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Cocktails

24 Mar 2020
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“You guys must be so busy during Coachella!”

That drove me crazy my first couple of years here in the desert—almost as crazy as when people ask for “something with vodka, but not too sweet.” Bacchus, save the doe-eyed innocents who say things like that in my presence.

I am not trying to be a jerk. I swear. I just need to smack that little floater of small talk into the ground like I’m Dikembe Mutombo. And instead of just taking my answer—“No, business is actually slow; it’s pretty far from here and fills all the local hotels so nobody can just visit Palm Springs”—as a good explanation, they make me draw a little map of the Coachella Valley, point out our hours of operation, explain the basic rules of supply and demand, and so on.

The end result: For most valley bars and restaurants open in the evening, Coachella sucks.

I realize I am writing this with a particular experience—that of a bartender in Palm Springs. I understand that a pool server at a hotel or at a breakfast spot, or a bartender closer to the event grounds, may have a very different experience. Nevertheless, I believe that the move of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival to October should be a permanent thing. It would be better for the whole Coachella Valley—and festival-goers, too.

Related question: What, exactly, is “season” here in the desert? People ask me that all the time, and the quick answer for me is February to April. We also have busy spurts at Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Thanksgiving, plus the pool parties in the summer if you work at certain hotels, and Palm Springs Pride if you work in downtown Palm Springs.

That’s about it. Otherwise, it’s very sleepy most days.

April, regardless of Coachella, would be high season (at least in years when we’re not dealing with pandemics). It’s the time of year when the weather is still pretty darn nice here, except for the wind. The hotels and vacation rentals would be full regardless of the festival, as April is a pretty blah and rainy month for most of the U.S. and Canada—and without the festival, those visitors wouldn’t be here for a cloistered event and would actually be out supporting local businesses. Much of the town at night wouldn’t be empty for two prime weekends a season. Think about that: The bars and restaurants, at least in Palm Springs, are slow for half the weekends during one of the potentially busiest months of the year due to Coachella. We lose most of a third weekend if you count Stagecoach, although the effects aren’t as dramatic.

About that wind … it can get pretty severe in April. I have a mental .gif from a few years ago when I watched two acquaintances of mine, in their cherry British convertible, get smacked in the face with an errant palm frond while driving down Arenas Road. It gets so bad that even Palm Springs VillageFest closes some weeks, and the smell from the Salton Sea can be intense. In other words … this is a great time to be at a hotel, with breeze blocks and such, but not such a great time to be standing in an open and unprotected polo field. Just look at last year, when festival-goers were dehydrated in the heat and covered in dust from head to toe. Remember, that dust is full of salt and agricultural runoff—the same terrible air quality that has been covered in this very paper for its deleterious effects on the human body. I am not so jaded against festival-goers that I want them subjected to that.

Now … let’s think of October. This is the underused start of shoulder season, and while I enjoy the generally perfect weather and quiet streets, there is a lot of room for economic growth. Guests often comment on the fact we have Greater Palm Springs Pride here in the fall—at the start of November—rather than during the summer months, when it’s scorching. Attendees love having a reason to come here and get another round of parties, parades and good vibes. Halloween here—while not as wild as the celebrations I attended during my youthful days in the witch capital of Salem, Mass.—is also a real spectacle. The costumes are top-notch, and the bars are busy downtown, but not intimidatingly so. October and early November are a second potential busy season left on the vine, in my opinion.

I did some informal polling in the time between the Coachella-postponement announcement and the stay-at-home order. While most service-industry people didn’t want to go on the record—or I didn’t feel right asking for an official quote as things got more dire—the consensus, at least in Palm Springs, is that October should be the permanent home of Coachella.

An owner of a large rental company sparked this take when he told me he wished the festival would stay in October. I figured people renting out properties were just raking it in during the two weeks in April and wouldn’t want to rock the boat—but I was wrong. He, like me, sees a wasted opportunity in October. He hates that his company has to waste two or three weeks that they could easily rent for good prices worrying about festival-goers. In non-Coachella Octobers, properties are more or less rented for off-season prices. A switch would be a win-win for them.

