Monday, September 29, 2008

Product Review- Mata Hari Absinthe

Absinthe. Its the hot thing in the liquor market right now. It seems like every company is rushing to get an absinthe to market as soon as they can. Personally, while I really enjoy St. George and Trillium absinthes, I've found that a number of the early absinthes getting into the market lack balance and that certain sense of elegance that separates the great absinthes from the also rans.

I recently received a bottle of Mata Hari Bohemian absinthe for review. Its an Austrian absinthe, apparently distilled from the original recipe from the 1800s. Its definitely got a pronounced herbal flavor profile, something I much prefer over absinthes with a more anise forward profile. Mata Hari uses Grand Wormwood and Salvia as the main flavoring components to provide the herbal notes in this absinthe, bringing a depth of flavor with an edge of bitterness. What is missing is Petite Wormwood, which has a more subtle flavor, but reduces the bitterness of Grand Wormwood and provides a haunting quality found in the very best absinthes. From what I've been hearing recently, almost the entire crop of petite wormwood in Europe is sold to vermouth producers under long term contracts. I'd be very curious to see if Mata Hari adds petite wormwood into their formulation in the future if the European market opens up in the next few years.

As it is, Mata Hari comes in at 120 proof, but I notice the alcoholic burn more than I do with a similar absinthe with the same proof, Trillium. When I tried Mata Hari as a traditional absinthe preparation, using 1 oz of absinthe, 1 sugar cube and about 4 oz of water, I found it a bit austere for my tastes. It louched slightly in the glass, but once the cube had dissolved on the spoon it was perhaps the prettiest glass of absinthe that I've ever laid eyes on, truly the Green Fairy. I actually added some simple syrup to the drink to sweeten it a little bit to my taste and I really enjoyed the drink quite a bit more. This is an absinthe that calls for a bit more sugar than a typical preparation, but finding the right balance with this absinthe was worth the effort. Mata Hari has a long finish, 10 minutes or more, and the extra sugar was necessary to push past the bitterness to bring the complex underlying flavors out.

Mata Hari shines brightly in one of my favorite cocktails. I found that the dryness and herbal tones of Mata Hari absinthe complement a sazerac cocktail perfectly. In fact, I think Mata Hari absinthe is probably best used as a component in cocktails. When I added it to my usual sazerac recipe (Sazerac rye, 4 dashes of Peychauds, 1 dash of Angostura, a splash of simple and a lemon twist), the Mata Hari added a depth to the cocktail that anise forward absinthes just can't achieve.

Overall, I'm glad to see more absinthes come to the market. Mata Hari is an interesting product, one that I like, especially for my sazeracs. In fact, I think I might have one right now.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Product Review- Veev Acai liqueur

I'll admit, I was a bit skeptical about reviewing a product that bills itself as a replacement for vodka. I'm pretty well known for my aversion to most vodkas, and, other than reviewing vodkas once in a while, its not something I consume. However, I personally find Veev acai (pronounced ah-SIGH-ee from what I understand) more along the lines of a liqueur than a base spirit as it comes in at 60 proof and does have a pleasant sweetness to it.

Part of my aversion to vodka is that it has no character, by definition. Veev acai though, has a very distinct flavor, overall very fruity but cherry leads on my palate and I honestly don't get much acai until the end. Trust me when I tell you that I took one for the team,as I ran down some acai juice to sample for this review (I thought it would be fun to use Veev with acai juice to make a super healthy, anti-oxidant cocktail), sampled it straight and, well, lets just say that its not the most pleasant juice I've come across. It definitely tastes like its good for you, bitter, bitter stuff. I think I'll use the remainder of the juice to spray on my houseplants to keep my cats from eating them. Thank god the Veev people have managed to incorporate only the tastiest part of the acai berry, and by blending it with acerola cherry and prickly pear cactus, have achieved a really unique and tasty flavor profile.

One of the things that impressed me most about receiving this bottle of Veev was the promotional information contained within the package. Printed on recycled paper with soy inks, it explained Veev's commitment to enviromental causes, and I can always admire a company that puts its money where its mouth is. I wish more companies were as socially concious as Veev.

