Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Repeal Day in Chicago!

The lovely Audarshia over the 312 Dining Diva posted a great wrap-up of all the Repeal Day festivities going on in the Windy City this Friday night, December 5th. Rather than rewriting the list, I thought I'd just link to hers!

I hope you'll make it to one or more of these great events, but if you don't, please raise a toast to the occasion!


Here's where I'll be, proudly wearing my LUPEC Chicago code name:

Act I:
Clark Street Ale House - Informal Happy Hour
742 N. Clark, Chicago
6.00-9.00 PM, Friday Dec 5th


Act II: The Drawing Room - Come Party Like it’s 1933
937 N. Rush, Chicago
10.00 pm on, Fri Dec 5th

A portion of the proceeds from all purchases of food & drink at these events will be donated to the Greenhouse Shelter in Chicago.

I'm also going to try and visit my friends at Spring and In Fine Spirits, they have some fun stuff planned too! So many great parties, so little time...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

100 Drinks You Must Try Before You Expire

Recently, Darcy over at Art of Drink posted a list of 100 Drinks You Must Try Before You Expire. Like Rick at Kaiser Penguin, I'd likely put different things on my list. But it's not my list, so here goes nuthin'!

Here's where I stand on the list so far (items I've tried are bolded) - where are you?
  1. Manhattan Cocktail
  2. Kopi Luwak (Weasle Coffee)
  3. French / Swiss Absinthe
  4. Rootbeer
  5. Gin Martini
  6. Sauternes
  7. Whole Milk
  8. Tequila (100% Agave)
  9. XO Cognac
  10. Espresso
  11. Spring Water (directly from the spring)
  12. Gin & Tonic
  13. Mead
  14. Westvleteren 12 (Yellow Cap) Trappist Ale
  15. Chateau d’Yquem
  16. Budweiser
  17. Maraschino Liqueur
  18. Mojito
  19. Orgeat
  20. Grand Marnier
  21. Mai Tai (original)
  22. Ice Wine (Canadian)
  23. Red Bull
  24. Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
  25. Bubble Tea
  26. Tokaji
  27. Chicory
  28. Islay Scotch
  29. Pusser’s Navy Rum
  30. Fernet Branca
  31. Fresh Pressed Apple Cider
  32. Bourbon
  33. Australian Shiraz
  34. Buckley’s Cough Syrup
  35. Orange Bitters
  36. Margarita (classic recipe)
  37. Molasses & Milk
  38. Chimay Blue
  39. Wine of Pines (Tepache)
  40. Green Tea
  41. Daiginjo Sake
  42. Chai Tea
  43. Vodka (chilled, straight)
  44. Coca-Cola
  45. Zombie (Beachcomber recipe)
  46. Barley Wine
  47. Brewed Choclate (Xocolatl)
  48. Pisco Sour
  49. Lemonade
  50. Speyside Single Malt
  51. Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee
  52. Champagne (Vintage)
  53. Rosé (French)
  54. Bellini
  55. Caipirinha
  56. White Zinfandel (Blush)
  57. Coconut Water
  58. Cerveza
  59. Cafe au Lait
  60. Ice Tea
  61. Pedro Ximenez Sherry
  62. Vintage Port
  63. Hot Chocolate
  64. German Riesling
  65. Pina Colada
  66. El Dorado 15 Year Rum
  67. Chartreuse
  68. Greek Wine
  69. Negroni
  70. Jägermeister
  71. Chicha
  72. Guiness
  73. Rhum Agricole
  74. Palm Wine
  75. Soju
  76. Ceylon Tea (High Grown)
  77. Belgian Lambic
  78. Mongolian Airag
  79. Doogh, Lassi or Ayran
  80. Sugarcane Juice
  81. Ramos Gin Fizz
  82. Singapore Sling
  83. Mint Julep
  84. Old Fashioned
  85. Perique
  86. Jenever (Holland Gin)
  87. Chocolate Milkshake
  88. Traditional Italian Barolo
  89. Pulque
  90. Natural Sparkling Water
  91. Cuban Rum
  92. Asti Spumante
  93. Irish Whiskey
  94. Château Margaux
  95. Two Buck Chuck
  96. Screech
  97. Akvavit
  98. Rye Whisky
  99. German Weissbier
  100. Daiquiri (classic)
I was fortunate to be able to cross off #91 just last night - I was at an event where someone had contraband Havana Club rum - both the Anejo Reserve and the 7 Year. I'll look forward to someday trying more Cuban rums, but I was delighted to try my first two.

