Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Revisiting Real Marshmallow Syrup

[Note: Regular readers will recognize this post as an old one from 2010. Why the repost? Because I'm a jackass. Not ten minutes ago, I accidentally deleted the original post. A hyperextended finger has made me clumsy. Fortunately, in my paranoia of losing data, I keep duplicate backup XML files of the blog in separate locations. Today, those backups paid off. All the great comments and the Facebook 'likes' are gone, but the notes and recipes are restored. With no further ado, here's the original piece.]

Köhler (1887) Marshmallow
I was vaguely aware that common modern marshmallows — the confectionery cushions one finds in S’mores, Rice Krispie treats, hot cocoa, and, regrettably, on cooked sweet potatoes — don’t contain any of the obscure marshmallow plant. “Yeah, yeah,” I thought, “There’s a plant, there’s a candy. Not the same.” But I’ve been increasingly curious about medicinal marshmallow plants and I wanted to learn for myself whether they might have applications for mixed drinks. After all, we use some pretty funky medicinal plants in bitters and syrups. Why not use this one? So I got my hands on actual marshmallow root.

It turns out that marshmallow is…odd. For millennia, the roots of Althaea officinalis — a mallow plant found near salt marshes, hence the name — has been used in medicine and confectionery. Ancient Egyptians are said to have used the roots as both medicine and candy. The reason — and it’s the reason I say that marshmallow is odd — is that the sap in the root is gooey. Until gelatin became a popular stabilizer in the 20th century, confectioners used the plant’s natural gooeyness to stabilize and flavor a soft candy named after the plant: marshmallow. In French, it’s guimauve for both the plant and the candy. As in the US, the connection these days is in name only.

The cut root I purchased was perfectly dry and felt like any other root or shredded bark. But wait. In water it became mucilaginous; a thick, colloid, almost ropy syrup formed as the infusion sat overnight. Dry, it had just the faintest musty smell. Once it got wet, the smell was, well, rooty. Seriously. Smelled like someone had been digging up the garden. Before I added any sugar to the infusion, it had already formed a mildly sweet syrup.

That mucilaginous thickness has long been regarded as excellent for helping to soothe sore throats. I’m less interested in marshmallow’s purported medicinal properties, though, than I am its culinary applications.

Taking a cue from French cooking manuals, I decided to make a batch of Sirop de Guimauve with actual guimauve. The syrup is sweet, of course, but it also provides a supple mouthfeel not unlike gum Arabic, adding body as well as flavor. The taste is woodsy, bosky. There’s a fleeting impression of violets, but that passes and is replaced by a general sense of something vaguely old-fashioned. I mentioned to friends that it was like something once tasted, but long forgotten. My first taste reminded me of the paradoxical feeling I had at my first taste of black truffle; I’ve had this before.

I’ve tried the syrup successfully in a few drinks such a simple daiquiri and in a Tom Collins. Pairings with gin seem especially promising — whiskey less so. My emerging rule of thumb is to use about 75% marshmallow syrup as I would sugar syrup in a drink. It is a notably thick syrup. The first time I poured it from a bottle, I used a knife to cut the end of the pour. That turned out to be overkill; just stop pouring before reaching your desired quantity and the amount in the jigger may well pull out the rest of the volume you need from the bottle.

The first recipe came from Phaidon’s reprint of Ginette Mathiot’s massive cookery tome, I Know How to Cook. A standard in France since the 1930’s, Mathiot’s book covers over 1,400 recipes, including drinks. Her recipe is from this first American edition.
Sirop de Guimauve (Ginette Mathiot)

2.25 oz marshmallow root
2.25 pounds sugar

Wash, peel and slice the marshmallow roots. Bring generous 2 cups water to a boil in a pan and add the marshmallow roots. Let infuse for 24 hours. Strain and add the sugar. Bring to a boil again, skim and immediately remove from the heat. Strain and let cool. Pour into sterilized bottles and seal. To serve, dilute with water to taste.

In Élixirs & boissons retrouvés, Gilbert Fabiani offers a similar recipe. My translation is below. The original French follows because my French is entirely self-taught and is, admittedly, a mess. Feel free to correct it.
Marshmallow Syrup (Rowley’s translation of Fabiani)

With 75 grams of the root, ½ liter of water and 1 kg of sugar. Wash the root well and cut it into little pieces. Cover with boiling water and let it infuse for 24 hours. Strain, add sugar and cook over low heat for 10 minutes to ¼ hour. Check the consistency of the syrup, which will adhere to the edge of the pot as it cools. Put in bottles and refrigerate or sterilize them for ½ hour for a long shelf life.
Sirop de Guimauve (Fabiani’s original)

Avec 75 grammes de la racine, ½ litre d’eau et 1 kg de sucre. Bien laver et tronçonner la racine en petis morceaux. Recouvrir avec l’eau bouillante et laisser infuser pendant 24 heures. Filtrer, ajouter le sucre et faire cuire à petit feu pendant 10 minutes à ¼ heure. Vérifier la consistence du sirop qui doit attacher sur la bord du récipient en se refroidissant. Mettre en bouteilles et conserver au frais ou stériliser pendant ½ heure pour une longue conservation.

