Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Second Call For Last Call

Saloon1“A friend showed me recently an unpublished letter of Henry Clay, written a hundred years ago. In this letter Clay said that the movement for temperance ‘has done great good and will continue to do more’ but ‘it will destroy itself whenever it resorts to coercion or mixes in the politics of the country.’ Franklin D. Roosevelt -August 27th 1932 Sea Girt, New Jersey

I think we all can agree the Prohibition was a complete and utter failure. It destroyed business and created a greater divide among the classes. It was also the catalyst for some of the worst criminals in our Nation’s history. How did it get to that point? Why did the Washington establishment, many of whom drank like fish allow this to happen. It was not as simple as a bunch of prudish do-gooders wielding axes and bibles or cowering politicians on the take. In the end the movement gained momentum because we drank too much, short and simple. Breweries and distillers were completely unregulated. Their fight to stop government from interfering in their profits or their demonetization of the opposing industry toppled their houses of proverbial cards in a drunken stumble. In short, they had it coming.

I think there needs to be some empathy for the Carrie Nations or Henry Clays of the world. The suffering of women, the poor and those who struggle with the drink were often ignored in the name of progress. Just another part of the collective myth that our greatness — or right for greatness — is a birth right, as long as you are born in the right place. We are told this when we are first told anything. In the end, we looked at those who could not control their reaction to alcohol as less than those who could or that it was simply not their fault at all, and by removing the bottle from them we shall solve any issue that lead them to drink in the first place. There are those who still believe that poverty, alcoholism, victims of sexism or a lack of education is a mark of character, not circumstance. So let’s step back for a minute and look at where the greater issues began.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the yada, yada, yada. Ok, maybe not that far back, although I’m sure the Aztecs did not remember the conquistadors after a night of drinking Jerez with much kindness.

To Anacreon in Heaven, where he sat in full glee,
A few sons of harmony sent a petition,
That he their inspirer and patron should be.
When this answer arrived from that jolly old Grecian:
Voice, fiddle and flute no longer be mute,
I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,
And besides I’ll instruct you like me to entwine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine.

These are the words to a tune that Francis Scott Key used to write the “Star Spangled Banner.” It was in fact a famous drinking song. The tune was actually a very common one in London bars. The seeds of over indulgence were already planted in our most prized and renowned sense of being. The only problem was the amount it would be ingrained in our culture and our lack of understanding of the body’s chemical response.

As breweries became more established, taverns popped up all around the country in both large cities and small towns. But not like today. Imagine walking into a tavern with a long oak bar that serves only Bud, or Miller, or PBR. These bars were contracted out or downright owned by major brewers and in great numbers. In some communities there were taverns for every 150 people including children. These were not the posh cocktail bars you might find on E 23rd Street or even a cool subterranean hangout in Somerville, MA. Several of these bars were set up in poorer immigrant neighborhoods where people had little opportunity for the American dream. All they had was beer and whiskey. Some of these places were so dingy and dirty that they reeked of men relieving themselves right at the bar. That’s why those handy little foot rails are by your feet. Bars were so busy that if you had a place at the bar you stayed belly up at the bar. When nature called, you took take a drink, unzipped and order another round. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. Many had a stainless steel troth running along the floor of the bar with a faucet on one end and a drain on the other for just such occasions.

These places also lured people in with the promise of gambling, prostitutes and food — free food. Happy hour is born. The discontent for the immigrant fueled the temperance fire, but there were some good elements to having the ol’ watering hole. Different classes of men could mingle, talk, trade ideas, share a meal or a drink, and if the need arised, have a good old fashioned shoot out. Heck, Thomas Jefferson even wrote the Declaration of Independence at a tavern. But, in the end, the effects of drunken stoopers were too much for the poor women who had to bare the brunt, in many ways, of the good ol’ American bar. Drink responsibly was not in the vernacular.

By 1893 when the Anti-Saloon League formed (kind of like a boring, turn-of-the-century Justice League) the roots of the temperance movement were so widely spread that many states had already  adopted the prohibition model. It was really only a matter of time. What’s funny is that if these brewers and distillers self-regulated and worked together instead of pointing the blame at one another, or if Uncle Sam stepped in when children came home intoxicated (which was common in many communities), this unthinkable and silly solution could easily have been avoided. After all, once you tell someone what they can’t have, they will undoubtedly want it with a vengeance.

Saloon2By 1932, when FDR gave his speech calling for the end of prohibition, the temperance movement had all but fizzled out. As speakeasies grew in popularity, the amount that people drank also grew. But it had become more and more serious as people began drinking beverages that were potentially hazardous. Bathtub gin was the drink of choice. No sazeracs, old fashioneds or Champagne cocktails. This was the time of the sours. These were made to cover the awful flavors of chemically laced spirits.

Canadian whisky was king brown, bars had trap doors, loose floor boards and drop out bar tops. For the first time women who were not ladies of ill repute were allowed to cavort with men in the same bar. The water closet became common place (this was another prohibition first). This was the benefit of the Volstead Act, but raids and gang warfare became a reoccurring theme in 1920s America. When FDR was seeking the presidency the idea that the bible giveth and the bottle taketh away was losing steam. And although that mentality is still at times in our subconscious thought, it was plain to see by its supporters that this great plan for American piety was not working. But alas we live and learn… kinda.