What a fun idea - thanks Darcy! And I see I've got some drinking to do... anyone know what Screech is?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Absinthe Ice Cream & More

I've been traveling a lot lately, and somehow my blogging has gone by the wayside again. I even missed the last Mixology Monday, which was a good one and I had lots of ideas for it.
In the spirit of getting back into it, I bring you some highlights from my recent road trip. I traversed the middle of Illinois, and a good chunk of Indiana. I know you're jealous!

Most interesting Food: Absinthe Ice Cream
My friends at Radio Maria in Champaign, Illinois worked up a series of small plates that paired with pre-Prohibition cocktails for an event we planned together. And they surprised me with absinthe ice cream for dessert, made with our Sirène. It was fantastic, really kind of like eating your absinthe instead of drinking it. Sweet, but not overly so, creamy and oh so complex. If you find yourself in Champaign, stop by and ask if they still have any, or if they've made more - it was a big hit. In any event, their chef Matt is a genius and I highly recommend the food there.

Best Food & Cocktail Pairing: Ginger Gimlet & Scallop Ceviche
I helped organize four cocktail and food pairing dinners in the last month or so. The award for best pairing goes to Seven Saints in Champaign (sorry, no website), where we paired a Ginger Gimlet (gin, fresh lime, ginger syrup) with a Scallop Ceviche (ginger-cilantro oil, green onion and tomato). It was the most popular of the evening by far among the guests, and stands out in my memory as one of the best I've ever had.

Most Interesting Drink: (ri)1 Whiskey
I only give this award to ri because it was the only thing I drank that I had never had before. I've tasted so many things anymore, it's very hard to find something new that I actually want to try. Thanks to Dennis Cheng at the Irish Lion in Bloomington, Indiana (another great restaurant) for sharing a taste of his new bottle of ri with me. It had a wonderful nose (and a great package), but was a bit lighter on the palate than I expected (especially for a rye). Not sure I'd pay $50+ for it, but it was definitely sippable. Interesting to note that there doesn't appear to be an age statement on the bottle.


Now that I'm back in Chicago, I'll soon be out and about looking for cocktail adventures. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Update on Drinks over Dearborn

Recently I wrote about the challenges that Kyle McHugh encountered in trying to open his boutique spirits, wine and beer shop in the great city of Chicago.

Great news! After much rangling, and many meetings, Kyle has gotten his city license, and Drinks Over Dearborn is opening today!

Cheers to that, and please visit Kyle if you're in Chicago - they're at 650 N. Dearborn, 2nd Floor!

MxMo XXXII: Guilty Pleasures (aka Mmmmmm Chocolate)

Geez, I can't believe so much time has past since my last post. I have got to stop letting this happen. Unfortunately, this time of the year is really busy in the distillery business - did you know that around 50% of the spirits sold in the US are sold between Halloween and New Years?

At any rate, enough excuses, and onto Mixology Monday! This month's host, Stevi Deter over at Two at the Most, has selected the topic of Guilty Pleasures. As Stevi puts it, this should be one of "[t]hose things you love, but hate to admit that you love."


So here's mine (cringing a little at admitting it) - the Chocolate Martini. I love a good dessert, and sometimes I like my dessert in liquid form. I know, I know, it's not a martini, and I know, I know, it's terrible for you. Some of my friends might even say it's an abomination in a glass. But a well-made one is incredibly tasty.

Favorite Recipes
One of my mixologist friends here in Chicago, Rashed Islam at Viet Bistro, makes one of the best ones I've ever had. Of course I haven't gotten him to give me his recipe ... perhaps I'll have to send in a spy. In the meantime, here are two of my favorites recipes.


Ultimate Chocolate Martini

2 parts North Shore Tahitian Vanilla Vodka (you knew I'd use that)
2 parts Godiva White Chocolate liqueur
1 part Godiva Chocolate liqueur
3 parts Baileys

Shake ingredients with ice, strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with chocolate shavings. This one came to me courtesy of a member of the North Shore Distiller's Club, Suzanne.


White Mocha Martini

1 oz North Shore Tahitian Vanilla Vodka
1 oz Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur
1 oz Coffee Liqueur (e.g., Kahlua)
½-1 oz Cream or Half & Half

Rim cocktail glass in a mixture of finely ground espresso, fine sugar and cinnamon. Shake ingredients together over ice, strain into glass.


