2009 blog in review

2009 has come to a close and everyone seems to welcome its end. Personally I couldn’t have asked for the year to be much better. I started the year unemployed and end it with the lead of a fairly high-profile bar, a strong web of new friends in a new city, and a larger online presence than ever. My non-blog writing has slowed, something I hope to change in 2010 along with addressing a wider variety of topics, but in compensation I’ve become a far better bartender and polished my magic abilities back into the best shape they’ve been in since the early part of the decade.

For this blog, 2009 has been a year of cocktails, nanny state foolishness, and morning links. Total traffic has hit its best year ever, with 99,442 visits according to Google Analytics or 124,155 according to SiteMeter. That’s still a lot lower than I’d like, but doesn’t include people reading via RSS or Facebook.

Most visitors continue to come from search engines. According to Analytics, 57% of visitors come from search, 31% from other referrers, and 12% from direct traffic. I’m very much writing for Google. Of the 10 most viewed posts of 2009, only 2 were actually written this year:

Top posts of 2009
1. Camel crickets invade DC
2. Miracle fruit — I’m a believer
3. Finally, sampling miracle fruit tablets
4. How to get rid of camel crickets
5. Who will watch the Watchmen smoke?
6. The stapler’s secret
7. Dark ‘n’ Sue Me
8. Buy miracle fruit
9. Stocking your home bar, pt. 1
10. The Mystery of the Five-Inch Bull Balls

That’s a little disheartening, but on the upside I’m glad to see that the Rocky Mountain oyster post still gets so much traffic.

Here’s what people come here searching for:

Top search referrals of 2009
1. miracle fruit
2. camel cricket
3. spider crickets
4. miracle fruit party
5. camel crickets
6. how to get rid of camel crickets
7. sobieski vodka review
8. miracle fruit tablets review
9. miracle fruit tablets
10. where to buy miracle fruit

Clearly my strategy for 2010 should be selling ads for miracle fruit and insect poison (which is not to say the two should be taken together). Other intriguingly popular searches this year include “bull balls” at number 11, “nutmeg facts,” “make your own dragon,” “jacob grier human consumption,” “miracle fruit sex,” and “the widowmaker pizza.”

Here’s where this site’s readers live:

Top visitor cities for 2009
1. New York
2. Portland, OR
3. Washington
4. San Francisco
5. Chicago
6. London
7. Arlington, VA
8. Raleigh
9. Seattle
10. Los Angeles

Site traffic is low enough that my own visits to the blog are enough to artificially boost Portland, but I’m glad to see that I’ve found some local readership and that the constant cocktail posts haven’t turned off political readers in DC and Arlington. The other cities I’ve lived in land at spots 17 (Nashville) and 24 (Houston).

For non-search referrals, this was the year for social networking. Two sites send a ton of traffic from their blogrolls, probably attributable to the same few people clicking daily. Thanks go out to Radley for once again sending the most readers my way.

Top non-search referrers for 2009
1. The Agitator
2. Liqurious
3. Facebook
4. The Blog to End All Blogs
5. Twitter
6. The Daily Dish
7. Reason
8. Lifehacker
9. Zhubinness
10. The Pegu Blog

Thanks to everyone for reading, have a fun and safe celebration tonight, and I’ll see you back here in 2010.


Let them smoke

I have an op/ed in today’s Oregonian arguing for amendments to the state smoking ban. The law is supposed to exempt cigar bars, but as written the requirements are so pointlessly strict that very few places qualify.

Previously: Semi-coincidentally, I had another anti-ban op/ed in the Oregonian exactly one year ago. Here’s a piece from a month later describing the last night of legal smoking at the Horse Brass. And if you think Oregon’s smoking ban is preventing thousands of heart attacks, read this.

(Also, why the hell does the O insist on cropping columnist photos so close? I intentionally sent in a correctly proportioned photo so they wouldn’t have to mess with it, but mess with it they do.)


Hot drinks for the holidays

About.com’s cocktail blogger Colleen Graham featured two hot whiskey drinks yesterday shared by Lance Mayhew. First up is Lance’s Hot Buttered Whiskey, then there’s my Chamomile Hot Toddy. The Toddy, made with bourbon, J. Witty chamomile liqueur, Meyer lemon, honey syrup, and lavender bitters, was by far the biggest seller at our J. Witty event at Carlyle earlier this month and has been popular ever since. Click here for the full recipe.


Where to eat/drink in Houston?

I’ll be back in my hometown December 25-29. Obviously I want to stop in at Anvil, where bartender Bobby Heugel is serving up creative cocktails. And word is David Buehrer has finally brought great coffee to Houston with his Tuscany Coffee. Good Tex-Mex is a must and easy to find. I’d usually consider barbecue essential, but Podnah’s Pit in Portland is such a good fix that I might do without. Where else should I visit?


