Step-Mothers Are Cool

The following comment on facebook from my step-mom made my day.

“I [Bartend] at [the switch'd in Nekoosa] and also at Tamarack Pub in Wisconsin Rapids. I’ve been in the business since I was 9 years old. I am 66. I love people and making their day a little better with a laugh. They are only “shot & a beer” bars with food but I love it. I’ll still be doing this til I’m 90 or so.”

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.

Omakase

From the wikipedia entry about “Omakase“:

“Omakase is a Japanese phrase that means “I’ll leave it to you” and it comes from the word for “entrust”.

“The expression is used at sushi restaurants to leave the selection to the chef. It differs from ordering à la carte. The chef will generally present a series of plates, beginning with the lightest fare and proceeding to heaviest, richest dishes. The phrase is not exclusive to service of raw fish with rice, and can incorporate grilling and simmering as well. Customers ordering omakase style expect the chef to be innovative and surprising in the selection of dishes, and the meal can be likened to an artistic performance by the chef. Ordering omakase can be a gamble; however, the customer typically receives the highest quality fish the restaurant currently has in stock at a price cheaper than if it was ordered à la carte. From the restaurant’s perspective, a large number of customers ordering omakase can help in planning for food costs.”

The other day, while I was working with him at Alembic, Danny Louie asked me what bartenders I admired in San Francisco.

I went through the litany of respected bartenders I admire in San Francisco and why.

But later, I was thinking about it, and another candidate for my favorite tender of a bar doesn’t make drinks at all.

Tim Archuleta and his wife run Ichi Sushi in my San Francisco neighborhood.

Tim runs his Sushi Bar more like a neighborhood Sushi Tavern, greeting guests as the come in. Asking them about their families or dogs. Keeping track of the progress of the various diners’ meals at his sushi bar. Pacing people’s meals so they don’t get too full or wait too long. All the while, cutting and serving some of the freshest sushi I’ve ever tasted.

I really admire the spirit he brings to the restaurant and to his guests.

Every time we go in, I usually just say chef’s choice and tell him how much we’d like to eat and what we are in the mood for.

It’s really fun, the way he paces the meal, starting with lighter fare, throwing in a few cooked dishes, and finishing again with lighter, almost dessert sushi.

Watching him work has made me think about how to properly pace and what order to serve people drinks. What drink is best first, what to follow with, what to finish with. If a guest asks you what to pair a dish with, what do you tell them?

Some of the best experiences I’ve had being served by a bartender have been at the Slanted Door, when my wife and I are lucky enough to be served by Mr. Erik Adkins*.

Like Omakase, we give him a framework of what we are interested in, how hungry, do we have food allergies, do we like oysters, etc, and he fills it out with what food is currently best at the restaurant and pairs it with wine, beer and spirits. His knowledge of both the food and drink is amazing but it is his apparent joy at serving us, as guests, with the best he has to offer, which is truly inspirational.

I don’t really have a moral to this story, other than to to point out the self evident: As bartenders, it is important to be aware of the larger context of the guests’ experiences.

I REALLY enjoy making great cocktails and impressing guests with them, but sometimes you have to put away the desire to impress a guest with your cocktail making skill and respect the trust they have put in you, whatever that means, on that on that night, for that particular guest, at that exact moment.

*I will note that I do work for Mr. Adkins at Heaven’s Dog. This is in no way meant to suck up to him, he already gave me a job afterall, just an honest expression of my admiration for his talents as a host and bartender.

Tipping Hints

“A bartender gave me some free stuff. Was I a douche for not tipping?”

Well, first off, you’re not a douche. Being a “Douche” is a binary thing, you either are, or you aren’t. The fact that you are feeling guilty and even wondering about not tipping, indicates to me that you are probably not a douche. If you were a douche, you would feel perfectly comfortable and deserving of every free thing that came your way.

However, you should have tipped. One thing someone said to me once, which has always stuck in my mind, “If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to drink.” I know you had some excuse about only having a credit card and not getting a bill. The thing to do, in that case, is to ask the bartender, “Could you charge me for something, so I can leave a tip?” Most likely the person will waive you away and tell you to, “get me next time,” but at least they know you weren’t stiffing them. In any case, even if you did forget, you’re not a douche, and there was drinking involved, so likely they’ll figure it will all come out in the wash eventually.

