Mezcal: The Rockstar Agave

teote_during

I was at a Mexican bar one evening. Late enough, and in a neighborhood cool enough, that Uber smacked me with surge pricing. Ugh.

Anyway, it was the kind of warm, late spring night that made it seem all kinds of wrong to stay home. I hooked up with several of my friends who suggested we go to a mezcaleria. I’ve never been to one and didn’t know what that was, but they lured me with sweet promises of an outdoor patio, tiki bar and fire pit. They did not disappoint! And even better, it was “international beats” night, so live deejays played Eurolounge, deep house, electronica, etc. – the good stuff!

teote_tunes

One of my girlfriends turned to me. “You ever had mezcal?”
No, I said. What IS that?
It’s like tequila, she said. But more…interesting. Better.

And she was right. On her recommendation, I first tried the house special margarita – margarita made with mezcal – since I was told it was quite delicious. Plus, she said it was a good “gateway” cocktail to prepare my palate for direct contact with the strong stuff. That was probably the best margarita I’ve ever had, made by someone other than myself (I won’t even pretend to be humble. My margaritas as amazing!).

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It intruiged me. I had to get to know this magical mezcal thing, one-on-one. Savor it more closely, intimately. I ordered a shot of one of their mezcals, asked the bartender to recommend one for me. The patio bar was wall-to-wall hipsters, gyrating, posing, being witty…is that “medicinal” herb I smell? But I was far from being distracted.

mezcal

I sipped the mezcal, held it in my mouth and throat, inhaled and exhaled slowly, the way I do when trying a new whiskey. Then swallowed. It was dark, smokey and there was something else. Tobacco? Leather? It was just that complex and yet utterly fascinating. Mezcal, like tequila, is made from the agave plant. But while tequila can only be made from the the blue agave, mezcal can be made from different agave varieties, which accounts for its array of flavors.

Preparation is another way mezcal distinguishes itself from tequila. To make tequila, the agave heart is baked and steamed prior to its juice being extracted. With mezcal, the agave heart is instead roasted underground with wood charcoal and hot rocks prior to juice extraction, resulting in its smokey taste.

If you love tequilas, you have to try mezcals. Just look out for the worm when you get to the bottom of the bottle.

Cheers!

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The Mezcal Margarita
(From bloomberg.com article “The Perfect Margarita Is Made With Mezcal”)

Salt (Recommended: A half-kosher, half-wood-smoked salt blend from Mountain Rose Herbs)
1½ oz. Del Maguey Vida mezcal
¾ oz. green Chartreuse
¾ oz. lime juice
½ oz. agave nectar

Lightly moisten the rim of a glass with a lime wedge, then roll it in salt. Combine remaining ingredients with ice in a shaker, give it a couple of hard shakes, then pour into the glass and top off with fresh ice. Garnish with a lime wedge and a sprig of mint.

 

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Life as a Cocktail: Trying Something New

 

vesper

I had a rough week – the kind of rough week that made me want to re-think several of my life and career choices.  After surviving yet another one, I was trying to put it out of my mind and get to a happy place, as I sipped my vodka lemon drop. My thoughts started drifting off randomly to paths taken, and experiences that shaped decisions made along the way as I felt, figured and clawed my way through this existence. All while trying not to feel completely overwhelmed. Or fall flat on my face.

dayslikethis

I meditated and thought back to choices others I knew have made, and the happiness and fulfillment those decisions brought (or didn’t). It was easy to conclude that making those same choices, walking that same path, would result in the same for anyone else. Treading well-worn paths. But if our lives become all about playing it safe, how can we know there is another path, or level of happiness, that could be more rewarding? One more unexpected, surprising, even exhilarating, and perhaps more fulfilling? We really can’t know until we…pivot.

A great idea or quest for some form of happiness had to start somewhere, and it might have been an amazing journey along the way.

A cocktail analogy.

Pivot. Twist. Zag. Change IS scary, with no guarantees of success. Then again, it doesn’t guarantee failure, either. Think about THAT for a moment!

