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July 15th, 2008

Yankees in NOLA

Sazerac Cocktail posterFrom what I’ve heard, there is a sizable contingent of Boston-area bartenders, writers and cocktail enthusiasts heading to New Orleans this week for Tales of the Cocktail. I’m looking forward to running into my fellow New Englanders wherever I go, whether it’s the panel on gin called “Juniperlooza: A Journey Deep into the Heart of Mother’s Ruin,” the French 75 bar at Arnaud’s or the cemetery where part of Easy Rider was filmed.

New Orleans is still doing some serious rebuilding and repopulating three years after Hurricane Katrina, and for me and a lot of other attendees, Tales is partly about showing the natives some moral support and generating some cash for the restaurant and hotel employees who make our good times roll.

So leave a nice tip for that Sazerac, which, in case you hadn’t heard, was just declared New Orleans’ official cocktail by the Louisana legislature (thanks in part to Tales organizer Ann Tuennerman). Writer, bon vivant and New Orleans native Chuck Taggart, whom I’m looking forward to seeing again this year, writes lovingly about the Sazerac here. Scroll down a bit for the recipe, and be sure to follow it to the T if you want to taste the real thing.

I’ll be drinking Sazeracs (and Obituaries and Vieux Carrés) this week and blogging from the Crescent City.

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Posted in New Orleans | 1 Comment »

June 24th, 2008

World’s booziest blog

Tales Blog - logoWhether or not you plan on attending Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans this year, you should check out what the event’s planners are calling the World’s Largest Collaborative Cocktail Blog. It’s collectively written by a group of bloggers who will be participating in and writing about panels and other events at the World’s Largest Cocktail Convention (or, as Scott likes to call it, Macworld for Drunks).

The Tales bloggers are dishing up previews, commentary, interviews and how-to’s on a riot of boozy subjects that may be helpful and interesting to the drinking public at large (not just those who are heading down to New Orleans). A sampling of recent posts gives you an idea: Death in the Gulfstream — An Underappreciated Hemingway Drink, by Seamus Harris of Bunnyhugs; Artisan Still Design and Construction, by Jonathan Forester of SlashFood; and Getting Your Booze into the News, by some blogger from Boston.

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Posted in New Orleans | No Comments »

February 22nd, 2008

Tales of the Cocktail 2008: A preview

Obituary CocktailI’ve been drafted to represent Tales of the Cocktail 2008 at the Boston Globe Travel Show this Friday and Saturday (February 22-23). TOTC Founder Ann Tuennerman is busy promoting her event elsewhere around the country, so I, along with Misty Kalkofen of Green Street, signed on for the job. Since Misty and I (and several of our fellow Boston cocktailians) are attending TOTC again this year, you’ll be hearing more about this be-there-or-be-square cocktail party as its time (July 16-20) nears. And, of course, there’ll be posts about the event during and after the fact, just like last year.

Misty’s and my presentation will involve a few cocktail demos, of course. Two of the featured drinks celebrate New Orleans and its cocktail history; the third gives Travel Show attendees a taste of what’s happening in today’s Boston scene. Try them out yourself while you plan your trip to New Orleans this summer. FYI, we used Hendrick’s gin (a TOTC sponsor) in the recipes below.

Obituary Cocktail

2 oz gin
1/4 oz dry vermouth
1/4 oz absinthe (or Herbsaint)

Stir all ingredients well over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. This cocktail was created at Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon St., one of New Orleans’ oldest saloons.

French 75

1 1/2 oz gin
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
Champagne

Shake gin, lemon juice and simple syrup over ice. Pour into champagne flute or saucer and top with Champagne. The bar at the famous New Orleans restaurant, Arnaud’s, is named for this drink. The drink is, as you know, named for the rapid-firing cannon the French used in World War I.

Flapper Jane

1 3/4 oz gin
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
3/4 oz Wu Wei tea-infused simple syrup*
dash of Peychaud’s bitters

Shake all ingredients over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. The Flapper Jane was created for the LUPEC Boston Tea Party.

*Wu Wei tea-infused simple syrup: heat 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water and 1 Tbsp Wu Wei tea in a saucepan until all the sugar dissolves. Pour into a container and let cool. Store in fridge.

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Posted in Cocktails, Events, Gin, New Orleans | 6 Comments »

August 10th, 2007

Tales: shout outs & magic moments

Ernie K-Doe's Mother-in-Law Lounge

Indulge me while I dredge up more memory fragments from the sotted swirl that was Tales of the Cocktail 2007. The event still lingers in my mind, and I’m not alone. Paul Clarke over at Cocktail Chronicles admitted, “Yes, I’m still going on about it,” in a recent post. Specifically, Paul welcomed readers who landed on his blog from Salon.com, which interviewed him during Tales week for a recent article called It’s always cocktail hour somewhere. Way to go, Paul! Then there’s poor John Myers over at the Thirstin’ Howl, who is poetically “wracked and paralyzed” with longing for New Orleans now that he’s back home in Portland, Maine. Oh, dear. Read his ode to NOLA, then post him a comment with a few cheery words, will ya?

Now for some of the things — ah, the magic moments — that made my short visit to New Orleans stick in my head.

Freelance tuba. I’m at Vaughan’s Lounge at around 2:00 a.m. Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers are in mid-set, and the crowd on the floor is pretty densely packed. Suddenly, a shiny tuba is being carried by its owner above the dancers’ heads, and the band is beckoning this guest musician to join in. The guy apparently keeps his instrument on hand whenever he goes out, just in case the evening’s musical act needs someone to sit in and provide low brass notes. In Boston, you might see a sit-in musician go out to his car during a show and grab a guitar. Maybe a saxophone. But a tuba? Only in New Orleans.

Ernie K-Doe HeadErnie K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge. This might be the most wonderfully weird bar I’ve ever been in. It is a shrine to the R&B performer who looked a bit like Little Richard, sang the 1961 hit song for which the lounge is named, and prototyped the modern hip hop alias by changing his last name from Kador to K-Doe. K-Doe died in 2001, and his widow, Antoinette, keeps the place going. This involves maintaining an Ernie K-Doe mannequin dressed in some of the outfits the singer actually wore. There are tons of photos and memorabilia of the K-Does and their friends on the walls and, best of all, a giant Ernie K-Doe head that I’m guessing makes appearances in Mardi Gras parades. The Hurricane Katrina flood badly damaged the lounge, but luckily, friends and fans donated money to renovate the place. (Read a recent USA Today article about the bar.)

Taggart hugs a fan. As I mentioned in my previous post about Tales of the Cocktail, Chuck Taggart was among the featured panelists. His writing about cocktails (and food, music and politics) on the Gumbo Pages has attracted many admiring readers over the years, including Jackson Cannon, the mixology guru at Eastern Standard. After a seminar on vermouth, Cannon walked up to Taggart to introduce himself. He did this by handing Taggart an actual cocktail menu from Eastern Standard — a cocktail menu that happens to credit Taggart for a drink called the Hoskins. At first, Taggart merely perused the menu with admiration for a bar that would serve up obscure classics like the Brooklyn, the Alaska and the Vieux Carré. Then his eye fell upon the Hoskins, with his own name next to it, and the look of admiration turned into one of open-mouthed surprise. So tickled was this L.A.-inhabiting New Orleanian that a bartender in Boston, Massachusetts, paid tribute to him, he reached up and gave Cannon a big bear hug. And you thought a cocktail convention couldn’t be touching.

Texting at the Carousel BarDistance bartending. My companion in drink during the week of Tales was fellow Bostonian Misty Kalkofen. She is much more familiar with New Orleans than I am, and she served as my guide to the coolest bars and restaurants in the city, for which I was immensely grateful. Every afternoon, when we finished drinking cocktails for educational purposes, we climbed aboard the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone to drink cocktails for fun purposes. Remarkably, Misty remained alert to respond to emergencies at Green Street, the bar she manages back in Cambridge. Once, while sitting at the Carousel Bar, she helped out a co-worker by text-messaging him the recipe for a Fort Washington Flip. The words on her phone screen in the photo read, “applejack, benedictine, maple syrup, egg.” Go to Green Street and try one.

Those who served us. On a more bittersweet note, I have to mention the fact that even in the touristy, unscathed French Quarter, the repercussions of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans’ psyche were apparent. There was an undercurrent of wariness and suspicion in the demeanor of bar and restaurant folks we encountered. (They were totally competent and professional, nonetheless.) Mario at the Napoleon House curtly serving us Pimm’s Cups… Paul at Tujaques sizing up the Sazerac-fueled Boston tourists as potential jerks… Antoinette gruffly asking who we were before letting us enter the Mother-in-Law Lounge for a birthday party… Who can blame them? Maybe these individuals’ circumstances were bad in the aftermath of the storm, maybe they weren’t. But it was clear that a person didn’t have to live in a FEMA trailer to feel beaten down with worry over the fate of his/her city. There was nothing we could do except be polite and leave big tips. It seemed to work a little. By the end of our visits with Mario, Paul and Antoinette, a glimmer of camaraderie appeared in their hardened expressions, and we were glad for that.

Posted in New Orleans | 4 Comments »

July 27th, 2007

Tales of the Cocktail 2007

Ted Haigh & Lauren Clark

Wow. As we say in New England, that was wicked awesome. The last time I was in New Orleans, I was a dumb college kid hanging out on Bourbon St. drinking Hurricanes with the rest of the tourists. Fast-forward many years to Tales of the Cocktail 2007, where I attended seminars on vermouth and pimento dram and drank Pimm’s Cups at the honorable Napoleon House. The older, wiser me had a much better time.

Martin DoudoroffIf drinking cocktails for breakfast, lunch and dinner, then going out at night for more cocktails, is your idea of heaven, this is the event — and the town — for you. At a 10 a.m. session on applejack, we were served a Golden Dawn, a Jack Rose and a Wicked Kiss (a Widow’s Kiss with the addition of rye whiskey). Haigh (Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails), Gary Regan (The Joy of Mixology, Regan’s Orange Bitters), and Chad Solomon and Christy Pope (Cuff & Buttons) presided over the seminar with an unofficial fifth panelist: Lisa Laird of the Laird family. Yes, that Laird family, the ones who have produced Laird’s Applejack since the 1700s and who had George Washington over for dinner before the Battle of Monmouth. The cocktails were made with bonded Applejack, which is distilled with 100-percent apples (no grain neutral spirits) and aged for four years — and which, as far as I know, cannot be had in the Boston area. Too bad.

At Prohibition’s Shadow, which featured Haigh, David Wondrich, Robert Hess (drinkboy.com) and John Hall (distiller of Forty Creek Canadian whiskey), we sipped samples of Forty Creek, a blend of rye, corn and barley whiskies, all distilled separately then blended. That stuff was righteously smooth and had flavors of an old ale, like Thomas Hardy’s. Why Canadian whiskey? Well, where do you think speakeasies got their whiskey during Prohibition? The session itself turned into a bit of a speakeasy when John Myers, bartender, cocktail historian and author of the Thirstin’ Howl, suddenly pulled a bottle of Fernet out of his bag and began dispensing shots. Perfectly appropriate at this sort of convention.

Cocktails and the Blogosphere, another 10 a.m. session (oh, my head!) involved Fancy Free and Police Gazette cocktails by way of illustrating how obscure drinks get re-discovered and popularized through blogs. Full of whiskey and bitters, these are two libations that’ll set the vintage-cocktail enthusiast’s heart aflutter. Paul Clark (Cocktail Chronicles), Chuck Taggart (Gumbo Pages), Darcy O’Neil (The Art of Drink) and Rick Stutz (Kaiser Penguin) presided. The session’s money quote (by Paul, I think): “At the 10th anniversary of Tales of the Cocktail, we’ll be talking about the recently launched 100,000th drink blog.”

Jackson Cannon & Audrey Sanders

The money quote from the session simply titled Vermouth (with Haigh and Martin Doudoroff, the geniuses behind cocktaildb.com) came from Haigh just as we started: “It’s 11:30 in the morning, and you guys are at a session on vermouth? Get a life!” We sipped a Marconi Wireless (speaking of bloggers rediscovering old drinks) and a Rose and learned that it’s really hard to get information from vermouth producers (Martini & Rossi, Noilly Prat, etc.) on the spices they use to turn red or white wine into a classic cocktail ingredient. One of the panelists did manage to get hold of some info, and she recited a list of ingredients used in M&R and NP, but I was way beyond note taking at that point.

The Lost Ingredients session was a trip. I had never even heard of pimento dram or Batavia arrack, much less tasted them, before that day. The session was basically a live interpretation of “Gone but Not Forgotten,” the article Clarke wrote for the current issue of Imbibe. I urge any cocktail enthusiast to pick up that issue, because Clarke’s article includes info (and some recipes) on some of the amazing, re-emerging spirits we sampled at Lost Ingredients, including: pimento dram, a rum-based, allspice-flavored liqueur rarely found outside Jamaica — we sampled Taggart’s homemade version; Batavia arrack, a sugar cane- and fermented rice-based spirit produced in Java (formerly the Dutch colony of Batavia) and the basis of Swedish punsch; and falernum, a low-alcohol syrup flavored with limes, ginger, almonds and clove and a key ingredient in many tiki drinks. Read more about the Lost Ingredients session here.

Absinthe dripFinally, Sunday brunch: absinthe with a little sugar. I walked into that session a little late, and when I entered the room … wow, the licorice perfume enveloped me, a sensory experience I’ll never forget. Chemist and absinthe expert Ted Breaux gave a comprehensive presentation about absinthe history, myth and legal status, which is apparently still kind of fuzzy in the U.S. He devised the recipe for the new, legal-in-the-U.S. absinthe Lucid, which contains wormwood but only a barely measurable amount of wormwood’s active and feared ingredient, thujone. Anyhoo… somehow we were drinking real Swiss and French absinthe (the latter produced from a recipe of Breaux’s) in the traditional way, by very slowly letting ice water drip into the glass until the liquid became cloudy. This stuff was strong — over 130 proof! I don’t think absinthe should be banned, but I’m not sure if I recommend it as the first meal of the day.

In my next post, I’ll provide some snapshots of what happened outside of the Tales of the Cocktail sessions.

Posted in Absinthe, Applejack, Cocktails, Events, New Orleans, Vermouth, Whiskey | 6 Comments »

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