Sunday, January 29

Cocktail Artist : Will Rafuse

This past October I was at the Food and Wine Festival that was being held at Walt Disney World, Orlando Florida. The festival includes food and wine seminars, wine tastings, and my favorite the foods and wines of the world. As I was walking through the hall where you can purchase the featured wines I just happened upon a piece of artwork that stopped me dead in my tracks.

It was the work of Will Rafuse an artist from Vancouver who exclusively works in oil paintings. Many of his paintings have a happy older man with exaggerated features. Will also has a strong interest in food, wine, and cocktails so many times our happy gentleman is mixing, stirring, or shaking some delectable delight.

I bought a print of one of Will's paintings on the spot. In my print my fellow is a bartender pouring a freshly mixed Manhattan. His series on Bartenders and Cocktails are my favorite.

Will also has paintings focused on Chefs, Servers, Cafes, Still Lifes, Coffee, Pastries, Cats, Dogs, Musicians, Players, Flowers, and Bugs.

The bold colors and style he uses in his paintings is very unique and stands out in any gallery. I plan on getting a lot more of Will's work and hope one day to treat him to a well mixed cocktail of my own.

Cheers to you Mr. Rafuse!

The image used here is for viewing purposes only. It can not be reproduced without permssion. If you would like to purchase some of Will Rafuse work, click here.

Saturday, January 21


Many people don't quite understand the difference between Bourbon and Whisky. Bourbon is a special type of Whisky. So all Bourbons are Whisky but not all Whiskies are Bourbon. According to the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits:

(1)(i) ``Bourbon whisky'' is whisky produced at not exceeding 160
deg. proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn and stored at not more than 125 deg. proof in charred new oak containers; and also includes mixtures of such whiskies of the same type...

...(iii) Whiskies conforming to the standards prescribed in paragraph above`, which have been stored in the type of oak containers prescribed, for a period of 2 years or more shall be further designated as ``straight''; for example, ``straight bourbon whisky'', ``straight corn whisky'', and whisky conforming to the standards prescribed in paragraph...

...``bourbon'' shall not be used to describe any whisky or whisky-based distilled spirits not produced in the United States. If whisky of any of these types is composed in part of whisky or whiskies produced in a foreign country there shall be stated, on the brand label, the percentage of such whisky and the country of origin thereof.

So the distinction for Bourbon is that the fermented mash (the mixture of hot water and crushed malted grain, which is used to produce alcohol) is made up of at least 51% corn, the distilled spirit is matured in charred, new, oak barrels, and it is produced in the United States. The name actually came from Bourbon county Kentucky where the majority of the Bourbon is produced.

Other types of Whisky are made from at least 51% rye, wheat, malt, or rye malt. They may or may not use charred barrels and they can be matured in used or new oak barrels. Blended Whisky is Whisky that that is taken from the oak barrels and combined with freshly distilled spirit. Blended Whisky is cheaper to produce because you don't need as much warehouse space to store as much in barrels. And of course there are the other international whiskies: Scotch, Irish, and Canadian.

One might think that charring the barrel would produce a smoky flavor in the finished product. Charring is done for flavor but not that one. The charring actually draws the caramel flavor from the oak closer to the inside of the barrel. Just under the char is a line of red caramel flavored goodness that gives Bourbon its color and smooth flavor. Using new oak barrels ensure you get as much of that flavor as possible.

One last thing about Bourbon that you dieters may want to know Bourbon has zero carbohydrates and 70 calories per once.

Normally I don't push a specific brand of liquor as everyone has different tastes and just because I like it doesn't someone else will. However, I feel a need to write about Maker's Mark Bourbon.

Maker's Mark would be my Bourbon of choice. I find it to be good for both mixing and sipping straight. Maker's Mark is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon, which means it is produced in Kentucky (duh), and it is matured for 2 or more years. Maker's Mark is the only bourbon producer still making their product by hand. It is a small batch product, which means they make a small quantity of barrels. In Maker's Mark's case that is about 19 barrels a batch.

