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RIP Kirsty MacColl.
Féadfaidh sí an chuid eile i síocháin agus mothú chompord ár tiarna…
The Pogues – Fairytale Of New York
It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won’t see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you
Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I’ve got a feeling
This year’s for me and you
So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true
They’ve got cars big as bars
They’ve got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It’s no place for the old
When you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me
Broadway was waiting for me
You were handsome
You were pretty
Queen of New York City
When the band finished playing
They howled out for more
Sinatra was swinging,
All the drunks they were singing
We kissed on a corner
Then danced through the night
The boys of the NYPD choir
Were singing “Galway Bay”
And the bells were ringing out
For Christmas day
You’re a bum
You’re a punk
You’re an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it’s our last
The boys of the NYPD choir
Still singing “Galway Bay”
And the bells were ringing out
For Christmas day
I could have been someone
Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can’t make it all alone
I’ve built my dreams around you
The boys of the NYPD choir
Still singing “Galway Bay”
And the bells are ringing out
For Christmas day
Christmas Eve 2014
Suburban living has a lot to offer. Say what you want, city folks, but it’s true.
Reasonable housing prices, good schools, accessible parking spaces. Great if you are starting a family. This is what led my husband and me to move to the hinterlands north of Los Angeles. For the most part, we are content.
Except where are the cocktails? The real cocktails. Not Mudslides and Appletinis, but serious drinks for serious drinking. Let’s face it, the average suburban restaurant isn’t exactly the epicenter of the craft cocktail movement. But recently the trickle-down theory has reared its head and higher-end chain restaurants are starting to catch up, offering old-school cocktails for their customers. Suddenly, the ‘burbs are drinking like they mean it.
The realization began with an innocent lunch foray this past summer. I walked into the California Pizza Kitchen near my house and, rather than having only the choice of a Lemon Drop or a Cosmo, I noticed a Strawberry Rhubarb Martini made with Art in the Age Rhubarb liqueur on the menu. Not exactly your average chain-restaurant cocktail.
On a different day, I learned that Islands, purveyors of the Pipeline burger and Yaki tacos, was infusing its tequila with house-roasted pineapple for its Makaha Maggie margarita. And then, during a road trip through Arizona, I found myself in Applebee’s, which bills itself as a “neighborhood bar and grill.” On the menu: an Old Fashioned and a Brandy Smash. I wondered if Jerry Thomas, the proclaimed 19th century godfather of the cocktail movement, was rolling drunkenly around in his grave.
I wondered what led these restaurants—with business already booming—to plunge into the classical drink world. For Mike Hurt, beverage director at Applebee’s, it was as simple as making a good business better. “Momentum behind the bourbon segment of the category is really strong,” he explains. “Consumers have been trending toward brown spirits for some time. Combining that macro-level consumer trend with the trend toward an appreciation for things that are authentic and have some historic relevance led us in this direction.” Business speak, sure, but if Applebee’s is serving up an Old Fashioned and a Smash, you can could certainly argue that craft cocktails are now reaching the masses, not just the cocktail cognoscenti.
Wisely, Applebee’s focused on familiar, basic cocktails without a lot of shaker bells and infusion whistles. Its Old Fashioned and Brandy Smash have several things in common. As Hurt summarizes, “They are really clean, straightforward drinks. They focus primarily on the flavor of the spirit, they are seasonally appropriate and, from an execution standpoint, they are not complicated to make and can be made pretty quickly.” Crafty thinking in a competitive market.
Islands Restaurant has a similar concept. “Pineapple is one of Islands’ key ingredients,” says vice president of food and beverage, Tim Perriera. “We use 14,000 pounds of it every week—and we’ve been grilling it for our signature Hawaiian Burger since the first restaurant opened more than 30 years ago. With the popularity of infused liquors on the rise, we started experimenting with how to incorporate it into our tropical cocktails. We infused tequila with grilled pineapple and used the tequila in our Makaha Maggie margarita.”
Much like today’s craft cocktail bars, Islands has always tried to use fresh ingredients and has rotated its cocktail menu seasonally. Though known for the house Mai Tai, the majority of Islands’ drinks are more prosaic. Then, recently, the chain introduced a hand-shaken Strawberry Daiquiri and a spicy Mango Shandy.
To me, though, California Pizza Kitchen is at the forefront of this strip-mall cocktail boom. During the summer, that Strawberry Rhubarb Martini I so willingly embraced took artisan spirits brand Art in the Age’s Rhubarb tea liqueur and blended it with fresh strawberries, Monin organic agave nectar and fresh lemon. The result? Pretty damn tasty—even if it isn’t strictly a Martini according to the textbook definition.
CPK’s upcoming menu continues to play on its philosophy of fresh ingredients with a California twist. Like Applebee’s, CPK has created a Smash. The Blueberry Ginger Smash combines Jack Daniels and Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur with agave nectar, blueberries, lime and cranberry juice. In another example, the Svedka vodka–based California Roots plays with fresh avocado and mint, as well as, shockingly, a fennel salt rim. When a chain restaurant starts rimming its glasses with fennel salt, the cocktail-shaking times are a-changin’.
