Category: Concoctions

The Martini is Dead, Long Live the Martini

Boise Weekly, June 2, 2010

As the traditional martini season in Boise slipped by without so much as a whimper—the annual Martini Mix-Off a casualty of scheduling conflicts and the loss of a liquor sponsor—die-hard martini lovers were left to wonder if it was time to hold a wake, mourning the loss of the drink in popular culture.

A quick pub-crawl around downtown can take you to a plethora of bars, each with its own character and clientele. Folks are still going out, frequenting bars and drinking, but something seems different. Have the martini and other classic cocktails given way under the tide of cheap, recession-induced hooch and tightening wallets?

I expected to ring the martini death bell. Much to my surprise, the cocktail is not just alive, but thriving in Boise.

It was a realization shared by one of Boise’s best known bartenders, Pat Carden, who has taken the reins as head bartender at Chandlersin downtown Boise.

His gut instinct told him that people were drinking cheaper, calling for well brands instead of name brands as the recession moved on. But after recently looking at his numbers over the last three years, he was surprised to find out he was wrong.

“People’s habits haven’t changed,” he said. “They’re drinking the same things they were before.”

It’s the same story bartenders all across town are telling.

“No question, we are in a cocktail renaissance,” said Michael Bowers, bartender at the Modern Hotel and Bar. “Liquor sales have skyrocketed thanks to the cosmo. The current wave is being driven by the food culture, by bold flavors, by people looking for new tastes and taste combinations.

“All those nine-headed beasts that the cosmo spawned, it introduced people to new drinks,” he said.

And with that new interest, drinkers began to take a new look at the old, including the classic martini.

But not all bartenders agree that classic cocktails are where the action is.

“Young bartenders don’t need to know the old school anymore,” said Jen Kobel, head bartender at Pair. “Drinks are transcending the bartending manuals.”

Kobel thinks that people still love their martinis but also believes that the classic bartending knowledge is going to fall by the wayside.

She described a customer who came in and asked for a trash can. Believing at first that he needed to throw something away, Kobel had to ask the customer to describe a drink he first encountered next door at Main Street Bistro, in which the crumpled can from the mixer is the garnish on top. Although these newly invented drinks and shots may be popular with the kids, she doesn’t see them having any kind of staying power.

The reason some drinks are labeled “classic” is that they have staying power—especially considering that at the time many of them were invented, the country was not only going through the Great Depression but also a little thing called Prohibition.

Cheap liquor wasn’t only the affordable choice, but in most cases, it was the only choice. Many books have been written about how drinks were created during this era with the dual purpose of disguising the taste of cheap liquor, and appealing to a new market of drinkers showing up at the speakeasies—women.

In the past decade, the martini has once again been bastardized into sweet, syrupy concoctions primarily attuned to more feminine tastes. Efforts to educate a new generation of bartenders and drinkers are under way.

The Modern’s Bowers recently returned from a bartenders’ convention and training seminar where he was afforded the pleasure of hobnobbing with living bartending greats such as Dale DeGroffand F. Paul Pacult. Going to seminars and talking to bartenders from the coasts clued him in as to what is to come. His opinion differs from Kobel’s in that he feels it is even more important for young bartenders to know the history and the old school techniques.

Bowers feels that we are blessed in Boise at this time because we don’t have to “keep up the bullshit” of the cocktail culture happening on the coasts. As an example, he describes a fad being adopted by many bartenders he encountered: the Japanese Bartending Technique. Involving ceremony, precision and a very specific way to shake a cocktail, the style is taken very seriously by bartenders on both coasts.

“Bartending is a form of theater,” Bowers said. “You have an audience of 12 stools.” He should know. Bowers has been known to grow mutton chops and dress as the famed 19th century bartender Jerry Thomas, a character known to perhaps 1 percent of his clientele. Nonetheless, Bowers definitely plays the part.

Lowell Edmunds, in his tome The Silver Bullet: The Martini In American Civilization said that “the mixing of a martini is a rite, whether performed by the host or by the bartender, either of whom may assume the role of priest.”

Sharing a drink with Bowers one sunny afternoon, he said basically the same thing.

“I consider myself a cocktail evangelist,” he said, sipping from his glass, a wry smile on his lips. “I am doing God’s work.”

