Thursday, January 31, 2008

Do you still want to work here?

Ok, time to come clean. In addition to working at Meriwethers I also have one other bar job. I won't identify it, more out of self preservation than anything else. I will say that its a very large place that isn't known for creativity in its cocktails, and as a bartender, I am one among many. Why do I work there? Greed. The work is exceptionally easy and the money is good. I work at Meriwether's because I love the concept, most of the people, and Tommy Habetz's food. This other job is strictly about the dollars. I show up, clock in, work hard, and go home. I try not to socialize much and I keep my interaction with management to a minimum.
For a few months, I've known that I would be attending last weekend's UCLA vs Oregon State basketball game in Corvallis. My father was flying up and I wanted to spend time with him rather than trudge off to work and leave my father to fend for himself every evening.
Starting in early December, I informed the head bartender in my area, the head bartender of the entire place and the manager of my area that I needed Friday through Sunday of last week off. I made sure I repeated this information to them constantly, and both the head bartender for the place and the manager wrote down this information to ensure that they would schedule me off.I repeated all of this as we got into January and I received assurances that I would be taken off the schedule.
Guess what? I wasn't. So last week, they apparently thought that I no showed, no called for three straight days, usually a recipe for unemployment in the restaurant world. Lucky for me this place isn't exactly run like most places. Last year, I knew someone who failed to show up for an entire month, and she still works there.
Well, yesterday was my first shift back. I came in, clocked in, no problems at all. As I was stocking the bar, one of the managers approached me and asked me if we could talk privately. When I met with him, the first words out of his mouth to me were,"Do you still want to work here?". Thats when it hit me that no one must have taken me off of the schedule last week. I explained that I had requested vacation time and had done exactly what the head bartender and bar manager had informed me to do. I then received a stern lecture about "you don't need to be here if you don't want to" or something like that, I wasn't really paying attention as I was thinking to myself that management screwing up my vacation request and then blaming me was about par for the course at this place. Its the Peter Principle in action.
Every time I still roll into work at this job, I get grumpy because I know that some sort of unnecessary drama will unfold or some senseless new rule will be introduced to the frustration of all. I know that this should be a sign to me, I should just cut my losses, quit the job, and move on. And perhaps I'll finally quit talking about it and actually do it now that I've had some time to think. Because this morning, when I started reflecting on my manager's question about wanting to work there, I think the real answer is no. Its not worth the headaches and frustration anymore.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Truth and Beauty- Product Review Averna Limoni

I'm sure the first question most of you are wondering is, "Hey Mayhew, when are you going to finish that bacon eggnog?". Well, patience is a virtue and I promise that I'll have it up by the end of the weekend. Moving on, I came home this evening to find a package waiting for me on my front door. The nice folks who represent Averna sent me a package containing a bottle of Averna amaro, Averna Limoni and Averna Sambuca along with an airline bottle of G'Vine gin. As soon as I saw the Limoni bottle I became instantly suspicious. Here is an Italian company making a lemon liqueur that isn't limoncello? I pulled the bottle out of the package so that it wouldn't contaminate my precious amaro by its very presence. As a general rule, I hate commercial lemon liqueurs. They all fall far short of the limoncello that I make at home, and in no way resemble the limoncello that you get in Italy. I was curious about why a lemon liqueur from Italy (Sicily specifically) wasn't being marketed as limoncello, and I was surprised to find out that instead of lemon peel infused in grain alcohol which is how limoncello is made, Averna Limoni is actually distilled from lemon juice. I decided to try a little bit, just for the sake of research before I banished this bottle to the basement. I took down a rocks glass, added two ice cubes, and poured an ounce of Limoni, swirled it around in the glass, took a whiff and then sipped it. My mind was flooded with memories as I savored the Limoni. The heady smell of lemons in the markets of Italy, summers spent flirting with a sweet girl named Silence, sucking the nectar out of honeysuckle flowers when I was 10, all warm and powerful memories. I've never had any type of beverage bring back memories like this Limoni did, so I just stood in the kitchen for a little bit, stunned. The liqueur is better than any limoncello that I've ever had, it is redolent of lemon blossoms, very floral in addition to its lemon overtones. I went from skeptical to a fan as soon as I had that first sip. I was in love! My mind started racing with possibilities for mixers, until I realized that the perfect complement was still in the box on my dining room table. I opened up the Averna amaro, poured a little in with the Limoni and tasted again. Still too thick to drink but very tasty. A little club soda proved the perfect final addition to a wonderful new creation. My wife commented, "I think its just really drinkable, sweet but its got that earthy component so that its not girly sweet". I call it the Truth and Beauty Cocktail. Just for reference as well, the second picture is the Limoni next to a bottle of my homemade limoncello to highlight the difference in color. The Limoni is more of a solid intense yellow versus the lighter, less opaque yellow of most limoncellos.

