Sunday, December 30, 2012

Try This Before Somebody Decides It's Uncool...

I have a confession to make: I am not interested in being cool. But there I was, standing with a co-worker during a lull in a big event at my job and the subject of Fernet came up. Not just any Fernet -- there are many Fernets on the market -- but Fernet Branca. I had half a bottle of this particular amaro at home and was lamenting not having brought it with me because this particular crew of bartenders would have cleared that space on my shelf in a matter of minutes. Which got me thinking....

Fernet Branca has become so popular that suggesting its powers are less than magical will make the popular crowd think less of you. John Barclay says this, "...[i]t is a class signifier, a secret handshake shared by Mixologists, Artisans, Urban gain entry into their smug underworld." Its popularity began on the West Coast, in San Francisco, where it has taken root so securely that they are alleged to drink more Fernet than any other city on earth.  Its reach stretched across America and settled in the East and has touched down in a certain type of bar, all across the country.  Fashionable Bartenders are ordering up rounds for friends and neophytes alike, talking about their time in San Francisco (or Argentina!), letting everyone in earshot know that they are cooler than you.  

But I can't imagine why this spirit has become the gatekeeper of the Cool Club. Don't get me wrong; it's good enough. I'm sipping some right now. Fernet has a purpose; it is useful to settle the stomach. It is the color of coffee, with a complex bitter-herb profile with a mint-forward flavor and a great deal of saffron. In fact, Fernet Branca controls 75% of the world's saffron.

The formulation is, of course, proprietary, but in addition to the saffron, the recipe includes -- but is definitely not limited to -- chamomile and myrrh, aloe, rhubarb and peppermint oil, all in a base of grape spirit. It tastes like Jagermeister, but not so syrupy. In fact, the "Fernet Face" is a meme so popular I swear I remember a social media campaign centered on it. Bartenders say it affords a burst of energy similar to a double espresso, which is why they can be seen sipping it before a shift or shooting it in the wee hours for a pick-me-up.  

In the age of ubiquitous coffeehouses and such a range of easily-purchased energy drinks (some actually already behind the bar - what could be more convenient?), to claim you drink Fernet for its energetic effects is as unconvincing to me as claiming to drink it for its flavor.  

It is not impossible that guys like Barclay are right, that bartenders are just drinking Fernet to be cool. The Bartender, like the Chef, is susceptible to trends; trends flow through our business.. New products, concepts, designs, recipes, all these things keep us interesting to our guests, ourselves and each other.  Some things, like the invention of the still, are great ideas. Other things, like this, well, we can probably live without.

But I'd like to think we're better than that. I'd like to think that we are not the shallow creatures who would choke down shots of something better sipped after dinner, at a leisurely pace, because we think it makes us look cool. While I am sure there are some who have that motive, I have another theory.

In our business, we are constantly tasting.  We taste new products, new recipes, we uncover old recipes.  Our palates get a workout. It may be that the bartender's palate is rather more elastic than a civilian's.  I would go even further than that, though. I would venture to suggest that, like a child watching televised violence and becoming inured to those images. a bartender is immune to "Karamel" vodka and lusts after the truly authentic, no matter how shocking it might be.

So when you have the chance, raise a glass of Fernet Branca. You might not love it, but it is real and true. There will be big, strange flavors, but they will not be from the Big, Strange Flavor Factory. Even if it should go out of fashion soon, and in a way I hope it does, the fact remains that you are drinking something that has been in production for over 150 years. If only for that reason, you owe yourself this experience. Sip it and decide for yourself what the fuss is about.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

If You Only Try One New Flavor in 2013...

Saffron has a gorgeous color, a subtle flavor and a long history.... Seriously long - how's 50,000 years sound? If you know anything about what makes me tick, you know I am geeked up about the cultural ties that connect us to our ancestors in prehistory. 50,000 years ago, artists in present-day Iran used saffron-based pigments to make paintings in caves. If that doesn't stop you mid-paragraph, nothing will. Now, they were using saffron that long ago, but once our forebears figured out the basics of selection, they stopped settling for collecting saffron and began cultivating it.  Our ancestors began cultivating saffron about three thousand years ago. 

Think about that: 3000 years ago, foodies -- geeks just like ourselves -- valued saffron so much that they chose specific plants (the ones with the longest threads), protected and bred these carefully selected plants with each other. The picture below is of a Bronze Age (3500-1200 BCE) fresco, and it's called The Saffron Gatherers. It shows two women harvesting the threads by hand, just as they are gathered today.

We know that ancient artists valued saffron for its pigment, but it came to be used for many different purposes. Saffron remained important as a colorant, and came to be used as a deodorizer, medicine, and as a flavoring agent. As a fabric dye, it can be used to impart hues from luminous yellow to rich red.  These colors do fade over time, but become no less lovely. Because this usage requires so much saffron, robes dyed in this way were reserved for the upper echelons of ancient society. Alexander the Great used saffron-infused baths to treat battle wounds, and Cleopatra took the baths because she believed they made lovemaking more pleasurable.  

You know that saffron is indigenous to the region near present-day Iran and India, but it can grow on any continent except Antarctica, including our own. Having said that, most saffron is still produced in that same region, gathered by hand and as a result is the world's most expensive spice, made more rare and expensive by the presence of Muslim terrorists in the area of its cultivation. 

It has long been prized by chefs for its color and flavor.  If you've been following along, you know that the bar follows the kitchen in most matters.  Saffron is used in some famous spirits, including the Italian herbal liqueur, Strega and the French Chartreuse. In modern times, Royal Saffron liqueur represents this spice.

