Friday, June 12, 2015

"Know Thyself"

My last article concerned classical Greek philosophy, and so, by the gods, this one will too.

Another lesson from classical Greece, with yours truly.
The words "Know Thyself" were famously inscribed on a stone that used to reside at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. They became the most well known of 147 Delphic Maxims,  believed to have been given to use by Apollo at the Oracle of Delphi. The saying was also famed in Lacedaemon (Sparta), a city state whose populace is unfairly remembered for being a country of mindless, brutish defenders of a tyrannical and xenophobic state. They're also remembered for disappearing and becoming obscure in history because of a lack of democracy and philosophy, which Athens is remembered for.

Truly, the historical losers never seem to receive justice in history. Perhaps we have a cultural desire to see the winners of history as having a similar culture to our own. But then, we hardly acknowledge the submission of Athens by Macedon and Rome; both had elements of democracy but were dynastic at the core. What did the contemporaries think of their Lacedaemonian rivals, though?

What's left of Sparta, from the time of Socrates.

"Sparti in-river-Eurotas-valley flanked-by-Taygetos-mountains"
by 
ulrichstill - Own work. Licensed under 

CC BY-SA 2.0 de via Wikimedia Commons.
Socrates explains of a Sparta who along with Crete are the original modern philosophers of his time. Similarly, contemporaries of the time explain of a Lacedaemonian culture who educates both women and men in reading and writings. Women also are trained similarly in the strict military regimen of Spartan males. Chilon of Sparta is remembered as one of the seven sages of Greece, and was democratically elected as an ephor (a fancy Spartan word for politician) by the Lacedaemonians. Lycurgus, who is credited for transforming Sparta into one of the military superpowers of its time created a system of law and governance that valued equality, military fitness and austerity. He left his post as King of Sparta to travel the world and learn about what sort of Reforma he would need in order to craft Sparta into the society we remember it as today. He visited the Oracle of Delphi where he was said to receive answers to his questions.

One likely result of Lycurgus visiting Delphi was an appropriation of some strong worded Delphic

The temple of Apollo, at Delphi
"Columns of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, Greece"
by 
Patar knight - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Maxims,  such as "Know thyself". Socrates lauds Spartan philosophy, which includes the use of sayings such as "Know thyself", which he likens to a bowstring which is composed of twisted up string, that are shorter and stronger than they were in their natural state. He himself refers often to the saying almost like a personal mantra, believing that he cannot know other things when he doesn't even know himself.

Being aware and thinking about quotes like this can be useful for a bartender. Aside from creating the appearance that you are the thinking man (or woman), quotes can be a good talking piece. There are a few quotes, such as this one, that stand up to the test of time, though. The reason that quotes like "Know thyself" endure for so long is that they both require a certain level of insight into yourself and the meaning of the proverb, which make them useful to anyone; not JUST bartenders.

I know that I'm a bartender....
Philosophers of antiquity believed - among other things - that the proverb meant to know your limitations and capabilities. I've said in the past to avoid promising more than you can deliver, and that goes without saying here too. Considering the quote may reveal that you are weak in areas where you need to be stronger, or that you need to readjust short term goals. Other considerations may help you be less apathetic and more understanding of people; after all, it's one desire that you can empathize better with people when you can relate to them, and perhaps a little soul searching can help with that too.

It's no wonder that the Greeks thought this maxim was so profound, because it's a veritable gold mind. You cn reap the benefits of this quote, in the form of a wealth of antiquitous wealth of self understanding. Or you can just use it because it's a cool quote, and can instigate discussion at your bar. But take heed reader, whatever the reason for your usage; take heed.... to know thyself.

Sorry folks. I had to do it.

Friday, May 29, 2015

"He is a wise man who invented beer" - Plato

For claiming not to know anything, this dude
knew more about the universe than pretty much
most of society today.
The famous and beloved barkeep's platonic quote is a strong statement, which also communicates a certain level of intellectualism. After all, who has the time to scour through the platonic dialogues in order to find a cherry picked quote? As it turns out, I am one such bar man.

