Saturday, February 27, 2010

Drinking Time at The Passenger

Recently a friend of mine had a "significant" birthday ("significant" because of the numbers involved, although you wouldn't know it from looking at her.) Her husband, a beer brewer and imbiber like myself, decided to treat her and a bunch of friends to a cocktail class hosted by Derek Brown - cocktail writer for The Atlantic, bartender and beverage program designer of The Gibson, owner of a beverage consulting business, co-owner of The Passenger bar, and all around cocktail-guy-to-know in DC. I was lucky enough to be invited, but had some time to kill between work and the class kick off time - and that translates to drinking time (see pics from the evening here).

Started at Central, Chef Michel Richard's bistro location. It was the start of Mardi Gras, and I had seen that Central had Abita Mardi Gras Bock as an exclusive in DC, so figured I would start there. The beer was very tasty - malty, slightly sweet, slight bitterness with a very short finish. Nice reddish amber hue to it - a good, but not great, bock. But the bar itself was slow, and the bartender spent most of his time noting he was off in 5 more hours and couldn't wait to get out of there, so I bolted for The Passenger.

The Passenger is in a converted store front directly across the street from the DC Convention Center in the Shaw neighborhood. This is one of the two or three DC neighborhoods undergoing a renaissance after years of blight caused by the riots that occurred in 1968 and the resulting years of neglect. Unlike many bars i've been to, the space is wide open - the entire center portion of the bar is absent tables or chairs (in New York, you would probably see 10 more tables crammed into the same space.). There are five vinyl, four person booths, a couple of eight tops at front in the bay windows, and the bar seats about fifteen. Chatting about the bar later, Derek mentioned that openness was intentional - it definitely makes the large space more intimate. It also mitigates the noise in the space- the space is dark, with dark, almost black hardwood floors, dark grey walls, and a darkly stained bar, and even with the open space, it can get pretty loud when the seats start to fill up.

I was about an hour early, so I grabbed a seat at the bar and asked my bartender Alex to make me something with rye. She whipped up a Manhattan made with Luxardo maraschino liqueur and absinthe. Tasty, and the absinthe added a nice zing to the drink. This was starting off well.

I figured getting tanked BEFORE the class would be bad form, so I asked for a Oscar Blue's (maker of Dale's Pale Ale) Gordon Imperial IPA in a can (not sure how asking for an Imperial IPA was supposed to keep me from getting tanked - I am sure this made sense at the time.) Oscar Blue makes awesome canned beers, and this was no exception. SMOOTH, a little hoppy, but not what you would expect from an IIPA - it went down very easily - probably a little TOO easily given the 8.7% ABV.

Very soon thereafter my friends arrived, as did Derek, and we were escorted into the Columbia Room, the newly opened party / event / class room in the back of the space. In contrast to the bar space in front, this space was brightly lit, with creamy light blue walls and a cozy atmosphere. There was a bar, a nicely designed prep/display area, barstools for about ten people, and that was it - certainly a proper atmosphere for teaching about drinking. Derek claimed the room wasn't quite complete yet, but it certainly looked complete to me.

Derek started off by making a champagne cocktail, making one for each of us while discussing the role of bitters in a cocktail. He moved on to a Crisp Martini - Plymouth gin, Dolin vermouth, and a lemon twist - while expounding upon the differences between London dry gin, Old Tom gin, and genever, as well as the importance of using fresh vermouth. From there he made a fresh batch of Daiquiris, and showed us his mad lemon peeling skillz by making a round of Horse's Necks - bourbon, spicy ginger beer, with an unbroken, whole lemon peel in the glass. He also broke out this HUGE Japanese cleaver which he used to carve an ice diamond (kudos to him - I would have cut my arm off taking the thing out of the drawer.) All of this was interspersed with tasty food -flat bread, artichoke hearts, veggie burgers - just enough to keep the munchies at bay (and keep you from keeling over halfway through class.)

Overall it was a great experience - everyone learned something, had some great cocktails and some great food, and I think came away with a better appreciation of the skill that goes into making a great cocktail.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Top 10 out of 100 - #10 The Pisco Sour

As a favor for stealing one of her best employees away from her on detail, a friend asked that I follow up on my Anvil 100 cocktail effort with a ranking of my top 10 cocktails from that list. As I mentioned before, there were definitely a number of cocktails on that list that I would consider marginally enjoyable, at best (I'm looking at you, Ramos Gin Fizz), but there were far more I thought were pretty darned tasty. So coming up with my favorite ten was not an easy task. Plus, I had to take into account my own preferences (I am a whisky / whiskey fan first, with gin a very close second), making sure that I wasn't skewing the results based on what I was predisposed to like in the first place. There are many cocktails that don't appear on this list which I love (Whiskey Sour, where are you??), but I figured that I would keep it simple and just work with the ones on the List.

So these will be the 10 I enjoyed making and drinking the most from the list, number one being my favorite (duh). Starting with Number 10:

#10 The Pisco Sour

Pisco isn't something I had any personal exposure to before starting The List - I knew it came from the land of llamas, and I like llamas, so no worries there. Since I am a big fan of Whiskey Sours, this was a cocktail I was eager to try. It surely did not disappoint. Pisco is Peruvian or Chilean grape eau de vie, one which is typically not wood aged, and has a unique tang to it - not quite citrusy, but one which hits you a little bit on the tart sensing part of your tongue. Mixed with the sour component, pisco's unique tang really adds to the complexity of the drink (in a way I don't think whiskey does quite as well). And then adding the egg white brings the whole cocktail together - sweet, sour, creamy, tart, with a touch of bitterness added by the bitters.

Definitely one I will go back to. If you wear one of those cute little Peruvian hats while drinking one, all the better - and it may lead to singing a short ditty about transporting llamas to places of higher education, and what could be wrong with that?

Pisco Sour

2oz pisco
1oz lime juice
.5oz simple syrup (I used agave syrup)
an egg white
single drop of Angostura bitters

Shake HARD with ice to build up the froth from the egg. Strain into a chilled rocks glass, add drop of bitters on top.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Deep Lemon Fizz

Here's another custom cocktail I made while on a snowboarding / drinking weekend with my buddies. I made this one. Which I'm sure had nothing to do with alcohol consumption prior. Certainly not.

This one highlights the best aspects of the ingredients: the vanilla espresso notes from the vodka are clear, but not overwhelming; the bright, sweet lemon taste brings some citrus levity to the drink; and the bitters add the...bitterness (some of this ain't rocket science, folks.)

The Deep Lemon Fizz

1.5oz Elemental Vanilla Espresso vodka
.75oz homemade limoncello
2oz club soda
2 dashes Fee's Old Fashioned Bitters
Lemon twist

Shake vodka, limoncello, and bitters with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add club soda, then twist lemon over drink, rub rim with twist, and add to drink.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, February 15, 2010

Some New Cocktails

One of the things I enjoy most about having a (relatively) large home bar at my disposal is my ability to experiment with new cocktail recipes. Whether for a contest (like the ones The Intoxicologist runs from time to time) or just for the heck of it, coming up with interesting flavors and spirit combinations is a lot of fun. Here are a couple of cocktail recipes I came up with (one of which actually won one of those contests.)

My Darling
(winner of The Intoxicologist's scotch-based cocktail recipe contest)

1.5oz blended scotch whiskey (I used Johnny Walker Black)
.5oz Plymouth Sloe Gin
.5oz Cointreau
.5oz clementine juice
2 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Rub rim of glass with a clementine peel twist and garnish with the twist.

Cherry-O Baby

4oz apple cider
1oz Cherry Heering
.75oz Stolli Vanil vodka
.5oz Grey Goose Le Citron vodka

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Hades' Girlfriend
(submitted to a cocktail contest being sponsored by Gary Regan)

1.5oz bourbon whisky
.5oz Pama pomegranate liqueur
.5oz Cointreau
3 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters
a dash of lemon juice

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Flame an orange peel over the glass, rub the rim of the glass with the flamed peel, and discard.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Hungarian Liqueur Tasting on The Intoxicologist

Each year, I trek up to Deep Creek Lake in far northwestern Maryland to the Wisp ski resort and rent a house with about 12 buddies to snowboard, drink, eat, drink, drink some more, and generally goof off (we call it Biohazard weekend - 12 guys, a house, a lot of beer - you get the picture). This year, I had asked a friend of mine (Joe Balintfy) to bring some Hungarian liqueurs he had brought back with him on a recent trip there - Unicum, Unicum Next, and Zwack. Zwack is available in the US, the other two are not readily available in the States. I just wanted to try them out, since I had really enjoyed trying some other bitter liqueurs I had used during my Anvil cocktail quest (such as Cynar, Aperol, and Fernet Branca).

I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to be trying these out, and The Intoxicologist, a great cocktail and cocktail industry blogger whom I had interacted with a little bit by entering a couple of her cocktail creation contests, asked if I could write up some tasting notes. Evidently she gets a lot of questions about these, but since they are hard to come by, had not had a chance to sample them herself. I quickly agreed - I knew the biggest challenge was going to be finding a 20 minute stretch during that weekend where I could put some coherent thoughts together and actually write legibly.

I did the tasting, scribbled my notes down ("legible" is probably a generous description of what those notes looked like), and sent them in. Amazingly, they were deemed coherent enough to publish, and they were put up on The Intoxicologist's website this afternoon. Pretty awesome - thanks to her, and to Joe and the Biohazard crew for supporting my drinking related efforts all these years.

I came up with a Zwack cocktail while I was up at Deep Creek in honor of the event - called the BH11 (Biohazard 11, as this is the 11th year running the group has done this), I used Zwack and Elemental Organic Vodka, a fantastic spirit made in Portland, OR by Highball Distillery, which is co-owned by one of the regular attendees of Biohazard weekend. Pretty yummy stuff.

The BH11 Cocktail

2oz Zwack
1oz Elemental Organic Vodka
.5oz orange juice
.25oz lemon juice
3 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters

Combine all in a cocktail shaker w/ ice. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass