Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lunes por la Mañana

This week, your Monday Morning Bartender will be visiting Mexico. Ciudad Obregon is the destination and home of my partner Rene. The city is the second largest in the state of Sonora which is just below Arizona. Getting there can be as simple as two flights (LA to Hermosillo, then on to Obregon) or as complicated as a series of trains, busses, taxis, planes, and more busses. This trip I get to experience a little of each travel scenario.

When traveling South of the Border I will often grab a bottle of a delicious Mexican Liqueur to bring home. No, not Kahlua, as you might expect, but a sunny-yellow liqueur derived from a extravagantly aromatic yellow-flowered shrub native to Baja California: Guaycura Licor de Damiana.

On first impression you will notice the bottle is quite a unique shape, modeled after an Incan Goddess. Beyond that, unless you are fluent in Spanish and familiar with botanical terms, you will most likely have no idea what awaits you inside.

To make the liqueur, the damiana plants are gathered at the time of flowering. The parts used to produce Damiana Liqueur are the dried leaves and stems. The damiana herb has an ancient reputation going all the way back to the Mayans. The flavor is light but sweet, flowery and at the same time herbal.

As an herb, Damiana is said to act as an aphrodisiac and is also used to treat asthma, anxiety, depression, and headache. There is of course no scientific evidence that it works for these conditions.

Mexican Margarita folklore hints that the first ever Margarita was made with Damiana, not Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or Triple Sec.

Try the Damiana Margarita:
1 oz. Damiana Liqueur
2 oz. Silver Tequila
2 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
Shake with ice and serve up or on the rocks

For now, Damiana hasn’t received much attention in the states, but this deliciously floral liqueur is now finally available readily at BevMo and fine specialty markets. It found its way into one of my newest concoctions: Bar Fly’s Bliss, which will be debuted in my February 2011 Cocktail Seminar at Catersource Conference and Tradeshow. For now, that recipe is under wraps. Here is a photo:

Rene and I, enjoying some coconut water at the laguna:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Beer Me with Barley Wine!

This is as seasonal as it gets! Outside it's cold, raining, maybe even snowing! Even here in Southern California we are on our sixth day of rain and there seems to be no end in sight!
What better time to warm up with THE beer of winter: The Barley Wine.

Bass Brewing was first to label an ale as "Barley Wine" in 1900. So named simply because while it is a beer, it can be as strong as wine. Barley Wines are always big, and full-bodied, with complexly layered flavors of spice, malt, and hops. I always enjoy enjoying the deliciously spicy and malty-sweet aromas before taking each sip! Stonger than most beers in alcohol (generally 9% to 12%) Barley Wines should be enjoyed with caution... here's a quick story why.

A pub in my neighborhood used to have a "pint-night" every Tuesday. You would buy your first pint in a 16oz logo glass for $5 and then enjoy refills for just $2! What a deal and at the end of the night you take home the glass.

One night a friend was meeting me for the "Pint-Night" debut of Sierra Nevada's Barley Wine Style Bigfoot Ale. I was running a bit late, but my friend, a strong-beer novice, started with a pint without me. Well he must have loved them because by the time I got there he was finishing his fourth! He had no idea what hit him. He was fun to watch while Bigfoot and I began our own adventure that night. Note to this pub: Serve your extra strong ales in 8 or 11oz glasses, and while I appreciate the value, two buck refills are a bit reckless!

Bigfoot is a redish-brown ale full of big malt and bittersweet hoppiness with an earthy aroma and great depth. 9.6% alcohol by volume.

Many of you know I am a huge fan of Portland, Oregon! Years ago a previous employer asked me to relocate there for a few months (which became two years) while expanding into the Pacific Northwest. My first day in that city's Pearl District we went in search of some great local brews. Driving around we simply rolled down the window and followed our noses to BridgePort Brewing Company, and their Old Knucklehead Barley Wine. Aged in oak bourbon barrels and brewed with pale, chocolate, and caramel malts, this Barley Wine can also age quite gracefully. I brought some of this home from Portland one holiday season and we put it in the extra fridge at my sister's house. Three years later I noticed that no one had touched it and WOW that was a beer to remember! I have tried to age some since but it turns out that the beer doesn't last if I know where it is.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

All Bubbly for the Holidays!

by Dan Smith
Good Gracious! Events, Los Angeles

What is more festive than a glass of “bubbly”?
As catering professionals, we are of course accustomed, if not expected, to serving a glass of champagne or sparkling wine as a welcoming sip or a congratulating toast, but there are so many ways to make this expected beverage sound, look, and taste extra special!

