Golden Lion

Golden_Lion

As further proof that the dream of the 90s is alive in Portland, I’m breaking down and putting an infused vodka drink on the Metrovino cocktail menu:

1 1/2 oz Dolin blanc vermouth
3/4 oz cumin-infused vodka
1/2 oz Galliano
2 dashes Berg and Hauck’s celery bitters

Stir with ice and serve up with a lemon twist.

I rarely create cocktails with vodka. I don’t often drink vodka. And I never, ever buy vodka. As a cocktail blogger I get more free samples of the spirit than I can possibly consume. But when a package arrived carrying not just one bottle but more than four liters of the stuff, I decided I might as well play around with it.

Inspired by Kummel, an herbal liqueur, I set aside some of the vodka to infuse with cumin seeds. The next morning it came out powerfully aromatic with a yellow-orange hue. I was intrigued enough to build a cocktail around it, using Galliano to play up the golden color. The drink is light and savory-sweet, an infused vodka cocktail for the mixology nerds. I thought it might be a bit too weird for Metrovino’s wine-drinking clientele, but in testing it’s played well enough that we’re putting it on the menu. If you want to give it a try at home, here are the specs for the vodka:

1 cup vodka
2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Let steep overnight and strain.

Speaking of vodka, I have to give thanks to Vesica vodka for sending the product that prompted me to try this out. They sent much more vodka than I needed but there are a few things I like about the brand. One, the vodka is perfectly good and the bottles are attractive. Two, it’s reasonably priced and not hyped up with meaningless marketing. Three, the name. From Wikipedia:

The vesica piscis is a shape that is the intersection of two circles with the same radius, intersecting in such a way that the center of each circle lies on the circumference of the other. The name literally means the “bladder of a fish” in Latin. The shape is also called mandorla (“almond” in Italian).

Did you know that? I didn’t know that and I took four years of Latin. I have to appreciate a vodka brand that actually teaches me something. The 750 ml and 1 L bottles themselves are shaped to form a vesica when placed next to each other, which is a neat idea. Recommended.

St. Patrick’s Day flowchart

As a cocktail blogger I receive a lot of pointless press releases. With St. Patrick’s Day being a major drinking holiday, they get worse than ever this time of year. For future reference I’ve made this handy flowchart for PR professionals in the spirits industry. Let me help you help me by answering these simple questions before you hit send.

flowchart

Sufferable Portland

Food Carts in Portland

A story from San Francisco:

The Ice Cream Bar opened Jan. 21 in the Cole Valley neighborhood — an homage to the classic parlors of the 1930s, complete with vintage soda fountain and lunch counter seating. It has become an immediate sensation, packed with both families and the foodie crowd, savoring upscale house-made ice creams and exotic sodas (flavorings include pink peppercorn and tobacco). The shop also employs 14 full- and part-time workers.

But getting it opened wasn’t easy.

“Many times it almost didn’t happen,” said Juliet Pries, the owner, with a cheerful laugh.

Ms. Pries said it took two years to open the restaurant, due largely to the city’s morass of permits, procedures and approvals required to start a small business. While waiting for permission to operate, she still had to pay rent and other costs, going deeper into debt each passing month without knowing for sure if she would ever be allowed to open. [...]

Ms. Pries said she had to endure months of runaround and pay a lawyer to determine whether her location (a former grocery, vacant for years) was eligible to become a restaurant. There were permit fees of $20,000; a demand that she create a detailed map of all existing area businesses (the city didn’t have one); and an $11,000 charge just to turn on the water.

A story from Portland:

At the end of 2011, confectioner Amani Greer started spinning sugar into cotton candy at schools across the city, as well as on the streets of Alberta during Last Thursdays. Then, in February, she opened the doors to Candy Babel, a candy store dedicated to sweets from around the globe. Her goal, she says, is to provide those obscure treats that so many travelers have enjoyed on their sojourns abroad but couldn’t, until now, find stateside. Specializing in artisanal sweets (think chipotle-candied bacon strips or a Moroccan mint tea lollipop) and European confections, Greer plans to expand her candy scope and bring the city’s Vietnamese and Somali communities the candies they once enjoyed as children before resettling here. Greer also says she still plans on spinning clouds of Candy Babel’s more than 135 flavors of organic, kosher cotton candy. Current hours are 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. daily, except on Tuesday when the store is dark.

