Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Art of Mixing

Hennessy Cognac’s Cocktail Contest

Three of L.A.’s finest barmen went cocktail shaker-to-cocktail shaker at the swanky Coco De Ville, a couple of weeks ago. The boutique nightclub is tucked next door to its big sister, STK (which you may remember from my Hot Chicks and a Hunk of Meat post earlier this year). My pal Debbie and I arrived on the early side, which left us plenty of time to settle in with a couple of Sidecars as bartending friends and cocktailian colleagues slowly filed in.

The great Tony Abou Ganim flew in to be Master of Ceremonies, Vincenzo Marianella lent support, and mixology stations were set up around the venue so everyone could get in to try their hand at working with one of the top selling cognacs in the world. Lovely ladies passed around samples of the three competing cocktails, and we, the willing crowd, sipped our way through them, raising glasses and voices for our favorites.

A big congratulations to Joel Black who took home top honors. And, of course, Joe Brooke and Daniel Nelson ain’t no mixology schlumps either. Let’s just say we drank well, that night! Joel now goes on to compete against finalists from New York, Miami and New Orleans. Go Joel!

Joel Black, Comme Ca Restaurant
"Clockwork Orange"

2 oz. Hennessy
3/8 oz. pureed bing cherries

1/2 oz. lemon juice

1/2 oz. simple syrup
1/2 oz. orange juice
4 dashes of orange bitters
5 mint leaves
1 pinch of brown sugar

top with Moët Champagne

Muddle mint with brown sugar and bitters. Add lemon, simple syrup and orange juice and Hennessy. Shake and strain in a cocktail glass. Top with Moët Champagne.

Joseph Brooke, Bar Marmont
"Bel-Air Timeshare"

1 1/2 oz. Hennessy
1/2 oz. lemon juice

1/2 oz. apricot preserves
1/4 oz. yelllow Chartreuse
1/4 oz. clover honey syrup

1 dash peach bitters

Shake and strain all ingredients in a cocktail glass, garnish with a lemon peel.

Daniel Nelson
, The Doheny
“The Closer”

2 oz. Hennessy
1 barspoon pumpkin puree
4 to 5 dashes of peach bitters
3/4 oz. Ruby Chai Tea infused Navan

Shake and strain all ingredients in a cocktail glass. Garnish with shaved nutmeg and shaved semi-sweet chocolate.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Deep Breath, A Sigh of Relief and A Raised Hand

Sitting in La Guardia, this morning, the intensity of this past week rolls off my shoulders and settles into a warm, little comforting place in the back of my mind. I’ve done it. I went through B.A.R. training (12 hours per day for 4 days, followed by the exam day, which is comprised of shaking and stirring; a multi-page written exam; and a blind tasting evaluation.)

The course is chock-full of information, and not designed for beginners. It is definitely a program for industry professionals, and despite my 2 1/2 years as “The Liquid Muse,” I found it incredibly challenging.

The teachers are passionate and informed leaders in the world of wine and spirits. Does it get any better than having Dale DeGroff, Paul Pacult, Doug Frost, Steve Olson and David Wondrich share their knowledge and experience all day, everyday, several days in a row? Not to mention Andy Seymore, Willy Shine, Aisha Sharpe and Leo DeGroff to support their efforts? My only complaint is not having more time to go over the many details they each had to impart and the many questions each new question conjured up.

As the panel of award-winning, renowned experts galloped through centuries of history, blind tastings of all the major spirits categories, and the study of practical application of all of it, I had moments of wondering just how I’d retain every important name, date, place and tasting note. They did their best, of course, to address our questions, but to keep moving along at a healthy clip and squeeze the whole program into a few days, it was integral that every student showed up with a solid foundation of knowledge already.

And, that’s the way it should be, right? In order for the B.A.R. program to mean something and have this certification carry some weight, it needs to be difficult. It is meant to be the test that separates the “men” from the “boys,” if you will. We get the results of our exams back in 6 weeks. Apparently, we will be reached by phone and the outcome will be explained to us – where we did well, where we could improve, and ultimately, if we can put those three little letters “B.A.R.” on our resumes.

No matter what, I do know that I’ve come out with a deeper understanding of the exciting field I work in. I’ve made some new friends from around the country, and went through the trenches with some of my existing ones. I’m ready to dip my nose into many more books and glasses to continue educating myself with both the history of cocktails, and the cutting edge trends on the horizon. And, I have a million more questions to pose…

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Absolut Top Bartender 
Los Angeles Kick-Off Party

 and Cocktail Competition!

