Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | June 8, 2020

The Piña Colada

I don’t write here any more. It’s been about four years since my last post. In the interim, I’ve had a son, moved to California and moved back from California to Washington, DC. My preferential drinking has moved even further away from cocktails and towards wine. My bar socializing has tended towards neighborhood spots with friends and sports bars over craft cocktails (though fortunately some of my favorite local spots can make good drinks).

An odd perk of being a former cocktail blogger is that often when I am looking for a recipe or a bit of cocktail history, my own writing comes up in Google search results. It’s pretty convenient, actually. Or if there’s a recipe I’m looking for that I can bother to recall that I had written about previously, I’ll head straight here to conduct my search.

What’s odd is that one of the most frequent recipes that I look for is the Piña Colada recipe from the sadly defunct Lower East Side tiki bar opened by Giuseppe Gonzalez and Richie Boccato, Painkiller PK-NY. They were initially Painkiller, but then got sued by the folks at Pusser’s Rum, who absurdly held and enforced a trademark on that legendary BVI cocktail. Pusser’s even ended up taking their web domain.

It’s particularly unfortunate that the bar and their websites no longer exist, as Giuseppe and Richie had posted two epic pieces of cocktail research, explaining their experimentation and study of the history of the Piña Colada and the Daiquiri, respectively.

Fortunately, the internet never forgets. Here is the PK-NY Piña Colada recipe, as posted on their site when it existed:

At PKNY, we prepare our Piña Colada by combining the following ingredients in a blender:

1 1/2 oz. Aged Puerto Rican Rum

(The original may have called for silver or white rum, but we favor the depth of flavor that aged rum lends to the cocktail)

1 1/2 oz. Cream of Coconut

(If you do not want to make your own cream of coconut using the technique mentioned in this essay, a simple recipe for the home is 3 parts cream of coconut to 1 part coconut cream. This lightens the sweetness without diminishing the body).

1 1/2 oz. freshly extracted pineapple juice (Sadly, there is no substitute for this. With very few exceptions, we do not serve anything that we do not juice fresh in-house. One could certainly use unsweetened pineapple juice from a can and the results would be potable. HOWEVER, the canned alternative will NEVER yield a cocktail that compares to one that features freshly squeezed juice.)

Add four large chunks of pineapple.  Add approximately 8 ounces of crushed ice.  Blend for 45 seconds.  Strain into a cored out pineapple.  Garnish with shredded coconut, an orange slice, and a cherry.

And here is a more concise version for easy reading, which ran in an article at by the illustrious Simon Ford:

Painkiller Piña Colada

Contributed by Giuseppe Gonzalez and Richie Boccato


  • 1.5 oz Aged Puerto Rican rum
  • 1.5 oz Pineapple juice
  • 1.5 oz Coconut cream
  • 2 Pineapple chunks
  • 6 to 10 Ice cubes
  • Garnish: Shredded coconut
  • Glass: Cored pineapple or Hurricane


Add all the ingredients to a blender. Blend until smooth and pour into a cored pineapple or Hurricane glass. Garnish with shredded coconut.

This is a fairly perfect Pina Colada recipe and one worth saving. Now at least I’ll be able to know where to find it when I’m in need of a refreshing Piña Colada.

Also worth saving, or at least making more easily accessible, is the two large pieces of research and experimentation conducted by the team at PK-NY. I’m copying it from the archived version of the site, in full, below the fold. Enjoy:


Pages: 1 2

Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | January 4, 2017

Review: “Smuggler’s Cove” by Martin Cate


One of the natural consequences of living in an era of resurgence in craft cocktails and a global appreciation for fine spirits is that we have a large and growing number of innovative bartenders writing excellent books about their craft. In the US in recent years, many of the top bars in the country have seen their bartenders write great cocktail books. My favorites have been Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s (of Clyde Common) “The Bar Book;” David Kaplan of Death & Co. wrote an eponymous book, and The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan. Each evokes the spirit of the classic bar books of the late 1800s and early 1900s by the likes of Jerry Thomas and “Cocktail” Bill Boothby, providing not only wide ranges of recipes, but details on bar mise en place and philosophies towards customer service.

Martin Cate has published “Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki.” Smuggler’s Cove (the bar) is an unequaled tiki and rum bar in San Francisco; it’s been one of my required stops when visiting the Bay Area since it opened. Cate’s book immediately joins the ranks of these outstanding modern cocktail books by bar men. Where Cate truly excels is that his is just as much a history of tiki and Polynesian exotica, as it is of rum cocktails, as it is of his personal exploration and evolutions as a bar owner and enthusiast. It is well written and full of rich stories from nearly 100 years of the history of this splinter of the cocktail movement.

Smuggler's Cove - Don the Beachcomber

“Smuggler’s Cove” Photo: Don the Beachcomber

What I most love about “Smuggler’s Cove” is that the prose beyond the recipes achieved a rare dynamic in cocktail books: it was more compelling than the recipes themselves. I found myself barely scanning recipes in a quest to hear more about how Smuggler’s Cove (the bar) emerged and evolved from less than an idea to an obsession to a benchmark of tiki culture. Cate’s writing is clear and approachable. He educates and informs, displaying a tremendous breadth of knowledge for his craft and the history of predecessors. He is remarkably generous in how he shines attention on the people who lit and kept burning the tiki torch (apologies for the pun) from its earliest sparks in the imaginations of Donn the Beachcomber and Trader Vic Bergeron to it being a national craze and back to a barely smoldering phenomenon.  Cate gives attentions to the outposts of tiki that survived its collapse, to the purveyors of Polynesian Pop detritus and thrift store menus, aloha shirts, and totems. The personalities and the community they formed keeping tiki alive come through in all their vibrant colors (and frequent accompanying photographs).

These dimensions make “Smuggler’s Cove” a special and unique cocktail book. That is not to diminish the quality and clarity and creativity of Cate’s recipes. He deploys an incredibly useful and approachable system of categorizing rum varieties used in his recipes, eschewing brand rigidity. There are extensive, detailed recipes for every type of house-made syrup that shows up in cocktail recipes. Numerous techniques for tiki bar craft are shared. Like any of the most successful cocktail books, “Smuggler’s Cove” could easily be used as a how-to manual to set up an outstanding bar.

Since reading “Smuggler’s Cove,” I’ve been recommending it as much as a cocktail book as an historical anthropology of tiki culture. You don’t need to be a hardcore tikiphile to enjoy the book. But if you’re a cocktail aficionado, then it is absolutely a must-read.

Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | August 21, 2015

RIP Sasha Petraske

Sasha Petraske, founder of Milk & Honey one of the most iconic speakeasy-style bars in the world, had died. It’s hard to think of too many people who more influenced the industries they worked in than Sasha Petraske did the cocktail world. If you’ve been in a speakeasy-style cocktail bar in the last 15 years, it’s basically because of Sasha and Milk & Honey in New York, which inspired and helped to spark a global style of speakeasy bars delivering craft cocktails. Talking to some bartenders in London tonight and a dear friend in the industry back in the States, people are rocked. An industry legend, and a tragically young one at that, has died.

I didn’t know Sasha, but I wouldn’t have been in a cocktail bar in London when I found out about his death were it not for his life.

