The culinary world has absolutely taken over television. There are all types of competition shows — MasterChef, Top Chef, The Taste, among others. There are travel shows where people like Guy Fieri dine, drive-in, and dive, Adam Richman takes on the notable adversary food, and Anthony Bourdain takes you around the world to find things you may not have wanted in the first place. I’m leaving out all types of spinoff shows, cupcake rom-com’s, and regular shows where chefs are the most wanted.
What about bartenders — did we get left out? Is Isaac from The Love Boat the most famous bartender that will ever grace the small screen?
Several shows are trying to help bridge the gap between the culinary world and the drinking place. You may catch a blurb of happenings in the mixological world on your favorite late-Saturday night programming, LX TV (Lifestyle Television). The host on 1st Look often happens upon wondrous new drinking places that may make your palate tickle, but the main show that gets all the bartenders cheering is On The Rocks — a real, bare-knuckles, grab-your-muddler-and-tussle cocktail competition show. It actually stars REAL bartenders that you may have gotten served by in REAL life…fancy that! It’s not a show full of model props that show up, look good, then get kicked off, like many other reality shows and competitions. They’ve got a few seasons under already, so go on and catch up!
Another show that may raise your eyebrow a bit is Mixology. If there will ever be a show that brings bellies up to the bar, that’s gotta be it, right? Maybe. It’s a show in the format of the Jack Bauer-thrilling “24”, but Mixology is more like “6”, or “8” if you got lucky that night. It’s all about what happens in one night. That’s it, no “try, try again”, or “there are other fish in the sea”. You’ve got one night to see how things unfold. Yet to see how prominent the barkeeps are in this show, but it’ll be great to see how they hold court.
So saddle up, grab your popcorn, and your best homebar cocktail and turn on the TV! Or head down to your fave watering hole that has a tube and tune in there — and don’t forget to pat your bartender on the back for all the inspiration!
I poured the ingredients into the mixing glass: some Irish spirit, some herbal aperitif, couple handmade modifiers and sweeteners. Shook the cocktail like my life depended on it, and strained it into the waiting wine glass. With a shimmer on my tooth and a bead of sweat on my forehead, I offered one to the first woman, and extended another to her friend.
“Oh, no thanks, I don’t drink. I’m pure,” she explained.
I almost fell out.
Never in life had I received that response; I was unsure what exactly she meant. It was definitely funny, as her friend also started laughing, and she said with a smile, “Why does everyone always find that funny?” I replied that I’d just never received that explanation or rationale before — it’s usually a range of responses from what people don’t like or don’t prefer.
But when I finally got her to explain her point, she pointed to a history of seeing some family members, and friends, impaired by alcohol and not wanting to repeat those same steps. Many of us can often follow these “breadcrumbs” down the path of our lives to see why we are the way we are, and why we drink, or don’t drink, particular things. And to each their own — one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and if you don’t drink, there’s more for the rest of us!
However, all jokes and surplus whisky aside, the main intent should always be what keeps us the healthiest. Although, it seems that is up for debate, as this article points out. Many doctors have pointed to the antioxidant properties in red wine as offering a health benefit, but this article goes a step beyond, pointing out that a study found increased mortality rates in teetotalers, higher than both heavy and moderate drinkers. What does it mean? Does this signal a paradigm shift? Has the table turned? I’ll consider that over my two fingers of genever.
“For today’s “Daily Double”, the following pictures represent and showcase elements of _______…”
*Jeopardy theme plays*
“Let’s see…we’ve got a mixologist, holding a cup of Punch, at a picnic in a park. We’ve also got four people at a banquet-style event…it looks like they’ve been serving cocktails that evening. We’ve also got a woman with a very stylish apron on, probably from some big cocktail expo-extravaganza…And finally, a guy preparing some welcome cocktail tastes to be distributed by others. Alex, I’d have to say that these photos exhibit different aspects of VOLUNTEERING!”
*confetti falls, dancing bears and circus elephants parade around, balloons cascade*
There are many events and initiatives that professions use to contribute to the greater good, and the photo stream above show a few. The Pig & Punch picnic, facilitated by is held at various locations around the country and proceeds from the events are given to charitable causes such as the art program for a charter high school in New Orleans. A spit-roasted pig, countless gallons of Punch, and proceeds for future artsy-types? A wonderful combination!
