2010 blog in review


All things considered, 2010 has been a fantastic year. After enjoying a couple months of funemployment when Carlyle closed in February, I unexpectedly landed a rather enjoyable job promoting Bols Genever (one of my favorite spirits) throughout Oregon and Washington. Portland continues to amaze me with its food and drink scene, hitting far above its weight in quality. A modest amount of travel included Seattle, San Francisco, DC, New Orleans, Houston, Tequila, and Upper Peninsula Michigan. Collaboration with other bartenders, including the successful Brewing Up Cocktails events, put me behind ten different Oregon bars this year. I’m ending the year with a new gig at the excellent restaurant Metrovino. More professional writing opportunities have come my way: I do a monthly drink column at Culinate, I blog about policy at the Washington Examiner, and I published a slim volume of cocktail recipes. Though I do miss some aspects of the intellectual life in DC, I’ve never been more certain that leaving the city a few years ago was the right decision.

For this blog, traffic is amazingly identical to what it was last year: 99,423 visits tracked on Google Analytics compared to 99,442 in 2009. Or according to SiteMeter, 116,764 in 2010 compared to 124,155. I don’t know why the numbers are so discrepant. Though the number of visits has stayed roughly the same, my frequency of posting has gone way down. I’m not sure if this information should be depressing or liberating. However, given that much of the old blogosphere conversation has moved to Twitter and that I’m doing more outside writing, overall traffic is of less importance than it used to be.

Google continues to be the number one source of traffic, though direct visits have risen slightly in proportion to search referrals as a percentage of the total. Search accounted for 53% of visits in 2010, referring sites 31%, and direct traffic 15%.

Of this year’s top 10 posts, half of them were written this year, compared to just two of 2009’s making last year’s list. Nonetheless camel crickets, miracle fruit, and the stapler’s secret continue to dominate the top 4 spots. Anyone selling insecticide or miracle fruit want to buy ads on those posts?

Top posts of 2010
1. Camel crickets invade DC
2. Miracle fruit — I’m a believer!
3. How to get rid of camel crickets
4. The stapler’s secret
5. FDA bans product for tasting good
6. Libertarians and Fair Trade coffee
7. Finally, sampling miracle fruit tablets
8. A simple sparkling cocktail
9. Reuters hypes thirdhand smoke fears
10. Hypocrisy, thy name is DC Councilman Jack Evans

The national anxiety over camel crickets is even more evident in the top 10 search phrases of the year.

Top search referrals of 2010
1. camel cricket
2. camel crickets
3. spider crickets
4. miracle fruit
5. miracle fruit party
6. how to get rid of camel crickets
7. Sobieski vodka review
8. weird fish
9. Dolin Blanc
10. allspice dram

Weirdly, “Jacob Grier” is actually the number 4 search term, but I find this hard to believe. I’m attributing this to people bookmarking from a search page. “Bull balls,” last year’s 11th place result, has fallen to 62, knocking one of my favorite blog posts off the top 10.

Top visitor countries for 2010
1. United States
2. United Kingdom
3. Canada
4. Australia
5. Germany
6. India
7. Philippines
8. France
9. Netherlands
10. Malaysia

Top visitor cities for 2010
1. Portland, OR
2. New York
3. Washington
4. Los Angeles
5. London
6. Chicago
7. Seattle
8. San Francisco
9. Raleigh
10. Atlanta

This is the first year Portland outpaced New York as the number one source for traffic. Atlanta replaced Arlington, which dropped from 7 to 15. Otherwise the list is pretty much the same as last year. I assume the Netherlands’ appearance in the top 10 countries list is due to posts about genever and kopstootjes.

The next time I see Radley Balko, drinks are on me: The Agitator is this site’s number one source of referrals for the second year in a row.

Top non-search referrers for 2010
1. The Agitator
2. Facebook
3. Velvet Glove, Iron Fist
4. Twitter
5. Liqurious
6. Reddit
7. The Daily Dish
8. Marginal Revolution
9. Cheap Talk
10. The Blog to End All Blogs

Thanks everyone for reading, and here’s to an even better 2011.

[Photo of the Hawthorne Bridge by Thomas Hawk.]


Favorite spirits of 2010

These weren’t all released in 2010, but these are some of the spirits I especially liked or reached for the most this year (excluding the brands I work for, of course).

Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaican Rum — This funky, high-proof, traditional rum fills a gap I didn’t even know existed until I tasted it. Since then I’ve used it in just about everything, including punch, a cider drink for Brewing Up Cocktails, and the featured cocktail at a friend’s wedding.

Copper Fox Rye Whiskey — A rye lover’s rye from Sperryville, Virginia. Two-thirds rye and one-third lightly smoked barley. Pot-stilled and with a big, spicy rye flavor. Can we get this in Oregon, please?

Ron Zacapa 23 Rum — I don’t know how many nights I spent this year in the El Gaucho cigar lounge with a stogie and a glass of Zacapa. This rich, smooth rum is the perfect cooling counterpart to a bold cigar. The Zacapa XO, less sweet and with a sherry-like finish, is also worth seeking out.

Herradura Lucky Tiger Double Barrel Reposado Tequila — The Lucky Tiger team of Portland bartenders traveled to Mexico to pick out this barrel of tequila. It’s a fantastically smooth sipper that has sold quickly here in Portland. There may not be any bottles left in stores, but try some if you see it at a bar.

Encanto Pisco — Pisco should taste like brandy! It seems like some producers forget this. This one doesn’t. It’s great in cocktails, and also surprisingly nice on its own for an unaged spirit.

Ardbeg Supernova Scotch — Though marketed as Ardbeg’s peatiest Scotch, the Supernova is remarkably well-balanced. I’ve given it to a few friends who don’t normally go for Islays and even they can see some good in it. It’s been my go-to this year for nights when I really need a good dram.

Novo Fogo Cachaça — This has been a good couple of years for cachaça, but for me the best new arrivals are from Novo Fogo. The pure cane aroma on these are just amazing; it hits you as soon as you open the bottles. [Disclosure: I will be doing some promotional work with Novo Fogo in 2011.]

Gran Classico Bitter — No list of mine would be complete without a bitter liqueur. The Swiss Gran Classico is a great addition to the range of amari for sale in the US.

Qi Black Liqueur — I love lapsang souchong, a smoky Chinese black tea dried over pine wood fires. The Qi Black captures this flavor perfectly and without too much sweetness.


A Christmas cocktail: Amsterdam Hot Chocolate


It’s a bit late to go shopping for ingredients today, but this drink will serve you well all winter long. It was inspired by a comment on my first post about working for Lucas Bols. Alison from Gastrologia wrote, “one of the best drinks I ever had, A’dam or elsewhere, was a cup of rich hot chocolate with genever and orange liqueur from a street vendor on a cold night.” Genever and hot chocolate? Sounds weird, but the maltiness of the genever works here. All I did was add a splash of Chartreuse, because chocolate and Chartreuse is an awesome pairing. We served this with the final course of our holiday brunch cocktail event at Irving Street Kitchen:

3/4 oz Bols Genever
1/2 oz Grand Marnier
1/4 oz Chartreuse
5-6 oz rich hot chocolate

Build in a mug and top with whipped cream if you’re feeling decadent.

[Photo provided by Allison Jones from the Portland food blog Lemon Basil.]


Links for 12/23/10

Toll of the drug war: 12,000 people killed in Mexico this year alone.

In Montana, “jury mutiny” prevents marijuana case from going to trial.

On the topic of smoking bans and heart attacks, there’s really no underestimating the dishonesty of the contemporary anti-tobacco movement.

Beware of disappearing Y-axes.

By some strange cosmic coincidence, my current employer, Metrovino, and my past employer, the Cato Institute, both show up in this CNN article about streetcars. I side with Randal O’Toole on this one. (Also, having formerly worked in Cato’s media department, a friendly note to CNN: Cato is not an acronym, stop capitalizing the whole damn name.)

Allison Jones from Lemon Basil took some great shots of our brunch cocktail event at Irving Street Kitchen; two more are coming up in January.

If you’re in Portland, the New School New Year’s Eve party sounds like it’s going to be an epic celebration for beer lovers.


We’ll always have Helena

In 2004, physicians Richard Sargent and Robert Shepard published a study making the astounding claim that a six-month ban on indoor smoking in the town of Helena, Montana resulted in an immediate 40% drop in the city’s rate of heart attacks. Ever since then it’s become sport among anti-smoking researchers to search for similar “heart miracles” in other places that have implemented smoking bans. Curiously, the miracles tend to get smaller as the populations get larger. Big effects were found in Bowling Green, Ohio and Pueblo, Colorado, but they never carried over to state or national levels. A recent examination of England’s heart attack rates could claim at best a 2.4% reduction, and that with dubious manipulation of the data.

