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Cocktails

18 Jun 2020
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Anyone else feel like an escape right now?

I have written about Tiki here and there in this column. Cocktails from Bootlegger Tiki in Palm Springs have been featured occasionally, and my colleague Patrick did a profile on The Reef—all well-deserved, but Tiki hasn’t come up substantially in two years now. So, I have been remiss in my responsibilities—this is a Tiki town, and I have left the subject woefully under-represented!

Partly, that is out of respect. Tiki is its own subculture that goes beyond cocktails—it has its own clothing, music and lifestyle. Exotica, floral-print shirts, shorts, goatees and classic cars are things I am not into personally, but Tiki people also spend their free time looking into lost and ancient cocktails, and I can certainly get into that!

Now that I’ve made it clear that I am not a Tiki authority, I feel like there is one Tiki drink that every bartender should know how to make—the timeless mai tai.

First of all, let’s get the controversy and some misunderstandings out of the way: A mai tai does not have pineapple juice in it. It can have grapefruit juice in it, but then you’re drinking the Don the Beachcomber recipe, and not the Trader Vic’s recipe. (More on that in a bit.) It should never have a color that isn’t light brown to dark yellow; it should never have a cherry, or, heaven forbid, freaking “cherry juice”!

I confess that when I first started making mai tais, what I was really making was some sort of poor-man’s scorpion. Who knows what manner of dusty, spiral-bound, written “circa the year I was born'' cocktail book I got that recipe from, but it was probably from my dad’s old bar—and drinking mai tais at the many, mostly gone and sorely missed “Polynesian” lounges around the Boston area was no help whatsoever. I’m pretty sure they had the same book I had. Much like the daiquiri, the mai tai has taken a beating in the course of the drink “Dark Ages.”

Truth be told, the mai tai is a sort of gussied-up daiquiri. Trader Vic—so the much-told story goes—around 1944 wanted to create a drink that would become a new classic. He had some 17-year-old Jamaican rum (the storied and now-$50,000-a-bottle Wray and Nephew 17) lying around and wanted to use it. He added fresh lime to some shaved ice, along with the rum, a little double-simple syrup, some curaćao and finally orgeat; he then gave it a shake. The resulting cocktail was so amazing it reportedly had a Tahitian house guest exclaim, “Mai tai-roa aé!” (“The best, out of this world!”). A legend was born. Funnily, I heard (and repeated) this story long before I ever knew how to make a Trader Vic’s mai tai.

Here's where it gets juicy: A fellow with the pseudonym “Don Beach” had a place in Hollywood called Don the Beachcomber, and he accused Trader Vic (also a pseudonym, by the way) of taking “inspiration” from a rum punch he had on the menu. It was well-established that Vic had borrowed heavily from Beach’s business model and aesthetic; the two chains were busy becoming the basis for what we now call “Tiki.” According to Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (what is it with these guys and the nicknames?), Don had a cocktail on his menu called the “Mai Tai Swizzle” between 1933 and 1937, so there is that. It is also totally possible that Vic made up his drink on his own; who really knows?

Either way, Beach threw his hat in the ring and marketed his own mai tai recipe, and premixed versions of “the Original Mai Tai” to compete with Vic in the marketplace, prompting a lawsuit. Vic won the suit, and most bartenders (including this one) concede that whatever happened, Vic’s recipe is the better one.

Here it is, from the man himself, by way of Difford’s Guide:

  • One lime
  • 1/2 ounce of orange curaćao
  • 1/4 ounce of rock candy syrup
  • 1/4 ounce of orgeat
  • 2 ounces of Trader Vic Mai Tai rum; or 1 ounce of dark Jamaica rum and 1 ounce of Martinique rum

Cut lime in half; squeeze over shaved ice in a mai tai (double old-fashioned) glass; save one spent shell. Add remaining ingredients and enough shaved ice to fill glass. Hand shake; decorate with spent lime half, fresh mint and a fruit stick.

I would go with 3/4 of an ounce of lime, as size and juiciness vary. Rock candy syrup is an old-timey way of saying a syrup with two parts sugar to one part water. Good luck finding the Trader Vic Mai Tai rum, but the dark Jamaica and Martinique work great. Mix as above, using the best orgeat you can buy (or make); there are really good craft versions available now, for the first time in modern history.

Oh, and the Don Beach version? It’s good, too, but if the Trader Vic version is a tricked-out daiquiri, this one is more of a Hemingway daiquiri. From Don the Beachcomber, 1933, via Post Prohibition:

  • 1 ounce of gold rum
  • 1 1/2 ounces of Meyer’s Plantation rum
  • 3/4 ounce of lime juice
  • 1 ounce of grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 ounce of Cointreau
  • 1/4 ounce of falernum
  • 6 drops of Pernod or Herbsaint
  • 1 dash of Angostura bitters

Shake well with crushed ice; pour unstrained into a double old-fashioned glass; garnish with four mint sprigs.

Avoid the clear falernum on the market for this recipe; you’re gonna want something craft-made and spice-forward. Never mind that, though; unless you’re a serious cocktail geek, the Trader Vic recipe is all you really need.