Saffron's flavor has been likened to hay or straw, with metallic honey notes.  I have been experimenting with it, and encourage you to so the same to create a complex, unique and luxurious cocktail for yourself and the ones you love.

Saffron Cocktail #1
1.5 oz. Saffron-infused Great Lakes Distillery's Peach Brandy
1 oz. Honey Syrup
1 oz. Lemon Juice
1 oz. Orange Juice
Lemon Twist

(I made this slightly sweet, refreshing drink for a friend who exclaimed, "This tastes like a great breakfast drink!")

Friday, December 7, 2012

Does This Man Have Your Dream Job?

John Harrison is the kind of guy you could stand behind in the grocery store and never know you're inches away from a beer-making rock star.    Beneath the unassuming exterior is an applied intellect that delights palates both personal and professional, and he has created a devoted fan base in a State that knows beer.

If you want to impress beer drinkers in Wisconsin, you better bring your A-Game.  Harrison began making beer about thirty years ago, but his hobby didn't stay a hobby for long. Something about it took root in him and before long, he says, "I couldn't see myself working a Joe job for the rest of my life.... I wanted to make beer."

I met Harrison at the Delafield Brewhaus last week for the first in a series of conversations about beer. He has come a long way from his home setup, including lots of professional brewing, his graduation from the Siebel Institute of Technology. He has designed more than 250 styles of beer, and won some very prestigious awards along the way.

If you don't know, the Siebel Institute was founded in 1872 as America's first brewing school.  Graduation from its World Brewing Academy is enough to confer "expert" status, but to give you an idea of the seriousness of the subject matter, consider some of its course titles: Bier Sommelier, Raw Materials and Wort Production, Sensory Analysis for Flavor Production and Control. It is a beer geek's paradise.

His experience and education came in handy when the Delafield Brewhaus came calling. Harrison had just experienced a career setback in the form of back-to-back floods at his previous location.  Just when things seemed the bleakest, fate lent a hand with the opportunity of a lifetime.

Imagine, for a moment,  the great passion of your life.  Now imagine that you are free to pursue it, full-time.  In fact, you will be paid to pursue your greatest passion precisely as you wish - the project will be your own, down to the last detail.  "I started this project clearing the land... I was the first one they brought on board," Harrison said. He is the architect of the brewery, from its exterior grain silo that feeds the grist mill in the basement, to the taps behind the bar and everything in between.  He even planted the Cascade hops around the Biergarden outside, which he naturally uses in the course of his work.

Harrison's technical expertise, genuine passion and three decades of experience coalesce to make a brewmaster as skilled as he is humble.  Yes, if you ask him, he will tell you incredible stories about the time his beer beat some very well-known brands at a major competition, and how he took 6 beers to the World Beer Championships and came home with 6 medals. For me, the cool thing about John Harrison is, his numerous accolades are not what drives him to pursue excellence. "The people who come in time after time are a better medal than any you could put on a wall," he says.

I have met some of his fans. The ones who are excited to see a new beer on the line, the Mug Club loyalty members, folks who walk in with empty growlers and walk out with their favorite or excited about a new style.  They are mostly men, but Harrison's products definitely appeal to both genders -- certain beers, particularly those involving fruits and berries are especially girl-friendly (in my observation).   

The Delafield Brewhaus hosts Beer-and-Food pairing dinners, and if you have a taste for great beer and delicious food, matched by experts, this is a great event.  If you're out of range, check back here for the next in this series.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hey, Naughty! Get on the Nice List.
 Who has time for holiday baking? Perhaps more importantly, who has time and the necessary skill set to turn out a variety of beautiful, delicious cookies that will make your friends and family taste the love in every bite? You do.

This is not a pep talk, this is a call to action. A call to action that is going to make you look and feel good.  You'll love the expressions on your friends' and family's faces when you present them with a gorgeous display of delightful confection, and you'll feel even better when you remember that every penny you spent went straight to an organization that is fighting childrens' cancer.

The MKEfoodies have been together for a few years now, and their members all love food.  They are self-professed "food geeks," and if I know one thing about geeks it's this: if you want something done right, get somebody who is as passionate as they are knowledgeable --in short: get a geek. They have teamed up with Cookies for Kids' Cancer to host a bake sale, dreaming of a day when a child's diagnosis of cancer is a manageable inconvenience instead of a bottomless terror. You can help.

It bears repeating: You can help. Come to the bake sale. Buy your holiday cookies this year. OXO, makers of fine kitchen utensils, will match every dollar you spend.  The Glad Corporation will donate $1 for every cookie sold. Get yourself on the nice list, and build a better world.

The event will be held Saturday, December 8 from 12-4pm at the Historic Pabst Brewery, located at 901 W. Juneau Avenue in Milwaukee. For more information, click here.

Let's make this holiday season warmer, knowing we're helping children lead better and longer lives and let us fill each moment with love and gratitude.

Thank you all!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I Hope It Isn't True...

Please, let this be a ploy to sell coasters, I thought. There I was at the gym, reading Cosmoplitan as innocently as it is possible to read a magazine whose cover is plastered with 25 Ways to Kiss Your Man and 8 New Sexual Positions.  I turned the page and saw the word "bartender."

When you're a bartender and somebody says "bartender," you turn toward the word. For me, it's the same with the word in print. I stopped to read an article that is so despicable it is probably true, even though I hope with all my heart it isn't.

