12:01am – Gretchen and I were sitting in the lobby of Hotel Monteleone eating awesome pralines from the Southern Candy Makers. More importantly, there was a peanut butter-filled Ritz cracker sandwich coated entirely in bittersweet chocolate. Before long, Chuck and Wesley showed up and joined us in the comfy seats. The highlight of our conversation was Chuck recommending a dab of vanilla extract behind the ear for a good perfume. Paul sauntered in, unplanned, and grabbed a Sazerac the size of the Hulk from the Carousel lounge.
We chatted a little bit about our panel, “Cocktails and the Blogosphere,” but it pretty much boiled down to Paul preparing an epic soliloquy and us not even having to take notes. Chuck and I were pleased. Gretchen decided to enter the land of naptime, and not a moment later, Darcy showed up from an intense bar trek. Our panel conversation went on, and before long Eric Seed visited our little summit.
For those of you who don’t know this man, Eric Seed is the wand of good spirits. He pretty much finds the three Austrian distillers who make a rare type of Apricot brandy for their friends and convinces them to make it for us cocktail nerds in the States. To be frank, he is everyone’s hero. Only a few moments passed before he uttered the magic words that we were all hoping for, “Why don’t I just get out my medicine kit?” In moments we were seated around a table in an abandoned conference room.
Eric layed out close to 15 small dropper bottles, and some full-sized liquor bottles, of mostly unlabeled spirits. We tried a pear eau de vie that might as well have just been a real pear. When we opened the bottle of apricot brandy, you could smell it across the room. It’s as if a gentle farmer from a far-off land just squished the fruit in his fist and spread it into the air. It tasted about the same, like biting into an apricot. We also tasted Swedish Punsch alongside Batavia Arrack, the intense spirit it comes from. So cool.
Real Angostura bitters from Amsterdam, a wonderful bitter Amaro, a pear liqueur, and literally eight other things I’m completely forgetting. One thing I won’t forget, however, is the first commercially produced pimento dram. Still in production, it may see life in the coming year.
Most of the medicine bag we tried will be available in New York in under a month. Eric even told me he’d ship to Southern New York for me. The whole time, I’d look at Paul and he’d get this four-year-old who just got the huge pirate Lego ship face when trying one of the wonderful spirits. It was an unexpected and memorable experience. If you haven’t already decided to attend Tales of the Cocktail next year, I hope this convinced you.
Live Blogging Tiki Drinks from A to Zombie
4:01pm – Tiki Ti in Los Angeles, Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale, and Forbidden Island in Alameda, CA. are the last three establishments that you can get original Don the Beachcomber drinks.
3:55pm – Berry takes the podium to thank people. Joe is first. Fee’s has provided some fun measuring glasses to be given away in the tradition of receiving tiki mugs when dining at Polynesian bars. He thanks Martin, from Forbidden Island, for pretty much being cool in every way and owning one of only three authentic tiki bars in the nation.
3:50pm – Don’s drinks were garnished simply; maybe a slice of fruit or an orange peel. This is something I wondered while reading Sippin’ Safari; the garnishes were definitely toned down from Berry’s previous tomes.
3:43pm – Stephen is stepping up to make the Last Rites, which is the last exotic we’ll be sampling. He is going to use a malt mixer to mix up the drink. Stephen is a joy to listen to. He reiterates Don’s passionate belief that lemon juice just didn’t go well with rum. Now, he’s moved on to trying to get Joe Fee, who is lurking in the back of the room, to ship him a case of their falernum.
- 2 1/2oz aged Martinique rum (Rhum Clement VSOP recommended)
- 1/2oz falernum
- 1/2oz passion fruit syrup
- 3/4oz lime juice
- 4oz crushed ice
Flash-blend everything for 3 seconds. Pour into a tiki mug
3:35pm – The Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale housed 46 different brands of rum. Mariano Licudine, one of Don’s head bartenders for 14 years, in some ways, passed the master. His Derby Daquiri became crazy popular and his drinks were known as his own in the Mai Kai. A mystery girl would serve “mystery drink,” which made him nationally recognized. Mariano then toured the circuit teaching professional bartenders the ways of the master. These weren’t Pennsylvania bartenders, but big hitters, and he was training them on how to make Mai Kai tropical drinks.
3:31pm – Trader Vic still has an empire around the world. He was a businessman where Don was not; he made countless mixes and published all of his recipes, though he didn’t publish any recipes for which his mixes were used. Though Vic wasn’t immune to imitation either. He was copied by such quality names as Trader Dick’s, Trader Vince, Trader Mort’s, and the list goes on.
3:23pm – Wayne gets up to speak about the Mai Tai, the next exotic cocktail we’ll get to try. He tells how Trader claimed to create the drink – there are a few theories, one of which is that he tried a Q.B. Cooler and modified from there. Wayne just demoed the drink, and Martin let out a cry that they are out of ice! Here is recipe.
- 1oz aged Martinique rum (Rhum Clement VSOP recommended)
- 1oz dark Jamaican rum
- 1/2oz orange curacao
- 1/4oz orgeat syrup
- 1oz lime juice
- 1/4oz simple syrup
Shake with crushed ice, and pour into a double old-fashioned glass.
3:18pm – Berry brings up an awesome picture of a retired Trader Vic sculpting a naked woman model. He had a wooden leg and would invite customers to stick a fork in it. Trader Vic was another, but perhaps the most successful, one to rip off Don the Beachcomber’s exotics. But Vic was a smart man; he traveled to the tropics to learn how to craft these drinks himself. He uses lemon juice a good bit, where Don rarely did. He introduced orgeat syrup too, which Don didn’t use much of, though when he did it was an almond extract.
