Help a Bartender in Need

Local bartender Tony Devencenzi was recently struck by a car while walking in San Francisco.

He was hospitalized at San Francisco General Hospital and his condition required emergency surgery.  He is expected to make a full recovery, but unfortunately, at the time, he was without insurance coverage.

The San Francisco chapter of the United States Bartender Guild, through it’s recently organized Bartender Relief Fund, is organizing a benefit on his behalf.

It will be held on January 5th at Enrico’s in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco begining at 6:30 PM until 11:30.  There will be live music, raffle, silent auction and drink specials.

All Proceeds will to Tony through the USBG Relief Fund, a 501c3 Charity. Checks can be made out to the USBG and are tax-deductible.

For more info or to make a donation contact Debbie Rizzo.

Debbie Rizzo
Drink PR
darizzo(a)gmail.com

Practical Exercises Two

Speaking of lucky, I should probably write a bit about Mrs. Underhill.

When I’ve been writing, for drama’s sake, I’ve occasionally overplayed her feelings about my little hobbies.

I met Mrs. Underhill at a particularly low point in my life.  I’d gotten bored with my job as the kitchen manager of the wholesale and supply kitchen of a local restaurant chain and quit. Somehow I’d got a job as a delivery person, sales representative, and espresso jerk for a Coffee Roaster.  To be honest, at that time, about all I had going on were my obsessions with food, drink, and out jazz.

We met when I applied to be a Jazz DJ at the listener sponsored radio station where she was the music director.

While she trained me to be a radio DJ, we really seemed to click.  At least to me.  To the point where, when she told me I was doing well enough to be in the booth on my own, I said something like, “But it’s so much more fun when you’re here!”  And, apparently, I wasn’t the only one feeling something, as for most of the rest of the time I was a DJ, she found time to sit in the booth with me, chat, and do menial tasks while I was on the air.

Unfortunately, my career as a volunteer radio DJ at the community station was cut short when they decided to hire a local Jazz musician to do the show I had been hosting.  It was probably for the best, as apparently some of the staff had gotten a bit fed up with my propensity to play noisy jazz out of the noon time call-in news show. What’s wrong with a little Sonny Sharrock at 1:00 PM?

When she called me up to tell me I hadn’t gotten the permanent show, I’m not quite sure what happened.  Instead of getting mad or being disappointed, my main concern was that I wouldn’t get to hang out with her any longer.  So I asked her out to a movie.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

My career as a Coffee Delivery Person, Salesman, and Espresso Jerk also didn’t last long, as I was far more interested in hanging out with Mrs. Underhill than going to work.  After that, I moved on to an even more glamorous job as a dishwasher, which was, probably, the real low point of my professional career.

So what is the point of all this, aside from reminiscing?

I’ve said in the past that Mrs. Underhill, “…wouldn’t put up with it for me to be a part time bartender in addition to my other career.”

That’s really quite a bit of an overstatement.

Mrs. Underhill has supported me in just about every bizarre, inexplicable twist and turn of my various careers and obsessions.

Whether it was getting up a 5 AM to deliver coffee, getting up at 6 AM to cook brunch, working just about every holiday and weekend for the first 5 years we were together, spending most of my paycheck on weird jazz CDs, compulsive computer game playing, or choosing to make every cocktail in the Savoy Cocktail Book.

As far as I can tell the rules are:

Make yourself happy.  Make others happy.  Don’t hurt yourself.  Don’t hurt others. Pay the bills on time. Save some money.

So when we were at Tales of the Cocktail last year, it really peeved her when people would say things to her like, “You’re being a real trooper!” when she was having the time of her life.  It also peeves her when I use her as an excuse to get out of social events or opportunities by portraying her as “The Disapproving Wife”.

So just a little shout out to Mrs. Flannestad, who has, for the past 18 (!) years been the furthest thing from a “Disapproving Wife” possible. She is totally proud of me and pleased as punch at whatever small acclaim I have managed to gather for my cocktail related activities.

E + M

Holland House Cocktail

The Holland House Cocktail we made at Beretta was pretty lackluster.

Holland House Cocktail

The Juice of 1/4 Lemon.
1 Slice Pineapple. (handful sliced pineapple pieces)
1/3 French Vermouth. (3/4 Vya Dry Vermouth)
2/3 Dry Gin. (1 1/2 oz Plymouth Gin)
4 Dashes Maraschino. (barspoon Luxardo Maraschino)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

However, more recent information suggests that it was not, originally, a “London Dry Gin” Cocktail, but instead, a Holland Gin Cocktail.

