Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hospitality---Wherefore Art Thou?

I sincerely hope this becomes a meme and goes viral, or whatever the terminology is.  What I hope is that more people in the hospitality industry read and heed.  And remember why it's called "hospitality industry."

This is a post, in it's entirety from friend and colleague Maxine Borcherding, blogging on her website blog at (with which I am deeply affiliated, full disclosure).  And since I and my wife were the two other people mentioned standing huddled in the high wind and heavy rain...we took it personally.

Here is Maxine's post.  She speaks for the three of us:

Hospitality---Wherefore Art Thou?
Wine and spirits are so often a part of social occasions, especially at restaurants and bars, that when you go to a business to enjoy good drinks, good food, and the company of friends, warm hospitality is something you have a right to expect. So why are we so frequently disappointed?

Last night, it was raining. A cold front was coming in, and the wind was picking up. I’d arranged to meet friends at a well known local lounge at five pm- the advertised opening time.

I arrived at three minutes to five. Looking through the door, I saw two young men sitting at the bar (employees? friends of employees?) and the bartender. The door was locked. I huddled just outside the door and waited.

My friends arrived at two minutes to five. The rain was falling harder. The wind was gusting, blowing the rain under the awning. The young men at the bar and the bartender studiously ignored the three people standing, shoulders hunched, just outside the door.

One minute to five. Door still locked, still being ignored.

Five pm. No eye contact. The door remained tightly locked.

At that point, we left- walked half a block up the street to another restaurant- newer- less well known. It also opened at five, but here, the door was open. We were greeted warmly by a smiling young woman, seated, and immediately approached by a server with menus to take our drink orders. The drinks were well made, the small plates delicious and beautifully presented, the service attentive without being intrusive.

I probably won’t go back to that first place. I’ll more than likely tell others about my experience. My not returning as a customer won’t particularly hurt their bottom line. But if other customers have the same experience, it might.

I wonder why, when a restaurant is successful and expands here, and beyond here to other communities, they so often forget the most basic principle of hospitality and the factor that originally made them successful: that customers will forgive mediocre food and drink, but they will not forgive bad service; and they won’t tolerate being ignored.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sunday Brunch or Morning After: The Bloody Mary

Standard Classic Bloody Mary
at the Vespers Bar, Las Vegas
 If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, the classic Bloody Mary must be the most sincerely flattered cocktail ever created.  What began as a mix of vodka in tomato juice has mutated into countless versions, from the essential to a bewildering array of bartender signature concoctions and slapdash thrown-together versions that can boggle the mind and stun the palate.

As with many of the classic cocktails, there are any number of creation claims and myths that surround the drink.  Depending on which version you prefer, the drink was created originally as a vodka and tomato juice pick-me-up in either the Roaring Twenties or the Depression Era Thirties, by either performer Georgie Jessel, a then famous vaudevillian comic, or bartender Fernand Petiot in a New York bar.

The name is as shrouded in mystery as the creation, with Bloody Mary usually associated with either Mary, Queen of Scots, or Queen Mary, ill-handled Spanish wife of Henry the Eighth, but not excluding various legendary waitresses and celebrities.  Truth is, no one knows.

To use the parlance of today: What-ever!  What is most likely is the rather dull and simple vodka-tomato combination immediately got spiced up in the hands of a thoughtful drinkslinger, then morphed into a different version or variation every time a new bartender was asked to make one.

The Bloody Mary quickly became the stuff of legend and the mainstay of otherwise staid brunches across the land.  It was touted as the nonpareil hangover cure (it isn’t; hangovers can only be preemptively cured by not over-indulging the night before) and gave succor and hope to numberless desperate souls, who profited at the very least from the ingestion of healthy, vitamin rich tomato juice in their diet. It also begat other drinks in biblical quantities, some compelling, some downright painful, and some just silly.

Today the more-or-less-agreed-upon base of a Bloody Mary is vodka, tomato juice, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and Worcestershire Sauce, all vigorously mixed with ice, and often garnished with greenery, a celery stalk being the most common accoutrement. The hundreds of variations on that base seem to focus either on replacing the spirit, the juice and corollary ingredients, or the garnish to create a new signature recipe.

Some spirit substitutions seem obvious and inevitable, such as gin (Bloody Murder) or tequila (Vampiro), or rum (Cubanito).  Some not so immediately obvious but now beloved of many, such as Guinness Stout (Bloody Maureen) and any other beer (the much-consumed Michelada).  Some just seem bizarre, such as Irish whiskey, Absinthe, Saki, Cabernet Sauvignon (Really?  Why?), and Scotch (Bloody Scotsman, which seems to be a waste of perfectly good Scotch to most aficionados of the whisky).  And of course, there had to be and so there was, a spirit-free version (unspirited? without spirit?), the Virgin Mary.

When the focus shifts to the other ingredients, again the sky’s the limit, with Worcestershire Sauce being traded out for Tabasco Sauce,A1 Steak Sauce, barbeque sauce, teriyaki sauce, horseradish, wasabi sauce, pain-inducing habanero sauce, and the popular variation (mysteriously so, to some) of Clamato, clam juice mixed with tomato sauce for what is usually referred to as the Bloody Caesar.

Those who like shortcuts, or are in a desperate hurry for the drink to arrive, use branded canned or bottled mixes, which abound nationally, regionally and locally.

There’s even one version of the drink which eradicates tomato juice entirely to substitute…pineapple juice, although cocktail purists have suggested finding the creator of that version and holding a tar and feather party, if not a well-deserved lynching. One would suppose those who consume this variation are also the ones who order something called ‘Hawaiian Pizza’, but little is known of those strange mutants.

