Thursday, November 20, 2014

port of call

1 oz Daron Calvados
1 oz Plantation 5 Year Barbados Rum
3/4 oz Sercial Madeira
1/4 oz House Falernum
2 dash Peychaud's Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a rocks glass.
A few Thursdays ago, I ventured over to Alden & Harlow after work. For a drink, I asked bartender Amber Carbino for the Port of Call. One of the servers later mentioned that it was "fall in a glass," but I was drawn in by the Madeira element. Once prepared, the Port of Call donated an apple and clove spice aroma. Grape and caramel on the sip led into rum and apple on the swallow and a smoky grape and spice on the finish.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

:: fermentation... an ancient trend ::

My restaurant's general manager organized an outing to the Harvard Science & Cooking Lecture Series on Monday where Jody Adams of Rialto and Trade was speaking about "Fermentation... An Ancient Trend." While he thought the talk was going to be more about boozy drink topics, I figured that the theme would be a bit more broad than that given the talk's full title. Either way it was fine by me.

Fermentation is rather helpful to people for few reasons including preservation, flavor intensification, intoxification, and ease of digestion. The microbes doing this work take complex molecules, digest them, and spit out some combination of acids, ethanol, gas (such as carbon dioxide), aromas, and flavor molecules. While these molecules can be of use to us, the microbes are secreting some of these molecules as part of their chemical warfare system against other species of microbes. For example, the alcohol that brewer's yeast produces can kill bacteria, and the acid that lactobacillus churns out can poison out competitors.

Cooking is not so far from rotting, and fermentation is rather tied to this trend. Adams showed images of Klaus Pichler's pictures of rotting food to demonstrate some of these concepts, and the photos reminded me of Peter Greenaway's A Zed & Two Noughts. However, fermentation is your friend and it's more than just rotting food. The bans on cured hams and unpasteurized cheeses have helped to confuse this matter. The sterilization of our food and our bodies has caused multiple issues such as with colds and allergies, and there has been a buzz about probiotics as of late to return our internal flora to regain the health benefits.
Fermentation is important for flavor, and can help to create a Proustian experience with the intersection of flavor and emotion. Good fermentation microbes take the energy in carbohydrates and return changes in flavor, texture, preservation, and health benefits via pre-digestion of food and probiotics.

Adams presented the history of microbes starting 7000 BCE with the first recorded mention of China making alcohol out of rice. It took a while for microbes to be identified with 1837 and 1840s yielding the identification of yeast and bacteria, respectively, and it was not until 1856 that Louis Pasteur connected yeast to alcohol fermentation. In the United States, the health benefits were first sought after around 1910 with the importation of yogurt as a health food and digestion aid. Trends slowed down with the prohibition of fermented beverages in the 1920s, the advent of anti-bacterial deodorant soap in 1948, and the widespread use of anti-bacterial soaps in households in the 1990s.

In bread, activated amylase enzymes in wheat and the various enzymes in yeast begin to break down large starch molecules into simple sugars such as glucose, fructose, and maltose. While yeast will break the glucose and fructose down into alcohol and carbon dioxide, bacteria such as found in sour dough cultures will break down the maltose sugar in lactic and acetic acid. These bacterial acids generated in longer, slower fermented breads can yield longer shelf lives; bread becomes more interesting when left to rise overnight or for two days in the fridge. As an example, Adams passed out to the audience a quick rise, a one day, and a two day slow rise; the zero day was the sweetest, the one day was drier, and the two day had a bounty of additional pleasant flavors in the mix. As for health benefits, the microbes help to reduce some of the gluten in bread and to produce acids to inhibit molds. Additionally, during the baking process, the heat combines acids and alcohol into esters that offer the delightful freshly baked bread aroma.

In yogurt, the bacteria eats the lactose that many people have a problem digesting. Moreover, the bacteria add intriguing flavor with the lactic acid production and donate health benefits as probiotics for the digestive system. The acid in yogurt is helpful in cooking as it can be added to sweeter foods for balance. Adams showed off her home unit that maintains temperature to make a batch of 7 servings of yogurt overnight.

In fermented pickles, the naturally occurring lactobacillus on the surface of cucumbers works with brine to turn the sugars in the cucumber into lactic acid and carbon dioxide. Vinegar-processed pickles are not fermented -- the acetic acid in the vinegar itself is fermented, but not the pickles. While Adams did not cover shrubs, most of the quick hot- and cold-processed shrub recipes are not fermented either. Some slower methods of making shrubs can be partially fermented though. In pickling, the lactic acid-producing bacteria like salt and 70°F. Bad bacteria generally do not like this environment though; too much or too little salt (outside of the 3.5-5% salt solution range) or too hot or too cold will give other microbes an advantage. Pickling offers several advantages. First, it preserves fruits and vegetables; moreover, it adds flavor, increases the memory of food, and adds vitamin B to the diet.

