Thursday, July 31, 2008

R is for Random

I really saw this at a restaurant last night. It was all so very Discovery channel.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Product Review- Matusalem Gran Reserva 15 yr Solera Rum

I've never considered myself much of a rum afficionado until recently. First, I tried the Murray McDavid (reviewed earlier) and now this, the Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva. This is a 15 year old solera style rum, which means that the rums contained in this bottle are a blend of different ages, selected for the desired smoothness and complexity to make this rum. I'll preface this review by saying that this is one of the finest bottles of alcohol I've ever tasted. I'm blown away by how good this rum is, and at the price point, I can't believe it doesn't sell for twice the price. This rum won a double gold at the spirits competition in SF earlier this year, and its easy to see why.

The initial taste of this rum is smooth, with warm caramel tones, and a slight smoked vanilla flavor. Those notes give way to molasses, wood, more caramel and a buttery richness. I think this would be a great rum to sip with a medium bodied cigar, this is a nice dry medium bodied rum that might lose a battle with a Cohiba but would make a great compliment to something a little milder. The finish is long, up to 10 minutes, with walnut and apricot notes to follow the caramel and vanilla.

This is a complex, well made rum. Few products are as compelling as this, and I'm always going to have a bottle of this on hand for home use. While I'm sure this might mix nicely with tonic and lime, at Casa De Mayhew, this one is going to remain a sipping rum. I'm not telling you not to mix this, but I think once this is tasted neat, you'll realize that perfection doesn't require a mix. This one is a must for every well stocked bar.

My new bar at 50 Plates

If you haven't been, here is a shot of the bar at 50 Plates a couple of hours before opening.

With Apologies to the Dude...

The Dude- "Hey, careful man, theres a beverage here!"

The Big Lebowski is one of my favorite movies ever. Its one of those classics that keeps getting better as time passes and I keep getting older. Or am I maybe getting old and just reminiscing about the "good old days" when movies were good and Cokes only cost a nickel? Either way, its a damn fine movie, and the main character, the Dude, is an unabashed fan of one of the more run of the mill cocktails in the bar world, the White Russian.

I don't have anything against White Russians, they aren't bad, but I also don't find them to be the most distinctive cocktail. Me myself, in the rare occasions that I find myself in the mood for a cocktail with dairy products, I prefer a Separator, with a vs cognac (Hennessey works nicely) substituting for vodka. However, I recently received some cool new products from Three Olives Vodka, and a couple of the flavors made me decide to rethink the White Russian and see if I could improve it.

By the way, while I'm not the biggest fan of vodka in general, Three Olives is a top flight product and the samples that I received (Root Beer, Triple Shot Espresso and Tomato. Yes, Tomato, try it in a Bloody Mary) have a deep, natural flavor that mixes well in cocktails. Root Beer is an especially hard flavor to imbue into spirits without it tasting artificial or cloying, but Three Olives has created a true expression of good quality root beer in their vodka. But I digress.

I wanted to play around with the idea of a White Russian, so I chose the Triple Shot Espresso to stand in for the usual Kahlua base of the cocktail. One thing to note is that this is vodka, and 80 proof vodka at that, so it doesn't have a similar viscosity to Kahlua nor the sugar content. I prefer my cocktails on the dry side though, so this wasn't too much of a problem for me. I did note that by using the Triple Shot Espresso in leiu of Kahlua, the drink didn't separate and the cocktail had a deeper, richer flavor more reminiscent of espresso than coffee (as if that shouldn't have been obvious).

Next, I reached for the Root Beer vodka from Three Olives to replace the usual plain vodka in a White Russian. It turned out to be an inspired choice, although the resulting cocktail is more flavorful and interesting than a common White Russian. I just loved the interplay of notes between the Root Beer and the Triple Shot Espresso, I don't think I'm done playing with these yet. However, for tonight, I offer up my Three Olives variation of the White Russian.

The Dude

1 oz Three Olives Triple Espresso Vodka
1 oz Three Olives Root Beer Vodka
4 oz half and half

Build dry in a mixing pint, add ice, shake to incorporate ingredients, and pour into a double rocks glass.

The Dude- "Yeah, well. The Dude abides."
The Stranger- "The Dude abides. I don't know about you but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's out there. The Dude. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners. Shoosh. I sure hope he makes the finals."

