Finally. A Real Man Makes Mezcal.

Dear Tommy,

As you know, I’m a closet Toby Keith fan.  Toby, also known as the Bard of the War in Afghanistan, is famous for eloquent, evocative songwriting.  Such as:    

Real Man

And you’ll be sorry that you messed with

The U S of A

Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass

It’s the american way

He’s also written “The Taliban Song,” the first New Country ditty about an Afghan cowboy.  Written from the point of view of a “middle-aged, middle-eastern camel herdin’ man” who “saddles up” with his “old lady” and “flips a couple fingers to the Taliban,”  this isn’t just pure country.  It’s pure poetry.

I have a lot in common with Toby.  I, too, am from the U S of A.  I like wearing cowboy hats.  And I’m sexy.

So when I found out that Toby Keith is about to release a “liquor” called Toby Keith’s Wild Shot Mezcal, I flipped a couple fingers to Mexico and shouted “yee-haw!” 

Mezcal is for Patriots

 As expected, this stuff is more authentic than anything with a Mexican name on it.  It is 100% agave, it is not made to be “mixed,” its logo reassuringly references the Old West saloon, and EACH BOTTLE CONTAINS A WORM. 

Toby, thanks.  Mezcal isn’t for the unAmerican, like Mexicans or hipsters.  Mezcal is for patriots.  It’s for that old couple on their front porch swing, watching the sun go down over their farm.  It’s for the single mom working nights as a stripper to make ends meet.  It’s for fourteen-year-olds feeling frisky in the cornfield.    It’s for me!



Published in: on March 31, 2011 at 10:30 pm  Comments (3)  

Guest Bartending: Door 74, Amsterdam

I’m still amazed that they even let me in the door.  Spent last night behind the bar at Door 74 in Amsterdam.

Published in: on March 30, 2011 at 10:22 pm  Comments (1)  

Combier Distillery: Saumur, FR

  Dear Mabel,

As you know, I do work for Combier.  But to be honest, the reason that I think Combier’s products are so lovely and authentic isn’t because I chose  to represent them; I chose to represent them because they are lovely  and authentic.

That said, I spent 4 days in Saumur, a village in the Loire Valley, steeped in Combier.  The distillery is one of the central features of this charming place, and it definitely benefits from its location amid the traditional Loire farms.

its like a country store for drinkers!

The distiller, Franck Choisne, exudes the rustic sophistication of the classic gentleman farmer.  He’s in tune with the harvest cycle and with the land, and his artisanal stillhouse makes the best use possible of all the incredible French produce.  He’s got all the old school products like cassis, creme de muir, orgeat, creme de violette, and creme de menthe — they’re all done just they way they’re supposed to be.  But the standouts, of course, are the triple sec (Combier Liqueur d’Orange) and elixir based (Combier Royal).

I stayed in a castle not far from the distillery.  Had a few lunches and dinners with Franck and we really got along great.  He’s excited and passionate about what he does, but he also listens– so I asked him about the elephant in the room:  Cointreau.  Coming from the states, Cointreau seems so obviously the competitor for a top-shelf triple sec, and I couldn’t imagine what it must be like to be staring up at that giant.  But Franck simply said, “We are not Cointreau.  We are Combier.  We have been Combier longer than anyone else has been around, and that was and still is our flagship recipe.”

It’s a recipe worth keeping.  Unaltered and made the same way since 1834, Combier Orange has both sweet and bitter pure orange notes, with a clean drying finish.  Absolutely pure and natural, no artificial oils, sweeteners, or color enhancers are ever added.  When you use it in a cocktail, it adds depth and sweetness without the waxy cloying character you can get with other triple secs.

Like I said:  beautiful and authentic.


Published in: on March 26, 2011 at 11:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

“To God, Most Good, Most Great”: Benedictine Palace, Fecamp, France

Dear Mabel, 

I know that the only reason you’re interested in Fecamp is that Tony Parker played here.  But there’s so much more, Mabel, so much more.  This charming harbor town on the coast of Normandy has a rich medieval history and is home to the Benedictine Palace– one of the most extraordinary places I’ve visited.  Since Fecamp is so out-of-the-way, few Americans have touched soil here.  This made my train ride– terminating as it did at an ornate palace built in honor of God and liqueur– something of a pilgrimage.