Technique and flash is definitely part of being a good bartender, as is knowledge, repartee, a bit of psychology and a chemist’s skill.

If Bowers is the new mad scientist behind the bar, then Carden is Albert Einstein. He is old school with a capital “O” and has seen the martini rise and fall several times.

“Thirty years ago people drank a lot of martinis,” he said, adding that the trend then was on the rocks. He said the ’80s saw a decline in martini sales, with the beginning of a resurgence about 15 years ago. He feels that the martini has been enjoying a renaissance for the last 10 years, with the recession just getting in the way for a few years.

Recently, he sees people rediscovering gin as the spirit of choice in the martini, “which they never should have given up on,” he said.

Younger drinkers attracted to cocktail culture during the last decade have matured in their tastes and are now drinking less-sweet drinks, Carden said. This, he feels, will lead to a new era of the martini.

Drinking Fiscally Irresponsibly

The liquor business has had its ups and downs over the last century and a half, with one big notable 13-year down between 1920 and 1933. Ironically, while the legal liquor business was down during those years, on the other side of the law it was big business. Some of the era still say it was easier to drink when liquor was illegal than after Prohibition, which brought new regulations.

And just like when the drinks still flowed relatively freely during the Great Depression, during this recession, it doesn’t look like penny pinching is drying up the bottle.

Mark Allen, head bartender at Red Feather Lounge in downtown Boise, said liquor sales are on the rise, and it’s not a move toward well drinks, either.

While it may be cheaper to drink at home, Allen said he “can’t really see people making what we make at home.”

Adapting to new trends has been a way for Red Feather to reach out to new customers. “The trickiest part has been localizing our inventory and picking up smaller craft spirits.”

Looking at the restaurant’s cocktail menu, one sees a mission and philosophy at Red Feather, one of craft, quality and trusting the bartender’s experience. In fact, Allen said the bar just had one of its busiest weekends ever a few weeks ago.

Kobel agrees with Allen in that she’s not seeing a decline in business due to the economy. She does say that there has been an increase in happy hour attendance at Pair.

Bowers sees a similar increase in happy hour patronage, but tends to attribute it to a cultural shift of people seeking out the after-work socialization rather than late-night dinner and drinks. His opinion is that there seems to be a return to the bar as a social scene. The fun is coming back.

These beliefs are backed up with some impressive stats. According to the Idaho State Liquor Division‘s annual reports from 1997 through 2009, liquor sales have increased at a pace equal to, or better than the population growth. Which means people are drinking more.

In fact, during the past decade, until 2006, sales of liquor in Idaho were increasing at a rate faster than the rest of the country. After 2007, it paced with the rest of the other states. In the last five years, the number of bottles sold increased from just more than 7.5 million to almost 10 million in Idaho. A closer look shows only Boise and Star decreasing slightly in liquor sales from 2008 to 2009, but the rest of Ada county more than makes up for it.

As with any trend, cocktail preferences will rise, plateau and then fall. To use an old cliche about history, those who don’t know it are doomed to repeat it. That is an understatement when it comes to the martini. One of liquor’s side effects is that memory tends to get a little foggy anyway, so we just might be doomed to repeat it. It’s a curse.

As I sipped a martini (gin—very wet—shaken with three olives, always an odd number) one evening, I wondered how the last martini decade compared to those before it.

Many have announced the end of the martini, whether it was a slow death, much like cancer or a quick one like a car crash. Martini purists say that each generation, with the increasingly drier gin-to-vermouth ratio, was bringing the martini closer to its demise. Others claim that as we experienced the fear of communism in the ’50s , the illicit vices of that culture made their way into our own melting pot, and vodka began replacing gin as our sacred American spirit, and that was actually the end of the martini. (Author Ian Fleming tried to play peacemaker with the vesper, a martini ordered by his famous British character James Bond that included both gin and vodka, but purists saw that as an abomination, too.)

The vodka era redefined the martini, and the illicit spirit allegedly imported from the evil empire (even though it was mostly made in America) made the martini rise to the top once again. Personally, I believe that vodka should never be used in a martini.

