Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday Gift Guide- Recommendations for Christmas and the New Year

I haven't been blogging much recently which is more due to my day job than anything else. Its been a rough couple of weeks, with our machinery at the job site essentially having catastrophic failures across the board and lazy and unresponsive service technicians both bringing my departments workflow to a halt. As it is, its been pretty stressful and the hours took a lot out of me, I've quite honestly been running on empty the last couple of weekends. Its always amazing though what can put the spring back into your step. Today, in spite of the snow, I decided to take Huckleberry, my great dane, to the park to let him romp in the snow and get a bit of exercise. As we approached the park, I could hear squealing and giggling, the sounds of children at play. When the park came into sight, it looked as if the whole neighborhood had sent their kids to the park to sled. Kids were going sledding down the hill on garbage can lids. skateboard decks, Rubbermaid tubs and commercial sleds and one little girl had even fashioned some sort of sleigh out of cardboard. Watching all these kids and their sheer, unadulterated joy at sledding down a hill made me realize that you have to take joy in the moment. It was just what I needed. They weren't worrying about an impending ice storm or dreading the upcoming Monday, they were all just living in the moment and enjoying sledding down the hill on whatever they could find. Most of the time, bartending does the same thing that sledding did for these kids today, but fatigue had taken a bit of that joy away. I've got the night off because of the snow and, to be honest, I'm already missing being behind the bar. In any case, I thought I'd offer up a few more good holiday gift recommendations before the New Year. Tonight, I'm tackling vodka and tequila, and I'll try to move on to a few more categories, time permitting, before Christmas.

I'm writing this with a wee dram of Bruichladdich 10 yr single malt in my hand, one of my preferred winter warmers. I've also gotten into drinking green chartreuse with cocoa (although not today), a perfect beverage for a snow day.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on music since this is a food, wine and spirits blog, but I will say that music plays an important part in my creative process. I'm never in the kitchen without music, and while my standby is James Brown, right now I'm listening to a lot of good tunes from the Budos Band and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. These artists are in heavy rotation when I'm in the kitchen or creating cocktails and I recommend checking them out if you aren't familiar with them.

I'm sure its pretty well known by now that I'm not a big fan of vodka. Actually, I really don't care to mix with it but there are some good products on the shelves. Martin Ryan vodka, available here in Oregon and made in Oregon, makes two vodkas that really push the definition of vodka since they both have a ton of character. Medoyeff vodka, made here in Portland by House Spirits, is another good vodka. Made in the Russian style with 100% rye this is really a nice clean vodka.Zodiac vodka, out of Idaho is a recent discovery of mine and while I liked it, the vodka afficionados that I shared it with absolutely adored it. I just tried the Austrian product, Oval vodka, and have to say that its also a very nice product. Lastly, of course, should you not be able to find any of the above, a bottle of Grey Goose is probably always going to be appreciated.

Those that know me know that I'm generally a Tequila Cazadores man. When I'm in Baja, its Dos Equis lager and shots of Cazadores. Back here in Portland, I tend to drink my tequila in margarita form more than neat, and Cazadores is my favorite tequila for margaritas. There are some great tequilas on the market here and 7 Leguas, Corzo and Partida tequila all stand out as top choices. I'm particularly enamored with Partida anejo right now, I find few tequilas work well as "sipping tequilas" but I think that the Partida anejo in particular is one tequila worth sipping.

I will note that I get plenty of press releases and PR folks contacting me wanting me to recommend products. Just a note to all of you that read this. I have tasted and personally enjoy everything that I recommend on this blog. I do occasionally receive samples for review. If I don't care for a product, I just don't review it. The ones that I like I might mention (no guarantees). I also review and mention products regularly that haven't been sent to me to sample or review. I do not accept advertising on this blog in order to maintain some semblance of neutrality and everything on this blog is a product of me, Lance J. Mayhew and shouldn't reflect upon any bars, restaurants or brands with which I may have any association.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Holiday Gift Guide- Artisan muddlers from Mr.

