Category Archives: Travel

Tales of the Cocktail Recap

I was going to recap Tales of the Cocktail day by day. I don’t think I fully understood what I was getting into. The sheer volume of alcohol consumed was just astounding. I slept maybe 5 or 6 hours a night, and was pretty much drinking the entire time in between. So I’ll just give you the highlights.

Anyone who knows me knows I have a hetero-man-crush on Dave Arnold. I’ve been listening to his podcast (where he answers my cooking and cocktailing questions regularly) for a couple years. I got to meet him and talk to him a bit. He gave me the lowdown on the centrifuge he’s mentioned several times recently. I won’t spill the beans but he’s said publicly that it will cost less than $1,000 and be announced in August (so very soon) but suffice it to say I think is going to be a game changer in the culinary/bar world if it works as he described.

I think the best seminar I saw was the first one, about citrates. I’m very interested in batching cocktails and modernist techniques like kegging/carbonating, which you’ll continue to read a lot about here as I take Happy Camper from a dream to reality. (More on that in a bit.)

The seminar talked about a lot of things I’ve done individually (oleo saccharum, using acids like citric and malic, bottling and kegging, carbonating, etc.) but hadn’t put all together. I’d been wondering recently whether I could use either oleo saccharum or lemon hydrosol in combination with citric acid to come close enough to fresh citrus but with added durability. Turns out the answer is yes. In fact as I’ll detail soon, I think I’ve conquered the tyranny of the citrus.

The Bittercube guys had a kegged whiskey sour that was actually pretty good. I’m not going to say it was indistinguishable from a fresh one. It was different. But it was good, in the same way that lime cordial (a good one, not the corn syrup Rose’s crap) won’t be mistaken for fresh lime but has it’s own distinct quality.

When doing batched cocktails in any significant volume, citrus is hard to use. It’s especially painful to use in a carbonated drink. You could clarify the juice then blast chill then force carbonate a keg and shake the bejeesus out of it, all within a few hours of serving time. That’s just more prep at crunch time though.

So I’m going to experiment a lot in the near future with batching cocktails without fresh citrus. I’m going instead to try to use other acids, and citrus products like lime cordial.

I attended a handful of other seminars that were mostly disappointing. They were really just advertisements for liquor companies. Too bad. One exception though was Dale Degroff’s on Manhattans. You got five perfect Manhattans pre-made, all identical but without the bitters, and five little sample cups of different bitters. It was neat to taste the bitters individually, then mix in and taste with the Manhattan. Dale Degroff was hilarious and educational at the same time.

I also met pretty much everyone I’ve ever heard of in the bar world. They’re bartenders, so even if they’re sort of celebrities in that situation, in the real world most of them just serve drinks all day or at least used to, so they’re approachable by nature. Some friends I made saw Dave Wondrich and told them he was their hero. I asked him if he ever expected to hear that when he started bartending and he laughed and said no.

I met up with a few /r/cocktails users too while I was there. I love that subreddit because it’s like a bar. There aren’t many trolls or arguments. For the most part it’s just a bunch of casual drinkers looking to trade info and it makes us all better. The one exception, as u/everydaydrinkers pointed out, is when someone comes on and asks something like “I just got a bottle of DeKuyper Apple Pucker, what cocktails can I make with it?” and gets suggested various forms of enema. To be fair, that’s like going into a chef’s subreddit and asking “what can I do with this Velveeta” but I can see how they’d be misled by the subreddit’s title.

I do have a handful of tips for future attendees, beyond the obvious ones like drinking lots of water.

1. Seriously consider whether you want to stay in the heart of it all at the Sonesta or Monteleone. I stayed at Monteleone. It’s a nice hotel, and the upside to it is I could wake up and shower and get to my morning seminar in 20 minutes. The downside is getting back to the room meant waiting 20 minutes for an elevator. I found a pair that were getting much less use after the first day, but still it was at time brutal. The hotel is simply overtaxed. There’s also a lot of street noise when you’re on or near Bourbon so if you’re a light sleeper (like me) those hotels can be tough. Next time I’ll get a group of friends and stay in an AirBnB.

2. There are all sorts of invite-only after parties. Those are the best events. Try to get your way in. Just make friends with reps from the big companies and you should be ok. I was by myself and unprepared for this but still managed to get into most of them, but it’ll be a lot easier next year with some planning.

3. Book early, and book the dinners.

4. Go easy on the seminars. Like I said, a lot of them just seem to be ads, and you’d be better off at a tasting room.

5. If you don’t like a cocktail, pitch it. I know, we Americans have a huge aversion to pouring alcohol down the drain. It’s a mindset that I think comes from a time when it was much less bountiful than it is now, and you’ve never seen bounty like Tales of the Cocktail. If you try to drink it all you won’t make it.

And surprisingly, many (maybe most) of the cocktails there suck. Some of them are great. But I had so much cloying junk handed to me that I was surprised. A lot of the less good liquor brands are there, and try as you might you can’t make a decent drink with Mig Fuel.

Flor de Cana was passing out rums that were decades old. Save your drinking for that. Pitch the bad mezcal margaritas.

Tales of the Cocktail 2015 Recap: Tuesday

A few months back I decided that the industry’s big annual conference, Tales of the Cocktail, was a perfect excuse to take a trip to New Orleans. (It doesn’t take much to visit that city.) So on Tuesday I packed up my bags and hopped on down to the big easy.

Not much went on Tuesday at Tales. I registered, checked out some good stuff in the tasting room, including a tequila (Riazul Anejo) I’d never heard of before but quite enjoyed. I grabbed dinner in the lobby and then was in bed by 9 p.m. because I’d gotten up at 6, after 4 hours of sleep, to catch my plane and figured sleep would be difficult to come by at best for the next few days. I did, of course, have to have one Vieux Carré with dinner, because if you come to New Orleans and don’t drink at least one Vieux Carré you’re an asshole. And I didn’t want to start my trip by being an asshole.