Milk & Honey didn’t get me into cocktails. I never spent much time there. But Milk & Honey was essentially the speakeasy that inspired a thousand speakeasies. And as an aficionado, it’s important to know the relatively young history of the modern craft cocktail movement.

And so at the Dandelyan in the Mondrian Hotel in London, tonight I drank a Penicillin – one of the most famous cocktails to emerge from Milk & Honey – made by a bartender who’d recently worked at the second Milk & Honey in London, in honor of the life of a man I respected and many people who I admire cared for quite deeply.

Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | April 8, 2015

Barcelona: Dry Martini Bar Review

There are many craft cocktail bars that have been designed to feel old. Pre-Prohibition gaslights, Prohibition-era speakeasies, and mid-century tiki have been design cues for many a modern cocktail bar. Dry Martini Bar in Barcelona achieves a holistic authenticity unlike any modern bar I’ve ever visited. In fact, only now as I began to write this post did I learn that it opened only in 1996. Based on its appearance, with dark, warm wood, green tufted leather seating, and shelves of vintage vermouths and spirits, I had assumed that Dry Martini had been a fixture since at least the 1930s or 1940s.

Such was the class conveyed upon entry that I knew, immediately, that we were in for a great experience (never mind that we were there on recommendation from Derek Brown). The lighting was perfect and the music was soft. The bartenders wore tidy white jackets. Their movements were as precise as any I’ve ever seen behind the stick, save for Japanese masters like Hidetsugu Ueno and Kazuo Uyeda.

Naturally I started with a Dry Martini. Though the central mirror on the back bar advertised a 1:1: Dry Martini with orange bitters, the house version being served that night was not, in point of fact, anywhere near 1:1, but instead a very modern Dry Martini that I would guess was on the order of 16:1. It’s not anywhere near my preferred ratio, but I was nonetheless happy to enjoy it, while watching their digital Martini counter tick up one (they are well over one million Dry Martinis served).

The most innovative drink of the night was essentially a frozen Gin and Tonic. Barcelona is a city in love with the Gin and Tonic. Countless bars and restaurants we visited had multiple G&T variations with different gins and tonics to pair, as well as lots of customization on the ingredients and garnishes. But this was truly special. Served in a large tumbler, the bottom half of the drink was built on ice and tonic water, then the top had a gin and lime cordial slush poured on top. It was crisp, cold and delightful. The concept was original and one that I plan on being experimenting with extensively at home to see if I can replicate.

I don’t have detailed notes but other cocktails included a delicious and surprisingly light coconut liquor and coconut cream cocktail, as well as a Negroni variation.

We actually visited Dry Martini twice in the same evening – before dinner and then as a night cap. Both times the service and drinks were outstanding. I’ve been to scores of cocktail bars and restaurants with outstanding cocktail programs, but Dry Martini was easily one of the best bar experiences I’ve ever had, from the quality of the drinks, the gorgeous atmosphere and the outstanding bar staff. It will remain one of my core recommendations to travelers in Barcelona and will certainly be a bar I visit again in future travels.

Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | January 12, 2015

Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails – A Review

I first visited Death & Co, I think, in January 2008. It might have been late 2007, but more likely was in 2008. While the date of my visit has been forgotten over the years, the experience has not. It was my first visit to a modern, speakeasy-style craft cocktail bar. More importantly, it changed my life.

I know the exact moment and the cocktail that I was drinking when I was awakened to the marvel of cocktails made with skill and quality ingredients. I was drinking The Conference – an Old Fashioned variation made with four base spirits – bourbon, rye, cognac and calvados. No liquor, no beer, no wine, nor cocktail had ever passed my lips that tasted so good. The Conference on that first night at Death & Co didn’t merely make me fall in love with that drink – though I did. It didn’t merely make me fall in love with the bar in which it was made – though I did. No, the first time I drank The Conference at Death & Co, I fell head over heels in love with what craft cocktails could be.

My first visit to Death & Co was with a couple of close friends. We sampled many drinks on the menu. As much as I was blown away by The Conference, I also recall drinking other outstanding original creations then – St. Columb’s Rill, the Oaxaca Old Fashioned, Carroll Gardens. My memory might blur a bit here, as I went back to Death & Co many, many times in close succession in the winter months of 2008. But the experience was transformative.

Prior to finding Death & Co, I’d been almost exclusively been a beer and a shot at a dive bar guy. In point of fact, my most common NYC haunts were all in the East Village. Cherry Tavern, a few doors down from Death & Co, was probably my most frequent stop from 2005 on (if you’ve never been, it has the best punk rock jukebox and the best cheap drink special in the E.Vill.). I moved to DC in 2007 and while there, discovered good beer – craft microbrews and Belgian imports, mostly. At the (now closed) Brickskeller, I learned that paying more for a drink can actually mean getting far superior quality. No doubt this made me willing to visit a cocktail bar with drinks priced about three times more than the Tecate and a shot of rail tequila special next door at Cherry Tavern.

I started trying to bring as many of my friends as possible to experience Death & Co. It was critical that I introduce my friends to this new-to-me sort of bar. Some nights I’d bring friends for their first visit. Other times I’d go back with friends I’d already introduced.

Each visit felt the same. I learned early on that it was usually easier to get in if I went very close to opening and on week nights. I’d get off of the subway and walk at an increasing pace towards Death & Co. The anticipation would build – would I get right in? Would there be a wait? Would there be anything new on the menu? How many plates of charcuterie could I reasonably eat? But really, the experience always started with the anticipation.

I moved to Alaska in the spring of 2008. Leaving New York meant leaving the sophistication, the creativity and the cocktailian genius of Death & Co. When I moved back to the Lower 48, back to DC this time, getting back to Death & Co was high on my priority list. I’m pretty sure I went the first weekend I could visit New York.

By this time I’d realized that I couldn’t live in a city like DC without finding the bars and bartenders who were doing what the masters at Death & Co were doing. This realization lead me to connecting to the fast-expanding DC craft bartending scene. The people I met when I made this choice – now quite well known bartenders like Derek Brown, Gina Chersevani, Adam Bernbach, Dan Searing and Owen Thomson – and the bars they worked at or would soon open are quite simply one of the biggest factors in me loving living in Washington DC.

One thing I learned in my early visits to Death & Co was that while skill needed to be learned, cocktail recipes were universal. If you have the same ingredients and know the proportions, you can make the same drink at Death & Co in your own home. That’s exactly what I started to do.

My new, Death & Co induced affection for craft cocktails also inspired me to start this cocktail blog.

Quite simply, it’s hard for me to imagine what the last seven years of my life would look like had I never visited Death & Co.

* * *

Taking a step back, Death & Co was not the first modern craft cocktail bar. It was not the first bar that styled itself like a proto-speakeasy, nor was it the first to elevate Pre-Prohibition cocktails and adapt them with contemporary ingredients. Much of the early bar staff had established themselves at groundbreaking bars like Flatiron Lounge and Pegu Club.