Some handy reading…

10 Rules of Drinking Like a Man #6 Use Cash, the Etiquette of Dollars

Ask Your Bartener: Buybacks

At all the places I’ve worked, a certain amount of free drinks or discounts are allowed (and accounted for) per shift, at the bartender’s, or manager’s, discretion. Further confounding the individual joys and benefits of “buybacks”, everywhere I’ve worked is a pooled house. That is, everyone working receives a certain amount of shares of the night’s tips, including waiters, bus boys, and naturally, bar backs.

As a customer, the rule you should go by, is: You must tip on the full value of services or products received, end of story.

How much?

The phenomenon of celebrity and star bartenders aside, in California, bartending is a minimum wage service job, Period. Very few benefits, no paid vacation days, and no sick days. You were wondering why so many of your favorite bartenders quit the job for “Brand Rep”, management, or consulting gigs as soon as they accumulated enough credibility? The only way for bartenders (and waiters) to make any sort of decent money is through tips.

In my opinion, you should apply the exact same criteria to tipping bartenders, as you do towards waiters. 15-30% of the total goods and services received, based on your feeling about the quality of service and the drinks received. Anything less, unless you are really trying to make a statement, is kind of cheap. Anything more, and we kind of feel like you’re trying to buy our attentions. Though, sometimes, when a huge credit card bill is looming, I don’t mind feeling bought…

And as regards credit or debit cards, yes, small businesses pay fairly hefty fees on each credit or debit transaction, so if you truly want to support the bar or small business, and give them 100% of the dollars you spend, pay in cash. Do you really want to give Wells Fargo, Bank of America, or Chase any more of your money than you already are? Are you concerned about your favorite bar going out of business or your favorite bank? I think the Fed has your bank’s back, it’s up to you to support the restaurant or bar. However, if the only way you’re going to go out, is if you use a card, then, please, by all means, pay and tip with the card.

I hope this helps!

Fear of Mixology

There has been a bit of public backlash recently against “Cocktailian” or “Mixology” bars.

As in these articles:

Complicated Cocktails“, Ali Zweben

Against Mixology“, Sarah Deming

Measure for Measure“, Karl Kozel

I’ve been biding my time up to now, but lately feel like maybe I can add a bit of zest to the debate.

First off, not every bar has to be for every person. Like restaurants, there are different types of bars for different types of customers. Maybe you like waiters in starched tuxedos serving you tiny jewels of food while you sweat in a tight suit and quiver with anus clenched excitement in an uncomfortable chair. Maybe I like to have a bacon hamburger served to me by a tatooed hipster in a dive bar.

We don’t all enjoy the same restaurants, why should we all enjoy the same bars?

What is it about bars, where if someone is attempting something other than the one or two accepted tropes, that it is perceived as alienating, where there is a whole range of accepted restaurant experiences?

But, you say, Bars are about going out, getting drunk, and having fun with your friends.

Well, sure, but not everyone’s idea of “fun” is the same thing. For you, maybe the cat’s pajamas is going out to a loud bar where there are five different sporting contests on three different screens and you do a shot every time each respective team scores. Well, that’s fun some of the time. Personally, I rarely care about sports, and would rather go out to a quiet bar and talk about music or geek out about cocktails with a well informed bartender, some cocktail and music geek friends. I don’t go out to a sports bar and try to debate the finer points of the Pegu Club with a jock bartender free pouring vodka red bulls, why should you expect that you should enjoy yourself at a bar catering to cocktailian patrons? Look around at the other customers, at the bartenders, at the back bar. What do you see? Do you feel like you fit in? If not, I hate to be harsh, but maybe this isn’t the place for you.

Jigger Pouring vs. Free Pouring. I used to not measure the cocktails I made for myself, friends, and family at home. Some times they were good, some times they were bad, and it was often the same cocktail. When I started the Savoy Cocktail Book project, I forced myself to measure, and found that my cocktails, if not improved, were at least consistent. I don’t know how to measure spirits by counting my pours, so I measure using a measuring cup or jigger. Other people know how to measure by counting their pours or by visually judging the amounts in clear mixing glasses. Awesome for them, but I’m 46 and don’t work in a Sports bar, so I am just not going to make the effort to learn how to free pour at this point in my life. And I don’t juggle bottles, either.

