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Lively, Strong, And Pink -- The Scandinavian Suntan

Scandinavian Suntan 1After spending a few days in Copenhagen, Oslo, and Stockholm, I got a pleasant surprise -- a suntan.  Ok, I really turned more of a darker shade of pale, but for me that's a suntan. Just as the unusually sunny weather in those cities gave my skin a pinkish color, trying aquavit in its native countries gave my taste buds some fun.  The Scandinavian Suntan evokes memories of the fun Ms. Cocktail Den and I had during our journey. It is inspired by a drink I had at Ruby bar in Copenhagen.

1.5 ounces aquavit
1 ounce Campari
.5 ounces super simple syrup
Juice from 1/8 grapefruit

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the joy of a Scandinavian who's able to experience almost constant daylight during the summer, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Orange peel garnish optional.

Nyhaven district in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Nyhavn district in Copenhagen, Denmark.

 As aquavit is a quintessential Scandinavian spirit, it had to be the base of this drink. It literally means the "water of life," and the Scandinavian Suntan is a lively cocktail.  If you want a true pink color that resembles my idea of a suntan, use clear aquavit; I used Aalborg Taffel in the pictured drink.  Campari, a widely available Italian amaro, isn't from Scandinavia, but its sharp citrus flavors complement the aquavit nicely. While in Copenhagen I noticed the Danes seem to love all things Italian, so it actually makes sense to use Campari in the drink.

The combination of aquavit and Campari makes the Scandinavian Suntan undeniably pink, and the fresh grapefruit juice enhances the color and flavor. Don't let the color fool you.  The Scandinavian Suntan is a pretty strong drink, but the super simple syrup keeps it from knocking you into the Baltic Sea (metaphorically speaking, I swear).

So who's up for some liquid fun from the Scandinavian sun?


My Long Lost Scottish Family -- Kin

Kin 3Even though I don't actually have any Scottish blood in my family, I feel like I do after going to Kin in Edinburgh.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I went to Kin twice during Tales on Tour. The bar's motto (arrive as friends -- leave as family) is very appropriate. Jody Buchan and Sam Baxendale really do make you feel like kin at this easy to miss but definitely want to visit bar.  

Our first time at Kin was on an off night, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves and were able to have a great conversation with Sam and Jody. These guys know they're doing. Regardless of your level of cocktail knowledge, they will make you feel right at home.

Kin 2What the cocktail menu lacks in breadth, it more than makes up for in unusual (in a good way) creativity and great tasting drinks. Also, Jody and Sam are more than happy to go off menu. I put my liver in their hands, and they rewarded my trust.  Jody made something for me that tasted like a joyful marriage of amari. That was followed by tastes of some fine 20 year old Plantation rum and Smokey Monkey Scotch from Monkey Shoulder.

The next time we went to Kin was for a Tales on Tour takeover event.  It was an odd juxtaposition -- New Orleans blues music and Southern Comfort based drinks in a basement bar in Edinburgh. While we had fun, I preferred the relaxed atmosphere and camaraderie of our first time there. Kin is quite small, so it doesn't take a lot of people and a high volume of music to come perilously close to overwhelming the place. Perhaps it's my preference for meeting and speaking with bartenders, but I'm really glad we went to Kin when it was calmer.

Sometimes you want to avoid family. Kin is family you'll like.


Scottish Bears And Owls -- Panda & Sons and Hoot The Redeemer

Wildlife in the heart of Edinburgh? No if you're looking for actual animals, but a resounding yes if you're looking for fun cocktail bars. We went to Panda & Sons and Hoot The Reedemer (I'm going to call them Panda and Hoot because I'm too lazy to keep typing their full names) during Tales on Tour.  Panda and Hoot are the creations of Iain McPherson, who we briefly met at Hoot and heard present about Ballin' On A Budget.

Panda & Sons 3The big difference between Panda and Hoot is the atmosphere. Panda is a speakeasy with a theme combining barbers and panda bears (I know it seems weird, but it works). I thought the vibe at Panda is lively and mature without being boring. Somewhere I read a description of Hoot being the "cheekier younger cousin" of Panda, and description is spot on. Imagine if a good dive bar and a mid 20th century carnival had a baby ...

So what are the similarities? As I told Iain, he has very good people at Panda and Hoot. For example, at Panda Ms. Cocktail Den and I had a great time hanging out with bartenders Jonah (from Australia) and Zee (from the Czech Republic).

The drink menus at both bars are approachable, creative, and unpretentious.  The drinks are quite good; I really enjoyed the Long Island Eclipse (pictured) at Panda, and Ms. Cocktail Den really enjoyed the slushie version of the Queen Street at Hoot. It's easy to see why the bars have garnered a lot of acclaim. Both Panda and Hoot are located in fairy small basements. It doesn't take a lot of people to fill up the joints. You won't have a problem if you don't like enclosed spaces, and even if you do, isn't a cocktail a temporary cure for claustrophobia? 

Want to have your own cocktail Nature Channel show in Edinburgh?  Now you know where to go.


Solving The Cocktail Case In Edinburgh -- Bryant & Mack Private Detectives

Bryant & Mack 1Here's a mystery -- where in Edinburgh can you find a top notch bar that's also fun and unpretentious?  This one is easy to solve.  Simply go to Bryant & Mack Private Detectives.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I did when we attended Tales on Tour earlier this year. 

Behind a humble exterior lies a small, dark bar with great drinks and great people. To me the interior evokes the intimate atmosphere of somewhere Humphrey Bogart, who played private detectives in classic films such as The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon, might have a drink or two as he contemplated his next move. Neither Bogart nor films like those were the inspiration for the bar's theme.  The inspiration was the deceptively effective television detective Columbo, played by Peter Falk.

Bryant & Mack 2Bryant & Mack Private Detectives is the brainchild of Ross Bryant and Jason Cormack. We happened to have a great conversation with Jason our first time there; we also met Alexandra Barstalker, a kindred cocktail spirit.  We briefly met Ross on a different night during a memorable Tales on Tour event with Buffalo Trace and Fratelli Branca (premium bourbon and vintage Fernet Branca at low prices ... need I say more?). While they are both very proud of what they have accomplished (and they should be), they are very modest.

The drinks are flavorful, creative, and well executed. Ms. Cocktail Den really liked the On Green Acres, and I particularly enjoyed the Perla Nera and the Bijou. Something else I enjoyed is the no standing policy.  If you're not sitting at the bar (something we always prefer) or one of the tables, you're not having a drink. It's a counterintuitively brilliant move.  Even though the policy sacrifices potential revenue for the bar, it enhances the customer's experience because it won't get crowded.  Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade would approve.

So here's a new mystery -- when are you going to Bryant & Mack Private Detectives?


Tales Of Ballin' (And Branding) On A Budget

Are you rich beyond your wildest dreams?  Having many Millionaires doesn't count.  If you're like me and most people, you have to do what you can with a limited budget. This was the focus of a seminar titled "Ballin' On A Budget" that Ms. Cocktail Den and I attended at Tales on Tour in Edinburgh. Led by Iain McPherson, the man behind the bars for Scottish Bears and Owls, the panel included Sullivan Doh, Mia Johansson, Vasilis Kyritsis and Boudewijn Mesritz, all of whom are successful bar owners in Europe.

Balling on a BudgetLike the seminar that was the focus of Tales of Grain and Suggestion, the panelists covered a number of topics geared towards people in the bar industry (I never have been in it).  However, one topic resonated with me because of its broad applicability. McPherson spoke about the importance of branding.  His advice -- your branding should consist of two understandable sentences.  Think of it as a corporate elevator pitch. The branding doesn't have to be fancy or high tech (either of which can bust your budget).  What counts is being clear and concise.  Interviewers generally know within the first 30 seconds of an interview whether or not they like the person they're interviewing.  The same goes for businesses, whether they are bars or not, trying to attract customers.

