Aperol to Zucca

We are pleased to announce the first of the Swig Well Intensive classes! In these classes, directed towards bartenders and the most hardcore of enthusiasts, we provide informationally dense seminars aimed at upping your game using less branding-heavy methods than a traditional spirits event. Over the course of two days we will focus on the important stuff: why these products are around today, the modern and historical context of using them in cocktails, and blind tasting with some of the industries' biggest nerds.

For the Winter Amaro Intensive, there was no easier choice to make than that of purchasing plane tickets for Sother Teague, beverage director of iconic New York City bitters haven Amor Y Amargo. Sother has had a long and storied career in the world of food and beverage: from cooking in a Waffle House in Florida to being Technical Chef on Good Eats with Alton Brown and instructing at the New England Culinary Institute; from changing over to front of house and working at NYC bars Rye, Prime Meats, Momofuku's Booker + Dax, to his current role as beverage director of Amor Y Amargo, the now-classic all amaro-focused bar, featuring stirred-only cocktails in a 13-seat bar in the East Village. He has been a finalist in Diageo World Class in the USA for two years, won the 2013 Louis Royer "Show Me The Proof!" Competition, created the Double Buzz coffee-and-amaro cocktails program, and did the instructional videos

Our second instructor for the Winter Amaro Intensive is Chris Lowder, of Amor Y Amargo and The NoMad in NYC. Lowder got his start in the bar world in Philadelphia, where he learned how to make quick shots and basic drinks. Following a hunger for the craftsmanship and professionalism that cocktails deserved, he moved to New York City to work with food scientist Dave Arnold at the newly opened molecular cocktail bar Momofuku Booker and Dax. It was there that Lowder learned not only classic cocktail technique and presentation but also ultra-modern approaches like working with centrifuges and liquid nitrogen. Lowder has an unstoppable work ethic and passion for guest experience that has landed him in some of New York’s best bars and restaurants. He currently tends bar at the Michelin-starred NoMad where he shakes cocktails under Leo Robitzchek (Eleven Madison Park) with a fleet of all-star bartenders. During his time at the NoMad, Lowder’s team was crowned World’s Best Hotel Bar at Tales of the Cocktail. This man's enthusiasm for cocktails is palpable.

Moderating the seminars will be Chris Elford, director of programming for Swig Well. He himself is an Amor Y Amargo alumnus but now tends bar at Seattle's own Canon. He is a Certified Cicerone, former whiskey distiller at Brooklyn's Kings County Distillery, and opened three award-winning beer and cocktail bars in 2012 before heading to the west coast. This year he won the Ardbeg Balanced Cocktail Competition and represented the USA at the Jameson Global Bartenders Ball in Ireland. 

Date and TIme: 1/20 & 1/21 from 1:00pm-3:00pm

Syllabus: Class will focus on styles, history & production, classic and modern cocktail applications, and blind tasting.


Tickets here, y'all.


What Makes A Holiday Cocktail?

For a third year, Rob Roy is doing a cocktail advent calendar. The concept is simple, with a different festive libation being offered each night and rewards being offered to guests who hit milestone numbers for days attended, but one of the things that strikes me as I look at the list being offered is the sheer number of classic holiday drinks. Being from the east coast, a few of these aren't as familiar to me as to you westerners, specifically the ubiquitous Spanish Coffee--a fantastic libation that seems to be synonymous with cold weather here in the Pacific northwest--but many are widely popular across the US. I just had my first Spanish Coffee, and let me tell you they are incredible! Peep the calendar and some thoughts below, and if you are of the Twittering sort, you should note that Imbibe Magazine is tweeting the Rob Roy Advent Calendar cocktail each day.

Now: Upon looking at an array of seasonal cocktails such as this, you might wonder to yourself just what it is that makes a drink particularly wintery. Let's take a look not only at the Rob Roy advent calendar but at our friends around the country and see what shakes out:

Temperature: Many drinks were traditionally heated with a hot poker, much like the one food scientist and aspiring comedian Dave Arnold uses at Booker + Dax in NYC:

You can also serve drinks at room temperature. Tepid cocktails can be delightful--we had one at Amor Y Amargo called "Black Rock Chiller", and I think Sother Teague really nailed the aggressive herbal bitterness here. If you would like to taste a delicious cocktail from the AyA gang, head in to Rob Roy on Monday December 9th for the Alpine Afternoon!

Black Rock Chiller
Equal Parts Suze, Branca Menta, and Reposado Tequila
Build in glass and serve at room temperature without dilution, garnish, or ice
-Sother Teague 

Today in my new digs at Canon I am serving a room temperature cocktail sans dilution called the Oaxacan Scaffa, and since I started there it has been my favorite cocktail on the menu--though I don't often recommend it as such since, like the BRC at AyA, it is certainly for the adventurous drinker. The cocktail is a blend of Mezcal, Punt E Mes, and Maraschino liqueur, aged for nine month in ex bourbon barrels.