Yale study finds calorie labeling doesn’t work

There’s a new study out about calorie labeling and it comes to some interesting conclusions. It’s from the Rudd Center at Yale, authored by Christina Roberto, Peter D. Larsen, Henry Agnew, Jenny Baik, and Kelly D. Brownell. Here’s the basic description of the methodology and conclusion from the Rudd Center’s release:

The researchers studied 303 adults in New Haven, Connecticut, dividing them into three groups – the first saw a menu with no calorie labels, the second saw a menu with calorie labels, and the third saw a menu with calorie labels plus information on the recommended daily caloric intake for an average adult.

Participants in the two groups who saw calorie labels ate 14 percent fewer calories than the group whose participants did not see calorie labels. Furthermore, when after-dinner eating was factored in, people in the group who saw menu labels and recommended calorie guidelines consumed an average of 250 fewer calories than people in the other groups.

Unsurprisingly this result is being pitched as evidence in favor of mandatory calorie labeling and the headline used by credulous news sources like USA Today is quite a bit different from my own. Digging a bit deeper into the actual study [pdf] complicates the picture.

To its credit, the study addresses one of the questions ignored by much of the previous research: The possibility that people who are prompted to order lighter meals because they see calorie information will compensate by eating more food at other times. This study attempts to account for that by doing follow-up interviews with participants about what they consumed for the rest of the day. And this is where things get interesting:

Most striking was the impact of adding daily caloric requirement information to the menu. It was surprising how much participants in the calorie labels condition ate in the evening hours following the meal; when calories consumed in this condition during and after the study meal were combined, there was no advantage for calorie labeling only over no labeling. The advantage occurred when the menu included both calorie labels and a prominently displayed notice stating the average person should consume approximately 2000 calories per day. Total caloric intake for the combination of the study meal and food consumed later was 1630 calories, 1625 calories, and 1380 calories for the no calorie labels, calorie labels only, and calorie labels plus information conditions, respectively.

Emphasis mine. In other words, this study supports the arguments made by critics of mandatory labeling by finding that labeling alone doesn’t lead to reduced total consumption. Of course, that result is never mentioned in the press release.

There are other limitations to the study, perhaps most substantially the fact that it took place in an environment far removed from the atmosphere of a restaurant:

When participants arrived at 5:30 pm on the first day, they had been instructed to abstain from eating after 2:30 pm to standardize hunger levels. The experiment took place in a university classroom in a building not affiliated with eating research. Participants sat behind dividers so they could not see others’ meal choices; 2 to 14 individuals participated per study session.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone finding this environment conducive to having a pleasant meal. I have to wonder if outside a lab, when trying to enjoy themselves, participants would be more likely to indulge despite the calorie recommendation.

Regardless of that, this study suggests that calorie labeling alone won’t be sufficient to change diets. Thus we come to the next step:

The findings support the proposal that chain restaurants should be required to post calorie labels on restaurant menus; however, they suggest that to maximize the effectiveness of this policy, menu items should also include a label informing individuals of the daily caloric requirements for an average adult.

As Jacob Sullum wrote of mandated calorie postings last year, “There’s a difference between informing people and nagging them.” If health researchers get their way that difference is about to get even smaller.

Previously: For more on the question of whether nutritional information should be prominently posted or merely made available, see this post from July.


Thanks for the links

One downside of publishing a daily links post is that I can’t always give credit where credit is due. However there are a few sites that consistently provide fodder for morning links, and I’d like to acknowledge them here.

The Morning News — The inspiration for this site’s morning links, and they do it twice a day! Certainly one of the most diverse and interesting sites I peruse in my RSS reader.

ColdMud — Absolutely the site to go to for daily food news.

Marginal Revolution — Tyler Cowen has lately taken to posting daily links, and given his wide-ranging cultural interests and economic insight it’s no surprise that he links to so much intriguing material.

The Agitator — Radley Balko needs no introduction on this blog and his site is consistently a great source for daily updates.

The Stogie Guys — I don’t smoke frequently enough to make good use of their cigar reviews, but their Friday Samplers of tobacco-related news always provide something interesting.

BlURL — Lately I get just as many, if not more, useful links from Twitter as I do from RSS feeds and traditional news sites. However I can’t always follow Twitter throughout the day. BlURL handily provides a list of only tweets that include links to other sites, making it an incredibly useful service when I’m looking to round out the morning links.

What am I missing? What are the sites I should absolutely be checking every morning?

Update: I should include Google Reader too. The “shared items” link is one of the first I click when starting up my computer.


