Thursday, February 28, 2008

a book I'm excited about

Well, I just ordered Larousse Cocktails from Amazon UK. Its finally available in english and its written by the great French bartender, Fernando Castellon (full disclosure- I have a cat named Fernando who I adore, but my affection for my cat in no way has influenced my excitement for this book. I do not know Mr. Castellon, nor does my cat).

So far, my luck with foreign cocktail guides has been hit or miss at best, but I've got my fingers crossed in anticipation of receiving this one. I'll provide a review once I get through it.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Qi Liqueurs

Qi liqueurs are produced by the fine people at St. George Spirits. So far, they produce Qi Black, made with black tea, and Qi White, made with white tea and exotic oranges. Both of these liqueurs are quite interesting and distinctive products. Lets begin by looking at the Qi Black.

On the OBG forums, I'd heard some questions about how to mix the Qi Black. One of the comments even said something like,'I added some of the Qi Black to my bourbon and turned it into scotch'. It definitely has a pronounced smoky flavor. So much so, that in mixing this product, less is definitely more. But its delicious stuff, and in proper context can make for some wonderful cocktails. At 80 proof, the Qi can also hold its own in a cocktail, it doesn't need to play a supporting role to a primary liquor. In fact, it steals the show in the cocktail below, my riff on the nonalcoholic classic, the Arnold Palmer. I offer you, the John Daly #2 (yes, there was a John Daily #1, but this version is better).

John Daly #2
1 1/2 oz Qi Black Liqueur
4 oz fresh lemonade
2 dashes Fee Bros Lemon Bitters

Build dry in a mixing glass, add ice, shake briefly, and pour contents into a double rocks glass.

When I review a product, I like to let fellow bartenders taste what I have, to see their opinions. I also like to play around with a product (which is why I find airline bottles useless). I'll take whiskey and try it on the rocks. Then maybe as a manhattan, then finally maybe as something else, to see how mixable a product is and also to taste all the "angles" for lack of a better word of a particular spirit. Well, my friend Neil Koppelin of Carlyle tasted the Qi Black and told me, "This would be great on salmon". Somehow, Neil's suggestion stuck in my head until today, when I was out shopping and found wild salmon on sale. I took it home, and made this (quite delicious");

Neil's Salmon

1 filet wild salmon
1 oz Qi Black Tea Liqueur
1 oz Olive Oil+ oil for the aluminum foil
Salt and Black Pepper to taste

1) Preheat oven to 400
2) On a large sheet of aluminum foil (make sure its a lot larger than your filet), take a small amount of olive oil and rub it across the area the salmon will sit
3) Place salmon on aluminum foil
4) In a small bowl, mix Qi Black liqueur and olive oil, stirring vigorously to incorporate (act like you are making a vinagrette)
5) using a pastry brush, lightly brush the salmon with the Qi/Olive oil mixture. Use the entire amount.
6) Season salmon with fresh ground pepper and salt to taste
7)Wrap salmon up (basically make a tinfoil envelope) and place in oven for 15 minutes
8) Enjoy

This salmon isn't overwhelmed by the smokiness of the Qi but instead takes on a nice smoky background note. Good stuff, thanks Neil.

So lets talk Qi White. Of the people that I've tasted on the Qi White, the majority of them can't taste the white tea base in the liqueur (I can't either and I kind of suspect those that claim to taste the tea of lying). However, there is a pronounced orange flavor to the liqueur (80 proof). Now, you may ask yourself, why would anyone make yet another orange liqueur for the market. Orange liqueur may be the second most saturated market in the distilled spirits category (behind only vodka), with offerings from your cheap triple sec to some of the finest liqueurs on the market, Grand Marnier and Cointreau. Qi White falls someplace between Cointreau and Grand Marnier, definitely richer than Cointreau but lighter than Grand Marnier. I never knew that I needed an orange liqueur between GM and Cointreau, but Qi White has convinced me that I definitely need to keep a bottle on hand at all time. In a word, Qi white is delicious. A very well balanced liqueur that can hold its own in a variety of cocktails as well as being perfectly suited for baking and cooking. In fact, after getting inspired to use the Qi Black on our salmon this evening, I decided to use the Qi white to create this dessert, a delicious ending to any meal.

