The Father of Our Country was a Mixologist

Egg Nog has always been a holiday tradition, but it’s always been the store-bought variety that makes its way to most homes. A couple of years ago my friends Dana and James Pike mentioned a special home-made version that most definitely packs a wallop. The recipe comes from none other than our first president, George Washington himself. The Father of Our Country was indeed a mixologist. While you can easily find the recipe online, we’ve posted it at IEShineOn.com as our Cocktail of the Month for December
, along with a few other holiday delights. Cheers!

 

Tailgating Tips

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Image courtesy of IEShineOn.com

With football season in full swing and the Rams back in Los Angeles, it’s time to get out to some games. And part of the football game-going experience is tailgating. Check out my story at IEShineOn.com for some tips to keep in mind when you head out to the Rose Bowl or Coliseum. Cheers!

 

The Educational Aspects of Alcohol

My interest in adult beverages goes back long before I was even legally able to drink alcohol. From collecting beer cans and beer signs in high school, to gaining exposure to great wines while working at the Los Angeles County Fair, to experimenting with various cocktails as a I got older, to now writing about beer, wine and spirits, it seems I’ve always had a passion for adult beverages. Moreover, I’ve always been fascinated – and curious.thumb_00409_s_15am63mzjj0409_1024

For example, my early beer tastings always included a wide variety of imported beers (and I added the bottles to my collection). And even though I hadn’t yet developed a taste for wine, I took a wine education course in college.

As I grew older and beer gave way to mixed drinks and my more advanced wine palate, I wanted to learn how to make a good cocktail. Unfortunately, the period during the 1980s into the 2000s was the “dark era” for quality mixed drinks. Pre-packaged mixers, sodas and canned juices were the norm, with little attention to quality fresh ingredients. As documented (sort of) in the 1988 movie “Cocktail,” there was more focus on flashy bartending skills than on superior drinks. The priority was on banging out as many drinks as quickly as possible.

thumb_00089_s_15am63mzjj0089_b_1024Because this is what I grew up with, the only exposure I had to complex cocktails was when I was too young to care. But over the past decade I remembered that early introduction that came from watching my dad wield creative concoctions at home, and I decided the time had come to learn how to make a good cocktail.

I subscribed to Imbibe magazine and found the BarSmarts online bartending program. Still, I’ve never worked behind a bar in my life (except with family and friends). That program opened my eyes to a wealth of valuable intelligence, beginning with the history of fermented liquor to advanced bartending practices. Fortunately, my discovery coincided with the somewhat recent resurgence of the craft cocktail. It expanded my taste for certain spirits and helped me to better understand, appreciate and mix a well-made cocktail. It’s the kind of education that shouldn’t be limited to bartenders.

My most recent bit of schooling takes me back to beer. Of course, beer today is a completely different product than it was 20, 15 and even 10 years ago. The world of craft beer grabbed me hard and has my attention. I’m not yet brewing, but I want to know how and perhaps try.

My latest plunge is an extended university course at Cal Poly Pomona that covered the inner workings of the craft brew world. The four-week “Culture of Micro-Brewery and Handcraft Beers” class explored the history of beer back some 7,000 years, to the European development of ales and lagers, to Prohibition in the United States to today’s craft beer explosion.thumb_IMG_3295_1024

Michael “Porter” Barichere, who admittedly is not a brewer but a major craft beer enthusiast, teaches the class. He also works at BevMo in Chino Hills and leads the Friday night in-store sampling sessions. Porter formed the Chino Valley Beer and Friends group to help publicize local beer-related events.

Located in a classroom adjacent to the university’s own craft brewery, Innovation Brew Works, the class is remarkably interesting; you won’t find students nodding off watching the clock waiting for the bell to ring. Almost everyone in the course I took already had a decent knowledge about craft beers, but that certainly wasn’t a prerequisite.

Talking and sampling great beer is not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon. But perhaps the best aspect is the interaction between Barichere and the students, who all have the chance to talk about their favorite brews. I routinely left each class session with notes about beers I need to find and sample, and breweries I need to visit.