While you’re thinking about this, take a look at the bottles in the speed rail at your “local”, where the bartenders “Free Pour”. Do you see anything which would cost you MORE than $15 at retail? No? I didn’t think so. Now take a look at the bottles in the speed rail at Alembic or Heaven’s Dog. Do you see anything that would cost LESS than $15 at retail? Right, that bottle of Barbancourt 15 that we just poured in your “Rum and Honey” would probably set you back $40, or more, at the liquor store. A half ounce over-pour of Barbancourt 15 is costing the house significant money, especially when factored over days or weeks. A half an ounce over-pour of the rum flavored after shave you see on the speed rail at your local may be costing them less than the cola they are mixing it with. There is a reason we have to measure and they don’t.

Finally, a lot of people take issue with the more enthusiastic zealots of this new cocktailian wave of bartenders and mixologists. To be clear, we think America, and the rest of the world, was drinking pretty shit cocktails, for quite a few years. For those of us with any sort of podium, it is almost a matter of a righteous cause, that we use these outlets to improve the way people are drinking, and spread our agenda of drinking better. It’s not life or death, but we do think you will be happier drinking better spirits, liqueurs, mixers, and cocktails.

You don’t have to agree, and I’m always up for a healthy discussion on the topic, but I’ve found, in most cases, that the cocktails made with care and well selected ingredients speak for themselves, even to the coarsest of palates.

 

(RE?) Experience The Eighties

If you read Robert Simonson’s articles at his blog Off The Presses (make it simple but significant) you may have read his recent notice for a special cocktail night at temporary cocktail bar Fatty Johnson’s:

The Seventies Live Through Cocktails at Fatty Johnson’s

On Feb. 16, Brian Miller and Toby Cecchini, two of the more talented bartenders in New York, deigned to employ their nimble fingers in the creation of such cocktail world bête noires as the Alabama Slammer and Appletini, and other creations of the 1970s and 1980s—the era considered to be the nadir of cocktail culture of drinks historians. On Facebook, they christened this evening “The Night the Cocktail Died.” The menu at Fatty Johnson’s read “Goose and Maverick Present Lipstick on Pigs.” (“Top Gun” did not play on the bar’s television sets. Rather we were treated to a swath of Chevy Chase films.) Cecchini, whose early work at Odeon was partly responsible for the popularity of the Cosmopolitan, showed particular good humor by including that “Sex and the City” staple on the list.

Unfortunately, many of us live on the West Coast, so stopping by a Brooklyn bar last week was probably out of the question. Well, unless you are a globe trotting cocktail consultant, bartender, journalist, or brand ambassador, but my envy causes me to digress.

Fortunately, the bartenders of Heaven’s Dog will be coming to the rescue.

If you have a craving for a (vegan!) pink daiquiri jello shot or a house made Alabama Slammer, this Saturday, Feb 26, 2011, is the night.

White Reeboks and pegged pants will be de rigueur and BMX bike, robot, or break dancing optional.

Personally, I am going to be wearing exactly what I did in the Eighties: Flannel Shirt, Jeans, and running shoes. Oh, wait…

Besides, I bet the drinks will be better at Heaven’s Dog than they were at “The Night the Cocktail Died”.

The menu:

COCKTAILS AND DREAMS

HEAVENS DOG SAULTES THE 80’S AND THE DRINKS YOU LOVE TO HATE

 

 

SLOW COMFORTABLE SCREW

House SoCo (Peach infused Old Bardstown Bourbon), Plymouth Sloe gin, Plymouth gin, organic orange juice

 

PINK DAQUIRI JELLO SHOTS

Dedicated to our favorite 80’s bartender Thad Vogler. Lime, El Dorado rum, Peychaud’s bitters

TEQUILA SUNRISE

There was a time when Kurt Russel and the Tequila Sunrise reigned supreme.

