Dark and Stormy and the piracy paradox

My friend Tim Lee, whose new blog I linked to this morning, follows up on the Dark and Stormy controversy with a clarification about the purpose of trademark law:

[…] trademarks have a dramatically different policy rationale from patents and copyrights. Copyrights and patents are designed to create legal monopolies that drive up the price of creative works and thereby reward authors and inventors for their creativity. Although consumers may benefit from the resulting increase in creativity, the short-term effect is to force them to pay more than they would in a competitive market. Trademarks aren’t like that at all. The point is not to limit competition. To the contrary, the point is to enhance competition by ensuring that consumers know what they’re getting. This is why it’s emphatically legal to run comparative advertising featuring your competitor’s trademarks. Microsoft may own the “Windows” trademark, but Apple is free to use it as a punching bag as long as they don’t mislead consumers about what they’re getting.

The same principle applies in the Dark and Stormy case. The point of trademark law is to make sure consumers know what they’re getting (whether it’s Gosling or Zaya), not to give Gosling a monopoly on the concept of mixing ginger beer with rum. I haven’t seen Zaya’s ad and I’m not a trademark lawyer, so I don’t want to speculate on the legal merits of Gosling’s position. But certainly the apparent purpose of Zaya’s ad—encouraging bartenders to substitute their own rum in place of Gosling’s—is entirely within the spirit of trademark law. If the net effect of Gosling’s threats is that consumers wind up with fewer opportunities to try mixing ginger beer with different kinds of rum, that is certainly not what trademark law is supposed to accomplish.

This a good point. It’s also of interest that the recent boom in craft bartending has occurred with very little IP protection for recipes. Some enterprising writer might want to look into mixology as an example of creativity that thrives in a low IP environment as discussed in this famous paper on the “piracy paradox” in the fashion industry. My impression is that most of the recent innovations in recipes and technique have been driven by bartenders and bars seeking acclaim for their work and patrons eager to try their drinks; I’m personally thrilled when a recipe of my own invention is copied elsewhere, especially if credit is given to me or my bar. In contrast, the cocktails pushed by marketing campaigns tied to specific products are usually pretty unremarkable.

My perspective may be biased however by being so tied into the transparent, blogging parts of the bar community, and marketing cocktails may improve as firms realize the importance of getting their products used in craft bars. But even then it’s not clear that IP would play any essential role in the development of drink recipes.


Dark ‘n’ Sue Me

The Dark ‘n’ Stormy is a cocktail I like on a summer day. And like any good bartender, I know that it’s generally made with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum. What I didn’t know is that the name of the drink is a legal trademark:

That’s according to two trademark certificates on file with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which — in an exceptionally rare instance in the cocktail world — dictate the precise ingredients and amounts required to call a Dark ‘n’ Stormy, well, a Dark ‘n’ Stormy.

“We defend that trademark vigorously, which is a very time-consuming and expensive thing,” said E. Malcolm Gosling Jr., whose family has owned Gosling’s since its founding in Bermuda in 1806. “That’s a valuable asset that we need to protect.”

But a trademark-protected drink — especially one as storied and neo-classically cool as a Dark ‘n’ Stormy — seems anathema to the current bartending practice of putting creative individual spins on time-tested drinks. Drinks like this one undergo something like a wiki process: a tweak here, a substitution there, and the drink is reimagined.

As this article at Halogen Life notes, applying intellectual property to cocktails is a rare thing. (The article uses “patent,” “copyright,” and “trademark” somewhat interchangeably, but I think it generally intends to refer to trademarks.) An early example (non-trademark) is the Bacardi cocktail, which by court decision can only be made with Bacardi rum. This is understandable given the value of the brand name and the expectations of customers ordering it. Similarly, if a customer orders a Captain and Coke the bartender shouldn’t serve him a Sailor Jerry’s and Pepsi instead, at least not without asking. (Though I have to wonder if it’s possible to harm the Captain Morgan brand any more than one would do by actually serving Captain Morgan.)

Of the few cocktails that are trademarked, most are the gimmicky concoctions found in chain restaurants and tourist spots. The Dark ‘n’ Stormy is a rare trademarked cocktail that craft bartenders care about.

This would all be of merely intellectual interest if not for the fact that a competing rum company, Zaya, ran an ad in the most recent issue of Imbibe recommending its 12 Year Estate Rum in a Dark ‘n’ Stormy. According to the New York Times article quoted above, Gosling’s plans to take action protecting their trademark. Zaya responded with a press release arriving in my inbox on Monday:

Zaya Rum fully supports Mixology as an artform. By imposing a trademark or patent on a cocktail recipe one is suggesting to undermine a Mixologists’ artistic freedom. We applaud bartenders who put their personal thumbprint on a libation as an integral part of the artform; it’s what creates a recipe in the first place.

Gosling’s might be on solid legal ground, but as a craft bartender I’m firmly on the side of Zaya. I use Gosling’s in a Dark ‘n’ Stormy because it tastes good, but it’s hardly written in the fabric of the universe that no other rum pairs so perfectly with ginger beer. If another rum company thinks they’ve made a product that’s even better, I want them to tell me about it. Using unique ingredients in classic cocktails is part of what makes tending bar creative. For example, a couple weeks ago my pal RumDood wrote about his good results substituting different rums in the Painkiller, a cocktail marketed by Pusser’s Navy Rum. It’s that kind of experimentation that moves mixology forward.

