Innovation V.04: Varientions vs. Innovations

Posted in Uncategorized on June 16, 2011 by alcohology

This is part three of an ongoing series on Innovation In The Spirits Industry. 

V.01 was “Innovation In A Brand” about Knob Creek’s single barrel.

V.02, “Age Your Own Whiskey Kit” discussed the art & science in barrel-aging cocktails.

V.03, “Single Tree Project” discussed the a new process to make bourbon that no one’s ever tried before.

variant /ˈve(ə)rēənt/

  1. ‘A form or version of something that differs in some respect from other forms of the same thing or from a standard: “variant of a manhattan“’

[This blog post is less about anything actually interesting as it is about a pet peeve of mine.  So, if you’re one of the many out there who may be sick of hearing me whinge about something – check out this fine blog, or even this one.]

Varients.  ‘A form or version of something that differs in some respect from other forms of the same thing or from a standard.’  So…that means to take something already created and then…change it a bit. Hmm…

There are some great bartenders out there.  These outstanding craftsmen (craftspeople?) are greats in my mind not because they have a PR machine behind them, not just because they know every classic under the sun, but because of their imagination, and this then matched with their unique palate – they create something special from behind their bars.  Off the top of my head, I think of Seattle’s Jay Kuhner who is the man at Sambar, where when sitting at his bar, you see the many squeeze bottles of different color liquids, each of a different density and texture which lead you to wonder, ‘what the hell is in all of those bottles‘…

Jay Kuehner

Undomesticated on his head, Jay’s hair is waving around, he’s reaching for one squeeze jar after another, spilling a little of one or a whole lot of another into a mixing glass, and the drink that he finally puts in front of you –delicious- is the only one like that ever on the planet.  Or, how about LA’s Matt Biancaniello from

Matt Biancaniello

The Library Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel?  I’d bet a dollar that you’ve never had one of his drinks anywhere else in the world except directly from him.  You know why I am rather certain of this?  Because his ingredients, fresh fruits & veggies are all over his bar.  So, unless someone has picked those exact ingredients while running around a local farmer’s market and then made you a drink using his exact and unwritten specs – those drinks are un-recreatable.  Then there’s 1022 South in Tacoma, WA (yes, Tacoma…).  Besides the fact that you probably won’t ever be in Tacoma, you won’t see those drinks anywhere else because on the far-right of Chris’ menu, where it says, ‘Apothocary’, unless you know what tulsi is and then where to get it – where else in the world could you ever get another ‘Holy Word’?

Do you get where I am going with this?  When I walk into bars where I know the bartender, they tend to just pour some bourbon, Old Raj gin or mezcal in a glass and put it in front of me.  But, at the bars that I just mentioned, I look forward to a mixed drink.  I look forward to seeing what crazy ingredients will be combined and turned into a delicious drink – not just a weird drink, but a delicious drink.  BUT!  Before I go any further, don’t think that I am disparaging anyone who does not have a kitchen behind them to make their many unique cocktail additives, or, who does not run to the farmer’s market to get ingredients, or, who does not know what ‘tulsi’ is.  I’m not! I’m not disparaging anyone.  That much.

I’ve been to many of America’s best bars, from sea to shining sea, and I love going to some of these great bars whose very existence is a proud homage to yesteryear & Jerry Thomas.  BUT!  Goddam-Goddam do I appreciate bars like Sambar, or, The Library Bar, or 1022 South, (and Portland’s Teardrop Lounge, or Venice’s Tasting Kitchen) because even though Keith ‘The Elder’ Waldbauer correctly said of classics, “That’s the fulcrum of bartending!”, I just love something wholly unique and interesting, and thanks to all of the creative and great bartenders out there expanding the universe of cocktails, we have the classics, and we have innovation.

Innovation V.03: Buffalo Trace’s “Single Oak Project”

Posted in Uncategorized on May 11, 2011 by alcohology

This is part three of an ongoing series on Innovation In The Spirits Industry. 

V.01 was “Innovation In A Brand” about Knob Creek’s single barrel.

V.02, “Age Your Own Whiskey Kit” discussed the art & science in barrel-aging cocktails.

Happily – innovation sleeps, but awakes when someone chooses to call for change.

And, in Kentucky at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, they woke that lumbering giant with their newest brand, the singularly amazing Single Oak Project.

First – let’s get the basics covered for those that may want some background.  We’re talking about bourbon, but exactly what is bourbon?  Well, basically,  bourbon is American whiskey and is and can only be American whiskey – it has to be made in America, and we’re very serious about that.  Since ’64, our congress has said that no one else in the world can call any distillate containing at least 51% corn mash, bourbon.  So, since the early 1800’s when bourbon was first made until very recently, bourbon has been basically the same thing.  You distill it, you put it in a charred oak barrel, you age it and … voilà!  You have bourbon.