Last week The Weekly Standard ran a story by former Oregonian Mark Hemingway titled “Insufferable Portland,” a lengthy screed against the new “capital of cool.” Though sneering at times, it’s worth reading. The city’s much-lauded public transit, for example, deserves a much more critical look than it often receives locally. And he’s right that this is a tough place to move to if you’re young, educated, and looking for a traditional professional career; I’ve watched many friends become justifiably frustrated by the lack of job prospects. However Hemingway fails to appreciate some of the virtues of the artisanal economy that flourishes here:

While it’s hard not to root for entrepreneurial initiative wherever you find it, in Portland it carries a whiff of desperation. I submit that the real reason Portland has a thriving artisanal economy is that the regular economy is in the dumps. Portland’s hipsters are starting craft businesses in their garages and opening restaurants not merely because they “reject passive consumption” but because they can’t find jobs, the kind that offer upward mobility. If there’s a more rational reason why a small city like Portland has 671 food trucks, I’d love to hear it.

And:

Given the lack of critical attention to the city, I guess it falls to me to state the obvious: Portland is quietly closing in on San Francisco as the American city that has most conspicuously taken leave of its senses.

And yet smart, creative people keep voting with their feet in favor of Portland. Why? It can’t be just about the beer.

Hemingway quotes from “Portlandia” that Portland is “where young people go to retire.” It’s one of the most incisive lines from the show, but they don’t necessarily mean the kind of retirement where you sit on the porch all day and do nothing. It’s the kind where, after decades of working an unsatisfying job, you finally have time to pursue your passions. Or at least it can be. Again from the show:

“I gave up clowning years ago.”

“Well in Portland you don’t have to.”

I recently read Tim Harford’s new book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, and was struck by how well the ideas he lays out apply to Portland. Harford lists three Palchinsky Principles named after Peter Palchinsky, an engineer executed by the Soviet government for questioning their top-down methods of planning:

1. Seek out new ideas and try new things.

2. When trying something new, do it on a scale where failure is survivable.

3. Seek out feedback and learn from your mistakes as you go along.

One of the best things Portland has going for it is its embrace of the first and second principles. “Keep Portland Weird” say the bumper stickers. “Buy local.” This isn’t always insufferable hipness. The virtue of these attitudes is that if you’re an entrepreneur or an artist, you can try something different and people will at least give you a hearing.

Granted, many of these ideas will suck. That’s where principle two comes in. Whatever its flaws, Portland’s love of small, boutique start-ups makes failure survivable. A failed food cart is a smaller loss than a failed brick-and-mortar restaurant. This lowers the barriers to entry for people without access to a lot of capital. It’s a great way to test ideas and identify talent. The successes can expand into more traditional businesses.

A great example of this is Pok Pok, a Thai restaurant that began as a take-out shack in front of chef Andy Ricker’s house in southeast Portland in 2005. Today Ricker is a James Beard Award-winning chef with multiple restaurants in Portland and New York. Other entrepreneurs echo this success on a smaller scale, moving to brick-and-mortars, expanding their cart empire, or signing book deals.

This low-risk aspect of Portland is what attracted me to it when I moved here from the East Coast a few years ago. The food and drink scenes in San Francisco and Seattle were equally attractive, but the costs of moving to either of them without a job or a specific plan for finding one were daunting. In Portland, failure was survivable: It took me six months to become employed full-time, but the dynamic culture has allowed me to do creative work and almost (though not quite yet) turn it into a profitable career while living pretty comfortably. This required some degree of luck, but it’s hard to imagine things working out quite so well in San Francisco.

This is the upside of Portland’s unique culture and what other cities could do well to emulate (as opposed to, say, our streetcar projects, which are glamorous wastes of money). I may or may not stay here much longer, pursuing larger paychecks and sunnier winters in a bigger city. But as a place to spend a few years of my twenties developing talent and drinking fantastic beer, I’ve found Portland eminently sufferable.

[Photo of Nong's Khao Man Gai, one of my favorite Portland food carts, which has now expanded to three locations. Courtesy of Flickr user camknows.]

Koch vs. Cato

savecato

The other thing that happened while I was on the road this week was not so fun: The Koch brothers filed a lawsuit against the Cato Institute seeking control of the think tank. I was, in fact, visiting Cato the day the news broke. Though Charles Koch was an early funder of the institute, in recent years the Kochs have focused their energies elsewhere while Cato, led by Ed Crane and others, blossomed into a respected, non-partisan think tank.

David Weigel speculates on the likely changes this will mean for Cato if the Kochs’ takeover prevails:

And so, with libertarianism at its modern apex, the Kochs are trying to wrestle the movement’s leading think tank away from the guy who built it up. (Literally. They just completed a renovation.) How would it change? In the past, Charles Koch and his allies have criticized Cato for lacking real, provable results. Since then, David [Koch] has found tremendous success with Americans for Prosperity, which in the Tea Party era evolved into one of the most powerful conservative organizations in electoral politics. (It has spent seven figures so far this year on TV ads against Barack Obama.) Draw your conclusions.

