Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled

Everyone remembers the line from The Usual Suspects; the greatest trick was convincing the world he didn't exist. Spacey said it with a twinkle in his eye, as I recall. My friend Matt Rowley (check the awesome present he gave to William S. Burroughs) was the first to use the line in reference to the modern moonshine business.

Over the last few years, I've tracked moonshine busts with much more than a cursory interest. One of the arresting officers says, almost without fail, that either they never see any moonshine any more, or that this bust is the largest one they can remember. My clipping file holds 265 articles (obviously some are repeats, and some aren't all that recent, but I doubt many go any farther back than the 90s). My online bookmarks number 129.

Clearly there's a disconnect, or a short term memory problem, or something. 300-odd busts in the last few years might not register in comparison to how many people have been arrested for assault or possession of a controlled substance, but it's hardly non-existent. And yet, when they busted Roger Lee Nance in North Wilkesboro with 929 gallons of moonshine a few days ago, the lead read: "in one of the largest liquor seizures in recent memory."

I'll give it to them this time, that's a lot of hooch to have on hand.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Gun, the Blackberry, and Seven Pounds of Pulled Pork

Last week, I received an e-mail with this picture:

The text of the e-mail couldn’t have been more straightforward. My friend -- who had just shot these birds -- typed “Smoker?”

You’ve got to love a Blackberry put to good use.

Pheasants aren’t very big. They’d certainly feed us, but they’d look a little lonely in the smoker. Just a few days before I had tended to a small square of pork belly all alone on the rack, and throughout the cooking my joy was underscored by a sense of opportunity lost. All that smoke, all that good peach wood burned, just for a small square of belly. I should have planned better. I should have put a shoulder on, a couple of chickens, some sausage, whatever.

 I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. The pheasants would go on next to a seven-and-a-half pound butt. For reasons of timing and convenience that aren’t particularly germane to this, I decided to reverse my process. Most barbecue folks agree that after about four hours, you aren’t getting any more smoke flavor into meat. You’re still cooking it, but maximum penetration has been achieved. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I have cooked many times as if it were, and I like the end product. So my technique -- or what was my technique -- involved a few days. Rub and Smoke the meat on day one. Then slow roast it in a wet environment on day two. Pull it and heat it on the stove on day three. It’s a fun way to get pulled pork, and it allows for lots of adjustment of seasoning, and lots of snacking.

This time, however, I started the meat in the oven. First, I rubbed it. I change my rub all the time. This one had a little rubbed sage, some coriander, a lot of red & black pepper, and salt.

In the bottom of a roasting pan went apple cider, apricot vinegar, half a beer, and a sliced onion. Tinfoiled the top. Slid it into the oven, which was at a mellow 250 degrees.

I took it out seven hours later, peeled back the tinfoil veil, and plucked off a piece of juicy, melting pork. Then I ate another. This was already a very serious piece of pig. It was sweet and spicy. The vinegar had steamed into the meat. It was so tender that it ran a pretty serious risk of falling through the roasting rack.

Standing at the cutting board, I muttered a nonplussed “Huh . . .”

How could I get it in the smoker?

The tinfoil that had been on top of the pan was right there next to it, looking an awful lot like a bowl. I tried to keep the chunks large. Here’s what I got:

I sprinkled some more rub on the meat and into the smoker it went. Here it is about half way through, looking good:

I have made hundreds of pounds of bbq in my life. And this may have been the best. The open surfaces picked up the smoke flavor very nicely. The jagged edges turned to crispy bits of pork goodness. It cooled, I tore it up, and I’ve been eating it and giving it away for a week.

The pheasants? They were delicious.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What I'll do on my Summer Vacation

Tales of the Cocktail is one of the coolest parties of the year, and like the other ones (Royal Ascot, for instance) the sheer numbers of the thing astound. Last year in the big old Monteleone, all white and gold and aggressively air conditioned, well over 12,000 attendees went through 6,000 pounds of ice,  8085 mint leaves, 61 cases of Limes, and 23 pounds of Cucumbers. (The year before they used 800 watermelon cubes and 560 gin soaked dried cherries: You could follow trends in the cocktail world by watching these numbers change.)

