Mixology Monday: Inversion

Hopped Up Nui Nui -- traditional recipe + 1 oz IPA.

It’s a good thing Mixology Monday has been revived or I might not have posted a new cocktail at all this month. The theme for February is “Inverted.” Host Putney Farm explains:

A while ago, while researching Julia Child’s recipes, we noticed that she was well-known for enjoying “upside-down” or “inverted” Martini’s (God bless her). This is a version of the classic cocktail that swaps the ratios of gin and vermouth, turning the Martini into something of a “long drink”. And if you are cooking for hours at a time (or gardening with a cocktail- something we highly recommend), the Inverted Martini is a very tasty drink.

We wondered if we could apply the same “inverted” approach to Mixology Monday and, at first, didn’t think it would work. But then we asked ourselves, what does “inverted” really mean? Well, here is the definition:
-
To turn inside out or upside down
To reverse the position, order, or condition of
-

Hmm…it appears that the definition is pretty broad. It seems that “inverted” really just means something “flipped on its head”. And that can mean almost anything, and leaves plenty of room for creativity. So we are going with the “inverted” theme. You can invert the ratios of spirits, liqueurs or bitters in a cocktail, but we suggest you go beyond that and “invert” whatever you want. Spirits, name, ingredients, proof, color, geography, garnish and glassware are all fair game. An apéritif made with Navy-Strength booze? Give it a try. A beer-based cocktail that tastes like champagne? Sure. A clear Manhattan? Worth a shot (and good luck with that). The only thing we expect is the unexpected. Have fun.

No ideas were springing to mind for this one, so I mentioned the prompt to my fellow bartender at Metrovino, Kj DeBoer. He came up with the solution in no time. Deschutes Brewery, he noted, makes a beer called Inversion IPA. Brilliant! I could “invert” a drink by adding Inversion IPA to it.

But which drink to choose? I thought immediately of tiki cocktails, which I view as prime candidates for the addition of beer. Tiki drinks are characterized by their use of rum, fruit, and big, spicy flavors. I like them, but I can usually only do about one per night before I’m ready to move on to drinks with more bitter elements. Hoppy beers are a great way to add bitterness to tiki drinks: They give the drinks backbone, hops play well with citrus, and shaking beer with the other ingredients makes for a frothy head, creating a velvety mouthfeel.

For this Mixology Monday, I decided to try adding Inversion IPA to the Nui Nui cocktail. This is one of the tiki drinks I gravitate to when it’s on the menu, offering bold, spicy flavors. Beachbum Berry credits it to Donn the Beachcomber’s Mandalay Bar at the Colonel’s Plantation Beefsteak House in Hawaii, circa 1958. My only addition is the beer, and I shake it rather than blend it.

2 oz amber rum
1 oz IPA
1/2 oz lime juice
1/2 oz orange juice
1/4 oz cinnamon syrup
1/4 oz Donn’s Spices #2
1 dash Angostura bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with an orange peel or cherries.

You can make your own syrups, but I’m lazy and live in Portland so I use those commercially available from B. G. Reynolds. For the rum I used El Dorado eight year, which may be overkill and isn’t traditional, but it sure is good. Feel free to substitute other IPAs if not constrained by a Mixology Monday theme.

The new Black Glove and fancy garnishes

black-glove Today’s Wall Street Journal includes a story on fancy and functional cocktail garnishes. I’m flattered that they chose to include a cocktail recipe from Metrovino, the Black Glove:

It’s not the ebony color that surprises drinkers most when they order a Black Glove cocktail at Metrovino in Portland, Ore. It’s the curious frill straddling its rim. The garnish, a preserved green walnut wrapped in a strip of orange peel, embodies the flavors of the cocktail—the sweetness of rum, nuttiness of nocino (a green walnut liqueur) and sharpness of bitters—in one bite. “The walnuts bring out the flavor of the nocino and add a texture like chewy candy,” said the Black Glove’s creator, Jacob Grier.

I posted about this drink once before, but for the article I adapted the recipe to work with commercially available ingredients. The nocino made by Todd Steele, the owner of Metrovino, is drier and spicier than what’s commercially available. I changed the rum selection, altered the proportions, and added a dash of bitters, and I have to say I’m very happy with the results. If you wanted to try this drink at home, make it this way:

2 oz aged rum (Gosling’s Black Seal)
1 oz sweet vermouth (Dolin)
1/2 oz nocino (Nux Alpina)
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with orange peel and preserved green walnut. You can buy the walnuts from Harvest Song here.

