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Cocktails

19 Nov 2018
by  - 

All those we list cannot please every reader, naturally … anisette, kümmel, tequila, Hawai’ian okolehao—all have their enemies and champions. No, the best we can hope to do is thumb over our battered field book, our odd scrawled-upon bar chits, menus and scraps of notes from bygone days, and construct therefrom a sequence of drinks which for this reason or that, stand out in memory beyond their fellows.

—Charles H. Baker

I’ve often mentioned the influence that certain books have had on me throughout my awakening as a craft bartender and drink writer. Without them, I would still be fumbling along, trying to balance drinks by seeing how many lemon wedges and sugar packets made the perfect lemon drop.

I know I stand on the shoulders of giants—some still writing, and others long passed. I have many bartending and culinary books on my shelf, and between my second or third copy of Imbibe! and my dog-eared paperback of Kitchen Confidential is a slim hardcover of Jigger, Beaker, and Glass; Drinking Around the World by Charles H. Baker.

There are bar books, and then there is The Gentleman’s Companion, as the aforementioned book by Baker was originally known. Baker (1895-1987) wasn’t a professional bartender; he was more like one of the well-traveled cocktail nerds we get at the bar from time to time. I have heard him referred to as the original cocktail blogger, which is pretty spot-on, except it ignores that he wrote for Esquire and other publications professionally from time to time.

His modus operandi was to go to a far-flung locale, have a drink—be it at an expedition base camp or a colonial hotel or wherever—and try to re-create both the cocktail and the moment. This is a 1930s version of a blogger, discussing which Calcutta hotels are better for the epicurean, and which drinks are appropriate for what prep-school alumni gathering—a blogger who sounds variously like Sax Rohmer, an elated Frasier Crane and a wistful C. Montgomery Burns. There is a good deal of humor in his grandiloquence, however, and thankfully not as many cringy racist and chauvinistic turns of phrase as you might imagine in a book of foreign travel from 90 years ago. He is engaged with his subjects, and happily gives credit to a Tagalog-speaking bartender in Manila as quickly as a British naval commander for a good drink.

Mostly, it’s his passion for travel, cocktails and comradery that make this book such a unique read. No drink goes without some background of where it came from and who, if known, created it. Also, the drinks are pretty well-constructed for a fellow who was trying to piece drunken episodes back together. Still, I usually tweak the recipes a bit to make them more suitable to the modern palate.

If this introduction wasn’t reason enough to look into a copy for your favorite cocktail nerd’s collection, let me share with you a few interesting recipes from its pages. The parentheses are my own, and recipes are abridged for space. Many are worth a mention for the name alone.


TURF COCKTAIL NO. II

(Baker relates an outing at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay from February 1931 to preface the recipe.)

We had won all of 67 rupees on this gold-cup, 23,000-rupees race, and were feeling very horsy and turfy, and tired of the “chotapegs”—just plain Scotch and not-too-cold soda, without ice of the last few days—and were open to suggestions.

  • One jigger (1 ounces) of dry gin
  • One pony (1 ounce) French (dry) vermouth
  • 1 teaspoon of absinthe
  • 1 teaspoon of maraschino
  • Dash of orange bitters

Stir like a martini and serve in a Manhattan glass, ungarnished.


THE WAXMAN SPECIAL COCKTAIL

(Baker tried this cocktail, named after an associate editor at Cosmopolitan, in New York, then encounters it at a bar in Palm Beach, Fla., much to his surprise. I am known to make this one on request.)

  • 1 pony old tom gin
  • 1 pony Italian (sweet) vermouth
  • 1 pony decent applejack (apple brandy if you can)

Shake with finely cracked ice (I would stir); strain into a Manhattan glass; float a half-ounce of yellow chartreuse on top.


MEXICAN “FIRING SQUAD” SPECIAL

(During a visit to Mexico City in 1937, Baker and friends find themselves bored with their highbrow guides and head to the Ill-famed La Cucaracha bar.)

And finally on one occasion we broke off by ourself (sic), sought out this bar—where an aristocratic native oughtn’t to be seen!—ordered things in our own way.

