On Painkillers, various and sundry

On June 11, 2011, in bartending, cocktails, by Stephanie

The bartending community is in a bit of a kerfluffle of late. A corporate rum producer, Pusser’s, has sued the NYC Tiki Bar, Painkiller, over their use of the name for both the bar and the appearance of the drink on their menu. The Painkiller is a classic tiki drink, invented in 1971 in the Soggy Dollar Bar in British Virgin Islands by George and Mari Myrick. It was not made with Pusser’s, as at the time of the drink’s invention, Pusser’s didn’t actually exist – the daily tot of rum in the Royal Navy was stopped in 1970, and not being produced anymore (Wikipedia). Their current form, starting in the early 80s,  is actually a re-creation of the rum that was distributed, and not a continuous product.

Copyright law in the US is very clear, you can’t copyright recipes. So instead, Pusser’s obtained a trademark in the US to the drink in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic forms (More on this at Cocktailians). The mark is for the name Painkiller as applied to ‘alcoholic fruit drinks with fruit juices and cream of coconut and coconut juice.’  The Painkiller itself is a variant of the piña colada, with OJ, cinnamon and nutmeg added. Painkiller (the bar) was small, and barely a year old, and they settled, and will no longer be using the name, instead calling themselves PKNY.

Several other blogs have addressed the actual event (Offthepresses, Village Voice), but what interests me the most is the damage that Pusser’s has done to themselves, this quickly. The old adage that ‘any publicity is good publicity’ has become quite untrue in the last decade; restaurants have dropped because of internet ratings, brands have been renamed, etc.

Right now, there are just shy of 500 members of the ‘Bartenders against trademarking cocktails’ group, which was started in response to this event on Thursday. One post asking if people were members of local guilds (USBG, independent, or otherwise) got several dozen responses, with people chiming in from all over the US and a few other countries besides. USBG members from over a dozen different cities waved their virtual hands, including the presidents from Boston and New Mexico. The event of social networking of course means the local is international, now. Not that they really wanted to piss off the market in NYC, of all places.

Now, alcohol manufacturers spend a lot of money on bartenders. I’ve eaten at some of Boston’s best restaurants on the dime of Geikkekan, Beefeater and Combier. Next Monday I’ll be drinking at Eastern Standard on Pernod-Ricard’s tab, and Tuesday specifically on Jameson’s. I have barware and glasses from a good dozen other companies. So what does it mean when, in 3 days, you manage to make 500 bartenders aware of you as a bully who protects a copyright that likely shouldn’t belong to you? A bartender makes dozens of drinks even on a slow night in most places. If a bartender is not happy with you, then unless a person specifically says, ‘with (Brand)’, when they reach for the rum, they’ll grab someone else’s product.

Will it last forever? Of course not. But it does mean for the next couple months, one of the main ways that people get introduced to new brands is going to be limited for them. Coming a few weeks before Tales of the Cocktail, it means that there will be discussion and the brand name will be mentioned unfavourably during  professional panels and at the parties. Next week I’m attending BarSmarts here in Boston. Last year it got about 150 attendees from all over the east coast. BarSmarts is geared to the craft cocktail bartender, and I’m certain that it will get mentioned.

There are vectors of  publicity that are acceptable to piss off. Sometimes a company takes a look at the possibilities and decides that the losses are acceptable. I don’t think that reasoning happened here. There are lots of boycotts that trickle out in a couple months. There are also some that will happily go on forever, but they’re ineffectual because while they’re passionate, they’re small. A boycott by bartenders, which will be passionate and small, has larger consequences; if a bartender serves 100 customers in an evening, then the boycott is effectively spread to all those customers.  Regardless of whether the trademark is defensible (I doubt it would be, in a challenge with someone who had the resources), this was probably not the way Pusser’s wanted to get their name spread among bartenders.


From cheap to trendy: making liqueurs at home

On May 28, 2011, in liqueur, recipe, by Stephanie

Tia Maria bottleWhen I was a child, lo these many years ago, liqueurs were rarish, and really, the sort of thing you went to a bar to find, based on my talks with people who weren’t playing with Star Wars action figures in 1978. I admit this might be wildly inaccurate, but in my house, it certainly was true.