Gosling’s contends that using any other rum in a Dark ‘n’ Stormy would leave customers unimpressed, decreasing sales of the cocktail and therefore of Gosling’s itself. Perhaps. The New York Times compares Gosling’s to Campari, but you don’t see bartenders throwing other Italian aperitifs willy-nilly into Negronis despite that drink’s not having any trademark that I know of. Or they give the drink a new name if they do, like the Cin-Cyn using Cynar; not because they’re required to, but because Campari really is distinctive enough to merit its own iconic cocktail. This kind of bottom-up market test is a working method of deciding when a recipe deserves a distinct name.

So when I see Gosling’s calling in the lawyers to prevent people from trying out substitutes, I start to doubt whether their rum is as good as they say it is. Hell, they’re a rum company. Would this kind of behavior impress Ernest Hemingway? Or would he mock them from his bar stool whilst demonstrating knife stunts and tossing back a daiquiri? The question answers itself!

Here’s the three-word response I’d rather see from Gosling’s: “Bring. It. On.” Dark ‘n’ Stormy competition, blind tastings by a panel of consumers and mixologists, sampled side-by-side. The loser pays for the winner’s ad campaign touting its brand as the ultimate rum for the Dark ‘n’ Stormy. What do you say, Gosling’s? Will you put your money where your mouth is?

No, of course they won’t. And I can’t say I blame them. They’ve got a good thing going with their trademark and no reason to risk losing it. But their actions have made me want to switch brands out of spite. If a “Dark ‘n’ Sue Me” shows up on my cocktail menu soon, you’ll know I found a winner.

Further discussion: Inventor’s Rock provides legal clarification and Vidiot at Cocktailians provides an excellent overview of coverage.

Update: It’s worth noting that Australian rum maker Bundaberg markets a bottled Dark and Stormy beverage. I have no idea if they have any plans to enter the US market, but keeping that particular bottle off of store shelves might be one reason Gosling defends its trademark so vigorously.


One more drink for the road

This morning I’m making attempt number two at flying out of Portland, but before I go I’ve got one more item to take a look at. The latest bottle to slide across the bar here at blogging headquarters is Sandeman 10 year old tawny port. I love port and don’t enjoy it nearly often enough. That’s party because of the price, but mainly because I worry about oxidation. The lifetime of an open bottle of port depends on a variety of factors, including style, age, temperature, air exposure, and personal taste. Buying a 750 ml bottle without guests to share it with requires making a commitment to drinking lots of port in the following days or weeks. Oh, such a terrible burden!

For those reasons I was happy to receive a sample of this Sandeman bottling. It has a thick, viscous mouth feel, appealing hints of raisin on the nose, and both raisin and vanilla flavor notes. I just glanced at the bottle, incidentally, and those are the same flavors the label writers highlight — a rare case where I tasted exactly what the marketers thought I would. It’s a delicious port that’s been calling me back for glass after glass and easily worth its $30-40 retail price. (By the way, the 10 year old designation for tawny ports is based on the average age of wines blended into them; they’re not made from grapes aged exactly 10 years.)

As much as I like this port on its own, this is a cocktail blog and I was sent this bottle with the intent that I’d mix some drinks with it. The first one I tried is the classic Coffee Cocktail, which, weirdly, doesn’t actually contain any coffee:

1.5 oz port
1.5 oz brandy
1 tsp simple syrup
1 egg
1 dash Angostura bitters (optional)

Shake well with ice, strain, and garnish with grated nutmeg. This is a fine dessert drink, but I didn’t find it very exciting.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with cocktails composed entirely of spirits, which can be more challenging than using sweeteners and juices and forces one to focus on harmonizing the flavors of ingredients. I’m not quite prepared to call the combination below a finished recipe, but it comes together nicely:

1.5 oz Cazadores reposado tequila
.50 oz Sandeman 10 yr port
splash of Benedictine
1 dash Fee Bros. rhubarb bitters

I’m especially happy with the tequila and rhubarb bitters combination. I picked up this new offering from Fee’s several months ago and it’s been sitting on my bar taunting me ever since. It has a wonderful flavor — so good that I’ll often dash some on my hand just to give it a taste — but I’ve been clueless as to what to do with it. I think the pairing with tequila has potential, the tart sweetness of the bitters just standing out above the spirit. If anyone else plays with the recipe above I’d be curious to hear your feedback.

Samantha Harrigan offers Sandeman port cocktail recipes from some other bloggers at Cocktail Culture. Robert Simonson suggests using the rhubarb bitters with Cynar; when my movers deliver the rest of my liquor in a couple weeks, I’ll have to give that a try.


The last word in mixology

Last Word cocktail

When you see green in a mixed drink, that’s often a sign that the bartender is getting carried away with sour apple pucker and it’s time for you to find another bar. Not so if the color comes from Chartreuse liqueur. My post today at Crispy on the Outside takes a look at the delightful Last Word cocktail.


MxMo Sleeping Scotsman


Back when I worked at Grape and Bean in Alexandria, VA, one of the items we specialized in was a variety pack of gourmet salts. One of these was a smoked sea salt that I absolutely loved. It was incredibly fragrant and, as I do with most tasty things, I immediately started thinking about how I could work it into a cocktail.