Cooking the syrup
My final version is essentially a 2:1 rich syrup flavored with, and thickened by, Althaea officinalis.
Real Marshmallow Syrup (Rowley)

80g/2.8 oz (about 2/3 cup) dry cut marshmallow root
500ml/2 cups filtered water
900g/4 cups sugar

Place the cut marshmallow root in a large jar or heatproof container. Bring the water to a boil and pour it over the marshmallow. Cover and let this infuse for 24 hours. Strain, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible, into a clean pot. Over medium-high heat, add the sugar to the marshmallow infusion and stir until it dissolves completely. Pour into sterilized bottles and refrigerate.

If you make a batch for yourself — or already use marshmallow syrup in mixed drinks or cooking — let me know, eh? I find this stuff is promising, but would love other ideas about how to use it.

  • Thickens, flavors mixed drinks
  • Use about 75% of the volume you might use of a 2:1 syrup
  • Promising with gin, some rums, not so much whiskey
  • Make a batch, play with it, and let us know what you've done
  • UPDATE 1/30/11: our recipe for Marshmallow Collins is here

Ginette Mathiot (1st US edition, 2009)
I Know How to Cook
Phaidon Press
976 pages, hardback
ISBN: 071485736X

Gilbert Fabiani (2000)
Élixirs & boissons retrouvés
Éditions Équinoxe
424 pages, trade paperback
ISBN: 2841351262
€26.65 (on Amazon.fr)

Goes well with:
  • I picked up the marshmallow root at The Herb Store in Albuquerque. It’s not obvious from their website, but they will ship. Tenzing Momo in Seattle also sells marshmallow.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mexican Chocolate Pudding with Dark Rum

This summer, noted one of my young friends, has been so hot that you've got to take your shirt off just to think. Certainly, it's been so hot that we keep the stove off as much as possible, lighting it maybe once a day to bang out a few things at once, things  that will keep; iced tea, for instance, or a quick vinegar dressing for cole slaw.

And pudding.

I've never enjoyed particularly intricate desserts. As  demanding as I can get in my cocktails and liquor, my tastes for dessert are decidedly straightforward — pies, cakes, ice cream, brownies, cookies. That sort of thing. Wholesome, uncomplicated, good ol' 'Murcan food.

Except, of course, if you've visited here before, you know that I don't live far from downtown Tijuana and my tastes reach far beyond our American shores. Yes, I like simple desserts, but they may be flavored with vanilla, pandan, cardamom, kafir lime, lemongrass, a range of flavors from homey to exotic. Mexican chocolate is one of those tastes I like and I deployed it this weekend in a simple pudding. This type of chocolate comes in dense discs laced with sugar and canela. Canela is the soft, fragile, true cinnamon (Cinnamomum zelanicum) from Sri Lanka that is ubiquitous in Mexico. What Americans know as cinnamon is actually the dried bark of the more strongly flavored and sturdy cassia (Cinnamomum cassia), a species of laurel tree whose dried, clove-like buds are called for in a number of old bitters recipes.

Right. Enough of botany. Ibarra and Abuela are two readily available brands of Mexican chocolate sold in American grocery stores. If you can't find them, you can follow the directions below using bitter or semi-sweet chocolate and a bit of ground cassia (or, better, if you've got it, canela). It's not necessary to pulverize the chocolate completely, but do break it into small pieces so it melts more readily. Use a box grater, a serrated kitchen knife to shave off pieces, or — as I do — show it who's boss with hefty butcher's cleaver.

An 8.5" cleaver makes short work of Ibarra chocolate discs.

Mexican Chocolate Pudding with Dark Rum

½ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
Pinch of salt
2 cups whole milk
1 cup cream
3 tablets (6 oz total) Mexican chocolate, chopped
¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 Tbl dark rum
1 tsp pure Mexican vanilla extract

In a medium metal mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Add the milk and cream (or use all milk) and whisk briefly until thoroughly combined. Make a double boiler by placing the bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water.

Stir occasionally with a spatula, scraping the sides, for 15 to 20 minutes, When the pale mix is thick enough to coat the back of the spatula, add the Mexican and semi-sweet chocolates. Stir only enough to assure the chocolates are melted and thoroughly combined.

Remove from the heat and stir in the rum and vanilla. Pour immediately into serving cups or a single one-quart/liter dish. Cover the surface of the pudding with plastic wrap (unless you prefer a skin over the top, in which case, don’t let the plastic touch the surface), let it cool a bit, and then refrigerate an hour or two to chill.

Serve plain, with whipped cream, or a few fresh gratings of canela (the softer, more fragile, "true" cinnamon sold in Mexican markets). Or all three.
Goes well with:
  • The San Diego Tribune ran a piece on modern desserts this Spring. Asked my opinion on who makes the best local examples, I went on a bit of a rant. "Few things depress me more," I wrote, "than the freakish curiosities of pastry chefs who’ve abandoned familiar forms in a misguided rush for the sublime." More here.
  • The chocolate/canela combination plays out often in Mexican cookery. Champurrado, a hot drink made with the same Mexican chocolate and thickened with corn, is common around here, but better suited for cooler weather.
  • Straight-up chocolate pie is a great thing to have around. Here's a version I made with dark chocolate, Nabisco's nearly black Famous Chocolate Wafers, and a healthy dose of Dos Maderas PX rum.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Moonshine Monday: Uncork that Pig's Ass and Have a Go at It

One look at their upended pig-shaped bottle with a cork jammed in its ass and you realize that Mick and Michael Heston have a sense of humor. What is not as readily apparent is that the West Virginians are paying homage to an old American tradition.