3:11pm – The first drink is coming! The Nui Nui. Originally Berry thought the secret ingredients were “dashes” #2 (pernod) and #4 (grenadine), but with those the drink was foul. He later discovered that there were two number systems and in fact they were “spices” #2 (pimento dram and vanilla syrup) and #4 (cinnamon syrup). The drink is simply phenomenal. Martin is shaking all of them!
- 2 1/2oz Cruzan Estate dark rum
- 1/4oz pimento liqueur
- 1/4oz vanilla syrup
- 1/2oz cinnamon syrup
- 1 1/4oz lime juice
- 1 1/4oz orange juice
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake well with crushed ice and pour into a fun cup.
3:10pm – Don had to resort to coding his drinks to prevent his own bartenders from knowing what was in the drinks. His secret ingredients had names like: munrelaf (falernum spelled backwards), markeza (passion fruit syrup), Don’s mix, syrup Parisienne, or dashes #2, #3, #4, and so on.
3:08pm – Bob Brooks, a competitor down the street, bought out many of Don’s bartenders and with them came the drinks. The bartenders had their own little black books with secret recipes, and they wouldn’t share them with the owners. This allowed them to work nearly anywhere.
3:03pm – The room continues to fill up, with people scattered on the floor to hear about the wonders of tiki. Berry is now discussing the celebrity chopsticks case in Don’s restaurant. When Charlie Chaplin or another celebrity would show up, they would be presented the chopsticks with their name burned into it.
3:02pm – His method of flash-blending the ingredients for 3 seconds with crushed ice added the “weak” element to the drink that gave it a lift like adding a drop of water to scotch opens up the bouquet of aromas. In addition it aerated the drink, giving it a unique feel in the mouth.
2:57pm – Don was amazingly innovative; one of his drinks, the Gardenia Lei included lime, cinnamon syrup, vanilla syrup, rum, and a batter of honey and softened sweet butter. This gave the drink a velvety texture.
2:53pm – The Bum’s pointer is some sort of wooden tomahawk-boomerang-bird tool. The original daiquri, lime, sugar, and white rum turns to the Golden Stag when made by the Beachcomber. It still had the lime and sugar, but it combined three rums, a white, gold, and dark. The gold adding some floral notes and the dark a nice deep, piratical taste.
2:49pm – The slideshow is excellent, with shots of drink preparations with 3-foot high flames. He’s tracing the “Missionary’s Downfall” from restaurant to restaurant, each drink with a different name stealing from the last, the farthest from the original being the “Lei.” Berry is detailing the history of Don the Beachcomber, all of which is available in Sippin’ Safari, so I won’t detail it here.
2:44pm – Tiki drinks were called “exotics” back in the day, not tiki drinks. Berry calls them faux-tropicals today. The lifespan of the tiki was the mid 30s to the mid 70s; this is quite a long time in the cocktail world. These exotics were served in Polynesian paradises, upscale restaurants with flowing waterfalls and crazy decor. These hot spots weren’t cheap either. He describes one locale where a rickshaw would take you into the restaurant and up to the bar.
2:36pm – They just handed out the three drink recipes, but I’ll unveil them as they are served during the panel. A huge cart of ice was wheeled in and Martin is hacking at it over at the bar. A bottle of pimento dram was delicately placed on the podium. The room is packed, and it looks like we’re getting ready to start.
2:30pm – Among the excellent goodies we got is a list of rums from Don the Beachcomber’s cellar. I’ve definitely not heard of about 50% of these: Alvarez Carta Camp Silver, Trower’s Gold Lion 100 proof demerara, Gorgana from Panama, and 20 year Treasure Cove from New England are just a few. The list of demeraras is astonishing with fifteen different varieties.
2:25pm – It’s five minutes before the panel is going to start. This is clearly going to be the climax of Tales of the Cocktail. Darcy and Jamie have avoided sitting next to me as my keyboard is sure to be click-clacking the entire panel. The panel is led by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and includes Wayne Curtis and Stephen Remsberg. There are some lusty tiki drinks up on the projector and the bar is being run by Martin from Forbidden Island. So exciting!
Gretchen and I decided to take the day to soak up New Orleans, so I skipped out on most of the Tales activities. We visited the aquarium, mostly to see the penguins. It’s nearly a ritual for us when we visit a new city. I get asked often why I decided to on the name Kaiser Penguin for my blog. There are lots of reasons, mostly amusing, but I’ll save those for another post and give you a visual one.
Last night we dined at Emeril’s Delmonico. The meal was outstanding. I started off with a Sazerac, and it was mixed to perfection. The bartender rocketed the Peychaud and Angostura bitters into the mixing glass with a passion saved for well-made cocktails. Together, we had way too much food that included:
- A Charcuterie plate, made entirely in-house, with some awesome garnishes, including pancetta wrapped dates that were caramel sweet and peppery as can be.
- Fried green tomatoes with a very tasty remoulade
- Iceberg wedge with bacon, tomatoes, blue cheese and cornbread croutons
- The chef prepared a special vegetable pasta for Gretchen. The pasta was in the shape of huge rubberbands.
- Duck leg confit with foie gras, flagolets, and a smoked grape reduction
- Finished off with a small brownie bite that was bitter and wonderful