Cigar industry victim of the nanny state

USA Today has a depressing piece up on the state of the cigar industry. The short version is that the economic downturn, sudden tax hikes, and smoking bans are killing the industry. I worry about the long-term effects anti-smoking laws will have on premium tobacco. Making and smoking it could become a lost art, creating a cascade of job losses in the US and especially in growing countries. Cigar smoking will become exceedingly rare; furtive smoke breaks for mass-market cigarettes will continue just fine. [Via Stogie Guys.]

As an example of what we’re up against, here’s what the city council in Del Mar is up to:

Del Mar officials took a step this week toward banning smoking on city sidewalks and restaurant patios after diners complained about smoke ruining their meals at newly installed outdoor cafes.

The council will hold a public hearing before voting on the ban, but council members Monday bluntly expressed their distaste for smoking.

“You shouldn’t be exposed to a health hazard while walking down the streets of Del Mar,” said Councilman Don Mosier.

Mayor Crystal Crawford said she remains open to hearing from the public but noted, “This is a council of non-smokers.” […]

Staff members also will research the idea of creating a city licensing program to regulate tobacco retailers.

There was discussion about banning cigarette vending machines, but no one remembered seeing such machines in Del Mar.

What kind of person complains to the city council about a bad experience at a restaurant? If one’s Caesar salad isn’t up to par, the usual remedy isn’t asking the local rulers to step in and fix it. You talk to the manager, write a bad review on Yelp, or take your business elsewhere. Smoke exposure shouldn’t be any different. The fact that non-smokers are turning to the city council to get their way is just another example of how anti-smoking hysteria has poisoned civil society.


Links for 7/31/09

Maureen Ogle on race and beer

Study skeptical of organic food’s health benefits

Subsidize obesity to pay for health care?

“In almost every Arab country, fertility is in decline, more people, especially women, are becoming educated, and businessmen want a bigger say in economies dominated by the state.”

The peril of writing of one’s love life in the present tense

Twitter: Less annoying than other means of sharing

Bloomberg extending smoking ban outside

Folkster alert: Urban farmers

Better taste through illegality

Inanimate objects that may cause or cure cancer, or maybe both

Furries, man. Furries.


Save NC’s hookahs!

Cullie Tarleton, a state rep in North Carolina, has introduced a bill to save the state’s hookah bars that would be put out of business by the impending smoking ban. Tarleton was a supporter of the original ban, which unfairly exempts cigar bars but makes no allowance for hookahs:

Rep. Cullie Tarleton, D-Watauga, is trying to get the exemption passed in the House. Tarleton was a strong supporter of the original smoking ban, but he said yesterday that the ban’s effect on hookah bars was unintended.

The trouble for Tarleton and supporters of hookah is that getting the exemption passed will require the legislature to revisit one of the most contentious bills of the year. And there’s not much time — depending on what happens with state budget negotiations, the 2009 legislative session could be in its final days.

“I am not interested in opening Pandora’s box here,” Tarleton said yesterday. “All I want to do is to save some 20 small businesses across the state that opened legally, legitimately, with the full intention of serving a population. (The smoking ban) is going to shut them down, and that’s an unintended consequence.”

Who knew that meddling in people’s private decisions would have unintended consequences? Tarleton should have never supported the ban in the first place, but he deserves credit for acknowledging his ignorance and taking steps to fix one of the worst aspects of the law. An amended bill has already passed the House; let’s hope it work it’s way through the rest of the system.

The elitism of exemptions
The death of VA hookah bars


Summer competition cocktails

OBGcomp 031

Monday’s Oregon Bartender’s Guild cocktail competition at Hobnob Grille was a great success, raising enough money for Schoolhouse Supplies to equip an entire classroom of children for a full school year. The drinks were great too and it would have been hard to pick a winner. Somehow the audience did though, and it just so happened to be me. What can I say, Portlanders have great taste in cocktails.

Jennifer has a full write-up of the event with photos at her blog Savor It. Each of the bartenders was randomly assigned two Oregon spirits with which to create their drinks. I ended up with two I hadn’t tried before, Organic Nation gin and Dolmen Worker Bee honey spirit, both of which I like. My first round used the gin and fresh Hermiston watermelon for the Gallagher cocktail:

2 oz Organic Nation gin
1 oz watermelon juice
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz Swedish punsch*

Shake the first four ingredients over ice and strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top with soda and stir. The garnish is a pickled watermelon rind. I used Scott Beattie’s pickling liquid recipe from Artisinal Cocktails and the rind became nice and tasty after just two days of soaking. The drink is perfect for sipping outside in the summer. It’s crisp and refreshing and the smoky aftertaste from the Swedish punsch would go great with a grilled burger.

With round two I turned to the Dolmen honey spirit, an 80 proof liquor distilled from mead. Here’s the Mandeville:

2 oz Dolmen Worker Bee
.5 oz lemon juice
.33 oz St. Germain elderflower liqueur
.25 oz honey-lavender syrup (recipe here)
1 dash Scrappy’s Lavender Bitters
10 muddled blueberries

Muddle the blueberries and syrup before adding the rest of the ingredients. Shake over ice and double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass garnished with berries. This drink has layers of floral tastes without being overpowering and a lingering sweetness from the honey. The crowd really went for this drink. I’m sure the fact that it was their 12th of the night helped it along!

The Mandeville’s an updated and improved version of my old Blue Beetle cocktail. It works well with vodka too, but the substitution of honey-lavender syrup for simple syrup and Scrappy’s bitters for orange flower water makes it much better than the original. Scrappy’s entire line of bitters is worth checking out and if you can get your hands on a bottle you definitely should. It’s made in small batches in Seattle.

The name, by the way, is a reference to Bernard Mandeville, author of The Fable of the Bees. Mandeville satirized British morality by arguing that personal vice often led to public virtue, a fitting allusion on a night dedicated to drinking cocktails to raise money for children.

*Swedish punsch is a classic cocktail ingredient usually made with Batavia-Arrack, tea, sugar, lemon juice, and spices. I claim no expertise on this and my recipe is a simple variation of Max Toste’s, featured in Imbibe back in January. The only difference is that where Max uses simple syrup I use a syrup made of equal parts sugar and lapsang souchong tea. Lapsang souchong is an intensely flavorful black tea smoked over pine wood, which gives the resulting punsch an even stronger smoky character. Here’s the recipe:

9 oz lapsang souchong syrup
6 oz Batavia-Arrack von Oosten
3 oz lemon juice
.25 tsp grated nutmeg
seeds from 10 cardamom pods, ground

Steep ingredients refrigerated for 24 hours then strain into bottle.


Another post about calorie labeling

Ezra Klein and Megan McArdle each have odd posts up today about calorie labeling laws. Megan’s post is weird because she says she’s in favor of menu labeling but then goes on to list numerous reasons she thinks it won’t accomplish anything. If it doesn’t work as a nudge why not simply require accessible disclosure rather than prominent display?

Ezra’s post is weird for its suggestion of how calorie labeling will work. He says it may not be because it causes customers to change their orders but because it will induce restaurants to lower the calories of items offered on their menus. Why would they do this unless they anticipate that the information would affect consumer behavior? The only plausible interpretation I can give to his post is that he thinks labeling won’t affect customer behavior at a single visit but might affect how often they return to a restaurant. Calling this an effective mechanism seems like a stretch.

Anyway, the evidence he cites — some menu changes at Macaroni Grill and Denny’s — is a little tenuous. Macaroni Grill was reformatting its menu under new leadership and Denny’s says it was responding to consumer demand for healthier items, not to the law. The changes might be independent of menu labeling legislation.

Even if we grant the assumption that California’s law prompted the changes, that brings up an interesting question: Can the rest of the country free ride on California? The changes Ezra mentions are taking effect nationwide, not just in that state. If California, New York City, and a few other major markets can exert pressure on major chains, the rest of the country may benefit* without having to gaze upon prominent calorie counts or burdening smaller, local chains with the costs of compliance.

Of course it’s also possible that chains could offer different menus depending on whether a jurisdiction requires labeling. If you think that’s a likely strategy then you should also be skeptical that the nationwide changes at Macaroni Grill and Denny’s are a response to the law rather than to other market forces.

*Of course this assumes that the changes really are beneficial. The article cited makes no mention of the taste of the revamped menu items, perhaps with good reason.


Aroma-Schutz durch rauchfreien Raum

Jim Romenesko at Starbucks Gossip links to a blog dedicated to replacing the aroma of tobacco smoke outside of Starbucks stores with the sweet smell of self-righteousness:

A blog established to encourage Starbucks (SBUX) to stop supporting smoking at their stores. SBUX, where it is legal, allows smoking outside of their stores. Not a very “socially conscious” policy. Not to mention, how does a business so closely tied to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure (breast cancer), reconcile allowing smoking at their stores?

Yikes, giving people a place to smoke, even if that place is outside, now detracts from a business’s social consciousness? And wanting to find cures for cancer now requires taking control over customers’ personal behavior? Obviously Starbucks is a private business and if they decide to ban smoking outside their stores they have every right to do so, but:

1) It might be more reasonable to ban it only in some stores, such as those with small urban storefronts. Suburban stores with large patios could easily accommodate smokers and non-smokers.

2) A guy smoking a cigarette in open air isn’t going to give anybody cancer. He might be annoying but so is the guy with the portable radio, the guy who hasn’t bathed in three days, and the friends chatting too loudly about their sex lives. In a civil society we learn when to tolerate such things and when to ask the store to intervene and it’s not clear that a chain-wide ban is needed to deal with them. In any case, allowing people to smoke outside where they do harm only to themselves is perfectly compatible with raising money for cancer research.

3) This blogger’s “campaign” is part of the trend to demonize smokers, portraying their behavior not just as unhealthy but as anti-social. This kind of thinking is what has led to extending legislated smoking bans from indoor spaces to places like beaches, golf courses, and public parks, where it’s absurd to claim there are any deleterious health effects from secondhand smoke. Starbucks might reasonably decide that forbidding smoking would be good for business but this would not put them on moral high ground.

4) Yes, it’s rude to light up next to other people without asking their permission but where else are smokers supposed to go? Now that they’ve been exiled from indoor businesses, even from tobacco shops in some jurisdictions, one can understand why they feel entitled to the outdoor spaces they have remaining.

5) Starbucks actually deserves great credit for their non-smoking policies. As I wrote about in 2006, they’ve been a pioneer in international markets for creating smokefree cafes in countries where these were predicted to fail. (The title of this post is a translation of the signs they posted in Austria explaining their policy: “aroma protection through a smoke-free space.”) They’ve probably helped change expectations for American cafes too. Given all this, it’s a bit spiteful to call them socially irresponsible for accommodating their smoking customers outside.

6) Sitting outside on a summer day with coffee and a cigar can be a wonderful experience. If you can find a place to do so where you won’t impose on other customers I highly recommend it.


Links for 7/27/09

“We have to look back at the heirloom tomato as America’s introduction to this concept, the original posterboy for biodiversity”

Krugman on free market health care; responses from Cowen, Mankiw, and Angus

5 freedoms lost under health care reform

Primates and cooperation

Facebook leads for sharing content

Nick Cho wishes SBUX the best of luck

Portland’s new mixologists

Brown brothers bringing new cocktail spot to DC

UK residents pool together to save pubs


A breathalyzer just to buy wine

The Pennsylvania government controls not just liquor sales but wine sales too, causing all kinds of inconvenience to consumers. The state is currently trying out a novel approach to making things easier:

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board here will test a self-service, wine-selling kiosk, to see if it can effectively prevent the sale of wine to underage consumers and those who are intoxicated. […]

To purchase wine from the kiosk, a consumer would first insert her driver’s license for age and identity verification. The license barcode will be read, and the picture on the license will be matched with a video image of the consumer standing before the kiosk, Nick Hays, spokesman for the PLCB, told SN.

“The match is confirmed by Liquor Control Board employees, represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, monitoring the transaction from a remote center,” he said.

Sobriety is confirmed by a built in breath sensor. It requires no contact and provides an instant blood-alcohol reading, said Hays. PLCB representatives can lock out purchases by consumers who are intoxicated. Transactions can only be completed with credit card payments.

Hey, that’s really smart! Or they could just, you know, privatize the market and let adults sell wine to each other. But that’s crazy talk.