Herencia Tequila, organic orange juice, lime, cassis

 

BIRTHDAY CAKE SHOTS

Madagascar vanilla bean infused vodka, Frangelico, sugared lemon

 

LONG ISLAND ICE TEA

A four bottle free pour of all of the white spirits, lemon, sugar, cola

 

KAMAKAZI

Vodka, lime, Cointreau (sub gin and bitters on request)

 

PINK SQUIRREL

Jennifer’s pink crème de noyeau and crème de cacao shaken with cream

FROZEN STRAWBERRY MARGARITA

Now we finally have an answer to “what kind of margarita’s do you have” why organic strawberries with lime and Herencia blanco of course.

Left Coast Review Responses

Some responses to my writeup of the Left Coast Libations book:

JimmyP:

I’m so embarrassed. I used St. Germain in one of my cocktails. I only use it in one cocktail, and that’s the one in the book. Michael, can you remove the bohemian from the second edition and I’ll get to work on something that uses ketchup?

I was kind of torn about using St. Germain as an example, my initial thought was just to say something like, “excluding any liqueurs or spirits I know have been heavily promoted by marketing and/or spirits companies,” but that was just too unwieldy. So I picked St. Germain as my whipping boy.

JimmyP:

“The resulting liqueur has the beautiful clear scent of elderflower without some of the off flavors or, well, syrup-i-ness of the D’Arbo Elderflower Syrup. I don’t think St. Germain will be a completely one to one substitute in cocktails calling for the syrup; but, it is a great product all on its own. I’m really looking forward to experimenting with it in cocktails.”

Who do you think it was?

a. me
b. you
c. simon difford
d. no one ever said this.

Maybe I don’t get to go to enough bars and see what’s being abused?

I reserve the right to change my mind. I wrote that in March of 2007 on eGullet. I can barely keep track of the Savoy drinks I posted last week, let alone some comment I made as moderator of the Spirits and Cocktail Forum on eGullet three years ago. Besides, I still have a nearly full bottle of St. Germain that I purchased that year. I’m hoping it ages well, but it has floaties.

Frederic Yarm:

Visiting the bars and bartenders is a bit of a challenge for us on the right coast. If I can squeeze out a dozen recipes, it will far surpass most book purchases (I think we’re up to 6 recipes although one was a disappointment).

Considering that I have spent $30+ on a Mud Puddle book to discover that there are 3 new recipes and a lot of the same (or slight variations) as I already have, so far the ratio is not that bad in comparison.

We don’t throw aside the St. Germain drinks, but I do agree about the special syrups and infusions. And the seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. Although I’ll have a better chance getting those then I will from my Japanese or Peruvian cocktail books…

“The Right Coast”, guess it depends on your perspective!

Collecting classic cocktail books is indeed a thankless task. Just be thankful you’re spending $30 dollars for books from Mud Puddle, and not $300+ on eBay.

Drinksnob:

Very well put.

Now, if only I the bars in my town had the balls to experiment, so I could actually taste some of these things at least once.

filip:

Erik, I think from your standpoint your review is fair. But I would argue the book is not made for you, but for people who are looking to go past that “I can make a better drink than 99% of bartenders” but I’m no pro status. It fills a nice void between the amateurs and the professionals, it nestles itself into a niche that has not really been explored in print.

IMO it’s for people who can make great classic cocktails and adapt recipes but are looking for inspiration to push their craft further. I would think the book is achieving it’s goals if it pushes someone to make an obscure homemade ingredient. Even if the drink from the book disappoints, at least they have a new ingredient to play around with.

Michael Lazar:

Erik. Thanks for the review and general thoughts on current (or not so current) trends in cocktails. I’m continuing to mull on ‘em.

I was struck however by one thing with which I’d take actual issue: calling the book cocktail p0rn. First off, so long as you have access to decent liquor stores and produce markets, I count 54 cocktails (roughly half the recipes) you could make tonight—if you include the ones that call for St. Germain and if you don’t count things like simple syrup or basil as a special/exotic ingredient. Second, we did a lot of work proofing and scaling the recipes for the special ingredients so that folks who undertake them would be as guaranteed of success as possible. Where it was deemed helpful we included details what sorts of equipment you’d need, where to source certain ingredients, substitutions, etc. There’s even a lengthy discussion on frothing egg whites (and things that can go wrong) trying and ice (why not to get too wrapped around the axle about it).

