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Cocktails

20 Jun 2018
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Find what you love and let it kill you.

This quote is often attributed to Charles Bukowski, but there’s no record of him ever saying or writing it; Kinky Friedman seems to be the actual source. I am now suspicious of every popular quote these days after being burned enough times.

Actually, I like this quote a lot better with “like” rather than “love”—find what you like and let it kill you. It rings more true; how many of us really do what we like, much less what we love?

I didn’t start as a cocktail dork. I got into the food-and-drink industry for all the wrong reasons—fast money, booze, parties, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll … the same reasons all of the best bands were started. As a bartender, I was a “volume guy” for a long time: Think a holding-four-bottles-at-once, pouring-a-Long-Island-iced-tea type. However, I always wanted to make better drinks, but this was the early ’00s, and the “cocktail revolution” was in its nascent days. We didn’t know any better.

Flash forward a few years to an unremarkable bar in Boston where a guy made me my first proper Sazerac. It was a revelation. That was more than 10 years ago, and today, I have no idea if it was even that great. Nevertheless, I dragged every one of my friends there for one. That bar’s not there anymore.

Six months later, I left my job in the city to do a craft-cocktail program with the help of a couple of books. It was a failure—so I went back to the volume racket. I never lost the drive to make a better drink, though, and I haunted the local craft bars.

I paid well for my education. I asked questions like a curious toddler. Young, arrogant guys with twisty mustaches and badass ladies with sleeves of tattoos—those were the stereotypes, and they weren’t unfair. These bartenders started making drinks because they actually cared about what your drink tasted like. This was, to me, like a used-car salesman who actually wanted to get you the right car at the right price—he’s either a unicorn or a liar. Also, these bartenders didn’t seem as strung out, and as jaded, as those in the bar scene I was a part of at the time. Eventually, I jumped ship to give craft cocktails another shot and was soon neck-deep in egg whites.

The change may have saved my life. The tourism and nightclub grinds are not healthy: Working a busy season, making money hand over fist and having nothing to show for it. Feasting in the summer and fasting in the winter (kind of the opposite of here). Forgetting I liked the beach because I hadn’t been to it in years, my skin pale from nocturnal living. Jostling a co-worker because we have another double-shift in four hours, and he needs to call it a night. Having a friend slap me lovingly in the face for the same reason. There were many nights when there was no one to do that, and I found myself pulling a shot of vodka out of a bottle from the freezer before I headed to the train so I didn’t run out of steam. I remember one particularly tough stretch; I still have friendships that haven’t totally mended over the consequences.

This is not a mea culpa, although maybe it should be; I want to emphasize how normal it all seemed at the time. When you see your co-worker arrive as bleary-eyed as you, Gatorade in hand, a cigarette hanging off his chapped lips, you feel better about yourself. God forbid he’s chipper. There was always another co-worker we would talk about who was “needing to slow it down” as we found the nearby bar that was open for 10 a.m. screwdrivers. We had a 14-hour shift to get right, after all.

When you get out of work at 3 a.m. (or later), it’s easy to lose all track of human life. If you have service-industry friends still awake then, you gather in the kitchen of someone’s apartment and pass the bottle of Jameson. For some reason, it’s almost always Jameson—not just in Boston, and I’ve worked all over. When the first birds chirp before dawn, you can almost hear them saying “looo-ser.” We call them the “loser birds.” They love to remind us that the sun is about to rise, and healthy people will be soon putting on running shoes for a morning jog. Everyone is in bed except for bartenders and drug addicts—and those are certainly not mutually exclusive. I have known people who used cocaine like coffee and cigarettes, never really high and never really sober. Weed, Valium, Xanax, Adderall, Ritalin, caffeine, cocaine, obviously alcohol—these were and are tools in the coping tool box for many in the business. That goes from the back of the house right up to the host.

Then there were the opioids. During season, it was common to lose a couple of staff members to rehab. Sometimes, you saw it coming; sometimes, you didn’t.

In some ways, the craft life is better … but it’s not like it is a health retreat or anything. So why would anyone put himself or herself through this lifestyle? The service industry is where your demons are always just at arm’s reach. I have tried over the years to justify it to my loved ones, as well as myself, and end up running in circles. Would it help if I said that some of my best friends in the world, people who would do anything for me, I met behind the bar? Would Stan or Janice in the cubicle next to me help me move? Maybe the idea of a 9-to-5 life is terrifying. Maybe I love the stage. Put a bar in front of me, and I’ll comfortably tell a joke to the pope, but when I go out into the real world, I have a hat pulled low and earbuds in to avoid small talk. Maybe it’s that I enjoy being surrounded by other lunatics, howling, ever so quietly, at the moon on a Monday, while the rest of the world sleeps. I guess the answer is I like it, even when it tries to kill me. Thankfully, my routine is much healthier than it was all those years ago. That’s not to say I never still stay up for the “loser birds” on occasion.

