Cocktail of the Day: San Francisco

Last week gave us a really fun (and somewhat raucous) evening at Seven Grand, one of our favorite bars — they had a reunion night for the entire original opening crew from April of 2007. Well, nearly; unfortunately John Coltharp, busy at his new gigs at The Tasting Kitchen and Copa d’Oro, wasn’t able to make it. It was great to see friends like Marcos Tello and Damian Windsor behind the stick there once again, though.

They brought back the entire original 7G menu for that night, too. Well, nearly; the Ramos Gin Fizz was missing (perhaps a bit too labor-intensive for a night when they were going to be slammed two or three deep at the bar), and of course the Bartender’s Choice drinks came at us left and right.

When I asked Damian for something whiskey-bearing but not on the special menu for the night, he offered this tasty variation on the Old Fashioned, or the Manhattan, or the Monte Carlo … sort of like all three fused at the molecular-genetic level inside a telepod (and with no fly, fortunately).

For the base spirit Damian chose Bernheim’s, a wheat whiskey from Kentucky made by the folks at Heaven Hill. The primary grain here is soft winter wheat (at least 51%, differing from Bourbon and rye in that those spirits must be at least 51% corn or rye grain, respectively), with some corn in the mashbill for sweetness and a bit of barley as well. It’s dry and crisp although with a bit of sweetness in the nose, full-bodied and fruity-nutty. Really wonderful stuff, and works very well in this drink where Bourbon might work less well. “The syrup takes the edge off the whiskey,” Damian says, and makes this a very well-balanced drink.

There’s a classic cocktail called The San Francisco; this isn’t it. I’m not certain if this is one of Damian’s own creations, but until he corrects me let’s say that it is.

San Francisco Cocktail

2 ounces Bernheim Straight Wheat Whiskey
1/2 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 dash orange bitters
Splash Bénédictine liqueur
Lemon twist

Rinse a rocks glass with the Bénédictine and pour out the excess. Combine the other ingredients with cracked ice in a mixing glass and stir for at least 30 seconds. Strain into the coated glass, add a large ice cube and twist the lemon peel over the drink. Garnish with the peel.


She blinded me with (cocktail) science!

Yes, I still live and breathe. I’ve been talking to Stella about how to get my groove back, and she’s got a handle on it.

This is a linky-goodness post, as there have been some fascinating articles of late on the subject of mixing cocktails — to wit, on sweetness, balance, dilution and temperature.

First off, Chicago bartender Todd Appel puts forward a good case for why we should stop using 1:1 simple syrup.

I never have been a fan of 1:1 simple; it’s always seemed watery and not sweet enough, and simple math makes one wonder how a teaspoon of granulated or “powdered” sugar, called for in so many classic recipes, can be justifiably substituted with a teaspoon of something that’s got so much water in it. I’m not a fan of overly sweet cocktails either, but you have to have balance — sweet with the sour or bitter or strong, and plain ol’ sugar water doesn’t cut it. Todd starts off his article with the same observations:

For years I have wondered why my taste buds seemed to be at odds with many of the classic and new cocktails being offered around the country in our modern cocktail world.

I realized something important many years ago

Syrup in cocktails should be sugar heavy, period.

The problem here is twofold. 1-1 syrup offers more water and less sugar. This leads to more dilution and/or overly acidic drinks.

This is a recognized issue, hence the discussion of what many call “rich” simple syrup, made 2:1 with double the amount of sugar as water. This helps a great deal, but is it enough?

He reminds us of David Embury as well — we may have thought some of his ratios a bit wonky, but it’s easy to gloss over the ratio of syrup to water in the simple syrup he made, which was basically liquid sugar. Embury, plus at least one book by William Terrington from 1870, call for a 3:1 syrup!

I’m at the point now where I only use 2:1 simple syrup, for the simple reason that 1:1 simple syrup is by no means a substitute for the same volume of granulated sugar. I’m going to try a small batch of the more concentrated syrup and see where that gets me … mmm, cocktail experimentation.

Moving on!

It killed me to have to miss the 2010 edition Tales of the Cocktail, especially because the quality of the seminars truly shone this year. One of the more talked-about sessions (and one of the ones I was most annoyed to have missed) was The Science of Stirring, taught by Dave Arnold (Director of Culinary Technology at the French Culinary Institute in New York), bartender/beverage director Eben Klemm and Death & Co. bartender Thomas Waugh.

Dave has written another pair of epic posts about the seminar and the cocktail-making science explored within. Part 1 deals with shaking, stirring, temperature and dilution, and Part 2 with temperature and dilution, texture, notes on batching drinks and an epilogue from Waugh about how all this science stuff affects a real live bartender. Here’s the brief introduction:

Cocktail shaking is a violent activity. If you shake for around 12-15 seconds (though shaking longer won’t hurt), and if you aren’t too lethargic, neither the type of ice you use nor your shaking style will appreciably affect the temperature or dilution of your drink. Shaking completely chills, dilutes and aerates a drink in around 15 seconds, after which the drink stops changing radically and reaches relative equilibrium. Shaking is basically insensitive to bartender-induced variables. See my post on The Science of Shaking. [Definitely read this if you haven’t already. — CT]

Stirring is different. Think of stirring as inefficient shaking. It can take over 2 minutes of constant stirring to do what shaking can accomplish in 15 seconds. No one stirs a drink for 2 minutes, so the drink never reaches an equilibrium point. All the bartender-induced variables – size of ice, speed of stirring, duration of stirring, etc. — make a difference in stirred cocktails, so bartender skill is very important in a stirred cocktail.

Because stirring doesn’t reach equilibrium, stirred drinks are warmer and less diluted than shaken cocktails. Stirred drinks, unlike shaken ones, are not aerated. Stirring does not alter the texture of a drink –it merely chills and dilutes. A properly diluted cocktail stored at -5 degrees Celsius in a freezer is indistinguishable from a properly stirred one.

There’s a lot of reading here, and it does get quite scientific (for those of you who might be scared away by such things, don’t — it’s really fascinating and worth the effort). If the science is too much you can always skip down to Waugh’s final list of things for the everyday bartender to remember, the first of which you can begin implementing right away (if you haven’t already copied it from seeing better bartenders do it when you go out):

1. Chill your mixing (stirring) glass — ice works, as does a fridge or freezer.

This is all fascinating stuff, and a must-read for everyone interested in executing a properly stirred cocktail.


Five years ago: 8/29/2005

Today we celebrate life in, and the continuing existence of, that incomparably wonderful place, the city of New Orleans.

Five years ago today, a fearsome hurricane on the Mississippi Gulf Coast but what should have been a run-of-the-mill hurricane of low-to-moderate strength in the city of New Orleans, came ashore. By the time the force of the hurricane reached the city the winds were only Category 2 and even down to a Category 1. There was some damage and lots of rain, but the city itself weathered the hurricane relatively well. The initial reaction was that “we dodged a bullet.”

Then the levee and floodwall system, designed and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, failed.

Here’s how it happened, demonstrated via an animated graphic from the Times-Picayune.

A very concise description of how fast things happened once the floodwalls and levees failed comes from the excellent Twitter feed of Crystal Kile, aka DJ Poptart at WTUL in New Orleans:

With all of the breaches, some neighborhoods flooded to the rooftops in minutes.

Even where the flooding was slower, further from the sites of the breaches, the water rose approximately 0.3 m (1 ft) every 10 minutes.

The lake level equalized with the floodwaters at midday on September 1, 2005. [That’s three days later.]

The failure of the levees and the flooding of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005, represent the first time in American history that engineering failure has brought about the destruction or near-destruction of a major U.S. city.

There are five-years-later posts and articles all over the internets — there’s not a lot I can add. I wasn’t there until five weeks later, but I certainly had my own experiences with my family’s home. There are a couple hundred thousand other stories just like it (and, on the five-year anniversary, a hundred times more than that — that’s 20,000,000 — in Pakistan at the moment, which I simply cannot get my head around). Just look around and you’ll find plenty. But I do want to point you in a couple of directions.

First off, continuing to run on HBO this weekend is Spike Lee’s excellent documentary “If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise”, a sequel to the one he did four years ago in the immediate aftermath of the Federal Flood, “When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.”

Then tomorrow is the one-night-only theatrical premiere of Harry Shearer’s long-awaited documentary film “The Big Uneasy,” which we will not miss.

Harry’s film will pull no punches, spelling out the reasons for the disaster (man-made, not natural as it was on the Mississippi Gulf coast), talking to New Orleans residents and whistle-blowers from the Corps of Engineers. As one prominent scientist said, had the floodwall and levee system worked as it was supposed to, the worst that Hurricane Katrina would have inflicted on New Orleans was “wet ankles.”

The odd tidbit of news about “The Big Uneasy” this weekend is that Harry, a longtime contributer to National Public Radio, submitted an ad to NPR for the film, which NPR subsequently rejected. The very brief ad stated that the movie was about “why New Orleans flooded.” According to NPR, “the language violated FCC guidelines.” However, they would allow the ad to say the movie was about “New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina.” Harry said, “The bickering went on for days.” I would like to see an explicit explanation of exactly how that language violated FCC guidelines.

Harry calls shenanigans on the explanation as well. “The FCC won’t let you say what your movie is about?” The NPR lawyers declined to offer any further explanation. Perhaps it’s because they’re Nice Polite Republicans?

“The Big Uneasy” plays in theatres tomorrow night only, August 30, in these theatres nationwide and at the following theatres in the Los Angeles area:

The Bridge 18, 6081 Center Dr, LA
The Grove 14, 189 The Grove Dr, LA
The Americana 18, 322 Americana Way, Glendale
The Culver Stadium 12, 9500 Culver Blvd, Culver City
Foothill Cinema 10, 854 E Alosta, Azusa
Agoura Hills 8, 29045 Agoura Hills Dr, Agoura Hills

Call for showtimes.

New Orleans has come a long way in five years, but still has a long way to go.


Vote for Nine Lives

Yes, we’re all still alive over here — traveling again, and more. Let’s jump back in and talk about some important stuff. First …

Some of you may be familiar with Dan Baum’s excellent book Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans. It traces the true stories of nine New Orleanians from different parts of the city, vastly different circumstances and levels of New Orleans society and culture. Their stories begin 45 years ago with Hurricane Betsy and take them through the disaster of Katrina, the Federal Flood and beyond. It’s excellent, and I recommend it without reservation.

Some of you may also be fans of New Orleans singer and songwriter Paul Sanchez, who’s one of my very favorite musicians. Paul and his wife Shelly lost everything in the flood of nearly five years ago, but after having gone through the heartbreak and difficulties physical, emotional and financial have picked up and carried on with life in an amazing way. Paul’s life and singing are full of joy and love; he’s been making an amazing amount of music in the last five years, and it’s all terrific.

Let’s take a little musical interlude, shall we?

Paul’s been doing some writing with Los Angeles-based writer Colman DeKay over the last few years — they co-wrote the title track of Paul’s album Exit to Mystery Street and several other songs, and now they’re working on a project that’s got me very excited.

Colman and Paul have picked up the rights to adapt Nine Lives into a musical. I’ve heard several of the songs, and they are amazing. Truly amazing.

The first step is to make a CD of the songs, then … “all the way to Broadway,” as Threadhead Records founder Chris Joseph says. Let’s hear a bit more about the project from Chris and Paul:

In order to do this, they’re going to need some money.

Threadhead Records is perhaps the world’s first non-profit, volunteer-run record label. Their sole aim is to raise funding to help get great New Orleans musicians make records and get them out to the people. Threadhead needs our help with this one, folks — it’s a big project.

Fortunately they’re in line for a $50,000 grant from Pepsi’s “Refresh Project,” but in order for them to be eligible for the money, they need our votes! Go to this URL:

Register at the site. Don’t worry about spam — I’ve been participating in this for a while and I haven’t gotten any. Once you’re registered, vote for the Nine Lives Project. The important thing to remember is that once you click “vote for the project” you’ll be redirected to a login screen. Once you register and log in you will be redirected back to the main page, where you HAVE to click, “vote for the project” AGAIN in order for your vote to count. This is really important — a lot of votes went uncounted until people realized this!

It’s getting down to the wire; only the top ten get the cash and Nine Lives has been as low as #15. We’re up to #8 as of today, so we need to keep the momentum rolling.

UPDATE! Dan Baum himself visited the comments section (wow!) and said that you can vote TEN times a day, as long as you let an hour or so go between votes. So vote early and often! Vote now, and tomorrow, and every day until the end of the month. It’s legal! It’s not as if it were a congressional election in St. Bernard Parish or something.

If we’re successful you’ll be rewarded with a monumental work of New Orleans music, telling some great stories with some great songs. One of the things that’s helped people through the last five years in New Orleans is a ton of great music — mo’ music, mo’ betta!

If you’ve been attentding any of Paul’s recent shows you may well have heard versions of some of the songs. You can also preview one of the songs at Paul’s site — scroll through the music player at the bottom of the browser window until you get to one called “Feel Like A Lady,” with vocals by John Boutté (the song is based on the story of JoAnn from the book and captures one of the character’s pivotal scenes beautifully).

Thanks for helping out, y’all.


Honey, I’m home!

We had the most luscious honey the other day.

One of our favorite breakfast and lunch spots, the Village Bakery and Café in Atwater Village, is carrying local honey made by Feral Honey (aka “our friends Amy and Russell,” said owner Barbara). The beekeeping is hands-off for the most part, all natural and organic (no pesticides or hormones) and the honey is made by wild bees in the Silver Lake area. All the nectar they gather is from within a 3-mile radius in the neighborhood, and it tastes like what’s growing in the area, and what’s in people’s backyards.

The current batch tastes of lavender with a touch of minty eucalyptus (although not medicinal-tasting), rich and complex and absolutely wonderful. It’s not cheap, but you get a lot of honey-bang for your buck.

Besides just eating it out of the jar with a spoon (which we found to be dangerously enticing, ’cause we just might finish the whole thing if we’re not careful), the first thing we thought to do with it was try it in one of the great classic cocktails that I think needs a lot more attention.

The Bee’s Knees cocktail popped up sometime during Prohibition (although we don’t know its exact origin) as one of many ways to disguise the taste of, shall we say, disreputable gin. It’s a very simple gin sour, but the twist here is that the sweetener, as you may have gleaned, is honey rather than sugar. You have a lot of room for variation and creativity with the myriad flavors of honey that are available, and we thought this marvelously floral honey would be a perfect match with the new Beefeater Summer Edition gin.

Beefeater Master Distiller Desmond Payne, looking for a followup to the very successful Beefeater 24, sought to come up with a gin that’s a bit lighter and more suitable for warm weather and summery drinks. The limited edition Summer gin is lighter in proof, 80 as opposed to 94, a slightly lighter juniper profile and the addition of black currant, elderflower and hibiscus flower to the range of botanicals. In tasting the gin neat you can’t really pick these individual flavors out, but the combination plus the lighter profile makes it very refreshing. It’s floral without being flowery, and the combination of flavors in the gin seems to make it want to leap into the arms of other ingredients. (Wes has been playing with this a fair bit, and once we get back from Seattle I’ll post a couple of his recent concoctions.)

Grab Beefeater Summer Edition while you can, because it won’t be around for all that much longer (and I certainly hope it shall return next year).

Now, for that cocktail …

To make honey syrup, combine equal parts of honey and extremely hot water and stir until the honey is dissolved. For rich honey syrup, use 2 parts of honey to 1 part hot water. It’ll keep in the fridge for a few weeks, and longer if you add a splash of vodka as a preservative. It’s so easy to make on the fly, though, that I’ll usually just prep enough for the batch of cocktails I’m about to make.

You can serve this drink strained and up with a lemon twist garnish, or on the rocks with a lemon wedge. Try more robust gins, or try swapping out the gin for rum or tequila. If you’ve never had this one, you’re going to fall in love with it. Why, it’s so good it’s the … (you know).


2 ounces gin (substitute rum or tequila)
1 ounce honey syrup
1 ounce fresh lemon juice

Combine in a shaker with ice and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with lemon twist, or over ice in an Old Fashioned glass with a lemon wedge garnish.