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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.

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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.


The 3/4 Cocktail -- Low Or No Alcohol Drinks

In 1806 a New York newspaper editor named Harry Croswell gave us the first definition of the word cocktail: "a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters ..."

So what's a 3/4 Cocktail?  It's my way of describing a spirit free cocktail.  You still have the sugar, water, and bitters. As long you have at least those three ingredients, the possibilities are infinite. Bitters are highly concentrated alcoholic tinctures, so a 3/4 Cocktail isn't completely booze free, but it's quite close.

34 Cocktail -- No Booze BoricuaIn recent years cocktail programs have made a point of emphasizing low or no alcohol drinks, or at least not relegating them to the proverbial kids table in the room of cocktails. People have different reasons for wanting a refreshing and delicious libation without alcohol. In my case, I'm standing in solidarity with Ms. Cocktail Den, whose temporary medical issue renders her unable to drink booze for a short period of time.

There's no real formula for creating a 3/4 Cocktail. Personally I like to mix fresh citrus juice, a sweetener, a couple dashes of bitters, and ice (this is the water), shake it up so I follow the Hamlet Cocktail Conundrum, and strain into a chilled glass.  I suggest adding flavored seltzer water to increase the drink's volume and intrigue factor.  For example, the pictured 3/4 Cocktail is a No Booze Boricua, a spin on the Pina Colada.  Combine juice from 1/2 a lime, 1.5 ounces fresh pineapple juice, 1 ounce cream of coconut, .5 ounces super simple syrup, 2 dashes of Liquid Gold bitters from Embitterment, shake with ice, and top with orange seltzer water.

If I was one of the guys on The Big Bang Theory I'd write a complicated formula explaining how a 3/4 Cocktail can get you 100% satisfaction. I'm not one of those guys.  I'm not crazy (my mother had me tested), so trust me on this one.  Cheers!


Tales of La Isla Del Encanto, Part One

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Paseo de las Sombrillas, Calle Fortaleza, San Juan

"La Isla del Encanto" (Spanish for "the island of enchantment") is a nickname for Puerto Rico. Earlier this year Ms. Cocktail Den and I had the opportunity to spend time in San Juan, the capital of this American island. I mention this because many people are not aware that Puerto Rico is part of the United States and its people are American citizens. I suspect this lack of awareness is because Puerto Rico is not a state and the vast majority of its people speak Spanish as their primary language.

So why were we in San Juan?  Three words -- Tales on Tour. This is the international and smaller scale version of the Tales of the Cocktail conference that takes place in New Orleans every summer.  In 2018 Ms. Cocktail Den and I attended Tales on Tour in Edinburgh.  We had many wonderful experiences there, so when we learned this year's Tales on Tour would be in San Juan, we jumped at the chance to attend.

I know what you might be thinking ... if Tales on Tour is an international conference, why was it in a different part of the the United States? There is a certain kinship between the cities of New Orleans and San Juan.  It is a kinship borne of tragic circumstance. Hurricanes smashed both of them (Katrina in 2005, Maria in 2017) and forced them to rebuild and rejuvenate. There definitely was an emotional connection between the organizers of Tales on Tour, the attendees, and the citizens of San Juan.  You could see it in eyes and hear it in voices. For me and Ms. Cocktail Den, although neither hurricane affected us personally, that connection made this Tales on Tour even more rewarding.

Tales on Tour isn't just about drinking and bars, although there's certainly plenty of both (I will talk about San Juan bars in Tales of La Isla Del Encanto, Part Two).  First and foremost it is about the people.  This Tales was no exception.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I got to see old friends and make new ones. This Tales on Tour gave us many wonderful experiences involving other people.  I will share a few examples.

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"Life is about creating beautiful moments" -- Roberto Serralles

One nice aspect of Tales on Tour is that because fewer people are there, you're more likely to have meaningful interactions with people in the cocktail community. For example, one morning after the welcome toast I introduced myself to Roberto Serrallés, a scion of the family behind Don Q rum. I told him how a Puerto Rican co-worker of mine enthusiastically recommended Don Q rum to me (ironically, she doesn't drink).  Later in the conference, Serrallés was part of a panel on a really interesting presentation at the lovely Hotel El Convento about the past, present, and future of rum. That night Ms. Cocktail Den and I ran into him at an event. Amidst a tightly packed crowd dancing to upbeat music that pulsed through their collective veins, we thanked him for his presentation and told him how much we enjoyed one rum in the Don Q portfolio that isn't yet in our local market. Serrallés could have brushed us off. He didn't.  His eyes lit up as he told us to wait two minutes and find some glasses. After disappearing into a sea of tipsy humanity, two minutes minutes later he reappeared, a bottle in hand.  His toast -- "life is about creating beautiful moments." While the moment may have been fleeting for Serrallés, it was a beautiful moment, one Ms. Cocktail Den and I will remember.