1 Spice it up
Simple as can be! Fill a glass with your favorite sparkling wine and add fresh herbs for some extra fragrance! Rosemary, basil and lemongrass are favorites. Experiment with your chef; he or she certainly won’t mind!

2 Flower power
Add a blossom and a simple glass of champagne becomes a work of art! These Wild Hibiscus Flowers are edible, taste of delicious floral nectar and are a beautifully festive addition to the most special of occasions.

3 Spanish sparkle
Soak some delicious ripe fruits in a liqueur such like Cointreau, St. Germain or a fruit brandy, then top it off with a bubbly Spanish wine and you’ve got a delicious sparkling sangria.

4 Looks good on paper
These individual splits of French champagne were simply relabeled with the groom’s wedding invitation design. Add a hot pink straw and sip!

5 Love lemons
Mix an ounce of your favorite Limoncello (ice cold) with a sparkling wine and you create something special. We garnished these with lemon and lavender at a romantic Italian al fresco feast.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What's Cooking at Good Gracious?

by Dan Smith

It's the holiday season so of course caterers and event professionals such as we are extra-busy nearly every day of the week! (Hence the lack of blog posts lately!) We have been catering breakfasts for thousands, dinners for hundreds, and just this week I have rubbed elbows with celebrities ranging from Charlize Theron to Pauly Shore.

A highlight of this season has really been having the audience to experiment with so many new cocktail recipes, some of which I have covered in previous blog posts. The Blackberry Infused Gin with Organic Q Tonic has been a huge hit! So has a delicious concoction of Vodka, Fresh Grapefruit, my own Black Pepper Bitters, and "drunken Cranberries." Bar ingredients are getting so much more fresh lately, and as caterers we are making every effort to use seasonal ingredients, just-squeezed juices, and the freshest herbs whenever possible.

Also in the works are a Cranberry Infused Vodka and a Limoncello-inspired Passioncello made with real Passion Fruit.

This is day-one of a blackberry infused gin. Notice that the gin has not yet turned color and the sugar has yet to dissolve. You may see the method for infusing gin in a November MMB blog post!

Drunken Cranberries with Vodka and Rosemary. They serve as a great FRESH way to bring seasonal cranberry flavor into cocktails without having to use boring, reconstituted cranberry juice! These can be made with a number of liquors... vodka, dark rum, or gin. It all depends what kind of drink you want to make with them!

2 Cups Fresh Cranberries
1 Cup Water
1 Cup Liquor (Vodka, Rum, or Gin)
1/2 Cup Sugar
2 Sprigs Rosemary (Optional)

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until cranberries soften and skins just begin to break. Remove rosemary. Let cool and refrigerate up to 1 week prior to use.

In a cocktail shaker, combine ice with:
2 oz Gin
1 oz Fresh Grapefruit Juice
1 oz St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur
Shake gently to chill
Strain into a martini glass containing:
1 tablespoon Drunken Cranberries
2 Dashes Orange Bitters


Monday, November 22, 2010

Serve Slightly Chilled

Most of us missed the worldwide celebration last week honoring annual arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau! Every year on the third week of November a number of French wineries, mainly Georges Duboeuf and Maison Joseph Drohin release this very short-lived vintage, straight from the 2010 harvest and bottled a mere six to eight weeks prior.

Why such a young red wine? The Beaujolais Nouveau is intended for immediate consumption! It should remain in its best form through the holidays but most begin to decline in quality after this brief window. Expect a very light red with very little tannin and fruity flavors such as banana, pear, and fig. Traditionally you should be able to enjoy this with your heavy holiday fare of turkey, ham, and all of the fixin's that come with them!

Serve this wine on the cool side- they recommend a temperature of about 55-56 degrees Fahrenheit which is what your wine fridge (if you have one) may be set at already!