Indeed, in conjunction with the launch of their new reformulation of Holland Gin, Bols has been pimping a version of the Holland House Cocktail to bartenders and cocktail fanatics far and wide.

Holland House Cocktail
1 3/4 Shot Bols Genever
3/4 Shot Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
1/2 Shot Lemon Juice
1/4 Shot Maraschino Liqueur

Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass. Lemon Peel.

Aside from the inexplicable use of “shot” as a measure, having sampled this at a recent Bols event, I can say that it is a significant improvement over the same cocktail with Dry Gin. Even flirting, as it does, with things which really shouldn’t go together. Genever and Dry Vermouth not to mention Dry Vermouth and Lemon Juice.

I really don’t know how to read “shot” notation, so I just pretended they were ounces and went with the home town team for the gin.

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Holland House Cocktail

1 3/4 oz Anchor Genevieve Gin
3/4 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/4 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass. Lemon Peel.

The Anchor Gin does truly dominate this cocktail, but using a Genenver style Gin takes the Holland House from a puzzling waste of booze to a pretty interesting combination of flavors.

Practical Exercises One

When last we spoke my bartender career had pretty much fizzled out.

Two shifts at, uh, “Flower” and that was pretty much it.  Since then I’ve continued to advocate for the hiring of middle-aged ex-line cooks, but the only gigs I’ve managed to get were catering and special events.  Those are kind of fun, in their own way, (and even sometimes pay,) but they’re not exactly “behind the bar” experience.

While writing a blog on the Internet is an interesting and somewhat effective way to disseminate ideas and concepts, it often falls flat when it comes to actual experience.

I try to capture as much knowledge and ideas about each cocktail with the words and pictures as I can.  Especially, with the pictures I do try to capture something about cocktails which you might not have seen before.

Hopefully if a cocktail looks good or sounds interesting, one or two of the readers of the blog might try to make it or track down one of the ingredients.

But ultimately, the best way to share a cocktail is to make it for someone.

So how could I get into a position where I can actually make cocktails for people?  Share some of this knowledge with actual flesh and blood human beings?

Some typical paths to drink making: Bartending School;  Barback;  Pester bartenders and managers until you wear them down;  Just hang out in a bar, act nice, and observe;  Hold big parties and make drinks for all your friends and friends’ friends, &c.

What have I done?

Decide to drink my way alphabetically through a cocktail book from the 1930s and document it on the Internet.  Post frequently, knowledgeably, and without shame on drink related Internet forums.

Really?  That works?

Apparently, yes, as last Sunday I had a chance to make cocktails at Alembic Bar.

Well, they didn’t talk about a “job”, but it did go well enough that we’re talking about doing Savoy Cocktail Book Nights on a monthly basis.

As Jeff Morgenthaler said to me in an email, “you’ve been in some situations that most “real” bartenders would kill to be involved with.”

And again, at Alembic, I’ve been incredibly lucky and had a chance to meet and work with another group of incredibly talented and passionate individuals.

It’s funny, a lot of bartenders I’ve met trace their interest in cocktails back to the bar program at Absinthe.  Several have said it was the place that first blew the doors off of what they thought a cocktail could taste like.  I remember one of the first times we went there.  We were blown away by the Ginger Rogers.  We asked the bartender what was in it, and he said, “Oh here, I’ll print it out.”  He went back to the POS system, printed out the recipe, and gave it to us.  What!?  None of us had ever experienced anything like that before.

That’s one of the cooler things about San Francisco Bartenders.  Their openness with their ideas and interest in the ideas of others in the industry and outside it.

It’s a situation which feeds itself.

Sure, bars and bartenders need to make money.  But if they’re interested in cocktails and bar culture at all, they also want to make interesting drinks for people who are interested and appreciate what they are trying to do.  Whether it is other bartenders or us crazy Internet Cocktail Geeks.

If the only way for me to get a good cocktail is to make it myself, that is what I’ll do.  I’ll order beer or wine when I’m out, not cocktails.  Well, sometimes, I do just feel like wine or beer, but if the bartender is interested and engaged, I’m more likely to chance a drink.  And if it’s good I’m likely to come back another time.