 Innovation though has started to change that reality.  The first major innovation was from the Woodford Reserve distillery, whose Master Collection turned American whiskey history and practice on its head by using different methods of production to change the flavors of their whiskey, such as using maple wood, old wine or relatively old wood for the barrels to age their spirits.  Then, Jim Beam gave us the Devil’s Cut, which innovated by inventing a process to suck the leftover bourbon out of the used oak barrels…


Now, Buffalo Trace has gotten into the game by their Single Oak Project, and they are not mess’n around.  Their innovation is that they have chosen SPECIFIC trees for their barrels and then have aged the whiskey in what they feel were the very best single trees that they could find.  And, not just that, but TEN years ago, Warehouse Manager Ronnie Eddins went and walked around a forest in the Missouri Ozarks and picked 96 oak trees that they knew that they would use for barrels…  Ten years ago.  That’s forethought.  That’s some nerdy distilling guys wondering what would happy if they used SPECIFIC trees to age their whiskey, and then even past that they aged the staves at different rates, which

The issue here is Barrels…  Bourbon is aged in white oak – the trees are cut into staves, which the wood pieces that make up a barrel.  These staves are then toasted to burn the inside of the barrel,

Charring Barrels

which is what causes whiskey to get a lot of its flavor and especially its color.  Here’s the fun part (at least for those of you that will enjoy this nerdy nuance): How whisk(e)y works is that the high-proof, straight off the still alcohol goes into these barrels, and then the now-whisk(e)y will sit in that barrel for years, soaking into the wood.  So, in the summer, when it’s hot – the whiskey will soak into the wood, pushed in as the heat causes the environment inside the barrel to expand.  Conversely, in the winter, Kentucky gets cold – causing the wood to constrict which forces out all of the whiskey from the wood – and season after season of this sugars which caramelized during the charring process and natural color are pulled from the barrel, and that’s what causes whisk(e) y to be whisk(e)y.  Sweet, ‘oakey’ & amber in color.

[Side Note: I am writing “whisk(e)y” with the brackets around the “e” because, generally for American whiskey, we spell the word with that “e”, while in the UK, they leave out the “e”… with the exception of Maker’s Mark, who, on their bottles of bourbon, spell whiskey, “whisky” in the UK fashion due to their Scottish heritage.]

It gets even more nerdy – turns out that the wood from the TOPS of the trees contain more sugars, while the harder, older wood at the bottom will not provide as much flavor to the whisk(e)y.  So, what Buffalo Trace is doing is splitting their normal ol’ Buffalo Trace whiskey between barrels, EACH TREE getting their own barrels – but separating lots of it between the TOP and BOTTOM wood, which are made into staves and then into the barrels.  So, not only are there 93 trees worth of experimentation, but really double that as they are selling different lots with the top & bottom staves, allowing YOU to taste the difference.  That’s some nerdy shit, ‘eh?  I love it.


The big question though?  Is this innovation going to produce a better whiskey?  Is this crazy?  Is this even innovation or just crazy people acting crazy?  Well, we’ll find out, and when we find out, we’ll let you know.

Privatizing the Washington State Liquor Stores? Scene III.

Posted in Uncategorized on April 6, 2011 by alcohology

[This post will be irrelevant to pretty much every human on the earth…but, I wrote it for something else and it was not used, so…here it will be buried.]

Remember last year’s Initiatives on the ballot concerning getting rid of our state-run liquor stores?  Well, this time, the legislature does not want to wait for another initiative that is surely on its way – they are taking the initiative this time before the voters will have the chance to have another say and there are a couple bills right now running through the legislature in Olympia to deal with this issue.

What’s their plan?  Oh, lordy – in a deal that only a state legislator could love, their plan is NOT to lease or sell the stores themselves, but…get this…to just sell the distribution system for $300 million as part of a 20 year lease deal.  Wait.  What?  Just the distribution system?  Seriously?  Same stores?  Same prices?  Same bottles, expenses and problems?  Is this really the best decision that they could make?

OK.  So, on December 5th, 1933, the magical day that Prohibition ended, our lovely state got into the liquor business leading us to today’s tragic state of affairs where we do not have a great selection for our liquor choices available to us in our stores – what we DO have is some of the highest prices in America, and that’s been the state of affairs for these previous 78 years. Then, going back to last year, Costco – after spending millions of dollars in an ill-conceived and fruitless effort in trying to sue the state into popping the cork on the WSLCB’s control of our liquor – paid to get on our ballot Initiative 1100, but again fell just a tad short on this second try.  Now?  Talking about initiative…Washington’s legislature; scared to death of losing all control of the state’s liquor sales and distribution, they are finally getting involved.

Are you one of those people that will read the last page of a book before you start the first page?  Well – you’ll like this then: Expect to see another initiative no matter what the state’s legislature does.  It’s impossible that the legislature will make the best decision, instead, the state’s legislature will be paying closer attention to their needs and not the needs of what constitutes what is best for our state’s liquor market.  So, expect Costco or another interested party pay for yet another initiative, and expect to have to buy liquor at the same store, for the same prices, with the same great service for years to come.

Tales Of The Cocktail – Vancouver!

Posted in Uncategorized on March 30, 2011 by alcohology

Every industry has its conventions.  Usually at these conventions, attendees will go to symposiums, panels and training workshops – and then move en masse to the bar until they have to go back to their symposiums, panels  and training workshops.  And…then!  Back to the bar.  At our conventions though?  We are nonstop knee-deep to the bar.