Here is the recipe for the Truth and Beauty Cocktail. This is really a fantastic cocktail, and I'd really encourage you to reproduce this at home. Its easy to prepare, well balanced, and delicious.

2oz Averna Limoni Di Sicilia
1/2 oz Averna Amaro
Club Soda

1) In a double rocks glass, add liquors, ice, stir to incorporate and fill with club soda.

Oregon Bartenders Guild

I'll keep this brief as Jeff Morgenthaler has done a great post already about our first event. However, I would like to announce the formation of the only independent bartenders guild in the United States dedicated to elevating the craft of our chosen profession, The Oregon Bartenders Guild . Our public forum is open now to anyone interested and we are looking forward to making some announcements soon about our next class which will occur in late February.

I've been lucky enough to form the guild with 7 of the best bartenders in the state;

Kelley Swenson of Ten-01 (Portland)
Daniel Shoemaker of the TearDrop Lounge (Portland)
Jeff Morgenthaler of Bel Ami (Eugene)
Greg Hoitsma of Andina (Portland)
Charlie Hodge of Clyde Common (Portland)
Kevin Ludwig, formerly of Park Kitchen, now with the Clyde and soon to be opening Beaker and Flask (Portland)
David Shenaut of the TearDrop Lounge (Portland)

I'm honored to be a part of this group and I'm looking forward to sharing some of the results of our collaborative efforts with you soon.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Raiders of the Lost Cocktail- The Apricot Cocktail

Already this month I participated in my first Mixology Monday, which quickly became one of my favorite experiences on this blog, and I've been looking for similar experiences. I came across Paul Clarke's blog, the Cocktail Chronicles. Paul is one of my favorite spirits writers, and I've been honored to share the pages of the Jan/Feb issue of Imbibe with him. Paul is the third host of "Raiders of the Lost Cocktail", an exercise in revisiting some of the more obscure ingredients and their role in classic cocktails. This month, the theme is Apricot Brandy.I was intrigued, and to be honest, I needed a break tonight so that I can finish off my eggnog. So I picked up my 1948 copy of Patrick Gavin Duffy's "The Standard Bartenders Guide". The obviously named Apricot Cocktail struck my fancy as its easy to reproduce and yet might be an interesting cocktail. I did however, lack any apricot brandy in the house, and with Oregon being a control state, I was rather worried that I wouldn't be able to get a quality product. My suspicions came true after a visit to one of our Soviet era liquor stores, where my choices were Mr. Boston or DeKuyper. While I hate DeKuyper (I think its Dutch for "crap"), personal pride wouldn't let me buy Mr. Boston, so $8.45 later, I was the proud owner of a fifth of DeKuyper's finest Apricot Brandy. Surprisingly, the DeKuyper worked well in the cocktail, so now I can't wait to get my hands on some decent apricot brandy. It made for a tasty cocktail and one I think that deserves some consideration for resurrection for the graveyard of forgotten cocktails. Without further ado, here is the recipe.

Apricot Cocktail
1/4 Lemon Juice
1/4 Orange Juice
1/2 Apricot Brandy
Dash dry gin (I used House Spirit's Aviation Gin and it worked very well)

Shake well and strain into a glass

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bacon... continued

So I live in a bacon obsessed town. Really. Here in Portland, we've got VooDoo Doughnuts doing a Maple Bacon doughnut (not so good, I've had it and they use cheap bacon), Le Pigeon doing a bacon cornbread dessert, and my favorite brunch place, the Screen Door, doing a praline bacon thats to die for. Last night, I threw the bacon/everclear mix (after it was strained off) in the freezer, wrapped it in saran wrap, and forgot about it until today.

When I got home today, I opened the door to the freezer, and rather than a thin layer of fat on top of the alcohol, which is what I expected, I instead found the awful mess pictured above. I thought something had gone horribly wrong, but I though to myself, "What the hell, put it through a coffee filter and see if you can salvage it", and damn if I didn't. The fat had basically almost formed veins in the liquid while it was in the freezer, and when I put it through a coffee filter, it took the fat right out, leaving me with a pale golden liquor with a very nice bacon scent.