Many of toady's more fanciful bottles hold tequila — calaveras (skulls), the Republic of Texas, machine guns, and the like, dripping with testosterone and machismo — but in the late 19th century, some American distillers offered their whiskey in bottles shaped like fat, jolly swine. Usually, these were glass, but pottery examples do sometimes surface. Randy Ludacer shares photos of a variety over at the packaging blog Box Vox.

Why swine? Well, pigs — especially white ones — have long been associated with wealth and luck. Fat, happy pigs have been deployed as mascots in European and American advertising almost since the field's advent, selling everything from candy to, sadistically, sausage, hams, and bacon. Pigs also have an historic association with distilleries; for centuries, savvy distillers raised pigs in lots next to their stillhouses and fed them on spent grains. Selling off the litters added a welcome line to the account books at the end of the year.

Like fez monkeys, pigs also stand in as humans, filthy examples what what we're supposed not to be. Pouring from the rear end rather than the mouth just encourages more coarse joking. Men, after all, are such pigs.

The Hestons' Buckwheat Moon is made of 51% buckwheat with the balance of the grain bill corn and barley. Hats off to them for some fun whiskey* packaging. As it is for most craft distilleries, distribution is limited, but check out the website below to see if they can hook you up with a source in your area.

Goes well with:
  • That Whiskey You Like May Cause Hog Farms to Explode, a bit on the mysterious modern case of exploding hog farms with historical notes on the distilling/hog-raising connection.
  • Dan Aykroyd (yeah, that Dan Aykroyd) once held my skull in his hands. Read on and you'll understand the connection.
  • Check out Pinchgut Hollow Distillery's website and see what else the crew is putting in pigs.
  • *Buckwheat Moon isn't a true whiskey. As we've mentioned before, buckwheat is not really a grain, but it can be treated as one when brewing and distilling. Of course, this isn't true moonshine, either, but heel-over-heads pigs make me smile enough to not go on my usual rant about that.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Watermelon and Sea Salt

Salted watermelon? Bollocks. Why ruin a perfectly good, sweet melon with gobs of salt? Salt is a savory mineral and has no place in sweet things. Or so I thought.

Watermelon: Take it a grain (or twelve) of salt
For more than half my life, I regarded the salting of watermelon as some inexplicable aberration, like plunging peanuts in Pepsi or deep-frying peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But then...but then, one salts margaritas. And what is olive juice in a martini but salty brine? Some even cast a bit of salt in their beers with a squeeze of lime.

Counterintuitive as it may seem, salt can bring out flavors that are already present in foods. In small doses, anyway. Put enough of it in and you'll get nothing but salt.

What finally got to me to try a dash of the stuff on melon was the way I make whipped cream. Years and years ago, I picked up an Austrian trick of adding a tiny amount — a knifepoint — of fine salt to heavy cream when whipping. It enhances the sweetness of the sugar in the whipped cream and somehow makes the whole thing more creamy. If you taste the salt, though, it's too much. It's there as a foil.

And so, thinking something similar may work on melons after all, I one day strew a bit of rough French sea salt over a slice I'd just cut. Ah, what a fool I'd been. Watermelon alone — a good one, anyway — hardly seems to need any adornment. Gilding the lily and all that. But needing and wanting are different beasts and there's hardly a slice of juicy, sweet watermelon that doesn't want a bit of salt.

You'll want to use more than the knifepoint I put in whipped cream. Give it a good scattering. Don't bother with the ionized iodized granulated salt that comes in squat blue tubes. A bit too close to licking batteries. Flaky kosher or Maldon salts are better. They lend a bit of crunch to each bite and set up a great contrast between the enhanced sweetness of the melon and pinpoints of brine as they melt. The salt I use is Fleur de Sel de Guérande, a hand-harvested sea salt gathered along the coast of Brittany. Any decent sea salt will do, so use one you know and like, but I enjoy the Guérande salt because its rough, chunky texture is a counterpoint to the juicy, giving melon in each bite.

Goes well with:
  • Mark Bitterman's 2010 book Salted. I have several books on salt — historical overviews, scholarly stuff, quite dry. Salted, though, is more of a field guide to salts of the world and if I could have only one tome of the stuff, this would be it. I give it a review here.
  • Plugged For Your Pleasure: The Melon-Aged Cocktail — It's hot this summer. Before chilling it, why not spike your watermelon with something a little classier than grain alcohol, something like arrack punch?
  • When you're done with the melon itself, be sure to save the rind for making pickled watermelon rind with ginger and try the recipe for the watermelon agua fresca on the same page (oh, hey, is that salt I see in the recipe?).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Rowley Named Distiller's New Contributing Editor

We cover a lot of things here at the Whiskey Forge that aren't whiskey. From rum to raccoons, if you can eat it or drink it, it's fair game. But spirits and those who make them are the bedrock of my...I won't say passion; that threadbare word has lost any real meaning through overuse and conflation with mere enthusiasm. Let's instead agree that spirits and those who make them are an obsession. And, yes, I fully embrace the negative connotations as well as the positive.

Just bring your apples to the distillery
Meeting with distillers is one of the main reasons I travel. When I'm on the road, I delve into archives and historical collections about liquor. I visit bars and track down particular bartenders to keep on top of the never-ending cycle of old becoming new and new becoming old. Used bookstores, flea markets, estate sales, and antique malls are my hunting grounds for tracking down the material culture of the distilling arts.

