Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Great Sconnie Sip-Off, September 2012

Think Globally, Drink Locally

I read a magazine article about the Four Seasons Hotel chain where they challenged their bars in the Americas to come up with cocktails using only ingredients from within a hundred-mile radius. I was inspired by this competition and I thought up one of my own: The Great Sconnie Sip-Off. I've expanded the field of supply to the entire State of Wisconsin and invited all the bars in our small chain to compete against mine.

It's true that the bar follows the kitchen, so the Locavore Movement's appearance in the bar should come as a surprise to no one. What we do in the bar is everyday more informed by techniques and ingredients used in the back of the house. In the past, there was a bright line delineating the two areas, maybe we shared a blender but they had recipes and we had formulas. Now, we have both. Bartenders head into the kitchen to make their own bitters, syrups, shrubs, tinctures and the like and to gather fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs for infusions of every type of spirit. In recent years, chefs have begun to source their ingredients locally, and consequently we do the same. The Locavore Movement couldn't be hotter.

Locavores are interested in eating food that is locally produced, instead of traveling long distances to market. The benefits of this style of dining are manifold; less shipping makes "eating local" (or in this case "drinking local") easier on the environment, ingredients arrive fresher, farmer's markets support the communities they represent and interacting with the producers of our food gives us a psychological connection to the earth and each other. Local eating is a movement, not a trend.

The Great Sconnie Sip-Off will be held at the Waukesha Chancery on September 15th, 2012 at 7pm. It is open to the public and will be judged by Guy Rehorst of Great Lakes Distillery, Angie West of Alcoholmanac Magazine, Ira Koplowitz of Bittercube Bitters, Drew Wintermyer of and one surprise guest judge. Also, all guests will be invited to sample the entries and vote for the People's Choice.

This event will be held twice a year, and will in the future be open to teams from other bars. If your bar is interested in competing, you are a producer of an ingredient you'd like us to consider, or if you are an industry professional with an interest in judging this event in the future, please contact me.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Learn How to Drink
The short answer is, "You drank too much."

The long answer is, "The ethanol in your drinks is converted into aldehydes, carbon dioxide, water and adenosine triphosphate by your liver. The breakdown of ethanol continues. Alcohol dehydrogenase converts it to acetaldehyde, then aldehyde dehydrogenase converts it to acetic acid with a biochemical oxidizing agent nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide."

Whether you like your bad news geeky or simplified, too much of a good thing is still too much. Improper use of beverage alcohol can cause you some symptoms nobody wants: headaches, dizziness, nausea, slurred speech, amnesia, loss of motor coordination, loss of consciousness, loss of pain perception, You can lose your ability to voluntarily respond to external stimuli, your cardiovascular regeneration and you can die.

But drinking is fun, so you better learn how.

The key to your success with alcohol is to learn to enjoy its subtle effects. I am writing this in Wisconsin, and everybody knows the Sconnie reputation for idiotic disregard of the common-sense rules for drinking beverage alcohol. Whether or not you live in the Great State of Wisconsin, drunkenness results from consumption beyond your body's ability to metabolize ethanol.

The ability to metabolize alcohol varies from person to person. There are some generalized guidelines, however. Small people and females get drunk faster than big people, particularly males. Some people are genetically predisposed to handle alcohol better. (If you think this means you, it probably doesn't.) Sick and depressed people get drunk faster, which I suspect has something to do with Darwin, because sick and depressed people have no business drinking in the first place. I am hesitant to include this, so I am sorry to say that it is possible for a person to build up a tolerance for alcohol. It must needs be said, however, that no person can drink so much or so often as to be impervious to its effects.

There are a few things you can do to avoid drunkenness. One, you should dilute the alcohol you drink, preferably with water or a sports drink. A "side sipper" to alternate with whatever you are drinking is a fine idea and a thoughtful gift to oneself. Two, when you pour the alcohol from the glass into your mouth, hold your breath and then exhale through your nose when swallowing. The alcohol vapor lingers atop the liquid surface of the drink, and exhaling it will prevent taking it into your body. Three, swallow immediately. There are medicines with molecules larger than alcohol's that are administered under the tongue, so it can reasonably be assumed that letting alcohol linger in your mouth can increase its rate of absorption. Finally, eat before drinking, eat during drinking and don't go to bed on an empty stomach. The rate of absorption depends on how quickly the stomach empties; the faster your stomach empties, the more quickly alcohol is absorbed. Furthermore, the classical "morning-after foods," which are high in fat can decrease the rate at which the stomach empties. The magic is works like this: high-fat foods make the body release the hormone "enterogastrone" from the duodenum, which inhibits the peristalsis in the stomach, slowing down digestion.

