Cognac: A Warm Beautiful (Cocktail) Memory

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It was a bright summer morning in Victoria. Mom and my aunties were in deep discussions over which beauty salon to go to. My uncle was waiting patiently with cup of coffee in one hand, and car keys in the other. I was sipping my coffee in the balcony, looking out at the marina, and watching planes skim over the water when I got a text from my brothers. They had all decided to go downtown right after an early breakfast. No doubt, I’ll meet up with one or all of them later today, after their afternoon of selfies and shopping.

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Until then, I decided to go exploring on my own. Our condo was just a five-minute walk to the Inner Harbour and Empress Hotel. As I wandered in and out of alleys along Government Street, I briefly checked out a number of trendy bars and cheery pubs, making mental notes of which ones I’ll visit later.

victoriabar baroffgovst

One shop I popped into sold beautifully-cut crystal liquor decanters imported from Ireland. Another had intricately carved chocolates that looked too amazing to eat. Was craving a snack at that point, but the dainty finger sandwiches and tiny cakes crowd at Murchie’s was ridiculous! I ended up lunching at a patio on Trounce Alley, and chatted with a sous chef from Montreal on his smoke break. He gave me his card and suggested, with his heavy French accent, that we have dinner at his place some evening. “I cook for you, we have some wine and…”, he let the sentence trail off with a nodding smile and a crook of his brow. I kept the card.

My brother Arthur texted me that he was cocktailing at a bar in Chinatown. He invited me to join him if I was nearby, before meeting up and dining with family in a couple of hours. Past the fruit stands and tea house, I found an alley that looked almost too narrow for two people to walk through, shoulder to shoulder. I took my time exploring the tiny shops and fragrant varieties of burning incense. It was summer, warm and perfect. And I had no intention of rushing anywhere.

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I found the bar just a block and a half away. Arthur wasn’t seated at the counter, where I expected him to be. I saw through a glass partition that he was sitting at a table, staring at an oil painting hanging directly in front of him.

paintinginvictoria
I wish I knew the name of the artist who did this painting

He was completely absorbed by that gorgeous painting of what appeared to be a (ahem) costume party, which took up half the wall. He could barely look away, even as he spoke or took pictures of it with his phone. More interesting to me was the cocktail my brother was sipping. He called it the Warm Beautiful.

The cocktail

The Beautiful is a delicious, potent and citrusy cocktail made of cognac and Grand Marnier orange liqeuer. Arthur preferred it topped with a lemon zest. Having worked part-time as a bartender while in medical school, he knew that cognac’s flavor and aroma deepened when warmed. Cognac lovers would often just cradle the snifter in the palm of their hand, warming the cognac with their body’s heat. My brother wanted something a bit more imaginative.

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The cocktail was served in a snifter. He then asked for a “heater”, a small glass half-filled with hot water. Arthur placed the snifter on top of the water-bearing glass. As my brother waited for the cognac cocktail to reach the proper temperature, he rotated the snifter now and again, still gazing in awe at the absurd yet fascinating painting across from us.

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Age of the cognacs

According to the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), there are three official classifications of cognac, depending on how long the cognac had been stored in casks:
VS (very special) – At least two years
VSOP (very superior old pale) – At least four years
XO (extra old) – At least ten years

Other classifications have also been used by producers when the cognac had been stored beyond official age scales, such as Extra and Hors d’age (beyond age), which can be as much as 100 years old.

“Rules” of enjoyment

Cognac connoisseurs have very strong feelings about cognacs being used in cocktails. One forbes.com article mentioned that, whereas it is acceptable to use a young VS or VSOP cognac as part of a cocktail mix, it is considered a tragedy to do so with an exceptional-tasting, wallet-busting XO or older cognac. Those can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per bottle.

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My brother’s Warm Beautiful cocktail was created using Hennessey VS, but a Courvoisier VSOP could have also been used, instead. On the other hand, Remy Martin’s $3,000-a-bottle Louis XVIII, which is very popular in China (along with all the other premium cognacs), is an example of one that should be showcased as a solo act.

All drinking aside (for the moment), younger cognacs should also be used for flambe, marinades, sauces, chocolates and fruit preserves.

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And if you’re in the mood to immerse yourself in all things cognac, the French town this liquid luxury was named after hosts the annual La Fete du Cognac , where you can party for three days with cognac cocktails, crowds, cuisine and concerts.

Cheers!

The Beautiful cocktail recipe

1 oz Hennessey or Courvoisier VS/VSOP cognac
1 oz Grand Marnier orange liqueur

Add both ingredients into a brandy snifter, mix and serve. Optional: Top off with a lemon zest, the way my brother and I like it.

Enjoy!


All photos of Victoria BC, Canada by Alexandria Julaton
Remy Martin shop photo by Weng lei – Imaginechina/AP
Still shot of Cognac Festival, courtesy of La Fete du Cognac YouTube video

Cocktails: How to fail at picking up ladies, and the fabulous flavored cube

austinladies_new

There are so many wrong ways to meet women.

On our way to a cocktail adventure downtown, my gal pal and I added a few more to that list. Here’s one: A dark-colored car with tinted windows pulling up alongside us. Then an unseen driver slowly lowering his driver-side window to reveal a hand, palm up, and fingers beckoning in a “Bitches, come here.” gesture.
Nope.

Here’s another: A guy stopping his car on the corner at a green light, angry drivers honking behind him, while he’s shouting lame come-ons at us with a huge, naughty grin on his face.
Really big nope!

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Yeah, nope again. But kudos for originality!

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Maybe?
I mean, what woman could resist a suave, fashion-forward icon like Austin Powers, am I right?