The Benedictine story isn’t new.  Invented by monks in the  sixteenth century, secret recipe, resurrected after the French Revolution by Alexander Le Grand, 27 secret botanical ingredients.  Indispensable (Vieux Carre, Chrysanthemum).  I didn’t expect much from the visit to the palace… but when you’re standing inside the palace surrounded on all sides by the most ornate symbolic detail, you can’t help but think there’s something mystical and magical to Benedictine after all, and that shroud of secrecy doesn’t seem contrived– it seems like a tribute.

You can taste Benedictine anywhere, in any year, and it will taste the same (that 500 year-old recipe isn’t going anywhere).  I wasn’t expecting to taste anything new– I just wanted to see and feel the place.  But sometimes the best things come when you least expect them, and that’s exactly how I felt when I tasted Single-Cask Benedictine, only available at the disillery.

This stuff tastes how something secret and rare is supposed to taste; it’s the weathered ghost of the Benedictine I know and love.  There’s less honey, but more depth and spice.  Dark and deep, with toffee and dark fruit, and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon.  Tasting the Single-Cask this way– deep inside the palace, where only a few could get at it– made me feel as though I were stealing some rare, precious antiquity. 


Published in: on March 26, 2011 at 5:10 am  Leave a Comment  

A Visit to L’Abbatoir

Dear Mabel,

Just wanted to send you an update from Tales of the Cocktail Vancouver. 

Met some amazing people, including my fellow apprentices:

Adam Robinson, of Park Kitchen in Portland, OR

Colin Tait, of Calgary, Alberta

Cooper Tardivel, of Halifax, Nova Scotia

Derek Vanderheide, of Calabash Bistro in Vancouver, BC

Heather Yau, of the Waldorf Hotel in East Vancouver, BC

Jeffrey Van Horne, of Taboo Nightclub in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Jonathan Smolensky, of Brix and George Ultra Lounge in Vancouver, BC

Trevor Kallies, of the Donnelly Group.

 Some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.  And those Canucks know their way around a shot glass.  Don’t remember much, but in glancing though my drunken photos I vaguely remember thinking that this bar just hit the nail on the head.

L’Abattoir hits the right mix of swank and sass.  There’s a sleekness and a touch of old-world pride, but it’s somehow thrust off-kilter in a way that feels young– check out the crooked shelving on the back bar and the tiles that lie somewhere between Art Deco and Humane Genome.

It wasn’t until I saw the photos that I realized… Shaun Layton’s Meat Hook cocktail had me sure those shelves were on straight.  A dark, bittersweet, smoky concoction, it’s also got a certain touch of New-World pluck.  Thanks for the memories, Vancouver.



Published in: on March 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Porchetta is Pork stuffed with Pork

Dear Tommy,

Thanks for the leftovers from Nostrana.  That was good meat, and I was amazed at how well the 2008 COS “Pithos” Cerasuolo di Vittoria stood up to all that rich porky yumminess.  This wine (a Sicilian blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato) was unusual and rustic, but still elegant and completely fresh.  Make sure you thank Doug for the recommendation, since I know you didn’t come up with that one yourself.

Oh, and thanks for bringing home the wine list to rub it in my face.  Plenty of noble and country wines from all over Italy, and I’m not the only one who noticed; Nostrana was recently awarded the 2011Leccio d’Oro Osteria prize for its well-rounded representation of Brunello di Montalcino.  Wine Director Nicolas Suhor and Chef Cathy Whims join an extremely selective list of Leccio d’Oro winners, including The Four Seasons in New York and Per Se.

You can pour a little of that in my bowl any time.


Published in: on March 1, 2011 at 3:27 am  Leave a Comment  

Happy New Year

NYE….We all had our fun.  Windows were broken, you watched as your date made out with some creepy old guy, or maybe your friend was running around in the streets yelling at cars, and just maybe… you blacked out and dont remember having been carried home by someone you just met.  This holiday seems to bring out the best and worst in all of us.  And it is that very reason why I choose to work this holiday year after year and after last night, I will do my best as to honor my annual tradition.

Published in: on January 2, 2010 at 1:22 am  Leave a Comment