Thursday, December 24, 2009


I like the idea of continuing to post on this blog. But the focus of my activities is always shifting, perambulating, and I don't always have something clever to say about alcohol.

But I have a few things I want to say about Avatar, a movie which I didn't think I'd like, but then I liked very much. Despite my love for the movie, though, it's still undeniably a hodgepodge of every movie epic to be released over the last thirty years, with little new in terms of plot (it's breakthroughs are in art, design, wonder-fabrication, and Cameron's knack for strong female leads).

In that vein, here's a less-than-comprehensive list of Avatar influences:

The Last Samurai: A white man is sent by the attacking white-man army to subdue the natives, finds himself captured, and then ultimately leads the natives in a war against the white conquerors, having learned the beauty and purity of their ways. Two very similar scenes: the samurai first encounter Tom Cruise defending himself with a spear against a half-dozen of them, and they spare his life because of the extent of his bravery and pluckiness. Avatar's space marine does exactly this, down to the waving of a stick 360 degrees about him. That, and the final scene where the samurai on horse-back are charging at the soldiers, who mow them down with rifles... again, this is in Avatar.

Pocohontas: The blue alien girl is Pocohontas, the space marine is John Smith, and if you keep your eyes closed and retro-fit the dialogue, it's the same movie.

Aliens: Also directed by James Cameron. Aliens climaxes with a dramatic battle between the giant, vicious Alien and a pissed-off Sigourney Weaver in a large mechanized robot, while in Avatar, an American space marine cimaxes in a sexy blue alien. Another similarity lies in the final battle between a large, reptilian alien and a mechanized robot, but that comes second (and that's another play-on-words, my friends).

Star Wars: Every great epic fantasy film since Star Wars owes everything to Star Wars. An awe-inspiring parallel universe with its own cast of interesting species, languages, fauna, customs, mysticism; a male protagonist who starts the movie with little understanding of the world around him, so that the viewer can be slowly eased into the world as the hero is gradually shown to be the only person with the cojones/magical aptitude to save it.

The Matrix: Jacking into another world with bodies that allow you to do things never dreamed possible... On a separate note, how interesting is it that Pandora's native humanoid race has fiberoptic cables growing out of the back of their heads?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Nose He Knows

My curious passion for whisky and other drinks has, as its consequence, curious to-do lists. Consider the following:

1. Smell the sap of a tree

2. Eat a honeydew melon

3. Smell the sugary crust of a crème brulee

4. Find out what the hell a blackcurrant is

Never before have my interests necessitated an olfactory education… which is a shame, because now I’m already in my 20s and I have an amateur nose. I cooked dinner the other day—an act I’m proud of—and as I was sifting through unmarked containers of corn starch and measuring out exact portions of Thai sweet chili sauce, I had the idea of, or at least finally got around to executing a dormant plan to… smell my spice cabinet.

Which went something like, “oh—rosemary, so that’s rosemary,” and maybe once or twice I gave out a ”hot damn!” in excitement. And anyway there was much ardent sniffing that took place.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


As the cornerstone of its quarterly financial results, Amazon boasted that the Kindle has grown into the company's highest selling product, both in numbers moved and dollars acquired. At first, this seems logical: whenever I visit the Amazon website, I read about the Kindle, and even unaffiliated periodicals seem to be constantly spotlighting the Kindle. It's a hot topic, sure, and that seems like it would logically correlate with record-topping sales.

But then it occurs to me that I've never actually seen anyone reading from a Kindle. Hell, I can't say I've ever seen a Kindle at all... Who's to say Jeff Bezos isn't buying all those Kindles himself and building forts out of them and sleeping inside them as he fantasizes over the death of paper literature?

But then, post-entry: I've given this a little more thought, and realized that I rarely see people in Miami reading anything at all, so maybe this is a moot topic. It most certainly has nothing to do with alcohol, anyway.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Liquors by Brand: An Overview

This is something I've been meaning to write, yup, for a little while now, but I've been oppressed by competing interests; that is, my desire to write the things I want to write (fiction, blog posts), my need to write the things that I need to write (job applications, primarily), and my desire to not be doing anything ever. Such is the general malaise of my life, now.