Tomorrow, I'm going to use the bacon everclear to make my mother in law's recipe for german eggnog (for the record, I seriously have the best mother in law anyone could ever have. She's a great cook and has a wonderful sense of humor). I think the bacon will add an extra dimension to the eggnog. If not, well, I've already gone too far not to share the results with you. I should have some of the bacon everclear left over too, and I'm thinking of doing a BLT concept. Maybe bacon everclear, lettuce juice (can you juice lettuce or is it just water?) and maybe garnish it with a cherry tomato. Or maybe the bacon everclear with tomato water and lettuce juice. Its too early to think too much about it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bacon, eggnog and cherry bombs

One of my recent experiments has involved infusing everclear with bacon. I posted the above two photos so that you could see the bacon infusion after approximately three weeks and also what the everclear looked like after straining the bacon off. I have to say, all I did was cook some bacon to the crisp side, let it cool down, and then added it to a fifth of everclear and put it in the basement for three weeks. This is all part of my master plan to make a bacon infused German eggnog, but of course, before I can start the eggnog, I needed to get the bacon flavor into my liquor.

When I went to take the bacon out of the everclear this evening, I was quite surprised to find that the bacon was still crisp. I found it slightly alluring, and I really wanted to try it. One of the lesser establishments where I used to work used to take jars of maraschino cherries and they'd pour out the juice, refill the jar with Bacardi 151, and let them steep for a few days. They called them "Cherry Bombs" and sold them 2 for .50. I don't remember too much about them except that between the staff and all the homeless people we attracted with a .50 buzz we had to make a jar every day or so. I don't think people ate the cherries for the flavor, and unfortunately, the bacon was the same way. The everclear had rendered it tasteless, but it retained its original crispness and I did catch a bit of a buzz off of the piece that I ate. Somehow, I doubt bars will replace cherry bombs with bacon bombs, but who knows?

I've wrapped the strained everclear with plastic wrap and I've currently got it in the freezer overnight. I spotted some fat globules (I think) in the liquid and figured that freezing it will hopefully bring the fat to the surface so that I can skim it off tomorrow. The liquid itself is a lovely pale golden color, and there is a mild aroma of bacon to the liquid. I'm hoping for the best, as I prepare for a very public failure if it doesn't work.

On another note, I was quite flattered to read a blog today by someone who is a cupcake baker. Apparently, my article in the current Imbibe Magazine inspired her to make a cupcake with a similar flavor profile. I was quite thrilled to read it (I'll post a link once I have her permission) and thought that it was so supremely creative that I'm tempted to get in the kitchen this weekend and make a batch of her cupcakes. It completely made my day.

I think I'll sit here for the rest of the evening nursing my Averna and OJ and hope for the best tomorrow. Lets hope the eggnog works itself out.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Product Review Stirrings Tonic Water

I want to like the products that I have had from Stirrings, I really do. However, something about their smug proclamations about specially formulated cocktail sodas to offerings like a sugar plum martini mixer (do they even know that a sugar plum doesn't have plums in it?) makes me feel like I'm being cheated by someone who knows next to nothing about cocktails, but a lot about marketing. Stirrings Tonic Water is exactly one of these products that leaves me feeling so disappointed. I'm lucky enough to live in Portland Oregon, where local bartenders like Daniel Shoemaker and Kevin Ludwig compete to make the best tonic water possible. I don't expect a premium bottled brand to come close to what local mixologists are crafting, but it would be nice to have something better than the big chemical tasting (Schweppes, Canada Dry) tonics on the market. I have heard of some artisan tonics making it onto the market, but so far haven't come across any here in Oregon. Stirrings Tonic Water claims to be made from cane sugar, "champagne" carbonation (whatever the heck that is, I doubt that they would use champagne yeast to provide carbonation) and Cinchona Bark Extract. Perhaps its the use of an extract rather than real cinchona bark that provides the flabby mouthfeel, but this is the the worst commercial tonic that I've encountered in my life. Its overly sweet and one dimensional and lacks the structure and crispness that a good tonic water needs in order to be the perfect compliment to gin. When I mixed Stirrings Tonic Water with my favorite gin, House Spirits Aviation gin, instead of a well balanced gin and tonic, the sweetness in the tonic threw the entire cocktail out of balance, ruining, for perhaps the first time in my life a gin and tonic. Next time I lack an artisan product, given the choice between Stirrings and one of the commercial brands, I'll grab the Schweppes.