However, if you find yourself at Bootlegger Tiki in Palm Springs (once it reopens), once the site of an actual Don the Beachcomber location, it’s totally acceptable to push Vic aside for a day. Escape from life the way your grandparents did; either version is pretty “mai tai-roa aé”!

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

22 May 2020
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Remember that episode of Cheers—the one where Norm, Cliff and Frasier all sit at tables six feet apart?

They order from tablets that have been carefully sanitized after each guest. A single empty seat is also at each table, which could be occupied by a member of the same household, but the men are all solo as usual. Sam pours the beers, a list of service tickets in front of him, as he tries to make eyes at two blondes over his face covering. They don’t notice him from behind his plastic-glass barrier, as far away as they are. Carla places the sealed beer vessels on a table in the middle of the bar, and calls each guest in a muffled Boston accent through her N95 to retrieve them, one at a time. The boys drink from recyclable cups through paper straws going under their masks—finishing the beer under the allotted time limit, of course. Except for Norm … he lingers a little longer. Carla signals at him from six feet away and gestures at her wrist, where a watch would be, and points at him. Classic Carla!

Hilarious, right?

Oh, wait, how about the episode from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where “The Gang” recklessly throws a party during a pandemic? Paddy’s becomes the epicenter for an even stronger strain of the contagion. Frank Reynolds goes on a ventilator.

TV gold.

These are both worst-case scenarios on what things will be like once bars are finally allowed to reopen; the truth will likely be something in the middle. How far in the middle will depend on which city in which you reside. But the lingering presence of the virus leads to some uncomfortable questions: Do we even need bars? Do we need bartenders?

I could definitely see a near-ish future without bartending as we know it: Picture a wall of options to choose from on slick LED display as you wait in line, six feet apart. Your options are all pre-batched cocktails, certainly no garnishes, and probably no reusable glassware. The architecture and branding will determine the experience, and that experience will be exactly the same every time. Maybe there will be music in some places—a band behind a stage wall less cozy than the one at the Roadhouse—but probably not. There will certainly be no talking to strangers.

I could position myself for this future; I could put together a drink program for it, and teach the “bartenders” the basic set of skills required for pouring the bottle in the vessel.

Just think of it: There are no fights and no bad drinks—or at least no inconsistent ones. Nobody is breathing all over you, with no jerk bartenders thinking they’re Jove almighty. You’re just drinking at a table with the friends you arrived with, and no creeps bothering you, unless you count some unwelcome stares. Oh, wait, there are opaque barriers between tables—so there are no unwelcome stares. You don’t need to talk to a stranger in real life ever again, and if you do feel the need, there are apps for that. You can have anything you ever wanted sent to you, including intimacy. You can meet over Zoom; they don’t even have to know where you live.

Bars are obsolete. Millennials and younger people are drinking less than previous generations, anyway, and are less likely to go to a bar regularly. I can’t fight the future, but it will be a sad day when the last traditional bar has its last regular turned away, be it from a loss of business to the new model, or the powers that be forcing the doors shut.

Why will that day be sad? Why is everything I’ve mentioned here sad? Because bars are important.

Bars are places where you muster up the false courage to act like a fool, to make small mistakes (and sometimes big ones), to—in the words of a song I have heard far too many times—“forget about life for a while.” They’re the places the sad drunks die slowly, among friends, instead of home alone. A bar is a place where an introvert like me can have a stage, with the safety of a plank of some sort between us.

Bars are where revolutions begin. I know that for a fact; I have read the patina-hued plaques all over Boston. They’re one of the few places we get out of the sad like-minded echo-chamber reality we now live in: You might have to hear someone with different views from yours, and she’s sitting right next to you. You can’t make her leave, but you can always change seats. But you don’t. Why don’t you? In this era where you can tell your little cybernetic organ which news suits you or doesn’t (Thumbs up or down? More stories like this?), and people don’t read newspapers anymore, why suffer a fool? Why go to a place that plays not the talking heads you don’t like on the TVs, but the Talking Heads you do like on the jukebox? Because that is life. It’s breathy and loud, and full of mysterious odors, crushed under despair and lifted by mutual experience.

I realize most people don’t spend as much time in bars as I do. When I am not behind a bar, I am often sitting at one. If you sup at a restaurant table, you are always rolling the dice on food and service—it’s the unspoken thrill of dining out. If you sit at the bar, you also roll the dice on your company. I am certain a fair number of people in this world have had sub-par meals and lackluster service ameliorated by making a new “single-serving friend” (to use Tyler Durden’s expression). If the occasional great meal is tarnished by being next to a boor with a napkin shoved down his shirt, at least it’s something to talk about with each other later. Sure beats talking about the steak being unseasoned or some such thing.

So, yes, bars are important—not more important than lives, of course. But they’re important. While I appreciate the seriousness of our current situation, I really hope things don’t change too much, too fast, out of fear. Life will never be totally safe, and it shouldn’t be. I would hate to make your next martini from under glass—or out of a bottle.

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

21 Apr 2020
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One advantage of living where I do is that I have access to a bartender.