So far, my favorite way to enjoy Veev acai is simply mixed with tonic and lime. Its a refreshing and very different departure from my usual Sapphire and tonics, an original reinterpretation of a cocktail classic.

I'd carry Veev in my bar once its listed in Oregon. Its going to occupy a unique niche in the market, and I think that the level of success Veev achieves is really going to be dependent on bartenders offering this unique product to their patrons. This is a product with a bright future, and I'm excited to see what the future holds for Veev acai.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Great American Bartenders- Murray the Blur

If you know Murray, you'll understand why they call him Murray the Blur. Even better, I tried and failed to take 6 shots of him. Each one is blurry. I think his name is appropriate.

And don't call him Manny.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Product Review- Sobieski vodka

Damn Sobieski vodka. First off, I'm not even supposed to admit to liking vodka even a little bit. I'm a gin guy when it comes to clear spirits, even going so far as to occasionally offering people "juniper vodka" in their drinks. I find most vodkas insipid, lacking flavor and appealing to the lowest common denominator. Even well made vodkas don't hold a ton of appeal for me, the idea of paying $40 for a bottle of something with little character makes me cringe. At 50 Plates, I carry Goose and Ketel One, but no Stoli, instead focusing our limited vodka selection on American artisan brands like Medoyeff, Hangar One and Lovejoy.

Then I got a bottle of Sobieski to taste. Its a luxury Polish rye vodka (the best of the best imho), with an $11 price point! Naturally, I was pretty suspicious. When I tasted it Sobieski, I found a vodka that can compete with its competitors at 4 times the price, its got a nice spiciness from the rye, but with subtly sweet rounded finish. I couldn't believe my taste buds. So I did what any self respecting bartender should do, I brought it into the bar and made martinis with it.

While I'm not a vodka afficionado, vodka drinkers who drink martinis seem to be the most discriminating and brand concious group of vodka drinkers out there, so introducing new product to someone who may have been drinking Stoli martinis for the last 10 years isn't the easiest thing. I was pleasantly surprised by people's reactions to Sobieski. Usually, after tasting their martini, they would ask me the name of it, where they could get it, and how much does it cost? Those are pretty great questions to be asked when you are introducing a new product behind the bar, and I am happy to say that Sobieski is now a limited listing product in Oregon, with a retail price of $11. I'm hoping to blow out our well vodka, Monopolowa, and replace it with Sobieski in the well. For $11 a bottle, no other brand can compete on price or flavor.

One more thing. If you look closely, you'll see that the bottle in the picture is empty. Thats right, it was so popular when I brought it in for tasting that we blew through that bottle in a couple of hours. I was planning on taking a better picture, but I think the empty bottle says it all. Sobieski is going to be the house vodka at Casa De Mayhew from now on, I've never seen a better vodka at a better price. This is great great stuff, don't miss out.

OBG Bartenders Chef Collaboration Cocktail

Plum Chutney Cocktail
1 bar spoon plum chutney
2 oz Bombay Sapphire Gin
1/4 oz Averna amaro
1/4 oz rosemary simple syrup
1/2 oz blueberry vinegar
2 dashes Fee Brothers lemon bitters
splash of club soda
lemon disk twist

Jenn Lewis of Lincoln Restaurant and I collaborated on this drink, and I couldn't be happier. Jenn created the plum chutney and I put the cocktail together using that as a base. As soon as I tasted the chutney, I knew that Bombay Sapphire was going to be a great match, and the Averna amaro added just the right amount of bitterness to this drink. This is one I could easily throw onto a cocktail menu and be proud of.

By the way, if you live in Portland and haven't dined at Lincoln, get over there. Jenn's food is amazing, the service is outstanding, and its easily one of the nicest spaces in Portland. I'm lucky to live within walking distance of Lincoln, and I couldn't have asked for a better chef to collaborate with on this cocktail.

Great American Bartenders- Keith Waldbauer

I'm going to start trying to post pics of great American bartenders, practicing their craft on their home turf. Sorry for the shitty pic, but it was dark and all I had was my iPhone. Above is Keith Waldbauer, bartender extraordinaire at Seattle's. Union restaurant and one of the few professional bartenders who blogs ( I love Keith's writing, his cocktail list is one of my favorites and I was very impressed with the cocktails that he made for my wife and I this past weekend.