So when Distiller magazine invited me to become contributing editor, what could I do but say yes? Distiller is the print magazine of the American Distilling Institute. Its focus is the business and industry side of beverage alcohol distilling (i.e., booze). I'll be doing book reviews and feature pieces primarily on the American distilling scene with diversions into Caribbean, South American, European, and Asian distilling when they fit the conversation.

The first feature piece I've written is on American apple spirits. Lord knows we like Laird's 100-proof bonded apple brandy around here — having killed two bottles in the last two weeks — but it's no longer the only respectable option. The piece takes a look at the history of American apple distilling  from colonial times to just about three weeks ago.

When it drops, I'll give the details.

For now, I'm working on book reviews and a longer feature on...well...you'll just have to wait.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hannah Montana Coon Repellent — With Recipes

Bill Smith of Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina put me onto the efficacy of Hannah Montana Coon Repellent. Hannah whaaa? You've not heard? Before we go any further, take 29 seconds to get caught up:

While countless Americans can make respectable fried chicken, say, or chocolate/rum pie, the proper preparation of raccoon is not common skill, nor is the gamey little critter to everyone's taste. If your goal is not to repel raccoons, but to eat them, read on.

In some parts of the country, "critter dinners" are annual events that feature some local game that has fallen from use at the daily table. They may feature muskrat, turtle, venison, or womp rats no bigger than two meters across. Or, yes, raccoon. In Southern Food, John Egerton quotes Stephen Steed in The Arkansas Gazette about such a local fundraising dinner in 1986:
A good-sized crowd of farmers was still gathered around the homestead of Harvey and Neal Holzhauer of Gillett [Arkansas] early Thursday afternoon, putting the finishing touches on . . . preparations for the town's 43rd annual Coon Supper Friday night.

A few hours before, the farmers—all members of the event's sponsor, the 115-member Gillett Farmers' and Businessmen's Club—had removed 2,012 pounds of raccoon from large vats of boiling water spiced with celery and other vegetables "to take out the wild taste" one member said.

The coon was then stored in a refrigerated truck until Friday morning, when the meat was spread over a fire of hickory and oak logs and doused with barbecue sauce.

Across town, at the high school cafeteria, the women of Gillett were cooking 10 bushels of sweet potatoes, 100 pounds of barbecued rice, 14 large hams (for those who decline to eat coon), about 2,000 rolls and numerous cakes.
And by Friday night, most of the coon had been eaten by the 1,200 or so people from five states and about 60 Arkansas towns able to [buy tickets at $11 each] and crowd into the Gillett High School gymnasium.
Well and good if you want someone else to smoke your coon. But what if you want to cook a more manageable portion for yourself and your family? What about that "wild taste?" Virginia Mixson Geraty offers a solution in Bittle en' T'ing': Gullah Cooking with Maum Chrish':
Roas' Rokkoon (Raccoon Roast)
W'en de rokkoon done shoot, heng'um up by 'e behime foot so 'e blood kin
gone tuh 'e head.
Cut off de head en' skin'um en' clean'um out. Tek cyah w'en 'e clean. Mus'
cut out 'e kunnel. Mus' sho' en' don' bus' de kunnel, eeduhso de meat gwi'
Rub'um wid pot-salt en' peppuh en' browng'um een laa'd. T'row uh medjuh
ub watuh 'cross'um en' pit'um een de obun fuh roas'.
Dig 'nuf swee' 'tettuh f urn de 'tettuh bank fuh eb'ry head hab two. Bake
de tettuh long de rokkoon so alltwo ready fuh suppuh.
So, clearly, the thing to do is...what? You...you don't speak Gullah? The Gullah are an African American people who have long lived in coastal South Carolina and Georgia — heavy on the "African." Gullah speak a creole language derived from Sierra Leone Krio, tell African folktales, make African handicrafts, and are largely descended from slave laborers who worked on rice plantations in the area. More on Gullah folk here.

Now, back to that recipe. Geraty offers this translation into modern English:
After the raccoon is shot, hang it up by the hind feet so the blood can go to its head.
Cut off the head, and skin and clean the body. Be very careful to cut out the glands under the legs. If these glands are broken, the meat will be ruined.
Rub the raccoon with salt and pepper and brown it in lard or cooking oil. Add a cup of water and put it in the oven to roast.
Dig two potatoes from the sweet potato bank for each person, and bake them along with the raccoon so they will be ready for supper. 
The thing to note here is that the "kunnel" — the scent glands under the raccoon's legs — must be removed or they can impart an inedible taint to the meat. Sometimes, that little kernel of wisdom is assumed in general directions to "clean" the animal. Regardless of method, nearly every experienced raccoon cook demands long cooking. Lizzie Moore, interviewed in The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery, gives a detailed, multi-step recipe that takes special care to remove the gaminess:
"You know you've got to have raccoon all skinned and dressed first. Then you wash it and cut it up into small pieces, put it in a pot and put cold or warm water over the top. [Bring to a boil] and then you put in two pods of hot pepper and let it cool for an hour in that water. Then you drain all that water off, put water up over it again and put a teaspoonful of vinegar in it. Vinegar is what tenders them and takes that old wild taste out of them. And then you put salt in it, and let it [boil again and] get as tender as you want it to. Stick the fork into it to see if it's as good and tender as you want it. Then you take it out of that water and roll it in meal or flour. I always prefer meal. Just roll it in your meal, have your grease hot in your [frying] pan, and lay that meat all in your pan. Then put some pepper on it, salt it to suit your taste, and let it stay in [the skillet] till it gets as brown as you want it. Take it out, and it's ready to eat. It's lean, dark meat, and it's good."
 Bon appetite, y'all.

