An Interview With Jacob Grier

Some of the best bartenders are really interesting people. In addition to being the originator of the Bone Luge trend, Portland, Oregon-based Jacob Grier is known for creating beer cocktails (he’s working on a book of them), his championing of the Scandinavian spirit aquavit, and his cocktail blog, Liquidity Preference. He tended bar at Metrovino for three years until it closed, and now he’s at The Hop & Vine, a bar with a beer and wine bottleshop attached to it.

Jacob GrierBut he’s also a writer, a magician, and an expert on tobacco policy and the emerging debate around e-cigarettes. He’s worked at both think tanks and coffee shops. And he’s been blogging for ten years—he calls it “retirement age in blog years.”

I’ve been reading Jacob’s blog for years but we started corresponding recently over our mutual interest in aquavit. He’s organized Portland’s Aquavit Week for the second year, this time enlisting eight local establishments to participate in addition to Hop & Vine. He’s a very busy man, but he was gracious enough to answer some questions and share some cocktail recipes via e-mail.

You moved to Portland from Washington, D.C., but you’re from Texas, right? How did you find your way to Portland?

Right. I was born and raised in Spring, a suburb north of Houston, and then headed to Nashville for college at Vanderbilt. I moved to D.C. thinking I wanted to work in think tanks, but after a few years realized I would probably never be happy working in an office. Portland’s vibrant food and drink scene, abundance of coffee shops, and laid-back vibe gave it a lot of appeal coming from D.C., and I’ve greatly enjoyed spending the past half-decade here.

Tell me about the genesis of Bone Luge. I always thought of it as a spirits thing but you’ve used sherry, right?

It was born in a moment of alcohol-fueled inspiration during the first Portland Cocktail Week at Laurelhurst Market. My friends and I were eating bone marrow and drinking tequila, when I jokingly suggested drinking from the bones. The bartender insisted on making it happen, which he soon regretted as the practice spread to the dining room! The owner of Metrovino embraced it and we put it on the menu.

The next year we started trying to get the Bone Luge to catch on, just to see if we could. It’s kind of pulling people’s leg about the trendiness of the food and drink world, especially with the rise of social media, but it’s also really fun and delicious. I love that it’s still going strong. Anthony Bourdain doing one on No Reservations was the pinnacle of it.

We originally drank tequila, which does work well, but sherry and other fortified wines are my favorite way to go. They’re not as hot and go well with the marrow. We also did a mix of Altos Tequila and PX sherry for a Spirited Dinner at Tales of the Cocktail, and that worked really well too.

You’re also known for your beer cocktails. What makes a good beer cocktail?

It’s all about understanding the beer and how to use it as an ingredient. For flips, big, rich porters and stouts are fantastic. IPAs can be used to add just a little bitterness to Tiki cocktails. And right now I’m doing a lot of experimenting with old beer drinks from the 1800s, in which malty, less hoppy English style ales are often served hot and with spices.

For my most successful I’d have to pick the Portland Rickey, which was selected as the official drink of Tales of the Cocktail for 2013. Here’s the recipe:

1.5oz Martin Miller’s gin
.75oz fresh lemon juice
.25oz Green Chartreuse
4oz saison or biere de garde style beer
half a squeezed lemon for garnish

Combine the gin, Chartreuse, lemon juice, and beer in an ice-filled highball glass. Drop the squeezed half lemon into the drink. Gently stir.

I drink a lot of Russian Imperial Stout. I love the heavy, bittersweet flavor. Any cocktail recipes for Imperial Stouts?

Maybe the Averna Stout Flip?

2oz Averna
1oz stout
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 whole egg

Shake, serve up, garnish with nutmeg.

Speaking of cocktails, I read about the Black Glove in the Wall Street Journal. Are there any other (non-beer) cocktails you’re known for? Have you seen your cocktails on other bars’ menus?

My Shift Drink shows up every once in a while, which is very gratifying. It was the best seller at Metrovino and now it’s doing well at Hop & Vine too. It was meant to bring together the things bartenders drink after work:

1.5oz rye
.75oz lemon juice
.75oz ginger syrup
.5oz Fernet Branca

Shake, serve up, and express a lemon peel over the drink.

Jacob Grier iron bartender

How did you get so involved in tobacco policy and e-cigarette regulation issues? Are you a smoker?

I started getting into tobacco policy at about the same time a friend of mine introduced me to cigars. I don’t smoke often, but I do enjoy them occasionally. This happened to be at about the same time smoking bans were beginning to spread, and I watched some of my favorite places lose their right to host smokers, over the objections of the owners, the patrons, and usually the staff as well.