Actually, our household has two (very bored) bartenders: Myself and longtime Coachella Valley barman Neil Goetz, the head bartender at Blackbook in Palm Springs. We’re resisting the urge to do what most barmen do in their downtime—it’s funny how little I feel like drinking now that I am not behind the bar—so we decided to do some research, and record some videos on basic cocktail making and such. I also sat down with Neil to talk about some of the things we researched and some random subjects as well.

If anyone wants to see the videos or hear the entire half-hour interview, where we go way off topic and tell some off-color stories, visit crypticcocktails.com.

KC: Let’s start with the martini. What are your thoughts on the martini?

NG: Still one of the best drinks ever—simple, two ingredients, and when made the right way, 2-to-1 (gin to vermouth), it goes down like nothing.

KC: In our research, we found that dry vermouth wasn’t really around until the end of the 19th century, making it a relatively new drink compared to, say, the Manhattan.

NG: Unfortunately, now we’re in that world now where most of the world thinks a martini is shaken vodka.

KC: I still have people coming in, asking, “What kind of martinis do you have?”

NG: In a true restaurant environment, I am basically OK with that. If you have three goofy drinks served up (called martinis), so be it. A properly made cosmo …

KC: Yeah, or a lemon drop; those drinks are basically daisies. (More on daisies later.) But back to proper martinis. I like a dry martini, with a 5-to-1 gin-to-vermouth ratio, at home.

NG: With a lot of gins, I would actually prefer a nice gin on the rocks with a lemon twist. I’m that guy, I guess. I like a super-light, citrus-forward gin on the rocks with a lemon twist.

KC: Let’s move onto Manhattans.

NG: Still probably the best cocktail ever. Virtually every whiskey drink is kind of derived from that. Let me rephrase that: The whiskey drinks that are popular today, they’re all just derivatives.

KC: Whiskey, fortified wine and a bitter component. The first person who added citrus to a whiskey cocktail must have felt like he discovered the zero—like, “Why hasn’t anybody thought of this before?!” People must have resisted at first.

NG: The best variation—I like to call it a Manhattan on steroids—is the Vieux Carré.

  • 1 ounce of rye or bourbon
  • 1 ounce of cognac
  • 1 ounce of sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes each of Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters

Stir; serve on the rocks; top with a half-ounce of Benedictine.

KC: I feel like that’s one of those “throw everything in but the kitchen sink” cocktails.

NG: It’s a Manhattan, with “extra.” It’s a coolish weather drink in my brain. The Benedictine gives it that Christmas-y vibe.

KC: We also looked into the history of the margarita—how, despite all of the legends behind the naming of the drink, it’s a daisy, and was probably just named that, but in Spanish; once the tequila went in—voilá, “margarita.” The daisy template:

  • 1 part spirit
  • 1/2 part triple sec
  • 1/2 part lemon (or lime) juice

Shaken, served up (or sometimes tall with soda). A little simple syrup helps; it can be made with almost any spirit.

NG: I subscribe to that, too. The simple answer is usually the right one. I’m sure you’ve done it; I know I’ve done it: A girl comes in, usually a girl, sometimes a guy. You made them something that’s basically a margarita with a little something different in it. They’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is amazing. What do you call this?” And you say, “What’s your name?” And you name it after them.

KC: Oh god, you’re playing to the cheap seats! Yes, I am guilty of doing that once or twice, back in the day. That’s better than when they ask me what the drink is called, and I don’t have a name for it, and they tell me I should call it “The Kevin.” First of all, I would never name a drink after myself; secondly, “The Kevin?” What is it? A boring, suburban white guy? Besides, my drink is an over-proof daiquiri or a boilermaker.

NG: If you can find rum out here. I went looking for a decent clear rum at four different places the other day, and the “best” they had was (redacted) silver. I can’t believe I said that was “the best” out loud.

KC: Yeah, I pretty much get one if I see good rum and know the bar has fresh juice. It’s a shame, with all the Tiki and Tiki history in this town, there isn’t more rum available retail here. Let’s change the subject before we go down the tiki hole, though: How about a light-hearted question. Favorite bar snack?

NG: For sure: Pickled eggs. There is nothing better to see behind a bar than that big old jar of pickled eggs floating around in it. It’s perfection.

KC: Agreed. Anything pickled, even a pepperoncini. I am not a big Bloody Mary guy, but if they load it up with assorted pickles, I am in.

NG: One of my biggest pet peeves is someone who comes in and orders a Bloody Mary or a chavela at 9 p.m. It’s like, buddy, go (expletive) yourself.

KC: A lot of them are probably Canadian. They drink Bloody Caesars all night. But it’s cold up there, so maybe the salt keeps the blood from freezing or something.

NG: When I worked at the club at Fantasy Springs, people used to drink five or six chavelas in a row. It’s like, switch to a Bud Light or something; you’re dancing.

(At this point, the conversation spiraled off topic, so we’ll leave it here for now. Stay safe, everyone, and please don’t drink yourselves through this mess! If two bar-lifers can practice moderation and find some constructive things to do, you can too!)

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

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..

18 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..

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