My new project and a call for recipes

If you’ve ever flipped through some of the introductory cocktail guides on the market you know that they’re filled with drinks that either shouldn’t be made or were last made at a Miami nightclub sometime in 1978. And while it’s useful to keep a Big Book of Dumb Drinks on hand for reference, it’s also nice to have a Small Book of Good Drinks That People Will Actually Like. That’s basically what I’m working on now.

I’ve teamed up with a local publishing company in the spirits industry that’s been receiving requests from liquor stores to create a quality, inexpensive paperback cocktail guide for bartenders and home enthusiasts. They’re doing the design, layout, and marketing, and I’m doing the writing and editing. The aim is not to create the biggest recipe book on the market or a lengthy text on the craft of bartending. Rather we want to introduce readers to the basics of mixology and spirits and provide them with some quality recipes to explore; in short, to encourage readers to try a Last Word rather than, say, a Sloe Comfortable Screw Up Against the Wall Mexican Style with a Little Bit of English. (Yes, really.)

The guide will feature a lot of classics but we also want to include drinks from talented bartenders around the world. That’s where you come in. If you’d like to contribute a recipe, send an email to with your name, city, and bar (if applicable). There’s no money in it but full credit will be given and your drink will be introduced to a wider audience.

Since this is an introductory guide drinks need to be relatively simple. Off-the-shelf ingredients and fresh juices and herbs are great; homemade tinctures and bitters not so much. Recipes will be selected based on quality, our need to diversify spirits and locations, and limited page space. My thanks in advance for contributions and apologies for not being able to work them all into this edition of the guide.

(Oh, and if you have a better title than the Small Book of Good Drinks That People Will Actually Like, let me know about that too. I sort of like it but it’s a bit long!)

Update: If you have a favorite cocktail that you feel absolutely belongs in the book, feel free to nominate it in the comments as well!


A liberaltarian alliance against LEED?

Portland has more LEED certified buildings than any other city in the US and, as long-time readers know, I’m not a fan of this. Lately there’s been some backlash from other quarters as well. Architect Frank Gehry commented this week that the certification is awarded for “bogus stuff” and is primarily political. Progressive blogger Matthew Yglesias also linked recently to a post about a new book from New Yorker writer David Owen that slams LEED certification as a form of greenwashing:

It’s a little known fact that most architects, particularly the ones who take sustainability seriously, all hate LEED. With its prescriptions and brownie points for bike racks and proximity to alternative fueling stations, LEED is — in Owen’s estimation — both too difficult and too easy. Too difficult because the process is stupifyingly bureaucratic, requiring even LEED accredited designers to hire expensive LEED accredited consultants to manage the paperwork. And too easy because even after much refinement, many designers and developers still game the system with a few cosmetic changes to achieve LEED certification with a minimum of effort, expense, or innovation.

My own objection to LEED certification stems from its politically correct hatred of smoking, even when conducted outside the building:

It turns out that LEED certification considers six categories of evaluation, one of which is indoor environmental quality. If tobacco smoke is considered a pollutant, banning smoking is one way of addressing it. One could make a plausible case that LEED certified buildings shouldn’t allow smoking indoors, where habitual smokers could pump a lot of smoke into the ventilation systems. But in proximity to an exterior door? Or on a balcony? There’s absolutely no scientific justification for banning this. Walking by a smoker on the way into the lobby is not going to kill anyone. It’s annoying, perhaps, but it’s not a matter that needs to be addressed by green building codes.

It is technically possible to allow smoking in or around LEED certified buildings, but in practice certification is often used as a reason to ban it. The demand for LEED certified residences has made it harder for smokers to find accommodation in cities like Portland and DC. This could be an acceptable trade-off if the program led to demonstrably greener construction, but if its benefits are merely cosmetic we shouldn’t place much value on it.


