Archive for October, 2008

The day in Twitter

October 31, 2008
  • 14:40 Woot! Through to regional heat of Bacardi Legacy comp! #
  • 17:17 @Tiare62 thanks! I’ll find out more in November. #

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Workshop, pt. 5: from there to here

October 29, 2008

On selling gin

October 29, 2008

From grahams Flickr photostream, issued under a Creative Commons licence.

Tomorrow, I’m lucky enough to be attending a gin training session at work hosted by an ambassador from Diageo’s Reserve Brands division and I reckoned it would be worth doing a bit of homework. I’m pretty familiar with gin, but I figure it’s always worth refreshing myself every once in a while. I don’t know if they’re going to touch on Gordon’s Gin tomorrow, but I stopped by the website anyway.

Gordon’s have been using Gordon Ramsay as the face of their advertising for a while now, in a campaign that plays on his uncomprimising pursuit of excellence – stop laughing at the back – and he appears in a video on the website demonstrating how to make the perfect G&T. And it’s annoying the hell out of me.

Gordon’s is one of the oldest spirit brands in the world, but in recent years it’s fallen out of favour among bartenders, particularly in the upper end of the trade. We switched from it to Bombay Sapphire as a house pour about eighteen months/two years ago, and it’s rare to see it being poured along George Street which is as zeitgeisty a market as you’ll see in the bar industry. Gordon’s is still (I believe, I haven’t got the numbers) the biggest gin brand in the UK, but I wonder how much of that is driven by off-license (liquor store) sales, and from that point of view, it makes perfect sense to use someone like Gordon Ramsay as your corporate face.

I still feel weird about that video. I think it’s territorial – Ramsay’s a great chef, but my experience would suggest that chefs are much better in front of a bar than behind one. I can think of any number of bartenders, trainers or brand ambassadors that exhibit the same passion for spirits and cocktails as Ramsay does for food, yet no-one’s made the leap into the mainstream in the same way as celebrity chefs have.

I guess the point I’m aiming at is, who’s going to be the first mainstream celebrity bartender?

(Photo from <<graham>>’s Flickr photostream, issued under a Creative Commons licence.)

The day in Twitter

October 29, 2008
  • 22:57 Woken up, refreshed and ready for the day ahead. It’s 7:55am.

    In Tokyo. I am not in Tokyo. #

  • 22:58 @mhughes2k Just give it 9 months… #

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Havana laugh

October 28, 2008
Bacardi Havana Club

Apparently, Bacardi's Havana Club is aimed at America's Hispanic population. Unlucky.

I’m a bartender, therefore I like rum, which leads me to say all kinds of nice things about the roundup of the Havana Club range at A Mountain of Crushed Ice. Tiare’s post touches on Bacardi’s version of Havana Club, which is only available in the USA, which reminds me of two things.

The first is spending literally an entire day in Manhattan’s liquor stores trying to find a bottle to (very illegally) bring back to Scotland. The second, courtesy of the guys at Bramble, is trying it.

It’s absolutely horrendous. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Britain’s rich rum heritage. Maybe I’m comparing it with things it should never be measured against, like an aged Jamaican or Guatemalan rum, or even Bacardi’s own 8 year old. Maybe I’ve become a rum snob.

And if it is me? It still tastes like someone made a vodka flavoured with burnt caramel. From meths.

Pretty bottle, though.

The day in Twitter

October 22, 2008
  • 22:50 If, as McCain says, the problem is Washington, why does he want to get there so bad? #

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Workshop, pt. 4: the naming

October 22, 2008

I’m always conflicted about naming new cocktails. Some days, I worry that I’m going to choose something that someone’s used before and that my cocktail will lose any comparison between them and disappear into the long evening of forgotten drinks. Some days, I don’t.

The naming of things is important, especially in a field where so many new creations emerge so often. There can’t be that many cocktails that have gained widespread popularity because of their name – at least, when compared to those that have managed it in spite of their name; yes, shooters, I’m looking at you – but some of the classics just fit. Whoever first named a Cosmopolitan deserves a biscuit, because the name fits the drink so well. For an Old-Fashioned, the name works because the drink is.

Then again, there are those drinks with a story behind the name. I love the story behind the naming of the Sidecar – it was the favourite drink of an Army officer who always arrived at the bar in a motorcycle sidecar. It’s easy to trace the path from “one for the guy in the sidecar” to simply “sidecar”, but if I try it with the regulars at work, I’ll end up calling a glass of white wine a Creepy Old Italian Dude. I’m also particularly fond of the various claims on the Margarita – not necessarily any particular story, just the fact that there are about a dozen with most of them involving either a Margaret or a showgirl.

Leaving the showgirls behind, there’s something to be said for comedy names. I’ve got no love for the Sloe Comfortable Screw school, but I can get behind a malt whisky cocktail called It Came From Outer Speyside, or the bartender who presented a Manhattan with Monkey Shoulder at a competition and called it King Kong.