And that’s the other side of what I enjoy about cooking, and what I enjoy about making drinks, whether at home or at a bar.  Not to get all new agey, but it’s an energy exchange.  It’s simple.  I make something I care about and give it to you.  You like it, maybe more than you thought you would, and give back.  That smile and that, “Wow!  That’s really good!  What is in that?”

Thad Vogler

This is the Sixth in an ongoing series of bartender features on the Underhill-Lounge.

Previously, I had experimented by asking the bartender at Montgomery Place to make me a Bombay Cocktail No. 2, but this just seemed to result in a grumpy bartender.

To make it less of a shock, I thought I would contact some local bartenders and give them a choice of the dozen or so Savoy Cocktails that might be coming up in the book.

Surprisingly, some actually were game.

Note: After a bicycle injury which broke his collar bone, Mr. Vogler moved on from Beretta.  After some recuperation, he opened the bar at Camino in Oakland.  According to Tablehopper, he is currently working on his own place south of market called BAR AGRICOLE.

In regards Beretta, it has found its own successful cocktail groove with Ryan Fitgerald now running the bar.

When I met up with Erik Adkins at Flora, another bartender who was working that night was Thad Vogler. We talked about getting together and making some Savoy Cocktails. A few months later, I ran into Mr. Vogler again, and he told me he was working on reopening a restaurant for the owners of the space that used to be The Last Supper Club, (not to mention Radio Valencia, for those oldsters among the audience). The relaunch of this restaurant with a cocktail program composed of modern and classic drinks seemed like an auspicious time to get together and make some Savoy Cocktails.

The concept for Beretta is a casual place with cocktails, Italian Food, and Pizza.

Interestingly, like a few new restaurants I’ve been to in San Francisco and Portland, much of the dining room is taken up the bar and a large table for shared seating. They do have a few tables at the back for proper seated dining, and a large room downstairs for groups and possibly overflow.

The drink menu is based primarily around New World Spirits and Citrus. Agave and Cane Spirits, Pisco, Whiskey. A very good selection of these spirits, some that I’ve never seen before. In addition, the roster of bartenders Mr. Vogler has assembled nearly reads like a who’s who of San Francisco’s advanced mixologists.

Thad Vogler is a Santa Cruz native who has been bartending for almost 20 years.  He has worked in the industry in Paris, Ireland, Tokyo, Guatemala, Cuba, Belize and San Francisco where he worked on the opening team of seven restaurants.  Most notably he helped design, open and then managed the bars at the Slanted Door in the Ferry Building, Coco 500, the Presidio Social Club, and the Lounge at the newly remodeled Jardinière.  Currently, he is helping to design the bar at Camino restaurant with Russel Moore, from Chez Panisse, as well as designing and reopening the bar at Beretta Restaurant in the Mission.  He has worked at Bourbon and Branch, one of the more famous bars in the country, and teaches a rum course for the Bourbon and Branch Beverage Academy.  A graduate in Literature from Yale University, Thad has always loved a good story.  The history of liquor in this world tells many beautiful stories, none richer than the history of rum in the Caribbean, the Americas and all over the world.

Holland House Cocktail

The Juice of 1/4 Lemon.
1 Slice Pineapple. (handful sliced pineapple pieces)
1/3 French Vermouth. (3/4 Vya Dry Vermouth)
2/3 Dry Gin. (1 1/2 oz Plymouth Gin)
4 Dashes Maraschino. (barspoon Luxardo Maraschino)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

We had high hopes for this one, which were pretty much dashed immediately. It tastes pretty much like a flat Aviation. Thad tried a couple variations and neither were much good. The funky and unpleasant side of the Luxardo was definitely the dominant element in the cocktail. I have to admit the “1 Slice Pineapple” still puzzles me. Even being generous, it contributed not much at all to the cocktail. Maybe, if you did a whole, fresh, horizontal slice and muddled it? Or infused the Gin with Pineapple for an hour or two?

Q: How important are menus?

A: The real importance of the menu is to guarantee the quality of service and drinks for the customer.  You want 90% of your drink orders to come off the menu.  The fact then that your staff has been trained to make most of the drinks the customer then orders will allow you to attain a level of quality you otherwise can’t.

I found this pretty interesting. It was an aspect of presenting a menu to the customer that I had never considered. Sure, I knew menus were often used to drive sales of certain spirits or highlight the creativity of the mixologist. But the idea that the menu was in the service of the restaurant and the customer was a philosophy I hadn’t considered.

