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Two friends with a shared love for Classic Cocktails, paying homage to the pre-prohibition era. We do parties!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Remember the Maine

As you know, I was recently in Portland for 12 full-bloom days. And, as you also know, I was able to sample some exceptional cocktails, some made by exceptional bartenders. One in particular stood out above the rest, and quite easily so. In my notebook, I was keeping a quasi ranking of the drinks I was having. At first, it was the Old Granddad Fashioned at Gold Dust Meridien. Then, the Custer at Teardrop moved into 'first'. But that all changed when I entered Clyde Common, and ordered the barrel-aged classic, Remember the Maine.

Full disclosure: I accept that perhaps I was swooned by the atmosphere of being in this famous bar, and sitting across from this famous bartender, who on most weeknights is perhaps in the building, but not usually mixing drinks. I may have been under the influence of The Custer and Bonded Old Fashioned from the Teardrop. But, truth be told, this drink was incredible, and one of the best cocktail experiences I have ever had. Not only did it taste great, it did what all great and classic cocktails do: teach you a little something about history and leave you clamoring for a time long before your own.

Having not heard of the drink before (and certainly not letting the bartender know that!), I have come home to do a little research about this classic libation - where it came from, when it came from, who it came from...and the story is excellent, and one that I am happy to share with you.

"We are still heartily of the opinion that decent libation supports as many million lives as it threatens; donates pleasure and sparkle to more lives than it shadows; inspires more brilliance in the world of art, music, letters, and common ordinary intelligent conversation, than it dims"

These are the words of Charles Henry Baker, Jr, penned in his 1939 classic, The Gentlemen's Companion: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask.  Now, I had not heard of Charles H Baker, nor of this book (a rare find for cocktail aficionados), which is part of why I love cocktails - it is always more than just the drink you are about to have, it is usually a history lesson, too.

Born on Christmas Day in 1895, Charles H Baker, Jr grew up to become a world traveller and culinary and cocktail chronicler. His work was featured in Esquire, Town & Country, and Gourmet in the 1940s. His column, "Here's How" quickly grew in popularity, and also into two volumes of a book he called The Gentlemen's Companion. This two volume tome is filled with recipes and prose about his travels. While his recipes often left much to be desired, they were generally told with such eloquence that folks could look past the recipe and appreciate the story (and with a few tweaks here and there, make the drink they would appreciate).

And just when I got to thinking that Charles Baker was pretty awesome in his own right, I find this photograph of him and Ernest Hemingway after a session of deep sea fishing. Now that is cocktail credibility!

Charles Baker (left) and Ernest Hemingway
One of the better recipes to have emerged from Baker is the venerable (and new-to-me) classic - Remember the Maine, which apparently comes with a pretty good back story. From 1939:

"REMEMBER the MAINE, a Hazy Memory of a Night in Havana during the Unpleasantnesses of 1933, when Each Swallow Was Punctuated with Bombs Going off on the Prado, or the Sound of 3″ Shells Being Fired at the Hotel NACIONAL, then Haven for Certain Anti-Revolutionary Officers".

Barrel Aged version on the left, made on the spot version on the right. (note the difference in depth of colour)
Photo: Jeremy Bouw

Now that definitely leaves me clamoring for more!  The drink itself is fantastic - 2 ounces of Rye Whiskey (not sure which one Morgenthaler used), 3/4 ounce of sweet vermouth, 2 teaspoons of Cherry Heering, and a 1/2 teaspoon of Absinthe turns this Rye Manhattan into a subtly sweet (cherry heering) and savage (absinthe) drink with a flavour that is truly from another time.  Sip on it, and it and you will feel like you are tasting history, which is what a great cocktail will do.

Age it for 2 months in an oak barrel - well, good night. That was just too perfect.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Trip to Portland

 Every once in a while you get to go on a trip that lasts longer than 3 nights and you get to have a feel for a city. That was something I recently got the pleasure of experiencing in Portland, Oregon. While on a work-related trip (taking a Village Building Design Course that encompasses the philosophy of 'Placemaking', I found myself with the opportunity to indulge myself in a few of my favourite things; and Portland seems to be the place to do that.

Whether it was cycling its most incredible bicycling infrastructure, roaming through Powell's Used Book Store (a must-do), sipping back craft IPAs (Portland being the undoubted leader in that vein), or seeing Owl culture everywhere (like I said, everything I like!), you are always able to do something you enjoy. And, of course, no trip to Portland would not be complete without a few stops in some of the best cocktail lounges in North America.