I love bar tools. I cherish the ones that I use, and the ones that I use get put through hard use on a regular basis. As it is, I use Pulltaps wine keys exclusively behind the bar (I save my nice Laguiole openers for home us), and even though they are built like a tank, I have to replace them every 6-12 months.
My favorite bar tool is the muddler. Not the crappy red baseball bat thing that you find in every liquor store in America, or the even worse giant brown plastic muddler. I'm talking a good, well made artisan muddler. Luckily, we actually have an artisan crafting some of the most beautiful and most useful muddlers on the market right here in Oregon. Mr. Muddler is based out of Corvallis Oregon, where I first saw his muddlers while judging a cocktail contest. These are well designed muddlers, with a unique grip that I quickly grew to love. I own three of these muddlers personally, but the one that I use on a daily basis is handmade from rock hard ebony. Black as night and weighing more than a couple of pounds, my muddler will get any job done and keep the peace if need be. Its a beautiful piece of craftsmanship and something that I really cherish. My shakers will come and go, and I'll keep destroying wine keys left and right, but my Mr. Muddler is built for the ages, it is something that I'll be able to pass down to the next generation of great bartenders when the time is right. For only $30 (and a $5 shipping charge) you can't beat the price for such a beautiful tool. Highly recommended this Christmas season for both professional and amateur mixologists

Monday, December 8, 2008

Holiday Gift Guide- Sandeman's 10 year Tawny Port

I adore port in almost all of its forms. While I collect vintage ports ('63 Cockburns anyone?), I rarely open them, saving them for special occasions. Instead, when I want a quality port for my more everyday port drinking, I tend to reach for a good tawny port. I like tawny ports because they have a nice nuttiness to them that lends itself perfectly to fruits and cheeses, something I like to end a meal with rather than dessert. Tawny port differs from vintage port in that it spends at least 7 years in wood versus being bottled after 18 months (in stainless steel to preserve the ruby color) for vintage ports. Tawnies are blends, the age statement being the youngest age of the wines included in the blend. The official age designations are 10, 20, 30 and 40 years, of which Sandeman makes all 4 age designations. In fact, Sandeman is offering up a "Century" of their tawny ports in a custom wooden case featuring a bottle each of the 10, 20, 30 and 40 year for approximately $350. Unfortunately, I've only had a chance to taste and review the 10 year tawny, so I cannot speak to the quality of the other ports, but if past history is any indication of the quality of the other bottles, whoever receives a century of Sandeman's tawnies will be getting a very special Christmas gift this year. And just to reduce any confusion, its called a century because all of the vintages added together make 100.
I've been suffering from a pretty nasty cold recently, enough to have me in that warm, fuzzy NyQuil induced state that must be the closest thing to opium thats available over the counter. This weekend I decided that a tawny port toddy would be the perfect thing to help break my cold. Not too alcoholic, warm, and with a nice wintery flavor profile, Sandeman's 10 works incredibly well in a toddy (even if it is a bit over the top).
Last night, my taste buds and nose started to come back so I decided to try the Sandeman's 10 year tawny on its own. Its definitely got a great nose, I picked up a lot of walnut and just a bit of raisin. I like my tawny ports at room temperature, a little warmer than is usually recommended (just my personal preference) as I think that ports served slightly chilled take some time to open up. On the palate, there was the usual pronounced nutiness imparted by so much time in barrel, but also a soft apricot note and a creamy mouthfeel. Whats nice is that the sweetness of the port is balanced by a nice acidity, making this perhaps the best tawny port that I've tasted at this age. Further on the palate, soft caramel notes and very mild tobacco tones intermingle with a light raisin finish. This is a very generous wine to the palate and a well made one at that. Words like luscious, delicious, extravagant, and inviting run through my head when I think of this tawny port. I'd love to pair this with some foie gras to really watch it sing. As it is though, I'm a little too poor for foie gras at the moment, so instead I'll be matching this with some dried apricots and some nuts after dinner tonight.
I highly recommend that you drink any bottle of tawny port sooner rather than later after you open it. At most, consume within a month, but I really suggest within a week if you can.
Sandeman's Tawny Port is available now with an average price around $40.