Goes well with:

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fat, Indolent Foodies

In the July 2012 UK issue of Esquire, restaurant critic and author Giles Coren rants about food writing and a food-obsessed public. Rubbishing his own audience (most of whom surely think he must be addressing someone else), he declares that nobody in Britain can actually read anymore "and they won't pick up a book unless it has pictures of sausages in it." After a quick glance in my office at two full shelves of books about sausages, that stings a bit.

Giles Coren (artist's rendering)
Coren has written the recent How to Eat Out and has reviewed restaurants for 15 years. In the Esquire piece (What's eating Giles Coren?) he excoriates his fellow pork-bellied food writers and does not pause to skewer "foodies" who take issue with his writing:
I'm not one of these wankers who thinks he can tell you how a dish was made or what the chef did wrong, just by tasting it. I'm not going to use bogus pseudo-academic terms like accurate jus" or "well-judged gribiche" or "unanimous mouthfeel". I won't tell you that "my companion plumped for the fish" or give you 10 elbows of gobshite about what the chef here did in a previous life. That's why I get so many complaints from fat, indolent foodies about only getting on to the actual food in the last couple of paragraphs of my reviews. Because my life is much more interesting to me than the best way to poach turbot, and I have to write this shit week after week after week, and keeping it personal is the only way to keep me focused.
He goes on at some length about the tedium and general horribleness of London restaurant review work. It's not the food necessarily — jokes about Britain's bad food are as outdated as jokes about Margaret Thatcher's pearl necklaces — but the work itself that is so soul-grinding. "Jobs are, by their very nature, awful." They are; I agree wholeheartedly. However much Coren may detest his work, he shows no sign of packing it in.

That's reason enough to keep reading Esquire's British edition.

Goes well with:
  • Giles Coren is on Twitter. Check in for further vitriol here: @gilescoren.
  • Esquire UK posts some of its content here.
  • In 2008, Coren flamed out in an irate harrowing of Times sub-editors who changed a single word in his review. His letter to those editors is a snapshot of a man who has lost his mind with rage. Give it a read.
  • I Woke This Morning Thinking of Tits, a bit about a uncommon thought and how it led to AA Gill's review of  L’Ami Louis, "the Worst Restaurant in the World."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Le Goût Américain

Read a Sarah Palin quote this morning and was reminded of the eternal truth of this one.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Where to Get a Drink During Comic-Con

So you’re coming to San Diego for Comic-Con and you need a drink? I can help.

First of all, welcome to town. Second, the best place for a drink is town may well be my living room, but I simply can’t fit you all in, so I’ve put together a rundown of some of my favorite drinking holes in town. Below is a mix of beer joints, cocktail bars, and even — if that’s how you like to get your swerve on — the town’s friendly gay bars.

This is not an exhaustive list of where to drink or even my favorites in the entire county. It does, however, hit highlights in neighborhoods adjacent to, or nearby, the convention center, places that are easy to get to and serve good drinks.

San Diego is a fantastic beer town with lots of local breweries and plenty of bars that have those beers on tap. Let’s dig in.


Hamilton’s Tavern
Grab a cab and head over to South Park for a few pints at Hamilton’s. Almost 30 beers on tap and a few casks of rotating specials make one of San Diego’s most revered beer landmarks worth a trip. Current offerings are on the big black board and there’s a kitchen with usual pub fare — wings, sausages, sandwiches, burgers, fries, etc. Recent beers on tap include Ale Smith, Bear Republic, Ballast Point, Rogue, and Monkey Paw.
521 30th St.

Monkey Paw
A local favorite, close enough to the convention center for a long walk or a short cab ride, but far enough away to avoid the crush one might get in the Gaslamp neighborhood. Not a huge beer list, but what’s there is good; Chimay, Stone, Green Flash (alas, not a superhero, but a solid local beer), Coronado Brewing, and more. Fries, cheese steaks, and wings are on the menu here. Not the kind of thing a much-slimmed down How To Batman would eat these days.
805 16th St.

Small Bar
Small Bar is, quite literally, a small bar. No false advertising there. If, after your zombie adventures at Petco Park, your group needs a respite, try to grab the long communal table. The selection of beers on tap changes frequently at this University Heights place, but with 42 handles, there’s bound to be something to please even finicky beer drinkers. On Saturday and Sunday, the bar offers brunch specials that come either with a cocktail or a beer (your choice).
4628 Park Blvd.

Stone Company Store
Can’t make it up to Stone Brewing’s vast beer garden in Escondido? Make the trek over to the sedate South Park neighborhood for a taste of what’s on tap. No food to speak of, but you can buy a glass and sample any of the offerings by trading poker chips for each refill. Growlers, kegs, and bottles for take-out. Shirts and whatnot for sale if your bags aren't too packed with swag.
2215 30th St.

Stumbling distance from my old house, Toronado is the sister bar to San Francisco’s renowned beer Mecca of the same name. A wall of taps — as many as fifty — with free flowing beer from the left coast, Texas, other US hotspots, and Europe. Underberg bitters in wee, paper-wrapped bottles. 400 beers in bottles. The music can get too loud, but the beer is great and a kitchen will hook you up with basic eats such as sausages or macaroni and cheese.
4026 30th St.

