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Hairless Gamblers, Bartenders, and Flowers -- The Jack Rose

Jack Rose 2What could these things have in common? They're the various origin stories surrounding the Jack Rose cocktail. None of them have anything to do with Jack Rose Dining Saloon, the fantastic bar in Washington. The metaphorically colorful story is the drink was named for Bald Jack Rose. Rose, who had alopecia universalis (no hair anywhere), was an early 20th century New York City gambler with links to organized crime and corrupt cops. The literally colorful story is the cocktail is named for the Jacqueminot rose, which is pink. Last but not least, a New Jersey bartender named Frank May, who for no apparent reason also went by the name Jack Rose, created the drink no later than 1905. Which story probably is the right one?  Keep reading.

2 ounces apple brandy or applejack (see below)
Juice from 1/4 lemon or 1/2 lime
.5 ounces glorious grenadine

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the energy of telling a colorful story, and strain into a chilled glass.  Lemon or lime twist optional.

Jack Rose 3
You can get an excellent Jack Rose at Jack Rose Dining Saloon, but you'll stay because of the fun people and impressive spirits collection.

If you compare apples to apples, apple brandy and applejack are very similar but not the same. Modern applejack is a blend of apple brandy and grain neutral spirits. You can use either one in the Jack Rose, as well as other tasty cocktails such as the Diamondback, the Newark, and the American Apple. Some people in the cocktail community insist a Jack Rose must have lemon juice, while others insist it must have lime juice.  My suggestion?  Use whichever one you prefer or have on hand. The glorious grenadine is the common denominator of a Jack Rose. It pulls everything together as it injects a hint of sweetness.

So which origin story do I think is correct? The one that isn't colorful -- the bartender Frank May.  Why? First, the newspaper reference to him creating it (1905) is a few years before Bald Jack Rose became infamous for his involvement in an underworld murder that exposed corruption in the New York City Police Department (1912).  Second, May plied his craft in New Jersey, where applejack has a strong history. Third, even though the gambler Jack Rose reputedly enjoyed this cocktail, I'd take odds (pun intended) a bartender created it.

It doesn't matter which story you like.  What matters is you try a delicious Jack Rose. Cheers!


Hollywood Glamour -- The Brown Derby

How is a brown derby glamorous? The hat may not be, but the patrons at the original Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles were.  Hollywood celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s such as Mary Pickford made the restaurant a see and be seen sort of place.  Interestingly, the restaurant did not create the Brown Derby cocktail. An unknown bartender at the nearby Vendôme Club invented it in the 1930s.

Brown Derby2 ounces bourbon
Juice from 1/8 grapefruit
1 ounce honey syrup

Combine with ice in a shaker, shake with old fashioned Hollywood swagger, and strain into a chilled glass.  Grapefruit peel twist optional.

Although its name might make you think the Brown Derby is related to the Derby, another bourbon based cocktail, to me it actually bears more of a resemblance to the Blinker. Both drinks mix whiskey, fresh grapefruit juice, and a sweetener. Speaking of sweeteners, other recipes usually call for less honey syrup, but those recipes use richer syrups (2:1 or 3:1 honey to water) than the honey syrup I like (1:1). If you would to put a twist on the Brown Derby, use maple syrup instead of honey syrup. Of course, if you want to make the Brown Derby more tart, add a little more grapefruit juice or cut back on the honey syrup. If you don't like grapefruit but like the idea of mixing whiskey, honey, and citrus, try A Thief In The Night.

If the cocktail world had the Oscars, the Brown Derby would be a nominee. Become a cocktail celebrity and have one.


Casablanca In Tampa -- CW's Gin Joint

"Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine." That is one of many classic lines from the iconic film Casablanca. Much of it takes place at Rick's Café Americain.  Humphrey Bogart, the actor who played Rick, would have felt at home at CW's Gin Joint in Tampa, Florida. Earlier this year Ms. Cocktail Den and I were in Tampa.  Our friends Kirk and David, who we knew online through the cocktail community but never had met in person, invited us to join them at CW's. We all had a wonderful time.

CW's Gin JointThe motto of CW's (CW is Carolyn Wilson, the owner) is "Where style and grace have an attitude." The motto hits the mark. Glancing at the stunningly designed interior, you might think the bar is one of those annoyingly expensive and pretentious establishments.  It's not. While you can go to CW's impeccably dressed (like Kirk and David, who would've looked perfectly normal on the set of Casablanca), the people there will treat you just as well if you're wearing an aloha shirt (like me). We didn't meet Carolyn, but we did have the pleasure of meeting Daniel Bareswilt. He's a true professional.

