Friday, April 28, 2006

The Bartender Diaries

Mike Hill
- Lounge Manager, Topaz and Bar Rouge, Washington DC

“I hate the term ‘frou frou,’” declares Mike Hill as we relax on plush velvet banquets. I have just made the “faux pas” of referring to the delectable lavender-infused cocktail he has presented to me to sample, as such.

“We do research on what’s in season and pull together ideas. We call them ‘fruit infusions.’ Then, we pick recognizable names, and hope people enjoy them.”

From my perspective, “enjoy them” is an understatement. The cocktails presented in Kimpton lounges are consistently creative in name, composition and presentation. In fact, they are reflective of the growing hotel chain, itself.

Headquartered in San Francisco, the boutique hotel company slogan is: “Every hotel tells a story,” and each property has its own individual personality. So much so, that a visitor to the Villa Florence in San Fran, may not realize it is related to Hotel Allegro in Chicago, or 70 Park Avenue in New York, or Hotel Monaco in DC. At least, not at first glance.

The DC-area has six Kimpton properties, with two more underway. The hip lounges at Topaz and Rouge, under Mike’s care and supervision, attract the stylish ‘sipsters’ of Washington.

Their recipe for success? “We get a lot of support from corporate headquarters, with marketing ideas, etc. We have local support, too. Sarah Crocker (PR Director for Kimpton Hotels and Lounges in Washington) always brings us opportunities.”

Mike Hill was born in Philadelphia, and grew up in South Jersey. Upon completing his undergrad in Business Management, he moved to DC to pursue an MBA, from Howard University.

While studying business, he also honed his bar skills. “I bartended through undergrad at Maxine’s, in Trenton, a Mom and Pop place with soul food and ‘old school’ martinis, no frills.”

His first introduction to Kimpton, in the fall of 2003, was after returning from a summer internship, at Bloomberg. He took a server position at Firefly, in the Hotel Madera.

A year later, Marriott offered Mike a job as Restaurant Manager in Montgomery County, MD. He agreed, but by May 2005, Firefly wooed him back with an Assistant Manager position. Mike jumped at it saying, “I missed it too much!”

Hill says that what he likes most about Kimpton is that it doesn’t feel like a corporation. “Everyone I work with cares about what they’re doing. The loyalty runs high and we treat each other with respect.”

In November 2005, he accepted his current position of Area Lounge Manager. It can be challenging to run two lounges because he can’t be at both places, at same time. “Some nights I have to pick who needs me most, at a particular moment.”

But, he thrives on it, and especially values the interaction with his staff. “I love the people I work with. They fit the personalities of the lounges.”

Topaz features a laid back, relaxed ambiance. The hotel’s theme is wellness. He says, “The lounge has an Urban-Asian identity. We even have a Greek organic wine and an organic cocktail called “Organic White Cosmo” (drink recipe to follow in Topaz posting, next week!)

Rouge has been labeled a ‘Conversation Bar’ which means its quiet enough to bring a date, and actually talk. Later in the evening, though, according to Mike, “It becomes a party atmosphere.”

He also gets to use his business degrees. “I’m responsible for running numbers and creating marketing plans.”

What people may not know about Mike, because he is too modest to boast, is that in his younger years, he traveled all over the country playing tennis on the National Junior Circuit, and won the National Championship, at age 12.

When prodded, he explains, “Tennis helped get me into college. I started playing at 5 years old. I thought about being a pro until I turned 15. Then, my main interest was just being a normal kid.”

He still picks up a racket, from time to time. “I love the sport. I play whenever I can.”

Mike is also passionate about the culinary world. “I like discovering food, wine and drinks. I’ve picked up things being around great chefs and mixologists. I love that I can learn something new. In this business, I think that’s always going to happen.”

The future is bright for a rising star, like Mike. He’s got the people skills, business savvy and enthusiastic dedication to move up the rungs of any business corporation. Just remember not to call his fanciful, fruity cocktails “frou frou.” He hates that.

The Liquid Muse wants to know:

*Where do you like to go for a night out?
Somewhere low key, preferably with live jazz. I like Utopia. And, I still like to hang out at Firefly.