A well-made cocktail is a thing of beauty and wonder. The balance of ingredients, one in step with another, and that with another, and so on, creating the mesmerizing dance of flavors. But is it a perfect cocktail? That depends.

huckleberry_moodlight2

On YOU, and if you want to stick with one recipe and be perfectly happy to never deviate from it, or decide that tweaking it a wee bit would make it different, and possibly better. Perhaps the art of the cocktail can be more interpretive dance, than classical ballet – creating your own new combination of moves, instead of following someone else’s footsteps.

chartreusefixins2

The well-worn paths, the classic cocktails, have withstood the tests of time, but they haven’t always existed. Someone started with a gin, aged and smoothed to perfection, added – just for giggles – a liqueur of 130+ herbs and botanicals whose recipe has been guarded by monks in Europe for centuries, then sweetened it with the fermented juice of a thousand cherries. A few more ingredients and experiments later, one of the most famous cocktails (and one of my personal favorites) was created.

But anyway, back to the story.

One evening at home, I decided upon a vodka lemon drop. Nothing like a sweet, citrusy kiss to smooth out my ragged soul after a long week. A few minutes relaxing in my lounge chair with a cocktail, and the world was slowly obscured by a veil of bliss. I wandered over to the refrigerator to choose ingredients for tonight’s dinner. Deciding on stir-fried veggies, I reached for the fresh ginger and noticed the stalks of lemongrass beside it.

DSCN3726

PIvot.

Hey…what if…?

I pulled out another martini glass and poured in a couple of ounces of vodka.

I sliced off a thick piece of ginger, pounded it with a mallet, and let it sit in the vodka while I finished my cocktail. Later, I put some ice in a mixing glass, and added the piece of ginger I had used to infuse the vodka.

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Zag (Ladies and gentlemen, now for my NEXT trick…).

I chopped some of the lemongrass and dropped it into the mixing glass. After muddling and pounding the lemongrass and ginger on the ice, I added a quarter ounce of triple sec, and a quarter ounce of simple syrup, then the infused vodka.

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I poured in a wee bit more vodka (wink), shook the whole thing for a few seconds, then strained the exciting concoction into my martini glass.

MMMMM!! Ginger lemongrass martini – a delicious vodka martini with a couple of exotic twists. If the ginger is too strong, add less next time. If you like it sweeter, add more triple sec and simple syrup. The idea is to adjust it to your taste. As with life, the cocktail is all about you and your happiness, after all.

Also with cocktails, as with life, you can start over and try again – fix something, make it even better, or try something new. Who knows what brilliant schemes and cocktails you’ll dream up next!

 

Soul Rejuvenation: Life Has More Flavor with Friends

drinks with a friend

I was getting ready to tuck into my favorite chair with a cocktail (well, maybe two) within reaching distance. It’s nice to have these quiet moments to yourself, a bit of meditation and Zen in one’s hectic life.

chilloutchair

However, one can have too much soul-searching solitude, and start to feel cut off from the outside world. So I texted one of my girlfriends, and we checked out a fairly new bar downtown.

Lady Asya at Paymaster Lounge

The Paymaster Lounge in NW Portland successfully pulled off the “we’ve been your favorite neighborhood bar for years” feel, with edge-y posters, comfy pleather lounge seats and turned-down lights, but was too clean and new to be dive-y. And there was no duct tape on the pleather. In our reckless wanderings, we came across their vending machine, filled with a nice selection of lip gloss, condoms, fangs, old movies, and packets containing info on finding your spirit animal.

Vending machine of oddities at Paymaster Lounge

spirit-animal

We made our way to the patio, where we enjoyed our cocktails and ordered from a menu with an impressive array of tater tots options. For the rest of the evening, it was all about girls gabbing happily and frivolously about boyfriends, family, fashion, cocktails with herb infusions, trips we wanted to take, etc.  The hours flew.

wolfnote

 

In case you were wondering, no I couldn’t resist finding my spirit animal in a vending machine.  It’s a wolf. And I’m not as evil as I fear, according to the message inside.

clinks

 

For me, friends (and cocktails!) are good for the body and the soul. They remind us what are most important in our lives. Friends not only help us feel like we’re not alone in our burdens, but they also enrich the greater, more meaningful portions of our existence, as well as the quality of our lives.

When I look back at my life, I want memories of adventures and mayhem I shared with friends, not just the sacrifices to my time and life I made so I could work more and harder, until I woke up old and alone.

musicians

Now get out there, call a friend, and share a cocktail moment with them. Cheers!

Absinthe: Green Fairy Cocktail Party

ladiescocktail_absinthe2

 

“None of which equals the poison welling up in your eyes that show me my poor soul reversed, my dreams throng to drink at those green distorting pools.” Baudelaire comparing and preferring absinthe to wine and opium in his poem “Poison”.