Other organizations cater to the hungry and underserved populations. Share Our Strength strives to combat youth hunger, and towards that cause leverages the Taste of the Nation event through their No Kid Hungry campaign. Using noted chefs and bartenders in several cities helps build awareness and financial assistance for healthy eating and cooking programs, in addition to connecting kids to school breakfast and summer meals programs. Focusing on the opposite end of the spectrum, the Meals on Wheels program uses its Celebrity Chefs Ball to combat hunger and lack of accessible meals amongst seniors. Both of these events utilize the creative power of mixology, as participating bartenders construct cocktail recipes that are made for the event attendees. Using your tools of the trade for good? Kudos!
Finally, Tales of the Cocktail has become “too big to fail”. Recently celebrating their 10th annual bombast of cocktailing and mixological pursuits, it has come to represent all that is wonderful and engaging about bartending. The spread of its hospitality is felt upon the Hotel Monteleone, the French Quarter, drinking places and restaurants, and so many elements of New Orleans as a whole. That results in changing the culture and welfare of a city on a larger scale than just one banquet or fete. Further, it takes the efforts of so many people from across the world that volunteer their time, efforts, and experience — distributing cocktails, assisting with registration efforts, crowd control, event setup/management/breakdown and countless other responsibilities over the nearly weeklong event.
It definitely takes a village. And at times, the villagers have to be able to build a great cocktail to help out!
What would you do if you walked up to your favorite watering hole…and your favorite rapper was behind the bar? How would you greet him? Would you order the same thing or sample something different? Would you order something he referenced in a rhyme? Would you try to test his mettle — either asking about the new Grand Marnier Natural Cherry, throw some Cherry Heering in a cocktail, or maybe a bit of kirschwasser, neat — in a bit of a mixology battle?
Soon we’ll be able to answer these questions. #LifeIsGood
“Everything’s good, everything’s fine….yeah, pour a little cherry wine…” — Nas, “Cherrywine”, Life Is Good
I have waited a whole year to utter five words: I am back at Tales.
Writing a self-reflexive blog post about one’s Tales of the Cocktail experience is about as unique as writing a blog post on Facebook, the best mobile phone apps, or how Angry Birds has taken over — EVERYone has already done it. When you’re doing a blog, you usually want to see how you can set yours apart from others, even in discussing the same topic. It’s not unique just because you say it. As my father once told me, “The only thing unique about you is that no one else can stand in the place of your two feet at the same time.” My dad was one helluva science phenom.
What were the most unique aspects about busting my Tales cherry? For one, I was a newbie in the bartending/mixology game. I knew a little bit about a little bit, and I knew what Tales was about, but I wasn’t ready for the onslaught. Every time I retell the story, I get a big smile across my face. Remembering all the relationships I made, all the wonderful products I saw, everything I learned…priceless. All the free tastes, noses of glorious welcome cocktails, tipples of boutique craft spirits, straight swigs from high-priced bottles of booze, shots of tequila from a water gun…you just can’t put a price on stuff like this!
What does that mean for this year? I’ve used the relationships from last year to build momentum for my blog, for my burgeoning bartending exploits, and I’m very proud of that. Seeing how a trip — enabled by a free Southwest Airlines voucher and three nights each sleeping on the couch of two different friends — turned into one of the greatest springboards of my life is still amazing a year removed. I return a year wiser, a bonafide Tales veteran, looking forward to take Tales over for The Congenial Hour, [BAR]chitecture, and The Chocolate Bar. In the words of the almighty Jiggaman, “Watch me.”
The Congenial Hour strives to push the discourse in and around drinking culture. While drinks can be had at many different environments, this liquid transaction usually occurs across a bar, with one individual joining another individual to exchange libations for sufficient coin of the realm — seems pretty simple. Oh, but that’s why they play the game.
There are many aspects and layers of nuance to this transaction, but the point person — the bartender — holds all the cards. Everyone and everything is at his bidding; regular patrons, first-time visitors, cocktails, beer, wine, and all else. Nothing moves without his say-so.
What are some things that affect the “movement”? Ah ha, now we’re talking! That is the crux of discussion for this article: all the idiosyncrasies of the bartender and how you should seek to navigate them, in order to remain on his good side and ensure that your liquid transaction remains fluid. Hopefully, the different topics on this blog have prepared you: issues of what to drink, how to drink, and the environment in which you drink. These aren’t always issues that get down to the specifics of how often an establishment should slice garnishes, how digital pourers are operated, and what the sales volume was for the beverage alcohol industry last year.
