Let’s Go to the Museum

BACKGROUND:  New Year’s Eve 2009.  CR and I find ourselves looking for trouble in South Lake Union (SLU).  Well, actually, we’re looking for a cocktail.  I should also mention that it is approximately 1:00p in the afternoon.  By this time in my cocktail evolution, I knew of many local superstar bartenders and cocktail bloggers.  I had read that Andrew Bohrer recently moved from the Naga lounge on the Eastside (aka Montana) to create the cocktail program at the new SLU restaurant Mistral Kitchen.  You do the math, CR and I are on our way to drink Andrew Bohrer creations at Mistral Kitchen.  The joint is almost empty except for a couple at the bar.  Two spots left and we take them.  There seems to be some kind of experiment going on and our bar-mates are taking pictures of the drinks Andrew is making.

Andrew takes our order.  I ask for something Manhattan-y.  He pours some booze into a beautiful mixing glass.  Next, he proceeds to carve an ice ball the size of an orange.  And then he takes out the coolest peeler I’ve seen (everyone needs one of these) and peels an orange in one strip, which he wraps around the ice ball.  Seriously, it was the coolest thing I’ve seen.  I loved that drink.  This was a memorable day.  CR and I drinking incredible cocktails in an empty Mistral Kitchen (turns out they closed from 1p-5p, but didn’t ask us to leave) talking cocktails with Andrew Bohrer.  Best. New Years. Ever.  And it turns out that our bar-mate was A.J. Rathbun, author of Dark Spirits.  OK, I’m geeking out on this, and 99.73 % of you will be saying “so?” but I still talk about that day.

We talked cocktail books with Andrew that day.  He told us that one of the most useful books you could have was The Museum of the American Cocktail Pocket Recipe Guide.   So, this is the plan.  All in the name of science…  I’m new here, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I want to improve my skill set.  This little cocktail book contains recipes to 100 classic cocktails that all good bartenders/mixologists/cocktail enthusiasts should know.  You know where I’m going with this right?  Oh sure, I know…not very original, not very unique.  I know it’s been done.  There’s the famous Julie and Julia Project (I promise I won’t be mean to CR).  And there’s the more subject appropriate Jerry Thomas Project (so much cooler than mine).  But, I don’t care.  I need to know this stuff.  So, here we go with the “Mixing the Museum” project.  100 cocktails in 100 TBD days.  (whoa, too ambitious.  Let’s go with TBD days).  Stay tuned for the Algonquin.
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>Surprise Absinthe Flight at Tavern Law!

>Date night on Capitol Hill.  CR and I decided to head to the hill to see what kind of trouble we could stir up (really, we’re just trying to find a parking space).  Luck was seriously on our side as we found prime parking in the Pike/Pine corridor.  Our first stop was The Tin Table.  This was our first visit to The Tin Table and we loved the feel of this space.  We were welcomed by cool blue light coming from a wall of various cocktail glasses.  OK, we’re hooked.

We had tasty cocktails and dinner and fun conversation with the bartender.  We’ll put The Tin Table on our list to visit again when we’re in the neighborhood.  After snooping around the Century Ballroom (note to selves: sign up for dance lessons), which shares space with The Tin Table, we made our way out onto the streets of Capitol Hill looking for our next stop.  Bar hopping on Capitol Hill….big night.

We had recently celebrated CR’s birthday at Needle and Thread, Tavern Law’s swank upstairs speakeasy.  The evening was a brilliant cocktail experience and I suggest everyone put Needle and Thread on their list of cocktail bars to visit.  [Pay attention as you ascend the stairs; the pictures flanking the staircase are a real treat].  Remembering that C&E and I had recently been wowed by the cocktails at Tavern Law, and CR had enjoyed the upstairs retreat, but not Tavern Law proper….the decision was easy.  Off to Tavern Law we go.  

We’re lucky and get two seats at the bar.  Brian is our bartender, and he remembers us from CR’s birthday bash as he was working Needle and Thread that night.  CR is a scotch drinker and Brian suggests the Morning Glory Fizz.  This is a vintage cocktail dating back to the late 1800’s and contains absinthe.  I am not a huge fan of anise flavor… actually, I really dislike it.  Thus, the Libation Laboratory Inventory does not yet contain absinthe.  However, I do recognize that many classic cocktails contain this ingredient, and as such, we need to procure a bottle.  But which kind does one buy?  Well, there we are with an expert right in front of us.  We ask Brian which absinthe he prefers.  He goes to the shelf and pulls down four (4!) different brands of absinthe and SURPRISE, absinthe tasting commences!  We taste St. George,  Pacifique, Mata Hari and Kubler.


