GSN Review: Cocktail & Sons Switchel Syrup

5399967For the third incarnation of its seasonal limited-edition syrups, Cocktail & Sons is looking deep into the past this summer. Since the late 1600s, thirsty Americans have tried to beat the summer heat by sipping switchel, a sweet-tart-spicy syrup made from vinegar, ginger and a sweetener like sugar, molasses or maple syrup. It’s a delicious and refreshing beverage, but not one that’s terribly well-known today. “Switchel was originally most popular in the Northeast,” says Cocktail & Sons founder Max Messier. “But because summers in New Orleans are probably the most brutal you’ll ever find, it was an obvious choice for our summer syrup.”

For Cocktail & Sons Switchel Syrup, Messier lets a mix of fresh-cut ginger, lemon peels and sugar sit for a week to draw out the flavorful oils, then steeps the mixture with lemon balm and orange peel, adds apple cider vinegar and sweetens with honey. And that honey is something very special: It’s produced in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward by Capstone, a non-profit that turns blighted and vacant lots in the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged neighborhood into productive gardens, orchards and apiaries. (Part of the profits from every bottle of sold will go back to Capstone as well.)

The Switchel Syrup will only be sold at wholesale for use by bars but will be available for purchase online as well at a price of $14.95 for an 8-ounce bottle. Switchel Syrup joins Cocktail & Sons’ regular, year-round line of artisanal cocktail syrups, including Haymaker’s Punch, Spiced Demerara, Oleo Saccharum, Honeysuckle & Peppercorns and Mint & Lemon Verbena.

Cocktail & Sons Switchel Syrup: Nicely balanced and with a viscous mouthfeel.  Quite sweet and lemony (as it should be), but set off with tingling heat from the ginger, a funky sourness from the vinegar cider and a touch of mellow honey.  This switchel will work with just about any cocktail you can think of that calls for a citrus simple syrup.  We recommend trying this in your next tiki or faux-tropical libation.  You won’t go wrong.  Great stuff!  GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Cocktail and Sons

GSN Blogging Tales of the Cocktail®: The Other Side of Tales 2014

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Blair Frodelius enjoying an Abita at Felix’s

new-orleans-tales-of-the-cocktail-2013-logo-300x216Don’t take this as sacrilege, but Tales of the Cocktail® isn’t just about the seminars, classes, libations and parties.  It’s also about enjoying traditional New Orleans food and locales while you are in town.  After all, you can’t do much on an empty stomach.  So, when I was at Tales this past July, I made sure to visit several local dining establishments during the week.  Here are a few of my thoughts and recommendations on each.

THU Lunch at Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster House:  Most tourist’s flock to the Acme Oyster House (right across the street) and miss another classic oyster lover’s haven.  Sure, Felix’s doesn’t have the atmosphere or decor that Acme does, but you don’t have to wait in line to get a seat for 30-45 minutes either.  I walked right in to Felix’s during lunch and found a seat at the bar, where I could keep an eye on both the oyster shucker and the bartending.  I opted for the classic Bayou Platter Sampler, a trio of red beans & rice, jambalaya and étouffée, along with a Abita Andygator draft.  It was plenty filling, and I was definitely entertained by the dynamics of the kitchen staff, wait staff and oyster station maestro.  The bartender was one of the hardest working I have ever seen, overseeing the counter, doing back bar, and chatting with the customers making sure they were happy.  She got a 25% tip from me for her efforts.  Overall, a definite stop for anyone looking for good local food without the frills at lunchtime.

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Remoulade

FRI Lunch at Remoulade: I was looking for some grilled oysters and decided to stop at this less upscale sibling to Arnaud’s.  The place was quiet, but the host greeted me with a huge smile and asked where I was from.  When I mentioned Syracuse, he lit up and said that he knew several people from there.  As I usually do when visiting a new restaurant, I asked him what he felt were the best dishes on the menu.  Surprisingly, he said that I should skip the oysters until later in the year as they didn’t have nearly as much flavor during the summer months.  Instead, he recommended the Shrimp Arnaud which indeed was killer.  A simple dish of three jumbo shrimp in a remoulade sauce, I could have eaten at least four servings.  I finished with a bowl of the Filé Gumbo and an Abita Amber.  Sated, I thanked the host and went on my way, wishing I had tried the oysters as well.  I guess I’ll have to visit again this Autumn.

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Tiki Gummies

SAT Dinner at Killer Po’ Boys: I met up with some friends for dinner and we all decided to check out this tiny po’ boy restaurant located deep within one of NOLA’s bartenders’ favorite after hours hangout, Erin Rose.  Between the four of us who ordered from the kitchen, we each got to share pretty much every sandwich on the menu.  Be warned that there are only a handful of tables if you plan on dining in.  Our party took up half of the room.  The bar serves the restaurant as well, and I ordered a Guinness on draft to accent my meal.  Be sure to check out the Jameson Grilled Cheese Po’ Boy.  Absolutely luscious.