Absinthe has enjoyed a tantalizing reputation steeped in decadence, myth and controversy for over a century – the kind of popularity and staying power big-screen actors and rock stars would envy today. Invented in 18th century Val-de-Travers Switzerland, this supposed hallucination-inducing liquor has been rumored to cause convulsions, blackouts, visions of little green fairies, and rampant psychosis. The Fed’s ban on selling absinthe in the U.S. was in effect for decades.

In the 1990’s, its popularity grew worldwide, and eventually – around 2007 – the Fed allowed two European distillers to sell the liquor Stateside. Since then, many have attempted to tap the green fairy portal for visions of demons, angels, creative genius, and so forth. Some say a toxic chemical in wormwood, one of the main ingredients in absinthe along with anise, may have been the cause of these extreme symptoms, and not the liquor itself. According to one recent BBC article, however, “Contemporary analysis indicates that the chemical thujone in wormwood was present in such minute quantities in properly distilled absinthe as to cause little psychoactive effect. It’s more likely that the damage was done by severe alcohol poisoning from drinking twelve to twenty shots a day.”

How to Serve Absinthe

These days, many bar menus feature absinthe as part of a cocktail mixture. The two most popular methods to serve absinthe have been the Absinthe Drip and the flaming sugar cube. The Absinthe Drip, a classic method, involves the slow-drip of cold water onto a sugar cube sitting on a perforated spoon, held over a glass of absinthe.

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The water drips through the cube and into the absinthe, sweetening it.

 

absinthe_myfirst

 

With the very stylish flaming cube method, you put the sugar cube on the perforated spoon, on top of an empty glass. You then pour the absinthe over the cube, soaking it as the liquid flows into the glass. Then, purely for the sake of showmanship, the cube is lit on fire, and the melted sugar slowly drips into the absinthe. Follow this up by adding ice cold water to the absinthe to get the cloudy effect.

Absinthe’s alcohol content of between 45% and 74% could provide a “transcendent” experience, although mainly without fairies.

I was at a bar one evening, nervously watching a very tall, red-wigged, platform-heeled drag queen in a green dress staring silently and very intensely at me through the gauzey curtains surrounding my candlelit alcove, before suddenly sprinting off into the darkness. The lesson here is, if you’re in the right place at the right time, green fairies can be seen even without absinthe.

 

Death in the Afternoon
A cocktail invented by Ernest Hemingway. Recipe in his own words:

“Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

 


Sources:

Photos by JE Alexandria Julaton at Raven & Rose

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1689232,00.html?imw http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140109-absinthe-a-literary-muse http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2031497_2031504_2031460,00.html http://www.wikihow.com/Prepare-Absinthe http://liquor.com/articles/biggest-absinthe-myths/

Cocktail Etiquette: Surviving a Chinese Drinking Party

Station staff looking after drunken businessman

 

There’s an old Chinese saying that goes: “No social ties can be formed in the absence of alcohol.” Be it networking, new friendships or strengthening spiritual bonds, a very good time can be had with cocktails as social lubricants. But if you’re in China, don’t let these moments be ruined over a clumsy faux pas, or several.

Here are some rules and guidelines in place to maintain good guanxi (relationships), and hopefully keep you from turning yourself into a pariah:

The Toast

You’re at a fancy banquet, rubbing elbows with the C-Suite and execs from a partner company. The party’s just getting started, and you want to capture the moment with a toast. Restrain yourself immediately!

There is a hierarchy that comes into play when it comes to toasts. The main host makes the first toast, which is sometimes directed at the guest of honor. Everyone then raises their glass and downs a hefty swig. When you come up for air, that glass better be empty. If someone higher up the corporate food chain proposes a toast to you, raise your own glass with your right hand, makng sure its rim is lower than theirs. If he/she drinks the entire cocktail, you should do the same with yours. Guests are then free to move about. But when away from their seats, the first person they should raise their glasses to should be the other company’s highest-ranking person.

The Drinking Game

As you run amok, making toasts to and with everyone else in sight, there are just a few more rules to wrap your cocktail-soaked brain around.

What? More rules? Yep. First of all, “Gan Bei” is Chinese for “Cheers”. Shout it loud and proud. Also, if you clink glasses with someone, it’s bottoms up! If your glasses don’t clink, you can drink any amount of your cocktail, even just a sip.