This year's colorful Duboeuf Label Art

Ten Fun Facts about Beaujolais Nouveau!

1. Beaujolais [BOE-zjoh-lay] Nouveau is always released the third Thursday of November, regardless of the start of the harvest.

2. The region of Beaujolais is 34 miles long from north to south and 7 to 9 miles wide. There are nearly 4,000 grape growers who make their living in this picturesque region just north of France's third largest city, Lyon.

3. All the grapes in the Beaujolais region must be picked by hand. These are the only vineyards, along with Champagne, where hand harvesting is mandatory.

4. Gamay (Gamay noir à Jus Blanc) is the only grape permitted for Beaujolais. While certain California wineries may label their wine "Gamay Beaujolais" this is not the same grape variety as what is grown in France, and is quite different in taste and growing habits.

5. Beaujolais Nouveau cannot be made from grapes grown in the 10 crus (great growths) of Beaujolais-only from grapes coming from the appellations of Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages.

6. Beaujolais Nouveau owes its easy drinkability to a winemaking process called carbonic maceration—also called whole berry fermentation. This technique preserves the fresh, fruity quality of the wine, without extracting bitter tannins from the grape skins.

7. Beaujolais Nouveau is meant to be drunk young-in average vintages it should be consumed by the following May after its release. However, in excellent vintages (such as 2000) the wine can live much longer and can be enjoyed until the next harvest rolls around.

8. Serve Beaujolais Nouveau slightly cool, at about 55 degrees Fahrenheit-the wine is more refreshing and its forward fruit more apparent than if you serve it at room temperature.

9. Approximately 1/3 of the entire crop of the Beaujolais region is sold as Beaujolais Nouveau.

10. The region of Beaujolais is known for its fabulous food. The famed Paul Bocuse Restaurant is just minutes from the heart of Beaujolais, as is Georges Blanc's eponymous culinary temple. These great restaurants have plenty of Beaujolais on their wine lists. This quintessential food wine goes well with either haute cuisine or Tuesday night's meat loaf.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday, Bloody Monday

Ahh, the Bloody Mary! The favorite drink of the "morning after" and the airport bar! It may solely exist as one of two (along with the mimosa) excuses to drink before noon!Your "basic" Bloody Mary is a spicy concoction of tomato juice, salt, pepper, worcestershire sauce, and of course, vodka. Throw in a stalk of celery and there you are!

The history of the Bloody Mary sounds like a game of Clue! Was it invented by Fernand Petiot in Paris in the 1920's? Was it George Jessel in New York in 1939? Was in Professor Plum in the Library with a pipe? I am leaning towards Petiot. He did make his way to bartending at New York's St. Regis in 1934 and one social columnist did refer to his cocktail, then called a "Red Snapper," as a mixture of "half vodka, half tomato juice."

The origin of the Bloody Mary name is subject to dispute as well.Legends, none fully substantiated as far as I can research, attribute the name to such historic and legenday figures as Queen Mary I of England, Hollywood's Mary Pickford, or even the the frightening namesake of the children's dare where they say her name in the mirror.

Of course anything as simple as this can be expanded upon. Over the years countless variations have appeared. A few of note include the Bloody Margaret made with Gin, Bloody Maria with Tequila, and a Bloody Molly with Irish Whiskey. The Bloody Bull sees the addition of Beef Bouillon and a Bloody LeRoy even replaces the tomato juice with BBQ sauce.

My favorite variation on this classic is the Surf and Turf Bloody Mary. I have always loved a great shrimp garnish in mine and I was looking for a way to make it even more of a meal. With proper planning you can cut out that brunch all together! Here is my recipe:

2 oz Vodka
4 oz Bloody Mary Mix (see below)
Rim Old Bay Seasoning (or other crab boil) & Black Pepper
1 each Celery Stalk
1 long piece Beef Jerky
1 each Jumbo Shrimp Cooked
1 each Green Olive, stuffed with Bleu Cheese and Bacon
1 each Green Olive, stuffed with Cream Cheese and Caviar

Rim a pint glass with crab boil and black pepper mixture. Fill another pint glass with ice, add vodka and bloody mary mixture. Shake to chill and crack ice. Transfer to “seasoned” pint glass. Garnish with a long celery stalk, beef jerky, and a skewer of stuffed olives and shrimp.

