Miscellaneous year end list 2012

Best new bar: Bellocq at the Hotel Modern in New Orleans. Pick any spirit you like from their modest but well-curated selection and they’ll craft a cobbler with it. The cobbler is an underrated drink and it’s very cool to see Bellocq revive it. (Opened December 2011.)

Best new spirit: Gamle Ode dill aquavit. I tasted many aquavits with many people in the second half of this year, and Gamle Ode was a consistent standout. Its dill aroma is spot on and it sips very nicely from the freezer or mixed into a simple Collins. Distribution is currently very limited but will hopefully expand.

Best bartending experience: Brewing Up Cocktails Spirited Dinner in New Orleans. 240+ cocktails in four courses, half of them using eggs, cranked out with the help of my collaborator Ezra, Andrew and Amanda from Seattle, and one very big immersion blender.

Best drinking experience: Sipping Scotch on the dock at my family’s place in the Michigan Upper Peninsula for the final time. I’ve visited every summer since birth, but we sold the place this year.

Most memorable dining experience: Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville.

Most memorable dish: A tom kha mousse kind of thing frozen with liquid nitrogen from Uchi/Uchiko at Feast Portland’s Night Market. It cast off pieces of itself like some kind of explosive geologic event while deliciously capturing the flavor of a classic Thai soup.

Best overall dinner: Restaurant St. Jack in Portland.

Favorite travel destination: Los Angeles.

Best magic performing experience: Successfully pulling off the Cups and Balls on the street. It’s a classic of magic with difficult angles in an uncontrolled environment. The situation was not often right to attempt it, and on a couple occasions it failed. Getting it right, however, is immensely satisfying.

Best reading experience: Arguably, the final anthology of essays from Christopher Hitchens. I know of no other writer who’s as consistently challenging or capable of making such a broad array of topics interesting. (Published in 2011, but I just recently picked it up.)

Best economics and policy book: A Capitalism for the People, Luigi Zingales. Briefly reviewed here.

Cocktail and spirit prediction for 2013: It’s hard to top last year’s Bone Luge prediction, but I’ll give it a shot: Aquavit. I’m obviously doing my own part to promote it, but there are other reasons to expect the spirit to become increasingly popular. Small distilleries need to generate revenue by making products that they can release with little or no ageing. Gin and vodka are the usual choices, but both of these markets are very competitive. The aquavit market is uncrowded and offers great opportunities for creativity with new botanical profiles. This is complemented by growing interest in the “New Nordic” cuisine.

A couple years ago, the only two domestic aquavits in constant production that I am aware of were Krogstad and North Shore. Now there is also the aged Krogstad, Sound Spirits, Gamle Ode, and a limited release from Bull Run. In 2013 I predict more new aquavits and more bartenders discovering the spirits’ versatility in cocktails.


When candy cigarettes are outlawed…

A city inspector in St. Paul spent his time last week seizing contraband candy cigarettes from an old-time soda shop and threatening the owners with a fine if they sell the sweet treats again:

Lynden’s, on Hamline Avenue near Cretin-Derham Hall High School, said a city inspections official came in last week and gave the shop a warning and added that a misdemeanor citation — with a $500 fine — would be next if the non-carcinogenic confections continue to be sold.

There are legitimate reasons why one may not want to sell candy cigarettes, but a law banning the products seems excessive. Thank local anti-smoking groups for putting the law into place:

The ordinance was championed by a group of St. Paul teenagers working with the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota, which educates youth groups and individuals who want to lobby for anti-tobacco policies.

You’ve gotta get them hooked on banning things when they’re kids if you want them to continue banning things as adults.

[Via BoingBoing.]


2012: Year of the Bone Luge

In last year’s miscellaneous year-end post, I predicted that 2012 would be the Year of the Bone Luge. And boy, was it ever. The strange, fun, silly, messy drinking ritual expanded beyond its Portland roots to travel the world this year, culminating with a Bone Luge on national TV from none other than Anthony Bourdain. Said Bourdain of the luge, “I am aware of this practice by the way. It is extremely antisocial and against all standards of decency, so we should probably do it.”