During the 1950s, the martini even made its way into the homes of the modern nuclear family. You would have been hard-pressed not to find a cocktail shaker and a set of martini glasses (albeit much smaller than today’s monster stemware) in every suburban home. The after-work martini was synonymous with the two-car garage, meatloaf Mondays and a dog in the back yard pooping on the lid of the bomb shelter. But the children of the 1950s started smoking pot and taking acid, not sipping their fathers’ drinks. The martini began a slow decline once again.

Even though the 1970s were known among bar geeks as a time when fern bars serving California’s finest amber wine knocked the martini from its corner barstool, the final nail wasn’t hammered in until Friday, Feb. 17, 1978, when President Jimmy Carter said, “As for the famous three-martini lunch, I don’t care how many martinis anyone has with lunch, but I am concerned about who picks up the check.”

This was not a denouncement of the martini per se, but one of the expense-account culture of corporate America run amok. With the nation’s corporate movers and shakers no longer ordering three martinis for lunch, the drink fell out of favor.

Efforts by spirits companies in the late ’70s tried to turn the tide. In an effort to expand the martini’s cultural and ethnic reach (basically anything other than WASPy America) Seagram’s advertised a handsome African-American couple in black evening clothes drinking a “midnight martini” garnished with a black olive. They also tried to reach out internationally with a kimono-clad woman stirring a pitcher of martinis and adding a drop of sake in what looked like a tea ceremony. Efforts did not keep the martini from that era’s death. (It took 25 years for the saketinito make a comeback.)

The Martini is the Jesus Christ of Cocktails

Rather than calling the martini the phoenix of cocktails, it seems more appropriate to refer to the martini as a religious icon who dies and is resurrected. Who hasn’t uttered a religious figure’s name the morning after a martini binge? (The ancient Mayans believed that the hangover was a god’s punishment for man pretending to be godlike while under the influence.) But as with any religious figure who is resurrected, while the soul might be the same, the eras are different, along with the new look of that time. The martini is no different.

Charles Bork for the National Review Online, Nov. 7, 2007, compared five martinis from different eras. He also recorded the gin-to-vermouth ratio and how each era differed.

“The Gilded Age” (c. 1895-1920): gin to vermouth–3:1

“The Jazz Age” (c. 1920-1940): gin to vermouth–5:1

“The Greatest Generation” (c. 1940-1965): gin to vermouth–7:1

“The Worst Generation” (c. 1965-1985): gin to vermouth–15:1

“The Postmodern Age” (c. 1985-present): gin and one merely whispers “vermouth” over the shaker.

No one challenges that all of these drinks are martinis, classic martinis at that. But they all differ in taste, character and essence. Bork also declares the 20th century as the “Martini Century.” So as we move into the second decade of the 21st century, we are left to wonder how the drink will evolve compared to the last 120 years.

The current incarnation of the martini is what happened when siblings marry: The offspring may have some unique and horrifying mutations. The true, classic martini, however, has made a short-lived comeback due to television in the last few years. Stephen Whitlock, in an article from, states that Showtime’s Mad Men, with its romanticized 1960s-era Madison Avenue advertising culture, is helping to bring back at least one martini to Manhattan executives’ lunchtime tables. Mad Men‘s martini popularity even found its way to Boise as the Modern hostedMan Men martini nights.

Efforts continue to bring the classic martini back through educating the masses. An April 16 essay by Karl Kozel on Huffington Post discussed how to order a martini the old-school way. But while he tries to educate newbies on the arcane art of ordering a proper cocktail, he also tells of a time during the late 1980s when a cocktail revival began, first on the coasts and then worked its way to the interior. The martini had been dead, but it rose from the ashes once again.

The cocktail revival got to Dallas sometime in the mid 1990s, about the time I started a magazine called Spirits & Cocktails. While the magazine lasted about as long as the cigar craze, cocktails and drinking liquor seemed to pick up speed through the big party of 1999 and on into the oughts. It waned with the seriousness of 9/11, but along came Sex and the City, bringing a new wave of popularity to drinking things in a V-shaped glass with a stiletto heel stem: namely, the cosmo era.

Bowers does not think we’re at the critical-mass stage of a full-on cocktail culture in Boise quite yet, but he’s excited about being at the beginning of our own cocktail renaissance.

“We can set the tone, and it doesn’t have to be the snooty, overwrought tone of the coasts,” he said with a sarcastic sneer.

