Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Drinking in the Earthquake

…If there should happen to be an earthquake on when you are drinking it, it won't matter. This is a cocktail whose potency is not to be taken too lightly, or, for that matter, too frequently!

Harry Craddock
The Savoy Cocktail Book

Yeah, we had an earthquake today. Big whoop. After digging ourselves out of the rubble listening to the wine glasses clink a little, what could be a more appropriate than an Earthquake cocktail? This is, admittedly, an obscure cocktail, heavy on the asbinthe, and not tuned to everyone’s tastes. Dr. Morpheus, for instance, does not like absinthe, and would be tempted to spit this one out on the ground.

But are you still with me? Good.

I do like the green stuff, and was considering how I’d best like to use a bottle of Mata Hari, an Austrian absinthe I’d been given recently. Mata Hari doesn’t quite louche fully the way I’d expect, so I wasn’t planning on the classic absinthe drip (which is nothing more than sugar, cold water, and a small does of absinthe, prepared just so). For those who don’t count down every day to the green hour, the louche is what happens when iced water is added in small increments to genuine absinthes. The liquid goes from a clear translucent spirit to an opaque, cloudy, milky opalescence. It’s quite beautiful if you’re into that sort of thing.

If you ain’t into beauty, Mata Hari's 120 proof will backhand you off the porch. Something for everyone.

Back in the 19th and the first few years of the 20th century, a drinker could find absinthe in all sorts of cocktails. This one comes from Harry Craddock’s classic cocktail manual, The Savoy Cocktail Book. Craddock doesn’t specify liquors, so I dropped in those brands I was using.

I’m halfway through my first one. Morpheus is headed home from surfing, so I need to finish it and work on something a little less wollop-packing. Let’s hope I’m not passed out in an interior doorway when he gets here.

The Earthquake (an absinthe cocktail)

1 oz. gin (Bombay Sapphire)
1 oz. whiskey (Old Overholt rye)
1 oz. absinthe (Mata Hari)

Fill a shaker with 4-5 ice cubes. Add spirits. Stir until opaque and chilled (about 20-30 seconds). Strain into a cocktail glass.

Goes well with:
  • I implore you not to make the Mata Hari Red Bull from Mata Hari's site, but do check out their recipe suggestions. As a cocktail component, this is not a bad spirit.
  • Washington DC's premier seafood restaurant, Johnny's Half Shell, has been serving proper absinthe for the past few months. What a way to round out a meal. Oysters, crabcake, etouffee, and a dose of history. Way to go, chef.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Moonshine Cocktail: The Corn Popper

Hats off to Erik Ellestad, proprietor over at Underhill Lounge. About two years ago, Erik decided to start working his way through all the cocktail recipes in Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book making each and every one. With over 700 recipes, the bartenders’ guide, originally published in 1930, has gone through several reprints. Erik, bless his liver, is starting at the Abbey Cocktail and working his way to the end, taking photos, recreating obscure or lost ingredients, and—naturally—tasting along the way.

When writing about the Corn Popper cocktail—a Prohibition-era cocktail and one of the few written examples of a recipe intended for mass consumption with even an oblique call for moonshine—he asked me about its call for corn. The recipe was stolen verbatim from inspired by Judge Jr's 1927 book Here's How, a tiny, pocket-sized manual filled with utter cornball humor of the times (see photo and click to enlarge).

Apparently, I had little to do that day, so wrote him a somewhat lengthy reply on the nature of “corn.” The answer reads in part

Now you’ve drifted into some interesting semantic territory rather than merely obscure ingredients. In the Savoy book, some things are what they seem - absinthe is generally that, despite variations in style. So is applejack (usually). “Corn” is a shorthand code, especially a post-prohibition work, merely for illicit spirits (often, but not necessarily, whiskey) that may be made from nearly any ingredient except fruit, but including sugar, wheat, rye, “ship stuff,” sorghum, cattle feed, mule chop, and, on occasion, corn.

Read the rest of the notes, including Erik’s photos and tasting notes, here.

The demi-original Corn Popper (Craddock, cribbing Judge Jr.)

1 Pint Corn (Georgia or Maryland).
1/2 Pint Cream.
The Whites of 2 Eggs.
1 Tablespoonful Grenadine.

Fill highball glasses half full of this mixture and fill up with Vichy or Seltzer.

Erik’s modern Corn Popper (single-serving)

1 1/2 oz clear, pungent, liquid of unknown origin
1 egg white
3/4 oz Cream
1 teaspoon Grenadine (homemade)

Measure ingredients into cocktail shaker. Seal and shake well. Break seal, add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into collins glass. Top with selzer or sparkling mineral water.

Goes well with:


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Like Hell It’s Yours

Moonshine expert and author Matt Rowley said he was arriving from the airport when somebody looked at him and said, "You must be on your way to Tales of the Cocktail."

~ Judy Walker
New Orleans Times-Picayune
22 July 2008

It was the hat that gave me away to Janet Haigh (aka Nurse Cocktail, wife of Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh). I might have passed if it weren’t for the light straw Dobbs I wore off the plane. But Janet had been to enough Tales of the Cocktails to know a southern alcoholist when she saw one.

