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Monday, October 28, 2013

Cripple Creek rocks out at Portland Cocktail Week

Cripple Creek mixes and pours cocktails live on stage.
Tuesday night’s Portland Cocktail Week (PDXCW) bash was “An Evening with Cripple Creek” at the Star Theater in Portland, which was billed as a “live multi-sensory cocktail experience”.  While a key component of PDXCW is Bartender Education, and the well-attended classes show how important that is, a cocktail week would not be a cocktail week without a shaker-full of parties, too. 

The event is a total cocktail experience, with loud music, rock-star bartenders, cocktails with coordinated scents, paired lighting and DJ'd music by Michael O'Rourke, and a turned on audience.  While Aaron Polsky of Amor y Amargo, Damon W. Boelte of Prime Meats, and Mayur Subbarao of Bittermens Spirits and Dram cavorted and mixed cocktails on stage, PDXCW volunteers waited to dash along roped-off access routes to get cocktails to every member of the audience almost instantly.

The size of the audience dictated that glassware not be used, so while a large batch of cocktail was being mixed by the rockers on stage, six or eight large trays full of one-ounce plastic glasses were ferried in and placed on tables at the front of the stage, ready for the pour.  These might be empty, or contain ice, or perhaps a garnish.  When the theatrically mixed concoction was ready, it would be carefully (LOL) poured into the mini-glasses and then run up to the crowd by the volunteers.  Audience members were encouraged to drink as many of the mini-cocktails as they wanted.  All things considered, most were fairly good and only a couple were so-so (out of around eight); not bad, actually.

The process seems to poke a little fun at molecular mixology and rock-star bartenders, with dry ice, fog, grated truffles, drops of liqueur dribbled or mists of scent broadcast into each of the one-ounce cups (and there were a lot of them!).  At the same time it showed what you could do with these tools.  Cripple Creek seemed to combine known cocktails with some originals (or original ingredients) to create a fun, multi-sensory evening.

US launch of high-end Beefeater Burroughs Reserve Gin at PDXCW

Beefeater hosted a tasting of its new Burrough’s Reserve Gin Wednesday as part of Portland Cocktail Week (PDXCW) and the Gin’s American launch.  Master Distiller Desmond Payne was present at The Rookery at Raven & Rose in Portland to present his new Gin and to talk about its development.  The new, hand-crafted, ultra-Premium Gin is named in honor of Beefeater founder James Burrough and begins by using Burrough’s original 1860s recipe and an original copper pot “Still Number 12” that has a capacity of only 268 liters (about 70 gallons).

Mr. Payne has been making Gin for 46 years and, as designer of Beefeater 24, definitely knows his business.  He believes that Gin is coming back in fashion, and wanted to create a Gin that would appeal to specialists.  Beefeater still uses the original recipe from 1860s, but in more industrial size batches.  One of Payne’s first discoveries was that when he made the much smaller batches in the original pot still, it changed the character of the Gin.  He reported that the first time he tried putting it in wood, he didn’t really like the result, but experimentation and perseverance bore fruit when he tried used French oak Jean de Lillet (an aperitif) barrels.

The barrels add a new dimension to the Gin, but they may only be used twice before their taste contribution is exhausted.  Even then, the second fill doesn’t taste quite like the first, so barrels from the two fills are blended to achieve the final result: an excellent, ultra-premium sipping Gin.  Special, two-part glasses were designed for tastings to show off the different characteristics of Burrough’s Reserve (see photo).  Payne states that the Gin is best when stored in the freezer and sipped undiluted.  We were given two portions of Gin: one in the top saucer-like glass and the other in the lower columnar glass.  The top glass brings out more fruitiness and some of the wood, while the bottom glass brings out even more wood and emphasizes the contribution of some of the botanicals.  The bottom glass delivered my favorite sensory combination, and I soon poured my top glass into the bottom to enjoy more of my favorite flavor.

Burrough’s Reserve is intended to be sipped, and goes well with dried fruit and cheese.  It is pale gold in color, it is rested in wood, but not aged like a Whiskey.  Cocktail recipes are available, but I recommend enjoying this one as intended.  It is expected to retail for around $70 a bottle in the US, but the small batch size (each bottle bears the number of the batch and the number of the bottle) means it may be hard to find.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Vraie Absinthe tasting at St. Jack in Portland for PDXCW

Pernod has announced the re-launch of its original Absinthe formula, and hosted a comparison tasting of the two products at Portland Cocktail Week (PDXCW) Monday.  After Absinthe was outlawed in the early twentieth century, the “real deal,” when it could be found, was known in France as “la vraie Absinthe.”  Absinthe was reputed to have hallucinogenic powers due to the presence of wormwood and would be banned for almost a century.  In reality, Absinthe is not any more dangerous than other distilled spirit, although its high ABV (as high as 74%) probably made it popular among alcoholics who might have been prone to hallucinations anyway.  It is also true that the French wine industry wanted it banned because people were drinking more Absinthe and less wine.  (Learn more of the history of Absinthe on Wikipedia.)  Within a few years, the Pernod company had a pastis available that contained less alcohol and no wormwood (as did other makers) and that’s how things remained until almost the present day.

