Monday, May 13, 2013

Sacrilege! (But it's Still a Good Idea...)

As you know, I bartend in Wisconsin. To my local readers, what I'm about to write may initially seem like sacrilege. Even if you don't live here, I bet you're familiar with my State's reputation. We lead the nation... in binge drinking. We never quit drinking, we just switch to beer. As distasteful as it is to consider, we may be the inventors of the Puke-n-Rally. 

Blame  it on our ancestors: the State was settled by the Germans and the Irish, both cultures clearly associated with drinking. We drink to celebrate, we drink to commiserate. We drink in remembrance, and we drink to forget. When I launched the Great Sconnie Sip-Off last year, I wanted a cocktail competition that would focus on the flavors of our locally produced spirits and other ingredients -- not just a Race to Get Wasted.

I have long been a proponent of the subtle effects of alcohol, having seen (and experienced) the deleterious effects of overindulgence. So when I was contacted last week by Alcohol Professor to write an article on Low-ABV cocktails, it seemed like the perfect synergy of my message and their platform. 

As I was creating recipes with a lighter alcohol-to-total volume ratio, I was necessarily trying them out as I went along. The thing I noticed and enjoyed the most was how easy it was to stay clear-headed. There are lots of good health-and-safety reasons to give this a try, but the reason I liked the best was how it kept me in control of my buzz, instead of rushing me toward intoxication. 

Here are a few recipes to try, and there will be more on Wednesday over at Alcohol Professor for you to see and share. Here's to long afternoons of safe summer drinking!

Spicy Melon Cooler (3.46 ABV)
1.5 oz. Martini Bianco Vermouth
3 oz. Watermelon Juice
1 oz. Lime Juice
4 Cucumber Wheels
                                    .25" Habanero Slice
Salt half the rim of a Coupe or Cocktail glass. Muddle the Cucumber Wheels (and Habanero, if desired). Add all other ingredients and shake vigorously for a slow count of ten. Double strain into prepared glass and serve.

Ginger Bombshell (4.6% Total ABV)
1 oz. Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
.5 oz. Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur
3 oz. Orange Juice
.02 oz. Amerique 1912 Absinthe Verte
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Rinse a Coupe or Cocktail glass with Absinthe and discard any excess. Combine Ginger and Orange Liqueurs and Bitters and shake vigorously for a slow count of ten. Strain into prepared glass and top with Orange Juice.

Pie for Dessert (3.31 Total ABV)
1 oz. Travis Hasse's Apple Pie Liqueur
.5 oz. Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
1 Dash Angostura Bitters
3 oz. Apple Juice
1 oz. Lemon Juice

Combine Apple Pie and Ginger Liqueurs with Bitters and Lemon Juice.  Shake vigorously for a slow count of ten. Add Apple Juice and roll. Strain into a tumbler filled with crushed ice. Lemon twist garnish, if desired.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Drinking Field Trip

"You've got to try the Rombauer Cab,"he said, "It's really good." Based on looks alone, he would never be mistaken for a wine aficionado - protein shakes, sure. But wine?     He was telling me about a tap wine (vini alla Spina) bar in Wauwatosa that he and his fiancee went to the night before in such glowing terms that when I learned the venue was having an upcoming tasting event, I slipped her the details.

If you drink with me, you already know I am not a wine drinker. I don't even really like beer. I like spirit. Wine and Beer don't go through the distillation process, so they seem somehow undercooked to me.  I've lately decided to try to branch out a little.  I work in a brewhaus so I'm trying every beer that comes my way and I am learning. For example I know I like an Imperial Pale Ale more than an India Pale Ale, and a Porter more than an Amber. Wine seems no less complex, no more accessible.  Lucky for me, so many people know so much more than me that knowledge comes from all over.  Case in point: the musclebound oenophile who directed me to Wisconsin's vini alla spina bar: the Ruby Tap.

At the Ruby Tap, you choose from 70 bottles for home use or pay for corkage and enjoy the bottle in their open-concept, cozy space. The magic of the spot, though, is the wall of wine. The family that owns the Ruby tap has had a wine-on-tap system installed that lets you try 1, 1.5, 3 or 6 ounces of 32 different wines. 