Cheers!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Congrats Charles Joly!

Over the weekend, the finals of the Cocktail World Cup were held in New Zealand. Chicago's own Charles Joly of the Drawing Room won the right to complete in this prestigious competition earlier this summer by winning a Chicago-based cocktail competition.

I don't have all the details yet, but a new press report shows that his team, USA Central, took second place in the world! They finished right behind a team from London, and finished ahead of many other teams from around the world.

Congratulations to Charles and the USA Central team!

Their creation was called "Wisdom of the Ages," and combined 42 Below Vodka, Sauvignon Blanc, Chamomile Syrup, fresh white grapefruit juice and sage leaves.

Pictures taken from the flickr.com site linked in the press release.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Esquire's List of Best Bars

Thanks to the fine folks at Menu Pages Chicago, I was alerted to Esquire's new list of the 100 best bars in the U.S. Here are the entries for Illinois:


Illinois

I must admit I haven't been to a few of these (and actually had never heard of one or two), so I'll get on that shortly. And of course, there are a few places not on this list that I think should be... too bad the folks at Esquire didn't ask my opinion.

Hello Again, and a Taste of Chicago Booze Politics

I managed to fall off my blogging post for a couple of weeks again - oops! I have a few fun posts in the hopper now, with more fun events to come, so please bear with me.

And Hello to the folks who came here from Business Week - David Kiley cited Thinking of Drinking as a place to get the scoop on the best watering holes in Chicago - cool, eh?

Chicago (Booze) Politics
Before I get back to cocktails & mixology topics, I have a minor rant about Chicago politics. Early on, we decided not to try and build our distillery in the City of Chicago. Although people seem to just accept it (something about a "benevolent dictatorship"), things are just a little (and sometimes a lot) crooked in Chicago. The Mayor and his legions control many things (check out the Sept issue of Chicago Magazine for details), but zoning and property use are one of the few areas in which the city's aldermen have considerable power. And they use it.

Sometimes it Gets Ugly
My friend Kyle McHugh of The Boozehound is trying to open Drinks Over Dearborn, a boutique spirits, wine and beer shop in the River North neighborhood of Chicago, where he lives. He's just the kind of person to run a store I'd like to shop at - extremely knowledgeable, passionate and unpretentious. He tried to do everything right - he picked a location in a busy commercial area, mapped out his plan, and alerted the community to his plans well in advance. He met with his alderman, and talked specifically with the few residents who had questions about his plan. Everything seemed to be going great, until the very end.

Similar to the experiences of some of his neighbors, Kyle hit a last-minute total roadblock. Apparently, "some of their neighbors have gotten the wrong idea" and have objected to his plan, and the alderman moved to block his city liquor license. Of course, Kyle can't get any details about who objected, or even the nature of the objections. Instead, he's left to wage a broad-based public relations campaign to try and get the alderman & liquor commissioner to change their minds, all the while paying for a store he cannot open (which he has been doing for nearly a year, while working through all the bureaucratic rigamarole).

Just so it's clear, this isn't any run of the mill corner liquor store - it's a small, high-service store where Kyle will carry a very limited range of unique products. This store will attract affluent, discerning customers to the area, all of whom will have to be buzzed into the building - no general entrance. It's in an area with other commercial properties, including several other liquor licenses, many of which attract a less desirable element to the area.

Given the other licenses in the area, maybe some of the residents have a real concern. But rather than fostering a dialogue about them, or at least sharing the nature of the concerns, it's just a "no" from the alderman and liquor commission. This feels like the classic case of the little guy getting caught up in the political machine, and I don't like it.

So I'm writing about it here, hoping to get a few more folks to join the campaign to get Kyle's store open. Visit his website here for information on how you can help!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fentimans Sodas

So I am (finally) getting back to taste-testing sodas. I've had to get a fresh supply of many of them, since I either didn't try them on a timely basis, or I tried them and didn't write anything down.

Fentiman's Sodas
I
wrote about their ginger beer awhile back. Suffice to say, we liked it a lot - it was very different from all the others we tried. I found a few more of their sodas at one of my favorite gourmet food stores, so I picked them up. (Pic at right is from their site)
Dandelion Burdock
Unbeknownst to me, despite many trips to the UK, this is a
traditional British soft drink. The Fentiman's website says: "Full strength infusions of Dandelion & Burdock create the unmistakable aroma and distinctive palate of this classic beverage."