*What do you drink on a night off?
Captain & Ginger

*Where would you go on a special date?
If I were really going to splurge, I’d like to try Citronelle, or Restaurant Eve.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Celebrity Sips

Pursuant to last week’s "Celebrity Sips," Sipster, Tony Sachs, sent in an intriguing concoction enjoyed by the late, great crooner, Frank Sinatra.

Tony says, “I'm a Sinatra freak, and a major-league cocktailian, so I especially enjoyed the Sinatra entry. In my comment, I mentioned "Pepe's Flame Of Love Martini," which was a favorite of Sinatra's (although actually created for Dean Martin) by Pepe, the bartender at the legendary Chasen's, in Beverly Hills. Here's the recipe:

Pepe’s Flame of Love Martini
(created by Pepe, of Chasen’s, presented to The Liquid Muse by Tony Sachs)

Pour just enough sherry to coat the inside of a chilled cocktail glass.
In another glass, add 4 oz. vodka and several ice cubes.
Flame a wedge of orange peel over the first cocktail glass, containing the sherry, so that the oil from the peel shpritzes a fine mist into the glass.
Strain the chilled vodka into the sherry-coated glass.
Flame the orange peel again, then rub the rim of the glass with it.

Serve and wait for your guests' eyes to roll back in their head while they sigh, "Ooooohhhh...."

Dean reportedly said it was "the greatest thing I've ever had in my mouth." Ed McMahon's a big fan of it, too. You can watch the drink being made for Ed in the documentary ‘The Last Days Of Chasen's.’”

Thanks, Tony!
(directions on how to ‘flame an orange peel’ to follow!)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Barboursville Vineyards

A taste of old-world Italia, in modern-day Virginia

Boasting multiple award-winning vintages, Barboursville Vineyards is one of the most prestigious wine producers in Virginia. This estate winery is located on 830 acres of beautiful rolling hills, near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Currently boasting 125 acres of vineyards, expansion is expected.

In 1976, the Zonin family, of Italy, was the first in the state to plant and successfully establish the revered vitis vinifera vines. Grafting European vines with native North American plant-roots has resulted in high-quality harvests.

The property also features the ruins of Governor Barbour’s plantation house, designed by personal friend, and architect, Thomas Jefferson. Tours of the grounds are available, and a $4 wine tasting fee includes a souvenir glass with the Barboursville logo.
Feeling indulgent? Stay for dinner at the gracious Palladio and snuggle up for the weekend at the 1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards, both on the property.

I tasted their signature wine, below, on a birthday-weekend trip, earlier this year. I am partial to California zins, and robust cabernets, and I have to admit that I wasn't sure what to expect, in Virginia. I'm very glad to have experienced this delicious, powerful wine.

Octagon 2004
"A superb red, created and released only in exceptional vintages such as 1991, 1995, 1998, based on Merlot and other Bordeaux varietals. The massive tannin structure is tamed by extended aging in French oak barrels. Dark in color with a superb aroma of plum, cassis and tobacco, its complex flavors are well integrated with a silky finish."
The Battle Over Pisco - Sour Grapes?

Pisco is the “national drink” of Chile. Or, is it that of Peru?

What the heck is pisco, you ask? And, what is all the fuss about?

The word “pisco” comes from Quechua ("qheshwa,") an indigenous language of the Andean region. Formerly the official language of the Inca Empire, it is still spoken by approximately 13 million people.

Pisco is a clear brandy, or aguardiente, distilled from white muscat grapes. It is grown in two main regions of South America: the area around Pisco, Peru, a small fishing village, and in the Elqui Valley, or “zona pisquera,” located in the hot, dry region of northern Chile.

Both Chile and Peru claim the right to produce pisco, and present it as their own exclusive product. Dispute is increasing over which country owns the appelation of Pisco, which dates back to the time of the Spanish viceroyalty. When Peru and Chile became separate countries, each country continued to produce, and drink, pisco with nationalistic vigor.