Have you heard of Tales Of The Cocktail?  ‘Tales’ is THE convention for those in the bartending industry and for those of you that sit at our bars.  For instance, you’ve had a Tiki drink, right?  You sat there at the bar, tiki mug in hand topped with a pineapple garnish or flowers or a cute, colorful paper umbrella?  But where did that drink come from?  Or, here’s another example – ice.  Have you had a drink with a huge block of ice in the glass instead of the usual crappy, common ice machine ice? What’s the connection between these two question?  The connection is that these are two examples of what we do when we convene together.  We talk about Tiki, and we talk about ice.  We talk about blending Japanese whisky and we talk about umami in cocktails.  That’s a good time for us.  We wake up, go to a breakfast sponsored by a spirit company…and drink.  We go to a few panels or workshop…and drink.  THEN! We go to lunch, where another sponsor feeds us and pours more liquor down our throats.  You get the idea, right?  These are our conventions.

Tales Of The Cocktail started eight years ago in New Orleans (or, naw’lins, if you are a local) as a small gathering of cocktail and spirit aficionados.  Since then, it has grown from a few hundred locals to over ten thousand industry professionals and adherents, such as bartenders, liquor reps, ambassadors and brand owners.  So, eight years later, for the first time they choose to have a satellite convention, and they choose – Vancouver.  Vancouver?  It was an easy choice; the Vancouver Cocktail Scene is under recognized for their accomplishments and contributions to the craft of the cocktail.“, says Paul G. Tuennerman, Cofounder & Chief Business Officer, Tales of the Cocktail.

Keefer Bar

And, he’s right.  Touring around this last weekend, I went to some world-class cocktail bars, chief amongst them Gastown’s The Diamond and their neighbor, L’Abattoir and the really impressive and interesting Keefer Bar.

What is most interesting to me is the amount of Seattle bartenders and bar habituates that go to both this Tales satellite in Vancouver and the main one in Naw-lins.  Dozens of Seattleites took the trains, flew and drove  the few miles to Vancouver, which is closer to us than is Portland.  And, I expect for there to be more to be in Naw-lins in July for the main convention.  But, what about Seattle?  We’re generally considered the #3 spirits & cocktails-related city, and the region?  Between Portland and Vancouver?  A scene which is a powerhouse.  In fact, one of the early habituates & promoters of Tales lives here in Seattle, Robert “Drinkboy” Hess, who is one of the nation’s loudest, most knowledgeable and longstanding voices about all things spirits & cocktails – especially where Seattle is concerned.  “I of course think that Seattle would have made a far better choice, but then I’m obviously biased. Vancouver is a great second choice, as a city it is internationally recognized for its culinary offerings, and it has also been building a nice cocktail heritage as well.”  Yes, Robert.  Spot on.  Was it the internationality that Vancouver presented in addition to what Paul said?  And, if one was there, it was impossible to not notice the exciting aspect of being in what seemed like another country.  They talk weird.  They eat strange things.  And, they make some great cocktails.

What Did You Miss?

The standouts for me were a few of the seminars and a couple of the parties (And some great swag, too!).  While the seminars and parties at the Naw’lins Tales are epic, these were not so bad, either.  My favorite seminar was easily Dave Arnold’s “The Science of Cocktails: New Techniques Behind the Bar”.  Here, Dave Arnold, who is the New York’s French Culinary Institute’s Director of Culinary Technology, spoke mainly about the science of how ice reacts in our mixing glasses from this perspective.  “For those of you that are big science buffs, this is not going to be a big deal for you.”  Well, that was good to know, because his graphs alone were the things of my high school science class nightmares.

Don Lee & toys

BUT, his science was incredibly eye-opening & engrossing, showing how ice responds totally differently than we would accept and expect it to act.  Also leading this discussion was New York’s great barstar and fine gent,  Don Lee.  Also discussed at length was the clarification of juices or cocktail ingredients through using a centrifuge or thickening agents such as agar.  Clarified citrus?  Cool.  Clear coffee?  Cooler.

Another interesting seminar also revolved around ice, “The History and Importance of Ice in Cocktails”,

Jon Santer

led by Hendrick’s Gin’s Ambassadors-extraordinaire, Charlotte Voisey & walking, talking, one-man party, Jon Santer.

Charlotte spoke about the history of getting ice into glasses of spirits all over the world (started here in the ‘State’s, you know, when ice from New England was shipped all over the world…), and Jon broke out his chainsaw and abused a large chunk of beautiful ice to show the attendees how to make baseball-sized ice balls in the manner for which he learned to do here last year in Seattle at one of our Washington State Bartender Guild’s meetings.

It was nice to see many of the the people that we only see when we’re in their town or they are in ours, the reps, the ambassadors, the drinkers and the industry pros.  It was good to see you all.

One more shout-out?  The Canadian Professional Bartenders Association.  A great group of great bartenders doing great things up there in Vancouver.  I look forward to seeing many of you again, soon.

All in all, it was a good trip. Vancouver is beautiful, the food & drinks are world-class, and I look forward to this year’s Tales…  See you there?

Innovation In A Brand V.02 – Age Your Own Whiskey Kit

Posted in Uncategorized on February 21, 2011 by alcohology

[Part 1.]