This month’s Mixology Monday provided the perfect opportunity to revisit that idea. Fellow Portlander Craig at Tiki Drinks and Indigo Firmaments chose the theme of spice:

Spice should give you plenty of room to play – from the winter warmers of egg nog, wassail and mulled products to the strange and interesting infusions of pepper, ceubub, grains of paradise, nutmeg — what have you! I would like to stretch the traditional meanings of spice (as the bark, seed, nut or flowering part of a plant used for seasoning) to basically anything used for flavoring that isn’t an herb. Salt? Go for it. Paprika? I’d love to see you try. I hear that cardamom is hot right now.

For this drink I picked up a pouch of Pacific Northwest Smoked Sea Salt distributed by a local company called Salt Central. It’s every bit as fragrant as what I had in Virginia. The package says it’s made from sea salt smoked over red alder wood and the aroma really is amazing. It makes me want to open the package every once in a while and shove my nose inside. A talented chef could probably make some delicious meat dishes with it. I’m not a talented chef by any means, so I stick to drinks.

The obvious use of salt in a cocktail is a Margarita with a salted rim. The alder aroma opens up new possibilities, Scotch offering itself as a fitting complement to sea salt and smoke. Wanting to retain the citrus component of the Margarita, I came up with this Sleeping Scotsman:

2 oz Scotch
.75 oz sweet vermouth
.5 oz orange juice
.25 oz lemon juice
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters

Shake and strain into a glass half-rimmed with smoked sea salt.

The salt is used here for the way its aroma complements the Scotch, so salting half the rim lets the drinker take in the fragrance without having to add it to the drink. The salt is delicious though, so enjoying some on a few sips isn’t a bad idea.

This drink’s closest relative is the Blood and Sand, which combines Scotch, sweet vermouth, orange juice, and cherry brandy, traditionally in equal parts. Here the Scotch takes center stage and the cherry brandy is omitted entirely. Adding Peychaud’s may seem like a strange choice, but its medicinal quality marries well with the Scotch, whereas the spiciness of aromatic bitters would seem out of place. Peychaud’s actually has a long history with the spirit, dating back at least to a footnote in David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks in which he recommends it over Angostura. A page before he also writes, “Just why anyone would want to make a cocktail with Scotch I wouldn’t know, any more than I can understand why anyone should want to kill the exquisite bouquet of a good champagne by blending it with sugar, Angostura, and lemon and calling it a champagne cocktail.” He’s right that Scotch really is harder to mix with than other whiskeys, but I think here I’ve come up with a drink that makes it worth diluting. I imagine it working well as a brunch drink for guys who want something a little more manly than the usual Mimosa.

Incidentally, this post marks my one year anniversary participating in Mixology Monday. My first contribution also involved Scotch and smoke, so this post is a fitting bookend. I’ve come a long way as a bartender since then. For much of that time I haven’t been working behind any bar aside from my own home setup, so MxMo has been an excellent spur to creativity.

As for the name of the drink… when you’re combining Scotch and salty aromas, there’s only one song that comes to mind.


Utah, future home of the Vieux Carré

We’re a little late to this, but Jeff Fulcher (whom I’m glad I finally got to meet at Cato’s Repeal Day event last week) notes that Utah’s strange alcohol laws have gotten even stranger. Though news coverage was distracted by the ban on “alcopops,” Utah has also implemented changes to its alcohol service laws in bars. Previously drinks were limited to 1 oz of liquor, but customers in some businesses could order an additional shot, or sidecar, to bring their drinks up to normal strength. The new law alters this. Drinks are now allowed a more sensible 1.5 oz of alcohol, but a change has been made to the sidecar rule: Customers can still order a sidecar but it has to be of a different liquor than the one in their drink, the theory being that this will prevent them from stiffening their already impotent cocktails.

As Jeff notes, this silliness opens the door to unintended consequences:

What’s the worst that happens when someone gets an extra shot of gin for their gin and tonics? They usually drop the extra hooch into the drink, creating a slightly stronger highball. The game changes if they can’t combine. All of the sudden, instead of diluting the booze it gets thrown straight down the gullet.

John Saltas writes that it’s easy to get around the law anyway, as long as you’ve got a willing friend:

So you’ll just order a gin and tonic with a side of vodka, and your date will order a vodka tonic with a side of gin. Then you’ll switch your side shots and pour yourselves doubles. Call this practice The Guv. The governor got grifted in the name of tourism—which won’t increase just because Utah plays mind games with alcohol.

Sounds like a plan. Yet the bottom line is that Utah’s very stupid laws make it very hard to get a decent drink. They operate on the idea that a cocktail is simply 1 or 1.5 ounces of liquor combined with a mixer. As any reader of this blog knows, good cocktails are usually much more complicated or at least much stronger than that. The world of mixology has more to offer than gin and tonics or rum and Cokes or any other variation of spirit X and mixer Y.

So what to do? As a service to my friends in Utah [Note: I don’t actually have any friends in Utah], here’s a tip for what to order under the new law. Order a Vieux Carré:

1 oz rye whiskey
1 oz Cognac
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 tsp Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir and serve over ice.

The Vieux Carré was invented at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans and named after the French Quarter. It’s a magnificent drink, one of my favorites for making at home. And most importantly, I believe it’s technically legal in Utah, since from what I understand vermouth counts as a “flavoring” and not as liquor. Therefore one could order the drink as above, leaving out the rye or Cognac and ordering it as a sidecar.

