Stalking the sweetly sour

Posted by Anita on 05.21.11 11:06 AM

(c)2010 AEC *All Rights Reserved*Rhubarb when raw is so tough
And its leaves contain poisonous stuff,
- But when cleaned and de-soiled
- Dipped in sugar and boiled
Then the stalks are quite tasty enough.
-The Rhubarb Compendium


This month’s CanJam challenge — hosted by Toronto Tasting Notes — offers not one but two options for us to put up: Asparagus or rhubarb. Given that I’d used the former in last month’s project (the theme was herbs, and I made tarragon asparagus pickles), my path was clear.

I know that some of my friends (including both of the people who I consider my pie gurus) will disown me when I admit this, but I’m not generally a fan of rhubarb’s texture; I just can’t tolerate the usual sliminess. I love its tart fruitiness, so I’ve learned a trick or two for keeping it firm in desserts, but canning it in a water bath — the whole point of the CanJam — would undo all of those careful preparations.

But there are a few preserves, like flavored syrups, where the pulp of the fruit (or vegetable, in this case) is strained out, leaving just the juice and its flavor behind. Best of all, syrups are simple to preserve, and they’re a compact way to save the flavors of seasonal produce for enjoyment throughout the year. You can also freeze syrups, if — unlike me — you’ve got the space to safely stash a glass bottle.

You can use this flavored syrup any place a sweet-spicy-sour touch would be welcome, something as simple as brushing it onto a cake, or diluting it with sparkling water for a homemade soda. To my mind, its perfect use is making a pink variation on the venerable summer drink known as the Paloma (or even a virgin variation, sans tequila).

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Rhubarb-Ginger Syrup
- makes 1 jar to keep, plus a little to use right away; can easily be doubled or tripled

1.5 cups white sugar
1 cup water
2 cups thick-sliced rhubarb stalks, leaves discarded
1 cup chopped ginger (no need to peel)

Prepare canner (or a saucepan deep enough to cover the jar by 3 inches), plus a small jam jar and its lid, according to the usual method; keep jar and lid hot until needed.

In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a simmer, stirring to dissolve. Add the rhubarb and ginger; return to a simmer, then reduce heat and let slowly bubble until the rhubarb is thoroughly soft. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, line a metal strainer with cheesecloth, and place it over a heatproof bowl. (If you want crystal-clear syrup, use a muslin jelly bag and be prepared to wait for gravity to draw the liquid into the bowl; be careful not to press or squeeze the solids.)

Bring the strained syrup back to a simmer, then pour into the heated jar, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe rim and center lid on jar. Screw band to fingertip-tight.

Place jar in canner. Bring to a boil; process covered for 5 minutes. Remove lid, wait 5 minutes, then remove jar. Cool, check seal, and store in a cool, dark place.


canjam01La Paloma Rosada
1.5 to 2oz blanco tequila
1/2 oz rhubarb-ginger syrup
grapefruit bitters
tart grapefruit soda (such as Izze Grapefruit)

Fill a Collins glass with ice. Add the tequila and syrup; fill with grapefruit soda, and give a good stir. Top the ice with a few shakes of bitters.

CanJam, drinks, preserving & infusing, recipes


Smuggler’s Cove snapshot

Posted by Anita on 12.04.09 10:34 AM

(c)2009 AEC - *All Rights Reserved*

Every time we used to go to Alameda’s Forbidden Island, we sighed and wondered what it would take to convince its proprietor, Martin Cate, to open a bar like this closer to our house. It took a while, but our rum-soaked dreams have come true.

If anything, Smuggler’s Cove may turn out to be even more amazing than its East Bay cousin. Sure, there’s no outdoor patio (but really, given the shortage of sunny San Francisco days, I doubt we’d miss it), and the small space has the potential to get awfully crowded. But that wasn’t the case at last night’s media preview, where a handful of cocktail writers got the chance to sample five drinks out of the 80-plus offerings that the bar will serve come next Tuesday’s opening night.

