Measure & Stir

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Mandarin Oriental Hotel – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #4

Next up in Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm), we will take a quick detour to visit a couple of hotel bars.

Located on the 37th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, the Mandarin Lobby bar commands a beautiful view of the city, and the lounge decor and ambience are truly beautiful. That goes for the entire hotel, in fact. The lobby bar is richly adorned with waterfalls and ceiling-to-floor glass windows. It also has the virtue that it opens at 11 AM, so it can be a great respite from the chaos of the city below, even in the middle of the day.

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This was the second location that I found through the Serious Eats article, but unlike Gen Yamamoto, the drinks were nothing about which to write home (but wait, isn’t that exactly what I’m doing…?) Mandarin offered the full menu of classics that are standard to all Japanese cocktail bars, such as the Manhattan, Gimlet, Daiquiri, and so on, as well as a menu of house cocktails, and a small selection of tiki drinks such as the Mai Tai, Painkiller, and Zombie.

The house cocktails were still painted with that particular seventies palette that contains liberal quantities of blue curacao, midori, and creme de cassis, but their two seasonal cocktails were interesting and unique enough that we ordered both of them.

My drink was a Sakura egg white cocktail, and it contained gin, cherry blossom liqueur, egg white, lemon, and simple syrup. The egg white foam on top of the drink was extremely stable and frothy. It did not mix with the drink, and it did not break down at all. I did not get to see them make it, but I suspect the foam was added using an iSi, which in Japan is called an espuma. The flavor was light and pleasant.

My friend Dave ordered a Champagne cocktail with shiso and light rum. The shiso flavor was very subtle, but the presentation was lovely.

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My friend Tom ordered some kind of grapefruit and vodka drink, colored with the ubiquitous midori and blue curacao. I don’t know if it was delicious, but it was beautiful.

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Dave finished off with a Halekulani, a tiki drink with which I was not familiar, but which used a bourbon base with lime, pineapple juice, and grenadine. This was my favorite drink at the Mandarin. If you find yourself here, my suggestion is to keep it Tiki.

Although the Mandarin lobby bar is everything that you would expect from a world class hotel, I don’t really reccommend it as a serious mixological enterprise. This probably comes as no surprise to those of you who are seasoned travelers, but here at Measure and Stir we are committed to giving every cocktail bar a fair shake.


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Kazuo Uyeda’s Bar Tender – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #2

Welcome to episode two of Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm). Today, we are visiting Bar Tender in Ginza.

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Ah, Uyeda-san, the grandfather of Japanese bar service. Kazuo Uyeda has made his reputation as the best bartender in Japan and the Magician of Color by winning many cocktail competitions. An enterprising cocktailian would be remiss to have missed his book, which explains his drink philosophies and contains instructions on such details as how to grip a shaker, how to hold a spoon, and how to arrange the bottles on the bar in front of the customer before making his drink. Uyeda-san is also the inventor of the famous “hard shake“, a shaking technique designed to maximize aeration and flavor.

In his own words:

Every Movement Counts

You take the bottle down from the shelf. You twist off the cap. The liquid streams into the glass. Every action is natural and the result of focused concentration. The bartender never shows off and yet nothing is accidental.

Your job as a bartender is to make good cocktails, but it is also important to make them look delicious. To refine your skills, you have to closely study not only the flavor but also the movements that go in to making a cocktail. You have to practice the basics and focus on making your movements flow while presenting a clean, neat image.

The intent isn’t to look cool bur rather to refine the entire cocktail drinking experience for the guest. herein lies the biggest difference between an amateur making cocktails at home and a professional bartender standing in front of the bar doing his job while all eyes are on him.

Tender serves very classic drinks, but the menu is also peppered with Uyeda-san’s original and award-winning drinks. Uyeda’s palette of ingredients is straight out of the seventies, and he uses many ingredients such as blue curaçao, midori, and green tea liqueur to achieve a very specific appearance. His consideration of cocktail colors has earned him the name “the magician of color.” In his book, he explains how he created a drink specifically to match the color of a lake near a cocktail competition that he attended.

