Should Bartenders Just Drink Cocktails

A couple weeks ago a friend, Jennifer Seidman, posted the following on facebook:

“I think its time all bartenders come out of the closet and admit we don’t drink cocktails. Truth.”

On the other hand, a while back there was a Class Magazine Interview with Sasha Petraske.

Sasha Petraske: I’m No Genius

(If you have an interest in modern bars and cocktails, I recommend reading the whole article linked above.)

Along with other things, the following quote seems to have generated a lot of controversy among the cocktail and bartender crowds.

“And he’ll always expect his staff’s passion for cocktails to be more than skin-deep. ‘Cocktail bartenders should drink cocktails. If you prefer a beer, you are a hypocrite and are morally wrong. You probably make bad cocktails too. It’s like being an acupuncturist and going to see a western doctor when you get sick.’”

Provocative statement, eh, from the person who opened (or helped to open) Milk & Honey, Little Branch, White Star, The Varnish, Dutch Kills, and Weather Up.

The two statements, though, seem to represent such opposite views, that they got me thinking.

First, I think Mr. Petraske’s use of the words “hypocrite” and “morally wrong” are sheer hyperbole, designed to fuel the Sasha Petraske hype machine.

In my opinion, words or phrases like “hypocrite” and “morally wrong”, should be reserved issues of some consequence in the world, not referring to whether a bartender has a beer or a cocktail after work.

Second, many bartenders don’t drink AT ALL. Either because they are recovering, or for health and/or cultural reasons. I should say, “Many GREAT bartenders I know and RESPECT, don’t drink AT ALL.” I am not sure what Mr Petraske would say about these people; but historically, it is interesting to note, that many of the bartenders who have actually managed to publish cocktail or bar books later in their lives, were the ones who did not drink.

Third, Bartenders, even ‘cocktail bartenders’, serve more than cocktails at bars. It behooves us to be familiar with Beers, Wines, Spirits, Soft-Drinks, coffee, tea, etc., not just Cocktails. We have to have opinions on everything we serve, not just the cocktails.

Thus, If a bar or restaurant has an interesting wine or beer that I’ve been dying to try, I might drink that instead of availing myself of their cocktails.

Not to mention, if I’m having food, I’m going to pick an appropriate beverage to complement my meal, not blanket order cocktails with everything.

On the other hand, if you’re going to seriously make cocktails for a living, and want the rest of us to take your cocktails seriously, you REALLY should be familiar with the flavor profile of most of the classic cocktails AND you should be familiar with what your compatriots in the field are currently making. You should be able to rock a Mojito, a Manhattan, a Negroni, A Martini, a South-Side, etc. and they should taste like those drinks are supposed to taste like.

Far too often, especially when tasting cocktails for competitions, I’ve wondered if some of the competitors have even tasted the spirit they are mixing with, let alone been familiar with the flavor profile of classic cocktails. More often than not, these cocktails will just taste like soft-drinks, gazpacho, or chilled fruit soup with a shot a booze. Not a cocktail at all.

Finally, after finishing a long shift of bartending, cocktail making, and then finally cleaning the bar, a lot of times the last thing you want is to make, or drink, another god damned cocktail.

Something far simpler is appealing. That IS the truth.

Fermented vs Non-Fermented Ginger Beer

This week I was asked to make a cocktail for an event for 20-30 people, where I was told that the person being honored at the event was not a drinker.

I didn’t have any help, so I wanted to do something really easy. No muddling, no shaking, no straining.

I decided to go with a version of the Dark & Stormy, which is a combination of Dark Rum, Ginger Beer, and sometimes Lime Juice.

Because I had the non-drinker, instead of making alcoholic ginger beer, I just made a Ginger Syrup, or Ginger Solution.

Place an equal part, by weight of roughly chopped ginger root, sugar, and water in the blender, and puree. Put through a cheese cloth or other fine strainer, and squeeze as much liquid out as you can (I use a sturdy potato ricer for this).

To make the non-alcoholic version, combine Ginger Solution, lime juice, to taste on ice. Stir to combine ad and dilute with soda water. Stir once more.

Dark & Stormy-ish

Dark & Stormy-ish

To make the alcoholic version, to that combination simply float* on an ounce and a half of dark rum**. Pampero Anniversario, from Venezuela, is a great choice.

The thing that interested me, however, about this was how different the character of the Ginger Solution was from yeast carbonated Ginger Beer.