Mixology Monday- The Stone Fence circa 1806

This round of MixMo is hosted by the fine people (who I very briefly met at the TearDrop Lounge here in Portland) over at Why I don't have them linked on here is probably more of a reflection of my general laziness and fear of screwing up my blog settings than anything else, but I digress. The theme this time is 19th Century Cocktails, definitely a subject I approve of.

I actually make Stone Fence's, in fact, in my recent consultation for Belly Timber, a local restaurant in Portland, I put the 1852 Stone Fence ( Buffalo Trace bourbon , nonalcoholic apple cider, bitters) on their cocktail menu with great success. However, with this post, I'd like to explore an earlier version of the Stone Fence, one that is less commercially viable today, but interesting nonetheless. I'm calling this the 1806 version, because earlier incarnations of the Stone Fence used hard cider, and because on May 30, 1806 Andrew Jackson killed a man in a duel because the man had accused his wife of bigamy. That seems as good a reason as any to challenge a man to a duel, and it seems to me that heavy consumption of Stone Fence's could make it much easier to challenge another person to a duel, so lets limit these to 3 or 4 on a Friday night ok kids? Unless, of course, you'd like to be facing your next door neighbor with .22s at 20 paces. Don't believe me? Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain boys were toasted on Stone Fence's before they found the bravery to take over Fort Ticonderoga. This is a cocktail to treat with respect.

Anyway, lets get back on track shall we? The earliest versions of the Stone Fence were whatever hard brown liquor Colonial settlers had on hand (usually rum) simply cut with hard cider. Lacking any really nasty New England rum, I decided to use a 3 year old rum from the oldest continually operating rum distillery in the United States. Old New Orleans Amber is a tasty tasty rum, well made and well suited for this cocktail. Next, and inauthentically, I added two dashes of Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel bitters for some complexity, a few rocks, and topped it off with some Hornsby's hard cider. While admittedly not as complex or compelling as later versions of the Stone Fence, at least to my 21st century palate, its still a potent and refreshing cocktail. I'm halfway into this one, and already craving another.

Duck a l'Orange

I'm one of those Gen Xers, stuck at the end of one era and the beginning of another. I didn't grow up with computers everywhere (I remember seeing my first one, a Radio Shack TRS 80 btw), and I remember seeing my first VCR at Ross Taylor's house when I was a kid. As for food and cocktails, we Gen Xers have lived in some interesting times as well. My parents were (and are) gourmands before the advent of FoodTv and celebrity chefs. As a child, I grew up eating in the finest restaurants in the country from a young age. Chez Panisse? My parents were some of the first customers there. Cocktails? They basically didn't exist back then. My father was a rye Old Fashioned man, a choice that I adore, however, the Old Fashioneds that I drink today are a far cry from the muddled, gritty messes he must have consumed regularly. In my childhood I also caught the tail end of "Continental" restaurants, heavy Americanized French meals served by waiters with fake european accents which were considered the height of culinary sophistication in the mid 1970s. Sole Amandine, Coquille St. Jacques, and of course, my childhood favorite, Duck a l'Orange.

I think my favorite version of this dish from my childhood was from Maxwell’s Plum in San Francisco (in Ghiradelli Square where McCormick and Kuletos now sits, this was an outpost of the NY original), right across from Modesto Lanzone's, where I first learned to enjoy true Italian food. To me, as a child, duck a l'orange represented something adult and sophisticated, and yet, even better for a kid, it was delicious.

So why am I rehashing childhood memories on a cocktail blog? Well, I adore Grand Marnier, and I really hope to be able to attend their Mixology Summit in 2009, so I need to keep the creative juices flowing right? Plus, I was in Seattle over the weekend and I came across a jar of duck fat right about the time I was trying to create something new with Grand Marnier, so it seemed like it was meant to be. I enjoy fat washing flavors into alcohol, so duck fat into Grand Marnier shouldn't be too much of a stretch for someone who makes bacon bourbon. I'll give this a couple of weeks (although I'm sure that a few days would be fine) before I strain it and try to add it into a cocktail. My thought is just to serve it up (maybe a little oj to cut the sweetness) and a duck cracklin as a garnish.

