Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gravlax Is Easy To Make, and Will Impress Your Guests

Salt, sugar, white peppercorns, and dill are all that’s needed to make the divine Scandinavian cured salmon dish known as gravlax.

When I was in my twenties, I lived with a woman named Erika Worm (it’s pronounced vorm) who showed me the way around a professional kitchen. We lived in her family’s big house on a lake, and Erika cooked as if she were made for the task. As a result of her mom’s catering spell, not only was she blessed with the skills to rival a Top Chef, we had the run of a two-Viking-range kitchen with all the bells and whistles. I would watch her make dish after dish, probing her with questions about temperature, taste, and plating. Later in life, when I was the master of my own kitchen (read nonprofessional), I would try to replicate her dishes. One dish that stood out — one that did not even involve any cooking — was her recipe for gravlax.

Gravlax, slices of salt and sugar–cured salmon that have lightly soaked up the essence of fresh dill, is actually quite easy to make, and I remembered this distinctly. I think Erika called it a no-brainer that looks really impressive on the buffet table. All one needs to do is obtain a fresh piece of salmon, preferably one with the skin still on, and with a close-to-uniform thickness (the center cut works best), rub it with the cure, cover it with fresh dill, and let it sit for a day. How’s that for a no-brainer? I can already hear the wheels spinning in your head. You’re asking yourself where you can buy the freshest piece of salmon because you want to make this for your New Year’s Day brunch.

After you blanket the salmon with the salt and sugar cure, cover it with bunches of fresh dill.

Slicing the gravlax once it’s cured is really the only tricky part. Just make sure you have a thin-bladed and extremely sharp knife at the ready. Have some chilled champagne ready, as you will want to serve your beautiful creation with some bubbly. We recently enjoyed some gravalax with a passion fruit bellini made with thawed passion fruit (maracuja in Portuguese or lilikoi in Hawaiian) puree we always get from a Brazilian shop on 46th Street in Manhattan called Buzios. It also comes in a bottle. You can probably get it at a specialty market that stocks ethnic foods, but if not, you may have to ask your grocer to stock it.

Gravlax with Mustard Dill Sauce
(inspired by recipes by Erika Worm, Marcus Samuelsson, and Ina Garten)



1 1/2 – 2 pounds salmon fillet (skin on, thick center cut)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups salt
2 tablespoons white peppercorns, coarsely ground (use less if you only have black peppercorns)
2 bunches fresh dill (reserve a handful for the sauce)
optional ground spices (such as cumin, caraway, coriander, aniseed, dill seed, juniper berries), in any combination and amount (this is not necessary, and is only suggested if you like to experiment)

In a bowl, mix the sugar, salt, and peppercorns (and any other spices if you are using them). Place the salmon in a glass dish and remove any pin bones. You can locate them by running your fingers over the flesh where the natural separation occurs. Remove with your fingers or a pair of clean bottlenose pliers. Scoop up some of the mixture with your hand and rub all over the salmon, skin included. Place the salmon in a glass dish, and cover with the remainder of the mixture. Then, cover the salmon with the dill so that you don’s see any of the salmon. Press down gently. Let stand at room temperature for 5 hours, 6 maximum. Cover, and refrigerate for about 24–48 hours, the thicker the salmon, the longer the curing time.

Remove the gravlax from the dish (it will be swimming in all the liquid the salt cure has leached from it, and it should smell slightly metallic and briny underneath the dill). Discard the dill, and quickly rinse the gravlax under cold water until the mixture has been washed away. Do not saturate the gravlax. Place the gravlax on a cutting board and with a sharp knife cut thin slices across the grain.

Serve with mustard dill sauce and slices of bagel, or brown bread, or crisp rye bread. Sides of capers, sliced red onion, and lettuce leaves will be appreciated as well. Best eaten within 4 days.

Mustard Dill Sauce (aka hovmästarsås or gravlaxsås)


1 tablespoon honey mustard
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 cup oil, such as grapeseed or other neutral-tasting oil
salt and white pepper, to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

In a bowl, or preferably a standing mixer, add all the ingredients except the oil. While mixing vigorously or with the mixer on high, slowly drizzle the oil in steadily. Mix until it thickens.

Passion Fruit Bellini

1/2 tablespoon passion fruit puree
1/2 teaspoon simple syrup*
3–4 ounces champagne, prosecco, or any sparkling wine

In a champagne flute, add the passion fruit puree and the simple syrup. Top with chilled champagne.

* In a sauce pan over low heat, dissolve 1 cup sugar in 1 cup water, stirring occasionally until all crystals have dissolved. Let cool and transfer to a clean, airtight container. May be kept in refrigerator for up to a month.

Text by Paul Zablocki
Photos by Steve Schul and Paul Zablocki

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bold New Campari Recipes That Go Way Beyond Negronis and Americanos

How beautiful. The Black Currant Sparkler gets its kick from Campari, the classic Italian aperitivo.

If you’re familiar with Campari, that glowing red aperitivo that’s used in a classic Negroni and Americano, you know it pulls no punches. It’s either love at first sip, or, well, let’s not even go there. For you see, knowing how to mix this bittersweet orange amaro is a skill worth seeking out, and we have five recipes, from five of New York’s most noteworthy mixologists, sure to make your trip to the liquor store worth it.

The lovely Hanna Lee, of Hanna Lee Communications, a lady who knows how to throw one helluva party, invited us to attend Campari’s “Life with a Twist: Aperitivo and Beyond” at NYC’s Silver Lining, where these five esteemed bartenders shook and stirred their creations for an eager crowd of thirsty (and hungry) imbibers. Creative and traditional food, along with some holiday flash, adorned each bar, and Campari revelers got the chance to chat with the men and women behind the sticks to find out how they came up with the recipes (each created three drinks).

Paul got to shoot the breeze with Dushan Zaric, mastermind cocktail creator at Employees Only and the Macao Trading Co., whose Malena cocktail blew his mind. Dushan, who has a strong culinary background, revealed to Paul two secrets behind the success of this drink’s ever-changing long finish: using an easy-to-mix rye that does not impart too much oakiness, and the few drops of orange blossom (or orange flower) water that unite the ingredients, thus extending the finish. We tried making this at home with another rye just to see how different it could possibly be, and it indeed was. We will be using Wild Turkey 101 exclusively for this drink from now on.

Steve spoke with the charming Christy Pope, of Cuffs & Buttons Cocktail Catering, who explained that she approached her dessert cocktails with a light hand on the sugar. Most of us associate dessert drinks with heavy cream and lots of sweet liqueurs, but Christy decided to focus on flavor rather than calorie content. Her Black Currant Sparkler lit up the bar with its blend of gin, prosecco, and Campari, lightly embellished with a purple orchid and a spritz of white crème de cacao and vanilla extract to add aroma. Heavenly.

So, if you love Campari, dive right in to these five glorious recipes, all perfect for different occasions. If you’ve had reservations in the past because you thought Campari was too bitter, don’t be afraid. You’ll wipe away these fears with a few sips of these masterly cocktails.

Aged Spirits Cocktail
(created by by Dushan Zaric)

1 ounce Campari
1 ounce Wild Turkey 101 rye whiskey
3/4 ounce ruby port
5 drops of orange blossom water (aka orange flower water)
2 dashes of orange bitters
ground cinnamon, as garnish
orange half-wheel, as garnish

Stir all ingredients, except orange blossom water, in a mixing glass briefly. Add 5 drops orange blossom water over ice in rocks glass. Strain liquid in mixing glass into rocks glass. Garnish with ground cinnamon and an orange half-wheel.