Anyway, I have a friend (E) who showed interest in knowing my preferred brands, which is a lot like pummeling a beehive with a baseball bat, because I have a lot to say on the subject. Consider this a condensed version:

GIN: For a dirt-cheap gin, suitable for mixing with tonic and the like, you can't do better than Seagram's, with its patented bumpy bottle. Mid-range, I always shoot for Beefeater, but to be honest I have nothing insightful to say about it--this is more a case of me aping my heroes than careful taste-testing and deliberation. Both Drink (I think) and The Gibson use Beefeater in the majority of their drinks, and I prefer it to cocktails made with Bombay or Tanqueray (both a little more expensive, anyway). In the upper range there are a fair amount of super-delicious flavored or specialty gins, of which I've found Hendrick's to be super delicious and Old Raj to be super fascinating (thank you, A, for this).

RUM: I tend to be a supporter of Nicaragua's Flor de Cana, though I've heard good things about Cruzan, and just last weekend I thought long and hard about illegally importing a bottle of Havana Club. I've tried Flor the Cana at the majority of its different age-varieties, and as it grows it gains a mellow sweetness and loses the bite of its alcohol, becoming a pleasant sipping rum. Old Monk is a fascinating, super-sweet, vanilla-tinged rum, imported from India and gaining popularity in specialty cocktail bars, and worth picking up if you see it (thanks again to A). Bacardi should be avoided at all cost, as should all its flavored permutations.

WHISKEY: Whiskey requires an essay all for itself. It's the area I know the most about, and I'm liable to ramble. To start, let me discriminate between the following: bourbons, scotch, and other.

Bourbon. If you're buying super cheap, i.e. mixing with coke to serve to large quantities of guests, I prefer Jim Beam to Jack Daniel's, which I can't stand (though not technically a bourbon; read: Tennessee Whiskey). If you're going to spend a couple dollars on your whiskey, which I recommend you do, Maker's Mark is my choice whiskey for blending, as I think it combines really well with other ingredients without being overpowering. For drinkin' straight (I put just a teaspoon of water, or a single ice cube), the Jim Beam company produces a score of tasty small-batch whiskeys that are all worth it. This includes: Knob Creek, Booker's, Baker's, and Basil Hayden's. Baker's I don't think I've tried but Knob Creek has an excellent, full-bodied, smoky, spicy quality, strongly flavored by the oak barrels. What I remember of Booker's is that its a strong son-of-a-bitch, but tasty (its bottled at over 120 proof, or over 60% abv). Basil Hayden's is good, but more on the floral, aromatic side, which isn't my favorite thing in a bourbon.

Maybe it's a little late to make this point, but the defining quality of American bourbon whiskey is in the mildly-sweet, vanilla-like taste which seeps into the whiskey through aging in American Oak (some Scotch distilleries will incorporate this into their own whiskeys by importing American oak casks which have been previously used to age bourbons). An excellent model for these qualities is Blanton's Single Barrel, a top-shelf bourbon which proclaims to be the "best whiskey ever made." That's a bit of a mouthful, but it's still really damn good.

Scotch. If you're drinking a cheap scotch, you are most definitely drinking a blended scotch, which used to be all the rage, but now plays second-fiddle to single-malts. A decent, cheap blended scotch is Famous Grouse. A decent, expensive blended Scotch is Johnny Walker Black Label, which I don't think is worth the $$. For single malts, a good entry-level bottle is the Glenfiddich 12 year, followed by the Highland Park 12 year. The latter is much better, an excellent, very well-balanced whiskey, while the first is very drinkable with mild fruity notes--good over ice. Both can usually be attained without breaking the bank. Everything else is meant to break the bank, but the good thing about scotch is that it can last you a very long time (unless you are an alcoholic):

Lagavulin 16 year
Talisker 10 year
Macallan (the older ones are more interesting)
Glenlivet 15 year

They're all excellent. Going into the details of what makes them unique would... take... a lot of time.

Other. I think the best Manhattan's are made with rye whiskey, and I think Old Overholt is a great rye, though sometimes hard to come by.

VODKA: I don't drink vodka.

But if I do, I pick Stoli's.

TEQUILA: I have enjoyed a little-known, moderately-priced blanco tequila called Lunazul. But blanco tequilas (aka silver) are something of a cop-out; because, like vodka or un-aged mass-market rums (read: Bacardi), they are distilled with the purpose of being tasteless, and thus suitable exclusively for mixing in simple drinks. Hm.
Oh, and avoid Jose Cuervo, if possible.

BRANDY: I'm no expert. St. Remy and Hennesy are both good and similarly priced.