Initially I came into the issue from a strictly rights perspective, but the more I dug into it the more I realized that the science used to justify the increasingly intrusive smoking regulations was very shoddy and exaggerated dangers that the press then reported uncritically. That gave me a lot of material to write about.

I have no personal interest in e-cigarettes—to me they’re the flavored vodka of the tobacco world—but I have seen friends successfully quit or substantially reduce their smoking by switching to them. I think they hold great promise as a way for getting smokers to quit, and the objective evidence for this is starting to build. I’d love to see a world where cigarettes mostly disappear, most habitual smokers switch to e-cigarettes, and premium tobacco continues to be available for occasional smokers.

Unfortunately that’s an uphill battle, depending largely on what the FDA does. The law giving the FDA authority over tobacco was advocated by Philip Morris and the current director of tobacco policy there comes straight to the job from consulting for pharmaceutical companies. FDA regulation has so far protected cigarettes and pharmaceutical nicotine products and is a very real threat to premium tobacco and e-cigs.

Jacob Grier Sri Lanka

You’ve been a big booster of aquavit as a bartender and a blogger. How did you first discover aquavit? Was Portland’s Krogstad the first American aquavit brand?

I think Krogstad was the first and it’s the one that introduced me to the spirit. I’ve been a big fan of Krogstad since the beginning, although when it’s the first aquavit that people try I think they can get the mistaken impression that all aquavit is very anise-forward, and anise is a divisive flavor. One of the reasons I like aquavit so much in cocktails is that you have so many different botanical profiles to play with. If someone doesn’t like the anise in Krogstad, they may like the cumin in North Shore, the dill in Gamle Ode, or the caraway in Aalborg.

What’s your favorite way to drink aquavit?

I like it neat, for aged aquavit, or chilled from the freezer for unaged. For cocktails, I like mixing it in place of gin and seeing what happens. Negroni- and Collins-style drinks seem to work well.

How did Aquavit Week come about?

I joked on Twitter last year that I’d acquired all the aquavits produced in the U.S.—not much of an accomplishment since there were only three producers at the time. But the number kept growing, and I realized there was a lot of room for this spirit to grow if we could get more people interested in it. I love it, both neat and in cocktails, so it’s for me it’s a way to introduce more people to it and hopefully increase the size of the market.

Right now Oregon is one of the few states that has enough aquavit to make this worthwhile, but next year I hope to plan ahead and make it bigger. I’d really like it if the Nordic producers would start sending more our way too. As you know, Linie is the last one left standing on the current market, and there’s so much we’re missing!

Having spent three years working with Bols Genever, I know a thing or two about promoting esoteric Northern European spirits! It takes education, but once people get it, they can become very enthusiastic about it. I think there’s a lot of room for growth here.

Check out Hop and Vine’s Aquavit Week Menu on Jacob’s blog. And here’s one more recipe, the Bob Dillin’:

1.5oz Gamle Ode Dill aquavit
scant .75oz Genki-Su cranberry drinking vinegar
.75oz simple syrup
.5oz lemon juice
2 dashes Elmegirab’s Dandelion and Burdock bitters
Lemon peel, for garnish

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The Experts: Garrett Oliver on Mass Market American Beer

In my pre-Thanksgiving post, I mentioned Garrett Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table. If I had a book this good for every subject I was interested in, I’d be a very happy and informed man.

The Brewmaster's Table

The subtitle of the book is “Discovering the the pleasures of real beer with real food,” and Oliver explains that it was originally intended as a cookbook with recipes and beer pairings. Fortunately, it’s much more. The first 50 pages explain in simple terms how beer is made. The next 200 go into some of the most important brewing traditions: Lambic beer, wheat beer, British ale, Belgian ale, Czech-German lager, and finally the American craft beer revolution.

It’s in the lager chapter, learning about pilsner that I found a hilarious take down of the worst in American beer. Most of the beer world falls into two basic categories: ales and lagers. That distinction is based on the two species of yeast brewers use (each of which has myriad strains), and the necessity of lager’s longer, cooler fermentation process. Pilsner is a type of lager, and in fact the most popular style of beer in the world: it includes everything from Budweiser to Heineken, Stella Artois to Singha.

