Visit my latest project, The World Cocktail Brain, now hosted at The WCB is a new way to expand your cocktail knowledge, discover new recipes, find cocktail facts and more in a dynamic, new viewing environment. It may take a few seconds to load, but it's worth waiting for! Click on this link to open The World Cocktail Brain in new tab/window. Click on this link to open My Blog Roll embedded in The World Cocktail Brain.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Coctails

Watch out! Those Zombies can kill you.
Need cocktails for Halloween? Look no further. Here is a great selection of Halloween cocktail articles.  Have a great Halloween and drink responsibly. 

Portland Cocktail Week wrap-up

Volunteers set up for a whiskey tasting.
Portland Cocktail Week (PDXCW) is over, and now it’s time for reflection.  PDXCW was first organized two years ago by Lindsey Johnson of Lush Life Productions and bartender Dave Shenaut.  This celebration of craft cocktails and cocktail culture is “organized by bartenders, for bartenders,” and has a friendly, informal vibe.  PDXCW has doubled in size every year.  When I asked Lindsey how much she expected attendance to grow, I was surprised that she expressed misgivings about the event getting much bigger.  At the current size, she knows most of the people who are involved, and she is accessible to just about anyone who wants to talk to her.  If too many people start coming, PDXCW might change and become more like some of the larger, more commercial, cocktail weeks.

My posts have told you about a lot of the fun at PDXCW, but bartenders also come to the cocktail week to improve their craft.  Local Oregon Bartenders Guild is a chapter of the US Bartenders Guild.  All 34 chapters of the USBG were represented, with attendees traveling to Portland from 26 states for a total of around 500 bartenders.  Many bartenders also volunteer.  Volunteers are a key contributing factor to the success of PDXCW.  Volunteers help set up for tastings and events and pick up afterwards so that classrooms may be turned around quickly.  There were always volunteers available to pitch in and do what needed to be done.  

PDXCW has plenty of sponsors that provide support, sponsor events, and provide food and drink for tastings and other events.  On the sponsors’ page you will mostly see brand logos, but behind many of those brands are large corporate sponsors like Diageo and Pernod Ricard.  In addition to the sponsors, other craft bartenders devote days or weeks to develop seminars on topics referenced in other posts like molecular mixology or cocktail photography.  Camper English of Alcademics organized two days of seminars called the Drink.Write program on cocktails and writing with, of course, some tastings and fun thrown in. 

My apologies if any significant contributors were missed or if credit was misattributed.  Please let me know and it will be corrected.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Extra-curricular activities at Portland Cocktail Week

Vendor drink cards feature cocktails
made from new products.
After the long school day is over at Portland Cocktail Week (PDXCW), it’s time for extra-curricular activities.  As in high school, students are encouraged to participate because it will eventually help them gain admission to cocktail college.  Activities are sometimes held in the big tent at the Jupiter Hotel (a semi-permanent structure) and other times at local bars or clubs.  There is usually a band, a DJ, or some other entertainment, food, and (of course) cocktails.  On Tuesday night there were five different activities scheduled, beginning at 4:30, 7:00, 9:00, 10:00, and 11:00 PM respectively.  The first was hosted by Drambuie, who was celebrating Drambuie 15, a tasty concoction of 15 year old Scotch with the same spices as classic Drambuie, but only 1/3 the sugar.  A Drambuie punch was on offer as you came in the door, and it looked like there were three Drambuie 15 cocktails available, too.  One of the tricks to being able to navigate back to your hotel room after a number of these functions is to not drink everything that is offered to you, and not to finish every drink you accept.  Your success at doing this may vary with how much you enjoy each cocktail.

Rather than hiring a run-of-the-mill caterer for this event, Drambuie hired a food-truck to park outside the club and serve food on demand.  The food in question was poutine; the truck seemed to have twenty kinds of the dish that consists of french-fries smothered in cheese and gravy and more cheese.  Each mouthful of poutine seemed like another cholesterol-laden nail in my coffin, so I only ate a partial serving to ensure that the coffin was not firmly sealed and to leave some opportunity for escape from the tomb.  It was then, with only a little food in my stomach, that I decided to sample the cocktails.  My favorites were the Fortified Cup (Drambuie, Sweet Vermouth, Cocchi Americano, Punt E Mes, and lemon) and the After School Special (Drambuie 15, Orgeat, Angostura Bitters, lemon, and soda).  At this point I discovered another bar with three more cocktail recipes, and decided it was time to move on to the next activity.

