Jim and Rocky’s next victim — my friend Tatsu Oiye, professional drinker and fellow member of the board of the Los Angeles Cocktail Community (we help organize monthly social, networking and educational gatherings for local bartenders). Tatsu’s shift was at 320 Main, easily the best bar in Orange County and one of my very favorite bars in all of southern California. Tatsu had it somewhat harder than the rest of us — 320 was closed to the public that night, and the entire restaurant was filled with bartenders, cocktail enthusiasts and friends. Really, who will abuse you more heinously than all your closest friends and fellow drinkers? Hats off to Tatsu for remaining alive and standing under fire.
NEENER NEENER by Jim Romdall, Vessel, Seattle
1-1/2 ounce Dos Maderas PX Rum
3/4 ounce Ramazzotti Amaro
dash simple syrup
dash Angostura Bitters
float Green Chartreuse
Combine the first five ingredients in a shaker and dry shake WITHOUT ICE for at least 20 seconds. Add ice and shake to chill. Double strain into a Irish coffee glass and float with green Chartereuse.
My buddy Ron Dollete of LushAngeles.com stands next in the firing line. He did a fine job behind the bar, although was accused of being “cocky,” and bore his annoying tasks manfully without resorting to rolling his eyeballs at Jim and Rocky or saying, “Oh, you bastards…” Good shaker face, too.
While Jim’s Martini featured a dash of his beloved Ardbeg in the mixing glass along with everything else, this one features his trademark Ardbeg float. While not exactly red, given its name this drink could be a contender for the house cocktail of House Targaryen. Dracarys!
Combine the first 5 ingredients with ice in a mixing glass, stir for 30 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Drizzle a barspoon or so of Ardbeg on top of the drink as a float, garnish with a lime twist and serve.
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.
CUCUMBER LIME SWIZZLE (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 and Rocky’s next victim — Quinn Sweeney of Libation Lab. Described as “under the weather and not sure of what he got himself into,” Quinn holds his own under the onslaught of his cruel taskmasters.
Today’s drink is a riff on the simple but lovely Alaska cocktail, which is gin and yellow Chartreuse, 3:1. It makes a great basis for a sour, and is an excellent example of building on an old drink to get a new one.
ALASKAN SOUR by Charlotte Voisey, bartender and
portfolio ambassador for Hendrick’s Gin
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.
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.
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.
JIM’S MARTINI 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
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.
looka, <lʊ´-kə> dialect, v.
1. The imperative form of the verb "look," in the spoken vernacular of New Orleans. It is usually employed when the speaker wishes to call one's attention to something, or to what one is about to say.
2. --n. Chuck Taggart's weblog¹, est. 1999, with contributions by Wesly Moore, updated (almost) daily (except when it's not), focusing on cocktails and spirits, food and other drink, music, New Orleans and Louisiana culture ... and occasionally movies, books, sf, public radio, media and culture, travel, Macs, humor and amusements, reviews, news of the reality-based community, wry observations, complaints, the authors' lives and opinions, witty and/or smart-arsed comments and whatever else tickles the authors' fancy.
This weblog is part of The Gumbo Pages, by the way. It's big and unwieldy and full of all kinds of fun food, drink and New Orleans stuff. Check it out.
"Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans" is a 4-CD box set celebrating the joy and diversity of the New Orleans music scene, from R&B to jazz to funk to Latin to blues to zydeco to klezmer (!) and more, including a full-size, 80-page book.
Produced, compiled and annotated by Chuck Taggart (hey, that's me!), liner notes by Mary Herczog (author of Frommer's New Orleans) and myself. Click here to read more about it!