Qi White Fool
(serves 2)

Qi White whipped cream (see recipe below)
3 navel oranges peeled and sliced
1/4 c lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 oz Qi White liqueur
1 oz Navan liqueur

1) Peel oranges and slice into 1/4 inch rounds
2) Place orange wheels into a pyrex bowl, sprinkle with brown sugar, Navan and Qi white and toss to incorporate. Let stand at least 30 minutes.
3) Place orange wheels into a small bowl, top with syrup and finish with a topping of Qi white whipped cream.
4) Enjoy

Qi White whipped cream

1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 c granulated sugar
1 oz Qi White Liqueur

1) In a KitchenAid mixer (if you don't own a KitchenAid, go buy one) add all ingredients to bowl, attach whip attachment, and process at med/high speed until the cream forms stiff peaks.
2) Refrigerate until needed.

I've also tried the Qi White in some (not very) creative cocktails, namely Qi white and OJ or Qi white and soda, both make for an excellent cocktail and I'll post more recipes involving both Qi products as I have time.

On that note, I think its time for me to turn in for the night. The OBG has its 2nd event tomorrow, "Lost in Translation", which I am quite excited about. It should be a good time. Jeff Morgenthaler, Matt Mount and Neil Koppelin are all going to be presenting, and I'm excited to have the chance to host. Let me know if you are interested and I'll make sure that you get on the OBG mailing list.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Bad back and the Mixology Summit

Stupid me. I have terrible back problems. I probably (ok, definitely) shouldn't be behind the bar with the problems that I have. Luckily enough for me, acupuncture has given me relief like I've never experienced before. When I leave after a session, I feel like a teenager again. Its the most amazing thing. It does, however, take some maintenance. I've found that I can go about 6 weeks in between sessions before it starts to lose its effect. This time, I've gone more like 12 weeks in between, and today I turned wrong and I'm in absolute agony. I've popped 3 aspirin, 2 cocktails and I'm starting to seriously think about taking one of my real pain pills, which are effective but leave me in a zombie-like state for a couple of days afterward.

I had big plans. I was going to show you the progress on my prosciutto. Its ready to be hung in the basement, but I won't even be picking up paperclips for a week. I was going to finish the bacon eggnog (ok, maybe not, buy my intention was there). I was going to update you on my now saffron/blood orange bitters (I think I might have hit a home run here).

Instead, I'll be lucky to finish the dinner that I have going. Roast chicken with thyme, mache salad, roasted new potatoes, steamed broccoli and a blackberry-Grand Marnier fool. Simple food for a Monday night, but tasty nonetheless.

Speaking of Grand Marnier, who else is attending next month's Mixology Summit in Vail? I'm flying in a few days early to Denver and if anyone is interested in touring Stranahan's with me, I'm more than happy to make the arrangements. Well, at least when I'm upright again. Please bear with me, I'll be back in the saddle soon enough.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Raiders of the Lost Cocktail #2- Dolly O'Dare

I know, I know, I already have an entry into this month's Raiders of the Lost Cocktail, but when I mentioned Raiders to my friend and fellow Oregon Bartenders Guild member Daniel Shoemaker of the TearDrop Lounge last weekend, he turned around grabbed a bottle of apricot brandy, whipped up a Dolly O' Dare Cocktail from the Savoy Cocktail book and placed it in front of me. Delicious.

Dolly O'Dare Cocktail (From the Savoy Cocktail Book)

6 dashes apricot brandy
1/2 French Vermouth
1/2 Gin

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. Squeeze orange peel on top.