Not everyone embraced the luge so happily. As Gothamist described it, Bone Luge is “the new drinking fad food lovers love to hate.” A look back at the year in luging:

The Bad

In their year end round up of drinking, two of the four writers at Food Republic name the Bone Luge the “worst trend of 2012.

“Food writers of America: Let’s all stop this bone luge thing before it starts shall we? Show of hands?” tweeted food and drink writer Jordana Rothman upon learning of the trend, joined in by CNN Eatocracy editor Kat Kinsman.

Anna Brones was skeptical, though I think she may come around: “When someone offers you some bone marrow and tequila, feel good about saying no.”

“It was one of those cocktail microtrends that seemed somehow dated and irritating within days after I first learned about it — even while it sounded kind of alluring,” concedes Cocktails & Cologne.

Sam Sifton, national editor at The New York Times, would totally do it: “This is a violation. I mean, to be clear, I would totally do it. But it’s still a violation.”

The Good

Tasting Table was ahead of the curve: “Odd? Most definitely. Delicious? Absolutely. […] This is one downward spiral we heartily sanction.”

Andre Darlington knows what’s up: “… bone luging has been fueled by the need to bring humor to a craft cocktail movement has been in danger of collapsing under its own weight. It was time to bring fun back, and the bone luge has offered the perfect blend of foodiness and silliness.” He even went on to host a Bone Luge Brunch!

“In my limited experience, ‘the bone luge’ lends an epic quality to an otherwise ordinary afternoon,” says Atlantic writer Conor Friedersdorf.

Could Bone Luge actually be good for you? Sort of, writes Elizabeth Nolan Brown: “The bone luge may remain a novelty, but it sounds like there are some good reasons to consider adding more bone marrow or bone broth to your diet, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

Hanna Neuschwander of Portland Monthly is on board: “The marrow didn’t overwhelm the burnt caramel flavor of the sherry, and together, they were surprisingly delicious.”

The Oklahoman brings a bone marrow virgin to Ludivine, where they endorse the pairing: “When you’re done, you can take a ride on the bone luge, which consists of pouring a half-ounce of rye whiskey and a half-ounce of sherry down the empty canal and into your mouth. Rushing down the canal, the spirits pick up salt and residue from the roasted bones for a satisfying finish to the experience.”

Wayne Curtis compares the Bone Luge to a few other fads and gives the advantage, mostly, to Bone Luge.

The Bone Luge must be a refined practice if Wine Enthusiast is willing to cover it.

The Bone Luge and Tebowing meet at Euclid Hall in Denver, Colorado.

Angus Winchester brings the Bone Luge to Moscow and St. Petersburg: “…it’s a Primal thing… hunter and gather meets drinker.”

The Drink Nation visits Portland and gives the luge its seal of approval. (Also: Where to luge in Portland.)

Look ma, I’m on TV!

The Pescetarian

Crab leg luge with late harvest riesling.

Halibut spine luge at Riffle in Portland.

The Vegetarian

Cucumber Luge: “Vegetarians want to drink booze out of random vessels, too.”

Tofu luges were spotted in Vancouver, Canada and in the home of spirits writer Camper English.

The Future

Bone Luge seems in no danger of fading away. Embrace the bone. Take the luge to a restaurant near you.


Madison food writer Lindsay Christians gives Bone Luge the nod in her Best of 2012 list: “Madison’s brush with the bone luge was brief, but highly entertaining. At a brunch held at L’Etoile, we got fancied up to scoop the marrow ‘meat butter’ out of a couple of bones, then poured sherry down the chute. It was neither attractive, clean nor polite, but my fellow bone lugers will back me up when I insist: it tasted great.”


