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DJ Cocktail -- Mixing Beats And Drinks

Who knew being a DJ is like being a bartender? I never thought about it until Ms. Cocktail Den and I attended an event hosted by D'Ussé cognac at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Whether they're professionals or amateurs (or as I described myself during the event, a professional amateur) DJs and bartenders are artists. One has music as their medium and the other has cocktails.

D'Usse event 1The first part of the event was about the music.  9th Wonder, a big time hip hop record producer and DJ, spoke about DJing and laid down a few beats. I must confess I had not heard of him, but I certainly have heard of many of the artists with whom he's worked, e.g. Beyoncé and Ludacris. Along with Jay Clipp, a nationally known DJ, 9th Wonder showed what goes into spinning records (or audio files on a computer) and creating some great music. It's a lot harder than it looks. The presentation was really interesting, even for someone like me who has very little knowledge of hip hop and no musical talent. Ms. Cocktail Den, who has musical talent, thought the connections are fascinating.

The second part of the event focused on D'Ussé cognac and using it in drinks. Everyone stood at tables, each of which had glasses of D'Ussé and bar tools such as mixing glasses, jiggers, and shakers. First Colin Asare-Appiah, the dynamic D'Ussé brand ambassador, had us taste the cognac.  It's quite good and pretty smooth.  The brand has a music connection, as rapper and producer Jay-Z is a part owner.

Mixing the Les Bon Temps Roule (D'Usse cognac, simple syrup, allspice dram, tiki bitters).
Mixing the Les Bon Temps Roulé ( 2 ounces D'Ussé cognac, 1/2 ounce simple syrup, 1/2 ounce allspice dram, 2 dashes tiki bitters, orange peel garnish -- I thought the result was too sweet).

After tasting the cognac, Colin presented everyone with a challenge -- create a cocktail using D'Ussé as the base spirit in five minutes. Everyone had access to other possible ingredients including a small selection of other spirits, syrups, citrus, and bitters.  I admit I got flustered, in large part because most people in the room were highly accomplished professional bartenders. For example, the people standing behind us were from Le Syndicat, a Tales nominee for the best International Cocktail Bar.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I persevered. Our spur of the moment creation, the Les Bon Temps Roulé ("the good times roll" in French, "let the good times roll" is an unofficial slogan in New Orleans), didn't turn out quite as well I would have hoped (recipe is in the photo caption). Nonetheless, merci to D'Ussé for a great experience. We got to learn things, create a cocktail, and meet fun and interesting people such as Kapri Robinson and Josh Davis. I even got an offer to do a guest bartending gig; I'm still not sure if he was serious.

So what some of the parallels between mixing records and mixing drinks?

1.   As Colin astutely noted, the standard four count in music is akin to the four components of a cocktail -- spirit, sugar, water, and bitters. The spirit is the beat. You want it to be consistent and noticeable, but not overwhelming.

2.  Mixing records is like mixing drinks. If you mix records abruptly, the effect is jarring. 9th Wonder and Jay Clipp described it as "shoes in the dryer" or "trainwrecking." An unbalanced drink has the same effect on your taste buds as trainwrecking has on your ears.

3.  What's old is new again. Samples from 1970s records appear in a lot of modern music hits. 9th Wonder used a snippet from a Beyonce song to illustrate this point. Similarly, cocktails from pre-Prohibition and Prohibition eras increasingly appear on modern drink menus. The rediscovery of various spirits and recipes have inspired people to create current spins on older cocktails.

Are you ready to be a DJ of drinks? I know you are. Let the good times roll!


An Ode To Irish Cocktail Joy -- The Good Cork

Ms. Cocktail Den had a business trip to Cork, a small city in southwest Ireland, and I shamelessly tagged along. I had a wonderful experience playing the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (you know this great tune, just Google it) on the Shandon Bells in St. Anne's Church. The Good Cork, a creation from Phil Ward in New York City, is much younger than the Shandon Bells, and it evokes fond memories of my brief time in Cork.

Good Cork1 ounce Irish whiskey
1 ounce mezcal
.5 ounces Benedictine DOM
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with stereotypical Irish liveliness, and strain into a chilled glass.

Irish whiskey and mezcal (tequila's smokier cousin)?  It works. The Renegade has a similar pairing (bourbon and mezcal) of spice and smoke, and like that drink, the Good Cork is spirit forward. The original calls for Redbreast 12, which is a fine whiskey.  I merely suggest using one of the many whiskies from the New Midleton distillery (the subject of Sine Metu), which is near Cork. Benedictine, an herbal liqueur you use in drinks such as the Racketeer and Widow's Kiss, is flexible enough so that it pulls everything together.

Looking for something unusual, tasty, and strong?  The Good Cork joyously delivers.


Oblique Cocktail Strategies -- The Another Green World

National Rum Day gives us an opportunity to think outside the cocktail box. Fellow cocktailer Michael Bounds, who brought us the Ides of March, created the Another Green World as a liquid tribute to the 1975 album from musician and producer Brian Eno.  Just as Eno used a deck of Oblique Strategies cards to get him out of creative ruts when making the album, the Another Green World will get you out of a rut when making rum drinks.

2 ounces rhum agricole Another Green World
.5 ounces Velvet Falernum
Juice from 1/4 lime
.25 ounces super simple syrup
Teaspoon of absinthe

Use the absinthe to coat the inside of a chilled glass, discard what's left (just as you would with a Sazerac or Orange Satchmo), combine the other ingredients in a shaker, shake as if that's what an Oblique Strategy card told you to do, then strain into the glass. Lime twist garnish optional.

We know rhum agricole is a style of rum, but what is Velvet Falernum?  Although it sounds like the name of another Brian Eno album, it's actually a low proof rum based liqueur from Barbados with citrus, spice, and sweet flavors (there's also a non-alcoholic syrup). You can get Velvet Falernum online if it's not in your local liquor store. It reminds me of a milder and sweeter version of allspice dram, which you use in drinks such as the Donna Maria.

The Another Green World is a remarkably well balanced cocktail.  If you don't have rhum agricole, use a dark rum but keep in mind it might be a little sweeter than rhum agricole. If you don't have Velvet Falernum you might be able to use allspice dram, but that could throw the whole drink off. Maybe I need a cocktail version of an Oblique Strategy card?

Go rum, go oblique, and go green!


Tales Of Evolution

You say you want an evolution? Well, you know. We all want to change the cocktail world. That's not exactly what the Beatles sang in 1968, but a similar sentiment from John, Paul, Ringo, and George could apply to the Tales of the Cocktail 2018 conference Ms. Cocktail Den and I recently attended. After some public turbulence and a change in ownership, there was curiosity in the cocktail community about what would happen. For those who never have been to Tales, for those who've been in the past, and for those who were with us thus year, here's our take on the evolution of Tales.

TalesoftheCocktailFairmontBut first, let me give you some personal background. In a way, Ms. Cocktail Den and I went to Tales before Tales. Many, many years ago we participated in a great Southern Comfort sponsored cocktail walking tour of New Orleans (among other places, it stopped at Antoine's, our favorite restaurant in the city and the source of the Antoine's Smile). Tours such as that and like minded industry professionals and cocktail enthusiasts eventually formed the base of Tales of the Cocktail.

New Orleans is a city that's big on tradition, so let's start with traditions that carried over from the old Tales to the revamped Tales.  First and foremost, the friendliness (pardon the alliteration).  One of the many wonders of Tales is we get to see friends we've made at previous Tales in New Orleans, e.g. Josh Morton and Danielle Hengge, friends from Tales on Tour, e.g. Michele Colomb and Erik Puryear, and new friends, e.g. Nicole Torres-Cooke, who we'd been following online for awhile. You never know who you might meet. For example, we went to a Disaronno event featuring Simon Difford, the founder of Difford's Guide. I use this website a lot when researching cocktails, and it's a great resource. We went to introduce ourselves to Simon, and what we figured at most would be a 60 second introduction turned into a fascinating 30 minute private conversation.

This ties into the second carryover from the old Tales -- the knowledge sharing. Simon gave us his insightful input about how we could continue to pursue our cocktail passion. Ms. Cocktail Den and I have learned a lot of from people over the years at Tales, and this year was no exception. Whether it was new spirits, new recipes, or new techniques, there's a lot you can takeaway so you and your cocktails can evolve.

There were two big differences between the old and new Tales, one physical and one psychological. The physical one is there were noticeably fewer people in attendance. That wasn't a surprise, as I suspect a lot of people stayed on the sidelines.  From my perspective the smaller turnout was a good thing. Maybe it's because I generally don't like large crowds, but this year Tales felt less overwhelming and chaotic than in years past.  At previous Tales there seemed to be a collective frenzy based on FOMO (fear of missing out; I'm not hip enough to use the acronym, but I don't care), which led to clusters of people running around the Quarter and the city without stopping to savor the moment. It was sort of a cocktail version of people who jostle to get a photo, and they end up looking without seeing (there is a huge difference between the two).

A perfect example of a non-manic event was the cell phone free Spirited Dinner we attended. Hosted by Jonathan Pogash and Pamela Wiznitzer, the event focused on conversations and connections without the distraction of modern technology. Ms. Cocktail Den and I were pleased to see this Tales did not have episodes of that collective mania. Neither of us cared for what appeared to be a deliberately and overly packed schedule on one or two days, but like everyone else we adjusted and had fun anyway.

TalesoftheCocktail2018WGSPartyThe psychological difference was that this year's conference seemed to have an increased emphasis on topics other than the spirits and drinks themselves. This aligns with what we've seen and heard since the change in ownership and to become a foundation. In fact, the most pronounced example of a non-booze emphasis was the William Grant & Sons party, which was alcohol free.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Personally I enjoyed the venue (Mardi Gras World) more than the actual party (which Ms. Cocktail Den really enjoyed), but I applaud William Grant & Sons for its bold move.  Don't get me wrong, the spirits definitely were still at Tales in full force. We did plenty of sampling and learning.

Our coverage this year focused on the tasting rooms and private events. Of course, there were plenty of seminars at the conference. In addition to traditional seminars focusing on spirits and history, many of this year's seminars focused on being better, whether as an industry professional, home bartender, or cocktail enthusiast. They included useful, practical topics such as the Beyond the Bar program (helping industry professionals take better care of themselves) and the Green Dot program (de-escalating difficult situations). Creating and serving cocktails can be tougher than you think, and if seminars like these help people evolve both personally and professionally, we're all for it.

Want to see more of our Tales of the Cocktail experience? Check out our Facebook page for our photos:

So what's in store for next year?  We'll find out together.  In the mean time, keep on cocktailing!


Pour Some Sugar Cane On Me -- Rum, Rhum Agricole, and Cachaça

The Def Leppard song "Pour Some Sugar On Me" is an iconic rock anthem from the 1980s, and it's one of my favorite tunes from the group. The song has nothing to do with sugar or sugar cane, but three spirits are derived from sugar cane -- rum, rhum agricole, and cachaça.  You've definitely heard of the first one, you probably haven't heard of the second one, and you might have heard of the third one.  If you're familiar with all three, then congrats.

Rum  rum agricole  cachacaSo if all of these spirits come from sugar cane, what are the differences? And why should you care? This short article from Tara Nurin at Vinepair has an excellent summary. Let me distill (pun intended) the technical stuff down to the basics. Rum comes from fermented sugar cane juice or molasses, which is a byproduct of the refining process. Rhum agricole only comes from pressed sugar cane juice that is not fermented. Cachaça is a cross between the two, as it must be fermented (like rum) but only can come from sugar cane juice and not molasses (like rum agricole). Rum can come from anywhere (not just the Caribbean), rhum agricole is associated with French Caribbean territories (agricole means agricultural in French, and that's why it uses the French spelling of rhum), and cachaça is the national spirit of Brazil.

Rum in and of itself is a big category, so I encourage you to explore different brands and ages. When you read descriptions of rhum agricole and cachaça, you'll probably see words like earthier, vegetal, and funkier (George Clinton or Prince would approve -- get it?). Those are pretty accurate.  The bottom line is you can have a lot of fun experimenting with these related spirits in your cocktails.  

With apologies to the guys from Def Leppard -- step inside, cocktail this way, you and me (sugar) cane, hey hey!


Tales of Grain and Suggestion

Grain and suggestion are not words you usually see in the same sentence. They were the subjects of an interesting seminar Ms. Cocktail Den and I attended during our fabulous time at the recent Tales on Tour in Edinburgh. The presenters at the seminar, titled "Against The Grain," were Davin de Kergommeaux, an acclaimed Canadian whiskey expert and author, and Kevin Vollebregt, the senior brand ambassador for Libbey, a glassware company. Our conversations with them after the seminar exemplified some of the nice features of Tales of the Cocktail and the global cocktail community in general -- they were very approachable and more than happy to share their knowledge.

It's all the same whiskey ... or is it?
This whiskey all tastes the same ... or does it?

Some of the seminar focused on the science of grains and how they become whiskey. Even someone as science-challenged as me was able to follow along and retain some facts. For example, each of the four grains used in whiskies (corn, barley, rye, wheat) have different primary flavors (creamy, nutty, salty, bread), and pulling whiskey off a still at high proof causes it to lose a lot of its flavors. If you want to read more about the whiskey making process, you can go to past posts such as What's In Your Bourbon?, as well as numerous other resources.

Courtesy of Davin de Kergommeaux and Kevin Vollebregt.
Image courtesy of Davin de Kergommeaux and Kevin Vollebregt.

The fascinating part of the seminar pertained to the power of suggestion. Illustrating their point, Davin and Kevin had everyone taste the same whiskies in different glasses. Did they taste the same? No. Your brain activity will be a huge influence on your drinking experiences. You're not just tasting a drink with your mouth and nose.  You're combining all of your senses, your past memories and experiences, and other variables.

I know this stuff sounds basic, but did you ever really stop and think about it?  For example, if you recoil at the mere mention of a classic cocktail such as a Whiskey Sour or a Margarita, ask yourself why.  Was it too strong, too sweet, too sour? Maybe it was.  Or was it the context surrounding the drink, e.g. the glass in which it was served, your mood, etc.?

For me the important takeaway from Davin and Kevin's seminar is simple -- open your mind. Be receptive to new flavors, new experiences, and new influences. Consider reframing and reclaiming your past bad cocktail experiences. Whether it's the proportions of the drink, the glass in which you drink it, or the music that's playing in the background, the resulting experience could be profoundly different and positive. Cheers!


Drinking Like Jersey Boys and Girls -- The Newark

I've never been to Newark (only through it), but I've repeatedly heard it is not one of New Jersey's highlights.  That didn't stop Jim Meehan and John Deragon at PDT in New York City from creating a cocktail in its honor. The Newark is not far removed from a Manhattan or a Brooklyn.  Tony Soprano would like the Newark because most or all of its ingredients come from New Jersey and Italy.  Am I good with that?  Fuggedaboudit.

Newark2 ounces Laird's apple brandy or applejack
1 ounce sweet vermouth
.25 ounces Fernet Branca
.25 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the resoluteness of being Jersey tough, and strain into a chilled glass (preferably a coupe).

Laird's, which originated in New Jersey, makes apple brandy and applejack.  The two spirits aren't very different.  When you compare apples to apples, it's about exploiting different boiling and freezing points. In modern times Laird's applejack is a mix of apple brandy and other spirits. Add the sweet vermouth (most of which comes from Italy) and the Fernet Branca and Luxardo maraschino liqueur (both of which come from Italy), and you have one great cocktail. Want some accompanying music from some real Jersey boys?  I suggest Frank Sinatra (you might associate him with New York, but he was born and raised in New Jersey) or Bon Jovi.