LIQUEURS: For any cocktail aficionado (if I ever come across too smug, send me a letter-bomb), liqueurs are an area of extreme interest, and this really warrants as much space as the whiskey section did. So I won't get into it. There are a lot of extremely popular, gimicky liqueurs gaining popularity now, swiftly weaseling their way into clubs and bars by means of brilliant (/sinister) marketing, that I have no interest in: take, for example, Veev, an acai-based liqueur with a huge, villainous, Michael-Eisner-like propaganda machine...

Anyway, here's a short (correction: long) list of liqueurs/fermented wines/bitters/etc. (basically, all the other stuff) that I find interesting, and play a large role in the classic cocktail scene:

A pastis (read: an anise liqueur, i.e. Pernod)
Sweet (Italian) and Dry (French) vermouth: Noilly Pratt
Cocktail bitters: Angostura, Regan's Orange Bitters, Peychaud's
A cherry liqueur (try Cherry Heering)
An apricot liqueur (try Marie Apry)
Lillet Blanc (a white wine flavored with orange peel)
A bottle of sherry
A bottle of tawny port
Amer Picon
Calvados (apple liqueur)

Well, that's it. It's my hope (misguided, perhaps), that people will skim this, contest some recommendations and add others. I think this could be a pretty damn good forum to make a pretty damn good list of recommendable bottles.


Monday, September 21, 2009

The Silent Encore

This one will be a short post because usually I write too much. My subject today is the Silent Order---a drink I first consumed at Boston's premier cocktail-serving establishment, the aptly named Drink. The Silent Order is a truly wonderful cocktail. Like a hooker, it goes down all too easy, but, unlike a hooker, it's a pleasant experience, which ultimately leaves you feeling clean and refreshed.

The Silent Order is a cocktail, the main ingredient of which is basil, which may seem strange, except really its not. It's wonderful, like I fucking said. Google search it and you'll only find one hit for the recipe, accredited to Drink, and it goes something like this:

2 oz Green Chartreuse
.5 oz water
.5 oz fresh lime juice
7-10 basil leaves

When I first attempted this drink, I did not have a recipe, and very much liked the idea of throwing in gin (for an added kick). The recipe is as follows, with my main bit of advice being to seek out fresh basil, and to be more creative with the garnish than I was:

1 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
1 oz. gin
juice from half a lime
large quantity of basil

Shake it over ice and strain it into a cocktail glass. The little specks of basil, I think, add character.

Since my recipe is a re-interpretation (like how all cocktails are re-interpretations, in some way shape or form), I do hereby name it the "Silent Encore."

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Joy of Zesting

My citrus zester finally arrived.

A citrus zester is a nifty little tool, highly recommendable for any cocktail enthusiast--in fact, border-line indispensable--but a pain-in-the-ass to acquire. Here are a few points worth mentioning:

1) If you want to make any of a variety of pretty looking garnishes, you'll need a citrus zester.
2) However, all the places where you would think to go buy one do not have one.
3) Worse yet, the employees at those places do not even know what a citrus zester is.
4) When you do finally happen upon one, it will probably be the wrong one.

This is the right one. In
addition to its large, ergonomic handle, the OXO zester has an over-sized, centrally located cutting edge which will consistently produce the perfect peel. Most of the other zesters I chanced upon over the course of my quest (and you can go ahead and ignore Macy's, Williams-Sonoma, Bed Bath and Beyond, and so forth for all the good they'll do you) were of no use, providing only thin, broken strips of zest of absolutely no aesthetic worth, marginally passable for use in a kitchen, that nasty and most private of places, but wholly inappropriate for use in any sphere of higher purpose and dignity, i.e. a bar.

The use of the peel in mixology does serve a culinary purpose, as it contributes the flavor of citrus oils to the drink, but this does not matter if the end product is not presentable.

This guy does a fantastic job of explaining the greater purpose of zesting and demonstrating its technique (which involves, in short, holding the fruit over the glass as you peel in order to spritz the oils into the drink, then twisting the peel over a bar spoon to manage a spiral shape). But I feel accomplished enough having simply raised the subject of zesting in a blog.

