Thursday, April 16

Healthy Indulgence – Cocktails For The Body-Conscious

The majority of us probably view cocktails as a delicious indulgence – something to enjoy without giving much of a hoot about the consequences. This ‘slightly sinful’ aspect is a major part of a cocktail’s appeal – they’re alcoholic, they’re calorific, and they have a whiff of sex about them which appeals to our naughty sides [1]. However, what about those of us who are trying to lose weight, are on a health kick, or are just generally uncomfortable with the idea of an unhealthy drink? Should they miss out on the fun? Well, no. Just because you like to take care of yourself doesn't mean that you should give up on the idea of enjoying the odd cocktail. Here’s the truth about the healthiness of cocktails, and some ways to up the ante when it comes to putting goodness in your beverage. 

The Benefits Of Moderation 
Despite what received wisdom would have you believe, alcohol in moderation is actually pretty good for you [2]. Numerous studies have proven beyond doubt that those who regularly drink moderate amounts of alcohol are healthier and live longer than those who completely abstain. There are several reasons for this, including a healthier social life, and the positive effects which reasonable amounts of alcohol have upon circulation, cognitive function, and even (unbelievable though it may seem) your liver. Of course, all of these positive benefits are absolutely wiped out by the deadly effects of regularly overdoing it with the booze [3], so in order to keep yourself in tip-top condition, you have to be sure that your intake stays moderate. Cocktail drinkers may have the edge over drinkers of other beverages in this respect, as the luxurious and eclectic nature of cocktails tends to mean that they are not just chucked down the neck in the way that people do with beer and wine. Cocktails are fun, and are treated with a kind of sophisticated respect and joy which means that intake of alcohol during the cocktails stage of an evening is generally fairly moderate – ensuring that you get all the health benefits of booze with none of the drawbacks. 

Add Some Vitamins 
One of the greatest things about cocktails is their adaptability. You can make them as healthy or as unhealthy as you like. For a cocktail that your body will thank you for, all you have to do is mix it up with some healthy ingredients. Use fruit juice as a base, for example, and add in some delicious natural ingredients as a garnish. Do be careful, though – not all fruit juices are as healthy as they at first appear. Many commercial orange juices, for example, are packed full of sugar and unhealthy preservatives [5], so be sure only to get the best juices from the healthiest sources. Or, even better, purchase a juicer and make your own 0wn healthy mixers, straight from the source [6]. If you’re a bit canny, you can also put healthier spirits into your drinks. Vodka, for example, contains less sugar than bourbon – although it’s often also got a higher alcohol content, so this may be a fine balancing act! Play around with a few recipes, and see what you get! 

Change Your Drinking Strategy 
If you’re concerned about tipping over the ‘moderation’ barrier, or if you generally want to make your drinking experience a bit healthier, there are a few things you can do. Firstly, have something (healthy!) to eat before you start. Having food in your stomach will help your body to digest and process the alcohol in a slower, more regulated manner. It will also make you less likely to stop for something greasy and regrettable on the way home! It’s also a good idea to alternate between cocktails and water. Not only is water absolutely fantastic for your health in a multitude of ways, but it’ll also mitigate the effects of the alcohol to a certain extent, and give your body a helping hand in processing all the interesting new things you’re putting into it. 

...this is an article sent in by our correspondent reporter, Sally Porte


[1] Rhys Alvarado, “Photographer Kelly Puleio finds sex appeal in cocktails”, The Examiner, Sept 2014
[3] Rehab, Health And Wellness
[4] Adee Braun, “Misunderstanding Orange Juice as a Health Drink”, The Atlantic, Feb 2014 
[5] Lakewood Organic, “Organic Pineapple”  
[6] Pleasant Valley Ranch, “California Oranges” 

Sunday, October 14

Bar Tools For A Home Bar

So I'm happy to announce that I have a new online store where you can find all the things you need to stock that bar of yours. The EMPORIUM is a new feature of the site that has a good list of all the bar tools one might need to run a home or professional bar. Please support the site by buying through the EMPORIUM.

To celebrate, I'm reviving the topic of Bartending Startup. Just to catch you up at this point you've stocked your home bar, you've mixed up your simple syrup, you have the right glassware, and now you need some tools. So to kick off the EMPORIUM I'm going write about bar tools.