We found this one fruity (pear), sweet and herbal, with under notes reminiscent of a good sarsaparilla. It was nice on its own. Apparently there is a drink called a
DB&G which calls for the addition of gin, so we tried that as well - it was, well, interesting (in a good way). A bit of an acquired taste, but we'll be trying it again as soon as I get another bottle.

Victorian Lemonade
I think our bottle might have been bad, based on the descriptions on the Fentiman's site, but maybe not. It was quite sour, with a hint of ginger and then a light touch of sweetness on the finish. Not terribly pleasant to drink on its own, in fact we didn't finish it (and didn't mix with it).


Mandarin and Seville Orange Jigger
This was a lovely soda, with a fresh, true orange flavor balanced with a small amount of sweetness. It seems like it will mix well, and I look forward to experimenting with it soon. They also make a Curiosity Cola that sounds interesting, I'll have to try and find it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Top Ten Tales Tidbits - Take Two

Here are my top five tidbits from Tales - the ordering was the hardest part, but here goes nuthin'!

#5 - Cocktails, Cocktails, Cocktails
When we weren't at the Tales sessions or other happenings at the hotel, we wandered around the area watering holes. We had some fantastic cocktails in the great bars found in the Quarter. Our favorites were probably the Napoleon House (try the Pimm's Cup), the French 75 Bar (try the French 75, or whatever Chris Hannah is making), and the Carousel Bar (try the Vieux Carré, and definitely sit at the bar).

#4 - Sarah and Evil Bob
At the
Grand Soiree d'Absinthe (#10), we met Sarah and Bob. They live in New Orleans and both work in the hospitality industry. Bob is behind the stick at Johnny White's, one of a few bars in NOLA that never closes (he was on the 3 am to 9 am shift later that night), and Sarah is a GM at another area restaurant (unfortunately I can't remember the name!).

We were having a great conversation, and Sarah and Bob offered to take us around to some favorite places. So off we went. First stop: Johnny White's, where we hung out with Jamie, the very fun bartender on duty. Unfortunately, after a few beers & a shot or two, Bob (now we know why his nickname is Evil Bob) left us to go home and get some rest before his shift.


Next stop: Yo Mama's, where we had quite possibly the best hamburgers ever. Granted, we had been drinking absinthe, and then beer (and maybe a shot or two) all day, so we might've been hungry & a bit drunk, but they were fantastic. Final stop of the night: Erin Rose, another great neighborhood bar. By then, we had to call it a night, so we walked Sarah home and headed back to the hotel.

#3 - Burying the Appletini
For those who haven't heard, the Appletini is now dead & gone. We buried it, and held a proper funeral procession for it, including a band and a brief funeral service. This was fantastic - at
midnight, the police stopped traffic so we could march down the street in our funeral procession, following the band and casket with our good cocktails in hand.

#2 - Chicago Camaraderie
Although our group was small (we have to get more folks from Chicago there next year, so we can hold our own against the NY and SF contingents), it was fantastic to spend some time with the Chicago crew. My funniest memory probably falls into the category of "you had to be there," based on my husband's reaction when I told him. If you're curious, ask me over a cocktail sometime - I still think its funny when I think of it (maybe its just me? nah...).

#1 - Tasting, Tasting, Tasting
Because it was such an overwhelming part of the experience, I have to put the experience of tasting so many new spirits, cocktails, and flavor ideas down as my favorite part of the Tales experience. Just of few of my favorites tastes:
  • Sazerac 18 Rye - I went to Rye Nation, and we discussed and tasted 7 different ryes. The Sazerac 18 was my favorite, slightly edging out the Vintage 23. It was fun to see the range of variations within the rye category and hear a couple brand representatives talk about how they make them (and, importantly, what a minute part of their production time goes to rye - maybe we all need to start stocking up if you haven't already)
  • Plymouth Sloe Gin - I've never had a good sloe gin, just the syrupy sweet stuff that you might see at a run-of-the-mill liquor store in the liqueur aisle. I was impressed with this one, so much so that I bought a bottle of it when I got home. Gotta love a good sloe gin fizz in the summer, and it's fun to play with in cocktails too.
  • Noilly Prat Ambre - On Sunday morning (the fifth day of Tales), we found ourselves meandering around the lobby. We happened upon a tasting room for Noilly Prat vermouths, and decided to step inside. To be honest, it was the enticing buffet of fruit and pastries that got us in the room. Once we were there, however, we took a seat and listened to a very interesting presentation. Read on for a few notes from the NP seminar.
Truly, there are far too many to name. I got to revisit many favorites, and try many new things, and taste spirits and cocktails made in unusual ways. I'm still working through my notes and trying to build a cohesive summary for myself, so I may write more on that down the road.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a few factoids and notes from the Noilly Prat seminar:
  1. NP has recently changed the US formula for their dry vermouth - it will now be closer to the European version, which is less sweet and more herbal.
  2. They are also introducing new packaging this year, perhaps following in the footsteps of Martini & Rossi in that regard.
  3. They use 25 herbs in the dry, 30 herbs in the sweet and 4o herbs in the ambre.
  4. The ambre is not usually available outside of their facility in France, so it was a rare treat indeed to be able to try it. It tasted like a sweeter, dessert-style wine with hints of cinnamon, rose and vanilla. Very interesting indeed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Top Ten Tales Tidbits - Take One