The most gratifying part of all this is that I can now append a garnish to that bare Negroni I introduced in my first post. And so I'll provide here in close-up, for congratulatory oohs and ahs:

Friday, September 4, 2009

Shove It, Mainstream Alchohol Culture

Good Beer demands a lot from he who imbibes. It asks, perhaps presumptuously, that the drinker take his time drinking, in order to fully enjoy the depth of flavor. Good Beer sometimes costs a bit more. This can be a real kick in the teeth. Good Beer may sometimes lead to an uncomfortable sensation of fullness in the belly, which inhibits further drinking. I know--this is already a very unsettling list. Good Beer may even make eyes at your momma, or contemptuously spit on your Coverse high-tops, because Good Beer can be a bit of a snoot. Your grand-poppy's easy-going Miller Light 24-pack, Good Beer is not. And yet, still we tolerate these little peculiarities of Good Beer, because Good Beer is so goddamn good to us.

In the snooty but utopic world of Good Beer, Delaware-based Dogfish Head is the Johnny Depp of breweries--but this is just me making a lazy metaphor, because I recently finished watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The thematic link is that both of them are hella tight, and to varying degree these conspicuously idiosyncratic, art-house contenders have managed to score some major critical attention. Dogfish Head is my favorite American brewery, hands-down. Though other beers may compete for my attention in any one particular area, Dogfish Head reigns champ for overall creativity. They have an excellent track record. Nothing they make is bad; rather, almost everything is fantastic, and every single one is worthwhile.

Granted, what I really wanted to do yesterday was see Inglourious Basterds, but no one was available, so instead I went to the liquor store. I had already decided on a six-pack to compliment my Hunter-Thompson-inspired Netflix selection. Out of the sizable DFH selection, I've tried the 60, 90, and 120 minute IPAs, the Palo Santo and Palo Alto, the Raison d'etre and Raison d'Extra, the Midas' Touch, and maybe some others currently escaping my memory. The beer I picked out seemed fascinating and so caught my attention, even surrounded by the mythical DFH repertoire. It's called the Punkin Ale, and the box describes it as a "full-bodied brown ale brewered with real pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice cinnamon and nutmeg."

At home, I chilled a goblet (the kind of goblet used for beer, not by pimps), and poured myself a bottle of the Punkin Ale.

If anything, it's certainly a very orange beer, and also a very pretty beer, totally keeping in theme with the bright orange, almost Halloweeney quality of the box. The nose was mild on the first whiff, but on subsequent tries I began to detect something that can only be described as similar to the candles one smells around Autumn. As for the taste:

Well---it's definitely a good beer, but not necessarily a stand-out beer. Hm. Maybe this is just my bias against brown ales, which, although good, I find rarely to stand out (though Pig's Ear makes a pretty good one). Dogfish Head does so many extremely good things that it takes a lot to keep 1-upping their own very high standards. And the Punkin Ale seems more based around a strong concept and theme than on a particularly stellar brew. As the box lists, this is a full-bodied brown ale with a pleasant, aromatic spiciness. Despite the sugar, it's not a very sweet beer, and the effect of the pumpkin is all but negligible. To reiterate: it's a good beer, but the absence of the pumpkin on the pallette was a little disappointing. I would give it a B.

Anyway, hot damn, it's still tasty, and I'm definitely looking forward to the other three (it's a four-pack). The punk included in the title (and foregrounded on the box) is aptly applied--Dogfish Head beers, just like all Good Beers in general, and also like Johnny Depp in specific, do not take shit from anyone. Not even you, or perhaps especially not even you. Punks like DFH are willing to take creative risks and use quality ingredients and make exciting beers even when the general mainstream turns its back on them (though the food and drink critics always got yo back). Does it matter that the Punkin Ale isn't perfect? Not really, I'm still glad to have tasted it. Does it matter that Fear and Loathing is a wee bit too repetitive and contains almost no plot? A little bit, but it was still worth it to see such a creatively executed film, with an awesome actor firing on all cylinders. Sometimes a man needs to tell the mainstream to shove it, and try something new, and take a hard attitude about it, and overall just be a punk, knawumsayin'?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

An Introduction to The Drink Well

Few men other than Anthony Bourdain can make claim to such an eclectic assortment of experiences and qualities as those which I will write about in the following sentences.

This is a man who has, for example, found it acceptable to dine upon an unwashed warthog rectum. He has consumed a seal eyeball raw (though a gentleman would have put it over fire) and has, on a separate occasion, eaten sheep testicles. To provide a more tabloid-esque account, this is a man who has "conceptualized" his trendy New York restaurant's entrees over codine and heroine. He is reportedly a very heavy drinker, and he regularly makes cracks at faux celebrity chefs (read: Emeril) on his TV show. Perhaps most impressively, he gets away with cursing on the Travel channel.

