Golden Lion


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

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

Stir with ice and serve up with a lemon twist.

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

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

1 cup vodka
2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Let steep overnight and strain.

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

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

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


MxMo Retro Redemption: Harvey Weissbanger


This month’s Mixology Monday theme, as chosen by me, is Retro Redemption. The challenge: To resurrect a cocktail from the Dark Ages of mixology that fell between Prohibition and the contemporary cocktail renaissance, defending it on its merits or giving it new life with the addition of better techniques and ingredients.

This is a fitting theme for me to choose, because part of my job as a brand ambassador for Lucas Bols is promoting Galliano, an Italian liqueur flavored with anise, vanilla, and other herbs. Galliano was absolutely huge in the 1970s, showing up in a variety of cocktails served “against the wall” and by far most prominently in the Harvey Wallbanger. My parents, who don’t drink much but do keep a well stocked bar for guests, include a bottle of Galliano in their collection. They estimate they acquired it around 1978. I am pleased though not surprised that Galliano has shown up in several of the MxMo entries that have been sent in so far.

In the year-and-a-half that I’ve been working for Bols I’ve thought off and on about how to update the Harvey Wallbanger, which is made with vodka, orange juice, and Galliano. There’s a good flavor pairing there. Vanilla and orange go very well together. Look at the Creamsicle cocktail or the success of the Orange Julius chain. This combination works. The ingredient that doesn’t bring anything except alcohol to the drink is vodka. It’s just there in the background, not doing anything aside from getting people drunk. So to modernize the Harvey Wallbanger, the obvious thing to do is replace the vodka with something else.

So OK, what else pairs well with orange? If you read this blog you know that I love beer cocktails, and people have been putting oranges in wheat beers for years. Sometimes they do this in the brewing stage, as with Belgian witbier that’s flavored with coriander and orange peel. Sometimes a wedge of orange is simply added to the rim of the glass, as with some less complex American wheats. Either way, this is another flavor pairing that works.

Putting these pairing ideas together, you can omit the vodka and replace it with beer. Then you get the Harvey Weissbanger:

1 oz Galliano
2 oz orange juice
6 oz quality wheat beer

Build in an ice-filled collins glass, stir gently, and garnish with a strip of orange peel.

You can make this with just about any wheat beer, but the more flavorful ones work best. At my beer cocktail seminar with Ryan Conklin last month we served it with the Upright Four made here in Portland. For something more widely available, the classic Weihenstephaner is also fantastic. Give it a try. I think it’s a refreshing beer cocktail for sipping on the patio or knocking back at brunch.

[Photo by John Valls.]


Mixology Monday: Clubland Cocktail

Clubland 043

What, me make vodka drink? It’s rare when it happens willingly, but it does happen. One of these times is for this month’s Mixology Monday hosted by Dennis at Rock & Rye:

I am excited to be hosting the next round of Mixology Monday here at Rock & Rye. This month’s event will take place on Monday, November 22nd, and the theme will be: Forgotten Cocktails. There are many cocktail books out there, and even more that are no longer in print, filled with thousands of cocktails. Some are decent, some are crap, and some might be great.

The challenge this month is to bring to light a drink that you think deserves to be resurrected from the past, and placed back into the spotlight. It could be pre-prohibition, post-war, that horrible decade known as the 80′s, it doesn’t really matter. As long as it is somewhat obscure, post it up. If possible try to keep to ingredients that are somewhat readily available. While we all appreciate the discovery of an amazing cocktail, if we can’t make it, it’s no fun for anyone.

This is a good opportunity to write about one of the few vodka drinks I like, the Clubland:

1.5 oz vodka
1.5 oz white port
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir and serve up in a cocktail glass with an optional orange or lemon twist for garnish.

The drink originally appears in the Café Royal Cocktail Book, a 1937 publication of the United Kingdom Bartenders Guild. Compiled by William J. Tarling, the credit for this drink is given to “A. Mackintosh.” I was turned onto it by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who I think came across it at the Bar Convent Berlin and offered it on the Clyde Common cocktail menu for a while.

This is not a life-changing drink, unless one’s life has been extremely boring. But it works well, the Angostura brings a little complexity, and the port makes it a nice aperitif. Plus it’s always good to have a vodka cocktail in your pocket for those customers who won’t drink anything else. Dust off your bottle of vodka and give this one a try sometime.


Dan Aykroyd comes to Portland

I ignore most of the press releases I get about vodka. However, I did receive one that may be of interest to local readers: Today from 3-5 Dan Aykroyd will be at Stateline Liquor, 1109 North Jantzen Drive Portland, OR, signing bottles of his Crystal Head vodka.

This product is pretty much the epitome of vodka marketing. It’s not about the liquid, it’s about the fancy bottle and the celebrity pitchman. I should hate it, but when the bottle is that awesome and the celebrity owner is Dan Aykroyd, I can’t deny that I’ve been tempted to buy a bottle. Drink Spirits has an interesting interview with Aykroyd about the brand, in which he notes that one of the biggest challenges is getting people to open the bottle after they buy it.