The House of Zwack is a Hungarian firm that produces a nice Amaro named Unicum and is introducing a sweeter variation of it that is aged with plums in the barrel named Unicom Plum, and sixth generation descendant of the founder, Isabella Zwack, was present to talk about her family history.  They also were serving some Hungarian dishes that appeared to have a lower cholesterol content than the poutine.  Just looking at them made me feel healthier.  For cocktails, the House of Zwack not only had some original recipes, but had world-class bartenders serving them: Tim Philips (Hemmesphere, Australia) is Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year 2012, and Ricky Gomez (New Orleans) is U.S.World Class Ambassador Winner 2012.  Two of the cocktail suggestions had caught my eye, one was made with Scotch and Unicum, and the other with Rye and Unicum Plum.  I asked Tim for a recommendation, and he suggested the Safety Deposit Box (Unicum, Johnnie Walker Gold Label, Mezcal, and Bianco Vermouth with a twist of lemon).  It was an excellent, well balanced cocktail, and made by a great bartender to boot.

The night was still young, and there were only three more parties to go!  Even astute readers will have difficulty determining how much I had to drink, and so did I. Don’t forget that in addition to all of the cocktails and partial cocktails I had at the first two parties, that was building on the foundation of all of the damage I had done during my day at cocktail school.  While I’m sure that there were some hearty souls who made it to all five parties, I decided that I would not attempt to be among them, and caught a bus back to my hotel.  Before casting aspersions, just remember that two out of five means you’re batting 400.

A school day at Portland Cocktail Week

Samples of Jameson Whiskeys await tasting.
At Portland Cocktail Week (PDXCW), your day will normally start with a school bus ride sometime after breakfast.  Cocktail week actives do not tend to start too early in the day (10:30 AM is standard here), but as the week wears on 10:30 AM seems to come earlier and earlier.  The headquarters and venue for many evening parties is the Jupiter Hotel, and that’s where most of the “scholarship” students reside, but the daytime classes and seminars are scheduled for McMenamins Kennedy School Home, a school building that has been converted to a hotel full of meeting rooms, restaurants, and (best of all) bars.

This labyrinthine hotel seems to be short on maps, but the staff is very helpful, so the diligent student can usually find his or her destination.  Cocktail week classes operate on what is known as “bartender time,” which means they start late. My first class on Tuesday was “Modernist Techniques for the Cocktail Bar,” presented by Dave Arnold, Don Lee, and Tristan Willey.  The class ran over two hours and the key message was that these techniques should be used to make cocktails taste and look better and to create a better customer experience, not in an attempt to impress people.  After a discussion of the tools you will need to employ these techniques, along with safety considerations, the presenters wowed the students with the intensity of the flavors they were able to extract from herbs and spices and infuse into the liquors they gave us to sample.

The next class was a tasting of Jameson’s Irish Whiskeys.  Master Distiller Barry Crockett had been scheduled to appear, but had been hospitalized and had to be replaced by Patrick Caulfield, who very ably led us through the tasting.  After a brief history of Irish Whiskey and a discussion on its increasing popularity, Patrick talked about the four whiskeys he had brought for us to taste: Jameson Black Barrel, Jameson Gold Reserve, Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy, and Red Breast.  The first two blend pot and column distilled whiskeys, and the last two are both single pot still whiskeys.  The Midleton (~$350) has not yet been released in the US, and the US will only receive 12,000 cases, so Utah may not see much of this excellent whiskey.  We each had four wine glasses, each with about ¾ ounce of one of the whiskeys, and while the normal protocol at a tasting is to just drink a bit, all of mine seemed to disappear by the time it was over.

By now you will have noticed that Cocktail Week school differs from most other schools: they serve cocktails in class… lots of them.  My next class, “It’s not the size of your Barrels, It’s how you use them,” presented by Gable Erenzo, Hudson Whiskey Ambassador, was no exception.  This class was a little more scientific than most; it came with PowerPoint slides of tables and graphs that summarized the research on using smaller barrels to age whiskeys.  The findings were very interesting.  Small barrels greatly accelerate the aging of whiskey.  Rather than checking the barrels yearly and then perhaps monthly, small barrels must be checked monthly and then daily when they approach maturity.  60% of the flavor of a whiskey comes from the barrel, and while whiskeys age faster in small barrels, their taste at maturity will not match that of the same whiskey aged slowly in a larger barrel.  Gable led us through the tasting of four excellent whiskeys, including a white dog corn whiskey that was surprisingly smooth for not being aged.