There are problems, of course. For starters one would have to find a bar in Utah that carries rye, Benedictine, and both kinds of bitters. That’s difficult anywhere outside of New Orleans, and I’m betting that it’s doubly so in Mormon country. The bartender is also unlikely to have any idea what a Vieux Carré is or how to mix one; the drinker will have to instruct him.

But still, this is an underappreciated cocktail, even in New Orleans. Utah is just the place to revive it. So it’s on you, my as yet non-existent Utah friends. You don’t get many chances to lead the way in mixology, but here you go. Spite the moral majority, bring back a classic cocktail, and enjoy a Vieux Carré.


“An interesting mix of tastes”

Kids, don’t try this at home. Baylen and Jerry have a cocktail showdown at the Crispy on the Outside potluck dinner. This goes without saying, but bacon is involved. Be sure to also check out Baylen’s revolutionary double straining technique, coming soon to a craft cocktail bar near you. There’s also a mercifully short video of me making an Aviation.


The Gingerbread Man’s Godson

Last month Hiram-Walker launched a couple of seasonal gingerbread and pumpkin spice liqueurs and they’re hosting a bloggers’ cocktail contest with the former. I agree with Lance’s take on the products, so visit his site for a longer review. In brief, they capture the right aromas, but they’re a little too thin for drinking on their own. In a fall or winter mixed drink, though, they can play a solid role.

Knowing I was up against a bevy of creative cocktail bloggers, my first attempt at trying a recipe far off the beaten path brought me back to our old friend the Dog’s Nose:

12 ounces warm porter or stout
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 ounces gin
freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

Would it be possible to replace the gin with whiskey and Hiram-Walker’s gingerbread liqueur to make a warming winter drink? Maybe, but there’s a limit to how many bottles of good stout I’m willing to waste in the microwave to find out! And that limit is one, so after one horribly wrong attempt I dropped this line of inquiry and went in a more sensible direction.

I didn’t have much stocked in my new apartment’s bar yet, but I did have Scotch. This suggested a play on the Godson with the gingerbread liqueur filling in for amaretto. So here’s a drink we’ll call the Gingerbread Man’s Godson:

2 oz Scotch
.75 oz Hiram-Walker gingerbread liqueur
.5 oz whipping cream

Shake over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg. The substitution works and the peatiness of the Scotch stands up to the sweetness of the cream and liqueur. It fits the bill for a simple winter dessert drink.

Samantha Harrigan is writing up all the cocktail entries on her weblog, Cocktail Culture. Head over there to check out the other drinks.


Free to Booze

Do you have plans for Repeal Day yet? This year’s the big one, the 75th Anniversary of the 21st Amendment. Cato’s marking the occasion with what looks to be a fun and informative policy forum:

Featuring Michael Lerner, author of Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City; Glen Whitman, author of Strange Brew: Alcohol and Government Monopoly; Asheesh Agarwal, Former Assistant Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Policy Planning; and Radley Balko, Senior Editor, Reason. Moderated by Brandon Arnold, Cato Institute.

On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, thus ending our nation’s failed experiment with Prohibition. Organized crime flourished during Prohibition, but what were the other effects of the national ban on alcohol? How and why was it repealed? Please join the Cato Institute for a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition and a discussion of its legacy and continuing impact on America. Drinks will be served following the discussion.

Note the “drinks will be served” line. These won’t be just the usual Cato beer and wine. Though we’re still working out the details, the plan is for me to be there mixing up a menu of classic pre-Prohibition cocktails.

But that’s not the best part. A few weeks ago I was at a friend’s bar in Eugene when he mentioned that he’ll be visiting DC the very same weekend. I told him about the Cato event and asked if he’d be interested in tending bar with me there. And lucky for us, he said yes. So you won’t just be getting drinks from this lowly libertarian cocktail blogger, but also from the man himself, Mr. Repeal Day, Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

It’s going to be a fun afternoon and we’d love to see you there. If you’re going to be in DC on December 5, RSVP for the event here, and be sure to also check out Jeff’s site RepealDay.org for more Repeal Day updates.


MxMo made from scratch

Kentucky Woman

This month’s Mixology Monday is hosted by Doug at Pegu Blog. His theme is made from scratch ingredients. This one sneaked up on me, so I didn’t have time for anything requiring long infusions. Bitters? No time. Tonic water? Brandied cherries? Done those already. With not many options left, this seemed like a good opportunity to try out the honey lavender syrup from The Art of the Bar:

1 cup hot water
.5 cup honey
.25 cup dried lavender

Keeping the water off boil, briefly infuse the lavender into it. Remove it from heat and pour it over the honey, stirring until mixed. Let it steep until cool, then pour through a sieve to remove the petals. You’re left with a sweet and distinctly fragrant syrup.

(Random aside: When I was in elementary school I developed an irrational dislike of honey. I don’t know if it was the fact that it came from bees or the silly bear jars or something else entirely, but for some reason I decided I did not like it. It wasn’t until the past year or so that revisited this belief and realized that honey is pure, sweet deliciousness.)

The guys at Absinthe used this syrup to make a lavender Sidecar. That’s a good drink, but a bourbon-honey combination struck me as a more natural pairing. After a bit of experimentation I came up with this Kentucky Woman cocktail:

1.75 oz bourbon
.5 oz honey lavender syrup
.25 oz lemon juice
2 dashes orange bitters

The ingredients all play very well together. The bourbon blends with the honey, the lemon adds a touch of acidity and brightness, and the lavender gives the drink a lovely floral aroma. It shines with its own kind of light; you drink it once and a day that’s all wrong looks all right. And I love her, God knows her I love her.