Absinthe Flight Participants

Thank you Brian!  We appreciate your knowledge and generosity.  Being a virgin of absinthe I don’t feel qualified to critique and review the participants.  This has been done very nicely elsewhere.  Christopher Null over at Drinkhacker has great reviews on absinthe and the New York Times has also written a very nice absinthe review article worth reading.  Suffice to say we thought the Mata Hari was weird, the Kubler was nice.  We liked Pacifique (and it’s local), but St. George was the winner.

Off to the liquor store we go with visions of Sazeracs, Chrysanthemums and Monkey Glands in our heads.  What other classic absinthe cocktails should we plan to mix?

>The Drink That Sealed the Fate


I’ve been thinking about what this blog might look like for over a year now.  I can recall my peeps at my previous job (Hello peeps!) encouraging me and providing input on blog names last Christmas (2009).  I think I have an idea about how I want to start off.  Being new to this field, I obviously need to continue my intensive research.  I have no pretense that I have anything to teach.  This is all about my learning and providing a narrative of that process.  I trust that you will only read the content if it provides you with some level of entertainment.  So don’t judge my crude writing and elementary methodology.

As I was saying…research.  As a scientist tasked with learning a new protocol or method, I would first dive in to some background/reference reading.  As such, I will do something similar here.  Hopefully by the end of my research I might be slightly more versed at mixology.  Stay tuned for more on this. 

Champs-Elysees

But first, I want to talk about (and mix) the cocktail that sealed the fate of my new hobby….The Champs Elysees (CE).  When I first mixed this drink, I used the recipe from Drinks by Vincent Gasnier.  And I really, really enjoyed it.  Since then, I have acquired a few more books and I see that the recipe differs depending on the source.  So let’s try two variations:

1.  CE (Drinks)
2.  CE (The Standard Bartender’s Guide by Patrick Gavin Duffy)
Each uses a different Chartreuse, either Green (Drinks) or Yellow (TSBG).

CE (Drinks) Recipe:
1.0 oz Cognac (Hennessy)
0.5 oz Green Chartreuse
1.0 oz Lemon Juice
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Shake, strain – cocktail or coupe

CE (TSBG)


6 Jiggers Cognac (1.5 oz Hennessy)
2 Jiggers Yellow Chartreuse (0.5 oz)
2 Jiggers Lemon Juice (0.5 oz)
1 T Powdered Sugar (not sure here, so I went with 0.25 oz Simple Syrup)
1 dash Angostura Bitters (drop of bitters)

Though neither recipe called for it, I garnished both with a small lemon twist.  They just seemed a little naked without a garnish.

The two are quite different drinks.  Besides the significant difference in lemon juice volume, the Chartreuses are distinct in flavor profile and even proof, with Green coming in at 110 proof and Yellow at 80 proof.  CE (Drinks) is much more tart and snappier with the Green.  CE (TSBG) is mellower and sweeter, from the Yellow and added simple.  I think I might like CE (TSBG) slightly better.  As I made the decision to revisit the Champs Elysees for this post, I realized I can’t remember the last time I mixed this drink.  It may have been two years ago when I mixed my first ‘real’ cocktail and was converted into a cocktail fan(atic).

I look forward to using both Green and Yellow Chartreuse in more cocktails.  I wonder what favorite Chartreuse recipes others would recommend.

