Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | October 19, 2009

Don’t Be Bitter

Michael Dietsch of A Dash of Bitters and Samantha Harrington of Cocktail Culture are hosting a small contest for cocktail bloggers with the prize being a bottle of the very rare Beefeater 24 bitters.beefeater24_bitters The challenge in the contest is to write about a time when I have been bitter about another cocktail blogger’s liquor collection, bar experience, or other paraphernalia.

Well, where to begin? Quite simply I got into cocktail blogging in large part because I was envious of the breadth of knowledge exposed by cocktail bloggers I was reading. I loved the idea of creating recipes for myself, but sharing them publicly for feedback from other knowledgeable people. Cocktail blogging, in turn, lead to the not-so gradual expansion of my home bar. Last year when I started getting into this, I was a regular guest at the Mixoloseum for Thursday Drink Night.  On most Thursday night I would log on with a few interesting cocktail ideas (or so I thought at the time) ready to share. But invariably, while I was able to make my submissions, I never had a big enough bar to make anyone else’s recipes. Ever. It didn’t matter what I did – if a bunch of recipes one week included amaro and I didn’t have any at the time, I would go out and buy some. The next week would roll around and no one would be using amaro any more. The whole act of being a cocktail blogger, it seemed, involved me being jealous of the people who I wanted to be be peers with. I could take a Time Magazine like cop-out and say I am most bitter about You, my fellow cocktail blogger. But that’d be a cop-out and I try to not be lame when there is a serious bottle of bitters at stake.

In terms of travel, I would definitely consider myself jealous of Jeffrey Morgenthaler and Derek Brown, two cocktail professionals who have had the opportunity to travel to enjoy some of the world’s best bartenders. Derek, who writes at The Atlantic’s Mixmaster blog, recently came back from Japan, where he and his wife Chantal Tseng of Tabard Inn visited with some of Tokyo’s finest barmen. The trip was enough to convince Derek that Japan may in fact have better bartenders than the US. Can I even begin to imagine how good the visits to High Five Bar and Tender Bar must have been to bring Derek to this conclusion? It’s an experience I’m very jealous of.

Jeffrey’s travel drink blogging is pretty similar. His write-ups on cocktail events in New York and New Orleans were great, as was his post on Repeal Day in DC (where I had the pleasure of meeting him). But what really knocked my socks off were his post on his trip to Germany last year. I’ve spent a decent amount of time in Dusseldorf, but never been anywhere beyond it and it’s lovely beer gardens. Jeffrey’s write-up on drinking at fine cocktail establishments in Hamburg made me want to hop on the earliest LTU flight and spend some time in Germany. The bottles, cocktails, bitters, and syrups on display in his post are simply mouth watering and certainly made me jealous of not having the same experience.

But the travels and opportunities available to two of the top American craft bartenders isn’t what I would put on this list. After all, both Derek and Jeffrey have made a career out of being professionals of the highest order and both have expanded the reach of their audience beyond the stick through the web. They have great opportunities available to them, but they’re working their butts off for them.

Pegublog-barNo, when all is said and done, I am most bitter of the home bar Doug of The Pegu Blog has built for himself. Doug has a huge series of posts on both his basement bar and other things that one could add to a basement bar. Giving it a read as I write this post, I’m just overwhelmed by how amazing his set up is. The size of a finished full basement. A large bar counter top, a huge back bar, professional style shelving, a true wet bar with a refrigerator and ice making capability…the list goes on. Seriously who wouldn’t be envious of Doug’s killer set up?

Now I’ll say up front that I don’t have very similar stylistic tastes as Doug and I certainly would/will not end up with a basement bar that looks anything like his. It’s very modern (or is the correct word contemporary?) and has more black, steel, and neon than I like. But nonetheless, his set up is as fine as they come and I am deeply envious of it.

You see, I live in an apartment with a fairly small kitchen. A significant portion of the cabinet space in my kitchen is dedicated to storing bottles of liquor, bitters, beer, and syrups. An equally significant portion of my refrigerator is dedicated to perishable spirits, syrups, cherries, and wine. And that’s not to mention my glassware, cocktail tools, and restaurant-style manual juicer. It’s hard to imagine me expanding my operation much more without having a dedicated  home bar, which is why I’m so jealous of Doug’s set up. Moreover, I love entertaining. I love making drinks for my friends. A home bar is exactly the sort of thing that would help me both entertain more people and have more frequent opportunities to sling some of my own cocktail creations for my friends.

So there you go, Michael & Sam. I’m bitter about Doug’s basement bar. I suppose I’ll find out if this post is the sort of response you had in mind when you challenged the cocktail blogosphere to write about who they were envious of. In any event, I’ll just have to keep being jealous of Doug…while reveling in the fact that though he has a killer home bar, he’s in Ohio and has to endure a harder process to get many new or rare spirits. Actually, that’s not much of consultation because I still don’t have a sick home bar and nothing good will come of Doug not being able to find quality spirits to stock his bar with ease.



  1. Hahahaha!
    I love it, thanks.
    I read this post to my wife (and co-designer) and she laughed in hearty agreement at the Ohio comment. Then she stopped and said, “Oh, he means the liquor laws….”

  2. i would have liked this post much more if you didn’t mention things like

    “Hopefully this will be enough to win me”

    and “not be lame when there is a serious bottle of bitters at stake.”

    sure, you basically wrote it for those two judges, but there’s a difference between being impressive..

    and just trying to impress someone.

    good read though! those things just really stood out to me. =(

    • I hear what you’re saying and will edit out the first line.

      The reality is the contest is for a bottle of bitters that were done in a very rare, limited run. Only 100 bottles are in the US, mostly going to high-end bars and bartenders. They are not available for commercial sale. The only way for a cocktail enthusiast like myself to get a bottle is through winning a competitive contest. But as I said, I understand how this could turn you off. If you look at my blog, though, you’ll see I’ve been writing about cocktails, bars, and spirits at a very high rate (200 posts in one year or so). I do this because I enjoy it, not to impress anyone. Sorry if this post didn’t meet your standards.


      • One more thing. I stand by my assertion that Time Magazine naming “You” the Person of the Year in 2006 was lame.

  3. […] written about Doug Winship of The Pegu Blog’s Basement Bar series in the past, but I’d never gotten a comprehensive look at it. Fortunately, a recent visitor to his […]

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