If I combine the Ginger solution with soda water in roughly the same ratio as I did for the yeast carbonated ginger beer, the difference is striking.

First off, it is unpleasantly harsh and hot. Instead of the nifty floral notes of ginger, you get a bitter aftertaste.

I really enjoy drinking the yeast carbonated ginger beer, but the ginger solution is more like medicine.

I’ll drink it, with enough rum, lime, and soda, but I don’t crave it.

I would guess the yeast bouncing around with the ginger creates some flavor molecules that just don’t happen without fermentation.

It also seems to have a shorter shelf life than the fermented ginger beer.

Now, only a few days after, where the ginger beer is still delicious, the ginger solution is getting less ginger-ey and more unpleasant.

*Some bartenders will shake the non-carbonated portion of the drink, pour over ice, and top with soda or ginger beer. I think it looks cooler with the dark rum float. The only problem is all the rum is at the top of the drink, so it should really be served with a straw, preferably compostable.

**Some bartenders make a much more alcoholic version, basically shaking a Daiquiri, pouring over rocks, topping with ginger beer and more dark rum.

Don’t be Sorry

Romangia Rosso, 2009

“In the vineyards and cellars we not have used synthetic chemicals in addition to sulfur. We have no added yeast, enzymes and all other aids winemaking. Not filtered. Not clarified. No Barriques. Give time to rest after shipping. Leave in to oxigenate in the glass. Probable remainings and CO2 are natural. Every bottle can be different. Ingredients: grape, sulfphites. Sorry but we dont’t follow the market, we produce wines thet we like, wines from our culture. They are what they are and not what you want them to be.”

Product of Italy
Entirely produced and bottled by Societa Agricola Badde Nigolosu SRL Sennori Italia
http://www.tenutedettori.it/

Bitter Beer v1.3b

image

I was missing my bitter root beer syrup as I drank my way through the spruce oil version.

Sadly, I had an issue with contamination with one of the bottles of the Gram converted Root Beer batch. Tried to remove the top and it would not stop exploding out of the bottle. It also smelled pretty foul, so some sort of contamination I’m guessing. If that happens to you, don’t even try it.

So I needed a new batch. I have been a bit curious about how Mugwort, a common ingredient in Gruit beers, would work in the bitter root beer. Along with Mugwort, since I was playing in the Artemisia family, I figured I’d add some Tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus, and Fennel Seed, since they are common partners in crime, er, Absinthe.

Bitter Root Beer v1.3b

Roots:
2 tsp Sassafras, Bark of Root*
2 tsp. Sarsaparilla (Jamaican)
2 tsp Wintergreen
2 tsp Licorice
1 tsp Gentian Root
1 inch section fresh ginger root, peeled, sliced and smashed
1/2 tsp Dried Ginger Root
1/2 tsp American Spikenard
1/2 tsp burdock root
1/2 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp tarragon
1/3 Vanilla Bean
1 Star Anise

Herbs:
1/2 tsp Mugwort
1/2 tsp Yerba Mate
Pinch Cascade hops

Sweetener:
1 Cup Washed Raw Sugar
3 TBSP CA Blackberry Honey
1 TBSP Molasses

1 drop wintergreen oil.

METHOD: Bring 2 Cups of Water to a boil. Add Roots, cover and simmer for 20 mins. Turn off heat and add herbs. Cover and steep for another 20 mins. Strain out solids. Stir in Molasses, Honey, and Washed Raw Sugar. Add Wintergreen Oil and stir to combine. Cool, bottle in santized container, and keep refrigerated. Makes a 3 cups of Syrup. To serve, mix syrup to taste with soda water (I usually go 1 part syrup to 3-4 parts soda water) or carbonate with yeast (mixing 1 part syrup to 3 parts water and 1 tsp of proofed yeast).

On initial taste, I’m finding this a bit busy, it will be interesting to see if it settles down after cooling. For the next version, I’ll probably leave out the Wintergreen oil.

*Note, Sassafras Oil has been shown to cause liver cancer in laboratory rats and so Sassafras has been forbidden for use in food or beverage products by the FDA. Sassafras Oil is also a precursor chemical to MDMA, aka Ecstasy, so the TTB recommends that vendors keep a close eye on any significant sales. Use at your own risk.

Fridge Tea

Fridge Tea.

Fridge Tea.

A while ago I posted about how to make awesome “Sun Tea“.

Well, I was reading about it, and it turns out that many in the nanny state of the blogosphere disapprove of Sun Tea.

