Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ain't Life Grand?







Don't kill the messenger, Jeffrey. They made me do it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Tales of the Cocktail: Words and Pictures

“Pathetic earthlings. Hurling your bodies out into the void, without the slightest inkling of who or what is out here. If you had known anything about the true nature of the universe, anything at all, you would've hidden from it in terror.”

- Ming the Merciless

This was my first time visiting New Orleans and attending Tales of the Cocktail, so I was excited at the prospect of a nearly week-long double whammy of booze and culture. Being someone who likes playing with both words and pictures, I had visions of doing some grandiose Hunter S. Thompson/Anthony Bourdain-style travelogue, replete with profound insights into the human condition and comprehensively documented in a lush, day-to-day journal format.

It became apparent sometime around day 4 that this was not going to happen.

You see, up until then, I had been taking tons of notes, trying to make as many drawings as time would allow, and even snapping a handful of photos. But there’s just so Goddamn much to see and do down there, it all just got away from me. I realized that there was no way I could effectively record all the things I experienced and subsequently package it all up for consumption. I’m only one man.

So what follows is simply a collection of impressions…nuggets of info that somehow made it back home stored either in my notebook or in my head. I hope that collectively they’ll give a glimpse into what transpired over 6 days or so at a cocktail convention in New Orleans. If you were there, some of this may look and sound familiar. If you weren’t there, I bear no responsibility for anything you see here encouraging or deterring you from attending next year.

~~~~~Random Observations~~~~~

~ I’m really trying hard not to stereotype all businessmen who travel by plane as attention-starved, self-important jackasses, but it’s really difficult not to do so when every flight contains at least one guy who is compelled to initiate a loud cell phone conversation the second the wheels hit the ground. And it’s bonus fun whenever one of these fine specimens spends the entire flight hyperactively fiddling with his laptop, Blackberry, phone, and pocket calculator in rapid succession. Next to me.

(To the guy on the flight from Charlotte to New Orleans: Well done sir- I’m sure your boss is grooming you for upper management as a result of your dedication and diligence. Thanks for jabbing me with your elbow for almost an hour straight. Now I know why they serve booze on planes).

~ The shuttle from the airport to the French Quarter is a convenient, inexpensive way to get where you’re going, but it isn’t particularly speedy, nor does it seem to follow any discernible logic with regard to route. Once your van/bus arrives in the Quarter, you are treated to a seemingly aimless tour of all the hotels in this legendary neighborhood, in no specific order. You will travel up and down the same streets over and over (albeit in different directions) until your hotel presumably appears.

You know how in action movies there’s often a car chase through a third-world street bazaar knocking over fruit stands and squeezing through alleyways not intended for cars? It’s like that, except at half-speed.

~ I’m still trying to figure out what method the baggage handlers used to smash my steel wristwatch into eight pieces. I’m impressed, but this is why I never spend more than 40 bucks for a watch.

~ Whoever came up with the concept of a slowly rotating bar is a mad genius. It’s a great way to meet people, but sustaining conversations proves more difficult if one party is moving and the other is not.


Spinning at the Carousel Bar

~ If you remain in the Carousel Bar long enough, you will eventually see every single person attending Tales of the Cocktail.

~ Boozebloggers must have something akin to a bat-signal. On the first night, after an hour or so in the Carousel Bar, almost every other blogger in attendance showed up within 15 minutes of each other. (But I should note that I was well into my 2nd Martini at this point, so my perceptions may have been less than accurate). Spontaneous assemblies of this sort repeated themselves throughout the event. I need to look into this phenomenon.

~ As has been noted elsewhere, boozebloggers, (particularly those with tiki leanings) favor island-style shirts, brimmed hats made of organic materials, and facial hair. I don’t know if there is any connection between this look and a predilection to open marriage, but at least one person in the elevator at the Hotel Monteleone wondered aloud if we were part of a swinger’s convention that was rumored to be in town at the same time.

~ It’s nice to see Maraschino liqueur behind a bar.