When everyone starts slamming shots of baiju – the traditional firewater in these parts – you’re in for some interesting times. One tactic to ensure you don’t end up passed out in your own vomit an hour later along with fellow “Gan Bei”-ers, is to switch to a less potent beverage, like doing shots of wine or beer, instead of baiju. You can even try sneaking some water into your wine. Yes, doing wine shots sounds nasty, but they’re less toxic than baiju, which is made from distilled sorghum and has an alcohol content of about 53 percent. Either way, you may be still be hung over and praying for death the next morning.

But what happens with guests who don’t drink, you may wonder. At an event like this, a person who does not drink while others do is pretty much regarded as an outcast with a slim chance of making any important business deals. However, an excuse like religion or health reasons may help you save face, even if it still makes you fair game for teasing. Best excuse: pregnancy, either being pregnant if you’re a woman, or taking special medication to get your wife pregnant if you’re a man.

At this point, you may be wondering if the same bottoms-up “Gan Bei”-ing rules apply to non-pregnant women. If she’s at one of these banquets, she won’t be expected to drink. But if she does partake, she’d better keep up with the boys!

Gan Bei!

Sources:

Photo by iStock

Drinking at Chinese Business Banquets: A Primer
http://blogs.wsj.com/scene/2013/06/28/drinking-at-chinese-business-banquets-a-primer/

How to Survive a Chinese Drinking Frenzy
http://travel.cnn.com/shanghai/drink/5-chinese-drinking-habits-explains-621771

Maotai auction reaps RMB 5.22 million
http://travel.cnn.com/shanghai/drink/maotai-sells-rmb-522-million-432520

The Whiskey Library

whiskeytasting

“Whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then it’s time to drink.” (Haruki Murakami)

I waited in line to get into the fairly new, and already very popular, Multnomah Whiskey Library one evening. According to the other customers I chatted with, there’s always a waiting list. If you wanted to make reservations and skip the lines, you’d have to purchase membership, and currently they’re full. The Library was a high-ceilinged, chandeliered modern pub of dark wood, leather and exposed brick, with two of its walls covered by shelves showcasing whiskies from around the world, along with other choice hard liquors. Jaunty Scottish and Irish instrumental classics played in the background, and yet the noise level was comfortably moderate; it never got so loud that you couldn’t hear what the person was saying to you from across your table, even with all the hard surfaces.

The Library made it a point to never exceed their maximum capacity of 50 customers in a room at a time, so there were never too many people loudly crowded into a room, bumping into each other and spilling their expensive drinks. As soon as I was seated and looked around, I noticed a majority of the patrons that night appeared to be in their late 20s to early 40s, with a slightly higher men-to-women ratio. My eyes explored the room and paused at a very well-dressed man sitting at a lounge chair a few feet away. He was slowly swirling a dark liquid in a snifter, possibly a Scotch.

According to the Scotch Whisky Association, Scotch connoisseurs recommend sipping from a tulip-shaped glass, or any glass with a wide base and narrow mouth, to improve the tasting experience. For example:

properglass

I watched him quietly sip his beverage with such obvious pleasure, and realized I have never seen a man rush through a glass of premium Scotch, or toss it back quickly. Oh, to be a glass of really good Scotch – to be tasted slowly, savored completely, and enjoyed with complete focus.

This place had pretty much everything that will put you in a really good mood – world-class liquors, tasty appetizers (the bacon-wrapped dates and crab fritters were fabulous!), and a very attractive staff. Lovely ladies greeted you at the door, my server looked like he’d stepped out of a men’s clothing catalog, the bartender with the great smile and brawny good looks was very attentive…I could go on and on.

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I turned my attention to the menu. The prices were a bit steep, with whiskey tastings ranging from $14 to much higher. Expect to pay for the level of selection and superiority one prefers in fine beverages, as well as for the exclusivity and ambience of a place that offers them. Classic cocktails, gins, vodkas, rums, beers, wines, and so on, were also well represented. But if you’re at a place that calls itself a “whiskey library”, you order the whiskey.

I ordered a Talisker Storm single malt Scotch, from the shores of the Isle of Skye. As I raised the glass for a sip, I was pleasantly surprised by the peat-y, smokey aroma. Some people don’t like a smokey Scotch. With that first sip, a delicious warmth spread from my throat to throughout my body. I gasped softly and shut my eyes as the room swayed a bit and my cheeks tingled pleasantly.