Apparently, there is an increasing incidence of bartenders who, for a cash fee, will drug female bar patrons so that their dates can more easily sexually assault them.  Take a minute and let that sink in, because it turned my blood cold. One of the bartenders quoted said he was offered $30 to slip drugs into a woman's drink, accepted the money as though he were playing along, then told her what had happened, gave her the money and had her date ejected.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Or is it? I cannot find any mention of any particular case involving a rape victim who was drugged by any bartender as a service to his or her guest. I don't want to diminish the suffering of any woman who has been victimized in this way, but at the same time I know as well as you do that anecdotes are not evidence.  It bears repeating that I do not in any way wish to diminish the suffering of any woman who has been victimized in this way, because what I'm about to say may seem like the converse. But it isn't.

What short-sighted bartender would risk their reputation for such a paltry sum? What rotten human being would be an accomplice to rape?  Of course it is possible that this actually happens; there are scoundrels in every profession. Yet, there is no record of any bartender having done this, no proof of the existence of this crime except the anecdotal victims' conclusion that "[i]t must have been the bartender because no one else handled my drink," though by all accounts it is possible to commit this crime in less time than it takes to look at a text or visually scan the room.   The article quotes a representative from Project GHB, yet nothing on their website suggests that the danger of a Rape Accomplice is of any concern to them.  So, what are we to deduce?

Of course we should deduce that the world can be a dangerous place and that drinking is always better done with your close friends.  Certainly all females should remain in control of their cocktails and their intoxication. If you want to get bombed, stay home. I don't care who you are, if you're wasted, I don't want to see you.  And even if you don't get G'd, there's still the sticky wicket of getting home in one piece.

I made another observation, however, in researching this article. There are things for sale that are designed to protect women from the cads who would conspire to make us think less of men. Many things. How better to generate interest in your product than to amplify the need for it?  Israeli scientists have developed a device that looks like a straw and is imbued with chemicals that will react to some, though not all, of the sedatives rapists prefer. This product is still in development, but the presence of bad drugs causes a red light to illuminate their presence.  The guys in Tel Aviv are sure investors are coming soon.  Drink Safe Tech is selling a coaster that operates on the same premise, only in this case, droplets of a cocktail will change the appearance of the test area of the coeaster. You can also buy a lipgloss that comes with test strips, and many other products. According to another website, "Date Rape Drugs (are) now being used in business, hotels, parties, restaurants, bars and college campuses everywhere."  I'm not saying they ARE using fear to drive sales, but I'm certainly not saying they aren't. 

Are these products necessary? Probably in some circumstances. Is it possible to avoid every danger? Unfortunately, no. In truth, probably one drink in million or more is adulterated, but when it happens, it is life-changing... I know.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

More on the Future, Behind the Bar

Last week, we talked about the future of cocktails, and this week we will continue this topic. For last week's column, I consulted reports by experts in our industry to see what they think is coming down the line. You've been reading Fun Behind Bars, and you're read me say it so much you can probably say it with me: The Bar Follows the Kitchen. You know this means that the trends in food show up in the bar.  It follows that if we study what's next for food, we can predict our own future. So this week I'm reporting on trends for the kitchen, because you know that we'll be seeing them soon.  I'll be borrowing a few predictions, based on an article about the future of food from the 25th anniversary edition on Cooking Light magazine.

 Welcome to the Golden Age of American Food, they say, and the article describes things that are already happening in your mouth, and if they aren't -- they will soon!. Okay, excessively salacious, but they are happening on farms and in retailers... aaaaaand in your mouth. According to their research, popular opinion and science-in-general, the American diet is an abomination of chemicals, pretty produce that lacks nutrition, and high frustose corn syrup.  What's to come, however, is fresher, better-raised and more delicious. What does that mean for the bar? We will choose our ingredients more thoughtfully, and so will our suppliers. Here are some organic spirits to try, plus an organic tonic.. 

One trend we're watching, and supporting, is going lighter.  This means lighter with calories and easier on the alcohol - sometimes this means we drink better, not more. Sometimes this means we drink lighter-proof beverages like Bethenny Frankel's Skinnygirl line of beverage alcohol. Sometimes we keep the APV, but use lower-calorie mixers like zero-calorie water-additive powders like Crystal Light to fake a margarita on the deck while the kids play and the men barbecue.

The author of the Cooking Light piece describes a surreal experience in the grocery, stunned by the variety and the seemingly-incomprehensible claims on the packaging.  Sound familiar?  To paraphrase a famous quotation, if you're not baffled, you're not paying attention.  There are probably even more crazy flavors of vodka in a decent-sized liquor store than there are sugary cereals on Aisle 6.  It's not just wine's terroir anymore - it's the terroir of the hops, yeast and water. It;'s not just filtered, it's filtered through diamonds.  It's important for the marketers to have a message that hasn't been played to death by other companies, so every new product comes with a novel narrative.  One that plays the best, these days, is that everything comes from right where we are.   Cooking Light's food-trend article really focuses on the importance of eating local.  I've talked about this before, in relation to drinking local, and even staged a cocktail contest to highlight the many products Wisconsin's entrepreneurs are making for us, so what we're going to see is really just a continuation of our present trajectory.  Wisconsin is known as a beer-producer, but Great Lakes Distillery changed the game and now leads the way for brands like Rokker, 44th Parallel, Pie Liqueurs and more.  We're even in the wine game, and not just in Door County; Pieper Porch Winery in Mukwonago is producing award-winning wines right in the heart of the state.