I would also point out that some of the cocktails in the book have incredible track records in the real world: Laughing Buddha, Chartreuse Swizzle, The Revolver (#2 most popular cocktail at B&B), Richmond Gimlet, Southern Exposure, and Carter Beats the Devil, to name just a few. And a few others are already showing their legs e.g. the Saffron Sandalwood Sour and Ueno San. And most of these, once again, are pretty simple to execute.

Net/net: I’d say the book is less like p0rn and more like a really good sex instruction manual with hot models. ;->

Cheers!

Michael

To be frank, I do feel a bit bad that I got carried away with my little rant, and didn’t really highlight the parts of the book that I DO really like.

First, the pictures are fantastic. As someone who takes a lot of pictures of cocktails, it’s hard to understate how great a job I think Jenn Farrington did taking the pictures in this book.

The attention to detail, is another thing which really I really appreciate. Instead of simply asking the drink makers for pictures and recipes, I know that they went through every cocktail in the book and made the cocktails at least once, sometimes several times. It is great that they include substitutions where appropriate and very detailed instructions for all the cocktails and pantry work.

Another aspect of the attention to detail, is the fact that they give credit to the creator of every drink in the book. Very few cocktail books take both the drink makers and cocktails serious enough to give credit where it is due. That is very cool.

And as a corollary to that, a lot of these recipes are, in fact, working cocktail recipes from bars. They are not just cocktails that someone won a contest with and made once. There are many examples here of very popular cocktails, modern West Coast classics, if you will. It is a credit to the bars and to the bartenders that they would put themselves out there and share these in the detail that they have simply out of the generosity of their spirits and commitment to the craft.

All of these things are a breath of fresh air in the world of cocktail recipe books.

I was really torn about whether I should “review” the book at all, for all the reasons that I listed at the beginning of my write up.

There was no way I was going to do it, if I couldn’t think of anything real, meaningful, or provacative to say about it.

I just started with the idea of kind of tweaking Ted’s passive-aggressive tone in the “bios” and tossing it back at him as a sort of joke.

But some recent events in my life and another blogger’s write up of the cocktail program at a new restaurant, colored my review and definitely provided fodder for thought.

A lot of the questions which I put, are not just intended for other bartenders, but for myself as I approach the end of the Savoy Project and wonder about my future and what inspirations I will find.

Left Coast Libations Review

First, I have a few disclosures regarding the Left Coast Libations book by Ted Munat and Michael Lazar.

  • I was sent this copy of the book by the authors in return for a potential review on this website.
  • I know the authors fairly well.
  • Many of the contributors are friends, acquaintances, or coworkers.
  • I was a contributor to the original Left Coast Libations booklet.

After reading that, you’re probably thinking, “Why should I read this review at all? He’s not impartial and probably pissed off that he wasn’t included in the book.”

Well, it turns out I was slightly included, at least in the introduction.

Next I’d like to thank Paul ClarkeBlair Reynolds, and Erik Ellestad. All of these fine folks were contributors to the original LCL, but were sadly not included in the version before you, as we elected to go exclusively with professional bartenders (Blair and Erik, by the way, have since become professional bartenders in a transparent attempt to gain inclusion in this book. If you see either of them, do not tell them where I am or how to get ahold of me).

And further thanks to Mr. Ellestad and Ms. Riggins for acting as my (unpaid) consultants in hatching a list of Bay Area and Los Angeles bartenders. If you are a bartender in either of those areas and feel slighted not to be included, you really need to take it up with those two. Thanks again Erik and Marleigh!

Hm. Maybe I should be pissed off.

Damn, if Ted and Michael weren’t such nice guys, I totally would be.

But, anyway, getting back to why you should read this review.

Really, you shouldn’t. You’ll be wasting time reading this review when you could be reading the book. The review won’t be as funny as the book, it won’t have any cocktail recipes, and I’m nowhere near the photographer that Jenn Farrington is. Heck, this “review” doesn’t even have any pictures.

But, maybe you’re still reading…

The book, to me, captures a moment in time, about 2 years ago, when West Coast cocktail culture was on a bit of a roll. Bars and restaurants were popping up left and right with quality cocktail programs, the bartender was the new rock star, and the liquor industry hadn’t quite bought into the scene.

Everyone in this book, and quite a few others, were doing what they thought was something new. Re-inventing, or rediscovering, the cocktail for a very interested and enthusiastic audience.

It really is kind of awesome that Michael, Ted and Scott took the time and effort to put out this labor of love dedicated to the people and cocktails that were inspiring them.

On the other hand, the moment seems to have passed, and the book feels a bit dated.

The economic downturn has taken a bit of steam from restaurant owners’ willingness to front ambitious cocktail programs. The DIY spirit of many was pissed on by the San Francisco ABC, who began enforcing a prohibition era law which essentially made house made infusions and liqueurs illegal. A lot of the bartenders in this book have moved on to more lucrative careers as Spirits “Brand Ambassadors”. And speaking of liquor brands, it seems the big boys have finally realized there might be some money in this whole “craft cocktail” renaissance, or whatever you call it, and they are now spending big bucks to gain the ears of whomever they decide at the moment could influence the public: bloggers, bartenders, etc.

I read through the book and the first thing I tried to do was find a recipe I could make.

First I discarded recipes that would require a ridiculous amount of prep work.

Then, I discarded recipes which called for St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, a.k.a. Bartender’s Ketchup.

Then, out went any recipes calling for “molecular gastronomy” ingredients like Maltose and Xanthan Gum.

At that point, I felt like I was left with some recipes which could stand the test of time, maybe didn’t even call for specific brands.

The list was pretty small.

Therein lies the book’s biggest flaw.

As a home cocktail maker, I hate having to spend money or invest a bunch of time, just to try one cocktail. I mean, what if I don’t even like it? Then I’m stuck with a lifetime supply of St. Germain or a pint of Saffron Sharbat.

To me, the bubble’s done popped, and it’s time to get back to the basics of what brings people into a bar.

Maybe there are a few people who are interested in your cocktail sorbet or smoked ice, but it really isn’t novelty that fills seats and keeps people coming back. Well, maybe, if you are Grant Achatz, Tony Conigliaro, or just have a huge expense account and don’t care about losses… But, think about it, there is only one El Bulli and only one Alinea, most of the rest of Molecular Gastronomy is poor imitation.

Reading Left Coast Libations, I feel like I’ve been there, I’ve made liqueurs, bitters, infusions. I’ve done that, I’ve experimented with making cocktails with obscure liqueurs and spirits. What really is next?

Experimentation like this is cool, but it’s not where I am at, and I’m not sure it is a way forward for bartending, except at a few special venues.

At the moment, I find people, technique, and service to be more interesting than recipes.

I guess that is the other part I found most disappointing about the book. The jokey bartender profiles, while initially amusing, don’t really tell you much about the people behind the drinks. After working in this industry for a bit, I can tell you that the most interesting thing about bars are the people who work in them. I have met few boring bartenders. Yet I didn’t really feel like I got a picture of anyone whose recipes were used in the book, other than the authors. Even more telling, while the drinks are lovingly photographed, they don’t have pictures of the bartenders who made them and barely any photos of the venues where they work.

What does that leave you with?

Drink porn and quite a few recipes you will never make at home.

Have I burned all my bridges yet? Let me try again, to blow up the remaining few.

My real advice: Use the book as a travel guide.

Get out of the house. Don’t even bother trying to make these recipes at home. Instead, travel out to a local, or distant, craft cocktail establishment. Visit the wonderful bartenders there and say “Hi”. Get to know them. Ask for whatever drink on the bar’s menu catches your fancy. Or ask for whatever is catching their fancy at the moment.

Then write your own book.

And, if you’re on the other side of the bar, consider this my challenge to you, to move beyond the novelty, culinarily inspired cocktail, and deliver something that will have some meaning and staying power for the future.

You’ve done that. What’s next?

Agricole Libre (Part Two)

When we first opened Heaven’s Dog, we knew that a bunch of the staff would be short timers, who intended to defect to Thad Vogler’s new restaurant Bar Agricole when it opened.

However, an optimistic start date, meant most actually departed “The Dog”, some the SF vicinity, before Bar Agricole opened.

However, for those of us who have been patient, Bar Agricole opened this August.

