Mixology Monday: Irish Goodbye

mxmologoNearly 11 years ago, Paul Clarke — now editor of Imbibe magazine, but then just a guy in Seattle — came up with an idea called Mixology Monday. Based on round robins such as Wine Blogger Wednesday, Tomatillo Tuesday, and Fenugreek Friday, Paul came up with the idea of hosting a themed round-robin for the then-nascent cocktail-blog community. Back in 2006, there weren’t many of us.

In 2006, Jen worked in midtown Manhattan, and I was either still laboring in the Bronx or just starting a job in Union Square. We lived in Bushwick, we cooked elaborate meals every night, and we frequently took the train to the bus to get to LeNell’s in Red Hook, to talk good booze with a good friend and try out some new bottles.

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Since then, we’ve lived in Rhode Island, very briefly in Massachusetts, back in Brooklyn, and now in Virginia. And we now also have two tiny humans who follow us around everywhere.

Paul long ago found himself too busy to carry on the project, but happily, Fred Yarm was willing to take it on, and he’s stewarded it quite well since Paul moved on. I seldom contribute, but I always read, and this month, Fred chooses the Irish Wake as his theme.

I’ve been fascinated to watch my fellow drinks-scribes over these many years since MxMo launched. Some of us have gone on to literary achievements, writing for magazines, newspapers, and web sites. We’ve even seen a few book deals come out of this pursuit. (Ahem, ahem.)

Some among us have left pundit circles altogether and become bartenders or even bar owners. I know people all over the country who have tended bar for the first time after writing about cocktails on the Internrdz.

I tried this once. It seems my talents are literary, which is just fine with me. I can’t complain; the job has taken me to Guadalajara and the tequila highlands, Barcelona, and the American-whiskey heartlands of Kentucky and Tennessee. I’ve signed books in San Francisco and had Sazeracs on a carousel in New Orleans.

Some of my friends in this community have understandably concluded that alcohol is a poison, and they’ve chosen to leave it behind. I admire that. I’m rethinking my drinking habits; though I don’t currently intend to stop drinking altogether, it’s never a bad idea to drink less often and in less quantity.

I still find the industry fascinating — too fascinating, in fact, to leave behind. I pull at a lot of threads during the day as I read Facebook, follow blogs, read industry magazines, and talk to people in the business, and there’s always something going on that I want to know more about.

One thread that currently interests me is the dramatic increase in Irish-whiskey distilleries over these past 11 years. When I started this hobby-turned-career, there were three, and now there are apparently sixteen. Whiskey as a category continues to gain strength, and Irish whiskey especially is surging. It’s easy to understand why; Irish whiskey is easy to drink, and it’s always been popular among young people, and especially women.

I have a project in mind, one where I research these sixteen distilleries, and try to find out how far along they are in producing their own stuff. Some of them have product in the marketplace even though they haven’t been open long enough to sell whiskey they’ve produced and aged themselves. Clearly, they’re sourcing product from other distilleries, and I want to know more about that. How do these distilleries plan to stand out from each other? What yarns to they plan to spin about their products?

I read more often these days than I write. I find it far more challenging to have one 3-year-old at home during the day than I did to have one 3-year-old and one 1-year-old, and so my writing right now is limited, and so every time I start working on this idea, my daughter tells me she’s licking the wall or I find her painting the cat.

Blogging about cocktails and spirits was my first gig, and although it paid … well, shit, it paid as well as Huffington Post pays, so never mind the pay. I wrote in this space to force myself to learn more about a subject that fascinated me, and to take what I learned and help others understand it too.

I haven’t participated in Mixology Monday in … oh, hell, nearly six years. But the theme of this month’s Mixology Monday is Irish whiskey, and the Irish wake, the mourning process for seeing loved ones depart these flawed bodies.

What I’ve written here isn’t what Mixology Monday is traditionally about–posting cocktail recipes and taking cool photos of tasty drinks. But this is the elegy I’ve chosen to recite over its casket. Thank you, Paul, for starting this journey, and thank you, Fred, for shepherding it on. And good bye, Mixology Monday. You were a great friend.

May flights of angel share see thee to thy rest.

A Very Hoppy MxMo

MxMo HopsWow, I don’t even want to think about how long it’s been since I’ve participated in a Mixology Monday. All sorts of things–lazyness, apathy, antipathy, psychopathy–have gotten in the way. But I’m back, dammit, at least for this one. I love this month’s theme–beer cocktails–so I’m happy to play along. Ta muchly to Cocktail Virgin Slut for hosting!

