Saturday, May 21

Miss Charming's Drink Trivia IPhone App

I first had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with Cheryl Charming way back when I first started my journey to learning about cocktails via the forums.

Cheryl has published several cocktail related books. This being one of my favorites, Miss Charming's Book of Bar Amusements.

Now a days Miss Charming is living in New Orleans and bartending at The Bombay Club where she has elevated its bar to another level. I can't wait to head down to New Orleans and visit her again.

The latest news from Cheryl puts her IPhone Trivia App on sale for 99 cents through the summer of 2011. The app has 5,000 trivia questions which are always fun. The app has Miss Charming's usual flair in its styling and is very easy to use. To find it in the App Store search for "Miss Trivia." Or click the ITunes button bellow.

Tuesday, May 17

Jim's Place Collierville, TN

In the town of Collierville, TN where I now live I've been fortunate to find a great little watering hole called Jim's Place. Jim's Place is an excellent restaurant and has very good casual cuisine but its the bar at Jim's that keeps me coming back.

More specifically its the bartender at the Jim's Place that keeps me coming back and her name is Roya.

Have you ever walked into a bar and have the barkeep great you by name and ask you if you'd like your usual? If not, believe me it feels really good. Now you're probably saying to yourself, "I bet you go to this bar every night or at least very frequently." But no, what makes Roya an awesome (I don't use that word lightly) bartender is that I only go to Jim's Place once every two to three months. Her memory is simply amazing. As you sit at the bar you start to realize she is addressing everyone by their name. Its actually funny to watch some people's reaction when she greets her guests.

Roya understands that customer service, decent conversation, and obviously great cocktails are the driver that keeps her clientele come back again and again. For me going to a bar is more of a social thing. I can generally make a good drink at home but you don't get that interaction that you get at a bar. Rubbing elbows to elbows with other folks you don't know but probably have something in common with is part of the overall experience. One thing I really noticed about Roya's method of operation is that she starts up a conversation with a guest, banters back and forth some, then pauses, and it usually starts up a conversation between the two strangers sitting next to each other.

Now I would be remiss if I also didn't mention that Roya knows her stuff behind the stick otherwise as well. What a delight to have a bartender mix up a Manhattan, with bitters, with the right proportion if vermouth, without saying a word.

So next time you find yourself in Collierville, TN (suburb of Memphis), stop into Jim's Place, where Roya knows your name. You won't be sorry.

Saturday, November 13

Finding GOOD Bartenders

Maybe its just me, or the places I go, but I find it increasingly hard to find a GOOD bartender. One that I might label a bar chef, one that has a handle on the classics and the flavor profiles from which beget some good Specialty Cocktails.

For a while now, I've been asking bartenders the question, "So where did you learn to be a bartender?" The normal answer I get has the person starting in a lower end position and working their way up. I then ask if they went to bartending school. I get about an 80/20 split to this, 80 percent say no, and 20 percent say yes. Of the 20 percent that confirmed they went to bartender school, I'd say about 95 percent are NOT what I would classify as a GOOD bartender. Sad but true, at least from my experience.

The 80 percent left  learned from a seasoned veteran in the form of OTJ (On The Job) training. This group, from my experience, seems to have a better chance for learning the art the right way. Learning that bitters really do go in a Manhattan, that sour mix is a bad shortcut, or that the glass is called a cocktail glass NOT a martini glass these are all little things that seem to be lost on those that were taught the wrong way and never really bothered to confirm the truth about their profession.

I know what your thinking, our host to this little blog is getting on his soap box again, maybe so. So again, the problem I face is that I have such a hard time finding that GOOD bartender. One that has a passion for their profession, one that enjoys serving up small glasses of satisfaction to everyone of their patrons. But I digress...

Geography also seems to have something to do with finding GOOD bartenders. When I lived in New Orleans it was fairly easy, when I travel to New York City its easy, and when I seek out known bar chefs I have no problem however, here in Memphis, TN I've only found one (more on that later). I travel a good bit in the US, more so with my last job, but from my experience there are some hot spots: New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago. I'm sure there are more smaller pockets of bar passion out there, but its clear the concentration is in certain areas.

So, if you are looking to get into bartending and your serious about it I would recommend finding a tavern where the bartender knows his/her stuff and try to get them to mentor you. We have to make sure the old school knowledge that's in the world doesn't die off with age.

Good Luck.