What sets Smuggler’s Cove apart from the tiki pack is its focus on top-notch bartending talent (Martin’s gathered an enviable collection of West Coast heavy hitters), quality ingredients, and solid technique. It’s a serious rum-focused bar with retro-tropical decor, but there’s refreshingly little of the tongue-in-cheek cheesiness that you might expect. (Don’t get me wrong, I love me some ooga-booga. But I like a well-made, properly measured cocktail even more.)

And speaking of well-made cocktails, there were many to sample last night. A favorite of many guests, the Chadburn — rum, tawny port, pear liqueur, and a dash of Xocolatl Mole Bitters — takes its name from the gizmo that telegraphs changes in speed from the ship’s bridge to the engine room. The Hotel Nacional Special, which made its debut in 1939′s Gentleman’s Companion, combines pineapple, silver rum, apricot liqueur, and lime. Three more drinks — the frothy Cora Middleton, a spicy Three Dots and a Dash highball, and the island standby of J Wray & Ting — rounded out the night’s abbreviated menu.

The space itself is a marvel. The main level features a one-man bar that’s as snug and seemingly as well-designed as a yacht, surrounded by a handful of barstools and two walls of rum, rum, and more rum (and a few select spirits). Overlooking the main bar, an inviting balcony area — decorated with the requisite thatch walls and colorful puffer-fish and net-float lights — clusters armchairs around tables made to resemble old rum crates. Down a flight of ship-like stairs, a larger bar — comfortable enough for two shakers and a barback — boasts an even-larger array of rums. A low-ceilinged sitting area manages to feel cozy rather than claustrophobic, in part due to a two-story water feature that rises back to the entry.

A series of sold-out friends-and-family preview nights are scheduled for this weekend, with opening night slated for next Tuesday, December 8. It’s sure to be difficult to get a seat for weeks to come, but I know that once the crowds die down a bit, we’ll be dropping anchor in this cove quite often.

Smuggler’s Cove
650 Gough Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

bar culture, drinks


Eating the Quarter

Posted by Cameron on 07.10.09 9:08 AM


Originally posted on the Tales Blog, where we’re working with many other cocktail bloggers to cover Tales of the Cocktail, 2009.

As someone who has been to my share of trade shows and conferences, I can tell you that the phrase “convention lunch” is enough to strike fear into the heart of the boldest traveler. But this is Tales of the Cocktail, which is about as un-convention-al as it gets. You can count on a good time in the seminars, tasting rooms, and party rooms, and then stroll out to some seriously good food.

Yesterday was the perfect example. We rolled out of bed, still on Pacific Time and fuzzy from the previous night’s festivities, cleaned up a bit, and then hit the bricks, aiming for the river, Cafe du Monde, and beignets with cafe au lait. The beignets come three to a plate, snuggled into a pile of powdered sugar that looks like nothing so much as the scene in the third act of Scarface where Tony Montana plunges his face into a mountain of cocaine. Instead of our noses, we plunged our beignets into the fluffy white mound while a singing, trumpet-playing entertainer performed “Down by The Riverside,” “Danny Boy,” and other feats of musical daring for the amusement of passers-by.

On our way back to the hotel, our eyeballs vibrating ever so slightly from the sugar buzz, we realized that our “lunch” break wouldn’t come until 2:30, and that we needed something a bit more substantial to carry us through the day. So, we stopped at Johnny’s Po-Boys and split an egg and bacon po’boy, washed down with a couple of Barq’s root beer sodas. Mother’s may get more attention, but for our money, Johnny’s is the spot. It’s a place of wonderful mysteries. How do they manage to get the rolls to be tender, chewy, and flaky all at the same time? How can they offer fried chicken with a homemade biscuit and white gravy for $2.50 a plate? And how am I going to manage to get here enough times this week, given all the other great places that we’ll be eating at?

Back at Tales, we soaked up some knowledge and tasted some spirits, but I have to admit that I was already looking forward to our next food foray. We roped in Marshall from Scofflaw’s Den and headed back into the Quarter, aiming for Central Grocery and its famous muffuletas.

I had my first Central Grocery muffuletta at last year’s Tales, and it was a madhouse. There was a line out the door, and every horizontal surface was staked out by someone eagerly devouring one of the sandwiches. Today, there were no crowds, which made the lunchtime experience much more civilized. But even if it were wall-to-wall people, it wouldn’t have mattered. If there’s anything wrong with loving a sandwich the size and shape of a hubcap, spread with oily, tangy olive salad and filled with all sorts of good things (salami, capicola, and provolone, just to name a few), I don’t want to be right.