Seven cocktails for the holidays

Menta e Cioccolato

One of the nice things about the new cocktail archive is that it makes it easy to round up recipes. Here are seven drinks for your holiday imbibing:

Amsterdam Hot Chocolate — A commenter on this site recommended serving genever with hot chocolate after enjoying it on a winter day in Amsterdam. Here it’s complemented with Grand Marnier and Chartreuse.

Hot Buttered Chartreuse — Speaking of Chartreuse, put your rum aside and use your spiced hot butter batter for this.

Hot Caipi — In Germany they like Caipirinhas so much that they serve them hot in the winter. Here’s how to do it.

Averna Stout Flip — Flips and dark stouts are perfect this time of year. Here’s a drink that combines the two.

PX Flip — This flip balances the rich sweetness of PX sherry with a half ounce of Angostura bitters.

Menta e Cioccolato — Another great addition to hot chocolate is Branca Menta, the minty cousin to Fernet-Branca.

Aquavit Hot Toddy — Barrel aged aquavit and the spice notes in Swedish punsch make this a very interesting hot drink. You might have to do some shopping for this one, but it’s worth it.


New cocktail section

I’m launching a new section of the site today devoted entirely to cocktail recipes. I’ll continue updating this blog exactly as I always have with whatever topics are of interest to me, including documenting drinks. The new section complements the blog, presenting recipes in a way that’s user and SEO-friendly. Read the introduction and check out the site, including another new drink from Aquavit Week, the Aquavit Hot Toddy pictured above.


What I’ve been drinking

Wigle’s Ginever — Not genever, Ginever! Wigle is a recently opened distillery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and one of their first offerings is a genever-style spirit (they call it a “genever-style gin,” but you know where I stand on that). I’m always happy to see people take an interest in genever, and even happier when someone does it well. Wigle’s combines assertive flavors from juniper and other botanicals with a very pleasant maltiness that comes through in cocktails. At 94 proof, it packs a bit of heat, too. Distribution of this spirit is limited, but if you find a bottle it’s a worthy addition to the liquor cabinet.

Shellback Rums — “Shellback” is a nickname for sailors who have crossed the equator. It’s also the name for a new line of rums from Gallo. Distilled in Barbados, the silver is very smooth with big notes of vanilla. The spiced rum adds other flavors while keeping vanilla at the forefront. In Oregon these are priced at $15.95 and $16.95, respectively. These are both good values, and I may end up bringing the silver into my bar.

Temperance “Regnig Dag” Aquavit — I had heard Bull Run was making a new aquavit, but I didn’t know anything about it until right before our Aquavit Week at Metrovino. Their “rainy day” aquavit is flavored with anise, caraway, and coriander, and is barrel aged. For the time being, it will be available only at the distillery in 375 ml bottles. This is one of the best aquavits I’ve tried and I highly recommend picking one up.


Save the stogies

My forthcoming article that I’ve alluded to a couple times this week is now up at The Atlantic:

If a time traveler from the early 1990s were to arrive in the U.S. bars and restaurants of today, what would notice first? Perhaps that the food has become more interesting and varied, or that a perplexing number of diners are photographing it with their remarkable phones. The most obvious change, however, might register on the nose: the nearly complete absence of indoor smoking.

California implemented the United States’ first modern statewide smoking ban in 1998. Today twenty-nine states and 703 municipalities require bars and restaurants to be smoke-free, according to data maintained by the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation (North Dakota brought the tally to thirty states this month). Tobacco use has been banished from our culinary radar along with the question “smoking or non?” Most of us don’t miss it. Yet as a slew of new bans, taxes, and regulations drive smoking to the peripheries of society, it’s worth giving tobacco another look.

Read the whole thing. And for more context on some of the arguments, see my recent posts about the effects of new tobacco taxes and the failure of the FDA to establish an effective regulatory regime.


Incentives matter, tobacco taxes edition

One of the topics I’ve been researching for a forthcoming article is the effect of the higher tobacco taxes imposed by the Childrens Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA). CHIPRA raised tobacco taxes across the board but it didn’t raise them equally; some products were hit harder than others. The most relevant disparities are between roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco and pipe tobacco, and between small cigars and large cigars.

