A Companion for the Young Imbiber

(( Mixology Monday ))

Posted by drinkscompanion on August 13, 2007

Mixology Mondays
Mixology Monday

Mixology Monday is a monthly activity organized originally by Paul Clarke at Cocktail Chronicles. More info here. This month is hosted by Gwen at Intoxicated Zodiac, and the focus is on Orange – you know, in celebration of us Leos.

Nemean Punch

Nemean Punch
2 oz Gin (No. 209 preferably)
0.5 oz fresh orange juice
scant 0.5 oz Luxardo Maraschino
0.25 oz Yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Stir (yes, even with the juice – eliminates frothiness from OJ) and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Twist orange peel over drink, run skin along rim, and discard.

I’m jumping on this a bit late in the game, but Saturday night at work, I had the idea for this drink in the back of my mind. I waited for just the right customer – a certain group of regulars who really aren’t allowed to refuse new drinks. At 1:00am I got a little worried, having seen some good regulars, but not my cocktail guinea pigs. I made one up anyhow and the barback and I took it as a shooter (it was a stressful night, ok).

Delicious! Oh and how the flavors lingered. But I’m biased, and the barback risks a shaker to the head should he disagree.

And then Erika showed up! Oh Erika, how you’ll drink anything with gin. Did you hear gin makes girls cry? Of course you didn’t, and you’d probably sass me somethin’ fierce should I say so.

She ordered two.

There are so many flavors in this drink that would dominate on their own. The maraschino, for one, has a tendency to take over and funk everything up should you add too much. Chartreuse, likewise, can get a little ridiculous for some people’s taste. I chose yellow here because I feel it has a more rounded, less harsh herby-ness to it. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing I love more than a nice Champs Elysee or a snifter of Green VEP on its own, but to pair and enhance the orange, I think the yellow was the best idea. And Peychaud’s just adds a little something special every time…and that great ruby coloring with the OJ.

Sorry for the lame name. We’ll change it soon.

Posted in Cocktail Recipes — Original, Mixology Monday | 2 Comments »

(( Cocktail Techniques ))

Posted by drinkscompanion on August 10, 2007

In Defense of Jiggering
Or How To Make A Drink Right, Dammit, And Do It Every Time

I manage a bar that, I guess, had some pretty substantial press at its beginning. Blah, blah, blah – fifteen minutes of fame, followed by an onslaught of first-on-the-scene-sters who seemed to make it their mission to intimidate and push out all the cool locals. Whatever, it happens, and my rent check and that shiny new phone can’t argue too much. But the problem is the place opened with no drinks program to speak of, mostly focusing on high-volume mixed drinks and beers. From ownership on down, no one had any experience with cocktails and how important they can be to a business. No one cared, so what began as an aesthetically incredible place quickly got a reputation for only that, a gimmick of its speakeasy heritage.

So, for reasons too numerous to explain, I was given the task of managing the bar a little over a year ago. At that point, the ruts were cut deep in the road, the staff was incredibly resistant to change, and I wasn’t exactly sure how to move the business model from only high-volume to a more quality focused ethos. It doesn’t work having bartenders with only nightclub experience measuring out a half ounce of Luxardo. They don’t get it, they don’t want it, and they sure as hell don’t think that The Last Word is the work of a deity.

And then I had to be patient. Slowly, I pulled the Rose’s from the speed rack and pressed one bottle of fresh limejuice a night. Then I made a small menu, primarily with infused liquors so it’d be easy formulas. Then I added a bottle of simple syrup, and then a bottle of lemon juice. Now, a year later, we have a fairly respectable menu and fresh juices all around. Fridays and Saturdays are still hectic as all hell, but at least I can be proud of the drinks we’re putting across – a full section of approachable classics (French Pearls, Vieux Carrés, La Rositas, etc), and a healthy dose of my own creations, evolving every few weeks as I learn more and more.