As much as I relish great beers, a well-made cocktail is always welcome. In the interest of not writing a whole book on where to get a good cocktail in San Diego, I’ve made a short list of what’s good and nearby. Take heart. Eight years ago, this list would have been very short indeed.


Craft & Commerce
A recent addition to San Diego’s growing craft cocktail scene, Craft & Commerce quickly showed it had the chops to crank out good cocktails. You may hear that no vodka is on offer here, but I’ve spied a bottle of Karlsson’s Gold on the back bar more than once. Still, though, try something with genever or Campari. Why not grab a plate of mini corn dogs, house made pickles, or even a bowl of punch? Wines and beers for those who don’t trust themselves not to become Drunk Hulk with too much booze. Bonus; the men's room sometimes plays readings of Orwell over the speaker.
675 W. Beech St.

El Dorado Cocktail Lounge
$5 happy hour cocktails until 9pm? Yes, that is me you may sometimes spy at the bar. I like to drink and talk at bars, so I generally bail when the band starts tuning up. Sometimes there’s one here, sometimes not. You can get typical yard beers (PBR pounder, anyone?) but the cocktails are the draw. Get something with rye, pisco, or Chartreuse. Don’t go all douchey and play Stump the Bartender, but the staff know most of the classics and a lot of modern twists.
1030 Broadway

El Take It Easy
Jay Porter’s Baja-influenced eatery on the 30th Street stretch of restaurants has a proper sit-down menu, but grab a seat at the concrete bar and take in some of the cocktails and punches that are heavy with tequila, mezcal, and bourbon. Beers and Mexican wines also available (yes, Mexican wines; don't forget that Mexico is part of the local economy and wines from El Valle de Guadalupe are worth more than a cursory taste). A plate of thinly sliced country ham is just the thing if you’re down with swine. Thursday nights, the oysters are $1 each.
3926 30th St.

Noble Experiment
Across from the wall of skulls, bar man Anthony Schmidt holds court the stainless steel bar. You’ll need reservations. And you’ll need help finding it. Noble Experiment is hidden away within the (also great) beer bar, Neighborhood. Walking distance from the convention center. Head back toward the restrooms and start pushing walls. Once admitted, either tell Schmidt what you’d like or put yourself in his hands; he’s one of the few bartenders in town I’d simply let select something for me. A Yamazaki 18 Old Fashioned? Yes, please. If he’s not in, there’s a drinks catalog that’s over 700 items long. You’re bound to find something. Perhaps my favorite cocktail bar in town. No kitchen.
Please note: you must text for reservations (the lone fly in the ointment): (619) 446-0001
777 G St.

A bit like New York’s PDT in look and feel, Prohibition is hidden behind the door of a law firm, down a flight of stairs. I don’t routinely drink in the touristy Gaslamp, but I do make an exception here. Cool, dark, and quiet. Order at the bar, then move off to a table. Simple cocktails, done well. No fancy molecular mixology, but solid old school martinis, Italian amari, bonded apple brandy, and similar drinks with a bitters selection befitting a modern cocktail bar.
548 5th Ave.

One of San Diego’s first modern cocktail bars tucked away on a surface road hugging the 5 freeway. The drinks menu feels a little behind the times now, but it’s still a great place to grab a bourbon mule, a selection of Van Winkle whiskeys, Belgian beers, Pimm’s cups, swizzles, and sangrias. The kitchen serves, like a lot of the city’s cocktail bars, local foods with a menu that changes daily; house made pickles, fries, mussels, charcuterie, cheeses, roasted chicken. Good stuff.
3175 India St.

Get Your Gay On

If you’re after a couple of stiff drinks with an easy-going gay crowd, you’re in luck. San Diego locals exude a friendliness second only to New Orleanians. You can even show up in costume if you like and nobody’s going to think it odd. Well. Not too odd.

Fiesta Cantina
An import from Los Angeles, “Fiesta” is an open-air bar with the feel of a cheap Baja beachside resort. Which is not to say it’s not fun. Not a single craft cocktail to be found on site. One does not order a Manhattan or a whiskey sour here. The margaritas, however, are big, they are strong, and they sometimes come two-for-one. It’s one of the few places I break down and just order a Corona and lime. Not at all unusual to bump into fully costumed ComicCon attendees.
142 University Ave.

The Hole
A hike from the convention center, but if you’re spent on Sunday afternoon, still in town, and want to get away from the cosplay, go on and hit always-popular sun-drenched dive, The Hole (so named for its proximity to a golf course and its former handle of The 19th Hole). If you’re not through the door and down the steps into the open-air pit by 4pm, skip it; the line is insanely long. A definitely bearish crowd (and their admirers), so if 40-something, shirtless, hairy guys are not your deal, maybe it’s best you skip it. Rudimentary grill with hot dogs and burgers. Usual quaffs are basic cocktails in small pitchers or a respectable selection of craft beers in the same. Bring sunscreen.
2820 Lytton St.

Urban Mo’s
The Hole may have been around since the end of Prohibition, but Mo’s is one of San Diego’s anchor gay bars. Always popular, nearly always busy. Right across the street from Fiesta Cantina, so there’s some back-and-forth with the crowd. The inside is divided into a dance floor and two bars. Another bar serves the patio outside and waiters will bring basic appetizers and unpretentious food to your table — burgers, sandwiches, fries, salads, burritos, etc. You may get an excellent cocktail by mistake (a bartender once gave me an outstanding Old Fashioned when I ordered a Manhattan), but don't expect one. The real draw is the crowd and the music. On a early Sunday evening, you may find me there with an oversized plastic stein of hefeweizen in hand. Want one? Ask for a Big Ass Hef.
308 University Ave.