Wait, what? Sorry, I got a little carried away there. But it is a tasty cocktail and a nice syrup. Generally speaking I’m not sure that infusing syrup is the best approach to this kind of drink. Doing so ties sweetness to flavor, so that to add more of one you must also add more of the other. A lavender tincture and a separate syrup might be the better way to go. But like I said, I didn’t have time for that, and in this case the syrup works just fine.

Thanks to Doug for hosting this month. I’ll post a link to the roundup when he gets it posted.

Update: Doug’s got the full roundup right here. And he’s right, I do need to get out more.


A new use for orange bitters

For the past six months I’ve been putting in a lot more practice time on sleight of hand with cards, trying to get back to the level of skill I possessed back in high school and early college. One thing I’ve noticed is that my hands have become drier since then, often making it harder to handle playing cards. My palm and fingertips don’t get the traction they need for some essential moves. This goes away to some extent with practice, but it’s still problematic.

Many years ago I bought a bottle of Chamberlain Golden Touch, a glycerin solution that works wonders for dry hands. Unlike oily lotions, it moisturizes without leaving a slick residue, imparting a slight tackiness to skin that makes card manipulation much easier. I’d barely used it until this year, but lately I’ve been wondering in the back of my mind where I will find more when it runs out.

Coincidentally, I recently picked up a few bottles of Fee Brothers bitters. Looking at the bottles, I noticed that glycerin is one of the primary ingredients (this may be why their orange bitters are sweeter than others). Bitters are great in cocktails, but would they also be good for skin? This afternoon I tested the idea with a couple drops of West Indies Orange.

Oh man, the cards handled like a dream. There’s one sleight in particular that I’ve struggled to get back. Even with an old deck I was suddenly performing it flawlessly. It’s amazing how much of a difference the bitters make. Even now, a couple hours later, I can still feel the difference. They work just as well as the Golden Touch, perhaps better. And while the Golden Touch smells somewhat medicinal, the bitters have a nice orange aroma. Plus they’re good in cocktails and available in well-stocked bars and liquor stores. Unless it turns out that the Golden Touch goes great in a Martini, I don’t think I’ll be buying any more of it.

(I realize this post is probably useless to everybody who reads this blog, but someday a magician with dry hands will find it on Google and thank me.)


Everybody loves an Irish car bomb

I wasn’t much of a drinker in college so I missed out on that phase of imbibing nasty “punches” and jungle juices and whatever else it was the people who were getting drunk and high and having sex were doing. I was busy tossing frisbees and hanging out in coffee shops, or drinking an occasional glass of cheap wine with my philosophy professors, and that was about it. The semester I spent in DC loosened me up, though even then I once turned down a Long Island iced tea because “I don’t like tea.” Today I do like tea, and I especially like alcohol, so obviously things have changed a bit.

Because I came around late to the joys of drink, I don’t have many guilty pleasures, the theme of this month’s Mixology Monday hosted by Stevi Deter. My elitism was well developed by the time I got into cocktails, and if I’m in a crappy bar where I don’t trust the bartender I’ll order straight whiskey before taking my chances on some foul sour mix concoction. But I do have one secret shame: the mixologically dubious and politically incorrect Irish car bomb.

Irish car bomb recipe

Guinness was the first beer I really liked and I think it was my friend Chad Wilcox who first turned me on to dropping a shot of Jameson and Bailey’s Irish Cream into it. Since then I’ve never had a night that involved Irish car bombs that wasn’t fun. Some bad next mornings, sure, but the nights are always a blast.

A few years ago Chad and I tested the theory that everybody loves an Irish car bomb. We were at an Irish pub in Nashville and our eyes were caught by two attractive and completely out of place women sitting at the bar. Everyone else was relaxed in jeans or khakis with a beer in hand; these two were dolled up in cocktail dresses, sitting alone with glasses of red wine. One of us had the idea to have our server send them a pair of Irish car bombs “courtesy of the gentlemen in the corner,” a completely inappropriate drink. We made side bets about what would happen next: a dollar on whether they would drink them and a dollar on whether they’d come and talk to us. I put my money on yes for both.

The women were surprised when the drinks came, but they flashed big smiles and downed them like pros. Our timing couldn’t have been worse though. At just that moment their friends arrived, a group of five or six former frat boys, and it looked like we were going to break even on the bet. In the end they did eventually wander over and talk for a few minutes, but we parted ways as they went off into the Nashville nightlife and we headed back to Vanderbilt for an outdoor concert. Still, I was glad to get $2 off our car bomb experiment, and I’ve had a soft spot for the car bomb ever since.

Normally for Mixology Monday I try to perfect a recipe and post a photo of the finished drink. I’m staying with a bartender friend at the moment, and while he understands the cocktail blogger lifestyle I think even he might be concerned if I start downing car bombs in his kitchen. Photographing it would be tricky too, since the Bailey’s causes the whole thing to curdle into a nasty mess if it’s not consumed immediately. So instead I searched through Flickr for photos of people drinking Irish car bombs, and it seems that indeed everybody does love them. Take the blonde on the left, for example:

Jen Irish car bomb

That’s Jen. We went to high school together. Back then she was one of the good kids; I remember she’d stitched the words “I love Jesus” into her backpack, but never quite finished the “s.” Now she shows up with empty glasses when you search for Irish car bomb photos. No one can resist their allure.