Book Review- "Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol"

I don't generally review books, but I'm probably going to be doing more of these in the future. Iain Gately's latest work is a fairly comprehensive look at alcohol throughout history. Its an interesting read, filled with a number of obscure and unusual details (lets just say that I've got a lot of new ideas for drink names now). I'd suggest that no serious cocktail enthusiast go without this one on the bookshelf.
Starting with the Sumerians, and then moving into the Greeks, Aztecs and Romans before moving into more modern times. I learned that the Aztecs had a drinking age of 52 (I'd still have a few years to go), the Greeks had much more complex symposiums than I'd realized and the Huns drank a beverage made from mare's milk (and I thought pulque was rough). This is a large book (500 pages) that manages to take on the task of a comprehensive history of alcohol while at the same time remaining lively and readable.
I haven't been able to put this one down since I began reading it. I've gotten to rationing myself a few pages at a time to savor the quality writing and also to have time to digest all of the information packed so densely into these pages.
This is one book that serious cocktail afficionados need to add to their reading list and should be required reading for anyone hoping to be or currently practicing the craft of bartending.

Friday, July 25, 2008


So tonight's opening night at 50 Plates. Its supposed to be a soft opening, but we are in todays paper, so my best guess is that we might get crushed. I'm looking forward to being back behind the bar, crafting drinks, having fun and serving our guests. Its what I really love to do. Some people are born to be artists or astronauts or supreme court justices. Me? I'm a bartender. I do it because I love it, I love the crowds, the drinks, the challenges, almost all aspects of being behind the bar. I'm nothing more, nothing less. I'm just a bartender.

Having some time off has made me a better bartender, and there are so many people to thank for this. I don't have time to embed hyperlinks or make this too fancy, so I'll just name names. Kevin Ludwig, Jeff Morgenthaler, Daniel Shoemaker, David Shenaut and the rest of the OBG board have been an incredible help and inspiration. Watching the best of the best has been eye opening to say the least. Grand Marnier deserves thanks (and Steve Olsen & crew too) for letting me go to the Mixology Summit. I would have never met brilliant minds like Jimmy Patrick, Doug Miller, or Camper English without that opportunity. Imibe Magazine, Karen Foley, Siobhan Crosby and Shoshanna Cohen are also people that I owe a debt of gratitude to, Imbibe is the only magazine that I read cover to cover the moment that I receive it and having the chance to write for them was a real dream come true. I owe Meriwethers Restaurant a big thanks for the opportunity to work with Tommy Habetz, one of the finest chefs anywhere. Of course, 50 Plates and Beaker & Flask deserve thanks too. And all of the fine folks who attend or support the OBG have all been instrumental in making me a better bartender. Now that I'm back behind the bar on a regular basis, I hope to keep the creativity up and my blogging current. Matt Mount and the gang at House Spirits have been incredibly supportive, thanks guys (more than you know probably). Angostura, and Chip McComb have also been just incredibly wonderful to me. Jason Moore from Bacardi Brands, the list could go on and on. At the end of the day though, the person that I really should thank for the love, support and opportunities that I have experienced is my far better half, Raena.

I'm about 2 hours away from opening a wonderful restaurant and right now, sitting here at my computer, I feel awfully lucky to have had so many opportunities and so much support. Thank you all, and if I've missed anyone, know that it is unintentional. I'm humbled by the generosity so many of you have shown me. Thanks.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

To answer the question everyone keeps asking

Recently, people keep asking me if I'm still planning on being at Beaker and Flask or if I'm just temporary help at 50 Plates. For the record, my plan (and I don't see this changing) is to work at both establishments. I feel incredibly lucky to work with the bar staff at 50 Plates and its a great place to be. However, I'm not about to miss out on the opportunity to work with Kevin Ludwig at Beaker and Flask. I'm convinced that Kevin is the finest bartender in Portland, and one of the top mixologists in the country.

So there you have it. Straight from the horses mouth. I'm going to be a part of both restaurants. Hopefully that stops the rumors. Any questions, let me know. I'm happy to discuss anything related directly to my job duties at either place. Please don't ask me about things that chefs or owners should be discussing, because I simply won't answer. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Product Review- Murray McDavid 13 yr Guyana Rum, Uitvlught- Port Morant 1992

