Monday, March 23, 2009

Seen in a Bar - March 09 Edition

I've been spending more time in bars, and less time at the computer, lately. A couple of things I've seen recently that were notable:

Indiana and St. Germain - a rep for the largest distributor in Indiana was out telling people about St. Germain today and I crossed paths with her at a nice restaurant in the NW corner of the state. Only thing is, she told the restaurant owner and bartenders that it was a PEAR liqueur (and her boss, who was with her, reiterated it). When I asked her if there was elderflower in it (trying to give a hint but be nice about it), the response was "it tastes like pear, and besides, no one knows what elderflower is anyway." Interesting.

St. Patrick's Day in Chicago - a relatively new Irish bar in the River East/Gold Coast area of Chicago was charging a cover charge just to get into the bar and drink/eat after the downtown parade on Saturday March 14th. No band, nothing special going on, just doing it because they could, I guess. As a restauranteur, maybe it's smart - work less for the same money, perhaps. It seemed a little exploitive to us, given the economy and the occasion, so we moseyed on down the street and found another place that just wanted to take our money for our beer and food, thankyouverymuch.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

March Mix-Off - Illinois USBG

Last night, the Illinois chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild convened at Nacional 27 for our monthly meeting and cocktail mixing party. It was a great time, as always. Here are a few highlights and pictures.

USBG IL Updates

We (finally) got emails yesterday with the results of our Master Accreditation level one t
ests. We were the guinea pigs for this first-ever testing program for mixologists, intended to follow the Master Sommelier program.

About 25 of us too
k the test over two weeks ago, and afterward, everyone had many questions. There were some errors on the test itself, and some poorly worded questions - suffice to say, there were issues. Hopefully they sorted all that out before the next group took the test (in Las Vegas at the Bar Show). Luckily, I passed so I won't have to find out!

We covered some other upcomi
ng events, most notably the Illinois finals for the World Cocktail Competition is scheduled for March 31st at Boka. Should be another fun competition, and the winner goes to San Francisco to compete in the national competition.

This Month's Sponsor: Tru Organic Spirits
My friends Melkon K
hosrovian and his wife, Litty Mathew, make Tru Organic Spirits out in Los Angeles. They kindly sponsored this month's session, and Melkon brought along his organic vodkas & gin for us to taste and use. Melkon gave a brief presentation about their upcoming bitters challenge at Tales of the Cocktail this year, and also about their spirits.

Cocktail Competition
Our monthly competitions are typically not as rigorous as formal competitions, and this one was no exception. Most contestants were aiming for a pre-dinner drink, and brought along all their ingredients, per the instructions. But since we were working in his bar, Adam Seger also offered his full array of syrups, fruits and mixers, which is one heck of an offer.

The competitors included Adam Seger from Nacional 27, Benjamin Schiller from In Fine Spirits, Daniel de Oliveira from Boka, Cristi DeLucca from The Drawing Room, Chris Bloom, who is a member-at-large (and a lawyer by day), and Martin from Maxwell Street Trading.

This group came up with a wide array of cocktails and used a broad range of ingredients. Four used Tru Gin as their base, while two used the straight vodka. Only one used any egg, and three used Aperol, while one used miso and rice wine vinegar. Benjamin even created some homemade gelées with Aperol and Tru Gin, and a fun (and novel) presentation for his garnish (in picture at far right).

The winner, in a very close decision, was Chris Bloom. The judges said his drink had the edge based on aromatics. Congratulations to Chris!

Here's his recipe:

Puesta Del Sol, by Chris Bloom
1½ oz Tru Organic Vodka
¾ oz Aperol
¾ oz Wild Turkey American Honey Liqueur
¾ oz Lime Juice
Orange Bitters (Regans)
Garnish: One blood orange slice, one long lemon curl and dried, grated Seville orange zest

Combine Vodka, Aperol, American Honey, Lime Juice and 3 dashes of orange bitters. Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass rimmed with dried orange zest. Place Blood orange slice on top and twist lemon peel across glass.

Here was Chris's description of the drink: "Puesta del sol means sunset in Spanish (literally 'place the sun' - - as you place the orange slice to float on top of this drink). Hopefully it reminds you of a summer sunset on a beach relaxing at the end of a beautiful summer day."

Afterward, it was off to the Drawing Room for more cocktails and conversation. A blast, even if I did get home at 3:15 am (yawn).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lab Created Flavorings

It's just so wrong I had to blog it. A few minutes ago, I received an email from a flavoring company. I get them periodically - there are lots of flavoring companies out there, and they often call us to try and sell their wares. Rest assured, we do not use any flavorings in any of our spirits, we only use actual ingredients. This sets us apart from most of the other spirits companies in the United States - the big brand flavored vodkas, for example, are virtually all flavored with flavorings from a lab.

So what was in this offending email? It was an introduction to a class called Grain Flavor 201. Seriously.