~ If you find yourself in the company of several boozebloggers lurching through the kaleidoscopic blur of the French Quarter at night, realize that you will be likely be stopping at Pat O’Brien’s for hurricanes, even though no one particularly wants to (I still haven’t figured out exactly how this happened).

And despite all participants swearing a blood oath to never reveal that we went Pat O’Brien’s for Hurricanes, photographic evidence immediately appeared on several websites (I still haven’t figured that out either. Apparently a man’s word means nothing these days).

~ At any gathering where three or more people are drinking, Jagermeister will inevitably appear.

~ Late-night “invitation-only “ parties can be fun, but more so for the secrecy that surrounds them than for the actual social interaction that occurs once you gain admittance. Also, you will see people at these parties that you will never see before or after. It’s as if they’ve been teleported in just for that specific occasion. You could set up an “invitation-only” party in the heart of the Amazon rainforest and instantly 2 dozen women with fake breasts and their varnish-headed boyfriends will materialize from somewhere.

Also, these parties will cause hotel security to be called multiple times. Plan accordingly.

~ Despite the South having a reputation for doing everything at a slower pace than the rest of the world, they apparently suspend this approach during Tales of the Cocktail. Everything seemed to be moving much faster than I was…even when I was sober.

It’s not unlike the video for the Ramones’ “I Wanna be Sedated”.

~ I normally avoid coffee, but drinking a cup while taking your morning shower has a definite rejuvenating effect and is a time-saver to boot.


Coffee in the shower Wednesday morning

~ There seems to be no limit to the money that corporate sponsors are willing to spend to get you to drink their hooch. I won’t name any specific brands, but there were some serious dog-and-pony shows that could have been set aside in favor of more effective smaller, targeted promotional efforts. Flashy can be fun, but when people are leaving your event less than an hour after it begins because it’s an assault on the senses, you may want to rethink your strategy.

~ One of the defining moments of the trip was witnessing someone during a Tales event gleefully telling the person he was on the phone with how drunk he was. I am 99% sure this person was not actually a Tales attendee. Oh well…share the wealth, I say.

~ It’s a lot of fun watching someone from the UK trying to pronounce “Tchoupitoulas”. Hell, I’m from here and I can’t pronounce it.

~ Whoever was in charge of keeping bottled water in good supply throughout the event deserves a medal.

~ Speaking of water, I drank far, far, more water and caffeine than I did alcohol. No one believes me though.

~ The blogger reception was a great opportunity to meet all my online pen-pals. It’s nice when people who compulsively document their drinking habits publicly have a chance to get together and compare notes.

~ Absinthe/pastis and Peychaud’s bitters are flavors I don’t need to taste for a long, long time. I think they put Peychaud’s in the O.J. at the breakfast buffet for Christ’s sake.

~ I awoke one morning at 5:12 and was unable to go back to sleep. I don’t know who or what to blame this on, but it did allow me to witness a guy slowly riding a bicycle on the street below in the pre-dawn haze. That guy probably has a story.

~ Kudos to whoever’s idea it was to place a fully-stocked Red Bull fridge in the media room. But there was something ironic about being at arguably the biggest drinking event on the planet and no opener being available for the bottled beverages.

~ If you want the closest thing to solitude outside of locking yourself in your room, hang out in the lobby of the Hotel Monteleone from 7-9 a.m. during Tales of the Cocktail.


At 7 a.m. the Lobby of the Hotel Monteleone is a ghost town (But even the ghosts are drinking)

~ I was fortunate enough to meet several luminaries in the cocktail community, and with only one exception, I met all of them simply while hanging around or walking from event to event. If there’s someone you really want to meet, I’d say you’ve got better odds of running into them waiting for an elevator than you do trying to plow through a crowd of admirers at an appearance. But maybe I just had good luck.

~ I didn’t particularly want to do a full-tilt Bourbon tasting at 10:30 a.m., but I somehow struggled through it.

~ The “Cocktail Hour” was far longer than an hour. It also featured the biggest crowd of drunks I’ve ever seen crammed into one small area without a fistfight, public displays of affection, or vomiting occur. It was a swirling, crazed mass of drink enthusiasts, and hats off to all of them for keeping it classy (as far as I could tell).

~ The “Juniperlooza” event was a gin-lover’s dream, and offered what was to become the most sought-after piece of swag. I saw a miniature black market spring up later that day with people selling those bartender’s toolkits in exchange for cash, event tickets, and sexual favors*.


