Fancy cocktails aren’t for everyone, especially when there’s fire involved: That’s what a couple — and, quite possibly, a bartender — found out Wednesday afternoon after receiving a fiery drink at Shoal Creek Tavern at The Shops at Highland Village.
As The Dallas Morning News reported, emergency crews were called to the shopping center about 3:50 p.m. Wednesday, where they found a man and woman with major burns on their bodies from the waist up.
The two had apparently gotten a flaming cocktail at the bar, authorities said, when “an additional ignition took place which caused major burns” to the couple. A medical helicopter was called to take them to Parkland Memorial Hospital; however, their injuries are non-life-threatening.
No telling what cocktail it might have been, since the bar’s online drink menu lists only beer and wine, but suffice it to say things didn’t go as planned.
Though increasingly popular, cocktails involving fire date back to the grandfather of mixology himself, Jerry Thomas, who included the famous Blue Blazer in his 1862 Bartenders Guide: How To Mix Drinks. But that blend of Scotch, boiling water and sugar, set afire, is all about the show as the (ideally much-practiced) bartender flamboyantly pours the flaming blue mixture from one vessel to another — and then finally into a cup, dousing the flames before serving.
It’s that last part that tends to get people into trouble. Blue flames look cool, especially in low light. But whether atop tiki drinks or bursting out of flaming party shots, the important thing is to put out the fire before drinking them. You don’t want to eat or drink anything that’s on fire, because, you know, it’s on fire.
“There’s absolutely no safe way to consume a flaming food or beverage,” then-Nassau County Fire Marshall Vince McManus told Inside Edition in a program segment on fire-related alcohol mishaps, including a March 2016 incident in which a woman preparing to drink a flaming shot at a Moscow bar instead had her face set afire as the bartender poured from a bottle. Video captured at parties also shows the disastrous results of people attempting to do the same.
In short: Cocktails may be the hot thing to drink these days, but they should never be on fire when you do.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, Freud said, but then again he probably never paired one with Scotch. The two were practically made to go together, and increasingly they actually are: The smokes in C&C’s four-edition Dram line, for example, are each designed to pair with specified whiskey profiles.
As the spread of craft cocktails has given rise to more and better spirits, cigar enthusiasts find themselves awash in options when it comes to enhancing their puffery. It’s not as simple, though, as blindly picking something off the shelf or menu – too strong a spirit or cocktail and it might stomp all over your stogie goodness; too mild and it won’t stand up at all.
“A lot of people think they need to pair cigars with a really robust Scotch, and then they just pick any cigar,” says John Pullo, managing editor of online magazine Cigar Advisor, which has published guides on the subject. “And then the flavors of the drink completely wash out whatever they got out of the cigar.”
Delicia Silva, the so-called “Cigar Vixen” who presented on the topic at the 2015 Tales of the Cocktail festival in New Orleans, says it’s all about flavors. “You want to match the body of the cigar with the body of the spirit,” she says. “You want it to be like a marriage. You want them to complement each other.”
Tobacco is enhanced by flavors in the wrapping paper, just as spirits are enhanced by flavors in the barrel or a cocktail itself. As the Tales seminar description put it: ”There are parallels in the production of cigars that align with the creations of spirits and cocktails… The potent flavors of smoke and spirit, in combination, can create a truly unique experience.”
Pairing cigars with booze has been around since your great-grandfather’s grandfather, but Cigar Advisor copywriter Jonathan Detore says the tradition really thrived in the Roaring Twenties, when high rollers smoked cigars wrapped in $100 bills. With time, that nonsense subsided and cigars fell out of popularity, not to rise again until the 1990s.
Their profile has been rising ever since, helped along by the spirits explosion and the continued rise of craft beers. In addition to C&C’s whiskey-ready line, major cigar maker Perdomo earlier this year debuted smokes meant to pair with craft brew.
“What we’re seeing in the industry now is a deep dive into the pairing world,” Detore says. “In the last five years, makers have even started aging cigars in used whiskey barrels to make sure they go well with that particular liquor.”
C&C’s Dram Cask #1, according to Cigars International, is designed to go with a milder, lighter whiskey “with notes of citrus and wood.” But absent paint-by-numbers instruction, how’s a cigar smoker supposed to know what to do? While it’s really a matter of personal taste, there are some basic principles one can follow. Generally speaking, the darker the cigar, the darker the spirit or beer best suited for the occasion.
Say, for example, you were smoking a Connecticut cigar, says Cigar Advisor’s Detore from the magazine’s offices in Pennsylvania, where he and Pullo are, of course, smoking cigars. You’d likely want a lighter beer, something like a nice, crisp Harpoon Saison.
