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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Beetlejuice and vegan cocktails

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing

-Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”

Yeats was not talking about bug-based food dyes but let us stretch the metaphor, loving Yeats as we do.

After a teenage stint at veganism (a fine diet, if you have the time and money to spend pursuing it) I came of legal drinking age with a mind unruffled by ethical concerns where my alcohol was concerned.

But the world (and the Bay Area in particular) is full of cocktail enthusiasts with varying dietary and ethical requirements. Early in my California residency I bellied up to a bar where I was warned that my milk stout had lactic acid in it and I should choose another tap if I had lactose issues. That sort of statement made in Wisconsin would get you kicked over the border into Illinois.

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2017 James Beard Award finalists

It’s a week of announcements! Hard on the heels of Tales of the Cocktail’s agenda reveal comes the list of 2017 James Beard Award finalists, which includes these notable local cocktail bars and bartenders:

Outstanding Bar Program

  • Bar Agricole
    (Bar Agricole helped drive ethical cocktail sourcing. You can’t get a Campari drink at the bar, but you can get an amaro made from known ingredients that could be tracked from harvest to bottle.)

Book Award: Beverage Category

  • Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki, Martin Cate with Rebecca Cate
    (I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t take the award. It’s a beautiful tome, a friendly look at a niche category, and the photography of over-the-top decorated tiki drinks grabs the attention more than your average cocktail book. My copy is, of course, signed by Martin and Rebecca.)

Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional

  • Lance Winters, St. George Spirits, Alameda, CA
    (St. George is a font of local excellence and sass. Their Terroir is my ne plus ultra of gin.)

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Five non-industry people who will dig 2017 TOTC seminars

TOTClogoTales of the Cocktail has announced 2017’s seminars. As per usual it’s a superlative lineup of industry changes, enlightenment, and rollicking good fun.

I couldn’t help but notice major crossover appeal. Here are five non-hospitality-industry people who would get plenty out of the TOTC lineup.

History buffs

The schedule offers plenty of deep dives into our drinking past:

  • The Original Whiskey Writer: Alfred Barnard – Noah Rothbaum
  • We the People: Cocktails in the Colonies – Brian Maxwell
  • Great Hoaxes in Cocktail History – Robert Simonson (Simonson knows a thing or two about the topic.)
  • Sailor’s Joy: 400 years of Drinking at Sea – David Wondrich
  • From the Medicine Cabinet to the Liquor Cabinet – Noah Rothbaum
  • A Journey Into the World of Vintage Spirits – Edgar Harden

Librarians and academics

Get your sexy research on (and your cotton gloves):

  • Finding Classic Cocktails in the Dusty Archives – Philip Greene

Trekkies

We’re Next Generation devotees around these parts but there’s room for even  NuTrek under our umbrella:

  • Drink Well, Live Long and Prosper? – Claire Smith-Warner

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The once and future cocktail class

The problem with mixology classes aimed at civilians is the proliferation of Cocktail 101-level information. Fortunately, the demand for ongoing education and the area’s niche expertise appear to be forcing the evolution of local classes. Options are definitely improving for scholarly cocktail enthusiasts.

Plan your cocktail education with these upcoming opportunities:

Make Your Own Bitters workshop at the Oaktown Spice Shop
Oakland, March 14, $30
Coupe Tales expects to be in attendance. Oaktown Spice Shop has long been cocktail friendly; they offer a kit to make your own tonic syrup.

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Foraged Cocktails Workshop from ForageSF, May 2015

Artisan Foraged Cocktails Class from ForageSF
Oakland, March 19th, April 2nd and April 16th, $75
I have attended one of these before and very much enjoyed the lecture on my own local ecosystem and incorporating wild flavors into my cocktails. I went home with locally-driven, handcrafted bitters that I still use to this day.

Cocktail class series at Two Sisters Bar & Books
Hayes Valley, SF, March 13 (gin), April 3 (springtime mixology), May 1 (tequila and mezcal), $85
Two Sisters doesn’t wear its bookish charm skin-deep (unlike Novela): it walks the walk with a regular book club. While my experience with Two Sisters tells me its cocktail classes will be thoughtful deep-dives, which hopefully helps justify the steep price tag.

