Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Blogging Tales of the Cocktail

Yep, I'm a guest blogger for the upcoming Tales of the Cocktail event. My post should be up soon. Make sure you don't miss the cocktail event of the year.

Monday, April 28, 2008

This guy should move to Utah

One more reason I don't like politicians. A 1500% tax hike proposed on beer in California. No wonder I left when I did. Send this assemblyman with too much time on his hands your comments on the matter. I bet he is now persona non grata at Simon’s in Sacramento. For those not in the know, Simon's is the biggest political watering hole in the capitol, and runs 3-1 Dems to Reps. Great drinks and brandy fried chicken there if you happen to be near.

Barrel Aged Orange Bitters

So I was talking to my good friend, Jeff Morgenthaler, and we were discussing variations on bitters that we've been making. I was telling him how well my Blood Orange Saffron bitters came out, and Jeff told me that he was going to do a barrel aged orange bitters, after he was done curing his cask with sherry (A great idea, I might point out). Well, long story short, both Jeff and I decided to make a batch of barrel aged orange bitters, and to see who had the better product. Since Jeff was going to cure his barrel with sherry, I had to choose another route, and I decided to cure my barrel with some vintage Madeira that I've been keeping in the cellar, waiting to use. I think about a month should provide the flavor and cure to the barrel that I am hoping to achieve, so I uncorked several bottles of Madeira, and poured them in, being careful not to add any sediment that the Madeira had thrown while it was in the bottle. Next, I took it outside and placed it on the back patio to let it get some great Oregon weather for the next month, before I drain it and replace the Madeira with orange bitters for a month. I'm going to start the bitters tomorrow, and let them steep for a month before adding them to the barrel. I think a month in oak should be enough to add some real complexity and interest to these bitters. Hopefully, Jeff's will be done around the same time and we can get together for a head to head tasting of Sherry Cask Aged Orange Bitters vs Vintage Madeira Cask Orange Bitters. It should be an interesting comparison, and I'll keep you up to date on my progress.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Drink Du Jour- The Sahityika Chori Cocktail

1 oz Kazkar feni
1/2 oz Sub Rosa Saffron Vodka
2 dashes Blood Orange-Saffron Bitters
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz orange juice
1 oz apricot nectar
Perrier to top
mint sprig garnish

1) Combine first 6 ingredients in shaker, add ice and shake until your arm hurts.
2) strain, fill with Perrier
3) Spank a mint sprig like an unruly child to release the bouquet and garnish

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Blood Orange Saffron Bitters

I pulled the Blood Orange Saffron bitters out of my cask after spending a week in American oak. The oak imparted a nice vanilla flavor and added quite a bit of complexity to the bitters. These may be my best bitters yet. In fact, if saffron weren't so damn expensive, I might be tempted to give Mr. Gary Regan and the brothers Fee a run for their money. I think I'll barrel age all my bitters in the future, its made a signifigant difference to the final product. I can't wait to give these a trial run. I'm thinking of incorporating these bitters into a new cocktail creation built around cashew feni and the bitters. Look for it soon.

Artichokes are taking over my garden

I planted artichokes in the garden last year and look at what monsters they have become. I truly hope that I get a yield greater than the two whole artichokes that these plants yielded last year. In other garden news, I already had an early spring planting of sweet peas, blue lake beans and butter lettuce in, but today I added 10 tomato plants of all shades, sizes and varieties, as well as some cavolo nero (Thanks Tommy Habetz) kale, and some bitter italian salad greens. I also added some cassis and gooseberries in the front yard, and I spotted some Hyssop in the garden store this morning, so thats probably going in as well. I definitely have plans for the cassis and gooseberries in some upcoming concoctions, but don't be surprised if my curiosity gets the better of me and I experiment with tomatoes or sweet peas.