But I do think Death & Co elevated the craft cocktail movement in a way that’s hard to understate. To get a sense, though, you need to read “Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails,” a new book by David Kaplan, Nick Fauchald and Alex Day. The book is largely in the voice of Kaplan, the founder and co-owner of Death & Co. He ably tells the history of the bar from conception to realization to smash success. His writing is honest and compelling in a way only the best cocktail books are.

Many of the cocktail books of the 1800s didn’t merely list recipes for drinks, but included detailed instructions for how to run a bar. Instructions for mise-en-place, etiquette for dealing with customers, and recipes for making spirits from scratch provided readers with rich insights into how to properly run a reputable bar.

Kaplan, Fauchald & Day’s “Death & Co” book does this too, continuing a recent trend of focusing not just on drink making and recipes, but deep exposition on how successful bar proprietors run their successful bars. James Meehan’s “The PDT Cocktail Book” and Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s “The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique” must also be recognized for doing this with incredible clarity and openness. Three instances makes a trend and it seems clear that some of America’s top barmen want the rest of us to know how to be awesome, too.

One of my favorite features of this book was that space was given for “The Regulars” of the bar to write about their experience, how they relate to it, and the recipe for their favorite cocktail to order. It’s a classy move and one that reveals the personality of Death & Co in the pages of its cocktail book.

My other favorite part was the “Death & Co Family Daiquiri Album,” wherein alumni of the bar share their preferred recipe for one of the best and most available to interpretation cocktails. The Daiquiri is my go-to drink order when I want to get a sense of a bartender’s style and quality, their originality and their sense of balance. Seeing so many Death & Co luminaries’ Daiquiri recipes side by side is both awesome and makes me want to make all of them to see whose is my favorite.

As with any good cocktail book, “Death & Co” demystifies what for most appears to be a mythical undertaking. There’s a tick-tock of an average day at the bar. There’s a robust dictionary of terminology common to Death & Co and the bar business in general. There’s even a blurb on “Working With Shitty Ice” – something that 99% of home bartenders reading the book will find relevant to developing their techniques.

The book reveals much of the ethos of the bar and the bar staff that made it legendary. It’s consistently striking to read about how in an environment that could be described as one of the most precise and technical American cocktail bars, there seems to be little pretense. The transcript of a tasting session, wherein bartenders present new recipes for critique and workshopping, shows how the only thing that seems to matter is putting out the best drinks to their customers, not their staff’s egos.

* * *

“Death & Co” contains over 500 recipes. Some are classic recipes that every cocktail aficionado should know (and few bars should ever look beyond when building their own menu). Many of the Death & Co original recipes include infusions and somewhat rare syrups, though there’s a detailed appendix covering these uncommon ingredients.

But the recipes are accessible, even if the ingredient lists are often long and sometimes complex. Doing a Savoy Stomp-style production of every recipe in this book would take nearly two years and probably get weird and inconvenient. That’s not how I’d recommend using this book. Instead, it’s an opportunity for people who have visited Death & Co and fallen in love with a cocktail (or ten) there to find out how to make it for themselves at home or (politely) ask their friendly neighborhood craft bartender to make it for them.

Death & Co bartenders have been responsible for a disproportionate number of modern creations that have already spread to other bars and restaurants around the world. This sort of migration is crucial for any cocktail to survive the bar of its creation and give it a shot at being around for decades or centuries to come. (Note that there is a reason many classic cocktails have been around for 100-200 years – it’s because they are really, really good and very hard to improve upon). Coming up with new classics is hard, but it’s happened at Death & Co. The Oaxaca Old Fashioned, by Phil Ward, can be found in bars around the country, served by many bartenders who have likely never heard of Phil, nor perhaps even Death & Co. I personally would be willing to bet that the aforementioned Conference, Carroll Gardens, or St. Columb’s Rill could survive the tests of time. Other Death & Co creations like Naked and Famous, Manhattan Transfer, and The Black Prince come to mind as ones I could see being made for decades to come.

Of course the publication of this book and these recipes mean that in fifty or one hundred or two hundred years, a young, intrepid bartender seeking something new for her craft cocktail patrons from the pages of history will find an almost-forgotten recipe from Death & Co. Here’s to hoping that this happens time and again in coming epochs.

* * *

I don’t write here often any more. But I wanted to review “Death & Co” because, as should be clear to anyone who’s made it this far, that it’s a bar that I’ve adored for as long as I’ve been a patron. It’s not always the case that you can pinpoint a source of genuine enjoyment joy in one’s life, but Death & Co has been one for me. I recommend the bar. I recommend this book. I recommend the people who have made both so outstanding.


Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | October 8, 2014

Pete Wells on Restaurant Cocktail Menus

Via Erik Ellestad on The Facebook, Pete Wells of the New York Times has what I think is a very smart take on my old hobby horse – the insane proliferation of original, proprietary cocktail recipes at bars and restaurants. Wells goes into some of the reasons why cocktail lists filled with originals have become ubiquitous, including the added profitability a round of cocktails brings due to pour costs and speed of consumption, compared to wine. But he hits his stride when he looks at quality and the all too frequent failure to achieve it at the thousands of restaurants turning out original cocktail lists around the country:

Do the math on this, and you quickly run into thousands of new cocktails being cranked up solely to fill these menus. What are the chances that every single one rolling off the factory line is going to deserve a place on the fireplace mantle next to the Hemingway daiquiri and the Negroni?

Pretty low, I’m afraid. This doesn’t mean that bartenders need to stop dreaming up new recipes, but it does suggest that restaurants may stop asking for so many of them. Those menus could be shorter: five good drinks are incalculably better than 15 not-good ones.

Bad bartenders, too many ingredients, a perverse desire to be original…all of these factors conspire to spread bad cocktails on bad cocktail lists.

Wells’ advice for consumers is to eschew original creations at restaurants and order a classic off-menu. This is sound advice. If a restaurant is printing a menu with a Manhattan-ish variation that uses whiskeys from Kentucky, Canada, Scotland and Japan, an artisanal vermouth from Sonoma, a rare potable bitter from the former Yugoslavia, and a drop of three different proprietary bitters, they damn well can make you an actual Manhattan. My general habit now at restaurants is to look at the cocktail list, think for about three seconds, and then decide what classic cocktail I want to drink.

The larger point is that everyone needs to stop this nonsense. There must be universal, multilateral disarmament. Restaurant bar programs (or bar bar programs for that matter) need to stop the fetishization of originality. To paraphrase Doctor Zoidberg, your original cocktails are bad and you should feel bad.

Instead, restaurants and bars should have cocktail programs built around drinks that are good. Not good in the sense of, “Oh I guess this fine and it looks expensive!” but actually worth drinking based on the evidence of decades, if not centuries, of people saying, “That’s so good, I’d pay money to drink it!”

Obviously there won’t be an instant consensus to stop putting original cocktails as the driver of menus. But my guess is that the places that say to their customers, “Here is a list of classic cocktails that we think are worth serving with our food,” they’ll find happier customers who enjoy drinking well-made cocktails and might even order another one before they switch to wine…

Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | July 28, 2014

Mass Produced Artisanal Spirits

The Daily Beast has an article that exposes a practice most consumers of craft or micro-distilled spirits probably don’t know exists – the rebottling of mass produced spirits under new, “artisanal” brands.

