Sunday, July 22, 2007

Raise A Glass To Cocktail Blogging

One of the few things to drag me out of bed early on a Saturday morning in New Orleans is meeting up with fellow cocktail bloggers. Yes, there are other sane, rational, intelligent people out in the world who write, passionately, about cocktails and liquors several times a week, sometimes for little or no money. Why do we do it? If you have a cocktail blog, you already know the answer to that question. If you don’t, these four gentlemen may give you a little insight…

Paul Clarke from Cocktail Chronicles moderated the seminar. He brilliantly describes cocktail blogging as “combining the inherently social act of mixing a drink with the inherently solitary act of sitting in front of a computer,” which made me (and Camper English sitting next to me at the seminar) laugh out loud.

A full time journalist in Seattle, Paul enjoys the freedom of writing about whatever he tickles his fancy in a realm without the pressure editors, word counts and deadlines. (Hear, hear to writer anarchy!) He says that he blogged to “get his chops” for other drink writing, and recorded his endeavors trying out new recipes.

For example, after struggling with Dale Degroff’s recipe for falernum, Paul decided, “I would not let this stupid syrup make a money out of me!” Not only were his online trials popular posts but you can read about it in this month’s Imbibe Magazine.

Paul says that there are 175,000 new blogs per day, and attributes much of the success of this kind forum to blogs’ timely and interactive way of working toward the “squishy web 2.0 goal of creating an online community.” I like to think of our blogs and links as our own cyber-Algonquin round table of sorts. (On that note, James Beard Award winning Jennifer English has a radio show featuring food and drink “conversations” built around that very concept!)

Reader interaction is something that we all enjoy but Paul says when people first started commenting on his blog, it took him by surprise. He recalls writing about an obscure drink called the Police Gazette Cocktail, which is comprised of whisky and “dribs and drabs of other stuff.” Paul says, “I made it and loved it, and wrote about it. Then, some guy in Oregon made it and sent a comment saying he liked it. It prompted me to keep writing and think about how I was doing it.”

Taking a cue from food bloggers, whose community slightly preceded ours, Paul and a few other “cocktailians” got together to create a day when everyone blogged together. Mixology Mondays was born in the spring of 2006 with 8 paraticipants. Paul says that they now average 25 participants, including a few “honorary food bloggers.” It basically works like this: each month, somebody volunteers to host. The host picks a date and a topic, and on that day, everyone posts a drink. (I think I’m hosting in October, so let me know if you want to participate!)

As cocktail bloggers do, he gave shout outs to several fellow bloggers during the seminar, many of whom did not make it to New Orleans (though you were all with us in spirit)! Among others, he mentioned some blogs that he enjoys are: A Dash of Bitters, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Alcademics (Camper’s new name), Robert Hess’s, Thriston Powell, Cocktail Nerd, Dr. Bamboo, and yes, The Liquid Muse. (Of course, he had to say that… I was sitting in the front row ;-)

Next up was Chuck Taggart from The Gumbo Pages. Chuck is based in Los Angeles and also does the radio show Gumbo Ya Ya on our public radio station, KCRW. Chuck grew up in New Orleans has a leans toward the vintage and antique. As he puts it, “Everything old is new again. Now everyone is talking about tinctures but in the 1860’s Jerry Thomas was already doing them!”

His site, has a large focus on food and drink, not only cocktails. He says that he began a blog because he got tired of copying out his recipes for people, and it snowballed from there. He grew up in New Orleans, where they had a bar in their family home. Chuck recalls, “My dad taught me to make Old Fashioneds when I was 12 years old.” (I can relate. My family re-modeled our garage into the most beautiful entertaining room in our house, which featured a full size, fully stocked bar. And, I made my dad 7 & 7’s as a kid. This weekend in New Orleans, I began to realize that this was not an unusual phenomenon!)

On the topic of reader interaction, he shared a humorous anecdote. After spending a lot of time researching and getting hold of Plymouth Sloe Gin, which is used in some 1930’s era cocktails, and not available in the United States, he made this special cocktail and wrote about it on his blog. In honor of the occasion, he presented the drink in a rare glass made for the 1939 World’s Fair.