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The service at Bar Tender is excellent almost to the point of parody. To be honest, the drinks themselves are a little bit dated, but the honor of being served a drink by such a prestigious and important bartender as Uyeda-san more than makes up for it. He has carefully orchestrated every aspect of the customer experience; as he works his movements are so crisp and consistent that it feels like a ritual. He and his staff all wear white coats, which they somehow manage to keep immaculate even with so many brightly colored spirits flying around.

Because Uyeda-san’s English is not so great, he showed us the entries in his book that pertained to the drinks that he ordered. It greatly enhanced our appreciation to read about the history and thought process that went into each drink.

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This is the Uyeda-san’s original creation, the City Coral. In his own words:

The most noticeable feature of this cocktail is probably the coral frosting on the outside of the glass. Decorating the rim of the glass with colorful liqueurs instead of a fruit juice is a style that has been around for a long time, and this is an extension of that. The first cocktail to popularize this style was the City Coral.

Using this style was a large part of my original intent in creating this cocktail. There is a road spectrum of colors to choose from, depending on the liqueur you use, but blue curaçao and grenadine (which is red) were two colors that did not lose their intensity when combined with salt, so I limited myself to these two ingredients. I combined this style with various cocktails, and found that blue was the best match.

Also, please note that while I say they drinks are slightly dated, that is not to detract from their excellence. They are perfectly made, and there is still much that is of interest to a seeker of novelty such as myself. In fact, it is impressive that Uyeda-san can make midori palatable at all.

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I ordered his original drink “Shungyo,” which is made with sake, vodka, and green tea liqueur, garnished with a salted cherry blossom. I took my time with this drink, and by the end, the flavor of the salted blossom had infused the whole drink, which was very nice. In the words of Uyeda-san:

The Shungyo (which means spring dawn) is a typical Japanese-style cocktail designed to evoke one of Japan’s four seasons. In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it was through creating these cocktails that I succeeded in establishing my own unique style.

When creating a Japanese-style cocktail, spring is typically represented by a soft hue, summer by primary colors, fall by misty color combinations and winter by warmer colors. Japanese ingredients are used too, such as sake, shochu, umeshu (a plum liqueur) and green tea liqueurs. I decided to use sake in this cocktail.

I started by choosing a name. I wanted to evoke an image of an early spring sunrise, and to do this I planned to incorporate cherry blossoms. I used cherry blossom petals that were salted and then rinsed in warm water to dial back the saltiness. Green was the obvious choice to bring out the beauty of the flour petals. Menthe or midori were too bright for an early spring morning, so I chose a green tea liqueur. I used vodka as a foundation to push the flavor of the Japanese sake to the fore. And, while there is more vodka in the recipe, this is essentially a sake-based cocktail.

It isn’t often that one can recount a cocktail experience in the bartender’s own words! If you are looking for an avant-garde drink, you might want to skip Bar Tender, but if you are a cocktail fanboy like me, then Tender in Ginza should be on your list.


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Mixology Bar Gen Yamamoto – Tokyo Craft Cocktail Series #1

Our first stop in what I’ve just now decided to call Measure and Stir’s Magical Mixological Journey in the Land of the Rising Sun(tm) was Gen Yamamoto in Azabu-Juban. For those of you who followed the link to the serious eats article, it was the only one they visited that is worth your time. Gen opens his bar at three pm, and we were the first to be seated. Immediately as I walked in, I was struck by the simple elegance and minimalism of the place. The walls are bare, and the only decoration is the beautiful wooden bar counter, which is made of only two pieces of wood cut vertically from a single tree. There are exactly eight seats, all at the bar.

Side note: Huge thanks to ulteriorepicure for letting me use some of his beautiful pictures for this post. You can see the full set of his pics on Flickr, it’s definitely worth a look. It is easy to tell which pictures are his because they are the ones that are well-lit and composed.

The menu at Gen lists only six drinks, which can be ordered a la carte, or as a four or six drink tasting menu. We opted to taste all six, of course. Gen’s drink-making philosophy really exemplifies my understanding of the Japanese approach to cuisine, which is to create flavors that are light, subtle, and thoughtful.