While I cannot ever advocate the use of LSD as a culinary inspiration, I do admit to championing Mr. Bourdain’s cause to just about everyone I speak with ever. I think he's awesome. He is quite honestly the only television I will watch, though I’ve only watched a few episodes of his show (all this trivia so far is courtesy of Wikipedia--sorry). He is also more or less the inspiration for this blog, hence his cameo in the intro.

To more precisely describe the origins of this bullshit experiment, the blog-idea was an offering of a friend of mine, responding to my sincere desire to become Anthony Bourdain. We were making small talk over a pair of Brooklyn Lagers when I revealed my love for Mr. Bourdain and his show, No Reservations, and my idea that I should one day become the Anthony Bourdain of alcohol.

Let me explain: I would be a true globe-trotter who penetrates a society by experiencing the richness and depth of its alcohol culture; over the course of my travels eventually touring the scotch distilleries of Scotland, the pubs of London, the beer and sake breweries of Germany, Belgium, Japan, the vineyards of Napa Valley, ad infinitum for so long as network execs should continue to buy it. With great sincerity, I think this would be an incredibly baller way to live.

But I have no idea how one gets into television, anyway, and that’s one thing Wikipedia won’t tell me, those fuckers, so, whatever, fuck it—it was never intended to be more than day-dream fodder, and it only entered into my conversation because it seemed like the kind of thing that makes for good conversation. But my friend suggested I run with the idea, lone-wolf-style, by making it into a blog.

I thought: Blogs and television shows are very different things, chiefly because blogs do not pay the bills.

She thought (in so many words): But it could be a good start, and a lot of critics and journalism personalities are indeed discovered this way, as any anyman can have a shot at minor fandom by way of the blogosphere.

Now, that last bit is bullshit, but I was eventually won over as to the possible fun-to-be-had in writing a blog. The concept for the blog that I’ve newfangulated goes like this: I’m going to write about topics that interest me, tie it in with a drink, make that drink, take pictures of that drink, and then post it all on this blog. If I have interesting experiences in any interesting drinkeries, I’ll note those, too. Even if no one reads it (though you better fucking read it or I will cut you), it'll be a good creative release for me in this creatively desolate period of my life.

As this is a post of introduction, meant to herald in something new and wonderful, I have decided to write about the negroni, which, aside from being one of my favorite classic cocktails ever—not to mention a real drinker's drink, something of which Anthony Bourdain himself would approve, something that will even put some hair on your balls, please pardon this vulgar run-on sentence—is also the cocktail that began the giddy descent into my current euphoric, obsessive odyssey toward the eventual accumulation of all alcohol-related knowledge.

Sorry about that last paragraph. While I do love, and hope to introduce in this blog, most of the rich varieties of alcoholic beverages available (save for vodka, because I bloody hate vodka), cocktails are my specialty. I mean, I greatly respect scotch, I heart beer, and more and more lately I’ve been delving into wine. But cocktails are my raison d'etre.

And away we go:

The Negroni

3/4 oz. gin (for the same price, I prefer Beefeater, but Tanqueray is what I have)

3/4 oz. sweet vermouth

3/4 oz. Campari

The Negroni is a special drink, insomuch as everyone who tries it the first time dislikes it, but for some reason you stick with it anyway, until it eventually becomes a part of you, like cigarettes, or religion. The key ingredient in it is Campari, which is an Italian apertif bitters. Unlike cocktail bitters, like Angostura or Regan's, an apertif bitters can be imbibed straight as an after-dinner drink. Campari is commonly recognized to be the 'bitterest of bitters,' hence its early unapproachability. But it definitely grows on you.

All the ingredients are combined in equal measure in a glass with plenty of ice, capped, shaken vigorously, and strained into a chilled cocktail glass. The most appropriate garnish is a flamed orange peel or twist, though lemon works too, or even a marascino cherry in a pinch. Here you see it unadorned, because I was out of citrus.

The sweetness of the vermouth offsets the piquant notes of the gin and the bitter flavor of the the Campari. It's a fucking awesome drink, one of the best.

Future posts will not be this long, but somehow the introduction was demanding of it. I hope you'll check in from time to time, and I'll leave you with a quote:

"Stay thirsty, my friends." --The Most Interesting Man in the World