Of note is that Two Sisters has announced it is closing this summer. These classes are the last ones you’ll be able to attend there. Continue reading

The worm in the mezcal, the ant in the gin

In a throwback to college benders and unwise drinking choices, I was recently reminded that some mezcals still include a worm in the bottle. The spirit renaissance has lifted mezcal into such rarified company that it’s a blast to read this 1999 Straight Dope column about “tequila worms” and remember the disdain in which it used to be held.

Apart from some unwise choices in college, the majority of my experience with be-wormed bottles is from Poltergeist.

Horror movies to an impressionable child are damn near documentaries, so rest assured I steered clear of mezcal worms, cemeteries in the rain, cabins in the woods, and closed-for-the-winter hotels most of my life.

Which is why it’s terribly exciting that a new generation of coming-of age drinkers might be traumatized by gin ants!
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Peak rum bar

Approaching the rum bar tipping point

Put me down as a fan of bars with tunnel vision. Highly specialized bars offer superior education, a deep-dive for enthusiasts past the Mixology 101 mark, and an outlet for pricey or cult spirits.

But specialization invites certain economic realities. “A little speakeasy with 16 seats is great, but I’m sorry to say that you’ll never make a living,” Dale DeGroff told G-LO via DrinkWire.

Thus I marvel at the saturation of spirit-specific bars in San Francisco — specifically rum bars. Continue reading

Aquafaba is coming

Also, Gib’s is one of the best cocktail spots in Madison, Wisconsin.


Madison is the locus of politics and education in the state of Wisconsin, as it houses both the grand state capitol and the state’s flagship university. Boasting spectacular views and pastimes in the lush summer and snowy winter months, this odd isthmus city boasts more cultural creativity than outsiders expect.

This is to lay the groundwork for a bold claim: every time I drink cocktails in Madison, I discover something new before it begins to appear on Bay Area cocktail menus.

You doubt. I sympathize with your confusion but assure you that my years of ongoing investigation confirm the claim.

This time it’s aquafaba or, as it’s more commonly described, the liquid from canned chickpeas that you can whip up into a passable and vegan meringue. In cocktails it can serve as a frothy egg white substitute or simply as a silky note of texture. The first time I spotted it on a menu was at Gib’s Bar.
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The Shaddock

Before research taught me that a shaddock is an archaic name for grapefruit or pomelo, I disdained the cocktail name and simply called this one “My Favorite.”

shaddockowl
“Let’s have My Favorite tonight.”
  • .75 oz gin
  • .75 oz Aperol
  • .75 oz fresh lemon juice
  • .75 oz St. Germain

Shake with ice, strain, serve.

In addition to its bright citrus burst, the Shaddock offers a uniquely grapefruity flavor that is present in no single ingredient but miraculously appears when Aperol and St. Germain join forces. (The Humble Garnish pointed out that grapefruit magic with their Apparent Sour.)
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Thematic cocktail menus worth traveling for

Please send airfare. I’m firing up Kayak.com right now to balance the cost of a San Fransisco/D.C./Twin Cities jaunt against my burning need to experience these menus.

San Francisco: Drink your art with Trick Dog’s mural project

Trick Dog‘s blisteringly creative menus are among the very best the industry has to offer (a curious juxtaposition with its aesthetically cold echo chamber of a space, surely one of the least comfortable the industry has to offer).

Their current menu debuted January 8. Drinks are based on Bay Area local artists, each of whom created a mural in San Francisco for the project. The hard-copy menu at Trick Dog seems to be a printed book of photos, the sale of which benefits non-profits, so you can have your art and drink it, too.

sirronnorrismural
Sirron Norris mural photo by Sonya Yu via SFGate

The above mural by Sirron Norris (a friend of a friend of Coupe Tales, though we’ve never met) accompanies his namesake cocktail: Calle 23 blanco tequila, Cardamaro, fig, chamomile, cinnamon, and lime.

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