Thursday, May 31, 2012

News and Brews: The Perfect Morning Cup

While reading The Rake magazine last night, I came across this quote from Nick Scott, the editor-in-chief:

“The rakish man today is also a bon vivant, an epicurean and a global citizen. He seeks out beauty everywhere he can find it . . . [including] the finest things one can drink.”

It was almost as if Mr. Scott had read my mind (or blog). It appears he and I agree that a rakish gentleman is as smart cerebrally as he is sartorially and loves to engage in the world alongside his like-minded brethren.  Indeed, in order to enjoy the world, a bon vivant must first understand the world.  It is for that reason that a true bon vivant is a sponge for knowledge and news.

In order to ensure that I am cognizant of the world around me, I obtain my daily news from several different sources and viewpoints covering a wide variety of topics: world/national news, business, technology, politics, legal, fashion and style, sports, and pop culture.  I try to start my day reading (well, technically skimming) The Wall Street Journal (for business and technology news), The New York Times (for world and national news, as well as its style section), The New York Post (mainly for Page Six, but also for its local news), The Washington Post (for politics and national news), Financial Times (for financial and world news), and by watching ESPN Sports Center.  I also read (again, skim) periodicals such as The Economist, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Rake, GQ, Esquire, and Billboard.  While this may sound like a lot, I do most of my reading on the internet or my iPad. Therefore, I can usually digest the day’s news in well-under an hour broken up in bits throughout the morning.

Although the majority of this blog is dedicated to crafted cocktails, I want to take this time to address the morning liquid culture equivalent—the  perfect cup of java, which is my natural companion to reading the morning’s news. And while I will never turn down a doppio espresso (my love affair with my Nespresso maker is sure to make a future post), I am talking about coffee.

I have recently switched out my french press (which produces an earthy, full bodied cup of coffee extracting every note from the bean) to a Chemex (which produces a heavy, but not bitter, perfectly brewed drip cup). As you can tell, I prefer a manual maker to an automatic because: (1) it allows you to prepare coffee at the correct temperature needed for extracting the real flavor from the beans—200 degrees—(I find that a machine does not get that hot, and therefore, you are being cheated from the hidden flavors); and (2) it gives you more control over the process. Not to mention the fact that I am a fan of the brewing ritual involved in a manual device.

Regardless of the coffee maker in your own kitchen (manual or automatic), there are some simple, yet often overlooked, ways to increase the flavor and enjoyment of your brew.

The first, and most obvious, is to choose the right coffee bean. I’m not talking flavor or brand (although with coffee beans, you do get what you pay for, so I suggest spending a little extra on your beans by choosing a local or respected roaster as opposed to a pre-packaged store brand), but the actual bean itself. After roasting, beans have a shelf life of about 10 to 14 days. So always check the roast date (and if you can’t find one, move on to another bean), and make sure you are not buying stale ones. Additionally, although we usually love shiny things, shiny coffee beans are actually the sign of either stale oils coming to the surface or too dark a roast. Therefore, find a dry, matte-looking bean.

Once you have procured your perfect bean, make sure that you store it properly. The most direct and simple way to store your coffee without breaking any coffee snob commandments is to buy your whole beans in small quantities and store them in an airtight canister (ceramic is best) or vacuum canister, in a cool shady spot. Never store your beans in the fridge since it’s not cold enough to keep your coffee fresh and will cause your beans to deodorize and dehumidify your refrigerator—just like baking soda, especially if it’s ground.

As most coffee connoisseurs will tell you, one of the most important steps in the process is the grind. Even if you are not using fancy brewing equipment, you must have a good grinder. Most pros avoid blade-style grinders, which are prone to inconsistency and cannot produce a fine grind. Instead, invest in a burr-style grinder (which can range from $40 - $500). For home use, a standard flat burr grinder is fine.  And even if you don’t have one, buy your beans in small quantities (enough for a week), and have your local barista use their commercial grinder for your beans. But be sure to explain your brewing method so that you get the correct size grind.

Next, choose a good filter. While “natural” or brown filters may seem like the better choice, the white “bleached” filters actually produce a cleaner cup.  I have found that the natural ones leave a papery taste.  Regardless of your choice, rinse your filter with clean water (it goes without saying to use the most filtered water that you have available for your coffee) before use.  By pre-wetting your filter, you avoid the stale, papery taste you might otherwise detect in your brew, and it helps the grinds to stick to the filter (rather than float on top of the water).  Additionally, after you add your fresh grinds to the filter, be sure to pre-wet the grinds with boiling water.  By wetting the grinds (and then waiting around 30 seconds before dumping the rest of the boiling water in) you allow the bean to “blossom” and expose its flavors.

Finally, one of the easiest, but least-remembered, way to get a more enjoyable cup is to pre-warm your mug. This doesn’t mean that you have to buy a mug warmer.  Simply fill your cup with a little water, and heat it in the microwave for one minute, or fill your cup with boiling water for the same amount of time.  Empty and dry the mug before filing with coffee.  I’ve read that using a warm mug will extend your cup’s heat by at least 10 minutes!

Whether at night or first thing in the morning, a true bon vivant consumes the finest liquid available. As Mae West said, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” Make sure to enjoy every minute, especially first thing in the morning.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hip Hip Hooray: Flask Cocktails

A true gentleman is someone whose mere presence effortlessly, subtly, and positively affects those with whom he interacts. This could be from something as small as opening the door for a female companion[1]or as grandiose as making a memorable toast (with just enough humor and self-deprecation) at a friend’s wedding. Simply put, a gentleman, without prompting, does something that raises the bar at the event. And the perfect gentleman accessory to assist with this task is a hip flask.

Whether you are camping, fishing, tailgating, or golfing (really any excuse to be outside with friends), you can make the activity even more memorable by pulling out your flask and passing it around (bonus: you will stand out for being the modern gentleman that you are[2]There are so many choices—engraved silver, pewter, leather-wrapped glass—that your flask should be a reflection of your personality; so choose wisely. And although you can fill the flask with a whisky, brandy, or port (all of which go great in a flask), take the opportunity to show off your learned epicurian skills by filling it with a crafted cocktail. Indeed, not only does it let your companions know that you thought about this moment ahead of time, but it will also give you an excuse to try a flask cocktail.

A flask cocktail is a cocktail that is made to be carried (and sipped) in a flask. The idea is to keep it simple but still sophisticated enough that the cocktail will taste like something you would serve a guest in your home. Start with a main spirit, such as brandy, rum, or whiskey, and add a modifier, either something sweet like Amaretto or Grand Marnier, or bitter like Campari. Vermouth and other fortified wines also work. Just do not use egg whites or cream since the drink will likely be in the sun for awhile, which means that the cocktail needs to be drinkable after it warms up to room temperature (i.e., not chilled). For starters, try this flask cocktail (remember to adjust the recipe for the size of your flask):

Rosemary Old Fashioned
2.5 oz. Rittenhouse rye whiskey
1 orange peel
½ oz. rosemary simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters

To make the rosemary syrup, heat 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup demerara or plain sugar with a few rosemary sprigs. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool and strain.
Express the oil from the orange peel into the rye and then drop them into the whiskey.
Add simple syrup and bitters.
**Stir over ice and transfer to a flask, using a funnel.

Chancellor Cocktail
1 ½ oz. Famous Grouse Scotch
½ oz. Dolin dry vermouth
½ oz. port (I prefer Noval Black)
1 dash Peychaud Bitters
Stir over ice and transfer to a flask, using a funnel

Grand Marnier Sidecar
2 oz. Grand Marnier
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup
2 dashes orange bitters (I prefer a 50/50 mix of Fee Brothers and Regan’s)
**Shake over ice and transfer to a flask, using a funnel.

Samuel Johnson said, “There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern.” Passing around a well-chosen flask cocktail ensures that you have brought the “good tavern” with you, wherever you are. And everyone who has the opportunity to drink from your flask will be better off for it.

[1]With a revolving door, a gentleman will always walk through first so that he can push the door. If, however, the door is already revolving, it is acceptable to let her pass through first so long as you continue to push the door so she does not have to exert herself.

[2] A flask also comes in handy during indoor activities where you may need a nip to make it through, such as the opera, symphony, or ballet. I have even brought a flask to a wedding where cocktails were not being served (wine only) and shared a much-needed sip with the groom. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Weekend Bonus: The Bobby Burns

What do you get when you cross a Scottish poet laureate, an ancient order of French monks, and an Italian wine? A damn good cocktail: the Bobby Burns. I first tried this drink one night when the Texan, in one of his typical surly and challenging moods, came over and demanded a “good cocktail made with scotch.” Thinking that a Rusty Nail was not the correct answer (and having no Drambuie on hand), I found the Bobby Burns in one of my older cocktail books—apparently where it first appeared, in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book—and we were both instantly hooked.

The drink is named after Robert Burns, a Scottish poet, known as The Bard, who is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland. And while I cannot recite his poems to you—other than to sing Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve—he clearly had good taste in cocktails.

2 oz. Highland malt scotch (I prefer Ardmore, Dalmore, or any of “the Glens”)
.75 oz. sweet vermouth (this is one of the few drinks where I don’t use Carpano as I find it battles with the scotch; try a more subtle Dolin, Cocchi, or even a Martini & Rossi Sweet in this one)
1 bar spoon Benedictine (a French herbal liqueur which, legend has it, was developed at the Benedictine abbey of Fécamp in Normandy. The recipe is a closely-guarded trade secret, ostensibly known to only three people at any given time).[1]

***Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
The traditional garnish is a shortbread cookie, served on the side. But when you are short on shortbread, try a lemon twist in the drink.