Bill Samuels was making Whisky in 1779 and past the recipe down from generation to generation to generation with each generation the recipe got refined until it came into the hands of Bill Samuels, Sr. (4th generation) in 1943. He decided to replace the rye in the recipe with a gentler red winter wheat. This wheat gave the product a soft, mellow taste that is like none other.

The yeast used in Maker's fermentation process has cultures that have been propagated since before the Civil War. Each fermentation batch starts with a little from the last. This old-style process helps keep a consistent product over time.

Single Barrel Whisky is sold at a premium. This is actually silly seeing that it simply means that all the contents of the bottle came from one barrel. There was no mixing from several barrels in a batch to balance the product. This means they skipped a step in the process saving themselves money and you get to pay more. You will notice a bigger variation in taste from one bottle to another in Single Barrel Whiskies.

Maker's goes through the balancing process. They have a panel of Bourbon Masters (cool title, huh) who's job it is to ensure that each bottle of Maker's is consistent and lives up to Bill Samuels' name. They do this by mixing the slight variations from each barrel to get the right finished product.

So, if you have not tried Maker's Mark I would highly recommend it because to me it just tastes the way Bourbon should.

Now, don't let this next part influence your opinion on the Bourbon you drink but Maker's Mark has a very clever marketing campaign. I am Maker's Mark Ambassador #204097. My named barrel is barrel #692299. Maker's Mark developed the Ambassador program to help promote their Bourbon and I think it is a really fun program.

Basically the way it works is that once you become an Ambassador you follow a barrel of Maker's Mark Bourbon through its production. This starts at the choosing of the grains, learning about the spring water, etc... then about 9 months into it your batch gets processed and put into barrels. At this point you get assigned a barrel and your name goes on the side of it. Every year after that you get a DVD from Maker's Mark that talks about how your barrel is maturing and they speak about the coming years batch of Bourbon.

You also get other promotional items along the way and get access to special part of their website. One of the neat things you get is a special invitation to participate in Stillhouse University. This is a special 4 day hands-on learning experience about how Maker's Mark Bourbon is made. You also have cocktails with Bill Samuels (5th generation). I have not done this yet but it should like a lot of fun.

Once your barrel has matured you will get invited up to the distillery to be there when your barrels go into the bottles. Did I mention that all this (minus the university) is free!

There are two ways to become an Ambassador. One is to find a bottle with a hang tag on it. On the hang tag is a form to fill out. Although, I haven't seen too many bottles with hang tags lately. The second way is to get invited from someone who is currently an Ambassador. If you like you can email me at bar.mix.master[at] and I will hook you up.

I have not been paid for this article in any way. I wrote it because Maker's Mark produces such a great product.


Saturday, January 14

Stocking Your Home Bar

A friend of mine recently got a new home and now wants to stock his home bar. He asked for my advice on this matter, so here it goes...

I'm going to break this down into 3 phases so you don't have to break the bank right off the bat. These phases assume that you already have a place to put all of your liquor, mixers, etc... and that this place is near or close enough to a sink with running water.

Phase one is simple. Think of your favorite three cocktails and get the needed ingredients. If you like Gin and Tonics, Manhattans, and Black Russians then get the following ingredients:

Phase 1

Gin, Bourbon, Vodka, Coffee Liqueur, Sweet Vermouth, Tonic Water, Bitters

This maybe all you ever need if you don't plan on entertaining and just want what you need for your favorites. This phase is the most economical but also the most selfish. If you want to be considered a mixologist amongst your friends you have to give your guests choices. So on to phase 2...

In the second phase of stocking your home bar you will get the bare bones basics to make the nearly all lowballs (liquor and mixers), most of the fundamental cocktails, and some rarities.

Phase 2

Liquors: Bourbon, Brandy, Gin, Light Rum (white), Blanco Tequila (white), Vodka, Whiskey (Blended, Rye, Scotch, Irish)

Liqueurs: Amaretto, Triple Sec, Coffee Liqueur, Italian Vermouth (sweet or red label), French Vermouth (dry or green label), Various Schnapps (Apple, Peach, Peppermint ...)