CW's Gin Joint 2
Channel Captain Renault and round up this Usual Suspect.

You will be shocked, just shocked to learn CW's has a serious focus on gin (if you don't get the joke, please watch the movie). If, like me, you're not a gin connoisseur, CW's gin matrix can be helpful. When I say matrix, I don't mean the Keanu Reeves/red pill/blue pill sort of matrix. If you want to learn about gin, this is the place. If gin isn't your thing, CW's has plenty of other spirits and cocktails. I particularly enjoyed the Gateway, sort of a cross between a Martinez and a Hanky Panky. In the unlikely event nothing on the menu tickles your liver, I'm confident the bartenders can make you something Rick's patrons drank, e.g. the Champagne Cocktail resistance leader Victor Laszlo orders as he figures out how to evade the Nazis.

In many ways CW's resembles the fictitious bar in the movie. Great drinks? Check. Classy atmosphere? Check. Great bartenders?  Check.  International intrigue?  Not that I saw or heard.  Unless you count sharing stories about international travel adventures.

If you're in Tampa and want somewhere to have a drink as time goes by (again, if you don't get it, watch the movie), go to CW's Gin Joint.  It will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.


Tales of La Isla Del Encanto, Part Two

Puerto Rico.  Nicknamed "La Isla del Encanto" ("the island of enchantment" in Spanish), this American island is home to generous people, stunning beaches, and the iconic Pina Colada.  Earlier this year Ms. Cocktail Den and I went to San Juan and attended the Tales on Tour cocktail conference; read about it in Tales of La Isla del Encanto, Part One.

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El Batey is a really good dive bar in Old San Juan.

You can't attend a cocktail conference without going to bars. When we went to the Tales on Tour conference in Edinburgh in 2018 we went to bars such as Panda & Sons and Kin. This journey to San Juan was no exception. I noticed a theme during the conference -- all roads lead to La Factoria in old San Juan.  If you ever saw the video for the song Despacito by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee (the song was everywhere in 2017), the bar scenes were filmed in La Factoria. To describe this award winning establishment as a bar is a bit misleading. La Factoria actually is a group of interconnected themed bars in a multi-level structure. Most of the individual bar spaces are not large, but you can cover a lot of cocktail real estate going through them all. I'm embarrassed to admit neither Ms. Cocktail Den nor I got a good photo of the bars inside La Factoria because we were taking drink photos and meeting people. During the conference we went there a handful of times, and we liked it so much we went there after the conference ended. The bartenders are friendly, humble, and create great drinks (gracias Celso M. among others). And the drinks .... let me put it to you this way.  My mouth still waters when I think of the Pina Coladas I had there. How do you say "Pavlovian response" in Spanish?

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You don't have to look glamorous to have a drink at the glamorous Chandelier Bar.

Depending on your mood and preferences, San Juan has a bar for you. Looking for a really good dive bar (by really good I mean fun, completely unpretentious, and not disgusting)? El Batey is the place.  You know it's really good if a lot of local industry people go there. Looking for a place with gorgeous decor where you can sit at the bar wearing an aloha shirt and bathing suit (as I did)? Check out the Chandelier Bar at the El San Juan Hotel. Want a little bit of tropical serenity and class in Old San Juan? Try the Cannon Club. If you're in the dynamic La Placita area (although the word "dynamic" is sort of an understatement), go to Jungle Bird, which has no relation to the tasty tiki cocktail of the same name. If you're wandering around in Old San Juan, and you really should, stop in and have a round or two at Aqui se Puede and La Republica.  Old San Juan is compact enough that the bars are all within staggering distance of each other. Literally. Or so I've heard. If you end up cocktailing a little less than responsibly, fortunately you can pray to Santa Uber.

To paraphrase a line from Come Fly With Me, a great Frank Sinatra song -- if you could use some exotic (or not so exotic) booze, there's a bar or two in not so far San Juan.


Colorful French Monks -- Chartreuse

Char what? Chartreuse is an indispensable ingredient in famous drinks such as the Last Word, or lesser known but equally amazing drinks such as the Widow's Kiss, the Bijou, and the Diamondback. But what exactly is it? Chartreuse is an herbal liqueur made by the Carthusians, a small order of Catholic monks many of whom live in the French Alps.

