Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Martin Cate Blows the Lid (Almost) off Tiki Oasis

Whatever you do, do it with all your might.

~ PT Barnum (1880)
The Art of Money Getting

PT Barnum, Robert Tilton, Huey Long — showmen all, masters of swaying their audiences. To their ranks, consider adding San Francisco bar man Martin Cate.

At the recent Tiki Oasis in San Diego, Cate presented The Persuasive Power of Punch, a thumbnail history of the origins of alcoholic punch. What’s he know about punch? Plenty. As owner of the San Francisco rum bar Smuggler’s Cove, Cate presides over a drinks menu that spans centuries, going back far earlier than the mid-century tiki drinks for which he is widely known. But from Planters’ Punch to the Zombie, tiki has its share of potent multi-ingredient drinks that fall squarely in the punch tradition.

The room itself in the Crowne Plaza Hotel was divided into five main sections, all arranged in a rough circle around a tarp-covered central table. Now, tiki crowds skew slightly older, whiter, straighter, and more coupled than I’m used to in drinkin’ buddies, but a more friendly crowd you couldn’t ask for. The room quickly filled with Hawaiian shirts, tropical dresses, and a handful of fezzes. There were vintage cat’s eye glasses, beehive hair, coconut purses, and pineapple bracelets. And the attendees were positively gleeful.

The crowd filed in, grabbed cups of welcoming punch, and started heading for spots at the surrounding tables, each of which was outfitted with a small cup covered in plastic wrap. Each section’s cups contained different liquids. As I tried to make out what they were, a volunteer pointed me to a seat. “If you sit where I tell you,” she sighed, “this would all go a lot faster.”

So I did. And Martin launched into his history of punch — its origins in India and introduction to Europe through the British East India Company. He discussed how the very name punch is said to derive from the Hindustani word panch, meaning “five” (for the five ingredients common in 17th century punches), its place in pre-industrial England and America, and how its popularity declined over the years.

But those cat’s eye glasses, those fezzes, and those clusters of beehives kept turning back to the tarp in the center of the room. Fingers stealthily moved toward the cups, worrying loose edges of plastic wrap. Noses went into the cups as the audience tried to suss out their contents. Mine was clearly strong black tea. Cate, seemingly oblivious, began using a punch ladle as a pointer for his slides. It only made the audience more antsy.

He shared some tips for finding recipes and serving punches out of various vessels from bowls to coolers. “So…anyway,” he wrapped up, “that’s it. Thanks for coming. I hope you guys had a good time.” Scattered light applause began to ripple through the audience while shouts of “No, no!” arose in other parts. “What?” he asked. “Did I forget something?” After more teasing, he acknowledged there might be one more thing to do.

“I am here” Hands begin drumming the tables.
“To present to you” The drumming gets faster, harder, while yelps and cheers leap forth.
“The single most powerful weapon ever crafted.” The cheers get even louder.
“Behold!” The tarp is drawn back in one dramatic reveal.
“The world’s. Most. Powerful. Volcano bowl!” The crowd goes absolutely apeshit.

There, on the table, is an enormous volcano bowl fashioned from a Home Depot koi pond. Men and women — with, one presumes, respectable day jobs — are on their feet, snapping pictures, recording video, looks of delirious joy on their faces. Is this a talk about punches or a dustbowl tent revival? The glory and the power of rum has struck these poor souls and I’ll be damned if some of them aren’t speaking in tongues. Hawaiian, if I’m not mistaken.

Cate asks each section to come forth and contribute its ingredient from the plastic cups. In goes cup after cup of fresh lime juice. “Come up here and feed it. Feeeeed it.” The bowl’s capacity is said to be 40 gallons. The sweetness of a rich Demerara sugar goes in. “Yes, yes, give it more … Excellent.” Vanilla and cinnamon Trader Tiki syrups. After that, tea, tea, and more tea. The crowd chants “Rum! Rum! Rum! Rum!” They get their wish: in goes a healthy dose of two rums. Our MC uses first a giant whisk, then an electric immersion blender to mix the ingredients. Red lights come on at the bottom of the bowl and the bubbler kicks in.

“This needs something,” Cate notes. “Maybe it’s fire.” 

And with that, this modern-day Barnum blew the roof off Tiki Oasis. Well, not literally. But the fire marshal might’ve gotten a little freaked as the audience screamed its approval. A large crouton, soaked in 160-proof lemon extract is set in place above the bubbling liquid, lit, and then blown into a huge fireball.

Audience pandemonium.

Almost in a frenzy, Cate passes around long straws, tells the crowd to put two together to make even longer straws. Some clatter to the floor in a maelstrom of tiki madness. From each section, a contingent springs forth to sample with double-long long straws. My photographer — it’s his first Tiki Oasis — looks at me in amazement. “These are grown-ass adults,” he marvels “acting like they’re 21 years old.”