At Tales, the public gets a great show, some wonderful opportunities, and many tasty cocktails. but while it is a good festival, it must be noted that the drinks crowd  — the writers, importers, distillers, reps, bar owners, mixologists, and retailers — dominates the scene. (At one point in a seminar last year a young woman prefaced her comment with “I don’t work in the industry, I actually pay for my drinks.” This was met with thunderous applause.) Strange celebrities of the world of intoxicants hustle through the halls, doing the West Wing walk-and-talk like besotted advisors to some mad campaign.  You can’t throw an ice cube without hitting a smartly dressed woman wobbling on high heels and shilling for a new liqueur. And everywhere, the best bartenders in the nation, looking exhausted, dirty, and hungover, shaking up drinks for us. (How exhausted, dirty, and hungover can a bartender be? Ask Patrick DeWitt.)

Throughout the hotel, liquor companies sponsor suites and offer tastings of their products and their signature cocktails. The ballrooms are converted to tasting arcades, with expectant bartenders working the tables like craft fair merchants, their offerings laid out before them. Last year was heavy on the cucumber and St. Germaine. 
    In the midnight hours, more suites, invitation only after-parties and after-after parties that roll on until everyone finally falls down.
    Tales starts Wednesday, and as of that moment every serious bar in the nation will be run by the third string. If you’re looking to get more than a Gin and Tonic or a shot and beer, you better come down to New Orleans to get it.
    I plan to post to the Ocean quite a bit while I'm there — even if I have to cover an eye to see straight. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Young whiskey: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate

John Hansell, the editor and publisher of Malt Advocate, has brought up an interesting question on his blog. Using Jim Murray’s ratings as a “springboard” he writes: “I see emerging, from various sources, [. . .] a paradigm shift where young whiskies seem to become grouped together as a style, and then rated and scored based on the relative quality within that style, not on an absolute quality.” He poses this as a question. Is young whiskey a style?

The idea, I think, is that young whiskeys might be undeserving of their high marks, because it is inconceivable that a young whiskey could stack up against an older one.

(There’s a whole other conversation to be had about rating whiskey, stacking things up against other things, and all that. It’s clearly a weird exercise, but I think the drinking public needs something.)

The real question: Do you like the whiskey itself? Or the oak of the barrels? Is the implication here that “absolute quality” is equivalent to “oak?”

Whiskey is an excellent oak delivery system, but the barrel is not the whole story. That’d be like saying that it doesn’t matter what kind of meat you use for barbecue (another excellent way to get the complicated flavors of wood and smoke into your mouth).

I know my bourbons much better than I know my Scotch. In fact, I’d have stayed out of the conversation entirely if they hadn’t mentioned American whiskey -- at least I’d have limited myself to dropping “Ardbeg 10 is Really Good” in the comments section.  American whiskey is mentioned, however, and so I’ll stay close to home and start by comparing three bourbons I like a lot: Buffalo Trace, Evan Williams 7, and Elijah Craig 12.

I’m assuming that most of the whiskey in a bottle of Buffalo Trace is four years and one day old, because it doesn’t have an age declaration. In a side by side tasting, I think the Craig and the Trace pull ahead of the Evan W (although there’s not a real clunker here). Certainly the Trace scores higher than the Evan W. and on the right day I think it would score higher than the Elijah. More to the point: they are in the same league. No one at this tasting would say “Wow, this one here, clearly the youngest, just isn’t standing up to the others.”

There are (at least) two things that make whiskey: the new make spirit (which is called white dog) and the barrels.

The two elements should match, is my thinking. If there was no flavor element coming into the whiskey from the white dog, then all the barrels would be full of vodka.

Sometimes, barrels get in the way.

Mr. Hansell, in the comments section, wrote: “If a whisky (or spirit) is already getting a 96 rating, how will it taste at 8 or 10 years of age? And what score will it earn? There’s not much more room for improvement between 96 and 100 points. Are these whiskies actually peaking at 1-3 years of age? I doubt it.”