This is an invitation from Marcos Tello, an LA-based bartender and ring-leader of The Sporting Life bartender association. This will be an awesome event... See you there!!

From Marcos:

"Bartenders, Friends & Cocktail Crafters of the Compete in a National Bartending Competition with $100,000 on the line to the winner. The first Phase of the "Absolut Top Bartender Los Angeles ", is Mandatory attendance at our Kick-Off Party at The Edison (108 W. Second St.) in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, Sept. 29th from 9 pm to Midnight. The top 1 or 2 Bartenders in Los Angeles will be chosen to compete against the best from NYC, Vegas, Miami, SF and Chicago with the $100,000 prize on the line for the Winner. 
Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions about the Program & Competition, as it's my genuine pleasure working with the Bartenders in the Los Angeles Area to find our who has what it takes the be Best !!!
Bar Managers please pass this onto anyone on your staff that has what we are looking for and Bartenders please forward this invitation to your industry friends who will be attending the event with you. 

~See you at the Kick-Off Party !!!"

If you want Marcos' direct contact info, you can email me at: natalie@theliquidmuse.com

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Clarifications from Yesterday's B.A.R. Gin Tasting

I mentioned in my post that someone on our panel referred to Martin Miller's gin as 'the cartoon version of Hendrick's' ... or something along those lines. Since that obviously hit a nerve with the MM marketing people, I'd like to put that comment into context...

When doing blind tastings, as we were yesterday, we are going off of the vegetal, herbacious, floral, spicy, earthy (etc.) notes we are getting from first smelling, then tasting a spirit. After tasting about 8 gins, we were asked to guess which brands we thought were which.

Given the strong cucumber, rose and similar notes which most of us associated with Hendrick's gin, many of us guessed that was what that particular one is. As it turns out, it was Martin Miller's. Some of us - like me - were surprised at how cucumber-y MM is. And, one of our instructors made a comment about how much more exaggerated the cucumber notes in Martin Miller's is.

I asked that instructor, today, what he meant by his comment, and he insisted that it was not meant to be an insult but rather the first thing that sprung to his mind describing its taste. It was not premeditated or a slam on the product.

So, let's get back to our regularly scheduled program. No one meant any harm. This blog is where I report things I see, taste, hear and experience. I don't apologize for reporting that back without edits. I also ask that you don't shoot the messenger...

Setting the B.A.R.

We went over so many cool things at B.A.R., yesterday. I don't have time to go into it all but let it suffice to say that at 9 in the morning, Steve Olson and David Wondrich walked us through a quick demonstration in at-home pot-stilling. (It's not legal to do this at home, kids... and they certainly did not sugest we do it. They were showing us how liquor is made. However, you may want to try it anyway... Just don't hold me responsible for suggesting it if you poison yourself with methanol and such.)

A quick recap of yesterday's highlights from the gin and vodka tastings:

Gin tasting - You may be surprised which gin came out (unanimously) at the bottom of the pile. Let's just say its very popular and quite expensive. (I won't name the brand in this post, though.) Other gin news: Martin Miller's got dissed as "the cartoon version of Hendrick's," which is a shame cuz I quite like it. Old Raj got lots of love. And we tried the Bols Genever... slightly yellow color, slightly sweet... not even on the U.S. market yet. But, look for it. This is a big gin trend coming down the pipeline...

Vodka tasting - Finlandia got big props from both Paul Pacult and Dale DeGroff. (Yes, Dale works with Finlandia. He and Tony Abou Ganim teach the Finnishing School - which I took 2 years ago. Great crash-course in mixology, fyi. Still, both Paul and Dale tout Finlandia as the best 'bang for the buck' on the market today. Paul gutted the goose, having dropped it from 4 stars back in 1999 to 2 stars today. They heavily touted Van Gogh chocolate as a good flavored vodka. And, Paul's favorite vodka du jour... Xcellent from Switzerland. Who knew?

I have so much more to tell you but will leave it here for now... and remind me to tell you how great it was to end the day at P.D.T. (Please Don't Tell) sitting around the table with fellow students from Boston, Philly, Connecticut and New Orleans, with a few L.A. pals at the bar. Uniting the country through cocktails.

Monday, September 22, 2008

First Day of School...