What did we learn?  We learned that there really is no shocking trend to brace for; what's next is an expansion of what we're already doing.  Find new ways to use what's local, and as always, enjoy beverage alcohol safely so you can enjoy it for years to come!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Welcome to the Future

I find inspiration everywhere, but one of my favorite places to look is the future. I seek out the opinions of people whose business it is to know what's next, and today's post is all about what's on deck for 2013.

(Disclaimer: in the American midwest, you will be unusually cutting-edge if you proceed. These predictions are made for the UK, which you know is a bit ahead of our location, though not necessarily ourselves.)

the aged picso punch from nightjar

Bacardi Brown Forman has a vested interest in being ahead of the curve, and their trendspotters see big, sexy garnish, like the one to the left. Garnish can account for 25% of a cocktail's cost, but generally operators do not include this cost in the price of the drink. Consequently, swanky hotel bars are leading the charge on this particular trend, but there are more cost-effective ways to make a big impact. The key is to invest in the proper tools, study technique and be creative. The video below shows what is possible for the creative professional.

Which brings us to another hot trend for 2013: Youtube. We are as likely to learn from a bartender in Japan as we are from our next-door neighbor.  Whether we are learning the history of the Old-Fashioned, how to make an ice ball or virtually any other cocktail-related knowledge - it's all there. If it isn't, make you own instructional video and join the revolution.  One world of caution, however - some sources are better than others, so use your judgment before employing the tactics you learn online.

There are two trends that apply specifically to the people behind the drinks, and each of them is a welcome change.  In recent years, bartenders have become more serious.  It is unavoidable that we should have gone through this phase, as we have all learned so much, so fast. Educating our guests in an endeavor we find so fascinating has been irresistible. However, in 2013, we're bringing the fun back. We are still cocktail professionals, and usually the most knowledgeable people in the bar, when it comes to our craft, but there is a time and place for education, and not every guest is a student.  So bring back your knowledge of sports, current events, jokes and whatever else entertains your guests because fun is back in season! 

The second trend for bar staff is the rise of the female bartender.  We are not new to the game - one of the oldest literary works known to humankind (Gilgamesh) features the Hero getting advice from one of us. For some inexplicable reason, however, for far too long the men have gotten the ink and the limelight, similar to the way the great chefs were expected to be male for decades.  The times, they are a-changin', and women are taking our spots, front and center. If you don't know who Julie Reiner and Audrey Saunders are, you're on notice: your education is incomplete.

Lost in Catering provides the most comprehensive list of trends I think we'll see in Wisconsin, especially as Summer 2013 approaches. Hallelujah for the skinny cocktail, and I don't mean vodka and Diet Coke. I mean interesting cocktails with less sugar but all the flavor.  At some point we choose between liquor and dessert, and by the time we get to that crossroads, we've had plenty of dessert. An easy way to "skinny" a cocktail and improve its flavor all at once is to use fresh-pressed fruit instead of premade mixes. I'm not a fan of artificial sweeteners, preferring to use agave and honey syrups to sweeten drinks when necessary.  Also, I'm personally trending away from sweetness, and more likely to enjoy a tart or bitter profile.

Another of their trends is the use of tea in cocktails, as well as the texture of fizziness.  Here's a recipe that combines these elements, and can be served year-round as it does not rely on fresh mint:
Bourbon Mo-TEA-to
1 oz. Maker's Mark bourbon
1 oz strong Mint Tea syrup
Ginger Beer
To make mint tea syrup, steep 3 teabags in 10 oz. hot water
until strong.  Sweeten with 4 tbls honey.
Combine bourbon and syrup and shake gently, pour over fresh ice in a tub glass and top with Ginger Beer.

Wisconsin is not known for being cutting-edge, but our reputation as a leader in cocktail culture is well-earned and growing. The last trend I'll mention today is artisan spirit.  Made by aficionados, not multinational corporations, these relatively small-batch offerings provide an interesting alternative for cocktails and help support the local economy. In Wisconsin, we are lucky to have companies to Great Lakes Distillery, Travis Hasse's Pie Liqueurs, Death's Door Spirits and a host of others giving us options, and putting us at the forefront of a trend worth following.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Perfectly Seasonal Pomegranate Sazerac

I may never know when to give a cocktail a new name.  Seems like there are a hundreds of thousands of cocktail recipes, and that some of them are only minimally different from each other.  For example, the Martini and the Gibson are kissin' cousins, but you'd never know it from their names, which make them sound worlds apart. At what point is a cocktail sufficiently different from its inspiration as to merit a new name altogether?

Modern mixology, as a para-culinary discipline, is relatively new, but it is here to stay. A couple hundred years ago the first proper cocktails were developed and since then the evolution has taken us to a place where all ingredients are fair game, so long as they are digestible. Bartenders, Liquor Chefs, Mixologists, Mixtresses, Intoxicologists - whatever we call ourselves, we are linked together in a long chain of like-minded artisans working to entertain the palates of our grateful audience.  However, like our brothers and sisters in the back of the house, we know we don't really own our work. We make recipes; we don't own them. We expect that others will modify our work for their enjoyment, and we are generally flattered when our drink shows up in other bars.

So the service offered by CocktailRight seems a little counter-intuitive. For $25, they will register your cocktail and send you a certificate of ownership, suitable for framing.  Will it offer legal protection against another venue's serving your creation? This has not yet been tested, and it would be sort of depressing if it were.

At the same time, I never want to take credit for another person's work. Before announcing a cocktail as my original creation, I search for it online. This only guarantees that I don't find it online. It doesn't guarantee that some gorgeous little bar in Maine or Malibu isn't already serving what I think I created. A Cosmopolitan, a Metropolitan, a Neapolitan: same, but different... different, but the same.