Friday, April 25, 2008

My week in the Islamic Republic of Utah, or, a handy guide to attempting intoxication in Salt Lake City

There it is people. I think I was still technically in Utah airspace when Delta airlines served me my first real beer in a week, even if it was lukewarm. I spent this week in Salt Lake City, a very pretty town right at the base of the Wasatch Mountains, but not a place known for good cocktails or even decent beer. In fact, I actually felt like I had left the United States and entered an Islamic republic of some sort given the draconian liquor laws imposed by the state of Utah. I understand that certain religious groups in Utah are teetotalers (although I find that strange as Jesus drank wine), and that there are a signifigant number of people opposed to the consumption of alcohol in the state. However, aren't we as Americans supposed to stand up for the little guy? Sure, you can get a drink in the state of Utah, but their laws are so strict that you wouldn't want to. First, you either have to go to a restaurant for a meal OR you can join a private club (I paid $6 for a 3 week membership). Then, the state of Utah dictates that beer must be 3.2% (watery) or hard drinks can contain no more than 1 oz of booze. They may have some way of getting over the 1oz rule with some liqueurs being labeled "flavoring", but the gin and tonics and the rum and cokes I saw being poured in Utah were a 1 oz shot measured by a Berg System. Oh yeah, by the way, the great closed minds in Utah require every establishment in the state to use a Berg system or similar (for those unfamiliar with a Berg System, its a pourspout and control method that only allows a 1 oz pour), AND the state makes every establishment maintain books accounting for every ounce of liquor in the house. Failure to maintain accurate enough records results in a big fine for the bartender and a suspension of the liquor license for the establishment. Apparently, it is illegal to free pour or give any alcohol away in the state of Utah. I guess it could be worse, after all, I could have had to live through prohibition. I understand why society regulates alcohol, even if I do think that as Americans, we have some Puritanical instincts that we haven't fully worked through. Utah's laws and regulations however, interfere with my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and why? To kowtow to a religious majority? I thought that was the very thing that the United States stood for. Freedom from the oppression of a state religion. I'm just disgusted that in 2008, I can't get a decent drink in the state of Utah.
My best advice? Pack a fifth in your luggage like I did. I packed a bottle of Tanqueray gin, and, while tonic seems scarce in Utah (I should have packed that too), I made do with some Sierra Mist or some such nonsense. At least in my hotel room the drinks were more than an ounce, although I probably broke some other Utah liquor law by admitting this.
It sure feels nice to sit here in Oregon, land of the free and home of the craft distilling movement, drinking a cold Bridgeport Blue Heron Pale Ale and putting the last week behind me. Its good to be home.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Weekend Update- Blood Orange Saffron Bitters, Bacon Bourbon and Chinese Apothecary Bitters

Well, I'm flying out to spend the week on Salt Lake City tomorrow. I don't think I could be more underwhelmed by a business trip. I already hate business trips as a general rule, but spending a week at the Salt Lake airport, eating in chain restaurants and dying for caffeine and a decent drink. Anyway, the thought of living a monk-like existence spurred me to focus on some of my projects.

First, my Blood Orange-Saffron Bitters (pictured above) looked and smelled fantastic. I put them into an American oak barrel for a little aging, just to add some more depth and complexity. I think I'll pull them out when I get back.

Second, I think I've perfected my bacon infusing technique after a conversation with Phil Ward of Death and Co. I started a Bacon Bourbon (I used Bulleit because I liked the flavor profile with bacon), which should be ready in a couple of weeks. I want to do a homage to the wonderful Praline Bacon served by the Screen Door here in town. I'm thinking Bacon Bourbon and a Demerara Pecan simple syrup and maybe some bitters and I might have a cocktail.

I checked on my Apothecary Bitters as well. I should really quit calling them a bitters until I taste them, but they look good but I just want to give it a little more time to allow a little more extraction. Sven the seahorse is still as hard as a rock. Somehow, I thought Sven would be a little more pliable by now.

I tried feni this weekend. Kazkar feni to be exact. Made in India, feni is either produced from Cashew apples (as Kazkar is) or Coconuts. Think really funky cacahca and you might be close to the taste. The bouquet smells of old sweat socks, but the product itself mixes nicely and I thought it worked incredibly well subbing for cachaca in a caipirinha. I'll get a review up soon, when I have some time to mix it and play with it a little more. Fun stuff though.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