I've been reading Plato lately. Not because of the quote, but rather, because "Why not?" In fact, the quote is of little interest to me, because I already know that Plato never wrote those things down in any of his dialogues. And of course, the reason I know, is because I saw the quote before and decided to look it up on the Google. As it turns out, in none of Plato's dialogues is the word beer ever even mentioned. You can imagine the feelings of embarrassment that creeped into my head when my former place of employment decided to add the quote, and credit to Plato, to the cocktail menu.

The french have a saying for this, and it is "Le sigh."

Nevertheless, it is not only a good quote, but it is also true. Beer certainly is a wise invention to the people who enjoy it, and therefore, the creator of the fine draught must also be wise! Or well... actually, I guess it's more likely that beer was discovered by accident, similarly to the other fermented goodies that we enjoy, such as wine. So I suppose that you can't really call the inventor wise in that regard. But one thing you could say, is that they were definitely in the right place at the right time! And because they witnessed that relatively common of biochemical reactions, we can all get drunk whenever we please!

Well, we can always take solace in the idea that if Plato is half as smart as the people who believed in this misquote,
then he'd probably be about as smart as most of us are today. And he might also drink obnoxious amounts of beer and say,
"Dude, bro! Look at that quote I made!"
Well, not whenever we please, but whenever we are able to, I suppose.

"He is a wise man who invented Lamb sandwiches" ~ Moses
While beer is indeed good, and Plato might agree with us about the quality of taste, one other point of agreement he might have with us is that there isn't any wisdom in discovering beer. In fact, one of the take home messages of Plato's early writings, the Socratic dialogues, is that are no wise people. Socrates (to whom Plato was a pupil and associate) was sentenced to death, defending his accusations that the people who claim to be wise aren't wise, and the wisest of them all is himself, for being the only person to realize that he has no wisdom at all; being the only person aware and willing to admit of his own ignorance, he is better off than those who claim to be wise.

So Plato most likely never called anyone wise on behalf of inventing beer. But to speak as Plato would, I would like to make an inquiry in regard to whether it's possible that Plato could have said such a thing, outside of his dialogues? Since Plato - frequently writing in the voice of Socrates - would caveat many of his arguments with flattering comments regarding the wisdom of his arguers, it is possible that he may have said such a thing regarding one who brews beer. But we must also assent to the fact that it was a frequent mode of both Plato and Socrates to compliment their arguers in such a way regarding the arts or sciences that they held dear, only to tear them down later in the argument. So in regard to that format of argument, it's doubtful that Plato would have thought someone was wise for inventing beer, but it is possible that he had said it and that someone would have taken his comment out of context in regard to his larger argument.

Little known fact. Plato also used a beer cozy. 
Plato most likely never called someone wise for inventing beer. In fact, the earlier mentioned Google search revealed that Plato never even spoke about beer, which in my own reading of Plato I can also acknowledge. Although, it is a good line, so I may continue using it. Of course, I'll use it with the caveat of my own; "Words which Plato never uttered."

Friday, May 8, 2015

9 Cocktails You Should Know in Vancouver

Cocktail culture is booming in Vancouver. Much like many metropolitan areas in the United States, it's pulling from a number of already established cultures of yore. New Orleans, the classic prohibition era, and tiki. For this reason I've decided to put together a list of the cocktails that you have to know in order to survive bartending in Vancouver. There won't be any paralyzers, Pina coladas or strawberry daiquiris on this list (however, it doesn't hurt to know these things anyway).

9. The Shirley Temple

Since I don't approve of Shirley Temples,
here's a Tequila Martini!
Let's get something straight at the onset here. I hate making Shirley Temples. They're essentially a child's drink that's made out to be a cocktail. And, parents being the responsible jerks that they are want to expose their children to cocktail culture in virgin form. Traditionally, it's orange juice, 7 up, and grenadine. But it also normally gets the disgusting maraschino cherry topper, skewered through an orange wheel or something. I hope you're wearing gloves because those cherries will stain your fingers.