A holistic cognizance of what you choose to get poured in your glass, etiquette for the ones serving you and others you come in contact with, and an awareness of the quality of operations of the establishments you choose to frequent lies at the heart of my discussions. I doubt if any of the 13 issues in the article will have you surprised or stumped; you probably knew them already!
Shoes and cocktails. A necessary combination. Appear without shoes — and possibly a matching shirt — and you get no service. Out of luck. Monsooned in the middle of nowhere.
And who would want to miss out on such service as the bartender in this video — serving up a wonderfully flexible cocktail type — the cobbler. The cobbler, like the highball, comes in many forms and is not limited to one spirit. It may come in different types of glassware, and you may also find some containing fruit and/or a wine-based spirit. But, two defining characteristics lie at the heart of this cocktail: sugar and crushed ice. Nothing like knowing you have a long path ahead of you with a couple scoops of sugar and ice that’s as easy on the eyes as….well, I’m sure you know who you’re thinking of.
I’ve come to enjoy the cobbler myself, even before I knew its name. The flexibility of fresh fruit you can add, molding the crushed or fine ice over the top of the glass — it really makes for an enjoyable cocktailing experience. You just sit back, kick your feet up, and look at your shoes in front of you. The shoes that you spent good money on, that you take TSA-type levels of security to prevent anyone or anything from getting on, that you whisper a couple sweet nothings to before returning them to your hanging shoe rack with cedar inserts, or right after you place the aluminum shoe trees that your father gave you into each one. You look at the sole — getting a bit worn, maybe from the time you spent running to the train before your job interview. And, egads — a scuff near the heel! No worries…all it takes is a trip down to see your favorite cobbler. Not the one with rye whiskey, brandy, muddled white peaches, and demerara sugar, but the one that knows exactly what your shoes need and how to get them there. Although, he’s kind of like the guy that serves you your favorite cobbler — always hospitable, offering just the right service at the right time, and gets you back on your feet in no time. Cheers, gents.
“If you are afraid of head-aches — for, as Xenophon says of another kind of Eastern tipple, ‘rack punch is kefalalgez, i.e., “headache-making” — put twice as much water as spirits. I, however, never use it that way for my own private drinking.” — Morgan ODoherty (William Maginn), “Maxims” of ODoherty”, an excerpt used in Punch by David Wondrich
“Proceeding on their way, they arrived at some villages, from which the guides signified that they might procure provisions. In these villages there was plenty of corn, and wine made from dates, and an acidulous drink obtained from them by boiling. As to the dates themselves, such as those we see in Greece were here put aside for the use of the servants; but those which were laid by for their masters, were choice fruit, remarkable for beauty and size; their color was not unlike that of amber; and some of these they dried and preserved as sweetmeats. These were a pleasant accompaniment to drink, but apt to cause headache. Here too the soldiers for the first time tasted the cabbage from the top of the palm-tree, and most of them were agreeably struck both with its external appearance and the peculiarity of its sweetness. But this also was exceedingly apt to give headache. The palm-tree, out of which the cabbage had been taken, soon withered throughout.” — Xenophon, The Anabasis, or Expedition of Cyrus
“Hey boy…you drink?”
“Yeah…some rum and some cognac sometimes…”
“You want some Hennessy? Go on and get yourself some…”
*pours Hennessy into ice-filled glass*
*pours cranberry juice into Hennessy*
“Awwww, come on…you’re killing it!”
The shortest month of the year just got a bit longer. February 29th does not come around too often, just every four years, Lord willin’. But while it marks the Leap Year, it also marks the quadrennial extension of Black History Month.
That’s good in some arenas. I can recall learning in elementary school about the work of Garrett Morgan, who invented the gas mask and traffic signal. I learned in my undergraduate studies about great thinkers like W.E.B. Du Bois & Marcus Garvey, and connect them with the work in which Dr. Cornel West & Tavis Smiley are engaged. I can reflect on the works of Julian Abele, Paul Williams, and Robert R. Taylor — African-American architects that did great work in the 19th and 20th centuries — and connect them with the work that Phil Freelon, David Adjaye, & Max Bond (deceased) are completing today on the NMAAHC. And there’s no equal to connecting the work that freedom fighters did to bring about our Black president.
In drinking culture, I’m at a bit of a loss. I have no start and no finish, no connections, no common thread, no alpha and omega. I do not know the person who invented scotch, tequila, or vodka, but I’m pretty sure they were not of African descent. I highly doubt that the person who invented the julep strainer, cobbler shaker, or cocktail glass would’ve been subject to Jim Crow laws. While there are notably historic African-American bartenders, there have just not been enough inroads made in cocktailing and drinking culture on par with other fields. Not sure what I’m searching for, but I guess it is what it is.
