Beer preview…

Here’s a sneak preview of a porter I’m brewing in collaboration with the extremely talented Ben Edmunds at Breakside Brewing. Keep an eye out for its release in December!

Where to smoke in Portland

horsebrass 021

Today at Drink Portland, I’ve posted a guide to the city’s few remaining cigar bars. There are only eight of them, so click through if you’re looking for a place to escape the rain with a cigar and a drink. Since Oregon’s smoking ban only exempts bars that can demonstrate cigar sales from 2006, it’s essentially illegal to open a new cigar bar. These eight are all we have and all there will be. An update to the law a couple years later also capped the number of tobacco shops that can allow smoking.

Ban advocates predicted that Oregon’s law would drastically reduce the rate of heart attacks in the state. As I noted in the Oregonian, that never came to pass.

Pre-ban, my favorite place to have a cigar in Oregon was the Horse Brass Pub. My ode the Horse Brass is here. It’s still a great bar, but you can’t light up there anymore.

Hot Buttered Chartreuse

Hot Buttered Chartreuse.

If Paula Deen opened a bartending school in the French mountains, the result might be something like this: Hot Buttered Chartreuse. Decadent? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

A few years ago my friend Lance Mayhew introduced me to Hot Buttered Rum, which is exactly what it sounds like. Take rum, add butter, sugar, and spices, mix it with hot water, and you have Hot Buttered Rum. Butter is not a typical cocktail ingredient but don’t be put off by it. Melting butter into a steaming hot drink makes it rich and delicious.

There are countless recipes for Hot Buttered Rum batter and you can buy it pre-mixed in stores, but it’s so easy to make at home that there is no reason to do that. Lance’s “World’s Best Hot Buttered Rum Recipe” lives up to the name and I’ve enjoyed it every year since moving to Portland. Go over to Lance’s site and make a batch.

Lance has made Hot Buttered Rum a Thanksgiving tradition for me, so last weekend I whipped some up at work. A few lines of advice from Lance’s post stood out to me:

DO-

- Use a quality rum. I like one with some age on it. I’ll be using Bacardi 8 this Thanksgiving, I don’t think there is a better rum for a Hot Buttered Rum.

DON’T-

- Use cheap rum. Cheap rum is going to taste even cheaper when you warm it up. You can’t hide poor quality ingredients in this drink.

If it’s important to use good spirits, why not go all out and use one of the best spirits in the world? Why not use Chartreuse? Though I’ve mixed Chartreuse in hot chocolate many times, I had no idea if this would be a hot mess or a mug of pure awesomeness. The concept was so tantalizing — Hot. Buttered. Chartreuse. — that I needed to try it out. And after a long shift, I did. Happily, the drink is every bit as good as it sounds.

Making Hot Buttered Chartreuse is simple. All you need is:

1 1/2 oz Chartreuse (green)
1 big dollop Hot Buttered Rum batter, to taste
hot water

Add the batter and some of the hot water to a mug, stirring to dissolve. Then add the Chartreuse and top off with more hot water, giving everything one final stir to combine.

Now, about that dollop. This is no time for moderation. You left moderation behind the moment you decided to drink butter and Chartreuse. Compensate later if you have to, but get the most of out of this experience and don’t hold back on the batter.

About the mug: Be sure to pre-heat it. The mug, the batter, and the spirit are going to lower the temperature of the water. The drink is Hot Buttered Chartreuse, not Tepid Buttered Chartreuse. A mug pre-heated with hot water will keep your drink warmer longer.

Sharing a couple mugs of this with someone you care about it is a great way to warm up on a cold winter night.

Where in Portland to ease a hangover

Eater Portland catches up with me and several other bartenders around town about our favorite places to nurse a hangover — as if I would have experience in that sort of thing. Click through to find out where Adam Robinson, Doug Derrick, Mary Bartlett, me, and a few others like to go.