Another session featured a guest appearance by Koby Harris, the chief brewer at Innovation Brew Works, who shared several of the brewery’s beers and led a tour of the brewery. Nothing like watching the beer-making process in action.

Yet another session focused on the science of beer making, with a Cal Poly microbiology graduate student explaining the role that yeast plays in creating different beer styles. Different types of yeast yield different flavors and styles.

As he should, Barichere opened every class with a reminder about drinking responsibly, designating a driver and knowing the higher alcohol content that comes with craft beer. Our instructor gave rightful attention to the dangers that can come with alcohol consumption.

As far as I know, you can’t find this kind of education anywhere else locally. Check the Cal Poly Pomona Extended University website for future class offerings. Cheers.

Sid Robinson is managing partner of the strategic communications and public relations firm Robinson and Associates, LLC. (www.robinsonandassociates.us). His articles about craft beer, wine and spirits also appear in publications such as Foothills Reader and 909 Magazine.

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They’ve Got Bols

IMG_0208One of the most unexpected and interesting stops during our summer travels to Europe was to the House of Bols Museum in Amsterdam.

Deterred by the two-hour wait to get into the Van Gogh Museum, we stepped across the street and walked right in at the House of Bols Cocktail and Genever Experience. It’s basically an educational and historic look at liqueurs and spirits, culminating with a cocktail tasting.

Bols is best known in the U.S. for its many flavored liqueurs. In fact, you might even have a bottle of Bols schnapps or liqueur tucked at the back of your liquor cabinet right now.

Lucas Bols founded the world’s oldest spirit brand in Amsterdam in 1575. Today it is one of the oldest still-operating Dutch companies. Operation of the family-owned company was passed from generation to generation, and in the 17th century, the Bols grandson took over. He became a major stakeholder in the East India Trading Company, which gave him access to herbs and spices, from which he created some 300 liqueur recipes.

IMG_0206During the 1650s, the Bols distillery was apparently a regular hangout for Rembrandt, who had a studio across the road. A Rembrandt painting hangs today in the Bols building.

In 1664 Bols started producing genever, which became the company’s claim to fame in Europe. A distilled liquor made from rye, corn and wheat and blended with juniper and other botanicals, the spirit was modified over the years and eventually became one of the primary liquors used by U.S. bartenders in the 1800s, but seemingly disappeared during and after Prohibition.IMG_0152

Because of the juniper berries and even its name, I assumed that genever was basically a variation of gin. Not true. By itself, it has a very smooth malty flavor of whisky, although definitely not as full in flavor as bourbon. It tasted nothing like gin. The barrel-aged (six years) genever was very smooth and flavorful, minus the hot finish that is characteristic of many distilled liquors. As a base liquor for cocktails, Bols claims that genever has the mixing versatility of vodka. The proper way to drink genever is to fill a tulip glass to the very brim – almost overflowing – and then slurp it from the glass on the table.

Holland’s top spirit still today, genever is making a limited reappearance in the United States. I’ve seen the original version in stores and online, but the barrel-aged versions are harder to find. Moreover, I’ve not seen any differentiated by the number of years it was aged. Fortunately, the six-year aged genever was available for purchase at the House of Bols. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it since we’ve returned.IMG_0200

Still, Bols’ biggest market identity is its liqueurs. The company makes more than 35 different flavors today, and the House of Bols tour offered the opportunity to see, smell, touch and taste the ingredients that go into making the different liqueurs – from vanilla beans and cocoa beans, to peaches and cherries, to coconut and melon. Pretty much every flavor you can imagine is available in liqueur form. There is a room where all are displayed in unmarked bottles with a perfume atomizer. The challenge is to identify each scent.

The final stage of the House of Bols tour brings the opportunity to taste several liqueurs and sample a cocktail mixed with genever and various liqueurs.

The House of Bols may not rival Amsterdam’s museums honoring Van Gogh or Rembrandt and the great Dutch masters, but we still saw an original Rembrandt painting and learned a few things we didn’t know about Dutch culture.IMG_0205

No Tie with My Mai Tai

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I’ll put my Mai Tais up against anyone’s.