Lawrenceburg, Indiana (not to be confused with bourbon-locale Lawrenceburg, Kentucky) is home to a massive brick complex that cranks out mega-industrial quantities of beverage-grade alcohol. The factory, once a Seagram distillery, has changed hands over the decades and was most recently acquired by food-ingredient corporation MGP. It is now a one-stop shop for marketers who want to bottle their own brands of spirits without having to distill the product themselves. MGP sells them bulk vodka and gin, as well as a large selection of whiskies, including bourbons of varying recipes, wheat whiskey, corn whiskey, and rye. (They also make “food grade industrial alcohol” used in everything from solvents and antiseptics to fungicides.) Their products are well-made, but hardly what one thinks of as artisanal. And yet, much of the whiskey now being sold as the hand-crafted product of micro-distilleries actually comes from this one Indiana factory.

Upstart spirits companies selling juice they didn’t distill rarely advertise the fact. But there are ways to tell: whiskey aged longer than a distillery has been in business is one of the telltale signs that the “distiller” is actually just bottling someone else’s product. KGB Spirits, the company behind the New Mexico “destilaría,” was founded in 2009; but its flagship Ceran St. Vrain straight rye whiskey comes with an age statement of 15 years in the barrel. Or take Breaker bourbon, the “first bourbon produced in Southern California since Prohibition.” The Buellton, California company behind the brand, Ascendant Spirits, wasn’t started until 2013. Yet, they brag their “ultra small batch bourbon” is aged 5 years. So how do you open a distillery one year and have 5- or 15-year-old whiskey to sell the next? Not by making it.

The rest of the article is definitely worth reading.

First I don’t think this is news to people in the bar and spirits industries. But it may well be news to a lot of non-industry consumers. Brands that do this tend to use very careful language about what it is they’re selling. And let’s be honest, some of this marketing copy can be pretty weasley. Since most craft or micro-distilled products tend to come at a premium, not getting what you can reasonably expect you were getting is a big deal.

That said, I think this problem is a bit more complicated than being a question of deceptive marketing. What sort of world do you as a connoisseur of fine spirits want to live in: a world where only mega-distillers and global brands make product, with a tiny number of micro-distillers breaking through? Or a world where new distilleries can get a leg up while they age their own product and eventually bring more new, original products to market? I’d vote for the latter, though I’ve put my finger pretty heavily on the scales here…

Aging spirits, particularly whiskey but also rum and tequila, takes a long time. When many entry-level bottlings are three to five years old, with higher tier products taking eight, ten, fifteen or eighteen years to mature, it’s really hard to start from scratch. Imagine entering an industry where if you start working and spending money today, you can’t bring your project to market for ten years. It takes a massive capital commitment to start a distillery the right way, which is a big reason why we didn’t have many craft distilleries prior to the last 20 years or so.

Two ways new distilleries can bootstrap themselves is by selling unaged products or buying juice from someone else. The rise of unaged or white whiskies in recent years largely stems from distilleries seeking to go to market sooner with their own product and have it support the company while the good stuff ages. The alternative is to go to market with someone else’s juice while you figure out how to make it yourself, allow it to age, and have something that can stand on its own. This of course opens the door to confusion about spirits companies that aren’t actually making what they sell.

Note that the issue of not producing and aging your own spirits really applies only to spirits that require aging. I’m not sure there’s a great defense of new companies selling unaged products as their own. If you can’t figure out how to make a gin you like, you probably shouldn’t be in the gin business.

The solution likely lies in distilleries doing a better job of making clear to consumers when the product they are selling is not in fact produced entirely by them. This could be done voluntarily – which is unlikely – or it could be a regulatory requirement. The goal should be to both prevent consumers from being confused into paying for a premium product and getting a mass-produced one, while also giving those distillers who’ve taken the time and resources to make their own spirits recognition that they are selling what consumers assume they’re buying.

One more thing. I don’t think there’s anything bad about mass-produced spirits. Some of my favorite bottlings are major industry defining ones – Wild Turkey, Bacardi Silver, Jameson, Beefeater, Bushmills, and many more. Being mass produced does not mean low quality. The assumption, though, is that a craft or micro-distilled product can offer something unique. Done at smaller scale, it takes more money to produce and will come at a higher cost to the consumer. This may be better, but to be honest, often it is not. In my mind, the issue of bottling other peoples’ juice is one about truth in advertising, not quality of product.

As a resource, Sku’s Recent Eats has a list of all current distillers making their own product and bottlers of other peoples’ juice. Check it out and see if your favorite micro-distiller is in fact making their own product.

Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | July 6, 2014

Meet Hudson Whiskey’s New Brand Ambassador

Hudson Whiskey spent much of this spring and early summer conducting a contest to identify  their new brand ambassador. Some background: a brand ambassador is someone whose job it is to represent a spirit brand to the public and to the industry. Frequently brand ambassadors are professional craft bartenders and the role has evolved into one many bartenders aspire towards. Brand ambassadors travel the world talking about their spirit, pitching cocktail recipes to bars and restaurants, and educating consumers and industry professionals on the awesomeness of their product. More background: Hudson Whiskey is one of the premier American micro distilleries. One of the first reviews of a spirit I posted on this site was Hudson Baby Bourbon. It was one of my favorite bourbons when I first tasted it and it remains right up there with my favorite whiskeys to this day.

But what made me care about this contest was that one of my closest friends had entered it. Han Shan is a dear friend and an occasional contributor to A Jigger of Blog (here and here). He’s a true bon vivant and though like me he comes from a background in social and environmental justice movements, he’s a real spirits and cocktails aficionado. He’s got an outstanding home bar and helps many friends discover how great cocktails can be. I think it’s safe to say that both of our parallel developments into loving craft cocktails and spirits happened through time we spent enjoying them together.

And guess what? Han was selected. He’s now Hudson Whiskey’s brand ambassador! He’s a great fit for them, a real lover of their whiskeys and someone who can walk into any room and make a great impression on people. Congrats to Han and congrats to Hudson Whiskey for making the right choice! Hopefully readers of this blog will get to meet Han as he travels the country (and world?) to promote Hudson!

Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | April 14, 2014

Dram & Grain Review

Jack Rose Dining Saloon opened in 2011 in a converted boxing gym in Adams Morgan. Prior to the opening, I was given a tour of the space and the plan for each floor. Upstairs would be a roof deck and two private event rooms, with an emphasis on barbecue and grilled foods. The main dining room and bar offered a higher end dining experience and what may well be the largest selection of single malt whisky in the world. Prior to launch, the idea was for the basement to be another, smaller bar. I can’t say the concept was 100% locked in, but in my mind I think it was supposed to be a small beer & shot type space. In any event, the launch was delayed for reasons I don’t know. Periodically I would wonder when it would open up and what it would be, but frankly there was so much goodness on the first and second floors of Jack Rose, it was pretty irrelevant to my thoughts on the bar.