The CBO would like to thank you for smoking

Hikes on tobacco taxes are an easy sell to voters because smokers are presumed to pass their health care costs on to society, creating a negative externality that non-smokers have to pay for. The actual budgetary impact of smoking is more complicated: Smokers, by dying earlier than those who abstain, save governments a considerable amount of money. There is a lot of research to back this up, the latest coming from the Congressional Budget Office in The New England Journal of Medicine. The CBO examined a hypothetical increase in federal cigarette taxes indexed to inflation:

Outlays would be lower in that initial phase because decreases in per capita health care spending would outweigh the costs of greater longevity. From about the middle of the second decade onward, however, the effects of increased longevity would outweigh decreases in per capita health care spending, and outlays would rise; but until about the mid-2060s, that growth in outlays would be more than offset by the increase in tax revenues from higher earnings. The largest deficit reduction from the health-related effects — about 0.005% of GDP annually — would occur from about 2030 to 2035. After the mid-2060s, the deficit would be larger than otherwise because the higher outlays would outweigh the health-related revenue increase.

Factoring in the additional excise tax revenues, the researchers project that a tax increase would nonetheless result in a very small reduction in the deficit. Absent those revenues, the federal government is made fiscally worse off by people quitting smoking or never taking it up in the first place.

Michael Siegel, who is usually good at dispassionately evaluating arguments on their merits, is furious:

The rest of the story is that it is despicable that the Congressional Budget Office believes that it is appropriate to evaluate a public health policy based on whether it might save lives and therefore increase Social Security and Medicare spending. In doing so, the CBO is borrowing a page right out of the tobacco industry’s playbook. This type of analysis would never be done for an issue such as mammography, because anyone who advanced such an argument would be raked over the coals.

Like Philip Morris, the CBO should disavow its report and apologize for the argument it advances.

Finally, while it is shameful that the CBO has advanced this argument, it is also shameful that the journal agreed to publish this argument, thus giving it legitimacy. Both the CBO and the journal owe readers and the public an apology.

There is an obvious difference between mammograms, which are a treatment, and taxes, which are involuntarily taken from consumers. Not everyone buys into the argument that smokers should be taxed for their own good. For many, the best case for cigarette taxes is that smokers shift health costs onto the state. The CBO study is relevant to that argument.

In any case, the CBO makes clear in its commentary that budget effects are only one factor that should be considered:

Consequences for the federal budget are only one factor that lawmakers may consider when developing policies to promote health. Others factors include effects on people’s health and well-being, views about the appropriate role of government in influencing behavior, the burdens that policies might impose on people in various circumstances, and effects on the budgets of state and local governments.

Emphasis mine. Siegel, while admirable for his advocacy against junk science in the anti-tobacco movement, often misses the mark on issues related to paternalism.

Why you can’t get that whiskey

Do you ever wonder why you can’t buy a spirit you liked overseas in the United States? There are many potential reasons, but a big one is a very simple regulation defining the volume of bottles legally permitted in the American market:

First off – the United States drinks its whiskey from 750ml bottles. The entire rest of the world (except for South Africa, I believe) does not. 700ml or 70cl is the global standard. The United States does not want its citizens to be confused between two different measurements, so they do not allow for 700ml bottles of booze to be sold domestically. That means that any liquor company that wants to sell its booze in the U.S. needs to put it in an entirely different bottle with a new label as well. All of their other booze can be shipped with ease to every other nation (except South Africa, I believe) around the world. Then a separate, special, time-consuming batch has to be made just for the Americans. That sounds annoying and it probably is annoying to many small companies in the whisky trade, so they say forget the Americans. It’s too much extra trouble.

That’s from David Driscoll of K&L Wine Merchants. David’s post goes into the many other obstacles that lay in the path from the distillery to your glass, including importation and distribution laws. Read the whole thing.