This weekend, after a long day at the grill and the family is in bed, you should sit back in your leather chair, turn off the television, and enjoy this fairly obscure—but simply amazing—drink.[2]

[1] The drink was actually developed by Alexandre Le Grand in the 19th century, but why detract from the legend?
[2] So obscure, in fact, that one night when the Texan and I were in a well-known cocktail den and he ordered the drink, the cocktail waitress met us with a look of confusion. We were a bit disappointed by the cocktail that was served, but he drank it nonetheless.  At the end of the night, upon checking our receipt, we were surprised to see that it included a “Bobby Brown” (widely regarded as the poet laureate of New Edition).  I guess it was their prerogative.  The lesson we learned is to make sure you order this drink directly from the bartender.  If he tells you that he doesn’t have any shortbread, at least you know that he knows how to make the drink.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy: The Pimm’s Cup

“A man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry.”  And what better season to do all this than summer? The season of sun, surf, sand, and seersuckers is upon us. And while summer is a time to dress a little looser and laid back, one should still make an effort to be chic and classy in one’s choices.

Summer is a great excuse to ditch your dark, heavy wool suit and change out for a more casual cotton or linen slim-cut number in khaki or don a seersucker (despite what GQ says, unless you are on the runway, a rap star, or Don Johnson, do not wear a white one). Grab a fitted linen shirt (in white, light blue, or even pink) and switch your watch band to a ribbon band, which is inexpensive and gives an entirely new look to that same wrist piece you have been wearing all year. Use your next trip to the pool or beach as an excuse to finally ditch the wrap-around Oakleys (unless you are a professional beach volleyball player and, even then, wear them only on the beach) and your frat-boy croakie and buy a new pair of sunglasses (try tortoise shell for a classier alternative to black, or sport a colored frame - such as red or blue). The latest aviator and “Wayfarer” styles from both Ray-Ban and Persol are fantastic.

If you are by water, make sure your swimsuit fits; unless you are a surfer, there is no reason to have a pair that goes past your knee and, conversely, unless you are Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, there is no reason to sport a cut above your mid-thigh.  And never wear mandals (and certainly not with socks) -- you are not of the B.C. era. This rule must not be broken.

Although the weather is not an excuse to lose your sartorial coolness, it is an excuse to grab a cool drink. Leave the frozen daiquiris and cheap beach bar drinks to those with less couth and order (or better yet, make) yourself a Pimm’s Cup. What the Mojito is to Cuba and the mint julep is to America, the Pimm’s Cup is to England. The cocktail was originally created by James Pimm in the 1840s and is based on his fruit-and herb-infused gin (then and now sold as Pimm’s No. 1)1. The best part about the drink is that it could not be easier to make and, therefore, allows you more time in the sun and less time behind the bar. Plus, having an exotic drink (at least on this side of the pond) in your hand is a great conversation starter for those non-readers of this blog.

2. oz. Pimm’s No. 1
3 tbs. fresh lemon juice 
2 sprigs fresh mint
2 lemon slices
2 fresh strawberries, halved
3 slices of cucumber

Place 2 cucumber slices in tall glass and slightly muddle
Add Pimm’s and lemon juice
Fill glass 1/2way with fresh ice
Add lemon and strawberry slices on top of ice
Fill remainder of glass with ice (sandwiching the fruit)
Pour Sprite (or ginger ale) in glass until full
Stir and garnish with remaining cucumber and mint

The usual rule of drinks is that there is no right way to make a cocktail, but there are several wrong ones. This rule, however, generally does not apply to the Pimm’s Cup. While the traditional Pimm’s Cup is simply Pimm’s, ginger ale (or lemonade), and cucumber, you can spend the summer experimenting with various fruits and herbs (try adding blueberries, blackberries, rosemary or thyme), and even a bad version is still better than a watered down pina colada. Or try this version, as made in London Bar:

Pimm & Proper
Pour 2 oz of Pimm’s No. 1 into a tall glass
Add 1 oz Grey Goose L’Orange
Add 1 oz Lillet Route (a French aperitif wine)
Fill glass with 3-4oz of seltzer or ginger beer
Top with a dash of cranberry juice and a sprig of fresh mint

And since it is a long weekend (and the purpose of this blog is to spread my love of cocktails), I thought I would share another of my favorite summer drinks with you:

Moscow Mule
2 oz. Russian Standard vodka
Ginger beer until full
1 tsp. simple syrup
¼ oz. fresh lime juice
Garnish with one sprig mint

When making this drink, which is built in a highball glass over ice, I cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice into the mule. I then invert the lime half, making a “shot glass,” and float on top of the drink. Pour .5 oz of the vodka into the lime so that the liquor is on both the top and bottom of the drink.

