If Only You’d Apply Yourself, Erik

Of all the criticism I have heard in my life, I would say this is probably the most frequent.

“You’re a smart person, Erik, if you’d only apply yourself, you could go far.”

Whether it was my English teachers in 6th Grade trying to teach me grammar, or my Math teachers in 3rd Grade trying to get me to learn my multiplication tables, or friends wondering over my puzzling, and often self defeating, career choices.

In point of fact, I can’t really apply myself in the same way others can. I am an intuitive, insightful thinker, not a methodical, plodding, stepwise, thinker.

I would, in fact, rather gouge my eyes out, than really learn multiplication tables, no matter how much it would improve my life.

The funny thing is, I am really good at memorization, but not in a conscious way. If I repeat things out loud, I can memorize pretty much anything: random numbers, letters, lengthy text, times tables, etc, but I can’t consciously pull it up, and don’t really understand it. It is as if I am reading it out loud for the other smart person who lives in my brain, and then can only access it, if that other person interrupts me with their insight.

I have to distract the Erik who lives from day to day to get any insight into my real thoughts and feelings.

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.

What Was Root Beer?

Before Charles Hires cemented the flavor profile for commercial Root Beer with his incredibly successful product, what were its origins?

First, as we’ve seen, the gamut of spices and flavorings used in Root Beer were primarily medicinal before they found their way into Root Beer. They were also native to the Americas: Wintergreen from Northeastern America, Sweet Birch from Northeastern America, Sassafras from Southeastern America, and Sarsaparilla from Central America via the Caribbean.

The peoples native to the Americas had traditions of Root and Herb based medicines.

Africans brought to North America, also had their own traditions of Root and Herb based medicinal elixirs.

When French, Spanish, and English settlers came to the Americas, they brought European traditional medicines, but a lot of the ingredients they had been using in Europe were either in short supply or unavailable to them in the Americas.

So for their ailments in the New World, presumably, they turned to the people who were already living here who had some experience with using the native flora and fauna for medicinal purposes.

In addition to the Medicinal ingredients being in short supply, many of the raw ingredients which had been used to produce recreational beverages in Europe were also only available as imports from Europe and the supply lines were not reliable.

The grapes which had been used to make wine in Europe did not grow in America; the types of Grain which had been used to make beer did not grow in abundance; Apple trees which were ubiquitous in areas of England, France, and Spain were non-existent; Domesticated Bee colonies had to be introduced before anyone could make mead…

While the South and Central Americas had more plentiful carbohydrate and sugar sources that allowed them the ability to have surplus to ferment, this was not the case in North America, where the intoxicating substances used for ritual and social purposes were generally smoked or eaten, rather than fermented and imbibed.

In truth, fermentable sugars and carbohydrates were pretty thin on the ground in North America, especially the North Eastern America, until the Sugar and Molasses trade in the Caribbean got up to speed.

In addition, making beer is a bit complicated and takes a while, not the easiest thing to do while you’re busy establishing a new country.

But, habits die hard, and I can see how the quickest route to some sort of alcoholic beverage, ANY sort of alcoholic beverage, would be to take the highly concentrated fermentable carbohydrates of plain sugar, (including Molasses, Maple Syrup, or Birch Syrup,) and turn them into intoxicating beverages with a little yeast. However, I’ve tasted fermented cane juice and it is pretty nasty. The same goes for Sugar and Molasses wine.

It totally makes sense that someone would take spices, herbs, etc. and throw them into their fermented sugar beverages, just to make them remotely palatable. If the herbs are medicinal, well, bonus! At least you know they aren’t poisonous.

And indeed, until the technology of artificial beverage carbonation became commercially viable in mid to late 19th Century America, all yeast carbonated Root and Ginger Beers were at least mildly alcoholic.

Like Chicory or Dandelion used to make imitation coffee, I think Root Beer probably started primarily as a quick substitute for actual beer. Luckily, Charles Hires discovered a formula for the beverage that was not only palatable in desperation, but also enjoyable on its own merits. As a consequence, from the late 19th Century to the Mid 20th Century, Root Beer was the king of soft drinks in America.