Drinks at Tiki Tolteca: After our dinner, we all decided to check out a new Tiki bar in the French Quarter.  At first I was a bit leery of the idea of New Orleans tiki, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The bar is located on the second floor of a Mexican taqueria, so make sure you don’t have too many drinks before you leave. because those stairs are a doozy.  The decor was delightfully tacky with a definite mid-century exotica feel.  Perhaps the best aspect of the bar is the laid back seating arrangement, which consists of a couch, love seats, and various chairs.  Our party was joined by another group we met earlier in the day, and all of us sat around a low rectangular table while we discussed the various merits of tiki.  Our group shared an Escorpian Punch Bowl which was more than enough to get us through the evening, while the other group had a variety of tropical cocktails along with an order of Tiki Gummies (Zombies, Mai Tais, and Hurricanes).  I finished with a Frozen Hemingway Daiquiri until we all decided we needed to get some shut-eye at 1:00am.

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Menu cover at Criollo

SUN Lunch at Criollo: I was really looking forward to sampling the cuisine and cocktails at the new restaurant built within the Hotel Monteleone.  This year, several restaurants teamed up with Tales of the Cocktail to host a number of paired cocktail lunches and dinners.  Chef de Cuisine Joe Maynard met with me while I was there to talk about his inspirations behind the three course meal and working with the Carousel Bar’s head bartender Marvin Allen in designing pisco cocktails.  Not only was the lunch delicious, but it was a bargain at only $30 for three full-size drinks, an appetizer, a main course and a dessert.  Chef Maynard told me the whole concept of the restaurant was to make it as transparent to the customer as possible, so that the guests can see what is happening in the kitchen.  Another important aspect is that they source as much of the food from local farms and fisheries as possible.  When pairing with pisco, this was somewhat of a challenge, but Chef Maynard told me that he worked with several of his wait staff who came from Latin America and helped him craft the menu choices.  The meal included Squid Ceviche, Pompano (a locally available ocean fish) and Pork Belly, and Passion Fruit Creme Brule.  Each dish was a treat and the main course was one of the most inspired I have ever had the pleasure of savoring.  If you are ever in New Orleans, put Criollo on your short list of “must experience” restaurants.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.4578

Dinner at Desire Bistro and Oyster Bar:  Many of the seminars during Tales of the Cocktail took place at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, so it was only natural that I check out the hotel’s restaurant.  It was a fairly quiet night, but I was far from the only person there for a meal.  I was given a seat in the middle of the restaurant where I could keep an eye on everything.  I took my time and enjoyed an Abita Jockamo IPA while watching the dynamics of the staff and guests.  I eventually ordered the Smothered Catfish Lafitte (creole rice, crawfish and bacon cream, southern greens, fried corn bread) and was greeted with an overflowing platter of food that I could barely finish.  The food was quite good, but never quite lived up to the experience I had earlier at Criollo.  Still, I was stuffed and ready for an evening in the Quarter.

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May Bailey’s Place

Cocktails at May Bailey’s Place: My last stop of the evening was at my hotel‘s bar.  When I checked in a week earlier, I was given a free drink coupon and decided I might as well use it before I went home.  I walked down around 9:00pm and the place was empty except for the bartender and a middle-aged couple at the far end of the bar who were just about to leave.  After all, this was Sunday night.  But, I looked over the available spirits and asked the bartender for a Sazerac made with Wild Turkey.  We ended up talking for over an hour about the bar scene in New Orleans, Tales, and what it was like to work in a hotel bar.  I have to say, that she was one of the most interesting people I met on this trip.  I came away with a genuine impression that she loved what she did, that it was not just a job to her, and that she had a real heart for the customer.  Not only did she have a knowledge and appreciation for the craft of drink making, but she was a true people person.  This little out-of-the-way hotel bar, had a genuine world class bartender working behind the stick.  After my Sazerac was gone, I had just decided to order a Negroni, when a couple from Australia came in.  The three of us ended up talking until 1:00am about everything from hang gliding to modern warfare until I finally remembered that I had to catch a flight back home in a few hours. Well…

MON Dinner at The Landing @ Crowne Plaza Hotel in Kenner I got to the airport on time, 3496but due to the crazy weather we’d been having all summer, my flight kept getting delayed, until finally they cancelled it altogether late in the afternoon.  Supremely frustrated, I immediately booked a hotel near the airport and a flight for Tuesday morning at o’dark thirty.  The hotel was only a few minutes away by shuttle, and they had a bar and a restaurant. So, life wasn’t all bad.  After checking in, I went down to the restaurant and asked for a cocktail menu.  Oh. My. God.  I was unprepared for the absolutely amazing menu that surpassed 80% of the cocktail menus I have seen in my life time.  For those of you who are familiar with The Dead Rabbit’s menu, this was a lite version, but no less impressive.  The history of cocktails, sections on each spirit, and a handful of cocktails for each with everything from Jerry Thomas era drinks to new creations inside of a leather bound hard cover 20 page volume.  I could have had several cocktails and been happy, but opted for just a few along with the New Orleans Seafood Pasta.  It turns out it was an excellent choice.  Normally I eschew Italian pasta dishes, but this one was amazing featuring sautéed crawfish, crab claws, oysters I finally had them!) & shrimp over linguini in a herb & garlic white wine sauce.  Between the cocktails and the entrée, it was a meal to die for.  And who would have suspected this at an airport hotel?  All in all, a great way to end my trip to NOLA and a reason to go back again as soon as possible!

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

GSN Blogging Tales 2014: Prelude to Adventure

TOTC-2014-BloggingTales of the Cocktail is always an adventure, but even getting there this year was an unexpected adventure.

Based on previous visits to New Orleans, I decided that this time I would arrive a day early and leave the day after the TOTC festival took place. So, on a Tuesday morning I got a flight from Syracuse, NY to Washington DC to catch my connecting flight to NOLA. All went well, in spite of having only a few minutes to get from one gate to another to board the second plane. They were actually boarding as I arrived at the gate. In my seat, I was looking forward to having a cocktail in anticipation of a fairly long flight. We taxied away from the terminal, and then proceeded to drive around the entire airport for the next 20 minutes. The pilot then said that they had been told to change the original direction of take-off, and we were in line. Ten minutes later, he said there was a severe storm front coming in and no planes could take off or land. A half an hour later he said that the entire airport was shut down due to lightning. So, we sat on the plane for another hour. After then storm, the pilot then announced that due to Federal regulations, he and the crew were unable to fly us to New Orleans as they would go over their allotted amount of air time for the day. So, we headed back to the terminal to await another flight.

In the meantime, I texted my wife what had been happening, and as soon as she heard about the cancelled flight, she booked me a sleeper car on Amtrak from DC to NOLA. It was to leave from Union Station at 6:30pm. So, I avoided all the lines of frustrated flyers trying to book other flights, and took a cab to the train station. Of course, it was rush hour in DC by this point and it took a while to get there. All the while, I still hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast or had anything to drink other than a glass of water on the plane. So, after making sure my train ticket was good to go, I sat down at a restaurant in the middle of the station and ordered a dinner of a charcuterie platter (huge!) and a few local beers.

Finally sated, I made my way to the platform only to hear that my train was delayed due to equipment problems. And it continued to be delayed every fifteen minutes for the next few hours. Finally at 9:15pm, I boarded my sleeper car and relaxed. After another beer and a few shots from a bottle of Bushmill’s I bought at the station, I called it a night and slept until 7:00am the next day.

Well, slept isn’t really quite the word. If you’ve never tried to sleep on a train, it’s quite different. Speeding up, slowing down, loud clanking noises from the tracks, conductors making announcements of upcoming stations, etc… woke me up several times during the night. But, it was better than having to sleep in coach or in an airport terminal!

Anyway, the rest of the journey was pleasant, and I got to talk with a few folks at breakfast, lunch and dinner in the dining car. One woman is from New Orleans and knew all about Tales of the Cocktail. She told me all kinds of insider information on life in the Crescent City and why she loves it. Another gentlemen had just quit his job to move to New Orleans from Washington DC and be near his son and grandchildren. Turns out that his son is a clarinetist who plays a weekly Saturday night gig at The Spotted Cat on Frenchman St.  Check them out at http://panoramajazzband.com/

I finally arrived at 10:15pm, took a cab to my hotel and even before I unpacked, walked up to the local Compac store and bought myself an Abita Restoration Ale. Believe me, I need restoring after traveling for nearly 36 hours! I was finally in my second home. Lovely and welcoming New Orleans… #totc

GSN Alert: GiveNOLA Day, May 6th to Support Museum of the American Cocktail

MOTAC SealGive to MOTAC on GiveNOLA Day, May 6th!

The Southern Food & Beverage Museum and The Museum of the American Cocktail are joining the New Orleans nonprofit community tomorrow, May 6th, to participate in GiveNOLA Day, an online fundraising event organized by the Greater New Orleans Foundation. It goes on for a full 24 hours – the campaign starts at 12:01 AM and ends at 11:59 PM (Central). The GNOF has raised over $300,000 to “stretch” all the funds raised on this one day, so this is the perfect time to give and demonstrate your support for SoFAB!

How Do I Donate?