Friday, December 5, 2008

So I'm a Libertarian kind of guy

The kind of guy who believes in the right to bear arms (I spent my lunch hour looking at shotguns in a pawnshop today, which is odd because I don't own a single firearm), limited government, the abolitition of the Internal Revenue Service and the freedom to make your own choices in life. I don't like the nanny state, whether its banning smoking in bars (I'm a nonsmoker but think that the market should be allowed to decide such things), mandating motorcyle helmets and seatbelt laws or any other restrictive laws. I think its laughable that politicians, the same people who brought you the Department of Motor Vehicles and never run government on a budget now want to step in and run our private enterprise system. Thats why today is an important day in our history. Today is the 75th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition, or as some of us celebrate it today, Repeal Day.

So why is Repeal Day important? Well, for one, its the only time in American history that one constitutional amendment has been repealed by another constitutional amendment. But more importantly, the great experiment with Prohibition didn't work. Instead, it created a criminal class to meet Americans thirst. It took the choice to have a cold beer or a glass of wine or a martini away from us as citizens and we let the government make this decision (and more importantly enforce this decision) for us. It almost sounds like the current War on Drugs doesn't it? If you want more information from a source that I support on that, please click here.

Where are we 75 years later? Is our right to choose an intoxicating beverage still at risk or has the passage of time strenghened our right to drink alcohol? Its surprising, but there are still temperance movements active in the United States, although some are much more subtle about it now than they were prior to Prohibition.
In fact, the third oldest active political party in the United States is the Prohibition Party. They still oppose all forms of alcohol as they say that the Bible is against consuming alcohol.It kills me that they (the Prohibition Party) try to misinterpret the word "wine" in the Bible as "juice". Wine contains alcohol, which kills pathogens. Jesus drank wine and beer or he wouldn't have made it to his 30s, its as simple as that. Making wine and beer was essential to peoples survival before modern sanitation, and no amount of twisting facts is going to change that.

So of course, we have the nuts over at the Prohibition Party still trying to relive the glory days of Carrie Nation swinging her axe, but what other groups have neo-Prohibitionist tendencies in 2008's America? How about MADD? MADD seems like a decent enough group right? Or have they turned into the modern equivalent of the Womens Christian Temperance Movement? Who could be against Mothers Against Drunk Driving? Well, how about the founder of MADD herself, Candy Lightner? Candy has stated, ""It has become far more neo-prohibitionist than I ever wanted or envisioned... I didn't start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving." David J. Hansen has a great article about MADD. We need to be aware that even today, December 6th 2008, there are people and elements in our society that want to take away our right to drink or restrict it to such a point that it becomes burdensome to exercise that right.

75 years is a long time. I hope that it continues and that it doesn't go the way of smoking which is all but illegal in a number of places. Tonight, I'm going to celebrate Repeal Day the best way that I know how- by preparing some classic Pre-prohibition cocktails for some of my fellow citizens who are choosing to excercise their right to consume alcohol. We live in a time of expanding government and decreasing individual liberties. Perhaps a little reflection on some of this will allow some of us to savor tonights libations just a bit more and hold onto our mugs a little more tightly. CHEERS!

Holiday Gift Suggestion- Zodiac Vodka

I'm going to be reviewing books, liquor and other gifts prior to the Christmas holiday to perhaps make your Xmas shopping that much easier for the cocktail enthusiast or bartender in your life.

First up, we have a real winner in Zodiac vodka. This is good stuff, a nice soft round vodka which mixes really well. We were playing with it at 50 Plates recently and it was definitely enjoyed by both the vodka enthusiasts in the crowd (not me) and the non-vodka drinking group (me). Even better, Zodiac vodka is made out of potatoes in the beautiful state of Idaho. The only thing better would be if it was made of Oregon potatoes. Zodiac has an attractive package and each bottle represents one of the 12 zodiac signs (they sent this scorpio a bottle of aquarius). Good stuff and at a $25 price point this is a far better vodka than most. I really enjoyed this and will probably put it on the back bar once it comes into Oregon. Recommended.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Check Me on Twitter!

