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Jim & Rocky’s Barback Pro-Am, Part 3: Cucumber Lime Swizzle

Next into the torture chamber er, behind the bar is Humuhumu Trott, Bay Area tiki goddess who maintains the tiki bar/restaurant review site Critiki and tiki news site HumuKonTiki, among others. I thought Humuhumu was just her nickname, of course, and that her “real” name is Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. (Wesly can actually say that, having practiced incessantly whilst in Hawai’i.) I stand corrected, however — Humuhumu informs me that I got it wrong, and that I’m not the first one: “Humuhumu is the Hawaiian word for sewing. My first home tiki bar was also my sewing room, so I named it The Humuhumu Room.” D’oh. (Well, I must confess that Humuhumunukunukuapua’a is a lot of fun to say. After a little practice with Wes, I can now say it like a pro.)

She looked like she had a great time, and fortunately Jim didn’t break her. (“She’s tiny! She’s Li’l Bak!”) Behind the stick at San Francisco’s Cantina, Humuhumu acquitted herself quite well for her barthoritarians. (It’s Neologism Thursday, apparently.)

Today’s featured drink is very refreshing, savory with a touch of sweetness and fruit from the St. Germain. This is something you could easily put down on a summer’s day while reading out in the hammock. You can use whatever gin you prefer, but Jim used Hendrick’s here — its own cucumber notes capture those of the fresh cucumber quite nicely.

(from Vessel in Seattle, 2008)

1-1/2 ounces Hendrick’s Gin
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce Lillet
1/4 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1/4 ounce simple syrup
3 cucumber slices

Vigorously shake all the ingredients with ice (the ice and shaking will muddle the cucumbers for you). Double strain into a tall glass, fill with crushed ice, top with soda water and stir gently. Garnish with a cucumber slice, lime wedge or both.


Jim & Rocky’s Barback Pro-Am, Part 1: Jim’s Martini

“Hey! I wanna recruit you for something!”

It was back in January. I was at Rob Roy in Seattle, one of my favorite bars anywhere. My friend Jim Romdall, bartender extraordinaire at Vessel (which closed after it lost its lease, to reopen in a better location this summer) was guest-bartending. My friend Rocky Yeh, bon vivant and force of nature, was barbacking with him (as was the usual team effort on Mondays at Vessel). Jim had been making us fantastic drinks all night until closing, and at one point Rocky approached me with a proposal.

“Sure, what did you have in mind?” I said.

“Jim and I are going to be doing a little tour down the West Coast, stopping in bars and doing a little competition. We want knowledgeable booze people who aren’t professional bartenders to barback for us, and we want you. What do you say?”

What else could I say? “I’m in!” This sounded like a lot of fun.

Word of advice, though — be careful what you agree to after six cocktails!

A barback, in case someone you aren’t aware of the term, is a bartender’s assistant. Making sure the bartender has everything he or she needs, keeping the ice bin filled, keeping fresh bottles of booze coming, washing barware, fetching eggs, cleaning, helping with taking orders … whatever needs to be done to make the bartender’s job easier, and making sure he or she doesn’t have to take more than one step away from their station to get a drink made. Speed is of the essence, especially on a busy night. This is what the participants in the Pro-Am and I would be doing. If nothing else, I would also probably hold the title of World’s Oldest Barback.

Word of advice to iPhone and iPad users — the iOS built-in autocorrect always wants to change the word “barback” to “bareback.” Keep an eye on this, or else it could get embarrassing.

As the date of this thing approached and I hadn’t heard anything, I called Rocky and he tossed some dates at me. I managed to get my schedule open that week so that either of the dates he mentioned would be available, and then he emailed me a little electronic flier that described the event in more detail.

Jim and Rocky's Barback Pro-Am flier

Click to embiggen

“Amateur mixologists” were being sought! Okay, I resemble that remark. “The challenge is part of a mini-series to be shown on the Small Screen Network.”

Uh. What? (And what’s with the dead suckling pigs?)