Brunch Cocktail
Roasted Orange Sbagliato
(created by Joe Campanale)

1 1/4 ounces Campari
1 ounce sweet red vermouth
1 1/4 ounce Lambrusco Bianco, or other sparkling white wine
1 roasted orange wedge

Place the roasted orange wedge in a mixing glass and add vermouth. Muddle the two so that the charred bits are released into the vermouth. Add Campari and ice, and shake hard. Strain into a wine glass filled with ice and add sparkling wine.

Winter Entertaining Cocktail
Gaspare’s Winter Punch
(created by Julie Reiner)

3/4 cup Campari
3/4 cup orange liqueur
2 bottles medium-bodied red wine
6 cups cranberry juice
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup sugar
zest of 1 orange
6 cinnamon sticks
10 whole cloves
10 whole allspice
6 whole star anise
1 whole nutmeg
1 teaspoon almond extract

Sort cranberries discarding bruised fruit. Rinse and place in a six-quart pan with raisins, orange zest, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, allspice, nutmeg and cranberry juice. Bring to a boil over high heat, cover and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes to blend flavors. Add wine and sugar and heat until steaming (6-8 minutes). Do NOT bring to a boil. Add Campari, orange liqueur, and almond extract. Strain out cranberries and ladle into punch cups. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and star anise.

Summer Greenmarket Cocktail
Red Square
(created by Dave Wondrich)

1 1/2 ounces Campari
1/4 ounce wildflower honey syrup*
1/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
4 fresh raspberries
2 ounces brut champagne

Place ingredients (except champagne) in a mixing glass and shake hard with ice. Double strain into chilled champagne flute and top off with 2 ounce chilled brut champagne. Add a raspberry for garnish.

*To make wildflower honey syrup, stir 1 part organic wildflower honey with 1 part hot water until honey has dissolved. Bottle and refrigerate.

Dessert Cocktail
Black Currant Sparkler
(created by Christy Pope)

1/2 ounce Campari
1/2 ounce gin
1 tablespoon black currant preserves
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white crème de cacao

Place ingredients (except prosecco) in a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into a coupe glass and top with prosecco. Garnish with an edible pansy.

How does Campari get its unusual vermilion hue? Well, originally the dye used to color it was derived from crushed cochineal insects. We can assure you that the bottles reaching American shores do not have such a distinction (at least that’s the word on the street—Campari, like any spirit that has managed to stay popular over the course of time, keeps its recipe hush-hush).

Photos of cocktails courtesy of Hanna Lee Communications; photo of Campari bottle courtesy of

Saturday, November 26, 2011

We Found These Amazing Cocktails on Maui and Bring You the Recipes

The Na Ka Oi Cocktail and the Rain Tree Elixir will wow you with their tropical flavors.

Finding a restaurant on Maui with both creative food and a decent cocktail program can be challenging, but we found such a place in Wailea called Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman, or simply Monkeypod. We dined al fresco, which in Hawaii is practically de rigueur, and were waited on by the expert server Nicole, who made our experience there one of the best we’ve ever had while visiting the fiftieth state.

Steve started out the evening with a Ho‘opono Potion, a bewitching brew of tequila and lime juice mixed with a little Aperol (a bittersweet neon orange aperitif made with bitter oranges and rhubarb, among other botanicals). It paired beautifully with his Hawaiian version of a traditional beet salad (sweet Maui onion, arugula, crispy bacon, chevre, orange ginger dressing), the citrus bringing out all the potent flavors in the tequila, the cucumber taming the light heat.

Paul craved an American whiskey drink, so the Makawao Ave. cocktail, a sort of whiskey sour/old-fashioned hybrid, but with ginger liqueur, fit the bill nicely. It was a perfect partner with the slight bitterness of a simply dressed kale and citrus salad.

We asked for the recipe for the No‘opono Potion, which the lovely Nicole happily wrote down, and while we ate our Pumpkin Patch Ravioli and Fish Tacos, the man who created the drinks, Jason Vendrell, introduced himself. Jason, Monkeypod’s sommelier and beverage manager, explained to us that the owner requested an excellent cocktail program, and the drinks we had before us were the fruits of his labor. He later surprised us with two tiki-inspired cocktails: The fruitjuicy Rain Tree Elixir, made with an açai spirit, coconut water, and kaffir lime leaves, put an instant smile on Steve’s sun-kissed face; the silky smooth No Ka Oi (which means The Best) won Paul’s heart with its explosion of passion fruit and thai basil flavors. Jason told us that he would not be insulted if we didn’t finish the drinks, but who was he kidding? We kept sipping and passing them back and forth, and the only reason we stopped was our rental car’s need for sobriety.

The next night, as we searched for other places to get a cocktail, we decided to return to Monkeypod to try Jason’s famous Monkeypod Mai Tai. A beauty to behold, this rum classic is topped with a lip-smacking honey–lilikoi (passion fruit) foam enhaloed by a ring of golden pineapple. As the bartender prepared the whipped cream gun, fellow imbibers who sat at the bar all watched in admiration as the froth filled the top of the glass. Mahalo Jason for your recipes.

You can re-create these recipes at home. Don’t let the tropical ingredients daunt you. In this day and age, most towns have an Asian or Latin market with fresh or frozen produce, and if that’s not the case, an order from an Internet store can be delivered to you sometimes quicker than it takes to get from Brooklyn to Maui.

Ho‘opono Potion
(created by Jason Vendrell, Monkeypod, Maui)

1 1/2 ounces Sauza tequila
1/2 ounce Aperol
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
fresh cucumber
lemon wedge, as garnish

In a shaker, muddle a slice of cucumber. Fill with ice and add tequila, Aperol, lime juice, and simple syrup. Shake and strain into an chilled cocktail glass. Add lemon wedge.

Rain Tree Elixir
(created by Jason Vendrell, Monkeypod, Maui)

1 1/2 ounces VeeV Açai Spirit
1 1/2 ounces coconut water
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
3 kaffir lime leaves

Muddle kaffir with lime and simple. Add coconut water and VeeV with ice, shake and pour into highball.

Makawao Ave.
(created by Jason Vendrell, Monkeypod, Maui)

1 1/2 ounces Makers Mark bourbon
1/2 ounce housemade ginger syrup
2 squeezed lemon wedges
3 dashes Angostura bitters
lemon twist, as garnish

Add bitters, syrup, lemon and bourbon to mixing glass with ice. Shake and pour into a highball glass. Top with soda. Add twist.

No Ka Oi
(created by Jason Vendrell, Monkeypod, Maui)

1 1/2 ounces Ocean Vodka
1 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
1 ounce honey-lilikoi foam*
5 muddled thai basil leaves
thai basil leaf, as garnish

Muddle thai basil with lime juice. Add all other ingredients with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with thai basil leaf.

Monkeypod Mai Tai
(created by Jason Vendrell, Monkeypod, Maui)

1 ounce Old Lahaina Light Rum
1 ounce Maui Dark Rum
1/2 ounce orgeat syrup
1/2 ounce Dekuyper Orange Curaçao
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
honey–lilikoi foam*
pineapple wheel, as garnish

Add lime, orgeat, orange curaçao and light rum to a mixing glass with ice. Shake and strain over ice into a highball glass. Float dark rum on top. Place pineapple wheel against the side of the glass so it sticks out. Top with foam from whipped cream gun. [SEE PHOTO ABOVE.]

*Honey–Lilikoi Foam
(created by Jason Vendrell, Monkeypod, Maui)
2 parts liliko‘i (passion fruit) puree
2 parts simple syrup
2 parts egg whites
1 part honey
4 parts cold water

photos (taken on an iPhone 4) © Steve Schul

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Celebrating the Aloha Spirit with Pisco Sours

Sharing Pisco Sours on a rainy November night in Pāhoa, on Hawai‘i.