~ Happy Memorial Day ~

1There were six Pimm’s products (all “fruit cups” - traditionally an English specialty drink designed to be made into a long drink with addition of a soft drink such as lemonade or ginger ale). But only Cups #1, #3 and #6 are still available in some form. The essential difference among them is the base alcohol used to produce them:
Pimm’s No. 1 Cup is based on gin. It has a dark tea colour with a reddish tint, and tastes subtly of spice and citrus fruit. Its base as bottled is 25% alcohol by volume.
Pimm’s No. 2 Cup was based on Scotch whisky.
Pimm’s No. 3 Cup is based on brandy. A version infused with spices and orange peel marketed as Pimm’s Winter Cup is now seasonally available.
Pimm’s No. 4 Cup was based on rum.
Pimm’s No. 5 Cup was based on rye whiskey.
Pimm’s No. 6 Cup is based on vodka.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Guys’ Night Out: Tucking, Tailoring, and Tequila

A guys’ night out on the town is a great way to cut loose, catch up, and even engage in some friendly competition (darts, pool, or friendly wagering on sports is always a plus). It is a time to reminisce about old memories while, hopefully, creating new ones. And while your group is sure to get noticed by other patrons (and hopefully a female eye or two) you should want to stand out from your friends. Be the one whose presence says “I have an interesting story—or two—to tell.”

There are a few seemingly simple things that you should do to make sure that, even in a crowd of guys, all eyes will be drawn to you. The first is tuck in your shirt. It used to be that leaving your shirt untucked said “I’m cool and laid back, not like these other stiffs with their tucked shirts.” But then everyone started untucking their shirt. And now it just screams “I’m a lazy slob who does what everyone else does.” Stand apart from the lazy pack; tuck in your shirt. After all, it helps show off that six-pack you have worked so hard at the gym for (stayed tuned for an upcoming post on gym etiquette). 

As for that shirt, make sure that it is a “slim fit” or, at the least, tailored to your body. Don’t be that guy whose shirt is so big that it looks like he is smuggling a baby or wearing a fanny pack under the back of his shirt. It costs around $10 for your local tailor to take in the sides of your shirt and contour it to your body. You spent good money on your nice shirt, spend a few extra bucks to make it fit.

Unless at the beach, wear an unstructured blazer. Especially when paired with a pair of dark jeans, a man in a blazer lets the world know that he has a cultivated sense of refinement, even during a laid-back guys’ night. The right unlined blazer will feel like a second skin (and has extra pockets to hold the phone numbers of the new people that you will undoubtedly meet that night). And that jacket helps cover the few extra pounds you may gain by eating those extra wings.

Finally, let your friends order those light beers, Jack and Cokes, and vodka/ Red Bulls. Your choice of drink—manly, exotic, and refined—will lead to one of those evenings that legends are made of: a tequila cocktail.[1] These are not shots of Patron or a sickly sweet margarita. These are the real deal. These cocktails are what the Most Interesting Man in the World drinks when he is not drinking Dos Equis.

Improved Tequila Cocktail

2 oz. Siete Leguas or Siembra Azul Reposado tequila
1 tsp. Maraschino liqueur
2 dashes Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 tsp. agave nectar
***Stir vigorously for 30 seconds then strain into a chilled martini glass.
Twist a lemon peel over the drink, rub the rim of the glass, then drop it in as a garnish.

Yellow Jacket

2 oz. Partida Reposado tequila
1 oz. St-Germain
¾ oz. Yellow Chartreuse
1 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6
*** Stir “for 40 revolutions” the strain into a chilled cocktail glass
Garnish with a lemon twist

Oaxaca Old Fashioned (my personal choice)
2 oz. Don Julio Reposado tequila
.5 oz Del Maguey’s Minero Mezcal
1 bar spoon agave nectar
2 dashes Angostura
*** Stir well the strain into a chilled Old-Fashioned glass with one large ice cube
Garnish with a lemon peel

And in the morning, when you are reminiscing (a true bon vivant never brags) about the evening’s events, do so over a Michelada.

1/2 lime
Coarse salt
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 dash soy sauce
1 dash Tabasco sauce
1 pinch black pepper
1 dash Maggi seasoning, optional
12 ounces Mexican beer like Negra Modelo.

-Squeeze the juice from the lime and set aside. Salt the rim of a highball glass by rubbing it with the lime and dipping it in coarse salt. Fill with ice.
-Add lime juice, Worcestershire, soy sauce, Tabasco, pepper and Maggi, if desired.
-Pour in beer, stir and serve, adding more beer as you talk about the night before.

It has been said that computers have enabled people to make more mistakes faster than almost any invention in history, with the possible exception of tequila and hand guns. Therefore, remember to sip these cocktails slowly and in moderation. And, most important, put your smartphone away. After all, you are there to catch up with your friends and, if the evening goes well, make a new one.

[1] For the best cocktail list of tequila drinks, step up to the bar at Mayahuel. Not only my favorite bar in New York City, but quite possibly the world. Try any of their Cerveza Cocktails, especially the El Jimidor. Simply put, “wow!”