Ah, my first post back from my trip to California. As sad as I was to miss Tales of the Cocktail this year, I happened to discover a liquor store in California (I'm keeping the location a secret for now) that was a treasure trove of obscure and rare treasures. Usually I have to dig through crappy bottles of low end liquors before I find something interesting, but in this case, the liquor selection was entirely high end, stocked with rare scotches, obscure bourbons, some amari that I hadn't seen in this country before (and chinato too), great tequilas, and rum.
I usually describe myself as a gin and whiskey man. I've never been much into rum or vodka. Neither seemed terribly exciting to me. I'm not a big fan of tiki drinks, in fact, outside of the Mai Tai, I'm not inclined to drink tiki drinks ever, I find them either too sickly sweet or too sour for my palate. Contemporary rum drinks just don't generally grab my attention, again, I gravitate towards gin and whiskey. Recently, however, I've had an opportunity to reconsider rum (its its kissing cousin cachaca) and I'm becoming more of a fan.
Back to the store, where, looking through the bourbons and rye whiskeys on offer (Rittenhouse 23 was there!), my eye happened to be caught by a tin over in the rum section. It was labeled Murray McDavid, a well respected owner of Bruichladdich and the new rum brand Renegade Rum (which I'm dying to taste btw). There was a bottle of 13 year old Guyana rum, distilled in 1992 at Uitvlught, Guyana using the famous Port Morant still, the last of the Demerara Vat Stills. My search was over, I grabbed the bottle and paid up and packed it carefully for the return trip to Oregon.
Now Demerara rums can rightly be only produced in Guyana, and the vat still produces a heavier style of rum than the more modern style of still (coffey) used most frequently. I'm guessing (I'm not an expert on rum labeling laws) that even though this rum was distilled in Guyana, by shipping it to Scotland for aging and bottling, it wouldn't qualify to be a Demerara rum.
This rum is easily one of the most distinctive rums I've ever tasted. Even more intriguing though, is how this rum has changed due to the climate of Scotland vs Guyana, and how the finish on this has enhanced the rum.
I got home this evening and poured myself two fingers of rum and added one ice cube to open it up a bit. The bouquet on this rum is surprisingly soft, with notes of vanilla, caramel, and leather predominating. This was bottled at 46% abv, but I don't find it overwhelmingly hot on the nose as I often do with alcohol bottled at that strength.
This rum was put into bourbon casks for aging, and then "enhanced" with some additional time in Grand Cru Classe Sauternes barrels. The combination is a winner, with the bourbon adding a bright note to the rum and the Sauternes civilizing the edges of this rum. On the palate, I do find an interesting brininess, perhaps acquired from aging on Islay, that I've never encountered in a rum before. Its not unpleasant, in fact, it adds yet another distinguishing note to the finished product. In addition to brine, smoke and leather are additional high notes, with subtle notes of vanilla, almonds, and apricots underneath.
I've never had a rum that I felt called for a good cigar quite like this does. Don't waste your time or this rum's qualities with a less than stellar cigar if you do. This calls for a nice Cuban, perhaps a Cohiba if you have one squirreled away somewhere.
As for the finish, its quite complex and lasts more than 20 minutes. This rum is the equal of the finest Scotches and bourbons in its complexity of finish. It starts smoky and briny and moves into some nice leather tones and then finishes with a gentle cedar and pencil lead note for the last few minutes.
I definitely recommend this one with an ice cube to open up its flavors a bit. Straight, it might be a bit tight, but one cube opened this up wonderfully.
If you haven't figured this out yet, I highly recommend seeking out a bottle of this rum. Right now, its the finest bottle of liquor in my quite extensive collection, something to be shared and savored with good friends. Trust me, if you are at Casa De Mayhew and I offer up some of this rum, be assured that I count you among my closest friends. I'm not wasting a drop of this on anything less. This is truly a magnificent product, and I cannot wait to try some of Murray McDavid's more recent offerings through Renegade Rum.