We just spent a week on the Big Island of Hawaii, soaking up the local flavors of its largest city, Hilo, with our friends Matthew and Danny. They own a farmhouse (it’s gorgeous and rentable) in the one-road-in-one-road-out town of Pahoa, just south of Hilo, where lava and alterna-hippie-anything-goes attitude flow freely. The region beckons you with extremeness: 99.99 inches of annual rainfall, in-your-face lush tropical foliage and the smells from ripening fruit, black sand beaches from past volcanic activity, and the glow from Kilauea’s hot maw rising like the proverbial Phoenix, reminding us that life is ever-changing and full of new beginnings.

Channeling the Aloha Spirit, courtesy of Paul on the bongos, and Danny cranking up Don Ho.

Matthew and Danny love to cook and mentioning the word cocktail to them brought instant smiles. You see, they were eager to open their pristine bottle of pisco puro they recently brought back with them from another extreme land, Peru. Deciding on what to make was easy. We would indulge in the classic Pisco Sour.

But, first a word about pisco. Simply put, it’s a grape brandy, usually made from a single variety of grapes, that has been aged for a minimum of three months in vessels that cannot alter its chemical properties (glass and stainless steel work very well to accommodate these stipulations). Some other piscos, called acholado (half-breed) are distilled from the must of several varieties of grapes. Still delicious, but different. (We make a Pisco and Tonic using an acholado that is a must-try.)

While Danny and Steve were out looking for a bottle of Angostura bitters in the torrential (we do not use this word lightly) downpour, Matthew and Paul couldn’t wait and cracked open the bottle. The smell was light, almost of sweet hay, and the flavor, exceptionally smooth, tasting of light acidic fruit. Matthew readied the blender and Paul chose the eggs (fresh from our friends’ backyard chickens) allowing them to come to room temperature before the other guys returned with the Grail. A note to our readers: You cannot make a successful Pisco Sour without the addition of bitters (some may disagree, but believe us when we say it adds needed depth). If it means scouring every corner store in your locale, then by all means gas up your car, make sure the stores are open, and go get it!

Matthew and Danny’s farmhouse, in Pāhoa.

Making a Pisco Sour can be a little messy, we’re not going to lie, because of the addition of egg white in the mix. Getting egg whites ultra-frothy can be likened to exercising with a shake-weight. If you don’t have a blender, you’ll definitely improve your triceps. But just follow our simple recipe below, and you’ll eventually get the hang of it (we’re assuming you’re going to fall head over slippahs for the Pisco Sour, with its slightly sweet, slightly tart smoothness flowing over your tongue, so you’ll be getting lot of practice).

When the drinks were blended and poured into some cute vintage rooster glasses (Matthew and Danny are the proud owners of two loud cocks), we raised a toast to friendship, took our first sips, and licked the barm from our lips and mustaches. Ahh, so satisfying. A few sips later, as we were enshrouded by the white noise of rain pelting the fertile earth, we raised our glasses again and spoke of new beginnings.

Pisco Sour
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

Serves 2

5 ounces pisco (try a puro)
1 1/2 ounces lime juice (you can use lemon juice as well, or a combination of both)
1 ounce rich simple syrup*
egg white from 1 large egg
8 ice cubes
Amargo Chuncho (traditional) or Angostura (widely available) bitters

* In a sauce pan over low heat, dissolve 1 cup sugar (preferably demerara or turbinado) in 1 cup water, stirring occasionally until all crystals have dissolved. Let cool and transfer to a clean, airtight container. May be kept in refrigerator for up to a month.

In a Boston shaker (do not use a shaker with a removable strainer, as it will allow gas to build up and force the top to separate from the main vessel) add the pisco, juice, simple syrup, and egg white and shake vigorously for about a minute until the mixture gets slightly frothy. Then fill with ice and shake again vigorously for another minute. Strain into glasses. Add bitters drop by drop (four makes for a tasty pisco sour).

Alternatively, for a frothier drink, add the egg white to a blender and mix until foamy. Then add ice, and crush until it breaks up well. Then add the pisco, juice, and syrup and blend until smooth (or as smooth as you can get it—not all blenders are made equally). You will have a lot of froth. Pour into glasses and add bitters drop by drop. Drag a toothpick through the drops to create pretty patterns.

Come to think of it, the garden salads that Danny is famous for went well with the Pisco Sours. The addition of avocado added creaminess.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Real Brandy Old-Fashioned { paired with smoked eel hors d’oeuvre }

Lemon-Lime soda is the key to success in this blessedly simple and tasty drink.

Try this experiment: Ask someone tending bar to make you a brandy old-fashioned. What may get placed before you will most likely be brandy (or cognac) subbing for rye in this iconic drink. Not necessarily bad (a complex brandy would make all the difference), but if the bartender handed this drink to a Milwaukeean, and told them what it was, she would take a sip then look at the bartender quizzically. That’s because to your average Wisconsinite, the brandy old-fashioned is more like a highball, with a generous amount of lemon-lime soda and a few extra dashes of Angostura bitters added to the mix. And during a Milwaukeean’s Friday Night Fish Fry, when brandy old-fashioneds are poured faster than Laverne & Shirley can get into trouble, you would be hard-pressed to find another type of cocktail in someone’s hands (and if you did, you can bet they’re not from Milwaukee).

Steve’s dad recently visited us, and for this former Milwaukeean, brandy is the king of spirits. Practically the only spirit. So we made sure we had a bottle of Asbach, a German brandy, waiting for him. It’s one of our favorites, with its rich, smooth taste, and almost buttery aroma. So making some brandy old-fashioneds seemed apt. The only problem was, we had no lemon-lime soda, and the various apps we prepared for cocktail hour were already laid out.

Paul found a bottle of ginger ale in the fridge and quickly deemed it an acceptable substitute. So instead of just ginger ale, we decided to sweeten it up with some simple syrup (but not too much). After garnishing with a half-moon orange slice, and a cherry or two, we raised our glasses, took some big sips, and dug in to the grub.

One of the stand-out pairings wasn’t so much of a shock, but unique in that the food was unusual: smoked eel. A little piece of this rich, unctuous fish goes a long way. Place a piece on a rich, buttery cracker, or a thick-cut potato chip, dab with a bit of mustard, then take a bite. Sip your brandy old-fashioned and relish the mingling of sweet and smoke.

The woody flavors in the smoked eel hors d’oeuvres pairs perfectly with the sweet brightness of a smooth brandy old-fashioned.

Brandy Old-Fashioned
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

1 1/2 ounces brandy (try Asbach)
3–4 dashes Angostura bitters
3–4 ounces lemon-lime soda
1/2 tablespoon simple syrup
orange slice, lemon twist, and cherry (in any combination), as garnishes

Stir the brandy and bitters (and simple syrup if you are using ginger ale) in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled double-rocks or highball glass. Top with soda and give a little stir. Add garnishes, preferably speared with a bartender’s straw.

If using ginger ale instead of lemon-lime soda, use 1/4–1/2 ounce simple syrup, and after mixing, top with 3–4 ounces ginger ale.

Smoked Eel Hors D’oeuvre

1 medium smoked eel, skin and spine removed, cut into bite-sized pieces
buttery crackers, or thick-cut potato chips
Dijon or sweet and spicy mustard
Muenster, or other white cheese, sliced
cream cheese (optional)
fresh dill (optional)

Place a slice of cheese and a piece of eel on a cracker or chip. Add mustard (and other condiments, if using). Note: If your eel seems dry from over-smoking (this usually happens when the eels are thin), chop it up into small pieces and spoon a little bit onto the cracker or chip.

A word about eels

These beautiful fish, so sleek and snakelike, are born in the middle of the ocean and when they are tiny and glassy, make their way to shores across the globe, establishing homes in the estuaries of bays, and farther inland, to live out their lives, until it’s time to return to the ocean to spawn, then eventually die. Some eels can live up to a hundred years, if they are lucky enough to avoid weirs and, worse, man-made dams.