If you leave water and tea sitting at warm room temperature for a few hours, it turns out there is some small chance of some sort of bacterial growth in your beverage.

So, I have reconsidered my ways.

Instead of Sun Tea, I have been making the fully sanctioned Refrigerator Tea.

Currently I am using a clean 2 liter glass container.

To this jar I add 1/4 cup of Chinese Green Tea (dragonwell is very nice), 1/4 Cup of Yerba Mate, and one bag of peppermint tea. Cover with cold water from the tap.

I then place it in the fridge overnight and strain the leaves out the next day.

As far as I can tell, there is no difference between the levels of extraction in Sun Tea and Refrigerator Tea.

Others have pointed out to me that there are commercial versions of this very green tea, mate, and peppermint beverage.

I have countered, as someone who isn’t currently fully employed, the Sun Tea is not only more environmentally friendly, but quite a bit cheaper, per ounce, along with being tastier.

Also, woo, quite the caffeine kick, and if you want to be really fancy you can call it “Cold Process Tea“.

Ginger Beer, Take 2

Everyone liked the last batch of Ginger Beer so much, I felt like I had to make another.

I’m doubling the last batch of yeast carbonated ginger beer, and making a few changes to the method from the last.

Flannestad Ginger Beer.

INGREDIENTS:
10 oz well rinsed fresh Ginger Root, preferably organic, roughly sliced.
1 1/2 cup Washed Raw Sugar.
2 quart Water.
1 teaspoon active dry yeast.*

METHOD: Bloom yeast in lukewarm water with 1 teaspoon sugar. Bring 24 oz water and all sugar to simmer. Add ginger to blender bowl with remaining water and puree. (Blender works well for me in these amounts, but if you have a juicer that can juice ginger root, go for it.) Pour through cheesecloth to filter. Press as much liquid out of ginger solids as possible, I use a sturdy potato ricer. Add ginger juice and water to hot sugar solution and cool to lukewarm. Add yeast and bottle in clean sanitized containers, leaving some headroom. Seal tightly and place in a warm dark place for 5-8 hours, depending on temperature and how feisty your yeast is. Move to refrigeration when the bottles are firm to the touch. Yeast (tan) and Ginger starch (white) will fall out of solution. When serving, open carefully over bowl to catch potential over-foam.

Ginger Root.

Ginger Root.

The first change I made this time was just to rinse the ginger root well with warm water, instead of peeling. I need to do a side by side comparison with peeled and unpeeled to find out if peeling makes a difference in flavor. Really, the only thing which slightly concerns me about not peeling is the potential for bacterial contamination from the skins.

This time, the ginger root was quite a bit more mature than the last. The flavor of the juice and ginger beer is hotter and sweeter than the more floral young ginger I used last time.

Ginger Puck.

Ginger Puck.

Nicely formed ginger pucks, after squeezing. You could dry them and use for room fresheners.

Opening Ginger Beer.

Opening Ginger Beer.

I continue to use empty soda water and mineral water for the ginger beer. Easier and safer than glass, at this point. You can gauge the carbonation level easily by simply squeezing the bottle and checking the firmness. Some small risk they’ll pop the caps and make a mess, but little risk they will become ginger grenades. Once I get the ferment times down, I may switch to bottling in glass.

Interestingly enough, it seems like the canada dry soda water bottles form a much better seal than the crystal geyser mineral water bottles. With the same time allowed for fermentation, the ginger beer in the canada dry bottles over-flows copiously, while the ginger beer in the crystal geyser is carbonated but does not overflow. Perhaps there is some CO2 leakage with the crystal geyser bottles above a certain pressure threshold.

Bottles.

Bottles.

A lot of other ginger beer recipes use spices or citrus in them, I actually really like how this is just about how complex and multilayered a flavor pure ginger root has. The complexity you get is amazing, not to mention the length of the flavor. You start by enjoying the great smell of fresh ginger root in the carbonated bubbles with a touch of yeast, enjoy the sweet and floral flavor, are knocked back by the heat, and then enjoy the long evolving flavor as it fades.

I guess we have the temperance movement to thank for the prevalence of pressure carbonated ginger beers and other sodas, but maybe if more people give the real thing a try we can get some of this real flavor back. With yeast nutrients, real sugar, and natural ginger maybe these could gain as much traction as kombucha.

Commercial ginger beers and ales, pumped up with capsaicin for heat and with their flacid ginger flavor from extracts, are poor, poor substitutes, indeed, for real ginger beer.