And that’s maybe part of the magic of Tiki Oasis and tiki crowds in general. Grown-ass adults sometimes need to act like kids. If that entails drinking and setting things on fire, then so be it. I had a blast (a contained one) and will be back next year.

Tiki Oasis 10th Anniversary Punch

1 oz Rhum JM VSOP
1 oz Zaya rum
1 oz strong Darjeeling tea
1 oz fresh lime juice
.25 oz Demerara simple syrup (optional/to taste)
.5 oz Trader Tiki Cinnamon Syrup (see below)
.5 oz Trader Tiki Vanilla Syrup (see below)

For a single serving, mix together with ice. For a crowd, just multiply each ingredient, ice it, and serve it forth.

Goes well with:
  • A big block of ice. Note that punch gets less watered down if all the mixed ingredients are chilled and served on a single block of ice.
  • Trader Tiki syrups are fantastic vehicles for adding exotic spices and flavorings to tropical cocktails. Check them out here.
  • Smuggler's Cove, Martin Cate's bar in San Francisco.
  • Tiki Oasis, the annual San Diego tiki gathering. I'm already planning to hit up Tiki Oasis next year. If you go, get tickets early: they sell out fast. 
Photos © 2010 by Douglas Dalay. 

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    How to Hit the Sauce

    I've parked my carcass in the cool air of a neighborhood coffee shop, inhaling iced tea and licking my wounds. A work setback this morning has me regrouping, rethinking, and rejiggering a project. The project is not dead — far from it — it's just that what the marketing types call the competitive landscape has shifted. Proceed? Of course. How to proceed is what's under consideration.

    A handful of things make this development better. One is that I'm damn good at what I do, so it's a comfort knowing this will turn out well. Another is How to, Batman!

    Gabe Evans as Batman
    You heard me.  How to, Batman! Like Batman, just bigger and full of useful instructions on everyday topics such as How to Dress for an Interview, How to Properly Hang a Picture, How to Feed Some Goats, How to Pet a Dog, and more. How to, Batman! is a video series featuring Gabe Evans, who dons a Batman outfit and mask and heroically tackles quotidian tasks and household chores. But most importantly, he does it all in Christian Bale's gruff and gravelly Batman voice.

    While no drunk, it seems this Batman isn't shy of tossing back a drink (or seven). Three of my favorite videos are below: How to Make a Margarita, How to Drink an Energy Drink, and How to Take a Shot.

    Thank you, Batman, for making me a little less grumpy and snarly today.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    New Orleans Water Meter Coasters

    Spend any time at all in New Orleans and you’ll encounter the city’s water meter covers. Not quite as common as Tabasco, slightly less popular than crawfish, the round iron covers themselves may be a bit scarce these days if you don't know where to look. Their image, however, is everywhere — on floor mats, as jewelry, garden flags, t-shirts, prints, cuff links, and postcards. Hell, you can even get shoes emblazoned with their 1920's crescent moon-and-stars design. Though I haven't seen any (yet), I'd lay money on odds that water meter tattoos are out there.

    If your passions for New Orleans don't include ink, you can hit up funky t-shirt designers Dirty Coast and score a set of neoprene coasters with Edwin Ford’s nearly century-old design. Dirty Coast also sells Save the Sazerac t-shirts, water meter floor mats (it’s where I got mine), and a load of other great shirts that are so local, they're almost in-jokes. If you missed Tales of the Cocktail this year, these coasters will hold you over until next.

    Neoprene water meter coasters. $20 for a set of four at Dirty Coast. They’ll ship.

    Dirty Coast
    5704 Magazine Street
    New Orleans, LA 70115
    (504) 324-3745

    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    Stone IPA ~ Bringing Moths to My Flame

    Complete strangers were looking me in the eye and smiling. Hey buddy, the first one said. A second a few feet later added Lookin' good. I smiled back. The third looked at what I was carrying, grinned, and gave a rueful shake of his head. How's it going, man? No doubt about it: that was pure, unadulterated envy.

    I wasn't twenty feet inside the grocery store when it stuck me like a cast iron skillet upside my big pumpkin head: Stone 10th Anniversary India Pale Ale is an irresistible pheromone for San Diego beer geeks.

    Like it was an infant, I was cradling a three-liter bottle in the crook of my left arm as I headed for the store's Coinstar machine. The beer itself was gone and the bottle was half full of several months' worth of pocket change — but the allure of Stone's IPA remained as strong as ever. Maybe it was just the mere hugeness of the bottle, but I carried it with the mug-hoisting gargoyle facing out, so I suspect it was the brand itself. San Diego is a beer town and these boys know their brews.

