Category - blogging

1
It Be International Talk Like A Pirate Day, 2014!
2
James Bond (and NPR) Had it Wrong With the Martinis
3
Book Review: The Bar Book, by Jeffrey Morganthaler
4
SideBlog: The Six Most Influential Drink Orders of All Time

It Be International Talk Like A Pirate Day, 2014!

Via Pop Art
Avast there, ye swabs and lubbers alike! It be impart’nt to remember that terday be International Talk Like a Pirate Day! It be silly. It be fun. It be a day fer drinkin’ lots o’ rum!

Leave yer gin and yer whiskies ashore today, Mateys, the vodka and tequilarrr as well. Today’s imbibin’ must be rum… or the lash!

"Or you can have rum and the lash—Whichever floats your boat...."

“Or you can have rum and the lash—Whichever floats your boat….”

Now, ye can be swilling yer rum w’ all manner o’ side parties. Cap’n Morgan, who be workin’ harder each year to board the good ship ITLAPD, this year wants ye to be drinkin’ Cap’n and Colarrr!

Of course, yer true sea dog, by the end o’ the festivities at least, when the wenches be all auctioned off, the port burnt to cinders, and the loot buried, will just swill his rum straight. But make sure it be the good stuff, or the crew will keelhaul ye!

"And don't drink too much, because I'm not swabbing the deck in the aftermath!"

“And don’t drink too much, because I’m not swabbing the deck in the aftermath!”

But whatever manner o’ concoction ye put together wi’ yer rum tonight, be sure there be plenty o’ lime in it! Limes go great wi’ rum. And you don’t want to be getting scurvy!
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Belay that, ye scurvy knave! Wi’ pirates, it be always scurvy!

James Bond (and NPR) Had it Wrong With the Martinis

"That's not an olive, 007!And do leave off shaking your Martinis, will you?"

“That’s not an olive, 007!
And do leave off shaking your Martinis, will you?”

The NPR interview I’m referencing here is “old”, in both internet and news parlance. But I just saw it, and shallow science and bad science reporting need a vigorous slapping around whenever it is encountered, no matter how playfully it is presented. The interview in question is with a Dr. Andrea Sella of University College London, who was promoting the fact that he and others had spent someone’s good money on a “scientific” study of shaken versus stirred Martinis. Actually, he’s talking about two studies. One, which isn’t his, is about health differences, and his, which is about taste. The resulting claims, as outlined by Dr. Sella, are as follows:

  • Martinis contain anti-oxidants. When you shake your Martini, you will have slightly higher levels of anti-oxidants. Because vermouth. Anti-oxidants may arrest aging slightly by locking up hydrogen peroxide. Therefor shaken Martinis are more healthy.
  • Shaken cocktails have more water, bits of ice, and bubbles in them, which alters their mouthfeel, decreases their temperature, and increases the dilution. So shaken Martinis taste better.

I’d like to address both of these, but first I’ll embed the audio of the interview, which got a helluva lot of press attention when it first aired.

The claim that shaken Martini’s are healthier than stirred, and the underlying implied claim that both means of preparation have health benefits, is ridiculous. Look, I love Martinis, but praising them for their health benefits is like raving about the fuel mileage in your Formula One race car. Anti-oxidants may (or may not) delay aging a little bit. And there may be some slight increase in their presence in a shaken Martini. But listen to the researcher, the overall amounts of anti-oxidants in Martinis, and the difference between shaken and stirred, must both be pretty slight, or he’d want to tell you how much it is. Drinking enough Martinis to get whatever small anti-aging effect they may offer, shaken or stirred, is going to be more than offset by the liver morbidity that would set in. So if “live fast, die (apparently) young, leave a beautiful corpse” is your desired philosophy, by all means make Martinis a part of your health regimen.
For the sensible among us who like Martinis, drink them small, and drink them sparingly. If you want some anti-oxidants, eat more berries.

As for his credibility on shaken Martinis… I’m sorry, Doctor, but you need better credentials than just multiple advanced degrees in chemistry to convince me. While it is true that there is a debate about which makes a better Martini, shaken or stirred, that debate is between James Bond aficionados and actual Martini drinkers. For the record, I am assuming that we are talking about gin, and not vodka Martinis, though this is never addressed in the interview. Dr. Sella is right about the physical effects of shaking, but not about the actual resulting aesthetics. The giveaway is in the following exchange:

D(r. Andrea Sella): Well, one might expect it to taste somewhat different. Now, first of all, let me declare my interest: I’m not a huge fan of martinis per se.