Your thoughts? What childhood dish would you like to see recreated in liquid form?

Btw, this is simply one fifth of GrandMa with 11.78oz of duck fat mixed in. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Milo Rodriguez and Bombay Sapphire

So I've been a bit overwhelmed with the OBG, GADF and sundry other tasks, AND I'm just getting over a bad cold, so I'm even more behind than I was when I started admitting just how behind that I am on my blogging. Plus, I've had the worst writers block ever. I think it might have just been stress, but this blog, which I started as an exercise to hopefully write as well as Shoshanna Cohen one day, turned into a task so I needed a bit of a break.

Luckily I got one when I got to compete on Labor Day in the Bombay Sapphire/ GQ Magazine most inspired bartender contest. I was first loser, but I got to pour a cocktail for Milo Rodriguez, and friends and family came out in rowdy droves to cheer me on, so the night counts as a success.

Even better, the next day, JP (of 50 Plates) and I attended a private luncheon with Milo and a few of the other bartenders from around town. I have to say, and I've met quite a few, but Milo Rodriguez is the embodiment of what it means to be a brand ambassador. He is knowledgable without being arrogant, friendly, humble and an absolute kick in the pants. He presented a short class on the John Collins, let us play around a bit with the Collins, and then treated us to a nice lunch at Oba (well, I'm sure I owe Jason Moore of Bacardi Brands a thank you for that too).

The next evening, I had the opportunity to take Milo, Jason, and Kyle (also of Bacardi if memory serves me right) out a bit in Portland to show off our local cocktail scene. We met at TearDrop where David Shenaut and Evan the new guy (I'm sorry Evan, I'm blanking here) were holding court with thier usual fabulous assortment of inventive cocktails. Next, we headed over to 50 Plates, where Suzanne and JP were holding down the bar. JP made us all a round of drinks, including a top flight Sazerac and one of his killer mint juleps, Chef Randall came out and said hi and sent some of 50s great desserts out for Milo to try.

Next, it was on to Ten01, where Kelley had (unfortunately) already closed for the night, so off to Clyde we went. Nate Tilden, the owner, was there, and he and Milo seemed to hit it off immediately. Tommy Habetz, one of my favorite people in Portland was at the bar, and Ben Bettinger, soon to be chef at Beaker and Flask (I can't wait) was on his way out, so I got to introduce Milo to some of the better talent in back of the house as well.

I've heard a rumor that Milo is coming back to Portland in October, and I'm definitely excited about the opportunity to make some more cocktails with him, and more importantly to learn from him. Having someone like that in Portland was a personal thrill for me, and while he may have arrived in Portland as a brand ambassador, he left as my friend.

In other news, Ky Belk, of Elway's Steakhouse fame and imho the best bartender in Colorado popped in very briefly to 50 Plates before heading back home. I wish I could have spent some more time with the man, but, as happens, Ky and his better half fell in love with the Oregon coast. At least I got the honor of serving him a cocktail.

I'm taking this weekend off to do a little tourism myself. I'm headed up to Seattle for theatre and perhaps a few cocktails along the way. I'm definitely interested in hitting Union to see Keith Waldbauer, and I'd love to try to squeeze in to Zig Zag to see Murray in action, but this trip is really about pleasure, not cocktails (not that they are mutually exclusive, but this is more of a couples trip than a boozing it up, late nights in Seattle trip, you know?).

Oh, a few other really cool things happening in my life right now. First, this Sunday, I'm lucky enough to be part of the next OBG event which happens to pair chefs with bartenders to create cocktails. I'm lucky enough to be paired with Jenn Lewis of Lincoln, and I'm really really excited to do this with her. Also, on Tuesday, apparently Chef and I are being interviewed for some local tv show. Every time I'm interviewed with a camera in my face I get crazy thoughts that just run through my head constantly. I'm always afraid that I'm going to burst out in song or say something a little off when there is a camera in the room, just so all of you know.