This has led many critics to allege that the heart miracles of Helena and elsewhere are statistical flukes that emerge from small sample sizes. There is new evidence to support this view: A comprehensive study led by the RAND Corporation used data from throughout the United States to see if there is a relationship between smoking bans and rates of heart attacks. It found no statistically significant effect. Further, it found that rates in populations comparable to those cited in previous studies are highly volatile and on average cancel each other out. This suggests that the many studies claiming large effects are the result of publication bias, not actual declines caused by smoking bans.

Tobacco researcher Michael Siegel, himself a supporter of smoking bans, sums up the significance of the study:

Without a doubt, this is the most definitive study yet conducted of the short-term effects of smoking bans on cardiovascular disease.

To give you an idea of the scope of this study compared to previous ones, the Helena study involved a total of 304 heart attack admissions in one community over a period of six months. This study examined a total of 673,631 heart attack admissions and more than 2 million heart attack deaths in 467 counties across all 50 states over an 16-year period.

The case for comprehensive smoking bans leading to immediate reductions in heart attacks has never been strong and now there is substantial evidence against it. Jurisdictions that have not yet imposed smoking bans have one fewer reason to do so; those that have should restore business owners’ rights to set their own policies, as the Dutch have recently done.

I would like to think that the anti-smoking movement and press would acknowledge these findings, but I’m not optimistic. As of now a Google News search for “smoking ban RAND Corporation” yields only one result, in contrast to the dozens or more that usually follow reports of sudden declines.

An Oregon heart miracle?


Markets are for consumers, food cart edition

As Oregon food carts continue to boom, regulators are considering issuing licenses allowing them to serve alcohol in fixed areas. And why not? OK, there might be some legit concerns, but protecting the interests of brick and mortar restaurants isn’t one of them:

There are two problems, as we see it, and not only do they seem insurmountable, but they also appear to be linked. First, food carts would have difficulty policing alcohol service to make sure it is legal and responsible.

Second, if they found a way to solve that problem by fencing or roping off their alcohol service areas, other restaurants could gripe, quite legitimately, that the carts are undermining their businesses. […]

And to the extent that the cart develops a fixed service area, where customers are confined and consuming alcohol, the cart would unfairly infringe on full-service restaurants that pay full freight and must jump through all the hoops to open their businesses.

Remember, markets are for consumers. If a restaurant owner with indoor seating, full service, and a real kitchen can’t compete with a cart, they might be in the wrong business — and it shouldn’t be regulators’ job to keep them in it.


My cocktail recipes, let me show you them

If you were reading this blog back in May you may remember that I was hired to edit a new guide to cocktail 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.)

That guide is now out. It’s called the Cocktail Collective and it looks like this:

OK, so first, the cover. The publisher insisted on this one over my objections, but let me assure you that there are no actual blue drinks in the book. I thought a bright red Negroni would be just as eye-catching and that the blue drink makes the book look outdated. Unless the Japanese trend of putting blue curacao and Midori in lots of drinks is the next thing to catch on here, in which case the cover is in fact ahead of its time. But either way, there are no blue drinks in the book!

(Quick digression: After a recent visit to Mistral Kitchen where Andrew Bohrer served a Vicious Virgin #2, I may have to rethink my hostility to blue drinks. Perhaps the second edition will have a Negroni on the cover and include an entire chapter on blue curacao.)

As for the actual content, the guide includes more than 200 cocktail recipes in chapters devoted to brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, whiskey, and assorted spirits like aquavit, genever, and amari. There are also basic introductions to each spirit, instruction on basic mixing technique, and advice for stocking a home bar. Throughout the emphasis is on spirits that are in reasonably wide distribution and fresh ingredients that require a minimum of preparation. The guide is pocket-sized and spiral bound so that it will lay conveniently flat while one mixes a drink.

The guide is by no means a replacement for the more comprehensive books on the market, but it does fill a niche for an inexpensive cocktail book that’s not filled with terrible recipes some intern cobbled together from the internet. (For those more comprehensive books, see once again Andrew Bohrer, and buy the books he recommends if you want to get serious about cocktails.) It’s a mix of classics, popular drinks, a few of my own cocktails, and contributions from other bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts. The latter greatly improved the quality of the guide. It’s a stellar a list of contributors and I’m very grateful to them for sharing their creations:

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

So even if you have plenty of other books full of classic recipes, my guess is that at the very least you’ll find something new and interesting from these folks.