Read the whole article for more garnish ideas, including a beer cocktail garnished with speck.

[Photo by F. Martin Ramin for the Wall Street Journal, styling by Anne Cardenas.]

The Black Glove

blackglove

This morning I tweeted with frustration about the inane Dark Knight Rises themed cocktail press releases that were arriving in my inbox. It didn’t occur to me that my agenda for the day included writing about my own Batman-inspired cocktail recipe. Hypocrite, thy name is Grier! (In my defense, the name for this drink comes from Grant Morrison’s fantastic run on the comics and its appearance alongside the new Christopher Nolan movie is completely coincidental.)

A while back the owner of Metrovino, Todd Steele, harvested a bunch of green walnuts to make Nocino, a liqueur made by steeping the unripe nuts in neutral spirits. The liqueur came out powerfully flavored, pitch black and both drier and spicier than the commercial versions I’ve tried. We decided to embrace the darkness and pair it with the very molassesy Cruzan Black Strap rum in this rich variation on the Manhattan:

1 1/2 oz Cruzan Black Strap rum
1 oz Dolin sweet vermouth
1/2 oz house Nocino

Stir with and serve up. Garnish with an orange peel and preserved walnut. (The preserved walnuts come from Armenia and are produced by Harvest Song; they deserve a post all their own and make the perfect edible garnish for drinks made with Nocino.)

Since we only produced two bottles of house Nocino, the Black Glove is available for an inherently limited time. Get it while it lasts!

I haven’t tried making this with a commercial Nocino, but my guess is one would have to reduce the amount of liqueur used and add aromatic bitters to prevent the drink from becoming too sweet.

Naval Traditions

absinthe3

This month’s Mixology Monday is hosted by David Solmonson at the wonderful 12 Bottle Bar:

As is the case for each event, the hosting site gets to choose the theme, and we’ve picked the ever-so-vague-yet-commanding “Come to Your Senses!”

We all know that cocktails are supposed to taste good, and for this event, we’re going to take that as a given. What we’re looking for, instead, are drinks that truly excite one or more of the other senses: touch, smell, sight, or even hearing. Of course, it you want to get scientific about it – and why wouldn’t you – there are even more sensations which can be played with (echolocation, anyone?).

My drink for this month involves fire. Why? Because fire sells drinks. How else to explain the otherwise inexplicably and cursedly popular Spanish Coffee? Light a drink on fire and customers are going to ask about it. In my bar, where the cocktails compete with 70+ wines available by the taste or glass, that’s no small thing. However I’m not interested in setting drinks on fire without reason or hiding inferior ingredients under pyrotechnic theatricality. The fire should improve the drink in some way.

In this case, fire comes in the form of a flamed mist of rum and orange bitters. The burnt bitters leave a strong aromatic presence that lingers over the surface of the drink. The cocktail appeals to three senses: The sight of the flame, the scent of the bitters, and (hopefully!) the taste of the combined ingredients.

The name for this cocktail came long before the recipe. There’s an apocryphal story about Winston Churchill remarking of tradition in the British Navy that “It’s nothing but rum, sodomy, and the lash.” This appears to be a false attribution, although according to the Churchill Centre and Museum he wished he had said it. Regardless, a friend of mine once suggested that Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash would make a great name for a cocktail, and it’s been at the back of my mind ever since.

The opportunity to use it came a few months ago at the bon voyage party for Portland bartender Tommy Klus before he left to spend a few months in Scotland. I was taking a turn behind the bar and was asked to improvise a cocktail with the limited range of ingredients available to us . Aged rum, black strap rum, peaty Scotch, turbinado syrup, bitters, and a canister of orange oil for flaming turned out to be a winning combination. Here’s a slightly revised version of that deep, dark drink:

1 3/4 oz aged rum
1/2 oz black strap rum
1/2 oz turbinado syrup
1/4 oz Islay Scotch
2 dashes spiced bitters
flamed orange bitters

Stir the first five ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and flame the bitters over the drink to finish. I use Cruzan for the rums and Ardbeg for the Scotch. The turbinado syrup is in a 1:1 ratio. The spiced bitters are an equal parts mix of Angostura bitters and allspice dram (also used in the Lazy Bear). For the flamed orange bitters, mix equal parts Regan’s orange bitters and 151-proof rum in a mister bottle and spray through a flame above the glass. (Note: The photo above is from a different cocktail that uses the bitters torch. I’m on the road right now with none of the ingredients needed to make the one in this post.)