OBG Scotch tasting with Stuart Ramsay

What is the best way to spend a rainy Tuesday in Portland Oregon? If you said listening to a Scotsman teach a fascinating course on the history and lore of Scotch whisky, I think you'd be right. This was the OBG's first "bartenders only" event, our chance to give back to the community of bartenders in this state, share some good cheer, and for everyone to increase their knowledge of one of the most fascinating distilling regions in the world, Scotland. Hosted by world Scotch expert, Stuart Ramsay. Bartenders from the greater Portland area and around the state wandered in a little after noon (note to self- always leave plenty of time after the "official" start time for bartenders to show up. We're not a punctual lot), and Stuart had a table set with samples of different elements of flavors that could be contained within Scotch. For instance, one bottle contained a hand written label saying merely, "catty", which should have better been described as "cat piss". Obviously, that bottle pointed out a defect rather than a strength, but it was eye opening to see and smell samples that pinpointed a particular element that can be contained within the distillate. The peat sample was eye opening as well, being able to smell it as a singular component versus as part of a whole bouquet helped me understand what undertones that the peat may contribute to an overall product.

We eventually all took our seats and Stuart brought out the first surprise of the day. A 3 day old Scotch from the Milton Duff distillery. Young and fiery, it was delicious, but as Stuart pointed out to us, only 1/2 of the flavor in Scotch comes from the distillate. The other 1/2 comes from the wood that the Scotch is stored in, and by tasting a raw Scotch, it was apparent as we moved into aged Scotches what flavors that the different woods added to a particular product.

Next up was one of my favorites of the tasting, Benroamach. A light, Speyside Scotch, I got a lot of fruit and spice on my palate with some smoke, but not an overpowering peaty/smoky flavor. I just needed some smoked salmon with this Scotch and I would have been in heaven,

We then moved into blended scotches, as a reference point for our palates. We tasted Chivas Regal, which, as Stuart pointed out, would be perfect in a Scotch and soda, but lacked real any real complexity on the palate. The Chivas 18, which was next up, was fuller bodied and clearly the better made product. I could enjoy a glass of Chivas 18, its not something that I would necessarily seek out, but I definitely found it enjoyable and well made.

Auchentoshan 10 brought us back into the single malts. This whisky was loaded with caramel and vanilla notes, and it was light bodied (probably the result of a triple distillation) and smooth. Stuart referred to this as a "breakfast scotch" due to its light nature and agreeable style. We followed the Auchentoshan 10 with Auchentoshan Three Wood. Matured in bourbon, oloroso sherry casks and pedro ximinez barrels, this was a sweet whisky. I found it redolent of honey and apricots and it had a long, complex nutty (walnuts particularly) finish that lasted 5 over 5 minutes. The triple wood was a hit with the bartenders attending as well, as I could see a buzz start to move through the crowd as people started comparing tasting notes.

Glenlivet Nadurra came next, offering a sweet whisky packed with honeyed vanilla, orange peel, and cinnamon. At 59.2% alcohol (cask strength), I expected this to be hot, and needing a little water or an ice cube to open it up, but I really enjoyed drinking it neat. Its finished in 100% American oak, unusual to be sure for a 16 yr old Scotch, but I think that was what contributed the heavy vanilla overtones to this whisky. Another bottle to add to my shopping list.

Aberlour's a'bunadh came next, finished in Oloroso sherry casks and bottled at cask strength at 59.6%. Another interesting Speyside, it was a fun scotch to taste, but it may have been hurt by being consumed right after the Nadurra.

Next, Stuart took is to Islay to finish off the tasting. He opened and poured us Bowmore, again bottled at cask strength, that I found big, salty, herbal and slightly medicinal, but in a good way. This was a Scotch that I would have hated even a few years ago, but I guess tastes keep changing even into middle age.

Finally, we tasted Lagavulin 16, a hugely complex, smoky and briny scotch, and a perfect cap to a wonderful educational experience on yet another wet Oregon day. Lagavulin is a classic Islay scotch, though not one for the faint of heart. This is complex and not something that everyone would enjoy. In fact, while I'll enjoy this on occasion, when I'm behind the bar, I'll really feel people out before I recommend Lagavulin to them. No point in turning anyone off of Scotch, especially when some of the products like we tasted are already on the market.