In any case, I feel a twinge of guilt giving a new name to what is, in essence, a variation. Sometimes what is called for is a variation on a name, for a variation on a drink.  In this spirit, I give you the Pomegranate Sazerac.
Pomegranate Sazerac

1 oz. Kinnickinnic Whisky
1 oz. PAMA pomegranate liqueur
5 drops Bittercube Cherry Bark/Vanilla bitters
3 drops Bittercube Jamaican #2 bitters
.25 oz. Pernod
Rinse a cocktail glass with Pernod
Combine and shake all other ingredients
and strain into prepared glass

The thing of it is, it is sufficiently different from a Sazerac that using Sazerac in the name could be disputed, but similar enough that not to acknowledge its lineage feels dishonest. So I find myself at a crossroads again, with no guidepost but my own conscience. In any case, it is a pretty little thing, and quite delicious!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I Just Solved Christmas...

Sometimes, making new drinks is an arduous process that begins long before you ever get behind the bar, before you ever pick up a mixing tin.  Admittedly, very little of what we do is actually original, we borrow this technique from the past, that ingredient from the kitchen.  However, when I'm working on something fresh,  I spend time in liquor and grocery stores, in the pages of great mixology books by professionals likeTony Abou-Ganim and gaz regan.  I look online for inspiration in other people's work, their recipes and blogs. Sometimes, that's how it goes. Other times, it just hits me like a lightning bolt; the kind of obviously great idea that just clicks into place and I know it's going to be great before I even get started.

Why hasn't anyone made Peanut Butter Irish Cream?

I knew it before I even finished the thought: this is going to be delicious.

A couple of Decembers ago, I had a coworker who made fresh Irish cream and gave it to us as Christmas gifts. It was good. It was so good that when there was an extra one, I quickly volunteered to give it a good home, aaaand drank it all before the New Year. (I shared.) (Grudgingly). I loved her recipe, and for years I tried to get it out of her.  Every shift I picked up for her, I asked her for the recipe, to return my favor.  Every time Irish Cream came up in conversation. I don't doubt it was tiresome and sadly, I can assure you my efforts to make her want to tell me failed.  I eventually gave up, decided she was crazy, let the whole thing go.

And then this thing occurred to me, and I couldn't get to the interwebs fast enough.  I needed a basic recipe for Irish Cream.  I am basically lazy, so when I need this sort of thing, I find as many recipe variations as seems reasonable.  Then I make a chart of all possible ingredients and mark it up to show which ingredients they mostly have in common.  Then I have a skeleton to build onto, tweaking and updating.

I made the following masterpiece using that same springboard, and tried to dial back its fat content without sacrificing its deliciousness.

You will need...
3 14-oz cans of Eagle brand Lowfat Sweetened Condensed Milk
2 c. Better'n Eggs
4 tbls.Hershey's Dark Chocolate Syrup
4 tbls. Smucker's Naturals Creamy Peanut Butter
4 c. Jameson Irish Whiskey
2 tbls. Lavazza  Espresso Powder
2 tbls. Real Vanilla Extract

Blend and chill.

(The only problem? Having it around the house - it's very seductive....)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Autumn Cocktails from the Waukesha Chancery

It's that time of year again... a chill in the air, trees turning into fireworks displays of red, purple, orange and yellow, and the time when we generally switch from white liquor to brown. Whether it gets its color and flavor from spice or the barrel, heartier spirits come to the forefront in drinks both warm and cold.  This week I rolled out the Autumn Drinks menu, and they are overall a little simpler to prepare than the Summer Cocktails because in these parts, the harvest season is over. No trips to the garden for this menu, but a few surprises nonetheless.  We feature two infusions for this menu; one of them is simple, one of them is remarkably simple.

The first drink to feature an infusion is the Perfect Cherry Beam Manhattan, and it calls for Door County Cherry-infused Jim Beam.  This take on bourbon is so fruity and delicious it has become a staple around our bar.  You recall it was used in a Limeade this summer, which was published by Cheers Magazine.  This time around we temper it with vermouth and mellow it with Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla bitters.

Perfect Cherry Beam Manhattan
2 oz. Door County Cherry-Infused Jim Beam
.5 oz. Sweet Vermouth
.5 oz. Dr Vermouth
7 drops Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla bitters
Build in a shaker, stir to combine. Serve on the rocks, in a tub. Garnish with three cherries from the original infusion.

Door County Cherry-infused Jim Beam
4 c. Door County Cherries
1 btl. Jim Beam
Combine and let rest up to one week. Begin tasting at three days as infusion times can vary according to temperature, humidity and light conditions.

The next drink is built around Korbel brandy. 1/3 of all Korbel sold in the world comes to Wisconsin, and its fruit flavors are further enhanced by the addition of another Wisconsin favorite, schnapps, in this season's Korbel and Peach.

Korbel and Peach
2 oz. Korbel brandy
1 oz, Bols Peach Schnapps
.5 oz. Turbinado Syrup
Juice of two lemon wedges
Shake and strain into a tub glass. Serve on the rocks with a lemon twist.

The next drink employs the easiest infusion I have ever made. I know that using real vanilla extract will seem heretical to the purists, but if you work behind the bar, you know that if you go to Good Harvest and the grocery and neither has vanilla beans, and you do not have time to go to Penzey's, well, you roll with what you've got. So I did. And it's so good I'm currently kicking it up a notch by aging it in the tiniest barrel I ever saw. Stop in and visit and I'll give you a sample - it's that good!