I'm preparing to take the plunge and do the B.A.R. (Beverage Alcohol Resource) certification course, this week. It's going to be intense - and its damn expensive so I am going to force myself to focus and not get distracted in New York. Especially because I'm probably one of the only people paying for myself to go to this thing. It seems like most attendees are sponsored by their bar or a liquor company they represent.

However, I believe this is a great way to "validate" my profession, and test my own abilities when it comes to spirits, wine and, of course, cocktails. If nothing else, its a measuring stick of where I am strong and where I could stand to improve.

So, on the first day of B.A.R. school ... do I bring the teacher an Apple Martini?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Violet Hour

Chicago is one of those towns that I drop into and think "Yeah, I could live here." And, then I remember that it gets incredibly, bone-chillingly cold in the winter and remember, "Nah, I totally could never live here... but I love to visit."

This town has cocktail chutzpuh galore. And, you know what else? The people are so freakin' nice. They don't have that "I'm so amazingly cool and important" crap we
sometimes get in L.A. They don't have that "We're too uppity to crack a smile" like waaay too many bars in New York, and they don't have that "We think we're better than everybody else" of San Francisco. (Sorry SF. You know I love you but you know its true.)

The people in Chicago - bartenders included - pride themselves on making great drinks but they don't let it go to their heads. Now, that is something worth braving a chilly night to see. (Yeah, my teeth are already chattering and its barely dipped into the 60's at night. I'm a So-Cal girl, people!)

Sonja Kassebaum blogger at Thinking of Drinking and co-owner of North Shore Distillery was kind enough to join me out tonight for a cocktail. Ok two. (And, did I mention that she and her husband make gin, absinthe, aquavit and more! How rad is that?)

We went to the speakeasy influenced Violet Hour and let Michael, the head bartender, stir and shake up a storm. In addition to being well-versed in gin, whiskey, rum and tequila drinks, the bar also has three kinds of specialized ice, ranging from long tubes to big chunks to round balls. They have the double tin shakers, the fresh herbs and all home made bitters with ingredients like fennel and saffron and such, served out of little brown bottles and eyedroppers.

Man, sitting here after two heady drinks makes me feel like a lightweight cuz I really don't remember all that was in the tipples I sampled... but the first one had gin and egg white - and, well, maybe he'll send me the recipe to share with you folks. The second drink had an incredibly smokey, peaty Scotch (just how I like it) and some other stuff... I think the fennel and saffron bitters was in this one... just trust that it was great and I knew I was having something unique and reeking of high quality.

I also ate some deviled eggs topped with sweet and spicy bacon. I know. I have no business eating that... but you know the 100 mile rule. No, not THAT 100 mile rule! The one about how calories are cut in half when you're more than 100 miles away from home. Yeah, that one.

Anyhoo... I want to check out The Drawing Room next. Maybe tomorrow, or maybe when I'm back in early October. Just wanted to tell you to stop by the Violet Hour next time you're in Chi-town. Its the door with no sign in the building that looks like its under construction with a bare bulb glaring outside above the head of a large man in a black coat. Can't miss it. Or rather, DON'T miss it...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cocktail Puzzle

Tickle Your Brain With Tipples!

Kyle Branch, a private bartender in Los Angeles, created this "Cocktails of the American West" word search puzzle for the online version of Sante Magazine. Test you cocktail knowledge to see how many you can find...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Another Girl Cocktail Blogger Hits the Airwaves!

Please welcome Meaghan to our little neck of the woods. The NYC-based writer (and former bartender) blogs at Spirit Me Away.

Cheers, Meaghan. Happy to have you pull up a cyber barstool.

xo The Liquid Muse

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cocktail Geeks - Shop Til You Drop!

The 'Exposition Universelle des Vins et Spiriteaux' now has a shopping section.

Mixology heavyweights Anastasia Miller and Jared Brown have been spending a lot of time in France getting pieces in the "Exposition" catalogues and ready for the public.

And, now you can buy a little tiny piece of it to take home via t-shirt, mug or whatnot. this is a great place to start looking for holiday gifts...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Coming to Chi-Town!

I am super excited to be teaching The Liquid Muse Sustainable Sips (R) in Chicago, next week! It is one of my favorite American cities - and I know there are a ton of awesome cocktail bars and restaurants to explore. (Not to mention theatre, the lake and Hef's original Playboy mansion!)

