Hello, I must be going…for now

Both loyal readers of A Measured Spirit may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything since … um, spring? Yes, that’s about right.

I’m sad and annoyed — dis-spirited! — to report that in the interim I’ve been diagnosed with an ugly spine condition, had a major surgery [a multi-level fusion, for the lumbar cognoscenti], and two very unpleasant complications far worse than the surgery. All of this was followed by several months of the sort of narcotic medications that make so many deadly headlines these days.

These morphine derivatives have many contraindications, the most pertinent being Old Fashioneds, Margaritas, Drunk Monks, Hillbilly Martinis, and so on … basically anything with, um, alcohol. I’ve been on the Wagon of Glum for several months, and am likely to ride on it for who knows how long.

Since I can’t taste or enjoy drinks, it’s no longer impossible to sustain the, how you say, persistent enthusiasm that maintaining this blog requires.

I briefly thought of converting to mocktails. Luckily I quickly thought better of it.

So it’s time to pull the plug on AMS, at least for now. So: Happy mixing. Happy drinking. Happy hours, evenings, nights, and brunches to all. No happy breakfasts, please.

Oh, okay, WTF. Here’s one mocktail — hate that word — I’m making:

Phony Gin & Tonic

  • Cook up some simple syrup, and toss in the thick skin of two lemons and a handful of juniper berries. You can find these at the nearest health food store.
  • Turn off the heat and let it cool for 2 hours.
  • Strain, toss out the solids.
  • Measure 1.5 oz of the stuff in a Collins glass filled with ice.
  • Add 1 oz lemon juice.
  • Top with tonic.
  • Garnish with lemon wheel.

Sure, you’re disappointed and dissatisfied. But from where I sit, drinking these is way better than becoming another opioid casualty in the local paper. I’ll take it.

 

 

 

 

Margarita bottle service? ¡Un otro, por favor!

At a Mill Valley restaurant, serve yourself and live large

Maybe I don’t get out enough, but this is the first time I’ve seen Margarita bottle service: At Playa restaurant in Mill Valley, California, $48 for a voluminous tankard of Margarita, iced and bucketed tableside in the fashion of an overpriced Chardonnay. 

The thing is, the Margaritas were unnecessarily spectacular: tart and bright, with the kick of el burro. All glasses were Old Fashioned style, half the rim wearing a collar of salt and half plain.

I was as usual going to do the Intrepid Cocktail Geek routine at Playa and order some unthinkable mezcal/anisette/Asian-pear-tincture/espresso-rose-water-bitters/nitrogen-frozen-Kool-Aid-garnish thingy named after the chorus of some Guatemalan rap song. 

Wisely, I deferred to our group’s preferences, and to my own curiosity about being served a whole bottle o’ cocktail fun.

It was so good we ordered it twice.

Seems like a brilliant mix of customer delight and business smart. Folks drink more when they serve themselves, the product is pre-batched, the wait-staff is freed from one-off re-orders and even from the salted-or-unsalted query.

And hey, it’s a rare chance to act nearly as cool as you wish you were.

True, it’s not like being a rapper in the red velvet room of a downtown club working through a case if Ciroc. But bottle service of high-power hootch, the vessel sweating in its metal bucket of ice as the gang tops each other off until — oops, gone already? ¡Uno mas, senorita! — is just a hoot.

nb: The food at Playa is so tasty it’s almost unfair to other Mill Valley restaurants. 

Annals of rookie bartenders, Vol. XXVI.a.77: La Nariz Congelada 

A surprisingly drinkable mix of mezcal and rye. The presentation? Loco

Placed before me at a random mezcaleria in Healdsburg, California:

La Nariz Congelada: aka The Frozen Nose

Huh.

“Maybe that should be served up, without the ice cube?” said I.

The waitress baby-sitting the bar this early afternoon referred to the handwritten guide the head bartender had left behind the counter.

“No,” said she. “It says to serve with the big ice cube.”

“Maybe it should be served in an Old Fashioned glass?” I offered.

“No, he said to serve everything in a Margarita glass.”

Well.

When in Rome, etc.

Gamely, I took a sip. The ice cube brushed my nose.

The odd thing is, it was an unexpectedly arresting drink. It looked like a train-wreck on the menu — all those unrelated flavors in one place! — but it was at least a solid B, with extra points for originality.

I have no idea what it was called on the menu.

So I am naming it here.

La Nariz Congelada, or The Frozen Nose

  • 1.5 z mezcal
  • .75 rye
  • .5 Luxardo maraschino liqueur

Stir in a mixing glass, serve up in a coupe with one big ice cube, because…well, WTF. Brandied cherry garnish.

Frozen Nose cocktail tasting notes

  • Mixes two base spirits and a liqueur, each with vivid, distinctive flavors.
  • The smoke of the mezcal, the grainy edge of the rye, the high-pitched sweet of the Luxardo…somehow balance themselves.
  • Instead of a bar fight, this somehow comes off as a slightly edgy barstool conversation among three very strong-minded people who’ve never met.
  • Which is to say: A fascinating entertainment, but slightly dangerous.
  • Okay, so I tried this in an Old Fashioned glass. Worked much better.

Introducing National Kumquat Cocktail Fortnight

It’s time to give the humbly obscure kumquat its mixological due

The alcohol-industrial complex has concocted a bewildering number of horatory days, weeks, and months. There’s National Martini Day [June 19], National Bourbon Heritage Month [September],  and National Liqueur Day [October 16]. Inevitably, this gets weird. In an act of collaborative mercy, Harvey Wallbanger Day and National Shot Day both happen on November 8. Because there is no god, there is now a National Rhubarb Vodka Day. And so on.

Which provides me all the justification I need to take the following action:

I hereby declare, with the authority invested in me by absolutely nobody whatsoever, National Kumquat Cocktail Fortnight™. Hereafter it shall be observed annually from February 25 through March 11 (March 10 on leap years).

Kumquat Smash cocktail Craig Stoltz cocktail blog A Measured Spirit
Smash of the Titans: Reason enough to justify a National Kumquat Cocktail Fortnight(c). 

Kumquat season, you say?

Kumquats — small ovals of citrus the size of an olive, sweet of skin and sour of belly, believed to be native of China — have a limited season, from January through March. This makes a fixed celebration during this period actually defensible. [I’m not sure the creators of National Rhubarb Vodka Day can make the same claim.]

This compressed availability issue may explain why, against all reason, the kumquat has failed to become a stable behind craft cocktail bars everywhere. It should.

Kumquats are pretty little things, easy to muddle, and fairly versatile for an exotic.

The miniature orange orbs are sharp and punchy, a frisky variation on – and easy collaborator with – the more familiar citrus flavors we know too well.

They have a funny name that invites a lowbrow leer.

You can probably find them from January through March at Whole Foods and similar high-fallutin’ food barns.

Like the very best people I know, kumquats are sweet, tart, and just slightly bitter.

They are also the only citrus fruit whose skin you can eat. Which is to say: In drinks, kumquats function as an edible citrus garnish.     Continue reading “Introducing National Kumquat Cocktail Fortnight”

American Orange: A populist punch for 2017

American Orange Punch — a lot of work, a delicious outcome & an unsettling resonance with our peculiar moment of populism

Until quite recently I thought “punch” was essentially a huge cocktail served in a bowl — sort of a “family size” Manhattan with a ladle.

Now that I have twice conjured American Orange Punch I can report that I was deliciously, deliriously wrong.

An “authentic” punch, I learned from the magnificent David Wondrich volume, Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, requires among many other things proper oleo-saccharum-izing, the vigilant filtering of pips [!], the manual agitation of sugar your mama never heard of, and the attentive employment of a vegetable peeler and cheesecloth — to say nothing of boiling, infusing, cooling, funneling, stirring, and, not least, carefully and repeatedly taste-testing.

This took me 4 hours the first time but only 3 the second.

20170121_140336.jpg

 

American Orange Punch: A populist libation

I chose from Wondrich’s volume American Orange Punch for two related reasons:

  • It was served at the epic 1829 inauguration of Andrew Jackson — the infamous “open door” White House party, where The People were invited in to celebrate the heartland hero’s election. By some popular accounts his supporters proceeded to get turbulently drunk on the stuff — smashing glassware, staging fist-fights, engaging in rude assignations, nearly suffocating the President by overpacking the parlor, etc. White House staff had to set the barrels of the punch outside to get the ruffians out of the place.
  • As it happened, both holiday parties I brought the punch to took place within a few miles of the White House. Call me seditious, but in 2016 the theme of a rowdy idiot populist mob descending on the White House, fighting, stealing stuff, breaking shit, screwing around, and generally defaming the office of the Presidency seemed to have a certain resonance. That all this was happening around a famously Orange American….well, I was too weak a man to resist.

Continue reading “American Orange: A populist punch for 2017”

Smoking & drinking

If you appreciate a rich, smoky Scotch or mezcal, you may enjoy a drink infused with real smoke that you generate and capture yourself. Or you may just want to hold the fire extinguisher

I’ve ordered “actually smoked” drinks several times while patronizing the kind of crafty bars that do this type of thing.

I refer to beverages where a live flame is used to carbonize artisanal wood, the smoke is captured in the glass and forced into the liquid, and the result is served while the mist is still rising.

I’ve always enjoyed the ritualized pyrotechnics, the self-conscious showmanship of barkeep, the delighted buzz of the patrons who haven’t previously witnessed a drink whose preparation would alarm the fire marshal.

