Recreating the best cocktails of Tales ’17

Heading into Tales of the Cocktail 2018 next week, I find myself thinking back to my top five cocktails of last year’s Tales. Some may prove continually elusive: will I ever have that many Rutte flavors before me ever again? Do I trust myself to experiment with chicken essence? Will I ever find the patience to make my own vanilla grapefruit shrub or track down a commercial version? Unlikely.

But I have attempted to recreate two of those top five.

IMG_20170720_124104397_HDRMequignon’s Pandanuze at TotC’s Do You Suze? 2017 Continue reading

Time Out San Francisco Bar Awards 2018

Instagram: @justnlstewart
The Smouldering Rose photographed by Justin L Stewart Photography

The last time Time Out handed out Bar Awards, I discovered a life-changing spritzer that shook up my opinions of that category. 

This year Time Out’s local event focused on dear old San Francisco and the ways in which its cocktail scene deserves a round of applause. And we’ve earned it — not least for our historical contributions to the modern state of craft cocktails. Need context for San Francisco’s influence, alongside New York and London, in reviving and evolving our drinking landscape? Check out Robert Simonson’s excellent book A Proper Drink.

So San Francisco is historically innovative. But what about today? I headed to the Time Out San Francisco Bar Awards to learn who won the prize for “Most Creative Bar Menu” and find out how that honor breaks down in terms of inspiration and perspiration.

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29 Negroni Variations You Can Make At Home

Campari Negroni

Seven days. Three ingredients. One simple way to give back.

That’s the motto of Negroni Week which returns for year six in June. Between June 4 and 10 more than 3,000 bars around the world will take part in what has become an annual holiday for cocktail enthusiasts. The main purpose of Negroni Week, a partnership between Imbibe Magazine and Campari, is to highlight one of the greatest cocktails ever concocted while raising money for a selection of charities.

Many bars play it safe during Negroni Week choosing to stick with the classic: one part London Dry Gin, one part Campari, and one part Sweet Vermouth, and served either on the rocks or up and topped with a twisted orange peel.

Negroni by Imbibe Magazine
Image from Imbibe Magazine

Some bars go further by playing with traditional variants like the Old PalWhite Negroni, or Boulevardier. However, every year an increasing number of bartenders go the distance by creating an in-house variant on the Negroni. Lucky for us, some of those bartenders kindly post the full recipes on the Negroni Week website.

The first iterations of this post were originally written for the defunct website UpOut which operated in five cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. During Negroni Week 2017 lists featuring Negroni variations from each of those cities were created. We thought it would be fun to go ahead and compile as many original 2017 recipes we could find into one list. Below you’ll more than two dozen variants of the Negroni created by some of the finest bars in the United States. You’re welcome.

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Watermelon Rose

…Watermelon Rose
Raise my rent and take off all your clothes
With trench coats, magazines, a bottle full of rum…

If I don’t commemorate it, I will forget. That’s how infrequently I create new cocktails.

The Watermelon Rose is a simple rum sour with some infusions in the mix. I don’t like watermelon, see, and when one arrived in my CSA I just looked balefully at it for a few weeks until the 11th hour. Compost or consume? I decided to drink it.

Threw cubed watermelon into a mix of rum (mostly Kirkland with enough Smith & Cross to make it funky).

While it steeped I decided to use up some dried cranberries in muffins. For more tender fruit, I soaked them for a day in Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao (80%) and Luxardo Maraschino (20%). This left me with a sweet fruit liqueur.

Gomme syrup adds mouthfeel, orgeat adds flavor. Add fresh citrus and baby, you got a sour going.

After days of puttering around the house chanting “watermelon rum” in my best Tom Waits growl, I actually looked up the lyrics I thought I was singing. Bother! He doesn’t sing “watermelon rum,” he sings “Watermelon Rose” and “bottle full of rum.” And so my drink found its name.

Watermelon Rose

2 oz. watermelon infused rum
.75 oz fresh lime (lemon is pretty good, too)
.25 oz orgeat (I like Small Hands)
.25 oz gum syrup (again, Small Hands is perfect)
.25 oz cranberry-infused curacao and maraschino mix

Shake with ice and serve.

