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.

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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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Smoke ’em if you got ’em

A glance at my scotch or mezcal collections should tip you off to my love of smoky flavors. Though those liquors are typically my go-to building blocks for a smoky glass at home, I’ve long marveled at the actual smoke employed to create some of my most memorable cocktails when dining out.

The full smoke

The formative moment of my smoky cocktail-sipping career, and the standard to which I hold all others, is this Vanilla Hickory Smoked Manhattan from Barchef in Toronto.

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Vanilla hickory smoked Manhattan, Barchef, July 2012

Crown Royal Cask 16, housemade cherry vanilla bitters, hickory-smoked syrup, vanilla cognac (also housemade, I believe), set in an antique cloche to pull in the flavors of smoking hickory chips and vanilla pods.

Once removed from the smoking bell jar the Manhattan and its hand-chipped ice sphere provided me with the longest, smokiest finish I’d yet experienced (at the time, I was not yet a scotch fan). By fully smoking the drink in its glass, the ice, glassware, and your very hand become part of the immersive experience.

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Barchef’s smoked Manhattan, out of the cloche and into my heart

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Come drink with us forever and ever and ever

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Left: Hedge Maze. Right: Overlook.

At any given moment The Shining is in my top three favorite movies (and jostling for first place). VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, 35mm (both whole and also slashed to hell from decades of projectionists slicing frames out of iconic scenes for their collection or enrichment), forwards and backwards, de/reconstructed in Room 237, aped in countless examples of pop culture: I have watched it whenever, wherever, and however possible.

When this great cinematic love meets my love of imbibing, I’m as happy as a guest at an Overlook Hotel party.

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“Great party, isn’t it?”

As San Francisco celebrates hosting the Kubrick Exhibition, I’ve tracked down a few places offering Shining-themed cocktails.

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Nuggets of wisdom

Gems I took away from the barstaff at The Miranda, which just soft-launched in Oakland:

  • A pinch of salt or dash of saline isn’t just useful in negronis and other stirred cocktails; try it in daiquiris and gimlets too.
  • St. George’s Rye gin is great in stirred drinks. Conversely, why use a fine flavorful gin in a sour where it could get lost?
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The reason I made a beeline for The Miranda. The Room 237: Gancia Americano, Cocchi Americano, lemon, Agricanto, sparkling rose wine. The room 237 keychain is my own (a beloved tchotchke from Borderland Books).

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From Eeyore’s Requiem to the Hundred Acre Failure

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This is not an Eeyore’s Requiem; this is alcoholic orange soda.

A photocopy of a photocopy. A jpeg resaved so often it loses all form. This is what I did to the noble Eeyore’s Requiem.

A friend reminded me of this delicious this bitter drink, and Serious Eats informed me of its noble pedigree: this is a Violet Hour original. (Love the Violet Hour. Love Serious Eats, for that matter.)

My friend said he’d held off making this until he found Dolin Blanc, which struck me as slightly odd since he isn’t the type to fear substitutions. Me, I fear few substitutions. And with supplies of Campari and Cynar running low, I thought I’d play with substitutions until I got a drink I no longer loved.

Theory: 5 or more iterations until undrinkability was reached.
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Themed cocktails at the Rickshaw Stop

Creativity isn’t limited to the contents of a glass.The Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco ennobles its relatively basic bar with thematic cocktail specials at its events.

For instance, Reeve Carney’s solo show boasted a Dorian Grey cocktail.

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Grey Goose vodka, orange juice, 7-Up, and cranberry juice is not my usual tipple but the Rickhouse had keenly intuited which of Carney’s roles brought me there that evening. It’s clever bar marketing that acknowledges the artist, gives in-the-know audience members a little wink, and highlights available drinks beyond your average venue choices.

Themed cocktails are everything.

The Martini Mystery: What’s the secret message in Shaken Not Stirred?

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I cannot guess the size of the Venn Diagram overlap of cocktail enthusiasts and codebreakers, but it’s safe to say it includes alcohol historians Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller.

One evening (it could have been afternoon) I was enjoying a drink (or two) at Comstock (that part is beyond dispute). In conversation with bartender Zach, I mentioned attending a talk that Jared Brown had given at Cafe du Nord in his capacity as a distiller of Sipsmith Gin.

“He’s stopped in here before, and he left a message in one of our books,” said Zach (who may have said something entirely different, but this is the gist). “Want to see it?”

I did!

Brown signed Shaken Not Stirred: A Celebration of the Martini (one of many books Comstock keeps handy at the bar) and left a breadcrumb:

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What’s the oddest garnish you’ve seen?

Whether present for flavor or looks (usually both), the humble garnish works hard to differentiate your drink.

Differing schools of thought rule the citrus peel. Many a mixologist has expressed a peel over my drink. But what happens next differs. Some drop the peel into the drink. Some circle the rim with the peel first. Others believe that rubbing the peel on the stem of the glass is the proper next step, as it leaves warm citrus notes on the drinker’s hand and adds to the nose of the drink.

I’ll update as I receive more interesting examples. Comments about your oddest garnishes are welcome!

Old-Fashioned Menus

The Old Fashioned is a contentious drink. Few others (and I say that with the certainty of someone who has done no research) have such distinct geographic divisions.

Not every article on the history of the Old Fashioned acknowledges this, so I refuse to link to a single one that didn’t do their homework on the northern Midwestern niche of Wisconsin’s brandy Old Fashioneds. Slate, though, did do some pretty great homework on the topic.

As have millions of salt-of-the-earth brandy drinkers:

Brandy Old Fashioned and fried cheese curds. #wisconsin

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Having reached the age of my majority in this little pocket of reality where Korbel is king, my interest is piqued by variations on the Old Fashioned. Here are some menus I’ve encountered:

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 Old Fashioned menu at Melrose Umbrella Company, Los Angeles, CA, 2016.

Old Fashioneds on tap. #cocktailstagram #oldfashioned #cocktail

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Above: Old Fashioneds on tap at Branchline in Emeryville, CA, 2015.
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