See, I’ve got a head like a melon. It doesn’t look very big or out of proportion, but just try to put a hat on it and even so-called large chapeaux just perch there, precariously balanced on that dome just waiting for a gust of wind to blow it, Miller’s Crossing style, down the lane.

Check out the gunners sitting up front at Tales of the Cocktail listening to Wayne Curtis talk on Potions of the Caribbean. I'm not in the pic because, well, somebody had to back up and take the shot.

As I close in on forty, baseball caps no longer seem fitting, but I’m not quite ready for an Edward G. Robinson-style felt fedora. Some time ago I settled on a straw Dobbs job from Meyer the Hatter in New Orleans. I’d been musing the idea of a decent hat for a while when one particularly hot day, with the sun beating down, I walked past Meyer. I went in, tried on a few styles (of increasingly bigger dimensions) and walked out with a light straw hat that shields my head just fine against brutal sun.

Whether I cast a dashing figure in such a hat is an arguable point, I’ll concede. In fact, living in San Diego, it seems positively out of place. New Orleans, on the other hand, is a hat town. More men doff a hat—not a baseball cap, but a proper, brimmed hat—than anywhere else I’ve seen. Face it: the place has been in business since 1894, so somebody is buying a lot of the things.

Meyer’s tagline is “The South's Largest Hat Store.” I can believe it—the place is lousy with hats, hats stacked higher than you can reach, hats in boxes and shelves, hung from hooks and racks. They’ve got Kangols and panamas, cowboys hats and captain’s hats. Not the place to go for a faux Viking helmet, but safari helmets are there for the buying.

The other tagline—the one people actually know more—is printed on a card that comes with every hat. Big, green sans serif print at the top declare: “Like Hell It’s Yours.” Mine’s filled out with my name and kept tucked into the interior band.

So, if you like what Judy Walker calls the “'60s Cuban casino look” then get your tail to Meyer (or your local haberdashery), grab a small straw hat—you can even go porkpie if you like—and mix up a lovely rum cocktail. May I suggest a Barbados Red Rum Swizzle from Blair Reynolds?

  • 1/2 lime
  • 2 ounces Barbados Rum
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

Squeeze lime and drop in 10-ounce glass; fill glass with shaved ice; add rest of ingredients and swizzle. See the rest of his post at Trader Tiki here.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

I'm Sorry I Peed on Your Joy

I’m sorry I peed on your “Joy of Cooking”

~ Dr. "Tennessee" Gabriel

Yeah, it was that kind of weekend: a semi-earnest and demi-coherent apology from a good friend who got turned around about five in the morning and mistook a living room bookcase for another piece of household furniture—porcelain, bowl-shaped furniture. With over 2,000 cookery books in the house, thank god I had the foresight to Brodart many of them. And that I bolted out of bed at the sound of books crashing to the wooden floor to stop any further action against books that would actually be difficult to replace.

Three guests descended on the house (making it three anesthesiologists, a physiatrist, and me) for five days of camaraderie, cooking, eating, and drinking. As the old man in the group, I generally head to bed before the festivities wind down or get so wound up that cops* are called. I refrained from talking marketing and advertising, but got an ear full of shop talk about nitrous, Diazapam, Versed, and a laundry list of other drugs designed to take patients to the brink of death, hold them there while surgeons did their tricks, and then bring them back.

I do that, too, but with rum, whiskey, and brandy. Or at least to the brink of respectability. Oh, and without the surgeons.

Speaking of which ~ headed off to New Orleans Tuesday morning for Tales of the Cocktail. Brett Anderson writes that moonshine closes in on respectability for the Times-Picayune and talks a bit about our session. There’s a wee typo in the story: I was talking about poitin, the Irish moonshine, not poutine, the Canadian dish of frites and cheese curds. Mmmmm…what a good meal both together would make, though…

Rowley, seated, pre-Joy, back of his head being held in place, surrounded by minions friends. If you seem him at Tales, say hey.

* Cops have never been called to my parties, but years ago, I won a motorcycle at someone else's shindig. Cool! Next morning, the owner showed up at my back door, sulking behind two officers, claiming I'd stolen his bike. When reminded that he was the one conducting the contest, he admitted that, yes, he'd maybe had something to drink and had forgotten that part. The coppers, poor guys, at least had the sense of humor to laugh it off as the sweating, hungover host pushed his bike back home. I still want a bike...


Saturday, July 12, 2008

For Us, A Guinness

Kim Murphy writes in today’s Los Angeles Times that younger generations in Ireland are turning away from Guinness, the quintessential Irish pint, to…Budweiser. And, also with an influx of cheaper labor from Eastern Europe, to some formerly unfamiliar brews. I can understand Murphy’s or Smithwick’s, but Budweiser just comes off as out of place.

…Even Guinness, it seems, is not immune to the forces of open markets, suburban sprawl and Ireland's evolution from an impoverished backwater of emigrants to one of Europe's economic powerhouses, a country that imports cheap labor now from Eastern Europe.