Unfortunately, even the most perfect things come to an end, and this was one of them. At least we were well prepared to face the cold rigors of the wet day when we finally did have to leave.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

An amendment to the last post

I just reread the last post and realized that it comes off as somewhat grumpy. This is something that I have been thinking about for some time, and to be honest, it surprised me that I still felt as strongly as I do about this after so much time passing. Please forgive the grumpy tone of my writing. This was related to a specific incident that I found myself in in the last month. I just don't appreciate being either put on the spot for a job when someone has never paid their dues and I don't think they could ever hack it professionally nor do I appreciate them trying to make my friend and fellow bartender look bad so they can show off. Thats just classless, sorry.

If we've hung out in the last 2 weeks, you can rest assured that this isn't you.

I'm off to Sel Gris for Raena's birthday tonight and then we'll catch a play. I may hit the TearDrop post theatre, but we'll have to see. Part of me just wants to enjoy this glorious Portland weather while I can today.

I just tasted the Springbank 15 that the TearDrop brought in. Amazing stuff.

On a final note, and speaking of amazing, Jaymie was kind enough to provide me with a bottle of Stranahan's yesterday. I'm in heaven again! Of course, I have to make this stuff last, but I think I can make it through the summer at least. Hopefully, I can talk Kevin at Beaker and Flask into carrying it. I'll sell this hell out of it. Now who is going to make an Oregon whiskey thats actually made in Oregon?

Two things not to do around bartenders

Bartenders are my favorite people in the world. That said, we can be a clannish bunch, not easily given to outsiders joining our little fraternity. Occasionally, we do invite people into our world, but its usually after a careful inspection of the person in question. Usually there is a common interest in cocktails, and these people have either a certain expertise to add to our conversations, or they are just pleasant company. Unfortunately, once in a while things go wrong, and someone in the company of bartenders (or should I say my company) ends up being a complete boor. Two things never to do if you are out and about with me;

1) Don't play stump the bartender. Ever. It just makes you look like an ass, and makes me remember all the times I've had to sit through this game. Also, if you are in, say, a hotel bar, this might not be the appropriate place to order an obscure tiki drink or something containing ingredients that you know that they don't have on hand just to embarass them. I tend to react negatively to people trying to make my fellow bartenders look bad for sport. If a bartender is bad somewhere and you are out with bartenders, let the bartenders tell you how bad he or she is.

2) If you aren't a professional bartender, don't start asking me for a job or to get you a job. I'll be polite and brush you off as nice as I can, but to be honest, if I haven't seen you in the weeds with a bar 10 deep on a Friday night, I'm not ever going to recommend you to someone (the only exception to this rule I can think of, and this is singular, is Erik Ellestad. Erik used to be a line cook though, so he's been through some rough nights). Forget romantic notions of bartending, when you enter the professional arena, you are in the service industry and you'd better be prepared to make lemon drops and cosmos as much as you might hate them, and you'd better be quick. Don't be surprised at the speed of a speed pour, surprise won't get that printer to quit spitting tickets out or that guy from bugging you for refills every 5 minutes.

Avoid those two (and use indoor plumbing when and where appropriate) and we're golden. Violate either, and you most likely will find yourself persona non grata in the company of bartenders.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Product Review- Back River Gin

I love Maine. Its a beautiful state. Mainers are a unique breed, and I almost feel a kinship with them living here in the Pacific Northwest. Anyone can live in Southern California, but it takes a certain kind of hardy soul to live in Maine where you can experience all four seasons, sometimes in the same day. And some of my favorite things come from Maine. Lobster rolls, John Thorne, blueberries, and now Back River gin. If I were ever to win the lottery, or become filthy rich through some other twist of fate, I'd either buy a cabin in Maine and live a mostly hermit-like existence or I'd disappear into Baja, never to be seen again.

I have to say that when I first held the bottle in my hands, I was drawn to the unique label. Apparently, its a photograph of ice crystals that the distiller took on the edge of the river. It makes for a striking label, drawing your attention but not overwhelming the simple presentation of the bottle itself. I wish more products were as simple and well designed as Back River's label.

As for actual contents of the bottle, the gin itself? Its a glorious gin, a great representation of the terroir of Maine. They actually use blueberries as one of the botanicals in the distillation, and while I wasn't able to pick it up in the bouquet, I definitely got it on the palate. But I digress.