“I could have sworn I mentioned that to you,” said Rocky after I had my first minor panic attack. I swore up and down he didn’t, “This is the FIRST I’ve heard of it!” I cried, but he almost certainly did at the time. Remember that six cocktails thing.

Here’s the thing. I hate being on camera. Hate hate hate. “Camera-shy” doesn’t even begin to describe it, if the camera takes moving pictures. I may be one of the only people in America who has on his bucket list never to be on TV in any way, shape or form. I was once approached to see if I was interested in participating in a reality show. “Does it involve me being on TV? Then no.”

“C’mon, it’s the Small Screen Network — you know those guys,” Rocky said, full of encouragement. “It’ll be great. You’ll be fine. Just relax. We’re going to have a lot of fun.”

I began to think of what kind of bullshit story I could tell my doctor to get him to prescribe me some tranquilizers.

I actually had a major panic attack (not a clinical one, just a Chuck panic attack) the night before, which left me feeling sheepish the next day. “We’re your friends,” said Jim. “You should trust us.” They are, and I do … but after hearing tales of the way the Barback Pro-Am went the night before with the previous victim, I was still a bit wary.

Y’know what, though? It was a lot of fun. (Once I put my foot down and said no, I won’t be doing a dozen shots over the course of the night.) It was actually the first time I’d been behind a working bar doing actual work, and it felt great. Granted, I wasn’t really mixing any customers’ drinks (although I did get to make a Blue Blazer!) and the bar wasn’t as busy as I would have liked, it was still a terrific night. Well, except for when I decided to run. More on that later.

My episode of the series is probably going up within the next week, and I had meant to be posting these all along, but Jazzfest and Houston travel combined with my own absentmindedness and procrastination delayed us until now. Better late than never!

Jim did a fantastic specialty cocktail menu for all the Barback Pro-Am stops, and we’ll be featuring a cocktail along with each video — the cocktails are on the Small Screen Network site along with the videos, but I want to get ‘em in our database here as well.

Follow Jim and Rocky’s Barback Pro-Am for all the videos and recipes, which we’ll also put here for you. First up is Jennifer Heigl of the site The Daily Blender. Let the games begin!

Jim is a passionate lover of Ardbeg whisky, and sometimes seems to think that the crowning touch on any drink is the Ardbeg float. In fact, you can follow him @ardbegfloat on Twitter. This is a lovely Martini — a little bit of sweetness from the Dolin blanc, and a touch of smoke from the Ardbeg.

by Jim Romdall, Vessel, Seattle

1-3/4 oz Hendrick’s Gin
1/2 oz dry vermouth (Dolin dry or Noilly Prat Original)
1/4 oz blanc vermouth (Dolin blanc or Cinzano bianco)
1 dash Ardbeg scotch whisky
Lime peel

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the lime twist.

Cocktail of the Day: Left Behind (A Rapture day special)

This is another example of the tomfoolery fun stuff that happens when my friend Chris Day (bartender at Sotto in Los Angeles) and I start knocking around cocktail ideas. We thought that somewhere (here, if nowhere else) there needed to be a cocktail special of the day on May 21 — a post-Rapture for those of us who are … Left Behind. (*cue ominous music*DUM DUM DUUUUUUUM!)

“Left Behind!” cried Chris. “Someone should make a drink called that. Just for the Rapture!”

“Ugh, Left Behind …” says I. “Worst. Books. EVAR.”

“It could be like a Left Hand.”

Hmm, a left hand and another left body part — the left behind as in my left butt cheek, which is what I think about doomsday happening on Saturday. I got yer Rapture right here, pal! *grasps left butt cheek* Yeah, this is sounding better and better.

“I wish we had Port in our repertoire,” he said. “Swap it out for the vermouth. Make it look like blood.”

“No port here either. We should swap out the base spirit. Rum! And Vergano Chinato Americano for the vermouth.”

Chinato (kee-NAH-to) is another style of Italian aperitif wine, the Italian version of a quinquina, as it’s given a bitter component by the addition of cinchona bark, the source of quinine. This one’s lovely, made from red Grignolino grapes in Piedmont and with more bitter oomph than Carpano Antica

“Appleton, Aperol & Chinato,” he said. “Dash Ango, dash mole bitters.”