  • Two jiggers of tequila
  • Juice of two limes
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of grenadine, or plain gomme syrup (use a quality, preferably homemade grenadine)
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Use a tall Collins glass with shaved ice, garnished with a flag of orange slice, pineapple, and cherry. (I recommend making this into two drinks and shaking it a bit with crushed ice.)


TIGER’S MILK NO. 1

(Baker and associates in Peking, 1931.)

Yes, we coasted in through the break in the huge breath-taking battlements of the Tartar Wall, to the station of the Water Gate. We got that strange lift under the heart all men get when they step from the world we know straight back into the heart of a city dating for thousands of years.

  • 2 1/2 jiggers old brandy
  • 1-2 teaspoons of sugar or grenadine
  • 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 1/2 cup of milk

Shake with ice and strain into a goblet. (This was a particular favorite of Baker.)


Finally, for the morning after, Baker gives up a wide range of “Pick Me Up” cocktails, a common euphemism in those glory days when it was expected for one to have a tipple in the morning to shake the demons from the night before.

ILE de FRANCE SPECIAL

The field of the great gray Morning After is one which this same civilized mankind is trying to graduate from undiluted hair of the dog that bit him, to something less regurgitative.

Build in a champagne flute:

  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sugar
  • 1/2 pony (1/2 ounce) of cognac
  • Fill with very cold champagne
  • Top with a dash or two of yellow chartreuse

Now that’s a fine drink to get you through the holiday season if you ask me! Of course, you could also opt for the “Holland’s Razor” or the classic “Prairie Oyster,” but neither Baker nor I would recommend that.

If things go awry, Baker also offers steps to relieve a bloodshot eye, restore someone from fainting, “alleviate apparent death from toxic poisonings,” and even revive a man found hanging; this advice is adjacent to tips on pairing caviar and oysters and how to store and serve claret. It makes one wonder at the type of parties we missed out on being born in these less-cavalier times.

All of this can be found in a mere 200 pages, and re-reading it is making me want to deactivate my social media and simply write about my travels again.

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..

17 Oct 2018
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This town turns on a dime. Last month, I was writing about the slowest time of the year and sipping switchel. This month, I need an ice pack for my right elbow and a brace for my knee as I look for new gray hairs in the mirror.

If I were more of a traditional beverage writer, I would offer a list of spooky cocktails for your Halloween soirée. Maybe next year. Instead, we need to talk about garnishes.

I don’t know if anything confuses my guests more than garnishes: Watching what people do with the things hanging off the side of and/or stuck in their drinks is a never-ending source of curiosity to me.

Drink garnishes were a bit of an afterthought in early cocktail history. In early American cooking and drinking, the answer to most things was nutmeg. Nutmeg was such a common touch to early punches and slings that one ancient recipe book even recommended grating your muddling stick if you ran out! One had to keep up appearances, I guess. We don’t see nutmeg often as a garnish these days, but in the craft scene, we have a soft spot for it, and you can find it behind the bar in a little cup somewhere awaiting the odd Brandy Alexander or whatnot. When it comes to drinks with nutmeg or other spices grated on top, they are there for aromatics: Their purpose is to float on top of the glass and provide a pleasant odor to the overall experience. Trust me: If I thought your drink needed a half-teaspoon of nutmeg incorporated into it, it would be in there—so please don’t stir in the grated coffee bean, nutmeg, cacao nibs or other gritty aromatics! You don’t want that texture … trust me.

Speaking of nutmeg … forgive the aside, but there is a special cocktail that deserves a little more love: the Army and Navy. I had been doing a little research on this little oddity of old-fashioned flavors, and found myself in muddy waters. I checked in with bar manager at Truss and Twine, fellow cocktail writer Dave Castillo, for an assist. He relates that it first appeared in David A. Embury’s Fine Art of Mixing Drinks circa 1948, but was “Embury’s reformulation of an earlier cocktail which called for a larger portion of gin and was described by him as ‘horrible.’”