The last frontier to be explored in the Bloody Mary was the garnish, with the ubiquitous celery being replaced or added to with dill pickle spears, garlic pickles, caperberries (inspired), bitter melon, olives, stuffed olives, roasted garlic cloves, cherry tomatoes, citrus fruits, radishes, parsley, and sprigs of whatever green thing was in season at the time of construction.

So whether you adhere to the ‘original formula’ or like the daring and adventurous, there’s a Bloody Mary for you out there.  Go find it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Making some noise, Spanish style, at Jaleo Las Vegas

The Bar at Jaleo

Jaleo is some kind of wonderful.  

Haven’t been fortunate enough to get to the original D.C. location of José Andrés’ restaurant, but on a recent jaunt to Las Vegas, we had the opportunity to dine there.

Actually, I made the opportunity.  When we locked in the Vegas trip for two nights, I tried to make a res for one night at Jaleo, but it was Valentine’s Day, so no res to be had until after 10:00pm, and us oldsters can’t make it that late (which prompts the question, what is the Senior Early Bird Special for restaurants in Spain, 8:00pm?).

Not deterred in the slightest, we walked up to the hostess at Jaleo and asked if there were any possibilities, any cancellations, any chances at all to get a table.  Nope, nada, nyet.  No chance at all, sorry…..but as we were walking away, another young lady piped up and said, offhand, “You know, you could try the bar.  It’s early; it’s not full yet; and it’s full-service.”  So, bless her thoughtful little heart, shortly we were indeed drinking and dining in Jaleo.

Funny thing is, we probably enjoyed it even more at the bar than we would have at table, for we were in a convivial mood, were ready for a lively bar scene (which Jaleo was, in triplicate), a little creative mixology (which that bar staff does superbly), some great food (as in WOW!) and top level people watching.

Sherry anyone?
First delight:  the bar staff at Jaleo redeemed the entire Las Vegas Strip and its ability to run a damned good bar. (We had had an unfortunate subpar bar experience which led us to believe that Las Vegas was perhaps a cocktail fail kinda town.)  Second delight:  some incredible new concoctions of a creative spiritual nature.  Third delight: some of the best, most inspiring, and most utterly delightful food we’ve had in a long time.

Imagine our delight, winos that we are, when we noticed there was a page of good…strike that: very good…sherries by the glass.  Fino, Manzanillo, Oloroso, Palo Cortado: it was all there.  Even better, they were pouring so much of it there was no possibility whatsoever that any of it could have gone stale in the bottle.  Wasn’t around that long, not in that restaurant.

With Roxi being satisfied so early because of the sherry list, the evening was bound to be a success.  It just kept on getting better and better though.

The cocktail list, which caught my eye, though short, was one of the most inspiring I’ve seen lately, with  unique, stylistic flair you could only find in a Jose Andres restaurant.  I mean, C’mon, when’s the last time you’ve seen fresh pressed tomato-water listed as a cocktail ingredient?

Sangre y Fuego
Sorely tempted to order several, I manfully restrained myself to one at a time, and started with the Sangre y Fuego, sub-titled as “our take on a Spanish Blood and Sand---but not really.”  Who could resist?
One of the best decisions I’ve made all year.  And one of the best cocktails I’ve enjoyed in a long time, with every sip a new revelation.  I could’ve been Catholic, I was having so many serial epiphanies.

A Sangre y Fuego (Blood and Fire) is a wonderful concoction, the sum of its parts far greater than the recipe list would even suggest, composed of del Maguey Vida Mezcal (use a lesser brand, me bucko, and you’ll have a far lesser drink, so no substitutes here, even if you’re a cheap skinflint), a dry sangria, sweet vermouth (use a good one:  tempus fugit) and Cherry Heering Liqueur.

Put these together, then add an exponential component to the top right to signify how powerful they are together (because they are, they are), and you’ve got it.

Roxi elected to go with a Manzanillo first, clean and brisk and salt tangy, and god bless the folks in Jerez. Later she had a Pasada Pastrana that raised the level of the game, followed by an oloroso that kept the level up there.

We ordered a random selection of tapas, with our eyes doing the shopping and supported by some great suggestions from the experienced staff, who not only knew what was good but enjoyed most frequently themselves).  Shortly, the piping hot deliveries of small plates applied, dazzling our sense and almost but not quite overloading our sensory faculties.

Our tapas, in randomized order, were:

Jamon and Manchego
and Baguette
A Sammy of a fresh-baked baguette with Jamon Iberico fermin de bellota (the acorn-fed, black footed piggy of Espana than which there is no better jamon in the world) with aged manchego cheese and a light touch of alioli.  You don’t need anything better when you have the best ingredients.

Datiles with bacon
Datiles con tocino ‘como hace todo el mundo”
Dates, wrapped in bacon, lightly breaded and fried.  Heaven was just a bite away.  Damn, this was good.

Empanadillas de brandade
de bacalao
Empanadillas de brandade de bacalao
More like the idea of a sopapilla kind of thing, with a light, delicate deep fried triangle of dough cooked to crisp perfection, stuffed with the most delicate and creamy dried cod brandade you’ll ever have, and the whole thing drizzled in flower honey and all served up piping hot to the fingertips so you had to juggle and nibble at the same time.  Exquisite.

Piquillo Relleno
Rapé a la Donostiarra
Translucent wafer-thin discs of monkfish (could have been cheeks, what with the sweet, succulent flavor and texture) fanned on a dish and dressed with garlic, sherry, and parsley oil.  Such precise, delicate flavor.  Evanescent in the mouth.

Piquillo relleno de ‘txangurro’
Brilliant red piquillo peppers stuffed brimming with Dungeness crab, topped with a piquant bright orange piquillo sauce and a dollop of parsley oil.

