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Cocktail Hour: Yes, You Can Throw a Fab Cocktail Party Image

Looking to throw the perfect cocktail party this holiday season? The Hearty Boys, otherwise known as Steve McDonagh and Dan Smith, have a new book with tips to show you how.

“The New Old Bar: Classic Cocktails and Salty Snacks From The Hearty Boys,” is all about making home cocktails easier and more fun, with a nod to many favorite drinks of the past as well as bar snacks and appetizers to balance out those strong flavors.

“The cocktail scene over the last five to seven years has been so hot on both coasts,” notes McDonagh, who is based in Chicago, where he runs the restaurant Hearty. “But the average person still doesn’t understand what’s going on. This book is written for the regular person who feels intimidated by today’s cocktail list.”

He says it’s also about empowerment, about showing people who don’t know their Peychaud’s from their Angostura (they’re two types of bitters) how to make cocktails on their own and throw a cocktail party.

To that end, the Boys are especially fans of four- or five-ingredient cocktails based around a primary liquor matched with a liqueur, a sweetener, citrus and bitter served in a small glass; they believe our drinks these days are simply too large.

“I just love the mixing, the ritual of it, the ritual of the muddling, the shaking,” McDonagh adds. “And it’s important to add in a toast.”

He and Smith got the idea for the book from their experience on the Food Network, where they won the first season of “The Next Food Network Star” and then hosted their own series called “Party Line With the Hearty Boys.”

“We’d say to ourselves, ‘Dan’s mom can’t get that [ingredient],’ ” McDonagh says. “It was the big lesson we took away. We’re talking to everyone.”

Of course, they didn’t want to dumb it down or simplify things too far. Neither did they want to focus their recipes on specific brands, unless a drink absolutely called for one.

What they love is the chance to highlight lost and long-out-of-production spirits that, thanks to the cocktail craze, are trickling back into production again. Things like crème de violette, an important ingredient in the classic Aviation cocktail; or green and yellow Chartreuse (made in the Swiss Alps for more than 400 years) and maraschino liqueur, two ingredients McDonagh swears by.

Ingredients for a cocktail party

As for the home bar, he also recommends keeping the following on hand: Benedictine, a cognac-and-herb-based liqueur; elderflower liqueur (“it works so well with pre-Prohibition recipes”); Galliano, a sweet herbal liqueur made from vanilla, star anise and herbs; three types of whiskey (rye, bourbon and Scotch — “you do need all three, they’re so different”); tequila as well as mescal; a good vermouth (he likes Dolin and Vya); and Lillet, a French wine-based aperitif that comes in white and red versions.

“You don’t need much vodka at all,” he notes. “I’m very big into bitter and herbal flavors, they go with food.” The original purpose of the cocktail hour was to “get our palates going,” he says. But these days, people drink more vodka cocktails, often loaded with sugar to make them palatable.

Hard sought-after vintage recipes figure prominently, many from wood-bound books the duo found along the way.

For Thanksgiving, McDonagh likes to give his guests something made with Campari when they first arrive, such as his recipe for the light Mistaken Negroni (see below). He also highly recommends the vintage Widow’s Kiss, a blend of Calvados, Chartreuse and Benedictine, the recipe for which is also below:

Mistaken Negroni

Serves 1

From “The New Old Bar”

Ingredients

1 ounce Campari

1 ounce sweet vermouth

1 ounce fresh orange juice

Sparkling wine or Prosecco

Orange peel for garnish

Directions

1. Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.

2. Shake well.

3. Strain into a Champagne flute and top with sparkling wine (or pour over ice).

4. Serve garnished with a flamed orange peel (see note).

Note: “To flame an orange peel, hold a 1-inch round of peel (skin side facing the drink) between thumb and forefinger, being careful not to squeeze and dispel the oils,” McDonagh says. “In the other hand, hold a lit match or, my preference, a long matchstick lighter, between the peel and the cocktail. As you squeeze the peel over the surface of the cocktail, the oils will spark through the flame and leave a lovely, caramelized, aromatic finish to the drink. You can then toss in the garnish as you normally would.”

Widow’s Kiss

Serves 1

From “The New Old Bar”

Ingredients

1½ ounces Calvados

¾ ounce yellow Chartreuse

¾ ounce Benedictine

2 dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters

Maraschino cherry for garnish

Directions

1. Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.

2. Shake well.

3. Strain into a chilled coupe and serve garnished with a maraschino cherry.

Photo: Widow’s Kiss cocktail by the Hearty Boys.  Credit: Steve McDonagh

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A Spirited Education Image

On a recent Saturday evening, my husband and I came in from the bracing cold that whipped through New Orleans’ French Quarter and collapsed into seats at the Hotel Monteleone’s revolving Carousel Bar. Where I come from, 5 o’clock means only one thing, and it was no mistake that we’d made ourselves winter nomads in a city where some of the country’s most creative bartenders have invented drinks like the Ramos Gin Fizz and rye whiskey-based Sazerac.