Fast forward to 2014 and the basement bar is now open. It’s called Dram and Grain and it’s a small craft cocktail lounge. I’m sort of over calling such bars speakeasies if they’re not clearly claiming to be such. Nonetheless, they do preserve a sense of mystique and I’m sure would fall into a lot of peoples’ definitions of how a speakeasy might work in the twenty-first century. Reservations must be made by texting a burner cell phone, the number of which is periodically posted on Facebook. There are only 20 seats per sitting and three sittings a night – 7, 9 & 11pm.

Here’s how they describe themselves:

Dram & Grain is a craft cocktail venue located between the vibrant neighborhoods of DuPont and Adams Morgan in Washington DC. The brain child of Nick Lowe and Trevor Frye. While finding inspiration and nostalgia from the pre-prohibition era cocktails, Dram & Grain brings a contemporary and imaginative perspective to both classic cocktails and hand crafted originals.

Everything is in the details for us. From our in-house made syrups, bitters, soda, and even Amer D&G (Picon) to classic stirring, shaking and mixing methods, we promise the most palate appealing cocktail no matter what your taste preference. Along with an amazing cocktail experience, guest can expect to leave Dram & Grain with a sense of gained knowledge about the craft cocktail world and the history that got us here today.

Our venue is a very intimate, reservation only room with three seatings every Saturday at 7:00pm, 9:00pm, and 11:00pm. Each seating will last one and a half hours and is limited to 20 seats. This allows our bartenders to walk every guest through our cocktail list and ensure that any and all questions are answered and top notch service is delivered on a consistent basis. Reservations request can be made via text, please be sure to note the size of your party and which seating you would prefer, and we will do our best to accommodate.

I went this past Friday evening with my wife and two friends. We were in the 7pm seating and were seated at the bar. Though we arrive one at a time, they were kind enough to seat us as we made it through Friday’s rush hour traffic. The space is small and dark, most defined by it’s bold, natural wood bar. It’s gorgeous and pulling up to it I was immediately impressed by it.

Each guest was given a complimentary glass of bourbon punch upon arrival. The menu itself is quite large and with a diverse mix of classic and original cocktails.


I started off with the Maiden Voyage.  Made with rye, cognac, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, absinthe, Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters, it’s a delightfully creative cocktail. The vermouth, benedictine, and Angostura bitters are served frozen as a large cube of ice. The cocktail essentially starts as a Sazerac and evolves to be a Vieux Carre as the ice melts. It was fun to see this concept in action, though my only complaint was that the ice didn’t melt quickly enough to really have a major interplay of the frozen ingredients and the initial liquid ones.

My wife Lori started with an Airmail, which was just solid. Rum-based cocktails topped with sparkling wine hold a special place in my heart.  This one was no exception – providing a great combination of effervescence and backbone. The Hoppin Chihuahua had probably the single richest foamy texture I’ve ever seen on a cocktail that wasn’t a Ramos Gin Fizz and was definitely a winner. The Ode to Omaha might be the winner for most conversation starting cocktails – it included fresh hickory smoke piped into its serving vessel, which was a small, round beaker capped with a cork stopper once the smoke was infused. I’m generally skeptical of smoke as an ingredient – it’s so very easy to get wrong. But this had incredible balance and ended up offering great depth to already complex rum Old Fashioned.

My final drink was the Mother in Law. Made with bourbon, orange liqueur, maraschino, their house Amer, Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters, it was a bottled cocktail served straight up from the refrigerator without additional ice or water dilution. Bartender Nick Lowe explained the historical concept of wanting to keep some batched and bottles cocktails around in case your mother-in-law showed up and you needed either entertain her quickly or dull your nerves from the stress. The flavors on this were all there, but it was also an example of what I don’t like about bottled cocktails. It started off strong and was less cold coming from the fridge than a cocktail stirred or shaken over ice. In my mind it would have been dramatically improved had it be stirred over ice before being served – the water would have reduced its punch and the cold would have made it a bit more approachable. Being able to make batches of cocktails in advance and bottle them prior to service should save a lot of time down the road. But I’d say it’s worth it to trade some of that time saved back to chill the cocktail and get water in the mix so as to have a better final product.

One thing you may notice looking at the menu is that the price points are a bit more New York than DC. There is good reason for it. Most of the cocktails were essentially over-made for the glass size. You’d get the excess couple of ounces in a small glass bottle back. It was a nice touch that in my mind explains the slightly higher than normal prices.

The only other thing I’d note is that if you go, they have small snacks. The fried chicken skins were absolutely fantastic – basically fresh chicken chicharones. Delicious.

Dram and Grain is a great addition to the DC craft cocktail scene. I highly recommend making a trip and I look forward to going back again soon.

The Washington Post’s Fritz Hahn has a short review and video, both of which feature parts of me, Lori, and our friends Austin and Arianna from this trip to the bar.

Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | June 11, 2013


Some dear friends of mine are trying to launch what I think will be an awesome progressive cocktail bar in New York City: Tarbell. I’m confident it’s going to be an excellent place to get a fine cocktail, as well as an important new home for muckraking journalists and progressive activists to meet and conspire.

They have a RocketHub campaign live & it’d be great if A Jigger Of Blog readers checked it out. If you like what they’re planning, pledge a donation.

Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | April 2, 2013

Overvaluing Originality

Posting has slowed to a crawl here, but I wanted to go back a few months and flag an article by master barman Derek Brown of The Columbia Room (and many other outstanding efforts in DC over the years). In it he discusses the notion that bartenders should probably stop making up their own cocktails at the rate they currently do.

Brown writes:

Surely both consumer and pundit proffered this deluge by pushing the latest in cocktail trends and charting maps where you can drink new cocktails made with quirky ingredients such as dehydrated carrots, yogurt and thai chiles. Not that any of those ingredients ipso facto make a bad cocktail. On the contrary, I love the incorporation of new ingredients, but here the impetus is sadly on creativity and not craft, likely fueled by
something Sigmund Freud dubbed the “narcissism of small differences.”

With this specific narcissistic tendency, each person creates their own little world populated with minor and specific tastes that hardly do more than draw an artificial distinction between similar categories. There’s certainly a place for preference but underlying a person’s insistence on “not too sweet, floral and spicy” versus another’s “violet, tart with a hint of jalapeño” are irreconcilable differences that are waved as though they were flag and country, creating a tribe-of-one prepared to battle opposing tribes for failing to recognize the universality of their claim. What place does a well-made daiquiri have in this world?

Too often, bartenders, rather than sharpening our axes, studying, searching and trying to find meaning among the thousands of cocktails already created, the neophyte–and even sometimes seasoned veterans, I’m afraid–indulge in the worst possible fantasy: that of some mixological Prometheus who steals the eternal flame of creativity from the old, stuffy Gods and re-imagines it as lavender-infused ice or cinnamon-ancho rim. The unfortunate result is that it’s our liver and not theirs that is forever picked at by these often vile and outlandish combinations.

Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, just because you can make it doesn’t make it a good idea.

Brown goes on to suggest some solutions to this problem – basically guidelines for how bartenders can protect themselves (and their customers) from their own worst instincts.

The 90/10 Rule
This rule was born with a simple proposition. For every cocktail you create, try learning nine classic cocktails first, or 90% of your cocktails should be classics and 10% should be new creations. This rule is by no means fail-proof but it’s certainly a way to make sure you practice the basics before proceeding. The very worst that could happen is that you add nine new drinks to your repertoire. Not so bad really.