This would have been the perfect cocktail to name as my friend suggested. There’s rum, obviously. The burst of flame is a lash. And I guess that leaves Scotch for the other thing. Sorry, Scotch. However I don’t work at the kind of place where I can put “sodomy” on the menu (in a manner of speaking!), so the actual name for this drink is an allusion to the falsely attributed Churchill quote, an in-joke for my friends at the bar. It’s listed as Naval Traditions.

Update 8/17/11: Below the break, my friend Tom sends in an animated GIF of the bitters torch in action!
[Read more...]

Mixology Monday: Beer!

coconut

I’d be stupid not to take part in this month’s Mixology Monday hosted by Cocktail Virgin:

This month the chosen theme will be beer cocktails.

While beer being used as an ingredient in modern cocktails has gotten a lot of press as of late, this is not a new trend. Beer has played a historical role in mixed drinks for centuries. For example, it can be found in Colonial drinks like the Rumfustian, Porter Sangaree, and Ale Flip. While many of these drinks are not seen in modern bars save for craft cocktail establishments, other beer drinks are though, including the Boilermaker, Black Velvet, and Michelada. And present day mixologists are utilizing beer with great success including Kelly Slagle’s Port of Funchal, Jacob Grier’s Averna Stout Flip, and Emma Hollander’s Word to Your Mom. Bartenders are drawn to beer for a variety of reasons including the glorious malt and roast notes from the grain, the bitter and sometimes floral elements from the hops, the interesting sour or fruity notes from the yeast, and the crispness and bubbles from the carbonation. Beer is not just for pint glasses, so let us honor beer of all styles as a drink ingredient.

Coincidentally, July is Oregon Craft Beer Month and we’re coming up on the one year anniversary of the first Brewing Up Cocktails event put on by me, Yetta Vorobik, and Ezra Johnson-Greenough. In the time since we’ve been experimenting with themed beer cocktail events, whether that be creating a menu around a specific brewery (Ninkasi, Oakshire, and Hopworks) or a type of drink (nothing but flips!). For our anniversary party we’ll be serving beer cocktails with a loosely interpreted tiki theme. Details are coming soon, but in the meantime here’s a preview of one of the new (and thus far unnamed) drinks:

2 oz Maui Brewing Coconut Porter
1 1/2 oz English Harbour rum
1 1/2 oz coconut milk
1/2 oz Galliano Ristretto
1/2 oz allspice or pimento dram
Angostura bitters mist, for garnish

Shake the first five ingredients, strain into a rocks or wine glass, and garnish with the Angostura mist.

This is a weird drink. The idea of mixing coconut porter and coconut milk was Ezra’s, and I was skeptical at first. However this comes together really nicely and has a rich flip-like consistency. The pimento dram adds big spice flavors, the Galliano Ristretto espresso liqueur adds depth and sweetness, and the coconut milk puts this in the running for the most unhealthy cocktail we’ve come up with yet.

Stay tuned for more info about the Brewing Up Cocktails anniversary event on Saturday, July 30, at The Hop and Vine.

Rum and trademarks

Since intellectual property law and cocktails are a recurring topic here, it’s worth mentioning a couple recent developments. First, the tiki-themed craft cocktail bar Painkiller in New York has been forced to change its name to PKNY after Pusser’s rum sued over its use of the name Painkiller, a pre-existing cocktail that the company trademarked:

In the lawsuit filed April 12 in U.S. District Court, plaintiff Pusser’s Rum Ltd., which sells rum, cocktail mixers and rum products such as cakes under the brand name “Painkiller” sued tiki bar owners Giuseppe Gonzalez and Richard Boccato, claiming irreparable harm to its brand, unfair competition and unfair business practices, according to court documents on file in the Southern District of New York. [...]