After that obstacle course of weirdness, we made it to the bar and grabbed seats in front of the bartender. We like to watch the magic happen.

Luc Lac bar

The Single Knight cocktail at Luc Lac’s bar was a game-changing, Whoa!-inducing twist on the Old Fashioned cocktail that made our tastebuds do a double-take. First, a large cube made of deeply smokey Lapsang Souchong tea was placed in the glass. This was followed with their sigh-inducing blend of bourbon, pho syrup, and angostura orange bitters. But wait, there’s more! The finishing touch was a lemon twist, wrapped around a blowtorched bourbon cherry and cloves! Daaaamn!

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When I order cocktails that arrive with a large, slow-melting cube, I usually leave it alone for a couple of minutes before I take a sip. This is so a little of the ice will melt into the mix and make it less syrupy. One sip of the Single Knight and MIND BLOWN! The smokiness from the melting tea cube adding to the bourbon, further flavored by zest with burnt cherry and cloves – I was caught up in a swirl of amazingness.

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Citrus with burnt fruit and spice was all kinds of nice (especially in a bourbon), but that giant cube made of smokey Lapsang Souchong tea made me realize flavored ice cubes that bring out another flavor dimension in cocktails is a thing!

Luc Lac single knight cocktail


 

Single Knight Cocktail at the Luc Lac bar

I wish I had the recipe for this cocktail. However, I do have the ingredients list:

Four Roses single barrel bourbon
Pho syrup
Angostura orange bitters
Lapsang Souchong tea ice cube
Bourbon cherry
Cloves
Lemon zest

 

 

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.

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However, one can have too much soul-searching solitude, and feel a bit 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 leather lounge seats and turned-down lights, but was too clean and new to be dive-y. We explored a bit and 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.

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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.

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

Spa Treatment: Cat Litter Facial Mask

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Just before shutting down my social media for the evening to meditate with cocktails and lounge music, I received an odd message and photo from one of The Ladies. Lady Asya had on a spa treatment facial mask, and was smiling broadly while holding up her big, beautiful silver-gray cat. In the post, she proudly announced she was wearing a facial mask made from cat litter. It seemed like an odd bonding moment between her and kitty.

Personally, anything associated with the absorption of animal waste products would never make it on or near my face. Plus, capitalism and trade has progressed over past decades to bring us a lively array of spa products for convenient purchase online and at nearby grocery stores.

So what in the world would possess an adventurous spa maven to experiment with cat litter? Apparently, she liked it so much that she smeared it on her own face. And then posted it on Facebook. This was a very curious idea that had to be pondered with all the proper precautions. So I made myself a gin martini. Lemon twist.

Facial masks, along with other handsomely packaged skin treatments, are a multi-billion dollar a year moneymaker. However, many of these spa products contain skin irritants, such as alcohol. To get away from harsh chemicals, many have sought organic skin care lines with natural ingredients. Home remedies, with ingredients that could be found in one’s kitchen, also became widely popular. According to a recent article on livestrong.com, entitled “The Effects of Bentonite Clay on the Face”, bentonite clay, harvested from soil near Fort Benton, Wyoming, is one natural ingredient found in spa and store-bought facial masks. When mixed with water, the clay effectively absorbs pore-clogging oils and toxins from beneath the skin. Bentonite is also used for urine absorption in cat litter. Hence, the cat litter facial mask for women with oily skin.

The result? From what I’ve seen, and without having yet tried it myself, it seems to work quite well.

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Lady Asya’s healthy, glowing skin

A couple of key points should be kept in mind when cat litter shopping for your beauty treatment endeavor. Check the bag’s ingredients, make sure it contains benzonite or sodium benzonite. Plus, I suggest you purchase separate bags of natural clay cat litter for yourself and your cat, with separate scoops.
Just sayin’.

Cheers!

For more stories, recipes and articles, visit The Ladies Chillout Lounge website and Google+ page
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Gin Martini with Lemon Twist

3 ounces gin

1/2 ounce dry vermouth

1 long lemon zest

Combine gin and vermouth, and shake with ice for ten seconds.
Strain the gin and vermouth mixture into a chilled martini glass.
Add the lemon zest.

Absinthe: Green Fairy Cocktail Party

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“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 almost a century.

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 a recent BBC article, “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 with a 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.

 

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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.

 

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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

Spa Treatment: Bird Droppings Facial

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Spa services at the Hotel Wailea in Maui include a well-kept Japanese beauty secret – facials made from the droppings of nightingales. Yes. Bird poo.

According to their spa page, this treatment was the discovery of Kabuki actors and Geishas. In their quest to repair skin damage caused by heavy stage makeup, these performance artists found that the enzymes in  nightingale droppings had significant cleansing and restorative properties. These included dissolving dirt, repairing skin, exfoliating, and bleaching.

But don’t reach for the Sunday comics birdcage lining just yet, ladies and gents. For one thing, that’s just nasty. Plus, these droppings do come in powdered form, with all the bacteria zapped dead with ultraviolet rays. Odor-free, the brown powder is mixed with water until paste-like, then applied to the face.

With a price tag of about $225, however, some of you may be tempted to explore a more organic experience. Cheers!

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Cocktail of the moment: Saketini

6 parts gin

1 part sake

Fill a mixing glass with ice cubes. Pour gin and sake into glass. Stir and strain into a chilled martni glass.

(Recipe from Absolut Vodka website)

Sources: Hotel Wailea Maui   http://www.hotelwailea.com/maui-spa/ Bird-Poo Facial   http://ti.me/1tkaGFx