“Right now,” Pullo says, “Jonathan is smoking a Partagas 1845 Extra Oscuro, from Honduras. The wrapper is extra fermented to get that dark color. There’s a mix of Nicaraguan, Honduran and Dominican tobacco in there. If I was a beer guy, I would put that with a stout or a porter; I wouldn’t think twice about putting a Guinness with it. That’s the nice thing about a cigar – it shows you the color.”
As far as spirits, Detore says, the cigar’s spicy, woody, leather notes, would probably go best with an aged rum or maybe the spicy bite of Bulleit Bourbon.
In Dallas, Brandon Fields of DeSoto likes complementing his smokes with Knob Creek. “The spirits that have the most age pair well,” he says as he and friends share a bottle at Cigar Art, in Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts District. “They have different characters, like oak, dark plum, or chocolate or coffee. It’s almost parallel to what the cigar rollers are trying to show you.”
Cigar Art managing partner Russell Hargraves says it’s similar to how you might pair wines – for instance, not expecting a Riesling or Pinot Grigio to hold up against a big, bold Maduro or Jericho Hill cigar. “With some cigars, whiskey cocktails aren’t a terrible choice,” Hargraves says. “Like a Sazerac, or an Old Fashioned.”
While cigar smokers have long complemented their smoky puffs with solid pours, typically from bottles of Scotch and cognac, aged tequilas and rums are coming into their own, too. The goal is to bring out the flavors and character of each, by complement or contrast. Detore suggests aiming to complement your cigar first, and then, as you learn how each works with the other, to go for more complex, contrasting pairings.
Silva, the “Cigar Vixen,” says you have to decide what you want from the experience. Do you want the cigar, or the spirit, to stand out? Once she decides, her approach is to start smoking the cigar, and then to introduce the spirit, typically aged rum, about a third of the way in. “Zacapa 23 goes with just about any cigar on the market,” she says. “It especially goes well with a Maduro.
“You’re creating a memory, an experience,” she says. “It’s becoming more popular, especially for people who aren’t necessarily that into cigars.”
With a low barrier to entry, it’s also a trend that doesn’t appear ready to go up in smoke anytime soon. “You can pick up a cigar for five or six bucks,” Pullo says. “It’s cheaper than a movie ticket. And, it lasts longer than the flick.”
They bounced shakers off forearms, caught glasses behind their backs and tossed liquor bottles around like jugglers’ pins. By night’s end, one of them had been crowned the best bartender of all — at least, that is, within the extensive, red-and-white-striped family of TGI Fridays, which held its 24th annual World Bartender Championship Thursday night at Dallas’ House of Blues. More than 8,000 TGI Fridays bartenders around the world had vied for the chance to be one of the night’s 10 finalists with a shot at the $10,000 top prize. The title-round air was abuzz, with the faces and names of the finalists plastered on walls, video screens and waveable flags for a wall-to-wall, cowbell-shaking crowd.
TGI Fridays’ horde-pleasing drinks – the global chain sells 3 million Long Island Teas a year – are well-known, but the Carrollton-based chain can also be credited with (or blamed for, depending) popularizing flair – the kind of theatrics associated with the Tom Cruise film Cocktail – when it started holding flair bartender contests in the mid-1980s.
While the World Bartender Championship, which started in 1991, emphasizes things like customer engagement, service and bartender knowledge (some of which had already been evaluated in a previous compulsory round) the practice of flair perseveres. Bryan Bonafacio of the Philippines sent a lime wedge airborne and caught it in a shaker behind his back before sliding it into a waiting cocktail. Fernando Soto of Illinois poured a drink into a glass that he’d perched on his forehead. Others pulled off moves too complicated to explain.
Along with lively banter (to that end, Peru’s Alexander Barrenechea was my favorite for his easy humor and likeability), some kept the bar-side judges entertained by putting them to work as drink shakers while they tended to other tasks, trying to stay within the given time limits. Each bartender had eight minutes to make five different drinks ordered from the company’s inventory of 100-plus cocktails, working to the sizzling guitars or thumpity-thump beats of their chosen playlists.
“It takes incredible discipline, focus and passion,” said Matt Durbin, the contest’s 1994 champ who is now TGI Fridays’ vice president of brand strategy and menu innovation. “We like to think that Fridays is the bedrock of bars. This allows us to recognize and celebrate our bartenders.”