Eels are the third most eaten fish in the world. The Maori of New Zealand revere the eel. It is godlike and respected. The Japanese are addicted to glass eels and pay a high price for shipping to their shores. Those of us who like Japanese cuisine probably have eaten unagi sushi, with pieces of succulent, slightly sweet eel, one of Paul’s favorites. Paul also grew up eating fried eel prepared by his grandmother. Much to his mom’s chagrin, his grandmother would take the eel and wrap its mouth around the spigot of the faucet, and flay it. After cleaning it, it got a dusting of flour and bread crumbs, then into the frying pan. Simple. Delicious. For the squeamish, we recommend an easier approach. The worst you may have to do once you’ve decided on serving smoked eel is to skin it (easy, if it’s not overly smoked), fillet one half by running a knife down the length of the eel just above the spine, then remove the spine. Wash your hands afterward with some lemon juice to get rid of the smokiness. A little work, yes, but the rewards are priceless.

photos © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz

Monday, September 12, 2011

Margaritas with Guacamole and Chips: It’s not too late for this Classic Combo

Margaritas satisfy year-round. Pair them with guacamole and chips.

Summer winds down, temperatures start to dip a little, yet we still crave Margaritas. Pondering this craving, we’ve come to the conclusion that the balance of sweet, sour, and that one-of-a-kind complex fruity earthiness that we encounter from the moment we open a bottle of tequila until the last sip is the cause of our happy addiction.

No two tequilas are alike. Those distilled from agave plants grown on higher ground, as in the Sierra Madres of Jalisco, take on a smoother, perhaps sweeter more floral, profile, whereas agave grown in lowlands at the base of an old volcano will surely impart more minerality to your drink, making it smokier, drier.

This also means your margarita might taste different than your amigo’s. When we make margaritas at home, we first assess our silver tequila and then choose our triple sec based on what it’s saying to us. For a lighter tequila, such as the wildly popular Patrón, we look for a triple sec that has a bright orange flavor if its abv is 40%. Combier fits this bill nicely; it reminds us of rubbing sugar cubes on the side of a fresh orange. For a more mineral-tasting tequila, such as Herradura, we may reach for the Cointreau, which combines a rich simple syrup taste with fresh orange zest. And, if we’re looking for a less alcoholic margarita, perfect for a party, we reach for the Hiram Walker triple sec, which comes in both 15% and 30% abv versions. Lately, we’ve been mixing triple sec: half Combier and half Cointreau. Call it sacrilege, call us crazy, but we find that the balance of orange and lime makes the drink supremely easy to sip and lovely.

And, speaking of limes, they must be the freshest you can find. When you cut into a lime, that powdery limey perfume should hit your nostrils and make you want to take in more. The color should be bright with no dull edges. Some tipplers like a lot of lime juice, and we have had margaritas that have boasted the same amount of lime juice as tequila, with simple syrup or agave substituted for triple sec, and have enjoyed them with gusto. But for pairing with some nibbles, we’ll stick with our classic 3:2:1 ratio: 3 parts tequila, 2 parts triple sec, 1 part lime juice.

Pairing margaritas with party food is a joy because the citrus opens up the taste buds and tames the alcohol burn that can accompany sipping spirits with appetizers. It’s so difficult to stop eating guacamole and chips when you’re imbibing a redolent margarita, the combo making you swoon with delight. Make some quesadillas, slice them pizza-style, and top with your favorite salsa and a dollop of sour cream. Easy. Enjoy.

To watch our video, pairing margaritas with guac and chips, click here.

(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

1 1/2 ounces (3 parts) silver tequila
1 ounce triple sec
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
sea salt, in a little mound on a plate
lime wedge

Gently rim a highball or double-rocks glass with the pulpy side of a lime wedge. Then dip the rim and outside of the glass in the salt mound and turn the glass, so the salt hugs the glass (careful not to get salt inside the glass). Fill the glass halfway with ice.

In a shaker filled with ice combine the tequila, triple sec, and lime juice, and shake for 15 seconds. Strain into glass. Garnish with a lime wedge, if this pleases you (you may wish to forgo the garnish with a large party if you’re feeling overburdened).

Guacamole & Chips
(created by Cocktail Buzz)


4 6-in. diameter corn tortillas, cut into six wedges per tortilla
olive oil
salt lightly

Cut tortillas into six wedges per tortilla, and spread over a cookie sheet. Spray or brush lightly with olive oil. Salt lightly. Bake at 400°F. Check every few minutes as oven times vary, as can thickness of tortillas. May take between 10–20 minutes.


1 ripe avocado
1 shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (or lemon)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cilantro (optional)

Combine first seven ingredients and mash, but keep slightly chunky. Stir in cilantro. If not serving immediately, add the pit to mix and cover with plastic wrap pressed into mix to keep green color.

photo © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz

Friday, September 9, 2011

BuzzWords 2

A Culinary and Mixological Puzzle for Your Delectation

by Paul Zablocki


Congratulations to Fred Yarm from Cocktail Virgin Slut for solving the puzzle first.
See bottom of post for the answers.

Enjoy, dear reader, our second BuzzWords, a crossword puzzle peppered with the things you imbibe, the tools you use to get your fix, and the terminology and lore associated with the world of that which we ingest { with an occasional random word thrown in to neatly fill up the squares }.

A printable version is available on our Web site. Click here.

The first person to successfully solve the puzzle will receive a copy of Harold McGee’s award-winning tome On Food and Cooking. Just e-mail your results as a list, PDF, JPG, GIFF, whatever to

Click on the puzzle to enlarge. (You'll still have to print it.)

Some answers can be found on our Web site at

1. Sandy nut?
6. 11-Across varieties
11. Cause of 27-Down’s downfall
16. It often precedes a revolution
17. Plant reproductive center
18. Size thicker than julienne
19. Not shipped from afar, as in foodstuffs
20. Many Hindus, e.g.
22. Came up
24. Ivanovic and Matronic
25. We pair them with Manhattans
33. Fish that literally means “good” in Hawaiian
34. — relish
35. Thin mushroom with bulbous head
36. — fir
39. Star spice
42. Firm (up)
43. Shredded side dishes
44. Poe’s wicked sherry
47. “I would like to have your attention”
49. Minor continent?
50. Carrot salad
56. Dolphins home
60. Shout to a matador
61. Comedy-club host
62. — Bake Shop, as seen on “Cake Boss”
63. Sardinian liqueur
66. Booze
68. Branch
69. Maker’s order, perhaps
74. “It — who see the deep” (Black Crowes lyric)
75. Heather genus
76. Rye or Square
82. Vice —
85. Ingredients in cookies and cream ice cream
86. Not on the surface
87. Feeder’s opposite
88. Chili components
89. Ball lid features
90. Snatch, with no one seeing

1. Old — gin cocktail
2. Eng.’s only full-time opera company
3. It’s the real thing
4. Ramazzotti, for instance
5. Hosiery fabric
6. Rule
7. It precedes Maria
8. Big guy
9. Category of beer
10. Animal bristles
11. Rub the wrong way?
12. A Roman, to another Roman
13. School organization
14. Horrible Chaney?
15. Cinnamon has three of them
21. Gin tonic connector
23. Do some strokes, for example
25. Barker and Newhart
26. Overly persnickety, in slang
27. We make this drink with tomato water
28. Wine shortening?
29. French bread
30. Fratwear
31. Scraped up, with “out”
32. Fodder holder
37. Exchange
38. Queens stadium
40. Command to Fido
41. This is needed for a rocks drink in Berlin
44. Radio button
45. 52-Down capital
46. Criminal’s hangout
48. Before, to Burns
50. Dig (through)
51. Hodgepodge
52. Where much pisco is produced
53. Reverberate
54. Bar sign
55. Ninth-century Cornish monk
57. Like some menu listings
58. Robin played him
59. Doctrines
62. Chaz’s mom
64. Moon in our solar system
65. Haunt excessively
67. Common toast
70. Have in one’s home
71. Some fizzy drinks
72. Breaks up
73. Where much of our food comes from
76. Pilfer
77. Choler
78. Ingredient in an Arnold Palmer
79. Word used in many vodka brands
80. She appeared opposite Jean in several talkies
81. — gris
83. Red or White, e.g.
84. Religious container


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pouring Micrococktails with Templeton Rye, D.H. Krahn Gin, and Campo de Encanto Pisco at Fermented Grapes

A few weeks ago we poured some micrococktails at Fermented Grapes, our local wine and liquor shop, to give our neighbors some spirituous succor. Debbie, Jan, and the gang there never steer us wrong when we’re looking for something luscious to pair with our dinner, so we love returning the favor. Many folks braved the sweltering Saturday heat to taste three of our favorite spirits, two vermouths, and some bitters. The results were surprising.

Our arsenal of spirits await pouring and micromixing at Fermented Grapes in Brooklyn.

ONE OF OUR FAVORITE light London-style gins, DH Krahn, would be the focus of our first tasting, so we opted for martinis. Martinis used to be exclusively gin, with a generous helping of dry vermouth, and a dash or two of orange bitters. We stuck with this tried and true formula and made believers out of those sippers who feared the power of gin. For an extra kick, we added a drop of cocktail onion juice to the martini to create a Gibson. DH Krahn gin is perfect for a Gibson when mixed with Noilly Prat dry vermouth, and a dash of Bitter Truth orange bitters. This gin boasts a light juniper infusion, plus notes of coriander, ginger, and the oils from oranges, lemons, and grapefruit. What we love also about DH Krahn is its versatility. It can easily fit the bill for London-style gin drinks, or lighter-style cocktails. Exquisite.

(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

2 ounces (1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons) gin (try DH Krahn)
1/3 ounce (1 teaspoon) dry vermouth
1–2 dashes orange bitters (try Bitter Truth)
cocktail onion, as garnish

Stir for 30 seconds in ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add onion.

(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

2 ounces (1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons) gin
1/3 – 1/2 ounce (1 teaspoon – 1/2 tablespoon) dry vermouth (do not skimp on the vermouth; this is not a vodka martini ;)
2 dashes orange bitters (try The Bitter Truth)
olive or lemon twist, as garnish

Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an olive or lemon twist.

❤ ❤ ❤

MANHATTANS are our love-affair cocktail, so we were happy to make some wee ones for our neighbors. Since we were pouring Templeton Rye, our new fave, we employed the Templeton Rye’s official Manhattan Cocktail recipe ratio (it makes for a revivifying summer Manhattan), which we’ve posted before, except we used Dolin Sweet Vermouth and The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters. Delicious. No surprises here. The whiskey tipplers who took the plunge loved the smoothness of the Templeton Rye and the way the bitters and the vermouth brought out the spiciness inherent in the rye. At 40% abv, this rye goes down smoothly, but not until you’ve gotten a whiff of its light caramel redolence. Perfection.


2 ounces (1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons) rye
1 ounce (1/8 cup or 2 tablespoons) sweet vermouth (try Dolin Rouge)
2 dashes bitters

Stir in ice for 15 seconds and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino or booze-soaked cherry.

Templeton Rye Manhattan
(recipe from the men of Templeton Rye)

2 ounces (1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons) Templeton Rye
3/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters (we also like The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters)

Serve stirred, never shaken. Kiss with cherry.

(You can decide for yourself whether you want it up, or on the rocks.)

❤ ❤ ❤

THE BIGGEST SURPRISE of the pouring turned out be the Campo de Encanto Pisco, which is an acholado pisco, or rather a mix of four different pisco varietals. For those of you who have never had pisco, it a brandy distilled from fermented grapes. It is light, slightly fruity, but not sweet, closer to a pear eau de vie than a cognac. We decided to mix it with some run-of-the-mill tonic water, fortified by a dash of Bitter Truth orange bitters. Eyes lit up after sipping. “I could drink these all day long” seemed to be the constant refrain. That made us happy, and we decided that the Pisco and Tonic would be the official late-summer drink at Chez Cocktail Buzz.

Pisco and Tonic
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

2 ounces (1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons) pisco (try Campo de Encanto)
4 ounces (1/2 cup or 8 tablespoons) tonic water
dash orange bitters (optional) (try The Bitter Truth)

In a highball or collins glass filled with ice, add pisco (and bitters) and stir for 15 seconds. Top with tonic. You can add a lime wedge if you so desire.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tasting Spirits & Sipping Cocktails at Tales of the Cocktail 2011, Part II

When bouncing from tasting room to spirited dinner to booze-filled events at Tales of the Cocktail, New Orleans’s annual gathering of all things spirituous, one must remember to—well, we already forgot. Oh right. Keep track of all the sips that pass ones lips in order to write about it later. We've waited over a week to jot down Part II of our tasting notes, so forgive us if some information seems fuzzy. We swear we were lucid at the time.

Our friends from Piedmont Distillers, the Makers of Midnight Moon and Catdaddy Carolina Moonshines, were in town to pour their new spirit infusions of Midnight Moon aged with fruit to a very eager public. At 50% abv to extend maximum flavor from the fruits and spices allowed to rest inside the bottles, the flavors are apple pie (apples and cinnamon), cherry, and strawberry (all delicious), but we swear we tried a blackberry or blueberry one too. Sarah LeRoy and Joe Michalak were on hand to answer all our questions and get us a little liquored up before our next tasting, as was bartender/author Joel Finsel, who was sharing his apple-pie mixed drink along with his new book Cocktails and Conversations.

Our spirited dinner at GW Fins was way too long, and featured too many cocktails that did not pair well with the dishes; however, the food was exceptional, and one of our favorite cocktails was created by New Yorker Jason Littrell, who came up with Behind God’s Back. This rum and juice-based drink has a long list of ingredients (it’s allowed to, since it’s a tiki-style drink), and if you’re willing to source all the ingredients, we say go for it. It paired beautifully with chef Mike Neslon’s Spicy Vietnamese Glazed Pork Belly with Jicama Relish and Cilantro Coulis.

Behind God’s Back
(created by Jason Littrell)

1/4 ounce sugar cane syrup
1/4 ounce cinnamon bark syrup
1/4 ounce orgeat
1/2 ounce fresh pineapple juice
1 ounce lime juice
2 ounces Chairman’s Reserve rum
Peychaud’s bitters
Angostura bitters
sprig Israeli mint

Swizzle the syrups, orgeat, pineapple juice, lime juice, and rum with crushed ice. Pour into a Pilsner glass. Top with both the bitters, and garnish with a sprig of Israeli mint.

Imbibe Magazine threw a happy hour party at the Hotel Le Marais, and luckily we were early enough to try several of the drinks on offer, by award-winning bartenders. One that surprised us, and one that we are thinking about driving to Worcester, Mass., for to visit The Citizen Wine Bar is David Delaney’s Charentes Shrub. This tall rye cooler, mixed with Earl Grey–infused Pineau des Charentes (a French aperitif made by blending cognac with a slightly fermented grape must) is topped with India Pale Ale (IPA), and garnished with a rosemary sprig and a chunk of pineapple.

We spoke about Drambuie in our last post, but neglected to print the recipes of the two diametrically opposed flavor profiles in brand ambassador Anthony Caporale’s cocktails, in which he stressed that Drambuie was the only spirit used in both. Quite a feat.