*Yeast plus sugar and water equals Carbon Dioxide and alcohol. In general, stopping the active fermentation at this early a stage of fermentation, the alcohol levels should be fairly low.

Sassafras, Continued

When talking about Sassafras, one of the seeming best pieces I found was from a home brewing forum.

Sassafras is Not Nearly as Dangerous as You Would Think, rriterson, 2010

This page contains the following:

“Let’s say that I drink 1 of my own rootbeers per day. In order to have a 50% chance of cancer, I’d have to have 3.85g of safrole per root beer. Since my batches are 5 gallons (~50 beers), that would mean I’d have to get 192.5g of safrole out of the sassafras I seep. I start with 16oz (1lb) of sassafras root. Well, 1lb is actually only 453g. 192.5g/453g is 42%.”

So this guy is using about 90g of Sassafras per gallon of Root Beer and feels it is a relatively safe amount, if he is getting a (very generous) 42% yield of Sassafras Oil per gram of sassafras root.

Old recipes call for 8-10 drops of Sassafras Oil per 5 gallon batch. I don’t know what the conversion is between Sassafras Oil drops and grams, but some things I’ve found indicate between 40-90 drops per gram for liquids. Castor Oil is said to be around 44 drops per gram. If Sassafras Oil is similar in weight, by rmitterson’s math, you would need to be using basically 3.85 times 44, or 169 drops of Sassafras Oil, per glass of Root Beer for a “50% chance of cancer”.

When I weighed out the amounts of herbs and barks in my Root Beer recipe, I found I was using about 4-6 grams of dried Sassafras Root Bark per gallon.

A pound of Sassafras sounds like a lot, but the yield of sassafras oil from my 4-6g of dried Sassafras Root per gallon, (most things I’ve read indicate the yield of Sassafras Oil from Sassafras Root Bark is 6-9% by weight when steam distilled,) isn’t going to be anywhere near significant in a simple heat infusion in water. Sassafras Oil isn’t even soluble in Water (Alcohol is another matter)!

So, mostly, I have to say I don’t feel that worried about Sassafras in my Root Beer recipe, at least compared to other potentially cancer risk elements in my life history or current environment.

Gram-i-Fied Root Beer

Root Beer Brewing.

Root Beer Brewing.

Aside from the Spruce Oil, I really liked that last Root Beer recipe, and I’ve been meaning to turn it into a weight recipe instead of a volume recipe anyway. Some of the ingredients are so light, it’s kind of impossible to weigh them in the amounts I am using with the scale I have, but here you go:

Root Beer, by weight

16oz Water

ROOTS:
20g Fresh Ginger Root, sliced and smashed
3g Sassafras Bark of Root*
3g Sarsaparilla Root
2g Vanilla Bean, split and scraped
2g Grains of Paradise, crushed
1g Star Anise
1g Spikenard
1g Wintergreen
1g Ginger Root, dried
1g Roasted Dandelion Root
1g Licorice Root
1g Honey Roasted Licorice Root
1g Star Anise, whole
6 Juniper Berries, crushed
1/4 tsp Gentian Root

HERBS:
1/2 tsp Horehound
1 generous pinch Cascade Hops
1/2 tsp Yerba Mate

200g Washed Raw Sugar
3 Tablespoons Wildflower Honey
1 Tablespoon Molasses
1 drop Wintergreen Oil

METHOD: Bring 2 Cups of Water to a boil. Add Roots, cover and simmer for 20 mins. Turn off heat and add herbs. Cover and steep for another 20 mins. Strain out solids. Stir in Molasses, Honey, and Washed Raw Sugar. Add Wintergreen Oil. Cool, and keep refrigerated. Makes a 3 cups of Syrup. To serve, mix syrup to taste with soda water (I usually go 1 part syrup to 3-4 parts soda water) or carbonate with yeast (mixing 1 part syrup to 3 parts water).

*Note, Sassafras Oil has been shown to cause liver cancer in laboratory rats and so Sassafras has been forbidden for use in food or beverage products by the FDA. Sassafras Oil is also a precursor chemical to MDMA, aka Ecstasy, so the TTB recommends that vendors keep a close eye on any significant sales. Use at your own risk.

Hires Based Root Beer v1.1

Vanilla Beans.

Vanilla Beans.

A few things have been bothering me about my interpretation of Charles Hires’ Recipe for Root Beer.

First, the vanilla I’ve been using has been pretty crap. So I stopped at a store which specializes in Vanilla and picked up some Vanilla Planifolia beans. Hi Vanilla Saffron Imports, you rock!