A year ago I was sitting around with Jake Norris at Stranahan’s  and we had an array of glasses before us. He was pulling stuff out of barrels -- I got to taste a few of the Snowflakes well before they were released. One of the things we tasted was the oldest barrel they had. Probably eight years old by now. I thought it was really good and I told him so, and I asked him if he ever thought they might do single barrel releases of the older stuff they’ve got.

He said something like “Well, it might be good. But it’s not Stranahan’s anymore.” And we turned to our original glass of Stranny’s (which is blended from barrels 2 to 5 years of age). He was right. The flavors that make Stranahan’s what it is had been stepped on by the oak. All that chocolate porter malt, all that lively grain flavor had given way to something more like bourbon. I love bourbon, and I’d still drink a limited release Stranahan’s, but Jake was right. That whiskey isn’t bottled young because they have to get it out the door. It’s bottled when it’s bottled because that’s what they want it to taste like.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Moonshine bust on the Coast

I assume that "common nuisance" is a tag meaning unlicensed bar, and that these folks were selling moonshine on the beach.

"Larry Parker, 57, of Chesapeake was arrested Thursday on 12 charges of sale of alcoholic beverages without a license, possessing and transporting untaxed whiskey and maintaining a common nuisance . . ."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A valuable experiment

I take it for granted that some drinks are better stirred, and I know the rules the way I know the rules of the road or grammar (shakily). I'm really glad to see that Reese at Cocktail Hacker actually had the wherewithal to shake one, stir another, and snap a shot of both.

Things are slow around here, it's true

There's work to be done!

Some of it
involves intemperate gambling.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Round Two: Early Times

Woodford Reserve likes to say that it is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, but everyone who has been there knows that’s not exactly true -- scratch that, it is only exactly true. Woodford paid a lot of money to tag the Derby. While they were at it they sponsored the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, which immediately precedes the Derby. Fair enough, but the drink that is poured at Churchill is the Early Times premixed Mint Julep. There’s even some people dressed up in giant Early Times bottles dancing around in the paddock. (Other people saw that, right?)

When the fans stand and wobble and slur through the forgotten lyrics of “My Old Kentucky Home” the whisky they are spilling on their shoes is Early Times Kentucky Whisky.

I don’t know why Brown-Forman decided to spell it whisky, without the American ‘e,’ but I do know that the reason it is not a bourbon is because some of the product was aged in barrels that are not new. Bourbon must be aged in unused barrels, period. According to Chuck Cowdery, bourbon expert of the first water, this saved some money and brought the Early Times spreadsheet into shape when they needed it to be. Since Brown-Forman sells (lots and lots of) Jack Daniel’s Cowdery says that they believed at the time that no one cared if the bottle said “bourbon” or not.

I like Early Times a lot, always have. It’s straightforward, a little rough around the edges, good with ice. Walker Percy’s Dr. Tom More drank a lot of it, and that’s a good recommendation. It’s unbeatable at its price point. And it makes a killer mint julep, especially if you’ve had mint syrup infusing in the fridge overnight.

Pour a tablespoon or two of mint syrup (I leave it to you, it depends upon how minty your mint is, and how sweet you like your drinks) into a glass, pour in a double shot of Early Times, fill it with crushed ice (half a tray of ice in a clean towel smacked with a meat tenderizer will fill one rocks glass), stir it a couple of times with a spoon. Don’t fold it when you stir, just make the ice turn around in the glass. I swear I can almost taste the ink on the betting slips.


The pre-mix is very good, too, and lots of liquor stores have stacks of it come Derby Day. I’ve been made fun of for this, but the truth is that the pre-mix is best if you add a shot of bourbon to it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Enter the Julep

For a horse player there is no week like the week that leads up to the Kentucky Derby. Basically, leading up to the first Saturday in May, if it’s not about the Derby, my brain cannot process it. Luckily, the Derby comes with a drink. It’s a drink I think I can talk about for a week, and I’m going to try. Welcome to Mint Julep Week 2009. Expect lots of action.

Today, I picked mint out of the yard.