Economically, pisco is significant, too. In the Pisco region of Peru, it is a major industry, along with the cultivation of cotton, and commercial fishing. Meanwhile, Chile produces 5.5 million cases of pisco, per year, in its northern region, providing jobs for 70,000 people.

Whether enjoying a refreshing Pisco Sour on a long, hot afternoon in the valleys of northern Chile, or sipping seaside in Peru, it is a must try for any visitor to South America. (Don’t forget to bring back a bottle, or two!)

Pisco Sour
(recipe provided by the Embassy of Chile, in Washington DC, an excerpt from “Bottled Sunlight, The Book of Chilean Pisco”)
Serves four

2 cups Chilean pisco (35°)
¼ cup sugar syrup
½ cup lemon juice
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 egg white
Dashes of Angostura bitter

Combine all ingredients in the blender, except the Angostura bitters, until ice begins to melt. Serve immediately, in small glasses, add dashes of Angostura bitters.

Pisco Sour
(Peruvian version)

3 glasses Pisco
1 1/2 glasses sugar
1 egg white
Ice cubes
Angostura bitters
Powdered cinnamon
2 Glasses fresh Peruvian lime (or lemon) juice

Add the Pisco and egg-white to a cocktail shaker, and shake vigorously (or into a blender) Add ice cubes, sugar and juice, mix.
Serve in wide glasses, topped with a sprinkling of cinnamon, and a drop of bitters.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sipster Submission
(sipster: a member of The Liquid Muse community. To join, email

(a revitalizing French twist on a well-worn American favorite)
2 1/2 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. Cranberry Juice
2 tbs. of lemon juice

Pour over ice, shake, strain into a Martini Glass

Says Sipster, Amy, an American abroad, “I was served this during Fashion Week in Paris. It was part of a promotion introducing Ocean Spray cranberry juice to France. Cranberry juice is not commonly drunk, in France. It is just now getting popular – mostly because of cocktails!”

Friday, April 21, 2006

Tequila: Truths and Tales

Blue Agave Margarita
1-1/2 oz. Silver Tequila
1 oz. blue Curaçao
4 oz. sweetened lime juice
Rimmed with salt (optional)

Shake, strain, pour into a salt-rimmed glass, garnish with lime

Tequila, North America's first distilled spirit, has roots deep in the heart of Mexico. In the late 1400's, Spanish Conquistadors encountered the Nahuatl, indigenous people who used ‘pulque’ for medicinal purposes, and in religious ceremonies. The primary ingredient in pulque came from the agave plant, abundant in the volcanic soils in the Sierra Madre region surrounding Guadalajara.

Legend has it that the Spaniards had run out of brandy, and eagerly sought a source of fermentable sugar. They began to experiment with the full-bodied taste of blue agave, or agave azul.

Throughout the following centuries, tequila grew in popularity. In the 1970's, the Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM) set guidelines that ‘true’ tequila is produced within two hundred kilometers of Guadalajara, and contains at least 51% blue agave. Premium tequilas are usually 100% blue agave, and proudly labeled so. Half the world's tequila is produced near the town of Tequila.

Today, over 90,000 acres of blue agave are under cultivation, in that region. Planted from mecuates, small offshoots growing from the base of adult plants, there are 1,500-2,000 to each acre. A fully grown plant reaches a height of approximately 6 feet.

In the wild, a plant matures after 7-10 years, at which point a central flower-bearing stalk begins to grow, sometimes 9 feet high. Those flowers would then be pollinated by long-nosed bats.

Under cultivation, however, jimadores, or field workers, harvest the the central core of the plant, or pina. The elongated, sharply pointed leaves, surrounding the core, are hacked off with long-handled knives, called coas. A pina resembles a giant pinecone, and can weigh 50-150 pounds.

The pinas are split in half and stacked in ovens and steamed for approximately 72 hours. After a 24 hour cooling period, it is soft, fibrous and caramel-colored, and taste like honey-dipped yams.

Traditionally, cooked pinas would be crushed by a tahona, or large wheel of volcanic rock, slowly drawn round and round, by a mule or horse. Today, the pinas are minced by a machine resembling a wood chipper.