Want an example?  Here's one -- the Wulf Cocktail Den has fun and inspires people through the world of tasty libations. If you want to enhance your cocktail experiences, you're at home in the Den. Cheers!


Na Zdrovye New York -- The Russian Vodka Room

Russian Vodka RoomGot vodka? The Russian Vodka Room does. A lot of it.  The Russian Vodka Room is a great and relatively inexpensive bar in the theater district of New York City.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I discovered it almost 20 years ago, and we go there every time we travel to New York. 

As the name suggests, vodka is the main focus at the Russian Vodka Room. It carries an impressive selection of "little water" (what vodka literally means).  The real showstoppers are the house infused vodkas. The flavors are different than you what might see at other bars.  My personal favorites include the garlic, pepper and dill, apple and pomegranate, and ginger. If you want to put some hair on your chest (metaphorically speaking), have the horseradish.  The food is quite good, too. I can embrace my Russian and Baltic ancestry by pairing vodka with herring (I think this combination is awesome, Ms. Cocktail Den thinks it's disgusting).

Vodka infusions in all their liquid glory.
Vodka infusions in all their liquid glory.

At any top notch bar the people are just as important, if not more, than what it serves.  The Russian Vodka Room is no exception.  We've always had great service from the bartenders (thank you Bo) and your fellow drinkers are sometimes very interesting.  For example, the last time Ms. Wulf Cocktail Den and I were there we had a great conversation with Dale Badway, a Tony award winning Broadway producer.  Speaking of people, another good thing about the Russian Vodka Room -- some native Russian speakers hang out there.

Whether or not you're like me and have some Russian blood in you (or blood from somewhere that used to be part of the Soviet Union), the Russian Vodka Room is a great place to have a drink or three. You'll be saying na zdrovye (the Russian equivalent of "cheers") in no time.


Transatlantic Cocktailing -- Tales On Tour in Edinburgh

Tales on Tour is the international version of the annual Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans. Ms. Cocktail Den and I have been to the New Orleans conference a few times, and our first time there inspired us to launch the Wulf Cocktail Den in 2014.  This year we decided to go across the Atlantic to Edinburgh for Tales on Tour.  Not only was it our first Tales on Tour, it was our first time in Scotland.

Edinburgh Tales on TourSo was our journey worth it?  The short answer -- yes.  The slightly longer answer -- hell yes. We found Tales on Tour to be a smaller and more intimate affair than the wonderfully controlled chaos of New Orleans.  We had a lot of great experiences in the bars and on the streets of Edinburgh, a lovely small city.  The experiences included attending interesting seminars titled Against The Grain and Ballin' On A Budget, trying unforgettable local whiskies at the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society, tasting vintage liqueurs, and savoring cocktails at various Edinburgh bars (in no particular order I'm thinking about Bryant & Mack, Kin, Panda & Sons, Hoot the Redeemer, Devil's Advocate, Bramble, and Lucky Liquor).

Most importantly, the real value is bonding with people. Here's an example. One night two Americans (me and Ms. Cocktail Den) ended up discussing the history of the Hanky Panky (a drink created by a British lady bartender at a time when bartending was almost an exclusively male profession) with our new barstalking friend from Germany and a bartender from Scotland. You can't make this stuff up.  It's times like that why I love Tales of the Cocktail and the global cocktail community.

Don't worry, future posts will go into more detail about our time in Edinburgh. Just think of this post as a preview of coming attractions ... and maybe a preview of your future cocktail experiences.


Clickbait Cocktail -- The Naked And Famous

Here's a sexy looking drink.
Here's a sexy looking drink.

Made you look!  That's what clickbait online is all about. Although Joaquin Símo at Death & Company in New York City created the cocktail, the Alley Cat Lounge in Savannah introduced me to the Naked and Famous. The name caught my eye (of course), but the ingredients sold me on it.