Natural/Unnatural Flavorings
From our limited exposure to them, we've learned that flavor companies can engineer just about any flavor you want. They can use "natural" ingredients, to make "natural flavors," which only means they are derived from things that exist in nature (and may or may not contain any of the ingredient for the flavor you were after). For example, "natural lemon flavor" may or may not contain any part of an actual lemon (usually it doesn't, and bears more similarity to things used in floor cleaners, etc. - mmmm, tasty).

These flavor labs also create artificial flavors, which are often cheaper too - the sky's the limit on your options, if you're okay with the words "artificial flavors" on your product.

There's Grain Flavor Too?
I know spirits are flavored with these lab-created flavorings, and I've read books about how fast food companies use flavorings to make their food taste like something. But I didn't consider a grain flavor. When I shop at the local grocery store, I wasn't imagining that my breakfast cereal, and hell, even my bread are probably flavored with these things too. Wow. Welcome to the world of processed foods.

Think about that the next time you see "natural flavors added" or "artificial flavors added" on a label. As for me, I think I'm going to start having eggs for breakfast instead of cereal (organic, free-range eggs from a local farmer of course - let's not get into the egg topic).

Monday, March 9, 2009

MxMo: First Time Cocktails

I managed to break my resolution after only one month when I missed Mixology Monday last month, but this month I'm all over it.

Our hosts are the lovely ladies of
LUPEC Boston, and their chosen theme is "First Times." They've challenged us to write about a cocktail you might suggest to a cocktail virgin. Inspired by Pink Lady's story of meeting a Christian rocker who, at age 32, had never had a cocktail, I started thinking about the people I know that haven't had a cocktail. A few different types of people popped into my head:
  • "I Don't Drink" (Much) - I have some friends, mostly from earlier times in my life, that don't really drink. No beer, and often no wine either, let alone cocktails. There are a variety of reasons why they don't drink, but on occasion they might be open to trying something.
  • "I'll Have a Bud" - Perhaps you have some relatives like some of mine - nice enough folks, but they aren't adventurous drinkers. At all. They drink beer, American big-brand beer. Like Budweiser or maybe MGD if you're gettin' exotic.
  • "I Only Drink Wine" - Know any of these? They consider cocktails "too strong," and prefer to "take it easy" with wine, even if they have several glasses (or more) in a night. They might've had (bad) cocktails when they were younger, but it's been a long time.
For the first group, I was thinking Violet Fizz. It's a lovely, light cocktail, with complexity and an interesting ingredient that would be fun to talk about. It might work for the third group too, but definitely not for the second one (too frou-frou sounding and flowery tasting).

So I went for the Tom Collins. It's a classic, light and balanced cocktail when made with fresh juice & simple syrup. Plus, it's easy to make, and not so complex or strong as to overwhelm the inexperienced.

Tom Collins
2-2½ oz Gin (Distiller's Gin No. 6)
1 oz Lemon Juice
½ oz Simple Syrup (adjust to taste)
Club Soda

Shake gin, juice and simple with ice. Strain into ice-filled collins glass. Top up with club soda, and garnish with orange slice and maraschino cherry.

This is an old drink, first printed in Jerry Thomas's bartending guide in the 1860's. However, the origins of it's name, and it's original composition, are hotly debated topics. I figure my non-cocktail loving friends won't want too much story anyway, so I probably wouldn't get into all of that.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Absinthe & Maple Syrup* Challenge

How it Started
My husband Derek and I are fairly competitive with each other sometimes, usually where we are fairly evenly matched. Some examples include tennis, air hockey, darts and Golden Tee. And sometimes we challenge each other in the kitchen, to see if we can come up with something decent from weird ingredients.

On Sunday night, two things were co-existing on the kitchen counter - we had pancakes for breakfast, and I had brought home some of our Sirène Absinthe Verte for my cocktail development projects this week. So of course Derek challenged me to make a drink with both of them.

Now as I mentioned over on the Spirit World awhile back, I don't put real maple syrup on my pancakes - I was raised on Log Cabin "maple-tasting syrup." So I was supposed to mix maple-flavored corn syrup and absinthe.

Can't Back Down Now
Of course I couldn't back down or I'd never hear the end of it, so I poured a few ounces of absinthe into my mixing glass. And then some maple-tasting syrup. Stir, then taste. Yuck. "Get me a lemon," I uttered, hoping it would help.

In went the juice of one lemon, some Distiller's Gin No. 11, and a splash of Cointreau. Another stir and taste. Better, much better. A tad more Cointreau, and then it was tolerable, even. You could still taste the maple, but only a tiny hint on the finish. The absinthe dominates, as one would expect, but the citrus and gin spices complement it nicely.

Not sure it's a recipe worth repeating here (and I don't know the exact proportions), but I successfully completed the challenge. Sonja:1, Derek:0. Now to think up some ingredients for him to try and mix with...

Note: pic at right is from I didn't take a picture, so went for one that looked very similar. Mine was very green indeed, and a bit cloudier from the citrus.