Kevin Erskine of The Scotch Blog inquired with the Tax and Trade Bureau as to why the US has this regulation. In short, it’s because the agency transitioned in the late 1970s to metric measurements and 750 ml was very close in volume to the then standard “fifth” (referring to a fifth of a gallon). Allowing 750 ml and 700 ml bottles was deemed too confusing for consumers, and so we’re stuck with an aberrant standard and less access to rare spirits. Attempts to get this rule changed have apparently not gained traction.

[Hat tip: @LushAngeles.]

Book giveaway winners

Thanks to everyone who entered the drawing for The Cocktail Hour series from Scout Books. First prize, which also includes my out of print The Cocktail Collective, goes to Brian Russ. Full sets of The Cocktail Hour go to commenters Joy and Eric. Winners were selected via a random number generator.

For everyone else, sets of all three collections are available from Scout Books for just $12, shipping included, and they would make a fun holiday gift.

“No safe level,” continued…

The idea that there is “no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke” has to be one of the most misleading statements in public health. I mentioned it in a story about campus smoking bans yesterday. It pops up again today in a blog post about airport smoking areas at The New York Times by Nicholas Bakalar:

Five large-hub airports in the United States have designated indoor smoking areas. According to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they all have unhealthy air — even in places where no one smokes. [...]

The researchers found that the pollution level in smoking areas of the five airports was 23 times as high as the level in nonsmoking airports, and the average in adjacent areas was five times as high.

The study, in the Nov. 20 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, notes that no level of secondhand smoke exposure is safe, and even brief exposures can have adverse cardiovascular and respiratory effects.

Notice how much work the “no safe level” line is doing here. It allows the researchers to abdicate responsibility for showing that levels of particulate matter in the air surrounding smoking lounges are causing any actual harm. They have no need to relate this minuscule level of exposure to a level of risk — because, in fact, doing so is likely beyond epidemiology when the risks are this small, if they exist at all. As Jacob Sullum noted in 2006 when Richard Carmona’s Surgeon General’s report came out, the science in the report is much more modest than the “no safe level” hype that accompanied it:

Since it is difficult even to measure the health consequences of long-term, relatively intense exposure to secondhand smoke among people living with smokers for decades, how could one possibly demonstrate an effect from, say, a few molecules? It’s clear that the vast majority of people exposed to secondhand smoke suffer no noticeable injury, so in what sense is their exposure unsafe? “No safe level” is an article of faith, not a scientific statement.

And yet, unfortunately, the “no safe level” idea continues to be used as an easy shortcut by researchers — and then dutifully transcribed by health reporters.

Eater’s 38 essential cocktails bars

It’s Cocktail Week across the Eater blog network, and as part of that series they’ve published recommendations of the most “essential” cocktail bars in the US. It’s a pretty solid list. I’ve made it to 19 of the 38, a number held down mostly by the fact that I haven’t visited New York since moving from the East Coast in 2008.

Banned on campus

One of the quiet ways smoking bans have spread across the United States is via bans on college campuses:

Colleges and universities have become the latest target of anti-smoking groups. While schools have long banned smoking indoors, the new bans are addressing outdoor space.

So far, more than 800 schools have banned smoking on campus, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. The list is dominated by medical schools and non-residential community colleges, although more and more residential colleges and universities are joining.

Encouraging schools to go smokefree is now official policy of the Department of Health and Human Services, which recently launched an initiative in collaboration with the University of Michigan to encourage campus bans on campus. The bans apply outdoors, which is a major inconvenience to smokers on sprawling campuses, potentially driving students to less safe perimeters. The measures are supposedly important for creating a healthy environment. Unfortunately, they seem to also create an environment of self-righteous attitudes and bad science:

“The CDC and surgeon general say there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke,” said Julien Guttman, a GWU public health graduate student who is part of the advocacy group Colonials for Clean Air. “No matter how much science we have to back up what we are saying, there will always be individuals who see this as a restriction on their freedom.”

Those crazy individuals! The idea that there is “no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke” is itself unscientific, a line of propaganda devoid of any measurement or relation of exposure to risk. If taken literally it would lead to absurdities like… well, like banning smoking in wide-open expanses of outdoor space.