.75 ounces mezcal
.75 ounces yellow Chartreuse
.75 ounces Aperol
Juice from 1/2 lime

Combine everything in a shaker with ice, shake with the evanescent thrill of seeing an intriguing headline, and strain into a chilled glass (preferably a coupe).

As The Naked and Famous uses equal proportions and includes a Chartreuse (there are two types -- yellow and green) and lime juice, it's a variation on the Last Word.  However, it doesn't taste like a Last Word. Mezcal, which I've described in other posts (e.g. the Racketeer) as tequila's smokier cousin, brings some heat to the drink, and the yellow Chartreuse and Aperol make it smooth.  Aperol is a widely available orange tinged amaro that really isn't bitter.  It's a component of other drinks such as the Part-Time Lover.

Unlike most clickbait, the Naked and Famous really delivers.  So cocktail click away!


Drink and Learn -- The American Prohibition Museum and 220 Up

American Prohibition Museum 1The American Prohibition Museum in Savannah, Georgia is not your typical museum.  For one thing, there's a great bar in the middle of it (more on that later).  The museum is informative without being dry (pun definitely intended).  You can learn a lot about this chapter in American history that formally began with the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution (the basis of Bootleggers Day) and ended with the ratification of the 21st Amendment (the basis of Repeal Day).

220 Up is the bar in the museum. You have to go through it in order to leave the museum.  In a clever way to maximize revenue, it's also open certain nights when the museum is not.  I love the concept of a bar in a museum.  It's appropriate for a museum about drinking legally; Prohibition involved a lot of other societal and political issues beyond the obvious.

Great bartenders such as Warren and Jason concoct some spectacular cocktails, and Ms. Cocktail Den and I had some fun conversations with them.  They're very good at engaging people with all levels of cocktail knowledge. During museum hours the bar menu focuses on Prohibition era cocktails such as the Mary Pickford, the 12 Mile Limit, and the Sidecar.

American Prohibition Museum 2The evening bar menu has a number of intriguing cocktails (I enjoyed the Bar Room Smasher, my wife enjoyed the Blue Blazer).  Of course, you also can order a Prohibition themed cocktail or something completely different.

Drink and learn?  Learn and drink?  The order doesn't matter.  Just know the two of them make a winning combination in Savannah.


Great Taste, No Tragedy -- The Widow's Kiss

Yes, this cocktail has an odd name.  No, I do not know the widow for whom the drink is named.  No one does.  What we do know is the Widow's Kiss first appeared in a 1895 book from George Kappeler, an esteemed New York City bartender.  Even though it's not clear if he created the Widow's Kiss (many people presume he did), Kappeler definitely put it on the imbibing public's radar (yes, I know radar was not developed until 40 years later).  Many thanks to the Alley Cat Lounge in Savannah for introducing me to this liquid smooch.

The Widow's Kiss at Alley Cat Lounge is intriguing and tasty.
The Widow's Kiss at Alley Cat Lounge is intriguing, flavorful, strong, and not deadly.

1.5 ounces apple brandy
.75 ounces yellow Chartreuse
.75 ounces Benedictine DOM
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the solemn grace of a famous widow such as Jackie Kennedy, and strain into a chilled glass. Luxardo cherry garnish optional.

The Widow's Kiss is high powered. No ingredient has less than 40% alcohol by volume (ABV).  If you want to go all French use Calvados, an apple brandy from the region in France.  I recommend using yellow Chartreuse (a component of other cocktails such as the Renegade) because it's 40% ABV and slightly sweeter.  If you have to use green Chartreuse (55% ABV; you'll use it in drinks like the Last Word), use no more than .5 ounces.  The Widow's Kiss should smooch your liver, not kill it. There is no real substitute for the Benedictine DOM (not the same as B&B), which you also can use in classics such as the Vieux Carre or originals such as the Mooch.

Are you curious about the Widow's Kiss?  Curiosity may kill the proverbial cat, but the Widow's Kiss won't make someone a widow or widower. I'm living proof.