My husband ordered a Pimm’s Cup for himself and one of those Ramos Gin Fizzes for me, and we watched the bartender expertly finish the concoctions in one woozy rotation of the bar, our stools pulling up in front of him again just as he topped the milky Fizz with club soda. It’s no wonder that the town known for beloved bars like the Carousel, a Hemingway and Capote haunt, honors the craft with what may be the country’s most curious cocktail destination.

To Learn More

To find out more about visiting MOTAC, to become a museum member or to shop at its online store, go to www.museumoftheamerican

cocktail.org.

There, you can also take a virtual tour of the museum or find out about its monthly Monday Mixology series as well as upcoming events like World Cocktail Week (May 6–18, 2010) and the Manhattan Cocktail Classic (May 14–18, 2010).

To learn more about Dale DeGroff, or to order "The Craft of the Cocktail" (Clarkson Potter, 2002) or "The Essential Cocktail", go towww.kingcocktail.com.

To find it, walk to the south end of the city’s tourist-centric Riverwalk Marketplace, pass the neon food court and don’t blink. There, in what was formerly a dress shop, is the one-of-a-kind Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC). Opened in 2004 and originally housed in the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, MOTAC is the brainchild of an impressive group: Dale DeGroff, America’s premier mixologist and author of “The Essential Cocktail” (Clarkson Potter, 2008); his wife, Jill, an artist; Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh; DrinkBoy.com creator Robert Hess; cocktail historian David Wondrich; Phil Greene, a descendent of the famous Peychaud bitters family; and New Orleans bartender Chris McMillian, and his wife, Laura, among others. The mind-blowing, one-room collection, curated by Haigh, tracks more than 200 years of American mixology and showcases DeGroff’s and Haigh’s personal cocktail relics along with treasures loaned or donated by private collectors around the country.

Glamorous bar menus from giants like New York’s Rainbow Room, where DeGroff tended bar in the late 1980s, and New Orleans’ own Roosevelt Hotel line the glass cases alongside dusty bottles of medicinal bitters, iconic liquor memorabilia like a Coates & Co. (producers of Plymouth Gin) match striker, yellowed newspaper headlines, bar-ware patents and curiosities such as a grand 1927 Prohibition-era silver trophy whose four pieces could be disassembled and rearranged into a fully functioning cocktail shaker when the law wasn’t around.

If visitors have doubts about their knowledge going in, they soon learn to tell a roemer from a pub rummer, and a sling from a flip. MOTAC’s holy grail is the oldest piece in its collection: a 1790 edition of “The Practical Distiller,” donated by DeGroff. “It’s probably the same edition George Washington used,” he points out. “You know, he was a whiskey distiller.” The museum also displays two extremely rare copies of Jerry Thomas’ “Bar-Tender’s Guide” (Dick & Fitzgerald, 1862), the first cocktail manual ever published. With illustrations of long-ago gems like the Brandy Crusta, served in a lemon peel-lined wine glass, these alone are worth the price of admission.

After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Commander’s Palace Restaurant invited DeGroff and Haigh to relocate MOTAC inside their Las Vegas eatery. So the two boxed up the museum’s contents and headed west. “But it was always our dream to get back to New Orleans,” says DeGroff. In 2008, MOTAC returned to the Crescent City, settling into its current location inside the quirky Southern Food and Beverage Museum.

DeGroff still hopes to find a permanent home for the museum that could also house a cocktail library. “We don’t have a big angel that’s ready to buy us a building, so we’ll see” he says. Meanwhile, DeGroff and his co-founders plug away at preserving America’s cocktail history and elevating its culture. “The cocktail is a uniquely American metaphor,” DeGroff says. “But some people still joke about the museum.” With a chuckle he adds, “They ask who our members are.”

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MOTAC's entrance, where visitors are greeted by a likeness of Jerry Thomas, author of the first cocktail manual ever published. Dale DeGroff


Zester Daily contributor Liz Pearson is a writer, consultant, food stylist and contributor to the Los Angeles Times, “Every Day With Rachael Ray” and Saveur. She lives in Texas.

Photo: Dale DeGroff

 


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4 Ways To Freshen Up Cocktail Hour With Byrrh Image

No, Byrrh isn’t some murky variant spelling of beer; in fact, it’s wine. More precisely, Byrrh Grand Quinquina — to use its full name — is a French aperitif that’s been showing up in bars around the United States after gathering dust in obscurity for decades. Based on the red wines of Roussillon, France, as well as fortified grape juice, it’s flavored with a blend of botanicals, primarily cinchona bark (which contains quinine — hence the name), to strike a refreshing balance between fruitiness and bitterness.

Thanks to Eric Seed of Haus Alpenz — the cool kids’ importer these days — Byrrh is now available in nearly all 50 states. The more I began to spot it on cocktail menus around Denver, where I live, the more curious I grew as to its allure and applications. Three local bartenders were gracious enough to explain it all for me.

The patio pounder

For Alexandra Geppert, who handles operations at The BSide — a funky, free-wheeling new hangout in Denver’s Uptown — Byrrh’s raspberry and nutty flavors lend themselves to easy-breezy libations such as the Humboldt Highball, which also contains simple syrup, lemon juice and club soda.