“That sounds really good in my head,” I said.

It was good — perfectly pleasant. I felt the need for something a bit more bitter, though. We are being Left Behind, after all! The disappearance of Kirk Cameron won’t make up for the bitter tears we’ll shed while we’re weeping, wailing, gnashing teeth, rending clothing and otherwise generally tribulating. I decided to up the Chinato, and instead of reverting back to Campari I thought I’d kick the bitterness up a notch. Cynar, I thought, but not quite so much. I also swapped out Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters (a product I absolutely adore) for a local product with a bit more kick — Miracle Mile Chocolate-Chili Bitters. (No link yet because the website isn’t quite done, but you’ll be hearing a LOT more about those bitters very soon.)

I was pretty happy with the result, but it could still stand for some tinkering. As a one-day cocktail menu special, though, it ain’t bad.


1-1/2 ounces Appleton Extra rum
1 ounce Vergano Chinato Americano
1/2 ounce Cynar
2 dashes Miracle Mile Chocolate-Chili Bitters
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Orange peel

Stir ingredients with cracked ice for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe, twist the peel over the drink and garnish with the peel.

Doesn’t quite look like blood, but it’s tasty enough. For the Left Behind No. 2 (which we didn’t have time to try but will likely try tonight) I’d swap the Cynar out for Campari and use the original proportions of 1-1/2 to 3/4 to 3/4, and maybe add a barspoon of Smith & Cross for a touch of funk.

So, enjoy your drink special (I hope), and Happy Doomsday!

P.S. — Given that this is a variation on the Left Hand, I think a post about said cocktail plus two tasty variations is due next. Stay tuned.


[P.P.S. -- While my tone may indeed be mocking (the idea of the rapture itself, much less calculating it to the day and hour, is the biggest load of peanut butter and horseshit I've ever heard), I have to say that I feel sorry for that nutbar preacher's followers who quit their jobs, sold their houses and everything they had to spend on end-of-the-world-is-nigh billboards. Come Sunday those people will be penniless and destitute, left with nothing but their betrayal. Beware of false prophets, y'all.]


The Boulevardier Cocktail

I didn’t entitle this post with a “Negroni Variations,” because technically it isn’t, although it has two of the same ingredients and follows the same general formula.

This is a drink that I think should get a lot more attention than it does, ’cause it’s damned good. It isn’t a Negroni variation per se, as it developed quite independently from that drink, but fits in with them quite nicely. As Dr. Cocktail said in the above link, “The Boulevardier … appeared in Harry [McElhone]’s 1927 bar guide, Barflies and Cocktails … Obviously, this is a Negroni with bourbon in lieu of gin. The Negroni, however, would not see print for another 20 years, and Americans had never heard of Campari in 1927.”


1-1/2 ounces Bourbon whiskey
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth.

Stir and strain. Garnish with orange slice, lemon twist or cherry at your discretion.

Ask for it by name!

Finally, here’s a variation on that which came about one night when bartender Chris Day and I were talking about cocktails in Google Chat. Our Boulevardier and Funky Negroni got together and had a demon spawn, which is actually amazingly good.

The conversation went something like this: I wanted a stiff drink, something with Stagg Bourbon. Chris and I had been talking about Smith & Cross rum. As I was musing about mixing Smith & Cross and Stagg, Chris said almost simultaneously, “Try a Boulevardier with a Smith & Cross float.” My eyes lit up and I said, “A STAGG Boulevardier!” He said, “Oh god, what have I done?” (AWESOMENESS, that’s what you’ve done!)

George T. Stagg Bourbon is arguably the best Bourbon on the planet. It’s certainly my special favorite, so full of flavor that it makes your head spin … quite literally. This is because Stagg is also barrel proof, slightly varying in proof each year but is generally around 144 proof. That’s 72% alcohol, kids — not to be trifled with. It’s a bit hot to drink neat — you might want to add a bit of cool water — but it mixes amazingly well. Given its strength proportions almost always have to be adjusted, but this gets easier with practice.