The pulp is strained and the resulting liquid, known as agua miel, the basis of all tequila, is mixed with water, then fermented, in large vats. Agaves have as many as 40 different wild yeasts, though manufacturers sometimes use cane sugar cones to speed fermentation.

After filtering, 3-6 days later, the liquid emerges clear (referred to as 'silver' or 'white.') Some tequila houses add coloring or herbs, endowing a pale golden color, and age it for two more months, resulting in what we call ‘gold’ tequila.

Depending on the aging technique, the tequila takes on different flavors. Reposado, meaning 'rested,' remains in white oak barrels for 3-12 months. The next level of aging, anejo, or ‘vintage,' produces a smoother "sipping tequila." The word, "anejo" only appears on bottles containing tequila aged at least one year. Tequilas aged 5-6 years are called "muy anejo."

Much confusion, and many myths, exist around tequila production. Though some mescals contain a worm, mostly as an intriguing marketing ploy, it is neither hallucinogenic, nor serves any purpose. Also untrue is the belief that tequila is made from cacti. Agave is a succulent and more closely related to amaryllis, and lilies.

Tequila sales have increased over 1500%, from 1975 to 1995. Blue agave is the single-most important crop in western Mexico, due to its role in the tequila industry, providing thousands of Mexicans with a livelihood whose history can be traced back over 300 years. Many workers take pride in producing an export that is purely, and truly, Mexican.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Celebrity Sips: FRANK SINATRA

“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they are going to feel all day.” -Frank Sinatra

Whether rollin’ the dice in Vegas, maneuvering a convertible along the French Riviera or lounging poolside with Ava Garnder or Lana Turner in Palm Springs, Old Blue Eyes led a life that marked the glamour of an era.

But, let’s face it. Fulfilling the title of ‘international playboy’ is not easy! A man’s gotta relax at the end of a hard day of making women swoon…

His drink of choice?

Though Frank appreciated fine wine, and the ever retro-chic martini, the Rat Pack leader particularly enjoyed a good, hard Tennessee whiskey.

The Chairman of the Board liked his drink cut with water, over ice. And the glass itself was important, it had to be an Old Fashioned, which he is rumored to have collected.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Wine-O The World Wednesday

Bottoms Up, Down Under!

Slightly larger than Texas, with a climate similar to that of California, the State of South Australia produces over 60% of all Australian wines. Australia’s premium cool-climate wine region, the first plantings date back to 1839, just three years after the colony was settled. Today, more than 180 grape growers dot the rolling, grassy landscape.

Nestled in Adelaide Hills, a diverse terrain boasting great food, fine wines and stunning scenery, 15-acre Hahndorf Hill Winery is one of 35 wine labels producing world-class wines, in that region. Specializing in Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Hahndorf Hill also cultivates a couple of unusual German red varietals – Trollinger and Lemberger.

Winner of the 2004 and 2005 awards for Best Tourism Winery in the Adelaide Hills, Hahndorf Hill Winery gets extra points (in my book) for their commitment to sustainable farming as founding members of the Adelaide Hills Environmental Management System.

Suggested first-time samplings:

Sauvignon Blanc 2005
Gold Medal – 2005 Wine Style Asia Awards, Singapore
94 points – Paul Ippolito – Wine Views and Reviews
Four and a half stars: WINESTATE Magazine

The nose has an exciting balance of passion fruit, gooseberries and crunchy snow peas. Excellent body and depth of flavor, all tightly controlled with an electric acidity. This wine has a long, intense finish with classy ‘minerality.’ Enjoy chilled with tuna fettuccine, Cajun-grilled chicken breasts or ginger and sesame pork fillets.

White Mischief 2005
Maiden release of a new wine!
Bronze Medal - 2005 Wine Style Asia Awards, Singapore
Bronze Medal - New Zealand International Wine Show 2005

A wickedly different blend of crisp, unwooded Chardonnay together with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. This unusual wine explodes with intense tropical aromas that fill the palate with a tumble of delicious fruit, excellent texture and extraordinary balance. Ideal for warm summer weather and fabulous with pan-fried calamari, Thai-grilled snapper - or simply as the perfect sundowner!