If you’d like to purchase a copy, you can order directly from the publisher here. It’s also available through Amazon. Or if you’re in Portland, we’ll be selling them at Circa 33 this Wednesday, December 22, from 6-8:30 pm. I’ll be guest bartending with my friend Leslie Bucher while we serve a menu of cocktails selected from the guide. Join us for a drink and pick up a last minute stocking stuffer for the cocktail lover in your life.


A toast to the Netherlands

Today is a good day for small bars in the Netherlands:

From today smokers in Holland will be allowed to light up in small owner-operated bars that are less than 753.5 square feet in size and have no other staff.

The 280 cases currently going through court for pubs allowing people to smoke inside will be dropped.

UKIP MEP for the North West Nuttall said he was “very pleased that the Netherlands authority has allowed common sense to prevail” and relax the ban.

“We know the smoking ban has had a serious detrimental effect on pubs,” he said. “It is absolutely bonkers.

“The way the ban came in was very underhand.

“I hope the Government will take what has happened in Holland on board. I hope it will happen here.

“We should have the option for smoking rooms in the UK, it should be down to the licensee.”

You know what to do.


Bols and the boozy side of brunch

My friend Brandon Wise at Irving Street Kitchen is hosting a series of hands-on booze and brunch events in collaboration with local bartenders. On January 8 Dave Shenaut comes in for some hangover-curing cocktails, on January 22 Neil Kopplin whips up drinks with local ingredients, and to kick things off this Saturday I’m joining Brandon to talk holiday classics. We’re featuring Bols Genever, Damrak Gin, and Galliano in a welcoming wassail, a New Orleans Fizz, and a rich hot cocoa. $40 covers all the drinks and brunch from chef Sarah Schafer. Details for making reservations are in the press release.


Links for 12/10/10

A state is looking at passing a sensible liquor law. By which I mean that it’s undoing it’s previous stupid mistake. Lawmakers in California are looking at a bill to once again allow housemade infusions and tinctures. The state’s ABC agents have been cracking down on bars serving these under an expansive interpretation of a law forbidding the rectification of spirits.

Google is getting deeper into local search with Hotpot, a local business rating service, and it’s making its marketed debut in Portland. It looks like a promising idea, offering recommendations based on location, one’s past reviews, and the reviews of friends and other users. Sadly no iPhone app yet, so it will be a while before I get fully into it.

More than 100,000 Cuban cigars will be pointlessly destroyed as a result of the US trade embargo with Cuba.

Superheroes and the law: Is Batman a state actor?

Perfect for Portland: The bike flask, just one part of a beautifully stylish bike.

Nashville friends may be interested in Radley Balko’s new blog exploring the city, Nashville Byline.


Ales and cocktails for holiday imbibing

My December column for Culinate is up and this month I recommend seven notable holiday beers worth trying. The focus is on widely available beers rather than obscure — but often delicious! — local ones. This was a fun article to research, pretty much requiring me to buy lots of high-alcohol ales and invite friends over to try them.

On the spirit side of things, one of my favorite men’s lifestyle websites, Magnificent Bastard, invited me to contribute a few recipes to their holiday cocktail guide. As an aspiring magnificent bastard myself, it’s an honor to be included. Follow their main page here.


How low can you go?

Today is the day we celebrate the repeal of Prohibition, but the legacy of Prohibition lives on in a patchwork of anti-consumer regulations on the sale of alcohol. Via Jacob Sullum, here is one from Colorado so absurd you couldn’t make it up:

As the happy-hour crowd began trickling into The Celtic Tavern on Tuesday night, bar owner Patrick Schaetzle — flanked by placards and mirrors touting Murphy’s Irish Stout — got some unsettling news.

Sometime next year bars will have to stop selling his Lower Downtown pub’s signature stout along with an array of other beers that are lower alcohol. The looming restrictions flow from a bitter, three-year battle between liquor and convenience stores over who can sell full-strength beer. […]

Once enforced, the rules will likely shut off taps of lighter versions of brands like Shiner, Amstel, Heineken, Yeungling, Michelob and Shipyard among others. Light versions of the big three — Coors, Budweiser and Miller — appear to have just enough alcohol to remain flowing.