Climbing Jacob’s Ladder


I don’t plan on writing about every Bols cocktail around town but when a drink is named Jacob’s Ladder of course I’m going to post it. My friend Andrew at Branch Whiskey Bar came up with this one combining three of my favorite things: genever, Fernet-Branca, and single malt Scotch:

2 oz Bols genever
.25 oz Fernet-Branca
.25 oz simple syrup
A few drops of Talisker
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Stir with ice, strain, and serve up with an orange twist.

It’s an imposing list of ingredients but they come together nicely and the cocktail is very smooth. If you’re in Portland stop into Branch and give it a try.


A good day in smoking bans?

It doesn’t happen often enough, so here are two pieces of good news related to smoking bans. First, Governor Schwarzenegger has vetoed a bill that would have prohibited smoking in all California parks and beaches:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday vetoed a measure that would have banned smoking at state parks and beaches, calling it “an improper intrusion of government into people’s lives.”

Schwarzenegger, whose cigar habit led him to build a smoking tent at the state Capitol, said in his veto message that the proposed regulation, which would have been the most far-reaching tobacco legislation in the nation, went too far. Such rules should be left up to cities, counties and local park officials, the governor said.

“There is something inherently uncomfortable about the idea of the state encroaching in such a broad manner on the people of California,” the veto message said. “This bill crosses an important threshold between state power … and local decision-making.”

Then just a few minutes from my hometown in Conroe, TX, the city council has reversed a ban on smoking in bars in record time:

Two months after enacting one of the most comprehensive smoking bans in the area, the Conroe City Council has removed bars from the new ordinance because of the economic impact it was having on business owners.

“I lost $15,000 in March,” said David Luttrell of Malone’s Pub. “It was like someone pulled a switch. I lost $15,000 in April. I had to lay off four employees and seven bands. It has also affected my suppliers and vendors too.”

After hearing similar stories from other bar owners, the council reversed its position Thursday to allow smoking in bar, which are defined as “pubs, ice houses, beer joints and saloons.”

[Hat tips to the Stogie Guys and my dad.]


A clarified coffee cocktail


As I discussed at Cocktail Camp a few weeks ago, one of my interests lately has been finding ways to use coffee in cocktails without having to brew on demand. Making coffee bitters is one solution. Clarifying coffee is another. This isn’t a perfected process yet but the results are interesting and I’m hoping this post will encourage others to try it out.

My goal with this was to create a cold coffee with a shelf life of at least a few days that could be kept in the refrigerator and used when needed. The easiest method would be to use a Toddy brewer to make a cold-brewed coffee concentrate. This certainly works but cold-brewing and hot-brewing have different flavor profiles. Cold-brewing pulls out dark, chocolaty, nutty flavors. Hot-brewing captures more of the acidity and fruit notes found in many great coffees. For making iced coffee I much prefer the Japanese hot-brewing method popularized by Counter Culture’s Peter Giuliano to Toddy and other cold methods. Hot-brewing produces more the flavor I was looking for.

That’s where gel clarification comes in. The basic idea is to create a web of gelatin to capture the oils and solids in a liquid so that only water soluble flavors remain in the final concentrate. It’s like making a consommé except that you’re adding gelatin to liquid instead of utilizing the gelatin that occurs naturally in meat. Harold McGee explained how the process can be used for all kinds of liquids in The New York Times a few years ago. Soon after World Barista Champion James Hoffmann applied it to coffee.

I’ve run two different coffees through the process so far: Stumptown’s Ecuador Quilanga and Counter Culture’s Sidama Michicha, a natural coffee from Ethiopia. I was really happy with the results. While I wouldn’t expect any cold coffee to match the aromatic complexity of a fresh hot cup, the two were distinctly different in flavor, with the fruit notes of the Michicha standing out surprisingly well. Cocktail ideas immediately started presenting themselves. How about a flight of drinks mixing neutral vodka and three different clarified coffees? Could be fascinating.