The plaintiffs demanded that the bar stop calling itself and any of its drinks by the name Painkiller, for which they hold two U.S. trademarks, one for “alcoholic fruit drinks with fruit juices and cream of coconut and coconut juice,” and one for “non-alcoholic mixed fruit juices,” which they market as “Pusser’s Painkiller Cocktail Mix.” [...]

In a consent order signed by both parties May 16, Gonzalez and Boccato, along with their corporate entity, Essex Street Bar & Lounge, Inc., agreed to be “permanently restrained and enjoined” from using the trademarked term Painkiller or “any other confusingly similar term” in association with any bar, restaurant, grill, lounge or other establishment, or any “beverage, libation or cocktail” unless it is made with Pusser’s rum. They also agreed not to use the term in any marketing or advertising materials, and to give up their website domain within 45 days of the order, though the court did not require them to turn it over to Pusser’s.

Similarly, Portland’s own Trader Tiki has been forced to change the name of his line of syrups to B. G. Reynolds. He doesn’t name the company that would object to his marketing a line of tiki syrups with “Trader” in the name, but if you’re into cocktails you can probably make a good guess who that might be. (Side note: Why do these disputes always seem to involve rum and tiki companies?)

About a year ago, I was approached by the owners of another company of similar name, and asked cordially to stop calling myself a Trader and go off and do something else. I fought tooth and nail, but they weren’t having it. So, in respect to the original “Trader”, and with the advice of a few good friends, I am moving forward with the name change from Trader Tiki’s Exotic Syrups to B.G. Reynolds’ Exotic Syrups.

Naturally this is creating some ill will in the cocktail community, at least in the direction of Pusser’s, which is getting blasted on Twitter today. This is part of a general backlash against trademarking cocktail names (see the conflict over the Dark and Stormy). There’s also a lot of confusion over copyright and trademarks. Tim Lee helpfully clarified the difference last year:

But perhaps the most important difference is that 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 apparentl 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 is a matter of trademark law, not copyright. The company actively markets and owns a trademark to a product called Pusser’s Painkiller Cocktail Mix. So while it was arguably excessive of them to sue a tiki bar with the same name, it’s not totally implausible that the bar might create confusion among customers.

A more concerning part of the settlement is the requirement that PKNY no longer offer any drink called a Painkiller that doesn’t use Pusser’s rum. Though the settlement doesn’t bind anyone else, liquor companies would love to be able to trademark popular cocktails and forbid bars from substituting other brands. This is part of what was behind the Dark and Stormy dispute, and there are rumors of one whiskey brand sending cease and desist orders to bars advertising a classic drink of the same name if they don’t use their product (I haven’t been able to confirm this, so I’m not naming it here). If this strategy continues, that would be potentially be much more restrictive of bartenders’ creativity. Whatever the legal merits of the case, Pusser’s deserves all the scorn their receiving for forcing use of their rum in a cocktail that they didn’t invent.

MxMo Lazy Bear

Lazy Bear 008

Hey, wait, it’s Mixology Monday time again? Lucky for me, this month’s theme hosted by Spirited Remix requires no new work:

The theme is quite simple: your best. Give me the best drink recipe you’ve ever created.

No, I’m not really talking about that awesome drink that you made under pressure and on the fly for your friends one evening. I’m not talking about that kickass nightcap that you whipped up using the last bits from those few bottles that you needed to throw away.

I’m talking about that one drink that you’ve worked on for quite a while. The one that you’ve carefully tweaked over time until you found that perfect recipe. The one you’ve made tons of times: sometimes alone in contemplation, sometimes for a guest so that you could get their opinion.

It’s hard to choose just one. I find that my drinks are like children: Delightful when I first make them, but once they’re a couple years old I’m embarrassed to be seen with them. I mean, uh, I love them all equally and they’re all precious in their own way.

But if a measure of a good drink is that other people start making it too, then the one that stands out from this blog is the Lazy Bear. Created for my friends David and Jeanette’s wedding and named after David’s underground San Francisco restaurant, it was a hit at the reception. But more importantly, David and Jeanette have continued to make the cocktail, as have other friends, and it’s on the menu at Metrovino. It’s a simple, refreshing drink combining some of my favorite spirits:

3/4 oz Jamaican rum (preferably Smith and Cross)
3/4 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz honey syrup (1:1 honey and water)
3/4 oz lime juice
2 dashes Fee’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Shake and serve on the rocks. It’s really easy and the funkiness of the rum balances with spicy whiskey, sweet honey, and tart lime.