I can tell you this reformulated mix of gin, lemon, angostura bitters and orgeat is anything but horrible. It just might be the perfect drink for a warm day or even a cool fall night in the desert, when there is just the slightest hint of autumn in the air.

Continues Castillo, “Embury’s recipe called for a lemon twist as a garnish, but we prefer a grate of nutmeg, as it plays off of the confectionary flavors of the bitters.” Having tried it both ways, I can certainly vouch for that. As with most drinks calling for something sweet and sour and boozy and bitter, these are just recommended specs:

  • 2 ounces of London dry gin
  • 1 ounce of lemon juice
  • 1/2 to 3/4 of an ounce of orgeat
  • (Aside within the aside: There are many mediocre orgeats on the market, and sweetness and complexity will vary greatly. I suggest that if you can’t make your own, then Liquid Alchemist is a nice homemade-like choice. Dave’s not parting with his recipe, but there are plenty of them online!)
  • One or two dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Shake with ice; double strain up into a coupe! Top with a grate of good ol’ nutmeg with the microplaner positioned directly across the rim of the serving glass.

If there is a garnish more revered than nutmeg, it’s mint. Unlike exotic citrus fruits and seasonal berries, which were certainly used when available, mint grew from coast to coast for months out of the year. Mint is both a garnish and an ingredient, and in a drink like the mint julep (a topic for another time)—basically a sweetened bourbon over ice—the aromatic garnish becomes an ingredient by sheer force of intensity.

Let’s be honest, though: When you hear “mint,” you are probably thinking “mojito.” Well, few drinks are as often botched as the mojito. In my early days behind the bar, I certainly was no exception. Using the back of a bar spoon to punish some wilted mint into submission, adding some granular sugar packets into the mixing glass, squeezing yesterday’s lime wedges while hoping for some brownish liquid to precipitate … the horror. The mojito deserves an article of its own; for now, refer to the Southside article from a couple of months ago (available for free at CVIndependent.com!), and substitute a nice, light-bodied Cuban style rum for the gin.

The lesson I learned from my early days of making what I now call “mint soup” is that leafy herbs are best treated lightly and with generosity. The key to a good mojito, or eastside fizz, or Planter’s punch isn’t mint incorporated into the drink; it’s the bounty of fresh, lively, green mint flooding your nose with terpenes and other aromatic molecules! In other words: Please don’t shove the mint garnish into the glass. If the drink needed more soggy mint, we would have added it! It doesn’t do any good in there, and just makes it look like you’re drinking swamp water. Obviously, this advice also goes for basil, rosemary, or anything else with a stem.

Now that the two main types of aromatic garnishes (hard spices and fresh herbs) are out of the way, let’s discuss the rest. As for the ubiquitous lime or lemon slice on the top of your glass, try the drink first. If it’s a bar that cares about your drink, the slice will be fresh and vibrant. If it’s not, maybe switch to a bottle of beer. Do not drop a nasty piece of citrus into your drink … citrus garnishes can cause foodborne illnesses! If the slice looks good, try the drink before just squeezing it in. We put it there for you to adjust the tartness to your taste, so if it calls for it, by all means, use it.

As for other garnishes, like your classic “flag” of cherry and pineapple or orange, the same warnings apply. If they look like something you might eat at home on a plate, eat them. If they look suspect, take them out and put them on a beverage napkin. The same goes for the leafy stuff if it’s overpowering or annoying—just take it out, and let us clear it away. Easy!

When it comes to garnishes, a little can go a long way, and a lot can go a long way—but at the end of the day, remember that sketchy garnishes are often the sign of a sketchy drink program. Good garnishes are a sign that the bar cares about the details. In this month of scary things, make sure to avoid the ones on your glass.

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..

14 Sep 2018
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A funny thing about the Coachella Valley: Opinions on the “slowest month” in the bar industry vary greatly depending on whom you ask. After what was a surprisingly OK summer, it seems that as of this mid-September writing, we are smack-dab in my nominee for the slowest bar month.