There are about as many ways to make a Mai Tai as there are people who make them. I’ve seen numerous variations, and most have been outstanding. But I still like mine the best.

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The Mala Mai Tai

The Mai Tai from Mala Ocean Tavern in Lahaina won a recent competition as the best on the Hawaiian Islands, so my wife Beth and I decided to find out for ourselves during past two trips to Maui. I certainly would rate it as excellent, and the recipe is not too far from mine. However, there are several differences, and my choices are more to my liking. Both of us use fresh ingredients, including muddled limes, pineapple juice and fresh orange juice. We both use several different rums. However, Mala uses orange-flavored rum, while I rely Malibu coconut rum and add Grand Mariner for the added orange flavor. We both use Amaretto in lieu of Orgeat syrup and a quality Hawaiian dark rum. They use Old Lahaina Dark Rum, which is excellent. I’ve used Koloa Dark Rum (made on Kauai). I also like to float a splash of Diet Coke to give it a little fizz. But the key difference – and I’ve seen this at several places along Front Street in Lahaina – is that Mala uses crushed ice instead of cubes. I find that the crushed ice quickly waters down the drink and dilutes the flavors.

The Sea House Mai Tai

The Sea House Mai Tai

I love Mala, and it is a must-visit destination every time we are on Maui, including our upcoming trip in August. I will continue to order their Mai Tais when I’m there. But they have much more to offer, including the fabulous Heavenly Hibiscus martini (favored by Beth Robinson and Susie DesCombes), Cane and Coco (Jim Moore’s drink), and Lime in the Coconut (Jeannie Seligman’s recent discovery).

That certainly won’t be the only Mai Tai I’ll enjoy, starting with our traditional first-day (of many) visit to the Sea House at Napili Kai. From there I’ll have plenty more to evaluate, while also enjoying plenty more of my own POGs on the beach.

Aloha!

Enjoying Mai Tais at the Sea House

Enjoying Mai Tais at the Sea House

Refreshing Drinks of Summer

Now that summer has pretty much arrived following the Memorial Day holiday, it’s time to break out some of those simple refreshing cocktails that were made for a warm afternoon and evening. Here are a few to get you started.

The New(er) Old Fashioned

With the return to prominence of so many classic cocktails like the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned, along with new creations coming every day from mixologists everywhere, I want to add my own simple concoction that is now a staple among my friends. We call it the BBWD, because it’s Bourbon Beth Would Drink – a major milestone for somebody who until recently hadn’t discovered the amazing flavor qualities of bourbon whiskey. This one plays to the at-home bartenders looking for a refreshing summer thirst-quencher, while also wanting something a bit more complex. The keys to changing this from a simple Bourbon and 7 to a new cocktail are the bitters and the orange peel, which should be squeezed to emit the oils and aroma from the orange (without the pith). Rub the peel along the rim of the glass before serving. Cheers!

Fill a Highball glass with ice

3 oz. Bourbon

6 oz. 7-up (or Diet 7-up)

2 dashes Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters

Garnish with Orange peel

 

POG (or the White Hawaiian)

This is a staple for us every time we visit Hawaii. Unfortunately, the popular POG juice (Passion, Orange and Guava) is not readily available on the mainland, but it can be found everywhere in Hawaii (including on the flights to and from the Islands). It’s also very easy to make your own POG by mixing equal parts of orange juice, passion fruit juice and guava nectar. POG juice is an ideal mixer for many different spirits, but I’ve found that because of its tropical nature, it goes extremely well with rum.

Muddle 1/8 lime in a shaker

Add:

2 oz. aged rum

1 oz. coconut rum

6 oz. POG juice

Shake and strain into a Highball glass filled with ice

Float a splash of Diet Coke to add fizz.

Float 1 oz. Koloa Hawaiian Dark Rum

Garnish with fresh pineapple

 

Vodka Fresca

3 oz. Vodka

6 oz. Fresca

This also lends itself to a number of variations, but always seems to work as a perfect summer refresher. This version works especially well:

3 oz. Vodka

3 oz. Fresca

3 oz. Lemonade

Garnish with lemon slice