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An Alluring Drink -- The Gintriguing

"Intrigue" is a great and versatile word in the English language. Gin is a great and versatile spirit commonly associated with England (although its predecessor is Dutch). What happens when you combine them?  The Gintriguing is an original creation that was the the basis for the Ginvention cocktail featured at the Golden Jubilee party with Government Executive Media Group, a corporate client.

Gintruiging1.5 ounces gin
.75 ounces Cointreau
.5 ounces dry vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with a sense of curious fascination, and strain into a glass, preferably a coupe or martini.  Orange peel garnish optional.

The Gintriguing is a variation on a traditional gin Martini.  It is enhanced twice with orange, first with Cointreau (my favorite triple sec used in other drinks such as the Cancer Killer #1 and the White Lady) and second with the orange bitters. I recommend using Cointreau instead of other triple secs (a generic term for orange liqueurs) because it has a clear color and a crisp orange taste. Even though my client liked the Gintriguing, the people there asked for a something a little lighter, so I removed the bitters and added a splash of seltzer water.

Are you intrigued?  Then have a Gintriguing!


A Cocktail "Cure" For COVID-19 -- The Flattening Curve

The COVID-19 causing coronavirus affects all of us. When there's a dangerous pandemic, it's natural to want a cocktail or two. "Flattening the curve" refers to the epidemiological model of trying to have infections over a longer period of time. This is a good thing. A flatter curve means less sickness and death because there's less stress on health care systems. Inspired by my Cancer Killer #1 and Cancer Killer #2, I give you another original creation, the Flattening Curve.

Flattening Curve1.5 ounces bourbon
1 ounce Aperol or Campari
.25 ounces super simple syrup
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with resolute determination, and strain into a chilled glass.  Serve straight (get it?) up if you can.

The Flattening Curve will not cure COVID-19 or destroy the coronavirus. I wish it could. The amaro in the Flattening Curve is the variable. Aperol, used in drinks such as my Venetian Kiss and the Naked and Famous, is lighter than Campari, used in drinks such as my Scandinavian Suntan and the traditional Negroni. Which one you use depends on your personal preference and/or what you have in your home. Designed to have ingredients many people stuck at home might have, the Flattening Curve is sort of an amaro enhanced Old Fashioned.

We're all in this together, so have a Flattening Curve at home and flatten the curve together.


Absinthe Beauty in New Orleans -- Belle Époque

Belle Epoque 1Absinthe has a certain mystique. Many have heard of it, few have had it. The anise (licorice) flavored spirit became popular in France in the late 19th century during the Belle Époque, a period of French cultural and artistic ascendancy. Even though absinthe became legal again in the United States in 2007, places that stock more than one brand, much less know about it, are few and far between.

Enter Belle Époque, a fairly new bar in New Orleans. Literally steps away from the raunchy merriment of Bourbon Street, Belle Époque figuratively is a world away. Mixing a look evocative of late 19th and early 20th century Paris with a low key and fun atmosphere, Belle Époque is a great place to learn about and drink absinthe. It even has two original fountains for the louche ritual, a process that combines absinthe with water and sugar to make the absinthe cloudy and milky green.

Belle Epoque 2The design of the drink program also is quite impressive. In addition to a wide selection of absinthes (who knew it could be red?), Belle Époque classifies cocktails by how much absinthe they contain (I particularly enjoyed the Ear and Loathing and the Viking Funeral).

If you've read other Wulf Cocktail Den bar reviews, you know to me the people in the bar are just as important, if not more important, than the drinks. Belle Époque hits the mark. For example, bar manager Laura Bellucci, who is smart, dynamic, and gracious, took us on an impromptu history tour of the multi-story space. If the original chandeliers in the upstairs event rooms don't dazzle you, the view from the balcony overlooking Bourbon Street will. 

Belle Époque is ascendant on the New Orleans cocktail scene for good reason.  Next time you're in town, go see why. Vive la Belle Époque!


New And Old School Drinking In Venice -- Time, Il Mercante, and Harry's

When Ms. Cocktail Den and I went to Venice we wandered the streets, ate a lot of great food, got caught in historic acqua alta (high water) with resulting flooding ..... and of course had some cocktails. We saw some of Venice's storied cocktail past and got more than a glimpse of its bright cocktail future.

Time Social BarLocated in the Canareggio district, TiME Social Bar (not a misprint) combines creative cocktails with a friendly and low key atmosphere. The space itself is small and bright, and the music was loud enough to be heard without being distracting.  Quite fortuitously, we happened to meet Alessandro Beggio, the owner of Time.  Like his bar, he was generous in spirit (pun intended). What about the drinks? In a word -- buonissimo (very good in Italian). Time's casual vibe belies its interestingly sophisticated cocktail menu. Alessandro and his team clearly put a lot of thought and effort into it. The drink components are a mix of familiar and exotic, and as you can see in the photo on the left, their presentation is well executed.  On a personal note, I was very impressed one of the drinks, the Caribbean Negroni, included homemade mamajuana.  I definitely didn't expect to see that liquor on the European side of the Atlantic Ocean. Time is only 20 minutes away from the tourist hordes in St. Mark's Square, and it's worth the short walk.