Rosé 2004
“Nicely balanced, fruity, bone-dry style with ripe, sweet berry aromas”
Huon Hooke, Sydney Morning Herald
Bronze Medal - 2005 Wine Style Asia Awards, Singapore

This sophisticated, dry rosé is made from a blend of Trollinger and Lemberger grapes. Hand picked grapes are crushed and left, skins on, for 8 hours, producing a salmon-pink color. The juice is then fermented until bone dry – like an elegant white wine. The aromatic nose of freshly-crushed raspberries and cider-apples is further enhanced by delicate cinnamon and pine needle notes, perfect for sushi, pan-seared tuna fillets or spicy Asian cuisine.

All of these wines are under $20 / bottle.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Liquid Gold - Olave Olive Oil

Once in a while, The Liquid Muse finds free-flowing inspiration from a non-alcoholic source…

Today's is one such entry.

I was first introduced to Olave at a media dinner, in Washington DC, at The Oceanaire Seafood Room. Executive Chef Rob Klink partnered with renowned Chilean Chef Pilar Rodriguez to create an extraordinary menu of Chilean seafood specialties in celebration of "The Month of the Sea," a national Chilean holiday, celebrated in May.

It was an honor to dine in the company of Chile’s Ambassador to the US, Andrés Bianchi, his stunning wife, Lily Urdinola, and several other embassy representatives. The dinner was exquisite. Each sumptuous course was paired with an superb Chilean wine (several of which will be featured, here, in weeks to come…!)

And, an unexpected surprise… atop every table was a bottle of the most flavorful olive oil I’ve ever tasted! I may have noted mild differences in one brand of oil or another, but I have never been knocked over by the taste of any – until Olave.

Boasting a climate similar to that of the Mediterranean – coastal yet dry – Olave’s olive trees, originally imported from Italy, Spain and Greece, thrive in the sun-drenched valley they now inhabit, about 50 miles west of Santiago. The same conditions lend themselves to Chile’s respected wine industry.

Being in the Southern hemisphere, Chile provides fresh oil with its May harvest, when the European season ends. The Extra Virgin, cold-pressed oil is organically farmed (no pesticides, hormones, etc.) and bottled at the Chilean estate where it is grown.

Olave has already won awards in Chile, Italy and the US. It is available for purchase at Whole Foods, Dean & Deluca, Balducci’s and other specialty gourmet stores.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Sipster Submission
(sipster: a member of The Liquid Muse community. To join, email

Sent in by Sipster, Shannon Preece, Los Angeles

2 oz. Bourbon
½ oz. Amaretto
1 oz. Lemon Juice

Pour over ice, in old fashioned glass (or for the kinky-at-heart, sip from your most fabulous Jimmy Choo…)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Personality Profile

Brenton Spratlen
Bar Manager, Sports Club LA (Washington DC location)

“I like making a great experience for someone who sits at the bar.” Two months ago, Brenton’s philosophy on bartending earned him the Bar Manager position at Sports Club LA, next to the Ritz Carlton Hotel, in Washington DC.

Brenton has taken it upon himself to help guests discover their ‘new favorite drink’, when they visit his bar. He says, “Everybody walks up and does the same thing. They look at all the bottles back there – but you know they’ll always get the same drink.” Brenton’s goal is to get them to taste something different, explaining, “There are something like 20,000 different cocktails on the market today. There are so many possibilities. It’s fun to create new drinks.”

California-born Brenton first came to the Nation’s Capital as part of his Navy training. After completing standard boot camp in Chicago, Spratlen was selected to do an additional 2-month boot camp in Washington, which launched his 2-year tour under President Clinton. He participated in special ceremonies at the White House, including Clinton’s second inauguration. He often stood guard, during such events, without moving a muscle, for several hours at a time.

Divulging strict training procedure, he says, “We trained standing perfectly still for 20 minutes. Gradually, we built up to 4 hours.” Part of that training included pushing the soldier’s hat further back on his head so the sun would shine directly on his face, to practice not squinting. Reflecting on his time in the military, he laughs and says, “I didn’t really know what I was getting into.”