Before CHIPRA, pipe tobacco and RYO were both taxed federally at $1.10 per pound. After CHIPRA, the former increased to $2.83 while the latter increased to $24.78. Since the two products can be treated as substitutes for each other, this naturally led to manufacturers and consumers shifting to products labeled as pipe tobacco for use in rolling cigarettes. A similar shift affected the cigar market, where it became advantageous for some producers of small cigars to slightly increase the weight of their products to qualify as large cigars. (Direct comparison of taxes on small and large cigars is complicated by the fact that small cigars are taxed by weight and large cigars by value.)

I knew that these market distortions were occurring, but I didn’t realize just how substantial they were until reading a report from the General Accounting Office (PDF) from earlier this year on the effects of CHIPRA taxes. Here in two charts is a dramatic illustration of unintended consequences at work:

At first glance this may look like booming business for producers of pipe tobacco and cigars, but of course that’s not what’s happening. The changes are almost entirely nominal. Yet since they reduce tax receipts for the government, the pressure is on now to fix the disparity by raising taxes yet again. This would be another blow to producers of traditional pipe tobacco and large cigars, as well as the retailers who sell their products.


Links for 12/17/12

Conor Friedersdorf recaps the most important ideas from 2012.

From Chris Snowdon, previously unpublished remarks from Christopher Hitchens on “the prohibitionist mentality.”

The Pretentious Beer Glass Company is appropriately named. My favorite: This dual-chambered glass for visually striking blends.

If you missed Aquavit Week, here are six more aquavit cocktails to try.

Plain packs legislation enters its absurd phase: Calls for banning stickers.


Just Do It

It’s not everyday that one sees a corporation exert its dominance over government as openly and brazenly as Nike did to Oregon Governor Kitzhaber and the legislature this week. From The Oregonian:

Turmoil over Nike’s taxes surfaced Monday when Kitzhaber made a surprise announcement that he was ordering lawmakers into an “extraordinary” special session with four-days’ notice. He said he was motivated to act fast after being approached by Nike officials who were asking for greater tax certainty before proceeding with a major expansion.

Nike got the guarantees it wanted. Kitzhaber defended the policy by citing figures regarding the corporation’s economic impact — figures provided by Nike without verification:

In speeches and press releases, Kitzhaber and Nike representatives claimed that the company offers an average annual compensation of $100,000 to its employees and that employment in Oregon has grown 60 percent since 2007. Kitzhaber, citing a Nike economic analysis, said the company’s expansion could trigger up to 12,000 direct and indirect jobs and a $2 billion-a-year boost to the state economy.

Those numbers were repeated by supportive lawmakers on Friday, although Nike has not provided data to back up those claims. The company has declined to release the economic report done by AECOM.

Kitzhaber’s spokesman, Tim Raphael, said that the office took the figures from fact sheets provided by Nike, without any independent verification. Nike refused requests from The Oregonian for evidence or context regarding the figures.

The tax deal doesn’t change anything in the short term, but it’s a sign of a sick relationship between the state and large corporations.


115 employees, 3 years, 0 results

When the Food and Drug Administration was granted authority over tobacco products, many people (myself included) objected that this was an inappropriate field for the agency to be involved in. Among other reasons, it makes little sense for the FDA to approve products that are to some degree inherently dangerous. An excellent article from Michael Felberbaum of the Associated Press shows that the agency has failed to establish reasonable standards of review and has halted innovation in the parts of the industry it regulates:

Tobacco companies have introduced almost no new cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products in the U.S. in more than 18 months because the federal government has prevented them from doing so, an Associated Press review has found. […]

Since June 2009, when the law allowing the agency to regulate tobacco went into effect, the tobacco industry has submitted nearly 3,500 product applications, according to data obtained by the AP under a Freedom of Information Act request. While none have been ruled upon, the vast majority of these products are already being sold.