I’ve decided to update a cocktail I submitted to a Food52 competition, in the long-ago days of October 2009. I didn’t win or place or even show, unfortunately, but I love the drink I made, so I’m hoping this time it meets with more enthusiasm. Here’s my writeup from Food52:

The Seelbock is a variant of the classic Seelbach cocktail, from the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky–bourbon, Cointreau, and generous amounts of both Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters, topped off with a big pour of champagne. For this version, I used a 100-proof rye whiskey in place of bourbon and I tinkered with the bitters. And most importantly, I used a weisse beer, a wheat beer, in place of the champagne. Wheat beers are light, effervescent, and yeasty, just like champagne. For this, I chose the Schneider & Brooklyner Hopfen Weisse, a collaboration between Schneider Weissbier and Brooklyn Brewery. If you can’t find this brew, substitute any good quality wheat beer. If you can’t find lemon bitters, you can muddle lemon peel into the mixing glass before you add the other ingredients.

Some things I didn’t tell the Food52 crowd (I like to keep my headnotes there short):

  • I swapped rye for bourbon because I thought it would provide a stronger backbone for a beer cocktail.
  • I ditched the Peychaud’s because, frankly, I didn’t like it at all in this drink. I found it clashed with the beer. So instead I used lemon bitters (The Bitter Truth’s version), and that was a great choice because it highlights the natural citrus notes in the beer.

photo © Jennifer Hess; all rights reserved

Now, as I said, the July 2011 version of the Seelbock is an update, and here are the changes I’ve made:

First, although it makes a lot of sense to choose a Weisse beer that somewhat resembles champagne (light, effervescent, and yeasty), I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense to name a drink -bock when you’re using a Weisse. And, since I wasn’t sure I’d find the Schneider & Brooklyner Hopfen Weisse again (since it was a limited-edition brew), I thought, well, hell, Dietsch, just get a goddamn bock this time.

So I got a goddamn bock this time, but I kept it in the G. Schneider und Sohn family, choosing their Aventinus doppelbock. It’s wheaty, of course, like their Brooklyn Brewery collab, but it’s a lot darker and richer. I wanted to play with it in this cocktail, to see what a darker brew would add.

The only other change I made to the original recipe was here: “1 ounce rye whiskey”. Let me be honest: I did that for Food52, concocting a less-potent cocktail than I normally drink, in hopes that civilians would try it. I don’t need to do that here.

Between the oils from the lemon twist, the lemon bitters, and the Cointreau, this is a brightly citrusy cocktail, which makes it all the more refreshing for a hot July day. I think I’m happier with this version than I was the Food52 edition.

Seelbock

  • 1 1/2 oz. rye whiskey (I used Rittenhouse, as I did in the original)
  • 1/2 oz. Cointreau (I don’t know why I preferred Grand Marnier originally; perhaps it was all I had at the moment)
  • 1/4 oz. lemon bitters (measure!)
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 4-5 oz. Aventinus doppelbock
  • lemon twist, for garnish
  1. In a mixing glass filled with ice, stir rye, Cointreau, and both bitters.
  2. Strain into champagne flute and top with beer.
  3. Add garnish.
  4. Burp and be happy.

MxMo: Brown, Bitter, and Stirred

Welcome to Mixology … uh, Wednesday? Okay, I’m well behind this time, but what the hell, right? The theme this month is Brown, Bitter, and Stirred, and it’s hosted by Lindsay Johnson of Lush Life Productions. Lindsay, it turns out, has a standing order she uses when walking into a bar; it’s this month’s theme, and I think it speaks for itself.

The first thing that came to mind when I thought of this was the Boulevardier, the Negroni variant starring bourbon in gin’s place. I freakin’ love this drink. I went with Bulleit for the bourbon, Carpano Antica for the sweet vermouth, and to really be an iconoclast, Campari for the Campari. (I wasn’t the first to post about it, alas, but hey. Kevin’s a decent type of fellow; he won’t mind.)

The Boulevardier

photo by Jennifer Hess

Equal parts, in my case 1-1/2 ounces apiece because I’m a lush. Brown, bitter, stirred. That Lindsay’s pretty smart.

mXmO: Bedlam and Squalor

Nothing like a challenge, right? A week or so ago, I noticed that the May Mixology Monday theme was Tom Waits. The concept’s interesting but the thing I noticed was that there was no date for it, no deadline. This is new for MxMo, so I took to Twitter:

Next Mixology Monday is apparently about Tom Waits, but when the hell is it? Just some random Monday in May?

Just three minutes later, the father of Mixology Monday, Paul Clarke, replied:

Dude, hard liquor and Tom Waits are for EVERY Monday in May.

Now that’s a helluva challenge. I just feel bad that poor May 3 got left out of this challenge, but hey, who likes 5/3 anyway?

For tonight, I’m thinking a clip from Fernwood Tonight, a very odd program from 1977–Martin Mull, Fred Willard. Great clip, but forgive the laugh track.

Now, as it turns out, the official date is May 24, but hey. In for a penny, in for a bottle in front of me.

Here’s a bonus video, of Tom on the Mike Douglas show.

Mike Douglas: Tom, you project a very strange image. How would you describe what you do?

