Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tales of the Cocktail- Vancouver Edition

For the first time Tales of the Cocktail decided to do a mini event and they chose Vancouver, BC for the location. Lucky for me as it is super close, I have friends to visit up there and it's a great drinking and eating place to go. Luckier for me some of the LUPEC ladies and their significant others decided to go too!

Instead of having seminars over multiple days, this mini Tales had you choose 3 seminars all on the same day. Here's what I went to on Monday March 14th.

10:30am: Famous New Orleans Cocktails. A really nice history of the cocktails that were born and bred in NOLA as told by Chris McMillian (bar historian extraordinaire) and Philip Green (descendant of the Peychaud's family) from The Museum of the American Cocktail.

We started the morning with a Sazerac and learned that it was one of the (if not THE) very first cocktail originally "prescribed" by pharmacists to cure what ails ya. Next we were served a Julep along with information of the Juleps and Sherry Cobblers being the original ice drinks. America was first with the building of ice houses and thus America invented the first ice cocktails. In pre Civil War times the Mint Julep was made with Brandy or Rum (to be honest that is still my preferred Julep).

Moving on to the Ramos Gin Fizz we learned of Henry Ramos, the most noted bartender in New Orleans. His bar was not a loud and brash joint but a very upscale retreat for gentleman (ladies weren't allowed in bars at the time). His Gin Fizz was a beloved cocktail and he made it and other libations until Prohibition came into law. On that day he closed his doors and people have been messing about with the original recipe since. There is a great article that was discussed posted here (along with the original recipe). And as part of our education on Mr. Ramos we all shook up a Gin Fizz for our 3rd drink of the morning.

During Prohibition we learned of Izzy & Moe, the notorious alcohol enforcement agents who would dress up in elaborate disguises to find illegal booze and the bartenders/speakeasy's who were providing it. Of course these hard working agents relaxed in their off time with beer and whiskey.

And last but not least we learned the sad tale of the Hurricane. A once delicious cocktail developed to use up the mass quantities of rum that a certain Pat O'Brien bar owner had in his inventory. Marketed to whiskey loving New Orleaners by serving it in a big fancy glass it became a hit. No one knows how it evolved to the slushy regret abhorrence of today, but a real Hurricane is still a great cocktail!

Noon: cocktail count 4

1:30pm: The History and Importance of Ice in Cocktails. Hendrick's ambassadors Charlotte Voisey and Jon Santer's seminar had the best swag ever. Seriously! Hand made Lewis Bags from Allison Weber of Portland and gorgeous wood muddlers to use with them.

Charlotte started by telling us all about Fredrick Tutor, the first person to harvest ice for business, to build and control ice houses to store the blocks and take ice to Havana (as well as other warm weather places). He was a man of great vision and without him we'd probably be drinking warm gin and tonics as the Europeans still do! She discussed refrigeration and it's importance to the time period as well as how ice is actually harvested.
Jon then stepped in and gave us a little lesson about Nathaniel Wyeth, an ice harvester who created just about every ice carving tool still used today. Jon demonstrated how different ice (of both size and shape) dilutes and what size is better for various drinks.

We were served two Cobblers, both without ice but using our new Lewis bags we crushed ice and heaped it into one of them. The other got just a few pieces. After a bit we tried both to see how cold and dilution affected this classic drink. And we learned that if you looked at the the crushed bits of ice they looked like cobblestones, hence the name.
Then Jon pulled out his chain saw and cut up a huge block of crystal clear ice. People donned plastic rain parkas. Of course he did and of course they did, this is Tales after all. Fun tip from the seminar; fill balloons with water and freeze, peel off balloon for different sized ice. I'm making balloon animal ice for our next party.
3:00pm: cocktail count 7

4:00pm: Who's Your Daddy? A Mai Tai Paternity Test. Jeff Berry, the most passionate and dedicated Tiki drink historian around, finally answered the question of who invented the Mai Tai. We listened to "testimony" about Harry Owens, Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber while sipping on various Mai Tai recipes. There weren't any objections and the court most certainly was not in order but the slide show was full of vintage recipes, vessels, bars and island girls.

