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.


A simple sparkling cocktail

Over at Lance Mayhew has posted a simple brunch or aperitif cocktail we recently came up with featuring Quady Essensia, an Orange Muscat dessert wine. The wine is delicious on its own but we wanted to play with it in mixed drinks too. This one adds in mild Canadian whiskey, Prosecco, and orange bitters; head over to About for the recipe for the Viscusi cocktail.

Incidentally the drink is named after Vanderbilt economist Kip Viscusi, whose book Smoke-Filled Rooms happened to be out on my counter while Lance and I were experimenting with drinks. I don’t know if Viscusi is into cocktails, but I hope he’ll be glad to find his name on one if he ever comes across it.


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.


What to drink on St. Patrick’s Day?

I recently received a marketing email saying that whatever one drinks on St. Patrick’s Day, “you better be sipping on something green.” It then went on to describe a cocktail made with tequila and Midori. Because nothing says Ireland like tequila and melon liqueur…

Personally I could care less about drinking green and am perfectly happy with good stout and Irish whiskey. For the latter, I’ve been fortunate over the last week to sample more than 20 Irish whiskeys as part of Lance Mayhew’s informal “tasting panel.” Lance provides a primer on Irish whiskey here and fellow taster Geoff Kleinman makes some great recommendations on his new blog, Drink Spirits.

If you’re in a cocktail mood, my favorite mixed drink with Irish whiskey is the Tipperary, made with Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth, and Chartreuse. As a bonus Chartreuse does happen to be green, though the final drink won’t be.

Finally, there’s the elephant in the room, the extremely politically incorrect Irish Car Bomb. If you’re in a real Irish bar tonight you should not order one of these. Even so, I do have a soft spot for the drink, and judging by the number of search referrals this blog is getting for Irish Car Bombs today other people do too. Here’s photographic evidence that everybody loves an ICB. Or if you want to make this drink more sophisticated and stable, try the Defusion, a deconstructed version of the drink I served at Carlyle. Finally, if you really want to be adventurous, make it with Upright’s Oyster Stout. We tried it at Branch and it puts Guinness to shame.


Iron Bartending and whiskey drinks in PDX

Gore Vidal once said that he never passes up a chance to have sex or appear on television. Precisely one of these things I’m willing to do with my friend Neil Kopplin and we’re going to be doing it — appearing on TV, that is! — on KOIN’s “Keep it Local” show later today. We’ll be promoting tonight’s Iron Bartender competition at the Jupiter Hotel and having an Old School Carlyle vs New School Carlyle cocktail throwdown. The show airs between 4-5 on Channel 6 and will hopefully be online soon after. (The last time I was on local television the mysterious “David Grier,” who looks suspiciously just like me, got all the credit. This time I’m determined to keep him off the set!)

Also in local press, today’s Portland Mercury is all about my favorite spirit, whiskey. Included in their whiskey feature is a round-up of local whiskey cocktails, including this blog’s Curse of Scotland and drinks from some of the best bartenders in town. Check it out 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.


H’ronmeer’s Flame


After a one-month hiatus, Mixology Monday returns with the theme of “Money Drinks.” As our host Beers in the Shower explains, this theme is open to multiple interpretations. One of the ones he offers is this:

I feel a “Money” drink is something you can put in front of anyone, regardless of tastes or distastes about the spirits involved. Come up with a drink or a list based on spirits about drinks that would appeal to anyone. example: turning someone onto a Corpse Reviver #2 when they like lemon drops.

The drink I’m posting today meets that definition. It also brings in the money, thanks to the strategic use of pyrotechnics. Here’s the H’ronmeer’s Flame,* one of the newest additions to Carlyle’s cocktail menu:

2 oz rye whiskey
.75 oz Ramazzotti
.75 oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth

Stir all of the above, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and flame an orange zest over the surface of the drink. (To flame an orange zest: Take a large swath of zest, toast with a lit match, and squeeze the oils through the flame.)

Creatively speaking, this is not the most inventive cocktail in the world. Call it a variation on a Manhattan or Boulevardier. But the cinnamon notes of Ramazzotti make it a perfect amaro for winter cocktails and the ignited oils from the orange zest give the drink appealing aromatics. Almost as importantly, the light show that results from spraying citrus oils through a flame is a great conversation starter that inspires other customers to order the drink. When you want to bring in the money, fire is your friend.

*Yes, I sneaked a Martian Manhunter reference onto my cocktail menu. And yes, this makes me happier than it rightfully should.


Drams for Thanksgiving

My friend Lance Mayhew has an enviable new gig: He’s now the whiskey writer for and his debut column covers whiskeys and whiskey cocktails to enjoy with Thanksgiving. Read it here and check back for upcoming articles.

I’ll be taking the day off to join Lance in having some of these whiskeys, lots of good food, a few rare beers, and possibly a cigar. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday.

[Note to readers in Portland: Carlyle is closed on Thursday and Friday, giving the staff a much needed break prior to the December rush. We’ll re-open Saturday evening.]


GADF competition cocktail

Quick story: A few years ago I made the transition from barista to bartender. The place where I worked was great for learning the basics, but it wasn’t at the level of craft cocktail bars and mixology had yet to really take off in DC. Unenamored with bartending, I went back to working in a think tank. To celebrate my new job I booked a trip to San Francisco, where I visited Bourbon and Branch and a few other places that opened my eyes to how good craft bartending can be: precise measures, freshly squeezed juices, seasonal ingredients, etc. That experience is what set me on my current path of cocktail blogging and abandoning the East Coast for the Pacific Northwest.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that though I didn’t make it to the finals in this weekend’s cocktail competition at the Great American Distiller’s Festival, I can’t complain about who I lost out to: Ali Tahsini from Bourbon and Branch. The guy’s a fun, talented bartender and went on to take second, a solid feat given that he had to come up with an on-the-spot cocktail using ouzo. Fellow Portlander and DC escapee Evan Zimmerman won first.

I was happy with the way my cocktail turned out and it got a great reception both at the competition and at Carlyle. It’s a tasty fall drink combining whiskey, apples, spice, and smoke:

2 oz Stranahan’s Colorado whiskey
.75 oz spiced apple cider gastrique
1 Tbsp smoked apple purée
1 dash Angostura bitters
pickled crab apple garnish

Shake over ice and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass; garnish with slice of crab apple on skewer.

This is another drink that benefited immensely from collaboration with the chef at Carlyle. It was his idea to smoke the apples and they really made the drink. The apples were poached Jonagolds which were then smoked over applewood chips. We puréed these along with a little smoked butter for extra depth and smoothness. It came out deliciously and if I wasn’t saving it for drinks I would have eaten it as is.

The gastrique was made with apple juice, apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, and sugar. The spiced, pickled crab apple is from Robert Lambert and made the perfect garnish, along with saving me the trouble of poaching my own apples that probably wouldn’t have been nearly as good anyway.

The cocktail is essentially an update to the Stone Fence, the drink Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain boys supposedly consumed before storming Fort Ticonderoga. I admire anyone who drinks hard and attacks the government, so I named it after him.