I tried several methods of clarification and none so far none have worked better than the one James originally posted. I’ll explain that briefly below but please visit his site for a full explanation. The good news is it’s easy to do. The bad news is it will take some time, about three days total (though I’ll discuss a faster alternative below), and space in a freezer and refrigerator. This will rule out its use on many professional cocktail menus, but it could still be something fun to keep behind the bar or for home experimentation.

Here’s the method I followed:

Step 1: Brew coffee and filter through paper. I brew at home in an Eva Solo which I then had to filter through an Aeropress. Ideally one would just use a pour-over or Chemex instead of this roundabout method.

Step 2: Bloom 8 grams leaf gelatin in water, then dissolve and whisk into 500 grams of the coffee (slightly more than a liter by volume).

Step 3: Allow to set for a few hours in a refrigerator.

Step 4: Transfer to a freezer and freeze into a solid block.

Step 5: Lay block in muslin, place in a colander, and suspend the colander in a bowl. Put everything back in the refrigerator until the ice thaws. I sped the melting by breaking the block into a few pieces, increasing its surface area as in the photo below.


Over two days the ice slowly melted through the muslin and colander, taking water soluble flavors with it. A thin layer of coffee gel was all that was left behind.


In the bowl was the clarified coffee. Obviously some coffee is lost in the clarification. I went from 500 grams down to 381 grams. As James notes you can increase the clarity even more by repeating the process, but you’ll lose more liquid too. I stopped at one run through since I’m going for clarity not complete lack of color. For comparison’s sake, here’s the clarified coffee next to a Toddy brew and coffee run through a paper filter.


After all that waiting I was ready for a drink. Here’s one I’ve been experimenting with and calling the Dimmitude cocktail, inspired by the traditional caffé corretto (espresso and grappa). I may play with this a bit more when I’ve made my next batch of clarified coffee but it was working well with the Michicha:

1.5 oz grappa
1 oz clarified natural coffee
1 oz Dimmi

Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Dimmi is a light, floral, herbal liqueur blended with a touch of grappa. Natural coffees like the Michicha are dried with the cherry still on the bean, sometimes resulting in dramatic fruit or berry notes. Combining these with quality grappa makes a unique, lightly fruity cocktail with a gentle coffee bitterness. (If you saw my presentation at Cocktail Camp I made this drink with vodka there. Grappa is a better choice; I’m currently using Uva Viva di Poli.)

Is clarifying coffee for cocktails worth the effort? Probably not for regular use, given how much time and space it consumes. Using good iced coffee is more practical. However it is fun to work with and the clarified coffee looks great in a stirred drink, plus it seems to last for at least a few days if refrigerated.

Agar method: There is a faster way to clarify liquids using agar in place of gelatin. Agar sets at a higher temperature than gelatin, so one can follow a similar process to that above but melt the ice at room temperature instead of in a refrigerator. Indeed one can omit the freezing step altogether, gently squeezing agar curds through muslin. Obviously either of these methods will require less time than gelatin filtration.

The downside to using agar is that it also hydrates at a higher temperature. So while gelatin will work just fine in freshly brewed hot coffee, agar works best in boiling liquid. Unfortunately boiling brewed coffee will cause overextraction, resulting in a bitter cup.

To get around this one could theoretically boil agar in, say, 100 grams of water, then mix that into 400 grams of coffee brewed to a correspondingly higher strength and proceed with the freeze-thaw approach. Of the agar clarifications I tried that method came closest to the results with gelatin, however it was not quite as clear and the taste was a little off. It was close though and worth another try. (Using the fastest method of just squeezing the agar gel through muslin may leave some residual agar in the liquid. This is another time when an Aeropress comes in very handy for filtering it out.)

Coffee clarification is something I’m still experimenting with and I would love to hear from anyone else who tries it or incorporates it into cocktails. Perfecting an agar method would be ideal and I’m also curious to see what other drinks people create, either with coffee or with other clarified liquids.

[As with so many of these kinds of posts, thanks to David Barzelay for advice on using these different methods.]