A new feature at this year's Tales on Tour was the Day of Service.  Optional for attendees and mandatory for media such as me and Ms. Cocktail Den, the idea behind the Day of Service was to get people out of the relative confines of the conference and into the larger community. It was an excellent idea. Projects included cleaning beaches, planting gardens, or rebuilding houses. Even though my idea of a power tool is a blender (I must give my father-in-law credit for that hilarious and accurate line), Ms. Cocktail Den and I ended up helping rebuild a house in Loiza. In addition to a couple of Puerto Ricans, our crew consisted of people from Pittsburgh, Miami, and the two of us from Northern Virginia. Instead of bonding over booze (pun intended for you whisk(e)y lovers), we bonded over building. And don't worry, I got nowhere near the nail gun or table saw.

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No photo filter needed in Old San Juan.

When you're in Puerto Rico, rum is ubiquitous. Bacardi is the most famous. A behind the scenes trip to Casa Bacardi gave us a chance to hang out more with Russ, Sarah, and Sam. We first met them at a great dive bar across the street from the Hotel El Convento, and given the relatively small size of the conference we kept running into them.  We had mutual friends, people we  met at Tales on Tour in Edinburgh (Michele) and Tales last year in New Orleans (Nicole). It wasn't until our trip to Casa Bacardi where we got to learn how and why they became part of the cocktail community. I'm always curious about people's back stories. The three of them indulged me as we explored things such as the lab, the fermentation tanks, and the aging warehouse. And Russ, who makes his own rum, was particularly excited when he got to speak with some Bacardi master blenders as we all blended our own rums during a brief class. I was just pleased the rum we created along with a Pittsburgh bartender was reasonably drinkable.

Of course, we also got to meet other Puerto Ricans.  After the conference we stayed in San Juan for a couple of days to get some beach time, turn a darker shade of pale, detox (sort of), etc. One night we were having a quiet drink or two at one of the bars that made up the award winning La Factoria. We began chatting with Celso, our bartender. As usual, I inquired about his back story. We learned he really was a local guy, as he grew up in a neighborhood mere blocks from where I was sitting. He shared with us his personal post-Hurricane Maria story that led him to La Factoria. Through Celso we learned about the building's history and some Puerto Rican and Latin American drinking habits while we sampled some great drinks, at least one of which I will feature in a future post.

Although the conference was centered in Old San Juan (I really enjoyed the neighborhood, particularly when it was not overrun with cruise ship day trippers), there were events all over the city, as well as some in other parts of the island. This forced you to go to neighborhoods slightly off the beaten path that I might not have seen on my own. For example, the La Placita area on a Sunday night was rocking, and the vibrant atmosphere definitely could give the French Quarter in New Orleans a run for its money. From the perspective of a mainland American (at least this one) San Juan is similar enough that you know you're not in a foreign country, but it's definitely different so you know you're not in a standard, cookie cutter city that could be many places on the mainland.

Want to see the drinks, colors, and sights from our time in San Juan? Click on the links below.

San Juan
Tales on Tour
Casa Bacardi Distillery San Juan

Was our time in San Juan enchanting? Si. After a week there, I can tell you the people and cocktail scene there embody the slogan Puerto Rico se levanta (Puerto Rico rises).


10 Valentine's Day Cocktails

A great drink with the one you love is a perfect way to celebrate Valentine's Day.  Even though I think Valentine's Day is a Hallmark holiday, Ms. Cocktail Den likes it so that's what counts.  After combing through the Den archives for a drink to make her, I found these 10 themed cocktails.  Enjoy!

Intense Ginger LoveIntense Ginger Love -- rum, Barrow's Intense ginger liqueur, strawberries, and sparkling wine or champagne. Lovely and intense.

Passion -- tequila, Cointreau or other triple sec, cranberry juice, and lime juice. It will blind you (metaphorically) with ... you know. 

Amaro Amore -- Averna, Campari, lemon juice, super simple syrup, and egg white.  A rich, tasty, and contrarian choice.

Champagne Cocktail -- sparkling wine or champagne, sugar, and Angostura bitters.  Who says you only can drink this on New Year's Eve?

Naked and Famous --  mezcal, yellow Chartreuse, Aperol, and lime juice. This drink combines the fun of these two things without the risk of ending up on the Internet forever.

Intense Ginger Sutra -- vodka, Barrow's Intense ginger liqueur, and glorious grenadine. A little sweet, a little spicy, all ecstasy. 

Between The Sheets -- rum, brandy, Cointreau or other triple sec, and lemon juice. Have enough of these and the two of you might end up there.

Hanky Panky -- gin, sweet vermouth, and Fernet Branca. Even though the original meaning of the phrase had nothing to do with sex, this is one sexy drink.

Widow's Kiss --  apple brandy, yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine DOM, and Angostura bitters. She loved once, and your liver will love her (try saying that 10 times fast).

Part-Time Lover -- tequila, Aperol, elderflower liqueur or super simple syrup, lemon juice, and Angostura bitters.  The name may say part time, but the drink is full time delicious.