Drambuie Highland Tea
(created by Anthony Caporale)

Ingredients & Method
In a mixing tin with ice, add:

2 ounces Drambuie
2 ounces Fig-Infused Black Tea (steep 8 ounces hot water with loose-leaf Black Tea and 2 sliced Dried Figs for about 5 minutes)
1 Orange Peel, zest only (squeeze to extract oils and drop in tin)

Shake until the tin is frosted, double-strain into a martini glass, float:

1/2 ounce Lavender-Infused Cream (thicken in shaker with Dried Lavender Blossoms and double-strain over bar spoon)

Garnish with a pinch of dried lavender blossoms in center.

Drambuie Krung Thep Nail
(created by Anthony Caporale)

Ingredients & Method
In a mixing tin, press:

1/2 Bird’s Eye Chili Pepper


2 ounces Drambuie
1/2 ounce Coco Real
1 ounce Fresh Lemon Juice

Shake until the tin is frosted, strain into a tall glass filled with cubed ice. Top with Reed’s Ginger Brew, stir gently. Garnish with lemongrass spear, bird’s eye chili pepper, and ginger slice.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Korean Soju Is Made for Infusing

Carrots, kumquats, Asian pears, and persimmons turn soju into easily sippable dinner accompaniments.

We’ve been infusing spirits for years with ripe fruit, fresh vegetables, and piquant herbs and spices. Now it’s all the rage. Recently, we taught ourselves how to prepare a bunch of Korean dishes and, looking for a perfect pairing, decided that soju would be the ideal partner. Soju is a Korean slightly sweet vodka-like beverage that is usually distilled from rice, although today, it can be distilled from other grains such as barley and wheat, to a host of starchy tubers such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and even cassava, from which we get tapioca. Most sojus hover around 20% abv, though they can range from 18.5% to 45% abv.

When you buy soju, try to get the 20% variety with as little flavoring and sweetening as possible. If you can find a big green cheap plastic bottle of the stuff, do, because this will be perfect for your infusions. Pick comestibles that you are fond of and that you think might go with Korean food (or whatever style of cuisine you are creating). We decided on three that were in season: kumquats, Asian pears, and persimmons, and also the ubiquitous carrot.

Make sure you have several clean jars with lids. Now it’s time to separate your washed and scrubbed edibles into the different jars. You can leave them whole if you wish, or you can cut them into pieces or crush them. Use as much as you’d like. The choice is yours. Fill the jars with soju so that the food is all covered (some of it, such as kumquats, will float, but do not worry about this). Cover with the lid, and give a good shake or swish. You will be shaking and swishing daily until the soju achieves your desired flavor. (You should taste frequently—herbs and spices sometimes only take one to a few days to infuse.) Since we were using only fruits and vegetables, we left ours in for over a month in order for the soju to develop deep, complex flavors. We can’t decide which is our favorite—they’re all so amazingly satisfying. And paired with a Korean Barbecue Grilled Sea Bass with a side of rice and kimchi, plus a helping of sautéed spinach and various pickled vegetables, you’re good to go.

Seng Sun Bulgogi, or sea bass first grilled skin-side down, is bathed in gochu jang paste. Serve it with sides of pickled vegetables, rice, sauteed spinach, and a glass of chilled infused soju. But remember, no Korean meal is complete without kimchi.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tasting Spirits and Sipping Cocktails at Tales of the Cocktail 2011, Part I

While in New Orleans at Tales of the Cocktail, we end up sipping dozens of spirits, liqueurs, sodas, and new cocktails whipped up by the world’s greatest bartenders and mixologists (why do some people pooh-pooh the word mixologist and why is it not recognized as a real word in dictionaries?—it’s been around forever!). Here is a sampler of some of our favorite tastings during our first few days down in NOLA:

Lights and action at the Shore Leave Part at the WWII Museum at New Orleans’ Tales of the Cocktail.

The Shore Leave Party at the WWII Museum was insanely fun. We started out chatting with journalist Michael Anstendig over some Hudson corn whiskey lemony highballs that were easy to sip and a great way to cool us down. Then, we ran into the gentlemen from Templeton Rye, who slipped us a flask filled with their smooth as silk spirit (we’ve been making Templeton Rye Manhattans with them all summer, and cannot stop!). Thanks, fellas, for the hooch! Also dishing out cocktails made with Milagro tequila, orgeat, horchata, coconut milk, and dashes of some other tasty ingredients was Jaime Salas, a fellow Brooklynite (who as a Brand Ambassador of course is rarely in his home city). Thanks for chatting with us and providing us one of the many fun photo ops available throughout the event.

We caught the tail end of the World’s Largest Negroni event. Wall-to-wall imbibers eagerly sipped, from a flagon of thick ice, one of our favorite cocktails of all time. This Negroni was special though; besides the bittersweet musings of Campari and Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth, the classic drink boasted the slightly sweet and tea-tasting Beefeater 24, which we lauded a couple of years ago during its launch in the U.S.

Raising a glass to the world’s largest Negroni, at Tales of the Cocktail 2011.

The Negroni

1 ounce Beefeater 24 London Dry Gin
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce Martini Rosso (sweet vermouth)
orange slice, as garnish

Pour ingredients into a rocks glass filled with ice then stir and serve. Garnish with a slice of orange.

Steve Schul enjoys a Negroni at the World’s Largest Negroni event.

Of course, the largest smattering of various spirits was presented by Diageo at the Cabildo Museum. Dubbed “Cocktails from Around the World,” 50 bucks got you a sampling of dozens of cocktails mixed by the world’s most flavor-savvy cocktail creators. We tried new concoctions by Lynnette Marrero, Joaquim Simo, Ryan Fitzgerald, Enrique Sanchez, Misty Kalkofen, Dänny Ronen, Fred Sarkis, all of which satisfied our taste buds, to say the very least. We could have drunk all night, but, well, a sip of each was just enough to make us happy.

Cheers to Lynnette Marrero for creating a delicious Black Daiquiri for the Diageo event.

One of the most fun events was Purity Vodka’s make-your-own infused bloody mary–style martini. Bartender & brand ambassador John Pomeroy Jr. guided us through the process, which involved dumping your favorite bloody mary ingredients into a siphon, adding Purity vodka, charging it with CO2, giving it a little shake, and straining it into a cocktail glass with a lovely ice orb. We, along with fellow cocktail writer (and our logo illustrator) Dr. Bamboo, experimented with a variety of ingredients. But our favorite? Shrimp, andouille, okra, peppercorn, green bean, salt, and tomato. It tasted like New Orleans in a glass. You must try this at home! Use a cream siphon so it’s a little more manageable than a big soda siphon. Thank you Purity for provided a jazz trio and an amazing spread, in the cozy Bombay Club.

Tasting rooms are very creative these days, and just tasting an unmixed spirit simply is not enough apparently anymore at Tales. Some of these, such as the Sandeman Ruby Port tasting, went all-out. At this tasting, where a cocktail competition was taking place, we were treated to three unique drinks created by three very talented bar chefs. Steve loved Don’s Dram by Andy Minchow of Holeman and Finch in Atlanta; Paul, the Red Cape Cocktail by Adam Sieczka. Also on hand was Cheryl Scripter from Bittersweet Confections here in New Orleans who encouraged every passerby to sample all the truffles at her table. Ruby Port and truffles are indeed a marriage made in Elysium.

Red Cape
(created by Adam Sieczka)

1 part Sandemans Founders Reserve Ruby Porto
1 part rye whiskey
1/2 part simple syrup
1/2 part fresh lemon juice
1/4 blood orange
6 small basil leaves

Muddle blood orange and basil leaves with simple syrup and lemon juice. Add port and rye whiskey. Add ice. Shake and pour into a rocks glass. Garnish with blood orange slice and basil leaf.