When the popularity of specific cocktails wane, most of the time they fade away like an old soldier. But when the popularity of the martini wanes, heroes often step forward and pick up the fallen flag, hoisting it for a new generation of drinkers to rally to the front.

Bowers, for one, believes Boise is on the cusp of entering the big leagues of cocktails, especially since Boise drinkers’ palates have slowly been improved by inventive bartenders. Maybe it’s not so much about the classic cocktail in the future, but the neo-classic cocktail.

Along with input from Michael Bowers, Boise’s own mixologist geek’s geek, we developed a list of what we might see in Boise.

Bartending Trends

1. An emphasis on the understanding of classic cocktail repertoire, history and knowledge.

2. Freshly squeezed juice.

3. Uniquely shaped ice cubes, different types of ice for different cocktails.

4. Obscure ingredients. This trend is already here and includes house-made bitters and simple syrups unique to specific bars.

5. Bartenders in the kitchen, looking to food for inspiration.

6. Cocktail pairings with food.

7. Juleps.

8. Umami. A few years ago the Japanese discovered a new type of taste receptor on the tongue and labled it “Umami,” loosely translated into English as savory. This discovery actually happened in 1908 but it took 100 years to lead to the atrocity of bacon-flavored vodka.

Uber Hot Trends

1. Aged cocktails. This trend sees some bartenders mixing up a batch of cocktails and storing them in wooden casks to mature.

2. Japanese bartending. Of all the hot trends on the coasts, it pains me to imagine a Boise bartender hand cutting a block of ice to perfectly fit my glass, pouring precise amounts to the milliliter and then stirring it an exact 13 and one-half times.

3. House-selected spirits. Some bar owners are traveling to far-off lands and buying a specific barrel from what is known as the “sweet spot” in an aging warehouse.

4. Smoke as a flavor. Imagine a smoke-flavored ice cube in your drink. I can only envision finding a cigarette butt at the bottom of my black Russian.

5. Mezcal. Once tequila’s bastard cousin, it is now being produced by single-village distillation in the southern parts of Mexico.

6. Armagnac. You may have heard of Cognac, but its little brother is all grown up.

7. Gin. Well it’s about time.

8. Aroma-cocktailing. See that wooden swizzle stick in your drink? Now smell it. It’s been soaked in essential oils. More attention will be paid to how a drink smells at the beginning and end of a sip. After all, you taste more with your sinuses than your tongue.

9. Tiki. Yes, tiki.

Trends that are fast fading on the coasts, but we might still see filtering into the interior include:

1. Speakeasies.

2. House rules (dress codes).

3. Snootiness. The era of the bartender looking down his nose at you is over.

4. Molecular bartending. Foodies might remember the faddy foam and gelatin movement of a few years ago in high-end restaurants. It made its way into cocktails as well.

5. Carbonating drinks. Ever try a fizzy Manhattan? We hope you never have to.


The Sidewinder

POSTED BY ON SAT, AUG 8, 2009 AT 7:28 AM

So I’m working down at the Bouquet last night and I throw out a string of classic cocktail names.
“Manhattan, Martini, Tom Collins, Sidecar and Sidewinder.”
“What’s a sidewinder?” Andy says.
“Gosh, I’m not sure,” replies I. “It just came out of my mouth. I wan’t thinking.” Which is common for me. Spout off first and wonder what I said later.
I can make all the others, but I don’t know why I said “Sidewinder.”
So we look it up. It’s not in any bar books the bar has behind the counter. A quick internet search last night at the bar revealed no such drink.
So we made it up.
We felt it should have the rawness of the frontier, a little bit of the South and a bite. Maybe a drop of blood for good measure.
The Sidewinder
1 part whiskey (rye preferred)
1 part Tequila (do not skimp and go for the cheap stuff, go high end and it will make all the difference)
Pour both into a shot glass and finish with a drop of grenadine, which will sink to the bottom.
While this drink may make you wince, that “drop of blood” at the bottom sweetens the whole kit-and-kaboodle. It’s not bad. And it can poison you like a real sidewinder.

This morning I researched it a little more deeply and found a cocktail made with tea, vodka and cinnamon (a whole teaspoon). I also found a “Sidewinder Fang” cocktail that is basically a Cosmopolitan minus the lime and with a little Angostura bitters thrown in.