All of this is on my mind because of the loss Anthony Bourdain, a service-industry champion who truly seemed to love—not like—what he did. I have had so many emotional moments with chefs, servers, bartenders and guests since his suicide that I just couldn’t do the article on Negronis I had planned.

Chef: From one restaurant lifer to another, thank you for everything. To everyone else reading this: If things are getting dark, don’t let us lose you, too.

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

25 May 2018
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Sometimes, when you feel like you may have run out of inspiration, you have to go back to the beginning.

Allow me to explain myself.

I sometimes wonder how much of a cocktail scene there is left to cover in the Coachella Valley. Most of my “research trips” land me in yet another Moscow mule or margarita joint—one after another. Don’t get me wrong; these can be fine drinks when properly executed. In fact, these are perfectly sane choices for many establishments, whose clientele or menus warrant keeping things simple and refreshing … but as far as I am concerned, I don’t think anyone wants to read the musings of a Moscow mule correspondent.

After more than a few of these outings this month, I was feeling a little uninspired. (By the way: Shoot me a line if there is a bartender/program you think I should spotlight, especially if it’s in the valley outside of Palm Springs.) Then I remembered that there was a glaring hole in my coverage.

I have never truly written about Seymour’s, located inside Mr. Lyons at 233 E. Palm Canyon Drive. Yeah, I mentioned that I worked there, and shared a recipe or two, but I never really wrote about it; some sort of journalistic integrity prevented me from self-promoting columns. It’s only now, after at least six months of being back in Palm Springs, that it dawned on me that I never gave one of the top cocktail bars in Palm Springs its due. Now that I work elsewhere, I can finally do so.

In case you have ever wondered how this vodka-bashing Boston curmudgeon began terrorizing your local bar scene … let’s just say I was here on vacation from the San Diego suburbs, and yadda yadda yadda, I got offered a job as the first bartender at Seymour’s (following co-owner Steen Bojsen-Möller). The rest is history. The two of us rocked it behind the stick for a few months, trying to get people to walk into a steakhouse and go through the heavy velvet curtain to find us. Then Zane Tessay joined the team, and the three of us put up with caravans of people walking through and rubbing their hands on everything, saying, ‘Ooh, great space!’ … and not buying a darn drink. Let me tell you: Building a bar clientele in a place without a sign or an address ain’t easy. But we did it. It took lots of pretzels.

The reality is that a bar is more than drinks, and Seymour’s is a perfect example. It has a great back bar, a two-way mirror that hides a TV (campy ’80s movies and commercials are regular features), a spectacular patio setup and a hip playlist; Seymour’s could serve only vodka-sodas, and I would show up. The drinks are really tasty, though, with a wide range of both classics and originals.

The Little Owl—Steen’s mix of rye whiskey, walnut liqueur, amaro and IPA syrup (take IPA and boil it down; then add sugar; and … actually, don’t do it; it’ll stink up your house)—is a bartender’s after-work favorite. “Zane’s Avocado Drink” (it will never have another name to me) is a creamy, spa-ready mix of gin, mint, lime and, yes, avocado. Avocado isn’t your thing? Try the Ocotillo Blossom, a mix of bourbon, bell pepper and egg white. Steen’s Desert Yardarm (vodka, yellow chartreuse, basil, lemon and soda) and Chamo Car (chamomile-infused brandy, lemon and black-pepper honey) are guest favorites as well.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “Gin N Jams,” the Wednesday night tradition with discounted gin drinks and rockin’ old vinyl on a classic turntable. Feel free to bring a record or three from your own collection.

Speaking of former co-workers and beautiful bars, there is now, finally, Paul. I had the pleasure of working with proprietor Paul O’Halloran at Mr. Lyons during my tenure at Seymour’s. On our nights behind the bar together, it was a rare combination of New York and Boston—one part Broadway, one part Fenway. I have known for some time that he and his husband (also named Paul) were opening a bar (with food!) of their own at the corner of Vista Chino and Gene Autry Trail—so it goes without saying that I have been waiting to see this place open.