So, this is where YOU come in... what are your favorite bars in Chicago? Help guide The Liquid Muse bar reviews by leaving your suggestions in the comments section!
Cast Your Vote

We are going to be seeing a lot of these kinds of cocktails over the next few months. Yes, “election blah, blah” has made its way behind the bar. I promise NOT to feature the multitudes of 'candidate cocktails' already being submitted to me from all around the country. (Let the election be OVER already…)

However, I happen to really like Blue on Blue, which is the retro-swanky bar inside the glamorously historic Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills. They were nice enough to let me shoot my first ever YouTube video there. (Thank God I've gotten much better at it since then!)

Also, September is National Bourbon Month so – although I won’t be voting ‘red’ on November 4 (there, I said it) – it makes sense to include a drink featuring Jim Beam.

Not to mention, with the non-stop media coverage of whether Barack ate a sandwich or a salad for lunch, or whether Cindy McCain wears too much expensive jewelry, I think we could all use a drink!

2 oz Patron Silver Tequila
1 oz Blue Curacao
3/4 oz Fresh Lime Juice
Dash Simple Syrup
Splash Prosecco

Rim a Shake tequila, curacao, limejuice and simple syrup with ice, then strain over an ice-filled rocks glass. Top with Prosecco. Garnish with a lime wheel.

2 oz Jim Beam
1/2 oz Amaretto
1 oz Lemonade
1 oz Iced Tea
healthy dash Grenadine

Shake all ingredients (with ice) and serve on the rocks in a Hurricane or tall Iced Tea glass. Garnish with a lemon twirl.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Liquid Muse Sustainable Sips

Just in case you haven't gotten these recipes yet, here they are again. These are featured in The Liquid Muse Sustainable Sips cocktail classes, which I've taught in Seattle, Boston, New York - and am coming to Chicago next week! I'm going to do them regularly in Los Angeles, starting in 2009... so sign up for my Museletter to get priority registration!

"Green" and White Harvest Sangria (serves about 12 in white wine glasses)

4 organic red apples
3 organic bosc (greenish) pears
8 organic purple figs
1/4 bottle Veev acai spirit
1/4 bottle organic pear nectar
3 bottles Bonterra Chardonnay

Core the apples and pears, then dice all fruit (skins on) and place in a large bowl. Pour in Veev and pear nectar. Place in fridge to "marinate" for approx 1 hour.

Just before guests arrive, spoon 1 tablespoonful of fruit mixture WITH liquid into each glass. Top with Bonterra Chardonnay (fill glass 2/3 full). As guests arrive, fill with ice and hand it to them for a refreshing, sustainable drink as they walk in the door!

The Liquid Muse Spicy Grapefruit Margarita (recipe for 1 serving)

1 teaspoon seeded, diced jalapeno (taste jalapeno to see how hot it is first - use less or more depending on your tastebuds!)
1 ounce agave syrup
1 ounce *freshly squeezed* lime juice (approx 1 lime)
2 1/2 ounces organic grapefruit juice
1 1/2 ounces 4 Copas organic tequila (I like the reposado for this drink)

Muddle jalapeno and agave syrup in the bottom of a mixing glass (or cocktail shaker). Add limejuice, grapefruit juice and tequila. Fill with ice. Shake for approximately 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lime wheel - or if you're feeling adventurous - a jalapeno on a cocktail pick!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Cape North Vodka Splashes into U.S.

Blended from golden wheat from Bourgogne, France and Swedish spring water, Cape North vodka has hopped the Atlantic and available in U.S. bars, thanks to Long Tail Libations, a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch, Inc.

According to Anheuser-Busch, Cape North is “created in much the same way as the world’s finest cognacs, [it] is handmade in small batches through five-fold distillation in traditional copper pots under the careful supervision of master distiller Jean Battault of Gabriel Boudier. This allows the fermented grain to distill slowly, preserving and enhancing the delicate flavors of vanilla and subtle citrus notes.”

Apparently, not too many people would argue with their declarations. Since its introduction to the European market in 2004, Cape North has received accolades such as silver placement in the 2008 Vodka Masters in Cannes, France, and Four Stars from renowned spirits expert, Paul Pacult.

It has the creamy qualities I love in a wheat-based vodka, and my mouth watered at the company’s suggestions of how to enjoy Cape North:
  • Serve a dill-infused Cape North Martini with a lobster and langostine tartar.
  • Mix a Cape North cocktail with fresh rhubarb and sweet white wine. Serve with goose foie gras topped with sauternes caviar on roasted brioche.
Cape North has been making a (vodka) splash at fancy shin-digs, both in Europe and the U.S. with signature cocktails such as the Viking Mojito served at Victoria’s Secret “What is Sexy Party” at the 2008 Super Bowl. And, this drink, served at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival looked rather intriguing, in my opinion. Why not give it a try:

Cape de Festival

40 ml. Cape North vodka
5 ml. peach liqueur, fruit tea (passion, raspberry, etc.)
10 ml. freshly-squeezed lemon juice.