Apple Crisp
1 oz. Five Spice & Vanilla-infused Gosling's rum
1 oz. Three Olives brand Cake flavored vodka
.75 oz. Bols Butterscotch liqueur
2 oz. Apple juice
Shake all the spirit and strain into chilled Cocktail glass, top with Apple Juice

Five Spice &Vanilla-infused Gosling's Rum
2 tbls Chinese Five Spice Powder
1 sm. btl. Real Vanilla Extract
1 btl. Gosling's rum
Combine and let rest 24-72 hours, tasting after 24 hours.

Parents don't have favorites. having favorites among children can damage the self-esteem of the unfavored child(ren), and stunt the progress of the favored child. Cocktails are tougher than children and that's one of about a hundred reasons that cocktails are better than kids. This is my favorite:

Chivas Fling
1.5 oz. Chivas scotch whisky
.5 oz. Sweet Vermouth
7 drops Bittercube Blood Orange bitters
Build in shaker and stir to combine. Serve in a tumbler, on the rocks. Orange twist garnish.

I dream about a dessert menu, composed entirely of dessert cocktails. Just five or so, chocolatey, fruity, savory, creamy and delicious. The last drink on the Autumn Cocktail menu could fit the bill.  I called it "Modern Love" because it features the flavors we seem to love the most: chocolate and coffee.
           Modern Love
1 oz. Three Olives brand Triple Espresso vodka
2 oz. Bols Dark Creme de Cacao
1 oz. Bols White Creme de Cacao
1 oz. Dairy Cream
Chill a cocktail glass and then drizzle it with chocolate.
Shake and strain. Float three coffee beans in the glass.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

It's Not What It Looks Like!

Don't let the pictures fool you: this is not a post about Christmas. It is a post about the rewards of working with a team to produce an event that is memorable and special.  I have a fair bit of experience with this, and am proud of the work I've participated in, and its results.

I've helped execute large events off and on for the last four years, but there is something different about being the originator of the event.  In the past, I have been a footsoldier at weddings, seminars, wedding- and baby showers, and been one of Santa's Sweatshop Elves for an entire season.  What they all have in common are two things.  First, there is a moment of tornadic chaos every time, where I feel like we have completely lost control of the event.  Second, the chaos is followed by a supreme satisfaction, when everything is settled and the guests are enjoying themselves, oftentimes in ways unforeseen by the planners.  They are smiling and laughing and chatting and sometimes dancing, and their happiness is my happiness.  The gorgeous cakes, the beautiful brides, and I confess the Father-Daughter Dance gets me every time.

But one of my favorite memories of working hard in a group to make something special for others was a different sort of event altogether.  It is the moment when, after about 13 hours of heavy lifting, intricate lighting and mental toughness, we finally lit the 40-foot tree we'd erected in the pond at Northwestern Mutual's downtown location. Exhausted from a long day hauling boxes of tree parts, climbing scaffolds, fingers aching from putting thousands of lights on the tree, we flopped down, shellshocked and worn out. It was dark in the lobby, the sun having gone down fast like it does in December and we all marvelled at what our teamwork produced.  It was only one part of their Holiday design, but it will always be the greatest thing we did that year, to me.

This old picture, taken on a flip-phone, can't do justice to the peaceful feeling and pride of work we felt that night. 

I've got another event coming up this weekend, and it's quite different in many ways.  I conceived it months ago, and have spent countless hours preparing for its success with my co-workers, promoting it (in my abundant free time...), and now it's right around the corner.

The Great Sconnie Sip-Off will be held in the Waukesha Chancery bar on Saturday, September 15 at 7pm. When it first occurred to me to host a cocktail competition using only ingredients made in Wisconsin, I could never have imagined that way people around me would embrace the challenge, and the challenges of coordinating an event like this. I am grateful especially to all the Chancery mixologists that creatively invented new cocktails, our celebrity judges Guy Rehorst, Angie West and Ira Koplowitz, my co-workers Kahara, Togie and Ro and our treasured guests who will sample these drinks to choose the People's Choice Award.

Right now, the drinks have been created and vetted for compliance, judges are lined up, prizes are in our possession and we are all clear on the plan. We look forward to seeing you all on Saturday night and thank you for having this fun with us!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Even Better


There is good, and then there is better.
You recall that awhile back I wrote about Eben Freeman's fat-washing technique to impart the flavors of any fat to any spirit. Brown butter rum, peanut butter bourbon, bacon vodka: there is no limit.

All the buzz these days is about bacon, but I expect this will change, as all things do. In the meantime, let a vegetarian teach you an even better way to infuse your spirit of choice with the smoky, meaty flavor of bacon.

Last week I was working on a cocktail for my upcoming competition, the Great Sconnie Sip-Off. The cantaloupe shrub came out nicely, as did the cucumber vodka, but the lavender rock-candy failed to perform in time for the preliminary trials. At the last minute I was left with nothing to present. I did what you would have done: I improvised.

I had some Roaring Dan's Maple Flavored rum in the house, and I bought some bacon. I used Freeman's technique of pouring the fat of the bacon into the spirit to give it bacon's flavor. It gave it smokiness, but it lacked umami. I bought more rum. I bought more bacon.

That night at work, I met a man who claims he makes the best bacon on earth. "What is your secret?" I asked breathlessly. He told me, and I will tell you. Cook it like barbecue: low and slow, paying careful attention to each slice as an individual. It took forever, but what I produced was bacon as gorgeous as any I have seen in life.