Don’s Dram
(created by Andy Minchow)

1 part Sandemans Founders Reserve Ruby Porto
1 part Martell VS cognac
1 part freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1 bar spoon Ricard (pastis or absinthe)

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and shake for five seconds. Double strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a pinch of sea salt and one grind of black pepper.

❤ ❤ ❤

Let us continue into the realm of something new: Cupcake Vodka. We were so intrigued by the name, we had to stop by for a sip. Let us tell you that these vodkas are not in the least bit cloyingly sweet. Touted as all-natural, they are easy to sip, fun to mix, and are worth more than a try. Our favorite expression was the Devil’s Food. A truly interesting find. It got our creative minds racing.

A few minutes later, we found ourselves in the Drambuie tasting room. We are very familiar with Drambuie, and were eager to try its new product, one which is peatier and slightly less sweet than the older model. We chatted with Anthony Caporale who created a delicious creamy lavender Drambuie concoction that we would have killed to have a scone with. And on the opposite spectrum of taste, there was a global-inspired Drambuie drink with lemongrass and jalapeños that made us reconsider that Drambuie is limited in what you can do with it. We love surprises.

Kilbeggan, aged in bourbon barrels, was a lovely way to reacquaint ourselves with blended Irish whiskey. The aroma is slightly sweet and rich, with vanilla and, of course, bourbon. A nice change from the usually Irish whiskeys aged in sherry barrels. We are looking forward to mixing with it in some of the cocktails we’ve developed when we get back to Brooklyn.

Other welcomed tastings didn’t involve alcohol at all. Barritt’s ginger beer is a lovely addition to the ginger beer canon: light and refreshing, and served by rep Paul Imbesi, donning some sweatbands around his head and wrists. We dubbed him the Olivia Newton-John of the Tasting Rooms. Never lose your sense of humor, Paul! We’ve talked about Fentimans sodas in our previous post, and we are excited to experiment with the Rose Lemonade in future drinks. What a great tasting room, with so many of their soda flavors on hand, being mixed with all kinds of spirits and liquors. If you haven’t tried the Dandelion and Burdock soda, you are missing out!

More tasting notes to come. Stay tuned.

Thanks to all the hard-working men and women who gave us their time. Cheers!

Friday, July 22, 2011

The New Friends You Meet (and run into again and again) at Tales of the Cocktail

The Cognac Summit was the first cocktail we imbibed after we landed in New Orleans. Shaken at the Tales of the Cocktail Media reception at the French 75 Bar in Arnaud’s in the French Quarter, it was a smooth and extremely well-balanced introduction to a week of revelry, seminars, and meet-and-greets in this southern city that never seems to sleep.

Cognac Summit

1 lime peel
4 thin slices fresh ginger
1 1/2 ounces VSOP cognac
2 ounces traditional lemonade
1 long piece cucumber peel
4 or 5 ice cubes

Lightly muddle the lime zest and ginger slices in a rocks glass with the cognac. Fill glass half-way with ice. Stir well for 5 seconds. Add lemonade and cucumber peel. Stir well for another 5 seconds.

❤ ❤ ❤

As we filled up on piquant gruyere-laden gougères (which pair perfectly with the Summit Cocktail, by the way), and other assorted tasty nibbles, we met costumer Thayer Abaigael and her husband Scott Lund, recent transplants from San Francisco who have completely embraced the NOLA way of life. The sultry air mixed with savory conversation, plus a French 75 made with cognac and lemonade, led the four of us to a pizza joint not too far from Arnauds where we continued our conversation about Tales and the city. Scott developed the extremely user-friendly Droid app for Tales this year (they should have asked him to develop the iPhone app as well), and Thayer runs the Vieux Carre Media breakfasts and lunches that have turned out to be the saving grace for us during our stay thanks to the amazing food and the opportunity to rub elbows with the executives and distillers who sponsor everything at Tales.

Hollis Bulleit always has time for a photo and a hug. In the Vieux Carre Room at the Hotel Monteleone, with Paul Zablocki of Cocktail Buzz.

For example, we attended the Bulleit-sponsored luncheon, and after we were greeted at the door by Thayer’s soothing voice and hospitality, we were instantly drawn to the orange-plumes and infectious grin donned by Bulleit’s World Ambassador, Hollis Bulleit. Sure, we shared with her how much we love love love her family’s bourbon and rye, but sometimes at Tales, you need to talk about something other than booze, and Hollis and our conversation quickly turned to politics (socioeconomic, gender, queer), the pros and cons of East- vs. West-Coast living, and the crazy wonderful ebullience that gushes from every seam of this city. (We keep running into her, and every moment shared is filled with fun, sass, warmth, and laughter.)

She grabbed us by the arms and said, “you must meet my father,” and led us to Mr. Tom Bulleit, founder, and sixth-generation distiller, who rose from his chair mid-bite, and took the time to talk to us a little about the family biz, but, more important, about the films he loved, and those we shared a common admiration for. He was warm and generous with his time. We will be watching McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Cannery Row when we get home, Tom, we promise.

Some other new friends we met in the Vieux Carre Media room, and who we’ve been running into again and again, hail from Vancouver: Craig James, the CEO of Fentimans, and his sharp-as-a-tack daughter, the lovely Samantha. They asked us if we had the opportunity to sample their products at one of the Tasting Rooms, and we were quick to respond with a resounding “yes!” Our favorites are the Dandelion and Burdock, Rose Lemonade, and Shandy, but they’re all good, and a much needed and refreshing respite from a cocktail-heavy day.

Getting back to Scott and Thayer, that first night after pizza and salad, we wandered to the Grey Goose party at Latrobes’s on Royal Street where it seemed all of NOLA’s beautiful people converged. We were greeted by a spectacle of lights, camera, and action adorning one NOLA’s most architecturally significant buildings from 1818 in the heart of the French Quarter, a stunning place to sip a barrel-aged cocktail by Guillaume Jubien and Nick Mautone. Consisting of Grey Goose La Poire, Noilly Prat dry vermouth, Monin white cocoa syrup, this “Feu d’Artifice” is barrel-aged 2 to 3 days and after some stirring in ice, garnished with a lemon peel. A highly flavorful—but not too sweet—unique and satisfying after-dinner drink.

It was then time to hit the hay. Thanks Hotel Monteleone for such a gorgeous room!

Grey Goose party at LaTrobe’s in New Orleans. Flashy lights and videography, pulsating music, and custom cocktails.

photos © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cocktail Buzz Guide to New Orleans

Ribs at Cochon, finger-lickin’ awesome. Don’t forget to wash it down with a bourbon cocktail.

New Orleans. It’s one of those cities that you can instantly fall for, and we have.

Amazing food and cocktails beckon throughout its wards. There are so many choices to ponder and old favorites to revisit. This year we are yearning for some more Cochon, a Warehouse District favorite that made us believers in the power of pigs ears, fried crispy like pommes frites and perfectly paired with any one of their great bourbon cocktails. We first happened upon Cochon in 2008 during Tales of the Cocktail and have been happily coming back since. Authentic cajun cuisine from James Beard–award-winning chefs Stephen Stryjewski and Donald Link in a open kitchen setting, comfortable, casual, and excellent food.

A favorite chef of ours is John Besh. Having visited his restaurant Luke, a Franco-German brasserie that’s delicious and bustling, and Restaurant August his flagship that elegantly executes his farm-to-table food in a room of exposed brick walls and crystal chandeliers, we are eager to try La Provence, outside the city over Lake Pontchartrain, that has an actual working farm outside its door. Another stop on the Besh tour is the new soda fountain, Soda Shop, in the National WWII Museum on Magazine Street. Those breakfast biscuits with a hand-crafted pineapple soda sound good before another day of imbibing in the city that loves its cocktails.

