Category Archives: Imbibing

Alcohol. Concoctions, musings, rantings and ravings.

Things I’ve Learned Behind the Bar [Part I: The Basics]

1. When pouring draft beer, tilt the glass anywhere but toward the customer/s. Better to give yourself a beer facial when the keg kicks than your paying customers.

2. When shaking with glass, keep the (metal) shaking tin facing customers.  Same logic applies as in rule #1 with regards to glass facials.

3. Chill glassware whenever possible. If your bar lacks a glass chiller, fill serving glass with ice water and allow to chill. Disregard this rule entirely when in the weeds.

4. “In the weeds” means deliriously busy in service-industry-speak. Service industry professionals invariably employ this vernacular to elicit empathy from fellow pros with regards to a busy service. Use interchangeably with “slammed”, i.e. “We were slammed Friday night.”

5. Build glassware first. Whether at home or behind the bar with a line of tickets in front of you, building your glasses keeps you aware and prepared. Rim your glasses, fill with ice cubes, chill, etc. Do this first, then fill your shaking tin with ice, then build your drinks. Once you’ve shaken/stirred, you’re ready to go.

6. Build cocktails at room temperature. Soccer moms may keep their vodka in the freezer, but bartenders do not. Spirits are stored at room temperature and you must build your drink as such in order not to dilute the final product. Add ice immediately before shaking/stirring. The exception to this rule are highballs (i.e. booze + mixer), which can be built over ice in final glassware due to their simplicity and quick pickup time.

7. “Pickup time” or simply “pickup” refers to the time it takes, in realtime circumstances, to produce a product. This terminology stems from the kitchen and can invariably be heard barked by expediting sous chefs at mere line cooks.

8. Ring drinks in before you make them. Disregard this when in the weeds. Accordingly, you must check that all beverages have been rung in before printing tables’ checks.

9. Strain fruit juices and syrups. You may like your orange juice with pulp but your customers don’t want it in their cocktails. Why? It looks ugly sticking to the inner walls of their emptied glasses. Strain syrups because steeping matter will invariably get stuck in your cheater if you don’t.

10. Receptacles used for storing juices, syrups, infused spirits, etc., ideally equipped with speed pouring nozzles, are called “cheaters”. These must be labeled and dated. Said nozzles are referred to as “speed pours” (truncated form of “speed pourers”?).

11. Simple syrup is a mixture of sugar and water at a 1:1 ratio. All syrups are, in essence, a simple syrup with some sh*t added to them, usually boiled, cooled, then strained out or allowed to steep in quart containers and strained out before being poured into cheaters. Agave, honey, maple, demerara and any other viscous sweeteners should be “cut” by hot water at a 2:1 ratio and allowed to cool. Ratios can be adjusted according to sweetness, but you want all syrups at the viscosity of your simple syrup. This is so you can measure all syrups equally.

12. Use a jigger. Always. Night club bartenders may look cool raising bottles high in the air and doing hazardous sh*t like holding multiple bottles at once while pouring Long Island Iced Teas, but that style of drink preparation is inaccurate. Counting is effective but can’t ultimately be relied upon because speed pours invariably differ in their rate of liquid dispensing, i.e. they get f*cked up and start pouring out a wimpy stream, etc.

13. Metal speed pours are preferable to plastic speed pours for aesthetic purposes. Plastic speed pours are preferable to metal speed pours for utilitarian purposes because they don’t get f*cked up as easily.

14. ALWAYS pour with your index finger covering the cap of the speed pour, at the base of the nozzle. This is to prevent a faulty speed pour from detaching from your bottle of spirit, depositing said spirit all over your bar mat/counter top.

15. Never order Long Island Iced Teas unless you’re at a night club. Never order anything more complicated than a highball when at a night club, except for Long Island Iced Teas.

16. Never visit night clubs.

17. Mix with syrup and citrus at equal ratios. There are exceptions, but in general this is an excellent rule to follow. In general, build drinks with two ounces of base spirit. Keep recipes simple whenever possible. I.e. Moscow Mule- 2 oz. vodka, 3/4 oz ginger syrup, 3/4 oz. lime juice. Dark & Stormy- 2 oz. dark rum, 3/4 ginger syrup, 3/4 oz. lime juice. Margarita- 2 oz. tequila, 1/2 oz. orange liqueur, 1/2 oz. agave syrup, 1/2 oz. lime syrup. Large volume? Adjust ratios accordingly, i.e. 1 oz. citrus, 1 oz. syrup. Try not to exceed 2 oz. booze or 1 oz. citrus/syrup in any drink, except for vermouth-based cocktails, i.e. martinis, Manhattans, etc.