In Gen’s own words:

The tasting course reflects “shiki”, Japanese seasonality, using fresh ingredients while building on a progression of flavors and harmony.

Each drink contained a beautiful expression of a single spirit with a seasonal piece of produce. It is clear from Gen’s drinks and his service that he is very passionate about his work. He exemplifies the Measure and Stir Maxim: “Your drink is only as good as the worst thing you put in it.”

The order of the courses was also smartly chosen, which each drink flowing nicely into the next.

We started with a highball of gin, club soda, spices, and a house-made syrup of Kochi golden ginger. This was the most complicated drink in terms of flavor, because the spice syrup contained ginger, coriander, lemon grass, and clove, among other flavors.

I apologize, but I cannot remember the exact nature of the second drink. I think it used sake, yuzu from Chiba, and a green herb.

kumquats and shochu

The third drink was made with shochu, and a mix of cooked and raw kumquats from Kagawa. It was garnished with tiny pieces of daikon, cut into cubes. They had very little flavor, but provided an intriguing crunch

The fourth was made with vodka and muddled kiwi from Shizuoka Koryoku. In the past I have never cared for vodka, but it’s light and clean flavor is well-suited to Gen’s style, and this trip really helped me to discover its uses.

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The fifth was a bloody Mary using an heirloom tomato grown by the Shizuoka Ishiyama family. Apparently it grows in winter. It was unusually sweet and fruity. The flavor of the fresh tomato was beautifully paired with a “rye vodka” (or an unaged rye??) and shiso leaf. This drink was truly spectacular.

We ended with a drink made of white kabocha (japanese pumpkin) from Chiba and a touch of cream. I shamelessly appropriated the above photo of it from DrTomostyle‘s twitter.

After touring through so many bars in Tokyo, I can say with confidence that this is one of the best. If you are anywhere near Azabu-Juban, it is not to be missed. Be warned, though, that it is a patient, contemplative experience. If you’re just looking for a quick drink, it’s probably not the place to go. If you are looking for an elevated experience of Japanese mixology, however, you can’t afford to miss it.


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Tokyo Craft and Mixology Bars

Hello. Normally in this situation a blogger would write something like “I’m not dead, I swear!” but for me, I haven’t posted in three months, and I am clearly dead. Fortunately, I have been post-humously bar-crawling in Tokyo, a journey whose story I shall now recount for your imbibing pleasure. So mix yourself a zombie, ladies and gents, and let’s get reanimated.

As I was gearing up to go to Tokyo, I happened upon this Serious Eats article on the Tokyo cocktail scene. I was intrigued by several of the drinks therein, and I decided to add their recommendations to my list. In the course of my research, I quickly discovered that there is a paucity of resources for the intrepid international drinker looking to make his way through Tokyo. In this series of articles, I aim to (help to) fix that.

Japanese Cocktail Philosophy

I do not know exactly when Japanese bartending branched away from American bartending, but it is clear that when they picked up the art and the practice, it was a much earlier era. This is not to imply that there has been no cross-talk in the interim, but the average Japanese cocktail bar hearkens back to a forgotten era. The Japanese are dedicated students of the classics; their Martinis and Manhattans never lost their vermouth as they did in the states, and their old fashioned never sprouted wings and soda water and muddled pineapple.

All this is not to say that I never saw a bottle of Rose’s, but one certainly suspects that their gimlet was always made with fresh lime. I am aware that there is some debate within the cocktail community as to the truest nature of the gimlet: is a true gimlet a gin lime sour, or is it gin with lime cordial? But regardless, there was never a need for a cocktail revival in Japan, for the patient never died as he did in the USA.

But even though the drinks are classic, the Japanese have made the practice of bartending their own; their culture places a lot more weight on customer service than we do in the states. In a Japanese bar, every aspect of the experience is treated with gravity and precision. Nowhere is this better-illustrated than in Bar Tender, the bar of Kazuo Uyeda, who considers and perfects every motion that the bartender makes, so that doing his work is as much a dance as it is a drink service. There are prescribed ways to hold the jigger and the spoon, prescriptions about how to open the bottle, and where to place it upon the bar. But more on that later.