Technically, bars, restaurants and liquor stores in Colorado should never have sold the lower-alcohol beers in the first place, though no one ever paid much attention.

Their licenses allow them to sell spirits, wine and beers that fall into the “malt liquor” category: Brew stronger than 4 percent alcohol by volume or 3.2 percent by weight.

That’s right, the state is taking enforcement action against bars and restaurants for selling beers that are too low in alcohol. It’s all part of a dispute between retailers currently forbidden from selling higher alcohol brews and the bars, restaurants, and liquor stores licensed to sell “malt liquor,” wine, and spirits. American politics at its finest.


Sweet 21

[Originally published at the American Spectator on the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition on December 5, 2008. Happy Repeal Day!]

Seventy-five years ago today Utah ratified the 21st Amendment and brought the United States’ dark age of Prohibition to a close. The very first Repeal Day was cause for raucous celebration, but since then the anniversary has mostly languished in obscurity. This year December 5 is finally getting the attention it deserves, thanks in large part to Oregon bartender and founder of RepealDay.org Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Tonight drinkers throughout the nation will raise a glass to freedom.

As we toast, we should also reflect on how the spirit of the Anti-Saloon League lives on in the continued growth of the nanny state. Just as the teetotalers of the previous century held governments in thrall, so today do various do-gooders persuade city councils and state legislators to restrict our choices “for our own good.”

Yesterday’s demonization of drink is reflected most clearly in today’s anti-smoking crusade. The speakeasy has been replaced by the smoke-easy as bar owners hide ashtrays from sight from meddling health inspectors. Smoking bans have gone from California oddity to standard practice, creeping to ever more absurd extremes. Outdoor bans are increasingly common, extending to wide open beaches, parks, and golf courses. Dedicated cigar bars and tobacco shops are under fire. Even the home, the last refuge for many smokers, is no longer free from the government’s encroachment in some cities.

Though smoking remains legal, legislators are doing everything in their power to make it as expensive and unpleasant as possible. Smokers are an easy target for tax hikes and cigarette taxes now exceed any reasonable estimate of smoking’s social cost. Federal taxes on cigars may soon rise from five cents per stick to as high as three dollars and this year Congress came perilously close to explicitly forbidding certain types of cigarettes. Their only hangup was over whether to ban all tobacco flavorings or merely some of them. [Update: Since this was originally published, Congress has banned most types of flavored cigarettes.]

Politicians interfere with what we eat as well. Transfat bans are becoming the trendy new public health measure, led by Michael Bloomberg’s successful campaign in New York — the same city where chain restaurants must now make nutritional information not merely available, but prominent, regardless of whether customers really want to be reminded of how many calories lurk in their combo meals. American cheese lovers lament the restrictions on young raw milk cheeses, readily available in Europe but blocked domestically by risk-averse regulators who wouldn’t know Camembert from Kraft. Can restrictions on salt, caffeine, or high fructose corn syrup be far behind?

Then there’s the legacy of Prohibition itself. Though the 21st Amendment legalized alcohol sales, state regulations impede truly free markets. The ubiquitous three-tier system of producers, distributors, and retailers has spawned countless laws benefiting middlemen at the expense of consumers. Constraints on direct sales increase the cost of alcohol while bans on shipping make it impossible to order boutique spirits, wines, and beers. Even as the Internet has granted consumers access to the abundant long tail of countless goods, drink lovers remain trapped in a 1930s model of distribution.

Finally, we should acknowledge our contemporary struggle with prohibition. The war on drugs has led to gang violence, trampling of civil liberties, and military interventions abroad. Federalist principles are routinely ignored in medical marijuana raids, doctors face prosecution for prescribing painkillers, and ordinary adults must show their ID just to purchase effective cold medicine. The United States now has more than 300,000 people imprisoned for drug violations.

The ratification process of the 21st Amendment holds a lesson for today. All other amendments have been ratified by state legislatures, but this was different. Fearing that rural lawmakers would not bear the ire of the temperance movement, Congress sent the 21st directly to the people assembled in state conventions.

Bringing the modern nanny state to heel will depend on countless individuals standing up against those who would trade our liberties for their preferences. On this Repeal Day, raise a glass to freedom regained and to freedoms still to be won. Cheers to the 21st Amendment!