Archives for category: Bar

The Grog Dog is not a sentimental type; even after lapping up one too many cocktails, I won’t be howling over texts from an ex. But everyone has their emotional weakness, and cheeky word-humor is one of mine: Post a sly pun on my Facebook feed and I’ll follow you anywhere.

It was over beers with a friend – of one of the many brands specializing in name-puns – that I was reminded of “the language of flowers”, or floriography: a means of sending silent messages to friends, enemies, and lovers using blossoms that had specific, well known meanings. While flowers had been a staple of romantic communication for centuries, their cryptographic use became wildly popular in England and the U.S. during the repressed Victorian era.

Red_Rose_Wiki commons

Strict social mores precluded young sweethearts, for example, from writing or speaking their ardor. To transmit their feelings or indicate their preferences, they would give, hold, or arrange specific blooms in accordance with floral dictionaries, so their intended recipient would know their meaning. Even the scent of certain love flowers, discreetly daubed on a handkerchief, could speak volumes to a suitor.

After imbibing a few brews chosen for their clever names rather than their flavors (I can’t resist a good pun or a bad one), I wondered whether cocktails might also be used to subtly communicate certain sentiments – specifically, cocktail names. Like stringing together an entire story with emojis, cocktail messaging could become a new bar craze among literary types… Cocktail EmojiOr introverts, who may not wish to be approached by a boozed-up barfly, but could carry on a (very) quiet conversation with that other single who has a sophisticated drink and a Kindle, and understand each other perfectly.

Let me be clear: I am not talking about the cocktails that proliferated during what the Corpse Reviver of the American cocktail, David Wondrich, called the Dark Ages: the Sex on the Beach, the Slippery Nipple, the Slow Comfortable Screw, etc. (I refuse to provide links; if you must, look them up yourself.) As he noted in an Esquire column, “those drinks resist craft”. They also resist taste, subtlety, and class.

To make the cocktail-name-conversation thought experiment a little simpler, and classier, I went back to Victorian times – or at least pre-Prohibition – to imagine a more romantic scene.

1st round: Jack Rose, Margarita

2nd round: ManhattanBrooklyn

3rd round: Tuxedo, Champagne Cocktail

blueblazer.it4th round: Hot ToddyMaiden’s Blush

5th round: Hanky Panky, Morning Glory

6th round: Old FashionedBijou

7th round: Scofflaw, White Lady

8th round: South SideTom Collins

9th round: Blue BlazerLast Word

Final round: Turf ClubMerry Widow

While the game is obviously much more fun when your cocktail companion knows you’re playing, you can amuse yourself for hours (or until you hit your limit) using your drink order to comment on life and the world in the moment. mutt-ropolitan-opera-calendar_merry-widow_operatoonityA friend of mine shakes up a Merry Widow when she’s particularly annoyed with her husband… Which may not change his habits, but fortifies her for the next round.

 

 

 

Image credits: Red Rose – Wikicommons; Martini Emoji – emojipedia.org; Blue Blazer – Blueblazer.it; The Merry Widow – Operatoonity.com

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As a writer, the Grog Dog has aspirations to literary greatness. This July 4, however, I dedicate my post to two all-American literary icons whose lasting fame and reputations are unmatched, and perhaps not coincidentally, are related by blood and name as well as writing prowess.

FSK-starspangled200-orgFrancis Scott Key, American lawyer, amateur poet, and coincidental observer of the Battle of Fort McHenry, authored the poem that would become the national anthem of the United States, “The Star-Spangled Banner“. During the War of 1812 (the “second war for independence”), the British attempted to re-establish dominion over the American colonies – and very nearly succeeded.

Not surprisingly, given the colonists’ tendency to produce and consume huge quantities of spirits, ale, and wine, Key set his poem to the tune of an English drinking song: “To Anacreon in Heaven“.

f-scott-fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald

One hundred years later, Francis Scott Key’s second cousin three times removed and namesake, F. Scott Fitzgerald, would graduate from prep school and soon set out on a career as a writer – becoming famous for his talent and infamous for his dedication to a drinking lifestyle that rivaled his colonial ancestors’ in scope and frequency. By the time Fitzgerald had published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920, Prohibition had become law, and the post-World War I Jazz Age was blooming like the poppies in Flanders fields. Fitzgerald’s novel perfectly reflected – many say, influenced – the zeitgeist of the era and his own artistic (and hedonistic) circles. As a daring spokesmen for the Lost Generation, Fitzgerald enjoyed fame and fortune and squandered both in spectacular fashion. He was the first (1929) to conjugate “cocktail” as a verb (all the way through the preterit tense, whatever that is – the Princetonian smarty-pants).

fitzgerald-conguates-cocktail-openculture-comPresent: I cocktail, thou cocktail, we cocktail, you cocktail, they cocktail.