    I'd bought the beer for coworkers a few years ago when I was an account manager for a local advertising firm. One client came to us for a complete rebranding and everything — from the name and logo to the lobby sign, prospectus, and business cards — needed new designs. By the time we finished, there wasn't a single person in the firm who hadn't contributed to the project. Everyone at the office got a sample of the potent (10% abv) hopped ale. I kept the bottle and have been stuffing coins into it ever since.

    Once or twice a year, I haul those coins to a Coinstar machine and redeem for Amazon.com credit. I want to buy a machine for the kitchen and Amazon's got it cheap. Well, 35% off retail. The coins were just weighing down the floor and this seemed a better use for it. Cool thing about Coinstar is that it normally takes a hefty percentage when issuing store credit, but at some — and apparently only some — machines, it will issue credit for various online retailers without taking the percentage. Put in $120 worth of change and get $120 in credit.

    As long as my bank won't take a of bottle of coins anymore, then the beer geeks of San Diego will see me again come Christmastime.

    Meanwhile, I really should score another big ass bottle of delicious Stone's most recent anniversary ale. Find tasting notes on the 10th Anniversary IPA here.

    Friday, August 6, 2010

    Bookshelf: Left Coast Libations

    Ted Munat and Michael Lazar have gathered some of our favorite western bartenders in a new, revised edition of Left Coast Libations. What? Missed the first edition, you say? Not surprising — the 2008 booklet had a small run and limited distribution. How limited? Ted handed me a copy personally at Tales of the Cocktail last year. (Aside: Just one of the reasons we like Tales: five days in seminars, lunches, dinners, workshops, and afterhours shenanigans and I know what you’re going to be drinking this year. And next.)

    Left Coast Libations is at once serious and ridiculous. It’s a serious look at 100 original cocktails, the bartenders who created them, and where to get them in the field. No Jack-n-Coke recipes, but you will find directions for making the kinds of syrups, tinctures, bitters, purees, juices, and other house-made liquids and foams one actually finds in many bars today. The recipes are informed as much by culinary trends as classic cocktail culture.

    Want cardamom tincture for that Apricot Cardamom Flip? It’s here. So are straightforward concoctions such as agave nectar syrup, cinnamon tincture, homemade grenadine, house chocolate liqueur, and prickly pear juice. If you want to tackle more complex recipes, try your hand at a maple syrup gastrique, saffron sharbat, smoked cider air, Angostura-rum fig brûlée, or even — if that’s the way you swing — smoked ice.

    The book is a less serious look at the bartenders themselves.* Munat heckles almost all of them. Mercilessly. When writing bartender bios, Munat seems to have followed the dictum that lies reveal truths more than facts do — and outrageous ones apparently drive to the very heart of truth. Each has the ring of an HL Mencken hoax. Even through the teasing, there’s clearly a lot of well-deserved love and respect for the men and women crafting original drinks. Just…verify anything you read about their backgrounds in those pages.

    How are those drinks? I’ve had the pleasure of sitting at many of the bars in the book and the recipes here reflect the complex, bold, and bitter flavors that predominate today. No Vodka Red Bulls or Jell-O shots; as Munat writes in his intro for Seattle bartender Tara McLaughlin “Rob Roy had fallen into the DJ/Jäger/VodkañRedBull Zone. And hey, don’t knock till you try it, is all I can say. But that’s not what we’re here to learn about today.”

    I'll be spending a lot of time with this little tome over the next few months. In the meanwhile, here’s floral and spicy little number from Tara McLaughlin called the Gin Anthem. Hold the Jäger.
    Gin Anthem

    2 oz London Dry gin
    1 oz Lillet Blanc
    2 drops orange flower water
    1 dash Fee Brothers orange bitters
    Orange twist, for garnish
    Stir all the ingredients with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the orange twist.

    The authors note that McClaughlin prefers Pacific Distillery’s Voyager gin for this cocktail.

    Ted Munat with Michael Lazar (2010)
    Left Coast Libations: The Art of West Coast Bartending
    Introduction by Paul Clarke
    166 pages, hardback
    Left Coast Libations
    ISBN: 0982631502

    *Just a few of the bartenders who contributed recipes: Eric Alperin, Anu Apte, Brooke Arthur, Jamie Boudreau, Jennifer Colliau, Marco Dionysos, Matty Eggelston, Lane Ford, Zane Harris, Daniel Hyatt, Lance Mayhew, Duggan McDonnell, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Dave Shenaut, Murray Stenson, Neyah White, Evan Zimmerman, Keith Waldbauer, and Marcos Tello. We'll look for Erik Ellestad and Blair Reynold in the next edition.