My cocktail experiences began in the Hawthorne District, which was near to where I was studying. The three lounges I sampled were McMenamin's, in the old Bagdad Hotel, Cha!Cha!Cha! Taqueira, and Gold Dust Meridian. McMenamin's and Gold Dust Meridien had an decently stocked bar and a good menu. At McMenamin's, I was able to enjoy a Poor Farm Negroni - a strong pairing of Edgefield's Penney's Gin, Campari, and Dolin Sweet Vermouth.

Cha!Cha!Cha! was certainly more about its food than its cocktails, but I was happy to sample both their Caipirinha (on the left) and their Tamarindo (on the right). Both drinks were quite refreshing. I had never had a Caipirinha before, and am certain I am going to need to try another one. The Cachaca was nice, but I think the ingredients were less than fresh. The Tamarindo was refreshing, but made with Jarritos Tamarind juice; while it is a good juice, it lacks the flavour strength of a Tamarind infused simple syrup. Just sayin'
the author with a tamarindo; photo: wendy meeres

At Gold Dust Meridien, I was treated to the craft cocktails of some very fine bartending. Below, are four of the five cocktails I was able to sample (the fifth was their Old Granddad Fashioned, with Old Granddad Bourbon. Delicious!)

Marionberry Margarita
Portland Prestroika
On the top left is the Marionberry Margarita -El Jimador Reposado Tequila, Harlequin, Marionberry Nectar, Orange

On the top right is the Portland Perestroika - a fine use of Lovejoy Vodka, Cucumber, Pear and Lime (Portland, 1999). Both of these cocktails were ordered by my colleague, Wendy.

Rosie Lee
The Secretariat
The drink to the left is the Rosie Lee - an amazing use of Hendrick's Gin, Rose Petal Syrup, Lychee Nectar, Lemon and Bitters (London, 2007). It was garnished with a locally made candied Hibiscus flower, 

To the right is the Secretariat - Buffalo Trace Bourbon, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, and lemon. A most wonderful cocktail and a creative use of St. Germain. (Seattle, 2007)

Teardrop Entrance

While the Hawthorne District definitely had its highlights, it only really whet my appetite for one of the most exciting reasons for being in Portland and having cocktails: The Pearl District. In the Pearl District are two incredible lounges that I recommend you all make your way to if you find yourself in Portland. The bartenders are exceptionally knowledgeable, friendly, and professional. They truly know their stuff. My first stop was the Teardrop Cocktail Lounge. Here I was treated to two excellent cocktails - the first being a Bonded Old Fashioned, made with Laird's Applejack, Twisted Truth Bitters, and orange. Also, it came with an amazing piece of ice - a large brick of drink-cooling perfection.

My colleague enjoyed the Shaddock Rose, mixed with El Tesoro Reposado Tequila, Small Hands Grapefruit Cordial, Peychaud's and Orange Bitters,

Shaddock Rose
Bonded Old Fashioned

The other cocktail I enjoyed at the Teardrop was the Custer - Rittenhouse Rye, Cynar, Galiano Originale, and Rhubarb and Celery Bitters. That drink was truly remarkable.

I was able chat up the bartender, Sean, about The Volstead Act Craft Cocktail Service, and what we were trying to do. He was supported, and excited that we were making our own ingredients. I told him about our intention to make tonic water, and he let me sample some of theirs. He was also kind enough to let me sample the three types of Dolin Vermouth (from France)
Dolin Sweet Vermouth, Dolin Blanco Vermouth, Dolin Dry Vermouth

The last place I got to was what I had been thinking about for so long - Clyde Common. Home to the renowned Jeffrey Morgenthaler, it lived up to all expectations. Morgenthaler has been working on barrel-aged cocktails, and I just had to have one. Sadly, I did not get a picture of it, but the cocktail I had he calls: Remember the Maine. This drink makes use of Rye Whiskey (not sure which one), Dolin Sweet Vermouth, Cherry Heering, and Absinthe. This cocktail was aged in a Truthilltown Charred whiskey barrel for two months and packs a lot of flavour. Served in a perfectly chilled Coupe glass, it brought a huge smile to my face. For my second drink, I decided to go with an unaged version of the same. He seemed to appreciate that I was going for the side-by-side tasting. He had to double check the recipe from his little notebook (which, no doubt, was filled with creative gems yet to be born), and this drink did not disappoint. While it tasted the same, it is quite certain that the barrel-aged cocktail carries a much fuller flavour.

When all was said and done, Portland's cocktail experience was on par with excellence. And, to top it off, Jeffrey Morgenthaler and his bartending partner were kind enough to pose with Sophia's stuffed dog!

Jeffrey Morgenthaler, his mixing partner for the evening, and Buddy, the stuffed dog