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