For further information, Adams cited as her bible Sandor Ellix Katz's The Art of Fermentation. I also took photos of Adam's pickle and Rialto's bread recipes in order to share some of the details not covered here.

the eldridge

1 oz Edinburgh Gin
1/2 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz Cinzano Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Amaro Montenegro

Stir with ice and strain into a rocks glass with a large ice cube. Garnish with an orange twist.

For my second drink at Viale, I asked bartender Patrick Gaggiano for the Eldgridge which was labeled as the "house Negroni." Patrick described his creation as "[we are] not re-inventing the wheel, just twerking it a bit." With the split dry and sweet vermouth, the structure reminded me of Evan Harrison's Perfect Pal at the Independent. Moreover, the Amaro Montenegro in a Negroni riff made me think of Paul Manzelli's Montenegroni, but that kept the Campari element and used the other amaro as a substitute for the vermouth.
The Eldgridge began with bright orange oil aromas from the twist. The grape sip contained citrus notes from the Amaro Montenegro, and the swallow shared a combination of gin and bitter tangerine flavors. Overall, the Eldridge was a good drink and a solid entry Negroni for those not ready for Campari. In addition, the dry vermouth in the perfect structure helped to keep the sweetness in check here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

further moore

1 1/2 oz El Buho Mezcal
3/4 oz Cardamaro
1/2 oz Yellow Chartreuse
1/2 oz Honey Syrup
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with 2 oz Jack's Abby Jabby Brau Lager and add a straw.
A few Wednesdays ago, I paid a visit to Viale when bar manager Patrick Gaggiano was at the stick. I was quite curious about their beer cocktail, the Further Moore, on the menu both as a drink and about its name. Patrick explained that the Moore in question was the one who turned Pat on to Cardamaro. I commented that Cardamaro was not the easiest ingredient to mix with, and Pat agreed; his recipe did remind me a little of the Sacrilege with the lemon and honey to sooth the sharper notes of Cardamaro. In the glass, the Further Moore, gave forth a lemon and lightly herbal aroma. A lemon, honey, and malty sip transitioned well into a smoky mezcal and herbal swallow.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

vermouth cocktail

The theme for this month's Mixology Monday (MxMo XCI) was picked by Dinah of the blog. The theme she chose was "Shims" which seemed like a great topic as aperitif-style drinks are becoming hot both in bars and in literature such as her The Art of the Shim book that came out a few months ago. Dinah elaborated on the concept by describing, "This month's topic is near and dear to our hearts as it is our favorite type of lower-proof cocktails: shims! These drinks contain no more than half an ounce of strong spirits... Heavy-hitters are fun to drink, sure, but it's way too easy to over-consume and under-enjoy when you're playing hardball. Let's stretch out our evenings and get to sample a bigger variety by lowering the proof without lowering our standards. Shims don't require giving up on flavor, complexity, or--interestingly enough--even your favorite ingredients. Get a new understanding of your favorite high-proof spirit by using just a half or quarter ounce of it along with a milder leading player. Or take a low-proof character actor that usually supplements the main show and see if it can take the lead..."
For this theme, I began to recall all of the late 19th century recipes for cups, punches, and cocktails that featured fortified and aromatized wines as the main component. And then I recalled that the last time Dinah led Mixology Monday was back in September 2008 when hosted MxMo XXXI "19th Century Cocktails," so the idea had a great logical connection to the past, but blogging and spiritous, as well. One of the first books I grabbed was The Only William's The Flowing Bowl from 1891. There, I spotted the Vermouth Cocktail which appeared more like an Improved Vermouth Cocktail for it had absinthe and Maraschino in the mix. For MxMo "19th Century," I did another absinthe and Maraschino-enhanced libation -- the Improved Gin Cocktail. While I believe that Jerry Thomas was one of the first authors to publish a Vermouth Cocktail, it does not reside in my 1862 edition reprint and most likely appears in the 1876 second edition. I did spot it in O.H. Byron's The Modern Bartender's Guide from 1884 as the Vermouth Cocktail #2 with the addition of gum syrup but no absinthe. William Schmidt's Vermouth Cocktail was as follows:
Vermouth Cocktail
• 1 drink Vino Vermouth (2 1/2 oz Cocchi Sweet Vermouth)
• 2 dash Maraschino Liqueur (3/8 oz Luxardo)
• 1 dash Absinthe (1/8 oz Butterfly)
• 1 dash Bitters (Angostura)
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
In the glass, the Vermouth Cocktail shared a grape and nutty cherry aroma with hints of herbal notes from the absinthe. The vermouth's grape dominated the sip, and these notes continued on into the swallow where they were complemented and accented by nutty Maraschino flavors. Finally, the swallow finished with absinthe's and the bitter's herbal spice. Overall, I commented that the combination came across a bit like a rich Madeira, while Andrea replied that it "tastes like a full-strength cocktail."