Now ask me about a “Ground Zero” and a “Horse’s Neck”

It pains my heart

POSTED BY ON MON, JUL 20, 2009 AT 11:58 AM

One of the little jobs I do now is bartend at a downtown bar a few nights a week. Summer is often a little slower at some bars so it offers me some time to talk to patrons. Unfortunately, sometimes those conversations are painful.

Take, for instance, one group of young revelers on a particularly slow Sunday night. When the conversation turned to martinis I mentioned how I’m a classic martini kind of guy… just gin and vermouth for me.
One young lady was shocked, SHOCKED, to find out that martinis are made with anything except vodka. She thought that martinis are only made with vodka. I just about had a coronary right there. What are they teaching kids in school these days? While vodka is OK in a martini, it was developed for those who don’t have the nads to drink gin. Suck it up girlie.

Which came first, the gin or vodka martini? If you guessed vodka, then go back to drinking school. Which, is exactly what I’m going to do, host a drinking school. If all goes well, I’ll be posting notices in this blog when and where we’ll be having drinking class. People have forgotten how to drink properly so I’m going to do something about it.

The first one will be at the Bouquet in a few weeks and will cover bourbon. Do you know the difference between neat and straight-up? On the rocks vs. water back? What proof means and how it compares to alcohol percentage? And, how to deal with those pesky cheap whiskeys in plastic bottles. My suggestion is to use as a fire starter when camping.

Making the Perfect Martini 

Here in the second week of the May Martini Mix-Off, I realize the second-most-often-asked question I get during this contest is “What is a good martini?” (The most-asked question being rhetorical in the form of “You must have a tough job, huh?”) The answer is not an easy one, nor is it the same for everyone. So, here’s a little lesson on what goes into making a good martini. But first, we need to define what is a martini.

A martini, by most definitions, is a cocktail served in a signature stiletto-heeled glass, containing one or more distilled spirits and whose volume is primarily made up of those distilled spirits. In other words, it’s mostly alcohol. Purists believe it can only be made with gin and vermouth, although some will concede that vodka is an acceptable substitute for gin. These days, martinis in restaurants are anything served in the signature glass. I’ve been to some upscale bars that don’t even have an old-school martini on the list of sweet concoctions being labeled martinis on the menu.

Vodka, by the U.S. federal definition, is a colorless and odorless spirit. However, anyone who has done a blind tasting of even just two vodkas side by side will tell you different. Temperature has a huge effect on the taste of a spirit like vodka. Freezing vodka can change the texture and consistency of some vodkas—like Stolichnaya—into a velvety cream. We call that “mouth feel” in professional martini judging circles. One of the best (and cheapest) vodkas around, believe it or not, is Burnett’s. I have hosted several blind tastings over the years and Burnett’s has consistently come in the top three.

Gin, on the other hand, is an older spirit that came from medicinal origins in the Netherlands where it was used to treat diseases including lumbago, gallstones and gout. Traditionally flavored with botanicals such as anise, carroway, coriander, angelica root, cinnamon, cassia bark and bitter orange, the flavor most taste in a gin comes from the juniper berry. London Dry Gin is the traditional gin that most people think of when ordering a martini. Plymouth gin can officially only be made in Plymouth, England, but has a sweeter flavor than many other gins. A genever, also known as Dutch gin, is the precursor of London Dry Gin. It has characteristics more like whisky as it is sometimes aged in wood. If you are just starting out on martinis, however, stick with a London Dry or Plymouth gin. Different brands of gin tout their “secret” recipes and many have unique botanicals. Hendrick’s Gin is infused with traditional herbs, cucumber and rose petals. Bulldog Gin is infused with poppies.

Vermouth is key to a traditional martini. It is a fortified wine flavored with spices and herbs, most often a secret recipe closely guarded by its producers. There are many brands and experimenting with them is important. Dry, French or white vermouth is usually in a green bottle. Avoid the red, sweet or Italian vermouth as that is used primarily in Manhattans. Also, make sure you are not reaching deep into your liquor cabinet for that old bottle you inherited from your parents’ liquor cabinet. Vermouth is a wine, and like any wine, will turn within a few weeks of opening. And always refrigerate your vermouth.