Forget About It
Remember the recipe for that cocktail you created in 2004? What was it, Sage-infused Tequila, Navan and grapefruit? No, then forget about it. If you have trouble recalling the ingredients to your past creations it may well be because the drink sucked. Trust me, the best recipes are ones that come to mind easily, are often requested and frequently suggested. Everything else is likely fodder.

The Shift-drink Test

If the “90/10″ and “Forget About It” rules fail you, your next line of defense may well be the best one of them all and it goes for both professional and amateur bartenders alike. We become the most critical after a hard-worked shift behind the stick (or any job really). At the end of the day, we just don’t have the tolerance we had at the beginning for pure and utter crap. Imagine sitting down to a Cachaça blood-orange toddy with a bacon-crusted rim. If you can’t, it’s because you have gone too far and are now teetering on that jagged cliff. Go make yourself an old fashioned and relax.

I think these are pretty spot on and, I hope, recognizable as common sense ways to ensure good practice by craft bartenders.

One of the things I love about cocktails is the ability to create, to experiment, to test. In my early days of home bartending, that’s mostly what I did because it was exciting to think I was coming up with something (presumably) for the first time. Of course most of what I came up with was either not good at all or if it was passable, it was fairly forgettable.

Over time I’ve learned that I’m better off making small changes in familiar formats that are easy to remember than trying to start from scratch. I know exactly how I like my Dry Martini, depending on what gins or vermouths or bitters I use. I love playing around with funky tiki drinks. I’ve found some very small tweaks to the Gin Ricky that work great for me. And I’m always swapping around the combinations of vermouth and amari in my Americanos and Negronis.

And that’s just me at home. When I drink out, I tend more towards classics than experimenting with new creations with lots of custom infusions, syrups, and house-made ingredients. Why? Even if I love them, odds are they won’t be replicable by me or most any other bars. They are almost guaranteed to be lost to the ages as soon as the cocktail menu changes. I want more dedicated efforts at permanence than that! I want the romance and the history of drinking 100-200 year old cocktails!

Maybe it’s just me. Or me and Derek Brown. Your mileage may vary for sure and I certainly don’t think there is a wrong answer here, so please don’t be offended if you disagree.

Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | December 18, 2012

Hogo Review

When you look around the Washington DC bar and cocktail scene, the influence of Tom and Derek Brown may be as strong as any other bartenders and proprietors in the city. With stints bartending, managing, designing or owning such excellent spots as Cork, The Gibson, The Passenger, The Columbia Room, New York Avenue Beach Bar and Rogue 24, the range and scope of their creativity has helped define DC as one of the top cocktail towns in America.

Hogo, a new rum bar from Tom Brown, opens today on 1017 7th St NW, just down the block from The Passenger. I was able to check it out last night and came away incredibly impressed. Per an email from Derek Brown, “Hogo is a word used in the Caribbean to designate “high taste”–shortened from the French word hâut-gout–but it really describes the funky, inexplicable taste that you find in traditional aged-rums.” The name fits the interior design of Hogo, which is a mix of comfortably-appointed lounge and nautical and Tiki themed graffiti.

Hogo Diner

Hogo’s Diner

In the back of the bar, there’s a diner. Hogo will be rotating menus on a regular basis to feature some of the city’s top chefs. To start, The Passenger’s Javier Duran is manning the kitchen and the menu is “Hawaiian diner food.” For those not familiar, Hawaiian food is mostly a mix of greasy comfort food and relatively cheap meats. I lived in Hawaii for a while and came away incredibly impressed. Spam Musubi is one of Hawaii’s iconic snacks, featuring a big slab of Spam wrapped on a bed of sushi rice. It’s available at most diners and lots of gas stations too and it’s never been something that I’ve been taken by. But the Spam Musubi at Hogo is simply amazing – something that is at once casual and fancy, paired with a wasabi aoili.

Spam Musubi

Spam Musubi

Other traditional offerings included a Loco Moco – two hamburger patties topped with fried eggs and pork sausage gravy, accompanied by rice and mac salad – and a combination plate of Kahlua pork and Kalbi beef. Both were pretty outstanding. Again, this is essentially Hawaiian comfort food. While it’s heavy on the calories, it’s rich in flavor and makes a great accompaniment to some strong rum cocktails.

Loco Moco

Loco Moco

Since Duran is only the chef at Hogo for the first month, I highly recommend checking it out soon, as this is probably the best Hawaiian food I’ve had on the mainland ever.

Tom has been hosting Tiki Tuesday every week at The Passenger for quite some time now. The practice shines through in the menu and execution in the drinks on the menu at Hogo. I sampled four cocktails last night and each was outstanding.

First up was Black Heart’s Punch, modified from a recipe from Trader Tiki that was made with Cruzan Blackstrap Rum, homemade cinnamon syrup, lime juice and tonic water. It was deep, rich, flavorful and refreshing – a perfect entry into accessible yet interesting Tiki cocktails.

Pinky Gonzales is a classic tiki drink from Trader Vic that’s basically a tequila Mai Tai. At Hogo it’s made with Espolon blanco and Espolon reposado tequila, Cointreau, lime and orgeat. It’s very light and had a well-balanced use of orgeat and citrus, so the almond syrup could shine through as a sweetener and not fade into the background.

Pinky Gonzales

Pinky Gonzales

In our final round we had a Ti Punch, which is basically a rum old fashioned made with cane syrup and rhum agricole. We also had a Jungle Bird, a cocktail created in 1978 at the Aviary Bar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Made with Blackwell Jamaican rum, Campari, pineapple and lime, it’s about everything one could want from a Tiki drink with bitter components. It’s bitter sweet, but not overpowering, with an intense tropical feeling.

Every cocktail we had was perfectly prepared, balanced, and interesting. The menu is fairly expansive, with 15-20 drinks in all, so it will take some time for one to make their way through it. That said, I can’t recommend Hogo highly enough. From the cocktails to the food to the ambience to the fact that it’s a project from some of DC’s most respected bartenders, check out Hogo as soon as you can.

Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | December 5, 2012

Happy Repeal Day!

repeal day

Via The Lively Morgue:

Dec. 21, 1933: From the Mid-Week Pictorial. Americans visiting Paris celebrated the end of Prohibition in the United States in a “real two-fisted manner,” its original caption stated.

I’m not sure why Americans abroad waited 16 days to celebrate the end of Prohibition, but it sure looks like they had a good time.

Be sure to raise a glass in honor of the 21st Amendment today.


Here’s a good video on Green Hat Gin and some history from Prohibition in our nation’s capitol:


Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | December 3, 2012

Publish your recipes!

Via Jacob Grier, Jim Meehan of PDT in NYC talks about his philosophy of publishing his recipes.

Do you think the cocktail world sees publishing recipes as revealing secrets? Or more as a way to share and communicate?

I think they fall on both sides. Certainly some of my colleagues are not as giving as others as far as recipes go. Some people proudly consider some of their recipes to be things that they developed over years, they spent a lot of time and energy and resources on them and don’t see the need to just give them away.