Monday, May 21, 2012

A License To Kill: The Vesper Martini

Vesper Lynd. A woman enticing enough to not only get into James Bond's bed, but also the only one to capture (and break) his heart. Vesper was born on a "dark and stormy" evening, and to commemorate that night, her parents named her after the Latin word for evening. And the perfect drink for an elegant evening is the one named after her, a Vesper Martini.

Ms. Lynd was such an exceptional woman, that even Bond, in his usual tuxedo, was not dapper enough to escort her to the casino. As she noted, “there are dinner jackets, and there are dinner jackets” and presented him with a perfectly tailored, grosgrain, one-button, peak-lapelled1 (the only lapel allowed at the Tuxedo Club) tuxedo, making sure that he was a cut above and stood out from the other well-heeled men in Montenegro's Casino Royale (it should also be noted that Bond went sans cummerbund, which gives a clean and modern look to the tux) before she would allow him to escort her to the poker table.

On those evenings when you want to elevate yourself from the other guys—as if your perfectly tailored tuxedo2 was not enough—steal a page from Bond, and pair yourself with a Vesper.

2.5 oz. gin (Plymouth Navy Strength is preferable)
.75 oz vodka (your favorite premium brand)
.5 oz Lillet Blanc (Note: the original recipe called for Kina Lillet, which no longer exists, so you can add a dash of Angostura bitters to replicate the quinine flavor notes, but I find the drink is just fine without it, or, in a pinch, try Cocchi Americano)

***Unlike Bond, stir (don’t shake)***

Strain into a chilled martini glass
Garnish with a lemon twist

This “perfected version” is close to the original that 007 orders in the 1953 novel: a martini with “three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice cold, then add a large slice of lemon.” Today, however, some bars (or my friend, The Tattooed Finn) swap the measurements on the liquor and use 3 parts vodka to 1 part gin. If you prefer your martinis with vodka (which, as most purists would point out, is not a martini…), you can try this version instead, but I prefer the original.

Either way, for those nights when you are not satisfied being just one of the crowd, stride up to the bar, and order a Vesper. After all, if it is good enough for Bond, it is good enough for us mortals.

1 A tuxedo lapel can be cut in a peak lapel, which is considered the most formal, or in a shawl collar, which is considered less formal because it is derived from the smoking jacket. These days, a notched lapel, like that commonly found on a business suit, can also be found on a tuxedo, but is frowned upon by the purists.

2 Every man who is past the age of attending prom should own his own tux and leave rentals to those who still buy corsages for their dates.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Dangerous Sophisticate: The Sazerac

There are those nights. The ones when your inner Kray brother needs to be released.  In your bespoke pinstriped, peak lapel suit paired with a dark purple tie[1] and black PVD Rolex, you are the sartorial equivalent of a mash-up of Miles Davis and the Sex Pistols. And when you are this dangerously rakish, only one drink has a place in your hand—the Sazerac.

Widely (albeit incorrectly) credited as America’s oldest cocktail, this official drink of New Orleans (the drink’s birthplace) is a complex twist on an Old Fashioned. The drink is dark, sophisticated, dangerous, and the perfect compliment to “those nights.”

The defining feature of the Sazerac is its use of Peychaud's Bitters, originally created around 1830 by Antoine Amédée Peychaud, a Creole apothecary in New Orleans in 1795. The distinct flavor cannot be duplicated and, therefore, cannot be substituted in this drink. The other characteristic of this drink is that it is served in a chilled Old Fashioned glass that has been washed in absinthe. And because this drink has so much history, there is a ritualistic preparation involved.

Ingredients needed:

1 sugar cube (1 bar spoon of simple syrup)
2.5 oz. rye whisky
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
Lemon peel

To do the ritual properly, swirl a ½ ounce of absinthe (anisettes such as Pastis, Pernod, Ricard, or Herbsaint can be used if you do not have absinthe) in one Old Fashioned glass, making sure to evenly coat all sides. Fill that glass with ice cubes and set aside.

In a second Old Fashioned glass, muddle the sugar cube with a few drops of water (or just use simple syrup). Add the Peychaud's and Angostura bitters and give it a quick stir. Fill the glass with ice cubes and pour in the rye. A Sazerac should be made with premium rye, such as Sazerac, Templeton, High West, or Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye. Stir well.

Pour the ice and absinthe out of your first glass (save the absinthe in a third glass and serve it as a backer like they do at Lantern's Keep [2]). Strain the drink with a julep strainer into the now empty (and still chilled) absinthe-coated glass. Squeeze the lemon peel essence on the top and garnish with the peel.

Now sit back, sip, and plot the dangerously refined night that lies ahead…

[1]  Duncan Quinn makes the perfect ties for just these occasions.
[2] Congratulations to LK for its recent nomination as Top Hotel Bar in the World.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Life's Simple Pleasures: A shave and a scotch

“I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day.” Ol’ Blue Eyes’ words remind me that what you do in the evening affects your morning, and what you do in the morning affects your day. Therefore, it is important to start and end your day with two of life’s luxurious, simple pleasures: a perfect shave and a glass of single malt scotch.