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor

Saloon3Because brandy would finally be accessible in 1933 I decided to have a go at one of my favorite spirits while writing my little rant here: brandy. Today it’s not fine Cognac, but but rather Spain’s great brandy Lepanto Solera Gran Reserva by Gonzalez-Byass. This is a brandy from Jerez, Spain; better known as sherry (the British bastardization of Jerez pronounced hair-eth). Lepanto is produced in la Frontera de Jerez on the southwestern coast of the country. In a previous blog post we discussed the simple process of brandy being distilled by grapes, so we need to go no further with the basics other than it is the Palomino grape used here, and as the name implies, it is the work horse of Jerez.

The brandy is aged in a system of barrels called solera. This is when you layer oak casks on top of one another. They are all connected and when the bottom batch is ready to be bottled the upper levels of spirit filter down unto the level below, then new batch is added to the top. This will always keep a constant flow of brandy present in barrel. No matter when you start your solera the first wine — or in this case brandy — will always be present in the casks. This will maintain a very steady style of brandy. Because it is aged for 12 years in used Jerez barrels, there is a rich nuttiness on the nose with notes of brown sugar, flan and caramel. The mouth feel is broad and well-structured. It is not the custom of brandy producers to have too much alcohol in the bottle, so the mellow 40 % leaves a creamy texture on the palate. The flan comes through on the mid palate with notes of butterscotch and soft nutmeg on the finish. It is warming without imposing any heat to the chest. It is complex and balanced, and the flavors linger on with a little bit of Mexican chocolate, vanilla and burnt orange peel.

Applied Alchemy

I was originally going to make a riff on the Sidecar as it would have been commonly consumed by prohibition’s repeal, but I opted, by the advice of a friend, to create an Old Fashioned instead. Because there is a subtle elegance in the glass, I wanted to have a relaxed cocktail, I also wanted to bring out some of the richer Jerez-oaked notes and play on the nuttier aromatics by using Fee Brothers Black Walnut bitters in conjunction with the brighter spice if Angostura orange

Saloon4Pedro’s Angel
Gently muddle one slice of Clementine and one Luxardo Maraschino cherry with 2 dashes of Fee Brothers  Black Walnut bitters and 2 dashes of Angostura Orange bitters

  • 2 oz Lepanto Solera Gran Reserva Jerez Brandy
  • 1/2 oz Gonzalez-Byass Nectar Pedro Ximenez Jerez
  • 1/4 oz Bigalett China-China

Add ice and stir and roll into a double rocks glass

Turning 21

Saloon5Thursday, December 5th  is the 80th anniversary of the repeal of prohibition. The 21st Amendment brought a lot of changes for much of the drinking culture in the United States. What we now call the Old Fashioned was given its fruit; the larger brewers who could afford to sell soda instead of beer were able to maintain an empire of watery, weak beer as smaller breweries waited in the shadows until the mid 1990s. The wine world lost a lot of footing and unless your name was Paul Mason or Gallo your “Boutique” label would have to wait its turn for the flavors of Reunite on ice to run its course. But with every slow evolution comes a strong revolution. We are now on the footsteps of great distillers, brewers and wine makers. Unlike the German brewer, Scottish distiller or French wine maker we have been given license to innovate. This is why some of the best distillers, brewers and wine makers throughout the old world have begun to see refuge in our colony of libations. Hopefully they are met with more kindness than their predecessors were 200 years ago.


Giving Thanks for a Great Night

A cold November evening and a mellow evening of whiskey and pork…. I cannot think of a better pairing. All credit to a merry crowd, and to Saloon’s generous suppliers and purveyors of one of the finest whiskeys in the world – WhistlePig. And resident expert Manny Gonzales who was responsible for the menu of amazing rye-based cocktails. Next up, December 5th: “Repeal Prohibition”, a night to banish inhibition and enjoy the brave spirits that have survived government oppression! Vive la Resistance!


Part One: An Inebriated Truth

IMG_1868Nobody really knows history, the true reasons or methodology of anything. It’s all about the story, the romantic notion that what we live through, taste and love is solely there to create a deeper connection within the world we live. Religion has made a career of this in the way that it has built a society of greater truths and history through which it tries to bind us together or sometimes separate us.

Why am I babbling on like this? Perhaps it’s the open bottle of rye next to me, or the thought that all history is a bit cloudy. That even modern history is much like beauty being in the eye of the beholder; it is in the voice of the speaker and the ears of the listener. In short we take what we are capable of taking from history and give back only what we are willing.

That brings me to this blog and whiskey. This has become one of the most sought after beverages in the last 3 to 5 years. But the modern push for golden power has deep roots in our being. It has caused wars, toppled governments, tamed the heathens and given birth to organized crime as we know it today. It has bank-rolled politicians, divided families and created art. Whether it was the beer drunk by the ancients or the distilled spirits used to tempt the curious Irish into Christianity, which they in turn used to convert the Scots, we are all just looking for a better time, a better understanding of our nature and many times we use this to hide from it.

