On day four (or was it five?) of Portland Cocktail Week I was invited by Bacardi's Jacob Briars to sit in on a pretty heavy duty master class on vermouth at The Meadow, your one-stop shopping spot for all your salt, chocolate, bitters and vermouth needs--a recent addition to their offerings. Giuseppe Gallo, Global Martini Ambassador, led the rapt students down the rabbit hole of the aromotized fortified wine's history and the many branches of this Italian family tree. All a bit heady for me on day four (or was it five?) of the marathon educational and recreational drinks blitzkreig that descends on Portland each October. A miraculous reviving force appeared in the midst of the lesson, however, in the form of a round of Sbagliatos, the refreshing accidental cousin to the Negroni that was born when a barman grabbed a bottle of bubbles instead of gin and this lower-proof, effervescent junior version was born. The use of the new Gran Lusso Martini brought its robust--even lusty--herbal complexity and pronounced honey sweetness to the new classic. The Sbagliato is quite perfect for serving at a large gathering: I think this one will be on offer in the toolshed at my family's house for Thanksgiving this year.
1 oz Martini Gran Lusso
1 oz Campari
1 oz Prosecco
Stir, strain into a coupe, generous orange zest garnish.
Giuseppe illustrating the broad range of hues in Italian vermouths.
During a blind tasting Giusseppe asked students to locate each vermouth on the flavor matrix on a dry erase board.
Said results were then recorded with several smartphones to be reviewed later, an amusing melding of new and new-ish technology.
The mystery vermouths backstage.
An assortment of botanicals used in vermouths were on hand to sample
The NYT's Alessandra Stanley's astute critique of the newly launched Esquire Network describes a televised universe of gonzo lads, extreme sports & travel, and constant power drinking. There is no mention in her review of any cocktailing however, despite shows about brewers and some sophisticated locales where craft cocktails are surely readily available. But the tendency to lad out and do shots trumps the possibly too metrosexual for the network's (if not the magazine's) target audience. Which is fairly ironic, given that the magazine is front loaded with drinks features, and has the cocktail world's most significant presence in the magazine world (and probably publishing in general) David Wondrich as a star writer. But the identity crisis that the magazine may suffer from (as Stanley puts it, "Playboy without the centerfolds, The New Yorker without the writers") seems to have evolved in its televison extension to celebrate volume drinking and post-frat bonhomie far more than any kind of civilized cocktailing or even an epicurean aspect to that power drinking. Sitting here in Portland in the midst of the high-end bacchanale that is Portland Cocktail Week I can attest to the fact that both can coexist, the rowdy post-game kind of drinking and proper cocktails.
After a few hours at a poolside cocktail party in Key West the cocktail-y fixins and punches had been run through, and the group was onto beers--a natural evolution, as all the sugar & citrus and the general high-proof factor wears a little thin after awhile, and the beer slowdown is often the smart move. One particularly hardy guest wasn't down with proper drinks, however, and I looked at our limited resources and threw together a rye & soda with a twist, the go-to for our wine writer Stuart Krimko. Erin had a brainwave that really elevated the Bogart & Bacall era classic into new territory; we had some calamondin on hand for a rum punch, and Erin cut one in half, squeezed it and dropped it bang into the glass. The hard to describe citrus (tangy, sweet, bitter, complex) is as hard to find as it it to define--if you're living outside of Southeast Asia, The Phillipines or Hawaii. But I'm lucky enough to be in Key West right now where a friend has a tree in the backyard, and the odd zing of that citrus combined with the herby, sedective sweetness of a rye & soda--pretty tough to beat for essentially a two-ingredient cocktail.
After shooting the drink a couple days later I stuck the demo drink in the freezer to return to it later--2:00 P.M. seemed a little early that particular day to hit the rye. When I came back to it at cocktail hour it had frozen into a crystallized cylinder. I left it out in the low 80s afternoon air and sipped the high-proof run off as it thawed. Adult slushie, sweet, tangy and perhaps a little too easy to throw back.
The last night of the Key West Literary Seminar saw a random, but well-selected, group of writer, readers and other miscreants gathered back at my friends Mark & Nan's house for an after-after-after party. We all crashed out fairly early--frankly, while the party was still going. It had been a long couple of weeks of heavy duty literary convos and talks onstage, punctuated by parties, many, many cocktails, and late night karaoke at a location we've been sworn not to disclose to norms. When we woke up the next morning all the chairs in the house had been stacked on the tables and countertops. I think as we wandered through the room in various states of profound hungoverness it didn't seem that odd--but I snapped a couple photos with my iPhone. What had happened the night before?
Later in the day our friend Chris Otten of Bad Boy Burrito sent us this photo, shot long after we'd all retired, with wife Erin posing amidst the table-topped chairs that night. Rather glamorous late night shenanigans, I'd say.
I interviewed Patrik Gallineaux, the U.S. LGBT Brand Ambassador for Stolichnayya, about the seemingly deliberately mendacious boycott of the brand by well-meaning but misguided activists for the Huffington Post.
Any Good Riesling: Hexamer Riesling Quarzit, Nahe, 2011
It really doesn't matter what this particular wine is, even though it's a good one, because my intention when I bought it was to buy a good Riesling, and that was that. I treat myself to good Rieslings now and again, when I want to drink the bottle myself and have a cerebral, visual experience. All wine is synesthetic to a degree, but fine German Riesling conjures visions of sunlight streaming through conifers and the gold of day filtering down to stones beneath steady trickles of water. It offers visual separation, if I can synesthetically borrow an audiophile's term: layers of colors that equate to flavors, each discernible in its own right, and in terms of the others that surround it.
This bottle is not as delicate as some of the Mosels I've gone sublime for: even the entry-level Kabinetts from good producers, which will set you back between $20 and $25, can have this light-as-air quality that makes them feel like they were distilled from northern forest air. Minerality is a big part of the draw too. You can taste the ground, but cleanly. These wines feel like they're beyond agriculture.
Nevertheless, this was enjoyable, if a little more muscular than I'd expected. I should have known: at 11% alcohol, it pushes its 8%-10%, prettier cousins out of the way, and some of their poetry with them. What it gains in return is, well, a little more alcohol, of course, and aggressive verve. It wants you to know it likes you. Who doesn't like to be liked?
But the real reason I wanted to drink a good Riesling, any good Riesling, is that I had just read the following passage in Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time of Gifts. The book is the fist half of an account of a journey, almost entirely by foot, from Holland to Turkey taken in the 1930s by a mischievous 19-year-old Englishman with literary ambitions. It is written by the same Englishman, 40 years after the fact. Sometimes wine isn't about what you drink or what you're eating, or who you're with, but a means of participation, a way of telling a story, and a means of satisfying a desire to explore that draws in equal part from the mind and the heart, passing always over the palate, and over and around the tongue, like language:
The plain bowls of these wineglasses were poised on slender glass stalks, or on diminishing pagodas of little globes, and both kinds of stem were coloured: a deep green for Mosel and, for Rhenish, a brown smoky gold that was almost amber. When horny hands lifted them, each flashed forth its coloured message in the lamplight. It is impossible, drinking by the glass in those charmingly named inns and wine-cellars, not to drink too much... simply by sipping one could explore the two great rivers below and the Danube and all Swabia, and Franconia too by proxy, and the vales of Imhof and the faraway slopes of Würtzburg: journeying in time from year to year, with draughts as cool as a deep well, limpidly varying from dark gold to pale silver and smelling of glades and meadows and flowers.
It was reading the words "dark gold to pale silver and smelling of glades and meadows and flowers" that made me buy and drink this wine. The wine became an expression of them, carrying them back over the threshold into sensual life. Stuart Krimko. (Other Krimko pieces here.)
MILD SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT. Jacob Briars of Bacardi (when I texted him about his full title he responded "Global Trade Advocacy Director. Pretentious, moi?") has been cheekily serving blue drinks at cocktail competitions, trainings and special guest appearances around the world for the past several years. In the often solemn and occasionally pompous craft cocktail landscape Jacob's added this bit of silliness as a way to remind folks that cocktails are supposed to be fun, and to take a bit of the piss out of the arch seriousness we all occasionally fall victim to. There's a pivotal scene early on in "The World's End" where a seemingly normal, human character is revealed to be filled with blue liquid. It's a measure of how firm the association between Jacob Briars and blue liquid had become for me that when that rather shocking moment occurs he instantly came to mind as the guy to approach to work on the concept for a drink inspired by the film. That he works with the blue-bottled and tinted Bombay Sapphire was simply kismet. That Sapphire is Edgar Wright's gin call of choice ("mainly because I like to say it" he told me when I interviewed him about the copious drinking in the film for T Style) was icing on the cake.
Jacob and I quickly agreed that a riff on a corpse reviver just made sense, tinted blue with Bols Blue Curaçao, to be added to a pint. (Someday I'll count how many pints are consumed in the pub crawl that drives the plot, but at least for some characters it's around 12.) Here's Jacob's offering:
THE WORLD'S END
1/2 oz Bombay Sapphire Gin
1/2 oz Lillet
1/2 oz Bold Blue Curaçao
1/2 oz Strained lemon juice
Shake together, and fill a pipette or eye dropper with the mixture. Pour a crisp lager of wheat beer into a pint glass. Have a sip, then add the Reviver. Continue drinking, repeat until merry enough to forget any concerns about potential impending apocalypse.
Note: Simon Pegg's character is NOT the one revealed to be filled with blue liquid in the scene mentioned above. This is just the only photo I could get my hands on that showed the blue stuff. Also note: Pegg's kinetic, manic, endearing and surprisingly poignant performance should get him an Oscar nod, although it likely will be overlooked due to the Academy's aversion to awarding comedies and just its general lameness.
POSTSCRIPT: Have now tried the blue stuff a couple of times and when consumed as an accompinement to beer it's rather good--I'd pegged it as a bit of a stunt drink but the blue curaçao works rather nicely with the Lillet and the gin--bit of an eye opener when the party is lagging, too.
In droppers, the blue stuff can be smuggled into a cinema where it ought to be consumed starting with the first fight scene in the bathroom.
Shot this little video during Tales of the Cocktail 2013 at the Irish Whiskey House, a bustling Dead Rabbit pop-up. Jack McGarry was behind the stick banging out some pretty complex cocktails at not only an impressive clip, but for an almost super-human length of time. From noon until 8:00 p.m, in a crowded room with no AC and considerable body heat on top of mid-July New Orleans swelter, and with no break, McGarry cranked out cocktail after cocktail, checking them all and serving with a smile. Just imagine him repeating everything he does in this 1:30 video another 360 or so times.