Calorie counts for all, like it or not

While I was away various bloggers once again took up the topic of mandated calorie postings at chain restaurants. Matthew Yglesias went so far as to suggest that the biggest problem with these mandates is that they only apply to chain restaurants. If they’re a promising approach to fighting obesity (I’m skeptical), why not extend them further?

Anyone who’s worked in a creative restaurant or appreciates seasonal food could tell you why. Conor Friedersdorf sums it up nicely at The Daily Dish:

That sounds like an excellent way to create marginally more chain restaurants! There are more than 350 McDonald’s in New York City. There are occasional minor menu changes, but the offerings are relatively static. The calorie labeling cost per restaurant is relatively low… compared to the cost for a single burger joint that has a rotating daily special, occasionally changes bun suppliers, and changes menu items frequently as it tries to experiment and gain a foothold in the neighborhood.

There are a lot of people — and I am one — who love one-off restaurants, specials written on chalk boards because they change everyday, fish dishes that depend on the catch, always changing menus, the use of local in season produce, etc. I do not want marginally less of these things! More broadly, the proliferation of regulations more easily born by large corporations than by small business owners is one reason why so many places in America are overrun with chains — as opposed to singular businesses that provide unique products to consumers and rewarding livelihoods for their proprietors. Of course, every little regulatory burden seems like a good idea on its own. But they all add up. Does Matt really want to make the rest of New York City look a little bit more like Times Square?

At the restaurant where I work the menu changes frequently based upon what’s in season and what unique ingredients our suppliers can provide us with at any given time. This is part of what makes the place so good. It would be financially and practically impossible to send special dishes away for calorie testing. Even making rough estimates base on the ingredients used would be an onerous burden in an already busy kitchen, enough of one to likely tip the scales against the chef bothering to make something new and exciting when a rare fish or succulent fruit is offered by one of our vendors. This is an obvious reason for limiting the mandates to chain restaurants and I can’t imagine why Yglesias, a food blogger, didn’t bother to mention it. (It’s important too not to set the standard for what counts as a chain too low. Recall the small New York pizza chain that spent $10,000 testing its various pies. Have its customers received $10,000 worth of benefits from this testing? How would we prove this?)

Yglesias is also dismissive of libertarian arguments against the mandates. He writes:

Now of course you’ll hear a libertarian argument to the effect of, “if people really wanted to know this stuff the market would respond automatically” which I think you’d have to say was naive at best.

It’s true that it would be naive to think that there’s a perfect market for this information. But it’s also naive to think that there’s no market for nutritional information or that a one-size-fits-all approach is what consumers prefer. Consumers eating at Subway, for example, tend to be interested in the amount of calories they’re taking in. Unsurprisingly Subway caters to their interest by prominently advertising the calories in its sandwiches. In contrast, a person going to Five Guys is likely uninterested in calorie information, at least for that particular meal. So though the chain puts the information online it doesn’t voluntarily post it on its menu boards. This is a market response to consumer demand: The information is available to those who want it but not shoved in the faces of those who’d like to forget about nutrition for a while and enjoy a greasy burger. For many of us the experience of eating at Five Guys would not be improved by being reminded of exactly how many calories we’re consuming.

Yglesias takes the view that increasing the amount of information given to consumers improves the market for food. That’s often true but the reality isn’t that simple. As consumers we can enhance the experience of eating by controlling the amount of information we consider. Buying food directly from the growers at a farmers market enhances the pleasure of eating local produce. Counting calories and knowing we’re being healthy makes having a salad for lunch more enjoyable; counting calories when we’re indulging, whether with fast food or at Per Se, detracts from the meal.

Think of it this way. Imagine a restaurant where when you sit down the server offers you two menus identical in every respect except that one includes a calorie count next to every item and the other doesn’t. Are you being irrational if you choose the menu without the added information or are you rationally choosing the presentation that would make the meal most pleasurable? Obviously the context matters. Progressives like Yglesias want to take that choice away from you.

Advocates of mandated calorie counts like to frame the issue as simply making the information consumers need more readily available. Yglesias is more honest when he quotes Ezra Klein arguing that the point is putting calorie counts where customers can’t avoid them:

Chain restaurants will have to list caloric information on their menus and menu boards. Not behind the desk, or off to the side, or up on the ceiling. Where you can see it. New York, among other cities, has already instituted that policy. Every Starbucks in Manhattan now must post the calories in a MochaFrappaWhatsIt right next to the drink name.