>Welcome to the Libation Laboratory

>

Today is 1-1-11.  I’m not necessarily a fanatic about numerology, but, let’s face it, how cool is it when the date is something like 1-1-11?  When it was 10-10-10, I was doing something fun and memorable and it was on purpose because the numbers were 10-10-10.   What I’m saying is that 1-1-11 is an auspicious day and I should do something fun and memorable.  So, let’s get started with that.  
     I have a new hobby.  This hobby (obsession/fascination) has been a slow evolution.  Think of it as the classic hockey stick graph.  The blade of the hockey stick represents my earliest experimentation a long time ago, which was drinking Jack Daniels in the back of a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda (Nasty.  Experiment failed miserably).  Next entry was frozen, sugary, blended drinks where you mix colored liquid from one bottle with booze from a second bottle (tasty but, let’s face it, not really a cocktail…more like dessert in a glass).   And then I grew older, wiser and moved to Seattle.  Next up was dinner with C&E at a now defunct restaurant and I tried C’s Lemon Drop.   I know, I know, a beginner cocktail with easy-to-like ingredients.  But, damn, that lemon drop was pretty tasty.  Interesting…  OK, so now this is where we start to make the transition to the handle of the hockey stick and things are really going to take off at an accelerated rate.  
     A little over two years ago, I began to watch Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and thought she was so very cool, which led me to read an article written about her.  Within this biographic article, she talked of her love for making (and drinking) cocktails.  Interesting… I could do that….make cocktails, be cool (seriously, who doesn’t want to be cool?  You don’t?  Ok, well then I have some baggage from childhood that motivates me to want to be cool.  Don’t judge).  But where to start?  I would need a reference guide, a book.  I couldn’t just begin by throwing things together.  That’s not how I’m wired.  My knowledge of cocktails consisted of Jack and coke, frozen red drinks, and lemon drops.  I would definitely need a book.  And not just a book of recipes.  After all, I am supposed to be a scientist by training (at least reading the titles of the pieces of paper that you are given after many years and much money, one might discern that perhaps I am of the sciencey ilk).  So, back to the book….I would need a book.  CR (completely supportive of my new hobby/addiction) and I went shopping.  Not at all sure what was available for someone wanting to start down a cocktail journey, I ended up being drawn to Drinks.  This book had everything I was looking for….descriptions and history of the different base liquors and cocktail recipes with stories of their creation.  Great.  I dove in for an interesting, educational read.  And then another significant event happened that facilitated the continuation of the upward hockey stick handle trend.  There occurred the snowstorm of December 2008.  (I also like to refer to this time as the Christmas Miracle of 2008).  Seattle experienced such a significant dump of snow over several days that the city effectively shut down for two weeks.  Having lived in Seattle now for more than 5 years, CR and I had lost our mid-west resilience for driving around on snow and ice (though we did build one hellish snow-woman in the front yard).  To battle cabin fever, we walked.  We walked to the movies.  We walked to the mall.  We walked to the Ave.  We walked to the market.  And, we discovered that the liquor store was within walking distance too.  And so the liquor cabinet was born and began to grow.  After 5 continuous days of shopping at the liquor store and seeing the same checkout person, we felt compelled to explain that we didn’t have a “problem”, we had just read a new cocktail recipe and we needed ingredients.  The response back:  deadpan “U-Huh”.  Ok, so we don’t care what the liquor store check-out person thinks of us.  We had found our proverbial candy story.  So many shelves and shiny bottles and colorful liquids.  So many flavors and interesting names.  And we also found our liquor store encyclopedia boyfriend John.  With a breadth of knowledge about all types of booze, his colorful hair and unpretentious attitude, John has become our go-to person for new and interesting bottles of liquor. 
    OK, so things are happening fast now.  It was time to mix a ‘real’ cocktail.  We had traveled to Paris the year before and had such a wonderful trip that we were still talking about it.  I read a recipe for a cocktail called the Champs Elysées, a classic cocktail first referenced in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book.   Perfect.  I had to mix this drink.  Trip to kitchen store for cocktail shaker, check.  Trip to liquor store for ingredients, check.  Green Chartreuse, a secret recipe made by Carthusian Monks since the 1740s, with extracts from 132 plants and its coloring coming from chlorophyll…so beyond cool.  Mix up two.  Serve.  Frakity Frak!  That damn drink is good!  Ok.  I’m in; count me in.  Extra time because of the snowstorm afforded me lots of play time for my new hobby.  I discovered wonderful blogs all about cocktails.  Hello Paul Clarke and Jay Hepburn.  Please be my new BFFs.  So many books written about my new hobby (bookstore within walking distance, check).  There is an annual conference to celebrate my new hobby,  a magazine devoted almost entirely to my new passion.  And let’s not forget about a Guild, there’s even a Guild.  Apparently, even I can be a member of the Washington State Bartenders Guild.  I read of the different kinds of shiny, sparkly new bar tools I would need.  Kid in a candy store….A Christmas Miracle. 
     Back to the hockey stick….we are racing up the handle, which is where we are today, 1-1-11.  I’m not a writer, I haven’t traveled the world, and I just learned that cocktails can be tasty.  But I’m compelled to write a blog about this new hobby of mine.  CR dubbed it Libation Laboratory.  She thinks it’s my outlet for being a frustrated scientist who doesn’t actually ‘do’ science anymore.  If so, then what an appropriate name.  Thus, two years after the self-discovery that cocktails are indeed tasty, I’m taking it to the next level.  Welcome to the Libation Laboratory.