Crane and board chairman Bob Levy corroborate that interpretation.

I was going to write a post about this but Jonathan Adler has beaten me to it. I agree with every word:

Whatever the merits of the Kochs’ claim, I cannot understand how their actions can, in any way, advance the cause of individual liberty to which they’ve devoted substantial sums and personal efforts over the years. Even assuming their legal claim has merit, a legal victory will permanently injure the Cato Institute’s reputation.

Many libertarian-leaning organizations receive money from the Kochs and their foundations and are attacked on this basis. Such attacks can be deflected, as financial support is not the same thing as control. But if the Koch brothers themselves represent the controlling majority of an organization’s board, that organization is, by definition, a Koch-run enterprise. Progressive activists and journalists will have a field day with this. They will forevermore characterize the Cato Institute as “Koch-controlled” — and, as a legal matter, they will be correct. No efforts to re-establish the Institute’s credibility or independence will overcome this fact.

[...] Even if one assumes that the Kochs have better ideas for how Cato should direct its resources, know more about how to advance individual liberty, and are correct that the Institute is too “ subject to the personal preferences of individual officers or directors,” any benefit from whatever changes they could make will be outweighed to the permanent damage to Cato’s reputation caused by turning it into a de facto Koch subsidiary. In short, they will have destroyed the Cato Institute to save it.

In the past I’ve defended the Koch brothers from charges that their political activities are motivated by narrow self-interest. Funding scholarships for libertarian college students or sending them to week-long academic seminars are hardly profit-maximizing uses of their money. Though they are famously secretive, the only sensible interpretation of their actions over the past few decades is that they sincerely believe in broadly libertarian ideas and want to see them succeed in the long-run. Their investment in think tanks, journalism, and other non-profits are groping attempts to discover how best to bring that about.

However this takeover attempt seems in no way compatible with the greater good of libertarian ideas. Whatever the legal merits of the Kochs’ claim, the best outcome for the cause of individual liberty is that Cato continues to operate as an independent, non-partisan, respected think tank with a diversity of funders. There is currently no other libertarian organization fulfilling that role in such a high-profile way. In acquiring the asset the Kochs would inevitably decrease its value. This view is, from what I can tell, widely shared among libertarians who have posted about the matter. Perhaps there is something we don’t know, but given how many people involved in institutional libertarianism have benefited at least indirectly from the Kochs’ donations, that dissent should be telling.

I’m left wondering about the internal institutions surrounding the Koch brothers. They are known for their advocacy of Market-Based Management, but do they receive enough criticism within their non-profit work from the bottom-up? Having become accustomed to holding the purse strings, are they open to negative feedback? Do they have advisers who have the security to be able to tell them to back off? If personal animosity is blinding them to the greater good of the causes they’ve spent decades supporting, is there anyone to tell them that?

I don’t know. But the Charles Koch Foundation can be contacted and if you care about the independence of the Cato Institute I’d encourage you to send them a note:

Charles Koch Institute
Email: email@charleskochinstitute.org
1515 N. Courthouse Rd.
Suite 200
Arlington, VA 22201
Phone: 703-875-1600
Fax: 703-875-1601

There is also a Save the Cato Institute Facebook group, from which the image above is borrowed.

Disclosures: I interned for the Cato Institute in 2003 and later worked in their press office for about a year. I’ve also benefited in various ways from various Koch-funded entities, particularly the Institute for Humane Studies. I no longer benefit in any direct way from either and have great respect and affection for both.

While I was away…

I’m back from a week on the road (Chicago, New Orleans, Baltimore, and DC) and while I was gone some fun stuff happened, the most fun being this FOX 12 news segment about the Bone Luge. Stephanie Kralevich came into Metrovino to find out what this Bone Luge craze is all about. See also cameo appearances by Metrovino’s owner Todd Steele and local curmudgeon John the Bastard.

In other Bone Luge news, e*starLA gives it a try and declares it delicious, Ludivine continues to spread the love to the uninitiated in Oklahoma City, and JBird in New York will give you the tequila for free with your order of marrow.

In this month’s Los Angeles Times Magazine, Camper English writes about bars making smoky cocktails. The Smokejumper from Metrovino made the list. Fittingly, that’s a drink I came up with while at a friend’s place in LA.

Finally, the Washingtonian wrote up our Bols event in DC, where we hosted the launch of our Stillwater Ales collaboration at the amazing Jack Rose. The Kopstootje should continue to be available next week at one my favorite DC restaurants, Brasserie Beck, where they also made my day by putting the Harvey Weissbanger on the cocktail menu.