Vaccari Nero is the new black (or blue)

Vaccari Nero, finally available in Oregon. Make it blue!

Blue drinks are back, at least ironically. As Camper English wrote this summer:

Blue drinks have long been a mixologists’ in-joke. When bartenders were getting serious about pre-Prohibition cocktails about five years ago, jet-setting New Zealand bartender Jacob Briars invented the Corpse Reviver Number Blue, a piss-take on the sacrosanct classic Corpse Reviver #2 that was enjoying a major comeback.

Since then, he and other bartenders have been practicing “sabluetage”—spiking the drinks of unwitting victims with blue curaçao when no one is looking. The forbidden liqueur can now be found on the menus of a few of the world’s best cocktail bars, including Jasper’s Corner Tap in San Francisco, PDT in New York City (where it’s mixed with other unfashionable ingredients, such as Frangelico and cream), and London’s Artesian Bar (winner of the World’s Best Hotel Bar award this week), where a new blue drink—called Blue Lagoon—also features Sprite and bubble tea.

I’ve had my own run-ins with blue drinks, including a publisher who put a blue cocktail on the cover of my recipe guide despite my objections and an off-menu Mad Dog Blue Raspberry and aquavit cocktail we served for a while at Metrovino (it was actually pretty good!). Most blue cocktails get their coloration from blue curacao. But there’s another way to do it…

Vaccari Nero is a black sambuca that’s part of the Bols portfolio. I didn’t work with it for a long time because it wasn’t available in Oregon, but on road trips to other states I found that it had the potential to become an enthusiastically embraced spirit. This is in part because it’s a quality sambuca: It’s named after Arturo Vaccari, the creator of Galliano, and gets its extracts and distillates from the same source. It’s also in part due to its rich color, which despite its name is not black, but rather a very deep midnight blue. Mixed in cocktails, it adds a strong anise kick and striking hue.

I’m just beginning to explore the possibilities of this spirit in cocktails. My favorite so far comes from Erik Trickett, barman at the forthcoming Roe Restaurant and Fish Market in Long Beach, California. The drink he came up with is basically a Ramos Gin Fizz substituting Vaccari Nero for gin. Trading sambuca for gin is a counterintuitive stroke of genius that shouldn’t work yet somehow does, resulting in the lovely robin egg colored drink above. And since this drink needs a name, let’s go ahead and call it a Robin’s Egg (a.k.a. the Samblueca Fizz):

1 1/2 oz Vaccari Nero
1 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz Bols Genever
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz cream
1 egg white
soda
coffee bean, for garnish

Add the sambuca, lemon, genever, simple syrup, cream, and egg white to a shaker. Dry shake to aerate, then add ice and shake again. Give it a good, long, hard shake. Strain into a glass, preferably a champagne flute if you have a tall one. Let the foam settle and top with soda. Finish by grating a bit of coffee bean on top, a nod to the traditional “con mosca” way of serving sambuca.

Vaccari Nero is finally available in Oregon, so I’m looking forward to seeing what local bartenders end up doing with it. To kick things off, I’ll be guest bartending at Portland’s new Italian spot Bar alla Bomba this Thursday, November 29, from 7-10 pm with a menu of cocktails featuring Vaccari Nero, Galliano L’Autentico, and Galliano Ristretto, including the drink above. Come on by to try it out.

Something rotten in La Jolla

As soon as I read the introduction to this Reason post about a “lovely California seaside town” with an odor problem, I knew it had to be La Jolla. From the New York Times:

Until a few years ago, the smell was never a problem because the bluffs were open for people to walk on. But since the rocks were closed off, partly because of safety concerns, sea gulls and cormorants have taken over, their droppings have piled up and the smell has grown more acrid by the day.

In theory, a solution could be simple. Sherri Lightner, the local City Council member, said there were biodegradable and nontoxic cleaning agents that could be safely used to clean the bluffs occasionally without any ill effects to the environment.

