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.
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"Another Prohibition-era Havana cocktail is
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.
"El Presidente"I'll post a. bunch of photos at the end.
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.)
*Stay tuned for a review of that.
** When Bacardi relented and issued their own, it weighed in at $$$$.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
...and so it begins anew: Day One.
Before I cover the news of Day 1, some general background details.
1- LOTS of tattooed women. A lot of these are also rocking the 1950s pinup look. Not really sure why, on either count. Still, there it is.
2- I got to sneak a glimpse of all the prep work being done. Crate after crate of citrus being juiced in these industrial juicers. Syrups made in enormous stock pots.
3- A lot of the various participants are taking advantage of Twitter, so the more technoastute can hop on over to where the excellent freebies are.
Freebies are good.
For example, the good folks at Small Screen Network (a cocktail video website you should visit daily) hosted a “happy hour reception” featuring Rum Punch (made with the ridiculously excellent Dos Maderas Rum) and a New Orleans classic, muffuletta sandwiches. Which were delicious and substantial enough that this turned into (let’s not kid ourselves) a free dinner.
Now, dear Internet, you may think this is nothing more than 5 days* of nonstop, ethanol fueled bacchanals. But no. This is science and knowledge being disseminated. Which I, intrepid correspondent that I am, gather and bring to you.
Now, something you need to know is that Day One is really geared more to the People In The Trade. That doesn't stop the geeks from attending, but the information presented is really not so bloody applicable to a guy making excellent cocktails in his home bar.
The first thing I learned, and it was an official seminar (not merely a “breakout session”) was on the matter of ice. YES. There was such a seminar: "How to Build a Cutting Edge Ice Program, 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM." 90 minutes on the matter of ice.
(There was another on making your own sodas, but I have to find time to type up my notes.)
You’ve seen the glossy advertisements for some ardent spirit, in a crystal vessel, accessorized by equally crystalline ice. While THAT ice is likely acrylic (to withstand the lighting requirements of a product’s day long photo shoot) your ice at home can be likewise clear.
If you’ve ever wondered why some fancy places turn out perfectly clear ice, while yours at home (even with the fanciest refrigerator icemakers) is cloudy-white, I’m here to tell you how to do it right.
First, you need to filter your water. A standard, cheap, pitcher or faucet filter will suffice. If your refrigerator dispenses filtered water that will be just fine also. Place this highly excellent water in a scrupulously clean teapot. Boil. Shut off heat and allow to cool. Then boil again.
Why? There is a LOT of dissolved air in water, and the more dissolved air, the cloudier the ice. Boiling allows all that to escape.
Anyway, while it is still hot, pour carefully (!) into the ice tray. THEN – pay attention, this is the crucial bit – place the ice tray in one of those insulated cheap lunch “totes” that have sadly replaced the more artistic steel lunchboxes of yore. Then place the whole thing inside the freezer.
Basically you need two things to get super-clear ice: Very pure water, and a S-L-O-W freezing process. In a normal icemaking process, the surface of the cube freezes up much faster than the interior. Which “cramps” the interior, clouding it. By using very hot (and pure) water inside an insulated environment, you are assuring yourself a very slow freezing that allows the interior to cool down at a rate far closer to that of the exterior, and that lack of “cramping” is what produces such clear ice.
The next thing on the list was an excellent seminar on "Setting up your in-house soda program" so that you have an array of interesting fizzies to offer guests either straight up for those driving, or mixed for those not.
It is an abysmally kept secret that I am a big fan of "real" (i.e. made with real sugar) Coca-Cola. I basically enjoy carbonation a whole lot. So this is the sort of seminar that tickles my fancy.
Once again, we were drummed with the mantra of "filter and boil your water!" and, for sodaification purposes, to chill that water to about one nanodegree above freezing. (Boyle's Law hadn't been given this much play in my life since my Physics final.)
Insider's Tip: Two CO2 cartridges will create the optimal level of carbonation in 1qt/1L of water at 33F/1C.
The first recipe for anything is mineral water. No need to worry about the price (if you're a right wing maniac) or carbon-footprint (if you're a left wing maniac) of poncy mineral waters from a spring deep in the Alps. Check this out:
Recipe for Apollonaris Sparkling Mineral WaterWhich brings us to...homemade tonic water. Which is very handy if your household experiences dengue or malaria, or if you fly through gins-and-tonics by the trough.
23g sodium bicarbonate
11.5g sodium sulfate
8.8g sodium chloride
7.6g magnesium carbonate
1g calcium carbonate
5 gallons (18.75L) of water
Store in a
glass "carboy" like the ones you see in water coolers at offices. Carbonate each
liter/quart with 2 charges. Voila.
First you make the "concentrate"Just wait until you see what's on tap for tomorrow.
4 c. water
1 c. chopped lemongrass
(about 2 stalks for me)
¼ c. powdered cinchona bark
zest (use a
Microplane or other FINE grater) and juice of 1 orange, 1 lemon and 1 lime
t. cardamom seeds
½ t. allspice berries
¼ c. citric acid powder (NOT
¼ t. Coarse sea salt
Put everything in a large saucepan,
bring to a boil and immediately lower the heat to the barest simmer, and cover.
Let it go for 20 min. Strain through a coffee filter. Add an equal amount by
volume of simple syrup (1:1), and that's your concentrate. To make tonic water,
add 3 parts of concentrate to 8 parts water, and then carbonate.
P.S. God bless Berocca.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
People, get ready
It's nearly that time of the year.
Hard to believe it was a YEAR ago that I gave Tales of the Cocktail my bloggy best. But time stops for no man, and I must pack my bags and schlep forward.
For YOU, Internet.
So stay tuned.