This is also a good time to mention one update to the recipe. The Fee’s bitters are great, but I can’t always find them. A substitute we use at Metrovino is a 1:1 mix of Angostura bitters and St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram. Three dashes of this mixture work nicely here, and I’ve been using these “spiced bitters” in some other drinks too.

The Lazy Bear Cocktail

Lazy Bear 008

Last weekend I had the pleasure of traveling to San Francisco for the wedding of my friends David and Jeanette. David’s behind the underground meals of Lazy Bear in SF, where he serves some amazing dishes. (Seriously, amazing. Go check out his blog if you haven’t before.) Rather than go with a traditional caterer, David and Jeanette wisely hired a high-quality taco truck to park outside the reception and provide us with all the tacos we pleased, a privilege I abused with gusto. I would love to see more weddings do this, especially if I can pose as a guest and score free tacos.

In this case I was earning my tacos with some drink making. David had asked if, as my wedding gift, I’d be willing to come up with a few cocktails and serve them for a while at the reception. I figured this would be a great way to meet women while doing something I’m good at (bartending) rather than something I’m terrible at (dancing), so of course I said yes. David also requested that one of the drinks be called a Lazy Bear. This suggested to me using honey syrup, and after some fun experimentation I came up with this for the wedding:

3/4 oz Jamaican rum (preferably Smith and Cross)
3/4 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz honey syrup (1:1 honey and water)
3/4 oz lime juice
2 dashes Fee’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Shake and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Optionally garnish with an edible flower, but it’s aromatic enough as is and lazy bears don’t have time for flower picking.

Lastly, congratulations to David and Jeanette! The “ceremony-ish thing” was beautiful, touching, and at times hilarious, and I’m happy for you both.

Know your cane spirits

This month’s Culinate column (and by this month I mean August) is all about fresh sugar cane spirits, particularly cachaça and rhum agricole.

Ron Zacapa, good cigars, and Portland summer

Scotch and cigars are a classic pairing, but lately I’ve been turning more and more toward rum as my spirit of choice when enjoying a cigar. One of my favorite rums for smoking is the incredibly rich Ron Zacapa Centenario, a Guatemalan rum distilled from sugar cane “honey” and aged for 23 years via the solera method. In short, this means that rum lost to evaporation one year is replaced with rum from the next, meaning that each barrel contains a blend of rums from each year. The rum is smooth, sweet, and very cooling, which can be an agreeable feature when having a cigar. For people who haven’t paired rum and cigars before, Zacapa is an eye-opening experience.

On Tuesday, July 13, my friend Ed Ryan from the Portland Cigar Club and I putting together an event at Alu Wine Bar and Lounge to bring together Ron Zacapa and cigars on the Alu patio. Ed’s bringing in two cigars, the Honduras Caribbean Honduran Puro Maduro and the Kinky Friedman Kinkycristo, which is a blend of Honduran & Nicaraguan tobaccos wrapped in a Costa Rican binder and a Honduran wrapper. These will be matched with Ron Zacapa served neat and in two cocktails. This is a fantastic deal, but space is limited, so buy your ticket on PayPal to reserve your seat.

How to make coffee bitters

Yesterday’s Cocktail Camp event at Portland’s New Deal Distillery was a lot of fun. My presentation was about the use of coffee and tea and cocktails, so I’ve been trying out some interesting experiments that I’ll be posting here later this week. My talk ended up coming in two parts. In the first I gave a quick Coffee 101 lecture, discussed the basics of brewing, and explained why coffee can be a difficult ingredient to work with in a bar setting. Many of us craft bartenders treat it horribly. We’d never serve citrus juice that we’d squeezed a week ago but we essentially do that with coffee by using stale beans, pre-grinding, or just not brewing properly. Many standard coffee cocktails could be improved simply by getting the fundamentals right.