Back River gin has a spicy, cinnamony bouquet with just a hint of citrus in the background. It smells wonderful enough to make me consider wearing it as cologne (ok, I'm SLIGHTLY exagerrating that one, but the nose on this stuff is heady stuff).
On the palate, Back River is slightly warm (that 86 proof stands out), packed with a cinnamon spice flavor, and an undertone of juniper and citrus. This is a gin that would be perfect for a gin and tonic. Just at the finish I get the slightest hint of blueberry, very brief, but recognizable and distinctive nonetheless. This is a tasty gin people.

With gin, I usually prefer to drink a certain brand either neat or mixed. I tend to find that a good gin for a gin and tonic may be too bold to drink neat, and one that does well on its own may lack the structure and complexity needed to mix well. Well, Back River strikes that careful balance, allowing you to enjoy it by itself, but with enough spice and complexity to mix well. Personally, I'll probably mix this more than drink it neat, but I could go either way with this gin, its that well made.

There are a couple of downsides to this gin. If, like me, you live in Oregon, there is only one way to get this stuff, and thats a trip to Maine. The other is, its so good, I actually had someone "liberate" (or maybe steal) the bottle from me the last time I took it to a tasting. So somewhere in this great state, I hope someone is enjoying this fine gin, but its not me right now. Thank goodness I was able to taste the Oregon Bartenders Guild on this before it disappeared. Now we have one more product to push for in this state.

Back River gin is a rare gem, and if you are lucky enough to find it, pick me up a bottle too will you? Then again, it might be a great time to visit Maine.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

And one for Jaymie

Left to right. Ordoki Patxaran, Amaro Nonino, Cabana Cacacha, Bardenay Vodka, Bardenay Gin, Bardenay Rum

I'm using the Patxaran for Mixology Monday this month.

The Best Pic You'll See Today

The new bitters and tinctures display at the TearDrop Lounge. Too cool.

Grand Marnier Mixology Summit Day 3

6:30am- "Hello Mr. Mayhew, this is your 6:30am wakeup call". Jesus, do I really set wakeup calls? Or is somebody doing this to me? I've consumed so much Grand Marnier my head is throbbing and my eyes are completely bloodshot. I've got to be downstairs for a photoshoot for a magazine by 8, and I'm really hoping Camper English will be there to share my pain.

8:05am- I'm the first one in the lobby. The art director from the magazine was smart enough to bring muffins and coffee. Rounding up 10 bartenders is like herding cats. By 8:20 the gang's all here and we drive 45 seconds down the road to some community center.

8:30am- I've done photoshoots before (ok, I've done one photoshoot in my life prior to this), and Mr. Photographer decides that a group shot is needed for the cover of this magazine. I get put crouching halfway on a rickety chair and halfway on a table, in my best Captain Morgan stance. These guys must be having some fun at my expense, and I'm starting to cramp.

8:50am- I've stretched as long as I can and they finally choose a contortionist to replace me and I get to stand in the crowd looking tough.

9:00am- Somehow, when I'm hung over, the most inappropriate songs run through my head. This and this seem to be stuck on "shuffle/repeat". I'm becoming very self concious.

10:00am- 400 cover photos later, I know understand why models and actors all smoke. They need something to do to break up the monotony.

10:30am- I finish up my individual shots and return to the hotel. I promise myself to 1) lose weight and 2) never ever do a photoshoot again. Everyone was very nice, but I'm just not enough of a peacock for this stuff.

2pm- Waiting for our van to take us to Denver, Camper regales us with tales of things inappropriate to put in a family oriented cocktail blog.

2:10-4pm- Too hung over to talk to anyone, I sleep in the van and slobber all over myself on the ride to Denver. I'm hoping no one took photos of me like that.

Some reflections on the Mixology Summit-

1) I would have preferred more interactive labs to demonstrations. I enjoy being hands on with a product, and would have appreciated an opportunity to do so with some of the best bartenders in the country.

2) Grand Marnier puts on a hell of an event. I hope I get invited back next year.

3) I would like to see more emphasis on Navan next year. I felt like Navan got treated as almost an afterthought, and its a great product with real room to grow.