Pilsners are generally clear and amber with a hoppy bitterness and some bready maltyness. They’re quite flavorful. But not all are like that. Here’s Oliver:

[From its origins in Pilsen], it’s a long depressing slide to mass-market American pilsner, a style that includes the world’s best-selling brands. Many of these beers are marvels of technology and quality control that, combined with successful mass marketing, have allowed big American brewers to make beer with almost no taste at all. This is not an easy feat–yeast likes to make flavors when it ferments wort. Technology worthy of a nuclear power installation is needed to prevent anything pleasant from happening. These beers are hollowed out by the heavy use of virtually flavorless corn and rice. Gone are the bready all-malt flavor, the sharp fragrant hops, and the smoothness achieved through months of aging. In their place, American mass-market pilsner presents a watery beer that is quickly produced out of a half-malt mash, with virtually no hops at all. Some big American brewers actually don’t use hops but stoop to all manner of chemically altered hop extracts. The beer is then filtered to within an inch of its already pallid life.

The result is essentially alcoholic seltzer water with a thin head. It bears the same relationship to genuine pilsner that mass-market white bread does to a warm loaf of Italian ciabatta–that is to say, virtually none. Do you bake bread at home? Try to make a loaf of Wonder Bread. Just try. Believe me, you can’t do it. No home baker can. You’d need a laboratory and millions of dollars of equipment to achieve such a remarkably bland creation. American mass-market beer is exactly the same thing. It’s undead.

If you’re new to real beer, or if you’d like to explore beer’s potential and history, this is a perfect book. It’s very engaging and opinionated and it will make you want to raid your local bottle shop for every kind of beer available. It’ll also make you want to eat. Oliver recommends trying a good pilsner with Indian, Thai or Mexican food: “With spicy dishes, its knifelike bitterness cuts right through the spices and finds the heart of the dish. The sweetness of the malt marries into the dish and helps cool the fire while the carbonation physically lifts the hot oils away from the palate.” Worth a try.

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What Will You Be Drinking for Thanksgiving?

Brewmaster's TableI recently started reading Garrett Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table, and it’s transformed the way I look at beer and they way I think about eating and drinking. Oliver is the brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery and a highly regarded authority on the beers of the world in general. In this book, he explains the history of beer, how it’s made, by whom, where, and why. And he advances the notion that perhaps beer can be a more versatile–and less expensive–beverage to pair food with than wine.

This got me thinking. What will my family do for Thanksgiving? Should I push a French Bière de Garde instead of our usual dry Riesling? Cider? Mead? What sort of cocktails will I make? Old Fashioneds and Jack Roses?

I decided to poll some of my contacts in the spirits industry to see what they were drinking (and eating) for the holiday. None of them are overthinking it, focusing more on the enjoyment of family, friends, and good food and drink. Here are ten dinner plans and a few recipes from a wide assortment of folks.

Gable Erenzo
Distiller and Brand Ambassador, Hudson Whiskey, Gardiner, NY

Gable Erenzo
We’ll be eating pasta, turkey, vegan sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, pie…lots of pie. My wife, Cathy, makes a Hudson Whiskey milk punch that we have every year:

2 parts Hudson Four Grain
1 part half-and-half
3/4 part vanilla extract
1 part simple syrup

Mix all contents and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

I’ll be drinking Hudson Rye whiskey before dinner, a great local hard cider called Kettleborough with dinner, and Hudson Milk Punch with dessert, served hot. Mmmmm.

Pip Hanson
Head Bartender, Marvel Bar, Minneapolis, Minn.
Pip Hanson

My parents don’t drink much, so I might have a glass of wine with dinner but no real drinking traditions to speak of during the holidays.

But I usually find a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle has found its way into my backpack after they go to bed…

Jim Rutledge
Master Distiller, Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Ken.

Four RosesWe’ll be eating turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans or peas, broccoli casserole, cranberry sauce, plus pumpkin and pecan pie.

I’ll probably have a Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon (neat) prior to dinner. During the meal we’ll have a red and a white wine available.

After dinner another Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon (or two) with an ice cube, while relaxing and enjoy traditional football games on TV.

Kara Newman
Writer and Spirits Editor, Wine Enthusiast, New York

Kara Newman

Thanksgivukkah is at my house this year. In addition to the turkey, my mom is making latkes. Most of my extended family doesn’t drink alcohol, so it’s going to be sparkling grape juice at the table. But I fully intend to sneak a few slugs of Armagnac in the kitchen while I cook! I’ve been sipping at a bottle of Delord 25-year-old Armagnac, which was given to me as a gift. There are some great value-priced Armagnacs out there—you can get great quality for a lot less than you pay for comparable Cognac. And it’s a lovely digestif.