Back in the old days, we had to rely on distilleries aging their whisk(e)y for us, where then we’d take that aged whisk(e)y and combine it with other ingredients in order to make a delicious cocktail.  For instance, some of the classics – the Manhattan, an Old Fashioned or Sazerac?  Those drinks are made with aged whisk(e)y, where the vanilla and oak of the barrels comes through to create just the right mix of flavors to make a great liquor treat, and its the effect of the time that the whisk(e)y stays the barrels that makes those drinks so perfect.

In earlier blogs, I described innovation in brands where they take what they are and what they have always been and change it up to good and ill effect.  Knob Creek has a Single Barrel coming out, Beam has turned industry innovation on its end by releasing the Devil’s Cut, and now Seattle’s own Woodenville Whiskey Co. has done something special.

J. Morganblogger

Some background.  This blog really should be about aging cocktails because that’s what we’ll be discussing in a moment.  What’s best about this innovation is that it came from the bottom up.  The first time that I heard of barrel aging cocktails was by Portland’s Jeffrey Morganthaler, who then made this process famous a’la The New York Times, taking after London’s Tony Conigliaro, who had been playing with aging cocktails one way or another for years.

The Next Step

And, this is where Woodinville Whiskey Co. comes in.  Woodinville Whiskey Co. is a pretty much brand-spanking new distillery just outside of Seattle, and they have enlisted Maker Mark‘s ex-Master Distiller Dave Pickerell to help them develop their first mashbill and brand, to great effect.

What does Woodinville do?  In a genius move, they market and sell a kit with two bottles of 110-proof white dog whiskey and a two liter barrel which allows YOU to age your own whiskey. “The idea stemmed from talking with hundreds of people in our tasting room about whiskey and the barrel aging process. It’s an incredible process that so few whiskey drinkers really know anything about let alone get to experience. We wanted to let them experience it firsthand just as we are currently doing.“, says Orlin Sorensen, co-owner of the distillery.

So, where their kit calls for aging their white dog into bourbon – I saw just enough room  left in that 2 liter barrel (500 milliliters) to create and age a cocktail.  But, what kind of cocktail?  Should a classic be aged?  My first experiment in aging spirits was with separately aging Campari, Sweet Vermouth and Liberty’s house orange bitters – the idea being that what would a cocktail be like with aged components instead of a whole aged cocktail? Where it gets fun though is when civilians get into the action.  With the help of Woodinville Whisky Co. and their easy access to inexpensive and plentiful barrels, we are offering the opportunity for our customers to age their own cocktails, and each customer gets to pick what cocktail they’ll be aging, and into the barrel it goes and a month to two later?  Voilà! One aged cocktail, please!

This grand experiment is innovation.  Back in the day, an aged cocktail was one which sat around after the ice melted, but now, we can purposefully wait months, and you’ll be glad that you did.

Part 2 will continue to discuss more specifically aged cocktails.

Innovation In A Brand – Knob Creek Single Barrel

Posted in Uncategorized on February 3, 2011 by alcohology

A New Knob Creek label…yes – NEW Knob Creek.


Turns out – it’s tough to make great whisk(e)y.

Since the beginning of time…well, at least since the first immigrants showed up around the Black Mountain in Kentucky, before and after Prohibition and the 18th & 21st Amendment, there were a whole bunch of distilleries, their master distillers keeping their spirit aging safely in barrels, all quietly hiding out in Kentucky, season after season – year after year.  And, for many of these decades, American whiskey was nationally known as brands such as Jack Daniel’s, or … well, that was about it.  Nationally, for a long time, that’s all that anyone really knew about American whiskey – ‘Jack’.

The residents of this region knew that there was great whiskey being distilled, aged and available there – it’s the rest of us that had no idea.  The Beam family, the Van Winkle’s, The Noe’s, Elmer T. Lee & Col. Albert Blanton, The Samuels’ and the Bulleit’s – the list of names goes on and on and on.  The locals knew these names and drank their whiskey, but…the rest of the country knew very little about it.

Then…slowly – a few brands slowly moved out of the region and into our store shelves, bars and glasses.  The first brands that we heard of were from Maker’s Mark & Knob Creek.  In most places even today, these two brands are still the ‘top shelf’ American whiskies for a bar’s American whiskey collection.  Maybe some had heard of Booker’s, but…that was about it.

Today, just a decade or so later, the sun is rising on the wide-based appreciation for great American whiskey, and, today, it’s not uncommon for whiskey lovers to have heard of or have themselves had a glass of the some of what were these more obscure brands, such as Pappy Van Winkle or Blanton’s whiskeys.  AND, moreso, it’s not just these outstanding whiskeys that are getting attention – but also the very process for how great whiskeys are created which is becoming part of the dialogue.

For instance, in 1984, innovation meant the first single barrel bourbon – the aforementioned Blanton’s, a plan hatched by Master Distiller Elmer T. Lee, and named after

Col. Blanton

‘Colonel’ Albert B. Blanton, who worked at the Buffalo Trace Distillery for 55 years.  The innovation was, unlike all other bourbons where the aged bourbon from many barrels are mixed to produce a batch which then was filtered, diluted and bottled, these barrels of Blanton’s were not mixed nor married – each bottle was the result of bourbon from ONE carefully cared-for barrel.  Today, there are many single barrel whiskies – but Blanton’s was the first.

Innovation!  Wonderful.