Featured on the late-summer drink list, it drank like a zippy pop that, she joked, “You could have 40 of in one sitting.” But for cooler weather, Geppert suggests deepening the flavor with a distinctly herbal liqueur. Here is BSide bartender Daniel Bewley’s recipe:

Humboldt Hibyrrhnation

Yield: 1 serving

Prep Time: 2 minutes

Ingredients

A Byrrh cocktail from Bistro Vendôme in Denver. Credit: Ruth Tobias

The Byrrh Martini, left, and Black Spring from Bistro Vendôme in Denver. Credit: Ruth Tobias

2 ounces Byrrh

¾ ounce Leopold Bros. Three Pins Alpine Herbal Liqueur

½ ounce lemon juice

½ ounce simple syrup

Club soda

Directions

1. Shake the first four ingredients together in a cocktail shaker. Strain over ice into a Collins glass. Top with club soda.

Geppert also loves to fancify the tavern tradition of a shot and a beer chaser by offering a more cultivated pairing: “a craft beer and a taster.” To that end, she proposes sipping a glass of Byrrh, with its round mouthfeel, alongside a contrastingly “crisp beer, maybe one with a little bitterness.”

To that end, she proposes sipping a glass of Byrrh, with its round mouthfeel, alongside a contrastingly “crisp beer, maybe one with a little bitterness,” say a blonde ale or a pilsner.

The neo-martini

At Bistro Vendôme, a beloved French fixture in downtown Denver, bartender Jason Morden has been having a field day with Byrrh for the past few months. He recommends drinking it over ice with lemon zest before dinner, because “citrus really makes it pop”; afterward, he might pair it with a bit of milk chocolate.

And because to his palate “it’s reminiscent of Vermouth Rouge,” he also considers it “an amazing counterpart to gin.” Here’s his “hot and boozy” twist on a martini:

Byrrh Martini

Yield: 1 serving

Prep Time: 2 minutes

Ingredients

2 ounces dry rye gin

1 ounce Byrrh

½ ounce lemon juice, plus peel for garnish twist

Directions

1. Shake gin, Byrrh and lemon juice together in a cocktail shaker. Pour into a martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

The rye sidekick

You’ll notice that the gin in the previous cocktail is made with rye, the spiciness of which nicely balances the sweetness of Byrrh. Morden uses that to his advantage in another cocktail, this one based on rye whiskey:

Black Spring

Yield: 1 serving

Prep Time: 2 minutes

Ingredients

1½ ounces rye whiskey

1 ounce Byrrh

1 ounce amaro-style bitter

2½ to 3 ounces ginger beer

Luxardo cherries

Directions

1. Over ice in a Collins glass, stir the first four ingredients together. Garnish with Luxardo cherries on a toothpick.

Meanwhile, Kevin Burke — beverage director at sibling hot spots Colt & Gray and Ste. Ellie — compares Byrrh favorably to another fortified wine, Dubonnet Rouge. “With a lot of products, some cocktail types get up in arms that the European version is different than the American one,” he said. (Take absinthe as a prime example.) “Unfortunately, Dubonnet falls into this category for me. So when I see Dubonnet called for in a recipe, I have found great success in substituting Byrrh.” For example, “it shines in a Deshler Cocktail, which is great when you’re in the mood for a Manhattan but also want something new.”

Word to the lightweight: Burke likes a high-proof rye in the following recipe. Sure, “Rittenhouse 100 or Wild Turkey 101 will do in a pinch — but Willett 110 Proof or Thomas H. Handy Sazerac is worth the splurge.”

Deshler Cocktail

Yield: 1 serving

Prep Time: 3 minutes

Ingredients

1¼ ounces high-proof rye

1¼ ounces Byrrh

¼ ounce Peychaud’s Bitters

1 teaspoon Cointreau

Orange twist for garnish

Directions

1. Chill a small cocktail glass.

2. Add cracked ice to a mixing glass, then add all ingredients except the orange twist and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass.

3. Pinch the orange twist over the drink to express oils, then add and enjoy.

Main photo: The Humboldt Highball cocktail alongside a bottle of Byrrh and a glass of the aperitif at Denver’s BSide. Credit: Ruth Tobias

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The Best Cocktail Apps For Aspiring Bartenders Image

How often does this happen to you? You’re looking in a kitchen cabinet when you stumble upon a random bottle of liquor you have no idea how to use. Or you’ve invited friends over and want to replace the usual wine with fabulous cocktails, but need some inspiration.

Maybe neither of these cases describes you because you’re a cocktail guru famed for your mixology expertise. No matter what, you’ll find life made easier by the cocktail apps below. With hundreds of recipes, virtual “liquor cabinets” and many more handy functions, these apps will place the bartending knowledge you desire at your fingertips.

Mixology

Basics: Mixology is the best option for anyone seeking a variety of functions on a simple interface. The app offers thousands of recipes that are searchable by category or ingredient.