However, because the waters in the cove are part of a coastal area specially protected by the state, multiple state regulatory agencies would have to issue permits before the agents could be used, a process that regulators have indicated would probably take at least two years.

I visited La Jolla for the first time a couple months ago and both the views and the smells live up to their reputation. The bluffs really are amazing, with daring swimmers paddling among giant sea lions and birds flying along the rocks. And the odors really do permeate everywhere. If the wind blows the right way, you might fool yourself into being reminded of pungent fish sauce. But mostly it just smells like sea bird dung. The town is worth a visit, but business owners there are justifiably upset.

Too hot for North Dakota

North Dakota, rugged North Dakota. Now home to one of the most restrictive smoking bans in the country:

Measure 4 bans smoking in places where North Dakota state law previously allowed for it, including bars, tobacco shops, taxis, motel rooms and private nursing home rooms.

The ban also requires smokers to be at least 20 feet away from buildings. Tobacco-less e-cigarettes are also included in the ban.

Violators could be fined $50, and bars that still allow smoking could be subject to having their liquor license revoked.

North Dakota will be the 30th state to implement a smoking ban in bars and restaurants, but few are this restrictive. The impact on cigar bars and tobacco shops could be devastating, as Stogie Guys reports.

This is speculative, but I imagine that the average North Dakota resident is not so intolerant as to object to smoking in these specialized businesses. However the anti-smoking groups who pushed this initiative didn’t give them the option to allow exceptions, forcing voters to choose between all or nothing.

New site design and book giveaway

After more than three years of running Thesis, I’ve given the site a long overdue design update and switched to the Genesis framework. Aside from finally enabling threaded comments, most of the changes are just aesthetic for now. Stay tuned, however, for the likely addition of new sections and more frequent updates. (And if you’re reading this via RSS, click over to check out the new site.)

To kick off the new design, I’m giving away a few books. Publisher Scout Books from Portland, Oregon, recently invited me to contribute to a new series of pocket recipe guides called The Cocktail Hour, launching with a trio devoted to rum, gin, and vodka. The books include recipes from me and many other West Coast bartenders and bloggers, including Camper English, Sue Erickson, Jordan Felix, Lauren Fitzgerald, Brian Gilbert, Ricky Gomez, Tommy Klus, Tom Lindstedt, Junior Ryan, Mike Shea, Daniel Shoemaker, and David and Lesley Solmonson, among others.

The books retail for $12 a set and would make a great stocking stuffer. For this contest, I’ll randomly pick winners for the following prizes:

First prize (one winner) — A complete set of The Cocktail Hour: Rum, Gin, and Vodka, plus a copy of my out of print recipe guide from 2010, The Cocktail Collective.

Second prize (two winners) — A complete set of The Cocktail Hour: Rum, Gin, and Vodka.

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post, one comment per person. I’ll randomly select winners from the list of comments around noon on Wednesday, November 28, 2012.

Update 11/12/2008: The contest is now closed. Winners announced here. Thanks to everyone who entered!

Romney won’t be president, and other good news

It’s no secret that I greatly dislike both Obama and Romney, so my expectations were pretty low going into yesterday’s election. Thus it came as some surprise to me that I went to bed late last night feeling happier about the results than I have for any election in my lifetime, and that has nothing to do with who will or won’t be in the White House.

Yesterday morning I tweeted, “Hoped-for silver linings today: Marijuana legalization, marriage equality, no GMO labeling, good turnout for Gary Johnson.” Pretty much everything I could have reasonably hoped for came true.

Marijuana legalization — Two out of three states where marijuana legalization was on the ballot approved the measure. My own Oregon let me down, but Washington and Colorado succeeded. Voters also legalized medical marijuana in Massachusetts and decriminalized it in Detroit. By putting two states in direct conflict with the federal government, this is potentially a watershed year in the movement toward a more humane drug policy.