For fine dining, a skillful pairing adds to the overall experience. That’s why I love restaurants—a great wine selection can really elevate a meal. At home, I tend to stick with an aperitif before dinner rather than attempting to pair. Besides, I like to give full attention to my drink. Lately, any Negroni variation. I’ve been playing with equal parts Meletti Amaro, gin, and sweet vermouth and really enjoying it.

Kara Newman’s photo by Daryl-Ann Saunders.

Neyah White
West Coast Brand Ambassador, Suntory Whisky, San Francisco

Neyah White

Since my wife and I have been together, we have come to realize that our version of Thanksgiving has very little to do the meal at the table and much more about the time in the kitchen. We are lucky to have a fairly big one (which is the way I grew up as well) and we literally spend all day in it together and usually with friends and some family. There is a significant amount of nibbling and drinking going during this day-long session so that by the time we get the bird carved and on the table, we are usually close to being wiped out and are definitely not starved.

So, pretty anti-climatic really. At least until dessert. My wife is a pastry cook and our pie situation is completely over-the-top. The one obligatory, yet completely true, Japanese Whisky plug comes here. She is very free wheeling with Yamazaki 18 as an addition to her caramel and fruit sauces. Especially when raisins or dried cranberries are getting some play. I believe I heard something about poached quinces and cheesecake this year and I am fairly confident she will be asking for a bottle on Wednesday night when the poaching finishes.

There are very few rules or musts for us on the drinking front. On the bar next to all my sample bottles right now are:

1. A bottle of Louis Royer Force 53 Cognac (B & B’s in the works!)
2. St. George Aqua Perfecta Pear eau de vie
3. Four bottles of Sutton Cellars hard cider (this is probably where I am going to spend most of my time)
4. Two bottles of La Gitana Manzanilla
5. A bunch of Pinot Noir I don’t recognize
6. Two bottles of dry Hungarian Tokai (more on this later)
7. A very small pinch of Yamazaki 25 left over from a dinner at Michael Mina a few weeks ago (this is just going to evaporate if we don’t drink it…right?)

I suspect there will be a beer run around noon when we realize we need lower alcohol if we are going to make to sunset. There is only one rule and it is big one for me: the Hungarian wine I listed above. The full name of the grape in Magyar (I think anyway) is
Tokaji Furmint and the style is sec, or dry. I have only ever had one producer (Királyudvar) so I don’t know how typical or representative my idea of this wine actually is, but with turkey and herb gravy it is just a total rock star. I will have two glasses going at the table. Pinot for all the accoutrement and the Tokai just for the turkey. I doubt that any of our guests have ever been as passionate about this as I am and I don’t evangelize it too loudly anymore, I just love it.

The whisky we save to the end until the dishes are at least organized and the boxes for leftovers are made up and good to go. My wife usually has some chocolates and toffees to sort of ‘fill in the corners’ while we sit on the couch and cajole the each other into taking the dog out for one last walk.

Now, I know this whole thing may not sound like what you would expect from a guy who makes his living working with Japanese Whisky. Where are the highballs and ice spheres made from water smuggled from Shinto temples? However, the way I look at this scenario, the whisky holds the same role that it first held historically. It isn’t some trophy or culinary achievement. It isn’t a party promoter or social lubricant. It is medicine, pure and simple. Digestif and ameliorative to an abused and over-worked stomach. Fortunately, my profession allows me access to some delicious medicine.

Allen Katz
Co-Founder, New York Distilling Co., Brooklyn, NY
Gowanus GinWe’re having turkey with oyster stuffing, grilled and smoked duck, and pan-roasted rabbit.

For drinks, we’ll have Syrah from Figge Cellars in California and punch with Chief Gowanus New-Netherland Gin:

1-750ml bottle of Chief Gowanus New-Netherland Gin
4 lemons, peeled and juiced (avoid the pith)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup fresh lemon juice
4oz Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
24oz chilled club soda

In a punch bowl, muddle the lemon peels with the sugar and let stand for 30 minutes. Add fresh lemon juice and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add Chief Gowanus, Maraschino Liqueur and stir. Add 2-3 large blocks of ice and then add chilled club soda. Serve in punch or juice glasses.

Eric Dayton
Co-Owner, Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar, Minneapolis, Minn.