The woman on the right here also loves a car bomb. Look at how proper she is. Her right hand’s extended to catch the drips, and note how she’s holding the glass: pinkies out! Who are you, mysterious woman who drinks a car bomb so daintily? Are you single?

Irish car bomb

The red-headed guy in the next photo may actually be Irish but the look on his face reveals that he is clearly not in touch with his culture. Here’s to learning about your heritage!

Irish car bomb

These party girls are drinking car bombs from very full pint glasses. Major points to them if they pull it off.

Irish car bomb

Guys with mohawks love car bombs.

Irish car bomb

It’s the backstory that makes that one. He’s apparently bonding with his girlfriend’s uncles here. When you’re a dude with a mohawk, nothing builds relations with the future in-laws like introducing them to Irish car bombs.

Asians like car bombs too.

Irish car bomb

Seriously, they really do.

Irish car bomb

Irish car bomb

Irish car bomb

It’s never too early in the morning to do a round of car bombs. Weak pours though. Buck up, it’s Saint Patrick’s Day!

Irish car bomb

Without the Bailey’s mustache, this guy is just another drunk with his shirt off. With it he’s pure sex appeal.

Irish car bomb

You know you’re at a good bar when they serve so many car bombs that they pre-mix the Bailey’s and whiskey in a store-n-pour.

Irish car bomb

Damn it, I want a car bomb now.

[Photo used under Creative Commons license: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.]


MxMo Martinez: Ur doing it wrong

Martinez cocktail

I’m coming in just under the wire for this month’s Mixology Monday — it’s still Monday somewhere, right? — where we’re kicking it old school with Bibulo.us and the theme of 19th century cocktails.

I owe the inspiration for this entry to Stevi Deter. In a post about Magellan gin at her new cocktail blog Two at the Most, she wrote:

If you don’t like floral infusions, you will not like Magellan. I like both. It is immediately apparent this isn’t a general-use gin. I can’t imagine using it in a Martinez, as I suspect the unique flavors wouldn’t mix well with sweet vermouth.

Say what? I’ve always made a Martinez with dry vermouth so that sweet vermouth comment threw me for a loop. That’s how I discovered I’ve been making one of the vintage cocktails the “wrong” way for quite a while now.

To see how I made this mistake, let’s step back a bit and talk about vermouth. This fortified and infused wine was long popular in Europe as a aperitif, but in the US drinkers were accustomed to stronger stuff. Sure, it could be enjoyed on its own, but why not stiffen it up with a shot of gin or whiskey? Such was the thinking of American bartenders in the late 1800s. Their legacy lives on in two truly classic cocktails, the Manhattan and Martini. The Manhattan, made with bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters, retains its 19th century flair. The Martini, unfortunately, has been diminished. The vermouth is all but gone, the gin nearly so. Today’s Martini drinkers are likely to want just plain vodka shaken over ice, as boring a drink as one could imagine. (I was always amused when customers complimented me on my Martini-making skills, me having done nothing but shake their chosen vodka over ice. Any idiot could have performed the task.)

Vermouth has suffered a long fall from grace. As Paul Clarke put it in his recent SF Chronicle article:

… by the mid-20th century, bartenders were following the lead of martini drinkers such as Winston Churchill, who is said to have merely glanced at a bottle of vermouth (or, in some versions of the story, in the direction of France) while preparing a drink. This trend toward drier martinis, combined with changing tastes toward lighter-flavored drinks and the advent of the vodka martini, meant vermouth became largely ignored and, as a result, misunderstood.

Today it’s not uncommon for a bottle of vermouth – deployed solely for the purpose of making martinis or Manhattans – to last weeks or even months in a standard bar, and many home bartenders may have bottles in their liquor cabinets that were purchased during the era of $2 gasoline.

That’s a damn shame, because vermouth can be a wonderful addition to a drink. Early versions of vermouth-based cocktails used it as the featured ingredient, often in double the amount of other liquors. Over time that ratio flipped, with traditional base spirits taking the lead and vermouth coming it at half the proportion, until we reached the point of today’s insipid vodka Martini. We can do better. That’s why for this month’s Mixology Monday I’m going back to a trio of cocktails featuring vermouth.

So let’s talk about the Martinez. Father of the Martini, recipes for the Martinez included yet another spirit that has fallen into obscurity: Maraschino. Distilled from cherries grown in Italy’s Marasca region, maraschino is a fruity, sweet, and slightly nutty liqueur that makes a fantastic addition to many cocktails. Adjusted for contemporary tastes, a modern Martinez looks something like this:

2 oz gin
.75 oz sweet vermouth
.25 oz maraschino
2 dashes orange bitters

This is a great cocktail. It’s reminiscent of a Manhattan, yet strangely different. The orange bitters are less spicy than Angostura. The gin imparts higher notes, more botanical, than bourbon. It doesn’t, however, fit the trend toward drier cocktails, and that’s how I made my mistake. I learned how to make a Martinez from Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz’s excellent book The Art of the Bar. The fault is all mine. As they describe the drink:

While the original Martinez is too sweet for most, we don’t believe the Martinez should be poured down history’s drain. On the contrary, we’ve developed a take on it that we feel is a perfect adaptation of a true classic. It is balanced, as a cocktail should be, and dry, as most of today’s martini drinkers prefer them.

