After a spate of great weather, it looks like we’re in for a chilly and wet New Years. The return to cold weather got me thinking of a subject I love—ice. We were perhaps the first to chronicle the emerging ice mania of SF cocktails bars over a year ago, and it hasn’t stopped. Around town bartenders, in passionate belief that the ice seriously impacts the drink experience, are still obsessing over their cubes and chunks and spears of frozen water.
1. Cheap and Cheerful
The economy has got people drinking cheaper bottles of wine. But learning something along the way. As a sommelier in a high-end restaurant told me, “Maybe wine drinkers are learning that often what makes wine expensive is not only high quality, but things like fashion and availability.”
2. DIY Everything
Bartenders started the DIY trend a couple of years ago by making their own bitters. But now witness the portfolio of shrubs (syrups made from fresh fruit and vinegar) from Nopa’s Neyah White and the tonic water made with cinchona bark and assorted herbs and flowers from her backyard made by Pizzaiolo’s Cate Whalen. What’s next? Glass blowing?
The better part of Wednesday's Dining section in the New York Times was given to their coverage of so-called winter drinks. But instead of toddies and warmers they talked instead about rum, though not the hot and buttered kind that would seem appropriate for this time of year. Rather it was aged rum in a tasting column by E Asimov and an article on the revival of rum-based tiki cocktails puncturing the mustachioed seriousness of the hardcore bartending set.
I'm so happy it's December 1. Well, I mean, it's true that the year has raced by faster than ever, and I puzzle over where exactly it went. And it's true that we're getting into that hectic crush where end-of-the-year projects collide with holiday shopping only to be buried by an avalanche of social obligations. But we're also in the month that allows us a coping mechanism for the madness: the afternoon drink. Naturally, I'm writing this with a martini in hand (one of my favorite afternoon cocktails -- 2 parts Plymouth, 1 part Noilly-Pratt, lemon twist, stirred). I hope you're reading this with same.
We're not ashamed to admit it—we love the Exploratorium, the interactive science museum that caters to kids but inevitably delights visitors of all ages. Now that we're grown up, however, we have to confess having some fantasies about hitting the Tactile Dome after knocking back a few adult beverages. Wish granted! Based on the success of the California Academy of Sciences' "Nightlife," the Exploratorium now has a new "After Dark" series, where the fun of playing with their exhibits meets the fun of hitting the bar. Just think: You could meet that special someone while you toy with the Tesla coil.
With people like Momfuku's David Chang in town promoting his book and doing 7x7 panel discussions, all the talk in the food world has been about the NYC-SF rivalry in the food world. But it’s not only in the kitchen that the two coasts have their differences. Bartenders in New York and San Francisco have long had a rivalry, though it tends to be less contentious than the chefs. Vive la Difference is more the motto than trash talk like “all San Francisco bartenders do is put lime in glass!” That said, it’s still interesting to explore the differences between the two bartending cultures.
Not that anyone needs and excuse to party on Halloween, but when it falls on a Saturday, as it does this year, I can sense trouble. Pretty much every bar is going to be revving up its party atmosphere this weekend, so there's no need to list them all.
But all manner of Halloween cocktail suggestions have been landing in my inbox over the last week or so, so I thought I share a few of them with you--both the tasty-sounding and the gruesome.
Yesterday, Jason Wilson of the Washington Post wrote of his experiences using wine--specifically the Yellowtail wine from Australia that he disdained--in cocktails and finding it pretty darn good. In the article he says our own SF bartender Neyah White of Nopa mixes Croft Pink, a new-styled port wine, "in an ice-filled highball glass with gin and orange bitters, then tops it with ginger beer." Does that sound good to your or bad? Could you imagine using your favorite Napa Cab in a drink or would you just prefer to drink it straight? Wine can be a harmonious blender, but it's definitely less alcohol and concentration than a spirit.
I was bartending the other night at Cantina and made a round of drinks for a group. When it came time for the second round, one of the guys said he liked the cocktail I made him, but wanted something "stronger." Now I hate it when people ask for "stronger" drinks. Bartenders put the right amount of alcohol in each drink, so don't ask for more. You wouldn't ask for more steak in a restaurant after your first serving, would you? I told him that his last drink had been strong, just balanced so it didn't taste that way.