Cool features: The “Cabinet” function enables you to check off liquors, mixers and garnishes that you have on hand and suggests drinks you can make with them. Mixology even locates nearby liquor stores for your shopping needs, and local bars if you want someone else to prepare the drinks. Finally, the app has bartending tips and tricks for beginners, and displays user ratings for each drink.

Systems: iOS, Android

Cost: Free.

Upgrade: Pay $0.99/$1.49 (iOS/Android) for “Mixologist,” which will allow you to store custom cocktail mixes.

Liquor Cabinet

Basics: Liquor Cabinet is a visually engaging app created to build recipes from the ingredients you have on hand. It has a substantial drink database searchable by category, ingredient or occasion, such as “Brunch” or “Holidays.”

Cool features: What makes Liquor Cabinet stand out is its whimsical “Cabinet” function. While “Cabinet” on apps like Mixology are basically checklists, this version enables you to virtually stock a wood-paneled bar with items you have so ingredients literally take shape, making them easily viewable. Select certain items and they are “mixed” into different recipes. Liquor Cabinet also provides a “bar napkin” so you can make notes, and lets you save Favorites. It tells you what drinks are a few ingredients away based on your Cabinet and tallies needed items on a shopping list. If you want help devising various drinks for what’s on hand — including that mystery bottle — then Liquor Cabinet is for you.

System: iOS

Cost: $0.99

Speakeasy Cocktails

Basics: Speakeasy Cocktails is worth the investment for those who seek to immerse themselves in the art of mixology. It was created by Jim Meehan and Joseph Schwartz of the NYC speakeasies PDT and Little Branch, respectively.

Cool features: The app features 200 recipes, hours of video tutorials and quality photos on a beautifully smooth interface. The app divides its wealth of information into digestible “Chapters” on various topics: gear, techniques, liquors and mixers, recipes, and a history of the speakeasy. The recipes are easy to follow and define every drink ingredient and bartending term you’ll ever come across. If you’re looking to get into more serious cocktailing, this app is the perfect tool.

Format: e-book available for iPhone, iPad

Cost: $9.99

 

Mixology

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The many features offered by Mixology.

Bartender’s Choice

Basics: Bartender’s Choice is perfect for those who want a professionally curated cocktail library without Speakeasy’s price tag. Created by Sam Ross of NYC’s Milk & Honey, this app affords you the expertise of a speakeasy bartender. Select choices for Alcohol, Sensation, Style and Extra, and it produces suggestions from its high-quality library of more than 400 cocktails, each featuring a well-crafted photo and brief drink history.

Cool feature: Though missing a “Cabinet” and in-depth tutorials, Bartender’s Choice includes “Minor Details,” which provides basic tips and definitions. Delivered on an interface evoking the spirit of a speakeasy, this app will have you reaching eagerly for your mixer.

System: iOS

Cost: $2.99

Drinks and Cocktails

Basics: If you’re a mixology novice or just want a straightforward app, then settle down with Drinks and Cocktails. This app sheds “Cabinet,” GPS and tutorial functions to focus on providing easy recipes. The recipes omit bartender jargon while keeping basic practical tips such as what a “highball glass” looks like.

Cool feature: It offers several hundred drinks that can be narrowed down by category or ingredient, browsed on a user-friendly scroll wheel and saved to Favorites.

System: iOS

Cost: Free

Cocktail Flow

Basics: Cocktail Flow has a more limited library but a more fun interface than others on this list. The app has the typical offerings of “Cabinet,” bartending basics and easy instructions.

Cool features: Three features make it stand apart: It budgets your cocktail shopping list based on drinks you like, offers nonalcoholic drink recipes and has a tropical theme that makes you feel like you’re mixing in a tiki bar.

Systems: iOS, Android

Cost: Free.

Upgrade: $0.99 for additional themes and recipes, although developers promise more free recipes in future upgrades.

Main photo: Summer cocktails on the porch — a margarita, blackberry Moscow mule, tequila sunrise and basil mojito. Credit: Rose Winer

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Cocktail Hour: Best Books For Would-Be Mixologists Image

Everyone loves reading and drinking, right? Or maybe it’s drinking and reading. So these great books about cocktails would be perfect presents for just about anyone. You might even want to snag a few for yourself, and snuggle up to read them with a drink in hand.

“Cocktails for a Crowd”

This book by Wine Enthusiast Magazine spirits editor Kara Newman is a must-have resource for making punches, pitcher drinks and party-size batches of tiki and tropical beverages. Newman also spells out the way to go on ice, garnishes and other equipment to keep the drinks flowing at your next gathering. Additionally included are classics along the lines of the Bobby Burns (see recipe below), a strong, burly drink invented for Robert Burns Night, celebrating the Scottish poet, on Jan. 25. Newman even explains how to make a bottled version, ideal for serving to a large group. $18.95, Chronicle Books

“Dr. Cocktail: 50 Spirited Infusions to Stimulate the Mind & Body”

Alex Ott, an organic chemist and mixologist, has created cocktail menus for restaurants and bars around the world. Ott was inspired by his own brush with death in an airplane crash to write this book, which centers on the power of spirited concoctions to combat stress, boost energy, stay young, improve memory, cure hangovers, relax one’s nerves and, of course, act as aphrodisiacs and magic tinctures. Many of the drinks call for fresh fruits, vegetables, botanicals and herbs as well as chamomile, garlic, lemongrass and cinnamon to work their power. $17, Running Press