Their version goes like this:

2 oz Plymouth gin
1 oz Dolin dry vermouth
Splash of maraschino liqueur
Dash of orange bitters
Lemon twist and olive for garnish

When I first got the book I read the full history of the Martinez, but when it came time to actually make the drink I skipped right to this recipe, not catching my error until reading Stevi’s post. I haven’t been able to find Dolin vermouth yet, but this is still an excellent drink — certainly an improvement over the stripped down Martini we’re left with today.

Since we’re on the topic of vermouth and the Manhattan remains our most enduring vermouth cocktail, I think it’s appropriate to finish with an 19th century variation on that classic tipple. This one comes from “The Only William” Schimdt’s The Flowing Bowl, as described in David Wondrich’s indispensable Imbibe!:

Half a tumblerful of ice
2 dashes of gum
2 dashes of bitters
1 dash of absinthe
2/3 drink [2 oz — Wondrich] of whiskey [rye]
1/3 drink [1 oz — Wondrich] [sweet] vermouth
A little [.25 oz — Wondrich] maraschino may be added

Stir this well, strain and serve.

There’s no need for sugar (gum) here; the drink is plenty sweet on its own. Just a tiny bit of absinthe goes a long way. It’s an intriguing variation, slightly sweeter and much more fragrant than the Manhattan you’re likely to be served in a bar today. Wondrich concludes:

… if you follow William Schmidt’s formula to a T, maraschino and all, you’ve got a drink that is a perfect metaphor for the 1890s, a decade of top hats and electric lights, automobiles and buggy whips. A final twist of lemon will do the drink, or you, no harm.

With these drinks we go back to a time when vermouth earned its place as a worthy complement to popular liquors. Try these three as a flight of cocktails, from Hollinger and Schwartz’s dry Martinez to a modern Manhattan. Vermouth forms the bridge, across the spirits and across the centuries.

Update: Paul Clarke gets vermouthy too and digs up a few obscure cocktails for this Mixology Monday.


MxMo in the UP, eh?


One of the casualties of my move west was my fairly extensive home bar. There’s only so much that can fit into my car and all those bottles, alas, didn’t make the cut. They’re all either given to friends who helped me move or put into storage. So if you can find my storage locker in Virginia and break the lock, you can have a hell of a party on me.

Because of this I was a little worried about the upcoming Mixology Monday. I have almost nothing on me and the only nearby liquor store in my present location of Upper Peninsula Michigan doesn’t offer much besides bad gin, Canadian whiskey, and a tiny selection of other basic spirits. Luckily, this month’s MxMo happens to be perfectly tailored to my situation. Kevin at Save the Drinkers chose the theme of “local flavor” to guide our mixing:

Option 1: Gather ingredients that are representative of the culture/geography/tackiness of your respective cities and make a drink with a truly place-based style. For example, huckleberries are native to the geographical area where I live, as are elderflowers, potatoes, and extremely conservative, closet-case politicians. (I’m just saying!)

Option 2: Dig up an old drink that came from your city and revive it! If you can find the original bar, that would be even more interesting.

I don’t know of any cocktails created in Cederville or Hessel, so option 1 it is. The first step was to find the starting spirit, and this is one case in which the local liquor store came through for me: True North vodka from the new Grand Traverse Distillery. It’s not quite Upper Peninsula, but Traverse City is close enough, and with each batch pot distilled from locally-grown rye I couldn’t say no. While I’m not a vodka enthusiast, this one retains enough of its character that I’d happily drink it straight on the rocks. A good find.

This being cherry country, True North also makes a vodka flavored with “cherry essence and a hint of chocolate,” so I picked up a bottle of that too. It tastes a bit too medicinal for me on its own, but the flavors are well-balanced.

So now we’re up to two Northern Michigan ingredients, but I wanted to make this even more local. The next step was to wander around our cottage plucking leaves off of trees, taking in their aromas, and figuring out what would go best in a cocktail. Spruce narrowly beat out balsam for the strongest and most enticing scent, so I cut off a few of sprigs and brought them inside for an infusion. I trimmed the needles into a bowl, poured in a sample amount of vodka, and let it sit over night.

The result? Very strong, true spruce flavor and aroma. Enough so that I repeated the process and sacrificed half the bottle of True North to another batch and after several experiments landed on the following Yoopertini. (As much as I hate the trend of tacking “-tini” onto whatever foul concoction pops into a bartender’s head, since this drink is actually derived from a classic martini I’m making an exception.) Here’s how it goes:

1.5 oz True North spruce-infused vodka
3/4 oz True North cherry vodka
3/4 oz dry vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a martini glass. No, the Cedarville liquor store doesn’t carry orange bitters. Those were one of the few things I packed. Vermouth and orange bitters aren’t locally made, but with the vodkas and the spruce we have three purely local ingredients. It’s not, perhaps, the best drink I could make with spruce vodka and a full bar to work with, but it’s still pretty good and it aptly captures the taste of Northern Michigan in the summer.

Added bonus: After drinking several variations on this, I realized it would probably be a good idea to make sure that there’s nothing toxic about spruce trees. Turns out that the shoots of many spruces are a source of vitamin C and that Captain Cook used spruce beer to protect his crew against scurvy. So between this drink and homemade tonic water, I’m warding off all kinds of diseases that I have virtually no chance of catching anyway. To health!