Eric Dayton

My wife and I are hosting Thanksgiving lunch in Minneapolis for both of our families. Very classic spread: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, green beans, cranberry sauce, apple pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, vanilla ice cream. Oh, and Pillsbury crescent rolls, which are a family tradition.

We have a few non-drinkers in our families, plus little kids, so there’s always Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider. And then we’ll probably start with Champagne when folks arrive. With the food, the wines need to be versatile, so a dry Riesling and then probably a fuller-bodied Burgundy for the red. For after lunch, our bartenders at Marvel have recently introduced me to High West Campfire Whiskey, and it’s all I’ve been drinking lately. So I’m going to make Old Fashioneds with that. It tastes like the holidays in Minnesota to me.

This is a meal where pairings take a backseat to family and conversation and trying to keep stress low, so I just want to serve things that I like and that will make people happy. No one wants to hear about how I selected the wine at Thanksgiving lunch; I’d probably get booed by my own family!

Laura Baddish
Principal of an Agency Representing Spirits Brands, The Baddish Group, New York

TempletonWe will probably have some kind of pasta as a nod to our Italian heritage. Back when my grandmother was alive we would have home-made ravioli to serve before the turkey.

I am usually in charge of the cocktails. This year I want to use a spiced pear juice that I found so it will either have Four Roses Bourbon or Templeton Rye as a base.

As far as food pairings in general go, I don’t have a white-wine-with-fish attitude so it’s wide open for me. There are some classics though that I wouldn’t change—like oysters with a pinot gris or lamb with a bold red from Australia.

Erik Eastman
Co-Founder, Easy & Oskey Bitters, Minneapolis, Minn.

Erik Eastman and Dan Oskey
Erik “Easy” Eastman, left, with his Easy and Oskey co-founder Dan Oskey.

My family enjoys the classics: turkey, dressing, potatoes, etc… lotsa brown-looking food. I’m responsible for the turkey, which I’ve been doing in a braise/roast method with great results the past few years. The bird rests on a huge pile of chopped vegetables and white wine in a roasting pan, so that the legs are partially submerged (braise) and the top portion of the bird is exposed (roast). Side benefit is that the legs braising in the wine/veg essentially make a stock. Which of course I use in the following night’s turkey risotto (just like the Pilgrims used to make).

You know what another killer Friday dish is? Thanksgiving-cakes. Think crab cake, except with turkey, dressing, potato, veg, etc. Throw a little egg in there to bind it, coat it with panko breadcrumbs, crisp them up in butter, make a white wine pan sauce with a little dijon…Yes, please.

We’ll be drinking wine. My dad likes red, my mom and sister like white, and I enjoy both. White is definitely an easier “match” with traditional Thanksgiving food stuffs, but I enjoy drinking a bottle of red with my dad. So, I do. Plus I don’t believe in obsessing about “pairing” every morsel of food you eat to a beverage. Drink what you like with people that you like, and you’re doing it right.

Mike McCarron
Founder, Gamle Ode Aquavit, Minneapolis, Minn.

Mike McCarron

I’ve been blessed to still have my mom around to host Thanksgiving and she is still in the home I grew up in. As many of the family as possible—my three sisters and their husbands and all our grown children/grandchildren—gather for as much of the four-day weekend as we can. The food is usually classic Thanksgiving fare: the biggest turkey my mom could find, stuffing both inside the bird and in a separate container, both sweet potatoes and baked/mashed potatoes, green beans usually in a mushroom cream sauce and slivered almonds, cranberry sauce usually from the can, a fruit salad made from sliced grapes, diced apples, banana slices, and whipped cream (I’m trying to recall it all by picturing the craziness in the kitchen), dinner rolls, and I can’t leave out a selection of jellos–green lime with pineapples or pears, orange with mandarin oranges, red berry with raspberries. Then finish the meal with pumpkin and apple pies.

Drinking is evolving now. When I was a small child and my grandparents were still around, these holiday get-togethers would be one of the rare days when we could drink soda pop. My grandpa would buy assorted flavored sodas—root beer, cream soda, strawberry, lemon-lime. Mainly we were good milk drinkers. And the parents would be drinking Old Style beer and drinking Manhattans or Old Fashioneds. Now in the past couple years we have my aquavits, but also some wines are popular with ladies and beers with the guys.