There are few things that a man can do in his morning routine that are relaxing and functional at the same time. One is shaving (the other is not discussed here). I find that my morning shave routine is a perfect time for self-reflection and motivation, while, at the same time, being a little self-indulgent. After washing my face with warm water and a gentle cleanser, I prepare my beard with a few drops of pre-shave oil (my personal favorites are The Art of Shaving, Kiehl’s Shaving Formula 31-O, and Dermalogica Pre-Shave Guard). I can’t over emphasize the importance of this step—do not skip! Next, I soften my badger shaving brush with warm water and use it to apply a lather of glycerin-based shaving cream (I recommend either Jack Black Supreme Cream or The Art of Shaving Sandalwood). I use a fresh blade (my beard is tough, so I change my blade every 3 days) and shave with the grain (I have come to realize that different parts of my facial hair grow in different directions, so you should first run your fingers against your dry beard to familiarize yourself with your own pattern). When done, I rinse with cold water and pat (not rub) dry. To end, I revitalize and soothe the newly exposed skin with a post-shave lotion. Not only does my daily routine stimulate healthy skin, but it saves the need to splurge on a commercial straight razor shave (I have a problem relaxing while a stranger holds a sharp blade against my jugular). A great start to my day!

Equally relaxing and indulgent is a glass of single malt scotch to end the day. My choice is a Lagavulin 16 or a Macallan 18 (and I can’t forget Oban, which has a special place in my heart since it was my first). I believe that you should have a special glass to hold this complex spirit—my choice is a Riedel Single Malt Whisky Glass or a Waterford Double Old Fashioned Whiskey Glass. I take my scotch neat with two drops of room temperature water to open the whisky’s bouquet. A pleasure to sip while reflecting on the day’s events.

Whatever your day brings, make sure you start and end it with one of your life’s “simple pleasures.” This helps assure that the next day will start off on the right foot.

~Enjoy your weekend~

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Keep Calm And Drink English Gin: A Tale of Gin Cocktails

Recently, the Financier and I were discussing the problem of developing a sophisticated palate: you no longer tolerate mediocrity. Call it the “ignorance is bliss” syndrome of having good taste. Whether it be the first time that you slip on a bespoke suit (thank you, Edward III, for ruining all other suits in my closet), strap on a Panerai Luminor 8 Days GMT, or sip a cocktail made by a real master of the craft, suddenly all lesser items seem just that—less.

The conversation started off as a discussion of a dilemma that we have found ourselves in, that being that we cannot find a good Old Fashioned or Manhattan at most hotel or airport bars (or, in one instance, at the bar at the Oak Room, which led me to jump behind the bar and stir my own), despite their simplicity and ubiquitous appearance on most cocktail menus and bar books [see my recent post on Manhattans for my experience at the Westin D.C.].  Therefore, when travelling, we usually find ourselves ordering the most top shelf bourbon available on the rocks and, given the hopefully generous pour, becoming more of a dipsomaniac than intended when we first sat.

Thankfully, the conversation quickly turned to reminiscing about the time that we jetsetted to London for the weekend and quickly discovered gin cocktails made in a way that is rare on this side of the pond (at least without asking for them).

I am of the mindset (shared by most, I presume) that European men dress with a sense of elegance and flair that is generally not duplicated in the States. Indeed, while in London, men proudly dress rakishly, and Italian men demonstrate sprezzatura as a proud part of their heritage, most men in the States do not. We are seen as “dandies,” “peacocks,” or deemed feminine if we show pride in our clothes or, God forbid, wear something that is tailored. But I believe that it is always better to stand out for being the best dressed in the room, rather than the slob, so I shamelessly take my cues from our brethren in the Old Country. Thus, upon landing at Heathrow, I almost immediately set my sights on Jermyn Street, a street unlike any other.

I was like a kid in a candy shop: buying shirts from Turnbull & Asser, brogues from John Lobb (although I now think that Crockett & Jones are a better purchase at almost 1/3 the price, so I acknowledge the splurge on my Lobbs), and leather goods from Dunhill.  I rationalized each purchase with an incorrect conversion of pounds to dollars and over-subtracted for VAT (but each purchase was significantly cheaper than back home by almost 50%). And it wasn’t until I was seated at the bar at the SoHo Hotel that the reality of my credit card bill began to set in, quickly followed by buyer’s remorse.

Thankfully, the bartender quickly realized I needed assistance and came over. I need to digress for a second and discuss an observation on mixologists in London. They are true professionals that not only take pride in their work, but enjoy sharing and discussing their trade with their “clients.” In fact, the mixologists at the SoHo bar were all “professionals” who had actually moved to London from other countries specifically to work “behind the stick.”