“The Drunken Botanist”

Written by New York Times best-selling author Amy Stewart, this is the book to get for the gardeners and cocktail historians in your life. A detailed exploration of the garnishes and flavorings that can naturally accent a good drink, from herbs and spices to berries, flowers and other botanicals, Stewart helps guide both how to grow all these accoutrements as well as how to use them in a range of flavorful cocktails, from The Aviation, made with violet liqueur, to a Negroni with fresh orange peel. $19.95, Algonquin Books

“Savory Cocktails”

Written by Greg Henry, author of “Savory Pies,” this is for those who prefer their drinks herbaceous, smoky and strong — his chapters are broken down by Sour, Spicy, Herbal, Umami, Bitter, Smoky, Rich and Strong categories. Within the inspiring recipes are notes on techniques and primers on how to make your own syrups, bitters, shrubs and infusions. $16.95, Ulysses Press

“Shake, Stir, Pour: Fresh Homegrown Cocktails”

Katie Loeb, a Philadelphia-based sommelier, restaurant consultant and bartender, believes that anyone who can shop, boil water, measure ingredients and operate basic kitchen equipment can make homegrown cocktails. But just in case, her book includes step-by-step photos of some of the more complicated procedures for those shaky around a shaker. Expect tips on how to make infusions of base spirits, bitters and your own limoncello. $24.99, Quarry Books

“Twenty Years Behind Bars: The Spirited Adventures of a Real Bartender”

Northern California-based bartender Jeff Burkhart likens bartending to both marathon running and psychology. In this book, he takes a look at life from both sides of the bar, providing anecdotes on encounters with George Lucas, Robert Redford and Andre Agassi, as well as useful tips on drinking and making drinks. $15, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

“Vodka Distilled: The Modern Mixologist on Vodka and Vodka Cocktails”

Renowned mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim’s book is part history, part philosophy, with plenty of recipes for the world’s most widespread — if sometimes maligned — spirit, vodka. Abou-Ganim defends vodka’s complexity and versatility with detailed ideas for cocktails, a primer on pairing with such delicacies as caviar and a list of 58 vodkas with tasting notes and character scores for each. $22.95, Surrey Books

Bobby Burns

Courtesy Kara Newman, “Cocktails for a Crowd”

Serves 8 (about 4 cups)

Ingredients

12 ounces Scotch

12 ounces sweet vermouth, such as Carpano Antica

5 ounces water

2 ounces Benedictine

8 lemon twists, for garnish

Directions

1. In a pitcher that holds at least 5 cups, combine Scotch, vermouth, water and Benedictine and stir well.

2. Using a funnel, decant into a 1-liter liquor bottle or two 750-milliliter bottles. Cap tightly and refrigerate for at least two hours, until chilled.

3. To serve, set out a bowl or wine bucket filled with ice.

4. Shake the bottle to ensure the cocktail is well mixed, then set it in the ice so it stays chilled.

5. Pour into coupe or martini glasses and garnish each drink with a lemon twist.

Top photo: Bobby Burns cocktail. Credit: Teri Lyn Fisher

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New Vancouver Bar Scene Image

Tales of the Cocktail, the international cocktail conference/festival, took itself on the road last week, traveling from its steamy New Orleans-in-July locale to the drizzly downtown of Vancouver for a one-day event (with parties on both the preceding and following days). That one day, however, was a microcosm of the Cajun Tales, replete with seminars — from cocktail luminaries like Allen Katz, the host of the cocktail hour on Martha Stewart’s Sirius station; Dave Arnold, head of culinary technology at New York’s French Culinary Institute; and Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, author of five books on Tiki drinks — demonstrations, tastings and, yes, lots of schmoozing and drinking.

The cocktail movement is spreading horizontally

The real star of the show, to my mind, was Vancouver itself (and its legion of young, smart and highly professional barkeeps). I have said for over a year now that the cocktail movement hit a ceiling in terms of the wild inventiveness and creativity that fueled its rise and that the only direction for it to go was horizontal — to spread from epicenters like New York; San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; and Chicago to places where telling the bartender you want the Last Word will get you a greenish beverage, not an ejection. Despite its cold, damp surface, Vancouver has a drinking scene that doesn’t lack for heat (lots to talk about beer- and wine-wise there too) these days. And for me, who had spent only one long night in British Columbia’s largest city 10 years ago, there’s no place more exciting a place than a city whose cocktail/bar scene is taking off.

One thing driving Vancouver’s transformation is an influx of bartenders from around the world, particularly around the Commonwealth. Two of the great early epicenters of the modern cocktail culture were London and Australia, whose nationals can happily gain easy work visas into Canada. As Jacob Sweetapple, bar manager for the excellent (and exceedingly popular) bar at the shiny new Farimont Pacific Rim hotel says, “A lot of the top bartenders in town have worked all over the world and have just ended up here at the same time. In fact, we were drawn here by the energy that we could see concentrating.”

