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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Skulled Holiday Cider delivers a Halloween treat

It’s getting close to Halloween in Salt Lake City.  The frost is on the pumpkin, and there was ice on my pond this morning.  When an email arrived about making Halloween cocktails with Crystal Head® Vodka (yes, that’s the one that comes in a bottle that looks like a glass skull), it was obviously an idea whose time had come.  Crystal Head® Vodka (CS# 034152, $50) uses ancient glacial water from an aquifer in Newfoundland, Canada, and is filtered through 500-million year-old quartz crystals (known as Herkimer diamonds) after being distilled four times.  Created with the participation of screen legend Dan Aykroyd, Crystal Head contains “absolutely no additives.” It’s probably the purist Vodka around, and just about the smoothest I have had.  If you want to be impressed, read the legend of Crystal Head

One of my earliest memories of Halloween is going to a neighborhood Halloween party at the local FOP Hall where they served apple cider and powdered sugar doughnuts, so when I saw a cocktail recipe with apple cider in it, I was hooked.  Call it a nostalgia thing.  This drink is easy to make and surprisingly good, as a bonus, it will work as a summer cooler as well as a Halloween drink. The spiciness of the Ginger Ale plays off well against the vanilla liqueur, while the Angostura Bitters adds some depth.  Be sure to give this one a try.  If you enjoy your Skulled Holiday Cider, think of the Vodka Martini you could stir up with this great vodka.

Click here for all of my Halloween cocktails.

Skulled Holiday Cider
  • 1 1/2 oz. Crystal Head Vodka
  • 1/2 oz. vanilla liqueur
  • 1 oz. apple cider
  • Dash of Angostura Bitters
  • Ginger Ale

Add the ingredients in the order listed to a highball glass filled with ice. Give a quick stir and garnish with an apple slice on the rim or inside the glass.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Chambord Candy Apple Martini is a treat for Halloween

Salt Lake City is getting ready for Halloween.  According to my son and his GF, one of the picks this year is the Fort Douglas Cemetery tour, late the afternoon of October 29, featuring Clem, the fort’s resident ghost.  Another way to celebrate Halloween is with a Halloween cocktail.  One pick that popped up in my email this year is the Chambord Candy Apple Martini, featuring Chambord® Black Raspberry Liqueur.  Chambord Liqueur (inspired by the raspberry liqueur produced in the Loire Valley of France 400 years ago, and still made on the grounds of an historic chateau) is an infusion of raspberries and blackberries with the exotic flavors of black raspberries, black currant, Madagascar vanilla and Cognac.  Chambord is available in Utah (CS# 064676) for $33.  Chambord is an extremely versatile liqueur, doing yeoman service in cocktails like the Chambord Margarita Royale, a delicious variation on the classic Margarita.

Tuaca® is a “vanilla citrus liqueur” that is golden brown in color, originated in Firenze 500 years ago, and is available in Utah today.  Its ingredients include brandy, citrus (orange?), and vanilla. Tuaca is sweet tasting, with vanilla as the dominant flavor.  It’s available in Utah (CS# 077786) for $26.  Even though you only need a splash for the Chambord Candy Apple Martini, it’s worth picking up a bottle so you can try a Tuaca Tropical Margarita when Margarita season comes around again.  (Yes, it’s always Margarita season.)

Click here for all of my Halloween cocktails.
Chambord Candy Apple Martini
  • 1 oz. Chambord Black Raspberry Liqueur
  • 1 oz. Finlandia Vodka
  • 3/4 oz. Apple Schnapps
  • Splash of Tuaca Liqueur

Rim a cocktail glass with caramel (for a Halloween effect, use enough that it runs a little, but not so much that it drips off the glass). Add ingredients to a mixing glass 2/3 full of ice, stir until well chilled, and strain into the glass. Garnish with an apple slice.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Speed Rack ladies battle for bar cred

The Speed Rack National Tour came to town on the last day of PDX Cocktail Week as 16 lady bartenders competed to determine who would be the next Miss Speed Rack Portland.  The event, part of a nationwide program, was a benefit for breast cancer research.  In a round robin format speed competition, two ladies went head to head in each round, racing the clock to make four cocktails specified by the panel of judges.  The judges, a group of Portland cocktail cognoscenti, then tasted the results and added time penalties for:
  • Being a “little off” (0:05”)
  • Being a little more off (0:10”)
  •  Being barely drinkable (0:15”)
  •  Being terrible (0:30”)