I put a good bit of it in a jar of simple syrup to soak. Simply put equal parts sugar and water in a pot, (I used a cup and a half of each), and turn on the heat and stand there, stirring lackadaisically until the liquid is clear. It shouldn’t come to a full boil, and really doesn’t take long at all. I stuffed a jar with mint, filled it with cool syrup (actually still slightly warm, but definitely not hot), and stuck it in the fridge. This is my favorite way to make juleps, but it is not, by any means, the only way.

And that is a fortunate thing, since I don’t like to wait. Especially for a mint julep.

The julep was first referenced in 1803,  "dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians in the morning." (For those of you counting, I think the Old Fashioned is first mentioned in 1806, and the Sazerac in the 1830s. More on this -- and perhaps some morning drinking, just to see how that plays, I’m a Virginian, after all -- throughout the week.)

The simplest, oldest recipe I know is to take some superfine sugar and put it in the bottom of a julep cup and dissolve it in 3 ounces of bourbon. Crush ice and pack it on top of the bourbon. Put a big sprig of mint on the top of the drink. You’re supposed to drink it through a straw, and the straw is supposed to be short, so your nose is right in the mint the whole time.

(Here’s a trick: it’s hard to get the straw through the ice, and, in fact, it’s hard to get the mint in the ice, too, if you pack it well enough. You can put two straws in the cup before you put in the ice, remove one and put your mint in there, drink through the other, while nosing the mint.)

This seems, of course, like a very lackluster method, but I tell you it is not. It works. I’ll admit to bruising the mint in my hands a little, to wake it up and get the oils going (and while I’m at it, I’ll admit that the mint in my yard is actually called “Kentucky Colonel,” I assume due to its propensity for satisfying juleps).

You’re supposed to drink the thing really slowly. The ice melts, the mint gets mashed up, the whole thing gets together in that wonderful julep cup (which you’ve wrapped in a linen, because it’s too cold to hold).

Even this simplest of recipes is fantastic. In fact, there’s something so fresh and bright about it, I’m going to call it the morning line favorite for the week. Surprise counts, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A brief undercover operation

Agents in North Carolina brought down a Moose Lodge where folks were gambling and drinking moonshine.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Moonshine hits the Economist

Although I think I know of what this was apropos, The Economist dropped an out-of-left-field moonshine story. Click to see it.

The Kansas City Super Tiki

I’ve been remiss in updating the Ocean, and I send out apologies to all who were hurt during my absence. I tried to get a post up about the Income Tax yesterday (it’s a bronx cocktail with angostura instead of orange bitters and it would have leant itself really well to some sort of Proverb), but found the requisite sense of humor hard to muster after I’d finished my own pile of forms. What I needed was a drink, not a post about drinks.

But today is a new day. The sun is shining. The birds are on the wing. And I have had something in my back pocket that’s been coaxed out.

Behind my house we have a micro-barn and last year we emptied it out, made it into a dining room / bar, and named it Kansas City. The name is in homage to the famous Max’s Kansas City, and also simply because we figure you can do anything you want in Kansas City.

Kansas City is a seasonal venue:

It’s not heated, and we need to put the deck chairs somewhere. In the off season, I developed a signature tiki drink for the place: The Kansas City Super Tiki.

I was going to wait until we actually got the deck chairs out of the joint and opened up, but tonight’s Thursday Drink Night at the Mixoloseum is about absinthe, and there’s absinthe in the KCST, so I figure now is as good a time as any.

The Kansas City Super Tiki

1 t absinthe (simpler sweeter absinthe with strong fennel/anise flavors are better here)
1 t creme de noyaux (sub orgeat, but the pink really makes for something pretty to look at)
3 strong dashes Angostura Orange
1 oz lime juice
1 oz orange juice
1 oz white rum
1 oz golden rum
Float dark rum

Shake with ice until really cold, strain into an old school tumbler, like the one from which your aunt used to guzzle white horse scotch and soda, with lots of ice in it. Float dark rum on top. Lay a couple of citrus slices on top the drink.