To make a martini, pour gin, vodka or a combination of both over ice into a cocktail shaker. If you like a wet martini, pour in a tablespoon of vermouth. If you prefer a very dry martini, forego the vermouth altogether. If you’re not sure what you like, experiment with different amounts. Shake, stir or let the martini just sit for a few minutes. There are some theories on “bruising” gin, but the objective is to let the ice chill the spirits and mix a little bit with the drink. Pour into a martini glass and garnish.

Garnishes for martinis take two main paths. Some swear by the pimento-stuffed olive. Others swear by the lemon twist, which has the unique effect of absorbing some of the bitterness from gin. The saltiness of an olive also has the same effect when eaten; it combats the bitterness on the tongue. Another take is a cocktail onion in place of the olive, making the drink a Gibson. Of course, you can modernize your garnishes with blue cheese stuffed olives, lime or orange peel twists, caper berries, mini dill pickles, slices of cucumber or any variety of salty or sweet vegetables or fruits. For many martini drinkers, a splash of olive juice makes a martini much more palatable. This is known as a “dirty martini” and will “soften” up the drink. The key here is to experiment.

I normally do not discuss the martinis in this column after I judge them but I think Pair’s Cocytus classic martini is worthy of note, just for it’s uniqueness. It was the first time I’ve encountered a martini chilled with dry ice, and if my physics are correct, it actually seemed to have the opposite of the intended effect of diluting the high-proof spirits, increasing the proof instead by boiling off the water in the spirit. (Are there any scientists out there that can support my theory?) I did discover a slight tingling on my tongue either from frozen tastebuds or the increased CO2 content in the spirit. The garnish was one of the more unique ones ever in the competition.

On May 15, the quintet of judges will visit Bittercreek’s Johnny Abens at 7 p.m. At approximately 8 p.m., we’ll mosey on over to Chandlers and see what Pat Carden and Nick Sparks are shaking up. We’ll finish up at 9 p.m. at The Modern Hotel, where Michael Bowers has some new creations in store for us.

A Classic Remake 

Author Ian Fleming’s James Bond is perhaps given the most credit with the martini’s phoenix-like status over the years. Every so often, a Bond movie comes out and the famous “Shaken, not stirred,” line delivered by the Bond du jour inspires many to order up the deliciously dry concoction. Just released, the remade Casino Royalerevisits the old 1953 story in which Flemming had high hopes for his version of the martini.

About midway through the film, during the poker games to end all poker games, Bond orders a martini, and on second thought, gives the barman a recipe. In our jaded modern world one might think that calling out a specific brand of gin in a movie might be product placement, but true to the original Casino Royale, Bond orders his drink with three parts Gordon’s Gin, one of vodka and a half-measure of Kina Lillet, garnished with a long slice of lemon peel. Take note, all you closet romanticists: Bond then christens his new concoction the Vesper.

Let’s deconstruct this recipe. Gordon’s is a brand of London dry gin, fitting for a spy of the British Crown. In the original Casino Royale, the vodka, some say, represented the Russian influence during the Cold War, when the drink originally was invented. In the remake, however, the Cold War is reminisced about. The Kina Lillet is an interesting choice as a substitute for the dry vermouth. This herbal wine is often substituted for the dry French vermouth in classic martini recipes. By using so much, it has a tendency to make the martini slightly amber in color and very wet. The addition of a lemon peel is interesting not only for the color and shape, but the chemical reaction as well. Lemon peel tends to soak up the harsh bitterness of gin to some degree and imparts a light citrus flavor if left to marinate for a few minutes. It’s subtle, but so is Bond.

Only once in Fleming books did Bond drink a martini. In subsequent books, Bond drank champagne, bourbon and scotch. It was only in the movies that the famous martini-drinking spy developed his signature drink. As an final note and commentary about Bond’s legendary martini status, in the remake of Casino Royale, a bartender asks the new blond, blue-eyed Bond if he wants his martini shaken or stirred. “I don’t give a damn,” he replies.