Sweetapple, an Australian, has worked in London and Sydney and brings a worldly flair to his menu at the Fairmont Pac Rim’s elegant lobby bar. He says that Vancouver has blossomed right before his very eyes. “A year ago in a place like this I probably couldn’t have gotten away with even putting a classic like a Sazerac on the menu,” he says, gesturing to the vast, light-filled, airy hotel lobby, “but somewhere around three months ago, people started clamoring for things like that.” I was charmed by his negroni made with house barrel-aged vermouth, but his stately Valid Victorian cocktail was the one that won me over. Its pale pink hue makes it look like a ladies’ drink, but it doesn’t pull any punches. The cocktail — a combination of gin, ginger liqueur and peychaud bitters — has a dry sophistication and seriousness (recalling, say, an English grand dame like Helen Mirren) that belies its color, and its femininity is strong and invokes Vancouver itself (a feminine city, in a way, as it’s surrounded by and transected by water in the form of bays, canals, rivers and creeks).

Appropriately, Vancouver has a strong contingent of female bartenders led by Danielle Tatarin, the reigning president of the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association and the charismatic presence behind the excellent bar at The Keefer. A hotel and bar, The Keefer resides in rapidly gentrifying Chinatown, which asserts its presence not only outside the bar but in the cocktails themselves, displayed in The Dragon Fly — a creative combination of gin, dragonfruit, pearl sake, lemon, ginger syrup and homemade magnolia bark tincture — and the Opium Sour, which seasons a mixture of grapefruit, Makers Mark and tamarind with poppyseed tincture.

Chinese cuisine and culture is the direct source for the Keefer’s almost-neighbor, Bao Bei, which was perhaps my favorite stop in Vancouver. Owned and run by another young woman, the charming Tannis Ling, formerly a bartender at Chambar, Bao Bei (a Chinese term of endearment like “precious” or “darling” to which Ling was evidently referred when she was young) is a quirky, idiosyncratic establishment that seems to radiate a personality (likely Ling’s), and serves excellent Chinese bistro fare that makes great salty, savory accompaniment to a phenomenal cocktail list that likewise delves into Ling’s native cuisine. The Handsome Benny involves bourbon, maraschino, Punt e Mes and “smoky plum,” a soothing elixir in Chinese culture. The Kai Yuen Sour applied Chinese plum syrup to rye, lemon, bitters and egg whites; and the Scarlet Clue cocktail was a marvel of balance despite blending sizable amounts of Angostura bitters and Cynar.

Food and drinks go hand in hand

Food is a common theme in the Vancouver bar scene. I can’t remember a single establishment I visited for cocktails that didn’t also serve food. L’Abattoir, in Vancouver’s nighttime playground of Gastown, is one of the most acclaimed restaurants in town, but also has a gorgeous, cozy bar run by Shaun Layton. (I loved the Meat Hook: bourbon, maraschino, Punt e Mes, and smoky Ardebg 10.) Across the street, the Diamond throbs with energy and seems to serve as the city’s cocktail hub. Operated by two of the top bartenders in town, Mark Brand (formerly of Boneta) and Josh Pape (Chambar), the Diamond has an extensive menu and pulls in the crowds on weekend nights. Though it serves food, I must say that I didn’t see a plate either of the times I was in there.

And these are but a few of Vancouver’s cocktail beacons. There is amazing stuff to be had at the Refinery, West, Pourhouse, Chambar, Uva and many others. Furthermore, the service I experienced in Vancouver was quite good. I was impressed that the citywide uniform for male bartenders was business casual — shirtsleeves usually accompanied by a swank necktie (no retro curly mustaches and vests), giving an air of capability and professionalism, while inspiring confidence in customers that they’re being well taken care of. If there’s one thing that bartenders suffer from here, it’s the availability of the wide variety of spirits we see in most U.S. states, as the flow of liquor into B.C. is regulated by the government. And, often, what bartenders can get their hands on is extremely expensive relative to its price across the border. “It makes life difficult, for sure,” said L’Abattoir’s Layton, “but I think it’s also inspired us to be more creative, to do more with less.”

Indeed, you wouldn’t know they had less — the overarching mood at the city’s bars is one of joyful plenitude.

Valid Victorian From the Fairmont Pacific Rim

Ingredients

1½ ounces Beefeater Gin
¾ ounce Giffard ginger liqueur  (If you don’t have Giffard, try another ginger liqueur like Domaine de Canton.)
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
¼ ounce sugar syrup
3 drops of Peychaud’s bitters
2 drops of Regans orange bitters

Directions

  1. Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass.

The Scarlet Clue From Bao Bei

Ingredients

1 ounce gin
¾ ounce Cynar
¼ ounce Angostura
⅓ ounce Luxardo Maraschino
¾ ounce lemon juice
⅓ ounce plum water  (Dried Chinese plums simmered in water)

Directions

  1. Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass.