The school day ended with a ride back to the Jupiter in a school bus where liquor samples were being poured and shared.  It was one of the more raucous school bus rides I have ever had.  When school is out, though, the day is only half over.  On this evening, there were four different extra-curricular activities scheduled.  They will be covered in the next post.

Dale DeGroff enthralls audience at Portland Cocktail Week

Dale DeGroff sings at the
2011 opening reception.
Cocktail luminary Dale DeGroff, often credited with kicking-off the modern cocktail revival, has taken the history of the American cocktail and his bartending experiences on the road in an (almost) one man show titled “Dale DeGroff – On the Town,” presented last night at The Living Room Theater in downtown Portland.  As part of the festivities scheduled for Portland Cocktail Week, this sold-out event presented a panoramic view of the history of the cocktail, an American invention.

Much of the time, DeGroff talks about his first love: bars and bartending.  He is a talented raconteur, and one gets the feeling that he is just scratching the surface of the stories he could tell about bars he has worked in or visited, and the gossip about the famous people who frequented those bars.  The multi-media presentation covers events in 300 years of cocktail history, from the rise of Rum in colonial America (George Washingtom owned five stills) through the cocktail glory days of the late nineteenth century and the down to the dark days of prohibition.  DeGroff’s own part of the story begins in 1969 when he went to New York as a young man looking for work, and continues through the cocktail revival until today.

On cue during DeGroff’s presentation, cocktails related to the era being described were served.  The drinks, some historic cocktails and others developed by DeGroff, included Punch Royale, The Fitzgerald, Absinthe Frappe, and a Major Bailey.  Dale has provided the recipes here.  If you have ever had the chance to meet Dale DeGroff, you know that he is one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people around, and his personality really comes through in his show.

If you love cocktails and cocktail culture, this is an event worth seeing.  The show usually only plays only one night, so if it might come to a venue near you, keep an eye on the schedule and buy your tickets early.  Ticket sales for the event, sponsored by Pernod Ricard and Hendrick’s Gin, benefit the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans.

Portland Cocktail Week opening reception rocks Portland

Bartender Kevin gives his opinion
of the "The Barry Wall" cocktail
Portland Cocktail Week opened with a boisterous reception in the Emerald Ballroom at Portland’s Tiffany Center.  "the Radical revolution" performed music that featured popular songs from the eighties. The music was very good and very loud. Early in the evening the vibe was more freshman sock hop than senior prom as the band played, but few people danced.  Later, as the cocktails flowed and the crowd warmed up, dancers began to fill the floor.

In keeping with the high school theme of the cocktail week, the room was outfitted like a school gym.  The pennants, however, were for Pernod Ricard brands (sponsor of the event) like Absolut and Altos (a new Tequila) rather than for teams like the Wildcats or Utes.  There was one major difference; there were drink stations all around the perimeter of the gym: it was never like that in high school!

The drink stations at a cocktail week function are normally staffed by one or two bartenders who make one or two drinks that showcase the sponsor’s brands.  Tonight was no different; there were new cocktails calling for Jameson’s Whiskey, Olmeca Altos Tequila, Absolut Vodka, Pernod Absinthe, and Beefeater 24 and Plymouth Gins. The best drink of the night was The Barry Wall (see photo), made from Beefeater 24, Carpano Antica, Orange Curaçao, and Orange Bitters.

Ginger appears to be holding its own as the go-to cocktail ingredient this year.  Several cocktails used ginger or ginger syrup or ginger beer. Jameson's had a whiskey cocktail with ginger syrup and a lime wedge. Altogether, Pernod presented three drinks with either ginger syrup or ginger beer.  One might say that the party was fueled by hot music and hot ginger.

Cocktail lovers and bartenders gather in Portland

Sunday evening marked the kickoff event for the third annual Portland Cocktail Week (PDXCW2012).  The 2012 edition, which runs from October 21 through October 25, boasts an expanded schedule featuring two days of seminars and vendor presentations directed toward professional bartenders on Monday and Tuesday, and even more seminars and vendor presentations targeted at writers and bloggers on Tuesday and Wednesday, with a final round of events on Thursday.  Attendance has doubled from 2011; 472 bartenders and cocktail professionals pre-registered and have come to Portland this year.  All 34 chapters of the US Bartenders Guild are represented, with attendees traveling to Portland from 26 states.