Gambas al ajillo
As standard a hot tapas dish as you’ll find, but showing exceptionally well here in competent hands.  Shrimp, tails on, cooked in a small iron skillet with a viscous, almost tarry, sauce of garlic and sherry and spices.  Rich and mouthfilling with that sweet shrimp undertone beneath the spicy tang.  Compulsive eating, followed by delicious Pan de Tomate bread, delightful all on its lonesome but also good for using the crusts to sop up all that remaining sauce that now way should go to waste.

Tomatino Negroni
Somewhere along midway through all this, I exhausted both my restraint and my Sangre y Fuego so had to order another cocktail.  Not being able to resist (I find my ability to resist most anything in a good restaurant at unheard of lows.) I succumbed to the unique Tomatino Negroni, a ‘pink drink’ with the obligatory Campari, rich and lovely and pungent Citadelle Gin (from gin made in Cognac alembic stills in the off months, yahoo), sweet red vermouth…and tomato water (or as the restaurant says “What we do with the tomatoes after the fight). Unexpected, but an irresistible cocktail after the first sip.

Both the Sangre y Fuego and the Tomatino Negroni were startlingly good original cocktails, but they weren’t by any means alone the list.  There was an intriguing version of a Sidecar that used Brandy de Jerez instead of the original cognac as the base…and what a compelling idea that was!  It awaits my trying it when next in an Andrés establishment. Or mayhaps in my very own home.

So: in Washington D.C. or Las Vegas, go to Jaleo.  You’ll be glad you did.  You might want to just go ahead and sit at the bar.  It could be the best seat in the house.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Femme Chinoise at Twist! by Pierre Gagnaire Las Vegas

In the best of restaurants, the right cocktail can be the beginning of a perfect meal.

High atop the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, overlooking the Las Vegas Strip in all its glitter and neon color, is the serene Twist! By Pierre Gagnaire, a cool modern temple to haute cuisine from one of the great Chefs de Cuisine, Michelin Three Star Pierre Gagnaire.

As befits the Adam Tihany-designed restaurant, the bar is clean and uncluttered, simple and elegant, almost minimalist.  The back bar is sparely furnished but impressive and carefully selected brands dominate the shelves.

The Femme Chinoise
The styles of the featured cocktails tend toward clean and simple flavors as well.  This is not simply a bar with drinks:  it is a bar with drinks designed to lead in to the meal that is about to come.  Nothing heavy, nothing weighty, nothing that dominates; clean, simple, light, stimulating and direct is the order of the day here.

 A superb example was the Femme Chinoise, a simple, uncluttered combination of Milagro Reposado tequila, German Mosel Riesling and fresh grapefruit, garnished with a long curling peel of grapefruit.
The floral Highlands style of Milagro Reposado, mellowed by a short term in oak barrels and rounded in its combination of herbs and fruits and hint of salt, melds seamlessly with the acidic perk of grapefruit, and the sweet-tart-sour background note of Mosel Riesling, with all three ingredients maintaining a tenuous balance, each reinforcing the other. 
To prolong the freshness and intensity of flavors in this delicately composed cocktail, a large round ball of extra-hard ice fills the glass, the slow dilution keeping pace with the slow sip
The other cocktails follow the theme, with clean, fresh, unadorned flavors sharpening the palate, preparing it for the similarly constructed dishes designed by Gagnaire, so the aperitif flows into the appetizers to stimulate the gastric juices, drawing you into the meal, into the experience, into the evening.

In a fine restaurant, every element is precisely arranged to support the entire experience, including a crucial part: the beginning.  And the Femme Chinoise is a perfect beginning at Twist! By Pierre Gagnaire.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Chandelier: All Flash, No Substance

All That Glitters...

You would think that Las Vegas, the city that bills itself as the center of the glitz and glamour of the universe, the city that has elevated the façade of unending revelry and faux-sophistication to unheard of levels, the city that has worked hard to change its image from sleazy gamblers and shoddy, cynical hustlers to one of worldwide sophistication…you would think such a place would offer the epitome of professionalism in all its showcase establishments.  

City Centre
When it comes to bartending, mixology and the cocktail scene you’d think Las Vegas would be at the absolute pinnacle, the top of the game.

And you would be wrong.

Mind you, we’re not talking about the grubby little street level joints hawking beerpong and buffets and frazzled tawdry silicone women with tired eyes.  We’re talking the high-end high-roller places, the top of the tower establishments that reek of money with multiple zeros attached.   There the façade, the false veneer, is even more apparent.  Look closely and the stage show is just as phony, albeit at a higher cost.

Are there good bartenders in Vegas?  Yes, of course there are. Some damned good ones. People like Tony Abou-Ganim, one of the best known and most professional in the world, makes this place his home, working tirelessly to create the highest standards in his profession.  And there are others.

But not enough.

The Chandelier in Crystals

Take a look at an all-too-typical experience in one of the (literally) most glittering of bars in the city, The Chandelier in The Cosmopolitan Hotel, located in The Crystals Shopping area, a place studded with the shops of the beau monde.  Prada, Jimmy Choo, Gucci, Yves St. Laurent, Fendi…they’re all here. And The Chandelier nestles snugly in the center, an astonishing cocktail lounge with its three levels of bars all cocooned by long glittering strings of heavy crystal ropes cascading down from the ceiling of the building to the floor, encasing the lounges inside with the brilliant play of light.

The trouble is, once you get past the glittering crystal, the illusion falls apart. On Valentine’s Day, no less, and at the start of happy hour, only one bar of the three was operating.  And one overtaxed and peevish bartender staffed it, with one waitress and a bar back.  The barback was taking orders, but had to relay them to the bad-tempered bartender, who spent most of his time racing around the triangular center bar spreading his lack of joy.

When I ordered a Dirty Vodka Martini for my wife, he merely nodded.  But when I ordered a Hemingway Daiquiri, he looked at me with obvious disdain and said, “Sir, we don’t do any frozen blender drinks in this bar.” Taken aback, I hesitated, then decided not to pursue the matter and ordered a Woodford Manhattan, up.

He moved down the bar, began mixing the martini and yelled loudly back, “Lady, you want olives or onions in your martini?  And just ‘dirty’, right?  Nothin’ else?”  

The Muddy Manhattan
Having more or less successfully navigated the martini, he then looked around, walked all the way around the three sides of the bar (and past an obvious bottle of Cinzano Rosso at eye level on the back bar), he then yelled in a loud and annoyed voice, “Hey, where’s the vermouth?  Anybody seen the vermouth, the red stuff?”

When the vermouth was located and my Manhattan arrived it was quite obvious he had successfully located the vermouth, for the drink was a muddy brownish-red color, mostly vermouth, totally swamping the bold taste of the bourbon and about as out of balance as a Manhattan can be.

A couple sat near us and the man ordered a glass of sparkling wine while the young lady asked for one of the drink specials listed on the cocktail, a signature of the house.  The sparkler was served up immediately…and the couple then waited…and waited…and waited. Finally, after at least five minutes had passed, with the woman staring at the bartender and the man looking uncomfortably at his untouched bubbly, the bartender showed up and began mixing the lady’s drink, grumbling that he didn’t care for this cocktail as it was too complicated and took too many ingredients to make.

Since this was one of the specials of the house, and the single bar was only about one quarter full, the comment was, to say the least, strange and out of place.

It got worse.

One customer asked for a glass of Joel Gott Merlot.  The bartender looked around and yelled back---apparently yelling was his primary mode of conversation---“Sorry, we’re outta that. What else you want?”  Since I could see a three-quarter-full bottle of that very same wine immediately behind him on the back bar, it seemed like an odd thing to say.  Then, to another customer who asked about a cocktail on the bar, he said, “Well, that’s a margarita, but I can make it with vodka if you want.”

Another couple at the bar simply sat for several minutes, then got up and walked away unserved.  The couple next to us drank up quickly---so much for a nice leisurely conversation over a cocktail in the lounge---threw some money on the table, and left hurriedly with frowns on faces.  As we left the bartender continued stomping around the bar aimlessly, not making very good drinks, not very happy with his world, and making sure everybody knew about it.

Such a waste: investing what must have been tremendous money and effort creating a sumptuous cocktail lounge and then not only understaffing it but putting a surly and incompetent bartender in charge of it.
The experience at the Chandelier so poisoned the feel of the evening, we immediately went in search of a better place.  Thankfully, we found one---the bar at Jaleo nearby, which was everything The Chandelier was not.  And later there was the Vesper Bar, another outstanding watering hole with enthusiastic bartenders.

The Chandelier?  May be glittery, but it’s a lousy bar. We’ll never go back. And the best thing they could do at this point is stop relying on the crystalline glitter and start training their people to be polished and professional and attentive to their clientele.  While they still have one.  If you go to Vegas, take a glance, but stroll on by.  It’s a waste of a good bar.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sélections Laurence Feraud Côtes-du-Rhône, 2009

Sélections Laurence Feraud Côtes-du-Rhône, 2009

As the Rhone has become more prominent and popular with wine drinkers in the U.S., it has become a bit more difficult to find the more affordable ones with the same level of quality as before.  Not impossible, mind you, just more difficult.

The savvy wine shopper has to be aware of the pedigree of the wine or the reputation of the winemaker.  That’s where Sélections Laurence Feraud comes in to the picture.

Laurence Feraud is half, or perhaps a little more than half, of the winemaking team at Domaine Pegau (her father Paul is the other half), where they make some of the more sought-after Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the market.

Pegau now inhabits that special marketing niche of “collectors wine”, festooned with both points and dollar signs.  While it is more than worthy of all the praise heaped upon it, it might be a little out of reach of the casual drinker down in the 99%, so to speak.

Again, that’s where Sélections Laurence Feraud comes in.  Laurence has good connections in the Rhone, so she’s  able to find some of the best fruit from each harvest for her personal projects.  Laurence is also very fond of the original wine that put the Rhone on the world map:  Côtes-du-Rhône.

Côtes-du-Rhône is what most of the people in the Rhone drink on a daily basis.  It also constitutes a great deal of what is exported, around France, Europe, and the world, and what is served to represent the Rhone, usually as a “house wine.”

While much of that may range from execrable to average, the Feraud Côtes-du-Rhône is significantly more than that.  It is a classy blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah, so it’s bright and fresh on top, a little plump in the middle, and structured enough to be appealing, with cherry fruit graduating to deeper plum and red berries with a little touch of sun-kissed earthiness that every Rhone should have.

That’s a handsome description for a versatile wine in the $11—15 price range around the country.  So grab yourself a bottle of Laurence Feraud Côtes-du-Rhône, 2009, and you’ll get a good vintage of tasty, well made wine from one of the better winemakers in the Rhone Valley.  Everyone loves a bargain, right?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What's In Your 12 Bottle Case? Bill Buitenhuys

Bill Buitenhuys is a full-time wine and cocktail enthusiast and an occasional system engineer in Arizona. You can usually find him sitting on a bar stool or creating small batch, handcrafted bitters with his wife, Lillian, in AZ Bitters Lab.

Bill approached his list with the glee of a spirits lover combined with the focused attention of an engineer.  He meticulously analyzed his needs and constructed his list methodically so he would be able to satisfy his cravings on that hypothetical deserted island.

And here’s where the shift to mixology is obvious:  Bill is particular about his spirits, but his interest is clearly on how those spirits can be used to create cocktails.  He begins with the cocktails and then chooses his spirits based on those, and arrives at his ‘best possible scenario’ selection. 

Let’s take a look both at his list and his reasoning process for the list:

1.     Sazerac 18yr Rye
2.     Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon
3.     Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
4.     Dolin de Chambery Dry Vermouth
5.     Pernod Absinthe
6.     Hendrick's Gin
7.     Plymouth Gin
8.     Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
9.     Campari
10.  Benedictine Liqueur
11.  Laphroiag 15  Pierre Ferrand Esprit des Dieux 1er Cru du Cognac 
12.  Macallan 25

You’ll note four different liqueurs make the list; all are there to mix with other spirits.  And two gins appear; one gin won’t suffice.

You’ll also note that Islay scotch lovers will be horrified to learn their beloved Laphroiag was knocked off the list for a Cognac---but it did make way for an obligatory brandy, and what a spectacular brandy it is! 

The Cognac That Knocked
Laphroiag off the list
Interesting as well that the final scotch chosen was the Macallan, a non-peated sherry-oak style, over the smoky peat-monster of Laphroiag.  I suspect that would have to do with the greater inherent mixability of Macallan over Laphroiag.  I also suspect that will invite violent disagreement from Islay whisky aficionados, who tend to be outspoken about their drams.

Bill reflected a bit after constructing his list:

“I thought this would be easy. Just list out my favorite drinks, tally the bottles, and be done with it.

I'm assuming that seeing I'm on a deserted island that I'd have all the citrus that I'd want at my ready. Given enough time on the island I could make up some infusions and specialty bitters with some of the native fruits, herbs, and roots as well. I know if I go with classics then I can riff into many directions from there.

The Classic Bijou Cocktail
So I start with the drinks I'd never want to be without: Manhattan (rye, good sweet vermouth), Sazerac (add bourbon and absinthe), that perfect 3:1 Martini (add Hendricks and a dry vermouth), Negroni (add Plymouth and Campari), Aviation (add Luxardo), Vieux Carré (add cognac and Benedictine) and lovely options for Highland and Islay whiskey (add Macallan and Laphroiag).

Wait! I'm already at 13 bottles? A beloved Corpse Reviver #2 would require adding Lillet Blanc and Cointreau. The perfectly balanced Bijou Cocktail would require green Chartreuse. I haven't even begun to go after a nice amaro or that crisp, biting grappa. Rum, vodka, and tequila I could live without if I had to but how can I make a Barnum or a Fairbanks without some apricot brandy? And I still have to eliminate a bottle! Let's see. Deserted island. Tropics. I'm thinking I can do without the Islay malt (*shudder*). Ok, Laphroiag, you're out. That's it. Pack my case. “

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What's In Your 12 Bottle Case?: Bartholomew Broadbent

It’s a fascinating question, one that is often asked---right behind the unanswerable “What’s your favorite spirit?”---and one that requires a little thinking: If you had to limit your available spirits to one case, 12 bottles, which 12 would you choose?

The answers, it turns out, are always different.  And the choices reveal much about the people making them. 

The ‘rules’ were simple: Only 12 bottles, any spirits you wish, and they don’t have to include bitters (they’re small, so they’ll fit in to your case anyway, and we didn’t want to make it too difficult).  You can think of it as your “marooned on a desert island” or “basic home bar” or simply the spirits that are most essential to you personally.

Bartholomew Broadbent is so eloquent and detailed in the comments regarding his 12 bottle case, we’ll let him speak for himself.  (His long and illustrious bio follows.)

1.       Pimm’s
As I was growing up, I was drinking wine with dinner from the age of 7. My parents put me off spirits, by saying that it would stunt my growth, but when I tasted Pimm’s, it was so delicious that I decided the risk worth taking. In England, there are two drinks which would be considered quintessentially British, in the winter, G&T [gin and tonic] in the summer, Pimm’s. Pimm’s is only served one way: Pimm’s No1, lemonade, cucumber, mint, orange, apple, lemon and ice. In America, referred to as Pimm’s Cup, in the UK it is simply Pimm’s.

A bit of spiritual history here:  At one time there were several Pimm’s Cup Recipes available, each with a different spirit and each with a different number.  Over the years, however, the offerings dwindled and now only the gin-based Pimm’s Cup #1 survives commercially. The sole unvarying companion to Pimm’s Cup #1 in the U.S. seems to be the ubiquitous cucumber slice.

2.       Grand Marnier
Mostly when on holiday but, for instance, last night settled down in front of Downton Abbey, Grand Marnier is my perfect night cap,

3.       Gin
Gin, the ubiquitous English spirit, not just for a G&T but also my preference as a substitute to vodka in a Bloody Mary. Not too worried about the brand as long as it is high octane, at least 43% alcohol by volume. It happens that I currently have The Original Bombay on my butler’s tray but I am a fan of Beefeater because my mother had a close friendship with the owner until he sold it to a big company. More important than the brand of gin, the brand of tonic; if it is isn’t Schweppes, I can always tell.

4.       Pisco
 Pisco Sour, when made properly with egg white and all, is delicious, perhaps pulling on my cultural subconscious because both my maternal grandparents were born in Chile. More often referred to as Peruvian, a traditional recipe would include 2 oz. pisco, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, 1 teaspoon pasteurized egg whites, beaten.
5.       L’Arack de Musar
Aniseed macerated traditional Lebanese digestive made at my favorite winery, Chateau Musar. L’Arack de Musar will be made available in the US later in 2012. It drinks well neat and acts as a fantastic mixer for the avant-garde mixologists.

6.       Broadbent 10 year Malmsey Madeira
I was asked to list a case to take to a desert island… there is only one wine which is indestructible enough to survive the heat, assuming we were stranded on a warm island, that wine is: Madeira. Since I produce my own, why not take one that I know to be perfect. It is the most versatile wine, brilliant with cigars, goes with any dessert and is fine on its own, after dinner, or watching the ships sail by.

7.       Ferreira Duque de Braganca 20 year Tawny Port
Port is an essential after dinner drink. The Ferreira Duque de Braganca 20 year tawny is the benchmark of all tawny Ports and no self respecting bar would be without it. On its own, with nuts, with cigars, with coffee, with most desserts, always great.

8.       Rum
I’m a huge fan of rum drinks, white or brown, depending on the mix. Before lunch or dinner, in any city, a Mojito! Any number of tropical rum drinks in the heat of the summer or tropics. I’m not so concerned about the brand as long as it is full strength and mixed with good ingredients.

9.       Lillet
As an aperitif, Lillet is one of the more satisfying, made in the Bordeaux district by a winemaking family, it is classic, timeless and elegant. Add a twist of lime and ice.

10.   Hennessy Cognac
I worked for Hennessy, my first job after high school, so I have a soft spot for this Cognac house. There, I was an interpreter and tour guide. With the VIPs, we’d mix all Hennessy, with the exception of Paradis and XO, to orange juice. It is especially beneficial to drink when nursing a cold. As a VIP tour guide, aged 18, Hennessy training should have included “how to entertain clients with Cognac and still make it home on the Solex [company supplied moped] navigating ancient cobbled streets”.

11.   Tequila
Margaritas, of course. I like to support wines and spirits from producers with whom I’ve been acquainted, so Cabo Wabo would be my choice.

12.   My last bottle?
Vintage Port, Elixir Végétal de la Grande Chartreuse, Scotch, Calvados … too many choices!
I can only take one, so it would have to be a mature Vintage Port. Any brand works fine for me, as young as Quinta do Crasto 1995 or as old as Ferreira 1815. Served, always, with Stilton cheese.

Bartholomew Broadbent apprenticed with The Worshipful Company of Distillers and worked for Hennessy Cognac and Schenley Canada but his career is mostly in wine. In June 1997 Decanter magazine named him one of the “fifty most influential in the wine world…the faces to watch in the new millennium”, reaffirmed by Wine&Spirits magazine [2008], who polled leaders throughout the industry, naming him one of ten in the world to be “driving the most revolutionary changes in wine”. Today, he has expanded from his pivotal role in the breathtaking growth of Port and Madeira to “exert a profound influence on the US wine market” says Decanter. He was profiled by Wine Spectator in 1986, Market Watch “The Pioneer of Port” in May 2008 and [2009]. Bartholomew, son of legendary Michael Broadbent, is now one of America’s leading national wine importers,  Broadbent Selections, Inc., based in San Francisco, [], representing such famous brands as Chateau Musar. His speaking circuit includes major cruise lines, wine festivals, including Food&Wine’s Classic in Aspen [for 25 years]. He is KFOG’s “Wine Guy” and hosts a webtv show He makes Port, Madeira and Vinho Verde in Portugal under the Broadbent name, as well as Malbec in Argentina and Gruner Veltliner in Austria. He was a 50% partner in Dragon's Hollow, a pioneering winery in China, and launched the first nationally available Chinese wine to the US market. He can be followed on .

Affordable Elegance: Olivier Leflaive "Les Setilles" Bourgogne Blanc 2009

Olivier Leflaive “Les Setilles” Bourgogne Blanc, 2009

Start with a respected Burgundian producer who has the ability to select from some of the finest parcels in two of the most prestigious communes for chardonnay in all of Burgundy, the homeland of chardonnay.

Blend and mature those parcels to precise and exacting standards---what the Burgundians call élevage, elevating or lifting up the wine--- and release it at a remarkably low price.

That’s a formula for success.

That’s what Olivier Leflaive does with the Les Setilles Bourgogne Blanc 2009.  It’s rare when you find a wine of this quality sporting the humble and unassuming “Bourgogne Blanc” moniker.  That’s usually seen on more modest, and, well, unassuming wines.

Although the names of Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault, two bastions of Premier Cru and Grand Cru chardonnays, don’t appear on the label, chardonnay from those two are what is inside the bottle.

Leflaive carefully selects from the two communes to achieve roughly a 70% Puligny-Montracher/30% Meursault balance, with Meursault contributing the plump roundness and Puligny-Montrachet the mineral austerity to the pairing.

Leflaive further shows its wisdom by using carefully restrained oak influence in the Les Setilles: this is a chardonnay where the fruit is allowed---encouraged, enabled---to shine through clearly and boldly, with only the lightest hint of vanilla oak to enhance the wine.

Remarkably floral in the nose, fresh and bright, with squirts of lemon zest, this is an enticing chardonnay from start to pleasant finish.  The true signal of quiet quality, though, comes through after the taste, when you realize that you’re no longer looking at the elements of the wine, but appreciating the wine for what it is in total.  And that’s because the elements come together so seamlessly, in such poised balance, that you stop noticing the details and simply enjoy the wine.

As a final grace note, LeFlaive prices the Les Setilles at a very reasonable price, so you can enjoy more of it.  It is Leflaive’s best-selling chardonnay offering, and it’s a steal.  And a shame that more people don’t know about it.