When researching ingredients, I realized that the “Ginger (Africa)” listed in the recipe was probably Grains of Paradise, so I wanted to include that pretty common beer ingredient in my recipe.

Charles Hires also included “Chirreta” which is a Gentian-like bitter root. I had made a couple truly bitter root beers, but I wanted to rein (oops, not reign, thanks Rowen!) in the bitterness in a bit.

I’d also been reading about Wintergreen and that the compounds which create the flavor we associate with Wintergreen are not readily available from a simple infusion. Apparently, the leaves need to be fermented and then the result distilled, for you to get anything really resembling Wintergreen flavor. So I got some Organic Wintergreen Oil.

Finally, early recipes for Root Beer contain spruce oil. If I’m springing for Wintergreen Oil, I might as well spring for Spruce.

Root Beer v1.1

ROOTS:
2 tsp Sassafras Bark of Root*
2 tsp Sarsaparilla Root (Jamaican)
2 tsp Wintergreen
1/2 tsp grains of paradise, crushed
1/2 tsp Juniper Berries, crushed
1/2 tsp Licorice Root
1/2 tsp Honey Roasted Licorice
1 tsp Fresh Ginger Root
1/2 tsp Ginger, dried
1/2 tsp American Spikenard
1/2 tsp Burdock Root
1/4 tsp Gentian Root
1/3 of a Vanilla planifolia Bean
1 Star Anise

HERBS:
1 pinch Cascade Hope
1/2 tsp Horehound
1/2 tsp Yerba Mate

1 Cup Washed Raw Sugar
3 TBSP CA Blackberry Honey
1 TBSP Molasses

1 Drop Organic Wintergreen Oil
1 Drop Organic Black Spruce Oil

METHOD: Bring 2 Cups of Water to a boil. Add Roots and simmer for 20 mins. Turn off heat and add herbs. Steep for another 20 mins. Strain out solids. Stir in Molasses, Honey, and Washed Raw Sugar. Cool, and keep refrigerated. Makes a 3 cups of Syrup. To serve, mix syrup to taste with soda water (I usually go 1 part syrup to 4 parts soda water).

Root Beer v1.1.

Root Beer v1.1.

Whoa! Those essential oils are powerful stuff. I think I need to at least double this recipe to balance them out. The Wintergreen isn’t bad, most modern Root Beer are more serious Wintergreen bombs than this version, but the Spruce scent on this is kind of overwhelming. Authentic or no, I’ll leave the spruce out next time.

*Note, Sassafras Oil has been shown to cause liver cancer in laboratory rats and so Sassafras has been forbidden for use in food or beverage products by the FDA. Sassafras Oil is also a precursor chemical to MDMA, aka Ecstasy, so the TTB recommends that vendors keep a close eye on any significant sales. Use at your own risk.

Dr Chase’s Root Beer

Here’s my favorite Root Beer recipe so far, found in John Hull Brown’s “Early American Beverages”. It is, of course, in the section on Medicinal Beverages.

“Root Beer: For each gallon of water to be used, take hops, burdock, yellow dock, sarsaparilla, dandelion, and spikenard roots, bruised, of each 1/2 oz.; Boil about 20 minutes, and strain while hot, add 8 or 10 drops of oils of spruce and sassafras* mixed in equal proportions, when cool enough not to scald your hand, put in 2 or 3 tablespoons of yeast; molasses two-thirds of a pint, or white sugar 1/2 lb. gives it about the right sweetness.

“Keep these proportions for as many gallons as you wish to make. You can use more or less of the roots to suit your taste after trying it; it is best to get the dry roots, or dig them and let them dry, and of course you can add any other root known to possess medicinal properties desired in the beer. After all is mixed, let it stand in a jar with a cloth thrown over it, to work about two hours, then bottle and set in a cool place. This is a nice way to take alternatives, without taking medicine. And families ought to make it every Spring, and drink freely of it for several weeks, and thereby save, perhaps, several dollars in doctors’ bills.”

Dr Chase’s Recipes, 1869

Well, with a government shut down and a stalemate on health care, perhaps it is time to review this recipe!

*Note, Sassafras Oil has been shown to cause liver cancer in laboratory rats and is forbidden for use in food by the FDA. It is also a precursor chemical to MDMA, aka Ecstasy, so the TTB recommends that vendors keep a close eye on any significant sales of Sassafras Oil. Use at your own risk.