And the crowd has changed! It’s better! People come in to have COCKTAILS and not to get totally pickled. Small things make me happy.

We’ve reached, I think, a critical time. The bar has moved beyond cocktails of typical fair (sweet, fruity, vodka) and into what I hope is a more sophisticated plateau. As the list has grown to its current size of fifteen drinks, so has the expectation of consistency. Mirroring my personal bartending rock stars at Death and Co. and Pegu, I’ve begun using jiggers for the more subtle drinks. Last night, as I was working, I decided why not take the opportunity on a slow night and measure everything. Ok, not highballs, but everything else. It amazed me how much I had to quickly solidify measurements in my mind, where before I had ripped through the speed rack and did everything by sight and feel. It made me stop and think: “Ok, what really are the proper measurements to a mojito?” The process crossed a line between an abstract, almost vague understanding of a drink and knowing it in concrete reality.

Once I was comfortable with flicking the jigger around in my hand and pouring accurately, it really didn’t slow me down – and multiple drinks in a row to customer were that much better, if only because of consistency. I felt more aware of my bar and the subtleties of the ingredients.

It was like driving a manual instead of an automatic, and I’m the kind of guy who’s into that sort of thing.

– by APD

Posted in Cocktail Techniques | 1 Comment »

(( Cocktail Techniques ))

Posted by drinkscompanion on August 8, 2007

In this section, we try and flush out certain bartending techniques we’ve found useful.Silver Fizz Egg Whites and CocktailsIf you’ve ever had a well-made Ramos Gin Fizz, you know what I’m talking about here. The texture of the liquid, the orange blossom, the lightness but full body of the foam…oh boy. All these seemingly strange ingredients come together to make, in my opinion, one of the most well conceived drinks around. It could so easily be sweeter, but it’s not. It could be boozier, but there’s really no need. And, it is easy to mess up.When I first started playing with egg whites, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. From a late night at Little Branch, I had come home amazed at the quality of the Ramos brought to our table. Bartenders choice – hell yeah. When it came, what we got was a large Collins glass, no ice, a nearly white liquid, and a head of foam that peaked out of the glass and stood its ground. Using the metal straw to fiddle around a bit, I was giddy at its stable body. It would lump on the straw, much like a very aerated whipped cream, and tasted of cream, gin, citrus, and ever so slightly of flowers.This got me thinking about technique in regard to egg whites and cocktails. To explain what I’ve learned, I’ll just stick with the Ramos.I started reading up on the Ramos Gin Fizz, and egg white drinks in general after my trip to Little Branch. The problem, I’ve found, is that most recipes will give you the formula, but don’t spend any time explaining the steps at which a bartender must go through to get the right texture and frothiness – that oh-so desirable head. As a reference, here is the approximate recipe that I’ve come to use:Ramos Gin Fizz2 oz gin (I use Plymouth)0.5 oz fresh lime juice0.5 oz fresh lemon juice1.25 oz simple syrup1.5 oz heavy cream1 egg white2-3 drops orange flower water2 oz seltzerJust looking at the long list of ingredients, it’s easy to plop it all in the shaker, do your thing, and top it off with soda. While the flavor might be close, you don’t really get the perfect Ramos.The biggest help I found in literature was anecdotal (all over the place, mind you) of the drink’s inventor, Henry C. Ramos, and the staff of shaker boys that were employed to shake the living hell out of each drink during Mardi Gras and other high traffic New Orleans events. The “boys” apparently would shake until they couldn’t take it any longer, pass it to the next “boy”, repeat, repeat on down the line, until one cocktail was shaken for a good 10 minutes. The outcome was a frothy fizz that pleased the thirsty crowd and certainly brought Ramos and his New Orleans Meyer’s Restaurant to cocktail fame in the early 1890s – the wonderful Golden Age of Cocktails.There are plenty of stories about the Ramos around, if you wanna read more, but I should get back to technique.From talking with various bartenders and playing around at work and home, here are the steps that I usually take when making and drink that calls for egg white:

    1. Separate the Egg White: in the glass end of a Boston Shaker (or the smaller metal piece, if that’s the system you’re using), separate the egg white from the yolk. I think it’s best to do this first in order to assure shards of eggshell haven’t found their way into the mix, as well as getting glimpse at the egg’s quality and freshness. Don’t be scared, it’s just an egg and it probably won’t bite you. The FDA says that only 1 in every 20,000 eggs carries salmonella, but if you’re still squeamish, go with pasteurized or powedered – not quite the same, but good enough.
    2. Add the ingredients (except seltzer, obviously). As much as I free pour on a nightly basis, when I’m making someone a Ramos, knowing how delicate it can be, I use a jigger. Pay particular attention to the orange flower/blossom water – it’s pungent and can quickly take over
    3. Without ice, give the ingredients a good “dry” shake. Ten to fifteen shakes.
    4. Add a lot of ice. The bigger the better. Shake like crazy for as long as you can take it, but try your best to keep it constant – no stops allowed. If you can last five minutes, you’re cooler than I am. Or at least not as feeble.
    5. Tap the shaker on the top of the bar a few times, much like a barista would tap steamed milk.
    6. Separate your boston set, leaving one side without ice but making sure that small remnants are left in the shaker (should be just a little bit).  Strain the drink out of the larger shaker into a chilled collins glass. 
    7. Spray seltzer into the remnants of the smaller shaker piece.  The seltzer will react to residual proteins in the tin, making a crude foam.  You can dollop that foam on top of your drink, then pour the shaker’s seltzer in, making the foam rise high above the glass’ top.  (This last bit is my personal technique, for which I have become very famous.  Incredibly, ridiculously famous.)

So what did we do here? Why shake first with no ice? Doing this with egg white cocktails allows the egg to act as an emulsifier. If you want to read a detailed and thoroughly interesting break-down of what’s happening here chemically, I suggest getting a copy of Herald McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (pg. 100). Basically, when physically agitated the proteins of the egg white unfold and bond to each other. The shaking and the tugging of ice pulls the proteins out of their natural shape, but these proteins will usually gather back near air, bonding together creating pockets or bubbles – all of which is magnified with the addition of carbonated water. Egg white foam on its own will eventually collapse, so the addition here of acids (the citrus juices) acts as a stabilizing element. Without it, the foam would break back down into a liquid after a while.Again, these steps are what I’ve found most useful. If anyone has tips or disagrees, please comment.Now, this is only one example of a cocktail made with egg white, this being a Silver Fizz – the “silver” indicating the addition of egg white. Certainly, the sour is a natural choice because of its acidic building blocks.  The above photo was taken from Vidiot’s Flickr page, which can be viewed here.   Thanks Vidiot!

Posted in Cocktail Techniques | 11 Comments »

(( Liquid Literature ))

Posted by drinkscompanion on August 6, 2007

This section is devoted to books, magazines, and articles we find particularly interesting. Each segment is not intended as a review or a synopsis of a work, but more like a general impression of the content, writing, and how much we get from it. Because we’re more than just a little ADD, we’ll jump around a lot – reading some, then jumping ship, only to return again. If you’re looking for user reviews, we suggest going to Amazon.

Cover

Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide (US $40)
By Micheal Jackson, with contributions from Dave Bloom, Jefferson Chase, Dale DeGroff, Jürgen Deible, Richard Jones, Martine Nouet, Stuart Ramsay, Willie Simpson, and Ian Wisniewski

I love this book. I love it so much, I just leave it on the coffee table and let people who come over see how much I know about whiskey.