I put the fat and the bacon in the jar with the Maple-Flavored rum and what resulted was a spirit I knew would pass muster. Just to be sure, I brought it to my co-worker, Jo Curley. The girl loves bacon not in the obsessional way of hipsters, but in the true way of a connoisseur. She was hesitant to try it, worried I would have wasted perfectly good bacon. She was satisfied, but I was not. I riddled her with a machine-gun volley of questions. Does it taste like bacon? Is it weird? Is it good?

According to Jo, I hit the nail on the head. This is how I did it:

You will need one package of Patrick Cudahy Bacon, one bottle of Roaring Dan's Maple Flavored Rum and the patience to cook that bacon very slowly. You will also need a clean canning jar large enough to hold it all. Pour the rum into the jar, put the cooked, cooled bacon and its fat into the jar and let it sit on the counter in your kitchen overnight. The next day, put the jar in the freezer to separate out the fat. Spoon off the fat and remove the bacon. Strain the liquid through cheesecloth, and then through coffee filters until it is clear and lovely. That is all.

In case you wondered what kind of cocktail I made with it, it is pictured above, and its recipe follows.

Bacon Cocktail

1.5 oz. Bacon Infused Roaring Dan's Rum
.5 oz. Anderson's Maple Syrup
8 drops Bittercube Orange Bitters
Sprecher Ginger Ale
Combine rum, maple syrup and bitters in your mixing tin and shake. Pour into cocktail glass and top with ginger ale. Garnish with bacon.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Inside the Process

It was a perfect day... the first day the heat broke. I was driving with the windows down. My dog, Chloe, was adorably barking her fool head off at everything in creation and all felt right with the world. I have passed this cute little farmstand a couple of times a week since the beginning of summer and meant to stop. Today was my day.

I pulled off the road and unloaded the dog and we walked across the warm gravel toward a young mother and her two children and the whole thing could hardly have been more Norman Rockwell if there had been two boys headed off the the fishin' hole. It was perfect. I had already decided to buy whatever she was selling; thanks to our recent drought the selection was somewhat limited. Limited, but locally-grown and beautiful.

I bought a couple of bags of produce and went on my way and I didn't think any more of it. I'm coordinating a cocktail competition and have a lot on my mind -- most of all my mixology block. I plan and execute whole menus of cocktails, seasonally -- this little thing should be no problem. All I had to do was invent a cocktail using only ingredients from the Great State of Wisconsin. I love cocktails. I love Wisconsin. It should have been a snap.

Slowly, it all came together. The fresh cucumbers I bought at the farmstand went into a jar of Rehorst vodka, which they softened and to which they imparted a fresh, green flavor. With no real plan in mind, I then made some lavender-infused sugar.

I've been growing some lavender out back of the bar. Lavender infused sugar is as simple as putting lavender in a bag and letting time do the work. Remember when I wrote about oleo saccharum? I was surprised to see the sugar is getting ever-so-slightly melted from the essential oils in the flowers, just like the lemon oil melts the baker's sugar.

Then I melted the sugar in boiling water to make a supersaturated simple syrup which should crystallize into rock candy - remember rock candy? Rock candy, being supersaturated, is exponentially sweeter than simple syrup, Mine, having begun with herb-infused sugar, then having that same herb added at the end of boiling, will -- cross your fingers -- should have a big lavender flavor to match so that a little will go a long way.

I think it will need an acidifier to balance it out and then we should be in business. Brennan's has some nice Wisconsin canteloupe and I'm thinking shrub...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dy's Rum Punch is Easy, Fresh and Delicious

There is more than one way to skin a cat. Well, that's just gross... There's more than one way to make rum punch. There are so many ways to make rum punch that, um, I'm sure there's a formula to calculate this, but in the words of my man Jake Gaylord, "I was told there would be no math...." There will, however, be mixology.
But first, the basics about punch, a little etymology and a little history. The etymology is meant to give you some confidence about tailoring this recipe to your own tastebuds, and the history will hopefully give you a sense of this fine drink's longevity.

The word "punch" comes from the Hindi word for "five." The five in question are: spirit, sugar, citrus, spice and water. As long as you employ these ingredients, you will have made punch. The drink itself has a certain romance to it, having been popularized in the 1600's by the British East India Trading Company. It is usually served communally, in a large, wide bowl. I think it's a perfect way to please a large number of guests without too much work during the event.

First thing's first: this recipe calls for grenadine. Don't buy grenadine. Make grenadine. It's easy. It is such a remarkable improvement over the dull-flavored, red-colored schmoo typically sold as grenadine that to use it in this recipe or any other is a dirty shame.

Easy Grenadine

1 qt. Pomegranate Juice (like POM)
2 c. sugar
Boil the ingredients, then cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Let cool, then pour into a clean, dry bottle.

Some sources call for 2 dashes of orange flower water, but I think this is optional. Not optional for your home bar is an ounce of vodka, for preservation. There's no point having such a delicious ingredient just to let it spoil!

Rum Punch
1 oz. Myers' Dark Rum
1 oz. Bacardi Rum
2 oz. Fresh Orange Juice
2 oz. Fresh Pineapple Juice
1/4 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
3/4 oz. Fresh Grenadine

Combine all ingredients and shake, serve over ice.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Happy Birthday BETA!

Happy first birthday BETA!

Beta by Sabor has been around for an entire year and to celebrate they have some great specials for the month of August.

$1 gets you an order of Beta's world famous Chicken Waffles
You can beat the heat with frozen cocktails of the week blended in their one-of-a-kind NitroCream machine (if you haven't seen this thing in action it's a must)
Half-off handcrafted cocktails from 4:31 - 6:01 pm everyday

If you haven't checked out Beta by Sabor yet, now is the time!