18. Mix martinis, Sazeracs, Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, etc. with 3 oz. total booze. For the classics, ask customers about spirit, vermouth, rocks/up and garnish preferences.

19. If a middle-aged or older lady asks you to make a Cosmopolitan, refuse the urge to make jokes about late 90’s HBO dramas and kindly comply. Substitute Pom Juice, grenadine or anything else that’s red or purple for cranberry if you don’t have it. Ideally make house grenadine by adding sugar to pomegranate juice and cutting it with hot water.

20. Be kind to your barbacks. They are the lifestream of the bar. You can’t do sh*t without ice, fresh juice and syrups, bartender.

More later. Happy tending!


Building Your Humble Home Bar [Part I: Tools]

So you’re ready to take the plunge. You’re going to mix drinks at home. You already make a mean Jack & Coke, but you’re ready to take things up a notch. You’re going to mix cocktails. At home. And you’re going to do it well.

Nothing’s written in stone, and you can get by with improvisation, but these are the basic tools a bartender uses, whether he/she is mixing at home or behind the stick, for money.

1. Jigger. Used for measuring pours of alcohol and mixers. Never seen one before? That’s because you’ve been drinking at clubs and sports bars, my friend. These things ensure accuracy and can be used quickly after a bit of practice. I prefer 1 and 2 oz. cones, though jiggers come in a variety of sizes. Don’t fret if yours doesn’t have demarcated 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 oz. lines. Measure out these volumes with measuring spoons/cups, pour into your jigger and note the lines.

2. Mixing glass. 16 oz. pint glasses work best. This cheap one I grabbed at the discount store has flat edges, making stirring with a bar spoon a bit difficult. Shoot for a round edged, plain ol’ pint glass.

3. Boston Shaker. The king of utility, this guy is faster and more versatile than the three-part cobbler shakers, plus it looks tougher during usage. There’s a bit of a learning curve, so practice with ice and water. Lightly tap to form/break the seal, and make sure you’re exerting enough force to keep the mixing glass firmly enclosed by the shaker. I use a 28 oz. shaker.

4. Bar spoon. This pretentious-looking spoon is quite versatile thanks to its narrow head and twisted shaft (useful for twirling in crushed ice drinks, etc.), and is used primarily for stirring booze, mixers and ice in the mixing glass. Although cheap, these aren’t a must–a long chopstick is the fastest stirrer out there.

5. Juicer. This utilitarian device works for both lemons and limes, but you have a variety of options here, from squeezing with your hands to heavy-duty manual or electric juicers. Just make sure you strain your fruit juice, unless you or your guests really like pulp.

6. Muddler. This wooden muddler is cheap and effective, though a sturdy spoon or a flat-handled bar spoon works too.

7. Conical strainer. Used for straining juices, muddled concoctions, etc. Strainers come in a variety of sizes but this one looks pretty and fits over even the smallest glassware. When straining higher volumes of juices, infusions, etc., use a larger cooking strainer.

8. Fruit peeler. Used for peeling twists, this charming little guy gives you lots of control but can be subbed out for a pairing knife.

9. Julep strainer. This strainer is traditionally used in tandem with a mixing glass in stirred drinks. The Hawthorne strainer fits your mixing glass just fine, but unlike the Hawthorne, this guy doubles as an ice scoop. Muhaha.

10. Hawthorne strainer. Named after the inventor, not the author. This amazing tool just works, and they start cheap.

11. Pairing knife. Any somewhat sharp knife will do, large or small–you just might have to adjust your technique. Used for cutting twists and for slicing fruit.

12. Waiter’s corkscrew. From popping beer bottles to cutting packaging to unscrewing corks, this guy does it all.

This basic list of barware will bring you a long way. You’ll notice these supplies rest atop a bar mat, a worthwhile expenditure that allows for faster mixing by absorbing spills in the heat of the moment, hence postponing cleanup. Also not pictured here is a cutting board, which you’ll need unless you like chopping fruit in the palm of your hand. In which case you’ll also need a first aid kit.

Stay tuned for Part II: Bottles !!

Why We Give Higher Scores to Cocktail Bars [Editorial:]

My editorial on the added value of cocktail bars was released on Read it!

