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Tequila ShotMay 14, 2013 – Minneapolis, MN

A couple of weeks before a team meeting scheduled for Minneapolis, my team leader called me and asked me if I could help with a very important assignment that would be right up my alley.  I was excited as I wondered what did he have in mind?  A market study?  New technology?  Ha!

No, the assignment was to put together a tequila tasting at the Mexican restaurant we would be going to for dinner one of the evenings of our meetings.  OK, so he was right, this was right up my alley!

The dinner was to be held at Barrios, a very nice Mexican restaurant in downtown Minneapolis that features small plates and hundreds of tequilas.  I the bar manager a week or so before the dinner to find out what they did have and select two for our tasting.  While difficult, I did manage to select two that covered the broad range of tequilas that are available.

The first was Herradura Anejo.  Herradura represents the tradition of tequila.  The distillery has been in operation since 1870, although is, unfortunately, no longer a family operation, having been sold to Brown Forman in 2006.  However, the old ways are still followed with this lowlands tequila.  It is aged for 25 months in oak, is 80 proof and is a wonderful example of a classic aged tequila.  During our tasting it exhibited a vanilla and oak character with a touch of agave on the finish.

The second tequila of the evening was the Milagro Barrel Select.  Milagro (Spanish for miracle) is a new comer to the tequila scene and has only been in operation since 1997.  Founded by Danny Schneweiss and Moy Guindi, the objective was to have a tequila that retained the character of Mexico.  This is a highlands tequila and was aged in oak for 35 days, although is still considered a Blanco (silver or white tequila).  It is triple distilled which helps create the smooth character and leaves a charcoal flavor on the palate.  Agave, herbal and vanilla notes on the back end round out the flavor profiles.

All in all it was an educational experience – we had an aged and new tequila, we had an old family product and one from a new upstart and we had a highlands and a lowlands tequila.  Only 138 left to go on Barrio’s menu!

Cheers!

grapefruit-jimmy-cagneyFebruary 12, 2013 – The Twilight Lounge

As reported in my last post, I was recently in Florida.  And what do I do when I come home from Florida?  I bring home a case of Indian River grapefruit, of course – doesn’t everyone?  And just what the heck do I do with a case of grapefruit?  Make cocktails, of course!

So on the first day of spring training workouts for my beloved Cleveland Indians I thought it would be appropriate to come up with something new using all that grapefruit I have (yeah, I know, the Tribe is in Arizona, but I didn’t have any cactus laying around the Lounge).  As I thought about how to use the white grapefruit I pulled out the gin and St. Germain.  A bit of orgeat seemed in order as well as the Agnostura bitters.  Wow!  It’s not often that I hit one out of the park on the first try, but today I did.

Grapefruit League

  • 1-1/2 oz London Dry gin
  • 3/4 oz St. Germain
  • 1 bar spoon orgeat
  • 1 dash bitters
  • grapefruit juice

Combine all the ingredients but the grapefruit juice in a collins glass with a couple of ice cubes and stir.  Fill the glass the rest of the way with ice and then top with grapefruit juice, stirring again.

Very well balanced with the orgeat and St. Germain sweetening the tart grapefruit juice just enough so that the grapefruit still shines through.  The gin provides a nice base with a bit more punch than vodka would and the bitters help tie it all together into a nice, refreshing package.  The perfect sipper while contemplating dreams of World Series titles for my Indians – shhh, don’t spoil the moment for me!

Cheers!

Broken Down Golf CartJanuary 30, 2013 – Orlando, FL

Late January and I found myself at a trade show in Orlando.  Orlando is as about exciting for trade shows as, well, let’s just say it wasn’t Vegas (sight of last year’s trade show).  I mean, the bars actually close!  On the flip side, I did actually get some golf in on this trip, which is always nice considering golf in January is a non starter in Wisconsin.

Sooo, late one night, as the bartenders were shutting down the hotel bar I found myself with two of my peers and staring at the green goo you see to the left.  We had just watched someone else order a Broken Down Golf Cart, and one of us (not me!) decided it would be a good idea if we had a round of them as well before calling it a night.  Being the team player I am, of course I went along for the ride.