I am thrilled with the results. This place has personality. The original back bar looks straight out of a movie; the fact that it was previously sitting unloved in an empty place is a sin. The walls are a tasteful dark hue, and there are subtle faux-Chinese touches appropriate to the address.

Despite Paul’s background, this ain’t no “craft cocktail” bar. Yes, the cocktails are certainly crafted, but don’t look for a list of drinks with clever names and occult ingredients. Come here for a properly made dry martini—like the one I had on my first visit, with the lavender-forward Dorothy Parker gin. This, of course, led to my quoting her famous quatrain regarding martinis … which after a little digging, I learned that she likely never wrote—but she did at least inspire it.

Drink anything you want here—as long as it’s a proper drink. Want a margarita to go with the guacamole and chips? De nada. A negroni with your homemade meatballs? Prego. Have a Manhattan with your steak frites, or Cosmopolitans to live out your Carrie Bradshaw moments. While I am sure a Last Word cocktail wouldn’t be a problem, please don’t ask for muddled lychee and cilantro.

When I asked Paul if he had anything he wanted to say, he thought for a second and said: “No more than two checks.” Bravo.

The sign outside just says “Bar/Food,” and the place is wedged between a carneceria and what appears to be some sort of cannabis operation. Paul may look like it’s closed. It’s not. Bring a photo of your pooch for the nascent “Wall of Dogs.” I realize this just sounded like something Stefon would tout on Saturday Night Live. Trust me, it’s a real place.

Forgive me if this whole piece seems like a cheap endorsement of my friends—but if you haven’t been to either of these places, you really should go check them out. I would gladly drink a Moscow mule in either bar. That’s high praise.

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

27 Apr 2018
by  - 

It’s been high season around the Coachella Valley, so the last few months have left me with little energy to explore cocktail programs in the area. I did manage to squeeze in a brief trip to San Diego, where I checked in at an old favorite and a new one: Polite Provisions in North Park, and the Sycamore Den in Normal Heights, respectively. Be sure to add those to your San Diego list.

Since I don’t have a lot of local imbibing to discuss, I’ll tackle one of the most frequent topics people ask me about—the setup of home cocktail bars. I know from experience how daunting and expensive it can be to try to replicate the cocktail-bar experience at home, so I put some serious thought into how to make drinks like a pro at home … without breaking the bank.

My wheelhouse is classic and modern-classic cocktails, so while I might down the road give advice on setting up, say, a tiki bar, I will call in some experts for that one. That being said, even if you are a tiki enthusiast, I recommend starting with a classic cocktail setup first. If you can’t balance a drink with four ingredients, I have little hope you can do so with seven or more!

Also … forgive me for not covering tequila and mezcal this time around; that is another can of worms (no pun intended) I will save for another time.

The first purchase I suggest might be surprising to some, but hear me out: Invest in some nice glassware. I am not saying you need to run around to estate sales and thrift stores or anything, but what you put your drinks into is nearly as important as what you put into your drinks. This isn’t just Instagram culture talking here; if you don’t appreciate proper glassware, you need to ask yourself whether you’re a cocktail lover, or simply a drunk. (No judgment here, though.)

There is a proper glass for every drink—sometimes more than one: Nice, double old-fashioned buckets, Collins glasses for highballs and such, classic stemmed coupes for daisies and sours, the “martini glass” (everyone’s favorite), and some Nick and Nora glasses for extra credit would be an excellent start. If you decide to hit thrift shops and don’t care about matching sets, you can do this on the cheap. Some smaller liquor stores will sell branded glasses that came in unsold gift packs rather cheaply. I’m unsure of the ethicality of this, but some of that stuff is pretty nice, and you can walk away with them at a couple of bucks each.

Next, you’ll need some equipment—and if you don’t have a well-stocked shop nearby, you might need to go online. While this isn’t a paid endorsement (I wish!), I generally use Cocktail Kingdom (cocktailkingdom.com) for my stuff. You’ll want a couple of sets of shaker tins—Japanese-made tins are used by most craft people I know. Thinking about purchasing some very mid-century-modern-looking three-piece jobs? Those aren’t very functional. If you want to procure some and have the cash to burn, go ahead; just leave them as decoration.