Just a few samples at the Juniperlooza event

~ One of the best quotes of the week was from Kaiser Penguin's Rick Stutz: “It’s not a guilty pleasure to like the Smiths. It is if you like LaBouche.”

~ Even at 9 in the morning, New Orleans can get pretty freaking hot.

~ The Hotel Monteleone has a really great rooftop pool & bar, but I somehow never managed to get to it. This was a gross oversight, especially considering I’m usually dressed like I’m going to the pool even when there isn’t one nearby. I won’t let it happen again next year.

~ An interesting social experiment: See how long it takes a hotel full of booze nerds to start grousing about elevators that are too few in number and too slow. I think I actually saw someone handing out torches and pitchforks to a mob headed for the management offices.

~ Awards shows are good fun. More so when all the categories are booze-centric.


Searching for a place to eat breakfast Friday morning

~ If you find yourself among a group of people in someone’s hotel room and there is a large collection of opened bottles of alcohol lying around, a good time will likely ensue. If one of the people you are with is a skilled bartender who offers to spontaneously make up drinks using this motley assortment of liquor, take her up on it….you’ll get something pretty tasty.

~ I’m going to do my damnedest to be there again next year. Who’s with me?

* This is not true, but people were really clamoring for them.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Raspberry-Thyme Smash -or- The Case of the Curiously Oversized Muddler


For well over a year I’ve been ripping drink recipes out of magazines and collecting them in an overstuffed 3-ring binder. This must indicate I’m an optimist at heart, because at this point I’ve got way more recipes stashed than I’ll likely ever get around to making. But occasionally I pull one out, round up the requisite ingredients, and have at it.

Like a lucky game show contestant being yanked from the audience, the Raspberry-Thyme Smash was plucked out of the pile and put through its paces. It was featured in the July ‘08 issue of Bon Appetit, and looked like a promising candidate for both a great Summer beverage and a way to convince myself I’m pursuing a healthy lifestyle (It contains fruit).

Raspberry-Thyme Smash

2 fresh thyme sprigs, divided
7 fresh raspberries, divided
2 1/4 oz. gin (Hendrick's is suggested)
1 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. fresh lime juice

Remove leaves from 1 thyme sprig. Place leaves in cocktail shaker with 6 raspberries and muddle. Fill shaker with ice and add gin, simple syrup, and lime juice. Shake vigorously and strain into ice-filled highball glass. granish with raspberry threaded onto thyme sprig.

Served at the BLT Market in New York

What I didn’t realize was that this drink had a secret ingredient: A giant muddler. Actually, I should state up front that I’m pretty certain what I have is not a muddler. I speculate that it is probably some kind of antique potato masher, but it pretty much resembles a muddler (assuming your bartender is a Norse god).

This gargantuan item, like much of my barware, came courtesy of my father who ran across it at a flea market. Upon presenting me with it, he claimed that neither he nor the seller knew what it was, but since it looked vaguely like a muddler (albeit of outsized proportions), he decided to pick it up for me.

Basically, it’s a 15-inch long cylinder of hardwood that flares at one end to a diameter of almost 2 inches. It weighs approximately a pound, and is completely devoid of any decoration or inscription that would give a clue as to its origins or purpose. Ever see those belaying pins that pirates are always clobbering each other with in the movies? It’s kinda like that.

But the important thing is that it muddles. It really freakin’ muddles. But it’s not so big that it doesn’t have room to maneuver in my mixing tin, and it’s considerable length keeps me from banging my knuckles against the rim. There’s also enough handle available to grip it in a variety of ways, so as far as I’m concerned, this thing is my new muddler.

But every time I pick it up* I feel compelled to bellow a plea to some pagan spirit and tear my shirt off (I make all drinks in the privacy of my own home, so mercifully no one will have to witness this awful spectacle).

So I take it as some sort of cosmic coincidence that the Muddler of the Gods™ showed up right around the time I found the Raspberry-Thyme Smash. The drink is wonderful, and everything a refreshing Summertime sipper should be. It is supremely balanced, and flavor-wise all the ingredients meld perfectly. So get some fresh raspberries while they’re still in season and try this one out!

And remember- when muddling, use your legs, not your back. And have a friend help you if necessary.

*something I was initially unable to do, until I began a rigorous weight-training regimen.