In other news, the bacon bourbon I tried from Phil Ward has me inspired to do an homage to my favorite bacon in the world, the praline bacon served at the Screen Door. I'm thinking Bacon bourbon with a praline simple syrup should be mighty tasty right? I'll start this tonight. My Apothecary bitters should be done, and my Saffron-Blood Orange Bitters are going to spend about a week in the barrel to finish those off at this point. Beyond that, I don't have too much going on right now.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Grand Marnier Mixology Summit Day 2

7am Day 2- My phone rings, or is that my brain? Groggy, I answer the phone, "Good morning Mr. Mayhew, this is your 7am wakeup call". Huh? I requested a wakeup call? Maybe I did. After all, I did want to try the snowmobiling, but between the altitude and the alcohol, I wasn't getting out of bed to see if I made it off of the waiting list. Back to sleep for me.

11am Day 2- I finally roll out of bed, feeling much better. A couple of aspirin, lots of water and a hot shower and I'm ready to take on the world again. Since I'd skipped breakfast, I couldn't wait for lunch to roll around. I watch a little sports before heading down to lunch.

12:30pm Day 2- Lunch! I was starving and so Raena and I headed down to the Colorado Ballroom for some food. Pistachio crusted salmon was an interesting and nice choice, there were some great salad options, and then I came across Grand Marnier chicken. I had to try it. It reminded me of Orange Chicken that I'd get from a chinese restaurant, but I thought it was an interesting touch. Ky Belk from Elway's in Denver and Jonathan Pogash joined us for lunch, and the food was a pleasant as the company. The staff at the Marriott (as well as the staff at Larkspur the night before) really did a great job the whole weekend. I was pleasantly surprised by how warm and courteous everyone was. I also receive a book of the 400 recipes contributed by the attendees. Very cool.

2:00pm- I start to get a little nervous about my Mixology Consultation. Some people had told me that one person had already blown fire during his presentation (it was probably one of the Vegas guys) so I start trying to figure out how to blow fire nonchalantly while making my drinks. I finally decide that burning my beard off on a snowy day in Vail may not be the best idea. I'll stick to my plan of crafting my drinks.

2:40pm- My Consultation is set to start. I'd spent the last 10 minutes searching the 4th floor for room #404, only to find out that the hotel has some weird split, and yes, I'm on the 4th floor, but to get to room #404, I follow a maid down to the 2nd floor and up some service steps to find #404. I am sure that I'll never be able to find this room again.

2:45pm- The guy in front of me (I'm guessing he's from Atlanta with that accent) finishes up, and is pouring shots of Navan and white cranberry juice for the room as I enter. I like this guy already, and the shot goes down smoothly.

2:46pm- I am informed by a GM rep that they couldn't source Clear Creek Distillery's Pear Brandy for one of my cocktails, but they offer me Hiram Walker's Pear Schnapps as a substitute. I freak. I ask if they have any eau de vie's in the room. In spite of the very impressive liquor selection, no eau de vie's. Someone suggests that I use the bottle of Luxardo Maraschino instead. Huh? I finally agree to make the cocktail with the pear schnapps as long as no one tastes it. It comes out a hideous, kryptonite green. Thanks Hiram Walker. My other cocktail goes much smoother, and the photographer was cracking me up as I made my recipe.

3:15pm- I finally find my way out of the room, and its time to hustle down to the Apres-Ski event in the ballroom. I'm 15 minutes late by the time I get in, and all the subtle seats in the back of the room are filled. Luckily, I find a seat up front next to Jimmy Patrick. I realize when I get in that all I've missed is some tray passed cocktails.

3:30pm- Steve Olsen comes out and starts to give a lesson on the history of Grand Marnier, which, if you haven't heard it, is quite impressive. Steve is a natural on stage, really well prepared. Next, he brings out Leo Degroff and Andy Seymour for a demonstration of a 150th Sidecar. Essentially, just GM 150 and lemon juice with a splash of orange bitters, its an interesting take on the sidecar, and something that I'll tuck away for use someday. Next, Steve introduces people at a series of stations, one doing GM as an enhancement, one as a base spirit, one doing luxury cocktails, another doing Navan, and then one doing "progressive bartending". As soon as I see who is behind the progressive table, I decide its my first spot. Its Death & Co's Phil Ward, and Don Lee of PDT. They've got a Hot Buttered Popcorn Rum going, a Bacon infused Bourbon, and a number of tinctures and bitters displayed.