Wednesday, November 10

The savvy drinker-Spirits and taste

Spirits drinkers can be fussy drinkers, I should know. Particularly if they know how to mix good drinks themselves. Good quality spirits and excellent taste are the basis of what a real spirits drinker wants. Whether you drink vodka, Scotch, rum, bourbon or the incredible Japanese rice whiskey, it's all a matter of taste and quality. Knowing where to drink has a lot to do with it as well, whether you drink in local pubs or the absolute swankiest nightclubs.

Knowing your drinks
It's an interesting fact that spirits, which are supposed to be the same drinks, never actually are. All good spirits are quite different and have their own unique texture and flavor. For example, there are any number of different types of rum, and none of them are the same. No two types of Scotch are alike. Bourbon is always unique.
That's extremely important, when mixing drinks. The fact is that each type of spirit affects the flavour of any type of drink mix. Alcohol does play a part in the chemistry of the mix, but there are other factors involved, and that includes the chemistry of the spirits themselves and the way they're produced.
It's a good idea to spend some time checking out the very best spirits and educate your palate properly. The best spirits are considered the best not because they’re expensive, because they’re the product of very high quality production techniques. A brand like Johnnie Walker Black label, for example, is the result of excellent production technique, a well-established method of distillation, and very strict quality controls. Maker’s Mark is another example of a famous brand with very high quality standards.
That’s also why they’re excellent mixers. You'll find that the best bartenders far prefer these extremely reliable drinks as their mixing base, and it's very useful to know which are the best spirits for mixing drinks. 

A matter of good taste
The fact is that low quality spirits can sabotage any drink. Imagine a Black Russian with poor quality coffee liqueur. That's bad enough, but add third rate vodka, and you've got the disaster on your hands. It's not so much drinkable as forgettable.
Drink mixes are basically recipes, and you must remember that the ingredients themselves must be very high standards, as well as the basic drinks. Fresh is always better, and it is one of the reasons the best drink mixers insist on fresh herbs and fruits and other materials. These drinks are better prepared immediately before serving, although really high quality spirits and ingredients will keep very well.
The classic drinks like martinis, daiquiris, Black Russians, and gin and tonic are a good way of sharpening your skills and getting the necessary understanding of how drinks and ingredients mix together. Taking the time to learn how to mix your own drinks will drastically improve your drinking experience, and it's also a lot of fun. Savvy drinkers enjoy their drinks and that's the way it should be.

Wednesday, July 14

Cocktail Cupcake

Yum, I just had a Guinness and Bailey's Irish Cream cupcake and it was delicious. The combination of spirits and sweets make for a great pair. A while back I wrote about Cake-tales and Pie-tinis, the creation of Michael Waterhouse served at New York's Dylan Prime restaurant. These desserts in a glass was one thing but Cocktail Cupcakes are out of this world.

Using alcohol in cooking isn't something new, but desserts like Cocktail Cupcakes put the flavors of the alcohol as a lead actor rather than in a supporting role. You really get the full flavor of the spirits in the frosting.

The mini treat I had was created by Amanda King. She is starting a business here in the Memphis, TN area called AK Cupcakes. She has an array of flavors. If you happen to live in the Memphis area give them a try, you won't be sorry. Here is her site

If you happen to be in the Atlanta, GA area I also found this site, although I haven't tried theirs.


Thursday, July 1

Maker's 46 Launch

Big news from Loretto, KY the home of my favorite bourbon Maker's Mark. Today the distillery launches a brand new product called Maker's 46. Here are the details straight from the press release.
Maker’s 46 is a handcrafted, full-bodied Bourbon whisky that starts off as original Maker’s Mark. The transformation into Maker’s 46 begins when fully matured Maker’s Mark is emptied from the barrel so that 10 seared French oak staves can be affixed to the sides. Then, Maker’s Mark, which is made with red winter wheat for a smooth taste, is put back in the barrel and aged for several more months, allowing the natural caramel, vanilla and spice flavors released by the staves to enhance the end product.
I"m really excited about the product and hope it tastes as good as it sounds. The process is said to bring out the caramel and vanilla flavors while keeping the bitterness down. The name a little odd, but the reason for it has nothing to do with the bourbon's age its the profile number assigned to the "wood recipe" created by Brad Boswell, Wood Chef. Brad was a collaborator with Maker's Mark Master Distiller Kevin Smith.

I haven't personally tasted this yet, but I have high hopes. You might want to head to the stores now because they plan to only ship 25,000 cases of Maker's 46 this year, which is likely to make it a hard find.

