Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Shameless Self Promotion

I don't usually get this excited over press stuff, but this is my first mention in the NY Times, so I'm pretty damn happy. Anyway, the article (miracle fruit, of course) is on the front page of the Dining Out section and my quote is right there. Check it out.

Now I just have to make the Wall Street Journal and I'm happy...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Drink Du Jour- The Mad Monk

Today I took the world's best dog (ok, maybe not the best dog, but definitely the world's best great dane), Huckleberry, to a new groomer. Huck hates to go to to the groomer and he hates being bathed, so I leave that to the professionals. As he is so large (140 lbs), bathing and grooming sessions usually run around 2 hours for him, usually giving me plenty of time to kill.
I decided to go see if I could find a Russian or Eastern European market. I didn't have any ideas of what I was looking for, but I hadn't been to a Russian market in some time and I was curious to see what I could find. I harbor a fantasy of someday walking into a Russian market and being offered a stash of homemade buffalo grass vodka or some such nonsense, but thats never happened to me. Instead, I drove out to SE 82nd ave and drove around until I found I market with windows covered in Cyrillic lettering and a sign that said," Good Neighbor Market".
Let me preface this by saying that I love Russian food. Its a rare treat when I get to eat it (its hard to find a good Russian restaurant on the west coast), so I relish the opportunities that present themselves. While I consider myself a pretty good cook, unfortunately, my repetoire does not yet include Russian cuisine.
Good Neighbor Market was exactly that, a quiet, friendly and well stocked market filled with Russian and Eastern European pickles, meats, seafood, vegetables, candies and more. I don't read any Cyrillic, so the meat case and seafood were a mystery to me, although some of the smoked fish behind the counter were some of the most tantalizing specimens that I've ever seen. Other things, like the cheese counter, did have a few labels in English. For instance, a large, round, white wheel of cheese was simply labeled, "city cheese", which meant nothing to me. I'm going to have to find a tour guide to fully appreciate the treasure that I uncovered today. As it was, I was reduced to checking canned and dried products for a stick on label in english, which gives a name of the product and some basic nutritional information. I stocked up on some new and interesting things for the pantry, and then I came across the beverage section. A label stood out to be, "KBAC". I don't understand Cyrillic, but I knew that this was the spelling for what we call kvass.
Kvass is an old Russian beverage. Its essentially a peasant drink, and a cousin of beer. It was originally brewed with rye bread, although in modern times I understand that actual bread has been replaced with a dark malt and other flavorings. During the time of Peter the Great, kvass was the most common drink in Russian society. Kvass is mildly alcoholic (.05-1.4%), and I'm sure that the kvass I purchased was on the lowest end of that range. If you do happen to run across kvass, it also might be labeled as Russian soda.
Kvass is a wonderful beverage on its own. Its full flavored, full of rye and malt flavors, it almost tastes like a delicious glass of liquified rye bread. Its full bodied, yet refreshing in a way most of us with Western palates are unused to. To put it simply, I'm a fan. Its a very food friendly beverage, I started imagining good lox on rye bread, blinis with melted butter and caviar, and cabbage rolls while I was drinking it.
I decided to create a cocktail using kvass as a mixer. I obviously wanted to not only create a cocktail that tasted great, but also used appropriate ingredients for Eastern Europe. While a good Russian vodka is an obvious choice, I actually didn't have any in the house (ok, I'm not much of a vodka fan to be honest). I do happen to have a bottle of Bardenay vodka from Idaho, which I think may be one of the finest vodkas that I've tasted, so I decided to use that instead.
Next, I selected a bottle of aquavit from a local producer, House Spirits. Their Krogstad aquavit has nice caraway and star anise overtones which I thought would place some nice notes into this drink.
Lastly, as every cocktail needs a bit of bitters, I chose Angostura Orange Bitters. I don't think these have been released to the American market quite yet (I think they are a month off but I could be wrong). I love the pairing of rye with orange, so the match made sense in my opinion. Plus, among the orange bitters on the market, I find Angostura's to be the most complex, carrying notes of a well made English marmalade, and quite dry.
The resulting cocktail won't be for everyone. You'd better like flavors like rye and caraway if you are going to try this one, but if you have an appreciation for flavors like these, I think you'll be in heaven. This is a tasty little cocktail, and it will be very food friendly to boot. Without further ado, I offer up the Mad Monk.