While flair is among the techniques bartenders can use to interact with guests, Durbin said judges prioritize “working flair,” moves that a bartender could actually incorporate into a busy shift rather than those unveiled for competition’s sake. The U.K.’s Russell Ward, for example, last year’s runner-up, was relatively no-frills compared to some but cranked out his drinks with smooth confidence, “You have to look like you do it every day,” he’d told me earlier. “Not like it’s just something you just practiced to do here.”
Where New Jersey’s Ram Ong fell on the spectrum was unclear. Like Ward, he was in the final round for the third time, and aside from bringing his own pineapple juice – in a pineapple, of course – he pulled off my favorite move of the night, catching a bottle of Grand Marnier tossed overhead on one forearm while balancing a second Grand Marnier bottle on the other forearm. But Ong’s theatrics undermined him in the end, his time elapsing before he could finish building his final cocktail.
Meanwhile, Stavros Loumis of Cyprus, another third-timer who entered the evening in first place after a stellar effort in the compulsory round, saved a Cuba Libre order for last, starting the drink with just over a minute left in his session. Earlier, he’d told how a twist of lime elevated a simple rum and Coke into the classic cocktail, and now, as the seconds ticked away, he dared to position an ice-filled glass atop the flat end of a bar spoon, balancing the spoon’s other end on his forearm before pouring rum into the glass and finishing with time to spare.
In the end, third place went to the energetic, engaging Bonafacio, who may have coined the phrase “Don’t you panic; it’s organic;” while second again went to the U.K.’s Ward, who was also voted the fan favorite. Stavros was named champ, taking home a propeller-shaped trophy in addition to the prize money.
The annual competition also raises money for hunger-relief agency Feeding America, and TGI Fridays presented the organization with a $200,000 check midway through the final round.
The sugar peas were looking exceedingly delicious this spring, and right away Alex Fletcher knew it was time to take a stab at the idea that had been percolating inside for a year.
Fletcher, bar manager at Victor Tango’s in Knox-Henderson, had in mind a sugar-pea-infused gin, but he also knew that green vegetables tended to wilt in booze. “Like cucumbers — they’ll be good one day and then the next day, it’s like they’re pickled,” he says. “That’s gross. I learned that the hard way.”
Instead, he turned to one of the culinary world’s more modern trends: sous-vide (French for “under vacuum”), a vacuum-sealing method industrialized in the 1960s and then increasingly adopted by chefs like Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Ferran Adria and Dallas’ John Tesar as part of the molecular gastronomy movement.
Fletcher is among a handful of Dallas bartenders experimenting with the technique – in which ingredients are usually vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag – or its variations to create infusions or to enhance other cocktail ingredients, further fogging the lines between bar and kitchen.
Chefs typically cook ingredients in the bag, often at low heat for long periods of time, to juice up flavor and moistness. Bartenders do the same using bags or even mason jars kept in a water bath temperature-controlled with a sous-vide circulator. There’s also “Cryovacking,” as some call it, playing off the brand-name airtight plastic-bag manufacturer, which can be used to quickly infuse pressurized contents with added flavors or heighten flavors already present.
That’s what Jacob Boger, lead barman at Knox-Henderson’s Origin Kitchen + Bar, was doing with lemons and limes and hoping to echo with strawberries earlier this month. He figured five minutes’ worth of pressure could help siphon sweetness from the not-quite-ripe strawberries. “Just the fact that they’re in their own juices, you know…. Maybe I’ll put some raw sugar in there to really draw it out. It’s an easy enough thing you can do to make a better drink.”
At Driftwood in Oak Cliff, bar manager Ryan Sumner is eyeing the method to create infused simple syrups, while Ian Reilly at Trinity Groves’ Chino Chinatown has made oleo saccharums, or sugared citrus oils, the same way. Meanwhile, at Barter, the wheels are always spinning. “We’re basically just playing the game, `Can we sous-vide it? Yes, we can,’” says the Uptown bar’s Stephen Halpin.
Hey, we’re all busy these days. So for bartenders, one of sous-vide’s advantages is the speed with which such ingredients can be ready for use depending on the desired flavor potency. Barter’s deliciously fruity Singapore Sling is made with gin heated at 62.5 degrees Centigrade along with pineapple, cucumber, white peppercorns and orange peel. But where a typical infusion might take 30 days of thumb-twiddling, Barter’s gin preparation, once bagged and sealed, can be ready in 90 minutes.
Put that in your agave pit and smoke it.
Barter’s Halpin also does a sous-vide gin infused with blood orange for an hour; the process allows him to incorporate the fruit’s flavorful zest, which wouldn’t work in a traditional infusion. “You can’t leave in too long,” he says. “It gets too bitter. You can’t dial that back.” The piquant mix shines in the bar’s off-menu Please Give Gin Another Chance, which Halpin offers to those who’ve felt burned by gin in the past.