Friday, July 18, 2008

50 Plates Media Preview Dinner

I'd like to think that I'm not generally prone to hyperbole. I do get excited on occasion (usually about some obscure liquor that I've picked up at Corti Brothers, or I've seen a truly great bartender in action recently, but I've been involved with opening more restaurants than I'd care to count, and while some may have been better than others, after a while, its all the same thing. Opening a restaurant is a lot of work, and there are frequently several bumps along the way. In fact, while the public may get excited about an opening, frequently the staff can feel almost a sense of a letdown once previews start, leading to some less than promising starts for some establishments. Previews are especially hard as oftentimes only limited product is on hand and it can be next to impossible to accomodate our guests who may have a special request. I'm really happy to report that none of the above has happened with 50 Plates. In fact, the enthusiasm and passion that the staff is bringing seems to grow by leaps and bounds every day that we get closer.
This past Wednesday, we did our media preview dinner, which was a who's who of local media thanks to our phenomenal PR person, Bette Sinclair. I have to give Bette kudos for not just inviting the usual suspects, but also including great local websites such as Neighborhood Notes. As an aside, if you are a Portlander, Neighborhood Notes is essential to bookmark for local news and events of interest. Overall, we had approximately 50 members of the media for our event.
I don't want to mention too much about our food, simply because I think that its one of those things that you have to try for yourself. I will say that the food is fantastic from top to bottom, and our chef and his team are delivering one of the most creative and unique menus in the city. Its not an easy menu to execute well, but I'm delighted to see how well the kitchen has already formed into a cohesive team. Its going to be a real pleasure to work with this kitchen, and our chef Randall, well, I don't think I've ever met a chef more creative (and able to take a creative thought and turn it into good product) than him.
So, lets get onto the good stuff shall we? Cocktails. Suzanne Allard and I worked this event and we were asked to create a few of our signature cocktails for the event. We offered up a Ginger Collins, with Aviation gin, Clear Creek Pear Liqueur, lemon and club soda, the North Beach with Bombay Sapphire, Aperol, lemon and simple syrup, a Dark and Stormy with Gosling's Black Seal rum, house ginger beer (my recipe) and lime, and a Bourbon Marmalade Whiskey Sour featuring a 1/2 Seville and 1/2 Blood Orange marmalade that I designed specifically to go with the bourbon that we used, Buffalo Trace. Overall, I was very happy with the quality of the cocktails served, and even better, my first shift with Suzanne felt like we'd been working together for years. Suzanne is one hell of a bartender, and I'm glad to be working with her (plus, she appreciates vodka more than I do, which should work to our advantage).
We do have an ice crusher that we will be using for juleps, and I got someone to bring our julep cups in, so I did end up making a few mint juleps on the side as well. I'll just say, there are few drinks as good as the julep, and ours is a first rate julep. We might even explore some variations on the classic julep if things go well. As it is, I want to ensure that each and every drink that goes out to our guests is perfect, whether its made by me, Suzanne or someone else. Even in the middle of rush, we are going to measure each drink to ensure balance, structure and uniformity.
At the end of dinner, chef and I put together an adult root beer float with Barq's root beer, Navan (a vanilla cognac that I adore) and his Philadelphia style vanilla ice cream, which worked as a nice cap to the evening. Then, chef had prepared some of Mamie Eisenhower's recipe for fudge, and as our guests departed, they were given a nice box of the fudge to take home. That was the only downside of the night for me, I'd tasted the fudge earlier and was really hoping someone would decline so that I could have some more. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, so I think I'm going to have to bug chef for either another batch of fudge or the recipe.
I'm going to be behind the bar at 50 Plates on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Stop in and say hi when we open on the 28th. I'd love to show off our new place to you.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Completely Lucky Mistake

Several months ago, my friend Jeff Morgenthaler was kind enough to gift me with a bottle of his own, homemade gin. If you haven't read Jeff Morgenthaler’s guide to making your own gin, you really owe it to yourself to do so, its an interesting read and an even better experiment. Now I got my sample of Jeff's gin about a week before that post went up, it was really nice at the time I tried it, and then I put it in the refrigerator and promptly forgot about it (don't take this personally Jeff, I forget about everything as Raena can attest). Fast forward to tonight, when I was looking to make more room in the fridge and I came across the bottle of Jeff's gin again. I'd enjoyed it when I tasted it initially, in fact, I thought it was better than a number of commercial gins that I've had. However, the several months of cold and bottle age had added a complexity and depth that I was completely unprepared for when I opened up the bottle. Not only was this good, it was outstanding, it was if the flavors developed even more while they were in the bottle, which I assume is a possibility since this was cold infused versus distilled. Anyway, if you made a batch of Jeff's gin a while back, or happen to be lucky enough to be gifted some, start digging around in the back of your fridge for that bottle. You can thank me later.

Its coming! 50 Plates opens this month

Well, its almost here. The debut of 50 Plates is becoming a reality later this month. I'm excited to be a part of the bar staff there, as we have an embarassment of riches behind the bar. Andrew Finkelman, late of Alberta Street Oyster Bar and Grill is heading things up, joined by Suzanne Allard of Castagna fame (and at least two entries in Food and Wine's cocktail books), James Pierce (the best bartender under 25 in Portland) and myself. I'm pretty excited to be working with, and learning from all of these people and the closer we get to opening night, the more my anticipation grows.

Even cooler is that I understand that we've got one of the premier baristas in town to handle our coffee program. I've always wanted to learn more about coffee and espresso, so I can't wait to see what he has in store for us.

This will by my first time working in the Pearl and I'm really looking forward to it. Stay tuned for more updates.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Drink Du Jour- Rabo De Galo (Sao Paulo style)

This one is usually eyeballed in Brazil, but I broke out the old jigger anyway. This just went in a rocks glass with one ice cube to cool it down. This really brought out the "gasoline" flavors that I taste in cachaca sometimes. Rabo De Galo means "cock tail" in Portugese and this is a drink thats traditionally served up in a rocks glass. Anyway, not one of my favorites (even though I love Cynar) and I'll have to give it a go with some sweet vermouth next. I think I'm going to play with some traditional Brazilian cocktails for a while on here.

