Raising a glass in thanks

With Thanksgiving approaching, it’s time to plan for festive cocktailing! Mrs. Bitters has already started prepping our locavore Thanksgiving (there’s a story behind it being locavore, but you’ll have to wait for it), so now’s the time for me to plan my approach. I haven’t quite figured it all out yet. I know I want to get some Calvados and make a batch of sage simple syrup, so that I can mix up the Apple Sage Old Fashioned I created for the autumn issue of Edible Rhody (still on the stands, so if you’re local, grab a copy–it’s the one with the cranberry bog on front).

For my second drink, I’m still working my brain on it. In Friday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, Malt Adovocate editor John Hansell edited a small advertising supplement on whiskeys. Included was a piece on cocktails by Gary Regan, or gaz regan as he apparently prefers to be called these days. Old gaz included four cocktails in the piece, one of which I think I’ll adapt for Thanksgiving. Here’s the gaz version:

Babbling Brook

  • 1-1/2 oz. scotch
  • 3/4 oz. B&B liqueur
  • 1/4 oz. absinthe
  • 1 lemon twist, for garnish

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.

As gaz discusses in his piece, scotch marries well with anise flavors, and we definitely found that to be the case here.

Earlier this year, I picked up a bunch of anise hyssop from a local herbalist. Back then, I used it in a variation of the New Orleans classic cocktail, the Vieux Carre. On Saturday, when we were at the market, we stopped by the Farmacy table to pick up some local honey for Thanksgiving baking. They happened to have as well some small jars of honey infused with the anise hyssop. I immediately started thinking about cocktail applications and eagerly bought a jar. I might do a variation on the Babbling Brook. Or, I might do a scotch Sazerac instead, with a syrup made from the hyssop honey. I don’t think I’ll go wrong either way.

How about you? What Thanksgiving-themed drinks are you planning to mix this year? Do you have special Thanksgiving snacks that pair well with cocktails? Sound off in the comments!

Bacardi viral ads

Last week, I was catching up on my RSS feeds, when I saw a post by Helmut Adam, of the German magazine Mixology, about a series of viral ads the Bacardi company is running. The series begins with an ad called “The Samurai” (running time: 1m:59s). A man enters a Japanese bar, while a voiceover tells us, “There’s only one bartender in the world that I’d have mix me this drink. He’s so in tune with his surroundings, he knows your drink before you do.” The man approaches the bartender, who bows slightly and says only, “Daiquiri?” The man nods.

Now, watch the video and pay attention to the bartender’s tools and his technique. Both are, from what I’ve recently learned, common among the best Japanese bartenders. But just watch. We’ll talk more when you’re done:

[or click, to watch it in large HD video]

Look at those beautiful bar tools! The beaker-shaped mixing glass, the tall jigger, the spoon with the fork at the end. Lovely. (And by the way, you can buy this stuff at my friend Greg Boehm’s website, Cocktail Kingdom.) Watch how gracefully but precisely he mixes the drink. Lovely. That’s just the kind of bartender I could watch all day. And yet, he’s an actor, trained by bartender Marian Beke of London.

London, by the way, is the source of this ad, which was created by a marketing firm called Think Espionage. And if you’ve fully read Helmut’s blog post by now, you’ll know there are two more of these videos on the way. Now, I enjoyed the first enough that when I read that, I was intrigued and wanted to see them all. To my surprise, the very next day, I received a nice e-mail from a Think Espionage employee named Liana Wilson-Fricker. She described the purpose of these videos and offered to send me links and passwords to watch the next two. Liana told me the same thing she wrote to Helmut:

To give it a bit of context, they aren’t ads but pieces of film content aimed at and created for the world’s top bartenders. It’s about celebrating the unique skills that each bartender at the top of the game possess.