Traditional wine bars are nothing new, but they do have their limits. They are not the ideal distribution medium for wine. Wine routinely goes bad if it's sold by the glass, and if it's not it can be a crapshoot for the guest. You may not care for the wine, but you are now stuck with the bottle. The system at Ruby Tap is a problem-solver for many of the traditional problems. 

There are other benefits to this system. You know I like a small environmental footprint and it can hardly get smaller than this (unless your family owns a vineyard, and if it does then call me!). Wines on tap are stored in refillable stainless kegs.  The average bottle holds 4 glasses; the average keg holds 130. Fewer glass bottles cuts the weight of the wine being shipped, less fuel gets burned and the world stays cleaner.

The issue of freshness also is improved by a wine-on-tap system. The wine gets pushed out of the keg by nitrogen or argon, which provides a blanket against oxidation. 

The Ruby Tap is more than just self-serve wine in a casual atmosphere. Find Wisconsin beers and cheeses, desserts and charcuterie. It is a warm, friendly little bar with nightly specials and the two sisters you may already have met will soon be three. The night I popped in, the Ruby Tap family was hosting a wine tasting including cheese pairing. I'd like to give a special shout out to the excellent hospitality, the Carr Valley bleu cheese... and the Rombauer cabernet.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Put Me on Your Calendar!

I'm the type of girl... who loves to have something on the calendar to look forward to, something fun on the horizon. I've got two things coming up that are going to be great fun, and I'd love you to join me.

Now, you know how it is: you hear something tragic, you think, "Somebody should..." and then you get on about the business of being you and before you know it, the tragedy is out of your consciousness and you are dealing with your own problems. Or, you hear about somebody doing something about that tragedy and it inspires you to get involved.  That's just how it happened.

Clean water AND an ice ball
The "somebody" is Doc Hendley and the "something" is Wine to Water. According to CNN, countless families worldwide, and me, he's a Hero. CNN named him a Hero of the Year, about six years after he started working on the problem of water-borne illness. Back in 2003, his consciousness was awakened to the problem and by August of the following year, he was living in Darfur, Sudan, helping the locals get clean water.

Seriously? Darfur? I wouldn't even want to visit. To demonstrate my amazing power over understatement, I will say that it is dangerous. How dangerous? His team was there for a year and two of them got killed. Instead of abandoning the project, he continues to this day, to travel to underdeveloped, war-ravaged countries. 

Why? You're probably better off asking me than him. He could tell you things that would break your heart. I can tell you that every 20 seconds, a child dies from water-borne disease. There are 7 billion people living on Earth, and 1 billion of us lack access to clean water. His 501(c)(3) charity, Wine to Water, currently has projects in Haiti, India, Peru, Cambodia, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, South Africa and Sudan. There are lots of ways to get involvedand no amount of money is too small to give. 

But if you know me at all, you know I've got something in mind. Next Monday, April 8, I'll be working at the Delafield Brewhaus. I'll be mixing drinks and tapping beer and running food just like always, but here's what's different: I'll be giving all my tips to Doc Hendley's Wine to Water. Every dollar. We're going to save lives together. If even one less family watches their little one die, we will have done something great. Please come out; I'll do my best to show you a good time!

I'm reading it right now...
The other fun thing on my calendar is a book signing at another job, the Great Lakes Distillery. I am not normally so stoked about a book signing, but this particular book is so interesting; I can't turn a page without learning something strange and new and wonderful that opens my mind to the miracles of life all around us. The book is called The Drunken Botanist, and its subject matter is the flora that go into beverage alcohol. I have so far learned which organism was the first to be domesticated by humans, the gift we gave France that ended up wiping out its wine industry (and the resultant impact that decimation had on brandy and absinthe), where Belgian lambic brewers think the best yeast comes from and I could go on and on and on. The author, Amy Stewart, will be at the Distillery on April 10th. The rest of the tour's schedule is here, in case you won't be in Milwaukee on the 10th. If you're anywhere near as geeky as me, you will not be disappointed. 

I love to see you in person, so put me on your calendar and we can change the world or learn new stuff (or both!); you choose. See you soon!