(Guy) RAZ: Yeah, a lot of people hate martins.

D: Absolutely. I mean, martinis are definitely an acquired taste. But the crucial thing is that when you think about what happens between pouring something into your mouth and experiencing it in your mind, in your brain, it’s not just the sort of chemical components. There’s a lot more going on.

I’m sorry, but if you don’t like Martinis, then you are unlikely to design a test to properly measure what is a good Martini. A traditional taste test methodology, a la the Pepsi Challenge, where a random sampling of humans are given two glasses labeled A and B, takes a sip of each, and expresses a preference, is fundamentally flawed when applied to semi-universal products like soft drinks. It is doubly flawed when used for Martinis.

As Sella notes himself, Martinis are an acquired taste. Did he test only Martini drinkers, or a random selection? I’m guessing the latter. This means that a lot of people, like Guy Raz for instance, were going to experience a test between two drinks, both of which will likely taste like ass to them. The shaken one will be more diluted and muted in flavor, exactly as he predicts. Of course people, when confronted with a cocktail that is frankly pretty confrontational, are going to choose the version that is less a punch in the snoot to unprepared taste buds.

But had they given the test to habitual Martini drinkers alone, who are already accustomed to the unique, assertive medley of gin and vermouth, the results would have swung strongly in the other direction. People who actually want to drink Martinis are looking for that unctuous experience that is figuratively and literally diluted by shaking. Less objectively, the visual experience is better with a stirred Martini. The glass-like clarity of the drink, unsullied by ice flows, bubbles, or foam, is easier and more rewarding to gaze into, and more in keeping with the drink’s flavor.

Incidentally, I was initially also skeptical of the whole “shaking releases more anti-oxidants” claim itself, beyond the fact that there can’t be enough there to provide a usable health benefit, but on consideration, this makes sense. Dr. Sella states they found the anti-oxidant comes more form the vermouth than the gin. Many spirits experts will contend that it is the vermouth, not the gin, which is “bruised” by shaking, resulting in the release of a few new or altered flavors. I can easily see that along with those releases of/changes in flavor, you might also get some additional release of anti-oxidant compounds.

Regardless, if you want to learn to love Martinis, the road there is not through vigorous shaking. Learn to love the taste of gin in gentler cocktails, then try the real thing. And whatever health benefits may come from drinking alcohol, they come only from consumption in moderation, and frankly I suspect most of them come not from chemical effects on the body (for the most part) but simple mental hygiene of a life well lived.

And less you think I’m being too hard on Dr. Sella, he’s really quite the interesting and entertaining scientist and science popularizer. He also has a good sense of humor when things don’t go entirely to plan. You can see quite a bit of him on YouTube, in productions like this fascinating piece:
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Book Review: The Bar Book, by Jeffrey Morganthaler

The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique, by Jeffrey Morganthaler
Jeff Morganthaler is one of my favorite people in the cocktail industry. This isn’t surprising, since the Morganthler is among the favorite people of most everybody in this line of work. Aside from running the bar at Clyde Common, an iconic bar in one of the world’s iconic cocktail cities, he is one of the most quoted and profiled bartenders anywhere. Jeff also wrote one of the first, and still most respected, cocktail blogs out there, and while he doesn’t update it as much as he used to, many of his posts remain standard references for professional and amateur mixers years after their publication.

Now he has written his first book, and like everything else he sets his mind to, it is a true winner. The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique is a pretty unique book in a number of ways, all of them good.
I divide cocktail books into two general types: References, and Reads. References are books filled with discrete, useful ideas that you grab when you need to refresh yourself on something specific you are working on, usually recipes. Reads are books you can relax with in a comfy patio chair while you toss back a Gin Rickey on a lazy weekend afternoon. The Bar Book is that very rare cat that is both of these.