Grab a Little Something for the Hotel Room

Want a little liquid refreshment for the room? Four places are worth noting.

Best Damn Beer Shop
A convenience store that holds both a homebrew supply section (ok, you probably won’t be brewing during the weekend) as well as an excellent and massive selection of beers, ales, lagers, ciders, barley wines, perries, and more from around the world. A local treasure.
1036 7th Ave.

Yeah the grocery store. The selection is ok, but if you’re planning a room party, be aware of their standing deal: buy six 750ml bottles of wine or spirits and get 30% off each one. That turns out to be some pretty damn cheap liquor. And there’s one very close to the convention center.
101 G St.

Trader Joe’s
This store in the chain is in the Hillcrest neighborhood, so it may be worth a stop if you’re hitting the nearby gay bars and restaurants. I mention TJ’s for 750ml bottles of Bulleit rye for $19.99. That is the cheapest everyday price I’ve ever seen for a very respectable showing from the family better known for their bourbon (which is also $19.99 here).
1092 University Ave. (tucked away in a shopping center, near the Ralph's grocery store and a Starbucks)

Whole Foods
Also in Hillcrest, Whole Foods doesn’t have the beer selection of the Best Damn Beer Shop, but it’s got enough of a local selection (and some from Europe) to drop by if you’re in the neighborhood. Most of it is chilled, almost all of it is good.
711 University Ave.

Goes well with:
  • Tap Hunter’s Twitter feed gives regular updates on the beer menus around town.
  • Brandon Hernandez’s piece on San Diego drinking in the most recent issue of Imbibe.

The RumDumpster Is For Sale

CRAPGAME: Make a deal with 'im.

BIG JOE: What kind of deal?

CRAPGAME: A deal deal.
Maybe the guy's a Republican!
Business is business.

~ Kelly's Heroes (1970)

 A few years ago at Tales of the Cocktail, I found myself standing with a small cluster of rum guys after one of my talks. Some knew I like rum, but it was a surprise to those who figured the guy who runs the Whiskey Forge must be all about whiskey and nothing else.

"Oh, not at all," I countered. I tossed off a few of my favorites and then — tapping an impish streak — I brought up my other website, RumDumpster.com. It's a complete fiction. The site did not exist, but I enjoyed stringing them along for a bit with the prospect of such a risqué-sounding rum site (swap out one letter and its lewdness becomes manifest).

I played out the joke only long enough to savor their incredulous expressions and then admitted that no such site exists. "Rowley," one of them said with his hand on my shoulder, "If you don't buy that domain right now, I'm going to. It's perfect." 

Twenty minutes later, RumDumpster.com became mine. I redirected it to the Whiskey Forge, planning to launch a cheeky rum site. And then, as it does, life happens. The truth is that work is brisk and I don't have the time to do a proper second site by myself. So I let the domain lay fallow.

Now it's time to pass it on to someone who can make use of it. I'm selling RumDumpster.com.

Yes, I know websites devoted to domain auctions and sales exist. I'm not interested in those. Instead, I want to offer it to you.

What do I want?
Cash is fine (I'm always down for lucre, the filthier the better). But you all tend to be food and liquor people — make me an offer. Own a distillery and want to swap rum? That could work. Culling your liquor library of old titles? A trade is possible. You own a nursery and want to send me fruit trees? Yes, I could see that working, too. Perhaps you have big, antique hog-splitting cleavers your wife wants out of the garage? You know who to talk to.

Get creative. Make me an offer here in the comments section or email me privately: moonshinearchives (at) gmail (dot) com

When do I want it?
Make me an offer by the end of the day Friday, July 27th 2012. Let's make a deal. You know, a deal deal.
Hell, for that matter, make me a offer on the Whiskey Forge. I'm not planning to part with it, but that doesn't mean I won't.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

So Trashy: Raenelle vs Betty Sue on Peanuts and Pepsi

A few days ago, Lee Zalben over at Serious Eats ran the piece Ever Tried Peanuts in Coke? Well, obviously, yes. But memories of my own youth in the American heartland aren't what popped to mind when I read it. No, what sprung to mind immediately was a little side note about Raenelle and Betty Sue over a high calorie pick-me-up in Ernest Matthew Mickler's classic White Trash Cooking.

I glass skim milk
1 envelope sugar substitute
Blend in blender until foamy, then add 1 teaspoon McCormick's vanilla extract.

Try this on hot days when your cardboard Good-Shepherd fan makes you even hotter.

Betty Sue says: "This is a life-saver before Sunday dinner and just after church, when it's so hot you cain't hardly stand it!"
Essentially an old-school milk shake from back when they were simply milk, shaken. The sugar substitute, though, knocks it over into the realm of the vile. If you think so, too, perhaps something with a little more substance is your speed...
Pour a small bag of Tom's peanuts into a cold Pepsi. Turn it up and eat and drink at the same time.
Raenelle told me that this was one of Betty Sue's concoctions. She said: “But it's so trashy she won't own up to it!"
Goes well with:
  • Check out Possum Up a Guava Tree, an earlier piece in which I give one of the recipes from Mickler's book for...well, something that goes with sweet potatoes.
  • I said it before but it's worth repeating: It’s all well and good to joke about white trash (the Blue Collar comics bank on it), but don’t dismiss Mickler’s book as sheer kitsch or merely a goof, though it is in part both those things. John T. Edge makes an eloquent case for Mickler as an intellectual, if not actual, peer of James Agee and photographer Walker Evans in his 2006 Oxford American article Let Us Now Praise Fabulous Cooks.