As craft cocktail bars in big cities chart even more experimental territory, suburbia is starting to catch on—and catch up. Spirits are one of the biggest parts of a restaurant’s business. It pays to play the game. As Mike Hurt of Applebee’s says, “We view the spirits category as a place to be a little experimental.” We in the strip mall jungle thank them.
(Dust off your party equipment. Start stocking the bar. Call—or text—your pals: It’s Party Season, the perfect time of year to show off your well-honed hosting skills and bring all your favorite people together.)
’Tis the season for holiday parties. And no, hosting friends in ugly sweaters over bottom-shelf brands and liter bottles doesn’t qualify. It could, but it’s not the nicest way to wrap the year.
It’s also the kind of party Chicago drinks maven Revae Schneider would be too nice to scoff at. As proprietress of Femme du Coupe, the in-demand cocktail consultant runs around town during December like a holiday shopper on a Black Friday binge. Despite the season’s madness, Schneider holds tight to the power of a classic cocktail party. She’s produced her fair share and has come out the other side with a battery of tried-and-true ways to make the most of the most festive season.
COCKTAILS COME FIRST
“You should always have a cocktail waiting for when people show up,” Schneider says. The rationale? When given options, guests tend to start with cocktails and move into beer or wine after. It’s rarely the reverse. “Have a cocktail set out, because they’ll always go for the first thing they see,” she says.
Stock the basics: vodka (“I personally don’t have very much vodka, but everybody should have a bottle since people drink it”), gin, rum, tequila and whiskey of some sort. If you want to get more creative, “maybe Scotch,” Schneider says, “and then something like Campari or Aperol or St-Germain.” Schneider also recommends Mandarine Napoléon, when recipes call for orange liqueur. Compared to basic triple sec, she says, “It’s a little more fun, and especially for this time of year, has a little more depth to it.”
For recipes that call for citrus, Schneider swears by fresh juice. Forget time-consuming hand-squeezing and scope out a local grocery store that stocks real juice in bulk. Schneider has learned to call ahead (“Whole Foods will sometimes have it in a cooler”). Plus, with so many juice bars invading the market, some may be open to selling en masse. Never compromise for store-bought. “If I know I can’t have fresh citrus,” Schneider says, “I just won’t mess with juice.” There’s too much at risk with processed stuff, she says, from preservatives to potential food allergies.
When entertaining, time-saving is key.
- Rule #1: Batch cocktails in advance. Schneider is a big fan of holiday punches, and notes that both icy and warm cocktails do well in punch bowls.
- Rule #2: Use tools at your disposal. “A shot glass is a great measuring device,” Schneider points out, “so there’s no need to get a jigger if you don’t have one.” Got a French press coffee maker? It doubles as a spirits infuser. “I personally use a lot of teas and dry ingredients—like chai—which do well with bourbon or gin,” Schneider says. “Just put fresh ingredients in the press, then booze, and let it steep.”
- Rule #3: Don’t discount basic ingredients. For holiday drinks, Revae subs in berry jams for simple syrup. “Just make sure you shake it really well.” Maple syrup is another favorite, which pairs well with bourbon. “I pretty much sub it anytime I’d use regular simple syrup,” she says. “It’s got a richness to it that’s nice for whiskey drinks.”
- Rule #4: Buy your ice. Creative spheres and cubes are fine as a finishing touch, but for good drinks that require shaking with ice, “it’s much better to have store-bought,” Schneider says. “It’s actually been frozen a lot longer than your typical refrigerator ice, so you get a better quality chill.”
NOT SO INNOCENT
Schneider is fond of anything with rum, lemon, maple syrup and a little bit of bitters, served warm. “I put the whole thing on the stove and let the smell waft,” she says. “It’s the most warming, welcoming, awesome drink.”
Joe Cocker, RIP.
Robert Capa, Photographer, 1943.
Blue curaçao. Those two innocent words can quickly conjure visions of sickly sweet, electric-blue fish bowls and poorly made tiki drinks of past decades.
But that misunderstood mixer serves an important purpose, though it often requires a seasoned hand to prove. Over the past handful of years, blue curaçao has begun creeping back into craft cocktails—first, during the speakeasy revival of the mid-to-late 2000s—and again at New Orleans’ Tales of the Cocktail convention in 2012. At Tales, a trio of industry experts discussed the effects of color on cocktails’ taste and aroma, and whether or not the blue liqueur was really worth making yourself.
The purpose of each blue renaissance was simple, and the trend is cyclical: Bartenders reach another apex of cocktail craft and start to steer towards the ironic side of the spectrum in pursuit of a fresh perspective. That perspective? Reminding yourself that enjoying a cocktail should be fun—and a little pop of color goes a long way.