Imperfect: I was cocktailing.

Perfect or past definite: I cocktailed.

Past perfect: I have cocktailed.

Conditional: I might have cocktailed.

Pluperfect: I had cocktailed.

Subjunctive: I would have cocktailed.

Voluntary subjunctive: I should have cocktailed.

Preterit: I did cocktail.

So in honor of two American literary icons, whose very existence perfectly synthesized the foundational elements of the American character – drinking and a genius for pop culture that earned them long-lasting fame – I offer The Fitzgerald:

2 oz London dry gin

3/4 oz simple syrup

3/4 oz fresh lemon juice

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake with ice; strain into a cocktail glass. This bright, tart cocktail has a sweet, silky mouthfeel and a slightly bitter finish that makes this literature fan think sentimentally of the troubled author Fitzgerald’s life and times – so different from those of his ancestor but equally inherently American.

Black Dog Flag-Pinterest

dog-drinking-water_safebeedotcom“Oh!” the Grog Dog’s companion exclaimed after taking a gulp and sputtering a bit, “I forgot we’re having cocktails; I thought we were having drinks!” I knew what he meant, but is it correct to make the distinction between a cocktail and a drink? Does it even matter?

Wikipedia tells us that, “Drinks, or beverages, are liquids intended for human consumption.” It helpfully adds that water is not generally considered a beverage; alcoholic beverages contain ethanol (though alcohol itself includes many other chemical compounds); and non-alcoholic beverages are made with (or are modified so as to contain) less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).

So technically, we were having drinks – they were liquid and intended for human consumption. But we were consuming the top tier of the drink hierarchy, the cocktail, which deserves a more refined description.

The Wiki definition of a cocktail is, “[A] beverage that contains two or more ingredients if at least one of them contains alcohol.”

Even without a hangover, this explanation makes my head hurt, because it implies that a “non-alcoholic beverage” at 0.5 pct ABV can be the main ingredient in a cocktail as long as it’s mixed with a second ingredient – for example, a near-beer shandy. But no one – at least, no one I’ve ever met, heard of, or read about in the history of human civilization – really looks forward to kicking back with a concoction of cooked-down malt beverage with a splash of lemon-flavored high-fructose-corn-syrup that has zero capability to alter their mood or please their palate.

And for me and my drinking buddy, therein lies the distinction.

vintage-cocktail-party_thirtysomewheredotcomDrinks (the alcoholic kind) are what you consume at parties, where social lubrication is more important than the flavor profile. Surely you wouldn’t criticize your host for using bottled juices or middle-shelf spirits when serving a crowd; the important thing is that they encourage guests to have a good time together.

Cocktails, in the Grog Dog’s lexicon, are beverages containing a balanced combination of two or more flavorful ingredients and enough alcohol (technically, ethanol) to make their consumption a physical and emotional pleasure – an experience to savor. Cocktails can and do enhance a gathering, a meal, and other activities, but they mostly are crafted for the sheer joy of the tastes, textures, and effect they deliver. The higher the quality of your ingredients, the better the drinking experience, whether you’re alone or with a group.

Whatever you call them, delicious cocktails can be as simple as the Salty Dog, a slightly savory mixture of gin (or vodka, 1.5 oz), grapefruit juice (5 oz), and kosher salt (1/4 tsp) stirred with ice. This is a variation of the even-simpler Greyhound, which eliminates Dogstar_paws4clawsdotcomthe salt.

Having taken the first swig of a craft cocktail as if it were a mere drink, my remorseful friend thereafter sipped, enjoyed, and relaxed… as the cocktail gods intended.

Image credits: safebee.com (drinking pup); thirtysomewhere.com (party); paws4claws.com (dogstar)

Profits are through the woof.

The GrogDog does not have an MBA, but understands well the potential for big dogs to bully the small ones out of business. Here I present the case for respecting the big dogs whose very existence helps protect the small ones.