Around the turn of the century it was found that many countries did not have a formal ban on the ingredients in Absinthe because none of them were harmful, and a revival began.  More and more countries began to allow Absinthe and brands proliferated.  Pernod released a new Absinthe, but there was a demand for the original formula. 

Pernod has expended some effort researching the recipe from original documents and trying to make the product as authentic as possible.  The base spirit will be wine-based (not grain), made with grapes from Languedoc as it was in the original.  The wormwood will be cultivated in Pontarlier, France, the historical home of Pernod Absinthe, and the Absinthe will be naturally colored through maceration of green nettles.

The tasting was held at St. Jack restaurant in suburban Portland.  This small, French restaurant features French café food, and their cocktail hour is called “The Green Hour” in a nod to the Green Fairy, Absinthe.  You will be happy to hear that Pernod’s effort has paid off.  The new “original formula” compares well with the current product.  It seems slightly sweeter, but also more mellow.  The taste of wormwood and anise, combined with other herbal notes, is what Absinthe is all about.  Absinthe aficionados will want to give this one a try. (ABV 68%, $68)

Bartenders pick up advanced bar techniques at Portland Cocktail Week

From the left: Angus Winchester, Derek Brown,
Sam Ross, and Joaquin Simo 
Living up to its billing as a conference organized by and for bartenders, Portland Cocktail Week (PDXCW) is placing heavy emphasis on bartender education this year.  The four major courses of study being offered by the Portland Bartender Institute are Advanced Craft Cocktail Bartending, Beyond the Bar, Bar Ownership, and Product Development. Classes are intended to improve bartenders’ technical skills as well as help them plan their long-term career aspirations.  The students take these classes seriously and take plenty of notes during the sessions.

On Monday, the Advanced Craft Cocktail Bartending track opened with a session titled “Advanced Bar Technique” that was a panel discussion featuring Derek Brown of The Passenger and Mockingbird Hill, Joaquin Simo of Pouring Ribbons, Sam Ross of Attaboy, and Angus Winchester, Tanqueray Global Ambassador.  This session was interesting because it expanded the concept of technique beyond what most people think it is.  Derek Brown kicked-off the class by proposing that technique is everything we do to create cocktails, and that we must keep four P’s in mind:
  • People (including reading your guests, staff development, and interpersonal skills)
  • Property (including bar design, Mis en Place (where you put the items required to make a cocktail), and equipment)
  • Profit (we’re in this to make money, but how well you do on the other P’s will drive this one)
  • Product (it is not just the craft cocktails you’re creating, it’s also the food and the ambiance)

The presenters were very entertaining (they are all bartenders, after all) and had plenty of tips and good advice for their bartender students. Here are some notes that stood out in the wide ranging discussion:
  • Customer relations are paramount to your success, and it’s not just how you treat people, it’s also how you make them feel.
  • Top level bartending is like a sport, practice is necessary.
  • Everything in your back-bar should be there for a reason; to impress people is not a good reason.
  • Many popular, inexpensive liquors are still around because they are good products that have amortized their physical plant, don’t look down on them.
  • Mis en Place is important to efficient service and will ultimately drive profits.
  • Customers are a lot more knowledgeable than there were ten years ago, and there are a lot more craft cocktail bars for competition.

Eighty Six Company shares its brands at Portland Cocktail Week

Simon Ford makes a point about Fords Gin
The Eighty Six Company introduced four new products in 2012 and poured them in Oregon for the first time Sunday night: Fords Gin, Caña Brava Rum, Aylesbury Duck Vodka, and Tequila Cabeza.  The event, part of Portland Cocktail Week (PDXCW), was titled “86 Co at The Common for The Calm before the Storm”.  Eighty Six Company says that their products are designed by bartenders for bartenders, and one thing this means is that they are designed to be mixed in cocktails.  I was able to sample all four, and to try the Gin and the Rum in cocktails.

The tasting, at The Cleaners (in the Ace Hotel), was open to PDXCW students and pass-holders.  It opened with a short tasting and presentation by founder Simon Ford to a small crowd that grew rapidly as latecomers arrived.  Simon told some war stories about bringing his four new products to market.  Eighty Six had listed all of the ingredients and proportions on the labels, and it turns out that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) does not allow it.  Product launches were delayed six months, some labels physically on bottles were altered by employees with Sharpies, and the most labels had to be redesigned.