At the end of it all we came to the conclusion that Don the Beachcomber created something called the QB Cooler which may have influenced Trader Vic in his mixing but the Mai Tai is all Vic's.
Original recipe from the 1940's:

  • 2 oz Wray & Nephew 17 Year Old Rum
  • .5 oz orgeat
  • .5 oz orange curacao
  • .25 oz simple syrup
  • Juice of one lime (approx. .75 oz lime juice)
Mix all ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a glass over crushed ice. Garnish with lime shell and a sprig of mint.

5:30pm: cocktail count 9

Of course Tales isn't all seminars and notes. There were parties, cocktails and bar crawls, soup dumplings and midnight croquet, delicious dinner and tasty cochon de lait lunch. Laissez les bon temps roulez, eh?


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Japan On My Mind

When we went to Japan 2 years ago I fell in love. With the cities, with the people, with the food, with the culture. You name it, I loved it. I hadn't expected to become so enamored although I was very excited to be going, but it happened.

And now of course I've been watching the news since the earthquake earlier this month, in awe of the swaying buildings in Tokyo and the awesome power that moved them. The tsunami and it's aftermath in Sendai has been horrifying to watch. And now the nuclear plant, radiation and the growing dread of what will happen in Japan and beyond haunt me.

I just read an amazing story about being trapped on Mount Hakone. It reminded me of the much more enjoyable 2 days we spent in Hakone. We even took the same cable car trip. I can't imagine what they all went through, it must have been so scary- and COLD!!!

I'm just giving Japan a little shout out today, hoping for the best for both the country and the people. There's a lot going on in the world and we tend to have a bit of ADD, paying the most attention to whatever is most current. I know some friends of mine have friends and family over there, some in the areas hit the hardest. I'm hoping you all receive good news.

There are many sites/products/agencies you can give to to support Japan. If you feel strongly about one please feel free to put it in the comments.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Well it's been 4 months since we were in Los Angeles so I guess I should get a post up. That's nothing really, considering that we were in Germany 6 months ago and I've still got loads to post on that! But as some of you know I travel with a handy moleskin that I fill with daily notes, collect lots of business cards from the places I loved and take a shit load of photos to always remind me of what we saw. 

So as I was going through a stack of business cards on my desk today I came across a few from LA and thought- wow! I must have caught some super procrastinator bug from our gracious host Chuck cuz I still haven't posted a thing about that great weekend!

Chuck & Wes being the über professionals in all things drinking & eating picked us up from Burbank airport and immediately whisked us to Dayne's all time favorite, In n Out Burger. Off to a good start!

Dinner over we headed downtown to check out The Varnish. This is a fantastic cocktail lounge in the back of Cole's French Dip and we were lucky enough to have Eric Alperin & Marcos Tello behind the bar. The space itself is retro dark wood and brick, low lighting and set up more like a restaurant with lots of semi private tables and booths. We planned to only have one cocktail each so that we could also make it to 7 Grand before closing but with these experts in the house we just had to stay for a few rounds, it was absolutely worth it!

We spent the next sunny day exploring Silverlake. Bar Keeper was recommended by many and did not disappoint. A great shop with an amazing collection of bitters, glassware, booze and bar tools. It's like a toy store for cocktail geeks!

(*update 3/21 I just heard this great interview with Joe Keeper on KUOW today!)

This was the night I was really looking forward to. We had dinner reservations at Osteria Mozza where I had wanted to eat at since they first opened. Batali & Silverton? Count me in! Funny their other location of Mozza is in Singapore, good to know!

The meal was delicious! The famed mozzarella bar lived up to the hype. The space is pretty and sleek and just the right amount of noise. And the best thing about dining out with other food loving peeps is that we got to taste a hell of a lot of food! From the grilled octopus to the crispy pig trotter, gnocchi with duck ragu to the ricotta and egg ravioli & the short ribs- everything was so good! And Nancy Silverton was even in the house! In the words of Charlie Sheen: Winning!!