Penalties could be assessed for each of the four cocktails in a round, so if a contestant became confused, they could really add up.  Tensions ran high, mistakes were made, glasses were knocked off the bar.  Each round was a little more exciting as the better contestants went head to head.  A crew of volunteers set up the two stations between rounds with a variety of mixing glasses, spoons and shakers for preparing the cocktails. Then the contestants had a chance to do some fine tuning on positioning and familiarization with the set-up.  At the starter’s signal, the contestants went to work on the four cocktails. Some made their four cocktails in series (one after the other), while others made them in parallel.  In the early rounds, some peeked at their ingredient lists, but by the later rounds they all knew their stuff and the times got faster.  When the Speed Rack National Tour comes to your town, be sure to attend to support breast cancer research and cheer on your local lady bartenders.

For more images from Speed Rack Portland, see my slideshow on

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Robots vs. Human Bartenders: the battle of the millennium!

The headline event for Saturday, the third evening of PDX Cocktail Week was dire: Robots vs. Human Bartenders.  That’s a title that summons the image of a sweaty John Henry in a torn wife-beater, coal-dust stained face dripping wet, holding a dented silver cocktail shaker.  The combat was staged at the Jupiter Hotel downtown, and combatants arrived from all over the country.  Some traveled in comfort, while others traveled in crates and had to be assembled here.  As a futurist, the Utah Mixologist can’t help but wonder: is this the future of the cocktail?  Robotic cocktail machines have been around for a while; human bartenders have been around for a lot longer.  Human bartenders make cocktails with care (most of them do, anyway) while Robot bartenders make them with precision (that’s the theory, anyway).  What is our goal? Quality or speed or both? These are deep issues, not to be trifled with.

There were three invaders from the future (and from the SFO area): Chassis, the drink serving robot (he’s available for parties), the Cosmobot Drinkbot (a.k.a. Lonestar One) built in the shape of a retro 1950’s rocket, and Drink Making Unit #2 (a.k.a. Short Circuit #2), a complex collection of beakers, pumps and test tubes.  Chassis was the only one with mobility, he could move around the room with a shaker full of ice in one hand and a stack of plastic cups in the other.  He was pre-loaded with a batch of Tequila Manhattans that flowed from a chrome spigot in the middle of his chest.  The Cosmobot Drinkbot, charged with dry ice, issued fog and three different cocktail recipes from the nozzle of his rocket (one of them a Cosmopolitan, of course).  DMU#2 was the most flexible recipe-wise, allowing you to select five ingredient units from a control panel (e.g. four parts Vodka and one part Vermouth) and then (after a wait) pouring them into your pre-positioned glass.

As the only robot with mobility, Chassis entered the arena (the stage) with three human bartenders.  The battle was won by Chassis, although one suspects that the judges chose him because he was the cutest!  This crop of robots is no threat to human bartenders in the short-term.  The long term future will be a different story.  Robots with mobility and manual dexterity will be able to make (not design) many cocktails as well as a human bartender when both speed and accuracy are considered.  Humans should hold the edge for artistry and entertainment value for a while after that, but commodity bartending, as well as many cooking jobs (fast food will be the first to go), will ultimately move into the robot domain.  Technologies at this early stage of development often appear ridiculous, but never confuse current appearance with long term potential…
For more images from Humans vs. Robots, see my slideshow on

Saturday, October 22, 2011

DonQ rocks the night at PDX Cocktail Week

The second evening of PDX Cocktail Week was highlighted by a bash sponsored by DonQ Rum called “DonQ Yacht Rockin Night” at Lola’s Room in the downtown Crystal Ballroom.  The room was decorated in a semi-Caribbean/Key West theme, the staff and guests were issued simulated old, beat-up yachting caps and old 70's & 80's tunes blared over the amp; there were even some models in hot pants. The mascot was a giant red crab (see photo). What was not to like? Later in the evening a live band named "Karaoke from Hell" showed up; it was everything you would imagine upon hearing the name. They played oldies like "Brandy", "Ring of Fire", and "Sunday Afternoon".