BUT!  Are single barrel bourbons better?  Besides the Blanton’s that was already discussed, here are a few more to try:


Four Roses Single Barrel

Four Roses is in itself an very innovative and interesting distillery.  Where most distillery have one mashbill (the mix of grains that makes up the ‘beer’ that is then mixed with the yeast, which is added to the beer, which then, over a number of days, the yeast will eat the sugars in the beer and produce the different types of alcohol, which then is distilled off, the ‘hearts’ eventually becoming bourbon).   Four Roses?  Well, talking about innovation, they use “two mash bills (one with 20% rye; the other with 35% rye)…. [and] five different yeast strains. “.  This is pretty incredible.  For instance, they will combine these mash bills with their yeasts to produce ten different whiskeys, each year releasing a number of barrels of a special yeast/mash bill combination that is available only for a short period until the bottles from these few barrels are sold – and they are generally only available at the distillery.


Ezra B. Single Barrel

Along with the Four Roses, the Ezra B. Single Barrel is one of my favorite of all the bourbons.  And, dollar for dollar, it’s probably my favorite.  Hell, even beyond dollar for dollar, this is one of my favorites.

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel

Elmer T. Lee, the Distiller Emeritus of Buffalo Trace Distillery, also had his hand in the creation of the aforementioned Blanton’s, and is one of the legends of American whiskey-making.


Handcock’s President Reserve

Also reportedly made by Buffalo Trace.



Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel

And…also made by Buffalo Trace Distillery


Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit

Wild Turkey then got into the game with their Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel, hand-picked by the legendary Master Distiller himself, Jimmy Russell.


Even everyone’s favorite well bourbon, Evan Williams now has a single barrel.


Next: What does it taste like?

Cocktails in Los Angeles? Yes. Drink LA.

Posted in Uncategorized on December 20, 2010 by alcohology

I love innovation.  I love when someone takes a normal object or a standard service and then turns the world on its head.  I love it when we lulled into comfort are then shocked by greatness and returned to quality.

This world of ours where we think, read, enjoy and create cocktails – it’s a really small, and; if you look at the bigger picture, it’s somewhat meaningless in the grand scheme of things.  BUT! I do love doing what it is that we do, I do love the excitement of opening a new bottle of spirits, trying a creative combination of ingredients, experimenting with new bar tools…

This week I was in Los Angles.  If you were in LA this week by way of Seattle, you, like me, would have immediately noticed how the weather in both cities were similar – the rain, the drizzle, the overcast skies…it’d have been comforting if not for the fact that we really were looking for LA’rific sun and warmth.  So, while; sadly, the weather was rather Seattlelike, also – happily and surprisingly, so were some of the drinks.

I really did not have many high expectations for cocktails in LA.  (Sorry,  LA.)  Sorry Tatsu and Ron, who both had such great things to say about their city’s bars – it turns out that you were both right.

For such a large city, LA has never been known to be a haven for the successful combination of liquors in a glass which work to form a creative and delicious cocktail.  Starlets?  Yes.  By the baker’s dozen.  Idiot moguls and their mini-me’s?  Absolutely.  Loud dudes that see nothing wrong in saying, “Don’t you know who I am?”?  No, I don’t know who you are, and unless your name is Bill Clinton, Kurt Cobain or Murray Stenson,


I really don’t care.  BUT, where spirits are concerned, as far as I knew, LA has never shown an appreciation for spirits that do not have some movie star’s attachment to the brand in order to sell it or cocktails that don’t end with the suffix ‘tini’.  Form over function.  Style over substance.  Geez.  This is not very nice, ‘eh?  BUT, I suppose that’s to be understood, and…deserved.  In cocktail cities’ best bars, ‘barstars’ are the most famous and appreciated people in the room.  In a city such as LA, how can you have a great bar where the bartender is the most relevant and appreciated person in the room, when instead it’s some starlet with a one-season hit TV show?  I love the idea that if that same starlet was to walk through the door of Zig Zag in Seattle, all eyes would return quickly to Murray, as he spent his five minutes making a mojito.  I love that walking into a great bar in NYC with Audrey Saunders makes more of a stir than if ‘cocktailian’ P “I’m what you call a mixologist” Diddy walked into the room.

BUT!  Here’s the good news…  Ready?  Innovation is in the mix in Los Angles.  In NYC over the last few years, innovation meant ice at Milk & Honey, where a 600pound block of ice meant perfect ice and no ice machine was necessary.  In Portland, innovation meant dozens of house made bitters, liqueurs & tinctures at Daniel Shoemaker’s great Teardrop Lounge or Jeffrey Morganthaler’s barrel-aged cocktails at Clyde Common.  In Seattle, our innovation was service & community.  We developed a community that has no equal, and an expectation of outstanding service.  In LA?  Innovation means The Varnish – a great bar program with a history of some seriously skilled bartenders, now led by LA’s version of Gentleman Bartender, Chris

Chris Bostick

Bostick.  It means The Roger Room, Rivera & Culver City’s A-Frame showing a rare care for their cocktails, and it especially means The Library Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood (West Hollywood?  I never know the difference) and Tasting Kitchen in Venice, both bars excelling in creating something totally new and extremely valuable to the LA basin.