Friday, July 6, 2012

I Can Almost Hear the Theme Music

Surely one of America's greatest comics.

The Coming of Red Likker to Kentucky

In 1929, as the failures of Prohibition had become manifest even to the most ardently braying temperance hounds, the prolific American author and inveterate blowhard Irvin S. Cobb published Red Likker, his love letter to bourbon and Southern honor. It is not a particularly rare book. It is not a particularly good book. But I've hung onto my first edition for decades because it deals with whiskey — a topic dear to my heart —and for Cobb's brazen manhandling of the English language, which is at turns entertaining and appalling. He does not present the South so much as a caricature of the South.

The novel concerns the fictional Bird family of Kentucky and in particular Colonel Attila Bird who distilled a great deal of the red likker in question and who lived long enough to see Prohibition descend on America. In my mind, his voice hovers somewhere between that of the 1940's Senator Beauregard  Claghorn and that of Mel Blanc's diminutive Kentucky colonel from Dog Gone South. In other words, he's a joke, son. Or at least comical, though Cobb, a Kentuckian. no doubt intended to impart almost heroic qualities.

In an early section, Cobb describes an exchange from the 1790's between brothers Isham and Shadwell Bird. Before then, the whiskey with which the brothers Bird were familiar was white, none of this fancy barrel-aged stuff we take for granted more than two centuries on.

In his hand Isham held what Shadwell had bade him seek for in the saddle-bag. It was a wickered case-bottle, stoppered with a corn-cob.

"Tried it yet?" said Shadwell, his voice thickened,

"Not yet."

"Well, you'd best not lose any more time then. It's prime. Man, I tell you it's just prime! Primest ever I swallowed anywheres or any place."

"What is it ?"

"Likker. What else would it be but likker?"

"But it's red!" Isham was holding the flask up to the west and through the meshes in the plaiting the glass, by reason of its contents, showed him a deep russety-amber shade. That was puzzling.

"Shore, it's red. That's the joke about it. Red as stinkabus rum, e'en near it, yet powerful well-flavored. Take a swig and then tell me if it ain't about the potentest likker ever you put lip to."

Goes well with:
  • The Maine Julep  Cobb's unrelenting style in on show here as he excoriates a Maine bartender — “a criminal masquerading as a barkeeper” — who dared serve a julep that was not up to his Kentucky standards.
  • Red Likker is not a terrible book; it was just a product of its time, written by an author with a distinct brash voice, and has not aged well. If you'd like a copy, even first editions can be picked up online for less than $10. Jerry Thomas he is not.
  • Even the Ten Dollar Whore Sneered at Me, a look at how far white whiskeys have come in a few short years. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Oh, Belvedere! My First Memory of a Mint Julep

My ancestors never saw a mint julep, 
but they sipped five-day-old likker 
 out of ceramic jugs and Bell jars 
until they could not remember 
their Christian names.

~ Rick Bragg 
All Over But The Shoutin' 

My hometown of Kansas City, Missouri is, a generous drinks geographer might allow, on the outer periphery of mint julep territory. While juleps were not regular offerings, they did show up from time to time. Consequently, I acquired at an early age a fondness for these refreshing concoctions of whiskey and ice; certainly by the time I was working on undergraduate degrees, making one had become second nature.

Charlie Dog enjoys a julep
A recent viewing of the 1950 Warner Brothers cartoon Dog Gone South made me realize that my exposure to them came at a younger age than I first suspected. I must have seen it when I was five or six years old. The cartoon concerns the obnoxious Charlie Dog and his efforts to endear himself to a diminutive Confederate colonel. The colonel, alas, already has a dog, a certain Belvedere.

Charlie's minty repast on the veranda is short-lived. But the silver cup he commandeers from the colonel seemingly instilled in me a life-long appreciation for juleps. I'm beginning to understand why I like bulldogs, too...

Goes well with:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Band

"Me and Elwood, we're putting the band back together."

God bless that man. It's about time.

Bourbon Women to Gather at Maker's Mark

I once teased Hollis Bulleit, asking her what sort of woman drinks bourbon. “Sassy broads,” she informed me, “drink bourbon.”

I've found that generally to be true. I do like the company of sassy broads, especially with Hollis in tow. Vodka drinkers fade into the background, but  a woman who orders bourbon right out of the gate has my immediate attention.

Clusters of such bourbon-drinking women sometimes gather to guzzle, sip, or otherwise imbibe that "true and uncontaminated fruitage of the perfect corn" as Irvin S. Cobb put it. What's not to like?

Victoria MacRae-Samuels
Next Thursday, July 12th, Bourbon Women will convene at Maker's Mark distillery for a behind the scenes look at the distillery (which is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark) led by Victoria MacRae-Samuels — "the only female Vice President of Operations in the bourbon industry."

That last bit seems more of a strange marketing angle (I wonder if the ranks of America's nearly 400 craft distilleries were polled for the stat), but if I qualified for membership and were in Kentucky, I know where I'd be next Thursday.

Details for the four-hour tour are on Bourbon Women's site.

Goes well with: