Spirit Guide: Thoughts on Simplicity

July 24th, 2012 — 4:52pm

A dry Martini: Gin; vermouth; a bit of dilution from very cold ice; an olive or a lemon twist. It’s a recipe that serious drinkers have been coming back to for over a hundred years. That same century of boozers and mixers have been constantly tweaking and concocting, but have they been able to equal the classic? Sometime around the 1930s, a barman added orange bitters and Benedictine and called it a Poet’s Dream. It’s a delicious mixture, and one that we regularly serve as a Bartender’s Choice. Our good friend Sam Ross added Cynar and a bruised cucumber and christened it Chin Up. I love the drink and it always gets “oohs” and “aahs” from excited guests. Yet, for some reason, when it’s time for me to belly up to the other side of the bar, I am predictably drawn back to that basic, perfect combination of good gin and good vermouth.

I have had the pleasure of meeting many accomplished bartenders and proprietors, and I have found that they often share my predilection for simple classics. It is a paradox of sorts: the more time we spend testing, tuning and striving to create the next classic, the more we crave the old standards. Gin and vermouth are individually delicious, together they are in perfect harmony. Adding further ingredients might be novel and unique, but is it an improvement? The same goes for a quality whiskey: does it really need anything more than a sugar cube, some bitters and a twist? Maybe so many of the professionals I know order a Daiquiri because rum, lime and sugar are a pure showcase of a bartender’s skill. Or maybe it’s just the ideal balance of sweet and sour, and sometimes that’s all you need. The marriage of gin, Campari and Italian vermouth is so familiar, and yet it never fails to surprise with its bracing, nearly masochistic bittersweetness. But perhaps we order it again and again because the drink itself isn’t so important as who is serving it, where you’re drinking it and with whom you’re drinking.

I am absolutely not discouraging experimentation. Creativity and newness are always refreshing – a necessary counterpoint to familiarity and tradition. After all, what we call a Martini is actually a dry Martini – a variation on older concoctions of gin and sweet vermouth. So without someone experimenting 100 years ago, we would never know its pleasures. So mix and shake and stir away, and one day one of us may create the next Martini or Daiquiri or Sidecar. But until we do, remember that creativity isn’t the primary responsibility of the bartender; it is enjoyment.

Max Seaman, The Varnish, GM

Music Monday: The Janks Live at Casey’s Friday August 10th

July 23rd, 2012 — 5:26pm

Zachary Zmed (Guitar, Keys, Vocals) has been working under The Janks name since 2006, and released their debut record ‘Delicate Mouthfeels’ later that same year. Since 2007 the group went through numerous incarnations until younger brother Dylan Zmed (Mandolin, Vocals) began singing and playing mandolin in the group in early 2010. Since then they released their 2nd record ‘Hands of Time’ in the beginning of 2012 and are now playing all over the greater LA area with drummer Leon LeDoux and bassist Paul Inder, as well as gearing up for their 3rd record. Catch them Friday August 10th with a special guest at Casey’s.

What We’re Reading: Kosher cocktails, the world’s hottest vodka, a new international rum and more

July 23rd, 2012 — 9:00am

At Jezebel, the Cocktail Must Be Kosher – New York Times

Of all the mixologists charged this year with creating a cocktail list in New York, Nick Mautone, the beverage director at the new SoHo restaurant Jezebel, may havefaced the greatest challenge. Jezebel is a kosher restaurant, and the cocktails also had to fall in line with the laws of kashrut.

Kosher wine lists are common in New York, and relatively easy to assemble. All a wine director has to do is look at the label. If it has a hechsher (a symbol of kosher certification), the bottle is a potential candidate for the cut. If not, it’s not. But cocktails are composed of a panoply of ingredients, every one of which must be checked out.

Base spirits are the easy part. “Most spirits are kosher by definition because they’re distilled,” Mr. Mautone said. “All the impurities have been removed. The majority of vodkas, gins, whiskey and tequilas are all kosher.” Still, you have to keep your eyes peeled. Some flavored vodkas and whiskeys are not eligible. And many whiskeys today are finished in wine barrels (port, sherry), a technique that negates their kosher bona fides, since all wine products must be certified.

But a glass of whiskey is not a cocktail. It requires modifying agents, and that’s where things gets hard. Many of the famous liqueurs and bitters — Campari, Benedictine, Chartreuse, Dubonnet, Peychaud’s bitters — that are required to make some of the world’s most famous cocktails are not kosher. That means no Negronis, no Sazeracs, no Vieux Carres, no Bobby Burnses. It’s enough to break your heart.


Ads for Skyy Vodka Come to TV – New York Times

When it comes to liquor brands arriving on television to advertise, the sky, it seems, is the limit – particularly now that Skyy vodka is joining their ranks.

Skyy, sold by the Campari America unit of Davide Campari-Milano and Grouppo Campari, is to start running its first commercial on Thursday. Until now, the brand’s ads have appeared in print and online.

The commercial is to appear on cable channels like Bravo, Comedy Central, E!, ESPN, ESPN2 and TBS. Plans also call for the spot to run on Web sites that include Facebook, Hulu and YouTube.

Campari America is also looking into running the commercial during “Saturday Night Live” on NBC.

Other distilled spirits that have come onto TV recently include Hornitos, Jägermeister, Maker’s Mark, Pucker, Sailor Jerry rum, Skinnygirl and another Campari America brand, Wild Turkey. They have joined a lengthy list of liquor brands using television, including vodkas like Absolut, Grey Goose, Ketel One and Smirnoff.


Bow & Truss restaurant adds to North Hollywood’s eclectic mix – Los Angeles Times

The arrival of a restaurant and bar like Bow & Truss has been heralded as a bit of a tipping point when it comes to destination drinking and dining in North Hollywood. It’s walking distance from the Federal Bar, Margolis’ first restaurant venture, which opened a little more than a year ago and draws a hip and fashionable crowd from over the hill as well as a satisfied roster of locals. Like downtown L.A. in 2007, when Cedd Moses opened his pioneering whiskey bar Seven Grand (also with Tello and Demarest), North Hollywood is showing it’s ready for a high-concept craft cocktail bar.



Island Hoping – Tasting Table

But with globalization comes a blurring of traditional boundaries, and a new rum is showing how flavorful an international approach can be.

A mixture of 23 rums sourced from seven places, Banks 7 Golden Age Blend ($30) displays all the complexity a well-traveled spirit should have. Rum from Barbados lends a nutty character to the mix; Guyanese rum adds a touch of tropical fruit; and a molasses-rich Trinidad spirit gives the blend rugged assertiveness. Guatemalan rum contributes a deep earthiness and Panamanian rum a bracing dryness; these characteristics are topped by a heady, funky fragrance from Jamaican pot-distilled rum, and deepened with a spark of spice from Batavia arrack, a sort of ancestral rum distilled on the Indonesian island of Java.



The World’s Hottest Vodka – Huffington Post Food

In a world where Peanut Butter and Jelly, and Glazed Donut flavored vodka exists — a chili vodka that will burn your face off is a welcome change. Not only is Naga Chili Vodka the opposite of sweet — but by infusing it with one of the hottest chili peppers on the planet, it is a tongue-melting 100,000 Scovilles hot.


Whiskey Makes Retirement Easier – The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Meyer is the founder of Wigle Whiskey, a distillery that crafts organic, artisan rye and wheat whiskeys. “There was a state law that forbade distilleries to sell their products on site,” he says. “Our whole plan was to do tastings and sell our whiskey right from the warehouse, so we built a case and testified in front of legislators and got the law changed.”


Fraser & Neave Play Raises Thai Tycoon’s Profile – Wall Street Journal

Thai beverage PCL’s surprise grab for a US$2.2 billion stake in Singapore-listed beverage group Fraser & Neave Ltd. is raising the profile of its chairman and founder, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, as he looks to extend his empire overseas. Although analysts are awaiting more details of Mr. Charoen’s plans for Fraser & Neave, some have said they foresee the potential for a tussle with Heineken for control of the company’s food and beverage assets. That includes Asia Pacific Breweries, a joint venture between Fraser & Neave and Heineken that makes Tiger Beer, one of Southeast Asia’s most successful regional brands.


Quote of the Day: Frankie Yankovic

July 21st, 2012 — 1:17pm

“In heaven there is no beer. That’s why we drink ours here.” -Frankie Yankovic

Drink beer at the LA Craft Beer Crawl on August 18th – buy your tickets now before they sell out!