As Nonstop Honolulu reported early last year, bartender Dave Newman of Honolulu’s Pint + Jigger has used sous-vide to evoke the effects of barrel aging, replacing the typical weeks-long oak-cask soak with bourbon and barrel wood chips sealed in mason jars kept in a 120-degree bath for two days. Does it work? The author thought so: “The sous vide cocktail was much smoother with an added oaky complexity that would normally require several weeks of barrel aging to achieve,” he concluded.
In recent years, sous-vide or Cryovac cocktails have appeared elsewhere across the U.S. – at Seattle’s Tavern Law, San Diego’s Grant Grill, The Aviary in Chicago and Atlanta’s Seven Lamps, where bartender Arianne Fielder “hypothesized that slowly cooking the sugars in alcohol but not allowing the vapors to escape would make colors darker and flavors more intense,” according to an Eater Atlanta article. And three years ago, during his brief reign at Bailey’s Prime, Dallas’ Eddie “Lucky” Campbell featured cantaloupe-infused tequila made Cryovac-style in a cocktail called High Maintenance.
The more heat, the faster the infusion – but don’t get too excited yet: As Oregon bartender Ricky Gomez cautions, ingredients can give off different flavors at different temps. Other variables may also affect potency or longevity. Tweaking may be required.
When Fletcher became bar manager at Victor Tango’s, he suddenly had access to a vacuum sealer at a neighboring restaurant. “My grandmother used to make English peas all the time, so I sometimes have a craving for them,” he says. “And whenever I have a craving for something, I try to make a cocktail out of it.”
He mixed a quarter-pound of slightly crushed peas with a half-bottle of gin. He chose Hayman’s Old Tom gin – the sweeter style of gin popular in 18th-century England before today’s more prevalent London Dry came along – for its more subtle botanicals. Into the bag they went, sealed tight – pooosh – with a Vac Master machine. “That’s the big boy of Cryovac machines,” he says. “It sucks all the air out of the bag.”
Two hours later, the pea-infused, light-green gin was ready to go. And if peas in liquid form make you think of split-pea soup, then we’re all on the same page: The soup is usually boosted with pork flavor, so Fletcher made a genius move to complete the cocktail. He gathered up some tapioca maltodextrin, a light-as-air, fat-soluble starch that absorbs flavors but has no odor or flavor of its own. He then threw some of that into a food processor along with a little bacon fat and a pinch of salt… and out came a unicorn. Okay, not exactly, but if you can imagine bacon-flavored confectioner’s sugar, this was it.
His tasty Swee’Pea cocktail, now on Victor Tango’s’ spring menu, mixes the gin with lemon and demerara syrup, served up in a coupe rimmed with the bacon powder and garnished with a sugar pea.
Fletcher would eventually find his vacuum-sealer access limited, so for the time being he’s using extracted pea juice instead, not introducing it to the gin until ordered. Unfortunately, it lacks the vibrancy of his sous-vide version. But sometime this week, he says, he plans to get Victor Tango’s a vacuum-sealer of its own. When and if that happens, I’d highly recommend the Swee’Pea as a great way to round out your daily vegetable requirement.
I’m the kind of guy who goes into a place and sits at the bar. I appreciate the interaction with the bartender, seeing the way he or she practices the craft, knowing that the drink I’ve ordered is being made just for me. That personal attention, and the work that goes into it, is part of the experience.
That’s why I’ve been reluctant to embrace the idea of bottled cocktails, and Francisco Terrazas, who manages the bar program at Austin’s Fino, knows my pain. The idea of pre-made batches of drinks theoretically annoyed him, even though he knew it was a trend — one that actually dates to the early 1900s — that would come sooner or later as Austin bartenders began looking for innovations.
Terrazas grappled with the idea until one day he began to see it in a new light. He’s how he puts it: When you buy clothes, you generally don’t expect to have the fit exactly right or know who made your outfit; you just grab something off the rack. If you want it just so, you go to a tailor.
Bartenders are the tailors of the drinking world. “If someone really wants a drink tailored to their specifications, they’re going to go sit at the bar,” he says. “Meanwhile, people on the dinner floor might want a good drink, but they’re willing to sacrifice a bit of the experience.”
And though it’s not something he’s tried yet, he realizes that for bartenders, it’s a good way to produce quality drinks more efficiently.
That’s the idea at The People’s Last Stand in Dallas, where bartender Chris Dempsey says the three cocktails produced daily have been selling well.