TDN is hilarious, by the way. Anyone with even a passing interest in cocktails should log in and watch, and contribute, and drink, and mess up the kitchen. The KCST was considered a little tart, and I think Gabe might be right. Suggestions for improvements are always welcome.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Cadillac DeVille

The American Distilling Institute Conference kicks off tonight with a party at Anchor Distilling. There’s judging all day at St. George today, and conferencing all day tomorrow, and Meet the Maker on Sunday. The theme this year is brandy, and I’ve been thinking and drinking on brandy all week in anticipation.

Brandy -- and here I mean any spirit made from a mash of fermented fruit -- is the foundation spirit. When the persian alchemist Jabir ibn Haiyan al-Azdl put together the first alembic (and declared the vapor “of little use!”) he was boiling wine.

This is simply because grapes and apples and peaches and whatnot basically ferment themselves. It takes a lot of work to turn corn into gold. From the foundation spirit, in turn, comes one of the foundation cocktails: the sidecar.

There are a lot of cocktails worth learning, but I’m going to go out on a (admittedly sturdy) limb and say that the sidecar is among the most versatile.

Lemon Juice, Cointreau, and Spirit. If you put a bottle of Cointreau on your bar or something like it, you can always make a cocktail. Use gin, it’s a Chelsea Sidecar. Use Tequila, it’s a margarita. Irish whiskey makes an excellent drink. I like them up and I like them on the rocks. Recently, a friend wrote in to announce that he’d had an excellent sidecar made with Cardinal Mendoza and lime juice. It’s so versatile I think it qualifies as a parlor trick. But before you go off into the hinterlands of sidecar experimentation: make it with brandy. (Even cheap brandy.)

Find the proportions that appeal to you. Classic drink writer David Embury likes 8:2:1 (obsessively) and his cocktail (2 oz brandy, 1/2 oz Lemon Juice, 1/4 oz Cointreau) is far too dry for me. Perfection is somewhere between that and equal parts of all. I can’t tell you what you like. Make them, if you don’t like them, make them again.

What I don’t like is the sugared rim. It makes the drink far too sweet, and headache inducing, and really the last thing you need is sugar water dripping down the side of the glass and coating your hands like you’ve been spilling juleps in the infield at the Kentucky Derby.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Alameda Brandy Conference

Brandy is not a word with pleasant associations. See the little old lady pushing a thimble of brandy across a doily strewn table? It’s a long climb from that little old lady’s living room to the barrel house at Jepson Winery in Ukiah, California, where Alison Schneider talks about blending brandies as if she were talking about choreographing a ballet.

In about a week and a half, the American Distilling Institute will convene at St. George Distillery in Alameda, California for our annual conference. I’ll be there, as will numerous writers and many, many distillers. Matt Rowley has written a great anticipatory piece here (he did the heavy lifting).

For artisan distillers, this is the key event of the year, and this year, it’s all about brandy. This will include all sorts of eaux de vie, and all types of miraculous flavors. The most surprising spirits I’ve had over the last few years have been brandies, or close to it, like the Gew├╝rztraminer Grappa made in Petaluma at Stillwater Distillery. St. George, themselves, make a fabulous line of brandies, both aged and unaged.

These small distillers are changing the rules. Grappa, in their hands, is no longer the byproduct, no longer a desperate attempt to squeeze the last dimes out of a harvest, but a goal in itself. What’s more, small, artisinal distillers are allowed to do anything they want. Basil eau de vie? Sure. Organic asian pears? Why not? 

I’m a whiskey man at heart, but I have to admit that the real sweet spot for small scale, artisinal distilling is brandy, and I’m looking forward to seeing what everybody is doing, and what they have to say about it.

This year, for the first time, the public has a chance to drop by and get a taste of the action. Come out to St George on Sunday for  Meet the Maker from 2 to 5. $40 gets you in the door, where 40 distillers will be pouring their own wares. You can buy tickets and get more details here.

In the meantime, I’m trying to get around some brandy in anticipation. Rory Donovan’s Peach Street Distillers (he’ll be there) makes my favorite: 

Friday, March 20, 2009

A little more on Popcorn

Here's a little obituary-type consideration for the good folks at Gourmet.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Popcorn Sutton, R. I. P.