This doesn’t mean I have nothing to reflect upon. I reflect upon my personal experiences, like the exchange with my uncle from above, where he schooled me on enjoying spirits neat. The greatly rewarding visit I made to the local pub of my cousin that was born and lives in Somerset, England. I recall a time with a family friend I had a tasting session with — we enjoyed and compared a couple of fruit and grain wines and spirits that his uncle had moonshined. I think of the friends and colleagues I have today, that push me to succeed and further the cause of mixology. If the purpose of Black History Month is to think about how role models of the past inspire you to great things, I can’t help but think about how my family and like-family has set me upon this path. I’m forever thankful for my people.
This post was submitted as a response to the topic question, “How Do You Whiskey Friday?,” by Baratunde Thurston, author of the book, “How To Be Black.”
How do I Whisk(e)y Friday? That’s the type of question everyone should ask themselves — to recognize how “your identity affects how you start the weekend.” I’ll offer my perspective…
The number one way is to always, ALWAYS, be sure to respect the bottle, or it’ll disrespect you. Knowing how you like to drink will lead you to where, and then towards what to drink. I think that you can find out how you whisk(e)y friday at a drinking place that catches your fancy, one that you’ve always wondered what’s happening within its walls. Bernard DeVoto says that time should be spent with “two or three friends,” but Derek Brown finds interest in the lone imbiber; let’s follow that path for now.
You should spend some time asking your friendly neighborhood barkeep a couple of questions. Since you’re by yourself, the bartender is your only “friend,” but well-suited to give you a bit of info on the area, anecdotes about what you’re drinking, even bits of etiquette that will take you far in this world of handshaking and hobnobbing. While you’re sitting at the bar, take a gander at the pretty bottles in front of you — ain’t they purrty? Remember them — they’ll come in handy when you need to make a reference sometime later.
Now, that person that’s been sitting next to you, you notice them? Ask them something. Comment on something. Anything. Doesn’t matter if they like you or if they’re interested in you or if you share something in common. What matters is that you’re elbow-to-elbow at that moment in time. You’ve got a brain — use it. Tell a joke. Or a story. Ask them a question that only they can answer. Remember that shiny blue bottle you noticed earlier? The one with the Queen on it? Ask them if they’ve ever had any. Tell them you’ve got some in your glass and it’s kept you smiling, though other brands usually put a smile on your face. Offer a cheers in response. Take another sip of your cocktail and smile because you can’t wait for the next Whisk(e)y Friday. Then go home, go to sleep, wake up and attack Thursday.
Because when you feel like taking a minute to #getcongenial, you don’t wait for the weekend. The day doesn’t matter. You don’t even wait for Whisk(e)y Friday to come back around; it might be the perfect time for Gin o’Clock. To share in a moment of humanity is a characteristic that’s essentially human. We aren’t meant to suppress desires or common courtesy or humor. For what reason? Because it’s not a designated time and place? Rubbish! Take the time when you have it because you don’t know if the time will come again.
They say that “clothes make the man”. But do the emperor’s new clothes help him make the most imperial cocktail?
Women can look at a man’s shoes to see how he takes care of himself. If he has a nice little shine to his shoes, maybe he takes care to keep them in good condition, wears them only in appropriate environments, and stores them properly. Seeing a nice style of color coordination, balance of pattern, and artistic use of texture shows that a guy knows a little something about a little something — he might be able to upgrade YOU. All these little stylistic notes are good for many things, but do they enable you to choose the appropriate combinations for cocktails? You might grab the right tie, but will you grab the right bourbon?
I’ve made cocktails in a wife beater, a t-shirt, a track jacket, and a dress shirt with French cuffs & British cufflinks. I’ve been served drinks from bartenders wearing a t-shirt, a halter top, a dress shirt with sleeve garters and suspenders, and a dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves and a leather vest — and received great service from all. It might warm your heart to see a well-dressed barkeep in front of you, but if they pass you a warm drink, you might throw them outside on their newly pressed shirt. Act the part, look the part, and know the parts for your cocktails — such a congenial combination.