Presentation is one-third of the experience in delivering a cocktail that will wow your guest. All the bar tools we'll talk about here will add to that presentation. Bar tools are unique. They aren't found in your everyday kitchen, although they should be in my opinion, but they are necessary if you want to make the proper stunning cocktail.

Fresh juice is a necessary ingredient if you want a properly made cocktails. I provided a selection of hand press and automated juicers in the EMPORIUM. In both types you should use fresh, room temperature fruit. The smaller hand presses can be used to juice the fruit straight into the cocktail. The bigger automated juicers would be used to juice a lot at the same time and store it in a container.

Once done shaking or stirring your cocktail you need something to hold back the extra ice or other materials you don't want in your libation. The odd looking spring allows the strainer to snugly fit into a variety of glass sizes. The Julep strainer was specifically designed for holding both the ice and mint leaves back in a Mint Julep. However this is a perfectly good strainer for everyday use as well. The third type is a more fine strainer which is typically used in conjunction with one of the other types of strainers in order to double strain. This might be needed if you've muddled a fruit and don't want the pith in the finished product. The fine strainer is also useful for coating the cocktail with powdered sugar.

A key tool in making cocktails is the cocktail shaker. Its simply a metal tin with an accompanying pint glass. When shopping for a shaker you will most likely come across a version of the shaker with a built in strainer. The built in strainer while it sounds convenient is actually a real pain. Both the tin and the strainer are made of metal so when they become cold they contract and become extremely hard to take apart. Also the strainer tends to get clogged. You are much better off with a shaker known as the boston shaker, pictured here and a strainer as described above. The processing of use is that you measure out the ingredients in the pint glass. Put ice in the metal tin. Pour the pint glass into metal tin seal it with a light tap, and shake away. Shake about ten seconds until the tin is cold. Give the area between tin and glass a good tap and remove the glass.

A key measuring device in cocktail creation. If you want accurate pours, you need a jigger. This may be confusing but a jigger is typically a two sided conical shaped measuring device where the larger side is called the jigger and the smaller side is called the pony. While I have seen the jigger other sizes I would recommend one that is 1.5 oz and a pony of 1 oz.

I have a full length post about Measuring the Pour specifically, you should check it out. For a home bar speed pourers may be overkill, but they are nice to have if you know how to use them.

In short a speed pourer allows you to measure and pour ingredients at the same time, thus saving time. You are able to measure with a speed pourer because when used the liquid comes out at a constant rate. Using an internal count and practice you can be pretty darn accurate. If you choose to use speed pourers at home you might think about getting the kind with a cap so that you can keep the bottles unexposed over time.

Knowing what to make and how to make it is obviously the first step in mixology. Good cocktail books, in conjunction with this website of course, will give you the ideas and mixes that make you an envy among your friends and family. I like the cocktail books that give you a mix between recipes and stories. Knowing where a cocktail originated and the story behind it allows you to recant that tell for your guest, thus making for a more memorable experience.

Bar spoons are used for stirring cocktails. The long shaft allows one to stir a pint glass quite easily. One could just use a long teaspoon for this purpose as well.

The back of a bar spoon is also used for layering cocktails. You would put the tip of the spoon in the previous layer and slowly pour the next liquor on the back of the spoon. There is also a specialty spoon used for absinthe drinking.

Remember stir when the cocktail contains all liquor, shake when there are juices or the like.

Muddle, muddle, toil and trouble. Muddling can be an arduous task. Having the right muddler can make a big difference. Muddling is used to extract oils and juices from ingredients.

Mashing mint leaves for example extracts oils and the fragrance that is a key ingredient in Mint Juleps and Mojitos. Be sure to use the correct end.

Pealing and cutting garnishes put the finishing touches a cocktail. Having the right knife for the job can make a big difference. Cutting good wedges, spirals, and wheels, can be the difference between an okay and excellent cocktail.

One would also be interested in a good cutting board.

Bar Mats
These things are great even in a home bar. I make my drinks on top of the mat and any spills or mishaps hit the mat. At the end of the night just throw it in your dishwasher. These are also good for air drying glassware. You clean is soapy water, rinse with fresh water and turn upside down on the mat.

Sticks & Picks
Stirring sticks are a nice touch when serving mixed drinks, specifically lowballs. A lowball typically has a one of the major liquors and a mixer such as cola, tonic, soda, juice, etc...

Picks are useful when a cocktail calls for a small fruit or vegetable garnish such as olives or cocktail onions.