As anyone who's seen the musical or movie Jersey Boys would tell you, big girls (and boys) don't cry.  They drink Newarks.


Offbeat Cocktail Rhythm -- The Syncopation

Syncopation is a musical term that refers to stressing an offbeat note.  In 1919 the iconic American songwriter Irving Berlin (his canon includes such classics as "God Bless America," "Puttin on the Ritz," and "White Christmas") wrote "A Syncopated Cocktail." There was no such cocktail at the time, but presumably the song inspired the drink. Harry McElhone, who introduced the Boulevardier to the world, included the Syncopation in his 1927 book.

IMG_20171220_1924481 ounce brandy
.5 ounces Cointreau
.5 ounces apple brandy
Juice from 1/4 lemon
1 dash Angostura bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the "jazzy melody" Berlin mentioned in the song, and strain into a chilled glass.

If you like a Sidecar or Corpse Reviver #1, you'll like the Syncopation. It appears the Syncopation traditionally called for Cognac as the brandy and Calvados as the apple brandy (Cognac is a torched Dutch grape from a particular place, and the same goes for Calvados, which is part of the Flower of Normandy). McElhone was in Paris when he came up with the Syncopation, so I figure he would have had easy access to French spirits.  Speaking of French spirits, you don't have to use Cointreau (my favorite triple sec), but you should use an orange liqueur. If you want an American spirit in the mix, use brandy from Copper & Kings or Laird's.

To take a line from the song, the Syncopation is fascinating and intoxicating. Now go make some cocktail music of your own.


The KISS Principle in Cocktails

This KISS principle is not the one declaring you should rock and roll all night and party every day (although that's a good one). KISS is an acronym for "keep it simple, stupid." The KISS principle applies in a wide array of disciplines such as communication and design. This excellent article from Carrie Allan, a spirits columnist at the Washington Post who the Den has featured in other posts such as The Magnificent Seven of Cocktails, is a reminder that the KISS principle also applies to cocktails.

Ward 8You can get a lot of great cocktails at bars. However, sometimes their ingredients and complexity make it very difficult and insanely expensive to try to recreate them at home. The frustration can lead to the point where tears are falling (do you get the musical reference without Googling it?). Sometimes simple is best.  Whether it's a drink with three or fewer ingredients such as the Margarita or Stiletto, or a drink with equal proportions such as the Last Word, it's easy to make great cocktails at home.

And what do you do after that? To use a line from Gene, Ace, and Paul ... lick it up.


Et Tu, Cocktail? -- The Ides Of March

The Ides of March refers to March 15.  That's the day Roman senators stabbed and assassinated Julius Caesar.  In the eponymous play by William Shakespeare, Caesar does not heed the soothsayer who warns him to "beware the Ides of March." Shakespeare did not create the Ides of March.  That honor goes to my fellow cocktail enthusiast Michael Bounds.

Veni, vidi, bibi (I came, I saw, I drank).
Veni, vidi, bibi (I came, I saw, I drank).

1.5 ounces bourbon
1 ounce Aperol
.75 ounces blood orange syrup (see below)
Juice from 1/8 lemon

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the ferocity of stabbing your mortal enemy, and strain into a chilled glass. Lemon twist garnish optional.

The Ides of March is a nice mix of American (bourbon) and Italian (Aperol). Aperol is a lighter, orange flavored, and easily accessible amaro used in other drinks such as the Part-Time Lover.  The blood orange syrup can be trickier.  There are a number of ways to make it.  I must confess that when I was in the middle of making the syrup, I forgot how Bounds made it, so I improvised.  I used the same method as I use to make glorious grenadine. If you have to use processed blood orange juice for the syrup, see how sweet it is and adjust the proportions as needed.

Unlike Brutus, who betrays Caesar (his recognition of Brutus is what sparks the line "et tu, Brute" ("and you, Brutus?")), the Ides of March will not betray your taste buds or your liver. As Brits like James Bond might say (especially amusing because he has a license to kill -- get it?), cheers!