The Library Bar @ The Roosevelt – Hollywood

To recognize the innovation at this bar, it takes just the time between walking in the tiny bar and ordering your drinks and having them put down in front of you to recognize their particular brand of innovation.  For a town known for fresh ingredients, bartender Matt Biancaniello takes this to a distance unmatched by any other establishment in town – or any that I’ve ever seen, actually.  Matt’s bartop is akin to the produce section of your local grocery store, or more specifically, the farmer’s markets where he gets his produce.  Fresh greens bursting out everywhere, rhubarb, peppers of all sorts, fruits from the stonefruit to the berry variety…  No menu (““Everything is omakase,” he was quoted as saying in the July/August issue of Imbibe, written by Seattle’s Paul Clarke) just a request for what you’d like, and he will make something happen for you.  AND, while the results were often really odd, they were also hits.  We had a Last Word with a ghost pepper and cilantro finish – delicious, a variation, but a good one to be sure.  We had the best Bloody Mary that I’ve ever had – all with fresh ingredients, and even though the hippest of hipsters of hipsterville showed up half way through, nothing could ruin that great experience.

Tasting Kitchen – Venice

Since the Northwest has one of the best cocktail scenes in the world, it seemed to The Tasting Kitchen that it’d be a great idea to simply import much of their barstaff (and some of their floor staff, such as this kid Sol, who used to walk by Liberty all the damn time, and there he was…) to Venice.  And to great effect, indeed!  Tasting Kitchen opens every day at 6pm, and; you better get there no later than 6:30 if you want to get a seat.  Open for a couple years now, this place is still busy every night, and for good reason.  It’s hardly surprising that these transplant bartenders from the NW would have dozens of house-made ingredients sitting along their bartop.  It’s hardly surprising that their cocktails are made with these ingredients, which means that – same as The Library Bar – the cocktails that you get at The Tasting Kitchen will be cocktails that you cannot get anywhere else.

In Short: We can get a great drink or few in LA.  Really, we should thank New York, since so many of LA’s top bartenders came from there, but…let’s just allow LA to have it’s moment, ‘eh?

Maker’s Mark ’46’!? Yes. The New ’46’.

Posted in 1 on March 21, 2010 by alcohology

About ten thousand years ago, Bill Samuel Jr.’s mother made some bread, this bread turned into the recipe for the mash, which then became the beer which then went into the still which finally resulted in the Maker’s Mark whisky that we know today.  Since then, Maker’s swore to never make another bourbon since they got the first one so perfect…

Well…that’s the legend…

Bill's Back Yard

Late last summer, a few of us were invited by the nice Maker’s Mark folks  to come out to Kentucky and see Maker’s from the mash to the bottling, from the basement to the attic and the distillation to the wax…  And, on this beautiful late-summer afternoon as we were sitting in Bill Samuel Jr.’s back yard sipping his bourbon and partaking in the Samuel’s family genuine Southern hospitality, Bill told us a tale…one of many…about how they would NEVER make another Maker’s because Maker’s; after all, as Bill says…Maker’s is perfect…

Imagine my surprise as Cody the Maker’s Mark Wonder Rep tells me that there’s a new Maker’s Mark coming out soon…  Wait…  What happened to ‘perfection’?  Well, it appears that perfection can in fact be improved upon…

Maker's Mark '46'

We all like Maker’s.  It’s a sweet, balanced, quality sipping whisky.  Not too hot, just the right amount of heat.  In most bars, Maker’s is pretty much the high-end bourbon.  Most bars won’t have a Pappy…perish the thought that they ever have heard of Blanton’s or Willett.  Parker’s?  Forgetaboutit.  So, for most of America, Maker’s is bourbon.

This new Maker’s though…?  This is a whole new Maker’s, born Riply-like out of  regular ol’ Red Wax Maker’s Mark, which is at 90proof – that’s 45% alcohol, the rest being good ol’ Kentucky water, distilling effluent and oak impression.  Running straight from the still, the white dog goes into the barrel at 115proof and is around 125proof when it’s at it’s full age, which is between a minimum of 5, to ~7 years and bottled from nine barrel batches.  So, that means that Bill Samuel’s and his head distiller Kevin D. Smith taste all the barrels and when they are just right, nine barrels are take for the slaughter…taken out of their safe resting place in the rickhouse, dumped, married together, filtered and watered down, packaged and taken to it’s new house – yours.

Maker's Mark Black

And, except for a brief experiment with Maker’s Mark Black, which was a black labeled and black waxed, 95proof bottling long since extinct for the most part.  Additionally, of course there was the odd Maker’s Mark Mint Julip, green waxed release – there has not been any other Maker’s whisky put in a bottle and sold to the masses for thirty-odd years as far as I know.

Now…there is – named Maker’s Mark ’46’.

’46’?  Why is it called ’46’?

There’s another difference besides the higher proof – and this difference is why this new Maker’s is called ’46’, because ’46’ is a descriptor of this new Maker’s other differentiating factor: French Oak staves, No. 46 French Oak, to be exact.  What happens is that the whisky is taken out of the barrel, and one-inch charred staves are loosely attached to the inside of the barrel, at which time the whisky is put back in for an additional five to eleven weeks.

The result?  Well, I’ll tell ya’, it’s delicious.  It’s a 94 proof, stave-aged Maker’s Mark – with a body matured like Sophia Loren in her late-30’s, a lasting flavor, still full of the expected sweetness typical of Maker’s Mark, but with a surprising weighted lingering oak finish which I have to say – is very satisfying.