Daniel Brancusi
Brand Ambassador, Reyka Vodka, New York

Daniel Brancusi

My typical Thanksgiving routine usually involves bouncing around to the houses of my friends who are chefs. My most memorable recent experience was spending a Thanksgivng with the chefs from Jose Andres’s restaurant Jaleo. Each of the chefs prepared a dish and one was a Spanish version of tur-duck-in: chicken wrapped in Iberico de Bellota (pork from the famous black footed pigs who are fed a diet of only acorns) wrapped in duck. I still dream of that dish. Regardless, wherever I do go I know that food will be taken care of.

The holidays are all about sharing so I’ll be making a punch. Warm punches are great around the holidays but since the hosts at my Thanksgiving events are always in a hot kitchen for the majority of the day I typically make a chilled punch, including ingredients that are traditional for the wintertime. This year I’m going to be making one of my favorites, the Spiced Haymaker Punch: Reyka Vodka, Raspberry Gum Syrup, Lemon Juice, English Breakfast Tea (chilled), Cinnamon, and Nutmeg. The Reyka works perfectly here as it has a full-body and gentle spice on the palate, which really pairs well with the supporting ingredients.

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Cocktails for a Crowd with Kara Newman

When your friends know you’re into cocktails, there’s a lot of pressure to play bartender at parties, even ones you’re a guest at. It can be fun, but it can also be a lot of work: squeezing lemons and limes, carefully measuring, muddling, tasting, stirring, shaking — and maybe the most time-consuming of all: consulting your mental recipe archive for what might please each thirsty friend. If you aren’t well prepared, you may spend a lot of time making drinks and not much time drinking them and entertaining your guests.

This is why I was excited to read my friend Kara Newman’s latest book, Cocktails for a Crowd. She’s got lots of recipes for punches, bottled cocktails, and big-batch classics, plus tons of good advice on the logistics of serving great drinks to groups.

Kara is the spirits editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine and has written about cocktails for The New York Times and Imbibe. She’s also the author of The Secret Financial Life of Food and a book about spicy cocktails called Spice & Ice.

I talked to her about what went into Cocktails for a Crowd, what she learned, and her favorite large-scale cocktails.


What was your process like writing this book? Did you host a lot of parties?

I wish I could say writing this book was one long party…not so much. I did some interviewing of bartenders (mostly by phone) and a lot of asking for advice and recipes. Since the book is roughly half bartender recipes and half updated classics, the others I developed and tested on my own, or in small groups. But one of the final steps before submitting the manuscript was to throw a party! I invited friends and made a dozen different drinks. They had to work for their booze—everyone had to fill out comment sheets evaluating how well the drinks looked and tasted. It was so much fun, though! I was just asked when I’d be “testing” again.

Was working on Cocktails for a Crowd very different from what you did to write Spice & Ice?

It was slightly different, for a lot of different reasons. I had a compressed time frame for Cocktails for a Crowd (four months vs. one year for Spice & Ice), so the process was more intense. And I spent a greater proportion of that time on drink adaptation and development, scaling drinks up without ruining them, which is harder than I expected. And the recipe testing process was different. For Spice & Ice, I tested drinks with small groups of friends, whereas for Cocktails for a Crowd a full-on party was the ONLY acceptable way to test!

So you’ve written two cocktail books now—any ideas yet for a third?

Not at the moment. I have an idea for another book project that involves cocktails, but it’s not a cookbook-style book.

How do you perfect a recipe for a punch or a large-batch cocktail? That’s a lot of booze to mess up with!

You try to perfect it on paper first. Anything that required heat (like the hot apple cider) or freezing overnight (like the frozen milk punch) I tested at home, in my kitchen. I made at least two batches of every drink, trying to tweak it. And I poured a lot of booze down the drain, I’m sorry to say. But it’s in the name of research!

It reminded me of the days when I wrote more about food than drink. I once wrote an article about Thanksgiving stuffings, with recipes, for a magazine, and had to test out six different pans of stuffing. In the middle of JULY! And what I couldn’t eat or give away ended up in the trash. But again—research! I never want to publish recipes that don’t work.

Do you have any personal favorites from the book?

I have two favorites. I love the bottled Last Word cocktail. I love bottled cocktails and I can’t believe they don’t get more attention for home use. Once I was satisfied with the recipe, I was happy to have a cocktail sitting in my fridge—I’d come home and pour myself a Last Word after work. It was one of those liberating, “Why didn’t I think of this before?” moments.

My other favorite is the Guild Meeting Punch, which is from Chicago bartender Charles Joly. It’s made with rye whiskey, Chai tea, and orange peel and it’s just delicious.

