Music Feed

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.


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.


Sexy And Sophisticated -- The Les Bon Temps Roulé

"Laissez les bon temps roulé" is French for "let the good times roll," and it's an unofficial slogan of the city of New Orleans. Ms. Cocktail Den and I first created the Les Bon Temps Roulé when we mixed beats and drinks at a D'Ussé cognac event during the Tales of the Cocktail conference.  The concoction was okay (especially considering we only had five minutes to create and execute an original cocktail), but not great. After I experimented at home, here is the new and improved version.

Les Bon Temps Roule2.25 ounces cognac or brandy
.5 ounces allspice dram
.25 ounces super simple syrup
3 dashes tiki bitters (I used Embitterment)

Combine in a mixing glass or shaker with ice, stir with some enlightened passion, and strain into a chilled glass.  Orange peel garnish optional.

Like the rapper Pitbull's description of himself, I like to think the Les Bon Temps Roulé is sexy and sophisticated. The cognac or brandy you use is important.  After all, it is the primary ingredient.  While I certainly thank D'Ussé for inspiring me to create the Les Bon Temps Roulé, and it works well in the drink, use your preferred cognac or brandy.  They're all torched Dutch grapes. Just remember all cognac is brandy, but all brandy isn't cognac.

The Les Bon Temps Roulé is an intriguing mix of Old World (cognac or brandy) and New World (allspice dram and tiki bitters).  The allspice dram, a rum based liqueur in other drinks such as the Donna Maria, and tiki bitters give the drink some lively flavors. It's easy to find allspice dram and tiki bitters online if your local store doesn't carry them.

Will the Les Bon Temps Roulé end up in the pantheon of great well known New Orleans drinks such as the Vieux Carré, Sazerac, and Hurricane, or great but less well known drinks such as the Antoine's Smile? Time will tell.  But in the meantime -- let the good times roll!


Intercontinental Smoke -- The East-West Magic

Where there's smoke, there's fire. Or in the case of the East-West Magic, where there's a bit of smoke, there's an exquisite and earthy cocktail. Cheongsam is an American company that hand makes unique tea liqueurs in China from locally sourced tea. Ms. Cocktail Den and I met the people behind Cheongsam at the Tales of the Cocktail conference this year, and after trying the liqueurs we were dying to conduct some experiments with them. The East-West Magic is an original creation incorporating some smoke from Cheongsam's Smokey Mist liqueur (the East) and Scotch (the West).

East-West Magic1.5 ounces Scotch (see below)
.75 ounces Cheongsam Smokey Mist liqueur
Juice from 1/4 lemon
3 dashes cardamom bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the initial jolt of seeing smoke even when you're expecting it, and strain into a chilled glass.

The East-West Magic has some unusual ingredients that might be hard to find.  Reward yourself and find them. You can get all of them online. While the Smokey Mist liqueur is a critical part of the East-West Magic, don't overlook the Scotch.  Use one with a little smoky undertone, but not too much (I used Highland Park 12). If the Scotch is too smoky or peaty you'll miss the subtle joy of the Cheongsam liqueur. If you like the East-West Magic, you might like the Penicillin (or my tequila and mezcal based spin on it, the Mexicillin), or an even smokier drink such as the Fireside Chat. The cardamom bitters give the East-West Magic some liquid nuance.

As you savor this cocktail, it's ok to channel the popular 1980s tune from the Cars (mentioned in the Blinker) and sing --uh oh, it's East-West Magic.


DJ Cocktail -- Mixing Beats And Drinks

Who knew being a DJ is like being a bartender? I never thought about it until Ms. Cocktail Den and I attended an event hosted by D'Ussé cognac at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Whether they're professionals or amateurs (or as I described myself during the event, a professional amateur) DJs and bartenders are artists. One has music as their medium and the other has cocktails.

D'Usse event 1The first part of the event was about the music.  9th Wonder, a big time hip hop record producer and DJ, spoke about DJing and laid down a few beats. I must confess I had not heard of him, but I certainly have heard of many of the artists with whom he's worked, e.g. Beyoncé and Ludacris. Along with Jay Clipp, a nationally known DJ, 9th Wonder showed what goes into spinning records (or audio files on a computer) and creating some great music. It's a lot harder than it looks. The presentation was really interesting, even for someone like me who has very little knowledge of hip hop and no musical talent. Ms. Cocktail Den, who has musical talent, thought the connections are fascinating.

The second part of the event focused on D'Ussé cognac and using it in drinks. Everyone stood at tables, each of which had glasses of D'Ussé and bar tools such as mixing glasses, jiggers, and shakers. First Colin Asare-Appiah, the dynamic D'Ussé brand ambassador, had us taste the cognac.  It's quite good and pretty smooth.  The brand has a music connection, as rapper and producer Jay-Z is a part owner.