Sorry for the long gap in posting, folks! Somehow I fell off the blogging wagon again, but I'm back on it now. Since it's now been a couple of weeks since I started my Tales of the Cocktail recap, I've decided to fast forward to the highlights. Here's the first half of my top ten tidbits from Tales 2008.

#10 - the Grande Soiree d'Absinthe
On the last day of Tales, a large group of absinthe enthusiasts gathered in a lovely upstairs room at Muriel's for this event sponsored by the Wormwood Society. Filled with a mix of WS members, NOLA locals, and people from around the world, this event offered the opportunity to sample a range of absinthes in a relaxed, social setting. We met some great people, tried a couple of absinthes that were new to us, and shared our Sirène with the crowd. More on what came afterward when I get to #4.

#9 - Fantastic Food
The French Quarter is filled with great restaurants (as well as a lot of tourist traps). We had great food everywhere we went, once we started following Chuck Taggart's recommendations. Some of the fantastic places we went, and that we'd recommend, include Coop's, Mr. B's, Mother's, Johnny's, and the Napoleon House. I'd also add Yo Mama's to the list, which wasn't on Chuck's list. It might've been that we were hungry and drunk, but the burgers we had there were quite possibly the best we've ever had.

#8 The Scented Trail
This session was led by Audrey Saunders and Tony Conigliaro, and focused on building and enhancing the aroma in your cocktails. We started the session with a tasting of aromatized waters and a discussion of top notes, mid notes and base notes in aroma, and strategies for developing and enhancing them. This was the best tip I got from the conference, I think - Audrey and Tony suggested that instead of infusing flavors into syrups, where the aromas are pulled to the bottom of the drink with the weight of the syrup (and masked by the sugar), consider infusing them into waters or low-alcohol spirits, and then misting your garnishes, glassware and/or drink with them right before serving. Now that I'm caught up on things again, I'm going to be trying this very soon! I don't have a vapor still like Tony, but I might be able to get close to that... more soon!

#7 The Hemingway Bartender's Companion
This was the first official session I attended, and it was a fantastic way to start the conference. The session was led by Phil Greene, a true Hemingway scholar. We tasted five (yes five) cocktails that were Hemingway's favorites at different points in his life, and heard many great stories and related passages from Hemingway's works. I just might have to start reading Hemingway again, and I definitely have to go to Captain Tony's Saloon when I'm in Key West early next year. So the count stood at five drinks before noon, in true Hemingway style.

#6 Bloggers and the Blogosphere
I had the fortune of meeting many of the bloggers I correspond with in the ether, and to participate in a group blog and interact with many of these great folks throughout the conference. It was a great opportunity to make some new friends, and put many faces with names & blogs - I look forward to more opportunities like this in the future, both at Tales and elsewhere!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tales of the Cocktail Recap, Part Two

Rather than writing about the details of the seminars, I feel more like writing about more of our adventures in New Orleans. Drink along with me, won't you?

Another highlight from our Spirited Dinner at Antoine's was the Café Brulôt at the end of our meal. Served from a recently flaming punchbowl in a fantastic, traditional cup, this was a new experience for me. It was a strong (from both the spirits and the coffee), hot beverage, and a great finish for our evening. After all the other cocktails, I didn't finish mine, but it wasn't any reflection on the experience. Here are a couple of photos:


At right is our host
St. John Frizell's lovely wife, Linden, mixing the flaming pot of Café Brulôt. Several folks had the opportunity to play with fire on this one.