Laughingly, he recounts that the comment which most stood out was not about the careful research, the “rediscovered” antique recipe or the vintage glass in which it was poured… but someone noted “I can’t believe you used refrigerator ice!” (If you’re not chuckling at this observation, read my notes from the Tales of the Cocktail seminar, “On The Rocks” about the important role ice plays in a high-end drink.)

Chuck gave a little insight into the origin of the word “blog.” He says that around 1999, someone joked around with the original term “web log” turning it into “we blog.” The word “blog” both noun and verb is now in Webster’s dictionary.

Chuck’s cocktail epiphany happened around 99 – 2000. “I got sick of bad drinks in bars. At bayona (in New Orleans) I had a perfectly made Sazerac. That inspired me to seek out good cocktails.” I met ted hay, and a whole new world opened up to me. One day, I got an email from Brooks Baldwin about a cocktail recipe that he got from his grandmother. As he puts it, “This is a truly lost cocktail that was passed down through generations.”

Fancy Free Cocktail contains:
Maraschino liqueur, Bourbon, 2 kinds of bitters angostura and orange

Rick Stutz stared Kaiser Penguin in March 2006 (about a month before I started The Liquid Muse.) In addition to great writing and recipes, his blog features a heavy emphasis on photos. Rick says, “If I take a photo and don’t want to immediately jump in andrink it, I thow it away.” Actually, Paul Clarke refered to Rick’s blog shots as “Cocktail porn with a tiki fetish.” (If that doesn’t lure you over, I don’t know what will!) Also, his original cocktail recipes have been published in print and his Orange Viola is served in a Seattle bar.

Rick lives in Pennsylvania and started a blog because, as he puts it, the only people in his area with whom to discuss quality cocktails were about 50 frat houses or the Amish down the road. He says that he began his foray into cocktailian culture with Dale DeGroff’s book, and began making the drinks. He also began to discover other drink blogs, and thirsted for more Mixology interaction.

He began to realize the far-reaching fingers of his cyber bar tending when he went to the Forbidden Island with his friend. He recounts, “Adam started introducing me to his friends, and one of them said, I like your tiki focus.” Another told him he should post more often. He says that in addition to enjoying doing it for himself, realizing that people actually read the stuff he wrote inspired him to keep at it.

Darcy O Neil (featured here with Robert Hess) from The Art of Drink has a particularly unusual slant. After studying chemistry for four years in college, he went on to work for 6-8 years in a lab before becoming a bartender. He says that the name of his blog came from “The Art of War,” which I think would seems appropriate to any of us who has worked in a restaurant or bar!

He says that he started his blog as an “independent thought project” and a way to practice learning the recipes he’d use behind the bar. Soon, judging by the comments he’d receive from readers, he realized it was more of a communal thought project, and those comments helped to guide future posts.

Darcy noted that people liked the way he talked about chemistry, with regard to drinks. He says, “ You can’t just throw ingredients and hope for the best. Research makes drinks more intersesting – how the recipes developed. And, people want to know the history of drinks.”

He even went so far as to dig up old chemistry papers. Again, with ice being a ‘hot’ topic, he mentioned that his original post on the chemistry of ice was so successful that he had to write a second post on it. He notes, “Water is basically life.”

I would argue that the same can be said for spirits… at least in our little corner of the blogosphere!


Anonymous said...

great report natalie... cheers, gwen said...

Thanks, Gwen. It was so great to put faces with names. I think we should arrange some kind of in-person cocktail blogging gathering sometime...

Dr. Bamboo said...

Great post! Over the last few days I've been trying to check in at the sites that have been covering TotC in hopes of getting a little vicarious action.

I absolutely must go next looks like way too much fun.

jimmyp said...

hanks for the wrap-up. Sounds like you had a good time.

jimmyp said...

Sheesh... Thanks, not hanks!

Anonymous said...

Wow, that sounds so fantastic, brilliant write-up as always!

That's a great photo of you, Natalie. It might have even turned out better if John Gakuru hadn't managed to weasel his way in there!

camper said...

I look blotchy and drunk in that photo, which sounds about right for 10AM at Tales of the Cocktail.

Unknown said...

Thanks for that Jeff!!! I love you too!

Unknown said...

Nathalie, great report! Thoroughly enjoyed it! Personally I think I bring a little summin' summin' to the picture.....not a lot, but a little! Don't you agree?! said...

Yes, darling. I always like an attractive male head lingering in the corners of all my photos.