However some bartenders may not have access to good coffee and we may not want to limit coffee cocktails to hot drinks, so in part two we got to the fun part: Actually making cocktails using coffee as an ingredient in other ways. One of these is by making coffee bitters. Lance Mayhew and I started working on our first batch of these in December and are really happy with the recipe we’ve developed since then. It’s fairly simple so we hope others will try them out as well. The ingredients are:

750 ml Lemonhart 151-proof rum
peel from two medium-sized oranges
24 g coffee, coarsely ground with a mortar and pestle
approximately 2.5 g orris root*
1 star anise

Combine all ingredients in a jar and let steep, tasting daily to check their progress; 4 days to a week will probably be enough time. Decant through a fine mesh strainer and transfer to a bitters bottle.

For the coffee we used Stumptown’s Costa Rica Herbazu in each batch for the sake of consistency. I’m curious to see how other coffees might affect the bitters, but I think any Central American coffee that hasn’t been too darkly roasted should be fine.

The above recipe makes a lot of bitters and uses an entire bottle of rum, so feel free to halve or quarter it for a smaller yield. And for a cocktail to use them in, try the Antigua Old-Fashioned featuring English Harbour rum.

* Update 4/18/10: Quick clarification: This is dried, chopped orris root, not powder.

Diageo bids for Chinese spirits maker

From the Telegraph:

Diageo has sought to take advantage of the continued march of the Chinese consumer by launching an offer worth up to £610m for a local white spirit venture in the Asian country.

The drinks giant said the full offer for the company, which is not expected until the second half of 2010, would give it a springboard to expand its share of one of the fastest-growing spirits markets in the world.

That’s a little over 900 million in US dollars. And yes, that’s the same Diageo that’s currently threatening to take its Captain Morgan production outside the US if taxpayers don’t pick up the tab for a new distillery in the Virgin Islands.

Additional reading: This paper [.pdf] from the Congressional Research Service provides the most thorough, balanced explanation and appraisal of the rum cover over that I’ve seen yet. This blog previously covered the Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands dispute here.

Demon rum, demented tax code

I get a lot of liquor press releases every day. Usually they’re about new products or horrible, horrible cocktails designed for marketing efforts. Today’s batch includes a release that’s all about trade and taxes:

MERCEDITA, Puerto Rico–Destilería Serrallés released the following statement from Roberto Serralles, Vice President, in response to a 13-page invective issued by Diageo yesterday claiming a conspiracy to “kill” the Captain Morgan Rum production deal between Diageo/U.S.V.I.

“Destilería Serrallés has consistently highlighted the dangers of permitting that unreasonable and excessive rum subsidies be given to any corporation. Our main focus has been, and continues to be, for Congress to hold hearings and to study the merits of HR 2122. This legislation seeks to responsibly regulate the rum cover-over program by placing an-across-the-board 10% cap on subsidies to the rum industry. This is exactly how Puerto Rico has self-regulated itself for over 40 years. All we are asking is that the playing field is kept level, that fair competition prevails, and quite simply, that everyone plays by the same rules,” said Roberto Serralles, on behalf of Destilería Serrallés. “Assertions to the contrary are just delusional conspiracy theories.”

This is the latest salvo in a long-running battle between industry giants Bacardi and Diageo and by extension Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Understanding the conflict requires delving into some bizarre aspects of the tax code, so let’s break it down. (And if you want to read Diageo’s lengthy statement, click here.)

For background, there are three main spirits industry players involved in this dispute. Destilería Serrallés is a Puerto Rican distillery owned by Bermuda-based Bacardi and best known for its DonQ rum line. Diageo is a British-based spirits company whose many brands include Captain Morgan spiced rum. Diageo contracts with Serrallés to distill the base spirit for Captain Morgan. The contract expires at the end of 2011 and Diageo announced three years in advance that it would not renew the contract. [Correction 2/25/10: Serrallés is independent, not owned by Bacardi. Bacardi's involvement is alleged by Diageo.]

Virgin Islands Governor John deJongh, Jr. successfully courted Diageo to open its own distillery on St. Croix. Among the incentives offered by the USVI are a brand new distillery funded by public bonds and marketing money to promote Captain Morgan; in exchange, Diageo promises to stay in the territory for 30 years and hire local workers. The Wall Street Journal places the value of these subsidies at $2.7 billion over the 30-year deal.