Here is an interview EatMKE did with Chef Mitch the creative force behind Beta. 

This week we sat down with one of Milwaukee's best Chef's; Executive Chef Mitch Ciohon of Sabor and Beta by Sabor. Enjoy the interview.

How did you get your start in the kitchen?

I started in the kitchen when I was 14 years old. I made sundaes and burgers at The Kiltie in Oconomowoc. My love for cooking and spending time in the kitchen with my grandma grew in my time there. 

After going to college for hockey, I moved back to Milwaukee and started working at Gil’s Café on the eastside when I was 20 years old. Right away, I fell back in love with the kitchen.   

Where else have you worked?

The Kiltie
Gil’s Café as sous chef
River Walk Bistro as sous chef
Sabor Brazilian Churrascaria as sous chef
Iron Horse Hotel as sous chef
Sabor & Beta by Sabor as executive chef

When did working in restaurants change from “just a job” to a career?

The change happened for me when I was at Gil’s Café. I started as a line cook, but very quickly realized how passionate I was about the kitchen and cooking. A lot of the things I was learning just made sense and I caught on really quickly, which gave me that feeling of, “holy shit, I think this is what I am supposed to do with my life.”  So I rolled the dice and here we are.

What is your passion in the kitchen?

I have a serious love affair with food – the ingredients are the key. I get so excited about the things I get to cook, especially the ingredients I grow myself or forage in the beautiful woods of Wisconsin. For me, that is where my passion comes from. Nothing to me is more exciting and gratifying than finding a beautiful morel mushroom in the woods and knowing you can eat it; or pulling a sun warmed tomato and eating it in your garden. Those are the kinds of things that do it for me. Getting excited leads to the ideas that start bubbling in my head, trying new things and the great results (not all the time – trial and error).

I also find happiness in teaching and sharing my craft with those around me. I have been lucky to have a great team here at Sabor and Beta by Sabor to help with everything we do. And don’t let me forget the huge amount of passion and drive that comes from my family; I am always trying to make them proud and happy!

What do you think of local food sourcing? Passing fad, serious trend, or way of the future?

Local food sourcing is a serious trend and way of the future. I love supporting the farmers and learning about where ingredients come from. It’s also good to learn about the farmer, farm and its history. Then, when a guest asks me about something, I can give some background on it. I think it enriches the dinning experience, makes it more romantic.

Another way of the future is the urban farm/city gardening. I think it is going to get pretty big. Luckily, with Will Allen near us, we are on the forefront in that area. I feel like that is a neglected idea for downtown restaurants.

Who are your top go to vendors for locally sourced food and what do you use them for?

I currently source from almost 20 local farms/purveyors:

Bernard (a personal contact and farmer)
Bolzano Artisan Meats
Braise RSA
Clock Shadow Creamery
Hometown Sausage Kitchen
A personal contact for honey
Local farmers markets
One Guerrilla Farmer
Sassy Cow Creamery
Strauss Farms
Sweet Water Organics
Sysco, who has a great relationship with Growing Power
Underground Kitchen
V. Marchese
Yuppie Hill Poultry

How do you incorporate this into your menu?

As mentioned above, I get excited about local sourcing and that leads to the ideas that start bubbling in my head, trying new things and the great results.

The seasons have a significant impact on what is available here in Wisconsin, but when the time is right for certain ingredients I build menu items around it. At Beta we have the opportunity to change things often – pending product availability, new ideas and popular items on the menu. Lucky for us, the local products make frequent changes easy.

What are your favorite dishes on the menu at the moment?

The Cheeky (braised veal and seared halibut cheek) is my favorite.

Seared scallops on bacon and fried banana puree with green grape gastrique is another gem. I enjoy the different flavor combo on this one, all the flavors really work well together.

Fresh pork rinds – This is one of my most simple dishes, but I love it.  Crispy little pillows of pork goodness.

Everything on the menu is tested and modified to perfection, that’s part of the fun! I can honestly say I like each item. If I didn’t like every item on the menu, I’d be selling myself short.

People know you use liquid nitrogen for some of your desserts and cocktails what other uses have you found for it in the kitchen?

We use the NitroCream Machine for desserts. That’s where it fits best, but there are certainly other uses for it in the kitchen. The heirloom radish salad is topped with liquid nitrogen frozen peanuts and golden raisins. They are then blended with a coffee grinder into a super flavored dust.

I like dusts – We use bacon dust to flavor the scallop dish and the pork rinds. What better flavor to put with pork than pork? We cook the bacon, blot the fat off, freeze and grind to use as the most perfect bacon “bits” ever. We use the machine for all of our powders – onion, garlic, tomato, and jalapeno, just to name a few. We dehydrate the produce and then freeze and blend it. When it’s frozen, it breaks up really well.

I’m looking forward to bringing back the tomato salad this summer, which is sprinkled with fresh mozzarella powder, oils and balsamic. You can swirl together your own mozzarella and balsamic vinaigrette on the plate.

Any big plans or dreams for the future?

To keep working with as many local farmers as logically possible and get together with some other chefs to start the Milwaukee Chef Alliance. The alliance will make it easier for everyone to work together and put a star on the map for Milwaukee in food culture. 
To continue doing our best here at Beta, bringing fun new cocktails and food to the growing Milwaukee food and drink scene.

Most of all, just to have a good time and smile …the food tastes better when you’re happy!

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