DonQ makes Rum in Puerto Rico, and offers a full line of different types of Rums.  Drink stations around the room each featured a different DonQ Rum cocktail:
Black Bitter Stirred reminded me of a Whiskey drink and tasted almost chocolaty, quite nice.  It was served up and is a great sipping cocktail. I think it was my favorite cocktail of the evening, it was made from Blackbeard Rum, Fernet Branca, Orgeat syrup, and lemon juice.
Cinnamon Rum Punch was a mixture of DonQ Gold Rum, Darjeeling tea, lemon juice, ginger liqueur, over-proof cognac, honey, ground cinnamon, with some Angostura Bitters thrown in for good measure.  It was quite tasty, the Rum & spiciness of the mix complimented each other. This was really good, too, my second favorite cocktail of the evening.
Okolemaluna Fizz ( Okolemaluna allegedly means "bottoms up" in Hawaiian) was a shaken cocktail (duh, it’s a fizz) with Blackbeard Spiced Rum, lime juice, Hawaiian Chili Syrup, egg white, cream, and Ginger Beer.  Thanks to the Chili Syrup and Ginger Beer, it had a spicy, piquant flavor. This is my third favorite cocktail of the evening.
RWC was a blend of DonQ Cristal Rum, lemon juice, Falernum, orange bitters, and blood orange soda.  There was a nice interplay between the falernum and the soda, and it made for a nice, refreshing cooler.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dale DeGrof at PDXCW Welcome Reception

Thursday evening was the Opening Night reception for PDX Cocktail Week held at Wilf’s.  The evening began with a memorable event: the Utah Mixologist had a classic Martini made-to-order by the hands of no other than cocktail guru Dale DeGroff, who was working the room with a cocktail cart like an itinerant bartender.  The current trend in cocktails is toward using a little more quality Vermouth in Martinis (fresh Vermouth, not the Vermouth that’s been in your bar since the cocktail party in 2008 (a.k.a. spoiled Vermouth)), so Dale made me a 3:1 Martini with Plymouth Gin and Dolin’s White Vermouth, stirred (not shaken) of course.  This was one of the cooler moments of the UM’s life, especially since he owns Dale’s cocktail books.  Unfortunately, there was no WiFi at Wilf’s, otherwise the news would have been live-tweeted!  While he was preparing my Martini, Dale mentioned that he wasn’t drinking himself because he was going to sing later in the evening.

The room was so dark that the camera on my iPad was almost useless: I could only get shots of the candles on the table, so I used my regular camera, and that’s where I got the above shot of Dale DeGroff when he treated us to his vocal stylings of jazz classics like: “Lulu’s back in town,” “I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter,” and “This is so nice it must be illegal.”  Dale was backed up by a nice jazz combo that played classics like “A-Train” throughout the evening.

 The reception was hosted by Pernod Ricard (well, we had to buy tickets!).  Drink stations were set up around the room, manned by stalwart bartenders (male and female), offering cocktails (classic and nouveau) featuring Pernod Ricard products like Plymouth Gin, Absolut Vodka, Avion Tequila (featured on Entourage), etc.  Avion was featured in a tasty cocktail named the Avion Paloma: Avion, Lime juice, Grapefruit soda, and a Lime wheel. The UM was in heaven, although as the evening wore on, the best strategy was revealed to be one of not finishing the cocktails so that more could be sampled.  This, as always, proved to be easier said than done.

Portland, as a renowned center of fresh produce, is big into infusions.  One cocktail was the MI6, which was a variation of the Vesper Martini with (if I remember correctly) pomegranate infused Absolute Vodka, sage infused Plymouth Gin, and Cinnamon infused Lillet.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Rob Roy: this Scottish outlaw may steal your heart

While reviewing the list of cocktail ingredients on sale in Salt Lake City this month (October, 2011) and wondering what cocktail to recommend for the Dewar’s™ White Label (CS# 004866, on sale), the Utah Mixologist realized that he had never written about the venerable (Wikipedia traces it back to 1894) Rob Roy cocktail.  There is a recipe for the Rob Roy in the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), although the proportions of Scotch to Vermouth (1:1) are not the ones in general use today (2:1). The Rob Roy is a classic Scotch Whisky cocktail, named after a famous Scottish outlaw (or after an operetta based on his life).  If you enjoy making Manhattans, you already know the recipe: just substitute Scotch Whisky for the Bourbon or Rye.