Broken Down Golf Cart

  • 1/2 oz Amaretto
  • 1/2 oz Midori
  • dash lime juice

 

Combine the ingredients in a shaker with ice.  Strain into a shooter glass and down it in one shot.

Despite the green swamp water appearance, this actually is a decent shooter.  The melon of the Midori plays well with the almond of the Amaretto.  It has a good beat and I can dance to it, so I’d give it an 8.

Cheers!

 

Honey Boo Boo MartiniNovember 20, 2012 – Wisconsin Dells, WI

….and I don’t feel fine!

I had remained blissfully unaware of the existence of that overweight and underbrained miscreant knows as Honey Boo Boo until she was brought to my attention last fall, by my boss, of all people!  Since then I’ve lamented her as a sure sign of the apocolypse and have worked hard to avoid her and her “family”.

Frankly, I had been doing a pretty good job of that avoidance…until I walked into the bar at the House of Embers in Wisconsin Dells…and was greeted by the sign at left.  Arrrrgh!  I wanted to poke my eyes out!  And no, I did not have one!  You all know my disdain for flavored vodkas – and this has two of them!  In fact, I had to order a double Bombay martini to wash the taste out of the mouth.  In fact, just writing this has brought back horrible memories that will require another Bombay martini to wash away!

Cheers!

AP BRITAIN NEW YEAR'S CELEBRATIONS I GBRThe Twilight Lounge – January 4, 2013

Happy New Year!  It was an odd New Year’s Eve / New Year’s Day for me.  First, half the family (Gwen and daughter number 1) were in London for the New Year’s Day parade, which daughter number 1 was in.  Second, I was at Disney in Florida with daughter number 2.  Sooo, no holiday party this season at the Twilight Lounge (much to the chagrin of some of our friends) and, amazingly for me, no booze, no champagne, no beer, no nothing on New Year’s Eve.  I think I was 15 the last time that happened!

Finally, yesterday we were all back together.  Tonight was movie and cocktail night.  Hmmm…a new bottle of gin from London (Brokers), a case of fresh Indian River white grapefruit from Florida.  Yeah, you know where this is going.

London Calling

  • 3 oz Brokers gin
  • 1/4 oz orgeat
  • 1 dash Agnosturo bitters
  • 1-1/2 oz St. Germain
  • fresh white grapefruit juice
  • tonic water

 

Combine the gin, orgeat, bitters and St. Germain in a mixing glass without ice.  Stir vigoursly to mix.  Pour into a collins glass filled with ice, fill to nearly the top with grapefruit juice and add a splash of tonic water.  Stir and serve.

I loved this one – and nailed it on my first attempt!  The orgeat and St. Germain compliment the grapefruit and cut its tartness just enough.  It’s not sweet, but not bitter either.   The gin gives a nice base and just a hint of juniper comes through, adding a layer of complexity that vodka would not add.

So, the next time you take a split vacation between London and Florida, you know what to have to drink!  Mind the gap and stay calm and carry on!

Cheers!

Minneapolis, MN – August 18, 2012

Recently Gwen and I found ourselves in Minneapolis for a weekend for a back to school shopping expedition to the Mall of America – but that’s another story.  The good news is that we were able to meet up with my good friend Ashish and his wife Lori for cocktails.  Ashish had picked out the Marvel Bar, and it was a winner!

The Marvel bar has a definite urban hipster vibe, from the low leather seating to the cool funk, jazz and electronica playing in the background.  On this Friday night the crowd cut across all age groups and was mostly dressed to impress.  However, the star of the show were the many craft cocktails on the menu, chock full of homemade ingredients.  Be prepared to wait as these drinks aren’t just sloshed into a shaker and then poured.  They do take some time to put together.