More importantly, The Bar Book manages to break new ground in its central subject matter: technique. Morganthaler assembles an exhaustive A to Z of what it takes to actually make a great drink. The first half of the book focuses on the selection, care, and handling of the for the most part non-alcoholic ingredients that make or break most great drinks. He starts with citrus and other fruits; how to purchase, handle, and juice them to get the most, best out of them. In covering carbonation and carbonated mixers, Jeff combines some interesting historical reflection on “mixers” with detailed how-tos for things like his signature ginger beer and tonic syrup. He moves on to simple syrups, examining the different types of sugar, their flavors and textures, and how they each effect a drink. How many times do you see a recipe that calls for demerara simple, or honey syrup, with no explanation for why it was chosen? Building on that is a great chapter on more advanced syrups such as the borderline molecular mixological gomme syrup, and all manner of herb and fruit concoctions.

An author could probably do a three volume set on the production of bitters and tinctures, but the chapter here gives a clear and detailed enough outline of the basics to enable anyone with the creative culinary chops to produce anything worthwhile more than enough to go on. The chapters on measuring, dairy and eggs, and ice all seem like insanely simple subjects, but mess any of them up and your product will fail.

The twenty pages on shaking and stirring are hugely entertaining and if you disagree with the slightest detail therein… you are wrong.

There is a huge and fun section on all the sort of tools and techniques where a lot of the fun in making drinks, and watching them be made, come in. Jeff’s discussion of things like muddlers, swizzles (the real kind), and especially fire as cocktail tools is going to fascinate, whether you are a newbie or an old pro.

The final chapter is fittingly on the garnish. He combines his discussion of with some evangelization for the subject of garnish. It is true that too many bartenders, even higher end pros and crafty amateurs (like me on occasion), view the garnish as an afterthought to be omitted when one can get away with it. To this, Morganthaler replies,

Although I applaud the modernist, minimal approach in the right situation, there is a time and place for everything. And when it comes to garnishing, the time is often, and the place is in your drink.

In my liver-ruiningly comprehensive experience, good garnishes make you happy, bad garnishes make you sad, and no garnish makes you bored. No one making a drink for anyone, even themselves, should be in the business of making the recipient sad or bored.

Throughout, The Bar Book is filled with beautiful photographs that are much more than just drinkporn, but essential elements of the instruction, often filling in details that would have been very hard to otherwise describe. Jeff told me and a few of Columbus’s best at a meeting of our book club that it took eight straight 12-14 hour days to do all the pictures for this book, and that time and effort shows through. Indeed, my only real complaint with the entire book was that there weren’t more pictures in a few places. And while it is in no way a recipe book, there are a bunch of recipes throughout, each one designed and placed to illustrate an ingredient or technique or concept that was just discussed. Drinking your way through The Bar Book over the course of a couple of weeks would make an excellent final exam, a test of how well you’ve absorbed the knowledge therein.

For a hundred years, no major cocktail book has given much more than a perfunctory nod to the bedrock, essential skills, tools, and techniques a person must possess to properly construct all the marvelous recipes that are being created or rediscovered in modern days. Detailed treatment of technique in the preparation of food has always been an essential part of cookbooks and culinary texts. As cocktails gain more and more respect as a culinary art, this kind of book is well past due. What took you so long, Jeff?

Current and aspiring professionals who would like to be able to work in the high craft end of the bar industry will need virtually every piece of knowledge in The Bar Book at some point in their careers. Buying it, reading it, absorbing it, and at least making a start at proficiency with many of the skills taught in it will put you head and shoulders ahead of competing applicants. And please also understand, even if your bartending aspirations are just rocking away Saturday nights behind the stick at Applebee’s while you complete your degree, there is plenty here to help in that environment as well.

And while the Bar Book is primarily aimed at working bartenders, I think it deserves prime shelf space on the shelf of any amateur mixer who aspires to make great drinks as well.

The Bar Book is currently available from Amazon for about twenty one bucks, or thirteen in Kindle format. If I were you, I’d get it in hardcover. This is a seminal cocktail work, and is going to be a standard reference for the craft and general cocktail industry for years, and probably decades to come.

SideBlog: The Six Most Influential Drink Orders of All Time

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The six most influential drink orders of all time. Numbers One and Four render the others microscopic in comparison when you examine real world consequences.
(H/T: @TeeKeeMon)

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