Mixing the Les Bon Temps Roule (D'Usse cognac, simple syrup, allspice dram, tiki bitters).
Mixing the Les Bon Temps Roulé ( 2 ounces D'Ussé cognac, 1/2 ounce simple syrup, 1/2 ounce allspice dram, 2 dashes tiki bitters, orange peel garnish -- I thought the result was too sweet).

After tasting the cognac, Colin presented everyone with a challenge -- create a cocktail using D'Ussé as the base spirit in five minutes. Everyone had access to other possible ingredients including a small selection of other spirits, syrups, citrus, and bitters.  I admit I got flustered, in large part because most people in the room were highly accomplished professional bartenders. For example, the people standing behind us were from Le Syndicat, a Tales nominee for the best International Cocktail Bar.  Ms. Cocktail Den and I persevered. Our spur of the moment creation, the Les Bon Temps Roulé ("the good times roll" in French, "let the good times roll" is an unofficial slogan in New Orleans), didn't turn out quite as well I would have hoped (recipe is in the photo caption). Nonetheless, merci to D'Ussé for a great experience. We got to learn things, create a cocktail, and meet fun and interesting people such as Kapri Robinson and Josh Davis. I even got an offer to do a guest bartending gig; I'm still not sure if he was serious.

So what some of the parallels between mixing records and mixing drinks?

1.   As Colin astutely noted, the standard four count in music is akin to the four components of a cocktail -- spirit, sugar, water, and bitters. The spirit is the beat. You want it to be consistent and noticeable, but not overwhelming.

2.  Mixing records is like mixing drinks. If you mix records abruptly, the effect is jarring. 9th Wonder and Jay Clipp described it as "shoes in the dryer" or "trainwrecking." An unbalanced drink has the same effect on your taste buds as trainwrecking has on your ears.

3.  What's old is new again. Samples from 1970s records appear in a lot of modern music hits. 9th Wonder used a snippet from a Beyonce song to illustrate this point. Similarly, cocktails from pre-Prohibition and Prohibition eras increasingly appear on modern drink menus. The rediscovery of various spirits and recipes have inspired people to create current spins on older cocktails.

Are you ready to be a DJ of drinks? I know you are. Let the good times roll!


An Ode To Irish Cocktail Joy -- The Good Cork

Ms. Cocktail Den had a business trip to Cork, a small city in southwest Ireland, and I shamelessly tagged along. I had a wonderful experience playing the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (you know this great tune, just Google it) on the Shandon Bells in St. Anne's Church. The Good Cork, a creation from Phil Ward in New York City, is much younger than the Shandon Bells, and it evokes fond memories of my brief time in Cork.

Good Cork1 ounce Irish whiskey
1 ounce mezcal
.5 ounces Benedictine DOM
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with stereotypical Irish liveliness, and strain into a chilled glass.

Irish whiskey and mezcal (tequila's smokier cousin)?  It works. The Renegade has a similar pairing (bourbon and mezcal) of spice and smoke, and like that drink, the Good Cork is spirit forward. The original calls for Redbreast 12, which is a fine whiskey.  I merely suggest using one of the many whiskies from the New Midleton distillery (the subject of Sine Metu), which is near Cork. Benedictine, an herbal liqueur you use in drinks such as the Racketeer and Widow's Kiss, is flexible enough so that it pulls everything together.

Looking for something unusual, tasty, and strong?  The Good Cork joyously delivers.


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!


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!


Pour Some Sugar Cane On Me -- Rum, Rhum Agricole, and Cachaça

The Def Leppard song "Pour Some Sugar On Me" is an iconic rock anthem from the 1980s, and it's one of my favorite tunes from the group. The song has nothing to do with sugar or sugar cane, but three spirits are derived from sugar cane -- rum, rhum agricole, and cachaça.  You've definitely heard of the first one, you probably haven't heard of the second one, and you might have heard of the third one.  If you're familiar with all three, then congrats.

Rum  rum agricole  cachacaSo if all of these spirits come from sugar cane, what are the differences? And why should you care? This short article from Tara Nurin at Vinepair has an excellent summary. Let me distill (pun intended) the technical stuff down to the basics. Rum comes from fermented sugar cane juice or molasses, which is a byproduct of the refining process. Rhum agricole only comes from pressed sugar cane juice that is not fermented. Cachaça is a cross between the two, as it must be fermented (like rum) but only can come from sugar cane juice and not molasses (like rum agricole). Rum can come from anywhere (not just the Caribbean), rhum agricole is associated with French Caribbean territories (agricole means agricultural in French, and that's why it uses the French spelling of rhum), and cachaça is the national spirit of Brazil.

Rum in and of itself is a big category, so I encourage you to explore different brands and ages. When you read descriptions of rhum agricole and cachaça, you'll probably see words like earthier, vegetal, and funkier (George Clinton or Prince would approve -- get it?). Those are pretty accurate.  The bottom line is you can have a lot of fun experimenting with these related spirits in your cocktails.  

With apologies to the guys from Def Leppard -- step inside, cocktail this way, you and me (sugar) cane, hey hey!


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!