32 oz Good Quality Tomato Juice
¼ cup Worcestershire Sauce
2 tablespoons Fresh Lemon Juice
2 tablespoons Tabasco Sauce
1 tablespoon Red Pepper Flake
1 tablespoon Course Ground Black Pepper
1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning (or Celery Salt)
¼ cup Prepared Horseradish

In a blender combine all ingredients and blend for one minute. Keep covered and refrigerated up to 5 days.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Ultimate Gin and Tonic

Gin is back in a big way. The well-known brands are seeing huge increases and, in states where laws allow micro-distilleries, boutique brands are making an impact as well.

We are going to see this juniper elixir and plenty of cocktails this year, but first let's go back to basics and make the best damn G&T we can! Even better,let's go crazy make this perennial cocktail three ways. For each of these choose your favorite premium gin. I like Hendrick's and Boodle's!

1 Part Gin
3 Parts Q Tonic
Ice Cubes

What's so special about this recipe? It's the tonic itself! Forget Schwepps, toss the Canada Dry, and store-brand? DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. Splurge and get Q Tonic.Q is made with hand picked quinine from the Peruvian Andes, it's sweetened with organic agave (and naturally has 60% fewer calories than regular tonic), and the flavor is crisp with a well rounded sweetness. They also say that a natural tonic such as this improves circulation and accelerates digestion while improving your health!

1 1/2 Parts Gin
1 Part St-Germain
3 Parts Q Tonic

Made from fresh elderflower hand picked in the Alps, St-Germain makes everything taste better. For that reason I have heard more than one professional bartender call it "bar ketchup." It has a delightfully floral sweetness that makes this Gin and Tonic complete. Suggest this to that nay-sayer who says they don't like gin!

1 Part Blueberry Infused Gin (see recipe below)
3 Parts Q Tonic

Well this one takes some planning ahead... at least two weeks to be exact!

Place 1 cup fresh blueberries in a large glass jar, add 1/3 cup sugar and a 750ml bottle of your favorite gin. Shake and set in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks, and up to two months. Shake the jar every now and then while this infusion becomes deliciously blue! Strain well and transfer into a decorative bottle or jar for presentation!

This is pretty darn good with fresh cranberries as well!


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bonding Over Unoaked Chardonnay

I'm no wine snob. I like what I like, sometimes I like it too much, but that's for a whole other sort of blog. I also enjoy wines according to the season. Generally whites in the summers and reds in those cold Southern California winters.

You may know that I am an event planner for Good Gracious! Events and that gives me plenty of opportunity to advise clients on all sorts of things, including their beverage selections! This week I was meeting with a first-time client in Coto de Caza, CA (the high-security gated enclave that is home to those horrible Real Housewives of Orange County.) My new client Valerie was an amazing and down-to-earth woman who could never be mistaken for one of those reality TV shrews so she and I hit it off immediately.

After choosing her menu, selecting her china, and designing her tabletop and flowers the subject turned to wine. Here in California we are in our version of autumn which means temperatures have ranged between 75-85 degrees this week while she was asking for my recommendation for her white wine.

I said, "If you asked me a month ago, I would have suggested a very nice New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but I think I am done with those for the year. How about an unoaked Chardonnay?"

Val's eyes lit up! We were exactly on the same page and we will always have that in common. She loved her dinner party last night and immediately booked a holiday event for December. Score.

Here are a few unoaked "chards" that you may want to try. Not as grassy and bright as my favorite summery Sauvignon Blancs, and a great transition before the big, bold, and buttery more traditional Chardonnays. Each one of these has been rated a 90 score by one wine publication or another.

Babich Hawkes Bay, 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay, New Zealand
Notes: Pear, Honey, Peach, Melon
About $13

Plantagnet Omrah 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay, Australia
Notes: Bold yet young and fresh, Citrus Zest, Kumquat
About $15

Sebastiani Russian River Valley 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay, Russian River, California
Notes: Orange Blossom, Banana Peel, Mineral, Peach, Vanilla
About $19