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Wow. The boldness, the smoothness. And interestingly, the flavor wasn’t nearly as smokey as I thought it would be, considering the first fragrant impression. With its blend of new and old scotches, Talisker Storm managed to smooth out the smokiness. Nicely done!

Interestingly, there are articles online on how to properly drink and enjoy a Scotch. According to an askmen.com article, entitled “10 Things to Know About Drinking Whiskey“, the process is as follows:

Aroma: Swirl the whisky around the glass and take in the aromas as they are released. Don’t poke your nose straight into the glass, as all you’ll pick up is alcohol.

Taste: Take a nice, long sip and let the whisky feel its way around your entire mouth before swallowing.

Finish: A good whisky should linger like a fond memory, and you will still be feeling and tasting it for minutes afterward.

According to a “How to Drink Scotch” article I found online:

“Before actually drinking the Scotch, take a moment to savor the scent of the Scotch. Doing so will help to prepare the taste buds for the flavor that is about to come. Sip a small amount of Scotch. Allow the Scotch to settle onto the tongue and gently move the liquid around the mouth. This action will distribute the flavor and enhance the pleasure derived from the drink. After a moment, swallow the Scotch and prepare to enjoy another sip.”

In my opinion, as with any all-encompassing, sensual experience, I’d say the only right way to enjoy such a moment is to do so completely and at your own pace.

Cheers!

Gie him strong drink until he wink, That’s sinking in despair; An’ liquor guid to fire his bluid, That’s prest wi’ grief and care: There let him bouse, an’ deep carouse, Wi’ bumpers flowing o’er, Till he forgets his loves or debts, An’ minds his griefs no more. (Robert Burns)


Interior shots #3 & 4 courtesy of Multnomah Whiskey Library website
Articles mentioned in blog: http://www.ehow.com/how_2304608_drink-scotch.html http://www.askmen.com/top_10/entertainment/the-expert-10-things-to-know-about-drinking-whiskey_3.html

Dark Matter and Irish Times

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One of my biggest regrets about my visit to Victoria BC was not doing a pub crawl between the British, Scottish and Irish pubs downtown. However, being determined to die with little or no regrets in life, I endeavor to go forth with this worthy cause one way or another. It’s important to have goals, after all. Therefore, even with all the whirlwind of activity involving family gatherings, sightseeing and visits to local hot spots, I was able to fit in a few stops at various watering holes.

During a wander downtown, I suddenly stopped in my tracks. An Irish pub sat just to the right of the Scottish pub, which sat next to the British pub. Seeing them all lined up in a row like that, all just a stagger away from each other…well, that just put a smile on my face and made my eyes go all sparkly! Lovers of good beer, you know what I’m talking about! Unfortunately, I had dinner reservations soon, plus some freshening up to do beforehand (I am a girl, after all), so I could only pick one pub this time. My boyfriend, being Irish, recommended we try the Irish Times pub first, of course.

Irish Times

Unlike many Irish pubs I’ve been to in the U.S., the Irish Times pub doesn’t have the charmingly rustic feel of old neighborhood pubs in Dublin. High cream-colored ceilings, dark wood arches, crimson walls, gold etching and immense windows made this possibly the most stylish Irish pub I’ve ever tarried in. Still, they tried to make it feel less “uppity” with prominent displays of random, antique pub accessories, growlers and small kegs.


But enough about the ambience – let’s get to the beers! The Irish Times boasts an impressive array of domestic and imported beers (the picture only shows one section of the bar). As a bonus (and my boyfriend certainly thought it was), they get served to you by ladies with small kilts and big smiles. Looking around at the happy crowd around me, I’d say many would agree that this is a fine way to spend a gray, cold wintery afternoon.


I ordered a delicious pint of “Dark Matter”, a fills-your-mouth, sigh-inducing, dark-colored beauty of a beer that is part stout, part lager. Made with mild hops and roasted malt, the richness of this lovely brunette is balanced and smooth, with no trace of bitterness. I decided I must have this splendid craft beer.

Sadly, “Dark Matter” is made by Hoyne Brewing Company, which only distributes in Canada. Their “sin tax” would likely make it cost a small fortune to purchase a case online, assuming it was even possible. And so I’m back home reminiscing about that wondrous beer and the cozy Irish Times pub, and telling friends about it. Victoria BC has given me a few more reasons to visit again soon. In the meantime, I’m off to my comparative study of Irish/Scottish/British pubs.

 


All photos taken by JE Alexandria Julaton