Olivier LeFlaive Burgundies are imported to the U.S. by Frederick Wildman Imports.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hey, Bartender? Learn how to spell.

Hey, Bartender?

You’re a professional, right?  You like to look sharp and act sharp.  You pride yourself on being the pro when you’re behind the bar.  So would you please learn how to spell what you’re selling?

One thing that makes a pro look like an amateur is carelessness.  And one of the first ways to spot a sloppy amateur or a less-than-professional bartender is what goes out on the cocktail menu in print or digital form for all to see.

The cocktail menu is the first thing the customer sees.  Even worse: when it’s on the website, it’s what the public sees before they even get into your bar.  First impressions are crucial; and looking sloppy in your first impression puts you so far behind the curve you may never struggle your way back.

Remember:  if it's worth putting on the menu, it's worth your time to spell it correctly.

Believe it or not, there are more people than you might think that catch spelling errors, and those people think it’s indicative of being careless…or worse, uneducated.  And if you’re so careless in that regard, then what does it say about the rest of what you do?
We’re not talking about your intelligence here; this has nothing to do with how smart you are---quite a few talented and smart people simply don’t spell very well.  It’s just not on their wavelength.  It’s well known that some people’s brains function differently than others; there are numerous examples of perfectly smart people who have mild learning difficulties, transposing letters and words and such.  That can be corrected though.

You don’t even have to learn how to spell.  Just get a good, reliable editor (or three or four, just to make sure) before you hit the print button and commit yourself.  Every good writer has a good editor.  Every bad writer lacks a good editor to tell him what to do and what not to do.  It’s the equivalent of looking in the mirror, just to make sure, when you’re primping up to go out.  Or better yet, have your buds check you out to see you won’t embarrass yourself.  But get a bud that knows how to spell, okay?

Heck, just make sure you use word processing software that has Spell-Check function and make sure it’s turned on.  That alone would catch many, if not most, of your errors.

What am I talking about?  Let’s go over some examples from actual cocktail menus.  (Names of places and people redacted so as not to unnecessarily embarrass anyone.)

“Angoustura” and “Pechauds” bitters --numerous examples found.  C’mon.  This is basic stuff to bartenders.  Or should be.  If you don’t know how to spell it when you use it every day, then you’re not very detail oriented, are you?  Angostura.  Peychaud’s.

“scottish whiskey” –oh, for shame, for shame.  You’ve managed to alienate two of the most dedicated groups here, Scotsmen and whisky lovers: it’s Scotch, not Scottish; and it’s whisky, not whiskey.  Scots and Scotch whisky drinkers are particular about this; sometimes to the point of being surly.

“Cherry Herring” --so…do they marinate the fish in cherry sauce and throw it into the cocktail or pour it through a strainer?  Herring is a fish;  Cherry Heering is a liqueur from Scandinavia with cherry flavor.

“Cocnac” –no, I believe the correct term is Cognac.  The people that live there, and the people that make that particular brandy, are very picky about how they want the name spelled.

“Pineapple gum” and “grapfruit” –The first sounds like you may have put a stick of pineapple flavored gum in your cocktail, instead of ‘gomme’, which is a flavored syrup.  The second is inexcusable---heck, it’s in the basic autocorrect function in Word that instantly changes when you’re typing.  And it’s not like it’s an unusual or esoteric fruit.

“Worceshtershire sauce” ---okay, admittedly this would be easy to commit a typo on, but since it makes you sound like you were tipsy and lisping when you wrote it, well, fail.

“Citronage” ---this is actually a brand name.  Which you’ve spelled wrong.  Actually, you spelled it wrong three times on the menu, and then spelled it once correctly---on the same menu.  So much for consistency; hope you don’t make your cocktails the same way.  The name is “Citronge.”  More properly, it is “Citrónge” if you follow the official brand name, but French diacritical marks are so rare these days, we could let that go.

That’s enough.  You get the picture.    Be a pro.  Take care of the fine details to sure you look like one.  And that includes checking your spelling.  People notice if you don’t.

What's In Your 12 Bottle Case?: Lance Mayhew, Oregon Culinary Institute

Lance Mayhew is a sophisticated man when it comes to spirits.  A former chef (and still avid home chef), restaurant manager, bar manager, beverage manager, and a top-notch craft bartender, he is now a lead instructor at the prestigious Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon.  He is also a frequent contributor and elegant commentator on all matters spiritual to a number of magazines and internet sites (try Whisked Foodie to see an example) and, as a writer, has the ability to sample pretty much anything he wishes (and often before any of the rest of us have access to it.)
Although he is more than conversant with the cocktail scene, when he drinks he tends to prefer his spirits neat.  When he does choose cocktails, he is usually quite specific about what he wants in those cocktails.

So with all the spirit world at his command, what does Lance like in his private stash?  Here are Lance’s choices for his 12 Bottle Case of Spirits:

Absolut Vodka (For Bloody Marys)

Plymouth Gin (Can't live without Plymouth)

Beefeater Gin (Martinis)

Flor De Cana 4yr Silver Rum (Daiquiris)

Cazadores Reposado Tequila (totally versatile)

Aberlour Scotch (can't decide which marque)

The GLENLIVET 15yr Single Malt Scotch (nice spice)

Laphroaig 10yr Islay  Single Malt Scotch (Need an Islay representative)

Yamazaki 18yr Japanese Whisky (So good, I dream about it)

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon (Gotta have a great bourbon on hand!)

Old Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey (Best rye out there, IMHO)

Martell Cordon Bleu Cognac (For cold winter nights)

So in the final analysis, one vodka, two gins, one light rum, one tequila, three different scotch whisky iterations, a Japanese Whisky (which is scotch-like), a singular Bourbon, a Kentucky Rye, and a Cognac.
It’s obvious that Lance prefers the brown spirits to the white and appreciates the effect of oak barrel aging (9 of the 12 are aged spirits).

