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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?


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!


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.


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!


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.