I bought this during a recent whiskey-heavy phase in my life. I grew up in a household that didn’t really covet hard alcohol. Sure, Mom had her Gin and Tonics on the back deck during the warm months, but Dad always stuck to the craft microbrews of our Pacific Northwest or the wines from just about anywhere. The abrasiveness of my first taste of liquor at the age of fourteen, combined with (I’m guessing) the ease at which I developed a taste for those incredible beers that were brewed a mile from our house made it easy to steer clear of the hard stuff most of the way through college. I just wasn’t interested. I’d gladly drink a warm, skunky Silver Bullet over a sip of Jack. It was psychological and guttural, and I wanted none of it.

Then I moved to New York and got a job as a barback.

It took a long time to develop a taste for whiskey. In fact, it took a long time for me to develop a taste for nearly everything complex that I now enjoy. I feel like I can trace those moments of revelation, when suddenly any psychological barrier I had was dismantled by the wonderful flavors presented to me. Often, this has come with a mixed drink. With gin it was the Aviation, then the Last Word. With whiskey, it was the Smash, and then the Manhattan, and then (oh holy of holies!) the Sazerac. These were gateways for me, if that applies, to breaking down the harshness of the alcohol and really, truly tasting complex flavors. I still wince a little at the night’s first sip of straight whiskey, but it’s more like the shock of walking from a warm house into a gust of sharp, cold wind. It’s a surprise, but it can also be refreshing to the senses.

So, with that in mind, I’ve been trying to teach myself more about the liquors that form the basis for so many cocktails I love and serve. I want to know what, for example, is the difference between an American straight rye and a Canadian rye. Why do those silly canucks call EVERYTHING rye? Bat-crazy woodland talk, if you ask me… I want to know why different gins have such varying proofs, and why they can have such varying flavors. Knowing this will help me in being able to more accurately compose my drinks – it’ll make me better, faster, stronger at what I do….

Micheal Jackson has, I think, put together a fantastic overview of whiskey. I went into the reading of this book with almost no knowledge of distilling and very little understanding of the basic differences in whiskey groups. After reading the first section of the book (Understanding Whiskey), I find myself both totally interested in the idea of someday distilling my own spirits, and more than a little annoyed that I can’t just go buy a still and blow myself up. Whatever, feds.

After that comes a lengthy and in-depth discussion of aromas and flavors. Were I more knowledgeable and familiar with whiskey, I bet the provided information would be less academic and more applicable to my palate. But I’m not quite there. I did, however, take a lot from it; the discussions about climate, geography, grain, seaweed (!), water, heather, peat, etc. make me completely appreciate the value of what I pour in my glass. I’ve found myself pulling a bottle for a customer and slowly – ever so carefully – pulling the cork and pouring it into a glass. I do this almost unconsciously, as though my slow and calculated movements are measured in respect to the countless years of love and hard labor that went into every ounce. It’s comically romantic, sure, but it’s also sort of cult-ish.

Basically, I finally understand. I understand the connoisseur’s mind, even if I am an infant in comparison. I understand that one can devote much of their time and intellect to the study of a liquid, a liquid that has such an interesting and muddled history, but is almost Christ-in-a-glass to those who worship at its alter. It’s fun to love something that much, and I wouldn’t mind being cool enough to join the group.

The bulk of the book is a breakdown of the different varieties and the various whiskey-producing countries: Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the US, and Japan. Though it’s very heavy on the Scots, there is fantastic information for everything. I’m still reading certain sections, but the layout of the book is such that you can jump around at your pleasure, learn something about the bottle you just bought (with tasting notes to boot!), or explore distilleries that you’ve never even heard of. It’s not just a book about the amber liquid; it’s a book about the process, the culture, the history, and the esteem of whiskey. Even though the title might infer it, this book doesn’t pretend to be the total authority, but rather pushes you out into the world so you can discover you own tastes and impressions.

All with the aid of pretty, pretty pictures.

In short, I really think this a great introduction for the beginner and (I’m guessing) the more experienced whiskey drinker. The text and subject matter steers clear of pretension and really engages, even with subjects that can be abstract from time to time.