A couple of other strange things I've noticed about some of the products at Stirrings. Their "Blood Orange Bitters" is really just a syrup. It contains no bittering agent. And they advertise their "Club Soda" from their line of cocktail sodas as containing both Cinchona Bark extract (huh?) and Fleur De Sel (wtf?). I don't think I'll be buying any more Stirrings products in the future, and my quest for a good commercial tonic continues.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ojen Cocktail

Last night, I was thumbing through one of my copies of Patrick Gavin Duffy's "The Standard Bartenders Guide" when I came across an entry for the Ojen Cocktail. Intrigued, and never having heard of Ojen before, I started poking around the internet to find out more about Ojen. Ojen is an anise liqueur from a mountainous region of Spain. Lacking a true bottle of Ojen, but having a bottle of anis escarchado from neighboring Portugal in my liquor cabinet, I attempted to recreate this cocktail. Its a lovely shade of pink, and definitely has a pronounced anise flavor, but the Peychauds bitters add some interesting notes on the finish of this cocktail. I wouldn't drink this regularly, but it was a nice change and I always enjoy something a little different.

1 drink Ojen (I used 3 oz of anis escarchado in its place)
2 dashes of Peychauds bitters

Shake well with cracked ice and strain

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wednesday Morning Update

A few things worth noting this morning-

Caramel doesn't like to be reheated after it cools in the pan. I almost started a kitchen fire as I had carmelized some sugar over the weekend to add to my almost finished cocounut rum (its needs a little caramel to take the harsh edge off), and then forgot about it and it hardened in the pan. Upon trying to reheat it last night, I got distracted and turned around to a pan billowing smoke through the kitchen. Thank god I was using a cheapie pan that I've had for years.

My Krambambuli got much better after sitting in the basement for 6 months. Instead of a green color, its almost an amber red color now. I strained it through a coffee filter and bottled it last night. Its still quite bitter, I'm sure because of all of the gentian in it, but I added a capful of it to my gin and tonic last night and created quite a savory little cocktail.

Don't ever cure prosciutto in your refrigerator if its the only refrigerator that you own. My entire fridge reeks of garlic, and its managed to adulterate the milk in the fridge. Mmmm, garlic milk! Thank goodness I've only got 2 weeks left before I can pull them out. Oh, and my new silicone ice cube trays? Yeah, they have a nice garlicky odor to them as well. Time to break out the bleach water. For the record, my wife is a saint for putting up with this little experiment. I have 2 huge hog legs taking up most of the space in the fridge, and she's been extremely patient with me. Especially since you can't walk near the fridge right now without smelling garlic. I used to like the smell of garlic, but now that its permeated my life, not so much. I need a basement fridge, thats all there is to it.

Lastly, Mixology Monday was a blast. I can't wait for the next one.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ice Ice Baby! Tovolo Perfect Cube vs Silicon Zone Ice Trays

Does ice really make a difference? You bet it does. Before you yawn and move on to the next blog, let me emphasize just how important ice is to making great cocktails. Ice does two things for a cocktail. It provides dilution and it also affects the temperature of the cocktail itself. Good ice is as essential to the production of quality cocktails as any other ingredient. In fact, in some cases, perhaps more so. Have you ever been to one of those bar where they serve their cocktails over shaved ice and the drink has become watery before you even pick it up? When a drink is on the rocks, it ought to stay on the rocks, at least for the length of time it takes you to consume your cocktail. Both of these ice cube trays on the market try to meet the need for quality cocktail ice. One does the job admirably, while the other is just too small. The Tovolo Perfect Cube tray (in red below), makes cubes that are 1 1/2 inches by 1 3/4 inches by my measurements, meaning that although its not a perfect cube, it does produce a nice dense cube. One important note here is that the bigger a cube is, the slower the rate of dilution that occurs. I actually took a pretty long nap while I had a glass of water filled with Tovolo cubes over the weekend and when I woke up, there were still rocks in the glass.
Design wise, there isn't much to recommend about the Tovolo. Made of silicon, removing the cubes can be a bit of a pain, but there is also no rim for excess water, meaning that the trip from sink to freezer can be perilous, especially after a couple of cocktails. The Tovolo wins my recommendation simply because it produces a larger, more satisfying cube of ice.
Silicone Zone's ice tray (pictured in orange below) is far better designed, featuring a lip to hold excess water, and seemingly easier to remove the cubes from the tray. The ease of removal of the cubes may simply be due to the size of the cubes and not a design factor. While clearly a better designed and more consumer friendly product, the Silicone Zone ice try has one fatal flaw. It produces cubes a mere 3/4 inch by 3/4 inch. Yes they are solid little cubes, but this is the equivalent of the chiclet of the ice cube world, too small to gain any real pleasure out of and a risk for diluting cocktails much faster. My criticisms of the Silicone Zone's dimunitive cubes aside, however, I would reach for these cubes if I was shaking a cocktail to serve up. I've shaken both the Tovolo cubes (quite an experience, it puts a lot more strain on the forearm but does make a nice cocktail) and the Silicone Zone cubes, and I appreciate the faster rate of dilution with the smaller cubes, as they won't be saying in the cocktail.
In the end, neither is a perfect product, but both can be useful to the home mixologist. My recommendation is to buy the Tovolo tray as more drinks are served on the rocks at home. Someday perhaps, Tovolo will redesign their tray or Silicone Zone will increase the size of their cubes, but until then either choice is an imperfect one.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Mixology Monday- The Plagiarism Cocktail