Every city has its own distinct identity. The City That Never Sleeps. The Big Easy. Sin City. Keep [Austin] Strange. Many cities also have distinct identities that either create or inform its drinking culture. Cities such as NYC and San Francisco, with money to blow, have transformed the world of mixology with their cocktailing ingenuity, using ingredients and techniques never before seen, and basically impracticable and unattainable. New Orleans’ “keep the party going” reputation created the “to go cup”. Seattle’s band of tree-huggers delved deep into their Pacific Northwest sustainable sensibilities to push for a local/craft/handmade cocktail aesthetic.
What can Chicago claim as the identity of its drinking culture? While contemporary barkeeps in The City With Big Shoulders use their stalwart trapezius energy to shake things up and “Be Chicago”, there’s a bit of shadiness behind the Windy City’s bar history. While Harlem is known for its “hustlin’” mentality, and gang culture stemming from Los Angeles has spread all over the country, Chicago can doubly lay claim to being a city of original gangsters willing to hustle by any means necessary. But even the bartenders, adding a splash of “knock out” in that house cocktail, then running your pockets? Now THAT’S gangsta. What else would you expect of people “from the ‘go and don’t stop”?
Bar tricks, flair, deception. All’s fair game in the wondrous world of mixology. And with many barkeeps bringing in tricks & tools of their culinary cousins, it’s gotten even crazier. The sciences have begun to take over, with “molecular mixology” associated with places that don’t have guys in white lab coats handling beakers…that is, unless you’re at Apotheke.
The strongest scientific links to bartending, the “mix” and “pour” that harken to the physics of the ingredients, are turned upon their heads with this video. Look and be wowed. Is there a scientific explanation? Is it magic?
The beginnings of public drinking in England were of a similar relationship as modern times, in that public patrons would be served by an owner of a home or establishment. But the owner during the 12th century, when alehouses are initially mentioned on public record (Clark 20), provided services in a small-scale, do-it-yourself manner, a far cry from the industrial relationships that would form in later years that are in existence in modern times, of large breweries distributing ale to the majority of drinking establishments. In these days, ale production was independent, up to the means of the alehouse-keeper, and as such, the product would vary in quality.
This is brought into perspective by the alehouse-keeper most commonly being female (Clark 21). The modern phenomenon of living and working in two different places was millennia away from these times. So while the husband may have had a job in whatever industry of the time, be it farming, hunting, commerce, etc., the wife would prepare the ale and run the home, or alehouse, herself, acting as hostess and retailer to visiting guests. The true essence of house in “public house” was established at this early time, as the place of business was truly an extension of the home. Although in this incarnation, it was not able to be truly “public”, as it was the home of the alehouse-keeper, whose services did not lean too far towards commerce.
[Research by ME — see book link for quotations]
From the early 13th century brewing and serving ale in England, women have had a notable role in the practice of bartending and mixology. Recently, through the efforts of LUPEC and the many female bartenders that have participated in “Speed Rack” bartending competitions to bring awareness to breast cancer, they’ve shown that this isn’t just a man’s world — the most congenial barkeeps have a soft touch as well.
What’s in your cocktail cabinet? Arbitrary bottles, the Ghosts of Parties Past? Treasured gifts opened once every Blue Label moon? A steady parade of cascading and rotating bottles, mostly of a mainstream variety?
Congenial greetings to those who hold to keeping wondrous offerings in their cocktail cabinet. Whether at home or on vacation, visitors abound — they must be catered to with fervor and warmth. Anyone can offer someone a bit of hooch you can pick up from any corner store. But to have a collection of offerings that make the person really take note that it’s more than just having bottles, and exudes the effort undertaken to bring them all together. Pair that with some attractive and functional glassware and cocktailing tools to make your favorite barkeep smile, and you’ll be on to something. Take care of yourself, and the ones around you. And always stay prepared for The Hour.
“With the introduction, in the 1920s, of a new social pastime — the cocktail party — a new piece of furniture was created, inspired by the 18th-century sideboard with its ice drawers and fitted decanter cabinets. Intended for storing all the accoutrements associated with the making of cocktails, the cocktail cabinet contained fitted shelves and bottle holders.
It often took the external form of a traditional writing desk, while its modern interior was frequently a flamboyant, conversation-making piece of furniture veneered with a host of exotic woods, equipped with lights, and lined with mirror glass. Far from its original intention as a piece of furniture designed for writing, the cocktail cabinet added a more frivolous and decadent note to the fashionable interior that chimed with the contemporary taste for luxury and glamour, which persisted throughout the Jazz Age and the Great Depression.” — Furniture: World Styles From Classical to Contemporary, by Judith Miller