I am sure most readers of this paper don’t care too much for the profits of landlords—but I do find it telling that the wealthy rental owners and restaurant moguls are on the same page as the local cocktail bartenders, restaurant managers and servers.

It’s becoming a poorly kept secret that you can walk into any of our best restaurants during festival weekends and get a table any time you want. You can have a normally full popular bar mostly to yourself on a Saturday in April. This is a lot of wasted opportunity. We shouldn’t be making less on a weekend in April than we make on a weekend in September.

I have been trying to find a good reason that Coachella shouldn’t permanently be in October, and the only one I can think of is marketing: Coachella in April makes it the Iowa caucus or New Hampshire primary of music festivals. By being the first of the major music festivals during the calendar year in the Northern Hemisphere, it gets to be the flagship, the trend-setter, the taste-maker. When you are in the industry of cool, it’s important to be first. But still … hopefully this rescheduling will show Goldenvoice that Coachella can still be the top music festival without it being early in the calendar year. After all, if you are the 600-pound gorilla, you can sit wherever you want. On behalf of most industry folks in my part of the desert: Coachella, please go sit in October for good.

Kevin Carlow can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

19 Mar 2020
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It’s not very often a cocktail columnist for a desert newspaper gets to pretend to be an “in the trenches” correspondent. It’s pretty chill here, and I write about drinks.

Now here we are.

It’s Sunday, March 15. I am sitting in an empty hotel bar with my computer, practicing social distancing, conversing about the situation with my buddy the bartender, as well as a tattooed stranger from L.A. We’re all at least six feet apart. The pool outside hasn’t slowed, however. Dozens of half-naked people still touch, breathe all over each other and swim in the communal water.

I just found out I am unemployed.

I was planning on writing a little piece about how moving Coachella to October would affect the bars and restaurants in this town. I was excited about that for a couple of reasons. Through some informal polling, I got some good takes on why that could, in the long run, be a good thing for the local economy.

Now I am being told, in real time, that I need to move from the empty bar to the pool area, which is crawling with people. It’s not the manager’s fault. They’re following the letter of the law, and I completely understand that. Nobody knows what to do.

Let’s flashback a few days. I had taken Wednesday off as a precautionary measure—I wasn’t feeling great, and though I had no COVID-19 symptoms, one can’t be too careful. I felt great Thursday, but due to slow business at work, I left around 8 p.m. and walked most of the way home to get a feel for things.

There was no VillageFest. A few people were walking around; a couple of the local dives were half-busy. It wasn’t eerily quiet or anything; I am used to Palm Springs being quiet at night. It’s part of the reason I like it here. It felt like a Tuesday instead of a Thursday—otherwise, not too jarring.

On Friday, I rode my bike into work. It’s a 25-minute ride, slightly uphill, and it was into a strong headwind, just in case anyone wanted to question my being healthy. (That sounds petty, but I didn’t want anyone at work to question that I would ever put their health in jeopardy over a shift or two.) I was scheduled at the restaurant, but the bar had two staff members stay home as a precaution, so we were a little short-handed overall. Only a few parties cancelled, and we stayed busy most of the night. People still fought over the limited seating at the bar—standing two deep behind the chairs, breathing and leaning all over each other. We can only do so much; if the guests wish to be unsafe, that’s their prerogative. Behind the bar, we used the strongest sanitizers, washing hands in between even the slightest possible contaminations. Our hands were chapped from the soap and hot water. We took the situation very seriously and parsed every possible vector of transmission. Do we toss the pens after each use? Do we sanitize them? What about the menus … do we recycle them after each use?

I went over to help next door at the bar. A wedding party of 40 had walked in, taking over a whole side of the room—hugging, sharing drinks, sneezing and coughing all over the place. To a co-worker, I referred to them as “plague rats” and “zombies,” and finally “plague zombies,” which felt the most accurate. Regulars were trying to shake hands with me and hug me; a couple of drinks makes the pandemic go away, after all.

On Saturday, there was a slight dip in the number of covers at the restaurant, and frankly, we three bartenders were beginning to get bored—but once 9 o’clock hit, the zombies were back. People were three-deep at the bar, breathing on each other, up close and personal. Regulars were sick of watching the news and coming in for a friendly face and a bite to eat—all jockeying for those precious seats.

I had mixed feelings. Not knowing how many shifts I would have left, the way things were going—or even if people would leave the house for two months—I felt fortunate that we were still busy. There are no easy answers here. A medical crisis or an economic one … who is right, and who is wrong? How the hell am I going to make money for the next month, or two, or year? Is it right to choose to save a small percentage from death only to put millions upon millions out of work? I started thinking of my college political-philosophy 101 classes and John Stuart Mill for the first time in decades.

I had a guest sarcastically tell me my expensive undergrad degree was “doing me a hell of a lot of good” as a bartender recently. Well, pal, when you’re right, you’re right.

Coachella … who the hell cares right now?

Now it’s Sunday. I went for a ride on my bike to this hotel, to write in the dark and have a burger. Now it’s hard to write by this pool, although I am 20 feet from anyone. All of these skinny people here are from Los Angeles, escaping the grim realities of that city for a day or two. It’s hard to blame them. I am imagining them in six months, smashing store windows in Silver Lake for toilet paper and White Claws.

It’s hard to write this; I am worried for myself. I’m worried for my parents back in Massachusetts. Worried for the local economy. For my friends who work at bars, or own bars, or just work with the public at all.

My mind keeps going back to almost 10 years ago, when I was working at an outdoor bar in downtown Boston when the marathon bombing happened. Restaurant and bar managers were trying to make decisions on the fly as to whether they should close on the spot, or not. Everyone was looking suspiciously at strangers. Soon after, the governor and mayor told everyone to effectively shelter in place. We sat at home glued to the news, police scanners and social media.

That only ended up lasting a couple of days, and things got better. With California’s tourism-based economy, and this little desert realizing it has lost a desperately needed season, it’s hard to stay hopeful. We’d already lost a new bar, Glitch, in town before this hit, and many more are teetering as it is. I fear the landscape here is going to be bleak this summer. The labor crunch will be over, if there is a silver lining, as places go out of business and lay off workers. The corporate hospitality groups will feast on the remains, and I fear fast-casual brands will slide like hermit crabs into the dead shells of mom-and-pop places. Perhaps I am being too gloomy; a friend commented the other day that New Englanders panic better than anyone. Maybe this will all just blow over, and I will look like a Chicken Little. I certainly hope so.

Riding home, I have the Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” in my head. I’ve got some groceries, some peanut butter, to last a couple of days.

Now it’s late Sunday night, and we’re with a small group of friends saying goodbye to a local bar that fills a lovely niche space in this town. It didn’t take long for the fallout to start.

I’ll see you on the other side. Cocktail of the month, straight shot of whiskey.

Kevin Carlow can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

21 Feb 2020
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Spring is nearly upon us here in the desert—and it’s a great time for me and other transplants to remember how fortunate we are to have traded gray 40-degree days for 82 degrees and sunshine.

Granted, we now have to dodge double-decker buses packed with house-peepers, as well as land yachts piloted by frail and bespectacled nonagenarians; such is the trade-off, I suppose—and late winter/early spring is certainly a better time for my wallet. I don’t know if it was the extended chilly weather or the dilution of the clientele base caused by the frenzy of development, but “season” definitely came late this year for most of us craft bartenders. And as summer approaches, we’re gonna need some whiskey.

Specifically, we’re gonna need some Irish whiskey.

If there is one drink that pretty much every bartender has in common, it’s Irish whiskey—specifically, the stuff in the green bottle. I used to think it was a Boston thing, or an East Coast thing, as I grew up on the stuff, but the reality is that bartenders from coast to coast and beyond will revert back to it after they’re done pretending they’re all cool and esoteric.

Americans drink 40 percent of the entire output of Irish whiskey, which helped save it as a viable export, according to Forbes.com. It’s so easy to drink, and it gets you where you’re going without a lot of burn—so what’s not to love?

Without the Irish, we might not have had whiskey at all. As legend has it, Irish monks invented it. They saw that Muslim Moors were wasting the technology of alembic distilling on things like “medicine” and decided to give it a proper use! The resulting “uisce beatha”—pronounced something like how a Bostonian would say, “Ooh, whiskey bar” and meaning “water of life”—became the root of the word “whiskey.” Of course, their cousins the Scots didn’t take long to make their own “whisky” after the Irish showed them the process, and a bit of a rivalry began.

Irish whiskey was originally made in a pot still from malted barley, and could even be peated, like many Scotches are—but chances are the ones you’re drinking at most bars weren’t. There are four types of Irish whiskey, according to Whisky Advocate:

• Malt: One hundred percent malted barley, made in pot stills; if it’s all from a single distillery, it’s called “single malt.”

• Pot still (my favorite): At least 30 percent malted and 30 percent unmalted barley, and no more than 5 percent cereal grains.

• Grain: No more than 30 percent malted barley, distilled in a column still, with pretty much any other common cereal grain, like corn or wheat.

• Blended: A blend of two or more of the above styles.

The brands most people, including inebriated bartenders and/or Bostonians, drink are of the blended variety. This doesn’t make them inferior, necessarily, as some of the tastiest Irish whiskeys are blends; it’s one of the reasons people think of Irish whiskey as a smoother option than other whiskeys. However, I thoroughly advise branching out and trying some of the pot-still varieties: While still quite easy-drinking, they have a good deal more body and a fuller flavor. The recent rise in popularity of premium Irish whiskey (skyrocketing since 2002, according to the Distilled Spirits Council) has meant that finding smaller brands making a more craft-focused product has never been easier.

America has had a taste for the stuff for some time. As David Wondrich points out in Imbibe!, Irish whiskey was quite popular in The States in the 1800s, with bartenders as storied as Jerry Thomas recommending it in cocktails like the Irish Whiskey Skin and the notorious Blue Blazer. I will put the recipe for the Blue Blazer here, but my team of high-powered lawyers has advised me to state that this should not be tried at home. If you burn down your midcentury-modern house or singe the hair off of your eyebrows (and/or the skin off of your arms), I don’t want to hear about it.

  • Two silver-plated mugs with handles and glass bottoms (Wondrich recommends using ones with tulip-flared edges)
  • One teaspoon full of sugar
  • A wineglass of Scotch and Irish whisky mixed (one ounce each, Wondrich says)

Add one wineglass (1 1/2 ounces, per Wondrich) of boiling water; set it on fire, and while blazing, pour from each into the other mug, being particular to keep the other blazing during the pouring process. Serve in small bar tumblers; add a piece of lemon skin; pour the mixture into glass blazing; and cover with a cup.

Thomas recommends practicing with cold water to get the pour down first, as do I if you simply must try this despite my warnings.

Since the only purpose of the Blue Blazer is to show off, let’s do a safer cocktail instead, no? How about something boozy that uses a green ingredient (Chartreuse) and actually tastes good … right on time for St. Patrick’s Day! Come to think of it, I did a column on Chartreuse last month. I love it when a plan comes together. Here’s the Tipperary Cocktail No. 1:

  • 1 ounce of Irish Whiskey
  • 1 ounce of Green Chartreuse
  • 1 ounce of sweet vermouth

Stir and serve up!

This is basically the version in Hugo Ensslin’s 1917 (or 1916 … cocktail history, oof) Recipes for Mixed Drinks, but I adapted it from the Savoy Cocktail Book. I like adding a dash of orange bitters, since this is basically a Bijou cocktail with whiskey, and garnishing with orange zest. Pot-still stuff holds up nicely in this drink, but the blends give it a softer touch, which I prefer in this application.

