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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Red, white and likely new to you

If you are not sure how you feel about flavored vodka, summer is the time to experiment, before autumn's amber hues and drinks. I come from a place where vodka was indeed flavored at home, but since the big brand's introduction of Peppar and Limon etc. in the 1980's, the flavoring universe has exploded. One American producer, UV Vodka, of Minnesota, has a few flavored vodkas that have pulled increasing favor in the granger states and beyond this decade.

The UV drinks you may find yourself served at the barbeque after the Main Street parade this fourth include:
UV Blue Bombsicle
1 part UV Blue
3 parts lemonade
Serve over ice in a lowball glass.

UV Cherry Firecracker
1 part UV Cherry
2 parts cranberry juice
A squeeze of fresh lime
Shake with ice, strain into high ball glass with ice and garnish with a lime wedge.

UV Vodka Summer Celebration
1 part UV Vodka
1 part grapefruit juice
1 part cranberry juice
Shake with ice, strain into high ball glass with ice and garnish with a lime wedge.

There's not an enormously discernable difference between many vodkas for most palletes, and you may choose to err on the side of affordability on occasion; if so, UV remains a good choice at right around $10 for most 750 ml bottles.

Seagram's, Smirnoff, and Three Olives also offer cherry vodka.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Moscow Mule saved from "some kind of alcoholic wastebasket"

Cold War footnote: vodka has more of an American pedigree than you likely know. Even the Moscow Mule was first put together down the road a bit, at the Cock 'N Bull. Moscow Mule recipe:

1 1/2 oz vodka (4.5 cl, 3/8 gills)
3/4 oz fresh lime juice (2 cl, 3/16 gills)
Add 1/2 lime shell in glass (1 1/2 oz, 4.5 cl, 3/8 gills)

Fill with ginger beer, ice

Serve in a copper mug (12.0 oz)
Which is all why this vodka news from Europe, though coming as a bit of a relief, also feels inconsequential:
Traditional vodka can be made only from grain or potatoes, the European Parliament decided Tuesday.

Beverages made from other ingredients can use the name "vodka" only if their compositions and origins are clearly indicated on labels, according to new spirit labeling rules approved by the Parliament.

EU members from traditional vodka-producing countries, like Finland, Poland and Sweden, had pushed for stronger rules that would have banned beverages made with other ingredients from using the name vodka.

"We have made vodka out of potato and grain for over 500 years," said the Finnish deputy, Alexander Stubb. "When we became EU members in 1995, we were told that vodka would have a tight definition, just like rum, just like whisky, just like grappa. We don't want vodka to be some kind of alcoholic wastebasket."

The EU vote was conducted by a show of hands. The news doesn't affect this household much; we typically drink Smirnoff, drink of choice of Cold War vets everywhere, grain-based and manufactured in the USA from a Russian recipe. There have been bottles of Ketel One under this roof also, mostly to put the status anxiety of guests into check. For a beverage that is by both American and European fiat does not have any distinctive aroma, character, colour or flavour, there is always quite an extra fuss about vodka.

There is nothing wrong with vodka. Nor with the equally noble American quarter horse; but one will never win the Kentucky Derby, and nor are they bred to. In daily service, you do not use a thoroughbred, you use the plowhorse; and that is the blessing of vodka.

Monday, June 4, 2007

How to--and how not to--make a Sidecar

I wouldn't suppose that many publications are exactly quaking in their boots with the debut of New Angeles, a free monthly purportedly about downtown from the people who bring you LA CityBeat.

This item from the debut issue on local drink is priceless:
Named for silent film cowboy and erstwhile bartender Tom Mix, the Mixville Bar in Silver Lake serves two important purposes: supplying strong drinks to hungry diners at the fashionable Edendale Grill and educating locals on the origins of cocktails. Armed with a specialty spirits menu replete with a brief history on each of its 20 potent potables, Mixville bartenders have shaken, stirred and poured their way into the hearts of dedicated regulars.

We suggest starting with the Side Car. Combining Presidente Brandy with Cointreau and sweet�and�sour mix, the Side Car is a mellow m�lange with tart, citric overtones. According to the Mixville menu, the drink was created in Paris during WWI, and then �brought to America during the Roaring Twenties and served in many speakeasies.� � votre sant�!
(Don't you just hate the Internet's version of wrong fonts--the dreaded question-mark? These would seem to be a CityBeat specialty at this point.)

Well, that's all about as far as you can go to appease an advertiser, right? From downtown, by bus, it would take over an hour to get to Edendale Grill...four hellish miles away from 7th and Broadway...

But beyond that, you also really have to question the phrase "educating locals on the origins of cocktails" as pure fakery. After all, from Tiki-Ti (which not only serves but has invented many world-renown tiki culture drinks) to the old Michael's (now Louise's/The Derby) to The Dresden (purveyors of classic cocktails---and classic bartenders---for decades) to the hundreds of ancient local service clubs that Taix serves (with its sturdy union bartenders), this is already the most cocktail-savvy area in all of Los Angeles, and has been for years and years.

And maybe I shouldn't neglect to say that yours truly has been here for nearly two decades now too, and not much of that time spent outside of the cocktail research sphere...


But worst of all---in a SIDECAR! With a big price tag! SWEET&SOUR MIX, of all things, rather than LEMON JUICE.

That's like mixing a margarita with 7-Up rather than lime juice...

If you think you need sweet&sour mix on top of triple sec---you probably should see a doctor.

You probably don't need acquaintance with these things if you're reading this blog, but if you do, here's more.


How to make a sidecar? The recipe's already likely on the side of your mom's glass shaker, but try the imminently dependable cocktaildb:

Shake in iced cocktail shaker & strain
1 1/2 oz brandy (4.5 cl, 3/8 gills)
1/2 oz triple sec (1.5 cl, 1/8 gills)
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice (1.5 cl, 1/8 gills)

Serve in a cocktail glass (4.5 oz)

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Is the public too cowed?

The latest issue of Bon Appetit, which has so much rehashed wine and spirits information and unusual ads in it that it might as well be called Salut, has me thinking: Can a lot of spirits-oriented writing look like anything at all to a cowed public other than as a way to push brands?

(It also calls LA a "vodka" town, but never mind that for the moment...)

The whole fixation on inventing new and ever more elaborate drinks is lost on me; most of the time it looks like naked commercialism. Worse, there are so few classic cocktails that are poured well that it would seem essential to get these down first before venturing into the unexplored terrain. The narratives surrounding our best drinks are mysterious, even mythical; the idea that a bartender can suddenly discover something venerable, present it to a few patrons, and ultimately say something about alcohol that we don't already know is nearly ludicrous.

I've personally had almost the precise opposite experience when dealing with spirits distributors that most have: I've had the most fruitful and polished dialogs with the diabolically large companies, and found most of the smaller companies stand-offish and aloof. The larger companies are receptive to criticism, even curious to hear it; smaller ones sulk when you give less than wonderful feedback.

But why have a publication at all if you're simply re-printing press releases?


Here's some crit I hope someone is receptive to: in that same Bon Appetit, I am really stunned that Antinori is using the words "Super Tuscan" in an ad. That seems like a throwaway and an invitation to cynicism. Many people who know Italian wine simply bristle at the term to begin with. Would you see an ad for some wine claiming it was first of the "fruit bombs"? I think even Robert Parker would be embarrassed.