You will want to get a couple of nice jiggers, though. I recommend 2-ounce and 3/4-ounce Japanese-style (tall conical) ones, although Leopolds look cool and generally have all the quarter-ounce steps on the 2-ounce jigger if you don’t want to buy two. I find the Japanese ones more precise in my experience, though. Remember, 2 ounces is all the way to the edge—no cheating! Be sure to invest in quality Hawthorne strainers and a nice weighted spoon for stirring; you’ll thank me later. Feel free to skip the julep strainers; I never use them, to be honest. A fine strainer for sours and other shaken cocktails is a must-have for cocktail-bar-quality drinks.

Lastly, equipment-wise, you can use Pyrex lab beakers as cocktail pitchers. They are cheap online and look nerdy-chic. This also prevents lost friendships that result from the breaking or theft of faceted crystal pitchers; trust me, at least one of those two things will happen at some point. If you have that kind of scratch, though, they look incredible.

Consider one more set of tools, depending on your level of commitment: An ice pick lets you raise your ice game by chiseling block ice into glorious, clear, glassy magic. A Lewis bag and mallet will let you smash ice into powder, but that’s really a personal choice, as crushed ice is fun, but rarely called for in classics.

I nearly forgot the juicer! Unless you want to use store-bought juice—and you don’t—get yourself a hinged hand juicer for lemons and limes, and something no-frills for grapefruits and oranges. This will open up a world of delicious daiquiris, sours and other citrusy delights. You can squeeze to order at home—and that’s a luxury we don’t have at a busy bar. You likely already have a usable peeler.

So … why all of this before discussing spirits? Aren’t great spirits the key to great cocktails? Well … not really. Good spirits help, but there is rarely a reason to go over $30 on a base spirit (London dry gin, bourbon, cognac, rye, etc.). Pick up one each of those, and if you must, vodka. That will get the ball rolling. Save money in the budget for good “sweet” and “dry” vermouth, and for Pete’s sake, refrigerate when not using. Triple sec, curaçao and bitters are next in importance; get good ones (Combier/Cointreau, Grand Marnier/Pierre Ferrand, Campari/Gran Classico are respective examples of quality ones). You’ll need Angostura bitters as well, and might want orange and Peychaud’s too.

Now we can make some serious drinks—negronis and all the variations; old fashioneds; martinis and manhattans; sidecars; daisies; and sours, just to name a few.

Soon, though, you or your friends will start wanting Last Words, or Paper Planes, maybe Corpse Revivers or even Mezcal Corpse Revivers (perish the thought), and you will need to start stocking the various amari, cordials and fortified wines. One by one, you can add Aperol, Averna, Fernet, the Chartreuse green and yellow, Lillet and Suze, and …

Wait. This was supposed to be “how to set up a home bar on the cheap.” While you can make a ton of cocktails quite well at home after a basic investment in equipment and supplies, chances are you will catch the bug and end up dropping a ton of money on this project as you go—which is not the worst way to spend disposable income if you have the passion.

Of course, if this seems daunting, you can always come and see me. A $12 cocktail sounds a little more reasonable now, no?

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

23 Mar 2018
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It was during a steady shift at the bar not long ago when a guest and I engaged in cocktail talk. She gushed over the Vesper. I compared it to the sitcom The Big Bang Theory—as in it’s super-popular but I personally think it sucks. Nothing against Lillet, but why on Earth would you adulterate perfectly good gin with that boring monster known as vodka? Just order a martini.

Her response was so hilarious I almost dropped my shaker: “Well, you know that you have the French 75 on the menu wrong. It’s a cognac drink!”

Now, the bar team who put the menu together and I know a thing or two about cocktail history, but I restrained myself. As perhaps the last crusader for putting cognac in a Sazerac, I told her this would be a great chance for me to challenge my preconceived notions and do actual research.

As with all crises of the soul, when I first feel my confidence rattled, I turn to God … and when it comes to cocktail history, that would be David Wondrich. Paraphrasing from his article for Liquor.com, the French 75 was basically a name given to a combination of Champagne, lemon, sugar and either gin or cognac that has been popular ever since there’s been Champagne, lemon, sugar and either gin or cognac. But he also states specifically that Charles Dickens enjoyed a combination of Old Tom gin, champagne, lemon and sugar—in my beloved Boston, of all places. This makes gin the frontrunner, in my opinion, as this was well before the Great War and the artillery gun.

Next, I turned to the venerable Savoy Cocktail Book, which I have on my phone, thank you very much, where it is listed as a gin cocktail. Further research: An article for Mental Floss by Clair McLafferty revealed that the drink was first mentioned in 1919 in Harry MacElhone’s Harry’s ABCs of Mixing Cocktails, where the cocktail was listed as the result of a substitution of champagne for soda in a Tom Collins. Using Occam’s razor, and being a lazy “Mr. Potato Head-ing” bartender, I knew this to be the correct answer.