The Mad Monk Cocktail
1 oz Russian vodka
1 oz Aquavit (I recommend Krogstad)
4 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
4 oz Kvass ( I used Ochakovo)

1) In a double rocks glass, add vodka, aquavit, and bitters, stir to incorporate
2) add ice
3) top with kvass, garnish with an orange wedge (optional)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cocktail Du Jour- The Friedensreich Hundertwasser Cocktail

Well, where to start this post? Should I thank the wonderful cocktail blogger and great personal friend, Jeff Morgenthaler for asking me to design a cocktail for a German publication? Or maybe I should actually explain who Friedensreich Hundertwasser is (a hint- he was a visionary, and some say crazy designer and architect whom I admire). Hundertwasser once said, "A straight line is ungodly". In the case of creating this cocktail, I took anything but a straight line in designing this, and yet I couldn't be happier with the results. This is a great summertime cocktail, distinctive, unique and flavorful.

I was asked to design something around the theme of "tropical liqueurs" and my first thought was Damiana. I wanted to avoid using, say Alize, to design something too sweet or out of character for me. A quick conversation with Jeff though, led to some brainstorming and an agreement to instead use John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum, a tropical liqueur made on the island of Barbados. Velvet Falernum has hints of lime, almonds and cloves which makes it particularly well suited to tiki style drinks, and as a liqueur, it contains a high percentage of sugar, so I find most drinks which have Velvet Falernum as an ingredient do not need a sweetening agent (i.e. simple syrup). I didn't want to go down the usual tiki-drinkish path with Falernum though, I wanted to create a cocktail with depth and complexity and a balance between sweetness and acidity.

Naturally, rum seemed to be a natural fit with falernum, but what kind of rum to use? I have Indian rum, rhum agricole, Bacardi, Gosling's Black Seal and more in my liquor cabinet. I tasted all of them, and each one eliminated itself for the exact flavor profile that I was looking for. I then tried cachaca, but it still wasn't quite right. Bardenay rum, however, was exactly what I was seeking. Distilled in Boise, Idaho, Bardenay may be the best kept secret in the distilling world right now. In addition to their rum, I have a bottle of their gin and one of the few vodkas that I actually care for. Bardenay's rum is distilled from 100% cane sugar, and has just enough age on it to give it the lightest amber coloring. This is a really well made rum, and a perfect match with the Falernum.

Now, I know Falernum and a good rum isn't the most unusual pairing in a cocktail, they are used together quite frequently, and specifically chose these two flavor profiles because I wanted to work with a new ingredient. Smoked Peach Vinegar. I'd smoked vinegar over hickory wood for 3 hours (at 180 degrees) this past weekend, and I was itching to use it, This was just the occasion, the smoke and sweetness of the peach are a perfect match for the complex flavors in the falernum and the smoothness of the rum.

I topped off the cocktail with some tonic water and added one dash of Fee Brothers Peach Bitters for added complexity. The Smoked Peach Vinegar is bold, painting with wide stripes and bold colors,, while the Peach Bitters add detail and more background notes, not discernible but providing subtle support to the main flavors.

The Friedensreich Hundertwasser Cocktail
1 oz John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum
1 oz Bardenay Rum
1/2 tsp Smoked Peach Vinegar
1 dash Fee Bros Peach Bitters
1 fresh slice peach (garnish)
1 fresh mint sprig, spanked (garnish)

1) Combine first 4 ingredients in a double rocks glass, stir to mix the flavors
2) Add ice to glass
3) Top with tonic
4) garnish with peach slice and mint sprig

I'll leave with two things. First, I'd like to thank Jeff Morgenthaler for inspiring me to make this cocktail. Jeff doesn't know how often I come away from conversations with him energized and full of great ideas because of him. Thanks Jeff.

Second, I'll share on more Hundertwasser quote with you, and this one is my favorite. "When we dream alone it is only a dream, but when many dream together it is the beginning of a new reality." Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000)

I now take all pics on this blog with my iPhone

In case you hadn't noticed. There are some limitations, but I'm enjoying the challenge.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Rethinking the Cuba Libre

Some drinks are classics, not because they are terribly complex concoctions, or require a the skill of a master mixologist. Some are simple, easy, and perfect combinations. The Cuba Libre is one of them. Simply rum, coke and a wedge of lime, its a drink thats hard to screw up and, while not usually my first choice in cocktails, a safe bet in any bar.

I do have a couple of caveats. One, the lime needs to be a healthy wedge. An anemic little nugget of lime doesn't add enough acid to this drink to make it truly classic. I usually use an 1/8th of a lime on each Cuba Libre.

Second, be careful of your choice of cola. Ever wonder why no one orders a rum and Pepsi? Its because Pepsi is too sweet, it lacks the bite that makes Coke such a classic pairing with rum.

