The revival of the American cocktail has brought us a flood of books, all filled with good intentions, that can be divided into three basic categories: barside encyclopedia, filled with data, descriptions and definitions but little of the charm or lore of the publican’s trade; dry, academic contemplation of drinking history or half-baked, fluffy attempts to capture the magic of the Cocktail Revolution.
But now we’ve got the real thing, a great read that combines recipes, history, fun and wit, courtesy of Wired, a leading magazine about the computer/internet/technology revolution. Called Cocktail, the Drinks Bible for the 21st Century, Viking/Wired, this may be the handsomest, most pithy and certainly most charming libation book currently available, co-written by former bartender and the host of Wired’s cocktail web site, Paul Harrington, also known as The Alchemist.
Harrington and co-author Laura Moorhead start with the basics–about mixers, ice, syrups, drink families, proportions, equipment and serving styles–and explain why they believe some cocktails are better stirred than shaken, and vice versa. They also go into detail about a drink’s taste complexity and mixing difficulty, and concise descriptions of beverage categories.
But the fun lies in their drink pages, wherein they pair detailed mini-essays with mixing instructions, serving advice and alternative suggestions. Here’s where we learn that the Alchemist invented, among others, The Drink Without a Name (2 oz. vodka, 1/4 oz. Cointreau, 1/8 oz. Chartreuse stirred with cracked ice, strained into a chilled cocktail glass and garnished with an orange twist.) and find out the origins of Pink Gin, Gimlet and Sidecar. This may be the smartest cocktail book of the past year.
Confused by the ebb and flow of the craft brewing business? Thinking about making a beer road trip? Then Ben Myers’ Best American Beers might be what you’re looking for.
Myers, who was named “Beer Writer of the Year” in1996 by the North American Guild of Beer Writers, has
worked with, among others, brewer Bert Grant and Pyramid Brewing, so he undoubtedly knows his way around beer. But in his lavishly illustrated little chapbook, he’s been aided by other well-known beer writers like Stephen Beaumont and Tom Dalldorf in encapsulating the brews and history of about 100 brewers in the U.S. and Canada. He offers recommendations with tasting notes for the top brews from each brewery, as well as a round-up of the regional breweries and brewpubs that didn’t get the full treatment. It’s a good, brief look at the current state of the industry, and perfect for that summer tasting road trip.
Once, champagne was considered a perfectly acceptable cocktail ingredient. Now, like with other things vinous, Americans have become far too reverential when it comes adding less formidable ingredients to sparkling grape juice. But after skimming Champagne Cocktails, by Anistatia Miller, Jared Brown and Don Gatterdam, (Regan Books), you’ll feel more confident putting some sparkle into your libations.
More importantly, the book is chock full of anecdotes about famous champagne lovers, the bubbly’s legends, and the kinds of cocktails that once swung a nation. Much has been made of the Champagne Millennium craze, and the purported lack of the stuff, but we bet that by 2000, there will be plenty of sparklers available at good prices. And if you want to expand your champagne cocktail repertoire beyond a Kir Royale, try the Americana (Pour 1 tsp. bourbon and 1 dash Angostura bitters into a champagne flute and slowly add 5 oz. champagne. Garnish with a fresh peach slice); Or the Metro: (Add a splash cranberry juice, a dash of Rose’s Lime Juice, a dash of Cointreau and 1 oz. vodka to a flute and top with 4 oz. champagne.)
Feel insecure at wine tastings? Don’t.Members of the British wine trade may be hanging their heads after hearing the results of a tasting test conducted by Harper’s Wine and Spirits Weekly. The London event, held as a prelude to the magazine’s debate about the roles technology and terroir play in creating wine, offered five wines for tasting, all but one tainted one way or another. The four bad wines were either contaminated, treated with chemicals, served from moldy bottles or forced into oxidization, in order to replicate the leading problems of “off” wines.
The results? Of 91 wine professionals–journalists, sommeliers, buyers, retailers, servers–who took the test, none correctly identified the one acceptable and four faulty wines. One, a second-year Master of Wine student, correctly identified four of the wines and their respective qualities, five pros correctly identified three, 19 guessed two correctly, and 36 answered one correctly. A whopping 30 tasters, a third of the group, couldn’t select one good wine from four bad ones, or identify the problems in any of the glasses of “off” wines.