A grandfather clause in the law allows products introduced between February 2007 and March 2011 that are similar to those previously on the market to be sold while under review. They can be removed from store shelves if they don’t pass muster with the agency. But 400 products submitted for review since March 2011 are being kept off the market.

The reviews, which are supposed to take 90 days, have dragged on for years in some cases. About 90 percent of applications have lingered for more than a year.

Nearly 3,500 applications over three years and zero rulings. Perhaps the agency is understaffed? Not exactly:

The [FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products] has an annual budget of more than $450 million, funded by the industry, and more than 365 employees, about 115 of whom work on the application reviews.

One hundred fifteen employees and zero rulings. One wonders what they do all day.

Part of the problem is that the agency evaluates products not merely on their physical characteristics, but also on whether they may entice new smokers or discourage current smokers from quitting. Since any new product is intended to appeal to someone, it’s not clear to me how applicants can decisively prove to hostile regulators that their products meet this requirement.

Perhaps one does not feel much sympathy for the tobacco companies. But note that the FDA has signaled that it will likely soon be regulating cigars too, and imagine giving the lumbering agency veto power over all new cigar blends. If Philip Morris and Lorillard can’t push new products through the approval process, how will boutique cigar makers fare? As demonstrated by the FDA’s handling of tobacco thus far, regulation could be devastating to the premium cigar industry.This is a topic I’ll be covering in greater depth next week.

Update 12/14/12: Michael Siegel weighs in too:

The rest of the story is that the Tobacco Act is working exactly as I predicted it would: as a way to protect the existing cigarettes on the market and block any real possibility of competition from what could be truly safer products.


Scandinavian Sling

Scandinavian Sling.

I’m going to say right up front that the proportions called for in this recipe are a bit crazy. This was my entry into the 2012 Cherry Heering Sling Award competition, in which competitors were challenged to make their own variation on the Singapore Sling. The catch? The initial rules that I read mandated the use of at least two ounces of Heering. I like the stuff, but that is a lot of it! Looking at the site now it appears that one ounce is all that was required, so I’m not sure what happened there. In any case, this is a very tasty drink and it made the top ten in the competition. Besides, sometimes a super-sized tropical cocktail is just what the doctor ordered.

2 oz cherry Heering
1 oz Krogstad Festlig aquavit
1 oz lime juice
1/2 oz Angostura bitters
2 oz sparkling wine
1/2 orange wheel, for garnish
cherries, for garnish
sprig tarragon, for garnish

Pour the sparkling wine into a chalice filled with ice. Shake all the other ingredients with ice and strain into the goblet. Garnish with the fruit and tarragon.

For Aquavit Week at Metrovino, we’ve downsized the drink to more sensible proportions. Here’s a revised recipe:

1 oz cherry Heering
3/4 oz Linie aquavit
3/4 oz lime juice
1/4 oz Angostura bitters
1 oz sparkling wine
1/2 orange wheel, for garnish
cherries, for garnish
1 sprig tarragon, for garnish

Serve as above, in a rocks glass instead of a chalice. The drink is a bit drier in this formulation, so feel free to add more Heering for greater lushness.


Is there anything a cigarette can’t do?

Today’s edition of alarmist health reporting comes from the BBC:

Women who are light smokers – including those who smoke just one cigarette a day – double their chance of sudden death, a large study suggests.

The link between heart disease and smoking is well established. The study that this article references is behind a paywall, but here is what it actually concludes:

Small to moderate amounts of cigarette consumption (1-14 per day) were associated with a significant 1.84-fold (95% CI, 1.16-2.92) increase in SCD [sudden cardiac death] risk and every 5 years of continued smoking was associated with an 8% increase in SCD risk (HR 1.08; 95% CI, 1.05-1.12, p<0.0001).