On another note, I've just tasted the best whiskey I've ever had. Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey arrived today and after dinner I poured myself a little bit and plopped an ice cube into my glass. Wow. I'll write a full review soon, but I have to say that not only have they created a unique style of whiskey with Stranahan's, but its incredibly well made and tasty. I was excited about Stranahan's before as I've read good things, but tasting is really believing. They've created a unique new style of American whiskey, and I for one take my hat off to them. This bottle may not make it to the OBG tasting... Good thing its available in Oregon already.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Qi, Grand Marnier and the Green Truck

Well, its been quite a day. The fine folks at St. George Spirits have generously sent me two bottles of Qi (pronounced chee) Tea Liqueurs. They sent both the Black and the White, and I can't believe that I've been able to stay out of them all evening. Tomorrow evening though, I'm meeting with Neil Koppelin of Carlyle, Daniel Shoemaker, and Kevin Ludwig and I'm afraid that if I don't save the bottles until tomorrow night, there might not be any to share. Usually I taste spirits and liqueurs by myself initially, and then I like to get others to taste in order to get their feedback, so this will be a little different, but I'm intrigued to see what happens. I've liked everything I've ever had from St. George, and I'm optimistic that these liqueurs can match the high standards that St. George sets for itself.

As I sit here unwinding from a very hectic Monday, I'm enjoying a nightcap that I haven't poured myself in ages, a snifter of Grand Marnier. The BBC America premier of "Last Restaurant Standing" is on in the background, it looks to be quite entertaining and its providing the perfect soundtrack to my own private little celebration. You see, on Friday, I found out that I have been selected to participate in Grand Marnier/ Navan's upcoming Mixology Summit in Vail Colorado. I'm excited on a few different fronts. One, it will be a great opportunity to network with some of the best bartenders in the country. Two, I'm really excited to see what the people from Grand Marnier/Navan have planned.I've never tasted the Grand Marnier 150, and I'm anxious to get the opportunity taste it. So far, everything seems first class and I'll be crossing the days off the calendar until we leave. And lastly, since we have family in Denver, we're planning on coming in a little bit early and spending some time in town before leaving for Vail. I'm really hoping to tour Stranahan's Distillery, makers of Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey while we are in town. The idea of regional whiskeys that reflect the tastes and character, perhaps even the terroir of where they are made, has great appeal to me. I'd love to see more craft distillers create authentic products that are true to the essence of where they are made.

Speaking of quality products, while I've really been focusing on spirits in my blog, I have a confession to make. I love wine. Not just love it, I'm passionate about wine. I love mixed drinks as well, but nothing is as food friendly (most of the time, an important caveat) as a wonderful wine. When it comes to spirits or wine, what I am most passionate about are those individuals who create high quality products because to create anything less would be unthinkable for them. Off the top of my head, House Spirits and St. George both stand out as distilleries that meet this description. Well, I'm about to reveal my absolute favorite wine in the world. I'll preface this by saying that 1) I'm generally a Zinfandel man (and it doesn't come in white, thank you) and 2) there may be more expensive wines, and wine regions more highly regarded for this varietal than his, but to my palate this is the best stuff out there. Green Truck Pinot Noir is the kind of wine that my wife and I have arguments about. We will schedule a dinner party with, perhaps a couple that we know enjoys fine food and wine. When planning the menu, the subject of wine always comes up (if you come to the Casa De Mayhew, expect cocktails with appetizers, wine with the meal, and then digestifs), and will, if we are sufficiently impressed, result in a discussion as to whether our invited guests are "Truck Worthy". Please don't take it personally if I invite you to dinner and serve something else. I have a nice wine collection and I promise, I never pour something cheap, but I only get 12 bottles of grin inducing Pinot Noir a year to be doled out very carefully over the years. The reason I'm sharing this information, is that the next release of the Truck is 3/1, so if you get over to the website, you've got a great chance to get in on this wonderful wine. I think Kent charges 30-35 a bottle these days, and production has increased ever since I became a Trucker from 250 cases to about 400 now. Green Truck is made from some of the premier grapes in the Napa Valley, and one of the real hallmarks of the craftsmanship that goes into Green Truck is that even in "off" vintages, the Truck is always well structured and extremely approachable wine. Kent Fortner, the winemaker and genius behind Green Truck describes his mission as producing "grin inducing pinot noirs". Get on board now and you'll thank me later when the Truck has a 10 year waiting list for allocations and you'll always have the perfect wine to serve at Thanksgiving.