The best part? The day wasn’t over, much less the week. We have got to get to Green Goddess, and there’s a slew of other stuff on the schedule. And no matter where we are I’m pretty sure that there’s another plate of beignets calling my name, down by the riverside.


New Orleans, restaurants, Tales of the Cocktail


Countdown to Tales

Posted by Anita on 05.11.09 7:18 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**It’s hard to believe that in just two months — July 8 through 12 — we’ll be back in New Orleans for this year’s Tales of the Cocktail. Cameron and I are both participating in this year’s TalesBlog group, and {gulp} I’m moderating a Saturday-morning seminar called “Secrets of Cocktail Photography“.

TalesBlog is already up and running with previews of many of the interesting sessions, tasting rooms, events, and meals that make Tales the must-do event for anyone who loves cocktails. The contributor list is pretty much a Who’s Who of top cocktail bloggers, so it’s worth adding to your feed-reader even if you’re not planning to attend.

In other Tales-related news, host venue Hotel Monteleone is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Carousel Bar, and they’re celebrating with a contest open to all bloggers. Here’s the gist: From 1949 until sometime in the late 60s or 70s there was a drink on the Carousel Bar’s menu called the Monteleone Cocktail. Unfortunately, the hotel folks have no idea what the exact recipe or ingredients were.

Here’s where you come in: Submit a recipe for your best idea for the new official Monteleone Cocktail. Entries will be judged by VIPs at the Carousel anniversary celebration on May 21. There are no requirements on types of liquor or style of drink, but all entries must be posted on your blog and emailed to the sponsors no later than May 18. (Send your drink recipe, along with your name, address, and phone number, to

The winning entry will become the new official Monteleone Cocktail, and the winner will receive four free nights at Hotel Monteleone during Tales of the Cocktail 2009.

bar culture, drinks, New Orleans, Tales of the Cocktail, travel


Book Club, volume 2

Posted by Anita on 04.22.09 4:00 PM

Food & Wine Cocktails 2009For the food-obsessed, there are a lot of exciting things that pop up in the spring. The first tender favas, skinny spears of asparagus, and fruit-tree blossoms that promise a sweet summer ahead. But in our circle of friends, there’s been another anticipation afoot: The long wait for the new edition of Food & Wine’s Cocktails annual.

You may recall our “Book Club” making visits to Range, Forbidden Island, and Bar Drake last year; in fact, our crew managed to hit every San Francisco bar listed in the 2008 edition, sampling a few gems amid a stunning number of failures. (Not to mention the many AWOL contenders; I wish we had a dollar for every time we heard “Oh, that? Nobody liked it, so we took it off the menu.” Sigh.)

When I crossed paths with the book’s compiler, Jim Meehan, at his NY speakeasy PDT, I gave him a fair bit of good-natured grief for our trouble. He allowed that the fleeting nature of drink recipes could be a bit of a problem, but assured me that big changes were in store for 2009, and seemed confident we would like the new direction he’d taken.

It’s still the same book — digest sized, with a clean and colorful layout. But in the biggest change from previous years, where chapters were organized by base spirit, this year’s book focuses on themed chapters: aperitifs, Latin drinks, seasonal drinks, frozen drinks, pitcher drinks, after-dinner drinks, classics, mixologists’ drinks, and mocktails. Each section has a patron bartender, who is briefly profiled and provides all the recipes. Bar celebrities like Jamie Boudreau, Julie Reiner, and (the book’s co-editor) Joaquin Simo take their turns, as do lesser-known mixmasters such as Jeff Grdinich.

The mixologists’ section is like a miniature version of previous editions of the book, a compilation of 18 drinks from top bartenders across the country. Although it’s hard to tell without actually mixing them, the drink recipes from San Francisco shakers — Absinthe’s Jonny Raglin, Neyah White of Nopa, and Jacques Bezuidenhout of Bar Drake — look great on paper. But better still, they come from bartenders who we know understand what works, not just in a highly controlled test-kitchen environment, but in everyday drink-slinging bars. It’s no surprise that some of the cocktails we liked best from last year’s Book Club came from these gentlemen; I can’t wait to give their recipes a test drive.