A lot of bartenders favor the recently late and lamented Gary “Gaz” Regan’s Tipperary No. 3, which reduces the Chartreuse to a half an ounce and ups the whiskey by double. It’s a nice drink, to be sure, but I like it closer to the original. As for the No. 2, let’s just say it doesn’t work for this piece.

Feel free to substitute Irish whiskey into your Old Fashioned, of course, and your highballs and Collinses as well. There is even a shot we used to drink back in the day, a riff on the Washington Apple, called the Irish Apple: It’s two parts green-bottle Irish whiskey, and one part each of cranberry juice cocktail and sour-apple liqueur. Don’t judge me; those years are mostly a blur. But I might just order one on St. Patrick’s Day, to remember the days when I had to elbow my way through the throngs of drunken parade-goers on Dorchester Street on my way to a double shift downtown.

These buses and Buicks don’t seem so bad now, actually. Sláinte!

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

16 Jan 2020
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It’s the good ol’ plague time of year: If you haven’t been sick this month, you almost certainly knew somebody who was.

Seriously, people: If you would all stop “giving up” drinking after New Year’s Eve (or New Year’s Day brunch), I think we could all avoid this. Skeptical, are we? Well, allow me to expound the wonders of the miracle liqueur, Chartreuse!

If you read this column on a regular basis, you know I tend to avoid naming specific brands. This is an independent paper, and also the liquor companies don’t pay me. Sometimes, however, naming a specific brand is unavoidable—like when a spirit has such a unique flavor and proprietary process that there really are no substitutes. The king (pope?) of those brands is Chartreuse. It’s made under the supervision of monks, who follow mysterious protocols and recipes known only to them. It has been around long enough to have a color or two named after it, so that’s pretty OG. Most importantly to my theme: If you had been sick in the mid-to-late 1700s, had the means and happened to live a horse’s ride from a particular monastery in France, you probably would have been counting on it in some fashion for your recovery.

OK, enough of the fanboying and apocrypha: Let’s get to the bottom of the green bottle.

It turns out the history of this stuff is pretty interesting. If you want to read the entire thing, it’s available on the company website (Chartreuse.fr/en), but I will summarize it here. In 1605, Duc d’ Estreés gave the gift of a mysterious manuscript containing a recipe known as “The Elixir of Long Life” to a certain order of monks known as Carthusians (named after the Chartreuse Mountains, which became “Charter-House” to the English)—specifically, the ones residing in a small monastery outside of Paris. The order, founded by St. Bruno, encourages a life of silence and solitary living. I could go on, but since few people are as fascinated by the history of Western Monasticism as I am, let’s move along.

The manuscript was confusing and complex, but a certain brother “cracked the code” of the manuscript in 1764, creating the “Elixir Vegetal de La Grande-Chartreuse,” a version of which is still made today. Sadly, this version is not available in the U.S.—but if anyone wants to smuggle a bottle in from France for me, I will pay you handsomely. Anyway, this “elixir” became quite a local sensation, and the monks eventually came up with a more readily consumable version we know today as Green Chartreuse, which has an all-natural green hue. This version contains 130 herbs, and the secret to its color is closely guarded. However, due to a couple of centuries of revolution, intrigue, monastic orders being expelled from France, Napoleon, nationalization and later privatization, the recipe did pass through many hands at various points. All we need to know, for the purpose of this column, is that in 1840, the monks made a sweeter, less-potent Yellow Chartreuse—and ignited arguments among cocktail geeks 160 years later as to which version was the “real” one for the cocktail recipes of antiquity.

The monks are back in charge of production, with two brothers entrusted to mix the herbs. As for the herbs, I covered a few of the key ones in a recent column—but I know you’re here for the drinks. So here are a few of my favorite modern recipes using each type of Chartreuse. (If you wonder why I left out the Last Word cocktail, well, I’ve been doing this column since 2016, and that would be beating a dead horse at this point.)