Jordan Mackay is the wine and spirits editor for San Francisco’s metropolitan magazine 7×7 and writes The Juice column for Chow. In addition, he’s a contributing writer for Wine and Spirits magazine and a regular contributor to Decanter and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Photo: The “A Spot of Tea” cocktail from Vancouver’s L’Abattoir. Credit: Jordan Mackay

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Are Elitist Cocktails Wrecking Our Bars? Image

I used to tell people that I got interested in cocktails because my parents were into wine and it was my way of being a rebel. In comparison with cork-sniffing and vintage-cataloguing, quaffing cocktails seemed a lot more fun — and a whole lot less like work.

That was 10 years ago, an era when cranberry juice reigned behind the bar, insisting on fresh citrus was considered crazy and the shaken martini was still de rigeur. Almost nobody considered the importance of ice, how different sized and shaped cubes affected a cocktail.

Flash forward to the present when managers and bartenders at even indifferent chains stock 31 different flavors of bitters (two of them mole-based!). Now cocktail enthusiasts write dissertation-level explanations on the evolution of old recipes, and even mid-sized cities report a surfeit of faux-speakeasy bars (aka speak-cheesy). A night out can dock a couple $72 (before the tip) for two drinks each, and thanks to the bartender’s showmanship, a single libation can take 20 minutes to make.

The rise of the craft cocktail

Just how did we get to this era of refined drinking? New York was a pioneer of the craft cocktail — drinks carefully conjured from pre-Prohibition recipes and house-made ingredients. Bars like Milk and Honey, Please Don’t Tell and Flatiron Lounge promised better drinks and a less boisterous atmosphere. Dedicated craftsmen, like bartenders Katie Stipe and Jim Meehan weren’t actors waiting to be discovered (and feeling secretly better than those they served). They were — and are — passionate bartenders sharing their enthusiasm with customers.

Stipe and Meehan are among the pioneers who helped establish an interesting subculture. Marked by sideburns, mustaches, fedoras and tattoos, today’s professional craft cocktail makers create syrups from scratch and hand-carve ice to achieve specific levels of coldness suited to the level of dilution required. In the late 19th century, the American cocktail was a culinary innovation and cultural export — one of our great contributions to world epicurean excellence.

Prohibition and the collapse of the ‘drinkway’

The corpse reviver family of cocktails (traditionally morning drinks intended to revive the hungover corpse) was widely celebrated at the Paris Exposition in 1889. But Prohibition, that noble experiment, lasted for a long, thirsty stretch and resulted in what is called a lost “foodway,” or, in this case, “drinkway.” Recipes and methods stopped being passed down from one bartender to the next through hands-on training and apprenticeship. By the time bars reopened in the 1930s, the ranks of professional barmen had long moved on to other careers or retired.

Prohibition-era drinks were often overly sweet and creamy to mask the substandard booze. Post-Prohibition drinks grew out of that tradition, but became bigger, as the game became “How much liquor can you get into a glass?” Nobody would deny the virtues of midcentury American classics like daiquiris and gimlets, but over the next few decades artificial-tasting and looking bar mixes replaced fresh lime. In the 1980s, candy-flavored drinks brightly colored with grenadine, like the Tequila Sunrise, “fruit” daiquiris and margaritas, and bright red Royal Rickeys emerged.

Beyond cran-and-vodkas

The end of the 20th century and early millennial years are often viewed as the nadir of the cocktail timeline, until Sasha Petraske of Milk and Honey, rightly viewed as America’s first “craft cocktail” bar, took the reins and taught people to just say no to cranberry and vodka. He didn’t stock either ingredient. Instead, he proffered gin- and brown liquor-based classics made with fresh-squeezed juices and house-made syrups. “bartender’s choice” drinks, reflecting the omakase trend in sushi restaurants, took hold.

That said, the relationship between drinker and pourer is not always amiable. The last time I went to a bar, one I won’t name (but let’s just say it was a New York speakeasy-style spot known for some of the best drinks in the country on East 6th Street somewhere between 1st and A avenues), I received a 30-minute penalty before being served because I failed to give enough direction on my bartender’s choice. The conversation went roughly like this:

ME: “I’d like a Bartender’s Choice — anything with rum.”

BARTENDER: “That doesn’t help me at all, since I don’t know what kind of drink you like.”

The bartender proceeded to serve every person at the bar before coming back with a Swizzle, a tall rum, fruit juice, falernum and bitters drink served over finely crushed ice. Admittedly, it was a very good Swizzle, but at that point a Bud Light Lime would have tasted pretty good, too.

At that moment, I felt like we’d lost the plot. My first book was about cocktails, but I am far more interested in bar culture than in specific ingredients. As bartenders are downright fetishized for their ability to combine specific spirits, I feel we’re losing some of the spirit of the bar. People are there to have a good time and meet people, not to pray at the altar of the cocktail.

There are other aspects of fine drinking (as opposed to fine dining) that are less than democratic. Craft cocktail bars aren’t your drop-by-after-work-and-chat-with-Norm kind of places. More often than not, they take reservations and enforce rules about speaking to people (especially women) you don’t know. Initially, that was such a welcome rule – and there’s still a place for it – but it begs the question: Why are we trying to de-socialize the emblem of sociability? And then there’s the price. It’s not unusual for a cocktail to run between $12 and $16 these days.