So thank you to Dinah for picking the theme to challenge us to find tons of flavor despite lower ABV's as well as for running the logistics of this month's show, and thanks to the rest of the Mixology Monday participants for keeping the barspoons stirring and the spirit of the event alive!

Friday, November 14, 2014


1 1/2 oz Jim Beam Bourbon
3/4 oz Punt e Mes
3/4 oz Amaro Ramazzotti
2 dash Angostura Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a rocks glass.
One of the Blender Bender after-parties on Sunday night was the Amor y Amargo pop-up event at Silvertone. Souther Teague and associates showed up with a menu of six drinks to represent their Manhattan establishment. While Fernet Branca was the sponsor, not all the drinks were menthol-bombs for the company also distributes Carpano Antica, Punt e Mes, Templeton Rye, and other products. For a drink, I requested the Pumpernickel which appeared like a Boulevardier riff; I did not get a chance to ask why it was called that, but it seemed true to many of their drinks on the regular menu. Once prepared, it offered a Bourbon and grape bouquet. Next, a caramel and grape sip led into a whiskey swallow with dark orange and Punt e Mes' bitter notes and a spice finish.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

:: the three phases of hospitality ::

One of the most valuable talks at this year's Thirst Boston for me as someone in the service industry was "The Three Phases of Hospitality." Moderator Andy Seymour led the three pronged attack with Jon Santer of Bourbon & Branch and Prize Fighter fame discussing everything that can be done before a guest walks into the establishment, Joaquin Simo of Death & Co. and Pouring Ribbons fame focusing on what can be done once the guest is inside, and Sean Kenyon of William & Graham expounding on crafting a culture and community to foster hospitality.

Seymour began by defining hospitality as the linchpin of any establishment. In this new Golden Age of the Cocktail, we are trying to raise everything to a higher level -- not just the drinks, but the experience as a whole. Bartending is a job that comes from the soul -- some part of you needs to take care of other people. How do you make a guest feel at home in your space? Nothing happens by accident. A bartender is a facilitator of good times by making a community and giving comfort and a sense of welcome. And with that lead-in, Seymour handed the reins over to Santer.

Santer began by comparing and contrasting coffee shops and bars. At coffee shops, there is a counter, a transaction, a making of a drink, and a hand off just like in bars; however, in coffee shops, people are very happy to wait in line for their drink. Whereas coffee shops are orderly in the wait, bars are chaos. So how do we control the chaos and make things more manageable? Consider the layout of the space. First, strive for a symmetry -- something that we are hardwired to appreciate. While asymmetry is interesting to the eye, symmetry is in the end calming. Small things like having all the bottles on the backbar clustered logically by spirit type, all bottles facing the same way, and no pour spouts on these display bottles. Recognizable brands, whether on the shelf or on the menu, provide comfort; too many obscure brands can be discomforting to the guest. Lighting is also very key since sight is a dominant aspect of the bar and restaurant experience; we often worry more about the taste of drinks than how things look or sound. For example, Santer's bar has multiple dimmer switches to regulate the feel of the space.
For bars that have multiple work stations, having identical mise en place is crucial as bartenders then do not have to think as much as they go from well to well. In addition, everything needed for list drinks should be in arm's reach. When it comes to drink selection, the cocktail menu should be an exercise in empathy, not creativity. Chunking information such as in rules of three per page (like cocktails, beer tap/bottle, wine). Put the vodka drink first. Santer favors menus with all nouns and no adjectives that list key flavors. Brands are less important, and they generally are not about the guests.

Simo was next up with his take on how to prepare your environment for service to communicate that you have the guest's best interest at heart. No interaction at the bar is more important than the interaction with the bartender. The bartender is the linchpin and helps to shape how guests will view your establishment. Guests will return if they (1) have something delicious and/or (2) have great service. Mastery of the environment is crucial, for the bar is a tough work space. Starting as a host, busser, barback, or doorman will help; support roles help to form your sensibility. Copping an attitude makes things harder for the staff, as such negativity creates an us-versus-them mentality and tone.