–Bingo Barnes

Mixing a Beer 

If you are a beer purist, the kind who appreciates the subtle differences between lagers and porters, pilsners and stouts, stop reading now. Go away. I don’t want you to read what I’m about to say. Besides, appreciating an extremely cold, clear beer–yes, it was my idea to start Boise Weekly’s annual Coldest Beer in Boise contest despite those beer snobs who yell and scream that beer shouldn’t be ice cold–I also like beer cocktails. Yes, I said beer cocktails. Beer mixed with spirits and other juices. “Blasphemy!” you say? Well, with Thanksgiving weekend upon us, I want to prepare you for the relatives who give you the evil eye as you drink your umpteenth can of beer while lazing in the La-Z-Boy in front of the big game. A drink in a glass might, just might, make them think you’re taking a break on the beer. It’s worth a shot. And speaking of shots, try a Skip & Go Naked, which is a glass of beer with a shot of gin, lemon juice and a dash of sugar. Of course, if you actually skip and go naked, the relatives will definitely give you the eye. If you’re lucky, they might even leave. The next morning, if Cousin Teetotaler is still around, you can have a Red Eye, which is basically a Bloody Mary with beer instead of vodka. If you avoid the salad fixin’s in the glass, you might be able to get away with it at breakfast by calling it tall glass of tomato juice. On the other hand, if you want the full-on dramatic “I’m drinking booze so leave me alone” effect, go full bore with the Flaming Dr. Pepper. This concoction requires a ceremonial process. Take a shot glass and fill it with Amaretto. Then you pour a dash of Bacardi 151 or similar overproof spirit and light the thing on fire. When the flames flare up, drop the shot glass into a beer. When the fire goes out–a critical step–you slam the whole thing down. It tastes like its namesake, which is pretty cool.

The Flaming Moe 

You won’t find this cocktail at any bar in town. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a recipe for it or someone daring enough to drink it, but it warrants mention as the drink rapidly approaches its 15-year anniversary On November 21, 1991 an episode of The Simpsons aired in which Homer, unable to find a beer while being forced to watch his sister-in-laws’ vacation slides, mixed together a bunch of liquor and one secret ingredient: cough syrup. When one sister-in-law accidentally dropped cigarette ash into the concoction it went up like Bananas Foster and voila, the Flaming Homer was born. The drink was stolen by Moe the bartender who renamed it the Flaming Moe, promoted it, and earned temporary fame and fortune because of it, ruining his friendship with Homer who revealed the secret ingredient at an Aerosmith concert in Moe’s Tavern.

So how do you make a Flaming Moe? Soon after the episode aired, some Finnish bartenders devised a recipe based on the fictional drink. The cocktail, called Salmiakki Koskenkorva, or Salmari for short, is made with a Finnish vodka flavored with ground-up salty licorice candy named Turkish Pepper. This candy contains ammonium chloride, giving the cocktail a black licorice and cough medicine taste. It has the unique side effect of stimulating the salivary glands, an effect similar to Homer’s ability to immediately drool around anything appetizing. The Salmari cocktail had its heyday in the 1990s, creating somewhat of a cocktail revolution in Finland at the time. Today it is apparently still a popular drink for tourists.

While Finland’s recreation of the Flaming Moe might taste like cough syrup, the concoction called Purple Drank allegedly contains actual prescription cough syrup and lemon-lime soda or fruit juice. It has no ties to the original Flaming Moe as far as we can tell.

Sunday Distractions 

On a Sunday afternoon, tired of the beautiful sunshine, the gorgeous fall colors, the perfect temperature for driving around with the windows down, we ducked in to the Crescent “No Lawyers” Bar.

On Sundays, the prime tables and chairs are dominated by middle-aged men watching football games wearing the “uniform”–sports jerseys of their favorite NFL teams. This leaves the less desirable tables for viewing the games available … exactly what I wanted. When I go to a bar with a companion who desires attention be lavished on her, I try to sit with my back to the televisions or I tend to get distracted. Strong peripheral vision is a genetic trait cultivated over millennia that protects us hunter types from being ambushed in the tall grass by saber-toothed tigers or rock-wielding advanced primates.

I ordered a bloody Mary, a double-distracter as it provides things (garnishes) to play with and the dulling effect of alcohol, thereby lowering my ability to avoid distraction. An order of tater tots loaded with toppings provided another distraction, especially when the bloody Mary kicked in and I started trying to toss the tots in my mouth.

