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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.


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!


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?


Aqua What? -- Aquavit

AquavitAquavit isn't some fancy new flavored water. Derived from the Latin for "water of life" (just like whiskey means "water of life" in Gaelic), aquavit is a Scandinavian liquor that's becoming increasingly popular outside of Northern Europe, both on its own and in cocktails. Like vodka, aquavit is distilled from either grain or potato and then, like gin, it is flavored with spices and botanicals.  So what distinguishes aquavit?  Under European Union regulations, the predominant spice in aquavit has to be caraway or dill, and it must be at least 75 proof.  Do you like rye bread?  If you do (like me and Ms. Cocktail Den), you'll probably like aquavit.

Almost all aquavit currently on the market comes out of the Scandinavian countries -- Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.  There are some general national differences in aquavit styles.  Denmark and Sweden typically distill from grains, while Norway typically distills from potatoes. Aquavit can be relatively unaged and clear, e.g. Aalborg from Denmark, or aged and darker, e.g. Linie from Norway. As with other spirits such as rum and tequila, aging aquavit changes the flavor. Traditionally one drinks aquavit on its own. I had the opportunity to try different types when I was in Denmark and Sweden.  I enjoyed a couple of types of chilled  aquavit, and I found it goes great with herring (if you think that sounds disgusting, Ms. Cocktail Den agrees with you).

So why you should care about aquavit? Because it's a fascinating substitute for vodka, gin, and even whiskey in various cocktails.  Depending on your perspective, to some extent aquavit (also spelled akavit) is like vodka or gin that's flavored with caraway or dill. Try switching aquavit in for another spirit and see what happens. Sköl!


Tales Of Winning A Marathon, Not A Sprint

"It's a marathon, not a sprint" is sage advice you'll hear from Tales of the Cocktail conference veterans.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I heard it in 2014 when we first went to New Orleans for Tales.  Early that year we dealt with a serious health issue (which fortunately resolved) and the death of our long time cat (the basis of the Mooch, my first original creation). Those events helped us decide to go to Tales. We're so glad we did.  We met so many talented, cool, and friendly people (there were many, but I'll go ahead and name check Lauren Mote and Josh Morton) and had such a great experience it inspired us to create the Wulf Cocktail Den.

Tales of WinningBack to the "marathon, not a sprint" advice.  What does it really mean? Pace yourself while you have fun.  You will have a lot of fun because of the people at Tales and the wonderfully unique city of New Orleans.  Of course, New Orleans is not known for moderation.  Tales veterans know a little moderation makes your time at Tales a lot more fun, but a lack of moderation can be a problem. Here's a hilariously horrifying example -- one afternoon in 2016 we saw a Tales attendee (we knew because he had the right wristband) passed out in front of the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street.  Not the lobby of the hotel, where he probably was a guest.  Not the hotel entryway.  Not the sidewalk.  On Bourbon Street itself. I hope the poor guy showered with bleach and burned his clothes.

Whether you're a Tales virgin, a Tales veteran, or someone who simply likes cocktails (and you probably are if you're reading this), you may enjoy these other suggestions for attending Tales:

1.  Rehydrate as you dehydrate. Even if you only have a sip or two of the drinks (I definitely recommend you do not drink everything unless you have a disturbingly weird desire to end up like Mr. Bourbon Street), it'll add up quicker than you think.  Combine that with the torrid (not in a good way) heat of New Orleans, and you can become dehydrated quickly. You don't want to end up like Pheidipiddes, the original marathoner (spoiler alert -- he died).  However, if you steadily drink water throughout the day, you'll be like the Energizer Bunny.  Who would you rather be?

2.  It's about the people, people.   You know how most people normally bond over alcohol?  That effect is exponentially larger at Tales. You may remember the drinks, the music, or the atmosphere, but it'll be the people who will resonate with you.

3.  Try and try again. Ask questions and go to seminars because you will learn all sorts of things.  Tales is where Ms. Cocktail Den and I learned we really don't hate all gin. Similarly, there were some concoctions new to us that looked disgusting when we read them but tasted great. I know I'm going to sound like a stereotypical parent trying to get their kid to eat food, but I don't care ... if you don't try something, how do you know if you like it or not?

4.  Expand your New Orleans horizons. We like New Orleans so much we named Mooch's successor Satchmo (featured in the Orange Satchmo and Hurricane posts). New Orleans is a city with its own traditions and rhythms, and it's fine if you have your own traditions and rhythms when you're there.  For example, whenever Ms. Cocktail Den and I go to New Orleans we always have dinner at Antoine's (pictured in the Vieux Carre post and the source of the Antoine's Smile).  However, we always try to see or do something different when we're in town.  This has led to some memorable experiences such as visiting the National World War II Museum, or listening to Linnzi Zaorski at a club in the Marigny.

Are you looking to learn more about cocktails? Thirsty for a drink?  Ready to go to Tales?  Then, ahem, pardon my French -- laissez les bon temps roulé!


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!