Some People You Should Get a Drink From Before They Die

Who To Drink, Virginia Miller for the San Francisco Bay Guardian

Or, as Steven Liles put it, “4 Old Guys, and a Young Gal, You Should Get a Drink From Before They Die.”

I was honored to be included in the list of awesome bartenders! Here are the questions Virginia sent and some expansion on my answers.

Erik Ellestad first landed on the cocktail map in 2006 with his blog, Savoy Stomp — during his off hours as a tech engineer he began working his way through the classic Savoy Cocktail Book, one recipe at a time. This led to monthly gathering and demonstration Savoy Cocktail Book Nights at revered Upper Haight cocktail hotspot the Alembic since 2008, and bartending at chic SoMa Chinese restaurant Heaven’s Dog since its opening in January 2009. He’s an expert on classic recipes; his technically-minded side informs his precision and sense of balance.

I started getting involved in online cocktail related forums, including DrinkBoy and Webtender, in the early 2000s. Joined eGullet.org in 2005. In June of 2006, I started the Savoy Stomp topic in the Spirits and Cocktails forum on eGullet, documenting my efforts to sequentially make every single drink in the Savoy Cocktail Book. For a while in this period, I also served as one of the hosts of that forum. Later in 2006, I started a personal blog with similar content to the Savoy Stomp on eGullet.org. Eventually, keeping both in sync got to be too much of a drag, and I moved the Stomp entirely to my personal blog, savoystomp.com.

1. Please list for me what bars you’re tending at currently and how many years you’ve been bartending.

I work at Heaven’s Dog and help host Alembic Bar’s monthly Savoy Cocktail Book Night. However, I am most well known for the blog project I began in June of 2006 to make and document every cocktail in the Savoy Cocktail Book. The Alembic staff and I have been doing the Savoy Nights together since November of 2008 and I’ve been bartending at Heaven’s Dog since we opened in January of 2009. I also work part time for the University of California, here in San Francisco, as a Unix Systems Administrator.

2. Where are you from and how does that influence your bartending style and taste?

I’m an honest hard working boy from a small town near Madison, Wisconsin. Other than developing my taste for beer, cheese, and Old-Fashioned Cocktails, I don’t think growing up in Wisconsin particularly affected my bartending. However, the 10 years I spent as a line and prep cook while living in Madison, definitely affected both the way I approach cocktails and how I prioritize tasks while bartending.

3. What is your area of expertise or obsession: a spirit, cocktail style, category or region of drink?

Pre-prohibition American beverages, bars, and taverns. Almost all my real favorite cocktails go back to the 19th, early 20th Centuries, or before, and most of the books I most enjoy reading are about that period as well.

4. What do you drink most during off hours?

To be honest, now that I’ve nearly finished the Savoy Cocktail Book Project, I’ve been taking a bit of a break from drinking cocktails. You’ll most often find me drinking beer or wine. I have a special interest in small producers and natural process products.

5. What cocktail are you making lately that is exciting you, whether your own or someone else’s, recipe?

Inevitably, people ask regularly for “bartender’s choice” or “something you have been working on”.

Since you can’t say, “Well, I’ve been working on being a more engaging host,” or, “I’ve been working on my wine service and knowledge,” I try to learn a new or classic cocktail a week, so I have an easy answer to the question.

This week I was inspired by Leopold’s Navy Strength Gin to perfect the Inca Cocktail.

Inca Cocktail

3/4 oz Leopold’s Navy Strength Gin
3/4 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
3/4 oz Carpano Antica Itailian Vermouth
3/4 oz Manzanilla Sherry
teaspoon Small Hand Foods Orgeat
1 dash Orange Bitters

Add ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a small cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist.

6. What are your current favorite off-hours hangouts for food or drink?

There are many awesome cocktail bars in this city, too many to list really. But, since I live in Bernal Heights, the places I get to most often are in my neighborhood: Gialina for pizza, Papalote for Burritos, Front Porch for Soulful American food, and Ichi Sushi, for, well, awesome Sushi. If my wife and I are splurging, we’ll go out to Bar Tartine, Bar Jules, or Commonwealth. Other than the bars I work in, you’ll find me at Rock Bar waiting for a table at Front Porch, Glen Park Station waiting for a table at Gialina, St. Mary’s Pub or Royal Cuckoo on the way to Ichi Sushi, and Wild Side West.

7. What musical style or band/musician keeps you pumped and motivated during those late bartending nights – or most encapsulates your bartending style?

I need to write up a whole post about how obsessed I’ve become about restaurant playlists! But the core of the playlist I’ve come up with for Heaven’s Dog is the box set of Stax/Volt Soul singles from 1959 through 1968. In addition, I like to throw in some Ska, Reggae, African, and Brazilian music.