Now, it would be selfish of me to concoct some reason to get you into the bars and restaurants and away from whatever adventures are currently occupying your day—and selfish is not my style. So … if you are taking advantage of the somewhat cooler days to get outside and be active, or maybe just taking a break from the bars, let me throw a couple of concoctions your way to make those parched hikes, thirsty loops around the golf course and pool days a little more pleasant.

I am talking about … and don’t freak out now … vinegar-based beverages!

For those of you who are still reading and haven’t skipped to the beer or wine column, rest assured: These concoctions can certainly be improved with the alcohol of your choice. I will even suggest some pairings.

I have held off writing about shrubb until now for a few reasons, not the least of which is the shrubb fad in cocktails is long past. The other reason is that people just don’t seem to like them. Perhaps the modern American palate rejects vinegar as a flavor in beverages, or maybe it was the heavy-handed way in which bar folk tended to incorporate them into drinks (myself included).

The first time I tried one, maybe 10 years ago, an eager bartender at my favorite spot let me try her lovingly homemade rosemary and thyme version. I was equally intrigued and displeased as I worked the drink down my gullet. A few years later, I experimented with some myself, and sample bottles started piling up inside the reach-in fridges at the bar. Then, poof, it was over. RIP, shrubb fad—and good riddance.

But what exactly is a shrubb, and why should you care?

A shrubb, I have read in several places, is a corruption of the Persian word “sharâb” (or “wine”), and shares the same etymology as “syrup.” A shrubb is, in most cases, a type of syrup … that has taken a left turn into vinegar country. Traditionally, it was a method of preserving fruit in the days before refrigeration. Techniques vary, but if you have some fruit that’s about to spoil, grab a pound, and let’s get colonial:

  • 1 pound or so of the fruit of your choice (but avoid citrus because of the acidity)
  • 3/4 cup to a cup of sugar
  • 3/4 cup to a cup of vinegar (red wine, white wine or apple cider work well; I have high hopes for rice vinegar, too)

Dice the fruit; add the sugar; cover, refrigerate and leave overnight or longer to draw out the liquid. Remove the fruit and strain. Add the vinegar … and you’re done. Boil for a few seconds to make it last longer if you want, but it’s good to go.

You can use the spent fruit; it won’t taste amazing, but it will work on an English muffin or ice cream or something. Usually I use fruit that’s a bit mealy or past its prime, like the red plums in my latest batch … so I don’t bother with the spent fruit. Herbs can be added; too; I usually just toss them in with the fruit and sugar in the first step. Try unconventional things like jalepeños or cucumbers; there are lots of fun options here!

What do you do with this stuff? You force it on friends and family! I like to use about an ounce with soda water and ice, topped with mint, cilantro and even basil. I find it delicious and refreshing as a teetotaler tipple … think kombucha. You could also use it in a cocktail. Try making something margarita- or daiquiri-like and putting a little in there. It adds a unique flavor.

Pineapple shrubb is the king for cocktails, in my opinion; cut back on the vinegar for cocktail use, maybe to half, as there usually will be lime or lemon juice as well in the drink. Perhaps make a sauce with it. Experiment!

Now onto the main event: Switchel!

Switchel, yankee punch or swizzle was a colonial “sports drink” popular in New England and the Caribbean. I am assuming from the name that it was probably mixed with a thin branch, or switch, as the modern cocktails in the swizzle family are. The earliest recipe I have seen, I found on the excellent “Jas. Townsend and Sons” colonial cooking YouTube channel (yes, this is what I do with my spare time), and it comes from The Skilled Housewife, an 18th century cookbook.

  • 1/2 gallon of water
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1/4 cup of vinegar (apple cider)
  • 1 tablespoon of powdered ginger

Mix, serve chilled.