Jacob Sullum rightly concludes that this crosses the line from informing people to nagging them. Advocates of disclosure are welcome to make the argument that the obesity crisis demands such nagging, but they should be forthright about what they’re doing rather than couching the argument in terms of consumer advocacy.

Improvements in information technology are another reason to doubt the merits of forcing restaurants to post calories directly on menus. Websites like Calorie Lab already provide databases of the nutritional information from more than 500 restaurants. As far as I know they don’t have a phone app yet, but they could easily make one (one competitor already has). As smart phones proliferate it will be easier than ever for consumers to access calorie counts in addition to much more thorough nutritional information about the foods they eat. Yet these archaic laws will still be on the books forcing unneeded clutter on printed menus.

If availability of information is the issue there are easy ways to address it. We can require chains to make it readily accessible within restaurants and in standard data formats online. Anyone who wants the information to make healthier choices will be able to get it. I suspect that most opponents of mandated calorie postings wouldn’t object too strenuously to this as long as it doesn’t burden small chains and individual restaurants. What we object to is the notion that the specific number of calories we eat must always be in our thoughts, whether we like it or not.


Cocktails, pork, and French cuisine

Why do I make cocktails? I do it for the children. No, really, I do:

The Oregon Bartender’s Guild would like to invite you to a one-of-a-kind event. On Monday, July 27th at 5pm the Oregon Bartender’s Guild will be hosting their first Cocktail Competition for Charity at the Hobnob Grille, 3350 SE Morrison. This competition will confirm Oregon’s place amongst the avant-garde of cocktail culture by featuring the finest craft spirits being mixed by some of the best bartending talent from around our great state. Local masterminds of mixology will face off in a fierce competition of culinary creativity. We need your help in deciding who will go home with the title of Oregon’s Premier Mixologist. A ticket cost of $50 will include a multitude of cocktails, a light hors d’oeuvre and an evening of education, entertainment and culture. Proceeds will benefit Schoolhouse Supplies – The Free Store for Teachers, a locally run non-profit who helps teachers equip their students with the tools needed to succeed in the classroom – for free!

You can purchase tickets at the Hobnob Grill @ 3350 SE Morrison anytime from now till Monday, and the night of the event.

The format is as follows…
Alison Dykes- Liquid Vodka, Rogue Rum
Evan Zimmerman- Cascade Mountain Gin, Krogstad Aquavit
Bradley Dawson- Elemental Vodka, Old Tom Gin
Kinn Edwards- 12 Bridges Gin, Sub Rosa Saffron Vodka
Jacob Grier- Organic Nation Gin, Dolmen Honey Spirit
Sue Erickson- Martin Ryan Vodka, Snake River Stampede Whiskey

Competitors will be competing in two rounds. The first round is marked by more simple and clean spirits. Each cocktail will be served in a 2 to 3 oz portion for all 50 guest judges and one full cocktail for presentation. Each competitor will serve their cocktails one after the other. The spirits in the second round are more complex and “unusual.”

Of course the title of “Oregon’s Premier Mixologist” has a touch of hyperbole to it. Unless I win, in which case forget I said anything. Either way, I hope you’ll come out for the event.

Carlyle, the restaurant where I work, also has a few special events coming up soon. This Sunday our chef Jake Martin teams up with Morgan Brownlow of Tails and Trotters to offer a 10 course pork dinner. It’s expensive, but the menu looks amazing:

First release of Tails and Trotters proscuitto,
Lardo wrapped country style pate with tenderloin garni,
Fromage de tete

Fritto of Squash Blossoms
Trotter ‘rilette’, Spanish style sausage, macerated legumes

Duo of Salads:
Salad of pig’s ears, watercress, shaved carrots, celery and pickled shallots

Grilled pig’s heart, pickled chanterelles, arugula, shaved ricotta salata

Pork Belly Two Ways:
Cured and wrapped around stone fruits, grilled, agro dolce sauce