Well, thanks for allowing me to share. More updates soon, but for now, I need to get back to that snifter of Grand Marnier.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

MxMo Variations and the OBG

Ok, I admit, I'm not the most technical person you'll ever meet. For the life of me, I still can't figure out how to save that MixMo logo and embed it into my posts, al la Jeff Morgenthaler. For now, please bear with me (someday I'll figure out how to get the pics into the body of my post too, but thats for another day). Anyway, as you probably know, the immensely talented Jimmy Patrick is the host of Mixology Monday this month and the theme is variations. In addition to my own variation (pic 1 above), I'm also going to offer up some interesting variations on cocktails by some of my fellow members of the Oregon Bartenders Guild. Before I get into the cocktails, let me say that I am proud to be a member of the only independent bartenders guild in the United States. We're doing some exciting things and if you are interested in some of our discussions and such, you can access our forum here. But I digress, lets move on to the cocktails shall we?

The first picture above is my creation, the Spagnuolo, one of three variations on the Negroni that I'm sharing in this post. For my variation, I substituted Aperol for the Campari, being sister products I thought it would be interesting to note the differences that occured in the cocktail. While Campari has quite a bit of bitterness, I knew that I'd be losing some of that bitterness with the substitution of Aperol. To try to maintain the balance of the cocktail, I used Punt E Mes, which I find very bitter, and Aviation Gin by House Spirits, mainly because I love their gin and didn't want to drink anything else. I also added three dashes of Fee's Lemon Bitters as a small variation. While it just isn't fair to compare the Spagnuolo to a classic Negroni, the resulting cocktail was quite pleasant, with very pronounced notes of bitter orange. The Punt E Mes was the right call to maintain the balance in the cocktail and the Aviation mixed, as usual, like a champ. Who knows, I might just throw the Spagnuolo cocktail on the menu as a special soon, it would be particularly nice during the spring. One note, the cocktail was made with a 1-1-1 ratio and 3 dashes of lemon bitters.

Next up, we have an entirely different variation on the Negroni from my friend and fellow Oregon Bartenders Guild board member, David Shenaut of the TearDrop Lounge. While David didn't give a name to his variation (his is the second pic above), lets call it the OBG #2. While the Spagnuolo really explored the fruit nuances available in a Negroni variation, David's OBG #2 traveled down a much more savory path. Composed of 1.5 oz Aviation gin, 1.25 oz Carpano Antica, 1.25 oz Campari and 20 drops of the TearDrop's notorious Chipotle- Chocolate bitters and finished with a twist of lemon. I was lucky enough to have David make this for me on my last trip to the TearDrop and I was thoroughly impressed by the spicy, savory notes that he was able to bring out in this cocktail.

Moving on, and not pictured above, but definitely worth mentioning is another variation on the Negroni created by yet one more Oregon Bartenders Guild board member, Kevin Ludwig. Kevin makes a Norwegian Negroni with Krogstad Aquavit, Cynar and Carpano Antica. I didn't have time to whip one up, but if you are a fan of Robert Hess' Trident cocktail, then the Norwegian Negroni should be right what you've been looking for.

3 variation on the Negroni from the Oregon Bartenders Guild? What, do we have some sort of a groupthink mentality? Actually, its just a bit of a strange coincidence (although I am praying that Jeff Morgenthaler's post isn't a variation on the Negroni). Thank goodness we're finishing up this post with Daniel Shoemaker. Owner and creative force behind Portland's best cocktail lounge, the TearDrop Lounge with his partner Ted Charnak, Daniel offers us his variation on the classic Japanese cocktail, aptly named, "The Cyclone Ranger" (last pic above). 2 oz of Barsol Quebranta Pisco are mixed with 3/4 oz of the TearDrop's own filbert orgeat, a dash of angostura bitters and 4 drops of their house Chipotle-Chocolate bitters. Daniel serves this up in a coupe garnished with catlike dexterity (I know, catlike dexterity? Daniel was recently written up as catlike in a recent review, so I've got to continue teasing him) with shaved Scharfenberger chocolate.