I totally agree with you about bottled cocktails. What a great idea to keep a liter of your favorite cocktail in the fridge! This also brings up the issue of aged cocktails. Have you done any experimentation with aging bottles of cocktails, ala Tony Conigliaro?

I have not experimented with aging bottles of cocktails (at least, not on purpose!), nor with barrel aging. But I’d love to see more people trying that out at home. Now that smaller barrels are so readily available, we have all the tools available to us to experiment.

That Guild Meeting Punch sounds fantastic — I may try that one on my family for the holidays. Any advice for holiday entertaining? Any other good wintry options?

Thanks! Let me know how that works out for you. One of the other drinks I really like for winter/holiday entertaining is the Spiked & Spiced Apple Cider, because it works with pretty much any dark liquor you have on hand (aged rum, whiskey, brandy) in pretty much any proportion you choose; and because you make it on the stove. Everyone winds up in the kitchen anyway, right?

My best advise for holiday entertaining: Do as much as possible ahead of time (squeezing citrus, cutting garnishes, etc.), and make sure you have everything you need on hand, prepared, and close by. No last-minute trips for liquor or ice = less stress.

Any great cocktails that didn’t make it into the book?

I bounced a lot of gin-based classics to make for more variety. I was sad to cut the bottled Bijou, which is equal parts gin, vermouth, and Green Chartreuse, and looks pearly and pretty in the glass. But it was too similar to the Last Word. And that one HAD to stay!

Any advice for balancing your own taste with the unknown taste of an crowd?

You can’t make everyone happy, so I’d advise to have options. That might mean having more than one drink, or having options to customize—have lemon juice and simple syrup on hand to encourage guests to adjust the tartness/sweetness to taste, for example.

What’s the best bit of bartender advice from the book?

Portland bartender Kelly Swenson provided a formula for how much ice to get for a party: For each 750-ml bottle of liquor, he allots seven pounds of ice. “And then I add extra,” he said. “You can never have too much ice, and it is devastating to run out.”

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Fig and Cardamom Infusion

Last weekend I posted about infusing vodka with grated horseradish. The inspiration came from Aquavit, the Scandinavian restaurant in Manhattan, and an article last year in the Wall Street Journal.

Aquavit’s beverage program under Keri Levins includes a big list of infusions, and two of the best — the horseradish infusion and a fig and cardamom infusion — were referenced in the Journal article with instructions.

For the fig and cardamom infusion, I started with Luksusowa, a Polish potato vodka that retails for about $15 a liter. The infusion is in two stages: a week with the cardamom pods and then four to five days with the addition of figs.

Figs and the Cardamom Infusion

Day One: I toasted the cardamom pods in a small skillet on the stove top for just long enough to brown them a bit. Within a relatively short time, the toasted pods have turned the vodka a nice pale amber. Maybe an hour.

Day Two: The infusion is now a deep amber color, all from cardamom. Makes me wonder how much the toasting contributed to the color. When I read this recipe I thought the color was coming from the black mission figs, but it’s already dark just days into the cardamom stage.

Day Five: I opened the jar to taste the infusion — I wanted to see if the flavor was as bold as the color. It was, and the scent of cardamom blasted my nose as soon as I opened the lid. There’s a surprising amount of depth to the cardamom flavor, even without any other spice or sweetener. It’s easy to see where you could go from here to make a nice liqueur.

Day Seven: I took about a half cup of dried black mission figs and washed them off with water. As I dry them with paper towels, a lot of orangey-brown color is coming off. I can see how the figs will add both color and flavor to the infusion. I cut them all in half and drop them in. I’ll shake the infusion daily and then taste it again in two days.

Day Nine: The infusion is now twice as dark. The flavor has sweetened, but the cardamom is still stronger than I’d like it. It needs more time to balance out.

Fig and cardamom

Day Twelve: The balance between the fig and the cardamom I was hoping for has more or less been achieved, with the cardamom still strong but the fig flavor and sweetness coming through. I was surprised to find a tannic aftertaste though — as if this were a slightly over-steeped tea. There are two ways I could try to combat this: first by adding a little straight vodka and second, by adding a little simple syrup or agave syrup.

Next time I’d definitely strain out the cardamom pods when it was time to add the figs. It just doesn’t need such a long cardamom infusion.

I’m drinking it straight but also trying it as a cocktail ingredient. I made an apple brandy old fashioned with 2 ounces of Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy and a half ounce of my cardamom/fig infusion and it was pretty good.