Now that I’ve seen the other videos, I don’t think Liana’s bullshitting me. I mean, obviously, the videos are about promoting the Bacardi brand, front and center. But once you accept that, it’s easy to see that Bacardi and Think Espionage chose to do so in a way that also highlights the skills of great bartenders. In video 2, “The Hummingbird” (1:48), the man enters a busy club. A bartender nods at him and without speaking, puts ice into a glass to chill. She slices and chunks fresh pineapple, straight from the fruit and drops that into a mixing tin with sugar. She muddles that and then (get the fuck out) hacks into a fresh coconut and pours its juice into the tin. (Helmut’s right; this just wouldn’t happen at a busy club, but it’s so damn cool to watch, I’m happy to suspend disbelief.) On goes rum, then ice. She shakes the drink and straw-tastes it before double-straining it into a chilled glass with a slice of pineapple. (Liana told Helmut that the actor was trained by Bacardi Global Ambassador David Cordoba.)

Video 3, “The Apothecary” (2:12) is set in a bar similar to PDT or Milk and Honey. As the camera pans the room, you see a shelf of vintage cocktail manuals. (I saw an old copy of the Savoy and the Esquire Handbook for Hosts, but I can’t place the rest. And one of the volumes isn’t even a cocktail manual, so I assume there’s other “filler” there.) Then you see jars of spices before the camera settles on a bartender grinding spices with a mortar and pestle. The man asks the bartender to surprise him, at which point the bartender brings out trays of fresh herbs. As he works, you see flashbacks of the bartender smelling herbs, tasting tinctures, and taking notes. He pulls down a jar of eucalyptus-infused sugar and then muddles it with mint and lemon verbena. Then ice, rum, and a splash of soda.

It’s only in this final video that you clearly see the Bacardi marque and logo. In the first two, you can make out that the bartenders are pouring from bottles of Bacardi, if you pay attention, and when The Samurai video hit the web, viewers figured out this was some sort of Bacardi viral even before Think Espionage confirmed it. That seems to be the hallmark of a successful campaign: you can figure out the source if you choose to. I think Bacardi and TE have succeeded in two ways here; one, they’re getting people talking about the brand. I don’t even normally like Bacardi, but here I am anyway. And that’s specifically because they chose to highlight good bartending and found a way to convey the skills and talents of good bartenders.

When the Hummingbird and Apothecary videos are publicly available, I’ll link out to them. They’re fun to watch.

Ad of the week: a four-for-all

Still tripping through the 1/35 ish of VF (click through for large):

Bollinger Dawson Robin Benedictine

It’s hard to see this here, but what these brands had in common then were their importer, who took out this ad. Julius Wile Sons & Company was a renowned name in wine importing. In 1995, the New York Times spoke with Julius Wile–not the one who founded the company, but his grandson who shared his name.

My so-called month of rum: Mai Tai

Boy, this has been the longest “month” ever. My month of trying new rums and rum cocktails began August 18, with a look at the excellent Royal Bermuda Yacht Club cocktail. I explored the Lytton Fizz and the Corn and Oil, and I tested a couple of El Presidente recipes. Along the way, I grew to love the following rums, some of which were new to me:

  • Mount Gay Extra Old
  • Mount Gay Eclipse
  • Cruzan Black Strap (and if you want to try something delicious, get yourself some homemade orgeat syrup, and blend that into an old-fashioned with Cruzan Black Strap and a dash or two of Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters)
  • Myers Platinum
  • Myers Dark
  • Both Tommy Bahama varieties (sent as samples and not used for any of these recipes)

I’ve even gone a bit mad and made my own damn orgeat syrup, using a variation of the method Rick Stutz wrote up here. I bloody-well love the stuff now. I want to mix it into everything; I want to eat it on my cereal or top a steak with it. I want to wash my mustache with it so I can smell it all day. I want to–oh, nevermind.

To go out on a high note, I decided to mix up the possibly most famous tiki drink in the world, the Mai Tai. Better writers than me have already detailed the history of this drink, and you can see an excerpt from one such writer’s work here.

I can’t even improve on Curtis’s recipe: one ounce of Jamaican rum, an ounce of Barbados, orange curacao, lime juice, and orgeat (although I decreased the amount of curacao), so what I will say is which rums I used. The first time around, a couple of weeks ago, I used Myers Dark and Appleton Estate, which of course are both Jamaican rums. Not sure why I went that way, but I did. Last night, however, I used Mount Gay Eclipse and Appleton Estate. It’s hard to say which I prefer: both are delicious.

And behold, the Mai Tai:

Mai Tai

photograph by Jennifer Hess