Simo listed important skills for looking out for your guests. Preparation. Anticipation -- don't wait to be asked. Order and familiarity -- if you don't know where things live, you look foolish, and guests are reading you to gain faith. It is perhaps easier to go from the blindingly fast world of club bartending to craft cocktail bartending than it is to start as a craft cocktail bartender and learn speed (such as without jiggers). The club environment teaches both speed and efficiency of movement. Working in a variety of bar environments is helpful for other reasons. For example, learning to cut people off and be thanked later instead of offending the guest or even starting a brawl is an important skill. Moreover, one learns gentler ways to cut someone off when the average guest in question is a large, tough, burly one. Preparation also includes guest banter, and Simo devotes two hours each day to reading with at least half of that devoted to booze for this purpose. The rest can be newspapers, websites, and books (loosely related to booze). He does not read to be an expert but to figure out how to ask intelligent questions to a guest. The bartender can be the expert or can give their guests a moment to shine. Knowing about restaurants, television shows, neighborhoods, and home team sports schedules is important. Even if working service, a bartender needs to look past the drink rail, for the job is to serve guests; the ability to multi-task will help both guests and co-workers alike.
Kenyon began his section by describing his hiring process. In an interview, he wants to differentiate between actors and genuine hospitality people. Kenyon often takes perspectives out and sees how they relate to service people. Are they genuine? This includes eye contact, saying hello, and treating people well. You can teach skills and mechanics behind the bar, but you cannot train some to have a personality. Actors can't fake it; when things get tough, they first take it out on the people working with them and then on the guests. An actor can do service for it has steps; hospitality has soul though, and it comes from the heart.
Bartenders need to be able to come into work with a good attitude about their lives for their shift, and they need to be able to absorb any negativity from the guests or the fellow staff. Radiating positive energy is crucial. Asking "what do you want?" or "what do you need?" is not as hospitable as "what would you like?" or "what can I get for you?" While the term customer implies a cash transaction, the term guest does not. Tips are not the reason for the work but a fringe benefit. Seymour added that these actors burn out for the role was not who they were. He commanded us to respect the people we work with. Hospitality extends in every direction from not only the bartender to the guest but the bartender treating the barbacks and other supporting staff well.

vieux from the flor

1 1/2 oz Tequila Ocho Reposado
1/2 oz Cardamaro
3/4 oz St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur
1/2 oz Lustau Palo Cortado Sherry

Stir with ice and strain into a glass and garnish with an orange twist.
The third drink that I had at the State Lines: A Portland & Providence Pop-up event at Thirst Boston came straight from the Cook & Brown cocktail list in Providence. The Vieux from the Flor, a stirred and complex drink and not the one above being shaken by bar manager Gillian White above, combined tequila, sherry, and coffee flavors with some added complexity from Cardamaro, so it definitely called out to me from their short list. Once in the glass, it presented a bright orange oil aroma over that of coffee with hints of tequila poking through. A dark grape sip was likewise followed up by a coffee, tequila, and herbal swallow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

:: the re-emergence of rum ::

One of the next talks I attended at Thirst Boston was "The Re-Emergence of Rum" moderated by Misty Kalkofen and sponsored by Privateer Rum. The panel consisted of writers and rum historians David Wondrich and Wayne Curtis, distiller Maggie Campbell, and bartenders Charles Joly and Joaquin Simo, and the topics spanned the changes in rum production styles through the years, how rum perception by the public has varied, and how to improve rum for the future. Overall, there was definitely a New England angle for the talk. For a good primer on rum styles, please see a talk from last year's Thirst Boston entitled "Rum: The World's Most Versatile Spirit."

As Curtis explained, the history of rum in the New World got its start with Christopher Columbus bringing sugar cane to Hispanola in 1493, and luckily, this honeyed grass grows like crazy in the Caribbean. Sugar became king there and soon few other crops were planted; food and lumber often had to be brought in to the islands all at the expense of sugar. A key moment was when the molasses, the industrial waste product in sugar production, was no longer solely dumped into the ocean as people realized that it could be used to feed yeast in a ferment and then distilled. A second key moment was due to England colonizing Caribbean islands. While sugar was sent back to England and Europe, much of the molasses was shipped to New England in trade for food and other supplies. Over 160 rum distilleries sprang up in New England in addition to the ones further north in places like Newfoundland. England's hand in this trade caused rum to collapse after the Revolution.

A third key moment in rum was in the late 19th century when the Bacardi family came along and took the generally nasty, oily spirit and figured out how to refine it via filtration, better distillation, and other techniques. The 1950s unfortunately brought about the fourth key moment when rum became closer to vodka. America lost its taste for full flavored and funk in the age of processed foods and spirits that would leave you "breathless." Luckily, the fifth key moment was in the last 20 years with the rediscovery of what rum can be. In 1991, the Old New Orleans Rum Company started up and produced some intriguing spirits, and a few years later Phil Pritchard started in Tennessee.