Alas, I can always hope some of the nice people at Maker's will send me some to review.

Read more about Bourbon...

Saturday, May 29

Where can I find Bitters?

So I've been living in Tennessee for 2 years now. I didn't realize how accustomed I'd become to Louisiana liquor laws. I know the laws here in Tennessee more closely approximate the rest of the country, but my goodness! All I want is some Angostura Bitters and I can't find them anywhere. In Louisiana I just walk into my local supermarket and pick up my Bourbon, Vermouth, and Bitters in one shot. But in Tennessee (and most everywhere else) no such luck. Bitters for some crazy reason are only sold grocery stores and liquor stores only sell liquor.

I've always thought the Louisiana law on selling liquor in grocery stores made a lot of sense. Liquor stores are always getting robbed and they often induced a seedy element which makes for a scary trip to get one's tipple on. Selling liquor in grocery stores made it safer and much more convenient as your mixers are there too. But I digress, not the point of this post.

Back to the bitters dilemma. Up until now I've been going through my various back stock of bitters and haven't been forced to go in search. However most recently I have had to replenish the supply. When I went looking, store after store had nothing, nada. They had nothing but the same old set of Margarita mixes and dusty cans of Coco Lopez. I'd almost swear it was the same cans if I didn't know better. Of course you ask a store clerk and they look back at you like you've grown a third eye. "Bitters, bitters! What do you want that for?"

Finally after much searching and an ask of a knowledgeable local liquor store clerk, I was pointed to one of those boutique grocery stores, you know the ones, where the soccer moms and turtle neck dads get their tofu and crab spread. There it was beside the designer tonic water, Angostura Bitters!! Whoa!!! $8.23!!!! What the hell! (Sorry for all the ! but that's how I felt) I guess they know they are the only game in town, perhaps there is some deep conspiracy going on that I've uncovered and your very erratic blog author here will go missing, although none of you would know... hmmmm.

But really has the price of bitters gone through the roof recently? Is there a bitters shortage of which I'm not aware?

On top of all of this when I asked to special order some Plymouth Gin at the liquor store I was told they can only special order liquor they can get from their local distributors, state law. Really?!? Alas, online shopping I will go.

Saturday, February 14

Chris McMillian at The Renaissance Pere Marquette

For those of you that don't know Chris McMillian, let me introduce one of the best bartender in New Orleans. Chris is the bar keep at the Renaissance Pere Marquette just off Canal St.

Chris used to bartend at the Ritz-Carlton. Now his new bar stage is a bit more modern and the bar length is a great deal more, which are both good in my opinion. My wife and I visited Chris two weekends in a row a little while back and we had a blast.

The bar was packed and Chris was busy whipping up his magic. I watched as each patron bellied up to the bar. A person would sit down and Chris would greet them all the while peeling, muddling, shaking, straining, flaming another guest's cocktail. I could see their eyes go wide as they realized this wasn't your ordinary liquor-and-mixer type of bar. They look left, and then right down the bar to see all the fancy cocktails and you can see the bar fear hit them in the face. Some would just panic and order a wine or beer, but others would be smart about it and just ask Chris, "What do you recommend?"

I know I almost always use the "surprise me" method with Chris. Here are a few of the cocktails he served up for me and my wife.

The first was the Gin Deaux, obviously a gin based cocktail, but you'll have to ask Chris for the rest. This is a Chris McMillian original cocktail. As he tells it he found himself in Williams-Sonoma at Christmas time and there was a display of ginger and cranberries, which he thought made a good combination. He bought a can of the ginger and started experimenting. If you like cosmopolitans I would strongly recommend this cocktail.

Manhattan garnished with a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry
2.5 oz Rye
0.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
3 dashes of Angostura Bitters
1 Luxardo Gourmet Maraschino Cherry

Stir ingredients in a mixing glass with ice for 15 to 20 seconds. Then strain into a well chilled cocktail grass. Garnish with an un-rinsed Luxardo Cherry.

As you all know I'm a Manhattan lover. It is probably my go-to drink at home when I'm in a whisky mood. Dropping one of these Luxardo Cherries in is divine. These little Italian babies are jarred in Marasca syrup and are a great complement to the cocktail. You can pick up a jar of these at Kegworks. I cut back a little on the sweet vermouth as the cherry adds its own sweet flavor.