So far this sounds like fairly standard competition between jurisdictions to offer sweetheart deals to corporations, but it gets more complicated. At issue is a strange US tax provision called the rum cover over. This law requires that most of the rum excise taxes collected in the US be remitted to the governments of US rum-producing territories. They receive the funds in proportion to how much rum they produce. Importantly, it doesn’t matter what countries the taxed rum comes from. If you buy Puerto Rican rum, the revenue goes back to US territories. If you buy Jamaican rum, the tax money still goes to US territories. Territories benefit no matter where rum sold in the United States originates.

This is what has created such perverse competition between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico knows it’s not going to be distilling Captain Morgan much longer, but where Captain Morgan ends up is of huge importance to Puerto Rico. If Captain Morgan goes to a foreign country PR will still reap the benefits of the rum cover over. But if Captain Morgan goes to the Virgin Islands, USVI will become a proportionally larger distiller and get a correspondingly greater share of excise tax revenues; this is the money USVI is counting on to pay back the public bonds it issued for Diageo.

According to the Miami Herald, the loss to Puerto Rico could be as high as $6 billion over three decades. Thus the territory has enlisted legislators to block the Virgin Islands deal, resulting in a heated battle between the territories and the liquor giants.

It’s hard to put any of the parties involved on a pedestal. Serrallés itself receives significant subsidies from the rum cover over program, about 6% of Puerto Rico’s take (again according to the Herald). Nor is it really fair for Puerto Rico to begrudge the Virgin Islands greater allocation of excise tax revenues, given that the alternative is Puerto Rico taking lots of money for rum it doesn’t even produce if Diageo moves to a foreign country.

The real problem is our insane tax code that sends revenue to territories for rum they may not produce and with no strings attached. Thanks to the rum cover over provision, US taxpayers may soon be funneling their money through the Virgin Islands government directly to Diageo. If you’re Diageo you call that a “historic and innovative public-private initiative.” If you’re a libertarian you call it corporate welfare.

My inclination is to side with Bacardi/Serrallés on this one and support a 10% cap on rum subsidies. Or better yet, we could eliminate rum subsidies entirely, a proposition neither Bacardi nor Diageo is likely to support.

Carlyle’s closing cocktail menu

I may have to make some changes as we run low on ingredients, but here’s the intended cocktail menu for our final two weeks, including three new additions. This will go into effect tomorrow:

Aquavit Hot Toddy – Krogstad aquavit, Swedish punsch, lemon, star anise $8

Antigua Old-Fashioned – English Harbour rum, coffee-orange bitters, sugar $8

Smoky Margarita – Herradura reposado tequila, Cointreau, lime, lapsang souchong syrup $8

Portland Stinger – Branca Menta, bourbon, brandy, lemon, grenadine $9

Thyme in a Bottle — Bombay Sapphire, Farigoule thyme liqueur, lemon, maraschino $9

Erica’s Impulse –Brandy, allspice liqueur, lemon, simple syrup, orange bitters $8

H’ronmeer’s Flame – Rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Ramazzotti, flamed orange zest $9

Witty Flip – Brandy, J. Witty chamomile liqueur, lemon, orange bitters, egg, nutmeg $10

Horatio – Krogstad aquavit, Cointreau, Fernet-Branca, orange bitters $9

Curse of Scotland — Ardbeg 10 year single malt Scotch, Drambuie, maraschino, lemon $10

Queen Bee – Vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon, honey syrup, sparkling wine. $9

On a Whim – Trust your bartender to make you something good

Coffee bitters and the Antigua Old-Fashioned

antigua

With my dual interests in cocktails and coffee it was only a matter of time before the two collided in the same glass. Most recently I’ve been experimenting with coffee bitters. Many roots and barks can be used as bittering agents, so why not the pleasant bitterness of coffee beans? My friend Lance Mayhew and I have tried out several recipes for coffee bitters and with batch #5 we’ve hit on a combination that I find very satisfying. We use Lemonhart 151-proof rum as a base and add in a few complementary flavors like orange peel and star anise. The final product has a distinct coffee aroma and taste without overpowering the other ingredients; it might be more accurate to call these coffee-orange bitters given the strong orange note they produce. (Coffee geeks will be interested to know that the beans are Stumptown’s Costa Rica Herbazu; how much of a difference origin makes in these bitters is yet to be determined.)

My favorite use for the bitters so far is in a rum Old-Fashioned. I’ve tried this with a number of rums, searching for a spirit to give the drink the right amount sweetness without tipping too far in the direction of strong caramel flavor. My favorite so far is English Harbour, an Antiguan rum with just enough time in barrel to give it depth. It’s well-suited for a classic Old-Fashioned preparation:

2 oz English Harbour rum
.5 tsp superfine sugar
2 dashes coffee bitters

Stir all ingredients to dissolve the sugar, add ice, and stir again. Finish with a strip of orange peel.

The rum Old-Fashioned with coffee bitters has been a popular off the menu item at Carlyle for a couple months now and will be making the jump to prime time later this week.

Update 4/12/10: The recipe for our coffee bitters has been posted here.

A bevy of booze reviews

It’s hard to believe 2009 is almost at an end. Among my unfinished business is a stack of spirits up for review. Time’s a wastin’, so let’s get to it…

Gosling’s Ginger Beer — A few months ago I wrote about trademarking cocktail names, a discussion inspired by an ad run by Zaya touting its rum as an ingredient in a Dark ‘n Stormy (traditionally made with Gosling’s rum, ginger beer, and a squeeze of lime). It turned out the name of that cocktail is owned by Gosling’s, who defended the trademark. I sided with Zaya at the time and in response Gosling’s kindly sent me a six-pack of their ginger beer so that I could experiment with the drink.

The beer has a fairly strong ginger kick which is essential in this cocktail. And as they say, the Gosling’s rum makes a tasty Dark ‘n Stormy. But here’s the thing: So does Zaya. I tried them side-by-side and enjoyed them both. They’re different, with a bit more of the rum coming through on the Zaya, but I can’t imagine anyone getting turned off this drink because they tried it with Zaya instead of the original Gosling’s.

In defense of Gosling’s, I understand why they want to defend their trademark so that it’s not used by low-quality rums. And I’d gladly recommend its use in this cocktail, especially given that it can be found for one-half to a third of the price of Zaya. However I stand by my earlier general stance against trademarking cocktail names.

House Spirits White Dog and Barrel Strength Whiskeys — As microdistilleries have boomed across the country we’ve started to see releases of whiskey along with the usual vodkas and gins. While often interesting, I don’t always find that these new whiskeys are worth their boutique prices. Two that are come from Portland-based House Spirits’ newest additions to its apothecary line. The unaged White Dog, made of 100% malted barley, is hot and complex with an intriguing malty flavor, easily my favorite of the white dogs I’ve tried so far. Their cask-strength whiskey aged for 32 months in new American oak is good as well, with a big, spicy kick mellowed by caramel notes from the wood. With only 150 375 ml bottles of White Dog and 160 375 ml bottles of Barrel Strength released, these are hard to find and worth adding to one’s whiskey collection. (House has released a 750 ml Straight Malt whiskey too, but I haven’t purchased a bottle yet.)

Pernod Aux Plantes D’Absinthe Superiore — I’m by no means an absinthe connoisseur but when a bottle of Pernod arrived at my door I was happy to try it out. The first thing I noticed was the strikingly green color, the result, unfortunately, of adding artificial dyes. I suppose they’re doing this to meet customer expectation that absinthe is green but I’d rather see the natural results of maceration.

It louches predictably in a traditional preparation. Without sugar it has a lingering bitterness; with sugar it smooths out. I might use it as an accent in cocktails but with so many other absinthes on the market now it wouldn’t be my choice for drinking on its own.

Xanté Pear Liqueur — Given the sex-fueled marketing that used to attend this product I was expecting a cloyingly sweet, night club-style liqueur. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is actually a well-balanced spirit. At 76 proof it’s not excessively sweet and the pear flavor is strong but not overwhelming. It’s enjoyable to sip with an ice cube or two and I could easily see it working in fall or winter cocktails.

Balcones Rumble — We’ll wrap up with a product from my home state. Balcones Rumble is distilled in Waco, Texas from wildflower honey, turbinado sugar, and mission figs. The nose is unique and the flavor has sweet, stone fruit notes. I like the initial taste but the lingering heat is a bit much, comparable to a cigar that burns too hot. I’d like to try this product again with a little more aging or perhaps a lower proof, but it’s nonetheless an original spirit I’m glad to have on my shelf.

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.