In the case of the advent calendar at Rob Roy, the Spanish Coffee, Old Grand Dad's Furnace, Vin Brulé, Old Port Chai, Curbside Cider, Holiday Grog, Truffed T&J, Hot Ponche de Fruitas, Minty Hot Chocolate, Rudesheim Coffee, Hot Sipping Caramel, and even the Christmas Eve special Chartreuse Blazer are all served warm!

Spices: What exactly are those things we refer to as winter spice, holiday spice, or baking spice? They often contain clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, anise, allspice, mace, and ginger. In many holiday punches you might see these simply added to the mix as-is (adding a cinnamon stick into your hot cider, e.g), but in the implications of the modern american cocktail bar, people are probably either making a syrup out of their spice blend or infusing their spices directly into a syrup. I prefer the former to the latter since sugar and water seem to do a fine job of extracting the oils of these intense spices, but to each his own. 
The Sipping Caramel, topped with salt & pepperTo find out more about spices being used in punch, one needs to look no further than David Wondrich's epic tome Punch: The Delights (And Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl. (In my last post I affectionately referred to as Camper English of as Uncle Camper, so what would that make David Wondrich? Imbibe is the first cocktail book I (and I'm sure many of you) ever sunk my teeth into, so I suppose David would be our Headmaster. Sorry Dave!) First, he points out that using whole spice, specifically whole nutmeg, is absolutely essential:
"...anyone who would spice his or her Punch with ground nutmeg out of a jar would make fettucine Alfredo with the "parmesan" that comes in a can. (I know that because I have, to my present chagrin, done both.) Whole nutmegs used to be of such value that wars were fought over them. Now they are cheap. There's no excuse."

Whole spices where possible, right? He mentions another important point: oftentimes spices will dry out a drink and it can be important to use a bit of extra sweetener to right the balance. Charles H Baker Jr, in his epic and delightfully readable Jigger, Beaker, & Glass, says that small bars can get away with "only clove and nutmeg; very small bars, cloves only." So it looks like there is one vote for clove and one vote for nutmeg as the important spices, but I think we can all agree (especially if you are as fond of tiki bars as I) that cinnamon is probably necessary as well. 
In the Rob Roy advent calendar we see nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, allspice, tea, chai, vanilla, and even salt & pepper. Wintery indeed!

Dairy. Like it or hate it, Eggnog is a huge part of American holiday traditions. Per Wikipedia, there are a few different schools of thought on the etymology of 'eggnog', but we can trace it back far enough back to know that Americans were drinking it with rum and the British aristocracy was drinking it with brandy, and in both cases the spirit was being combined together with dairy, either eggs or milk or in many cases, both. Surely one of the reasons eggnog is so popular today is the fact that we don't tend to make it from scratch--my family growing up always bought cartons of it at the store, and I think my brother was the only one who really enjoyed it. I was good for one glass and that was it--and this wasn't the hard stuff either, as my family didnt drink. I have to say that eggnog does seem a good deal more appealing to me if there is booze in the mix, and even more so if that booze is dark beer, and even more so if the whole concoction is barrel aged. 
Suffice to say, Monday December 16th you will see me at Rob Roy enjoying a glass of Barrel Aged Beer Nog! In fact, since I am already going to partake, I may as well join in the greatest idea of all time and partake in the Nog Fiends Nog Crawl, at Rob Roy, Sun Liquor Distillery, and Barrio--and that will be my calories for that week.

Darcy O'Neil has written on the subject of both milk and eggs in cocktails, and I suggest you take a quick second and glance over his Alton Brown-esque reports on both.

It hadn't occured to me until recently how much I look up to all these modern cocktail and spirits writers: David Wondrich, Camper English, Darcy O'Neil, and the sardonicly irreverent Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who I largely credit with my interest in cocktails. One of my favorites even before I met him, even before I moved to the same town as he, has always been Paul Clarke, and this Sunday December 8th Swig Well is honored to have him for the third year in a row doing his class "Holiday Cocktails That Don't Suck." (Tickets here!) This year, Paul will be doing a slightly augmented version of his eggnog, incorporating rum, cognac, and the Sicilian Amaro Averna. His recipe is adapted from Jeffrey's, which you can find on his site.

20 large eggs
1 lb sugar*
5 tsp freshly-grated nutmeg
15 oz brandy
15 oz rum
10 oz Averna
60 oz whole milk
40 oz heavy cream

*For large batches, I always sweeten to taste. Rum, brandy, and amaro are all sweet things, and only you know what is just sweet enough for your palate. Plus once you get into making large batches things don't always translate in a linear fashion... 