Just for fun, here are a couple of other pictures that I took at Antoine's - there's a lot of history (and a lot of stuff in general) on the walls.


People of a certain age will recognize the one on the left, and the one on the right just struck me as odd until I did some quick research.


It was a wall of photos of the past Queens of the Krewe of Proteus in the annual Mardi Gras celebration (we were in the Proteus Room at Antoine's). Most of the women were flamboyantly dressed, and then there was Ms. Willey Denis with her cats. Turns out Dr. Denis was a very accomplished academic. Guess she just happened to like this picture of herself best (or it's the only one anyone could find) since it's the one Tulane has for her also.

The Court of Two Sisters
We found ourselves at this place a couple of times during our stay. The Court of Two Sisters has a beautiful courtyard (although the fountain looks kinda funny from the back), and an interesting old bar that's fun to see.

Unfortunately, the drinks weren't as good as I had hoped, despite the representations made by our New Orleans Cocktail Tour Guide on our second visit. The drinks were OK, but everything was pre-made rather than made to order, even when it wasn't busy, and they had signs up for Island Oasis mixes on the tables.


And Don't Forget the Fabulous French 75 Bar
One of best places we visited for cocktails was the French 75 Bar at Arnaud's. Of course we had the namesake cocktail (picture at left), which is made with cognac rather than gin - a nice change I hadn't tried before. And we had a great Sazerac there too, probably one of the best we've ever had. Definitely go there the next time you're in the Crescent City!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tales of the Cocktail Recap, Part One

We got home last night from a six-day adventure in the Crescent City for the Tales of the Cocktail. It was a week full of cocktails, great food, learning and new friends. Here is part one in a series of highlights.

Day One: Heat, Absinthe and Parties
When we arrived in New Orleans on Wednesday morning, it was actually cooler there than it was in Chicago. Unfortunately, that didn't last, and by afternoon it was sweltering out. We didn't let that stop us, and we promptly set out for a series of events and parties.

First stop - the kick-off toast for Tales, and an honorary toast to celebrate the recent designation of the Sazerac as the official cocktail of New Orleans. We got to try the official drink of Tales, the Punch 'n Judy, and have a Sazerac or two for the toast.

Then we were off to a tour of the new absinthe museum, and an absinthe tasting out in the courtyard. We got to try the new Pernod absinthe, as well as Marteau (sorry, can't find a website). It was very hot and humid, and very crowded, which somewhat limited one's ability to enjoy the tasting. Nonetheless, it was interesting to try these two, as they are two of the few we hadn't tried before.


After that, we headed off for the cocktail blogger reception (so great to meet my fellow bloggers!), and the Warhol Factory Party (see pic at right). We then grabbed a late dinner and a cocktail at a restaurant not worth mentioning, and headed to bed. We hadn't actually slept the night before, so it was nice to get some zzzs.


Day Two: Great Sessions, Spirited Dinner at Antoine's and the All-Chicago Toast
I went to some great sessions on Thursday, including The Hemingway Bartender's Companion, Artisan Spirits and The Scented Trail (about developing aromas in your cocktails). More details on those in the next post.

We also went to a pairing dinner at the legendary Antoine's - read more about Antoine's in my post here. It was a nice meal, and the drinks were good, but they didn't really go together very well.

We ended the evening hanging out with the Chicago-based Tales contingent (along with a few USBG folks). By then, most of us had already had too many cocktails for the day, so we shifted to beer. Just to give you an idea, my first session, which started at 10:30 am, involved five (yes FIVE!) cocktails.

Stay tuned for details on the best sessions, the best cocktails we had, and the best food.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chicago's Newest Iron Chef Bartender

Imagine this - you have 5 minutes to create an original cocktail that tastes, smells and looks good. You have to choose your ingredients from a table of fruits and vegetables that you've only just seen, and you have to produce five servings of the drink, including garnish, in that 5-minute period.

For the eleven competitors at the latest Chicago Iron Bartender challenge, that was the scene they encountered on Tuesday night. Early on in the planning for this event, I decided I wasn't quite ready to compete myself, so I volunteered to help out. Plus I wanted to write about it and cheer on the competitors (which include Charles Joly, pictured, as well as Tim Lacey and Peter Vestinos, along with 8 other fantastic mixologists I haven't yet profiled).