21 Fizz Salute

It must be happy hour, I’m alone behind the bar and a long order comes in.

“21 Gin Fizz Tropicals for the Lounge?”

“Everyone in that group wants the same cocktail?”

The server assures me this is the case.

“Well, that will be a while, Egg White drinks and all. I can only make 4 at a time.”

I set about making them…

“What the!?”

Someone seems to have swapped out my measuring jiggers for others I don’t recognize.

Ack! I fumble around, trying to make sense out of the equipment.

Suddenly, for some reason, I’m also having a hard time remembering the recipe… Is it apricot liqeuer? How much Gin?

I awake with a start and quickly run through the Gin Fizz Tropical in my head, 2oz Plymouth Gin, 1oz Lime, 1/2 oz Orgeat, 1/2 oz Pineapple Gum, 1/2 oz Egg White. Dry shake, shake with ice. Soda.

Whew.

Social Media Blues

What? Facebook bought Instagram?

Oh fer craps sake, I got to enjoy Instagram on my Android phone for how long before that ugly, mean, gorilla takes it over? Like, A DAY!

Well, good on the Instagram folks, I hope they enjoy their condos in the tropics.

I guess that is OK, as long as Facebook doesn’t mess with Instagram. I mean, they wouldn’t spend that much just for a few engineers, some tech, and IP, just to kill it, would they? We’re talking about 1 Billion Dollars!

On Monday, the Facebook-owned app updated its terms of service to say companies could pay Instagram to use members’ images in ads without compensating the photographers. Instagram claimed the update was to allow the company to experiment with possible future advertising options, and was not part of any current plan to sell images.

Oh, right, this is Facebook, we’re talking about. Isn’t their motto, “Be as evil as we can be without alienating too many of the suckers who use our services”?

Sigh. And Mrs Flannestad has a good point, “Do you really think you own anything you post on social media?”

Well, why am I posting photos to Instagram anyway? Why not just put them on MY website? Why not put the energy I’m putting into someone else’s site into my own?

So there you go.

A bit of an experiment, but the daily photo posts I’ve been putting on Instagram will now be on savoystomp.com.

Let me know what you think.

Farmers’ Market Conversations

“Why do you carry your dog, does he like it?”

Sometimes the Market guards give me a hard time about having him here, it’s a little better if I carry him.

“You should just get your Doctor to certify that you need a companion animal. It’s easy. I did that with my two. When I asked, he said, ‘Are you kidding? You don’t need a companion animal!’ So I told him I was homicidal! Bang! Two stamps for my dogs!”

Entertainment!

One of the first comments I got regarding my playlist post was the following from SFPaul.

I’m always surprised when it appears that music falls low on the priority list for a restaurant. Don’t they understand the roll of music is to the human experience and how it has accompanied us for thousands and thousands of years.
To have it be an afterthought tells me a lot about the management and how little they care about the dining experience as a whole.

As far as I can tell, the combination of music and intoxicating substances goes back as far as both have existed in human history. However, since many animals have been known to consume spontaneously fermented or naturally intoxicating substances, maybe longer. Who knows what those drunk Cedar Waxwings in the berry tree are saying to each other?

Music in bars would have first started, I presume, as spontaneous communal entertainment and drinking games.

Soon after, someone who was better at performing or singing than average probably received a drink, (or chicken,) for their stellar efforts and realized there were some goods or services which could be received for their efforts.

A couple centuries pass and soon the technology for performing songs without actual human musicians becomes possible. First clockwork bands and player pianos, then audio recording and playback. The iconic Jukebox of the 1950s diner and eventually the iPod.

Restaurants are trickier. I really am not sure when music started to become as ubiquitous as it currently is, as background music for dining. I tend to think, rather recently.

All the same, here we are, and restaurants, along with bars, are very nearly required, unless they are very, very fancy, to have some sort of background music for dining.