Another key difference is that the Japanese have lower alcohol tolerance, on average, than most of us Westerners. As such, the pours tend to be smaller, and the drinks tend to be lighter in both alcohol content and flavor. In my efforts to recreate some of the drinks I had on this trip, I have found that I use about one ounce of hard liquor per drink. Chasing a buzz in a Japanese bar can be a tricky proposition.

Subtle Flavors

Although the lightness of drinks is partly practical, it is also a deliberate aesthetic choice, which reflects a distinctly Japanese sensibility. On the internet I found this list of travel tips for a Japanese person visiting the US, and this line struck me:

American food is flat to the taste, indifferent in the subtle difference of taste. There is no such thing there as a little “secret ingredient.” Sugar, salt, pepper, oils, and routine spices are used for family meals.

The Japanese author of the post felt that US food is lacking in subtlety. As silly as it sounds, I carried and developed this awareness as I sat and drank in many Japanese bars. Their flavors lack the visceral punch of popular American cuisine, but they draw attention instead to what is delicate and nuanced. It almost becomes a game: to search in the soft and continuous space of the drink for the borders that delimit its character.

“Mixology” vs. “Cocktail Bar”

As I noted above, Japanese bars mostly stick to the classics, with some small variations. Most of the bars that break out into more modern and original styles, such as what you might find in the US, are called “mixology” bars. Molecular mixology techniques are common in such places. Indeed, the line between “mixology” and “molecular mixology” seemed to be quite blurry, as it is elsewhere.Regardless, “mixology” is the magic incantation that can coerce Japan to yield up its bartending treasures. “Craft Cocktail” did not get me very far.

Tune in tomorrow, where we will talk about some bars.


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Rumba, Seattle

A while ago I asked Joe a question I’m sure all booze lovers ask themselves at least once: if you were stranded on a desert island and could only drink one spirit for the rest of your life, which would it be? After a while of careful consideration, Joe responded “rum”. I think we may have found that desert island’s bar.

Rumba, a rum bar, in Seattle is an excellent bar, focused on serving choice rum-oriented cocktails. Located on Capital Hill, in downtown Seattle, Rumba offers great tiki drinks, punches, daiquiris, and authentic island-style drinks, as well as an impressive selection of rums. Not only do they mix a mean drink, but they also offer some tasty, cuban-inspired food.

The first thing you notice at Rumba is their vast rum selection, which fills most of their backbar. In fact, Joe and I weren’t even sure if they had other spirits in the bar, but, of course, they did. Rum is certainly at the heart of Rumba, but they are a cocktail bar, after all. But back to the rum. It’s why you go there. Their menu of rum is even organized geographically, so you can try rums from different parts of the globe, if you so desire. I ordered a taste of Angostura 1824, which was great; spicier than their 1919 rum, with some fruity notes.

Their array of daiquiris was delightful, and I think Joe ordered the No. 3 variation for his first round. As for myself, I ordered the Queen’s Park Swizzile: Lemonhart 151, bitters, lime, mint, and sugar. For my second round I went tiki, and ordered a Port Antonio: rum, coffee liqueur, falernum, and lime. The drinks were all top-notch, skillfully prepared by the bartender, who was a great conversationist and very attentive. I’ve been back a few times since Joe and I first went, and they’ve consistently impressed me with their drinks, food, and service. It has quickly become one of my favorite bars.

As the evening came to an end, we needed some snacks to help absorb some of that alcohol, so Joe and I split an order of empanadas. I’ve also had their cuban-style rice and beans, and chicken wings, which are marinated in hibiscus and served with a side of fried yucca chips. The food at Rubma is as legit as their drinks, so make sure to order a bite to eat while you’re there.

If you’re a fan of rum and you’re in Seattle, you’d be silly if you didn’t make your way to Rumba. Their enormous rum selection, exciting and exotic drinks menu, and delicious food make this place one of the best bars on Capital Hill, and definitely one of my favorite bars in Seattle.