ChartreuseThere are two types of Chartreuse -- yellow and green. Liqueurs have a higher sugar content, but that doesn't mean they're weak. Au contraire, as the French would say.  Yellow Chartreuse is 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof), which puts in on par with unflavored vodkas and lower end (in terms of strength, not quality) whiskies.  Green Chartreuse clocks in at a whopping 55% alcohol by volume (110 proof), which is stronger than all but a handful of whiskies.

So why is May 16 Chartreuse Day?  In 1605 a high ranking French military officer gave the Carthusians a manuscript containing a recipe for an elixir that became Chartreuse.  In the United States the shorthand for May 16 is 05/16, but in France, and much of the rest of the world, it is 16/05.

Yellow Chartreuse is slightly sweeter, and some say it has a bit of a honey flavor. Green Chartreuse has a more pronounced herbal taste to me. The colors are natural. Chartreuse's recipe is secret like any other herbal liqueur or amaro, as well as non-alcoholic libations such as Coca-Cola. Legend has it Chartreuse consists of a blend of 130 different ingredients, and at any one time only two monks know the entire recipe. So when should you use yellow Chartreuse or green Chartreuse?  It depends on your mood, what you're making, and even the background music (perhaps Chartreuse by ZZ Top?).  Or you could follow the advice I got from a guy working the door at an event at the great Jack Rose bar in Washington, D.C. -- yellow by day, green at night.

Just as Chartreuse doesn't pull any punches on your liver, I'm not going to pull a punch about its price.  It is expensive, at least in the United States. That being said, it is worth every penny, pound, euro, or whatever currency you use. A little bit of Chartreuse goes a long way. These French monks aren't wrong.


A Tempting Drink -- The Almost Red Lips Rye

Red lips can signify temptation, power, or seduction.  Scott Harris, a founder of Catoctin Creek distillery in my home state of Virginia, based the Almost Red Lips Rye on a drink in the cocktail book at the legendary American Bar. The bar is located in the high class Savoy Hotel in London. Even though Ms. Cocktail Den and I are not high class, we had drinks there when we heard London Calling. The people at the bar (the birthplace of the Hanky Panky) make great drinks, and Harris, whose distillery produces top notch spirits, made a great one here.

Almost Red Lips Rye2 ounces rye (Harris used Roundstone)
1 ounce port wine
1/3 ounce mirtillocello or Chambord or Cherry Heering
1/3 ounce aquavit
1/3 ounce Aperol or Campari
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with a sultry air, and strain into a chilled glass.

The Almost Red Lips Rye has a lot of ingredients, so you can manipulate them to suit your tastes and whatever is in your bar.  There are three variables that have an outsize impact on the cocktail.  Port, the first one, is the one about which I know the least. It's basically a fortified red wine that's sort of sweet and comes in either a ruby or tawny style. There are many books and blogs about port, so you may want to check them out for more information.

The second variable is the fruit liqueur.  It boils down to this -- do you prefer blueberry (mirtillocello), raspberry (Chambord), or cherry (Heering)?  Keep in mind there's a wide range in proofs of these three different liqueurs. The third big variable is the amari -- Aperol or Campari.  The difference isn't in the proofs, but the taste. Aperol, which you use in drinks such as the Naked and Famous and the Ides of March, has a lighter orange taste than Campari, which you use in drinks such as the Cancer Killer #1 and the Scandinavian Suntan. You're not going to wrong with any combination of the Almost Red Lips Rye, but one using a ruby port, Chambord, and Aperol is going to taste a lot different than one using a tawny port, Cherry Heering, and Campari. 

Is the Almost Red Lips Rye more complex than most drinks in the Den?  Yes.  Is the extra effort worth it?  Yes.  Are you tempted?


Come Fly With Me -- The Aviation

"Come Fly With Me" is one of my favorite Frank Sinatra songs. The Aviation cocktail took flight (pun intended) around the time the late Chairman of the Board was born. In 1916 Hugo Ensslin published a cocktail recipe book that included the Aviation.  Just as wind currents and shear can affect an aircraft in flight, the history of the Aviation has been a bit turbulent. Many thanks to our friend Alexandra Barstalker, who we met at Bryant & Mack during Tales on Tour in Edinburgh, and her Aviation Project for inspiring me to try to make this pre-Prohibition classic.