 Four of the whiskies are either scotch or scotch-like, in that they are made from malted barley---and the two American whiskies are renowned for their rye-spiced nature and oak barrel aging. 

Although there is no precise age statement on the cognac, the Martell Cordon Bleu is considered a blend of approximately 25 year old eaux-de-vie, with an emphasis on the softer, more rounded cognacs of the Borderies area. The Flor de Caña Rum is 4 years old, and Cazadores Reposado Tequila has a brief “resting in the barrel” of only two months.  Only the vodka and two gins are un-aged spirits.

This is a key item list with highly assertive flavors---notice there are no liqueurs here---and assuming Lance’s island or den has a sufficiency of bitters and the necessary selection of fresh fruits, this selection has the capability of many of the great classic cocktails, as well as a source of some sublime singular sipping. I just hope he has a bottle of white and a bottle of sweet vermouth hidden away somewhere.

Lance Mayhew brings over 20 years experience in the hospitality field. In addition to being bartender/bar manager/ wine director in high-volume restaurants such as Sacramento's Ricci's Restaurant and Portland's Meriwether's, 50 Plates, and Beaker & Flask, Lance has also managed the front of the house - responsible for hiring, training, and scheduling. His original cocktails have been featured in publications including MIX Magazine, Imbibe Magazine, The Bartenders Gin Compendium, and Left Coast Libations; and he's discussed bartending and mixology for publications including the The NY Times, Chilled, MIX, and The Oregonian. In 2008, the Beverage Network named him one of America's "Ten Trendsetting Mixologists". Lance not only brings extensive product knowledge of wine, beer, liquor and food to teaching at Oregon Culinary Institute; but extensive hospitality experience as well. Lance was part of the inaugural class of 2010's Wine Location Specialists (the first of 19 people to achieve this distinction in North America) and is certified by the Society of Wine Educators as a Certified Specialist of Spirits. Lance is the former contributing writer for on whisky and professional bartending and is an experienced journalist, contributing to publications such as Tasting Panel Magazine and Imbibe Magazine. Lance is an active member of the Society of Wine Educators, the French Wine Society and the International Association for Culinary Professionals and frequently conducts wine and spirit dinners for the local community. Lance has appeared as a guest speaker at a number of culinary festivals and trade shows bringing his knowledge and insight of the world of wine and spirits to people around the country. Lance currently serves as the resident expert for all things wine, spirits and mixology for

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What's In Your 12 Bottle Case? Chris Morris, Master Distiller

Chris Morris,
Master Distiller

Chris Morris is one of a very few Master Distillers in the U.S. Spend more than a couple of minutes with him and you understand why he’s in that august position.  He’s a rare soul who has a firm grasp of the science and mechanics of his trade, reinforced with a deep historical knowledge of the practices, the places and the people that have populated that trade, and completed by an intense romantic appreciation for it all.  Quite simply, he’s a man who loves what he does and is exceptionally good at it; the ideal combination of craftsman and artist.
His profound knowledge of the entire world of spirits focuses on what he does: he is the Master Distiller for Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon and the venerable Old Forester Kentucky Bourbon.  Thus it is understandable that his list would include those spirits he makes or with which he is professionally associated.
The choices for rounding out his 12 bottle case are interesting as well, and are easily explained by Chris in his usual straightforward and direct style:

“As you know I appreciate intense flavor, unique flavor and brands that have honest, authentic stories.”
Intense, unique flavor and honest, authentic stories.  That’s a pretty good basis for a 12 bottle case, I’d say. 

Here are Chris’ choices, with his own narration:
Sweet Vermouth: an old favorite, Noilly Prat from France. 
Bourbon: Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon  --Complex but balanced and so very versatile. The brand that has championed the Mint Julep and Manhattan cocktails.
Old Forester Signature 100 Proof Kentucky Bourbon --    for an old fashioned.  America's oldest bourbon brand deserves a spot in the third and last of America's classic three bourbon drinks since it has long been the brand used at the birthplace of the drink, the famous Pendennis Club in Louisville.
Tennessee Whiskey: There’s nothing more unique than Jack Daniel's. Great in high balls.
Scotch: Ardbeg   --The peaty giant of a single malt from Islay. Famous Grouse - a spicy blend.
Gin: Bombay Sapphire --clean and crisp for a refreshing Gin and Tonic.
Rum: The white has to be the classic Bacardi, so light and delicate. The dark - any of the Appleton Estates with their lengthy oak exposure.
Tequila:  For Blanco, Herradura Silver with its unique barrel mellowed character. [Ed. Note: Herradura traditionally places their Silver tequila in barrels for 45 days; most white tequilas are not aged in any way.]  Reposada - El Jimador, very spicy and brash. Aged - the biggest of all, Seleccion Suprema by Herradura. [Ed. Note: Herradura essentially created the Extra Añejo designation with Seleccion Suprema. Extra Añejo describes a tequila that is aged in excess of three years; Seleccion Suprema is currently aged for 49 months before release.]

I believe that makes an even dozen.
Chris apparently likes his spirits both neat and in cocktails, since he mentions five classics (Manhattan, Mint Julep, Old Fashioned, the Highball, and Gin & Tonic). But the cocktails cited stay true to his dictum of “intense flavors” as well.
Two bourbons, one Tennessee whiskey, a single malt and a blended scotch, a London Dry Gin, a white rum, an aged rum, and three iterations of tequila.  Add a classic sweet vermouth for that all important Manhattan, and you’ve got an even dozen from a Master Distiller.