Connoisseurs of good Scotch will want to save their single malt for sipping, so any decent blended Scotch (e.g. Dewar’s™ White Label) is recommended for this cocktail.  Instead of Italian Vermouth, I ended up using my favorite sweet Vermouth (Quady Vya™, available in Utah (CS# 910764), keep it in the fridge once it’s open).  If you’re not a Scotch drinker, this cocktail will surprise you; if you’ve never had one, you’re in for a treat.  Feel free to experiment with different ingredient ratios, depending on the Scotch you’re using, and let us know the results.

Rob Roy

  • 1 oz Italian Vermouth (Sweet Vermouth, like Quady Vya)
  • 2 oz Scotch Whisky (use blended, like Dewar’s)
  • 1 dash (1/8 teaspoon) Angostura Bitters
Pour ingredients into a mixing glass half full of cracked ice.  Stir briskly until well chilled, and strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a cocktail cherry and enjoy while it’s icy cold.

Cocktail ingredients Utah update – October 2011

It’s October in Salt Lake City.  As we enjoy a nice spell of warm weather, a new set of “Special Price Adjustments” is in effect at the Utah DABC State Liquor Stores; new, but not overly generous.  I was surprised at the scarcity of SPA-tags this month when strolling through my local outlet (perhaps they’re getting ready for Christmas?).  There’s not much available in the Bourbon category this month.  If you like single barrel Bourbons, Woodford Reserve® ($30) and Ridgemont Reserve 1792® ($28) are on SPA this month.  While these are both good sipping Bourbons, they also make fine Manhattans

Lovers of Brandy cocktails will be pleased to find that E&J® XO Brandy is on SPA for $14 (a 12% reduction); try it in a Sidecar (or any other cocktail), where it will hurt your wallet far less than using your favorite Cognac.  For buyers of sparkling wines, one of the “value” brands is marked down.  Some Barefoot® Bubblies are marked down 20%, to $10.  They make great Chambord and Champagne cocktails.  There is also the usual variety of wine varietals on sale, some marked down as much as 50%.
There is a decent selection of Scotch Whiskies on sale this month.  If you’re looking for something suitable to put into a Rob Roy or a Bobby Burns there is the esteemed Dewar’s™ White Label (CS# 004866 and highly recommended for both of the aforementioned cocktails) and a small selection of Scotches available, including 12 and 15 year olds from Glenlivet® and Glenfiddich®, in case you’re looking for a nice single malt sipping Scotch. 

Sad to say, there is only one Gin (Broker’s®) marked down this month, but if you like Vodka Martinis, Ketel One® (it’s great with a lemon twist) is marked down 8%.  If you like Rum, Mount Gay Eclipse® (Barbados) is marked down 11%.  Try it in a Rum Old Fashioned.  Appleton® White is marked down, too.  Tequila lovers will be greeted by a near desert on the Tequila shelves, there are almost no Tequila SPAs (three!), and nothing special (although some especial). As usual, the number of Rye Whiskies marked down this month is low: zero. 

Items on clearance this month mostly include the usual mass of miscellany, no outstanding brands with perhaps one exception: Glenfiddich® Snow Phoenix (CS# 004999) is marked down from $94 to $77, but that’s a little too expensive for mixing in cocktails (perhaps a little early Christmas shopping for Dad?  This may be hard to find, so be sure to call ahead).  If I missed something good, stock up and then share with other readers by posting a response to this column.  As to any other sale or clearance items, if you see anything at your local state store that other cocktailians might enjoy, post a response to this article.  See the following list “Suggested by the author” for information on how to use the Utah DABC website.  You can check out what else is on sale (e.g. the wines etc.) by clicking through to the “SPA Product List” to open a price book in PDF format that shows all of the markdowns for the current month.