You didn’t think I was going to just leave it alone, now, did you? I did two versions—one with Vermont maple syrup, and the other with California wildflower honey instead of the molasses. I used a thumb of smashed fresh ginger in both, since I am not going for historical accuracy here. I also reduced the recipe by half. To the maple syrup version, I added:

  • One small Gala apple, diced
  • One stick of cinnamon
  • A pinch of green caraway seeds
  • Several star anise pods

Leave it overnight in the refrigerator, and transfer to a thermos after straining; place another cinnamon stick into the thermos. Go on a hike, preferably somewhere at cooler elevations. When the climb, altitude and exhaustion start to hit, take a good swig in the shade. I did just that in Idyllwild, and my hiking companion and I felt totally rejuvenated. I also think it would be amazing with apple brandy or a nice Barbados rum, even bourbon. Garnish it with some apples or lemons, thinly sliced, and serve it with a block of ice on a hot day. Yankee punch indeed.

What about the honey version? It was so tasty that it may end up on a cocktail menu or in a bottle at some point, so I have to keep some secrets!

Yeah, maybe I am a little selfish after all, but it’s slow this time of year …

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..

17 Aug 2018
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One of the most common questions I get behind the bar—after, “What’s your favorite thing to make?” (answer: money, duh)—is, ‘What is your favorite cocktail?” This seems like an innocuous-enough question, but to answer it honestly and frankly is difficult.

What defines someone’s favorite cocktail? Is it the cocktail one drinks the most often? Is ice-cold vodka with cheese-stuffed olives really anyone’s favorite cocktail, or just a “go-to” to help someone unwind after a long day? By that logic, my favorite cocktail is a boilermaker. A beer and a shot is hardly a cocktail in any modern sense of the word, however, unless you do it the way we occasionally do after work—that is, taking a slim shot-glass of bourbon, and dropping it into half a glass of pilsner. It’s a powerful way to end a shift.

That’s not what anyone wants to hear, though. I generally respond immediately by saying it’s the daiquiri, since it’s the cocktail I drink the most frequently, and certainly one of my all-time favorites.

Depending on my audience, I sometimes hear their respect for me and my bartending abilities crash to the floor like a tray of drinks. One of the customers (a lady, usually) will emphasize what they’re all thinking: “A daiquiri? Really?!”

Yes, really.

To some people, a daiquiri is something consumed from a foam cup or tacky plastic “yard” on Bourbon Street, the Vegas Strip or anywhere else it is socially acceptable to consume frozen, sweetened stock-car fuel. Others will know better, and for the rest of you … well, it’s time to enjoy one of life’s true pleasures.

Dale DeGroff resurrected the term “mixologist” to separate what he was doing from the beer-and-highball jockey down the street (but please don’t ever call me a mixologist; even DeGroff now regrets bringing the term into modern parlance). Similarly, I wish I had a simple way of letting people know that the daiquiri I consume is a far different animal than what they expect. Classic daiquiri, real daiquiri, fresh lime and sugar daiquiri—none of these seem to quite do the trick. So usually, I just use my old “Try it; if you don’t like it, I’ll drink it” routine. I rarely get to drink it.

This is a drink with a long and storied history. The conventional story—the one Bacardí rum promotes—has to do with a mining venture in Southeastern Cuba at the turn of the 20th century. A mine engineer named Jennings Cox was entertaining friends when he ran out of gin. Believing, incorrectly, that alcohol and citrus prevented malaria (and perhaps other tropical diseases), he substituted Cuban rum. Another engineer, named Pagliuchi, claimed to have come up with the name by referencing the local place name. The story continues that Admiral Lucius W. Johnson brought the drink to the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C., and it spread throughout the nation from there. The same club even has a room named after the drink. (There is another drink named after the club, but that is for another time.)

Other sources differ slightly on the naming, including Basil Woon’s When it’s Cocktail Time in Cuba, which I first learned about in an article on the Difford’s Guide website. To paraphrase, Woon states that the mine’s engineers were enjoying the new cocktail at the bar at Santiago’s Venus Hotel when Cox himself named it. Difford also references a drink called the “canchanchara,” a sort of rum punch with lemon and honey, as a possible predecessor of the daiquiri.