As before, there’s a directory of top bars listed in the back. This time, the list is explicitly titled “Top 100 Bars”, though they are not necessarily correlated to the included recipes. Frustratingly, other than hat-tips to chapter hosts, there’s no cross-reference to each establishment’s recipes by page number, a detail from past editions I will definitely miss. Cantina’s blurb, for example, mentions Duggan McDonnell by name, offering that “Many of his creations are featured in the Pitcher Drinks chapter (p. 94).” But Absinthe’s listing neither mentions Jonny Raglin, nor directs readers to his recipe on page 135, opting instead for a quizzical mention of Top Cheftestant Jamie Lauren.

As far as the local bars in the Top 100, there’s only a couple of quibbles. Everyone I’ve asked is surprised by the omission of Oakland’s lovely Flora, and it’s odd that Bar Drake didn’t make the cut this year when Jacques’ recipe did. Bix, however, is a total head-scratcher. Despite reviving the classic-cocktail genre a full decade before almost anyone else in town, this stalwart has long been eclipsed in both technical merit and outright hospitality.

The visuals, always a strength of this series, continue to impress. In addition to ace prop styling and eye-popping photography found in previous editions, this year’s version includes more infographics, which should help users navigate now that the book is not organized by spirit type. Graphics show ease of construction and base spirit, in addition to the glassware icon of the past editions. The front matter is perhaps a bit basic for experienced bar aficionados, although there is some good stuff about ice, must-have spirits, and best brands taste-test winners.

Do you need Food & Wine Cocktails ’09 in your bar library? Probably not. But at $10, it’s less than the price of a drink at nearly any of the places it trumpets, and it’s bound to be a fun souvenir of the way we’re drinking in the late aughts.

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Bay Area bars/restaurants in the Top 100
There are 13 of them this year, which — for those of you keeping score at home — is more than any other city except NYC (home to 14). Mixologists mentioned by name in their establishment’s blurb are shown in brackets.

- Absinthe
- Alembic
- Beretta [Thad Vogler]
- Bix
- Bourbon & Branch
- Cantina [Duggan McDonnell]
- Clock Bar
- Elixir [H Ehrmann]
- Forbidden Island
- Heaven’s Dog [Erik Adkins]
- Nopa [Neyah White]
- Range
- Slanted Door

San Francisco cocktail recipes in the Mixologists’ Drinks chapter:
- Jonny Raglin, Absinthe
Villa Flores: jalapeno, tequila, egg white, grapefruit, agave, orange-flower water, Sichuan pepper garnish

- Neyah White, Nopa
Cherry Samba: cachaca, cherry Heering, Islay Scotch, lemon, simple, egg white

- Jacques Bezuidenhout, Bar Drake
Black Friar’s Pint: gin, cardamom-cinnamon Guinness, sherry, bitters, agave, egg white, cinnamon garnish

San Francisco recipes for Party Food:
- Warm Marinated Olives, Seasons Bar & Lounge
- Queso Fundido, Tres Agaves
- Polpette in Spicy Tomato Sauce, Beretta

And one San Francisco chapter host: Duggan McDonnell of Cantina

bar culture, Bay Area, books & media, drinks, restaurants


MxMo: Recession proof

Posted by Anita on 02.16.09 11:52 PM

(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*The great irony of these troubled economic times is that cocktail budgets are shrinking just at the time when many of us really could use a strong drink. And even if you’ve survived the entire economic downturn syndrome — the downsizing, the furloughs, the real-estate bubble, and the credit crunch — unscathed, it feels a little too much like tempting fate to be drinking high on the hog while waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And thus we find ourselves on this particular Mixology Monday with the theme Hard Drinks for Hard Times, hosted by whiskey guru Matthew Rowley. Our assignment: “Write about an alcoholic drink you’ve made that resonates with the current economic turndown.”

But even widespread austerity measures don’t have to mean the end of the civilized ritual that a properly made cocktail affords. Off the top of my head, I can think of five painless ways to keep the cocktail hour rolling when we need it the most:

Secret #1: Switch your allegiance.