Today, I wanted to rethink what it is to have a Cuba Libre, to update this drink and possibly add some more interesting notes to it. First off, I wanted to use Mexican coke. Mexican coke is a far superior product to that made in the United States as Mexican coke is made from cane sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. Unfortunately, the little Mexican market in my neighborhood only stocks Mexican Pepsi, so I was out of luck there. I went to Whole Foods and found Boylan's Cola made from cane sugar. In retrospect, I should have held out until I got Mexican coke as the Boylan's (which is a very enjoyable cola) was a bit too soft for what I'd ultimately like to achieve.

Second, instead of using Cuban rum (unavailable in the US anyway), I thought I'd continue the cane sugar theme and use cachaca. I was putting a number of things in the smoker today, and I put about 6 oz of Cabana Cachaca in the smoker for 3 hours. One note, even though I tried to keep the smoker to 180 or less, I still lost about 1/2 the volume to evaporation. The smoked cachaca added a very interesting note, almost reminiscent of a good, single malt scotch in some ways, but with a unique character all its own.

In the end, I ended up using 2 ounces of smoked Cabana Cachaca, 3 Tovolo Perfect Cube Ice Cubes, Boylans Cola to top and a 1/4 lime wedge as a garnish. The result was far more complex than a traditional Cuba Libre, but the Boylans didn't provide quite enough bite to make this a truly perfect cocktail. Next time, I'm using Mexican coke, and I think I've got a new classic for barbecues and parties at the Mayhew household.

Thanks for reading

Project updates

The above picture is bacon fat left over from the bacon bourbon that I finally finished today. I'm looking forward to mixing this with a couple of different things tomorrow.

I smoked about 2 cups of light brown sugar, the smoking took all the moisture out of the sugar and it caked up. I ended up taking the smoked sugar and doing a 2-1 simple syrup. Its currently getting a pecan infusion and I'll strain that off tomorrow. I'm looking at this as an ingredient for my homage to the Screen Door's Praline Bacon.

The smoked maple syrup is amazing. I don't want to say too much about this yet, as I have some cool plans in store for it.

The peach vinegar really reduced, its a dark syrup now. I'm thinking of adding it to some aquavit and tonic to see how it does.

Anyone have a recipe for homemade Cynar?

My two artichoke plants, which produced a grand total of 1 artichoke last summer, are now over 5 feet tall and between them have 10 artichokes growing on them. My only concern is that they will choke out the tomatoes in my garden, which would be unforgivable. As it is, I'm going to try to see how much they produce this summer and then make a decision about whether to pull them or keep them. I love artichokes, but they take up about 1/2 of one of my vegetable beds.
I know that a lot of Italian amari contain artichoke leaves, but I'm not sure about how to go about it. Anyone have any ideas? I'd love to make some homemade Cynar, but I've had no luck finding a recipe.

I'm smoking everything in sight today

Updates once its done, but I'm currently smoking some Fauchon Peach Vinegar, Maple Syrup, Light Brown Sugar and Cabana Cachaca as well as some Chinese 5 Spice pork chops for dinner. I have no idea what I'm going to get, or how succesful any of this will be, but half the fun is in trying right?

On a different note, I'm bacon obsessed. Really. The best bacon in Portland Oregon is the praline bacon served at the Screeen Door on East Burnside. I want to use my bacon bourbon in a cocktail that is an homage to the praline bacon at Screen Door. My thoughts are to either use a smoked brown sugar simple syrup infused with pecans, or to smoke maple syrup and infuse pecans. I think that the restaurant uses brown sugar, but sometimes flavors don't quite move as easily from food to cocktails. Anyway, the idea behind the brown sugar and maple syrup being smoked is obvious.

As for the peach vinegar, I thought it might make an interesting component for a drink. I have not spent any more time developing that idea.

As for the cachaca, orginally I just wanted to do a smoked rum and coke. But then I realized that I prefer Mexican coke, with cane sugar, so I thought cachaca would be an interesting addition, and the smoke might add an interesting note. I hope I don't evaporate it all ( a real possibility I think).