I wish there was some way, though, that you could say pick from a certain set of songs from 5-7, another from 7-10, and a final one from 10-midnight.

Sunday, Savoy Sunday

Savoy Sundays return to Alembic Bar (1725 Haight Street San Francisco, CA 9411), today, June 24th. Be there after 6 PM, it’s a truly Herculean affair.

Hercules #5c

1 Stick Cassia Cinnamon, crushed
2 tsp. Coriander Seed, crushed
3 Cardamom Pods, crushed
8 Whole Cloves, crushed
1 tsp. Quinine Powder
1 tsp. Gentian Root
1 tsp. Fennel Seed, crushed
1 package Peppermint Tea
1/4 Cup Yerba Mate
Zest 1 Valencia Orange, 1 Tangerine
1/2 cup Raw Sugar
750ml Quady Elektra
1/4 cup Apple-Ation California Apple Brandy

METHOD: Combine spices, peel, yerba mate and wine. Heat to 160 degrees. Filter through chinois and add Brandy. Let stand for at least a day and then enjoy chilled or where “Hercules” is called for.

3 Dots and a Dash

I’ve always liked the Rum drink called “3 Dots and a Dash” but never learned to make it.

A friend of mine, who also has a cocktail blog, wrote it up last week (Matt Robold over at Rumdood.com: 3 Dots and a Dash), so I figured it was about time I learned to make the damn thing.

A sort of Rum Punch, it is a delicious mix of potent rum flavors and drinkability.

3 Dots and a Dash

1 1/2 oz Neissen Ambre Rhum
1/2 oz El Dorado 5 Year Demerara Rum
1/2 oz Lime Juice
1/2 oz Orange Juice
scant 1/2 oz Honey Mix*
1/4 oz John Taylor Falernum
1/4 oz St Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram
1 scoop crushed ice (about 6 oz)

Blend or shake very well, until the outside of the mixing tin or glass frosts. Pour into a collins glass and garnish with a pineapple spear and 3 cherries.

*Honey Mix: Combine Honey 1-1 with warm water and shake to combine.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of 3 Dots and a Dash, so this Tabouleh will have to suffice:

I was looking through the fridge the other day and noticed I had a rather large, and totally forgotten, bag of uncooked bulgur wheat towards the back. Realized I hadn’t made Tabouleh in quite a while, so I figured now that tomatoes are starting to come into season, it would make a fine side salad for a roasted chicken.

Tabouleh is an interesting salad to play with, I’ve had them made all over the map. From basically all Parsley to almost entirely Bulgur. It’s sort of left to your interpretation. The mandatory elements, to me anyway, are: Cooked Bulgur Wheat, Parsley, Tomatoes, and olive oil. After that, the sky’s the limit.

Tabouleh

Cook bulgur wheat according to the directions on the package it came in. Cool Bulgur, draining if necessary. Get out a large bowl. Finely mince a clove or two of garlic, pour in a couple tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice. Add a similar amount of olive oil. Chop your herbage and add it, being quite generous. Sometimes this dish is more an herb condiment than a salad. Chop a ripe and tasty tomato and throw it in with the herbs and garlic. Slice a green onion or two and add. Salt generously and toss to mix. Peel and chop a cucumber, (or other crispy vegetable,) and add. Toss again and check seasoning. Add bulgur wheat, maybe some crumbled feta cheese, and freshly ground pepper. Toss, allow to stand at room temperature for flavors to marry.

It is really easy to scale this up and down, it makes a totally classic hippie dish for a potluck. In fact, I believe, in certain cities, like Madison, WI and Berkeley, CA, if, through a bizarre set of coincidences, someone fails to bring Tabouleh as a “Dish to Pass”, all you have to do is close your eyes and say, “Tabouleh,” and it will appear on the table.

Eeyore’s Requiem

When we visited The Violet Hour a couple years ago, one of the favorite drinks we tried there was called “Eeyore’s Requiem”.

It’s a little bit of an odd drink, most drinks are made with the bulk of their ingredients being Spirits.

With Eeyore’s Requiem, it is kind of the reverse. Most of the drink is various bitter Italian liqueurs, or Amaros, and vermouth with the minor part of the drink being Gin.

I later learned that the cocktail was created by Toby Maloney, aka Alchemist on eGullet.org, for The Violet Hour. The recipe was published in a few places, including Serious Eats and eGullet.org.

Eeyore's Requiem

Eeyore’s Requiem

Eeyore’s Requiem

1 1/2 oz Campari
1 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth
1/2 oz Dry Gin
1/4 oz Cynar
1/4 oz Fernet Branca
15 drops Miracle Mile Orange Bitters

Stir on ice until well chilled and strain into a cocktail glass. Express a peel of an orange over the glass, and garnish with a ‘pig tail’ orange peel.