In other words, my friend at the bar was wrong, in that both versions of the drink have some evidence on their side; therefore, to say gin is “incorrect” is, well, incorrect.

Try the drink for yourself. It’s OK with cognac. But with gin, my gosh, it’s good. It should ideally be enjoyed as a hangover remedy or as an aperitif. (That’s just my opinion, but it’s right.)

I implore you: Don’t use the Google recipe of 2 ounces of champagne, 1 ounce of gin, 1/2 ounce of lemon juice and two dashes of simple syrup—unless you want to feel like you got hit by that actual gun. Try this instead:

1 1/2 ounces of gin

1/2 ounce of lemon juice

1/2 ounce of simple syrup

Shake, pour into a coupe, and top with dry sparkling wine.

I actually prefer this drink on the rocks, but I figured someone would come for my head if I put that in the recipe. You could also roll like Charles Dickens and try it as a punch bowl—using Old Tom gin.

Since we’re on the topic … what the heck is Old Tom gin? If you are a cocktail geek, you probably think it’s an artisanal gin aged in barrels to a nice golden brown. Well that is the “fault” of Dave Wondrich. He partnered up with the distillery Ransom in the mid-00s to try to bring the style back. As near as I can tell, Old Tom is simply a Victorian style of gin that was forgotten after Prohibition and replaced by London Dry. In fact, British companies like Tanqueray and Hayman’s have started to make them again from old recipes—and they’re unaged.

According to legend, when gin, aka “Mother’s Ruin,” was an epidemic in England, you could look for a bar with a tomcat on the sign to get your fix. Also, according to legend, you could put your pence into a sort of “vending machine” built into a wall. Once the money was dropped, a bartender on the other side would pour the stuff right into your mouth through the cat’s paw, or, ahem, other anatomy.

Anyway, it’s a softer, lighter and sweeter gin. Have a Collins with it, and again, thank me later. For Pete’s sake, though, don’t use one of those barrel-aged jobs in a Collins or a gin and tonic. Use them in a Martinez or Bee’s Knees, but never in a drink with bubbles, or a dry martini.

Regardless, you should be drinking Old Tom. If it was good enough for Jerry Thomas, it’s good enough for me. Go make your bartender smile.

And Now, a Little Housekeeping

• Jerry Thomas, aka “The Professor,” was the O.G. rock-star bartender who wrote The Bon-Vivant’s Companion and wore diamonds behind the bar like a boss.

• David Wondrich wrote for Esquire about cocktail history before that was a “thing.” If you read my stuff and don’t own a copy of Imbibe, please remedy that immediately.

• The Vesper was invented by Ian Fleming’s character James Bond in the book Casino Royale. Yes, 007 is awesome, but the drink is no martini.

• A Tom Collins is what you should be drinking by the pool if you don’t want a daiquiri:

1 1/2 ounces of gin (unaged Old Tom or London dry)

1 ounce of fresh lemon juice

3/4 ounce of 1:1 simple syrup

Soda and ice; tall glass, please!

• Use the aged Old Tom in a Bee’s Knees instead:

2 ounces of aged Old Tom; Ransom is a good one

1 ounce of fresh lemon juice

3/4 ounce of honey syrup

• Honey syrup is either equal parts honey and water, or two parts honey to one part water, depending on whom you ask. Oh, and 1:1 simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water (usually by volume).

• A “Mr. Potato Head drink” is, in common parlance, when you substitute an ingredient or two in a popular drink, while keeping the proportions the same. So, for example, if you take off the cowboy hat (bourbon) and put on a sombrero (tequila), it’s a brand new thing. Excuse the prosaic analogy. The margarita is a Mr. Potato Head, as are many other nice cocktails, so it’s not a derogatory term. Lately, mezcal has been the King Potato, but if you order a mezcal Negroni, I will give you a dirty look—but the Boulevardier, another Mr. Potato Head Negroni variation with rye or bourbon, is delicious.

So there you go. See what happens when you challenge me on cocktails? You get a rambling rant in return. I’m mostly kidding; feel free to come and throw a gauntlet down anytime. It will keep me honest. Now, go enjoy some fizzy gin drinks, everyone.