The Greenpoint

  • 2 ounces of rye whiskey
  • 1/2 ounce of sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce of Yellow Chartreuse
  • 1 dash each of angostura and orange bitters

Stir; serve up with a twist of lemon. This one was created for the bar Milk and Honey by Michael McIlroy. This was one of the first of the New York “rye-revolution” drinks I encountered, right around the time I tried the Redhook. They had a theme going here: Manhattan variations named after Brooklyn neighborhoods. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s made with the green stuff; if they try, slap them away with a slice of greasy pizza.

The Naked and Famous

  • 1 ounce of mezcal
  • 1 ounce of Aperol
  • 1 ounce of Yellow Chartreuse
  • 1 ounce of lime juice

Shake; serve up; and it’s pretty enough without a garnish. I featured this one in a column last year on “four-part drinks” if you want the history, and it’s still in my regular rotation. People just can’t seem to get enough mezcal these days, so I thought I would mention it again.

The Chartreuse Swizzle

  • 1 1/2 ounces of Green Chartreuse
  • 1 ounce of pineapple juice
  • 3/4 ounce of lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce of falernum

Mix in a tall, Collins-style glass with crushed ice using a swizzle stick, if you have one; otherwise, a barspoon works fine. You want the outside of the glass to be frosty; for easy handling, you can wrap a bar napkin around the outside. (I like to make mine look like a bandanna, but that’s optional, of course.) I like a mint garnish, but anything goes, including a lime wheel, pineapple or even basil, to switch up the aromatics. This one is from Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco and is on the short list of “drinks I wish I’d invented,” but the credit goes to Marco Dionysos. Order one, and watch your bartender get giddy (or perhaps run to the back to Google it … no judgment; I’ve been there). If you make it at home, I suggest buying a spice-forward falernum, and not Taylor’s lighter version. Taylor’s will work in a pinch if you don’t want to make your own falernum. It’s better, though, to find yourself a bar with the “real stuff”; it makes for a much-more interesting cocktail.

I am not a doctor, and the preceding does not constitute medical advice. Besides, everyone knows only hot toddies cure the common cold. Enjoy some Chartreuse anyway!

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

16 Dec 2019
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The most-searched cocktail in 2019 was the Pornstar Martini, according to Google.

Take that in for a second.

I mean, it is the internet, so I guess that is fitting, but I hope people were actually searching for the cocktail, and there isn’t some new glassware-related fetish out there … Rule 34 and all.

This revelation was a bit of a synchronistic, as just a week or so before I learned this, I tried the Pornstar Martini for the first time in Las Vegas, which seemed like an appropriate place for such a venture. Mind you, I have been behind the stick for a long, long time, and I have never made one, or had a guest ask me for one. Ever. So I am guessing there must be some part of popular culture that is outside of my sphere of attention bringing this drink a boost in recent popularity. But seriously: How does a drink have that much hype without my being blasted with orders for it? Either way, it’s a fun drink for New Year’s, and it’s considered a modern classic, so that’s good enough for a spotlight, in my opinion!

The nice thing about “modern classics” is you don’t need to search very far to get the history. This drink was invented in 2002, or 2005, or … well, scratch that. OK, at least it’s easy to get the correct recipe … wait … never mind. What we do know is that it was invented by Douglas Ankrah, a London bartender, for the opening menu of his bar, Townhouse. It was named originally after a South African club he hung out at while writing his cocktail book, but he later renamed it the Pornstar Martini. He has claimed in multiple interviews that he isn’t a fan of porn, necessarily, but wanted a fun and provocative name for his cocktail. (This is the era of bartending that gave us martinis that aren’t martinis; middle-age ladies out on the town still ask, “What kind of martinis do you have?” But I digress.) The reason I don’t get requests for this drink is probably that it never really got out of the United Kingdom, where it is still a top-seller, and that very few craft bars carry passion fruit in any form, aside from tiki bars—and this ain’t tiki. Feel free to order one at your local tiki bar, but only if you want them to show you the door.