0.25 oz Herbsaint (or other Absinthe substitute)
0.25 oz Simple Syrup
2 dashes Peychaud bitters
2 oz rye whiskey

Add ice to an old fashioned glass and let it sit. In a second glass add bitters, simple syrup, and rye. Stir this mixture with ice for 10 seconds. In the first glass discard the ice and add the Absinthe substitute. Coat the entire inside of the glass. This can be done by throwing the glass up in the air while spinning it. If you do this you are likely to get some splash on yourself. You can discard any extra Absinthe substitute. Now strain the 2nd glass into the coated chilled glass. The last step is to garnish with a twist of lemon making sure to rim the glass with the twist.

Of course when Chris made the Sazerac had a story to go along with it about how he had made a mountain of Sazeracs recently for a cocktail seminar he had recently given. Chris likes to coat his glass with Herbsaints (absinthe substitute) by throwing the glass up in the air while spinning it around. As you can imagine by the end of the seminar he was quite coated in Herbsaints.

This reminds me... For those of you who might be traveling with a big group and/or have a business meeting in New Orleans you have the opportunity to have a cocktail seminar given to you by Chris McMillian himself. Contact the Renaissance Pere Marquette for information.

French 75
1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
0.5 oz Simple Syrup
2 oz Gin
Fill Champagne
1 Lemon Spiral

Shake lemon juice, simple syrup and gin with ice. Strain into a chilled champagne flute and top off with chilled champagne. Use a channel knife to create lemon spiral (be sure to do so over the glass so the oils spray onto the rim). When done add the spiral to the glass hanging the top piece over the rim of the glass.

Chris made this classic for my wife and promptly had to make it 2 more times for other guests.

So the next time you're in New Orleans I highly recommend going to check out Chris at the Renaissance Pere Marquette. Just sit down and ask him to surprise you, I promise you won't be disappointed.


Sunday, December 14

KAI Vodka

There is a new ultra-premium vodka that has recently made its way from Vietnam into my hands called KAI Vodka. Unlike European vodkas, which are crafted from wheat, rye, or potatoes, KAI is distilled from rice. The rice used in KAI Vodka is of the rare yellow-blossom variety that grows only in the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam, the so-called “Napa Valley of rice.” This rice-based beverage is not sake because although both are rice based, sake is brewed, while vodka is distilled. This delicate grain imparts a much smoother, sweeter flavor.

Who knew, but Vietnam has an ancient tradition of making vodka, a Vietnamese woman created the recipe from which KAI is derived 600 years ago, adding to the brand’s mystique.

Here are some cocktail recipes using KAI’s two flavors, Original and Lychee flavor.

Japanese Tea Garden
1.5 parts Kai vodka
0.75 parts lemon juice
0.5 parts simple syrup
6 Basil leaves
2 parts Fresh Apple Juice

Method: Muddle basil, lemon, and simple syrup, add ice, vodka, and apple juice. Shake and strain over fresh ice or roll all ingredients into a tall glass.

Garnish: basil

Basil Gimlet
1.5 parts Kai vodka
1 part lime juice
0.75 parts simple syrup
4-6 basil leaves

Method: Muddle Basil in lime juice and simple syrup, add ice and vodka and fine strain into a cocktail glass.

Garnish: lime wheel or basil leaf

Kai Pear Bellini
0.75 parts Kai
0.75 parts Kai Lychee
0.5 parts lime juice
0.5 parts simple syrup
0.5 parts pear puree
Float of Prosecco

Method: In a mixing glass add all ingredients except Prosecco with ice. Shake and strain into a Flute.

Garnish: Orange twist

Kai Vodka is currently available in major retail outlets, restaurants, and hotels in Hawaii, California, Arizona, and Nevada. KAI is currently expanding to Florida, Illinois, Georgia, New Mexico, and other markets across the country in the coming months and in 2009 including Texas and New York.

(source KAI Vodka press release)

Tuesday, June 24

The Bar Mix Master has left New Orleans...

I have some good/bad news.

I just recently accepted a new job that is going to have me and my family moving to Memphis, TN. While this is great news for me and my family it is bitter sweet as I won't really be able to fully experience Tales of the Cocktail this year. At most I will just be able to attend on Saturday.

While I'm sad about leaving New Orleans, the cocktail captial of the south, I am looking forward to discovering the good, good Memphis bars while raising the level of those not so good, good Memphis bars.

For those readers that might be Memphians drop me a line I'd love to hear from you!

With all this said, I won't be able to cover Tales in the TalesBlog the way I had hopped. However, next year look for me there with bells on.