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

16 Feb 2018
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Bailiff: All rise, for the Honorable Lance Mojito.

Judge: The People vs. Vermouth: Ms. Vermouth, you have been accused of ruining martinis in the state of California, as well as all over the world. What say you?

Defense attorney: Your honor, the defendant pleads “not guilty.”

Gasps from the crowd.

Judge: Very well. You may begin your opening statements.

Prosecutor: Your honor, and ladies and gentlemen of the jury: The defendant looks innocent enough in her pretty green bottle. She even has a fancy European name, and a noble pedigree. Why, then, has she spent so many years destroying perfectly good martinis?! Here in the United States, we know that her place is to be merely pointed at the glass, and perhaps waved over the noble clear spirits within. So I ask all of you: Will you allow this corrupted wine to continue to worm its way into the vodka and gin of decent Americans?!

Judge: The defense may counter, but I will warn you: We won’t tolerate a media circus like the one we had during The People vs. Orange Juice.

Defense attorney: Understood, your honor. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what you see before you is not a monster. In fact, I would argue that she’s delicate wine, and needs to be treated delicately. Sure, you could argue she’s been fortified with brandy, but that’s no reason to think of her as a hardened criminal! I intend to show that vermouth is merely a victim of mistreatment and slander.

Murmuring in the crowd.

Judge: Order, order in the court! Would the prosecution like to call a witness to the stand at this time?

Prosecutor: I would, your honor. I call Mr. Tito Goose to the stand.

Bailiff: Do you swear, yadda yadda yadda?

Tito Goose: I do.

Prosecutor: You claim to be the victim of shoddily made martinis, costing you lost money and ruined experiences, do you not?

Tito Goose: Yeah. Half of the time, when I order a martini, it comes out tasting funny. That’s when I start to suspect vermouth was involved, and sure enough, every time.

Prosecutor: Do you see the culprit in the courtroom?

Tito Goose: Yes, it’s that green bottle with the screw top and the white label.

Prosecutor: Let the record show the witness pointed at the defendant. No further questions, your honor.

Judge: Does the defense wish to cross-examine?

Defense attorney: I do, your honor. Mr. Goose, how do you order your martinis?

Tito Goose: (Brand name vodka) martini, dry, blue cheese olives, generally.

Defense attorney: So you will put moldy cheese into your vodka, but you have a problem with vermouth?!

Prosecutor: Objection, your honor!

Judge: Sustained. The witness’s personal tastes are not on trial here.

Defense attorney: OK, well, sir, are you aware that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a martini as “a cocktail made of gin and dry vermouth?”

Prosecutor: Objection! The vodka martini has been long established and far outsells the gin martini! Also, the dictionary isn’t known for its cocktail information.

Defense attorney: Your honor, I am merely trying to establish the semantic confusion that leads to my client’s mistreatment.

Judge: I’ll allow it, but tread carefully.

Defense attorney: Were you aware that the “dry martini” is a specific cocktail containing 1/2 an ounce of vermouth, to 2 1/2 ounces of gin?

Tito Goose: That can’t be right. That doesn’t sound dry at all.

Defense attorney: Well, it’s certainly dry compared to the original martini, which contained a full ounce of vermouth.

Shouting from crowd.

Judge: Order! Order in the court! Where does the defense get its proof of that?

Defense attorney holds up a copy of Imbibe! by David Wondrich.

Defense attorney: Right here, your honor, and in many other tomes of bartending lore, which if the witness had bothered to peruse …

Prosecutor: Objection! The witness is not an industry professional and cannot be expected to read nerdy manuals on drink history!

Judge: Sustained.

Defense attorney: No further questions, your honor. The defense calls to the stand Mr. Will Shaker. Mr. Shaker, what is your profession?

Will Shaker: I tend bar.

Defense attorney: How long have you tended bar?

Will Shaker: For several years now.

Defense attorney: So you’re a pretty good bartender by now, I would imagine.

Will Shaker: Yes, sir, I like to think so.

Defense attorney: Well, then, where do you store the defendant at your establishment?

Will Shaker: We keep our vermouth in the well for easy access, like most bars. Some keep it on a shelf.

Defense attorney: On a hot, dusty shelf, with the common spirits?! Or in a well?! Tell me you at least put the vermouth in the reach-in cooler at the end of service.

Will Shaker: I’m supposed to refrigerate vermouth? My bar manager never told me that.

Defense attorney: Vermouth is a wine—fortified with alcohol, yes, but still a wine. It will spoil and oxidize over time. When was the last time you tasted your vermouth for freshness?