Even as sales have boomed elsewhere, Guinness has seen its business decline in Ireland over most of the last seven years, a trend that eased only slightly last year with a growth rate of 3.5%.

One does see a lot of Budweiser drinking going on in Ireland, but the Eastern European influence is undeniable, too; in some places out west, signs switch from English and Irish Gaelic to Irish and Polish. Beer selections reflect the shift as well.

Wherever I go, I try to drink local, so in Ireland I’m not drinking Bud.

While in Sligo on the trail of poitin (that’s Irish moonshine to you and me), I stopped off for a meal and a pint at Andy Donaghy’s pub/restaurant Coach Lane. Unfortunately for my belly, the meal I'd been anticipating was not to be—I’d been delayed by a trio of moonshiners masquerading as musicians and Andy’s kitchen was closed for the night. I did, however, treat myself to a tasty late-night meal substitute of Guinness and Taytos.

Now, dat’s livin’.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Making Your Own Spirits (Ixnae the Ausgemachthay)

As I prepare for Tales of the Cocktail—and juggle the day work—I’ve grown quiet on the blogging front, but wanted to give a heads up to those coming to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail that there’s been a name change: “Hausgemacht,” even though some distillers use the term to describe their homemade products, seemed just a little too esoteric, even for a somewhat secretive crowd. Besides, who needs German terms when we're dealing with the centuries-old craft of distilling America's primal spirit?

So it’s with great pleasure that Mike, Ian, and I will be presenting "Making Your Own Spirits: A Look into Artisan Nano-Distilling” at 2:30 Thursday July 17th at the Hotel Monteleone. WooHoo!

Michael Dietsch posted the last installment of his three-part interview with us here.

See you in New Orleans!

Goes well with:
Our sponsor for the panel session, Piedmont Distillers, has been featured in the news a fair bit. Check out some of the links for background;

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Moonshiners’ Toolbox: The Mason Jar Turns 150

Be it known that I, JOHN L. MASON, of the city, county, and State of New York, have invented new and useful Improvements in the Necks of Bottles, Jars, &c., especially such as are intended to be air and water tight, such as are used for sweetmeats...

~ John L. Mason's jar patent, 1858

2008 is the sesquicentennial of the Mason jar, the iconic container of 20th-century moonshining (the pottery jug, complete with its triple-x rating, is arguably an emblem of distilleries—licit and otherwise—from the latter part of the 19th century). Though I’ve seen homemade brandies and whiskeys stored in repurposed empty bottles of Jack Daniel’s, Crown Royal, Bacardi, and Voss water, most of the examples with Appalachian appellations that’ve been pressed into my hands come in old school Mason jars with two-part, screw-on lids.

See, Mason jars, for distillers of a certain mindset, are part and parcel of an authentic moonshine experience. For some, it just isn’t really shine at all unless it comes in crew-top jar. In fact, there’s an old joke in distilling circles that you can tell the confirmed corn drinkers because they have a permanent indentation on the bridges of their noses, right where the rim of a jar might bump during deep quaffs.

I’ve found homemade liquor in such jars in New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, the upper and deep South, the Midwest and mountain states ~ even here on the west coast. It’s especially true of illicit spirits said to be from the South. Hell, if it’s from the South AND in a Mason jar, it’s GOT to be the real deal, right? Right?

Well, sometimes that’s true, but I’ve also seen local whiskeys passed off as Southern far, far away from any former Confederate stronghold.

Whence the Jar?

Philadelphia-born metalworker John Landis Mason (1832-1902) patented his jar in 1858 and promptly sold the rights to produce it to several companies, thus hosing himself out of a lot of future earnings. The trade-off? His name is synonymous with the jarring industry and even if Ball, Kerr, or some other company manufactured the containers, we all know that, as a class, they are Mason jars.

Lindsey Nair lays out Mason’s story in her Roanoke Times article Well-preserved: The Mason jar turns 150.

The prime innovation in his design was a threaded neck that allowed a metal cap to be screwed directly onto the jar. Before his invention, home preserving jars might be clamped down, not unlike a swing-top closure such as Grolsch beer’s, or merely sealed with waxed paper. Spoilage rates were higher than summer cotton, Snoop Dogg, Harold, and Kumar all rolled together. His jars were a boon to home preservers because the design helped lower the number of put-up vegetables, fruits, and condiments that went bad.

They were also a boon to liquor haulers. Before the canning jars were taken up by moonshiners and bootleggers, pottery jugs—especially those from Ohio kilns—were one of the favored containers used to transport liquor. But they were thick and heavy. When the crew-top jars came on the scene, they turned out to be lighter and thinner, so a hauler could fit more of them in his wagon and, later, sedan, truck, or van. Plus, you can also look right through their clear glass to the spirits within to make sure no obvious contaminants are afloat. It’s no guarantee of purity, but it was an improvement over jugs.

So in honor of John Landis Mason, go put up some peaches with brandy, house bitters, or good old mountain dew. Or, you can follow my recipe for piquillo ketchup on Lindsey Nair’s blog for decidedly kick-ass ketchup for your grilling this weekend.

Goes well with: