September 10, 2013
In the recent U.K. Drinks Part I post, I talked about drinking ales at Cornwall pubs, and how lovely it was. But I also spent a little time in a town I like to call Londinius (or Matt Berry likes to call it that, and I imitate him), and had some swell drinks there, too. The swellest though, and what I’m devoting this post too, were at a bar with no name that resides at 69 Colbrooke Row (and, funny enough, the check actually says “The Bar With No Name”). It’s a well-known spot, thanks to the bartending and chemistry of renowned shaker Tony Conigliaro, whose book The Cocktail Lab: Unraveling the Mysteries of Flavor and Aroma in Drink, with Recipes, recently came out. You should buy it, if you’re at all interested in cocktails. And why would you be here if you weren’t? Anywho, I’d always wanted to visit said bar, and was stoked to finally get there. I started with a drink called Terroir, which is a word I can’t pronounce. It’s also a straight spirit they distill at the “lab” up the street – distill from clay, lichen, and flint! Really.
If you see a drink on a menu that’s a distillate of clay, lichen, and flint, how can you get anything else? You can’t. It comes poured at the table straight from the bottle,
and was delicious, slightly sweet, even, with earth tones, as you’d expect, and undercurrents of the air you smell when roaming the hills of France. From there, I went to the Avignon, on the server’s suggestion (more about said server in a minute). It was a combo of Merlot Cognac, Chamomile syrup, and smoked Frankincense. I kid you not! It had an amazing complex smokiness that started with the glass itself – turns out, they smoke the glass, too, in some mad scientist machine at the lab. The drink had layers of smoke and smelled, almost as if you were drinking from a chasuble.
At this point (and after Nat had a few drinks, which I’m not detailing cause really then you’d know the whole menu and not want to visit the bar yourself, which you should. So I’m leaving you with a bit of mystery) I wanted something a bit more umphy, as both the early drinks, while awesome, had sweeter notions. After talking it through with our server (hold on, more on him in a sec), he suggested an old favorite I hadn’t had in years, the Remember the Maine. A perfect idea! It’s like a Manhattan jagged with absinthe more-or-less, and fell right into place. Sadly, I was having too much fun to take a picture.
But that wasn’t it (and no, we weren’t stumbling – we were there a while, and the drinks were well-sized, meaning not like buckets). On the advice of that same server, and actually on the dime of that server, as he bought us this last drink, we had the Prairie Oyster shot. Now, don’t faint (if you know I’m a veg, that is. If you don’t, now you do). There wasn’t a real oyster involved. What was involved was cool as heck, and I’m going to try and describe it, but not do it justice. But here goes. They take tomato water and herbs, and place it into a handmade mold that looks like an oyster, then immerse it in a chemical solution that makes the outer layer form into a “skin” of sorts, and the whole thing look oysterish. Then they place it into a custom-made ceramic “shell” and top it with house pepper vodka and some other goodness. Then you shoot it. When you take a bite (which I suggest) of the tomato “yolk” or “oyster” it bursts with this fantastic rush of vegetal-ness, herb and spice, and pepper. It’s yummy.
So, the drinks were interesting, tasty, and reliable. Which wouldn’t mean nearly as much if the service wasn’t so darn great. Everyone working there was friendly, the place itself is cozy, there was a piano player knocking out 1930s, 40s, and 50s hits, there’s a Bogart-y shadow on the wall going up the bathrooms:
and the whole atmosphere is neat. And our main server was super helpful, so enthusiastic about the drinks, as well as knowledgeable, and very friendly. He greeted every table with a “Hello Ladies and Gents” and kept everyone happy, with the help of the other amiable employees. And, his name was Coco.
He told us he’s opening his own bar in London soon, so when you visit 69 Colbrooke Row, which you must, ask them where Coco’s bar is, so you can visit it, too.
September 3, 2013
We (wife Nat and I, that is) were recently in lovely England for a wedding – our friends Becs and Drew (who wrote a number of dandy Drew’s Brews columns for this very site) got hitched down in Falmouth, Cornwall. Since we were down in that beautiful part of the world, we stayed on for a while after the wedding, in a spot near Port Isaac, where Doc Martin is filmed. Yes, I am square. While in the English countryside, we saw many amazing vistas, caught up on some history, drove on some very tight roads, ate a host of tasty meals, and sampled a fair number of real, or cask ales. Though this site is usually about cocktails and spirits, I also (don’t gasp) like the ales, lagers, stouts, and general beers. Which meant that our English beer-cation was right up my alley. And so I thought I’d highlight a couple favorites. Out first hit, which to be honest was a hit for many days, was the award-winning Tribute Cornish pale ale, from St. Austell brewery. It’s made (I discovered) from 100% Cornish Gold Malt, and has a biscuity, malty flavor, with hints of citrus:
I also had a few Proper Jobs, which was a favorite of Becs and Drew that they suggested we try. It was a good suggestion. Also from the St. Austell brewery, it’s a hoppy hoppy IPA with the right amount of bitterness:
We went to a lot of dandy pubs (most of which not only have intriguing beers, but really better-than-expected food, too), including the Blisland Inn, which is owned by a fella nicknamed King Buddha, and he has his own beer only available there (I think), the King Buddha Blisland Special from Sharp’s brewery, which I was happy to try. It also had a great English ale taste, a stitch bitter, and was a good accompaniment to a hearty lunch:
Eventually, we found our way to London, at which time we moved into the Fuller’s family of beer. Both because it’s Nat’s last name and because Fuller’s Ales are darn fine, especially the classic London Pride, which is smooth, creamy, malty, and wonderful:
Now, get yourself over to the U.K. and have your own beer-cation.
May 24, 2013
Beyond Blackbird (which I detailed earlier and which I was a big big fan of), when I was in San Francisco recently I also stopped in at Absinthe Brasserie and Bar. First off, let me mention that I accompanied the wonderful and charming Sally and Corinne from the Lisa Ekus agency (the best agent, pr, media training, and more firm in the firmament) and some other folks associated with that fine orgnaization. If you have company like this, well, the restaurant or lounge you’re lounging in can probably serve almost anything and you’ll have a dandy time. However, if the drinks are as good as they were at Absinthe, the evening goes quickly up to wonderful. I started my drinking with a Ginger Rodgers, which is a variation on a drink called, simply, “Favorite Cocktail” from the classic pocket-sized cocktail book Drinks, written by Jacques Straub in 1914. It was everything a first drink before dinner should be: light-but-flavorful, bubbly, and a good appetite inducer:
After that, I was eating some delicious food (the mac-and-cheese was especially nice – and I should have taken a pic but was too busy eating and talking), and wanted something with a lot of flavor to accentuate the edibles. I went with a classic: the Pegu, from way back in the 1920s. It was tasty, tangy, and with a kick:
Heck, you should have one at home if you never have. It’s famous and fabulous. Here’s the recipe from Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz:
1-1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce Pierre Ferrand orange curaçao
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
Dash of orange bitters
Dash of Angostura bitters
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the gin, orange curaçao, lime juice, and both bitters. Shake well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass, and dream of days when this classic was (according to Harry Craddock in The Savoy Cocktail Book) a drink “that has traveled, and is asked for, round the world.”
After the Pegu, I had something with whiskey that I forgot to write down as the conversation was in full swing. But it was good, so just try all the whiskey drinks and you’ll get there. Here’s a photo, anyway:
Overall, an amazingly awesome evening spent with some of the swellest folks in the land, some delicious cocktails, and some scrumptious eats in a classy-but-comfy spot. Absinthe gets a “A” in my book (if I had some sort of book I put letters in, that is).
May 14, 2013
I recently was lucky enough to spend a short two days (not lucky cause it was short, but lucky in that I was able to go at all) in San Francisco, checking out a few snazzy bars and seeing some snazzy people. And having some Mexican food with my pals Mike and Meredith. But here, cause in theory this is a blog about booze and drinks, I’m gonna focus mostly on pictures of the drinks I had, starting with ones had at Blackbird. From what I’ve gathered, Blackbird is sort-a new, though it had a very comfortable neighborhood bar feel and a bunch of stuffed blackbirds above the wooden and glass shelves behind the bar. I don’t want the term “neighborhood” to confuse you though, into thinking the drinks weren’t crafted with care. Cause they were, and then some, by a bartender named Matt Grippo (and a couple other nice fellas whose names I missed). The menu was scripted on a long big scroll-of-sorts behind the bar (in two spots), and I picked a Knee Slapper off of it:
The Knee Slapper (well-named, as most drinks there) was a combination of Four Roses, Old Overholt rye, Averna, Gran Classico, and, interestingly, crème de cacao. It’s rare to see a doubling of the base spirits, and rarer still to see the crème de cacao thrown into a mix of brown boozes, but the end result was very tasty, rich, and layered with flavor and herbal notes. Dreamy stuff. By the time I ended up with a second drink, the Blackbird was hoppin’. It was a Saturday night, so expected, but I haven’t been in a spot that busy for a few, oh, years probably (hey, I’m old). It was four deep across the whole bar at one point. And here’s what was amazing: Matt kept his easy-going and affable demeanor the whole time, even when people asked incredibly silly things (one order: “can I get four beers, a Martini, and some whiskey?” With no specifics at all). And, during the madness, the drinks were still put together perfectly, and including an off-menu drink he made for me (maybe it was going to be on the next menu) with no name – or no name I remember. It was a wildly intriguing mixture as well: Enchanto pisco, Calpico (an uncarbonated Japanese milky soft drink), cucumber, lemon, orgeat, and a rose water rinse. That is out there friends. But you know what? It all came together into a refreshing, tangy, vegetal, smooth hit:
All-in-all, a fantastic spot, Blackbird. I’d definitely return in a heartbeat. It’s the kind of place where you could get the fancy cocktails made in the modern masterful manner, but also order a High Life if you wanted – as long as you paid cash:
June 29, 2010
I was recently in the big ol’ NYC, doing some glad-handing and jive-talking for my corporate overlords (sadly, today, I don’t get to spend every waking minute footloose and fancy free with drink in one hand, and the other hand working on putting together this Munsters model). I wanted to spend some time traipsing around the bazillion NYC bars and lounges and taprooms and dives that I have and haven’t been to yet, but sadly I only had one evening free, and not even much of that one. So, I went to the Raines Law Room. I’d mentioned Raines, and its friendly and writerly bar manager Meaghan Dorman before (here and here), and had been given a tour of Raines by her, but hadn’t actually stopped by when it was in full swing. Which made this stop a real treat, because the atmosphere in there is such an underground thing of beauty, all plushness and secret-y goodness. And the drinks? The drinks were heavenly. I had a bunch, but most of the photos didn’t turn out (due to a combination of user fumbling and dim lighting), but the below gives you at least a glimpse. And Meaghan was working, and can I say one thing: that girl’s a helluva shaker. Don’t take her on in a bar fight. Oh, the drink below is a (not sure how I forgot to mention this) Ragtime, which is Pernod absinthe, Ramazzotti Amaro, Rittenhouse 100 proof rye, Aperol and Peychaud’s. That’s a lineup of genius, which translated into layers of bitters and deliciousness. If you’re heading to NYC, be sure to put Raines on the “must visit” list–but get there early, cause it fills up quick.
June 15, 2010
Betsy Karetnick is my favorite radio hostess (and host, for that matter). She currently hosts the “Morning Living” and “Everyday Food” shows for Martha Stewart Sirius Radio, and every time I’m in New York City I try and stop in to make a few drinks with her on the air and talk to callers about parties, cocktails, and anything else entertaining under the sun. She’s one of those hosts who really listens to callers, as well as having her own great ideas, and though she actually started as a finance journalist and a host of PBS’ “That Money Show,” shes’s now a full-on food and entertaining force. Best of all, it’s her birthday this Thursday, the 17th, and I’m going to be in New York, so I’m stopping by the studio to make her some birthday Bellinis during the “Everyday Food” show at 12:15 EST, using the delicious Perfect Puree white peach puree. If you have Sirius Radio, be sure to listen in (at noon), and hey, even call in if you feel like saying howdy. If you don’t have Sirius Radio, you can always sign up for a free trial and see what you think (and call in and say howdy). If you absolutely can’t get near a radio, then at least make a Bellini on Friday. Here’s the recipe (adapted a bit) from Good Spirits.
2 ounce Perfect Puree white peach puree
4 or 5 ounces Prosecco
White peach slice for garnish
1. Add two ounces of the peach puree to a Champagne flute. Slowly, while stirring, add the Prosecco. You must add the Prosecco slowly, integrating it into the somewhat removed peach puree throughout or a peach puree sludge might gather at the bottom of the glass.
2. Garnish with the white peach slice and a toast to birthdays and Betsy.
September 1, 2009
Happy salivating September folks. Welcome to another month where you should be trying to have as many cool and creative cocktails as you can consume without causing chaos (or making you miss too many mornings). The reason, you might ask, if you were the asking kind, that September is so salivatious? It’s because of this very blog post, where I’m going to cut at least some of the chatter off the tree and present you with a few more almost drinkable photos from the San Francisco trip I had not all that long ago (and which I detailed a bit in a post you probably remember fondly called Drinks on the Road: San Francisco, Part I). But before the drink pics (hah, I always do this: set up, then aside), a quick shout out to my pals at the wondrous Chow.com, who brought me in to Chow HQ while I was in San Francisco to shoot some tips. And no, tips aren’t an endangered species (wow, the jokes come at a fast pace here at Spiked Punch), and yes I’ll post some later. But first, check out me preening while camera-person extraordinaire Blake Smith sets up a limoncello shot. You can’t see her here, but pal Meredith Arthur is taking the pic, directing things with calm and aplomb like she did all day (not easy to do when dealing with a diva like me).
After the tipping, I made a quick change into my Bob Fossil t-shirt, and then headed out to meet Meredith and her-husband-and-pal Michael for a drink at Range in the Mission (for more on Range, be sure to check out the blog Inside the Blood Bank). It was a sweet little spot, and M & M are great drinking companions (though I somehow managed to forget to take a pic of them, which is a shame, as they’re cuties) and I got to have a (drum-roll here) Zyzzyva cocktail. Not only was it a tangy-herby-august mixture of gin, yellow Chartreuse, apricot brandy, and fresh lime, but it was a tangy-herby-august mixture of gin, yellow Chartreuse, apricot brandy, and fresh lime named after the magazine (that I love) that published my first book, Want. Dang, that’s what’s listed under the definition of “Awesome.”
The next day after that (please, please, don’t ask me to name what day it was though), Nat I had a day of drinking delights. You know, I should copyright that phrase for my new tour guiding service (you know, I should have a tour-guiding service). “A.J.’s Day of Drinking Delights.” You’d sign up, right? Our first stop was in the middle of Chinatown (forget about, it’s Chinatown. No, no, don’t forget), where we slipped into the Budda Bar, a lovely little dive we had to ourselves, along with the amiable bartendress and the owner, who kept coming up to talk to us from the basement. We charmed him (natch), and he introduced us to the following unknown Hong Kong sipper (he insisted we swirl it around our mouth and teeth before swallowing though, as it’s not a shooter). I hadn’t had said spirited drink before, but it had a very powerful, not harsh, sense about it, like a good strong peasant grappa.
That night, we met pal Megan (from HCP and the A Year in the Life Beatles blog no less) at the Clock Bar, which is a stylish spot situated in the classic Westin St. Francis hotel downtown. It’s managed by a dapper and friendly fella name Matthew Meidinger, who not only helped me out recently with an article (which I’ll talk about when it comes out), but who also treated us to a few of the Clock Bar’s perfectly made cocktails that night, starting out (for me) with a slightly savory Sage Advice, a drink that could stand tall at any bar with its combination of Rittenhouse rye, Italian-specialty Averna amaro, fresh orange juice, black tea honey syrup, and good pal Peychauds bitters. I might like that drink so much I’d let it take my dogs for a walk.
Matthew not only ensured we had a host of helpful (well, why not?) drinks at the Clock Bar, but he also pointed us towards the Heaven’s Dog for dinner and more drinks, calling ahead to assure us a spot, getting us a cab, and making sure we didn’t trip on the way out the hotel. I tell you, if you’re in S.F. and don’t visit the Clock Bar, you only have yourself to blame. For that matter, if you don’t visit it and Heaven’s Dog, then you shouldn’t even talk to yourself any more. Because Heaven’s Dog was also, well, heavenly. General Manager Erik Adkins met us at the door and swept us off our feet with his genial good nature and miles of smiles. What is it about S.F. and friendly bar folks? Sometimes it’s best not to question, and instead just be happy with your fine fortune (a phrase sounding somewhat fortune cookie like). At Heaven’s Dog we had multiple snacks from the dinner menu, which is set up for sharing and which has a Vietnamese flavor (like Vietnamese tapas, someone said)–perhaps the tops was the vegetarian pork belly, tofu skin, shiitake mushrooms, clam shell buns, and scallion–and all was yummy. But the drinks, the drinks were even yummier. Ours were made by the also-friendly and very knowledgeable Eric Johnson. He’s opening (by the way) a new spot called Bar Agricole in the very near future, so keep your eye open for it (and your mouth wide open). Eric made us a whole host of cocktails and highballs and their brethren and sisteren. Sadly, we didn’t take too many photos, as we were busy talking, drinking, and eating, and those we didn’t take we went flashless on (not to mention that I put the monkey book away, so am guessing a bit on what we had). But here’s one nice pic of Eric I think putting the finishing touch on a Gin Fizz Tropical, which was gin, pineapple gum syrup, orgeat, lime, egg white, mint, and soda:
Ah, San Francisco and the many bars and just outstanding people on both sides of them. Hopefully we make it back soon. And if the above didn’t get your “thirsty” button pushed, then you must be a zombie. Except that even a zombie would be thirsty after those pictures. So, go get your zombie-self a cocktail, why don’t ya?
August 18, 2009
I’m getting ready for a little Wine Cocktails evening at bar Poco here in Seattle on Thursday (more about that later–but if you must know, it’s Thursday at 7 pm and you should be there), but wanted to take a second to look back at when I was out of this fair sunny city (no laughing on the “sunny;” it’s balmy and blue-skied here) a week ago, visiting various watering holes in San Francisco. And yes, I forgot to call pal Andrew, and am sad about it, but I’ll power through just to point out the hits to you, in two part fashion. The first part is all about the cocktail’d night that wife Nat and I hung out with drinker par excellente’ Camper English (who in the below pic is savoring a broccolini stem–tre’ international).
If you don’t know the legend of Camper English, he writes the educational (and yet still entertaining—it’s edutainment. And yes, you can hit me in the head for saying that word) blog Alcademics, which is all about the cocktails, the bartending, and the booze. He also used to write Camper’s Hate Blog (which is genius, and worth going back through), and lots of other stuff (you can really learn more than you probably want at Cramper.com). He’s funny. And knows the San Francisco cocktail bars like few others. He suggested we meet at the new-ish Rickhouse, which luckily was near our hotel in the financial area, as we went there straight off the plane after checking in. The Rickhouse has a heavenly cocktail list with lots of information and drinks (sadly the actual menu was a bit too nice to steal, though we were tempted, being recidivist in our menu-stealing ways), a barrel stave ceiling (with barrel hoop lights), and a table right near the front window that we hooked. For the first round I had a Rye Maple Fizz, cause I was feeling rye-y and a drink with maple syrup hooks me like a trout on corn, Mr. English had a Laphroig Project (he’s a smoky essence enthusiast–check for this drink’s recipe here), and Nat had a Bella Fragollo, which was Italian-y goodness.
All the drinks we had there were expertly made right in front of me by the talented staff as I gazed at the immense wall of booze. Seriously (and easily believed, as they’re a sibling of the top notch liquor store Cask, so they have an “in” to booze-shelf-stocking), they have a 15-or-20-foot wall of bottles behind the bar. I went into a trance, and when I woke up I had a drink in my hand, a smile on my face, and a little slobber on the smile. Which sounds much grosser than it was.
After another round, we realized that if we didn’t eat we’d fall over (which would have bored Camper and not done much for our reps), so we went (on his suggestion–he’s a “vegetalian,” too, so finding an eating spot for all and sundry was a snap. Oh, a “vegetalian” as I found out is a cocktail-swilling vegetarian. Don’t smirk) to Beretta, in the Mission district. Baretta was, as the kids say, the stuff (well, except for our first bartender, who seemed to wearing my grandmother’s velour curtains. The second bartender was a dream, though). Waiting for our table I sipped (or gulped) an Angelina that demonstrated the bar’s grasp of balancing perfectly a few key ingredients (a sweet skill to have): Partida Anejo tequila, Carpano Antica, and Benedictine. Tasty indeed, with the tequila mingling with the other two’s herbal natures in an unexpectedly complenting manner. Nat had a Agricole Mule (rum, lime, ginger, mint, and pic’d below), and Camper had a Single Village Fix with Del Maguey Mezcal (that smoky thing again), lime, and pineapple gomme. All deliciousness, and matched in their heights by our eventual dinner, which consisted of a couple thinly Italian pizzas, some broccolini (re: Camper pic above), and some unbelievably good bruschetta topped with fava bean and pecorino puree. This thick-crisped-bread-topped-with-a-smooth-but-with-a-few-chunks spread lushed up the mouth. So good we ordered it twice. I kid you not. Let me repeat for effect: I kid you not. We had more good cocktails there and then, too, and lots of Camper talk, and finally tumbled into a cab in the best way: fat and drunkish. Thanks Camper, thanks S.F., and thank you, too (and watch for S.F. post number II soon).