Perhaps the simplest way to economize on cocktail expenses — other than to drink less — is to drink cheaper booze. Duh. But I’m not advocating that you ignore your tastebuds and buy crap, or even settle for something you don’t enjoy. (We are still drinking for the pleasure of the well-crafted cocktail, correct?)

So, for example, if you’re fond of rye (and really, who isn’t?) consider a bottle of Old Overholt for everyday mixing; save that Sazerac or Rittenhouse for sipping, or at least for the drinks where the spirit is the star of the show. The shelves are filled with quality booze that’s nearly as good as the boutique brands, at a fraction of the cost. David Wondrich wrote up five of his favorites in a recent Esquire piece; I’m hoping we’ll hear a lot more about alternative brands from other MxMo posters.

Secret #2: Share the love.

If you need just an ounce or two of some obscure liqueur, don’t be afraid to ask your friends if they’ve got a bottle you can borrow. This works especially well if you have somebody like Erik living a few blocks away, like we do. But even if you have to make a special trip across town, you’ll have an excuse to buy your pal a drink.

The ground rules are the same ones your mama taught you back when your friends were loaning you Hot Wheels and Shaun Cassidy albums: Return the item in the same condition you found it, express gratitude in an appropriate fashion, and reiterate how happy you’ll be to return the favor down the road.

Mixology Monday badgeSecret #3: Think small.

If you don’t have a ready network of cocktail geeks in your back yard, there’s still hope. Even the most math-challenged among us realizes that mini-bottles aren’t a great deal on an ounce-by-ounce basis. But if you only need a splash of something to test out a recipe – especially if it’s a type of liquor you aren’t sure you’ll love – tiny bottles can be a smarter bet.

A case in point: A few months back, I wanted to test a recipe that called for a small amount of Southern Comfort. But I’m not a great fan of flavored spirits, so this was a case where the $2.50 mini was a much wiser investment than the 750ml bottle at $15. (Special note to drink bloggers: Minis are often indistinguishable from their full-size counterparts in photographs, especially if you use a macro lens.)

Secret #4: Shop around.

If you’re lucky enough to live in a place that’s unencumbered by a state liquor monopoly, don’t be afraid to look for good-quality booze in unlikely places. Swanky spirits emporia may have all the beautiful bottles you need in one place, but they aren’t always a fantastic bargain. And — if you’re anything like me — it’s often impossible to get out the door without buying three (or five, or a dozen) things you couldn’t live without.

You can often find great deals at places that don’t necessarily specialize in spirits, like supermarkets (we keep our Safeway Club Card just for stocking up on staple booze), drugstores (a co-worker swears Rite-Aid has door-buster pricing on Sailor Jerry rum), and warehouse stores like Costco. Just make sure to walk straight past that twelve-pack of Swiffer refills, OK?

But when you’re clipping coupons and being an otherwise savvy consumer, don’t forget that the owner of your local quality liquor store — the one who makes great wine recommendations and offers to set aside bottles of special whiskey for you when it comes in — is also feeling the pinch. Certainly, buy your Beefeater in bulk, but when you’re getting excited about saving two bucks on a $25 bottle at the megamart, remember that if you don’t buy from the folks who really know their stuff, you’ll miss their expertise when the inevitable happens.

Secret #5: Drink seasonally.

If you’re a fan of drinks that have a substantial fruit or juice component, it pays to keep an eye on the calendar. Drink sours in the wintertime, Tequila por mi Amante in the spring, Bellinis in summertime, cobblers in the fall. Just as when you’re planning meals, follow the bumper crop for cocktail ingredients and you’ll find the best prices as the farmers market. And don’t be afraid to ask around; you may even get lucky enough to find a neighbor or co-worker with an abundance of backyard fruit to share.

If you know you won’t be able to live without your favorite fruity beverages in the off-season, consider simple preservation: Most fruits (and pretty much all juices) freeze well, and home-made cocktail cherries are among the simplest and most rewarding of spring pantry projects.

In the spirit of the frugal tipple, we shook up a batch of Ward Eight cocktails — essentially a more-interesting twist on the venerable whiskey sour — using one of our favorite value-priced spirits, plus lemons from our own tree, and oranges given to us by a friend with an abundance of homegrown fruit. The grenadine is a homebrew version we keep on hand, made from store-bought pomegranate juice. The cherry garnish happens to be a gift from another thoughtful friend, but we could just as easily have used our own home-preserved version.

We’re sipping them out of gorgeous glassware, but — a-ha, an unbilled Secret #6! — we buy nearly all of our cocktail glasses secondhand. Thrift stores sell beautiful vintage glasses as cheaply as $0.50, and rarely higher than $2 a stem. An added bonus: Antique cocktail glasses are much smaller than their modern counterparts, so you can often split a single drink between two.

(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*

Ward Eight
2 oz rye whiskey (such as Old Overholt)
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz orange juice
1 teaspoon grenadine

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

drinks, Mixology Monday, recipes


Rose-colored world

Posted by Anita on 02.06.09 9:36 PM

(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*I know that it’s been awfully quiet around these parts for a while, but whirlwind trips to New York City will severely cut into your blogging time. The lovely folks at NOTCOT and Liqurious sent me on a hybrid photography/writing assignment to cover the launch of Rosangel, a new hibiscus-infused tequila from Gran Centenario.

You can probably guess that I don’t have a lot of personal affection for flavored spirits, but my better judgment prevailed: As freelance gigs go, getting to visit New York for a long weekend sure beats the hell out of just about anything else.

I fretted about how to make a rose-pink tequila sound credible to our cocktailian friends. But in all honesty, from what I was able to taste at the event, Rosangel has all the hallmarks of a quality product. It uses Gran Centenario reposado as its base, it’s aged for an additional 2 months in port casks to give it complexity and a rosy glow, and then it’s infused with hibiscus blossoms, not doctored with artificial flavors. I’m anxiously awaiting the chance to get my hands on a bottle to play with; the retail launch is set for March.

What I didn’t know when I accepted the assignment was that one of the events would be held at Clover Club, the newish Brooklyn bar from Julie Reiner of Flatiron Lounge fame. And, better still, that I’d have a chance to watch Ms. Reiner and Paul Pacult lead a hands-on immersion training for eight tequila-loving bartenders flown in from all around the country. (I won’t steal my own thunder any more than I already have: You’ll have to check out the NOTCOT post for the full scoop.)

So anyway, apologies for the radio silence. At least you know I had a good excuse! I promise there’s another post coming soon, all about the 70-pound pig we roasted for Cameron’s big birthday.

(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*

(Oh man, I shot so many frames… picking just five representative photos for the filmstrip this time is impossible! Please click through to see the whole collection.)

bar culture, drinks, NYC, other blogs


MxMo: French Sin

Posted by Anita on 01.19.09 10:38 PM

(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*When you go to London, if you’re at all interested in the mixological arts, I recommend you bring an ample supply of cash, a large bottle of milk thistle, and a suitcase full of bubble wrap. Dear reader, they have so many wonders across the Pond that we only dream of Stateside.

First among these treasures is a plethora of eye-poppingly gorgeous (not to say purse-poppingly pricey) cocktail establishments. The exchange rate is lately favourable to the American drinker, as much as can be possible. But a list of cocktails priced at £16, or £18, or even a heart-stopping £26 a sniff is bound to set even the hardiest of world travelers back on her heels. It was only the Christmas holidays and the attendant closure of many of the Capital’s top watering holes that saved us from coming home skint.

One of the key reasons for the allure of said establishments — apart from their five-star decor and their world-class staff — is the ability for a colonial to sample libations that simply never make it to our shores. Rare malts! Esoteric liqueurs! Cuban rums! The mind reels at the possibilities of the drinks that could be shaken, if only one had access to such wonders. (Happily, one does. Although London’s spirits emporia are small in number, they’re rich in merchandise, easily discovered, and more than happy to abuse your charge card in exchange for some very fragile cargo for the return flight.)

One of the best drinks we enjoyed while in London married both of these two alluring elements, the fantastically beautiful bar and the enticingly rare ingredient.