A little historical background on the surprisingly elderly liqueur: It originated on the small Caribbean island of Curaçao, discovered in 1499. Colonized by the Dutch in 1634, the island became known for its wild bitter orange (or laraha) trees, from which a fragrant oil was extracted. Lucas Bols, the head of an Amsterdam-based distillery, owned shares in the Dutch West India Company and exported that bitter orange oil back to his country. There, he developed a drink resembling modern curaçao, made with the orange oil and a brandy base, preserved with herbs and spices. Bols, a businessman who preferred a touch of mystery and alchemy in his products, is also credited as the first to add the trademark blue coloring to the orange liqueur.
Perhaps blue curaçao has Lucas Bols to thank for its original bad rap. Yet despite its past of falling in and out of favor, it seems that the scrappy blue quaff is making yet another comeback. Bartenders in the states and beyond are once again using colored curaçao in earnest, sending their modern craft cocktails out into the wild blue yonder.
Blue curaçao seems to have found a safe haven in Massachusetts, especially in the Boston area. Just outside of the city in Somerville, a fairly new bar and restaurant, The Kirkland Tap & Trotter, is crafting its own house-made blue curaçao—a practice rarely seen in cocktail programs. Made with a combination of vodka, gin, bitter orange peel and cloves, the from-scratch liqueur steeps for about 20 days. It’s then tinted and put to use in house cocktails like the Leaps and Bounds, a bold highball of blanco tequila, blue curaçao and mint-infused simple syrup.
Several other Beantown bars are also on board with blue. Bartenders Kevin Mabry of Merrill & Co. and Jason Cool of The Franklin Cafe both champion the use of blue curaçao for its cheerful aesthetics. For Mabry, blue curaçao presented a way to highlight Merrill & Co.’s New England seafood focus with an ocean-inspired drink. The tequila-based Ocean Mist is shaken with apricot liqueur, lemon, sea salt and an egg white, and when poured over blue curaçao, the cocktail transitions from blue to aqua to sea foam green, with a crest of white foam.
But why the group effort to bring blue curaçao back? As Mabry says, “There’s been so much push for brown, bitter, obscure ingredients—I think we should be focusing on making delicious drinks that are fun at the end of the day [...] Bright cocktails with bright flavors could use a little blue.” Cool agrees, and delights in preparing blue curaçao cocktails for guests who have a “preconceived notion of what blue tastes like.”
Cool believes that blue curaçao can be worked into any cocktail, but says it’s best used with clear spirits like unaged mezcal, white whiskey, cachaça and pisco to showcase its color. He’s even found references to the sapphire liqueur in the 1937 Cafe Royal Cocktail Book: Coronation Edition, which hosts a selection of blue curaçao recipes and proves his theory that it was once widely popular in Europe.
The rebirth of blue-eyed cocktails isn’t particular to Boston. Respected bartenders near and far are featuring the liqueur in their meticulously-crafted drink rosters. Take Brooklyn cocktail king Maxwell Britten. He’s paired blue curaçao with the lofty likes of absinthe at Maison Premiere and has witnessed a growing obsession with tiki cocktails among bar professionals. Britten believes that “we are in a new era of beverage culture that allows us to be more playful with ingredients while maintaining the expectation for great cocktails. Blue curaçao is one symbolic ingredient in tiki-style drinks that really captures the progression of cocktail culture and adds fun to a menu.”
With influence extending even across the pond, blue curaçao also made its way into a featured cocktail from the Diageo World Class Global Best Bartender Winner last year. David Rios of Spain’s Jigger Cocktail Bar used the liqueur to color his Musica es Vida, an intense vodka cocktail with a sharp jolt of citrus from tangerine liqueur, pineapple, blue curaçao and lime bitters. This bold blue move clearly played a part in his triumph during the competition.
To truly appreciate blue curaçao’s visual potential, look to The Oakroom in Louisville’s Seelbach Hotel. There, head bartender Eron Plevan presents a blue cocktail that pays homage to a long-term hotel guest—The Lady in Blue. The cocktail is named for the ghost of a woman who threw herself down the number three elevator shaft in 1931. The apparition wears a blue chiffon dress and is often spotted floating through closed elevator doors by hotel employees.
Plevan serves The Lady in Blue tableside while relating the spirit’s sad tale to guests. A variation on a White Lady (a New Orleans Sour), the gin-based coupe carries crème de Violette, orange flower water and edible flower petals, but blue curaçao is its crown jewel. It’s poured last to complete the cocktail—very slowly down the edge of the glass to create a “ghostly swirl effect as it settles at the bottom.”
In Plevan’s opinion, blue curaçao pairs best with clear spirits and citrus-based Sours. He says he’s “eager to see craft versions of [blue curaçao] and for it to make its way into the craft cocktail scene, which would help it disappear from its kitschy contexts.” But what about that sense-shocking cobalt hue? “At the end of the day, blue curaçao is about color. It’s neon blue for a reason, and is crafted to enhance the visual appeal of a drink. For the Lady in Blue, there’s obviously no substitute.” Proof that a little blue never hurt anyone: Plevan once had a patron order six of The Lady in Blue cocktails in a row.
I'm not sure of the actual title for this picture but it comes from an estate sale a couple of years back and reminds me of how Christmas must have been in a much simpler time. I love the old train and industrial feel!!!