. Robert Shepard and Dr. Richard Sargent were honored for their work by Protect Montana Kids, a coalition of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association of the Northern Rockies…

They also conducted a study that found that Helena’s heart-attack rate dropped 40 percent for the period when the ordinance was in effect and rose back to previous rates when the ban was later overturned…

“There are some criticisms of the study,” [Kristin Page-Nei, Montana government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network] said. “We felt this would be a good time to point out where the flaws in the criticism are.”

“Some criticisms” is an understatement. The study used a very small sample to draw wildly implausible conclusions about how quickly a smoking ban might reduce the number of heart attacks. Its ongoing citation by anti-smoking groups is one of the things that drives ban opponents and respectable tobacco researchers like Siegel up the wall. Granting this award demonstrates that these organizations value studies more for their propaganda value than their scientific credibility.

For critical background on the study, here’s Jacob Sullum, Dave Hitt, and of course Michael Siegel.


MI smoking ban defeated

Three cheers for deadlock! The Michigan Legislature once again failed to pass a statewide smoking ban. Unfortunately the reasons have nothing to do with respect for business owners, employees, and smokers. The two houses just can’t come to an agreement about whether to ban smoking everywhere or to allow exemptions in casinos, cigar bars, horse tracks, and bingo parlors. It’s a familiar pattern with smoking bans: states carve out exemptions for gambling establishments that bring in millions of dollars in tax revenue while not offering any relief to bar owners who would be similarly affected. Michigan’s lawmakers are divided by those who want to ban smoking everywhere and those who want to hypocritically allow it only in businesses the state has a stake in — a temporary win for liberty, but not one that’s likely to last.

Smoking ban unfair, insulting


Jumping the anti-gay shark

Man, what is with gay people these days? Forming long-lasting relationships, opening small businesses with their partners, raising young children in loving households. Next thing you know they’ll want to get married and grow old together. It’s a good thing the American Family Association is keeping an eye on them and putting a stop to their anti-family agenda.

Do click through and view the Campbell’s soup ad that is getting AFA all lathered up. It’s difficult to imagine how bigoted one must be to be offended by it. It makes no mention of legal rights, marriage, or any political issue. Not that there’s any hope for getting the people at AFA to come around, but when even the Campbell’s brand has become too liberal for them they might consider it time to re-evaluate their priorities.


The year in banning

Bans are the new black. The good folks at put together this video about bans and attempted bans in 2008. Via Radley:

If you’re wondering about the bacon-wrapped hot dogs reference, that’s not a case of fat-obsessed nanny statists going overboard. It is a case of seemingly benign government health regulations making business prohibitively difficult for small entrepreneurs. Reason covered that conflict here.


An Oregon smoking ban prediction

I’m supposed to be in Houston right now. Yesterday my bags were packed and, despite being skeptical that my plane home would depart on time, I trudged my luggage through the freshly fallen snow to the train that would take me to the airport. The train wasn’t running. I checked my phone and now neither was my flight. Thirty minutes on hold with Southwest booked me a new ticket on the 24th and three more days in a paralyzed city.

This is all mildly inconvenient for me, but it’s hell for people in the service industry. December is a vital month for them. Because of the record snowfall — the highest for a Portland December since 1968 — my bartender friends are being told not to come into work. Many places aren’t opening at all. Companies are canceling their Christmas party reservations, taking with them all the revenue they’d promised. Combine this with the national recession and 2008 is turning out to be a glum year for area bars and restaurants.

What does this have to do with smoking bans? Oregon’s goes into effect on January 1. By January 2010, the economic uncertainty we’re facing now will hopefully have subsided. And unless it’s another freak year for weather, December will bring its usual boost to Oregon restaurants. If that happens, smoking ban proponents will be able to cite statistics showing that bar and restaurant business went up after the smoking ban, “proving” that they were right and we who oppose the ban had nothing to worry about.

A similar dynamic played out in New York City in March, 2004, a year after the beginning of its smoking ban. The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a report showing that the bar and restaurant business had grown in the year following the ban. Critics countered that the study misleadingly conflated bars and restaurants and neglected to account for the economic recovery following the 9/11 attacks.

Who’s right? I don’t know and I don’t care. As I’ve said before, this is a stupid argument. The financial objections to smoking bans aren’t based on how they affect net hospitality industry revenues, but on how they impact individual smoking-oriented businesses. Generalized statistics obscure the impact on bars that can’t get an exemption, lose customers, and justifiably feel like their rights are being trampled upon. It’s cold comfort to tell them to suck it up because, well, at least their competitors are making money.

If 2009 is a decent year for Oregon’s bars and restaurants, I predict that this is the kind of claim we’re going to hear from local ban supporters. I’d like to go on the record now to point out that such crude analysis should be seen for the irrelevant BS it truly is.

Pipe down!
Taking the LEED on smoking bans