To make the ‘pig tail’ orange garnish, start with a whole orange. Using a channel knife cut, make continuous spiral cut of peel, as you can see in the picture above.

For all the rough and tumble of the bitter ingredients of this drink, it is surprisingly smooth.

For what is is worth, it’s a bit rich, maybe a better after dinner, than before, dinner drink.

Or if you’re serving it before, lighten it with a bit of sparkling water or wine.

In either case, it is delicious!

Don’t You Get Tired of Pouring?

The other night, one of our regular guests asked me, “Don’t you get tired of pouring things?” which kind of amused me.

But it also reminded me, I never did a round up of the writeups I did for ‘Cocktail’ Boothby’s “Ten Commandments for Bartenders” a couple years ago.

So after working as a bartender 3 nights a week for the last 9 months or so, has it afforded me any added perspective for these ‘Commandments’?

Boothby’s Ten Commandments for Bartenders

I. Always be on time to relieve the other watch. It is a good plan to make a practice of arriving a few minutes early so as to arrange your toilet and step to your station on time.

I stand by everything I said in the previous post, but will also add, you should not only be on time, but also have eaten before your shift. Seems a little odd to say you should eat before going to work at a restaurant, but the fact of the matter is, if the restaurant is busy, you may not get to take your break until nearly close. There is nothing uglier than the freak out caused by a lot of caffeine and a little booze on an empty stomach.

II. See that your finger nails are always clean and your person presents a tidy appearance.

Nothing new to add here, bartending is a minor adjunct to the performing arts, your appearance and carriage is as important as your ability to make drinks.

III. Always appear pleasant and obliging under all circumstances.

When I arrived one night, my boss called me to say that the other person who normally worked couldn’t make it. I would be on my own for the course of the evening. His comment was, “You’ll probably go down in flames, but the most important thing is to go down in flames gracefully.” The ability to keep your composure and grace under just about any situation is one of the most important skills you need to develop as a bartender. If you lose that, you lose the people on the other side of the bar.

IV. Avoid conversations of a religious or political nature.

As a performer, you don’t always get to choose your own lines. Something I might say to my wife, or language I might use with my friends may not be appropriate, or may even be offensive, to some random person who has come in to the bar for a drink. Gauge your situation and choose your words carefully. As a bartender you are setting the tone for the room.

V. When going off watch always dry and polish all the glassware and tools which you have used on your watch, and see that everything is in its proper place, so that your relief can work to advantage as soon as he arrives at his post.

You are part of a team, even if you never see the person who works the next day. Show them the respect they deserve by doing your job completely.

VI. Sell all the liquor you can, but use as little as possible yourself.

Different bars have different rules and cultures regarding drinking on the job. In some states, it is even illegal to have drunk within hours of going to work, let alone on the job. In San Francisco, there is no such law, so we are left to make our own choices. One of my coworkers said, “I don’t like to drink while I’m working, it messes with my time management skills,” which totally makes sense to me. If you are serious about the job, you need to know your limits and stick to your own rules.

VII. If you are troubled with sore feet, bathe them regularly. Avoid patched or ragged hosiery, and wear a comfortable shoe with a heavy sole. Light soles, low cut shoes or slippers should never be worn behind a bar.

I’ve gone through a bunch of different shoe and sock choices since I wrote this up originally. The above still makes sense, you definitely need a shoe with good arch support and a non-slip sole to be on your feet for 8 hours a day several days a week. I’m currently wearing Red Wing 607 6″ Boots and Woolrich 10-Mile Over-The-Calf socks.

VIII. Keep the floor behind the bar as dry as possible. It not only looks better, but you will find your health greatly improved by following this rule. Many bartenders contract rheumatism, neuralgia and many other serious complaints through carelessness in this report.

As far as health goes, still not sure about the wet floor, but you do need to keep yourself flexible and in pretty decent shape to avoid injury. Lower Back, Shoulders, Elbows, and Wrists are definitely the pain points. Keep those muscles flexible and in shape.

IX. After using a bottle or tool always replace it before doing anything else. Make this a rule that should never be broken; and, when you are rushed with business, you will never be compelled to hunt for this or that, but you will always know just where it is.

I still don’t have much to add to Andrew Bohrer’s eloquent post, “Get your fucking mise in order!” Go read it again.

X. After a party has finished drinking, remove the glassware from the bar as soon as possible, and dry and polish the bar top immediately, never allowing a particle of moisture to remain. This is a very important rule.

Again, I don’t have much to add to my previous post, but this quote from Philip Duff sums up much of what I have learned in the last 6 months, “I love taking care of people in a way that goes beyond drinks.” ‘Nuff said.