Honey-Moon Cocktail

The Juice of 1/2 Lemon*
3 Dashes Curacao. (Scant barspoon Cointreau)
1/2 Benedictine. (1 oz Benedictine)
1/2 Apple Brandy. (1 oz Occidental Road Gravenstein Brandy)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

*Some sensitive bartenders think it more tactful to substitute orange juice.

Licking our wounds after that first cocktail, this one seemed like a sure thing. Indeed, this is a pretty fantastic cocktail. I hadn’t been familiar with this particular Apple Brandy, but I guess it was a contract distillation by St. George for some folks that own a Gravenstein Apple Orchard in Sonoma. Tasty stuff. Embarrassingly, I was having such a great time chatting with Thad, that I totally spaced taking a picture of this cocktail and the next one.

Q: Do you think bar menus should change periodically?

A: I do, but you have to weigh the importance of creativity against catering to repeat customers who expect to see the same drinks on the menu every time they come in.  To me, making the same menu for a month is a long time.  But not everyone who comes through the door is a cocktail geek.  You also have to consider the fact that a restaurant or bar is considered a new restaurant or bar for the first year it is open.

“Hoots Mon” Cocktail

1/4 Kina Lillet. (1/2 oz Cocchi Americano)
1/4 Italian Vermouth. (1/2 oz Carpano Antica)
1/2 Scotch Whisky. (1 oz Famous Grouse)

Stir well in ice and strain.

This might have been my favorite cocktail of the evening. Just an all around fantastic brown liquor cocktail. The quinine in the Americano combines fabulously with the Grouse. If someone could guarantee a proper supply of Kina Lillet, or something like it, I think this cocktail would take its place with the Bobby Burns, Rob Roy, and Affinity.

Recipe from Mr. Vogler:

Improved Whiskey Cocktail

2 oz high-proof rye (I use Wild Turkey)
3/4 oz Dubonnet
1/4 oz maraschino
2 dashes Peychaud’s
3 dashes St. George Absinthe

Stir well, strain into a coupe.  Garnish with broad zest of lemon.

I almost feel like I should recuse myself from commenting on Beretta. Not only is most of the bar staff either an acquaintance or a friend, but I am also very biased towards wishing the restaurant continued success. It is the nearest outpost of advanced cocktail artistry to my house. The 67 MUNI Bus goes nearly directly from my front door to Beretta. In fact, I think it may be the only cocktail bar, I don’t have to get a transfer to travel to. So, obviously, I really hope it succeeds!

Well, don’t take my word for it, check out mkayahara’s writeup over in the eGullet San Francisco Lounges Topic: “Beretta blew me away…”  Or perhaps Michael Bauer’s review from the San Francisco Chronicle: Beretta’s perfect storm of pizza, drinks and service.

Savoy Cocktail Night at Alembic

Couple months ago I was out at Alembic with some friends. I was chatting with bar manager Daniel Hyatt about this and that. I wasn’t sure if they were still doing their Savoy Cocktail Book nights, so I asked about it.

He said they hadn’t for a while, but then suggested perhaps that I get involved somehow and we could relaunch them. That it might somehow be good for both the bar and for my interests.

Of course I said, “uh yeah!” I felt like asking him, “What is this, Make a Wish Foundation Night?” I would totally love to be involved.

But being raised in the Midwest, I have been trained to expect the worst. That he wouldn’t call back or was just pulling my leg.

We got together again, talked some more, examined our schedules, and thought perhaps the 14th of December might work.

Well, OK then….

Unless some freak storm destroys all of the Upper Haight in the next couple days, it appears Sunday, December 14th, 2008 will see the triumphant return of the Savoy Cocktail Book night at Alembic Bar.

That day, starting at about 3 PM, should you choose to stop by Alembic, instead of choosing from their normal assortment of wonderful libations, you will instead be able to choose from the length and breadth of the Savoy Cocktail Book.

You want a Bosom Caresser, we’ll make it. You want a Damn-The-Weather, we’ll make it. You want a Hoop La! we’ll make it. Or well, do our best. I’m not sure of the exact fine print.

And, yeah, apparently a certain middle aged cocktail enthusiast will be involved in some manner or another. At the very least, I’m bringing the Orgeat.