I wondered if the strength of this whiskey would overwhelm the Campari, but when I tried it with equal proportions I didn’t like it as much. The Campari is still there in the standard Boulevardier proportion, but it’s less assertive. That said, Wes and I both preferred the version below. “The other one was perfectly fine,” Wes said, “but this one … this is the one that makes you pound on the table, say ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck!’ and order it again.” Your mileage may vary; try it 1:1:1 if you like, and see if you like it. Justin Burrow in Houston said, “That drink should be called the ‘Naptime.’” That gave me the idea to call it this:


1-1/2 ounces George T. Stagg Bourbon
1 ounce Carpano Antica
1 ounce Campari
1/4 ounce Smith & Cross rum

Combine the first 3 ingredients with ice, stir and strain into a chilled coupe. Float Smith and Cross onto the surface of the drink. Lemon peel garnish.

Make sure someone else is driving you if you have this one.

And with that, our little series on Negroni variations comes to an end. This should give you plenty of stuff to try at home or in your favorite bar, as they should be pretty easy to order (i.e., “Genever Negroni,” “Stagg Boulevardier with a Smith & Cross float,” etc.). So, give ‘em a try!


The Negroni Variations, Part 3: The Kingston Negroni

As we continue with The Negroni Variations … nope, it’s not a classical piece composed by the Italian equivalent of Johann Sebastian Bach featuring the Italian counterpart of Johann Gottlieb Goldberg. (Insert Woody Allen joke: “I-I-I don’t know anything about classical music … for years I thought The Goldberg Variations were something Mr. and Mrs. Goldberg tried on their wedding night.” ba-da-BUMP!)

This next one is the one that’s been killing me lately, and I mean in the best possible way. As with so many of us, I just can’t get enough Smith & Cross rum. This “traditional Jamaican” navy-strength rum (coming in at 100 English proof, i.e. 57% alcohol by volume) is so packed with flavor and funk and “hogo” that a bottle doesn’t last long on our shelf. I like it so much I briefly considered pouring a bottle into my humidifier so that I could breathe it. Eric Seed of Haus Alpenz, whoi imports this stuff, should be canonized for bringing this to us alone, not to mention all the other wonderful things he provides — Batavia arrack,Crème de Violette, allspice dram, Old Tom gin, Cocchi Americano … *boggle*

Oh, what’s “hogo,” you ask? From David Wondrich at the above link:

[B]ack when it was young, rum was possessed of a certain “hogo.” Derived from the French phrase for the “high taste” (haut goût) game meats develop when they’re hung up to mature before cooking — and by “mature,” we mean “rot” — hogo used to be a term of art in the rum trade to describe the sulfurous, funky tang that raw-sugarcane spirits throw off. For 300 years, rum distillers have sought ways first to tame and then to eliminate it: high-proof distillation (more alcohol equals less hogo), filtering, tweaking the fermentation, long aging in barrels — all very effective, particularly when used in combination. Perhaps too effective.

A lot of that hogo has been removed from smooth, easy-to-drink rums of today. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing — give me a glass of Zaya or Appleton Extra any day — but there’s something to be said about that funk, properly tamed. Smith & Cross doesn’t exactly tame it but makes for a delicious rum that won’t funk you to death, although it will funkify your life. (Ah, my stream of consciousness calls for a musical interlude …)

I had forgotten what this drink, first sight of which came from bartender Joaquin Simo at Death & Co. in New York was actually called and started calling it the “Funky Negroni” — fortunately Garret reminded me it’s really called …

(adapted from Joaquin Simo, Death & Co., NYC)

1 ounce Smith & Cross Jamaican rum
1 ounce Campari
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth (Carpano)

Stir & strain, no garnish.

Joaquin takes the vermouth back to cut down on the sweetness, but feel free to kick it back up to 1 ounce if you like. The way I first heard about this was without a garnish, but sometimes I enjoy an orange twist with it.

This drink came into my house, mated with another one and begat a Devil’s Spawn … a most diabolical, wonderful one. Stay tuned!

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