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Drink du jour- The Monkeytown Cocktail

Its been blazing hot here in Portland, unseasonably so, and I've been looking for something new to cool off with. Yesterday, I was at Uwajimaya, the best asian grocery store in the area and I spotted some interesting drinks. I ran across Yeo's Sugar Cane drink, and I thought that it might make a great base for a cocktail, so I picked up a few cans.
After rolling it around in my head for a while, I realized that I had a bottle of Cabana Cachaca that had been generously provided to me for blogging about Tales of the Cocktail. I've been really intrigued with cachaca recently, and have really enjoyed having Cabana in the house. It seemed like a natural fit, a distilled cane sugar spirit with a cane sugar beverage, but I wanted a little more complexity, something to add depth and interest to the drink and keep it from being too one dimensional. So I turned to an old standby, green chartreuse, and a new favorite, Bittermens Xocolatl Chocolate Mole Bitters. Both added needed notes to this drink, and the combo of green chartreuse and Bittermens chocolate mole bitters won't be soon forgotten.
The only downside that I can think of with this drink is that it did come out almost the same color as Midori, an almost neon green, but the drink is both tasty and complex, so I'll live with the color.
One last thing, as I'm sure people are going to ask. What or where is Monkeytown? Well, I liked the name, and its a suburb of Monroe Utah, and I have no idea why that area is called Monkeytown. I just felt like calling something Monkeytown more than anything. So there you have it, the Monkeytown cocktail.

The Monkeytown Cocktail

1oz Cabana Cachaca
1/2 oz green Chartreuse
2 dashes Bittermens Xocolatl Chocolate Mole Bitters
4 oz Yeo's Sugar Cane Drink

Build dry
add ice

Mea Culpa

For those that read this blog on a regular basis, you'll notice that the previous post is missing. I've deleted it, and while it might not still be on the internet, I'd also like to apologize for that post. Ryan Magarian was kind enough to call me today and share his perspective on what I had written and, for that, I'd like to thank him.
In a nutshell, I'd written a post critical of a local establishment, that on further review, came off as very personal and negative. I don't know the owner of this establishment personally, I think we've met twice and only for a brief moment. After Ryan's conversation with me, and rereading the post, I've chosen to take it down. One of the risks of having a blog is that they don't come with an editor, or someone to be a second set of eyes to say, "Hey that might be over the line". Instead, its very easy to write a post that, to the author, looks like what he or she is trying to achieve, but to the reader sends an entirely different message. In the end, its not about what I meant to say, its entirely about how people who read this post interpreted what I wrote, and its my responsibility to ensure that my message is clear and on point. Clearly, I failed to do this, and I take full responsibility for the message that was, regrettably, posted. I sincerely apologize to anyone that I may have offended, and I'm afraid that I have offended a few people.
In retrospect, this has gotten me thinking about why I even blog, To be honest, it started as an exercise in writing for me. I'd just completed a magazine article and I wanted to get disciplined about organizing my thoughts, and writing on a regular basis. Additionally, I wanted to move away from what I've seen in some blogs as a need to be always right. I wanted to share my successes as well as my failures in creating drinks, I wanted to attempt to foster a positive atmosphere in which people could learn from my mistakes and share their successes. I also wanted to help to bring the cocktail community together, not to sow more division. I've clearly gotten a little off track, and I'm recommitting myself to fostering a positive cocktail community, especially here in Portland. What we share is an enjoyment of cocktails. Its that simple. We shouldn't turn it into anything more than what it is, and tearing others down is not the way to help our community.
Lastly, I'd like to thank everyone who reads this, and who takes the time to share the opinions and thoughts on my writing. I appreciate any and all thoughts that you'd care to share with me. Hopefully most will be good, but I can also accept that my opinion my not be the gospel truth, and I can take responsibility for the posts that I have made,

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, May 15, 2008

An open apology to cocktail enthusiasts

I realize some of my writing recently may come off as a little cranky. I know I've been hammering the professional stuff recently, and its been due to some cocktail enthusiasts (I'm not naming names here) repeatedly asking me for access to things and jumping into some conversations I've had with other professional bartenders about technique. Sometimes, as a bartender, I really need to just discuss things with others who work in similar situations. Some of the things that happen in a bar may not be the perfect way to do something, but they are the best technique possible given the volume you need to produce. Having someone jump into the middle of a conversation with a lecture about how they do something at home can be really frustrating when I'm trying to talk with another pro. That said, 99% of the conversations that I have had with cocktail enthusiasts have been nothing short of wonderful. I love almost all of you and I think that you raise the bar and contribute very good information and help this become a community that grows.
I've just been frustrated by a couple of people yammering on constantly about things and sidetracking some conversations that I've had. Its not a big deal, but I realize that I probably owe the rest of you cocktail enthusiasts an apology.
I'll make it up to you soon. I've got my bacon bourbon ready, which I'll post here, plus some other interesting projects coming up. Thanks again for reading, and I'll look forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