This is my first attempt at the internet sensation known as Mixology Monday. This session is hosted by Marleigh over at Sloshed and the theme this time is brandy. We're lucky enough here in Portland Oregon to have the premier distiller of eau de vie ("water of life") style artisan brandies in the United States, Clear Creek Distillery which is a mere 2 blocks from the restaurant that I bartend at, Meriwethers . While I definitely enjoy the breadth and depth of brandies, a quick perusal of my liquor cabinet revealed a bottle of 1982 vintage armangac, some Remy Martin VSOP and a bottle of Clear Creek's Pear Brandy. I didn't want to sacrifice the armangac and the Remy just didn't appeal to me for some reason, so I went with the pear brandy. Additionally, my friend JT has developed a recent fascination with chartreuse, so I wanted to incorporate some chartreuse into my cocktail and the pear seemed like a good match for the herbal notes in the chartreuse. A little tinkering around in the bar, adding some fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice (I love Meyer lemons) and some St Germain Elderflower Liqueur, and a few dashes of grapefruit bitters and I had a delicious, complex and well balanced cocktail. Without further ado, here is the Plagiarism Cocktail

2 oz Clear Creek Brandy
1 oz St Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1/2 oz Green Chartreuse
1 oz Meyer Lemon Juice
2 dashes grapfruit bitters

Chill and serve up, garnished with one lightly bruised sprig of thyme to release some of the essential oils.

So why would I name a cocktail after plagiarism? One of the great things about food and cocktails is that there are no copyrights on a particular dish or recipe. This is a good thing, it encourages people to recreate and improve upon recipes and allows talents and techniques to be shared. I can make Jeff Morgenthaler's Richmond Gimlet behind my bar without worries about a lawsuit, and while some bartenders may try to lay claim to others creations, I always try to give credit where credit is due, attempting to educate my guests about the history behind the cocktails they are enjoying.

While food and cooking are one thing, plagiarism in the world of writing is anathema. It is a sign of intellectual laziness and dishonesty. I've recently had my first magazine article published in the January/February Issue of Imbibe Magazine (yep, thats me on the Elements page), and I understand the hard work it takes to craft an article for publication, or even how hard it can be to craft a coherent blog (which, in the interests of full disclosure, I write without revisions). Unfortunately, here in Portland, there is a chef at one of the newer restaurants in town who has just been caught plagiarizing from others works on a scale that I've never seen before. Since this is the hot topic du jour on Portland restaurant boards, I thought I'd name my cocktail after this scandal. Oh, and if the chef in question (or anyone else for that matter) happens to read this little posting, I'm giving up all copyrights on this particular posting in perpetuity. Feel free to plagiarize this all you'd like. After all, it was Pablo Picasso who said, "Bad artists copy, good artists steal".

And the journey continues... Enjoy the cocktail, its a true original and delicious to boot.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

New Year, New Advice on Cocktails

A non-bartending friend approached me the other day and asked me to post some advice for the home bartender. Essentially, he wanted some easy tips on how to improve the quality of his cocktails and impress his guests. After some contemplation, I thought I'd offer these easy steps to creating better drinks.

1) Quality is essential. Cheap booze or mix makes for cheap tasting drinks. If you start with quality ingredients, you are halfway there.

2) Use bitters. If nothing else, a bottle of orange bitters in your home bar will punch up almost any drink, creating depth of flavor and structure in your drink. Even something like a Whiskey Sour becomes a much more interesting drink with a couple of dashes of bitters. May I suggest Regan's Orange Bitters #2.

3) Ice is important. I'm using a Tovolo Perfect Cube tray at home with excellent results for most of my rocks drinks. Perfect cubes not only control the rate of dilution, they look good and give a satisfying clink in the glass. Credit on this goes to Daniel Shoemaker of the TearDrop Lounge for converting me.

4) Buy a jigger. Yes, I know I free pour almost everything, but I have years of practice AND I also use a jigger on any drink that I find proportions to be essential to the creation of (like a Corpse Reviver #2). Don't kid yourself and think free pouring accurately is easy. If you want to build a quality cocktail for your guests, use a jigger and make sure that they get a drink with the correct proportions.

Moving on, my coconut rum experiment is almost over, and I'm getting ready to unleash Bacon Eggnog on the world soon. More posts to come as I'm finally settled again after the holidays.