Just visit http://givenola.org/#npo/sofab-institute anytime TOMORROW, MAY 6th, and give what you can. The minimum donation is $10. Tell your friends, join our Facebook event, and help spread the word. The larger your gift, the greater its impact. Additionally, a very generous member of the SoFAB Board of Directors will match your gift on a one-to-one basis up to $5,000.

Why Donate?

The Southern Food & Beverage Museum and The Museum of the American Cocktail are happy to announce we’ll be cutting the ribbon on our new home on September 29, 2014! We’ll continue to document and celebrate the food and drink of all cultures, both in New Orleans and wherever we offer programming around the country, in Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and elsewhere.

Your gift on this day will:

Help SoFAB and MOTAC open our shiny new space with exciting new exhibits.
Help us promote the opening and introduce the collections to new audiences.
Directly support our other programs and divisions, including the SoFAB Culinary Library & Archive and SoFAB Center for Food Law, Policy & Culture.
Keep us dreaming bigger and bigger!

All gifts are 100% tax-deductible. Thank you again for supporting the SoFAB Institute!

GSN Review: El Guapo Bitters & Tonic Syrup

1373647549My cocktailian home away from home is New Orleans.  So much about the city has to do with cocktail history that it just makes sense that a new company specializing in bitters and syrups has established itself there.  El Guapo started out as a supplier for a local bar in the Vieux Carré, saw the potential to reach a wider audience and grew from there.  Interestingly, the owner Scot Mattox (an ex-Marine) named the company after his military nickname which literally means “handsome”.  He also donates 10% of their revenue to the Semper Fi Fund and the Wounded Warrior Project.  Definitely two worthwhile causes, and another reason to support the company.

Chicory-Pecan Bitters – First of all, the scent of these bitters is extremely appetizing.  It encapsulates New Orleans in every way.  Loose, flavorful and vivacious.  The flavor is much milder than I expected, resembling a cup of coffee at Cafe Du Monde.  It definitely pushes a coffee/chicory blend with a warm richness to it.  The main issue I have is that there is NO alcohol in these bitters.  This may seem like a small thing, but virtually all bitters are in a neutral alcohol base which allows the flavors to be intensified.  I’m not sure that these will lend much more than a hint of the intended flavor when they become diluted in a cocktail.  That being said, you can certainly add some grain spirit to these at home and come to a compromise.  These definitely have potential as some of the best smelling and tasting coffee based bitters I’ve tried.  GSN Rating: B-

British Colonial Style Tonic Syrup – An opaque reddish-brown.  Quite tart with a lot of citrus that seems to outshine the typical bitterness of the quinine.  You won’t need to add a squeeze of lime to your drink with this syrup.  The flavor is well-balanced and quite bright.  It works very well with a standard London Dry style gin.  More juniper driven gins will also benefit from this style of tonic syrup, whereas gins with less character will have to take a back seat.  I like this a lot, very easy to drink. I suggest using a ratio of 0.75 oz. syrup/2 oz. gin/4 oz. carbonated water.  GSN Rating: B+

For more information go to: El Guapo Bitters

GSN at Tales of the Cocktail: Lesson Four (Change is Inevitable)

Generally, I get down to New Orleans once, maybe twice a year.  A lot can happen in 365 days.  New bars open, old bars close, and bartenders tend to move to different places of employment a lot.  So it is with life.  I was talking with my New Orleanian friend Rhiannon Enlil (who currently works at Cure and The Erin Rose) at Tales this year, and I realized that when I first met her several years ago, she was engaged at Loa.  This got me to thinking (always dangerous when I’ve had a few cocktails) that even though we often expect things to stay the same day after day, they rarely do.

We all need change in order to grow, both as humans and as skilled people in the bartending industry.  Just imagine what it would be like if the only cocktail reference we were using today was good ol’ Prof. J.T.’s 1862 Bon-Vivant’s Companion.  Granted, there are some excellent drinks in there, but what if no other cocktails ever developed beyond the several dozen within its pages?  It seems crazy, but some people are stuck in their ways.

That’s why Tales of the Cocktail is so important to people in our industry.  It pushes us beyond our comfort zones and boundaries with forward thinking seminars on the latest techniques, re-discovered insights that may have been all but forgotten, and even as I discovered, new places to discover these things.

Whenever I am in NOLA, I do a lot of walking.  I have never rented a car, only taken a cab a few times.  With Tales celebrating their 10th year, they really outdid themselves with having events in many new parts of the city.  I probably got more exercise in five days than I have in the last five months.  This was a change for me, and it had a positive effect on my life.  Which is why, I have decided that change is one of the most beneficial influences we can have.  Heaven forbid that I should spend the rest of my days drinking just my favorite cocktail in my favorite bar, served by my favorite bartender.  Yeah, it can be great, but ultimately it won’t take me anywhere new.  There is a whole world to explore out there, and for some of you it may begin at Tales.