In other words, the elevated risk was found in a group of women that includes smokers who consume anywhere from one to fourteen cigarettes per day. That is a big difference! There may be (and likely are) very different levels of risk within this group. One can’t conclude from this study that smoking just one cigarette per day doubles one’s chance of dying from a heart attack. The press release for the study, reprinted at Forbes, doesn’t even make that claim. It appears to be an invention of the BBC. (Again, I haven’t seen the full study, but it’s very unlikely that there is anything in it to support the BBC’s interpretation.)

It should be obvious that smoking one cigarette a day carries a different health risk than smoking fourteen of them. In fact, the abstract for the study notes a linear relationship between quantity smoked and risk of sudden cardiac death. Yet the state of health journalism regarding tobacco products has become so degraded that reporters now ascribe near magical death-dealing qualities to the cigarette.


Links for 12/11/12

A new report rounds up the various ways governments around the world, including those in the United States, discriminate against atheists.

Anchor Distilling makes vodka flavored with hops. A flavored vodka I may actually like?

Temperance images from the 1800s.

The first rule of public health journalism is just assume everything your source says is accurate, no matter how far-fetched it sounds.

Bulgarians are not taking their smoking ban sitting down.


Quote of the day

Julien Guttman on the forthcoming outdoor smoking ban at George Washington University:

“We’re trying not to use the word ban,” says Julien Guttman, of the GW campus advocacy group Colonials for Clean Air. “We encourage people to talk about a smoke-free campus rather than a ban on smoking.”

This is the same Julien Guttman who lamented a couple weeks ago, “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.” Perhaps it’s a sign of progress that she feels the need to resort to such euphemism when defending the policy.

A bit more on the shaky science behind outdoor smoking bans here.


Et tu, BrewDog?

Politicians in the UK are pushing for a minimum price for alcohol that would increase the cost of cheaper products while leaving high-end alcohol unaffected. According to the website Scottish Grocer, they’ve found an unlikely ally: the craft brewers at BrewDog.

This is the same brewery that made a 1.1% abv beer called “Nanny State” in mocking response to critics of their high-alcohol brews, so it’s a bit of a disappointment to see this coming from them. It’s another story to file under brewers behaving badly.

For a contrary view on minimum pricing, see Chris Snowdon.


Links for 12/7/12

Remember when Marc Ambinder cited unnamed “Obama aides and associates” claiming that in Obama’s second term he would tackle reform of the Drug War, and a few civil libertarians took this as reason, against all evidence, to think that his second term may be better? Well that could still happen, and I hope it does, but there is no sign of it yet. In a must-read article for the New York Times, Charlie Savage looks at the options the administration is exploring to undercut state marijuana legalization measures:

One option is for federal prosecutors to bring some cases against low-level marijuana users of the sort they until now have rarely bothered with, waiting for a defendant to make a motion to dismiss the case because the drug is now legal in that state. The department could then obtain a court ruling that federal law trumps the state one.

A more aggressive option is for the Justice Department to file lawsuits against the states to prevent them from setting up systems to regulate and tax marijuana, as the initiatives contemplated. If a court agrees that such regulations are pre-empted by federal ones, it will open the door to a broader ruling about whether the regulatory provisions can be “severed” from those eliminating state prohibitions — or whether the entire initiatives must be struck down.

Radley Balko is on fire about this. Andrew Sullivan is Andrew Sullivan.

Breaking the Taboo, the documentary about the Drug War narrated by Morgan Freeman, premieres today. You can watch it on YouTube.

In better news for Washington state, these scenes of gay couples lining up for their marriage licenses are just fantastic. Officials in King County (Seattle) started work at midnight to get couples their licenses as soon as possible:

Asked whether the middle-of-the-night marriage license roll-out was necessary, King County Executive Dow Constantine said, “People who have been waiting all these years to have their rights recognized should not have to wait one minute longer.”

Walter Olson lays out the best case I’ve seen for not ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

My friends in the District will soon be able to buy spirits on Sundays.

Cigarette butts don’t always go to waste: It appears that birds use them in their nests, with the nicotine acting as a defense against parasites.

BuzzFeed writes the definitive obituary for Google Reader.