Will Shaker: I never thought to taste it, honestly.

Defense attorney: There you have it, ladies and gentlemen—gross mistreatment of the defendant!

Will Shaker: Well, I didn’t know!

Defense attorney: It’s not your fault alone; my client is mistreated in nearly every bar in the country, it seems. How do you make a dry martini?

Will Shaker: Well, I pour a little vermouth in the shaker, then a lot of vodka, and then I shake and strain it. I add olives or a twist of lemon, or an onion for a Gibson.

Defense attorney: Are you aware that shaking a drink adds air, making it effervescent? The ingredients in vermouth, which often include citrus peel, coriander, marjoram and many other herbs and spices, then taste more bitter and astringent—and just, well, off. Really one shouldn’t shake vermouth at all.

Will Shaker: But my guests like their drinks “extra cold,” and the only way to get them that way is shaking them!

Defense attorney: Yes, well, have you ever thought of asking the guest if they even want vermouth in their vodka? Asking specific questions can avoid situations like the ones that have left my client in her current predicament.

Will Shaker: They sometimes say “just a little,” so I rinse the shaker with it and dump it.

Defense attorney: Well, next time, try rinsing the serving glass, to avoid aeration. Might I also advise recommending to guests who don’t care for vermouth to simply order “vodka, up, olives,” but only if they can do so respectfully and not like a jerk? No further questions, your honor.

Prosecutor: The prosecution calls Mr. Spike Easy to the stand. Mr. Easy, you refrigerate your vermouth, no?

Spike Easy: We refrigerate our whole selection of craft vermouths, the defendant and all of her cousins.

Prosecutor: How do you make a martini?

Spike Easy twists his mustache and grins.

Spike Easy: With two parts gin to one part vermouth, and a dash of orange bitters. Lately, I have been using equal amounts of gin and vermouth, with some housemade decanter bitters.

Prosecutor: Well, how do you make a vodka martini?

Spike Easy: Vodka martinis weren’t popular until the James Bond movies and their sponsorship with Smirnoff. We would never serve vodka in our bar.

Defense attorney: Objection! This is defamation of my client by association with hipsters!

Judge: Sustained.

Defense attorney: Your honor, I request a recess to bring experts to the stand to give vermouth a better name.

Judge: Recess granted.

Until court reconvenes, please try a few of these recipes to find out whether your favorite martini is really your favorite martini.


“ORIGINAL RECIPE” MARTINI

2 ounces of London dry gin

1 ounce of dry (French) vermouth

Dash of orange bitters

Stir, serve up; lemon twist, pickled hazelnut optional


DRY MARTINI

2 1/2 ounces of London dry gin

1/2 ounce of dry vermouth

Stir, up, with olive or twist; add a cocktail onion for a “Gibson”


50/50 MARTINI

1 1/2 ounces each of dry vermouth and gin

Dash of orange bitters (optional)

(Feel free to switch dry vermouth for Lillet or Kina or Italian vermouth—or any other fortified wine)

Stir, up, twist

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The author confesses to being like Will Shaker for many years, and tries hard to not be too much like Spike Easy.

30 Jan 2018
by  - 

Sometimes, I go looking for innovative cocktails; sometimes, I go looking for good happy hours.

I’ve done a little of both recently.

After a long afternoon of exploring the East Valley, and my first trip to the Salton Sea, I needed a little food and drink to resuscitate my sun-worn state. I remembered hearing about the happy hour at The Nest, and made a beeline for Indian Wells. I caught them on a slow day, which was fine by me.

I started with a solid, old-school old fashioned, and a tall glass of water. (Hey, it was a long day out in the desert.) I chatted with the staff, and when the bartender found out I was a craft-bar guy, he busted my chops a bit, saying The Nest is too busy for any of that craft stuff. While one should always aim for a balanced drink no matter how busy you get, I agreed that going all the way into a full craft program isn’t always worth it. On the bartender’s recommendation, I filled up on some Adriatic sausages with house-made pita, which were very tasty (and only $8 during happy hour!).

Then I saw him pull out a bottle of slivovitz … and I thought: Here we go!