Yup: Time to give this a try at home!

How to smoke & drink

  1. Mix up a simple, citrus-free drink: Your favorite Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Negroni, etc. [Shown: Rittenhouse rye, Antica Carpano vermouth, orange bitters.] Stir, no ice: Smoked drinks are best served at room temperature. Prepare your garnish.
  2. Go outside, or at least do this over your stove top with the exhaust fan roaring.
  3. Grab one of those grilling planks of cedar, pine, birch, etc. that you find at kitchen stores, hardware stores, and some groceries.
  4. Use a kitchen torch, or a hand-held propane canister with a brass nozzle, to ignite the wood. Don’t be a fire wuss! Get a big ol’ flame going. You need to generate sufficient smoke density.
  5. Invert a sturdy Old Fashioned glass over the burned spot
  6. Delight as you watch the chamber fill with mist.
  7. Flip the glass over, pour in your mixture, and slap a saucer or piece of wood on top. This “pushes” the smoke into the beverage, effectively forcing the liquid and gas to intermingle.
  8. Give it a minute. Pull off the cap, run your citrus garnish along the rim, drop it in.

Smoking & drinking & tasting

  • Oh, it’s smoky all right.
  • By “smoke” I don’t refer to the metaphorical scent of a peaty scotch or heady mezcal. I refer to the vivid, slightly alarming smell of a brush fire by the side of an Arizona freeway.
  • At first, the smoke overpowers anything in the glass. Like a game of professional baseball or a first date, the first few minutes are the most difficult to tolerate.
  • As the gas dissipates, however, you wind up with a libation that’s as good as whatever you mixed up, but with a layer of satisfying, vivid smoky notes.

Would I do it again? Sure.

But I think I’m more likely to repeat this with friends, or at one of A Measured Spirit’s legendary cocktail parties. Like I said, I enjoy the pyrotechnics, the showmanship, the warm buzz of the crowd.

Oh, one final ingredient I forgot to mention: Fire extinguisher.

(Re)-introducing: The Old Fashioned Good Fella

The Old Fashioned Good Fella is actually for sale at a bar, despite the fact that I created it. I am no less surprised than you

I have peaked as an amateur drinksman. If this were a profession for me I’d immediately retire so I could exit at a high point.

One my own original creations now appears on the menu of an Italian bistro in my neighborhood of Bethesda, Maryland.

Craig Stoltz cocktail recipe Old Fashioned Good Fella
The Old Fashioned Good Fella, created by yours truly, available at Sal’s Italian Kitchen in Bethesda, Maryland. $12 at Sal’s, free at my house just up the road. Stop by either place!

I have personally witnessed real humans pay $12 for the privilege of drinking an Old Fashioned Good Fella. I once saw a guy try it and shoot his eyebrows up and nod his head, I think in approval.

The Old Fashioned Good Fella

  • 2.25 oz High West Double Rye
    • The nice rye bite stands up to the other powerful flavors
  • Scant half-oz Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
    • If you’re not aquainted, this is a real charmer, smooth and spicy. Order it neat at the bar, after dinner. You’ll thank me later. 
  • 4 [!] dashes Regan’s orange bitters
    • I know, that’s a lot. Somehow it’s less of a drink with fewer dashes. 
  • Flamed orange peel garnish

It’s all in the name, fella

Both careful readers of A Measured Spirit may recognize this as a drink about which I have previously blogged, complete with origin story and its rickety relationship to the classic Old Fashioned. I then called it the Ginger Orange Flame.

I’ve got to say, “The Old Fashioned Good Fella” — inviting a sort of suburban mobster affectation by its purchaser — is a way better marketing name for an Italian restaurant menu item than “Ginger Orange Flame.”

That name I imagined dark and romantic, what with the promise of the tang of ginger and a reference to “flame.” This may say more about the activity of my imagination than anything else, but hey, it worked for me. At least before I thought about anybody actually buying it.

More importantly, The Old Fashioned Good Fella is also way better than “Craig’s Old Fashioned,” which the barkeep at Sal’s, much to my horror, proposed to name the drink at first. Happily, his manager refused.

I try to imagine myself ordering something called “Craig’s Old Fashioned” anywhere and fail utterly.

Starting a tab, pal?

I think the margin is pretty good for the OFGF, despite the abundance of High West Double Rye and Domaine de Canton, each retailing at about $40 a bottle.

If wholesale price is half of retail, let’s see…25 ounces per bottle, 2.25 of rye, .5 of liqueur…that’s only about $1.75 for the ingredients. Triple that for personnel, space, advertising, and all that other stuff, and…I may be making Sal’s a lot of money.

Someday, in fact, they may comp me for an Old Fashioned Good Fella.

I’m still waiting.

Those suburban mobsters are a tough group, I’ll tell ya.