Laying out a napkin to a guest is a great opening gesture in welcoming them to your bar and asking them what they'd like. Cocktail napkins at home is also a nice touch to give to your guest as you are serving them. Let's face it cocktails in glassware typically have condensation that forms. A small napkin is perfect for keeping wet glass rings from messing up your furniture.

I have a full length post about glassware specifically you should check out. The glass you use can elevate you bar creation to the next level. Although it sounds silly but, using the proper glassware can actually effect the taste in some cases.

The glass pictured here is NOT called a martini glass but rather is called a cocktail glass. This is a very common mistake as the Martini cocktail, one could argue, made the cocktail glass popular.

So now you know about tools used in a bar, home or otherwise. There are a few other categories of tools I didn't mention here so please check out the EMPORIUM and support the site by buying your tools through it.


Saturday, September 22

The Perfect Gift for Bourbon Lovers

So I'm sitting in my easy chair relaxing with a lovely Maker's Mark Manhattan and my wife asks me what I'd like for my birthday. As I'm a man of little needs I have no clue.

So I go browsing around the web and head to my favorite sites one of which of course is The good folks at the Mark found it a good idea to have an online gift shop. It's a good one.

After browsing for several minutes between the barware, hats, shirts, barrel heads, I find what really caught my eye was a coffee table photo book called The Ambassador of Bourbon Book. I thought sure that will do as good as anything else, so I sent my wife a link among a few other things.

To my delight on my birthday I got the photo book and its gorgeous.

The description of the book in the gift shop doesn't do it justice so allow me to elaborate.

The book is a photo essay on the mecca of bourbon making. It is filled with a narrowed down selection of 250 photos from the 10,000 taken by David Toczko. The book starts with some history of the brand and the Samuels family. Then it flows into a pictorial description of the labor of love to produce the nectar from the heavens known as Maker's Mark. Everything from the raw ingredients, mashing, fermenting, into the fired new oak barrels, moving to the maturation process, and ending with a bottle of glory.

Whether or not you have had the opportunity to visit the distillery in Loretto, KY this book will transport you there in an instant.


Photos by David Toczko

Sunday, September 16

How long does liquor or liqueur last?

Reader Question:

Just found your website last night, it's delightful!  Very useful and I'll be using it a lot.

Just a quick question about Chambord: how long does it last and how can I tell if it has turned.  There's so much conflicting info on the web and got two different answers from the nice people at my favorite liquor store.

So glad to see someone else enjoys a Manhattan!

My response:

Thanks for reading! Basically the higher the alcohol content, the longer the shelf life.

Over 40% (or 80 proof) has no expiration
30 to 39% would have an expiration of about 2 years
16 to 29% would have an expiration of about 1 year
Less than 15% would expire in about 6 months

In all cases it will last longer sealed in a cool dry place. The variation of proof is probably why you get different answers. Chambord for example is 33 proof (16.5% Alcohol) which I would put just at the 1 year mark on shelf-life.

Proof by the way is times 2 the percent of alcohol. One or the other will be displayed on the bottle in question.


Monday, July 16

Beretta San Francisco, CA

San Francisco has long been known as a cocktail capitol in the tipple turn-around of the post prohibition period.

So recently I found myself in the Bay Area and I got thirsty. What should a bar mix master do but seek out an establishment that serves modern cocktails made in the classic style. I found such a place on Valencia street called Beretta.

Beretta serves up very good flat bread pizzas but that is certainly not the draw. Cocktails with fresh juices, custom made ingredients, and an obvious attention to details make this place a must visit for cocktail lovers.

One of the craft cocktails I sampled was their version of the Monte Carlo. It was a well balanced cocktail that you could taste the love and attention that had gone into it. The Monte Carlo is a classic cocktail and if you are a Manhattan drinker you will probably enjoy this cocktail as well.

Monte Carlo
2 parts Rye Whiskey
0.5 part Benedictine
2 - 3 shakes of Angostura Bitters

Mix ingredients in ice, stir to chill, strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a orange twist.

Beretta uses a lot of custom mixes. They added to this classic something they call "orange 9". While I don't know exactly what is in "orange 9" it definitely gave the Monte Carlo a more pronounced orange flavor which really accentuated the spices in the Benedictine.