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Vessel In Seattle

Back before I got into this whole craft cocktail scene, there was a bar in Seattle called Vessel, and they were famous for pioneering a lot of molecular mixology techniques, and for the general quality of their drinks and their atmosphere. Sadly, they closed in 2010, and I never got to visit them. They’re back, sort of, and at a new, bigger downtown location. When I heard that they were re-opening, I visited them that same week, but I didn’t get around to posting about it until today. That’s probably my loss, because I missed the buzz, but I think it’s still soon enough to care.

Their big gimmick this time is a rotating bar staff. It seems like the deal is, each bartender who appears there brings his or her own menu to the establishment. On my visit, the bartenders were Michael Bertrand of Mistral Kitchen and Kevin Langmack of Knee High Stocking Co. Their menus were thus:

To be honest, I was expecting a bit more. No offense to these seasoned veterans, but these drinks are all so safe. I want recipes that push the envelope! I want drinks on the cutting edge of mixology, with flavor combinations and techniques that I’ve never seen before. Instead you hit me with a vesper, a gin and tonic, and a sidecar with expensive brandy. This is the kind of menu I expect in an old money hotel, not a bar that was renowned in its heyday for molecular mixology. There’s nothing wrong with any of these recipes, but neither is there anything exciting.

Of course, if you go, the menu will probably be totally different. As such, I give them two out of ten for creativity, but nine out of ten for execution. All of the drinks we ordered were beautifully presented, and executed with technical excellence. John ordered a Preakness, which is not on their menu, but it is a common Manhattan variation containing Benedictine:

Very nice glassware. I ordered a Violette Fizz:

Truly a beautiful fizz, but alas, in a very impractical glass. As I drank it, a portion of the head persisted and ultimately clogged the flow of the drink through the glass when it reached the narrowest part of the glass, forcing me to tilt it to a precarious angle. This is a minor quibble however, as the glass was very elegant. Still, if the radius were constant across the length of the glass, I would have been better served.

James ordered the Batcat, a mix of rye, sweet vermouth, fernet branca, and elderflower liqueur:

I apologize for the terrible photo, but as you can sort of see, the drink came with a sphere of beautifully clear ice, cut to fit exactly within the glass, and the sphere was circumscribed by a spiral of orange peel for which a whole orange gave its life. James and I both tasted the drink and found the flavor to be very light. It was over-diluted, but it was probably not the bartender’s fault, it was probably the fault of the waitstaff.

The service was agonizingly slow, but I was willing to give them some leeway in their opening week. It takes a while to get all the bugs out of your service pipeline, I am sure. Did we sit at the table for fifteen minutes before anyone even took our order? Yes. Did it take them another twenty five to bring us our drinks? Also yes. But like I said, leeway.

Since I’m already slinging hate, I might as well take this opportunity to mention the acoustics, which are a crime against the fine art of architecting interior spaces. Maybe it’s the high ceilings, but every word of every patron echoes in this bar, and makes it very loud even when it is not particularly crowded. I wouldn’t take anyone here if I wanted to have a conversation with them. On the plus side, the hand soap in the bathroom contains rum.

The food was mediocre. We ordered foie gras popcorn, and it was a staunch reminder as to why no one sautes liver and then tosses it with popcorn. The high fat content of the liver killed all the crispness of the popcorn, while imparting only the scarcest flavor of foie gras. The hummus platter, though beautifully plated, was nothing I couldn’t get from Trader Joe’s. The carpaccio was adequate, however. Delicious and reasonably portioned for the price.

Over all, if you’re downtown, stick to the Mistral Kitchen or the Zig Zag Cafe. If you’re not tied to a particular locale within Seattle, may I recommend the Canon. It is clearly at the top of the craft bartending game in Seattle right now.


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Guest Post: Bourbon and Branch

Hey, my name’s James. I’m usually around when Joe decides to mix up a few drinks, and so he’s become my cocktail sensei. I recently had the opportunity to visit San Francisco on business, and Joe recommended that I check out a place called Bourbon and Branch. It was easy to convince my coworkers to join me for a few drinks, and once I had told them that this bar had Joe’s endorsement, it was a done deal. His recommendation did not disappoint.

