Travel Feed

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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


Lively, Strong, And Pink -- The Scandinavian Suntan

Scandinavian Suntan 1After spending a few days in Copenhagen, Oslo, and Stockholm, I got a pleasant surprise -- a suntan.  Ok, I really turned more of a darker shade of pale, but for me that's a suntan. Just as the unusually sunny weather in those cities gave my skin a pinkish color, trying aquavit in its native countries gave my taste buds some fun.  The Scandinavian Suntan evokes memories of the fun Ms. Cocktail Den and I had during our journey. It is inspired by a drink I had at Ruby bar in Copenhagen.

1.5 ounces aquavit
1 ounce Campari
.5 ounces super simple syrup
Juice from 1/8 grapefruit

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the joy of a Scandinavian who's able to experience almost constant daylight during the summer, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Orange peel garnish optional.

Nyhaven district in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Nyhavn district in Copenhagen, Denmark.

 As aquavit is a quintessential Scandinavian spirit, it had to be the base of this drink. It literally means the "water of life," and the Scandinavian Suntan is a lively cocktail.  If you want a true pink color that resembles my idea of a suntan, use clear aquavit; I used Aalborg Taffel in the pictured drink.  Campari, a widely available Italian amaro, isn't from Scandinavia, but its sharp citrus flavors complement the aquavit nicely. While in Copenhagen I noticed the Danes seem to love all things Italian, so it actually makes sense to use Campari in the drink.

The combination of aquavit and Campari makes the Scandinavian Suntan undeniably pink, and the fresh grapefruit juice enhances the color and flavor. Don't let the color fool you.  The Scandinavian Suntan is a pretty strong drink, but the super simple syrup keeps it from knocking you into the Baltic Sea (metaphorically speaking, I swear).

So who's up for some liquid fun from the Scandinavian sun?


Aqua What? -- Aquavit

AquavitAquavit isn't some fancy new flavored water. Derived from the Latin for "water of life" (just like whiskey means "water of life" in Gaelic), aquavit is a Scandinavian liquor that's becoming increasingly popular outside of Northern Europe, both on its own and in cocktails. Like vodka, aquavit is distilled from either grain or potato and then, like gin, it is flavored with spices and botanicals.  So what distinguishes aquavit?  Under European Union regulations, the predominant spice in aquavit has to be caraway or dill, and it must be at least 75 proof.  Do you like rye bread?  If you do (like me and Ms. Cocktail Den), you'll probably like aquavit.

Almost all aquavit currently on the market comes out of the Scandinavian countries -- Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.  There are some general national differences in aquavit styles.  Denmark and Sweden typically distill from grains, while Norway typically distills from potatoes. Aquavit can be relatively unaged and clear, e.g. Aalborg from Denmark, or aged and darker, e.g. Linie from Norway. As with other spirits such as rum and tequila, aging aquavit changes the flavor. Traditionally one drinks aquavit on its own. I had the opportunity to try different types when I was in Denmark and Sweden.  I enjoyed a couple of types of chilled  aquavit, and I found it goes great with herring (if you think that sounds disgusting, Ms. Cocktail Den agrees with you).

So why you should care about aquavit? Because it's a fascinating substitute for vodka, gin, and even whiskey in various cocktails.  Depending on your perspective, to some extent aquavit (also spelled akavit) is like vodka or gin that's flavored with caraway or dill. Try switching aquavit in for another spirit and see what happens. Sköl!