Whiskey, the child of distilled beer, is an ancient word in and of itself – – or at least its meaning is. The original word for whiskey is Agua Vitae or water of vitality (much like the French “eau de vie”). This is an old Latin word but the process predates the ancient Egyptians who used distillation to create essential oils for religious ceremony.

Greek Alchemists had made massive improvements to this process and created the first stills as we know them today over 2000 years ago to help speed warring Europeans along their bloodthirsty path. As they were embroiled in fighting the crusades, it was actually the Arabs who began perfecting the art to produce its perfumes. Then during the Renaissance in an effort to combat the plague the Dutch began distilling wine to create what they called Brandeweijn or “Burnt Wine”, which later became brandy. Over the centuries the produce changed to suit the needs of the consumer.

So now back to Whiskey. Roughly 600 years ago Spanish monks brought with them brandy to help convert the Irish to Catholicism. It was an instant hit. In no time Aqua Vitae became locally known as uisce beatha (pronounced ishka beyha) or water of life. This later became… (drum roll please)… WHISKEY Because grapes were not easily grown in such a cold climate the monks who set out to convert the heathen Gaelic culture quickly turned to distilling beer. Doubtless, this process helped to convince the Celts that Christianity must truly be a great religion if its priests could create such a fine beverage. It didn’t take long before the Irish monks would do the same for the Scots. Maybe there is a reason for the obligatory shot of Jameson on St Patty’s day.

Much later when the colonies were founded it was actually rum and apple brandy that were first made into spirits. You may ask, why did we drink so much? Alcohol was the safest thing to drink; actual drinking water was the luxury. It did not take long for tilled grains to be consumed for inebriation. Rye was really the main grain used to make whiskey this side of the pond.  Later as we settled the southern states where the climate was warmer and corn more readily available the ever resourceful entrepreneurs began producing what is now known as Bourbon. Even George Washington distilled rye, so no matter what the moral majority may think, it is in our heritage.

Part Two: Whats in a Name?

So what’s in my glass right now? Right now I am sipping WhistlePig Straight Rye. This has become one of the hottest whiskies on the market. It was pictured in GQ magazine back in April right next to a little blurb about Saloon featured as one of the top 10 whiskey bars in the country. Not bad for our little Mickey Mouse operation. Raj Peter Bahkta (former Apprentice star and Pennsylvania politician) teamed up with Dave Pickerell (former master distiller of Maker’s Mark) to create an extremely well balanced and complex whiskey. The rye comes through with such a spicy elegance. The woodier notes (aged for 10 yrs used Bourbon Barrels) are present but soft.The grain offers up a drier aromatic. There are notes of fresh cut grass, granny smith apples and orange peel. You can pick up some of the broader bourbon like structure aromatically from David’s corn-based history but the spice is all rye. Actually 100%.

imageAnd why WhistlePig? Well, here’s a paraphrase. A whistle-pig is really another name for a ground-hog. One day Raj was hiking through the Rockies when a nutty Frenchman was screaming “LOOK! It’s a whistle pig. Do you see him? A whistle pig!” Now I can’t remember the story word for word but as I mentioned earlier, is it really important?

Part Three: Applied Alchemy

Islamic_Tradition_of_Chemistry-5Thinking in terms of a cocktail it is vital to understand how to blend based on the flavor profile of the selected spirit. Although Sour-based drinks always sell and I am convinced that most tequila lovers really prefer orange and lime to the true flavor of agave, a spirit like this should be the focus. It should be the subtle cocoa nib elegance of rye, the cinnamon spice and the dry finish that shines through. More and more bartenders love to use rye rather then its more popular cousin Bourbon because of its drier notes. Because it is unmistakable, whereas bourbon — which, don’t get me wrong, can make a fantastic cocktail — tends to overpower with sweetness and viscosity rather than dance with the drink.

It is hard to improve on the Sazerac, or Manhattan; these are perfect cocktails, but this is one of my favorite WhistlePig cocktails.

 The Mortimer

 1 1/2 oz of WhistlePig Rye

3/4 of an oz of cardamaro (wine based amaro from Piemonte Italy)

1/2 oz of Gran Classico (a softer, sweeter version of Campari with less of the intensely bitter bite and a very subtle rosemary note)

2 dashes of Bitter Truth “Jerry Thomas” bitters

This is placed into a bar glass with ice, stirred and strained into a single rocks glass served up and finished with a swath of lemon.

Just a point on the name; Mortimer is the partner in crime to Mauve, the two pigs who have taken residence at WhislePig farm in Shoreham Vermont.Awesome_1384403805391

Last night we held a “Pigs on Plates’ tail to snout dinner featuring a hand reared, free range organic pig from the WhistlePig farm. Chef Jonathan and bar manager Derek McCluster and bar goddess Tracy Witkin came up with some fantastic pairings featuring both the WhistlePig rye and the WhistlePig pig. It was a great night and I would like to thank everyone involved, those that attended and of course those that worked it.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Mortimer and Mauve were not in attendance.