Most New England rum was not considered as good as Caribbean rum (with a few exceptions). Wondrich surmised that the secret lay in Leonard Wray's (of Wray & Nephew Rum) Practical Sugar Planter book from 1848 with the quote, "Rum is the spirit which is made on sugar estates from the molasses and skimmings resulting from the manufacture of sugar." The secret here is the skimmings -- the foam on top of the boil that is removed; while not needed in the further production of sugar, it has a lot of the flavors of fresh sugar cane juice and can contribute a grassy note to rums. On the islands, rum was made from molasses, skimmings, and dunder (the remainder from the last still run), whereas in New England, they lacked the sugar cane and thus the skimmings and could only make "molasses brandy." Sadly, the Caribbean is making this same molasses brandy now since most of its raw materials are coming from Brazil. Therefore, the good news is that New England can be at parity with Caribbean rums, but the bad news is that there is no more terroir in much of Caribbean rums (at least the molasses-based ones where they are buying the raw materials at market). Campbell continued on the theme by describing how the Caribbean imports a lot of the raw materials for they produced too much rum volume to keep up on the agriculture end. Rum has often been quick, fast, and cheap, and its popularity post-World War II also saw the decline of flavor. "With the speed of molasses," there is a slow return to rum having more flavor, and this is getting craft bartenders excited.
Simo explained that the desire to drink Rum & Cokes does not yield many branded calls for rum. However, there is much variety out there. Donn the Beachcomber used to say, "What one rum can't do, three rums can!" Wondrich explained that rum can be very varied and it can mimic the qualities of much of the spirit world out there (see quote above). Campbell expounded that while distillers are on an even playing field in terms of bringing in molasses, the real question is what rum are distillers going to try to make? Campbell explained that she could make a different style of rum each year (as a one-off) for the rest of her life and still not repeat a style.

Simo brought up a Camper English post on the Alcademics blog about how much sugar is added to rums -- a shocking amount! Eastern Standard bartender turned Privateer Rum rep Kevin Martin declared, "It's a bartender's job to add the sugar (to cocktails)." For example, Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco was mentioned for its immense sugar program where they carefully choose which sweeteners to mix with their spirits. So how does one know quality when there are few labeling laws as to additives? Campbell looks first for flaws; heads come across as nail polish burn and tails as pencil shavings, while level of sweetness suggests how much the producer is trying to hide these flaws. She also looks for quality: concentration and complexity of flavor, amount of heat, and whether it is still- or wood-derived for the variety of flavors.

While bartenders and rum aficionados look for such complexity, bar guests often look for sweetness. Unsweetened rum is often too harsh for tasting straight. Simo's reply was that, "'Ooh, that's smooth' is the worst tasting note ever" for it favors the bland and inoffensive. More flavor, for example, can be generated with longer, slower ferments, fermenting with dunder from prior batches, and fermenting to lower ABVs. The higher the alcohol content in the ferment, the more heads that get carried over; lower alcohol content is cleaner since the yeast are "less drunk" and produce fewer off flavors since they are less stressed. Rum is a lawless and rogue world; rum is made in too many places with too few laws and restrictions. As a counter example, Curtis mentioned Ed Hamilton's rums where the codes on the labels takes transparency to an extreme for it provides photos and details for each rum's production.

Wondrich brought up a point about a New England A.O.C. for rum that spanned the historic zone of Providence up to Portland. At the Boston Cocktail Summit in 2012, Wondrich and Curtis in the "Medford Gold" talk concluded that the new style of New England rum has the consensus flavor of molasses notes and a dry tang at the end, and that it should try to join the ranks of Bourbon in designation.
During the talk, we were given four unlabeled wine glasses of white rum. Smelling and tasting them all, I could easily tell that #3 was Privateer -- part because they were one of the sponsors and part because my bar at Russell House Tavern chooses to feature that spirit as our well white rum. Two definitely reminded me of Bacardi with its clean style and woody note, and I was not wrong. I was correct on the first glass by thinking Brugal; I was not confident in my guess, but I figured that it had to be one of the better known rums out there and it did remind me of Brugal. The fourth was El Dorado (not sure whether the three year or the lower tier white rum); while I do own El Dorado 3 Year at home, nothing triggered my mind that this was a Demerara rum. Finally, Joly spoke to the bartenders and commanded that we need to do the homework and make wise choices at the backbar to educate our customers better.