Il MercanteSpeaking of bars not far from famous landmarks, Il Mercante is only a 10 minute walk from the Rialto Bridge. Spread over two levels, the space is tastefully decorated with an an intimate and vaguely seductive atmosphere. It's the type of place where you'd want to take your significant other for a drink.  That said, it's certainly not fussy or pretentious.  As its name suggests, Il Mercante evokes the journeys of merchant adventurers. The cocktail menu is inspired and creative.  Much of the rotating menu is designed to pair with particular Italian and international.  Another section of the menu has really good twists on classic drinks. I opted to have a Reef, a libation marrying whiskey, house pimento dram (used in drinks such as the Donna Maria), mango, and pepper. I'm drooling just thinking about it. The people at Il Mercante are friendly, knowledgeable, and approachable. We had the pleasure of meeting Daniele, a man who is committed to his craft.  The low light and my bad eyesight may have deceived me, but I'm fairly certain I spied a martini glass tattoo on the inside of his forearm. That's dedication.

Harry's in VeniceDedicated to serving cocktails for many decades, Harry's is the quintessential old school bar in Venice. Overlooking the Grand Canal, it's a stone's throw from St. Mark's Square and been the watering hole for many famous people.  Let me be blunt -- you'll pay very high prices because of the history and location. Sometimes high prices definitely are worth the history, location, and the drinks. The Hemingway Bar at the Ritz Hotel in Paris is a great example.  However, aside from a really good Bellini at its birthplace, the drinks at Harry's are good but not great. In addition, while the people there were pleasant and efficient, they were not terribly warm to tourists like us (they were much warmer with the older gentlemen who clearly were regulars).  Perhaps because just as St. Mark's floods with water, Harry's floods with tourists. Ms. Cocktail Den enjoyed our experience there more than I did.  One thing I did like is Harry's prohibits people from taking photos of customers (I asked for permission before I taking photos of the bar and my Negroni).

So what's my advice if you want cocktails in "La Serenissima" (a nickname for Venice meaning "the most serene")?  Make time to go to TiME, be adventurous and journey to Il Mercante, and recognize Harry's for what it is. Saluti!


A Unique and Lovely Drink -- The Venetian Kiss

Venetian Kiss 1
Taste the glory of Venice in this cocktail.

Venice is a unique city. Nicknamed "La Serenissima" ("the most serene" in Italian), there are many reasons it is on many people's travel bucket lists. Having returned from a recent trip where Ms. Cocktail Den and I got caught in historic acqua alta (high water) and flooding, Venice is the inspiration for this original creation for the new year.

1.5 ounces Aperol
1 ounce vodka
.5 ounces Campari

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with the serenity of watching life go by on the Grand Canal, and strain into a chilled glass.

Venetian Kiss 2
Ms. Cocktail Den in Venice. The photo is real, and there's no filter.

Aperol and Campari are Italian amari (bitter liqueurs), and bottles of them are in bars everywhere in Venice. Campari, an indispensable part of cocktails such as the classic Negroni and my original Cancer Killer #1, has a stronger taste and is more bitter than Aperol, featured in drinks such as the Naked and Famous. That's why the Venetian Kiss has more Aperol than Campari. So why does it have vodka?  There's nothing inherently Italian or Venetian about vodka.  I included vodka because the Russian word literally means "little water," and it is a tribute to the water that surrounds Venice and frequently floods the city.  In addition, it brings balance and subtle potency to the Venetian Kiss. 

The 3:2:1 ratio of the ingredients gives the Venetian Kiss elegance in its simplicity. Its name may remind of you of the Almost Red Lips Rye, and its color may remind you of pink drinks such as the Cosmopolitan and my original Italian Sunrise. Have a Venetian Kiss, and savor liquid serenissima!


A Golden Jubilee with Government Executive Media Group

GovExec 1Want a signature cocktail program?  Government Executive Media Group, a corporate client, did for its recent customer event. Not only did I get to create the program, I got to mingle with guests and talk about the libations. Highlighting Government Executive Media Group's four publications, one of which was celebrating its golden jubilee (a fancy term for a 50th anniversary), guests sampled these cocktails:

Ginvention (inspired by Nextgov) -- For this cutting cutting edge spin on a traditional Martini, put 1.5 ounces gin, .75 ounces Cointreau, and .5 ounces dry vermouth in a mixing glass with ice, stir, strain into a martini glass, and top with a splash of seltzer water and lime peel garnish.

States of the Union (inspired by Route 50) -- To make this modified Jack Rose, combine 2 ounces Laird’s applejack (featured in drinks such as the Diamondback), .75 ounces Pama pomegranate liqueur, .5 ounces super simple syrup, and .25 ounces lemon juice in a shaker with ice, shake, strain into a couple glass and garnish with a lemon peel.

GovExec2
I never miss an opportunity to talk about cocktails.

Patriot (inspired by Defense One) -- This variation on an Old Fashioned calls for 1.5 ounces bourbon, .5 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, and 2 dashes Bittermen's molé bitters.  Combine everything into a mixing glass with ice, stir, strain into a rocks glass over ice (either a large cube or a couple of smaller ones) with lemon peel garnish.

Golden Jubilee (inspired by GovExec) -- This is a modified Champagne Cocktail. Place a sugar cube in the bottom of a champagne flute, add 1.5 ounces Licor 43 (an indispensable part of the 43 Up) and 2 dashes Angostura bitters, then top with sparkling wine.

Just as people had fun rocking the red carpet with Cognitio, people had a great time at the Government Executive Media Group event. The overall result?  Another happy client.  Cheers!


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.


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

TOTCPR1
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.

TOTCPR2
"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.

TOTCPR3
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.