Try twisting it up by giving an adult take on the famous virgin drink. A dash of orange flavored bitters, and swapping the 7 up with club soda will do you a world of good. Also do something like 4 times as much soda than orange juice, instead of the regular half and half. As for the grenadine.... well it sort of makes the drink, but pom will also give it an interesting look and flavor. When topping with garnish throw away your crap cherries and opt for real cherries from the produce department, and some orange zest.

8. Frozen Margaritas

So I gotta say... Mexican Bulldogs...
So awesome.
As a hot tourist destination, due in part to the lovely Vancouver beaches, margaritas are a tourist favorite. I have to say though, it is a bit weird because it never really gets all that hot in Vancouver, and people tend to prefer them in the frozen variety. I for one prefer them shaken, but since this list is not about my prefeerence, I recommend you get used to making them.

A normal margarita gets an ounce and a half of tequila and half an ounce of triple sec. I should add here that Grand Marnier works better, though it is pricy. Again, the standard is two ounces of lime juice and an ounce of simple syrup, and then you can blend using some ice cubes. If you opt to blend, make sure to add more ice as you go until you get a desired consistency. You can also try substituting the sweet and sour mix by pureeing various fruits, like banana, pinapple, or even kiwi, and throwing In different types of syrup, such as coconut or passionfruit.

7. The Cosmopolitan

That Cosmo! This one actually has Litchi in it, so
it's not totally my kind of thing.
What's a little sex in the city without a Cosmopolitan? And as ashamed as I am to be ashamed make to ask that question there's no shame in being able to make ashamed make a good cosmo. A lot of restaurants and bars of their own take on the cosmo, where they add their own little twist. Usually this something along the lines of using blue curacao to make the drink purple, or adding some random infused vodka. I don't recommend straying from the original though, unless you come up with something truly ground breaking.

A cosmo is quite simple. An ounce and a half of vodka and half of triple sec, an ounce of each lime juice, simple syrup and cranberry juice, shake, strain, garnish and voila! And if you were expecting a way to twist it up, like the previous cocktails you can forget about it.... well okay, the blue curacao thing isn't bad, and there are ways to make this cocktail work using grapefruit juice. But that's all you'll get from me!

6.The Martini

This is a Martini. Note: no bullshit.
Just like every other half classy city in the world, the Martini makes the list. There's nothing complicated here, and if I was hesitant to offer a twist on the Cosmopolitan, it goes doubly so with the Martini. Hell, I don't even like to use vodka in my Martinis, opting for the original gin version. And of course, weaker tongue individuals will have their dirty versions, but I'll stick to the standard.

The original martini calls for an ounce and a half of gin, and a half an ounce of dry vermouth.  I prefer to stir mine, but they're okay shaken as long as one double strains to compensate for ice chunks. And then there's the ever famed muddled ice martini, in the style of Bruno, bartender of Zam Zam and San Francisco bartending fame. It tastes no different than any other martini, but I have to say there's something more rewarding about making a martini this way. Perhaps it's all in the fact that by doing so, I'm doing something that so few others do?

5. The Manhattan

How can you have a list with the martini on it, and not the Manhattan? Well save for a gin cocktails you have to know list, anyway. The Manhattan is often referred to as the Martini of rye whiskey. I don't like to think of it that way, but I will grant that it's a pretty good comparison.

This is how I like my Manhattans. Pretty awesome, right?
The traditional methods of drinking this cocktail called for it on the rocks, and some people still like to do it that way, though, the popular method is to put it in a Martini, which fully realizes the false equivalency that this is a Martini with rye. Being that this is a whiskey cocktail, I readily scoff at the prospect of putting this in a flared rim glass. Whiskey has a delicate and pleasant nose, which needs to be funneled by the likes of an wine glass, glencairn or brandy glass. For the Manhattan though I prefer to use a snifter. I find that it has the perfect volume for the way I like them.

An ounce and a half of rye, half an ounce of sweet vermouth and a few dashes of Angostura bitters. Like the Martini, I prefer it stirred and then strained. But no maraschino cherries for this one. Stick to lemon or orange peel, to complement the rye. Or if you're particularly daring, you can brandy marinate your own cherries. Don't be afraid to try different bitters and vermouth. While Martini rosso is a quality product, Cinzano or Punt E Mes can be even better.