A New All American Drink -- The E Pluribus Unum

E pluribus unum is Latin for "out of many one." It is the original national motto of the United States of America. These unfortunately politically polarizing times give me another reason to continue my tradition of creating a new cocktail for the new year. The E Pluribus Unum is my liquid hope of cherishing and preserving what unites us.

E Pluribus Unum2 ounces bourbon
.75 ounces Grand Marnier
.25 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur
2 dashes chocolate bitters (I recommend Embitterment)
1 dash aromatic or Angostura bitters

Combine in a mixing glass or shaker with ice, stir with harmonious blending (as opposed to the violent agitation of shaking; I deliberately wanted a stirred drink here), and strain into a chilled glass.  Luxardo or amarena cherry garnish optional.

Bourbon is legally an American spirit, so it is a natural base for the E Pluribus Unum.  Grand Marnier honors France's role in the creation of the United States. You can use other orange liqueurs such as Cointreau (a key component in the thematically related RWB and other drinks such as the Syncopation), but Grand Marnier does a better job of uniting (see what I did there?) everything.  Why is Luxardo maraschino liqueur in the mix?  Because it adds a hint of nutty sweetness to the E Pluribus Unum, and its Italian roots pay homage to the Latin phrase. Chocolate bitters put a nice touch on the drink, and they are easy to find online. Angostura or aromatic bitters are everywhere.  Unlike other drinks with the same name that seem way too sweet, my E Pluribus Unum is just sweet enough and is definitely strong enough to represent the United States.

Do you want to be a liquid patriot?  Then have a E Pluribus Unum.


Frank and Jack -- A Relationship Of American Icons

Frank and JackFrank as in the late Frank Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board, an iconic American singer. Jack as in Jack Daniel's, the black label Old No. 7, an iconic American whiskey. As Sarah Feldberg explains in this article on the Tales of the Cocktail website, Sinatra's on stage endorsements beginning in 1955 caused Jack Daniel's to go from being a regional player to a global powerhouse.

If you want to emulate how Sinatra drank his Jack Daniel's, just remember 3,2,1 -- three rocks, two fingers of whiskey, one splash of water. In the mood for a cocktail?  Go New Jersey with a Newark (Sinatra was born and raised in New Jersey), go New York with a Manhattan or a Brooklyn, or go with an eponymous drink.

With all of these ways to celebrate Frank Sinatra on his birthday (December 12) or any other day, what do you do? To paraphrase a line from one of his most famous songs, just drink it your way.


Rocking the Red Carpet with Cognitio

Once again Cognitio, a great corporate client, asked me to consult and design a cocktail menu for its holiday party. Last year the party had a Roaring '20s theme.  This year the theme was the Red Carpet from Hollywood to Bollywood. So what did people drink at this glamorous party?

Cognitio Red Carpet 1Encore -- This is a renamed Mary Pickford, who was Hollywood's first premier actress. Take 2 ounces light rum, 1 ounce pineapple juice (preferably fresh), .25 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur, and .25 ounces glorious grenadine syrup.  Stir, use a coupe glass if possible, Luxardo maraschino or amarena cherry garnish optional.

Red Carpet -- This is a modified Boulevardier. Take 2 ounces bourbon, .5 ounce sweet vermouth, and .5 ounces Aperol.  Stir, use a coupe or martini glass if possible, orange peel garnish optional.

Tuxedo -- The Tuxedo is a group of drinks, all of which use gin.  Take 2 ounces dry gin, .5 ounces dry vermouth, .5 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur, and 2 dashes Angostura orange bitters.  Stir, use a coupe glass if possible, Luxardo maraschino cherry, amarena cherry, or orange peel garnish optional.

And The Award Goes To -- This is a renamed Champagne Cocktail. Take 1 sugar cube, 1-2 dashes Angostura bitters, edible cocktail glitter (optional) and sparkling wine or Champagne.  Put the sugar cube and glitter in a champagne flute, add the bitters, then add the sparkling wine.

Cognitio Red Carpet 2Who Are You Wearing --  This is a modified Sidecar.  Take 1.5 ounces cognac, 1 ounce triple sec (I recommend Cointreau), .5 ounces super simple syrup, and juice from 1/8 lemon (fresh if possible, .25 ounces max).  Shake, use martini or coupe glass if possible, lemon peel garnish optional.

Charles Hall, COO and CKO of Cognitio Corp, had this to say: “For the second year in a row, Cognitio has consulted with Josh Wulf of Wulf Cocktail Den to find unique signature cocktails that reflect the theme and spirit of our annual Holiday Party, which is ‘Red Carpet’ for 2018. We appreciate the care he takes in curating the perfect beverages for our event. One from last year, the ‘Mary Pickford’, was so popular that we brought it back this year, as the ‘Encore’. We’re very happy with how Josh’s cocktails add to the success of our event. We look forward to working with him again next year!”

In addition to throwing a fabulous holiday party, Cognitio is a longtime supporter of USO-Metro.  Cognitio combined the two so guests could contribute to USO-Metro through the end of January, 2019. So in a way, the Wulf Cocktail Den is helping people imbibe for a noble cause.

Cheers!


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.


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!


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!