It seems unlikely to me that this mining engineer was the first one to combine rum, lime, sugar and ice. Aside from the “canchanchara,” a drink about which I must admit my previous ignorance, I was certainly aware of “grog.” Not to be confused with Trader Vic’s better-known Navy Grog (a heady mixture of three rums, including an over-proof rum, lime, grapefruit and allspice), grog was a mixture of diluted rum, water and lime consumed by British sailors. Admiral Edward “Old Grog” Vernon, in the mid-18th century, gave strict orders that all rum rations should be mixed with water. He did allow for sugar and lime to be added, if the sailor had the funds for such purchases. Sounds like a daiquiri, no? In fairness, some sailors were drinking rum and water, and it was still “grog” … and it’s probably fair to assume nobody had ice. It became a staple of the British Navy.

Back to the daiquiri: Cox certainly had plenty of documentation, including both witnesses and the handwritten recipe in his journal (from Bacardí by way of The Alcohol Professor website:)

  • 6 lemons
  • 6 teaspoons of sugar
  • 6 cups of Bacardí rum
  • 2 cups of mineral water
  • crushed ice

Well, it sure sounds like a party, but it doesn’t really sound like a daiquiri. Picking up on the drink where David Wondrich does in Imbibe!—at the Army and Navy Club, and then onto Hugo Ensslin, who has the drink as “The Cuban Cocktail” in his Recipes for Mixed Drinks from 1917—we get this recipe:.

  • 1 jigger of Bacardí rum
  • 2 dashes of gum syrup
  • Juice of half a lime

OK, now this sounds like a daiquiri! It’s a bit on the dry and boozy side, and the gum is unnecessary … but we’re nearly there. I also agree with Wondrich that the Bacardí rum we know in the U.S. is not best for a daiquiri; it doesn’t have enough body or funk. I am fond of saying that the only way to get two bartenders to agree on the best rum for a daiquiri is to shoot one; I, in the absence of true Cuban rum, prefer Wray and Nephew, a Jamaican over-proof white rum with lots of funk. One of those babies is sure to get your night going. Rums from Panama and Nicaragua are great daiquiri rums, too, and many swear by the rich demerara rums of South America or the agricoles of former French Colonies, or … well you get the idea.

As far as the recipe goes, the most common one is certainly:

  • 2 ounces of the rum of your choice
  • 1 ounce of fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce of simple syrup (1:1)
  • Shake, up in a coupe

I actually prefer a half-ounce of simple syrup, and I am not alone. At home, I use a teaspoon of superfine sugar, and it’s divine—a much racier drink without the polymerized simple mouth feel. This is one drink that can be made beautifully at home by nearly anyone; in fact, it may be better to make at home: Squeezing limes à la minute is much better for the finished product. Most bars can’t juice on the spot, for logistical reasons, and the super-fresh lime offers a noticeable flavor difference.

As my bar manager said when it was 115 outside with humidity creeping up into the 30s: “It’s daiquiri weather.” Sure enough.

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..

18 Jul 2018
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I recently went to check out a new bar—let’s just say it’s in a Coachella Valley town east of Palm Springs—after a guest told me he got an old fashioned there that was “OK, actually, after the big ice cube melted a bit.”

Since most bartenders still don’t seem to realize that water is an essential ingredient in a cocktail, and just hand the thing to you the second the iceberg plops into the (hopefully) sweetened and bittered whiskey, I considered this to be a pretty minor sin. The place got a nice write-up or two in other publications, so I figured I would take a chance.

I made the jaunt east on a hot and humid post-monsoon day, and needed something refreshing. The bar itself—which I am not going to name, because the problems I am about to relate could apply to so many bars in the Coachella Valley—was nice enough inside. It seemed a little clubby but had a decent-looking back bar, with nothing too obscure, but not 20 flavored vodkas, either. The World Cocktail Championships were on the TV, so I figured there was a cocktail nerd somewhere in the building. I saw a Southside on the menu and thought … perfect!

After ordering it, I looked at the reach-in behind the bar … and saw jugs of lime and lemon juice with the Sysco brand proudly facing the guests.

