Booze Flash

In their monthly newsletter today, St. George Spirits announced the launch of their new website.  Cringing with fear, I clicked over to discover a site that was cleanly designed, thoughtful, and loaded in an instant, which leads me back to a question that has been bothering me for months:

Why must so many alcohol brands have such horrible Flash-based websites?

Welcome to the 21st century!  How about some good content that is easy to navigate?  What about creating a community for interaction and user created content?  How about a site that isn’t so slow that I close the browser window before it ever loads, or that loads at all on my phone, which is how so many of us access the web these days.

Who does the digital marketing strategies for liquor companies, and how have they gotten away with such crap for so long?

Thank you St. George for bucking a bad trend.

Your thoughts?  Who are the worst offenders?  Who has a great site (Flash or non-Flash)?

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Fruit Juice Caviar

Molecular mixology was all the rage at Tales of the Cocktail this year.  It was like nobody there had turned on the Food Network in the past 3 years, because this stuff is old news in the culinary world.  I actually went to a seminar called “Mixologists and their Toys” where two of the three presenters, demoed how to make these sphericals, or “pearls.”  It was rather redundant.


The process is simple: when sodium alginate (not as scary as it sounds. It comes from seaweed… well, maybe that does sounds scary!) is mixed into a liquid, it doesn’t do much.  When that liquid touches a solution of calcium chloride (the main ingredient in Tums), it turns the liquid into jelly, so when you drip sodium alginate juice into a calcium chloride bath, the drips gel around the outside, while leaving the center liquid.  Essentially, like fish eggs, they burst when you bit into them.

Sourcing the materials isn’t hard either.  Bags of these ingredients are available at Le Sanctuaire online and are not expensive.  Pearls make a fun addition to any fruity cocktail, or you can substitute them for the juice in your favorite mixed drink or just dump a spoonful into a glass of champagne and watch them bounce around.

Carrot Caviar

1 cup carrot juice (or any kind of juice)
1 teaspoon sodium alginate
1 cup water
1 teaspoon calcium chloride

1. In a small saucepan, add sodium alginate to juice, gradually sprinkling while whisking vigorously over medium heat. If you have one, use an immersion blender instead.

2. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for one minute.

3. Remove from heat and pour through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and let cool to room temperature.

4. Combine water and calcium chloride in a bowl, stirring to dissolve.

5. Pour cooled juice into a plastic squeeze bottle or large syringe and drip it into the water until the bottom of the bowl is covered in a solid layer of spheres. Let sit one minute while you clean the goo out of your strainer.

6. Place strainer over a second bowl, then pour the contents of the first bowl through the strainer.

7. Rinse the pearls in the strainer and transfer to a kitchen towel to dry.

8. Repeat until you run out of juice.

Serve within an hour, because when I nipped one the morning after, it had gelled all the way through. Not bad, but not as exciting.

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Homemade Cocktail Ingredients and Infusion Tips

img_4913For years I’ve been making cocktail ingredients at home. I’ve mentioned some favorite infusions and liqueurs, including roasted ginger vodka, chipotle tequila, firewater, pumpkin pie spiced rum and kumquatcello, but I have also been making sweeteners, including grenadine, flavored syrups and marmalades, and novelties like dried bing cherries reconstituted in port.  I’ve been wanting to make aromatic and potable bitters, but I haven’t gotten around to procuring the obscure ingredients.


Most recently, I remembered an experiment from my college days, dissolving a bag of gummy peaches in cheap peach schnapps, making a sweet, peachy goo that dissolved well in other things.  A month ago, I bought 5-ounce bags of Haribo Peach Rings and Fizzy Cola and dissolved each in a cup of vodka. After a couple weeks, both batches had reached an oozy equilibrium, but I haven’t concocted any good uses for them yet.

The latest trend according to GQ is Liquid Smoke, which is simple to make, but a slow, involved process.  As far as I am concerned, liquid smoke is already a common cocktail component called mezcal.

On a final note, instructions on infusing your own spirits are easy to come by online, but here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned from experience and haven’t seen elsewhere:

Infusion Tips:

  • Smirnoff has an incredibly clean flavor, great for infusing, and is not an expensive vodka.
  • -With tequila, only use 100% agave, even if you are infusing with something strong.  It makes a difference.
  • -If an infusion is too strong, spicy, sweet, etc., decant some and dilute that with more booze until the levels are right, and keep track of the measurements so that you can repeat.  Don’t just keep adding more booze to the original infusion.
  • -Interesting glass vessels with tops or corks can do double duty as decoration while their contents mingle.
  • -If you are experimenting with ingredients that may not infuse at the same speed and desired intensity, infuse smaller, separate batches of each and combine teaspoonfuls to get the balance right before mixing the whole batch.
  • -Dried fruit infuses better than fresh fruit.  Water is the infusion killer.
  • -When infusing with herbs, bruise leafy herbs before adding, but insert woody herbs unharmed.