So has just launched its beta as of yesterday. This is the site I've been talking about, and, full disclosure, I am a paid content provider for the website. I'm very excited about this project though, as it is a website for bartenders and by bartenders. One of my frustrations with some other sites is the profusion of cocktail enthusiasts watering down discussions of actual bar techniques with commentary about how they may do something at home. I'm not trying to upset any enthusiasts here, I think they play a very valuable role in the cocktail world and as a general rule, I really enjoy their feedback and insight. That said, at least for me, having a website open only to the pros, those of us who have had that ridiculous order for 20 cosmos on a friday night when we're 10 deep at the bar and had to make a huge batch with an empty olive jar, or who understand intuitively what to look for to evaluate a good bartender (another post for another time, but I've noticed the pros evaluate very different things than enthusiasts), thats what makes this valuable. Its a gift from the good people at Angostura and its completely ours. No branding, no popup adds, just bartenders sharing techniques, recipes, successes and frustrations with their own kind. A place where it is safe to not know all the answers, and a site that, to be honest, is going to take active participation from the bartenders who are members to make it work.
I still have invites available for the beta. Email me at lancejmayhew AT oregonbarguild DOT org for an invite. If I don't know you, please send me more than just "Hey, I'd like an invite". Tell me where you work, even better, I'd love to hear what you hope to get out of this website. And if you aren't behind the bar, sorry, but this one is ours. Bartenders only.
Even more exciting than just the site itself are some of the people helping me support the launch. I had assumed that this would be an American only website, which would have been cool, but a little limited. Instead, is getting contributions from people like Myles Cunliff in the UK, Hayden "Woody" Wood in Australia and Shaun Soole in beautiful Victoria, BC, Canada. This is a first, a chance to create an international community of bartenders to foster the resurrection of our craft and share tips and recipes from around the world.
If you can't tell, I'm very excited to be a part of this launch and I'd love to share this opportunity with my fellow bartenders.
I'll be blogging both here on my personal blog, and also on I'm planning more cocktail recipes for the website and I'll probably focus more on some of my more experimental techniques here at this blog.
I hope to see most of you over there soon.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fun with acronyms- The OBG is hosting the GADF's Cocktail Competition

For those not in the know, the Oregon Bartenders Guild will be hosting the cocktail competition portion of this years Great American Distillers Festival right here in Portland, Oregon August 23rd and 24th. Our good friends at Imbibe Magazine will be partnering with us to help ensure that this is the premier cocktail competition in the Pacific Northwest. As a competitor in last years event, I think I can promise that this year will be bigger, better organized, and more fun than ever before. I'll put more up about the competition as we move closer to the event, but this event is open to all professional bartenders. This is going to be a lot of fun, and the OBG board members organizing the event are full of great ideas and the energy necessary to make this event a spectacular success.

Email me at lancejmayhew AT oregonbarguild DOT org if you have any questions.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Hey, where'd I go?

If you don't see as many posts from me over the next few months, I apologize. I have signed a contract to be a content provider for a new, bartenders only website that is launching next week. One of the requirements of the contract is that I provide 3 original posts a week on the site. Nothing terribly difficult about that, but it will probably have some degree of impact on what I am able to post over here.
I have no intention of abandoning or ignoring my blog, but I do have a lot on my plate, with this website launch and the opening of Beaker and Flask on the horizon. Its looking to be a very very busy summer for me.
As for this website, I'll provide more details as I am allowed. I will say that I am very excited to be a part of this launch, and I'm hopeful that this website will be a valuable tool for the best bartenders in the country.
Please bear with me. The first few weeks may be the hardest. Also, if you are a pro (unfortunately, this website is not open to cocktail enthusiasts, its restricted to professionals only) and you'd like to get an invite to the beta launch (did I mention that this website is invite only?), please send me a message and I'll be happy to pass it along to the right people.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Barrel Aged Orange Bitters Update

Well, I've left the barrel outside all week, I'll probably bring it into the garage now, but I want it to experience some weather to bring the madeira in and out of the wood.

I put together my bitters recipe Wednesday night. I'm going to let this soak for a month, and then into the barrel in June. Here's what I'm doing-

2 750 Ml bottles of Everclear
5 orange peels
8 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 bay leaf

Its in the basement right now, sitting next to the Bacon Bourbon. More on that soon.

So what do you do when you make bitters and end up with 5 peeled oranges? I make dessert.

Navan Oranges
5 oranges, peeled and sliced into rounds (if this was for a dinner party, I'd slice the pithy edges off, but at home I leave it as is)
3 oz Navan Liqueur
3 dashes Angostura Bitters

1) In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly to incorporate
2) Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours
3) Serve and enjoy. Best topped with a little whipped cream spiked with Grand Marnier.