– by APD

Posted in Liquid Literature | Leave a Comment »

(( Introductions ))

Posted by drinkscompanion on August 6, 2007

Most nights, when the weather and mood is right, we step out on our terrace and sit with a cocktail, glass of fine whisky, a bottle of beer, or a goblet of wine, enjoying the night air, the mellow conversations of our nearby neighbors, and the hum of our surrounding Brooklyn. We sit, talk about the world and our lives, but invariably our conversation turns to the glass or bottle in our hands. We find ourselves fascinated, intrigued, disgusted, inspired by the Drink – something more than an indifferent imbibing, something like religious or scientific interest. Sure, we’d like to pretend a drink is never a means to an end, never the medication to ail a stressful day or an avenue to escape. We’d like to, but we’d be lying.

Sometimes it’s nice and fun to drink too much, enjoy life in a different perspective, and fall together with unexpected people in wholly unexpected places just for the hell of it. We’ve done it, and we’ll damn well do it again.

But that’s not why we’re here.

The writing of this journal – this companion to the young imbiber – is meant as an exploration of the fascinating world of spirits and cocktails, beers and wines, food and night life, and almost anything else that might cross our path. We live and work in New York City, so forgive us if we seem too focused on our surroundings – flights are expensive. We say ‘young’ for only one reason: because we are young (mid-20s, perhaps) and because we are ignorant, still very much in the process of learning. We spend hours working behind some of Manhattan’s bars every week, and while this in itself has taught us a lot, there is a whole world out there full of dialogue and fascinating people who can teach us so much more. They write their own blogs and contribute to various magazines and publications. While we respect and aspire to that level of knowledge, and spend a substantial (some say pathetic) amount of time reading their works, there are far too few people documenting the road to becoming an expert. We are not experts in experience or palate, so we’ll do our best to steer clear of didactic and unnecessary reviews because, frankly, we’ll end being wrong.

We’d like to be experts. We’d like it very much, thank you, but we have a long way to go.

Therefore, this journal is meant as a companion to our education from the perspective of young, passionate bartenders as we explore from behind our own bars and bent-elbowed, keen, and wide-eyed at our favorite night time spots on the other side of the stick. We work at various levels within the restaurant and bar world, seeing very different perspectives of what many think to be the same thing, so we hope that by writing this, we can inspire more young people to take a passionate interest in the profession without focusing too much on the prestige of their restaurant or bar. We’d love to see a bartender at a dive bar use bitters, ask “rye or bourbon?”, and stir a Manhattan if we were big enough jerks to order one.

Be warned: we’re total geeks about this stuff. If the reader expects detailed accounts of the debaucheries last month that started at an Irish pub in SoHo, made its way to a party boat that circled the island, somehow got into an after hours spot in the East Village with those terrible, terrible margaritas that we can’t stop ordering, and for one reason or another ended at dawn with us convincing a guy named Mark from Texas to drive us over the bridge to our apartment, all the while getting a hefty 5:00am sermon on the virtues of this-or-that by our jolly host, you’re probably not gonna get it. We’re here to talk about the things we learn and observe, the experiences we have that teach us something, our evolving opinions, and the general world surrounding our profession. We’re newbies, and that’s totally awesome.

If the reader finds all this interesting, good. If it sparks conversation, all the better. If not, at least we get to flush out our thoughts and ideas.

To quote the text for which this blog is partly inspired, and from where we respectively pilfer our name: “…we are still heartily of the opinion that decent libation supports as many million souls as it threatens; donates pleasure and sparkle to more lives than it shadows; inspires more brilliance in the world of art, music, letters, and common ordinary intelligent conversation, than it dims – as even a brief glance into the history of our finest lyric poets, musicians, artists, authors, and statesmen, will attest – right from the day of Wull Shaksper to our own generation” (The Gentleman’s Companion, Vol II, Charles H Baker Jr.).

Posted in General Discussion | Leave a Comment »