Add ice and ingredients to shaker, mix thoroughly, strain into ice filled Collins glass. Garnish with mint and sliced cucumber wheel.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A Star is Born

Absolut LA Takes the Stage

After a splashy launch party, replete with red carpet and cocktails, Absolut LA had a lot to live up to. I mean, do we really need another poser in this town of wanna-be’s?

From where I’m sitting (front row, balcony) I’d say this starlet is a scene-stealer. Not only did Absolut hop on the antioxidant band wagon (which is incredibly popular in LA) but actually made it taste good. Pomegranate, acai, acerola cherry and blueberry blend together in a tasty and fragrant potpourri of purple fruit fantasy, making this latest flavor a slam dunk for exotic juices.

According to my agent, it’s only a matter of time before ‘The Liquid Muse Cosmo-Hollywood-Politan’ (made with pomegranate juice, lemon juice, orange liqueur and Absolut LA) takes over the big screen. Then you can say “we knew her when," while sipping a luscious libation... ;-)

Sipster Submission

Making the Most of a Troubled Economy

Los Angeles Sipster Erin Williams and her pal were recently laid off from their day jobs but still “big fans of food and drink.” How do they manage to maintain a hoppin’ social life while sticking to a budget? Here’s Erin tactic:

“We've managed to satisfy our taste for good food and boozing by going to Kabuki's happy hour where the rolls range from $2.50 to $5 on Mon-Fri from 3-6pm, taking advantage of the 2 for 1 cocktails at Tiny's from 8-9pm on weekdays, and the $4 extra dirty martinis at The Well until 9pm weekdays.”

How do
YOU deal with a rough economy in thirsty times?

The Liquid Muse Presents Lipton PureLeaf!

I was honored and excited when the folks from Lipton chose me to be one of their presenters at the 2008 Celebrity Food Show in Anaheim, California. I was in good company with MattBites and Oishii Eats who also did tea presentations, and write mouth-watering food blogs for you hungry Southern California residents...

The Lipton PureLeaf line features four tasty flavors: Green Tea with Honey, White Tea with Tangerine, Black Tea with Lemon and Black Tea with Raspberry and regular unsweetened tea. I like them all but Green Tea with Honey and White Tea with Tangerine were my favorites both on their own and mixed in nonalcoholic cocktails (aka: The Liquid Muse Virgin Mixology)

Still, the most exciting thing about doing this drink demo was meeting some of you Sipsters! You may recall the contest I ran for the funniest, thirstiest, most compelling reason YOU wanted the tickets. Here are the winners, and I think you’ll agree that they deserved to join in the fun!

Who could resist Christine Chang’s email, proving that flattery truly does get you everywhere. (Well, into my drink demos, anyway):

“I think I should win because I am your biggest and longest lurking fan of your a-musing blog!! I love reading your fabolous posts and hopefully meeting you too!! I would realllyyyy love to win this!!”

Matt Robold (aka: RumDood) won for being the thirstiest rum-lover in So-Cal (after that bike ride, who wouldn’t be?):

“I'm the obvious choice because I could ride my bike out to the convention center, allowing me to build up a hefty appetite for both food and refreshing, frosty beverages!”

And, Erin Williams won for the email which most pulled at my heart-strings. I was happy to meet the bff's in person:

My favorite friend in LA is the awesome gal who makes super fun, heartfelt, personalized cakes for everyone's birthdays and events - as her gift. Each cake gets more impressive and gets lots of "ooohs and aaahs." For example, my favorite band is the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the singer, Anthony Kiedis is my "pretend boyfriend" (Yes... I'm 12). She made me a Chili Peppers themed cake for my last birthday and even made a little Anthony out of fondant. Cutest thing ever!

Although we were both recently laid off from our jobs, we both love food and drink… I mentioned the event to her and could actually feel her excitement when she realized that Ace of Cakes will be there. I offered to buy tickets because I know how much she would enjoy this event, but she won't let me spend the money on such a 'frivolous thing' when the rent needs to be paid.

I would love to be able to take her to see her cake hero and to get the chance to sample all kinds of fun foods and drinks... and still be able to pay the rent.