We’re visiting another of the great chefs at Emeril’s New Orleans where friends have commanded us to “get the fried oysters!” And we’re intrigued by whats listed simply as “Mac n’ Cheese” on the menu, this version with gulf shrimp, vermouth cream, and guanciale. Hey, you’re in New Orleans, you’re eating rich. Just remember to follow each visit to the city with a week of big salads to counterbalance these outings.

Another good place to soak up those cocktails is Mother’s Restaurant. Since 1938, Mother’s has been serving up New Orleans home cooking featuring Po’Boys and breakfast all day. Authentic to say the least.

The French Quarter, at night.

GW Fins in the French Quarter is famous for its seafood, and we are scheduled to sample it during the Spirited Dinner series offering, where a cocktail will be paired with each course.

We heard some chatter about Coquette, a little bistro and wine bar, and we’re intrigued. It looks like a hidden gem in the Garden District, with a menu that changes daily, and fine crafted cocktails.

Interested in New Orleans fare inspired by a hometown chefs five years spent in Hawaii soaking up Polynesian culture? Sounds good to us, so Mike’s on the Avenue made our list. The flash-fried oyster salad with a sesame guacamole and tomato ginger salsa is also on that list.

Don’t pass up a chance to dine at Stella!, a fine-dining experience not too be missed. On a quiet street in the French Quarter, this intimate space is an outstanding dining option. When we were last there, Chef Scott Boswell had brought in fresh herbs for that nights meal from his own garden.

When we were last at Stella!, we met Neal Bodenheimer, the man behind Cure, a fancy watering hole that hearkens back to the day when cocktails, and the small plates and bar snacks served with them, were an enjoyable and social way to while away the pre-dinner hours.

And do not forget Cafe du Monde. Touristy and packed, but oh so good! A perfect way to greet the early morning hours with warm fried beignets generously dusted with powder sugar, and a cup of chicory coffee to wash it down.

But there are other places to try still, so many in fact. Don’t despair, as New Orleans always merits another visit. Like a siren’s call, it’s one of those places that keeps calling you back.

Cheers, and Bon Appétit.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Left Coast vs. East Coast Libations: A Spirited Dinner Romp That Promises Four Courses (Plus Amuse) and Ten Cocktails. Hijinks Guaranteed.

One of the events we look forward to every year at Tales of the Cocktail is the Spirited Dinner® Series, and our choice this year promises to be a gentle and humorous battle between several bartenders from the Left Coast (which comprises Vancouver all the way down to San Diego) and the East Coast (from Boston to Miami). The venue, GW Fins seafood restaurant. Our host, Ted Munat, co-author of Left Coast Libations, a cocktail book extolling the virtues of the other coasts’ top bartenders. Ted promises to “guide us through a comedic journey into the East/West ‘Rivalry’ of the cocktail nation, featuring 10 star bartenders from both coasts in round by round battles for supremacy.” Supremacy and battle might sound a bit heavy-handed for an event in which the bartenders all seem to get along, no matter from which coast they find themselves behind the stick. But hyperbole, mixed with alcohol paired with tasty cuisine prepared expressly for the event by Chef Mike Nelson, sounds like the perfect recipe for an evening charged with bold flavors, and a variety of shaken and stirred styles. According to the press release, “Theatricality will of course be immense. Laughs, tears, and intense realizations are guaranteed.” Bring it on!

Mike Nelson

Says Debbie Rosen, publicist for the GW Fins Spirited Dinner, “Michael Nelson has been GW Fins’ Chef de Cuisine for several years, and as such he has been developing the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Dinner Menus for the past four years.”

She continued, “With Tales of the Cocktail, the event directors request GW Fins’ Spirited Dinner menus the November prior to the event, so the chefs really have to think about what will definitely be at its prime in July without much wiggle room. They also have to put themselves in the mindset of light, summer dishes in the thick of the winter.”

With that in mind, Chef Nelson created his menu first, before the cocktails, with the goal that these dishes would be easy to pair with the bartenders’ creations. Over the years, working with bartenders on these Spirited Dinners, he noticed that they “either create a drink that is lighter and has fruit flavors, or a simple, stiff cocktail.” Chef Nelson believes that “each of the dishes on has a sweet and sour aspect to them that works very well with either of these types of cocktails.”

Jason Littrell

Competing against West Coast (Portland) bartender David Shenaut, NYC Bartender Jason Littrell, the newest member of the Death & Co. team (one of our favorite watering holes in the world), has developed a cocktail he calls Behind God’s Back (not a reference to being naughty). This drink, using Chairman’s Reserve Rum as the base (both bartenders used this spirit) will be paired with Chef Nelson’s First Course dish, a Spicy Vietnamese Glazed Pork Belly. When asked if he has a secret weapon to defeat his challenger (Jason and Dave are actually good friends and are working closely together for the Portland Cocktail Festival in October), Jason remarked, “I’m always thinking of new ways to clown on Dave Shenaut. You’ll just have to see how this one pans out.”

In coming up with the idea for the drink, Jason found inspiration from Cachaça Dave (tastemaker Dave Catania), who shared a phrase with him one day when he was working behind the bar at Dram. “Behind God’s Back” is bandied about a lot in St. Lucia, where Chairman’s Reserve Rum is born, and refers to “something that was very far away . . . on the other side of the island.” After a little tinkering, this tiki-influenced cocktail was born. Chef Nelson is hoping that the flavors of the cocktails mingle wit the “tartness of grapefruit, acidity of tomatoes, and sweetness and spicy aspects of the Vietnamese Glaze on the Pork Belly.” We can’t wait to taste the results.

Keith Waldbauer

Shaking and stirring behind the bar at Seattle’s Liberty Bar, of which he is a co-owner, Keith Waldbauer is poised to pair the Fourth Course, a Warm Roasted Pineapple with Coconut Sorbet, with his potion he dubs the Oaxacan Flip.

Finding inspiration from East-Coast bartender Eben Freeman who once concocted a brown butter–infused rum, Keith created a brown butter–infused Fidencio Mezcal. “I thought that would work well with the type of mezcal I am working with. After doing that, I figured a flip would be in order.” A flip uses a whole egg, and along with that, Keith added Benedictine, lemon juice, Bitterman’s Mole Bitters, and, to match flavor in the dessert, some grilled pineapple Gomme syrup. Keith is competing against Don Lee, who promises the ethereal “cocktail spray into the air.” Does Keith have something up his sleeve to bring down Don Lee? “I’m there to have fun with everyone and just to work with these talented guys. So maybe my devil may care attitude is my secret weapon.” These two “cocktails” could not be any more disparate, and we eagerly await this “battle.”

But is there much difference between East Coast–West Coast style? According to Keith Waldbauer, “When I think of the differences between West Coast and East Coast, I think that the West Coast is more known for ‘market-style’ cocktails (lots of fresh ingredients) while the East Coast style is more ‘spirit-forward,’ though I also believe Seattle is kind of an island unto itself amongst West Coast cities and is more East Coast style.”

Jason Littrell concurs with Keith’s assessment. “I would postulate that there are a lot more herbs and spices going on on the West Coast (LA, SF, Portland), while the East Coast (New York) leans more towards emphasizing spirits and using infusions.” He sums it all up simply by saying, “I don't know, I just like to drink.”

And drink we will, as these top bartenders duke it out wearing wide grins and kid gloves this coming Thursday at GW Fins.

To read more about the GW Fins’ Left Coast vs. East Coast Libations Spirited Dinner, and find out what Dave Shenaut really thinks about the competition, check out Francine Cohen’s piece on Inside F&B.

The GW Fins Dinner is sold out, but you can probably add yourself to the waiting list by calling 504-581-3467.