A little dessert, an Amaro tasting at the bar and then we were off to La Descarga Rum Bar. All I knew was that Chuck said we had 10pm reservations that we couldn't be late for. And that they served rum. And that there was some type of a show.

We entered the building and checked in with the hostess who led us to a coat closet. Upon opening the closet doors it was revealed to be a "secret" entrance to the bar where we followed along a cat walk and then down a spiral staircase to the main bar. Above us a small band played fantastic Cuban music, the bar's walls weathered to look like crumbling walls in Havana. In the back there is another bar that has the feel of being made of corrugated metal walls. All very cool. 

My friend Aaron joined us and we all enjoyed some seriously good rum cocktails. The music changed and a spotlight appeared on the cat walk above, a woman dressed in a Latino inspired skirt and blouse started to dance. Fun! And then she really got into it and did a bit of a Cuban burlesque if you will! It was awesome (and I'm sure that most of the men in the bar would use other words as she was quite attractive!) and totally unexpected! There ended up being 2 shows, the second being quite a bit saucier and the woman dancing right on the bar!

A great night out on the town! The next day we wrapped up our very quick weekend with a delicious brunch at Alcove where we sat outside (in November!) and had yummy breakfast cocktails made by Juan Sevilla who Dayne and I had met earlier in the year at Tales.

Great to see our friends and finally get down to LA. We'll be back! (you know I'm using the gubernator's voice...)

flickr photos

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cruising with the Hurtigruten

After taking advantage of yet another huge smorgasbord breakfast at our hotel (Norway definitely has the best breakfasts of any country we've been to and it was always included in our hotel cost), we packed our bags and walked about 10 minutes to the Port of Trondheim to board our ship the MS Nordlys.We were heading south to Bergen on an overnight cruise and very much looking forward to more gorgeous scenery, this time of the ocean and the fjords.

The Hurtigruten line started over 100 years ago and were the only means of transportation of people and freight north to south in Norway. Although they are working ferries the ships are quite popular as small cruise vessels; offering cabins, meals, "entertainment" (yes, I meant to put that in quotes) and shore excursions. The entire journey round trip from Bergen north to Kirkenes and back is 11 days and has 34 ports of call. Many consider it to be "The World's Most Beautiful Sea Voyage."

The majority of the passengers were doing the entire trip and were happy to have new people to talk to. We heard lots of stories about the trip north, the days of only a glow of light but no actual sun, sea eagle spottings and the variety of seafood offered at lunch. There was one elderly man who cornered us soon after we boarded and proceeded to tell us about the amazing display of Northern Lights he had seen the night before- which was a lie. And others on-board were calling him out on it. Scandal on the high seas!

There isn't a lot to do on board except cozy up with a book and take in the scenery. It was a perfect relaxing day and a half. We went outside frequently, bundled up against some seriously cold wind, to see the beautiful sky and fjords and islands. At 3pm there was the most amazing sunset!

Of course we had our evening happy hour before joining the rest of the passengers for dinner. Dinner was an ok 3 course meal of reindeer starter, halibut and a berry soup for dessert.

After dinner we had aquavit in the lounge and went outside on a search for the Nordlys (Northern Lights) but never saw them. The only disappointment of the trip (now planning for Greenland! ;) We did however see lots of stars, shooting stars and constellations.

The next morning was another gorgeous day, sunny and bright. We would be arriving in Bergen around 2:30 in the afternoon. After a big smorgasbord breakfast we packed up our bags and handed them to the the porters who would make sure they were taken off the boat and ready for us to pick up.
We sailed through a small gathering of rocky islands, they were soooo close to the ship! As we came closer to Bergen there were more and more small towns nestled along the fjords. We even saw steam rising off the water in one bay!

For lunch we decided to have Weinerpølser (hotdogs) and fries from the cafe (seriously hotdogs are the national food of Norway, everyone eats them!). But when we went to order we noticed that there was a choice of either a hotdog with a brod (bun) or a hotdog with fries. When we asked if we could have our Weinerpølser with a brod AND fries the man looked at us like we were crazy!

Goodbye MS Nordlys, hello Bergen!

Lots of pretty, pretty cruise pictures here

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