Damn, I started this thing as a lark and now I'm addicted.

An Egocentric Posting

Well, for not being a politician or Storm Large, this week has been a pretty good one for me in terms of media exposure. First, I was in this weeks Willamette Week, talking about the sad state of the economy (Thanks a lot Harry Reid, Chris Dodd and Barney Frank) and how people drink during good times or bad.

Next, I'm honored to be on page 15 of this week's Portland Mercury (My name, not my picture. That picture is Neil Diamond). Patrick Alan Coleman was nice enough to ask me to teach a cocktail class for the Mercury's Online Charity Auction and I was happy to oblige. Bid often and bid high. I'm web item #154 in the auction, and not only do you get a class with Mr. Coleman and I, but you get a keg of New Old Lompoc beer to help you forget whatever ails you, some Elemental vodka and cool glasses from elsa+sam boutique PLUS a distillery tour. Heck, if my wife is reading this, YOUR HUSBAND MIGHT REALLY LIKE THIS FOR CHRISTMAS (hint). Btw, is it me or has Patrick Alan Coleman really helped raise the bar for good food and drink writing in this town? Between his joining the Mercury staff, and Tom Colligan's debut at Portland Monthly, the level of talent in the food and drink writing biz has gone up dramatically in Portland.

This Sunday, I'm in the Oregonian's Taste section in a nice piece by Sara Perry. Check it out at or Oregonlive. The recipe featured is one of my favorites, make sure to give it a try.

Later this afternoon, I have to go pose for some photos for an upcoming issue of Northwest Palate Magazine. I'll going to keep most of it under wraps for now, but I will tell you that the article features one of my favorite Portland chefs and I collaborating on something special. I'm really happy with it and excited to be working with this chef again.

Continuing on, tomorrow is Repeal Day, the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. Please join me at 50 Plates tomorrow if you have some time. We're going to be doing a special cocktail menu in recognition of Repeal Day and we should have some fun surprises in store.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Sveinn Cocktail

Right about now, I'm supposed to be over at Clarklewis for a dinner with Toby Maloney of the Violet Hour in Chicago, sponsored by Bulleit bourbon. I'm not usually one to turn down a free meal, and I was really looking forward to attending this event, but other things have interceded, so its Thanksgiving leftovers on the couch tonight instead.
That said, an unexpected night free allows me to dig this cocktail out and share it with you. Originally, I was going to submit this for the last Mixology Monday, a cocktail bloggers event that I participate in sporadically, but I missed the deadline.
I've been interested for some time now in using asian ingredients in western style cocktails. The Sveinn cocktail is an example of this. Several months ago, I prepared some Chinese apothecary bitters and then promptly (intentionally) forgot them in the basement to let the flavors marry. Early in November, I strained everything off and tasted the bitters. Very bitter, with a medicinal flavor that isn't unpleasant, but is distinctively asian. You aren't going to mistake these bitters for Angostura kids, I really like these but its a very asian flavor profile.
I've been playing around with the Seelbach cocktail quite a bit recently. The Seelbach is essentially sparkling wine with a touch of triple sec and bourbon but what stands out to me about this drink is the amazing amount of bitters used in its preparation (at 50 Plates, I use 6 dashes of Peychauds and 6 of Angostura to rinse the inside of our champagne flutes. Zane, one of the very talented bartenders at Vessel in Seattle also made me a cocktail with 3/4 oz Angostura, orgeat, lime and pisco that was a revelation to my palate. What both of these cocktails have in common is the use of much larger amounts than normal of bitters. I hope you can see where I'm going with this one. I tasted the apothecary bitters and really wanted to find a way to let their unique flavor shine. I settled on basing this cocktail around the frame of the French 75 (roughly).
I took 1/2 oz of the apothecary bitters, 1/2 oz of fresh lemon juice, added it to a champagne flute and topped it off with some Zipang sparkling sake. For the record, I really like Zipang, its an interesting product, very well made and perfect for mixing.
I garnished it with the seahorse left over from making the bitter (yes, there is seahorse in the bitters) to give it a slightly more avant-garde look and voila! The Sveinn cocktail. This is a nice, dry cocktail. Not really a ladies drink but perhaps a good alternative for the men at a party featuring sparkling wine cocktails. Cheers!