Garnishes and Condiments: Angostura Bitters, Black Pepper, Cocktail Olives (no pimento), Cocktail Onions (pickled), Limes, Lemons, Oranges, Grenadine, Horseradish, Maraschino Cherries, Rose's Lime Juice, Salt, Coarse Salt, Sugar, Tabasco Sauce, Worcestershire Sauce, Orange Bitters

Mixers: Water, Club Soda, Cola, Diet Cola, Lemon-Lime Soda, Milk, Orange Juice, Tomato Juice, Tonic Water, Ginger Ale, Cranberry Juice, Pineapple Juice, Beer

Don't be overwhelmed with this list. You can build this up over time. And, I would recommend not just buying an ingredient just because it is on this list. Get it because it is in a recipe you want to try and/or serve. This means it doesn't make sense to buy all the liquors first you will have nothing to mix them with. If you do this you will be drinking a lot of "on the rocks" drinks. Buy the set of sprits, mixers, condiments for something that will actually make a cocktail.

For example if you are moving from phase 1 to phase 2 with the example of phase 1 above and you want to now serve Martinis, add French Vermouth with the Gin you already have and you got it.

The Schnapps are definitely recipe specific for example you may want to serve a Fuzzy Navel (Peach Schnapps and Orange Juice)

On to..... Phase 3

Now you certainly do not have to have all of the ingredients in phase 2 before you get some of these specialized spirits in phase 3. The same rules apply; get ingredients that make up the recipes of what you want to try/serve.

As you add spirits to your arsenal I would highly recommend tasting each and everyone either neat, on the rocks, or as a chilled shot. This will allow you to know the flavor of each ingredient individually. By knowing a spirit’s flavor you will know what it is doing to the cocktail and how it is affecting the balance of the drink, which will make you a better mixologist.

Phase 3

Liquor: Cognac, Canadian Whisky, Single Malt Scotch, Aged Rum, Anejo Tequila, Various Flavored Vodkas (Citron, Limon ...)

Liqueurs: Anisette, Cointreau, Crème de Menthe, Blue Curaçao, White Curaçao, Grand Marnier, Pernod, Sambuca, Amer Picon, Applejack, Aquavit, B & B, Irish Cream, Benedictine, Campari, Chambord, Chartruse, Cherry Heering, Crème de Banane, Crème de Cassis, Crème de Noyaux, Drambuie, Bubonnet, Framboise, Galliano, Irish Mist, Jagermeister, Lillet, Maraschino Liqueur, Midori, Pimm's No. 1, Sloe Gin, Southern Comfort, Tia Maria, Tuaca, Various Flavored Brandies (Peach, Cherry,...)

Garnishes and Condiments: Bananas, Celery, Celery Seeds, Cinnamon Sticks, Cloves, Eggs, Ground Cinnamon, Heavy Cream, Light Cream, Mint Sprigs, Nutmeg, Pineapple, Strawberries

Mixers: Beef Bouillon, Clamato Juice, Coconut Cream, Coffee, Ginger Beer, Grapefruit Juice, Lemonade, Orange Flower Water, Orgeat (Almond Syrup), Peach Nectar, Sake, Red Wine, White Wine, Port, Ale, Stout

Wow! If you have a home bar with all this you would rival a high end public bar. Now we need to talk about practicality. It really is not practical to stock all of these ingredients in your home bar, especially the perishable items. Unless you are getting ready for a big party or you constantly serve a lot of guests at your home we need to dial this back some.

Carbonated items, fresh fruit, fresh spices, wine, vermouth, dairy, and fresh juices are all ingredients that spoil over time. Unless you use them often in a favorite drink you will want to minimize the amount of these items you have on hand.

I would recommend buying the small bottles/cans whenever possible. For example there are six packs of tonic water, ginger ale, club soda, pineapple juice, cola, lemon-lime soda, etc... that are very convenient and efficient in a home bar. One of these small bottles/cans has enough in it to make about 3 to 4 cocktails and if you only end up making one Gin and Tonic you only waste a little bit of tonic water not a big 2 litter of it.