But I think there are others, like myself, who are on the complete opposite side. It’s more along the lines of publish or perish. Maybe not perish, but become irrelevant. Maybe it’s because I live in New York, but I find that in New York when you think of a great idea, if you don’t act upon it someone else is going to be acting upon it. I feel like great ideas are more the result of intelligent people putting different things together. So do you want to be remembered, do you want to at least document that when you did it? Or do you want to rely on the oral traditions to verify that? I personally prefer to stake claims. I’d rather document it.

Jacob goes on to write:

A cocktail might appear on my menu for just a few months before it’s replaced with something new. A recipe only lives on if other people make it, and hearing that other people are enjoying my drinks is gratifying. There are merits to making complicated, ephemeral cocktails that only last a season, but it’s also nice to see them proliferate.

I’m with Meehan and Jacob. I’d hope more bartenders share their original cocktail recipes, as a way for helping them spread beyond their own bar. It’s a hell of a lot easier to visit a bar and ask for a modern creation from another cocktail bar if you know the recipe and don’t have to guess at the proportions of ingredients.

But more importantly, one of my favorite things when I go to a craft cocktail bar is seeing them include contemporary recipes from other bars. Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco is the one who always comes to mind when I think of this phenomenon, but others do as well. And when I belly up to the bar and dream about opening my own joint some day, I would absolutely plan on including a section of the menu dedicated to the brilliance and creativity that currently exists in the cocktail world.

There are scores of cocktail bars in America today and hundreds of talented, creative bartenders, coming up with thousands of new cocktails every year. The odds are only a couple of these cocktails will survive the test of time and still be around in fifty or one hundred years. But (essentially) the only way that’s possible is if the bartenders who created them are publishing their recipes. So I’m all for publishing of recipes and helping spread the good ones around. Hell, that’s a big part of what I want to do with this blog.


Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | November 21, 2012

The Bukowski

I’ve never seen a cocktail recipe that included Jeppson’s Malort before. Malort is a famously bitter (some say unto disgusting) spirit, popular in Chicago and amongst masochistic cocktail enthusiasts. As I am a sane person with no desire to regularly inflict too much pain on my taste buds, I do not keep a bottle of Jeppson’s Malort around my house and therefore have not tried this cocktail to assess its merits. Nonetheless, if for no other reason than novelty (and possibly trolling the gentlemen of Scofflaw’s Den), I present to you The Bukowski.

The Bukowski

1.5 oz Malort
0.5 oz Drambuie
0.75 oz fresh lemon juice
0.5 oz fresh orange juice
0.5 oz honey syrup (1:1)
5 large basil leaves

Combine ingredients in an ice filled shaker. Shake until you’re confident the Malort is mostly hidden behind the other ingredients. Strain and serve on the rocks, but be prepared to duck in the event the person drinking this cocktail throws it back in your face.

Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | October 22, 2012

Four Year Blogiversary & A Call for Help

Four years ago today I launched A Jigger of Blog. The blog has always been a project that represents my exploration into fine cocktails, bars, and spirits – with occasional forays into beer and wine. I started out pretty hot, with a high frequency of posts. This helped me get attention in the cocktail blogosphere, but turned out to not be sustainable. In the last year or two, posting has become less frequent. I still consider cocktails a passion, but as my life has evolved I’ve simply spent less time mixing cocktails at home or visiting craft cocktail bars. I’ve kept this blog open, but have become more comfortable with the idea that I’m not posting one to two times a week. For now, it’s my intention to continue to post when the urge hits me. In some regards, I wish I was posting more frequently, but at the end of the day, I’m not broken up about this blog not being a major hub of bustling cocktail activities.

OK, enough navel gazing.

I do have something important that I want to share with readers today. Paul Clarke has a post up at The Cocktail Chronicles alerting readers that iconic Seattle barman Murray Stenson is ill and in need of help. Paul writes:

Murray has a heart condition, and may require intensive surgery. As with bartenders everywhere, Murray doesn’t have medical insurance, and he’s unable to work while incapacitated with this condition. Evan Wallace, a longtime friend of Murray’s, set up a MurrayAid page on Facebook, where people like me and you (hint, hint) can make a donation via PayPal to help defray Murray’s medical expenses. UPDATE: There’s now a website for the coordinated efforts to help Murray: Also, donating directly through PayPal, as described on the website, ensures your full donation will go to help Murray, without Facebook taking a cut.

I’ve never met Murray Stenson – by the time I made it to Zig Zag Cafe, he had moved on to Canon (and I failed to make it to Canon). But I’ve heard about him for years, most often in connection for his role in bringing The Last Word to international prominence in the modern craft cocktail movement. The Last Word is a truly delightful cocktail:

Last Word

3/4 once gin
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
3/4 ounce green chartreuse

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake well for 10 seconds and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Ta-da!

I’m a big fan of this drink. I first heard of it on Paul Clarke’s blog and remember thinking to myself, “I have to go home and make this right away.” The Last Word is the sort of cocktail which demonstrates not only the value of fresh and rare ingredients that is a hallmark to contemporary craft cocktails, but does so while being simultaneously accessible and complex. That is, it’s a great drink to put in the hands of someone who hasn’t experienced quality craft cocktails before.

In fact, a couple of good friends were at Zig Zag a few years back and texted me to ask what they should order to drink and I suggested The Last Word.  I don’t know if Murray was working behind the bar that night, but one of them fell in love with it and as a result has probably finished more bottles of green Chartreuse and maraschino in the last two plus years than any home bartender in America.

If readers of A Jigger of Blog can spare a bit of cash, I’d greatly appreciate it you can chip in at

Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | October 12, 2012


I’ve been ordering wine from Jon Rimmerman’s Garagiste email list for about a year. It’s an email sales only email list, with usually one offer per day of wine. When I buy wine in the liquor store or super market, I’ll usually buy in the $10-20 price range. When drinking wines I’ve never had before bought this way, I’d guess two out of three bottles I buy are pretty mediocre (I’d guess I do better at certain places like Ace Beverage where I have a relationship with the store and can really talk about what I like). While I am into wine, I don’t consider myself an expert and ending up with mediocre wine is one pretty sure indicator of that.

On Rimmerman’s list, I generally stick within that same price range – occasionally going a bit lower or a bit higher, depending on the offering. But in the year I’ve ordered through Garagiste, I haven’t had a single bad bottle of wine. All have been good, some have been great, and at least two have been other-worldly.

Rimmerman is profiled in this week’s New York Times Magazine. It’s a good read. I’m sure it will add tens of thousands of subscribers to his email list. But frankly, that is an earned consequence. The list is stellar and I highly recommend anyone who’s reading this blog to subscribe to it. You can do so through their website. Rimmerman’s daily emails are educational and his wine is top-notch, so even if you’re not already a big wine enthusiast, you can use this list to expand your knowledge base and decrease the amount of money you’re spending on bad wine.

Two words of caution:

First, this is a potentially expensive email list to be on. You provide your credit card information once, then just order by replying to emails. That is, you don’t have the gut check of typing out your credit card digits that may otherwise slow your online purchases down. Be warned.

Second, this is not a source of instant gratification. Shipments come out by season, not immediately after you place an order. I think it was at least four or five months after my first order before I received the wine. But I promise you, it’s worth the wait.

Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | October 2, 2012

Every drink made in “Mad Men”

And there’s a lot of them…

Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | September 20, 2012

Lessons from Hidetsugu Ueno

Hidetsugu Ueno, world renowned bartender and owner of Bar High Five in Ginza, Tokyo, Japan, gave an interview to Nick Koumbarakis, proprietor of The Alchemist Says…. It’s a great read on the philosophies of one of the kindest, most thoughtful bar men I’ve come across in the world. When I was in Japan a couple of years ago, I went to Bar High Five and had a fantastic experience. While there I mentioned that I hoped to buy some Japanese bar ware (which is high quality and very expensive in the US), as well as some bottles of Japanese whisky which aren’t imported to the US. First Ueno-san set up an impromptu tasting of a range of high end whiskies, then recommended me to a nearby liquor store which would have them available at better prices than big stores or duty free. Then, much to my delight, Ueno-san said that he was planning on going shopping for bar ware the next day and offered to take me around to the best stores to make my purchases. I happily accepted his generous offer and was able to make some great purchase in a restaurant supply stores that I would have had a hard time navigating otherwise. Oh and in addition to being a complete mensch (as we say in Yiddish), he’s a world-class bartender.

While much of the interview is about his philosophies for bartending and life, Ueno-san’s observation of what makes Japanese cocktail culture unique is really interesting to me. From the Koumbarakis interview:

In Japan we focus entirely on the classics, the vintage way of bartending and not on current trends. There are some trends and techniques that I personally like; People are starting to make their own bitters and vermouths. In saying this, I do believe bartenders should be good at using available products, not making products. There are plenty of products that one can play with. Speakeasy style of bars, vintage books, Mescal in the United States and Rye Whisky in Europe…they are all just trends personally. You can imagine why the Japanese style of bartending got increasingly popular overnight? We are the ones who are constantly surprising. The Japanese style of bartending has not changed in the past 100 years. The rest of world is always looking for something new, something different. We are always focusing on the classics and interpreting those classics in our own way, meticulously and effortlessly.

In my experience, the focus on classic cocktails and perfecting techniques ahead of creating ones’ own ingredients for ones’ original recipes leads to excellence in Japanese bartending. I can relate to the idea that the classics are what are most likely to survive and therefore are the best things to be drinking. Many drinks which have survived from fifty to two hundred years survived because they’re great drinks. Continually trying to make them with greater care and perfection will lead to ever more enjoyable cocktails. While there are literally thousands of contemporary creations by craft bartenders around the globe which are balanced, pleasant, and creative, how many will be around and widely consumed in 100 years? If it’s more than a dozen or two, I’d be surprised. Thus there’s value in what is classic and the Japanese cocktail world seems to place more importance on this than cocktail cultures elsewhere in the world.

I can also relate to the idea that we should use the ingredients which are available not only to us as bartenders, but to the general public. While I appreciate and celebrate the creativity of craft bartenders who create their own ingredients as a vehicle to make the epicurean art they wish to make, it makes it hard for home consumers or even their peers elsewhere in the bar world to follow along. The ability to offer a drink that simply cannot be had elsewhere in the world is surely a good marketing move, but it creates a wall between the bartender and those who would want to enjoy her cocktail outside the confines of her bar.

One of the things that makes bartending incredible is that it is closer to baking than savory cooking. Given a recipe and knowledge of proper techniques, any cocktail can be replicated, providing the ingredients are available. This is challenged when bartenders use products which aren’t available on the market and thus serves as a barrier to the spread of good cocktails.

I don’t mean to sound like a curmudgeon. Part of where I stand is based on a recognition over time that while I appreciate the original cocktails of many bartenders and bars, at the end of the day, there are very few which I find truly memorable. I find much greater joy in a perfectly made Martini or Daiquiri than a creative original creation, as the novelty of the new drink wears off with each sip, while the perfect of a classic can last centuries. As much as I appreciate the creativity of bartenders like Phil Ward or Gina Chersevani, at the end of the day I’d rather see American bartenders focus on perfecting classics than buying lotto tickets that their next original creation might stand the tests of time to become a classic itself.

This isn’t about the bartenders, though. It’s much more about the cocktail consuming public. Somewhere along the lines we consumers developed an expectation that every cocktail bar we go into have 8-20 original cocktails. If consumers instead demanded more and better classics, this could change. Though I have no clue when it will be, I would someday like to open a bar and serve only the finest classic cocktails. Until then, I’ll go around, try a couple new drinks when I visit a bar then switch to classics that I know I’ll truly enjoy.

Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | August 14, 2012

Age of Reason

My good friend Han Shan is, among many other things, a part time bartender at B-Side in the East Village. B-Side is a concrete floored, punk rock juke box, tiny pool table, beer and shots dive that seems to only exist in its purest form in the EVill. But when Han is behind the stick, he’s been known to bring some high end ingredients from his home to make craft cocktails. His bartending is totally incongruous with B-Side and yet totally perfect for a night of drinking.

One of Han’s originally created cocktails was recently named by bartending luminary and master craft cocktailian Gary Regan to be one of the 101 Best New Cocktails of 2012. Here is the Age of Reason:

Age of Reason by Han Shan

2 oz Michter’s rye whiskey
5 oz Pierre Ferrand Cognac Ambre
.5 oz Cochi Americano
1 generous barspoon green Chartreuse
1 generous barspoon yellow Chartreuse
10 drops Bittermens Elemakule Tiki bitters
1 lemon twist

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Run the twist around the rim of the glass, then discard.

Here’s how Han describes this cocktail:

“The spicy Michter’s rye is the backbone while the cognac smooths the rough edges a bit and the sweet herbaciousness of the Chartreuse(s) play off the spicy bittersweet of the Cochi, with the tiki-inspired bitters doing something alchemical that nothing else on my bar quite did to bring it all together. The lemon oil swipe gives it a brightness in the nose upon first sip and mostly stands back after that as you enjoy this (hopefully) balanced and delicious, easy-drinking, amber-colored quaff.

The drink is named for Tom Paine to recognize the coming together of French & American ingredients. I should have endeavored to find something English to put in there to really make the case but then I’ll call that one the ‘Tom Paine.’

BTW, for me, ‘generous barspoon’= about 1/4 oz. but I always have trouble nailing that with my jigger and one can use a tiny bit less or more to suit one’s tastes. The barspoon works for me. Last note is that the only way you can get one of these (or a decent Manhattan or Sidecar or whatever) at our friendly neighborhood beer-n-shot dive B-Side where I’m currently tending is to alert me ahead of time so I can bring the ingredients with me from home… which I sometimes do.”

And here’s Gaz’s commentary:

The combination of straight rye whiskey and a great (really great) cognac, immediately reminds me of a Vieux Carré, but the similarity ends right there. Han made some bold moves with this drink, and they paid off well—especially in the case of the Bittermens Elemakule Tiki bitters which, on paper, make no sense. In the glass, though, they play a ukulele while the other ingredients dance like Uma Thurman and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. It’s a drink that brings a smile to my face.

Congrats Han, for making a creative new drink that impressed Gaz Regan!

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