Marriage equality — Same-sex marriage was on the ballot in four states yesterday. In Maine, Maryland, and Washington, it was approved by popular majorities. In Minnesota, a majority rejected a constitutional ban on gay marriage. Demographic shifts and growing social acceptance make it seem inevitable that more, perhaps all, states will eventually follow their lead.

GMO labeling — This is one issue on which I’m opposed to many of my peers in the food and drink industry, but I think that California’s proposal to require labeling of genetically modified foods was deeply flawed. The case that they are harmful to consume is very weak, labeling and liability would be costly, and the proposal itself was riddled with exemptions. If consumers and activists want to avoid GMOs I would rather see them push for more organic food or other explicitly GMO-free options than force mandatory labeling onto the entire food system. Cheers to California voters for getting this one right.

Eminent domain bonus — I wasn’t following Virginia’s referendum to further protect private property from Kelo-style takings for private development, but I’m heartened to learn that it was overwhelmingly approved.

Gary Johnson — His campaign never crystallized as I hoped it might, but Johnson nonetheless earned 1% of the vote and as of this writing a raw total of 1,139,562 votes, the most of any Libertarian Party candidate in history. More importantly, I think Johnson may have done more than any recent candidate to reach out to the left and make libertarianism cool. (Sorry, Bob Barr.)

Romney lost — Romney was just terrible. The flip-side is that Obama won, which is also terrible but marginally less so. Most importantly, yesterday was a straight-up beatdown for social conservatism and the last twelve years of Republican politics. This opens the door, at least, to a better GOP.

After all of this, watching Obama’s soaring acceptance speech at a bar in downtown Portland was simply anti-climactic. As my friend Conor Friedersdorf tweeted, “This speech would be more enjoyable if I didn’t already know what follows Barack Obama speeches like this. An imperial presidency.” Or as my friend sitting next to me summed it up, “I don’t even care about this shit. This is just bullshit.”

The electoral outcome of this presidential race was going to be dismal no matter what. On the economy, on foreign policy, on the Drug War, neither side offered the kind of changes we need. The inspiring story from yesterday is that in so many instances where voters had the option to expand freedom directly, they voted to do so. Given the opportunity to let gays marry the people they love, to let sick people access medical marijuana, to let ordinary citizens smoke a joint once in a while without fearing prison, they voted to live and let live. This bodes well for the future. We progress in spite of our politicians.

Resplendent Island

New cocktail at Metrovino: Margarita flavored with Sri Lankan curry and honey, cumin-salt rim.

If I were making a parody of my own cocktail menus, a Sri Lankan Curry Margarita is exactly the kind of drink I’d put on it. Yet after a making a batch of this curry powder, I knew it had to put it into a drink. At our chef’s suggestion we’re pairing it with tequila in a Margarita variation on the latest Metrovino cocktail menu:

1 1/2 oz reposado tequila (Espolon)
3/4 oz Sri Lankan curry-honey syrup
3/4 oz lime juice
1/4 oz Royal Combier
salt and ground cumin, for garnish

Moisten half the rim of a rocks glass with lime juice and coat with the salt and cumin mixture, then fill with ice. Shake cocktail ingredients with ice and strain into the glass.

About that curry blend: It’s the roasted curry powder from Rice and Curry: Sri Lankan Home Cooking by Skiz Fernando, Jr., a very interesting cookbook a friend sent me recently. Rather than copy that recipe here, I’d rather encourage you to support the author by buying the book or purchasing his blend directly, which you can do here. It requires a few hard to find ingredients like curry leaves and a dozen spices, so buying the blend is the easier approach. I recommend the book though and have enjoyed the wonderfully flavored curries I’ve made from it.

Once you have your blend, here’s how to make the syrup:

2 tablespoons roasted curry powder
1 cup honey
1 cup water

Simmer all ingredients for a few minutes until flavorful, then add a pinch of salt. Cool, strain, and bottle. Or save yourself the trouble and come enjoy one at the bar.