The Asheville Citizen Times is reporting that legendary story teller and moonshine maker Popcorn Sutton was found dead at his home.

Sutton, 62, spent much of his life making moonshine, a craft that brought him fame and a string of criminal convictions dating to the 1970s.

He was facing 18 months in federal prison on moonshining and weapons charges and had told a judge at his sentencing he was in poor health and would rather die at home than in jail.

The sticker on the back of his truck, above, says "Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story." Sutton was a complicated man, full of contradictions.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Mixology Monday XXXVII: The First Time (I hope this place gets closed down by the police)

Young drinkers take role models, and one of the shining beacons of intemperance glares through the fog from the round table in the Rose Room of the Algonquin hotel, where the Vicious Circle shared quips, told jokes, and generally inflated themselves and one another. It was here (or nearby) that Dorothy Parker came up with her sentence “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.”

Ultimately, I share Parker’s own view that the Round Table folks were not literary giants. I would suggest, however, that sitting around and telling jokes might be a better drinking lifestyle than the Still Life with Whiskey Bottle that produced The Sound and the Fury.

Witty, bitter, and sophisticated, the Round Table folks are perfect role models for young people who would consider themselves gimlet eyed rather than, say, beer goggled.

Among the founding members was Robert Benchley. Benchley wrote with a sense of comic timing and misdirection that is almost unmatched.

His short piece “If These Old Walls Could Talk” begins:

In passing by the old Waldorf the other day (or, to be exact, just as they were beginning to tear it down) I realized, with a slight catch in my throat, that some of the dullest hours of my life had been spent within its crumbling walls and, as I stopped to look for the last time at its historic front, I would have murmured “Eheu fugaces!” if I had been sure whether the “g” is pronounced hard or soft.

Benchley was also a drinker, and this is interesting to us here because he was, for years, a teetotaler.

When this month’s Mixology Monday topic was issued, I thought immediately of Benchley. This MxMo, hosted by LUPEC-Boston, asked the question:

What drink do you suggest for the delicate palate of the cocktail neophyte?
Here’s how it went for Benchley. (The story is apocryphal, of course, and it is a tribute to the man’s inebriation that there are conflicting stories regarding Benchley’s first drink.)

He was 31 or 32, having barely drunk a drop, and he was standing at Tony’s Bar with Dorothy Parker. Typically, Parker and all of Benchley’s friends would be getting drunk, and Benchley would be drinking soft. Tonight, however, he said “Let’s see what all the fuss is about,” and downed an Orange Blossom. He had tried a cocktail previously in another speakeasy (or perhaps it was this one, the record is conflicted), and said with a scowl that he hoped the place was closed down by the police.

The Orange Blossom worked. Benchley would soon spend as many hours of the day drinking as working, and was once rumored to have visited 38 speakeasies in one night. I’m afraid it doesn’t end well for Benchley, he drank himself right into cirrhosis and death. I’m not the kind to issue warnings with cocktails, but I suppose there is a certain amount of responsibility called for when introducing a neophyte to the drinking life.

There seem to be about 200 recipes for the orange blossom, and I won’t pretend to know which one is the right one, or which one Benchley drank. I like this one.

Squeeze an orange and pour an ounce of juice into a shaker with two ounces of good gin,
a teaspoon of superfine sugar, and a dash of orange bitters. Ice. Shake. Pour. Decorate. Enjoy -- but not too much.

It’s a very well balanced drink, with enough juicy flavor playing along with the gin
that it tastes like a very grown up glass of orangeade, but without so much in the way of fruit and sugar that it becomes cloying.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Cattle Rustlers & Bootleggers

The thinness and blueness of the line between civilization and anarchy is, of course, metaphorical. The barrier is more like a variegated shopping mall. Sometimes, the shopkeepers get together and cooperate, and when they do, you can bet they give the project a name. In Alabama, this week saw the culmination of “Operation Giddy up and Go.” 15 counties in Alabama and one in Florida got together to recover stolen goods in a 6-month sting. They got “tractors, backhoes, all terrain vehicles, power tools, more than 80 head of cattle and 17 calves.” They also found some moonshine.

Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Ron Sparks said, “the number of cattle and property thefts has gone up tremendously as unscrupulous people try to make a quick buck.”

Monday, March 2, 2009

Before the blizzard

Just about the time I dropped out of high school, I had a friend who drove a convertible Buick Skylark, like this one.

In late winter, yearning for the spring, he and I would put the top down and cruise around with the heat cranked, probably listening to Black Sabbath.

In the same spirit, I pulled the tarp off of the big table out back this weekend and set into some summer cocktailing. We had a moment of warmth before the sun slipped behind the mountain, and if you kept your coat on and didn’t think about it too much, you could see summer in the limes and grapefruits on the cutting board.

The Papa Doble was the drink of choice.

Squeeze a half a lime and a thin wedge of grapefruit into a shaker filled with ice and add two shots of white rum and a splash of Marischino liqueur. (Which has nothing to do with marischino cherries . . . get some Luxardo, it’s delicious.) Shake it like hell. I don’t have anything to shave ice with, so I put 5 or six ice cubes in a towel and whacked it against my stoop until they were crushed.

It is common wisdom that Papa developed the daiquiri that bears his name at the Floridita in Havana with Constante Ribailaguam, the bartender and owner, but Phil Greene found a reference to frozen daiquiris in a letter dated 1939. Perhaps with Constante he was only refining the drink. We should be thankful he did, although I wouldn’t want to try to drink sixteen of them.

The drink is crisp, slightly bitter, and wonderfully refreshing. I'm actually not convinced by all the purple waxing Hem threw its way -- I don't know that it'd make you a better boxer, and I see in my glass very little resemblance to the wake of a ship at thirty knots -- but I trust Papa, and as soon as I can dig the table out from the snowdrift it is now buried under, I'll take another stab at finding the poetry. In the meantime, one more illusory glimpse of summer:

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dean Combs busted in North Carolina

ALE agents in North Carolina dynamited a still near the Wilkesboro speedway.

Here's the story.

Don't overlook the comments.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tete Gras

Here we are: Go-live for the papist moratorium on fun and the pleasures of the flesh.

According to Wiki:

During the early Middle Ages, meat, eggs and dairy products were generally proscribed. Thomas Aquinas argued that “they afford greater pleasure as food [than fish], and greater nourishment to the human body, so that from their consumption there results a greater surplus available for seminal matter, which when abundant becomes a great incentive to lust.”

Rest assured,  I will abstain from nothing -- nothing -- for the next forty days. I will, however, raise a glass at any excuse: So, here’s to my costumed brethren, the devout, the festive.

But what to drink, what to drink?

Hurricanes -- the drinks, I mean -- give you a headache. Stand around Pat O’Briens in the French Quarter if you want to see some other stuff they can do to you. Usually, when I think of New Orleans, I think of Abita Beer and Sazeracs.
In the early 1800s, the Sazerac was originally made with Cognac and Peychaud's Bitters, created by Antoine Peychaud. He named the drink for his favorite brand of Cognac from Limoges, France, the Sazerac-de-Forge-et-fils. In 1870, with Cognac harder to come by due to phylloxera in France, rye whiskey was substituted. Absinthe was banned in the United States in 1912, and hence Pernod or Herbsaint was substituted to coat the glass.
Last year, it became New Orleans’ official cocktail, largely due to the efforts of the excellent Ann Tuennerman (the genius behind Tales of the Cocktail).

But still, drinking a Sazerac in my house is like waking up -- it happens every day, more or less.

In a surprising coincidence, I just bought a bottle of Lemon Bitters from The Bitter Truth. On their website, looking for something to drink, I found the Mardi Gras Cocktail.

They call the liquors therein, but I don’t like to go to the store and I assume that they called Labrot and Graham because they have a relationship with Brown and Forman, or want one. Nothing wrong with that, but I pour Weller.

Shot bourbon, splash absinthe, lemon bitters, stir. Pour it on the rocks and decorate it with an orange peel.

I eventually added a few dashes of Regan’s Orange Bitters, to make it a little more complicated.