The bar chefs at Beretta are all very skilled and as you can tell from the picture a lot of effort was put into each drink. The fruit sitting on the bar was not for decorations, fresh juices were used judiciously. The place was packed with thirsty patrons having a great time. Everyone was very patient for their drink because they knew the wait would be well worth it.

The point is I highly recommend Beretta and the Monte Carlo cocktail. If you are ever in San Francisco seek them out, you won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, December 27

Makers Mark Ambassador Program

To say I like Maker's Mark bourbon would be an understatement. It is my go to bourbon.

Way back in 2006 I wrote a blog entry about bourbon found here. In that article I mention the Maker's Mark Ambassadors program. To this day I probably get two emails a week asking me how to become a member. To which, I have been very happy to reply with a link to Maker's online form to sign up. You can find it HERE

The picture you see here of my cozy Maker's Mark bottle was my latest gift for being an Ambassador. Over the years since I've joined I received all kinds of neat items, everything from glasses to golf balls. A particular favorite was the stick of wax and a letter seal. Although this bottle sweater is pretty up there. It's very festive, don't you think?

For joining the Maker's Mark Ambassador program you not only get cool gifts, but the following as well:
  • Your name on a Maker’s Mark barrel.
  • An opportunity to purchase a bottle of Maker’s Mark from your batch.
  • Updates on the aging of your bourbon.
  • Advanced notice of rare, special-release bottles.
  • Opportunity to purchase Ambassadors-only Maker’s Mark merchandise.
  • Many other items that confirm your honorable status.
Maker's marketing department in my opinion is the best in the spirits business at promoting their product. They got me writing about it.


Monday, June 27

Bourbon Butter Pecan Gelato

I had to repost this... “@imbibe: A little something to make you feel good on this Monday evening:

Sunday, June 26

Pegu Club New York, NY

Just a portion of Pegu Club's
vast bitters collection
So I recently visited one of my all-time favorite bars, Pegu Club in New York City. This bar was co-founded by Audrey Saunders the "Libation Goddess" back in August 2005. This place is a classic cocktail lover's paradise. The concept for the bar was to recapture and preserve a part of cocktail culture that is formed by thoughtful preparation that is at the core of cocktails.

The name for the place is a tribute to an officer's club established in the then Rangoon Burma during the British colonial rule in about 1910. At this club they served its name sake the famous gin cocktail the Pegu Club.

The reincarnated Pegu Club in the Soho district serves as a beacon to those who hold the craft of the cocktail in high regard and has been accredited as the learning ground for many other fabulous bartenders recently established in the New York area with the same mantra.

On my visit this time I had the pleasure to be served by Kenta a long term barkeep behind the stick at the Club. One thing I absolutely love about the Pegu Club and its very talented bar staff is that I can call for any classic I can fathom and they are on point. Not only do they know it, they nail it. So enough with all these words, here's what I had:

Last Word
Lime Juice
Green Chartreuse
Maraschino Liqueur
Mix equal parts of the ingredients, shake well with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Kenta mixing up my Manhattan
3 parts Rye or Bourbon
1 part Sweet Vermouth
2-3 shakes of Angostura Bitters
Stir well with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

2 parts Gin
1 part Sweet Vermouth
1/2 part Campari
1 twist of lemon
Build in a rocks glass over ice, stir for 20 seconds, and add lemon twist.

Martini (wet)
2 parts Gin
1 part Dry Vermouth
1 twist of lemon
Stir ingredients with ice for 20 seconds and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

A few nice touches to these, both the Manhattan and Martini were served with an extra carafe of bonus drink in bowl of ice. The Manhattan was severed with bourbon soaked cherries and the Martini with olives both on the side. I really enjoyed this touch. A lot of times I tell people making my Manhattan to hold the cherry, but having it on the side it doesn't taint the drink and I can still have a nice snack that goes well with my drink.

I think my favorite drink of the visit was the Negroni. When I asked Kenta for his proportions he told me that he puts 1/2 Martini Rossi and 1/2 Punt de Mes for the sweet vermouth portion. Very nice.

If all this isn't enough another great thing about the Pegu Club is the clientele. Being able to actually rub elbows with others that really appreciate a good cocktail is very refreshing. When Kenta was mixing up our cocktails everyone quit talking and just watched. We watched as he mixed, stirred, iced, and garnished at great precision, it was as if he was an actor on stage. Sure the cocktails took longer to make, but no one cared. When you're getting drinks as fine as these waiting isn't an issue at all.


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.