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Soda Siphon Shenanigans

At Tales of the Cocktail, I went to a session on Mixologists and their Toys, and after the first two presenters both talked at length on making sodium alginate sphericals (clearly they didn’t coordinate), the 3rd presenter demonstrated his new cocktail carbonating invention, the Perlini.

During the Q&A I grabbed the mic and asked why you couldn’t do the same thing with a soda siphon, which has been around since the 1850’s.  Well, everyone must love a smartass, because without knowing who I was, the VP of iSi walked over two minutes later, placed her card in front of me and told me to drop her a line so she could send me one.

In December, I mentioned that I had all sorts of plans for soda siphon experiments, but I lacked the equipment at the time and so it slipped my mind, but I am back at it now that my shipment has arrived and iSi makes the best product I have tried.

Carbonated Cocktails

Why dilute with soda or sparkling wine when you want bubbles in your glass?  As long as you are dealing with straight spirits, and nothing sugary enough to gum up the works, pour a batch of cocktails into the siphon and shake it up. (Note, I was reprimanded for putting anything other than water in the siphon, but reminded that an iSi whip cream whipper will take CO2 cartridges in place of the usual nitrous, and is probably a better suited tool for the task at hand.)

Fizz Gin

A gin fizz takes on a whole new kick when you leave out the water and carbonate the gin before adding simple syrup and lemon juice. sparkling sangria, sparkle-rita, bubble-tini


I hate anything ending in -tini that isn’t an actual martini, but why not just pour your gin into the siphon and carbonate it before adding it to a vermouth laced glass?

For Bubbles’ Sake

Everybody else is doing a tribute to MJ, but what about the monkey?  There are a few sparkling sakes on the market, but I have yet to try a good one, so I threw a favorite bottle of daigingo into the iSi and gave it a whirl.  へえ、それは良かったね!

Carbonated Pineapple

Just because your drink is flat, it doesn’t mean the garnish needs to be.  I loaded a batch of fresh pineapple chunks into the whipper with a CO2 cartridge, and when I had expelled the resulting pineapple foam and unscrewed the cap, the fruit inside was actually effervescent!

I am sure I will be doing more with this in the near future, but for now, I want to relate what I have been up to so far.

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Retelling Tales of the Cocktail

The impetus for launching LibationLab came from my experience in New Orleans a few weeks ago, at Tales of the Cocktail.  “Tales” is the preeminent cocktail event in the nation, and probably the biggest convention of bartenders in the world.  With press credentials secured based on my existing food and beverage blog, I went out to NoLa not knowing what to expect, but friends in the bartending community insisted that it was the highlight of their year.

Tuesday, my fake sister and I rolled into New Orleans early evening, checked into the Hotel Monetleone, grabbed a Sazerac at the Carousel Bar and then dinner at Gumbo Shop.  From there, we went to the first party of the week, hosted by the monks of Chartreuse (or at least their representatives supervising a staff dressed as monks).  The party was quiet from start to finish, we met a few good people, sampled a variety of cocktails and called it a night.  I had reaffirmed my love of Chartreuse,  but still had no idea what lay ahead of me.

The next day was a blur of tastings, seminars and socializing followed by a jaunt to the bad part of town (apparently a bartender here was shot in the back on the way out of work the week before) for a party at Bar Tonique hosted by the good people of Don Q Rum, then out onto Bourbon St. with my new crew.  We hit Yo Mama’s for dinner, where I feasted on the Peanut Butter Burger recommended by my amazing bartender/soulmate.  The best trick of the night: she had rigged the jukebox to play a different song, should a rube like me choose to play “When The Leavy Breaks” by Led Zeppelin.

The highlight of Thursday was an invitation to one of the Spirited Dinners at the Bombay Club by the lovely Christine from Bombay Sapphire where they paired 4 courses with specialty gin cocktails, and the rest of the week was full-tilt days of fascinating presentations by the national and international cocktail elite, and nights of events, parties and Bourbon Street shenanigans.  Some of the seminars were heavy on math, like “The Science of Shaking,” some very technical, like “Secrets to Successful Cocktail Photography,” some with a culinary focus, like, “Carnivorous Cocktails,” and some that really got me thinking, like, “Creative Mixology: Finding Inspiration in the Everyday.”

Although the seminars and events varied in theme, style and content, the consistent threads running through the week were humor and camaraderie.  I was really impressed by the sense of community in the bartending industry, and with the new friends I made, we are already planning our return to Tales of the Cocktail in 2010.

Note:  all of the links on New Orleans business names are tied to my bar and restaurant reviews.  If you want a deeper understanding of what I experienced at each location, click away.

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