I love to work with all manners of fruit brandy, and apple brandy has been a particular favorite as of late. Well, this is nothing like those elegant spirits on our back bar: It’s a harsh kick to the palate, made all over Eastern Europe and the Balkans, usually from plums. If you’ve had grappa, you might get the idea; it generally tastes as much like a plum as grappa tastes like a grape (although some versions are fruitier). I often drink a Bulgarian cousin to this spirit, called rakia. These Balkan brandies are rough at first … and at second, and at third. But with some practice, they go great with a plate of sausage or stuffed grape leaves, or frankly, whatever, because you’re tipsy anyway by then. I showed a little restraint and stopped after one (OK, maybe two), and it was a nice little evening. I won’t be featuring any slivovitz cocktails anytime soon, however.

An evening of exploring El Paseo found me at Sullivan’s Steakhouse, and it was a Thursday, so I was happy to hear it was happy hour all night. I wasn’t even in a cocktail mood, but for $7, how could I resist?

I started with a barrel-aged Vieux Carre. A quick aside: I loathe barrel aging cocktails. They usually taste oxidized, flabby or muddy to me. Maybe people overdo the aging; maybe it’s a crime against nature, and the gods punish it accordingly. What made me give it a go this time was that there were no barrels, but small bottles with oak staves immersed inside instead. I figured this was a good way to keep an eye on the process, at least. My first sip was, “Uh oh, here we go again,” but then I realized the drink wasn’t fully diluted yet (a problem with using a large ice cube). After some patient stirring, I gave it a second sip, and it was pretty good. It had an unusual, almost-spicy flavor that wasn’t off-putting and actually kind of intriguing. I ordered oysters Rockefeller to complete the New Orleans pairing. I still prefer to see my drink made to order, but this time, the cocktail gods were clement.

Next I tried “The Ice and the Rye,” a mix of rye, Cointreau, mint, berry preserves and lemon. I was wondering how this was going to work out; having used preserves in drinks, I know how hard it is to get a consistent measurement for balance. Man … this was almost there. The flavor was nice, but the jam and Cointreau overpowered the lemon and rye a bit. As the large cube melted, it got better, and by the end, I was enjoying it. I definitely would like less sweetener next time, though.

I had a great time joking around with the staff and stuffing my face, and I really appreciated it more when I stopped into Mastro’s Steakhouse down the road … where the drinks were almost all $20 or more. While the drink I had, the Scotsman—a mix of Islay scotch, Aperol, basil and grapefruit juice—was much better than the last $20 drink I had in the valley, it was a shame I couldn’t afford to try another.

To end things, I violated my usual rule about avoiding a place when it first opens, and I stopped for some sushi at the much-anticipated Sandfish. (Sandwish has ties to El Paseo, as it has the same chef/owner as The Venue, so I am calling this a segue.) This is a Chad Austin (Bootlegger Tiki) cocktail program, so I had been hearing about the ambitious list for months through our Palm Springs Bartender Club meetings. (Just kidding … we don’t really have those, although it is a tightly knit scene.) Boy, is this menu ambitious—he has a milk punch on there, for gosh sakes!

If you haven’t had a milk punch, you’re not alone. A bar manager has to be a little crazy to put one on a list. They take days to make—three days for this one, specifically. I did a lightweight version once, and it sold so well, I kept running out. Basically, you take a spirit, spices, tea, fruit—or whatever else you want, really—and pour it into milk. There are recipes going back to colonial days; Ben Franklin had one, no kidding. The original purpose was to tame the harsh flavors left by ancient distilling methods … but today, they are just plain cool. This one is heavy-duty, with seven spirits, lots of fruit and some spices. After you have your ingredient mixture, you pour it into some scalded milk (although I’ve had great success with cold milk, too). Then, techniques vary, but I like to curdle the milk with citric acid. Most people use lemon juice. Then you rack it and let the curds settle. Filter it—and if those fickle gods are smiling, you will have a clear mixture with only about 10 percent loss to the curds.

But back to Sandfish’s milk punch: The first thing I noticed was the oily note of mezcal, and the herbal hit of chartreuse (yellow?), and maybe whiskey, too, with clove, anise and maybe pineapple. (I don’t want to give away any secrets accidentally, but feel pretty confident about those.) I like my milk punches shaken; it gives them a cool whey protein foam, and that didn’t happen here, but that didn’t affect the experience for me. Give it a try.

The banana, yuzu and matcha sour was tasty as well, although I might have preferred the Japanese whisky highball, also featured for only $10, to pair with my nigiri sushi. All and all, Sandfish is a nice addition to the cocktail scene.

So, whether you want cheap booze and eats or obscure cocktail techniques, get out, and get your fill. To heck with New Year’s resolutions …

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