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