Bourbon and Branch is a pretentious speakeasy-style bar located on a grimy downtown San Francisco street corner, under a sign that reads “Anti-Prohibition League”. Being a snobbish drinkery, gaining entrance was, of course, an ordeal. Reservations had to be made. A passphrase had to be received. An intercom had to be used. There are rules one must obey. Personally, I can do without all the role play involved with this sort of thing, but I see how it adds some charm to the experience, and is appealing to some people. Either way, this set the tone for what was to be an evening of fine drinking.

I later learned that this particular location has been operating continuously as a bar since the pre-prohibition era, enduring the ages under various names and ownerships. The latest incarnation is a surprisingly large-scale operation. They even sell gift cards.

The server who greeted us at the door instructed us to wait as our table was prepared. As we waited, I looked around the bar and soaked in the atmosphere. The room was dimly lit by a few glowing light fixtures scattered about and a pair of extravagant chandeliers which hung above the bar. The room felt intimate, but not isolating. Everything screamed of that 1920s/speakeasy/prohibition vibe – almost to the point of feeling a bit like a cheesy theme park, but not quite.

Business wasn’t bumping that night, but it wasn’t dead either. There were a few people sitting at the bar, quietly chatting amongst themselves and enjoying their cocktails. Behind the bar were two bartenders, dressed to match the ambiance, who were busy mixing and shaking drinks. The bar itself boasted a huge selection of spirits, with an entirely separate display showcasing an impressive collection of whiskey.

After a short wait, we were shown to our table. I was surprised at how large the place was. Our server lead our party into a back room that I hadn’t previously noticed, which was easily as large as the front area, but was filled entirely with booths. We were seated at one of the booths towards the back of the room, along a very narrow slab of wood that had been attached at one end to the wall, which served as our rickety table. As we sat down, I watched as another party was shown through a false bookcase into yet another back room, which I guess is “the library”, another bar area, I suppose.

Our server directed our attention to the end of the table, where we saw a hefty, wooden bound tome. It was their menu. The thing was over 50 pages long. The book’s size was such that, when spread open to read, it barely fit atop our narrow table. The covers and spine were decorated beautifully with engraved patterns. It had a table of contents. The first four or five chapters were dedicated to different sorts of cocktails: sweet/fruit-based, spirit-driven, egg-whites, etc. The remainder of the book served as a catalog of spirits, liquors, and fortified wines.

We enjoyed a few rounds that night, but the drink I enjoyed the most was my first drink. I ordered what I guess is a twist on the Manhattan, which they called Agent Smith. Rye, green chartreuse, punt e mes, maraschino, and chocolate bitters. Ever since I had this drink, I’ve been on a rye and green chartreuse kick. The chocolate bitters really tied the whole experience together. Everybody was impressed with their drinks throughout the night, and we decided to end our stay with a nightcap of absinthe.

The one aspect that disappointed was the service, however. It was terribly slow. Bizarrely, they refused our party of four more than a single copy of the menu. C’mon now. If your menu is 50 pages long, how can you expect four people to share it at once?

Even if hoity-toity speakeasys aren’t your thing, the quality of the drinks was superb, so check out Bourbon and Branch if you’re ever in San Francisco. Being a pretentious tavern, their rules (the first page in the menu) “strongly discourage” guests from using cellphones, speaking loudly, flash photography, or wearing hats indoors. I’d like to thank Mike, who broke pretty much all of these rules to bring us these candid photos.


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Sun Liquor: Libby’s Mai Tai

I visited the Sun Liquor Lounge for my friend John’s birthday. The Seattle weather gods must have been in a very unusual mood that day, because as I recall it was sunny and warm, and the Mai Tai sounded most appealing to everyone there. I am fond of the Sun Liquor Lounge’s aesthetic of faux orientalism, and I think that their menu is reasonably put together, with an appropriately-sized selection of modern drinks and updates to classics.

I think the menu mostly speaks for itself. Another Bond Girl is a playful and modern take on a Vesper, the Kentucky Cardinal tastefully employs a shrub as its souring agent, and the addition of rhubarb to the Bee’s Knees is a great way to incorporate an unusual and seasonal ingredient. This is all capital stuff.