After patrolling the Mediterranean, for eight months, during the Kosovo crisis, Brenton eventually got an honorable discharge and decided to stick around DC, where he has now lived for eight years.

Brenton’s first bartending job was at the Sports Club LA. Later, he went to work at the Washington Plaza Hotel’s pool bar, where he DJ’d, too, until his equipment got stolen. From there he went over to Blue Gin, where he still serves drinks, on the weekends. Two months ago, however, his bartending career came full-circle when he came back to Sports Club LA, as Bar Manager.

Music is Brenton’s other passion. He says he spends 95% of his ‘off time’ dealing with music. “I DJ at clubs, or at my house. I love creating compilation discs for bars. Nearly all the compilation CDs you hear at Blue Gin are mine. I like to create a mood.”

Brenton comes across as a happy guy who is doing what he enjoys, which makes him an asset to the nighttime scene. Whether spinning records or mixing libations with which to enjoy the ambiance he creates, he’s the kind of guy that draws customers back for more. “I love bartending itself. I think I’ll always be a bartender. On the side, at least.”

The Liquid Muse wants to know:

*Where do you like to go for a night out?
I like discovering new places, but for me its all about the mood. When I’m not working, I still like going to Blue Gin. I also like Mate and Chi Cha Lounge.

*What do you order?
Stoli raspberry, chilled, straight up.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Raspberry Ice Tea Julep
Created by Brian Zipin, Citronelle Bar Manager and Assistant Sommelier

For me, the perfect finish to a long, sunny afternoon, shopping in charming Georgetown, involves a fresh cocktail, in a lovely atmosphere. Citronelle, known for elegant cuisine and ‘power-hitter’ clientele, also has a cozy sidewalk terrace. What better place to bask in the glow of well-made purchases?

According to Chris Morris, of Woodford Reserve Bourbon, "Centuries ago, an Arabic drink called julab, was made from water and rose petals. The beverage had a delicate and refreshing scent that people felt enhanced the quality of their lives." When the julab was introduced to Mediterranean regions of Europe, rose petals were replaced with mint.

2 oz. Marker’s Mark Bourbon
Freshly brewed raspberry tea
Honey water
Muddled orange and lemon, a slice of each
Fresh mint

Muddle orange and lemon with 5 mint leaves. Add bourbon. Shake. Pour over a tall glass of ice. Pour in tea and honey water. Garnish with a sprig of mint, lemon and a couple of raspberries…

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tis the season for refreshing cocktails!

My first few posts on this blog reflect the joyous time of year when Spring has sprung!!

Sangritini from Taberna del Alabardero
created by Manolo Gracia, Bar Manager & David Bueno, Sommelier

1 oz Bacardi Orange
1/2 oz Bacardi Apple
1/2 oz Bacardi Lemon
1/2 oz White wine
1/2 oz Triple Sec
Splash Orange juice
Splash Lemon juice

Shake ingredients and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with orange twist and apple dice.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Introducing The Liquid Muse!

The inspiration for this blog comes from my love of entertaining, and my appreciation for the perfect drink to complement an evening's theme, cuisine or mood. I am thrilled to share these titillating libations!

Maybe you share some of my passions... I love chatting over fanciful cocktails with my girlfriends. I melt into every sip of a buttery white wine and my senses reel from the power of a robust red. Once in a while, I crave a flavorful, thirst-quenching beer. And, I always find excuses to make sparkling toasts, with my man.

My goal is to have sampled (almost) everything posted here, and share the creme-de-la-creme with you, the reader. I hope this blog will be a resource for finding the perfect hot-spot for a night on-the-town, fun drinks to concoct at your own home-thrown cocktail party, or simply posts to peruse in search of a decadent treat for yourself, at the end of a long day.

My posts tend to be DC and LA- heavy, for the most part, but I do get around the world a bit, and share delectable drinks from the places I go or have been...

If you would like to receive newsletters, exclusive to my readers (or "Sipsters") please let me know:

And, if you would like to share your favorite drink, please include your name, the drink name, recipe and if possible a (jpeg) photo. It may just end up here!

Cheers and Tchin-Tchin!