3:45-4:00pm- I make my way around the stations, observing Jacques Bezhuidenhout make a Millionaire's Margarita with GM 150 and Don Julio 1942 and follow that with a 150th Sazerac. Willy Shines is holding court on foams, and Aisha Sharpe is showcasing Navan's versatility. There are almost too many options for cocktails, I hold off as I'm saving myself for the upcoming dinner, but I listen and learn at each station.

6:45pm- Raena and I head out into the snow dressed to the nines, for a ride up the mountain in a gondola to the Eagle's Nest, for the Gala dinner. I had the good fortune to run into Jason Neu along the way, and he kept us laughing all the way to the top. I believe we ended up at 13,000 feet when we got to the top of the mountain. As soon as we got off the gondola, we were greeted by servers carrying trays of Lanesborough cocktails, a nice start to the evening. Once we got inside, Raena and I met Jimmy Patrick and his wife and joined their table. Ky Belk and Erica Bodley, both of Elway's in Denver joined us as well, and we had a beautiful view down the mountain as the sun sank from view.

7:00pm- Our first course is served. I was really looking forward to to this dinner. I expected it to be the highlight of the event. Grand Marnier had flown in Chris Lee, chef at Gilt in NYC.

I'm just going to get this out of the way now, and this is in no way a criticism of Grand Marnier, they put on a great event and I hope to attend again next year. However, Chris Lee was a major disappointment. His dishes were good, but they redefined microscopic. I've never left a 4 course meal hungry, but I did this night and the numbers of people returning to order room service at the Marriott were the tale of the tape. I thought it was irresponsible to serve such small portions for a dinner with cocktails matched to every course, the quality of the food was excellent, but each course was better suited to an amuse bouche than an actual course. Even worse, there was no vegetarian option available. One of my friends had to suffer through with 2 courses with the proteins removed. In my opinion, this was extremely amateurish to assume that there would be no vegetarians in a crowd of 200+. While I enjoyed the small portions that I did get to eat (the quality was outstanding), this is the first time in my life that I've left a meal hungry, and I won't be putting Gilt on my list of places to eat in NYC.

I would like to list the cocktails served-

After the Lanesborough, we moved into Grand Ma's Rhubarb Fizz, a drink I found compelling, and I may recreate here on a Portland Spring day. Next up was a Pods and Pears, which featured both Navan and gin, an interesting combination, followed by the Fairy Grandmother, with an absinthe foam which, at 13,000 feet, didn't hold up on the way to the table. Finally, we finished with snifters of GM 150, an absolutely delicious end to the meal.

9:30pm-We then took a gondola ride back down the hill for an after party at Garfinkel's, a ski bar at the base of the gondola. We had a great time there, I switched up to Hennessey XO for the party, and my hunger was finally assuaged by a friendly bouncer who handed me a 1lb bag of Rold Gold pretzels to take back to my room. That guy was the greatest bouncer of all time, thanks buddy.

We called it a relatively early night as I had a photoshoot to participate in the next morning.