Beat eggs in blender for one minute on medium speed. Slowly add sugar and blend for one additional minute. With blender still running, add nutmeg, brandy, rum, Averna, milk and cream until combined. Chill thoroughly to allow flavors to combine and serve in chilled wine glasses or champagne coupes, grating additional nutmeg on top immediately before serving.

Happy Holidays from the Swig Well gang, and a special thank you to our sponsors for Holiday Cocktails That Don't Suck: Averna Amaro, Rhum JM, Cognac Ferrand, Maker's Mark Bourbon, and Bols Genever! (Seriously folks... Hot Genever Punch is going to change your life.)


Smoke gets in your eyes...

Last week we had the pleasure of attending a tasting with Simon Brooking, Master Ambassador for Laphroaig USA. We tasted some beautiful expressions of this Islay (say it with me, "eye-lah") scotch and heard some lovely toasts from the Scottish history books. If you'd care to hear the former actor give a couple of these toasts, there are some shining examples online here

We tasted seven expressions: 
Laphroaig 10 Year, 10 Year Cask Strength (varies in % by batch), Quarter Cask, Triple Wood, 18 Year, Cairdeus, QA Cask.
We will spare you the tasting notes on each spirit, because that stuff is boring to read and you really need to taste it for yourself. But here are ten simple things we learned that particularly stuck out:
There is a yearly Islay Fest celebrating the music and spirit(s) of most everybody's favorite whisky-producing island. Basically each distillery has a "day" with events and many release special spirits only available for purchase at the distillery on that particular day. And that sounds like an incredible vacation.... More info can be found here.
Many people know that Laphroaig tends to produce among the peatier expressions on Islay, but one interesting thing we learned is that they do about 25% of their malting in-house.** This means they are digging up peat and burning it while it is still damp to smoke their malt, while Port Ellen Maltings does the rest (indeed they supply malt to other Islay distilleries, each to it's own spec.) Camper English did a great piece on this after his trip to Laphroaig last fall, and it is well worth a read and a peek at the pictures to get a better idea of just what peat looks like and how it is harvested.  (When in doubt, look to Uncle Camper.)
The Gaelic dialect on Islay is actually closer to that of Ireland than of mainland Scotland.
Laphroaig only has 31 employees.
They use Makers Mark barrels, which, we learned on our visit to Makers this fall at Camp Runamok, means that they are using only staves which have been air-cured, which exposes the wood to the elements and allows fungi to break down some of the more harsh lignins present in American White oak.
All whiskey starts its life as beer, but it's always interesting to hear about the beer itself since few will ever taste it. The Laphroaig beer starts its life as a 7-8% ale. 1 ton of grain makes about 440 liters of spirit, and they apparently only lose 2% to the angels share, which seems exceptionally low but I suppose because of their climate... The angels ain't that thirsty.
Laphroaig 10 Year is the number-one selling Islay single malt whisky. 
They make a few NAS (no age statement) expressions, which the whisk(e)y world generally gets fussy about but I think Laphroaig's track record and overt masculinity often gives them a bye. The Quarter Cask is finished in smaller casks and the Triple wood is the Quarter Cask further aged for two years in casks that previously held oloroso sherry.*
The Capacity of Laphroaig is 3.2 million liters a year. 
Drinking scotch during the day significantly hampers our productivity in the afternoon.
Finally, a cool resource. If you've ever wondered how to pronounce the name of a particular scotch distillery, chances are the good folks at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society can help with the click of a mouse here.
*drink sherry err'day.

**drinking smoky scotch whisky doesn't make you a man. Dashing it in your beard makes you a man.


Camp Runamok

Camp Runamok is a Bourbon-focused summer camp for bartenders in the heart of Kentucky!  Started in 2012 by Lush Life Productions and local Louisville bartender Jared Schubert, Camp Runamok was designed to give bartenders a peek into the bourbon industry that has enriched this area for over a hundred years.

At Camp Runamok you can find great tastings, classes, tours of distilleries, and a bunch of different events sponsored by various distillers!  Click here to read even more about all of the goodness Camp Runamok has to offer. Spots available for Camp fill up quickly each year, so you bartender brethren out there best sign up as early as possible for the 2014 event!


Bartending 101

Early this summer, owner of Rob Roy and founder of Swig Well, Anu Apte, graced us with her presence and expertise on the world of bartending.  We had an intimate class of people learning all about house to concoct their own cocktails.  Our students learned the proper methods of mixing, stirring, shaking, and when to do such things.  In addition to being told how to create cocktails, they were also able to do some hands on training to practice their own technique.  Stay tuned for more bartending classes!