“Tired of hearing the words “speakeasy” and “mixologist”? Prohibition ended eighty years ago and you’re a goddamn bartender, so get over yourself! Right? Downtown Manhattan is more rife than ever with these signless, impossible-to-find drinking dens that require Homeland Security clearance levels to enter, and they charge $15 for cocktails containing ingredients you’ve never heard of. And as a result, cocktails at any generic bar with TVs and the word “Tavern” in it cost $12 (Manhattan’s infamous Cocktail Inflation) and contain “home-made” syrups and infused liquors. Why all the fancy names and added ingredients? A well-timed g&t on a hot day is one thing, but this whole cocktail craze has gone too far…


Well, if you really felt that way, chances are you wouldn’t be reading this website. We’ve had our consciousnesses raised by cocktails and what a good cocktail program at a good bar brings to the table, and there’s a reason we seek out mixology focused bars, especially for this website.

Here at ODA we’re all about value, and it’s an idea that isn’t always self-evident. How can we rave about Apotheke, a bar whose cocktails start at $15, in one breath and mention “value” in the next while maintaining any kind of clout? It’s because we know what goes into making those drinks, which are closer to cuisine than they are to quaffables. First off, they’re being made by full-time, lifelong bartenders who washed dishes and barbacked for years in order to get to where they are. Second, those drinks contain a minimum of two ounces of booze, likely more, between base spirit/s, mixers and additives, and likely six to eight ingredients, the syrups, purees and juices laboriously prepared by hand the night before or hours before service by diligent barbacks. Third, there’s a great deal of creativity that goes into each drink, most taking shape after dozens of attempts and tweaks, and the ingenuity that goes into a cocktail program two or three dozen drinks deep like the one at Apotheke is mind-boggling. And fourth (and most importantly), they taste delicious and, perhaps best of all, they get the job done, i.e. three or four of APK’s libations and you’ll be having a rough morning after indeed. Considering that $45 worth of cocktails will set you free of your troubles for a night, that may, in reality, be cheap for a high tolerance drinker when compared to beers and shots (ever paid $8 for a draft beer or $12 for a Patron shot? Of course you have) or how much overpriced wine you can drink while only winding up with a headache. How much did you pay for a glass of that Foghorn Bog Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand? $13? Guess how much the restaurant paid for the bottle? You don’t want to know.

And it’s not just about value, either. The logistics and expertise that go into mixology are much greater than those of wine or beer bars. Our regular readers will know that wine bars are pretty much on the bottom of our pecking order. Highly marked up grape juice with a few slices of cheese and some hard-to-pronounce ham for $50 a head? We’ll stop by Astor Place or Trader Joe’s real quick and throw a small house party for the same price. And though draft beer is delicious and nearly impossible to do at home, the only real logistics go into storing the kegs, keeping them cool and maintaining the taps. $10 after tip for a Guinness? All the bartender did was pull a fucking knob toward his/her face, walk away, come back and do it one more time and serve the damn thing. See where I’m going?

Like it or not, cocktails have been an integral part of the American drinking experience for over one and a half centuries, and punch goes back long before the good ol’ red, white and blue. Ever since mankind discovered the glorious art of distillation, he’s been adding shit to that bathtub moonshine to make it more palatable. If you don’t like it, pay the same price for a neat or rocks pour of your liquor of choice. You’re likely going to end up with less booze, and that’s a shame. Believe you me, here at ODA we drink our fair share of neat spirits, especially brown ones, and we’re huge fans of dive bars. But when it comes to the art of critique, we consider the ambition and execution of a concept when scoring bars, and it’s tough to give that elusive 9.5 or 10 to a bar with no kitchen where the music’s too loud, the drunk female bartenders wish they were somewhere else doing what they actually want to be doing and the most creative thing on the “menu” is the ironically named beer + shot combo.

We embrace the art of the cocktail, and we elevate the proper cocktail bar to a special position. We do so unabashedly. But the bar is very high, and we’ll continue to separate the wheat from the chaff, no matter who’s running the cocktail program or what inflated egos might be hurt in the process (did you read our review of Silver Lining?).

And by doing so we’ll continue to keep you One Drink Ahead.”

source: []

Easy Bloody Mary Recipe

Brooklyn Republic vodkaV8 Original tomato juiceSriracha hot saucePonzu sauceCento Pepperoncini pickled peppers

Who doesn’t like a good Bloody Mary? Alongside the margarita, it reins as one of America’s great unorthodox cocktails that remains wildly popular for a good reason–because  it tastes amazing. Possibly the best daytime drink, the Bloody Mary simultaneously gives you your vitamins and an excuse to drink at any time. After tasting my fair share of good and not-so-good renditions of this classic, and making them at home in a variety of incarnations, I’ve settled on an easy recipe with a couple twists.