After the bloody Mary was gone, I ordered a cold Bud to wash the tots down, guzzled in as few trips to the lips as possible (the modus operandi for a Sunday afternoon), which softened the glares from my companion. Someone started giving away door prizes but didn’t call our numbers, so I ordered a Margarita.

Wow. Look over there. That was that some great punt return! And on that screen there is a fumble. Ooh, those cheerleaders are hot. Hey! There’s one tot left. It’s mine!

Everyone is cheering. What happened? Which screen? Darn. I missed it. Ouch, that was a hard hit by that big dude over there. Now where’d she go? Oh well, barkeep, another round of tots. The Raiders just scored and this game has another quarter to go.

The Snows of Revolution 

During the Bolshevik revolution, there was the communist Red Army, the Ukranian nationalist Green Army, the anarchist Black Army and the White Army. The White Army backed the Tsar and were known as the White Russians. While the drink of the same name contains a Russian spirit–vodka–it is the only tenuous link to the origin of the White Russian.

The cocktail is fairly modern, but it is definitely one of the mainstays that any bartender worth his or her salt knows how to make.

It has even made it onto the silver screen. The Dude in The Big Lebowski drank White Russians and got mighty upset when they were spilled. Catwoman in the movie of the same name ordered a White Russian sans everything but milk. Made with approximately equal parts vodka, Kahlúa and milk (or cream), this basic drink has spawned many variations (from Wikipedia with additional sources):

White Russian–Vodka, Kahlúa and milk in equal portions over ice. Tia Maria or a similar coffee liqueur can be used instead of Kahlúa. Half and half or whipping cream instead of milk can be used for a thicker concoction.

Anna Kournikova–A White Russian with skim milk; Black Russian–A White Russian sans lactose; Bolshevik (a.k.a. Blonde Russian)–A White Russian with Irish Crème liqueur instead of milk; Brown Russian–A White Russian with powdered chocolate drink mix; Cocaine Lady–A White Russian with peppermint; Dirty Russian–A White Russian with chocolate syrup; Irish Russian (a.k.a. Smooth Black Russian)–A Tall Black Russian with Guinness beer; KGB–If we told you, we’d have to kill you; Russian Yoo-Hoo–A White Russian with Yoo-Hoo instead of milk; Tall Black Russian–A Black Russian with cola; White Canadian–A White Russian with goat’s milk; White Cuban–A White Russian with rum instead of vodka; White Meseta–A White Russian with a splash of bourbon; White Vegan–A White Russian with soy milk.

Drinking the dead 

Invented by Don the Beachcomber sometime in the first few years after the repeal of Prohibition, the cocktail known as the Zombie became known as the “drink of death,” especially after it’s debut at the Hurricane Bar during the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing, New York. It was so deadly that Don’s restaurant put a two cocktail limit per person. Why? Well, the original recipe contains 7.5 ounces of alcohol. That is the equivalent of almost four cocktails. Much like the Long Island Iced Tea, the Zombie tastes so good, you don’t realize how much you are drinking. And you also probably don’t realize that in the unique combination of liquors, Don invented an ingestible formaldehyde. Legend has it Don served these up to a traveler leaving on vacation and upon his return said the drink made him a zombie for the whole trip.

If you order a Zombie at a local bar, watch the bartender’s face pinch up and then hand him or her this recipe. It is very close to Don the Beachcomber’s original recipe however the original calls for falernum syrup which most bartenders will not have on hand.

Once a staple of most bars, falernum syrup is used to impart flavors of vanilla, allspice, ginger, almonds, cloves and lime to tropical drinks. I haven’t found a bar in Boise that uses it but you can substitute a little more Grenadine or, even better, orgeat syrup.

It is appropriate to drink this cocktail on Halloween because November first is the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead, you will feel the part.


4 oz. water

3/4 oz. fresh lime juice

1 oz. each of grapefruit juice, sugar syrup, dark rum, golden rum, white rum,

1 oz. 151-rproof rum

1-1/4 oz. spiced golden rum

3/4 oz. Cherry Heering

1/2 oz. Falernum syrup

2 dashes Pernod or pastis

3 dashes Grenadine

Shake and strain into three highball glasses filled with crushed ice.