The bartender, after hearing about my buyer’s remorse, quickly remarked that Brits do three things great: tailoring, men’s shoes, and gin (Note: the Texan and I have thrown a fourth into the mix and believe that fish and chips in the UK just cannot be duplicated over here for whatever reason—we tend to over- or under-fry and/ or over-batter). I told him that I was not a big gin fan, and his remark was pointed: “You should try gin drinks from someone who takes pride in them.” He was right. In his hands, I was an immediate convert to gin.

The first drink that he made me was a Martinez¸ which has since become a standard in my rotation of cocktails. His recipe was:

1 oz. Plymouth Gin
2 oz. Dolin sweet vermouth
1 spoon full Maraschino
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Stirred and strained into a chilled coupe with a lemon twist

While I agree that his cocktail was amazing, and I would never turn it down, I have recently discovered what I believe to be a more complex and flavorful version:

2 oz. Ransom Old Tom Gin
1 oz. Carpano Antica
1 spoon full of Luxardo
1 dash Boker’s Bitters
Still stirred and strained into a chilled coupe with a lemon twist

Next on the list was a Last Word:

1 oz. Beefeater 24
1 oz. Green Chartreuse
1 oz. Luxardo
1 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
Shaken over ice and strained into a coupe

Note that the secret to these drinks is not only premium spirits, but fresh juices. It is very easy to cut a lime (or lemon) in half, squeeze them in a hand juicer, and strain them into a jar. This guy even carries his own juicer on his keys!! 

And the difference between that juice and a dusty bottle of Rose’s is. . .. well, if I have to tell you, then you are on the wrong blog. But I digress.

Finally, I was provided with a Casino Cocktail:

2 oz. Plymouth
1/4 tsp. Maraschino
1/4 tsp. lemon juice
2 dash bitters
                                                      Shaken over ice and strained into a coupe and garnished with a cherry

I have since come to realize that this cocktail is a riff on an Aviation (Mrs. Vivant's most recent favorite):

2 oz. Plymouth
1 oz. Maraschino
3/4 oz. lime juice
Shaken over ice and strained into a coupe

After trying these drinks, I got the point (well, after three drinks, I would have accepted almost anything): whether it is a cocktail, food, leather goods, clothes, or even ice cream, craftsmanship in the hand of a true artisan must be sampled at least once. And when one finally samples the pinnacle of something, it is hard to accept anything less--the perils of a refined palate. But it is a risk that I will gladly accept.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dance with the one that brought you: The Manhattan

I only drink on two occasions: when I’m thirsty and when I’m not.[1] And on both of those occasions, my go-to drink is the Manhattan, a classic cocktail that is easy in its formulation but complicated in its perfection.

To steal from the WSJ, the Manhattan is a boozy, sophisticated drink that embraces the energy of the city after which it's named. It is dark and moody: if the Martini is James Bond's drink, the Manhattan is Bruce Wayne’s.

The basics are easy to grasp:

2 oz. bourbon or rye
1 oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes bitters (Angostura being the norm)
Garnished with cherries or lemon twist
**Stirred (NEVER shaken) over ice and then strained into a glass with garnish

But given the choices available for each ingredient (which make all the difference), this drink can make for some interesting experimentation (and given the amount of experimentation you do in one evening, can also make for an interesting evening). One night, two of my cocktail comrades, “The Financier” and “The Texan”, were over and we made nothing but Manhattans, each with one of four different bourbons/ryes (Old Overholt, Templeton, Maker’s 46, and Rowan’s Creek), one of three different vermouths (Carpano Antica, Cocchi, or Dolin Rouge), and using several choices of bitters (Angostura, a homemade orange, Xocolatl Mole, and Boker’s). Needless to say, each drink was subtly different, but magnificent in its own right.

Given the purpose of this blog, I aim to upgrade your quality of life by helping you elevate and refine your choices in life. Therefore, what lies below is a list of the baseline standard ingredients that you should use in your Manhattan and never agree to accept anything less. 

2 oz. Bourbon or Rye

For your bourbon or rye, the trick is to go with a choice that is higher than Jim or Jack, but does not rise to the level of blasphemy when you use it in a stirred drink. Some choices that (by many nights of “taking one for the team”) I have discovered work well for bourbon are: Maker’s 46, Buffalo Trace, Rowan’s Creek, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, and Dickel #12. For rye, I prefer Bulleit, Rittenhouse, Templeton, or Old Overholt (although, we all agreed that the OO gave off an “earthy” almost “dirt-like” flavor). These labels tend to have a flavor and body that stand up in the drink (as opposed to, say, Basil Hayden’s that is too weak) without standing out (like Noah’s Mill or Booker’s which knock you on your ass).

1 oz. Sweet Vermouth

I became a true lover of the Manhattan when I discovered real vermouth. Now many of you likely have an old bottle of Martini & Rossi or Noilly Pratt, lying around, which raises two issues. The first is that vermouth is a wine and, therefore, has a short shelf life. It should be refrigerated and used (or replaced) in about a month. It should not be collecting dust on the corner of your bar.