Aside from home made Orgeat, we’ll also be featuring several syrups from Jennifer Colliau’s Small Hand Foods and have some other special treats on hand.

So all this week, I’ve been practicing making Savoy Cocktails using a few speed pourer topped bottles filled with water.

But the other night I got to a cocktail I’ve been looking forward to for years and just couldn’t resist.

The Nose-Dive Cocktail

Take one hooker of Gin (Beefeater’s), place in it an olive (Picholine Olive), then deposit the glass carefully in the bottom of an ordinary tumbler. Fill the said tumbler with Water, Ginger Ale, or What Have You (Fever Tree Bitter Lemon), until almost to the top of the small glass, then down the whole thing quickly. That is, everything but the small glass. Note: This Cocktail is very among pilots on American Flying Fields.

In his prohibition era tome, “Here’s How!” Judge Jr. notes this was, “Contributed by “Billy” from Wheeler field, Hawaii. This is the aviator’s favorite—let’s go.”

Not sure where you’re thinking of flying to, but if your tank’s low and you’re near the Upper Haight, San Francisco, CA, USA on Sunday, December 14th, be sure to stop by Alembic. We’ll have just about all you’ll need to refuel and get prepped to weather the holiday turbulence.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Hoffman House Cocktail

Hoffman House Cocktail

2 Dashes Orange Bitters. (1 dash Fee’s Orange Bitters, 1 dash Regan’s Orange)
1/3 French Vermouth. (3/4 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth)
2/3 Plymouth Gin. (1 1/2 oz Plymouth Gin)

Shake (stir, please) well and strain into cocktail glass. Squeeze lemon peel on top.

I can’t really think of anything interesting to say about the Hoffman House, other than, maybe, if you don’t like this you may need to adjust your perception of what constitutes a proper cocktail.

Sorry if that seems harsh, but this is pretty close to the platonic ideal, at least for me, of the Martini type cocktail.

“Slip out of these wet clothes…”

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Hesitation Cocktail

Hesitation Cocktail

1 Dash Lemon Juice.
1/4 Canadian Club Whisky. (1/2 oz 40 Creek Barrel Select)
3/4 Swedish Punch. (1 1/2 oz Arrack Punch, homemade)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

As I mentioned when discussing apricot liqueur vs. brandy question with the Havana cocktail, this one is the same proportions. Same amount of liqueur, same amount of spirits, same “1 Dash Lemon Juice”.

As with the Havana with apricot liqueur, this is pretty sweet. If you go a bit long on the Lemon and are using the likely less sweet homemade arrack punch, not undrinkably so.

Still, I think both the Boomerang and Havana are more interesting.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Hell Cocktail

Hell Cocktail
(6 People)

Shake (or stir, what does it matter?) 3 glasses of Cognac (1 1/2 oz Cerbois VSOP Armangnac) and 3 glasses of Green Crème de Menthe (1/2 oz Brizard White Creme de Menthe). Serve with a pinch of red pepper (Cayenne Pepper) on each glass.

Glasses are, of course, 2 ounces. 12 ounces, total, for 6 people, makes it 2 oz per serving.

A half an ounce of Creme de Menthe seemed like plenty to me so I upped the Brandy.

I put it in a liqueur glass, because, frankly, this is a shooter.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Health Cocktail

Before the last time I was out East, I got a note fro LeNell’s saying that they’d managed to find an Americano of some sort. It was Red, in some sense, unlike the Cocchi Americano.

But given recent Hercules information, it still seemed interesting.

On its own the flavor is nice, if you like this sort of thing. Somewhere between Barolo Chinatos I’ve tried and Byrrh. To be honest I’m not entirely sure if it is a white wine or red wine base. Still, probably closer in bitterness to Barolo Chinato than Byrrh.

So when you’ve learned that Hercules was, “a cross between an aperitif and a bitters,” this Americano seems like a good idea!

Health Cocktail

1/3 Brandy. (1 oz Cerbois VSOP Armangac)
2/3 Hercules. (2 oz Americano of some sort)

Stir slightly in ice and strain.

Any desired spirit can be used instead of Brandy.

So, yeah, the idea of using this Americano, for this cocktail, seems pretty random, but on the other hand, like I’ve been led to do it.

Definitely enjoyable!

Interestingly, this Americano seems sweeter and less bitter after being mixed with the Armangac than before.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.