Aylesbury Duck Vodka’s label says it is “certified clean, odorless, & tasteless” and it almost lives up to its billing; it’s very smooth, having only enough of a burn to let you know it contains alcohol.  The name 
Aylesbury Duck is actually a take-off on another avian-themed Vodka.  The name was selected because the Aylesbury Duck is described as “the noblest of woodland birds.”  Nobler than, say, a goose.  Although the label is semi-satirical, it was the only one approved by the TTB without modification.

The products are ingredient flavor forward (except, of course, for the Vodka) so that they may be tasted when mixed in cocktails.  They are very mixable, and the cocktails I sampled were delicious.  They are manufactured by four different distillers, each expert in their own liquor.

Fords Gin is excellent, nice and smooth with no burn. The blend of notes from the botanicals and florals is very pleasing, and the oils give it a good feel.  It makes a damn fine Negroni.  Caña Brava Rum, while it is a light Rum, is not a Rum flavored Vodka.  Bartenders told Simon that they wanted old style Rums (similar to Havana Club) that would make an excellent classic Daiquiri.  It is fashioned after the Rums that were being made 90 years ago, and is a little reminiscent of a Rhum Agricole.  It verges on the sweet without getting there, and has some nice fruit in the finish.  Tequila Cabeza is a nice Blanco, earthy with a strong hit of agave accompanied by a hint of citrus, that I can’t wait to try in a Margarita.

Portland Cocktail Week 2013 opening shakes things up

The fourth annual Portland Cocktail Week (PDXCW) opened Saturday in Portland, Oregon, bringing together bartenders, cocktail luminaries, and cocktail enthusiasts for a celebration of craft cocktail culture.  Bartender education is one of the key components of PDXCW; this year over 1,000 bartenders applied for the 260 slots.  Each will take classes in one of four major course studies offered by the Portland Bartender Institute (Advanced Craft Cocktail Bartending, Beyond the Bar, Bar Ownership, and Product Development). Classes will be held in Portland’s Downtown and Pearl Districts and are intended to improve bartenders’ technical skills as well as help them prepare for long-term career aspirations.
“The Portland Bar Institute not only covers spirits training,” said Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Clyde Common. “It also provides bartenders the tools to focus on developing individual professional aspirations – whether they be behind the bar, developing products, or building a personal brand.”
This year the major opening event was the “Swig n Swine,” a charity pig roast sponsored by the Bon Vivants of San Francisco as part of their Pig and Punch on the road program that supports different charities.  This year’s PDXCW event benefits Self Enhancement Inc. Charter School, a local nonprofit organization supporting at-risk urban youth.
The bash, which took place at the Jupiter Hotel, had the usual selection of new cocktails to sample.  These were mixed in 50 gallon garbage cans (talk about scaling-up a recipe!), each accompanied by a recipe poster that listed the ingredients.

This year the major opening event was the “Swig n Swine,” a charity pig roast sponsored by the Bon Vivants of San Francisco as part of their Pig and Punch on the road program that supports different charities.  Party goers made their donation by purchasing a T-shirt.

Most PDXCW events are staffed by bartender-attendees who volunteer part of their time to support the program.  This pair is showing their support for a recipe poster...

Recipe posters or cards accompany most of the cocktails that may be sampled during cocktail week.  These usually promote the featured brands and provide a passable description of the recipe (without proportions).

Cocktails were mixed in 50 gallon garbage cans (talk about scaling-up a recipe!) accompanied by a recipe poster that listed the ingredients.  The tiny pumpkins specified in the recipe surround a big block of ice.  That's a large dipper if you're having trouble getting the scale.

The Sleeping Beauty is a hot, flavorful cocktail made from D'usse Cognac and Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth with a bunch of other ingredients, including Maple syrup, thrown in.  Note that while oranges are on the recipe card for this one, the walnuts definitely are not.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cocktail ingredients Utah update – October 2013

The Rapture Cocktail will float you off to heaven...
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 count of items marked down by the Utah DABC State Liquor Stores  has revived! The number of items on SPA (Special Price Adjustment) this month (422) is quite an increase compared to the 333 in September, so now is a good time to get ready for cold weather cocktails by stocking your bar with October bargains. 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.
If you are into Bourbons, some good ones to try this month are Bulleit Frontier (down 11% to $24), Knob Creek (down 11% to $32), and Woodford Reserve (down 14% 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 (9% to $32) or a bottle of Dewars Special Reserve 12 Year (12% to $30). Feeling like some Barbados Rum? Mount Gay Eclipse is marked down 10% to $18 this month, try it in your next Rapture.  There is also a large selection of spiced Rums.
If even this late in the year, your taste runs to liquors of a lighter color, there are still some deals for you. There are about 17 Tequilas marked down in October, not counting the flavored ones.  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 Tito’s Handmade (CS# 038176 down 15% to $17). (Great in a White Russian.) You might also like to try Belvedere Intense (8% to $37) in a Vodka Martini.