By the time I and a friend showed up late Saturday, the bottled Dark and Stormy’s were already sold out. Instead we tried the Harvey Wallbanger and something called a Time Bomb: Each was $7 and came in an old-fashioned-style soda bottle; drinking it reminded me of drinking fruity pop as a kid. Though I missed the ice shards that lusciously grace the first sips of a freshly made drink, each went down smooth, maybe too much so.
“I’m partial to this,” my friend said, indicating the Harvey Wallbanger (vodka, Galliano and OJ). “But I think it could be dangerous. It kinda reminds me of a wine cooler.”
But People’s thinks it’s on to something. “The fact that they sell out every day says something,” bartender Anthony Polo said.
I protested, citing my desire to know a bartender had made something just for me.
“But in a sense, I did,” Polo said.
Meanwhile, over at Bowl & Barrel, Ian Reilly is offering Manhattans and other cocktails in barrel-aged-and-bottled form.
It’s something the bar, owned by Free Range Concepts, plans to make a staple in coming months. As Reilly tells it, Josh Sepkowitz of Free Range Concepts, which owns Bowl & Barrel, called him over one day to see what he knew about barrel-aged cocktails, a practice that has gained steam over the last couple of years. (As far as I know, it was Sean Conner, of Plano’s Whiskey Cake, who first tried it around here, and since then several others have given it a whirl, pre-batching Negronis and Tridents and more.)
Barrel-aging cocktails can alter their character by infusing oak and/or other flavors into the drink; the process can also soften the sting of strong flavors; the barrel-aged Negroni I had at Whiskey Cake had a mellowness that enhanced the drink without reducing its charm.
As it turned out, Reilly did know a thing or two about barrel-aging, and he knew that not only could the practice affect taste, it could also promote efficiency on crowded bar nights. He was also able to get his hands on some stylin’ clear bottles, as well as someone able to etch them with the Bowl & Barrel logo. Everything fell into place.
He decided on the classic Manhattan as his first cocktail, one that would appease his Old-Fashioned-leaning customers with its mix of rye whiskey, bitters and sweet vermouth. (Cocktails without natural products that can go bad, like citrus, are preferable when barrel aging.) He then added two others – the white-whiskey-based Slow Hand and the Lucien Gaudin, a cocktail that Reilly named after a fencer when he himself worked at The People’s Last Stand; it features gin, Cointreau, Campari and dry vermouth. “It’s somewhere between a Boulevardier and a Martinez,” he says.
A fourth cocktail is on the way. So far Reilly has produced 31 liters worth of pre-batched cocktails, and he’s working on another 26. “We want to have the shelves lined with product ready to go,” he says.
Since launching a week ago, he’s sold nine or 10 bottles’ worth of cocktails in all. The mixtures have been bottled, sealed with wax and stored in the freezer behind the bar. Order a Manhattan and it’ll show up in a fluted martini glass. “You pour four ounces and put a maraschino cherry in there and you’re ready,” Reilly says. Speed.
The drinks are $10 apiece, and a group can spring for a whole bottle at $75. Last week, I and some friends took the Manhattan plunge even if the hot June weather didn’t exactly make us pine for dark spirits. The verdict was largely positive, though the fluted glass took me by surprise; I also missed the feeling of knowing the bartender was behind the bar making a drink just for me.
Had I been there on a packed night, well into my evening with service markedly slowed, I would have had a much different reaction: happy to get my perfectly fine and chilled Manhattan while others around me growled and waited for their craft cocktails to be made, giving me the evil eye while I preened with Brad Pitt-celebrity satisfaction and — well, now I’m getting carried away.
Reilly, too, has gotten carried away, and for that you might be grateful. Share in the experiment: He’s got a fancy algorithm “that a much smarter friend” made for him, telling him how long each batch has to sit in each differently-sized barrel to achieve his desired result. A three-liter barrel might correctly age in a month, for instance, but a 10-liter one might take more than twice that long. He’ll test them along the way.
“It’s fun,” Reilly says. “I get to be the cellar master here. When I bottle everything, I’ll imagine I’m some guy in Cognac…. I don’t have millions of dollars for a still, so this is the next best thing.”
THE PEOPLE’S LAST STAND, 5319 E. Mockingbird Lane #210, Dallas. 214-370-8755
BOWL AND BARREL, 8084 Park Lane #145, Dallas. Phone: 214-363-2695
Booze news and adventures in cocktailing, based In Dallas, Texas, USA. By Marc Ramirez, your humble scribe and boulevardier. All content and photos mine unless otherwise indicated. http://typewriterninja.com