My favorite of the night was the Lincoln County.  Consisting of charcoal filtered Antica Formula vermouth, Campari and Cabin Still bourbon, this was an incredibly complex and amazing cocktail.  The Antica Formula is an Italian red vermouth that is deeper and richer than most sweet vermouths.  With the added charcoal flavor this was the dominant flavor, followed by the herbal bitterness of the Campari.  I was not familar with Cabin Still bourbon, but it did provide an excellent, if not economical base for the cocktail.  I thoroughly enjoyed this sipper and look forward to having it again!

All in all the Marvel bar stacked up well to its excellent press clippings and the praise the Ashish had heeped on it.  A definite must stop place when you’re in Minneapolis!

Cheers!

Lincoln, NE – August 8, 2012

Another trip to the heartland (it’s pretty easy to see why Springsteen went to Nebraska to record “Nebraska”) and another opportunity to sample what Lincoln offers – which is a lot!

I had the evening by myself.  I’d walked by Dish on my earlier visits and decided to try it out this time.  I was there on a Wednesday night, and it was fairly quiet, which suited me as I pulled up a seat at the bar.

I was greeted by Teresa behind the bar and quickly learned that she had the cocktail mixing chops to go with the excellent selection of liquor and liqueurs behind the bar.  She made me a two speciality cocktails, with a Scapa single malt whiskey sandwiched in between, and all were excellent.

The first cocktail was their riff on a Manhattan that featured orange and allspice infused Maker’s Mark, just a splash of sweet vermouth and Agnostura bitters.  I had it on the rocks and enjoyed it.  Normally, I would consider infusing Maker’s with anything to be heresay, but this worked well.  Frankly, as I shared with Teresa, it was very similar in taste to a Twilight Lounge favorite, which is just to add a dash of orange bitters to rye whiskey on the rocks.

My second drink of the evening was the very straight forward Scapa with just a single ice cube.   I could almost taste the salt spray on my lips as I sipped this for the first time.  It wasn’t as smokey as I usually like in a single malt, but it was delightfully smooth with a hint of vanilla (which would have made the perfect after dinner scotch for me this night).  

 The last cocktail effort of the night was a blend of Hendrick gin and Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur with a bit of lemon.  I nice way to finish the evening.

The off menu dinner and dessert specials that she suggested were also spot on.  The shrimp and scallps were perfectly grilled and served with jasmine rice, spinach and a pepper pesto type creation.  The portion size was just right.  Dessert was an amazing homemade vanilla ice cream on top of a pecan chocolate brownie with rasberries, black cherries and an incredible Bailey’s Irish Cream sauce.  It was awesome!

I”m looking forward to my next trip to Lincoln — Thanks Teresa!

The Twilight Lounge – August 6, 2012

Ok, so I don’t really have a golden stingray – at least not the kind with four wheels and a bowtie on the grille. But I did recently find an interesting cocktail by that name.

I’ve recently decided to slim down the number of different liqueurs that I have at the Twilight Lounge (33 or 34 at last count) and have been using up the items I’m not planning on stocking anymore. One of those items is my bottle of Galliano. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I have several other anisette flavored liqueurs, and outside of Harvey Wallbangers, I haven’t found much to do with it (ok, so there are two cocktails I made with it during my 365 day journey, the Powerhouse and the Salt Lake Special).

So, I dialed up the CoctailDB and searched under Galliano and found the Golden Stingray. As has happened before, my initial reaction was no way this tastes good, but I figured what the heck and gave it a whirl.

Golden Stingray

  • 1 oz quality bourbon
  • 3/4 oz Galliano
  • soda water

Fill a rocks glass with ice and add with the bourbon and Galliano. Top with soda water, stir and serve.

I have to confess that the recipe I found on CocktailDB did not include the soda. I added that to cut the sweetness of the Galliano and make it a more refreshing summer sipper (it has been awfully hot this summer!). The primary flavor is the sweet anisette of the Galliano, but it is tempered by the bourbon (I’ve used both Maker’s Mark and Four Roses Small Batch).

A pleasant enough drink, but not enough to get me to continue stocking Galliano at the Twilight Lounge. So if you want one, you better get here soon!