If you can get past the puerile name, and (for me) the fact that it is vodka-based, I must say: The Pornstar Martini is pretty delicious. The ingredients must include vodka, passion fruit and vanilla; some recipes call for lime, while others call for lemon. The other necessary component is sparkling wine, preferably Champagne, although some recipes call for prosecco. Now, how you work in these flavors is kind of up to you; you can use passion-fruit liqueur, passion-fruit puree, or both. Some recipes call for vanilla vodka and passion-fruit liqueur, and while that might work for a bachelorette party, I want nothing to do with it. Instead, first, let’s make a vanilla syrup:

  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • A couple of vanilla beans (or vanilla extract)

Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring. Turn off the heat; add the vanilla beans, scraped (or 2 teaspoons of extract, to taste), and stir. Allow mixture to cool; strain through a fine strainer (if using beans); and keep in a jar in the refrigerator. This is great for many uses, especially coffee!

As for the puree, I recommend getting a quality frozen one, as the shelf-stable ones in the plastic bottles aren’t as punchy and taste a little artificial. If you have access to fresh passion fruit, scoop the insides into a blender with a little water—and there you go. Reserve a few of the fruit, as the traditional garnish is half a fruit served seed-side-up floating in the drink.

OK, so going off an article in Punch, here is what seems to be Ankrah’s actual recipe, in case you want to give it a whirl:

  • 1 1/2 ounces of vanilla vodka
  • 1/2 ounce of passion-fruit liqueur
  • 2 ounces of passion-fruit puree
  • 2 barspoons of vanilla sugar (vanilla beans and white sugar in a blender instead of a syrup)

Shake with ice; strain into a coupe; and top with half of a passion fruit. Serve with 2 ounces of Champagne on the side.

I am assuming he is using a shelf-stable passion-fruit puree for this; that much fresh passion fruit would be a lip-puckerer, to say the least. Considering he works for the big liquor companies these days and markets his own “ready to drink” version, that would make sense; also, in the early days of the drink, that would be easiest to find. I am sure this recipe is good, and who am I to know better than the inventor? (He apparently isn’t happy about the citrus element later added by other bartenders.) Still, I thought I would try to replicate the version I tried at Cleaver in Las Vegas.

Being that I was in Las Vegas, my memory is a bit hazy, so rather than try to get the actual recipe they use (state secrets and all), I will go off my memory and general drink-making experience:

  • 1 1/2 ounces of vodka
  • 3/4 of an ounce of vanilla syrup
  • 1/2 ounce of lemon juice
  • 3/4 of an ounce of fresh passion fruit puree, to taste (it’s tart!)

Shake; serve up in a coupe; and top with passion fruit, if available. Serve with the “sidecar” of Champagne.

I definitely recommend the Champagne on the side; it’s easier for toasting that way, since the big chunk of fruit will splash the drink over the sides of your glass (and I say that from experience). Feel free to serve a little spoon for people to eat the tart fruit, as I did.

Whether you make the original or the more-recent style, enjoy ringing in the New Year with the scandalous cocktail everyone is apparently Googling—and feel free to tell your mom it’s a Maverick Cocktail, or a Passion Star, two early names for it that are a little more “family friendly.” She doesn’t need to know that the Maverick Club was a seedy strip bar in South Africa. That can be your little secret.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

21 Nov 2019
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Is there any cocktail more iconic than a classic sour? Well, maybe … but does any cocktail look cooler in a photo?

There is a special elegance to the sour, served up in a long-stemmed coupe, laced with bitters on the frothy, creamy head. The great thing is: Sours aren’t even particularly hard to make. With a little practice, the home bartender can quickly become an expert. Obviously, since raw eggs are involved, you need to make sure you’re comfortable with potential health risks before you begin. Now that the lawyers are satisfied, here are some sour-style drinks that will bring a little classic elegance to any holiday soirée.