One of the reasons people come to cocktail weeks is for the festivities, and festivities there will be.  While the days are devoted to liquor oriented education on topics ranging from writing a business plan for a cocktail bar to cocktail photography, the nights are devoted to parties and celebration.  Tuesday evening seems to be the party peak; there are no less than four vendor sponsored events scheduled at different watering-holes around the city, and your correspondent will try to cover as many of them as is possible.

PDXCW2012 is not the only cocktail week, but it is rapidly becoming one of the ones to attend. Cocktail weeks are becoming more popular every year. New Orleans' Tales of the Cocktail is the most well-known; it lasts ten days and is likely to destroy the liver of anyone who attends the entire event.  Better known cities with vibrant cocktail scenes that host events include New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and London, so if you love cocktails and can’t make it to PDXCW2012, keep an eye out for an event in a city near you.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Portland Cocktail Week offers scholarships for Utah bartenders

Chassis the Robot won the 2011 PDXCW Human vs.
Robot Bartender Competition

Portland Cocktail Week is offering a great opportunity for Utah bartenders: scholarships to the third annual Portland Cocktail Week, October 21-25 2012.  The application is available online, and is humorous enough to be worth a read even if you’re not thinking of applying.  If you are interested, apply soon: places are going fast!

Scholars will be granted access to all parties, events, seminars, and tastings, and have their hotel rooms paid for, but must provide their own transportation to Portland and pay for most of their own meals.  While Portland is not “right next door” to Salt Lake City (unless you live on the east coast), flights are not unreasonably priced, and it’s drivable (640 miles) in a pinch.

Some of the highlights of last year’s Portland Cocktail Week include:

It was a great gathering, and this year’s is bigger, and is shaping up to be better.  To track emerging developments, follow @PDXCocktailWeek on Twitter.  While you’re at it, be sure to follow the @UtahMixologist.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cocktail ingredients Utah update – October 2012

Vieux Carré may be served up,
or on the rocks.
Utah cocktailians can rejoice that it’s October, and the colder weather means it’s time for cocktails that are brown, bitter, and stirred.  The Utah DABC State Liquor Stores number of items marked down seems to be returning to normal.  The number of items on SPA (Special Price Adjustment) this month (318) is almost flat against the 312 in September, but it’s not too late to get ready for cold weather cocktails by stocking your bar with October bargains.  So as the nights grow cooler and the early autumn days grow noticeably shorter, here are some cocktail ideas that, combined with these sale items, can reduce your monthly cocktail spend.

Now that Diageo markets a Rye Whiskey, we don’t have to wait for one to go on sale as long as we used to for Jim Beam Rye.  Bulleit 95 Rye Whiskey (CS# 027025 marked down 12% to $22) has been well-reviewed and rated as a good value.  Try it in a Rye cocktail like the Vieux Carré.  If you are into Bourbons, two good examples this month are Ridgemont Reserve 1792 Bourbon (down 7% to $28) and Woodford Reserve Bourbon (down 13% to $30).  If you want to make a very mellow Manhattan, try one with some Woodford Reserve. 

If you are tempted more by imported, brown liquors, there are a couple of good, blended Scotch Whiskies marked down, too, so if you’re looking for something to put into a really top-shelf Blood and Sand, you can get some Chivas Regal 12 Year ($32) or a bottle of Dewars Special Reserve 12 Year ($30), both marked down around 9%.  How about Rum? Appleton Estate Rums, are represented this month.  Appleton Estate V/X Rum (a blend of 15 Rums aged 5 to 10 years) is marked down 15% to $17 this month, try it in a Rum Old Fashioned. If you like dark Rums, Mount Gay Eclipse Barbados Rum is marked down 11% to $17, use it in your next Rapture

If even this late in the year, your taste runs to liquors of a lighter color, there are still some deals for you.  It seems like there are fewer Tequilas than normal marked down in October, but Familia Camarena Tequilas, one of my favorite brands for mixing, have the Silver and Reposado both marked down 10% to $18.  If you’ve never tried one, give the El Diablo a try.  Deals on Vodka this month include liter bottles of Absolut (CS# 034007 down 12% to $23).  (Great in a White Russian.)  You might also like to try Belvedere (CS# 034155, down 7% to $28) (or even Belvedere Intense) in a Vodka Martini.