As for my entry to the Bacardi Legacy competition, I thought I’d not go too wild. I figured that I would try to link the name to the ingredients I’d used – honey, hot sauce, Bacardi. Rejects included:

Bee Sting (drink’s not sharp enough)
Killer Bee (fairly certain that’s taken, anyway)
Ring of Fire (gentlemen, start your diarrhea jokes)
Worker’s Daiquiri (uh, Bacardi left Cuba when Castro came to power)

In the end, I chose to brave the treacherous waters of Google Translator, and came up with Reina de Fuega, which I’m 85% sure means Queen of Fire in Spanish. I think it fits the drink. Now, here’s hoping it stands out.

Workshop, pt. 3: prototyping

October 17, 2008

After looking over the rules and the format of the comp comes the time at which I’ve got to start making drinks.

Yeah, I know. Crazy.

There are times when I set out with a clear idea of what I want to do with a cocktail, but there are just as many times that I come across the basic idea for a drink entirely by accident, and that works pretty well when serving customers or brainstorming a new cocktail list. But for competitions (particularly one like the Legacy comp), I usually have to set myself certain targets. Here’s what I’m aiming for this time:

Easy to make: I want to be able to make this drink quickly. Part of the challenge of the Legacy competition is to get a drink widely adopted on menus, which will be tough to do if it takes five minutes to make each time.

Old school values meets new school know-how: the judges are looking for competitors to explain the inspiration behind their cocktail and that, in a nutshell, is mine.

With those two targets to aim, I grab a notebook and start throwing out a couple of ideas. I settle on a couple of things pretty early on. I’m tending towards making a daiquiri-style drink – what better way to celebrate an iconic rum brand than in an iconic rum cocktail? I also decide on honey as my sweetening agent, eventually going for a light Acacia honey.

Prototype 1
Part 1:
25ml Bacardi Superior
1 barspoon Acacia Honey
1 dash Orange Bitters
Stir with ice; strain over cubed ice in rocks/old-fashioned glass.

Part 2
25ml Bacardi Superior
2 pieces Root Ginger
10ml Tuaca
10ml Lime Juice
1 dash Egg White
Shake with ice; strain into rocks/old-fashioned glass on top of part 1. Garnish with flamed cinnamon dust.

I don’t end up making this one. I probably will, because there’s a bunch of interesting stuff going on in there (maybe too much), but not right now because it fails on one of my stipulations. Imagine being asked for a two-part drink when you’re four deep at the bar on a Saturday night, one part of which involves stirring down honey. Back to the drawing board, but there are things I take with me. I like the idea of the flamed cinnamon garnish, which will work well if I shake the drink with egg white to give it a base. I also like the combination of the honey with fresh ginger, and I take that as cue to start playing around with some more fresh ingredients.

I remember the stipulation that all ingredients must be “commonly available” in the competition rules, and bearing in mind I want something that’s going to play well with both ginger and cinnamon, I end up turning towards chilis.

The thing that makes chilis hot is called capsaicin and one of its interesting properties is that it isn’t soluble in water. It’s why chilis burn no matter how much water you drink, and it lights up a little bulb in my head. I can use egg white to bind flavours to capsaicin, which will bind itself to the taste receptors in your mouth, which will – hopefully – enhance the finish of my cocktail. There are downsides to this plan. Firstly, I don’t want to singe the palates of anyone who tastes the drink. Second, fresh chilis on a busy bar are the definition of an accident waiting to happen, especially those rich in capsaicin. So then, how to get some capsaicin into the drink without using fresh chilis? The answer is one of the most commonly stocked products behind any bar.

Tabasco Sauce. Any decent cocktail bar should be able to make a Bloody Mary, which means any decent cocktail bar should have Tabasco Sauce. All the benefits of chilis without the risk of rubbing non-water soluble irritants into your eyes. With the capsaicin question settled, the rest of my recipes falls into place fairly quickly.

50ml Bacardi Superior
1 barspoon Acacia Honey
2 pieces Root Ginger
25ml (freshly squeezed) Pink Grapefruit Juice
1 dash Tabasco Sauce
1 dash Egg White
Muddle ginger in base of shaker; add honey and grapefruit juice and stir until honey dissolves. Add other ingredients and shake with ice. Fine-strain into a chilled martini/coupette glass, and garnish with a sprinkle of flamed cinnamon dust.

Now I have a recipe. All I need is a name.

The day in Twitter

October 15, 2008
  • 04:21 Hey, at least I don’t have to go to Stereo for another seven years! #

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It’s got a light side, a dark side, and it holds the universe together

October 15, 2008

Anyone who’s worked in a bar will tell you that standard plasters are literally no use in the event of gashing your hands open. Good to see the rest of the world’s catching up.

Duct tape bandages – Boing Boing