Last week, Pipeline Brands invited Vidiot & I to one of their Cocktail Jams, where the distributors, promoters, and other somehow-accidentally-invited aficionados took over the bar downstairs at Pranna on Madison Avenue for a barkeep's version of an open mic night.
Your two local correspondents were drafted into serving duty early in the evening, when our slowness didn't hamper the needs of the clamoring drunks in the hizzy. Much.
My video report, such as it is, follows. (This is my first attempt at a field report. I've learned a lot about how to put one of these things together, but all the usual disclaimers about being a novice video editor apply. And yes, I know it's dark. My Flip camera works very well except for the lack-of-light issue.)
I thought this site was an interesting idea -- you can buy a drink for someone at participating bars across the country. Kind of like a gift card, but for booze. (It's reminiscent of the drink board at the late, lamented Mickey's Blue Room in the East Village; regulars could pre-purchase drinks for friends and the recipients' names would be written on a board behind the bar.)
This month's Mixology Monday theme is "Spice." Craig at Tiki Drinks & Indigo Firmaments is hosting, and says "Spice should give you plenty of room to play - from
the winter warmers of egg nog, wassail and mulled products to the
strange and interesting infusions of pepper, ceubub, grains of
paradise, nutmeg — what have you!" And, as Craig notes in his first examples above, December is an excellent time for drinks flavored by spice.
'Tis the season for eggnog and mulled wine or cider, after all, so that was where I gravitated first. But why limit ourselves to eggnog or cider, when we can have both? As chronicled by ur-bartender Jerry Thomas in his 1862 magnum opus How To Mix Drinks, or The Bon-Vivant's Companion, just such a combination was favored by William Henry Harrison: (See, Arnold Palmer wasn't the first person to have odd mixtures of beverages named after him.)
"General Harrison" was of course President Harrison as well; and it's only fitting that he be remembered by a drink: during his 1840 campaign, a Democratic newspaper editor said that Harrison would rather sit in his log cabin drinking hard cider than run the country. Harrison's campaign ran with this image -- contrasting it with opponent Martin Van Buren's supposed effete tastes for Champagne and Madeira -- and immediately produced all manner of log-cabin- and hard-cider-themed merchandise. (Incidentally, what was called the somewhat inebriated campaign of 1840 was the first to use modern image-making tactics; besides the log cabin and hard cider images, the Whigs also produced the first campaign slogan ("Tippecanoe and Tyler Too") and many campaign songs.)
So, General Harrison's Egg Nogg combined cider and eggs in a most novel way. But since this MxMo is all about spicy flavors, I decided to up the ante a little bit with some aromatic bitters (for a cinnamon-clove note) and allspice dram. I also added some brandy and rum -- traditional additions to eggnog -- and some grated nutmeg, both for its traditional garnish for eggnog and its historical place atop cocktails of all kinds. And, finally, the festive holiday season seemed to demand a sparkling drink. Here's what I came up with:
1/2 oz. rum
1/2 oz. brandy
1/2 oz. allspice dram
1 large egg
2 dashes bitters
Shake all ingredients except the cider with ice, and strain into a chilled flute. Top up with cider and stir gently. Garnish with grated nutmeg and/or star anise.
Note: I made this with Pyrat XO rum, Fee's Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters, and Martinelli's sparkling cider. Because I was using a liqueur and since the cider is so very sweet, I skipped the sugar called for in Jerry Thomas's original recipe for General Harrison's Egg Nogg. I'd like to try this with a drier cider (like Samuel Smith's Organic Cider) or a spicier rum, too. I also used a cobbler shaker rather than my usual Boston shaker, just so I could make sure I got the egg well-mixed.
Once upon a time, hotel bars set the standard for sophisticated
drinking, with barmen who were the best in the business. . .Nowadays you're lucky to find a hotel
bartender whose vocabulary extends very far beyond Vodka-Tonic. Over
the past year and a half, as I traveled around the country, I stopped
in at dozens of grand old hotels, incognito, to see if their bars lived
up to the tradition. I found a few gems in a sea of expensive
mediocrity (punctuated with the occasional fiasco).
Chief among these is this abomination:
Take the young man I found tending bar at Hollywood's brilliantly
restored Roosevelt Hotel. He happily told me that he didn't know how to
make many drinks at all. When needed, he could always just look
something up in the bar book behind the counter. But most of the time
he didn't bother to use the book: "If people ask for a drink I don't
know," he explained, "I can always kind of make something with sour mix
and vodka and they'll be happy." A more eloquent and concise expression
of the state of bartending in America you couldn't hope to find.
There's no shame in looking something up, but ignoring the request
and faking it with crappy ingredients? That's like being a chef at
a restaurant and saying "I don't know how to make Hollandaise
sauce, but here's some Velveeta mixed with gravy from a jar."
This hereby serves as advance notice to any bartender who tries to pawn
a sour-mix-vodka concoction off on me instead of the drink I've asked
for: you will receive an angry complaint from me and you'll be the
subject of a discussion with the manager.
Though that may not help; my friend Michael Palmer relates this sad tale of an afternoon almost exactly a year ago at the Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel:
My wife and I got married at
the Carlyle and had a drink at the bar later that night. Four years
later we went for a classy drink at 1pm, first drink of the day. I
asked for an Old-Fashioned, and was given a tiny bit of Scotch
over ice, and lots of soda, in a tall Collins glass. No sugar, no
orange, no bourbon, no bitters. . .
I said 'I don't think this is an Old-Fashioned". . .to which he said, "Sir,
might I suggest when you order from a hotel bar, you know what's in the
drink before you order it", with the "might I suggest" remarkably
condescending. He rolled his eyes at my party and walked away. . .I ordered a Manhattan (which was soapy), we paid our $16 per drink
tab and left.
The Bemelmans! As my friend concluded, "they are definitely coasting on their reputation."
This story reminded me that I haven't been to the Bemelmans since Audrey Saunders left to start the Pegu Club. A return visit is clearly in order.
UPDATE: How'd I miss this one? To complete the trifecta, the Timesalso delves into the strange quasi-religion that is cocktailian geekery. (I'm honored to chronicle this happy tribe.) Reading the article felt very familiar: Conversion moment? Check. Overflowing bar? Check. Making homemade ingredients? Check. "Whopping arrays of bitters?" Check. (Fee's Cherry and Lemon just arrived the other day, and I'm looking forward to picking up some Repeal Bitters soon.)