As with dogs, it’s not the size of the breed but the environment that counts. In terms of liquor, yes, there are huge global corporations that own many brands of spirit, liqueur, beer, and/or wine. And they protect their brands fiercely – they don’t want to share shelf/bar space with their competitors for the same reason a Chevy dealer doesn’t keep a Ford on the lot for test-drives. That does not necessarily make them bad companies or poor stewards of the craft. The truth is that without corporate investment, many small producers would have gone out of business (and did), leaving us all thirsty for high-quality ingredients and a good cocktail experience. One can argue that company “controls” have stripped out character and quality, and in some cases that may be true. But the resurgence of cocktail culture owes something to the companies that caught on to the expanding market for craft liquor and are giving their customers and their shareholders what they want.Big Dog Small Dog

It’s up to us, the drinking public, to continue to demand the quality and craftsmanship that will support profitability and continued investment in small, local producers. And, of course, directly supporting your local craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries will give the big dogs a run for that money!

Being a free canine spirit, the GrogDog doesn’t appreciate having a “master”. Knowing a master, however – someone with a lifelong dedication to acquiring knowledge about a specific topic – is an entirely different proposition. Masters of knowledge not only teach, but engage, and are passionate about sharing their interest with others. When the topic is liquor, and the sharing adds to the sum total of happiness in the world, it’s the Master who’s earned a good scratch behind the ears and a most excellent job as an expert drinker.

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham:

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham: “It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” (1789)

I met such a master this week at a tasting event at Petite Cellars (Ellicott City, Md.). Nick Crutchfield is a Master of Whisky with Diageo, “the world’s leading premium drinks business“. The topic was bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys (and ryes), and Nick spoke about the resurgent American “brown spirits” with the reverence and delight of a man who has found his true calling.

The nice folks at Petite Cellars put together an excellent written introduction to bourbon and whiskey for their guests, which described their history and definitions, processes, and ingredients and equipment used in making whiskey (or whisky). After a brief introduction to the differences between bourbon, whiskey, and rye (which involve much more than nomenclature), we tasted, learned about, and compared six spirits, each with a distinctly different character: IW Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon, George Dickel No. 12 Sour Mash, George Dickel 9 Year Petite Cellars Single Barrel, Bulleit 10 Year Bourbon, Bulleit Bourbon Rye, and Orphan Barrel Forged Oak.

As dedicated GrogDogBlog readers know, I advocate taking the time to learn not only what you like to drink, but why you may like a particular flavor profile, and how to use that knowledge to enhance your overall pleasure in drinking. Whiskey Master Nick echoed the GrogDog’s drinking philosophy when he recommended people drink good liquor for “the escapism of that first sip”. This is why I highly recommend attending a tasting of your favorite spirit at your local liquor retailer. Not only will you learn a lot about the spirit in general and have a chance to ask questions of a master (or at least a very knowledgeable expert), but you’ll have an opportunity to taste different variations side by side for a reasonable price. The knowledge you will gain about your own preferences can save your happy hour or salvage a bad day. It can also help you be attentive to the preferences of friends, family, and party guests who may discover a new cocktail experience from your carefully selected gift or well stocked bar – thus increasing the sum total of happiness in your inner circle. That’s always a good thing!

Keep in mind that just because they work for a specific company doesn’t mean the experts won’t give you good advice, or honest assessments of particular brands or products. Mr. Crutchfield spent many months in formal, hands-on training at Diageo’s properties to learn the histories and nuances of each product, how they are made, why they are made that way – and getting to know the people who make them. (George Dickel, for example, has about 30 employees total, and no plans to get bigger; Bulleit is dedicated to sustainable, zero-impact production.) His insights have made my drinking experiences more enjoyable, and I’ll be less apt to judge a bottle by its branding now that I know more about how it’s produced and (most important) how it tastes.

Dog PhilosopherMany thanks to Whiskey Master Nick Crutchfield and Petite Cellars for a fun and informative event!

p.s. Petite Cellars is a candy store for cocktail culturists (or cultists, if you prefer). They have a huge selection of small batch spirits, craft beer, and fine wine, along with hard-to-find liqueurs, premium mixers, unusual bitters, and an impressive number of miniatures so you can try out a new cocktail or spirit before investing in 750ml. The owner and staff couldn’t have been more accommodating of their tasting guests, and laid out a generous charcuterie/ cheese plate to accompany the drinks. They clearly care about giving their customers a good experience, from the attractive decor to the sensible layout and knowledgeable staff. As an extra added bonus, Petite Cellars also offers a growler program for craft beers, a selection of cigars, and gift-boxed handmade chocolates, which are not only beautiful but decadently delicious. If you’re in the Central Maryland area and love craft cocktails, go there!