In the future, you may continue to see drinks and ideas here from my fellow OBG members. I think its a great exercise to do collectively, and as you can see, 4 bartenders came up with 4 completely different variations this time. Perhaps our next project should be creating punches for Tales. Too bad Old New Orleans Rum isn't exactly easy to come by in Oregon. But thats a subject for another post. Thanks for reading and giving me the opportunity to share some of the talents of my fellow members of the OBG.

Follow the rest of the variations here at Mixology Monday.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

No Mas

Well, Job #2 bit the dust last night. I'm not terribly upset about it, but I was counting on the extra income to help pay the way to Tales of the Cocktail. I'm not going to be in the poorhouse mind you, its just that I was trying to nurse along job #2 along with Meriwethers (which I love) until Kevin Ludwig's Beaker and Flask opens (For the record, I'm not saying that I will be working there. I'm just saying that I'm hoping to get the opportunity to work there when it opens). It was easy money in a frustrating environment, and I'm really glad that its over. However, I may need to start putting some feelers out for 1-2 additional bar shifts a week.The real problem, to be honest, is me. I can get a bartending job this afternoon if I go out and paper downtown with my resume. I really don't think thats what I want to do though. I'm able to be picky and I think it might be a while before I'm working enough bar shifts to satisfy me. I don't want to repeat my last mistake, so I'm going to be careful in where I land. Plus, to be honest, do I really want to take a job just to chuck it if I get on at Beaker and Flask? There isn't anything else on the horizon here in Portland that I can see that would make me want to rethink pursuing an opportunity to work with Kevin Ludwig. I know a lot of great bartenders, but if there is someone who's drinks and creativity really resonate with me, its Kevin. So anything else right now figures to be a bit of a bridge (unless I wasn't to get B&F in which case I'd probably stay). Decisions, decisions.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Smuggled Saffron, Missouri Oak and the OBG

One of the first collaborative events the Oregon Bartenders Guild members are doing is creating bitters together. I know Jeff Morgenthaler is looking to recreate the old Bokers bitters recipe, a couple of the brilliant minds at the TearDrop Lounge have been discussing attempting an Oregon Truffle bitters, and even a pine bitters has been proposed. If you are curious about some of the discussions going on, check out our forum (you need to sign up for access) here .

One of my current favorite bitters is Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters, a lovely, complex bitters tasting of cinnamon spice. So far, all of my previous bitters creations have been made in glass, but barrel aging adds a depth and complexity that is complimentary to many styles of bitters. In fact, I've even been contemplating making a barrel aged orange bitters to contrast with the commercial orange bitters on the market. In order to facilitate the production of barrel aged bitters, each board member of the OBG has ordered a small Missouri oak barrel to produce unique styles of bitters from Steinbart’s. It should be interesting to see what everyone creates. I've been toying with the idea of a coconut bitters in addition to the barrel aged orange and saffron bitters I'm planning. Speaking of bitters, I'm quite excited to see that there is going to be a new player entering the market, Bittermen’s, I've heard good things about their products and can't wait to try them.