Maker’s ’46’ is meant to be mixed – this may be the new Manhattan Cocktail standard for many bars, and as the cocktail craze that you and I are already living starts to affect the fly-overs, this new whisky is perfectly positioned to take over an industry.  Maker’s already has the name, and now ’46’ has a new whole road ahead of it.  And, you know…I believe that it’ll be a good trip.

Bartender Guilds Part.02

Posted in 1 on November 30, 2009 by alcohology

[Please Click Here For Part 1 Of This Series]

So!  Let’s talk about Bartender Guilds in general.

Since Bartender Guilds are just a collection of like-minded individuals, collectively, through their individual interests, in general the members have the same intent and interest.  The intent is to further the industry, and the interest is to work together to achieve this goal.

For instance, the Washington State Bartender’s Guild’s (WSBG) charter, for which I am one of the founders and current president, states, “The WSBG exists as an organization of professionals and enthusiasts with an enduring mission to elevate the standard of bartending as a craft. The key to this goal is simple: we are a state- wide collaborative community dedicated to a heightened expectation of quality cocktails, spirits, wine and beer, the promotion and recognition of an excellence in service and an ongoing education of our membership.”  And, we mean it.  We’re a group of individuals who each have our own private reasons for working within the WSBG, and being that we are an independent guild, we can do what we want as we choose how to operate with this goal in mind.

I suppose that this is a good time to describe the different types of guilds.  There are the Independent, the National and the International guilds, each with their own agenda and purpose.

Independent:  To my memory, there are I do believe around five independent guilds in North America.  The WSBG, the Oregon Bartender Guild (OBG), the Kentucky Bartender Guild (KBG), the D.C. Bartender Guild and a guild in Vancouver B.C.

National: The USBG.  The USBG is a collection of at least 14 connected guilds under the greater USBG umbrella.  One interesting note about the USBG is that they are at this point basically a group directed and ‘owned’ by Southern Wine and Spirits, which may be the largest alcohol distribution and marketing company in America.  At first, the USBG was an independent guild that slowly branched out, but at some point ‘Southern’ moved themselves to the helm of this organization, and for good and ill, it’s now the 500 pound gorilla of the spirits industry.  The ‘Southernization’ of the USBG is in itself a very interesting discussion.  In and of itself, having  Southern leading the USBG is not necessarily a bad situation, but the argument has been made that there is an intrinsic conflict of interests by having Southern direct the operations of “an organization of beverage service professionals dedicated to the continued refinement of our craft.” [Note: Since writing this post, I have had conversations with a number of friends that are part of the USBG, and while there has been some that are concerned about the Southern Wine & Spirits aspect of their guild, others also voiced their support of Southern’s effect on their local guild, mentioning that they have not ever been seriously or negatively influenced by having the distribution company so closely involved.  In fact, some found their contribution to be a positive element to their start-up, existence and ongoing operations.]

International:  There are a number of international guilds, the most notable the International Bartenders Association (IBA), with a very interesting history.  There had been professional bartender guilds as the word truly represents in Europe for a long time, but in ’51, they got together to form the IBA, still running strong these 58 years later.  In communications with Derrick Lee, the current president of the IBA, he remarked, “The IBA is the ‘Leader in Professional Bartending’. Our purpose is guided by this and our objectives. Our missions are to upgrade skills and standards of the bartenders globally, strengthen guilds and engage younger bartenders to join our society, as they are our future.”

Back here in the ‘States, bartenders will always thrive in a climate warmed by a bartender guild, “There has been an amazing growth in the Cocktail Culture here in Denver over the past year and I’d like to think that the guild has been key in that development.”, says Sean Kenyon, Secretary of Spirits of the Colorado Bartender Guild (COBG), whom I met while we were taking the B.A.R. course in NYC [Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR) Course ‘09].  He continues, “We have created a network for bartenders to email or call if they have questions on products, equipment, or methodology. We are more connected than ever before.”  Hitting really on what I believe to be the most important part of having a guild, the COBG works to improve the expectation of what constitutes a good cocktail and experience in Colorado.  This is a sentiment shared by Bryan Dayton, the president of the guild, “I feel that the guild helps CO in the fact that there has become a greater awareness of better cocktails through the guild and it [helps] educate all of us to be better bar people…”

Probably the largest contribution that a guild can make is to actually CHANGE the direction and expectation for what constitutes a good cocktails, “The cocktail culture has been growing in CO the past couple of years. I think this has coincided with the Guild.”, says Bryan, and I would agree with that.  Here in Seattle, what started a few years ago as a few really great bartenders has grown into a whole industry of bartenders and bars that care for their product and the whole experience, including how we make our cocktails, “Also, we strongly believe that the rising tide lifts all of the boats, so we have worked very hard to spread the gospel; fresh juices, good ice, quality spirits, bitters etc.”, said Sean.  The same could be said of the Kentucky Bartender’s Guild, where I found a core group of fantastic bartenders who found no substitution for great products and fresh ingredients which I happily discovered on my trip to Kentucky [‘Whiskey Homeland’].  Nowhere is has this trend been more noticeable in my experience than in Oregon.  For such a relatively small town, Portland, Oregon has some of the best bars in America, most of not all of their bartenders being members of their OBG.  OBG founder and past executive member, Daniel Shoemaker and his great bar, Teardrop Lounge is a perfect example.    [Return here for updated post and quote from Daniel]