Crisp confit, early corn, scapes, saba

Pork Coppa Steak
Cured and poached, shaved baby beets, sauce gribiche

Grilled Pork Flat Iron and Eye of Round
Tongue croquette, smoked pork jus, nasturtium butter

Two Pastas
Potato gnocchi, Guanciale, Walla Walla onions, heirloom tomato concasse

Ricotta tortellini, slow roasted shoulder ragout, parmigiano-reggiano

Petite Braised Short Rib
Carrot tapenade, sweet carrot emulsion
Crispy ‘Korean Style’ ribs
fennel pollen lacquer

Whole Loin ‘Porchetta’ Crispy Skin and All!
Pork fat fired potatoes, baby turnips

Tails and Trotters Leaf Lard Crostada
Stone fruits, bacon ice cream

Seriously, I don’t know if I can turn that down.

Finally, for four consecutive weeks in August we’re offering a series of kitchen dinners inspired by different aspects of French cuisine. It starts with Paris bistro fare, moves on to the foods of Provence and the Midi Pyrenees, and wraps up with an homage to haute cuisine circa 1950. I’ll be serving an aperitif before each meal. The full menus are available on our site.


Selling bricks

Angus has a hard time believing that this scam really worked:

German police said on Monday that they have arrested one of two British men suspected of selling bags that they said held laptops and mobile phones but which in reality contained potatoes.

Authorities believe the pair tricked around 40 people in two German states driving around in a car with British number plates, convincing them to hand over cash for the electronic hardware but giving them spuds instead.

It does seem implausible, doesn’t it? My guess is that the reporter is leaving out a few details and that there were at least some phones or phone-like objects at the top of the bags to make them look real. This is a variation on the classic “selling bricks” scam. Magician and self-described former con man Simon Lovell explains the method and psychology that make it work:

Have you ever been stuck in traffic and seen a guy, carrying a box, walking through the cars? Have you ever seen him offer the contents to somebody and walk away with cash? If you have then you’ve seen somebody buy a brick.

The box is one for a top of the line video camera. A cursory look inside the box lets you see the camera. Well, you see the plastic and polystyrene around a camera shape, but you can see the lens and a few controls visible through the holes the manufacturer strategically places in the packaging to entice you to buy it in its more normal habitat of a store.

The price the guy is offering it for is less than a third of the retail price. Obviously it’s stolen but, what the hell, a bargain is a bargain isn’t it?

If you buy it, you larcenous little devil, you deserve the punishment. You bought a lens and a few cheap controls positioned around a brick to give the package weight. This scam is also done with video machines, CD players, televisions, and, in fact, just about anything that comes in a box.

When he offers it to you, you have only a few moments to make up your mind. The traffic will be moving in just a second and you don’t have time to examine the product. It’s a take it now or lose it forever deal. Enough people take it to make this quite a profitable little trade when the con man has nothing else to do for fun.

That’s from Simon’s informative and entertaining book How to Cheat at Everything. Originally published in the small-run, expensive magicians’ press, it’s made the leap to mass market paperback and covers in detail everything from bar bets and carny games to high-stakes card cheating. Highly recommended if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

If you’re in New York City you can also catch Simon’s live show at the Huron Club, where he demonstrates his cheating skills and off the wall sense of humor.


Exciting dairy developments

Yes, there are some! And they don’t involve raw milk:

Ms. Hinkle has drained her savings, slashed the number of hours she spends at her day job and started a company called Camel Milk USA. Her goal is to bring the milk, reputed to have healing and aphrodisiac powers, to the U.S. where it’s been hard to get mainly because camels weren’t listed in rules governing the sale of milk.

In April, Ms. Hinkle won initial approval from the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments, a nonprofit group, to market the milk. Now, she’s awaiting approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on some final details. […]

Her drive sent her before the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments, a nonprofit, industry-backed group formed in 1946 that oversees drafting of certain regulations that are then sent for FDA approval. She put together a proposal asking for camels to be included under the milk rules. The FDA recently gave tentative approval to cover camels, as well as reindeer, llamas, moose and donkeys under the rules.

I for one would love to see milk and cheeses from a wider range of animals brought to market. Maybe even milk bars?

Dog’s milk, thankfully, won’t even be sold as backup supply…