4. The French 75

This French 75 was made using Earl Grey infused Gin.
I was debating even including this one, instead, opting to out the Mimosa on the list. I mean who are we kiddinf? Mimosas are better known and more popular than the French 75. But since this list is going on a stylish streak, I'm just gonna assume everyone knows what goes into a Mimosa, but not necessarily a French 75. In reality, the reason I included this is because I see it as being similar but superior to the mimosa. Not necessarily because to absolutely HAVE to know what it is. That said, brunch is very popular in Vancouver,  and I most definitely encourage you to move your guests away from their Sunday Spumante and orange juice.

It's a similar kind of cocktail as the mimosa, calling for sparkling wine. The popular,  and affordable way is to choose a California Prossecco, but traditionally they are a French creation, and Champagne is the preferred method, if you can stomach using Champagne in a cocktail. Add an ounce of gin and half an ounce of triple sec with some lemon juice and a bit of simple syrup. Shake to your heart's content, and then strain into a flute before topping with your bubbly. I recommend garnishing with a long twirled lemon spiral zest.

3. Mojito

I have to tell you guys... a spiced rum Mojito is pretty
off the balls awesome.
This is another cocktail where I'm going to urge you to stick with the traditional recipe. But in all honesty, different versions of the Mojito can work real well, as long as there's no extra sugar added. Read: no packaged purees! There are also ways to make a Mojito into a delicious beer cocktail, which I'll have room elaborate sometime in another post.

For a true Mojito start off by muddling a healthy handful of mint with a bit of granulated sugar. The mint is the most important flavor of this cocktail, so make sure it's good quality! No black spots, or soggy leaves here!

Next add two ounces of white rum, an ounce of lime juice and an ounce of simple syrup and shake. Pour into a Collins glass and top with soda water to finish your concoction. If you're going to opt for the popular raspberry Mojito, I'd recommend muddling real raspberries with the mint, and using Bacardi Black Razz.

2. The Old Fashioned

I like my Old Fashioned to be indistinguishable
from my Manhattans. Big whoop?! Wanna fight
about it?!
The cocktail that started it all I guess. This is your go to for enjoying a good bourbon, and possibly the most popular classic cocktail in Vancouver. There's a lot of debate about what a true Old Fashioned was like in its time, but the most reliable sources say the four constituent ingredients are sugar, water, bitters and whiskey.

I've written about this one before,  and you can get the full story there. As for how to prepare it? Take a teaspoon of sugar, or a sugar cube, pour a few dashes of Angostura bitters onto it, add a teaspoon of water and stir to your heart's content. Or, rather, stir till the sugar is fully devolved. And two ounces of whiskey and your done. The familiar ice and orange zest are optional.  Personally I prefer mine neat, with a lemon zest. It should also be noted that you can enjoy an Old Fashioned with pretty much any spirit that isn't neutral flavored.

1. The Caesar

Note: A good caesar can be an entire meal!
I'm going to be honest with you. I wasn't sure whether to even put this in the list. It sort of goes without saying that every bartender needs to know how to make a Caesar. But I suppose that this cocktail essentially wraps up the cocktail culture of Canada, it has to be done. Whether you do it or not at your bar, that's totally up to the owners I suppose (there are places that refuse to make them).

Rim a glass with celery salt, and an ounce of vodka, a few dashes of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce, fill with clamato juce and garnish with whatever ridiculous machinations you can come up with.

And there you have it.


Honorable mention: the Negroni.

In truth I prefer the Negroni to both of the gin cocktails on this list. That being said, this is a list for the masses! The Negroni is still a drink of the niche sophisticated croud.

This is not just any Negroni... it's a Negroni Spagliato! Basically that means I topped a Negroni with Spumante.

Friday, May 1, 2015

How not to drink espresso

Before I get started, I want to caveat the premise of my post with the usual ego deflating explanation. People like what they like. I can't tell them that what they like is wrong, but nevertheless, there are certain things I can't stand, and I believe that if the person knew what I knew, they would do things differently. So, with my own self admitted judginess laid bare for what it is, I just want to reiterate that it even though I react this way, I don't think there's anything wrong with people liking what they like, and if anything I'm the one who should be shamed, for being so particular and narcissistic.

With all that said, the skinny latte crowd really grind my gears.
I can appreciate a good espresso coffee. I like Americanos, and Cappuccino, and although Lattes aren't my thing, I can appreciate and respect them for what they are. That said, if you're watching your weight - like a lot of us, including myself - a skinny latte isn't going to help you much. And it also tastes like shit. If you're really that desperate to cut back on your liquid calories, how about you just go for the superior tasting and lower calorie Cappuccino, or, better yet, you can be a normal grown up and get a regular coffee.

Then there's decaf, which for as much as I dislike the idea or taking the drug out of our favorite caffeine delivery method, I can still understand it. Coffee tastes good. You want to give up the stimulant and still have your coffee. So what on Earth is there for me to complain about it if I can understand why it's a thing?
Decaf Americanos. What's the point? just get a regular decaf drip coffee for half the price. One of the key differences between espresso and regular drip coffee is that it's supposed to be more concentrated in flavor, but turning it into a regular coffee, ala the Americano essentially gives you a lower caffeine option to drip coffee, without giving up the caffeine entitely. The moment you opt for a decaf Americano, you're destroying everything that makes espresso preferable to regular coffee in the first place. There's something our there for you decaf Americano fans. It's half the price, for the same volume, gives you the same results and it goes by the name decaf coffee. Anything else and you're just paying for the image of being someone who orders espresso drinks. Espresso is supposed to be associated with a certain quality of flavor. Not pretentiousness.

And while we're on the topic of decaf, so you know what else grinds my gears?! People who order decaf and then load it up with sugar. Normally people give up caffeine because they're trying to get rid of the dependence on a stimulant. So it's perplexing when they replace the stimulating effect of caffeine with the stimulating effect of sugar, which, on top of giving you a sugar high, can also have other notable effects on your health, the least of which being, it contributes to weight gain. So it's the same as caffeine, but it also contributes to ruining your teeth, messed up blood sugar levels, and making you fat.
Okay okay. Maybe they still want their coffee to taste palatable without having caffeine, right? Well I'm going to start by saying grow the fuck up and drink your coffee black, or, if that's not an option, use splenda, vanilla, or cocoa to flavor your coffee. Seriously, those are all good no calorie options that most coffee shops have available.

*sigh*

With all that out of the way, if you still want to drink coffee in the way that I claim is asinine, then have at it Hoss. One irritable bartender who disagrees with the Burger King slogan "Have it your way", trying to alter everything on every menu shouldn't dictate what and how you drink. Ultimately you know what you like better than anyone else.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

How to make the Benton Park Swizzle



There once was a cocktail called the Queen's Park Swizzle. It carried all of the familiar ingredients of the Mojito, but with the addition of Angostura Bitters, floated on the top. And well, I suppose it calls for crushed ice, specifically, and typically has the mint leaves sunken on the bottom. But these are just minor details!

The Benton Park Swizzle looks pretty damn classy. Doesn't it?
One day, someone decided to create the same cocktail, but by floating Fernet, rather than Angostura. The variation was named the Benton Park Swizzle. And it's featured today on the Bottle Opener. Where did it come from? Nobody knows... Or, I don't at least. After roughly 5 minutes of intense research, I could find no original source for this cocktail. But learn how to make it below!

The Benton Park Swizzle
  • 2 oz Amber Rum
  • 1/2 oz Fernet Branca
  • 1/2 oz Simple Syrup
  • 3/4 oz Lime Juice
  • 8-12 Mint Leaves
  • Garnish with Lime Wedge and Mint Sprig
Start off by muddling the mint leaves in simple syrup to a mixing glass, and then add lime juice and rum. Stir the ingredients around a bit, and pour it into your cocktail glass, with the addition of crushed ice. Stir the cocktail a bit again, and prop the leaves up on the side of the glass for added theater. Top the rest of the glass with ice, and garnish with lime wedges (you can put one in the drink if you wish) and a mint sprig, before floating the lovable Fernet Branca on top.

And as always, enjoy!
 
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