But if it is too late, and your hangover is a fait accompli, your body will need to detoxify itself. I presume you know to drink plenty of fluids before retiring, and there is no shortage of anecdotal advice for speeding recovery. Personally, I believe in sports-recovery drinks like Gatorade, the power of breakfast and a multivitamin, a hot bath and a day spent catnapping on the couch.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

This One's For the Ladies...

Until the 1970's, cooking in the home was, as it had been for millennia, "women's work." Paradoxically, the so-called "great" chefs were all men. The home kitchen was a woman's natural environment, but a professional kitchen was considered a more macho milieu. Not until Julia Child, the first celebrity female chef, did women come out of the kitchen and, um, get into the kitchen.  The TV kitchen, that is, teaching American cooking enthusiasts how to create meals they never had before.

40 years later, I find myself facing the same question our foremothers did: Why are all the "great" bartenders men? You know who they are: Gary Regan, Dale DeGroff, Tony Abou-Ganim, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Tony Conigliaro - I could go on and on.  They work in the swankiest bars, publish authoritative books, appear as guests on TV shows, lead seminars and enjoy a practically classical old-boy network.  Now, nobody's saying that there are no women tending bar, or succeeding doing it; no female gets more press than Julie Reiner.  (Possibly Ada Coleman, but no living female bartender is more famous than Julie Reiner.)  In the 21st century, there is room for all, and so why are the females so scarce?

It sounds like a feminist question, and the feminists are quick to commit the straw man fallacy, telling the tale of female who is unsuited to bartending it's because hospitality hours are so long, or so late and child care can be difficult to coordinate.  It's because this woman, who naturally wants to have a baby, is smarter to have a job with (gasp!) health insurance benefits. It's because the work is hard, and requires her to lift heavy things. The fact of the matter is that we do not all want children, all children have fathers to share the work of rearing them and parents have been wrestling this problem long enough that I think it's about as solved as it can reasonably be expected to be. I reject the notion that our biology is holding us back.

I hate to disappoint, but unlike the feminists, I do not pretend to know the answer to this question. There are some clues, however. The kitchen follows the bar, and if we look to the evolution of the female chef, we cannot underestimate the importance of the moving picture.  TV changed a lot of things in the 70's, and making female chefs famous was one thing. For one reason or another, people like to watch women. I could enumerate all the reasons, but I think you could, too. Now everyone with even a passing interest in cooking can name famous chefs like Cat Cora, Paula Deen, Giada Di Laurentiis, Ann Burrell, Ina Garten, Nigella Lawson - this list goes on and on. I predict we will one day be able to rattle off such a list of female mixologists.

Part of this evolution will come from an acceptance that spirit is not just a vehicle of inebriation. Spirit has flavors, textures, colors (and yes, effects) that delight the senses. Spirit complements food, awakening hunger and playing nicely upon the palate. Another component will be the aforementioned visual one, and more importantly, an outlet for these images (perhaps a Drinks Network?).  It wouldn't hurt to have more of us in the industry who are pulling things along, and to remember that there really is room for us all.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What I'm Drinking at Home

c. dy godsey
In reality, I will drink just about anything you put in front of me.  As a professional bartender,  I taste everything our distributors bring in for me to try.  I taste drinks as I develop them for publication, for entry in competition and for the bar I work behind. As a fan of cocktails, I constantly ask for a drinks menu when I'm out, so I can taste other people's creations.  I am almost never sorry, always inspired and oftentimes delighted.

You will need a shaker, some ice, Rehorst vodka and a little sake to make this beauty.

My Favorite Martian
2.5 oz. Rehorst Vodka
.5 oz. Yaegaki Sake
Fill shaker halfway with ice, add liquid ingredients.
Shake for 60 seconds on the clock (it will look like the silver lining of a cloud when it's cold enough).
Strain into cocktail glass and carry on....
The drink of choice might look like a Martini, but around the house we call it a Martian, and we're pretty loose about how you like it.  By now, everybody knows the history of the classic cocktail whose elegant glassware popularly bears its name. The Martian has its own history.  Back before I started bartending, my sister made it a New Year's Resolution to try a new cocktail every month. That year we made rickeys and toddies and and all types of things, but the Grey Goose Martini took hold and got re-christened shortly thereafter.  Now it is a tradition when my sisters are all together, and it's a clean, easy go-to in between.

The Kangaroo, or Vodka Martini, can be made with any vodka. Not in this house, but technically it can.   Historically, we made ours with Grey Goose.  I recently discovered how perfectly suited is the Rehorst to my preferred formula (below), and I also like to buy the occasional "surprise" bottle, like Australia's CooranBong.
But when I'm clocked out, at home and making a cocktail for myself, my tastes are very simple.  I'm not a Fernet-drinking hipster, nor am I simmering a complicated batch of bitters or syrup. I'm Plain Jane. It has been said that I am so uncomplicated as to be practically a single-celled organism (which I find strangely flattering).