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Consider the Negroni … the perfect cocktail?

[NOTE: This is a preview post highlighting an upcoming seminar at the 2011 Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, taking place July 20-24, and is is crossposted from the original post at Talesblog.com. It fits in rather well with my Negroni variation series posted here, here, here and here.]

Do you remember your first Negroni?

The Negroni

Photo by Jeremy Brooks, licensed via Creative Commons

I do. It was way back in the early days of my cocktail journey, when I was a mere cocktail toddler. One of the many silly things I thought I “knew” then was that I hated Campari, the frighteningly red (colored with bugs, eww!) and bitter (gaah!) potion that I had heard Italians drank with soda. I tried a Campari and soda at the time and … it didn’t speak to me. (That was primarily because I wasn’t listening, and my palate still had some maturing to do.) Then someone made me a Negroni. I was hesitant — I don’t like Campari! — but I was assured, “You’re going to like this a lot more than Campari and soda. Trust me.” I don’t even remember who the bartender was, but I owe him my thanks. The Negroni is one of my very favorite cocktails, and we go through so much Campari at home now that I ought to start buying it by the case. I’m even enjoying cocktails (nay, especially enjoying cocktails) in which Campari is actually the base spirit.

It’s such a marvelous combination of ingredients — the bracing bite of the Campari, the aromatic and spiritous backbone of the gin, the sweetness and spice of the vermouth — that it lends itself to lots of tinkering. Some bartenders have made them with genever instead of gindifferent styles of gin and bitters, or even a powerfully funky rum, and I’ve become a huge fan of its Bourbon-bearing cousin. As much as I enjoy those drinks, we keep going back to the original time after time. Before dinner, a Negroni just hits the spot, and is one of our primary preprandial quaffs.

If you share a similar love and fascination with the Negroni, Paul Clarke has a seminar for you. He’ll be moderating “The Negroni: An Iconic Cocktail” at Tales of the Cocktail next month, and this is one you’re not going to want to mix. I asked Paul why a whole seminar about this cocktail, and what tantalizing tidbits he could share with us with five weeks left to go.

“In thinking about this session, I’ve come to the conclusion that not only is the Negroni an excellent cocktail — it’s perhaps the PERFECT cocktail,” he said. “It balances potency, sweetness and bitterness with an elaborate flavor that can be consistently engaging and always open to interpretation and inspiring creativity.” Indeed — see the interpretations and inspirations above!

Paul will be joined by some distinguished panelists as well. “One of my panelists is Livio Lauro, a bartender originally from Florence who is now head of U.S. Bartenders Guild in Las Vegas, and who just completed a translation of Luca Picchi’s book about Count Negroni and the development of the Negroni cocktail; the history and background of the drink is his department. I will be talking about the cultural context of the Negroni and how it’s a ‘bridge-the-gap’ drink between not only the 19th century simplicity drinks and the turn-of-the-century vermouth/bitter drinks, but also between the European aperitif tradition and the American cocktail tradition. My other panelist, Jacques Bezuidenhout, is of course a San Francisco-based bartender and consultant and a bonafide Negroni fiend; he’s going to talk a bit about the Negroni’s enduring legacy, and how it’s a foundation drink for so much creativity and inspiration behind the bar.”

I tried to pry a bit more from Paul about what we’ll actually be tasting during the seminar, but that proved to be a bit more difficult. “We’re going to be serving a few variations on the Negroni theme, all using identical ingredients and proportions, with minor tweaks to demonstrate how what’s basically the same drink can appeal in several different guises. I’ll keep the precise details close to the chest, but expect a couple of interesting takes on the Negroni — including one that most people have never before tried, and that for the first time is available for a large audience.” I have a suspicion as to what the latter reference refers, but I’ll keep that close to the chest as well. If I’m right, you’re in for a major treat.

Paul, Livio and Jacques will be presenting “The Negroni: An Iconic Cocktail” on Thursday, July 21 at 12:30pm. Buy your tickets now before this one sells out.

Sodatender or Barjerk: Lost Secrets Revealed?

[NOTE: This is the first of several preview posts I’ll be writing to highlight upcoming seminars at the 2011 Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, taking place July 20-24. This is a crosspost from the original post at Talesblog.com.]

Last year I had the best Ramos Gin Fizz I’d ever had in my life.

As a New Orleanian I’ve had a lot of ’em, good and bad. (The nadir was the one at an unnamed restaurant which should have known better; it had so much orange flower water in it that it tasted like hand soap.) I’m thrilled to see the drink being made very well around the country thanks to the craft cocktail renaissance, but my favorite place to get them is in New Orleans. It’s part of what makes the city feel like home.

This particularly stunning Fizz was made at Bar UnCommon in the Père Marquette Hotel, and was made by Chris McMillian, unsurprisingly. Chris is a consummate bartender — methodical and deliberate, making perfect drinks, and entertaining you with tales and history as he does it. This one, though, this one …

Chris had been trying some new things out on me, and we’d had some classics, and even though it was late at night and I do tend to enjoy this particular drink earlier in the day, I was just in the mood. “Could you make me a Ramos?” I asked.

“Coming right up!”

I continued chatting with my friends, not really watching what the bartender was doing, oddly enough, as bartender-watching is something I frequently do. I noticed that he wasn’t shaking the egg white for nearly as long as I’ve seen other bartenders do it, though, and I began to try to pay more attention. The conversation also demanded my attention, so I wasn’t able to closely follow what Chris was doing, but I recall there being a bit of soda already in the glass as he strained the drink, agitating it gently with a barspoon as the glass filled.

He placed the drink in front of me, and I took a sip of what was the most spectacular Ramos Gin Fizz I had ever tasted.

It was perfect. Not only the balance of flavor, but the texture … holy hell, the texture was magnificent. Silky and smooth and completely emulsified, almost like very soft peak meringue, but not just on top. This emulsified texture remained consistent all the way to the bottom of the drink, with no separation at all, until I slurped the very last drops of it through the straw. Even the best Ramos Fizzes I’ve had separated after a bit. Not this one.

I had to gush. “Chris, this is amazing! I caught a few glimpses of you making it — how’d you get it like this?”

Chris replied that after all these years making them in the usual way, he had recently completely changed his technique after reading Darcy O’Neil‘s book, Fix the Pumps. “Read it if you haven’t,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “and you’ll see how I did it.”

Intrigued yet?

Darcy is a bartender and trained chemist from Ontario, Canada whose aforementioned self-published book is a history of the American soda fountain, its rise and fall, and the myriad secrets of the sodajerk — many of which were nearly lost to history (when’s the last time you saw a full-fledged, old-fashioned soda fountain?) and nearly all of which are incredibly useful to the modern bartender.

Along with the esteemed David Wondrich Darcy will be presenting a seminar called “Sodatender or Barjerk?” in which they’ll review this history, techniques of the sodajerk that the bartender can use (see above), and how the techniques of the bartender — many of whom were out of work 90 years ago due to Prohibition — came into play at the soda fountain.

Want to learn some fascinating history and some great techniques to make your drinks even more amazing? If so, this seminar is not to be missed!


Live from Jazzfest 2011!

I’m sitting in the Gospel Tent, where Sister Naomi Washington and her group just finished — hallelujah!! I also just finished my traditional Creole’s Stuffed Bread to start my festival day, as I’ve done for nearly 25 years.


Seeing Mrs. Merlene Herbert, who makes and sells these from her Lafayette restaurant Creole’s Lunch House, is a gem of a human being — I adore her and I love her food! The lines for her stuffed bread (still the most underrated food item at Jazzfest yet one of it’s very best) should be at least as log as for the Crawfish Monica right next door. Go get one every day if you’re going to the Fair Grounds this or next weekend.

(No more strawberry lemonade for me though, sadly — they changed vendors last year and now it sucks.)

Don’t get used to me weblogging from the Fair Grounds, though! It’s seriously draining my battery. Better to follow my Twitter feed – I’ll be updating that frequently.


Happy Jazzfest!!

Coming to A Warehouse …

I grew up hearing those words on radio ads for concerts, coming out of my tinny car speakers via WNOE and WRNO … “Coming to A Warehouse.” They referred to a big, dank, cavernous music venue on Tchoupitoulas Street that was just that — an old warehouse that had been converted (relatively minimally) into a music venue that hosted some of the biggest rock bands all through the Seventies.

I sighed whenever I heard those words. I knew I wouldn’t be seeing any of those shows because I was too young and wouldn’t be allowed to go. (For a variety of reasons my mom was horrified by the very idea of that venue.) By the time I was old enough to go to the Warehouse the venue started seeing hard times, and by that time I tended to go to see bands that played in smaller clubs Uptown for the most part.

People who frequented the Warehouse (always referred to as “A Warehouse” in the ads, as I remember) have memories fond and not-so-fond (it apparently got really, really hot in there), and there was an excellent article in the Gambit a year and a half or so ago about the good old days of the Warehouse.

For those of you who yearn to relive those days (and those of us who never quite got to live them in the first place), documentarian Jessy Cale Williamson is about to release his film A Warehouse on Tchoupitoulas, featuring interviews from the former owners and other people in the local music scene at the time, and what looks to be a great soundtrack. I can’t wait for this one.

Here’s a 16-minute preview:

Keep an eye on the filmmakers’ blog for more details and news. Now I’m off for Jazzfest, and I hope not to be completely absent the whole time. We’ll see!


Je Suis Le Grand Zombie

Glen David Andrews covers Dr. John’s “I Walk On Guilded Splinters” (originally on the album Gris Gris, from the early days of his Night Tripper era), featuring Paul Sanchez on electric guitar, and it is made of awesome.

I’m way behind on posting, as you can undoubtedly tell, but I’m going to try to feature some music posts up through the beginning of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival next Friday. I’ll be home for Fest so posting likely won’t be happening, but I’ll try to get at least something quick up as often as I can. Please stay tuned!

Oh, and please visit trumpetsnotguns.com to support Glen’s music education initiative.