The second, and frankly more important, is that you have not yet discovered vermouth. My eyes (and my cocktail world) were opened the day that the bartender at the now defunct Momofukku Bar Bar gave me a sip of Carpano Antica. I quickly ran out, plucked down $30 for a large bottle and have never looked back. And while I typically reach for that bottle, I have also stocked my fridge with Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Dolin Rouge, and Vya (although I have come to conclude that Vya tends to be too citrusy for a proper Manhattan). They all make for a sophisticated drink that is worlds above the standard. If you need some help, check out this handy site.

2 dashes bitters

There are so many bitters out there that I am not sure where to even begin (my own home bar currently features over 20 types). Of course, the standard in a Manhattan is Angostura. But who is here for the standard? Try mixing it up with Boker’s, Fee Bros. Whiskey-Barrel Aged, Bitterman’s Xocolatl Mole, or Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters, just to name a few. As I overheard at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic Gala, “bitters are to mixologists what salt and pepper are to chefs.” Play around and experiment. I have even been known to skip the bitters and put in .25 oz. of Fernet and make a Fanciulli cocktail (my relationship with Fernet will certainly be the subject of future postings). You can’t go wrong (well, that’s not true, I have found that I can’t do anything with Dutch Colonial Bitters and, following my friend’s lead, I gave my bottle away).

My personal preference

With all of these choices, I have decided to be the southern gentlemen that I am and give you some starting points (after all, that is why you are reading).

My favorite for a standard Manhattan is:
2 oz. Bulleit Rye
1 oz. Carpano Antica
1 dash Angostura
1 dash orange bitters (50/50 mixture of Fee Bros. Orange and Reagan’s Orange)
Topped with a pick of Luxardo cherries (although recently I have become a lemon peel convert)

However, if you come to my home bar (and you are welcome anytime), I am likely to stir you the following concoction:
2 oz. Rittenhouse Rye
1 oz. Carpano Antica
2 dashes Bitterman’s Xocolatl Mole bitters
**stirred and strained into a coupe glass that has been rinsed (or sprayed with an atomizer) with Ardbeg scotch [I have found that rinsing the glass with a peaty, Islay malt scotch adds a whole new element to the cocktail]

Lately, I have adopted the white whiskey trend for the summer, which adds a whole new dimension to the drink:
2 oz. High West Silver Whiskey
1 oz. Dolin Blanc Vermouth
1/2 oz. Benedictine
2 dashes orange bitters
Top with sparkling water
Garnish with an orange peel or lemon twist

As you can see, there is a reason that the Manhattan has been likened to “liquid jazz.” The combinations are endless and each makes for fantastic cocktail (again, if used in the correct proportions. I won’t even begin to discuss my cocktail at the Westin in D.C. last week that was made with a shot of Maker’s and a rocks glass filled to the top with Noilly and no bitters). And if you are ever in Manhattan and are looking for someone to drink a Manhattan with, just let me know. I’m always up for one - as long as it is on one of the two occasions…

[1] Quote borrowed from Brendan Behan.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Love At First Sip: The Gold Rush

Everything has a beginning. For me, my love of cocktails started the moment my lips first met a Gold Rush. The libation was served to me at the fabled New York speakeasy, Milk & Honey, and it was love at first sip. To me, it is the perfect combination of sweet and citrus, and it is made with my favorite of all spirits—bourbon.

Gold Rush Cocktail

2.5 oz bourbon (I prefer Four Roses or Elijah Craig in this one)
1 oz honey syrup*
1 oz lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.  Shake and strain over a large ice cube into a chilled rocks glass.

To make the honey syrup, 2 part honey and 1 part water in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the honey dissolves. Let chill.

A Mission Statement - a suggestion for the future

There is just something special about settling into a plush leather chair, wearing your superfine 200’s Kiton suit, loosening the half-windsor on your Charvet tie, kicking off your Berluti’s checking the time on your Patek Calatrava, sending a quick message from your Vertu, and then taking your first sip of your Louis XIII in a Waterford sniffer.

Or so I’ve been told. I wouldn’t know. I can’t afford Kiton (although it is a nice suit), I prefer a simple prat knot, I wear my grandfather’s hand-me-down watch, I send messages on a regular ol’ iPhone, and my preferred drink is a Manhattan on the rocks (made with Bulleit Rye, Carpano Antica, and a dash of Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Bitters—so I am at least particular about my cocktails). But give me that liquid gold, a good conversationalist to share it with, and I am set for the night.

And that is what this blog is about. It is about ratcheting it up a level—imbibing, sartorially, gastronomy—while still living in these recession-ridden times (although, as a caveat, I tend to splurge occasionally when it is warranted). Specifically, this experiment is about appreciating some of the finer things (especially in cocktails!) without breaking the bank and, at the same time, advising where a splurge is not warranted.

So, without further ado