As far as fresh fruit is concerned, it is general pretty cheap. I always keep at least one lemon, lime, and orange in the refrigerator. I found that I use a lot more limes than anything else so I actually got a lime tree growing in my backyard, talk about fresh! If you do keep your fresh fruit in the fridge you will want to take it out a couple of hours before serving, if you can, to allow it to get to room temperature. Fruit juices better at room temperature.

Vermouth is a fortified wine. It does go bad. Sure it takes a little longer because it has extra alcohol in it, but it does go bad. It can especially go bad if you have it sitting around at room temperature with a speed pourer sticking in it. If you are not a big vermouth fan but you want to stock it for your guests you can also buy vermouth in small bottles. Keeping your vermouth in the fridge can also make it last longer after opening, however you may not get the proper amount of melted ice in your cocktails with chilled spirits.

There is something you need to know about orange liqueurs as well… Triple Sec, White Curaçao, Blue Curaçao, Cointreau, and Grand Marnier are types of orange liqueurs. They all have an orange flavor and each can be substituted one for the other. Some do taste better than others and there is large price difference between them. You will notice some to be dryer, some to be sweeter, and some to contain a caramel, cinnamon, or nutmeg flavoring. Curaçao and Triple Sec are your less expensive choices and it is a good idea to start with one of these in your cabinet. But, you should try the other varieties as well. You could go into a public bar and order a sampling of each of these on the rocks (be careful if you do this in one sitting). I generally stock a low end and a high end orange liqueur in my bar. (There will be a future article on Orange Liqueurs)

You also have to manage your space in a home bar. If you are like me you have a couple of cabinets available to store all your spirits. Those couple of cabinets can fill up quickly and you will find yourself with a lot of ingredients that you rarely pour. You will want to get other liqueurs and spirits but have no where to put them. So be prudent with your space, make sure you utilize your cabinet with ingredients you will use on a fairly consistent basis.

One thing you can do to be both economical and save on space is to keep only the 750ml bottles in your cabinet, but buy the larger 1.75 litter bottles to refill the 750ml. Now this is very much frowned on in public bars due to liquor laws. Also if a guest ever saw a bartender doing this they would immediately think, "This place waters down their liquor!" But at home, this is a perfectly fine practice. Sure you might want to get a new 750ml bottle now and then but really one bottle can last you for a long time. Keep your 1.75 litter bottles in another room, in a closet, or something of the sort. Just make sure this place stays at a normal room temperature. When your 750ml bottle runs out, go get your 1.75 litter bottle and a funnel and filler back up. You can get over twice as much of the spirit in the 1.75 litter bottles at not nearly double the price.

One last thing, you will also need plenty of bar tools. Hear you can read about Bar Tools For A Home Bar and please visit the EMPORIUM where you can purchase a lot of these items.

So there you have it. The goal when building your home bar is to be able to make as wide of a selection of cocktails as possible without breaking the bank, running out of space, or duplicating the flavors where possible. Look for that one next ingredient that will allow you to make a much larger selection of cocktails.

Cheers and have fun!

Image courtesy of laartist at

Saturday, January 7

Bartending Startup: Introduction

So you want to learn how to mix drinks. Well, whether you are looking for a fun job where you can meet lots of interesting people or if you just want to mix up a few drinks to impress your friends at home this section of the site will get you started.

No doubt my advice will mostly be from the home bartending slant because that is where I do the majority of my mixing. I do tend bar for private functions so I can speak from that perspective as well.

None the less, the bartender startup will take you through stocking your bar, using the right tools, measuring, amusing banter, stories for your guests, etc...

Something to know before you get started is that you will have fun but being the mixer at the party can be hard work. Be prepared to miss a good bit of the party if you are mixing the drinks for everyone. If you love doing it as much as I do it won't be a big deal. However, if you are really not into it you may just want to put out the liquor and mixers (or bottled cocktails) for your guests.

I love serving cocktails because I get a lot satisfaction pleasing others. Sharing a well made cocktail with a friend or guest is one of the best ways to get that feeling. The smile on someone’s face when they take their first sip of a cocktail of your creation can be very rewarding. You too can be rewarded.

I hope this section inspires more people to become tenders with a true love for good cocktails.