OK, let me stop here for a second. Lots of bars use juice from Sysco or Perricone Farms. (I’m not sure if there is a difference, but at least the latter has “farm” in the name.) This doesn’t automatically mean the drink is going to be bad, but it does mean the drink is probably not going to be great. Proper balancing can make up for a lot—but the thing is, if you’re going to charge $14 for a Southside (it’s $10 where I work, shameless plug), I expect fresh juice.

The bartender handed me the cocktail, and I thought, “Here we go again.” First, the ice: They use those little chips that most new cocktail bars eschew. OK … that’s not the end of the world. There was one anemic sprig of mint on top, dangling listlessly off the edge. I am glad it was there, because there was no discernible mint in the actual drink. All I could taste was Sysco lemon and lime juice with gin, and wondered where the sugar was. Then I found it—at the bottom of the drink, in the last saccharine mouthful. The bartender never bothered to shake it, perhaps? Also, why was there lemon and lime? Did they get the recipe from Ensslin’s Recipes for Mixed Drinks from around World War I, or just see a bunch of recipes calling for one or the other and say, “The hell with it; let’s use both!”

To be fair, I have worked for places over the years with totally different versions of the Southside. The one at my current bar, some would call a “Southside Fizz,” and it is served with gin, lime, sugar, mint and soda water over crushed ice. We top it with a healthy bouquet of fresh mint, too. Think a gin mojito, and you’re basically there. When I was at my previous bar, the Southside was more like a gin daiquiri with a mint garnish. Both are acceptable and delicious, as is the use of lemon juice and soda and basically making it a minty Collins. Experiment for yourself at home; it’s an easy one to play with. Just pick one of the dozens of recipes online with a quick search. (Side rant: Why so few bar managers seem to know about the internet in 2018 is beyond me. Sure, there are bad recipes out there, but try them out, and find a good one.) Maybe the heat is making me cranky, and I don’t mean to ride a place so hard for one poorly put-together drink, but it seems like this happens in place after place, and I can’t figure out why.

My afternoon was saved, however, because not too far away was The Pink Cabana at The Sands. Located conveniently behind The Nest in Indian Wells, this recently remodeled boutique hotel hides a beautiful bar and restaurant. Pink and mirrors are everywhere, and there is a nice femininity to it, without it being overwrought. The bartenders were enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and the back bar was well stocked with favorites of mine.

I started with a fino sherry (On tap! What would Frasier Crane think?) that was a perfect bridge to a better cocktail experience. On the bartender’s suggestion, I started with Pushing Buttons, a mix of vodka (yes, I will drink a drink with vodka on occasion), pamplemousse, Amaro Montenegro and lime that is garnished with a “buzz” or “Szechuan” button. Be careful with that button! The flower in the drink tastes like pure electricity in your mouth and makes you want something tart to ease the sensation. This was a fun one!

A ordered a little pork terrine and my next drink, a Cabana Colada. Sure, this doesn’t sound like the best pairing for pâté, but the mix of gin, lime, coconut cream and soda was a treat. I love nothing better than a four-ingredient drink with balance. Keep it simple, people.

The cocktail list was a sensible eight drinks, and I wanted to try most of them, but I had to head back to Palm Springs. The food menu has a section at the top with aperitifs, which is a clever way to steer folks through the experience; I thought that was neat as well. Heck, just give me a balanced drink and a small plate or two, and I am a happy camper.

I hope the East Valley gets more of this … and less wilted mint. I’m feeling less grumpy already.

If the heat has you feeling grumpy, cool off with a Southside of your own:

• 2 ounces of gin

• 1 ounce of fresh lime juice (or lemon instead; it’s your world)

• 3/4 ounce of simple syrup, made with equal parts sugar and water

Shake with ice; pour into Collins glass or coupe. Use crushed ice or not, soda or not. Mint is great as a garnish and even better in the drink; just don’t muddle it to death unless you like really like chlorophyll.

There are lots of ways to cool off with this one, although many bartenders will tell you how wrong your version is. Just don’t pick a fight over it in the summer; it gets hot behind the bar, and there’s nothing meaner than an overheated bartender.

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..

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..

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