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Making Horseradish Vodka

HorseradishVodkaAquavit, the Midtown Manhattan Swedish restaurant that launched chef Marcus Samuelsson’s celebrity status, has long had a great list of spirit infusions. On the menu, they’re called aquavits, but this isn’t technically true by the definition of aquavit most of us go by: a neutral spirit infused (and perhaps redistilled) with herbs, including caraway and dill. Two of my favorite infusions happened to show up in a do-it-yourself aquavit article in the Wall Street Journal in April of last year. The first is a simple horseradish infused vodka and the second is vodka infused first with cardamom pods and then re-infused with dried black mission figs.

The recipes come from Aquavit’s beverage director, Keri Levens; she’d been on the job since mid-2011, so she didn’t come up with these recipes, but she has worked to expand the restaurant’s infusions menu.

I’ve made the horseradish infusion at home a few times. It’s really easy, and if you like horseradish, really rewarding. I actually like it so much, I sip it. It’s not just the bracing, clean heat of it — it’s also the earthiness of it that comes through in the infusion. There’s nothing quite like it.

Levens suggests using a potato vodka for the infusion. Its viscosity may pick up flavors better. Her instructions:

Peel, wash and coarsely chop a horseradish root. Combine ¼ cup chopped horseradish with 750 ml potato vodka. Leave to infuse for one to two weeks. Strain and store.

I don’t do it that. I’ve found that if you grate the horseradish with a microplane grater, the infusion picks up in minutes, not days. I’ve infused for as little as ten minutes with good results.


This time, I started with about one cup of loosely grated horseradish. I put it in two unbleached tea bags like these. I used a liter-sized mason jar and added about 500ml of Tito’s vodka. It became cloudy almost immediately. Any home infusion that doesn’t involve some seriously heavy duty filtration is going to be a little cloudy. This doesn’t bother me. After about an hour infusing, I stirred the vodka and took a sample with a bar spoon. It’s excellent, but I’m going to leave it a bit longer before I squeeze the tea bags out and pour it back into the vodka bottle.





Horseradish vodka isn’t unique to Aquavit of course. For instance, Moscow on the Hill, a Russian restaurant in St. Paul, Minn., has been serving it for years. They commissioned 45th Parallel Spirits (which also distiller Gamle Ode Aquavit) to make and bottle their recipe under the Referent brand. It’s available in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and maybe a couple other states.

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Talking Japanese Whisky with Neyah White

Japanese whisky has come a long way in America since Yamazaki 12 hit our market more than 20 years ago. Suntory, the producer of Yamazaki, has put serious work into the U.S. for the last ten, increasing awareness among bartenders and hiring brand ambassadors, then adding the premium blended whisky Hibiki 12 and the smoky single malt Hakushu 12. Over the next year or two, Suntory will launch more whiskys here, including a Yamazaki 25, the Hakushu Heavily Peated, and—what many of us have been eagerly awaiting—an affordable blended whisky.

The history of Japanese whisky begins with Suntory. Founder Shinjiro Torii built Japan’s first whisky distillery, the Yamazaki Distillery, in 1923. Its first whisky was released in 1929. Yamazaki’s distiller studied whisky-making in Scotland, hence the commonalities between the two. But Japanese whisky isn’t an imitation of scotch; as Suntory’s U.S. West Coast brand ambassador Neyah White says, “It’s whisky made for the Japanese people, by the Japanese people.”

Neyah White

I asked White about the difference between Japanese and Scottish whiskys in a phone interview recently. Our conversation ranged from the way the Japanese consume whisky to Suntory’s brands and new launches.

I learned some interesting things:

1.The Japanese tend to drink whisky with food.

2. Japanese whisky is usually diluted with water and ice.

3. Yamazaki and its brethren were launched here to blaze the trail for more affordable whiskys later.

4. We are a small part of Suntory’s market; it isn’t making big money from Yamazki, Hibiki, and Hakushu sales here, and it doesn’t need to.

5. The big, scheduled price increases for Yamazaki, Hibiki, and Hakushu whiskys in the U.S. are over.

6. Yamazaki 12 isn’t a younger version of Yamazaki 18—they are different whiskys.

7. Suntory discontinued Yamazaki 10 in Japan to make way for a no-age-statement Yamazaki that won’t be hitting our market anytime soon.

8. Suntory’s biggest launch in the U.S. is yet to come: a totally new, affordably priced blended whisky. Price and launch date are not yet determined.

What follows below is an edited version of our conversation, starting with the basics of Japanese whisky.

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