Monday, December 1, 2008

In dog years, I've been behind the stick for 105 years

And some days it feels like it. 15 years ago today I was nervously getting ready to work my first shift as a real live bartender. It was a day shift at Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus on Florin Road in Sacramento. I remember that the drink special of the day was a Madras, something which threw me and made me even more nervous. I didn't have a trainer that day because we were short staffed, so like many other restaurant positions (especially the kitchen), I got thrown right in. Black Angus had a soda gun to the left of the well, and a liquor gun (the only time that I have ever used one) to the right. The liquor gun was unmarked, just a big black gun with about 30 white buttons. If you wanted to make a margarita, you pushed one button and it dispensed tequila, sweet and sour and triple sec all into the glass for you. Long Island Iced Tea? Thats another button. Gin? Another and so on. Well, I didn't know the buttons and neither did my manager, so my first day kind of sucked as frantic servers kept returning drinks because they were "funny tasting". I remember a strawberry daiquiri coming back because I had filled it with whiskey, and my offering more options to the servers as I slowly figured out the buttons on the liquor gun ("They want what? I don't know where the scotch button is. Offer them a gin and tonic instead. Or anything with gin, I know where that button is"). Suffice to say, my first day was stressful, chaotic and just plain nuts. I still have days like that, the only difference is that now I know what goes into a Madras and I have the confidence in my abilities that only time behind the bar provides.

I like to joke about my time at the Black Angus. I'll make cracks about learning every variation of the Long Island there (I think I honestly did), but it was the first bar that I was ever behind and for that I will always be thankful. There was the kindly veteran bartender Rich who took me under his wing and patiently explained to me how to set up the bar. There was Reptile Boy, a compulsive gambler who oftentimes needed to make a certain amount of cash on a shift to cover his recent bets. More than once I had to cover a shift for him when he "suddenly" fell ill and left before his bookie showed up to collect. Once, we had a carnival set up shop in a mall parking lot not too terribly far away and for about a week the bar would fill up with carnies after the fair closed. Some of the carnies started flirting with a cocktail waitress and lo and behold, when the carnival left, she went with them. I never saw her again. It was a completely disfunctional place, I couldn't figure out why the manager always paid for beers with quarters when we all went out until I realized that he had a key for the pool tables and was draining them for beer money. There was the time I learned never to allow shot glasses to pile up in front of customers in case they start throwing them at you (by the way, it hurts like hell to get hit with a shot glass) and the first time I ever got robbed was there too (corporate wouldn't replace our tips that were stolen back then). Black Angus has been bought and sold numerous times since I last mopped out the leaky beer cooler in Sacramento, the last time I set foot in one the famous "Fun Bar" atmosphere was gone, no more Monday Night Football or DJs. Instead, they had basically reduced the bar to a service well. It wasn't the same but then things are never quite how you remember them. I look back with fond memories of my time there and the 15 years since. Its been quite a ride.

As it is, I don't have a lot of time left behind the bar. I've been lucky enough to catch the beginning of the craft bartending movement, which I see as a chance to restore my chosen profession to its Pre-Prohibition glory. That said I'm too old to see this through, it will be the next generation of bartenders, people like James Pierce over at Touche, Jacob Grier and others who will make this a reality.

So far, its been a great run and for those of you who I have served, I can truly say its been an honor and a pleasure to serve you. Best wishes to you all.