12 hours of sleep and a quick “gym” session (quotes because of lack of free weights) and I was ready to go for Wednesday….

Denver’s Cocktail Scene

I recently did a week-long vacation in Colorado. The first couple days were up in the mountains, but the last three were in the city of Denver. I’d never been there before, so of course the first thing I did was use The Google to figure out where the good cocktails were at.

I only had time to hit a few of the top places, but the ones I got to were impressive. I took a bunch of pictures, but one of the problems with cocktail blogging is that most drinks just look like something sorta brown in a glass. I could show you pictures of five different drinks and tell you they were all the same, and you wouldn’t know the difference. So I’ll spare you that.

But there is one picture I have to share. You ready for this? It’s epic.

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Boom! Do you realize what you are seeing there? It took me a minute. My first question to the bartender was “Is there a beer called Chartreuse?”

Nope. That’s just good old fashioned Chartreuse Liqueur. On tap. Seriously. It was at Roosevelt Co. Ltd. It’s a 60/40 mix of green to yellow. Did I mention it’s on tap? That might be the only place in the world that has such a thing. I imagine that tap handle had to be custom. And I don’t envy whoever has to keep that system clean. But wow is it glorious. I can’t remember what drinks I had there because I was already half in the bag. I just know they all had that Chartreuse mix, and they were all great. I do know that I taught them what an Industry Sour was and had them make one for us. The bartenders were quite friendly and seemed enthused to be talking to cocktail lovers. Unfortunately they directed us to another bar owned by the same people called Front Porch which was, cocktail-wise, just awful. (No cocktail list, a Manhattan was shaken and served on the rocks.) So if you go to Denver hit up Roosevelt for the Chartreuse but skip their sister bar.

Earlier that night we had also visited Green Russell. The cocktails were great. Mine had this weird ice cube in it. (Ok I lied, here’s one kinda brown drink in a glass pic.)

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It’s a 2” cube that looked hand cut, but wasn’t clear. I couldn’t figure out what was going on there. I didn’t really care, the cocktail was fantastic and the ice didn’t crack or behave oddly. It was just very odd that the cube had much less air than if it came from a mold (and besides, it clearly looked hand-cut) but wasn’t clear. I thought it must not be from a Clinebell or it wouldn’t have the air inside. I got into a half hour discussion about ice with the manager. It turned out the ice was from a Clinebell, they just had been having some odd effects due to the machine being in a cold spot (the weather was freezing) and maybe freezing too quickly. I was the only one of the four of us who got a cube that wasn’t clear, and my friends were laughing that they ran into the only person in Denver, and probably one of maybe twenty in the whole freaking world, who would notice it.

Either way the bar manager was knowledgeable, the cocktails were great, and the food we got (bone marrow and chocolate peanut butter pie) was fantastic. It may have been my favorite of the three cocktail bars.

A close second would be where we went the last night, Williams & Graham. Yet another speakeasy themed place. I realize there are only like three possible cocktail bar themes, but is anyone else getting tired of speakeasies? I know, I know, Edison bulbs are cool, but does EVERYWHERE have to have them?

Anyway, that place was excellent as well. Want another picture of something kinda brown in a glass? I know you do, you bastards. Here’s the Royal Regiment. Boulevard Calvados, Rittenhouse Rye, Cocchi Barolo Chinato, and Amaro Nonino. Kind of a twist on a Boulevardier, but with apple.

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We had several drinks there and all were excellent. The service was fantastic, and had I gone there first it might have been my favorite place, but by that point I’d spent the trip pointing out how every bar and restaurant we went into looked the same and I think the un-shaded light of Edison Bulb filaments had addled my brain.

As someone who has been there, done that with the cocktail world, what I look for now isn’t just a place that does everything right. Green Russell and Williams & Graham certainly do, and don’t get me wrong, they’re great. And it isn’t just something a little unexpected and new, like the Chartreuse Tap and cool cocktails that go with it at Roosevelt.

What I’m in search of is an epiphany. Something that makes me think “holy shit, I didn’t know a drink could be like this!” Remember the first time you had a Negroni? Or the third time you had a Negroni, when you finally actually liked it? Like that. None of the three above places gave me that. (In all three, we ordered at least a few bartender’s choices, so they had the opportunity.) I can’t fault them, that’s really hard to do these days. Cocktails are pretty established. I’ve had maybe three beers I felt that way about in the last decade (one of them on this trip, but this ain’t a beer blog bro) so it’s just a sign of the industry’s maturation.

The last time I had a cocktail that made me rethink the way drinks were made was the While My Za’atar Gently Weeps at Longman and Eagle. I drank that and told my friend, Marcia, that I was inspired. (Which reminds me, note to self, play around with spices more in cocktails.) That’s what I’m looking for. That feeling. Where something’s not just original, and not just perfect, but both.

While not a revelation, I did have a fantastic beer cocktail, which was a first for me. I’ve had decent beer cocktails before, but never one I feel the need to repeat. I keep trying a Michelada every time I see one on the menu and always leaving underwhelmed. But Euclid Hall (a great restaurant, by the way) had one called A Man’s Lady, that was gin, Aperol, simple, grapefruit, Peychaud’s, and IPA. I suppose this one is kinda pink and in a glass, so here’s a picture.

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Anyway, I was impressed overall by Denver’s cocktail scene. It was good. It ain’t Chicago or New York, but it’s a little better than my home town. And the food and beer there are surprisingly awesome.