Grand Marnier Mixology Summit Day 1

Raena and I spent a little time in Denver before heading out to Vail. I'll cover that in a future post (I will advise you to avoid the Appaloosa Grill at all costs unless you want to laugh at some of the worst bartenders I've ever seen), so on Sunday we returned our rental car and made our way back to the airport to connect with our transportation to Vail. We had a concierge at the airport waiting for us, and she put us in a nice SUV that we shared with Jonathan Pogash for the two hour trip to Vail. Jonathan was a wonderful companion for the trip, and I truly enjoyed spending time with him throughout the entire Summit, he is truly one of the truly nicest people I've had the pleasure to meet. He will be presenting at Tales of the Cocktail this year, and I'm hoping to cover his presentation for my blog. Suffice to say, our ride to the Summit was quite enjoyable.
We got into Vail around 4:30 on Sunday and checked into the Vail Marriott, a beautiful property right at the foot of Vail Mountain. We had a gorgeous room, with a large balcony and a view of the mountains to the north. We went down to register for the event, and when I came down, I was scheduled for my Mixology Consulting Lab at 2:40 the next day. I wanted to register to snowmobile, not being a skiier, but I was placed on the second page of the waiting list as apparently, it was an exceptionally popular event. In retrospect, I should have entered the ski race, as they gave prizes to not only the best but also the worst, and I would have had the worst skiier label wrapped up.
Next, it was on to the swag table. I received a really nice red Marmot ski jacket, a black hoodie and a cool backpack that may actually replace my current Nike/Ipod backpack. I headed back upstairs and took a nap until the welcome reception.
At 7pm, we all got on shuttles and headed over to Larkspur restaurant, a phenomenal restaurant on the other end of Vail village. As we entered, we were greeted by servers with trays of Grand Magaritas, Grand Marnier, Don Julio Tequila, fresh lime and agave nectar. As we moved into the bar, Andy Seymour, Leo Degroff, Willy Shines, Aisha Sharpe and Jacques Bezuidenhout were churning out cocktails for the thirsty crowd. Next up was the Perfect Storm, essentially a Dark and Stormy with Grand Marnier instead of rum. I actually was skeptical about this drink, but ended up liking this one best of all. It was complex, well balanced and had a nice spiciness to it. Andy Seymour may be the fastest bartender I've ever seen, he was quite literally a blur behind the bar, putting up drinks and pouring shots for the crowd. Steve Olsen switched between spending time with the bartenders to spending time with the crowd.
It was during the reception that I noticed someone with one of the Summit jackets on, taking lots of pictures, so I checked his name tag and saw that I had run into Jimmy Patrick, one of the best bloggers going and a bartender that I have nothing but immense respect for. Other cocktails started coming out, and the back of the restaurant featured cocktail recipes from the previous years attendees. Then the food started hitting the tables, so I found my wife who had made new friends of her own and we sat down to eat. I met Ky Belk of Elways's in Denver, who impressed me with his knowledge of cocktails and his warm, friendly demeanor. Erik Tirums and Michael Flannery were perhaps the two funniest people I met during the entire stay, and now I know where to go in South Beach, Florida. Drinks kept flowing and I kept meeting new people, and almost all were interesting and talented people. Camper English finally arrived about 1/2 way through the event after a hellish flight into Vail airport. Camper is a riot, definitely someone I'm going to look up next time I'm in San Francisco.
At one point during the evening, I met a bartender from Las Vegas. When I mentioned the Oregon Bartenders Guild, he frowned and asked me if I knew a Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Well, of course I do. Jeff is a colleague and a great friend. Apparently though, Jeff once made some remarks about flair that this person took offense to. Oh well, right? I told this guy that while I appreciate showmanship in crafting a cocktail, I think pouring half the drink on the ground before you get it into the customer's glass is disrespectful to the craft. 40 minutes later, I was still listening to Mr. "The world revolves around Las Vegas" trying to make a case for flair bartending. Perhaps if I worked in an establishment that was an authentic recreation of the Roman Coliseum or something (Watch us feed Christians to the lions at 12, 3 and 6 daily!) I would enjoy juggling my drinks for conventioneers from Oak Stump Kansas, but I don't. I craft well balanced cocktails with depth, and I don't wear a costume while I do it. If I really wanted to do that, I'd just join these guys.
I'll never get those 40 minutes of my life back, but I had easy access to shots of Grand Marnier while I was snoozing through his lecture. Andy and Aisha kept putting up chilled shots of Grand Marnier 150, beautiful stuff in a snifter, but absolutely deadly chilled down and done as a shot. Leo Degroff finally came and saved me from the lecture and I got to spend a little time getting to know Leo. A truly nice guy, down to earth and supremely talented, Leo is a consummate professional bartender.
Eventually, as always, the evening wound down and I'd realized that I'd consumed an incredible amount of Grand Marnier, so it was time for a shuttle ride back to the hotel. Monday held all kinds of promise, with an Apres-Ski presentation and a Gala Dinner planned, in addition to my Mixology Consultation, so it was time for bed.
I'll cover Day 2 in my next post.

Also served at the reception-

Navan White Cosmo

100th Smash (GM 100, lemon and mint)- I didn't get to taste this one, they went exceptionally quick.