Aviation1.75 ounces dry gin
.5 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur
.5 ounces crème de violette
Juice from 1/4 lemon

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake as if you could use some exotic booze and know there's a bar in far Bombay (now Mumbai; listen to the song), and strain into a chilled glass.  Luxardo cherry garnish optional.

So what is crème de violette? It's what gives the Aviation its pale purple color, and it's what distinguishes the original Ensslin recipe from later recipes. You can get it online if you can't find it at your local liquor store. Crème de violette is a 40 proof liqueur that's floral and vaguely sweet. Without it the Aviation basically becomes a gin sour, which is fine but doesn't evoke the old school glamour of flight and air travel.

Aviation 2When Ensslin wrote about the Aviation human flight was a pretty new technology, and when Sinatra sang about air travel it wasn't nearly as widespread as it is today. As with the Frank Sinatra cocktail, I doubt he would have had a drink that looked like the Aviation.

Many modern versions of the Aviation have a little more gin and a little less crème de violette. To me those versions result in a drink with unnecessarily heavy juniper and citrus flavors. My version incorporates those flavors and introduces a subtle hint of sweetness.

Does the Aviation intrigue you?  Then come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away.


Polite And Powerful -- The Danish Road Rage

Denmark has aggressive drivers?  Not really. During our time wandering around Copenhagen, Ms. Cocktail Den and I learned bicycles are the preferred mode of transportation.  The name of the Danish Road Rage comes from an offhand joke our walking tour guide made as we explored the city. The "incident" occurred when one bicycle rider rang their bell at another rider. Twice. The inspiration for the cocktail comes from an off menu item from Richard at the great 1105 bar in Copenhagen (he's from Scotland; this is yet another example of the transnational nature of cocktail culture).

Danish Road Rage3 ounces aquavit (preferably from Denmark)
.5 ounces dry vermouth
2 dashes lavender or orange bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with the graceful rhythm of navigating Copenhagen's bicycle lanes, and strain into a chilled glass.

The Danish Road Rage essentially is a martini using aquavit instead of vodka or gin. If James Bond worked for PET (the Danish intelligence agency) instead of MI6, he would drink this. I suggest using a clear aquavit such as Taffel or Jubilauems (I used the former in the picture, Richard used the latter when he made a drink for me) from Aalborg. Make sure whatever vermouth you use is reasonably fresh. As for the bitters, lavender is tough to find, but using it will make a spectacular Danish Road Rage. If you're willing to go online, I suggest ordering lavender bitters from Embitterment, which also makes excellent orange bitters.

Regardless of whether or not you have to deal with traffic stupidity, the Danish Road Rage is the cure.


Fruit With Wildfire -- The Intense Spiced Pear Martini

Pear and ginger might sound like a weird combination.  Sometimes weird is good.  In the case of the Intense Spiced Pear Martini, it's really good. Why is it intense?  Because I used Barrow's Intense ginger liqueur (full disclosure -- Ms. Cocktail Den and I are small investors).  This original creation is an adaptation of a drink on the menu at a McCormick & Schmick's restaurant.

2 ounces pear vodka (I used Wild Roots) Intense Spiced Pear Martini 1
1 ounce Barrow's Intense ginger liqueur
Juice from 1/8 lime
1 dash cinnamon
1 dash nutmeg

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with fiery emphasis, and strain into a chilled glass. Candied ginger and/or nutmeg garnish optional.

There aren't many pear vodkas on the market.  If you can get your hands on Wild Roots, do it. We tasted its vodkas at the recent Tales of the Cocktail conference, and the people there generously provided us with some free bottles for cocktail experiments. Grey Goose also makes a good pear vodka, but Wild Roots has a more pronounced pear flavor. I tested two versions, one with Wild Roots and one with Grey Goose.  In our view the one with Wild Roots was the clear winner.

Barrow's Intense is in liquor stores in most states.  If it's not yet in your local store, you can get it online. Without Barrow's Intense, the drink just won't be the same. If you don't have pear vodka on hand, you can use Barrow's Intense to make something similar, such as an Intense Ginger Lime Martini.

This cocktail is spiced but not spicy. I thought the drink upon which it is based was unnecessarily complicated. That one had seven ingredients.  In comparison, the Intense Spiced Pear Martini has five and is far superior. If it's a little too spicy for you, add a little St. Germain elderflower liqueur (used in drinks such as the Flower of Normandy), orgeat syrup, or super simple syrup.

Do you want to be a little wild? A little spicy?  A little intense?  Then answer the call from the Intense Spiced Pear Martini.


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!