Mixology Monday badgeAided and abetted by another London treasure, Jay Hepburn — proprietor of the spectacular blog known as Oh, Gosh! — we spent an evening taxing the hospitality of not one but two of London’s luxury-hotel lounges, the Bar at The Dorchester and Connaught Bar. Though our night at The Dorchester will forever remain a highlight of our London trip (due in no small part to the extraordinary welcome we received from our gregarious barman, Stefano, and his flawless drinks that kept us so enraptured that we missed the last train of the night!), the Connaught was a stunner.

It’s an opulent space, somehow embodying both splendid beauty and undeniably comfort. The staff are impeccable, gracious to a fault, and thoughtful to the utmost detail, from the first greeting to the last farewell. We were welcomed with a complimentary sip to enjoy while we perused the menu, then presented with a sheaf of recipes for the drinks we’d enjoyed at the end of the evening — an enchanting gesture that I hope will be the start of an international trend.

Though we savored many wonderful drinks that night, the final nod must go to the very first I tasted at Connaught Bar: a complex, spicy bit of exotica known as the French Sin. It’s not a simple drink to make, requiring a flavoured sugar, a barely seasonal fruit, a rare vermouth, and a carbonated tea infusion. Nevertheless, the rewards, as they say, are in the glass.

The French Sin also makes a perfect candidate for this month’s Mixology Monday: New Horizons, hosted by the anonymous Scribe of A Mixed Dram. Encouraged to sample a new spirit (amber vermouth, check!) or a new technique (carbonating tea — check again!), the French Sin covers all the bases. But if for some reason, you can’t be bothered to fizz your own tea, procure a bottle of rare vermouth, or infuse vanilla beans into sugar, never fear: The gentlemen of the Connaught Bar will be happy to oblige.

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French Sin
- Connaught Bar, London

1/2 fresh fig
1/2T to 1T vanilla sugar
1-1/2 oz Armagnac
1/2 oz amber vermouth
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz rooibos spiced soda water

Muddle the fig in the shaker with the vanilla sugar, then add the rest of the ingredients — other than the spiced soda water — and shake with ice. Double-strain into a small goblet and top with rooibos spiced soda water, and stir briefly to combine. Garnish with a quarter of a fig.

If figs are out of season, look for the freshest dried figs available. Rehydrate them in a small amount of hot (not boiling) water until soft enough to muddle. For garnish, use a lemon twist or a yellow flower, reminiscent of a vanilla orchid.

Vanilla sugar can be purchased in gourmet shops or spice stores — Penzey’s makes a nice one, as does Nielsen-Massey. To make your own, grind a half of a dry vanilla bean in a spice grinder or coffee grinder with a small amount of granulated sugar. Add this vanilla powder to 1 cup sugar and let sit at least 24 hours (and preferably up to a week) before using. In this recipe, you can use the sugar as-is, since you’ll be straining the shaken mixture, but in baked goods or as a general sweetener, use a fine sieve to remove the larger pieces of vanilla pod after the infusing is complete.

To make the rooibos spiced soda, steep 4 tsp spiced rooibos tea (or 1T pure rooibos tea plus a few cardamom pods, whole peppercorns, and cloves) in a quart of hot water for 5 minutes. Strain, chill thoroughly, and charge in a soda siphon.

bar culture, coffee & tea, London, Mixology Monday, recipes


MxMo: Spice (must flow)

Posted by Anita on 12.15.08 10:54 PM

(c)2008 DPaul Brown - all rights reservedWhen Sean and DPaul asked me to contribute a signature cocktail to serve with the appetizer course at their holiday soirée last weekend, I kept running into dead ends. For my previous stint behind the Hedonia bar, I’d whipped up a pair of well-received drinks, but for the holidays I wanted to try something a little more classically festive — and what’s more festive than bubbly?

But, if you know those Hedonia boys, you know that their parties are a feast for the eyes as well as the palate; a simple Champagne cocktail — classic though it may be — would not do. No, I needed a conversation starter, a ‘wow’ of a drink that would be sure to set off the beautiful hors d’oeuvres. I toyed with a number of ideas, but kept coming back to the idea of poinsettias and other holiday flowers. Then, while digging through the liquor cabinet, I noticed a jar of candied hibiscus flowers: pretty, festive, and a perfect holiday red.