Sour Flower Power Shaddock

Playing around with my signature cocktail, the Shaddock, resulted in this Sour Flower Power Shaddock.

flowersourshaddock
Sour floral Shaddock. Equal parts St. Germain, Aperol, gin, and fresh citrus juice (usually lemon). Tonight I added a touch of acid phosphate to play up the grapefruit notes of the drink.

I wanted to taste what happened with fresh citrus plus a few drops of acid phosphate. To soar above that sour punch, I used Geranium Gin for its strong geranium distillate.

Et voila! The Sour Flower Power twist on a shaddock.

Sour Flower Power Shaddock
.75 oz Aperol
.75 oz St. Germain
.75 oz Geranium Gin
.75 oz lemon juice

(I know, I know: better to shake than stir. But the mixing glass was at hand while the shaker was entire feet away.

Time Out Bar Awards Finale and the best spritz yet

The low-ABV trend stirs nothing more in me than polite disinterest. Brunchtime day drinking elicits a shrug. Frankly, I thought no spritz could move me. But at Time Out’s Bar Awards Finale at the Chapel in San Francisco, I found the lesson I needed to make me a spritz believer.

thedivinespicewoodspritz
Spicewood Spritz from Firehouse Lounge in Austin, TX. I don’t like spritzes. I loved this spritz.

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Evolution of the Walker Inn: an enthusiast’s perspective

thebarlineup
Kumquat toddies off Walker Inn’s Winter Citrus menu, served with dry spices and tinctures of cardamom, cinnamon, and star anise for a personalized cocktail. The foreground sunken ice bar chills juices and garnishes.

Writing about Los Angeles’ Walker Inn has been, since this blog began, both an imperative and an impossibility.

The Koreatown bar’s menus, themes, and approach to cocktails are of history-making importance in West Coast drinking. (As far as this amateur is concerned, they are California’s Aviary. Let more knowledgeable drinkers dispute that.) Writing about the Walker Inn, like drinking there, is obligatory.

But my three visits differed so wildly that I abandoned my unfinished story every time. What I loved about my first time at that unique bar was miles away from what mattered on the third visit.

Recently, Walker Inn staff themselves provided the key to finishing this story. Their “Bar Indepth: The Walker Inn, USA” seminar at Tales of the Cocktail laid out details from architectural design to lab equipment to income. Missing pieces fell into place as they explained the service evolution that allows them to serve more cocktails to the ideal number of drinkers at a pace that shows off their carefully planned menu and exquisite presentation.

In return, I know what the consumer gains and loses in this service evolution.

It turns out that the story I wanted to write — the loving paean to the place that gave me my benchmark for superlative hospitality — is an ode to a place that no longer exists. The Walker Inn still exemplifies theme, scientific creativity, and spectacle like nowhere else west of the Mississippi, and my admiration is largely unchanged.

But I have one critique.

Just one.
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Top 5 cocktails at Tales of the Cocktail

Over the course of one week at Tales of the Cocktail I sampled approximately 100 cocktails/spirits. (Why so few? I was a volunteer as well as an attendee, which meant no drinking for 15 total crucial conference hours.)

Acknowledging that every attendee’s list will differ, here are the cocktails that struck me most deeply:

#1 : Dale DeGroff’s Abeja Limeña

Event: Make It, Eat It, Drink It from the Trade Commission of Peru in Miami

Abeja Limena

This take on a pisco sour highlights the torontel grape’s aromatic notes against just the right citrus zing. Aromatic pisco (brand unknown, possibly Founding Farmers but I think DeGroff said it was a single-grape pisco), honey syrup, lime, yuzu, and a red shiso garnish. My goal in the next six months (hell, I may be haunted my whole life) is to find the right pisco and the right proportions of other ingredients to recreate this memory.
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Taste-testing tonics

tonics2Gin is my spirit of choice. I am therefore thrown into the proximity of many tonics. My go-to tonics are Fever-tree‘s Mediterranean or Elderflower tonics but I’m always looking for new flavors. Recently I did a taste test with some new tonics available at my local Emporium of Alcoholic Wonders (a.k.a. Berkeley’s Ledger Liquors).

Indi Strawberry tonic paired with Wollersheim’s Garden Gate Gin. The sodalike, quinine-light tonic offers strong fresh strawberry flavors (thankfully not a hint of artificial flavor), so I thought the fruit and herbs of the gin would play well with the strawberry. It was a summery combination but some heavy botanical in the combination didn’t quite suit.

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