I received a small sample of the vodka — not in a skull shaped minibottle, alas — and it’s about what I expected. Perfectly fine vodka, but not something I would ever spend $50 a bottle for in any other shaped bottle. (Well, maybe in a Batmobile shaped bottle, but luckily that doesn’t exist yet.) If the idea of skull-shaped vodka bottle signed by Dan Aykroyd appeals to you, today’s your chance to get one.

Of course, Aykroyd’s greatest role as pitchman was Bag O’ Glass inventor Irwin Mainway.


What I’ve been drinking

Upright Four Play — When I first moved to Portland from DC I missed the latter city’s recent love affair with Belgian beers. Luckily Upright started brewing soon after I got here, producing superb farmhouse-style ales just a few blocks from my apartment. Their first anniversary beer is a sour cherry wheat ale aged in Pinot Noir barrels. It’s one of the best fruit beers I’ve ever tasted, dry and with no hint of the artificial notes you find in some cherry beers and spirits. There are only 80 cases of 750 ml bottles available so this will go fast at the April 9 release party. If you only want to buy it for the label, that’s OK too.

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Sonoma-Cutrer Finish — A customer brought this in for me right before Carlyle closed. Finished in Chardonnay barrels, it’s possibly the most unique bourbon I’ve tried. It has a distinct, funky note, and I mean that in a good way. The finish is very smooth. Not for everyone, but definitely worth trying if you can find it. It’s going to be painful when I pour the last of this bottle.

Ledaig 10 YearLance Mayhew turned me on to this Scotch recently. It’s an island whisky from Mull, distilled by Tobermory. It’s fairly light in body and has a very well-balanced dose of peatiness. I like this Scotch a lot and could see it becoming a staple in my home bar, a great option for when you’re not in the mood for a big, assertive Islay. One of my favorite whiskies of the moment.

Deschutes Hop Henge Experimental IPA — At 95 IBUs and with the word “hop” right there in the title I was expecting this to be the sort of bitter hop monster I don’t really go for. However Jeff at Beervana gave it an intriguingly good review so I decided to give it a try. The verdict? This is a seriously good beer. Yes, it’s hoppy, but it somehow manages to extract all the citrusy goodness from the hops without getting too bitter.

Hangar One Vodkas — What, me say nice things about vodka? It doesn’t happen often but these are impressive. Hangar One sent samples of three of their flavors: Kaffir Lime, Buddha’s Hand, and Mandarin Blossom. They all avoid the one-note simplicity of many flavored vodkas. I’m not currently creating any cocktail menus, but if I were I’d consider working one of these onto them.


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


Organic Nation tonight at Carlyle

Tonight at Carlyle we’re offering a special menu of cocktails featuring one of my favorite local spirits producers, Organic Nation from Ashland, OR. I was first turned on to their gin in the Oregon Bartenders Guild summer mixology competition, where I used it in the watermelon-based Gallagher cocktail. Tonight we’ll be serving their gin and vodka in a few seasonal cocktails, both new and classic. (That’s right, this is a rare opportunity to see me willingly make vodka drinks!) Stop by from 5-7 to try them out.


Sorry, vodka

I make a cameo appearance in today’s Willamette Week as the enemy of vodka:

Sorry Grey Goose fans: In the spirits and cocktail world, you’re kind of a joke. You’re being pretentious about a clear, flavorless spirit—the alcoholic equivalent of boasting about the kind of water you use in your soup. “As craft bartenders, we tend to steer people away from vodka,” says Carlyle bar manager Jacob Grier. “Generally, it’s fairly boring.”

The article is more about distilling than mixology. I talked with the author for about half-an-hour about a variety of topics, but if a quote about steering people away from vodka and towards other distilled spirits is what made print, well, I’m OK with that. Read the entire piece about Oregon’s craft distilling scene here.

For the record I’m not totally opposed to vodkas, especially ones that retain some flavor when served on the rocks. In general though I hate devoting precious ounces in a cocktail to an essentially flavorless spirit. If a customer tells me he likes cocktails with a vodka base, what is that supposed to mean?

I previously mixed with vodka for Mixology Monday with the Package Notice cocktail. For something a little more complex, see the Portland-based Krogstad aquavit featured in the Horatio.


MxMo: Package Notice

Hibiscus cocktail

A couple months ago I agreed to be in a vodka infusion contest hosted by Oval Vodka. The winner received a free hotel stay in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail. Unfortunately I found out soon after the bottle arrived that I wouldn’t be able to attend this year, so I didn’t compete and have an extra bottle of vodka sitting on my home bar. At about the same time my friend David sent me a package that included a big bag of hibiscus flowers. This makes for a nice coincidence given that this month’s Mixology Monday theme is “vodka is your friend,” hosted by Felicia’s Speakeasy:

The theme of August 10th’s Mixology Monday is “Vodka is Your Friend.” The recent high profile bashings of vodka interspersed with a few weak “yeah, buts…” left me wondering, is vodka the axis of evil, our most dangerous enemy? While it may not be the life of the party, experts agree: Vodka’s obituary does not have to be written just yet.