Everyone in our party, however, opted to drink the Libby’s Mai Tai. I was a bit skeptical, because the drink as described is a pretty significant departure from the classic Mai Tai, which calls for no grenadine and no pineapple juice, and for orange liqueur instead of orange juice. I quite bravely ordered one, anyway. As you can see, it came in a tremendously large tiki glass:

The bartender built the drink in glass, neither stirring nor shaking. Such constructions are a delicate procedure, in which the order of the pours matters, because each ingredient has a different weight, and a proper integration requires that each ingredient be heavier than the last so that they will all fall in together. One upside to a skillful in-glass construction is that it produces beautiful color gradients across the drink, as can be seen here. This is, obviously, the function of the grenadine in the drink, though candidly, I could have done without it.

Although the drink definitely caters to a sweet-craving palate, it was not cloying and it is highly appropriate to the tiki genre. Still, one of my favorite parts of drinking a mai tai is the aroma of fresh mint from the garnish, which was sadly absent. Even so, I like the Sun Liquor lounge and I think their style and the quality of their drinks is respectable without being pretentious.

If you want to make their Mai Tai, you’re going to need some fresh grenadine, which you can make by combining equal parts of fresh pomegranate juice and sugar, and shaking them together until they are fully integrated. Caster’s sugar will dissolve better than regular white sugar, but either works. The critical thing with grenadine is to never heat it up. The best flavor comes from a cold process; heating it will cause many of the darker, earthier tones in the juice to break down, leaving only a candy sweetness. I’m going to give you Jefferey Morgenthaler‘s recipe, even though I haven’t tried it with the pomegranate molasses.

Grenadine
2 cups Fresh Pomegranate Juice (approximately two large pomegranates) or POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice
2 cups Unbleached Sugar
2 oz Pomegranate Molasses
1 tsp Orange Flower Water

This is probably more than you need for your home bar, so I would probably halve it. If you add an ounce of vodka or neutral grain spirit, it will preserve the syrup for about a month. I like my Mai Tais a little dryer than the one at Sun Liquor, so if I were to recreate it, I would start here:

Libby’s Mai Tai?

1 oz Dark Rum
1 oz Light Rum
1 oz Fresh Pineapple Juice
.5 oz Fresh Orange Juice
1.5 oz Fresh Lime Juice
.5 oz Orgeat syrup
.5 oz Grenadine

Shake over ice and double-strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a mint sprig, damnit.

Keep in mind that I have not tasted this recipe, and it’s probably not exactly right. I guarantee my version uses more lime juice than theirs did, but then, I was trying to dry it out. If you want a more accurate recreation, I would drop the lime down to one ounce. With so much sweet fruit juice, you’re going to end up with something a little heavier than you want in the summer, maybe.


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Montana

Montana is a dive bar in Capitol Hill. I would not order a craft cocktail here, but fortunately, you don’t have to, because they have something nearly as good. What they have is Fernet Branca on tap. Is there any reason for it to be on tap? No. It’s not carbonated. It’s not even particularly cold. But who cares? Look at all that Fernet:

They also have a Negroni on draft, and it is carbonated, or mixed with seltzer water, it’s hard to tell. It was watery and disappointing. I’d rather have a glass of gummy bears. The reason you patronize this bar is the divey atmosphere, and the (relatively) cheap shots of Fernet. Ask for a slice of lime and squeeze it into the glass, to add a little complexity.

When I most recently visited this bar with my friends (yes, I have friends), a question came up as to the exact pronunciation of the word “Fernet”. In the back of my head I knew it was an Italian product, but it really looks like it wants to be said “Fer-nay”, as if it were French, and that is how I have always pronounced it. The bartendress who poured it for me referred to it as “Fer-NET”, and this forced me to reconsider my prior conviction. I looked it up on Wikipedia and sure enough, the ‘t’ is not silent.

As I look at the photo above, I notice they also have some Bulleit. Usually when I’m in a bar that has no chance of producing a proper drink, I like to order rye and tonic with a dash of bitters. If they give you an equal proportions pour, it’s a rewarding libation. You might even find yourself making it at home, once in a while. I guess  this place is trying to appeal to the cocktail hipster crowd, but in order to be a proper dive bar, the drinks can’t be too good.