A bevy of booze reviews

It’s hard to believe 2009 is almost at an end. Among my unfinished business is a stack of spirits up for review. Time’s a wastin’, so let’s get to it…

Gosling’s Ginger Beer — A few months ago I wrote about trademarking cocktail names, a discussion inspired by an ad run by Zaya touting its rum as an ingredient in a Dark ‘n Stormy (traditionally made with Gosling’s rum, ginger beer, and a squeeze of lime). It turned out the name of that cocktail is owned by Gosling’s, who defended the trademark. I sided with Zaya at the time and in response Gosling’s kindly sent me a six-pack of their ginger beer so that I could experiment with the drink.

The beer has a fairly strong ginger kick which is essential in this cocktail. And as they say, the Gosling’s rum makes a tasty Dark ‘n Stormy. But here’s the thing: So does Zaya. I tried them side-by-side and enjoyed them both. They’re different, with a bit more of the rum coming through on the Zaya, but I can’t imagine anyone getting turned off this drink because they tried it with Zaya instead of the original Gosling’s.

In defense of Gosling’s, I understand why they want to defend their trademark so that it’s not used by low-quality rums. And I’d gladly recommend its use in this cocktail, especially given that it can be found for one-half to a third of the price of Zaya. However I stand by my earlier general stance against trademarking cocktail names.

House Spirits White Dog and Barrel Strength Whiskeys — As microdistilleries have boomed across the country we’ve started to see releases of whiskey along with the usual vodkas and gins. While often interesting, I don’t always find that these new whiskeys are worth their boutique prices. Two that are come from Portland-based House Spirits’ newest additions to its apothecary line. The unaged White Dog, made of 100% malted barley, is hot and complex with an intriguing malty flavor, easily my favorite of the white dogs I’ve tried so far. Their cask-strength whiskey aged for 32 months in new American oak is good as well, with a big, spicy kick mellowed by caramel notes from the wood. With only 150 375 ml bottles of White Dog and 160 375 ml bottles of Barrel Strength released, these are hard to find and worth adding to one’s whiskey collection. (House has released a 750 ml Straight Malt whiskey too, but I haven’t purchased a bottle yet.)

Pernod Aux Plantes D’Absinthe Superiore — I’m by no means an absinthe connoisseur but when a bottle of Pernod arrived at my door I was happy to try it out. The first thing I noticed was the strikingly green color, the result, unfortunately, of adding artificial dyes. I suppose they’re doing this to meet customer expectation that absinthe is green but I’d rather see the natural results of maceration.

It louches predictably in a traditional preparation. Without sugar it has a lingering bitterness; with sugar it smooths out. I might use it as an accent in cocktails but with so many other absinthes on the market now it wouldn’t be my choice for drinking on its own.

Xanté Pear Liqueur — Given the sex-fueled marketing that used to attend this product I was expecting a cloyingly sweet, night club-style liqueur. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is actually a well-balanced spirit. At 76 proof it’s not excessively sweet and the pear flavor is strong but not overwhelming. It’s enjoyable to sip with an ice cube or two and I could easily see it working in fall or winter cocktails.

Balcones Rumble — We’ll wrap up with a product from my home state. Balcones Rumble is distilled in Waco, Texas from wildflower honey, turbinado sugar, and mission figs. The nose is unique and the flavor has sweet, stone fruit notes. I like the initial taste but the lingering heat is a bit much, comparable to a cigar that burns too hot. I’d like to try this product again with a little more aging or perhaps a lower proof, but it’s nonetheless an original spirit I’m glad to have on my shelf.


Organic Nation tonight at Carlyle

Tonight at Carlyle we’re offering a special menu of cocktails featuring one of my favorite local spirits producers, Organic Nation from Ashland, OR. I was first turned on to their gin in the Oregon Bartenders Guild summer mixology competition, where I used it in the watermelon-based Gallagher cocktail. Tonight we’ll be serving their gin and vodka in a few seasonal cocktails, both new and classic. (That’s right, this is a rare opportunity to see me willingly make vodka drinks!) Stop by from 5-7 to try them out.


And the winner of the gift card is…

… Vanessa, a.k.a. @themonkeysknow, who entered every way possible. Congratulations on winning a $50 Carlyle gift card. My prediction: She spends it all El Dudes.

We also have two runner up prizes from GoTime.com drawn randomly from this blog’s comments going to Mark from Cask Wine Brokers and Tony Thomas from Uniquely Portland.

Thanks to everyone who entered and to GoTime.com for putting on a fun contest. (Personally I was hoping this Mark would win at all. Now I’ll never get to see his patented crazy eyes.)