Remember to drink lots of water

Early Thursday morning I’ll be catching a flight to New Orleans to join bartenders, distillers, and cocktail enthusiasts from around the world for Tales of the Cocktail, a five day cocktail extravaganza. There will be classes, cocktail dinners, parties, happy hours, competitions, and a tasting room that opens at 10:30 am, so you’ll understand if my blogging gets a little off schedule and/or incomprehensible this week.

This is my first chance to meet up with lots of cocktail bloggers I currently know only online. If you’re reading this, let’s get a drink! And for those of you not going to New Orleans, I welcome recommendations for what to do there. It’s my first time in the city, and while I won’t have a lot of free time, I’d like to try out some of the local favorites.

Here’s what I’m registered for at Tales so far:

First on Thursday, assuming my flight isn’t delayed, is Molecular Mixology with Jamie Boudreau, followed by The Scented Trail: Techniques on How to Develop Aroma in Your Cocktails and Artisan Still Design and Construction. For the spirited dinner I’m headed to Palace Cafe for what sounds like an amazing menu from Ben Thibodeaux, Paul Clarke, and James Meehan.

On Friday I’m taking things easier with just two classes, How To View Beer As An Ingredient Rather Than The Drink Unto Itself and Cocktails Of Old Raj: East Meets West at India’s Bar, followed by the Tiki Block Party and then whatever debauchery continues into the evening. Saturday I’ll be back in class for Making Your Own Cocktail Ingredients, and from then on the weekend is open for tasting, exploring, signing up for additional seminars, or trying to make the throbbing in my head go away.


MxMo bourbon: Amy’s Mom

Ginger ale cocktail

Because my friend Amy was there at the time, and her mom likes ginger drinks, and that’s how this one came to be…

This month’s Mixology Monday theme is bourbon, hosted by my fellow Arlingtonians at Scofflaw’s Den. Bourbon’s one of my favorite spirits, and a conversation about drinks made with ginger ale inspired my friend and I to try out the Bufala Negra from the Oakroom in Louisville, KY, as printed in the Food and Wine 2008 Cocktails 2008 guide. It’s a drink that combines balsamic vinegar and basil — a duo I enjoyed in my previous MxMo — with bourbon and ginger ale. I’m sure it’s a great drink at the Oakroom, but it was missing a little something when I made it at home. Maybe it was the ginger ale I used (Reed’s) or the substitution of balsamic syrup for separate vinegar and simple syrup (see the previous entry), but it needed a little bit more complexity.

That’s where the allspice dram comes in. Originally known as “pimento dram,” the obscure liqueur fell out of favor and was largely forgotten except among true drink enthusiasts, some of whom turned to making homemade versions from rum, allspice, and sugar. Luckily, it’s back, and with a name that doesn’t bring to mind those weird red things in the center of cocktail olives: St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram. (DC area readers can find it at Central Liquors.)

Allspice, so named because the berries of the pimento bush reminded the English or clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices all at once, is intensely aromatic, and can add wonderful complexity to cocktails. Often used in tiki drinks, it also plays well with bourbon, as in the classic Lion’s Tail. A little dash of it was just what my drink needed, and we’re pretty sure Amy’s mom would like it too. Here’s a recipe that worked for me, but vary it to fit your particular ingredients:

3 basil leaves, plus 1 for garnish
1/3 oz balsamic syrup
2 oz bourbon (I used Bulleit)
1/4 oz allspice dram
ginger ale (I used Reed’s)

Muddle the basil leaves with the syrup, add the bourbon and allspice dram, shake, and strain over ice. Top with a short pour of ginger ale. Add the garnish and enjoy.

Update 6/19/08: The month’s full recap is posted here.


Brown tonic water is delicious

A few weeks ago I experimented with making my own tonic water. Originally a true tonic meant to ward off malaria through the intake of quinine, tonic water was a medicinally bitter product that went down well with gin. Modern tonics are weak and sweet in comparison.

The hardest part of making homemade tonic water was finding the ingredients. They’re readily available online, but harder to find locally. Citric acid is supposedly found in well-stocked stores, but I had no luck finding it. Instead I repeated conversations like this:

“Excuse me, do you carry citric acid?”

“I don’t think so. What do you need it for?”

“I’m making tonic water.”

“Oh. You know we do sell tonic water.”

“Yes, but it’s not the same.”

So at least a few store clerks think I’m completely insane. In any case, I was finally able to find the acid and cinchona bark, the source of quinine, at La Cuisine in Alexandria. I then made a batch of homemade tonic water using Kevin Ludwig’s recipe from Imbibe, which calls for citric acid, the bark, lemongrass, sugar, and lime. It’s a far superior product — snappy, bitter, and with a unique flavor of its own. Commercial tonics, in contrast, are little more than a vehicle for diluting gin.

Friends have been asking me to post the recipe. Since this was my first attempt and I haven’t yet added anything of my own to it, I’ve been reluctant to do so. Luckily, I don’t have to: Jeffrey Morgenthaler posted his own variation this morning. It looks like a tasty, approachable recipe with more fruit and spice, one that might appeal to a wider audience unaccustomed to a strong quinine taste. If you’re curious to try an authentic tonic water, Jeff’s version could be a great place to start.