Rabo De Galo (Sao Paulo Style)
2 oz Augua Luca cachaca
1 oz Cynar
1 ice cube

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Product Review- Agua Luca Cachaca

I'll admit, I don't drink much cachaca. In fact, I tend to think that the majority of cachaca's that I've had are redolent of diesel gasoline, not something I usually want in my cocktails. I'm not even much of a rum man (cachaca being merely a subcategory of rum made from sugarcane and originating in Brazil), although I am looking forward to changing with my upcoming work at Beaker & Flaskwhere my good friend Kevin Ludwig is a huge rum fan. That said, the caipirinha is a great cocktail (and also the national cocktail of Brazil), and while seemingly a simple perparation, maddeningly complex to make correctly. I wouldn't walk into your neighborhood tavern and order a caipirnha tonight, but a good cocktail lounge should have bartenders capable of preparing this classic properly (if they carry cachaca).
As it is, only 1% of Brazil's cachaca production is for export, with the majority of that going to Germany, but the United States is starting to become a growing market for cachaca. In the Mayhew household, there are currently two different brands of cachaca in the house, an all time high. The reason for this is that the nice folks at Heaven Hill were kind enough to send me a sample bottle of Agua Luca Cachaca, along with a couple of other bottles of various liquor. I'm not familiar with Agua Luca (its not available here in Oregon yet), so I was intrigued by the bottle and especially the presentation. It comes in a bottle shaped not unlike that of Voss water , but with a clear glass fading into a blue green base. This is one of the prettiest bottles that I've seen in some time, almost the equivalent of the little black cocktail dress. It definitely hints that this isn't your run of the mill liquor inside. My wife commented that it looks more like a high end cologne bottle than the usual liquor bottle and its clear that a lot of thought and effort went into designing this package.
Upon opening the bottle for the first time, a sweet sugarcane nose became very apparent. Agua Luca has the best nose of any cachaca that I've personally tried, an alluring scent of the tropics and one that just seemed to reach out and ask me to mix it into something special.
Tasting Agua Luca was a revelation. This is a very mixable and versatile liquor, able to add some interesting notes to drinks where, say vodka or rum would be the norm. Even better though, when I tasted Agua Luca, I realized that I was drinking something that could best be described as sexy. I don't generally describe alcohol in these terms, but there was something raw and uninhibited about this cachaca, something primal and something that screamed sex. No wonder they dressed this bottle up. On the shelf, it sits and looks pretty, but once you pour it into a drink, hold on because this is one great liquor. I love mixing it with ginger beer and mint, two very flavorful ingredients and yet Agua Luca holds its own and complements both with its own unique taste. I've definitely got to stock up on this for the home bar, too bad its not in Oregon yet. I've got more drinks coming with this unique and versatile liquor, but I wanted to offer up my first creation with Agua Luca cachaca, the Seu Jorge cocktail named after my favorite Brazilian musician. This is a great drink for a warm July day, in fact, this was the drink of choice in our house on the 4th of July. Summery, spicy and refreshing, you can serve this tall with a little club soda on top to lighten it up if you'd like.

The Seu Jorge Cocktail
2 oz Agua Luca Cachaca (no substiutions please)
4 oz Ginger Beer
10-12 mint leaves muddled gently (peppermint please)

1) In the base of a double rocks glass, gently muddle 10-12 mint leaves to release their oils. Do not overmuddle.
2) add Agua Luca cachaca
3) add ginger beer
4) add ice, stir to incorporate, and garnish with a fresh spanked mint sprig to express its aroma


One More Update

Just so everyone knows, this summer seems to be filled with weddings and/or graduations and/or visits from out of town friends. So if I'm a little slow responding to people or seem just a bit stretched thin, well, this should pass by August.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Personal Tales Update

As we draw ever closer to the cocktail event of the year, its becoming even harder to announce this, but unfortunately, due to some family concerns, I won't be able to attend Tales of the Cocktail this year. No one is more disappointed about this than I am, but sometimes family must come first. Don't worry, all is well in the Mayhew household, but there is some family business that must be attended to. I love my family dearly and they just have to be my first priority at all times, and above all else. I'm going to be quite jealous of my friends who are attending, and it should give me plenty of desire to attend in 2009, but for now, its just not in the cards as much as I've really tried to make this happen.

I'd like to thank the Tales people and especially Paul Clarke for allowing me to participate in some of the events leading up to this years event. Perhaps I'll see some of you at this years Great American Distillers Festival in Portland next month.