The only two required ingredients were the evening's sponsoring products, Cabana Cachaça and Funkin fruit purees. A word of warning, while Cabana is a nice, robust cachaça, and they generously sponsored Tuesday's events, you should be aware that their new website & advertisements are borderline soft-core porn. I can't help but think they will get a complaint to DISCUS for violating the liquor industry's guidelines about using sexuality to sell products if they haven't already. They certainly stirred up some controversy in t
he ad world with it.

There were five folks on the judge's panel (pictured at left, with our charming host for the evening, Serafin Alvarado), including Matti Anttila, the creator of Cabana, David Tamarkin from Time Out Chicago, two senior people from CHIC and Chef Randy Zweiban. They faced a tough decision - the drinks were all very creative, and ranged widely in terms of flavor, texture and aroma. And none of them
resembled a caipirinha.

Many of the drinks were very good (luckily the audience gets to taste them too), the scores must have been close. In the end, three women competitors took the top three spots!


Congratulations to Jennifer Contraveos from La Madia, who won first place and a trip to Rio to compete in an international cocktail competition in November (compliments of Cabana), and also to Debbie Peek from Team Enterprises and Bernette Baker from Applebee's (yes, Applebee's! I might have to find out which one and actually go there, for a cocktail!).

And please excuse the quality of the photos in this post, due to an unfortunate oversight (namely, a memory card), I was left to take photos with my phone instead of my digital camera.

Monday, June 16, 2008

MxMo: Blathering about Bourbon

I love bourbon. Right now, I'm on an Elijah Craig 18 kick, since I got a bottle of that one for my b-day, but other times it's Rock Hill Farms, Booker's, or Eagle Rare. And whenever I see a bourbon that I haven't actually tried before (rare), I order that one. The thing is, I usually order my bourbon neat, I don't mix with it much. However, since its Mixology Monday (hosted by the fine gents over at Scofflaw's Den), I figured I better post a cocktail recipe or two with bourbon.

I've recently written recipes for some new bourbon cocktails, the Blackberry Julep and the Harvest Moon, so I thought I'd revisit a classic recipe instead.

The Brown Derby Cocktail
2 oz Bourbon

1 oz Fresh Grapefruit Juice
1-2 tsp Honey (depends on the honey, or use 1/2 oz Honey Syrup, if the honey's a bit much)
1 dash Grapefruit Bitters (wasn't in the original, but helps make it a true
cocktail)

Combine ingredients in a shaker, stir well before adding ice. Add ice, shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

If you go the honey syrup route, I usually add 1 part hot water to 2 parts honey, then stir well and cool.


The history:
this cocktail was invented at the Vendome Club in Hollywood in the early 1930's, and it was their signature drink for a time. It was named after a brown derby hat-shaped restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard (shockingly, called the Brown Derby Restaurant, which was a popular celebrity hangout in it's day). Unfortunately, neither place is still there, although according to the notes in The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff and Wikipedia, the hat is still there). Interestingly, the Brown Derby restaurant is considered the birthplace of the Cobb Salad.

Happy MxMo!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Heard in a Bar: 6.13.2008

While I was in Indianapolis in April, Bruce Tomlinson and I went to a couple of places in search of great cocktails, including Nicky Blaine's in downtown Indy. Nicky Blaine's bills itself as a cocktail and cigar lounge. We had a couple of drinks (I had Booker's neat, and then water), and I had a cigar too (can't do that in a bar in Chicago anymore). Here are a couple of shots of the place - they have pictures of Kennedy and Lincoln at opposing ends of the bar to help guide your seating selection.

At some point in the evening, the guy next to us, Ryan, exclaimed loudly
"All this bar needs is a pole."

Somehow this struck me as funny so I wrote it down.
And then I forgot to actually post it until now. Better late than never, I figure.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

LUPEC Chicago Chapter!

It's high time we have a chapter of the Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails here in Chicago, so I've taken up the charge and started one. We have nine members, all great ladies committed to dismantling the patriarchy one drink at a time.

We join our sisters in Pittsburgh (the mothership), Boston, New York, Seattle, Phoenix, Denver and Philadelphia in honoring the mission statement of LUPEC:

"In a post-millenium world of beer and prepackaged Chex Mix™, LUPEC works tirelessly to breed, raise, and release cocktails that are endangered or even believed to be extinct. The collecting of anachronistic recipes by women, and the resulting creation of endangered cocktails in an all woman setting is intended to achieve the following goals:
  • To create a secular "coven-like" atmosphere in which Classy Broads of today can invoke and honor the spirits of their Forebroads
  • To continue the 150 year American tradition of dangerous women calling themselves Ladies and getting together in groups, clubs, and societies to work undercover while they chipped away at the patriarchy.
  • To protect the collective Joie de Vivre of LUPEC members by assuring them at least one good party a month
  • To encourage the accumulation and use of vintage serving and barware."
Our chapter has its own blog at LUPECChicago.blogspot.com as well as a page on Myspace. Keep an eye out for upcoming events, we hope to get involved in our community, both to promote great cocktails and to support great organizations in Chicago that work to improve the lives of women.

Cheers!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Blackberry Juleps

Ever since the Kentucky Derby, I've been playing around with Mint Juleps now and then. Along the way toward the Belmont Stakes this weekend, I have been tweaking a recipe for a Blackberry Julep. Now this isn't the King of Cocktails' Blackberry Julep recipe - I was aiming for something of a hybrid between that recipe and the Mint Julep.

Blackberry Julep v2.0
1 1/2 oz Bourbon (I used Old Whiskey River)
3/4 oz Blackberry Liqueur (I used Echte Kroatzbeere)
3/4 oz Simple Syrup (1:1 ratio)
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
6 Mint Leaves

Muddle the mint and simple syrup in a mixing glass. Add the liqueur and bourbon. Strain into a highball (or julep) glass filled with crushed or shaved ice. Swirl with a bar spoon until the outside of the glass frosts up. Garnish with a sprig of mint and a fresh blackberry.

I have been substituting that blackberry liqueur for Chambord lately, and its working pretty well - a nice change.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Romancing the Rhubarb

I've been playing around with rhubarb again, mostly because its one of the few local produce items I can find around these parts. In time for the weekend (fingers crossed for good weather), here's a tasty cocktail that I've been working on.

Strawberry Rhubarb Fizz
2 oz Gin (I'm using #6)
½-¾ oz Rhubarb-infused Syrup (see below)
2 ripe strawberries
Club Soda

Cut up one of the strawberries, put in bottom of glass with the syrup and muddle. Add ice, then gin and top up with soda. Stir, then garnish with other berry on the rim.

Rhubarb Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
20-24" fresh rhubarb stalks, cut into 1/2" wide pieces
Simmer, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Rhubarb should be very soft, and have broken down. Press rhubarb with potato masher or similar gadget to release additional flavor into syrup. Cool, and press again. Strain out rhubarb.

We served this one at an event last night, and it was quite popular. It's certainly not the most original drink ever invented, but it was very tasty indeed.

Cheers!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Black Stuff in a Sippy Cup

My parents are here visiting (and helping us out at the distillery), and they brought this with them. What is it, you ask? Why it's Black Magic from The Netherlands. In a sippy cup.

My parents have a friend/neighbor who is Dutch, and she had recently been home and brought a bottle of this stuff back with her. Unlike me, my parents aren't big drinkers, so they were excited to bring us this stuff that sounded interesting. They couldn't talk the neighbor into borrowing the bottle, so they poured some into this cup (not sure where they got the cup) and drove here to Chicago from Denver with it.

The story that came with it was that it was like absinthe, only black in color. It's not, really, except for having a strong licorice taste. According to my handy website translator, it's actual name is Drop Shot, it's 20% alcohol and its intended for the "party people." It literally tastes like black jelly beans. Very sweet, very black licorice. That's about it. And they recommend it be served with cola, or in a layered shot with Sambuca. Oh my.

Anyone else ever encountered this stuff?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Make Plans for the Tales

Have you already made your plans to attend the Tales of the Cocktail this summer in New Orleans? If you don't already know about it, its a 5-day festival celebrating the cocktail, chock full of interesting sessions, spirited dinners, and many opportunities to meet cocktail-world celebrities, compare notes, and share a cocktail with like-minded folks from around the world.

I am happy to announce that I will be participating in the Tales Blog, a group blog where cocktail bloggers from around the world will be contributing pieces about their Tales experiences. As a preview to what you'll see at Tales, my fellow bloggers have already begun posting articles about some of the topics and speakers that you'll see at Tales. My first piece will be coming out in a few weeks.

I'd highly recommend making your plans now for Tales, tickets often sell out and hotel rooms will be in short supply! And if you can't make it, you can attend virtually through the Tales of the Cocktail Blog.

Hope to see you in New Orleans!