As you are walking towards Bar Agricole, the first thing you might notice is this insignia on one of the outside walls, indicating that the building and construction process were certified “Gold” by the US Green Building Council. This indicates not just that they have used much recycled material in the project, but that the paints and other materials are certified non-toxic. Good for the contractors and the people who will work in the building. More information about that program here: What LEED Is

So ambitious is the Bar Agricole project, it’s kind of hard to get your mind around. They’ve even got gardens out front with herbs and vegetables they hope to use in their kitchen and in their drinks. Not sure what to call it… “Farm to Table, er, bar”? “Garden to Glass”? “Cradle to Grave”?

They aim to be open early to serve coffee and breafasty type things, then have a lunch, and then to be open for dinner, and late night service. So far, they are serving dinner and open into late night.

I arrived for a pre-opening party about 15 minutes early and was surprised to see construction relics peeking out from behind this and that door. Figuring I should give them some time to get it together, I loitered out from, taking some photos. Eventually Vince, a bartender from Beretta, also rolled up, and we chatted for a while, as they swept up the garden and put away their ladders.

We sauntered up the walkway, and entered the dining room, where the tension and excitement was nearly tangible. The first party in the new restaurant! How would it go?

Ostensibly, the reason I was invited to one of the preview events for Bar Agricole is that they are featuring St. George Spirits cane based rums on their cocktail menu. So, here we have it, 4 months later, a ‘Ti Punch made with St. George Agua Libre Blanc. Definitely worth the wait. Though, now that I think about it, isn’t a ‘Ti Punch just a cold Agricole Rhum Toddy garnished with lime peel?

If you’re interested in picking up a bottle of either the aged or unaged Agua Libre, a number of local retailers are carrying it, including: Cask, K&L, Healthy Spirits, John Walker & Co, Jug Shop, Ledger’s, and Swirl on Castro. At this point, it might be wise to call ahead and ask if they have it in stock, as I understand the early sales were quite brisk.

Wait, go back a sec, ‘Ti Punch? That’s not a Savoy Cocktail! What’s a ‘Ti Punch? You mentioned it a couple drinks ago with the aesthetics of the Tinton Cocktail, but didn’t really explain.

‘Ti Punch (I can never quite decide where to put the apostrophe), reportedly short for Petit Punch, is a Caribbean libation often associated with Martinique Rhum and/or sailing. It is: Rum, to taste. Sugar, to taste. Lime, to taste. Add Ice (or water), stir, and smile.

According to some, a very strict recipe would be:

Ti Punch

2 oz Agricole Rhum Blanc
1 tsp Martinique Cane Syrup
1 quarter size disk of lime peel

Add Cane Syrup to a heavy bottomed glass. Squeeze lime peel over cane syrup, rub on rim of the glass and drop in. Add Rum and stir. Add ice and stir until chilled. Savor slowly and enjoy as the rum marries with the cane syrup, melted water, and lime.

That is, pretty exactly, a Cold Toddy or Sling.

However, Rhum Agricole Blanc can be a bit of an acquired taste. It’s usually 100 Proof and its flavor is sometimes compared, by the uninitiated, to Jet Fuel or Kerosene. A lot of people just don’t have the patience or proper relaxed attitude to wait around for the ice to melt and mellow the spirit. That first sip can be a bit of a shock. I’ve made ‘Ti Punch as described above for people who specifically ordered a Ti Punch and they sometimes ask for more lime wedges to squeeze into their drink, that I add more fresh lime juice, or if I can add more sugar. At this point, the cranky cocktail nerd inside me really wants to say, “Dude, if you wanted an Agricole Daiquiri, you should have ordered an Agricole Daiquiri, not a Ti Punch.”

On the other hand, when I was talking to Michael Lazar, of Left Coast Libations and the Stirred Not Shaken Blog, about Rhum Agricole Punch he mentioned his first exposure to Agricole-Style Rhum was in Guadalupe, where they are pretty relaxed about the whole thing. If you order Agricole Style Rhum, they just bring you a bottle, some limes, sugar, and, interestingly, a couple jars of jam. It’s up to you to figure out what you prefer in your drink. Then at the end of the night, they charge you based on how much Rhum is left in the bottle.

Maybe a more relaxed attitude is proper for an “Island-style” Drink.

And just about on cue, the battery in my camera flaked out. No more pictures of Bar Agricole, the staff, or their cocktails. Curses, I guess there will have to be a part 3 of this series!