Is cocktail snobbery the problem? Probably not the biggest one, since gentrification, healthism and car culture are all probably bigger threats to traditional bar culture. But just in case elitism is even a small component, I’m doing my part to fight it — I’m switching back to wine.

And the occasional vodka.


This week’s Zester Soapbox contributor Christine Sismondo is a Toronto-based author and barfly. She wrote “Mondo Cocktail: A Shaken and Stirred History” in 2005 and, more recently, “America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Grog Shops and Speakeasies.

Photo: Christine Sismondo.

Credit: Steve Edgar

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ENTER NOW to win a contest for Christine Sismondo’s “America Walks Into a Bar” and William Yeoward’s “American Bar.” Ten entries will be selected to receive both books!

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Cocktail Hour: In Napa, Bartenders Skip the Wine Image

Wine may reign supreme in California’s Napa Valley, but there’s also a surprising talent pool of mixologists, who come out for the annual Wine Country Cocktail Competition.

“We are seeing an unprecedented growth in Napa Valley cocktail competitions as bar programs continue to grow and develop in wine country,” said Ashley Teplin, a partner at local public relations firm, who attended the event. “Napa Valley is now home to some serious world-class bartenders at Goose & Gander, French Blue, The Thomas at Fagianni’s, Meadowood, La Condesa, Bouchon and Terra, to name a few.”

Iron Chef” style, some of the region’s world-class bartenders faced off in the summer competition to outdo each other in creating the best cocktail. Each received an arsenal of base products plus a surprise ingredient: seasonal berries.

The contestants had to start with Perfect Purée’s frozen fruit purees, concentrates and zests; and Charbay’s artisanal fresh fruit vodkas, rums, whiskeys and tequila. They also had fresh fruit, garnishes, herbs, edible flowers, mixers and bitters at their disposal.

The winning cocktail was the Sage Canyon Flip, from Michael Jack Pazdon of Goose & Gander in St. Helena. It was the second year in a row that Pazdon had won. Pazdon originally made the drink when he was at Solbar at Solage Resort in Calistoga.

“It stood out for its unique use of ingredients both sweet and savory, the use of sage and Doppelt Kümmel Extra, which is the most amazing stuff ever,” said one of the judges, radio personality Ziggy Eschliman.

Teplin was struck by how well-balanced the competing cocktails were.

“They were complex with great structure and overall acidity,” she said. “Napa Valley is definitely starting to make name for itself in the cocktail world.”

Second prize went to Kelly Dallas of Solbar for the Gravitas Garantum Flip, a drink made with pomegranate vodka, pear purée and a rosemary-infused simple syrup. Third went to Cappy Sorentino of Spoon Bar in Healdsburg, who made a roasted red pepper cocktail.

“What struck me most about Michael Jack Pazdon, Kelly Dallas and Cappy Sorentino’s cocktails — the top three cocktails — were the depth of flavors, complexity and balance,” noted Brian Kropf, editor in chief of Mutineer Magazine and a judge at the competition. “They were all somewhat similar in style, but each had a different and unique presentation and back story.”

Gravitas Garantum Flip

Created by Kelly Dallas of Solbar at Solage Resort

Serves 1

Ingredients  

1½ ounces pomegranate vodka

1 ounce pear purée

1 strawberry

¾ ounce lemon juice

¾ ounce rosemary-infused simple syrup

3-4 mint leaves

½ ounce egg white

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Sprig of rosemary and edible flowers to garnish.

Directions

1. Shake all ingredients and serve over ice.

2. Garnish with rosemary and flower petals.

 

Cal Norske Flip

Created by Michael Jack Pazdon of Goose & Gander

Serves 1

Ingredients

Two handfuls of cranberries

¾ ounce vodka

¾ ounce lemon vodka

Angostura bitters

3 sage leaves

¾ ounce lemon juice

½ ounce simple syrup

¼ ounce Kümmel (a liqueur made from caraway seed, cumin and fennel)

1 ounce pear purée

½ ounce egg white

Directions

1. Gently crush a handful of cranberries in a mixing glass.

2. Transfer to an iSi whip charger and fill charger half full with a mixture of 1:1 regular and Meyer lemon vodkas. Cap charger and charge with nitrogen dioxide (NO2); set aside.

3. Separately, crush another handful of cranberries in a sealable container and cover with angostura bitters. Cap and shake vigorously, set aside.

4. After a few moments, uncap the vodka and bitters and strain both. Transfer the bitters to an eyedropper.

5. To build the drink, muddle three sage leaves in the bottom of a mixing glass. Add lemon, simple syrup, Kümmel, pear purée, egg white and 1 ½ ounces of strained infused vodka.

6. Dry shake, add ice and shake vigorously.

7. Double strain into a rocks glass over a glace ice sphere. Drop bitters on top of foam and drag a toothpick through them to make a design.

Photo: Cal Norske Flip cocktail created by Michael Jack Pazdon of Goose & Gander.        Credit: Ashley Teplin

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