Cheers!

Madison, WI – July 12, 2012

I found myself in Madison, WI for an evening recently – and for the first time in my various travels around the midwest.  Being just 90 miles from home was different, but I still managed to hunt down a good cocktail lounge to while away my evening.  The Opus Lounge was my target for the evening.

After reading a few of the Yelp reviews and seeing the menu when I first arrived I was concerned that this would be a menu driven cocktail lounge lacking any real creativity.  Boy, was I wrong, and am I ever glad I was!

The decor is urban chic with a soundtrack to match that ranged from hip hop to acid jazz and many alternative formats in between.  As I scanned the booze behind the bar I saw what I thought were too many flavored vodkas, but then, who doesn’t have too many flavored vodkas these days?  The menu was also full of what sound like fruity, girly drinks and, my pet peeve, is called a martini menu (a martini is a cocktail, and this was a cocktail menu!).  

Fortunately, Marilyn, the bartender on duty, came to the rescue and patiently demonstrated that she and Opus have real cocktail chops.  I ended up sampling three of the menu items, the Dill Collins, an interesting riff on the classic Tom Collins which was very refreshing on a warm summer evening.  This cocktail featured Death’s Door gin over muddled cucumber, dill, lemon and a sugar cube.  Club soda and ice finish off this drink.  It was delicious – the dill was just barely there and added a nice dimension to the drink.

 
Next was the Royal Highness featuring Plantation rum, cassis, bolivar bitters, lime, Domaine de Canton and egg white among its ingredients.  Yes, I said egg white, and when a bar is mixing cocktails with egg white they get my full attention!  This drink evoked visions of tiki torches and tropical beaches for me.  There was a slight coconut flavor, which I could not figure out for the life of me since this drink had none in it.  It did have a smooth, creamy texture courtesy of the egg white and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
 
The third menu item was the Pimm’d Up Bondurant.  Only the second cocktail I’ve seen anywhere using the venerable Pimm’s No. 1 and it was delicious.  This is basically a Pimm’s sour with Domaine de Canton in it.  The ginger of the Canton played off the Pimm’s perfectly.  This sipper was served up in a cocktail glass, but would have worked equally as well in a collins glass on the rocks.
I finished the night with an off menu drink from Marilyn that featured Laphroiag scotch, ginger and lemon flavors.  Again, a homerun that has me wishing I had written down the recipe – but unfortunately, didn’t.  

Bottom line is that if you’re looking for good cocktails in Madison, look no further than Opus Lounge.

Lincoln, NE – March 14, 2012

During my last trip to Lincoln I found several nice places that made up for my disappointment with Marz.  However, hands down, the best of the bunch is the Bourbon Theater.  I can assure you the next time and every time I’m in Lincoln I’ll be stopping by to see Luke Edson!

The Bourbon Theater is an interesting venue – a music club (the night I was there featured a DJ playing house, very loudly) along with an amazingingly well stocked bar and the very talented Luke Edson behind the bar.

For openers, I enjoyed that fact that Luke spent a few minutes chatting with me to find out what I like in a drink.  After our conversation he made me his twist on a Rob Roy.   Featuring Skye scotch along with Dubonnet, orange bitters and an orange twist, this was an amazing cocktail – and better than the original Rob Roy.  This wonderful smokey scotch with the orange flavors was very cohesive and well done. 

The next drink Luke made for me was the Mont Blanc, an original of his.  Here it is.

  Mont Blanc

  • 1-1/2 oz St. Remy brandy (or better)
  • 3/4 oz Bianco vermouth
  • 1/4 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur
  • 1/4 – 1/3 oz Averna

In my notes at the time I wrote “OMG amazing!”  It’s like a boozy dessert.  Vanilla notes, a hint of cherry and an almost creamy texture.  This is, without a doubt, one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. 

By the way, if you want to make this at home (and I will be!) you will need the use Bianco vermouth, not dry vermouth.  Bianco is a sweetened white vermouth and using dry will not yeild the same result at all!

Cheers!

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