Before we begin, it’s a good idea to clarify how eggs got into cocktails in the first place. Yes, the luscious texture is the reason we still put them in, of course, but as big of a reason is that when this all started, distillation wasn’t the science it is today. If you were lucky, the distiller knew how to remove the head and tail from the batch (or cared to), and all the methanol and other bad stuff that can come with them. (That means the first and last of the distillate, in case you’re not a complete booze nerd.) The spirits would also contain a lot of congeners, the ride-along molecules that allow spirits to have flavor … both welcome and not-so-welcome flavors. People figured out that certain things, when added to the spirits, would bind to many of these “off” flavors, and the removal of the curdled protein (often eggs or milk) would clarify the remaining spirits. Alternately, they would leave the milk or eggs in the drink if it was meant for immediate consumption—creating the basis for milk punches and sours.

So let’s make some drinks for immediate consumption, shall we?

Let’s start with the whiskey sour, that classic American drink that has been spread all over the world. Brandy sours were originally more popular, and egg white was an optional but popular ingredient. As is still the case today, the sour could be more sweet than sour, but every bartender has a different opinion on that. The great Jerry Thomas favored a very sweet sour, for instance. Feel free to make up your own mind on that:

  • 2 ounces of rye or bourbon whiskey
  • 1 ounce of fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 to 1 ounce of simple syrup
  • 1 egg white

Separate the egg, and add it to the cocktail tin; check for quality and stray yolk bits. Add the remaining ingredients; shake without ice for about 10 seconds, using both hands to secure the shaker from exploding all over the place! (Trust me: It still happens to me on occasion when I get cocky.) Then add ice, and continue shaking until the tin gets icy. Double-strain into a coupe, and dash the foam with bitters, using a toothpick to create a pattern of your liking.

A sour can be made with gin as well; just substitute and proceed as above. For a more colorful cocktail, try a Clover Club:

  • 2 ounces of gin
  • 1 ounce of lemon
  • 1 ounce of raspberry syrup
  • 1 egg white

Prepare the syrup by smashing raspberries into plain simple syrup, and strain. Prepare the cocktail as with the previous sours, but skip the bitters, or use Peychaud’s instead of Angostura for a more complementary flavor and color.

Of course, let us not forget the famous sour of South America, the pisco sour. Although I have had Peruvians livid at me for saying so, according to cocktail historian David Wondrich, the pisco sour has its origin with American expatriates in the late 1800s. American bars would serve up their sours using readily available local spirit pisco (a grape brandy) instead of whiskey or American brandy. You can simply sub in pisco for whiskey and use the same formula, but many bartenders favor a mix of lemon and lime—including this bartender. Experiment, and find your favorite preparation. Angostura is a must for this one.

Of course, we can’t forget the New Orleans version of a sour, known today as a “Ramos Gin Fizz.” This “eye-opener” also includes seltzer and cream, and is poured into a small fizz or juice glass. I am sharing the original recipe from Ramos himself, slightly paraphrased, although modern versions vary.

  • 1 tablespoon of superfine sugar
  • 3 or 4 drops of orange flower water
  • Juice from half a lime
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • 1 1/2 oz of Old Tom gin
  • 1 egg white
  • Half a glass of crushed ice
  • About 2 tablespoons of whole milk or cream
  • About an ounce of seltzer water

This should all go into the shaker and be shaken for about a minute—carefully, so the shaker doesn’t pop open; double-strain into a fizz glass. Many bartenders make it a two-stage shake, dry-shaking (no ice) everything but the cream and seltzer, before adding the cream and shaking it with some ice, and then straining into a chilled tall glass with seltzer pre-added. Try it both ways, and see what you favor.

Since it’s the holiday season, I would be remiss to not mention that classic milk and egg punch, egg nog. There are as many ways to make this as there are bartenders, but I tend to use about four eggs, separated. I beat about a quarter-cup of sugar into the yolks until they lighten, then two cups of bourbon; one cup of Jamaican rum; and two or three cups of whole milk. Whisk the whites until they become stiff peaks, and fold them into the mixture. Let this chill in the refrigerator for as long as you can resist; top with nutmeg in each glass to order.

And watch out on behalf of your grandma … there are reindeer on the loose this time of year!

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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