The wine press is fighting back, but the real message, according to Harper’s, is that even in cases of provable wine failures, it’s all a matter of taste.
Wine and food pairing is a chronic industry problem, and the Mondavi family has stepped in to do something about it. Here, Tim and Holly Mondavi present Culinary Institute of America graduate Alon Shaya with the first annual Robert Mondavi Winery Award of Excellence for showing a promising talent for understanding the marriage of food and wine. Shaya gets an expenses paid trip to Napa Valley to tour wineries and dine at some of the region’s best restaurants. The award, presented by winery director Tim Mondavi and CIA Greystone campus instructor and specialty food business owner Holly Mondavi, will be presented annually.
Beer Managers Wanted
Miller Brewing is busy introducing an on-premise beer category management program that the company hopes will help operators make strides in developing a more streamlined and profitable beer management program for themselves
Category management (a set of methods designed to analyze the performance of a number of brands and varieties of products in one category so that retailers can make sure the best sellers get prime attention) has become a necessity in the supermarket business, where shelf space is everything. Although restaurateurs may think they know best how to decide which beer to carry, using their own whims and personal tastes, Miller hopes that by showing the financial benefits of running a tightly-watched program, operators will be able to increase their beer profits without adding costs.
To get the initiative underway, Miller is using consumer data about the on-premise beer consumer, local market profiles and best use of bar space to come up with specific guidelines about what and how many beers to carry, how to track sales more closely and generally, make the category perform better for operators at the unit level.
The basic message–find out what beers sell best and make sure they are plentiful, cold and available–may seem too basic, but Jay Towers, senior vp of Chili’s in the Gulf Coast area, called the Miller initiative a detailed and unique way to asses market opportunity. Gathering information about competitive pricing, consumer trends, local product movement, product assortment and mix, local marketing, pricing, promotions, training, supply and individual sales mixes, the on-premise program may answer questions about why your beer sales stay high but profits falter.
The on-premise category initiative is now underway in select markets; Miller expects to make the program available nationwide. For more info, call Miller at (800) MBC-BEER or (800) 622-2337.
As you already know if you’re a regular reader of the Cheers “Drinks” page (and if you’re not, check the last page in the magazine for the latest from America’s best bartenders and purveyors), mixology is alive and well in the US. Furthermore, a quick reading will tell you that there’s more to a cocktail than vodka.
Steve Olson, one of the judges in the Grand Marnier contest, gives one entry a sniff.
For proof, we offer the latest results of just two cocktail competitions: the First Annual Grand Margarita Contest, recently held in Santa Fe, NM; and the 51st annual National Cocktail Competition, presented by the U.S. Bartender’s Guild, Inc., at the Westin Long Beach, CA.
More than 20 of the top bartenders in the Santa Fe area were invited to compete in a judged tasting of Margaritas in the Grand Margarita contest, sponsored by Grand Marnier. The winner, Santacafé barkeep Jason Hopper, claimed the prize for the best classic Margarita as determined by judges Steve Olson of the TV show “Quench,” local author, Al Lucerno; Alexandra Marnier-Postelle, sixth generation member of the Grand Marnier family; and Schieffelin & Somerset media relations director Jeff Pogash.
Other competitors included second prize winner Donald Crosby of Coyote Cafe and third prize winner Whitney Olmsted of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.
At the US Bartender’s Guild contest, Fructuoso Prado of the Beverly Hilton, Beverly Hills, CA, was selected to represent the US at the International Bartender’s Association Cocktail Competition in Gothenburg, Sweden this November. Prado won at the all-day competition last month with his concoction, Ariana’s Dream.
Second prize at the contest went to Virgel Jones of The Balboa Bay Club, and third place went to Byron Nevarez of the Long Beach Yacht Club in the California-dominated competition. For more information about the USBG and the International Bartenders’ Association, contact president Fred Ireton at (714) 542-2105.