Every once in a while I do enjoy vodka on the rocks, especially if it has some rye character to it. I very rarely choose to mix with it though. There’s a limited amount of spirit that can fit into a cocktail and I don’t often want to devote any of it to a nearly flavorless ingredient. If a drink is good with vodka, wouldn’t it be better with gin? Or rum, or aquavit, or tequila, etc.? Despite this, the two most popular cocktails on Carlyle’s menu are made with vodka. Like it or not, we craft bartenders have to use it.

One thing vodka is good for is letting other flavors shine through. Given what I had on hand, my first thought was to try a hibiscus infusion. This turned my vodka an attractive shade of red but the flavor wasn’t strong enough to stand out in a mixed drink; clearly I would not have won the infusion contest.

So then I started doing some research. And by “research” I mean I looked up the hibiscus entry on Wikipedia. There I learned that there are countless words for hibiscus tea, a beverage popular throughout the world and made by steeping dried hibiscus flowers in hot water. In Jamaica fresh ginger is often added. Thus an idea for a drink began to take shape and after a little trial-and-error I settled on this Package Notice cocktail:

2 oz chilled hibiscus tea (agua de Flor de Jamaica)
1.5 oz vodka
.25 oz ginger liqueur
.25 oz rich simple syrup

Shake over ice, strain into an ice-filled rocks glass, and garnish with an edible flower.

The hibiscus flavor is tangy but also very light, so vodka works nicely here. It’s a simple drink, but it’s admittedly pretty nice on a summer day.


Portland summer cocktail crawl

My pseudonymous friend at the Internet Food Association joined me for a Portland summer cocktail crawl last week, hitting up some of the best bars in town to see what’s on offer. Check out her post here for drinks from me at Carlyle, Lance Mayhew at 50 Plates, Kelley Swenson at Ten01, and Neil Kopplin, my predecessor at Carlyle, who was manning the bar at Clyde Common when we made our final stop.

For the record, the first drink I made her is now on the menu as our current Obligatory Pink Vodka Drink, a seasonally changing cocktail for people who like drinks that are pink and made with vodka. Also for the record, I’m not generally one of those people, but this one is pretty tasty.


What Obama can learn from Putin

No, seriously. This is fiscal stimulus:

Amid a financial crisis that is cutting jobs and eroding growth, there is finally good news for Russians.

The head of the new state alcohol agency — gleefully dubbed the Ministry for Vodka by the press — is advocating cutting taxes on vodka to make the country’s national tipple more accessible, the Izvestia daily reported.

Igor Chuiyan, the former head of state alcohol monopoly Rosspirtprom, has been appointed head of the new federal agency for alcohol market regulation, or Rosalkogol for short.

Without citing its sources, the paper said he advocates slashing the tax on a litre of pure alcohol from the current 190.8 rubles ($A9) to 100 rubles $A4.50).

This would mean that the tax on half litre of vodka would be cut to around 20 rubles from the current rate of 38 rubles, it said.

There’s a health motivation for the tax cut too. The article reports that high taxes have created a large black market in counterfeit vodkas and resulted in dangerously adulterated products.

That’s not a problem here in the US, but there’s a case to be made that the most effective fiscal stimulus would be cuts in our most regressive taxes, like consumption taxes or the FICA/Medicare payroll deductions. Ed Glaeser argues the point here (previously linked on Friday’s sidebar).

[Via TMN.]


Sobieski vodka review

I wasn’t completely honest when I said that I had to leave my entire home bar behind in Virginia. I actually did tuck one bottle of liquor into my car, a sample of Sobieski Vodka that arrived just as I was packing up to leave. Now that I’m relaxing in Michigan I’ve finally had a chance to crack it open.

“Spicy aromas of star anise, cream, minerals and powdered sugar follow through to a round, silky entry and a smooth off-dry medium-to-full body with a long, lingering whipped cream, spice, rye dough, and sweet citrus fade with virtually no heat,” writes the Beverage Tasting Institute. Um, ok. I’m not getting all that. But I am getting a very smooth, very drinkable vodka that’s good both neat and on the rocks. It’s distilled in Poland from Mazowse rye, and that lends a pleasant but not overpowering spice to the glass.

I’d heard a few comments that this vodka was very good for the price, but I still had a bit of sticker shock when I opened up the included materials and saw what it sells for. Not because it’s high, but because it’s surprisingly low: just $11.99 for a 750 ml bottle. Sobieski’s running a clever sort of anti-marketing marketing campaign, mocking the over-priced brands that emphasize everything except quality. They’ve come through with a vodka that tastes good without breaking the bank. Given the price, I could definitely see using this a lot in my next home bar.


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!