Day 2

In 2010, this was all a Great New Adventure...this year the novelty has worn off, and now I am actually paying attention (and looking for more freebies) and taking notes and all that.

That's why I'm not bothering posting pictures of a million crates of liquor, or zillions of lemons being juiced. You can go back to the posts from July/Aug. 2010 to see that.

As the lovely and gracious Paola said, this year is "hard-core."

At least for me.

One of the nice things is that waiting for you in your room is not a fruit basket, nor a small box of chocolates but a bottle of some artisanal spirituous liquor*. After a travel day, there is little better than finding something potable and restorative awaiting you. I imagine some pasha or potentate feeling the same way when his harem's sommelier had read his master's mind. This is just like that, but without the human trafficking aspect about which some people have reservations.

The for-real professional people are studiously taking notes on navigating the byzantine liquor laws in the U.S.A. (don't get me started) and discovering the subtle nuances of menu design, and so forth. Some of that appealed to me, and the "drier" stuff didn't. But if the worst thing that happens to you is that you sit down to a less than scintillating (to you) discussion as lovely cocktails are distributed for your consumption, then complaining is not a very wise option.

Now, one of the things that may not seem sensible is that I believe 5 days are not really enough to do all you want to do. Weird, but true. For example, you have to choose between a session on "Beyond Punch: Colonial American Drinks" of "The Secrets of Wood Maturation" or "6 Rums You'll Probably Never Taste Again."

All of which run into each other.

My choice?

The 6 rum thing, run by the very estimable Ed Hamilton and featuring rums which their producers "cannot mass produce." By this we mean rums of which only a case or two are bottled per year. The REAL "private reserve" stuff which the distillers keep around for VIP gifts, personal consumption, etc.

VERY glorious stuff.

But lousy blog-fodder as all the raves and accolades I could heap on these bottles (from Ron Abuelo, Ron Botrán, Ron Flor de Caña, Neisson Rhum, Prichard’s Rum, and Ron Santa Teresa) are unavailable anywhere, at any price**. The only way to get your hands on one is to be a VERY close family friend of these distillers OR be a VIP visiting the distillery. Think Prime Minister or President or King/Queen.

Next up on the schedule, because I am a complete lunatic, is a seminar on the various Trade Secrets involved in ardent spirits and liqueurs, led by the Charlotte Voisey who is handicapped by being too attractive to be allowed. I cannot state for a fact that a majority of male attendees looked on in a reverie and, in lieu of notes, merely scribbled little hearts...but I wouldn't be surprised. Me? I am dedicated to my craft.

We got a history lesson on how, say, Lillet is made. We also found out that there's quinine in EVERYTHING that's even slightly bitter in a bar. Which is a good thing if your household, after a long day colonizing some primitive indigenous types, has found itself awash with malaria or dengue. Yes, "bitter" was the word of the day.

On the "practical" side, the idea is to pick out what one thinks are the various "secret ingredients" in a various bitters, liquors, liqueurs, etc. I need more experience, because all I generally picked out was "Bitter as the tears of the damned."

But it was fun.

The next one for the day was on swizzle sticks.

Which, as I was soon told, are NOT those cheap little plastic things made for stirring one's drink around. But, rather, slim sticks with multiple "forkings" meant to chill down a drink very quickly without shaking (which would cloud the drink) or stirring (which wouldn't chill it enough). You place the stem of it between the palms of your hands, and like a Boy Scout starting a fire, rub vigorously to "twirl" the stick. Pretty soon, the outside of the glass is nicely frosted, letting you know you have accomplished your task.

Mind you, lot of these cocktails involve 151 proof Demerara rum from Guyana. So it took a great deal of willpower to not lose focus. Yes, Internet, I have shaved decades off my life, but this is just part of the service I provide, for YOU.

The last one for Day 2 was Dave Wondrich & Jeff "Beachbum" Berry's "Around the World by (Brass) Rail" which basically an overview of the global influence of American cocktail culture. Tons of detail; so much, in fact, that you stop scribbling and just listen.

Here's the gist: There’s a myth the the American cocktail and the American bar being "planted" overseas was the result of Prohibition. But not so, according to Wondrich (author of my fave cocktail book, in spite of his incorrect Bloody Mary recipe, featuring lemon instead of lime), who noted that in the 1890s, one could find an "American bar" in Patagonia. "That’s practically the end of the earth! And you could get a Manhattan cocktail there. There are parts of Kansas now where I can’t get that." Just ask Poppy, a serious fan of the cocktail, who had to suffer through a veritable drought on her trip to see those whom she had offsprung at some music internment camp.

So you could get an "American cocktail" pretty much anywhere in the world. What Prohibition did was a) generate a diaspora of bartenders and b) kick the whole thing into top gear.

Some thing that I found out that was interesting (but not much more than that) is that in Ye Olde Barroome Days, there were no barstools. People hung out and milled. (Think of the Wild West saloons of yore: no barstools.)

"Beachbum" Berry's portion was to focus on Prohibition-era Havana, Cuba. (His upcoming cocktail book is called "Potions of the Caribbean") A short 90 miles from Florida, and awash in broad varieties rum (far more than you see these days from Cuba or most Cuban expat companies) it drew thirsty Yanks like a magnet.

The first of these was "Sloppy Joe’s" which had its own brand of 30- and 40-year-old rums. Let that sink in for a moment.

Like any great bar, they also had a signature cocktail:

"Sloppy Joe's Special"
2 oz pineapple juice (fresh is best, in a carton is fine, in a can is intolerable)
1 oz Cognac (Hennessy VS, says I)
1 oz ruby Port (Sandeman would be my pick)
Dash of curaçao (Make it Cointreau. Live.)
Dash of grenadine (BG Reynolds' if you can't be arsed to make your own.)

Shake with ice and strain into a martini glass.
Another Prohibition-era Havana cocktail is

"El Presidente"
1½ oz aged rum (Bacardi 8)
¾ oz semi-sweet vermouth (Dolin)
½ oz curaçao (again, Cointreau)
2-3 dashes of grenadine (again, BG Reynolds')

We can make it today the way it used to be because of the (new to us) availability of a key ingredient: semi-sweet Vermouth de Chambéry, here in the U.S. as Dolin Blanc Vermouth de Chambéry, imported by Haus Alpenz. Pretty glorious stuff. (I suppose you could go 2:1 sweet to dry vermouth in a pinch.)
I'll post a. bunch of photos at the end.


*Stay tuned for a review of that.

** When Bacardi relented and issued their own, it weighed in at $$$$.


the human race never ceases to amaze me.
aquanetta said…
They should make a "Neat Joe" cocktail after you. Thanks for the report!
Brace yourself but about the only pre-made pineapple juice you can get here comes in a can. You can, on occasion, get refrigerated but it has all other manner of 'stuff' in it which most certainly did not come from a pineapple.
Joke said…
Ack! That canned stuff tastes like tin. Can you get frozen pineapple? (or, failing that freeze your own...I do that with mangoes, etc.)

Paola said…
I am SO fascinated by this event. It's so detailed in its full immersion I wish I was closer to be able to participate.
Joke said…
Paola, thought of you with all the Negronis and Americanos and EVERY kind of amaro, digestivo, etc.

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