The purveyor of these little antipodean garnishes suggests dropping one blossom into a flute of bubbly, with or without a splash of its syrup. But even before I remembered Craig‘s choice for this month’s Mixology Monday theme, I knew that I wanted to avoid fruity flavors and move things more into the spice realm.

At first, I tried a simple Champagne and Ginger cocktail, using Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur. Although sweet and pleasant, it really didn’t have the oomph I was looking for. A few hearty dashes of super-spicy whiskey barrel-aged bitters helped a bit, but really didn’t carry the drink into fabulousness.

Then I remembered an experiment from two winters ago. In the days before Domain de Canton hit the shelves, I’d spent a few months trying different techniques to get a strong ginger flavor into a cocktail without using ginger beer, mostly unsuccessfully. But then a “so simple it couldn’t work” idea paid off, and I ended up with a batch of spicy, faintly sweet infusion with a true ginger flavor. A repeat batch of this crystallized ginger digestif turned out to be just the thing to make my holiday sparkler shine.

But back to the garnish: I sampled some of the syrup the blossoms were preserved in, so I had a good handle on their flavor. However, the jar of flowers only held 11 blossoms and I had 10 guests to serve, so I hoarded them all for party night. Little did I know that, instead of the pretty little flowers shown in all the marketing shots, the blooms would become translucent red aliens in the cocktail glass, wicked half-plant/half-animal mutants straight out of a sci-fi movie.

Luckily our hosts and friends were gracious enough to humor our cocktail folly; only one guest refused (vehemently, I might add) to sample the flower, which does indeed taste like a sweet-tart berry. And once the bizarre garnish was gobbled up, everyone asked for refills on their spicy Champagne.

Looking through the photos that DPaul graciously sent over (I managed to bring my camera, but forgot the memory card), I realized that the hibiscus blossom looks like the head of a snake, or a sandworm from the movie version of Dune… a story that’s — appropriately enough — all about spice.

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Shai Hulud
1 oz homemade ginger liqueur
- or 1 oz Domaine de Canton plus 1/2 tsp ginger juice
5 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters
Champagne or other dry sparkling wine
candied hibiscus flowers

Measure the ginger liqueur and bitters into a coupe. Top with bubbly and garnish with a hibiscus flower.

Ginger Liqueur
3 oz crystallized ginger chunks
- available in the baking aisle or bulk foods stores
8 oz 80-proof vodka

Combine in a lidded jar. Let steep for two days, then shake; you should notice dark, syrupy threads diluting into the vodka. Continue to steep, shaking once a day, until you reach your desired level of spiciness.

drinks, Mixology Monday, recipes


Hangin’ at the Hangar

Posted by Anita on 11.22.08 9:53 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

We finally got ourselves over to Alameda this afternoon to visit the Hangar One / St. George Spirits distillery. We’ve always managed to be out of town during their annual open house parties, but this year was different. For a $30 ticket, we got the chance to sip pretty much everything they make (though we limited ourselves to things we hadn’t already tried), including the seasonal Spiced Pear vodka. The best part, though, was getting up close with their gorgeous copper stills, one of my favorite photo subjects.

For an additional $10, we also got to sample the new Agua Azul, a 100% agave spirit that can’t technically be called tequila because it’s not made in Mexico. We loved all three expressions — rich cristal, smoky reposado, and mellow-but-not-boring añejo — but balked when we saw the $60, $80, and $120 price tags. (We’ll probably change our minds right as they sell out, just as we did with the Absinthe Verte last year… oh well.)

In addition to all the sippable samples, admission included copious top-notch munchies: June Taylor preserves, Boccalone salumi, El Huarache Loco antojitos, La Cocina sweets, and Recchiuti chocolates. We were impressed at the short lines for both the samples and the loos (thanks to a set of porta-potties ’round back of the distilling equipment), and plentiful water stations all throughout the warehouse. A DJ spun tunes, employees answered questions, and a shuttle swung by every hour to drop guests off at BART.

Sound like fun? Sign up for the newsletter to find out about next year’s open house and other special events throughout the year.

Hangar One / St. George Spirits
2601 Monarch Street
Alameda, CA 94501

drinks, East Bay, locavore