Vodka (Brooklyn Republic pictured above; $22/750ml)

Tomato juice (V8 is the standard)

Hot sauce (I choose Sriracha over Tabasco because, well, it’s better)

Ponzu sauce (soy sauce, vinegar and lemon. Simple and delicious. Available at most Asian markets, though easy to make at home)

Pickle juice (Cento Pepperoncini pictured above. Jalapeno juice works great too)

I know what you’re thinking. “No worcestorshire sauce?! This is bullsh*t!” Too much worcestorshire is the downfall of many a Bloody Mary, and I’m not a big fan of the stuff in the first place. The flavor is extremely pungent, and can mask other flavors far too easily. I’ve been using ponzu sauce for awhile and I feel it works better. It’s salty, smoky, tangy and sour. As for the Sriracha, it’s the best hot sauce on earth. And it contains garlic and more salt. The pickled pepper juice is key, a trick I learned from Phillip Marie in NYC’s West Village, a humble restaurant with a wicked brunch and the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had. Pepperoncinis are milder than jalapenos, but still pack quite a kick, and you can float one of these bad boys on top for a garnish–celery and olives be damned. As for the salt/pepper and the horseradish? You don’t need ’em.


2 oz vodka

1 tsp. Sriracha (or more for those who like it hot)

1 tsp. ponzu

1 tsp. pickle juice

fill tomato juice and ice cubes, stir, serve.

I don’t bother measuring these out, and if you’re at all decent at estimating portions, you shouldn’t need to either. You should have about twice as much tomato juice as vodka, and you just need a splash each of the hot sauce, ponzu and pickle juice.

As for the celery stalk, that’s up to you.

The cocktail showdown

for Momofuku co. bar staff today at Booker and Dax was a blast! Two teams of five members went drink for drink, each team member creating a cocktail from a limited list of ingredients ranging from base spirits like Aquavit to liqueurs like Campari to funky ingredients like plum wine and coconut vinegar. I ended up incorporating rhubarb bitters and apple cider syrup into a uniquely American old-fashioned style cocktail I named “American Pie” (so creative, right?). Here’s the recipe:

2 oz. Rittenhouse rye whiskey

.25 oz. coconut vinegar

.5 oz. apple cider syrup

2 dash rhubarb bitters

Rittenhouse rye American whiskey

Rittenhouse Rye–as American as they come.

I built the drink in a double old fashioned glass  then added ice and stirred for ten to fifteen seconds and served as is. This concoction tasted spicy and tart, while remaining spirit-forward thanks to the Rittenhouse (100 proof), and the drink was well-received. Other unique libations the team came up with included a French 75 derivative with Kool Aid (seriously) and a Mezcal apricot sour that was delicious. Round two of the showdown is scheduled for next month, by which time we’re expected to have perfected our original cocktails, or at least gotten them as close to serviceable as possible.

It’s good to be king…


Little Kings can at Northeast Kingdom in Bushwick

The Oaxacan

at Dressler in Williamsburg: Fidencio Mezcal, Campari, St. Germain, fresh grapefruit, grapefruit bitters

Just Grand-Dad and me


Gotta love that orange label, and the orange cap on the 100 proof.

Grownup Cider

Laird's Straight Apple Brandy    Zeigler's Autumn Harvest Apple Cider

A simple recipe that recalls simpler times:

one part Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy

three parts apple cider

Applejack mixed with apple juice should taste fine too. In fact, applejack mixed with just about anything should taste delicious. Cider, however, has the viscosity and–perhaps more importantly–the acidity to mask a heavy amount of booze. This drinks fine cold, but heat it up and you’re in heaven.

Perfect in fall/winter. Happy drinking!

Drinking Endorsement: Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy

Laird's Straight Apple Brandy

The most popular modern brand of “applejack,” this stuff has a long history in America and was pretty much what Johnny Appleseed got twisted on. Laird’s original distillery–“America’s first commercial distillery”–is in New Jersey, where applejack was evidently used as highway currency at one point–hence the nickname “Jersey Lightning.” At 100 proof, this sweet but stiff brown spirit ain’t the apple juice you drank as a child.

From the distiller’s website: “The first apple crop in the New World was harvested from trees planted by the pilgrims. The early colonists were leery of drinking water…they believed it to carry disease. They thought that strong drink, on the other hand, prevented ill health.”

Ahh, the wisdom of our forefathers.

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