Last night, I was perusing my liquor cabinet, looking for something a little bit different (and also trying to free up some room, I definitely need a larger liquor cabinet) when I noticed that I had just enough Sub Rosa Saffron Vodka to pour myself a nightcap. I picked up a bucket, in went a couple of ice cubes (Tovolo to be exact)and I poured myself two fingers of vodka, finishing off the bottle. I don't generally drink vodka on the rocks, but the Sub Rosa saffron has some interesting spicy curried notes that make it worthwhile to drink that way. I was sitting at home, nursing my drink, enjoying the exotic spiciness and unwinding from a hard day. As I was admiring the orange red hue of the vodka a thought popped into my head, "why don't I make a saffron bitters?". Strangely enough, I recently met a saffron smuggler (who knew?). A few weeks ago, he surreptitiously handed me a glass vial that I thought might be something illegal, so I freaked out a bit, gave a stern lecture about not being a kid anymore, etc, etc, until I looked down and saw that the vial was filled with red threads. I was a little surprised, especially since I don't know this person well. "Its saffron, the most expensive spice in the world. I get it in Cairo for .80 an ounce and smuggle it in." I guess in the grand scheme of things being a saffron smuggler doesn't rate too high on the priorities of most law enforcement agencies, perhaps being just a slightly lower target than those dastardly tapioca smugglers. I just hope he didn't have to keester it in.

Anyway, Mr. Saffron Smuggler provided me with a full gram of the Egyptian stuff, so I went downstairs and added the threads to a fifth of everclear, which I'm going to use as my base. I doubt I'll barrel age this stuff, but once the saffron infuses the alcohol, I may add some secondary flavoring agents to the mixture. I'm also curious to compare it to the Sub Rosa saffron vodka to see the differences.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Cooking for Kids Dinner

Last Wednesday, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with both Chef Tommy Habetz of Meriwethers and Christian Krogstad of House Spirits
in pairing cocktails for a Cooking for Kids Dinner, benefitting Morrison Family and Child Services. Tommy put together a wonderful Scandanavian meal, and the three of us worked together to pair the cocktails with each course. We obviously wanted to incorporate as many House Spirits products as possible, an enjoyable task as I adore both Aviation gin and Krogstad Aquavit and find Medoyeff vodka to be pleasant enough although I don't care for vodka. I thought the menu and the pairings would be of interest to some of you.

First Course- Grilled Rye Bread with Horseradish Potatoes, Carmelized Onions and Sardines paired with tray passed frozen Medoyeff Vodka and chilled Krogstad Aquavit.

Christian pointed out that the Krogstad is better at refrigerator temp than frozen, so while we stored the vodka in the freezer, the aquavit went into our cooler. It definitely allowed the aquavit to show its full range of flavor.

Second Course (salad)- Aviation Gin cured Gravlaks with Winter Greens and Pickled Mustard Seed Vinagrette paired with a variation on Robert Hess’s Trident Cocktail. Instead of dry sherry we substituted Lillet Blanc, with great results (hmm, maybe I've just found my MxMo topic).

Serving a Trident to the general public is a bit risky. Its a sophisticated cocktail that isn't for everyone, and yet I think its a cocktail really shines in the presence of food. The complexity of flavors can really make for a nice match and this was my favorite pairing of the night. I love introducing people to products that they may never have had, and serving a crowd a cocktail that contains both Cynar and Krogstad Aquavit really appealed to me.

Third Course (soup)- Celery Root Puree with Seared Scallop and Brown Butter and Dill Hollandaise paired with a Gin-Gin Mule. While I had suggested a Bittered Gin Sling to provide a tall drink and some complementary notes, Christian suggested the Gin Gin Sling as an alternative. It turned out to be an inspired choice, it matched beautifully with the food and the guests were extremely enthusiastic about this cocktail.

Fourth Course (entree)- Fennel and Orange Stuffed Quail with Duck Fat Roasted Cabbage paired with two cocktails, The Monkey Gland and the Martinez Cocktail. Originally we were just going to do the Martinez, then we decided to play with some absinthe, so the Monkey Gland became a great choice. Everyone got the Monkey Gland to start and Christian went and offered the Martinez guests as they finished the Monkey Gland.

Fifth Course (dessert)- Bay Leaf Custard with Sweet Caraway Cookie, paired with a Blackberry Royale. Essentially a French 75 with muddled blackberries, this was a nice match with the subtle flavors of the dessert itself.

All in all, I had a great time and it was a great event. Chef did a couple of demonsrations for the crowd and I think everyone left happy and satiated. I can't wait to do another spirits related dinner soon.