Back to the IBA, Mr. Lee sees the IBA and their different associated bartender guilds as working “in tandem” and furthering the craft of bartending, “Spirits industry use the bartenders as an avenue to market their products by recommending and  pouring to patrons.  Being associate with the Leader is synonymous to being a leader too.”  He has a great point – since guilds work to promote the industry, one part of this image is how a guild can promote individual spirits and products.  Why drink Big Global Brand A when Local Brand B may be an all-around better product?  “The WSBG, and its members, have been a great resource in helping bring Voyager [gin] and Pacifique [absinthe] to the forefront of the local bar scene.”, says Pacific Distillery’s Marc Bernard, “I believe that bartender guilds and spirits producers can work together for the benefit of spirits consuming public.”  Here in Seattle, our guild has worked with Maker’s, Bacardi, Buffalo Trace/Sazerac & Co., Appleton’s, Laird’s, St. Germain, Martin Miller’s, Plymouth, Dewar’s, Pacific Distillery, Marteau Absinthe, Del Marguey, Jim Beam, Domaine de Canton, 42 Below…  The list goes on and on and on.  Only through the interest from our members to learn from these spirits producers have we become more than ‘just’ bartenders.  We’re educated.  We’re better for it, and we can thank our Guild and our membership, a point for which Kent Fleischmann from Dry Fly Distillery agrees, “Unless we, the craft distiller can further educate anyone in this industry, on the merits of what and why we do what we do be it the independent bartender or a guild,  the day just goes on and we all do business as we will.”   And, not having someone or an organization to assist and teach you, “business as we will” may just mean colorful liqueurs with approximated flavors…

In the end, the real strength and value of a bartender guild is simply the cumulative affect of how the combined works of a number of interested parties will often improve the results compared to the efforts of an individual.  In the future, I believe that the success of any city’s bar culture will be directly representational to the success of their bartender guild.  Great minds think alike, and together, great minds will become even greater and their efforts more worthy.

Thanks to those that helped us, and we look forward to helping others in the future.

OK.  But, how does one START a guild!?

Bartender Guilds (Part 1)

Posted in 1 on November 23, 2009 by alcohology

Think back throughout all of your life to the bartenders that you’ve known…  Hell, do you remember the first bartender that served you?  I do – I remember when I was…17 maybe?  Back then in those days of TVs with knobs that went from 1 – 12, front doors that never locked and a minimum age of 19, everyone knew the bars in their cities that served us young’ns.  I used my cousin’s ID and pretended that the doorguy and myself were not in this dance together.   He’d look at the ID and then at me (I must have looked 14), and I said to myself, ‘I sure hope that he believes the ID’…

After the first time in that bar, the world was a whole new place – never the same again.  Think about it – bars were always the places where we saw on TV where SHIT WENT DOWN!!!  I mean, in ’87, a few of the top movies were Fatal Attraction, The Untouchables and Dirty Dancing…  Goddam!  I wanna get some of that!  I may meet a chick in a bar if those movies were any hint of my future since I sure as hell was not meeting any at my high school…

That first bar was a pit…it was dank, dark, smelly, humid, ugly, dangerous and fantastic.  One drank longneck Budweisers, the shots were sickeningly sweet, women were a thousand times more beautiful than they were outside and violence was always an option.  AND, the most important part: the bartender was king.  He’s the guy that gave you your longneck Buds, he’s the guy that mixed those shots that the girls loved, and he was either controlling or adjudicating the violence.  That was the real world.

Jerry 'The Professor' Thomas

Today though, bartenders are generally no different, really.  There are still bars in your city just like that one, and somewhere, some young kid is pretending to be 21 and feigning as if he’s not freaked the fuck out while he holds his beer and dreams of the false promise of those older women, drunk on shots the colors of rainbows.

But, I did say generally.  I said this because even back then, when dinosaurs walked the earth and Dale DeGroff was emulating the Gentleman Bartender of lore at the Rainbow Room, there were barmen all around the world who knew what it took to be great barmen, such as the “Professor” Jerry Thomas.

Since those days, many great bartenders have been created, and, as there have been more and more bartenders interested in the craft of bartending, many of those bartenders have together formed Guilds in order to professionalize their careers and their industry.  For instance, just over a year ago, three bartenders, Andrew Bohrer, Keith Waldbauer and I got together in Seattle and started the Washington State Bartender’s Guild.  We didn’t really know what we were doing, but it seemed like a great idea.  Our first meeting had 12 bartenders at it, and this founder’s group has led to there now being over 250 people on our mailing list.

But, before we had a guild, there were many before us.  For instance, Keith Waldbauer and I; he being the Vice President and me being the President, we looked to the already established Oregon Bartender’s Guild to help us write our charter.  At that time, the president at that time was Daniel Shoemaker, owner of the great Teardrop Lounge, and he had his own battles to go through in formation and operation of the OBG.  But, we’ll leave that discussion and to the next blog post where I will bring into the conversation leaders of bartender guilds from around the country and the world.

Please click here for the updated Part 2 of this post.