Tom Waits: Perhaps a little bit of a curator, a curator…. I’m an unemployed service-station attendant.

MxMo: Tom waits for no one

Here are some true damn Tom Waits facts for you:

  • Every weekday morning, too damn early, we wake up to “New Coat of Paint,” off of Heart of Saturday Night.
  • Which, by the way, was the first damn Waits album I ever owned. Bought it before some of my readers could legally drink.
  • Some nights, when it’s very late and the wife’s asleep and I’m feeling glum, I’ll grab a bottle of whiskey. I’ll pour a shot, slug it, and listen to “Martha,” off of Closing Time. Then I’ll pour another shot and do the same damn thing. I might do that now, even though I’m not glum.
  • Speaking of Closing Time, here’s something funny. Waits did a song called “Ice Cream Man.” Van Halen did a song called “Ice Cream Man.” Same damn song. Lyrically, I mean. Ever notice that?
  • When I was in grad school, I was in a coffee shop one night. Studying with the girl I was seeing; we were regulars, so the staff was familiar. The shop was playing Mule Variations, and the song “Hold On” came on. Our favorite damn barista was singing along, and when he got to, “You don’t meet nice girls in coffee shops,” he sang it to us and we all laughed. Couple weeks later, she broke up with me.
  • I know a girl with Maxwell House eyes, marmalade thighs, and scrambled yellow hair. She ain’t no damn waitress, though.

Royal Pain in the MxMo

Welcome to the latest edition of Mixology Monday. I skipped a couple of months, busy with other stuff, but I had to return for this edition–it’s the fourth anniversary of MxMo! Having been a part of this online cocktail party from the very beginning, I feel I must participate tonight–it’s a moral imperative. (Of the original MxMo gangsters–the MxMafia, if you will–it’s fun to see who else was in it from the beginning: Paul Clarke, Rick Stutz, and Darcy O’Neil.)

Tonight’s theme promises to be a toot: pain-in-the-ass drinks, hosted by Seattle bartender Mike McSorley at the blog McSology. I’m cheating a little. I’m not doing a pain-in-the-ass drink. I’m doing a DIY garnish, the humble cocktail onion. Something I wanted to do at the restaurant bar was pickle onions for our cocktails, but life happened, and I’m doing it at home instead.

My wife, Jennifer, has played a lot with pickled things at home, but I had never tried it, so I thought this was the time. Jen and I bantied about a bunch of ideas as to how to pickle our onions, but in the end I chose to go with a basic template from the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Imbibe.

In a pickle

The first PITA was simply finding the mofo onions. Just over a week ago, when I first started thinking about this, our local grocery had fresh pearl onions. This week, none. (Yes, I could buy frozen, pre-peeled pearls, but where’s the PITA of that? Also, where’s the goddamn flavor of that?) So we simply bought the smallest onions we could find–larger than a pearl but still perfect at the bottom of a cocktail glass.

Next, PITA: peeling the mofo onions. Jen’s initial idea was that I should blanch them, so the skins would just slip right off, but then she saw a comment in Imbibe that overcooking the onions will take away their crunch. We decided to peel them the hard way.

My adaptation of Imbibe‘s recipe is as follows:

Pickled Cocktail Onions

  • 12 ounces peeled onions
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander seed
  • 1/2 tsp. juniper berries (with these onions destined for a Gibson, that just made sense)
  • 1/2 tsp. white peppercorns
  • pinch of saffron
  • zest of one medium lemon
  • 1 quart vinegar (I used a mix of white-wine vinegar and simple white vinegar, as it’s what I had on hand)
  • 3/4 quart water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. kosher salt

Assemble coriander seed, juniper berries, white peppercorns, saffron, and lemon zest into a cheesecloth sachet. Combine water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until salt and sugar dissolve, about five minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Add spice sachet and onions and return to heat. Bring to a boil; allow to boil for just one minute, and remove from heat. Cool to room temperature and remove onions and pickling liquid to jar(s), discarding sachet. Leave at room temperature overnight, and refrigerate (for up to two months) in the morning.

photograph © Jennifer Hess

Now, after doing all of that, I had some pickling liquid left over and didn’t want to waste it, so I also pickled some ramps. For that, prior to discarding the sachet, I cleaned the ramps, added them to the remaining pickling liquid (with the sachet in), and brought it to a boil. I then immediately turned off the heat.

Now, Imbibe‘s recipe comes from Todd Thrasher of PX in Virginia, and he seems to be going for a sweet-and-sour variety of pickle. Having tasted the results, we’re not crazy about it. Neither of us are fans of the sweet-and-sour pickle; we prefer the classic sour. What we do absolutely love about this technique, though, is the texture of the onions. Very crisp and crunchy.

Next time around, I want to lower the sugar content, increase the oomph-factor of the spices, and play with different vinegars or vinegar blends.