I was thinking this the other day. I remember, vaguely, with the memory of a child who wasn’t paying a lot of attention, my mother being given a recipe to ‘make your own Tia Maria’. It involved Rum, coffee, brown sugar, vanilla, and probably some other things, which is really not the point. I do remember that my mother made a huge honking bottle of this stuff, because that’s what the recipe was for (Mom is a stickler for following recipes), and Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio didn’t exist yet.

What I also remember about it is she also obtained a distinctive  Tia Maria bottle, and decanted from the BIG used rye bottle she had, into the little Tia Maria bottle. It was considered ‘cheap’ to make your own liqueurs; she didn’t mind doing it, she’d tell people if they asked, she shared the recipe along freely…but for social niceties, she just brushed over the origin being our kitchen rather than Jamaica.

All these memories came back after encountering Tia Maria in a list of liqueurs the other day, in the middle of a textbook for a class I’m taking. The class is Bar Smarts, and it’s written and tested by people like Dale DeGroff and David Wondrich. Either of whom would probably think it was a great thing that my mom made her own liqueur. I have many friends who brew their own beer, or make their own wine. I have a friend who makes apple brandy from her own fall pickings. One friend, who does lots of canning, is always taking some of the extra fruit for infusions. I make my own bitters as do several bartending friends and, and I make vanilla extracts with both vodka and rum.

I’m willing to bet that this is very close to what Mom made, though I bet she used white sugar; I’m betting the recipe she had called for that since we’re talking about 70s homemakers here, and instant coffee. Also knowing my mom (sorry, mom), I bet she used artificial vanilla, since that’s all I remember us having in the house, growing up.

  • 1.5 c. packed light brown sugar
  • 1 c. demerera sugar
  • 1 c. espresso or really strong french press coffee
  • 3 c. rum (gold or light)
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped, or 2 tbsp vanilla extract

Bring them to a low simmer, then strain through a cheesecloth and bottle. BTW, this is to get a very close to Tia Maria item here; if making something for myself, I would likely use dark brown sugar, or half as much molasses, instead, and go half gold/half dark rum on the alcohol. But that’s why my mother doesn’t ask me for recipes very often. She thinks I’m flippant about cooking.

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Because this’ll always end well, amirite?

On May 23, 2011, in beer, by Stephanie

PortOPongThere is a site out there called ‘OpenSky’, which is a ‘curated’ shopping site. some famous person picks out one item a week for an extra special deal, but there are only say, 20 available at that price; and then an unlimited number for a small discount.

I follow Michael Ruhlman on there, because a while ago (though I couldn’t afford it) the offer was a KitchenAid mixer for about 40% off, and it seemed like it might be worth it. Also it’s Michael Ruhlman. Some of you know whattimtalkingbout. Rowr.

so I keep an eye on his selections. a couple days ago I noticed that Zane Lamprey, a celebrity bartender type that no one has heard of was shilling there. Ok, maybe you’ve heard of him, but I bet not. He had a show called Three Sheets. Now, what’s fun about Three Sheets is that it was on MOJO. for about a year, until MOJO went tits up. So the show moved to Fine Living Network. For a year until FLN…went tits up. It then disappeared for a while, and he had some rallies to show other networks that the show was viable. Despite hundreds who turned out (no, seriously, hundreds; 400 in Los Angeles), the Travel Channel picked it up, but cancelled it before it managed to kill them, too.

Despite this, it’s a bartendery thing, so I thought I’d just see what was offered. Even though he’s the bartending equivalent of Guy Fieri, there might be some things worth seeing.

The first offer? PortOPong, a floating beer pong rack, so you can play beer pong … in the pool. Yes, I should have expected this. But seriously, he’s shilling a game that tells you to GET IN THE WATER and START DRINKING.



i’m in the current ‘Stuff Boston’

On March 18, 2011, in bartending, cocktails, USBG, by Stephanie

stuff magazineNow, admittedly, it sort of came out 11 days ago, and is only out until Monday or so (depending where you live). But it will always live online!

With that: this week’s Liquid column by Luke O’Neil was on the subject of ‘leftover liquors’; that stuff you bought once, 5 years ago, because it was trendy or your girlfriend was really into Kamikazes, then you broke, up, and the bottle is…sitting there. O’Neil asked a number of bartenders for suggestions, and took me up on my suggested uses for Midori and butterscotch schnapps. Interestingly, I was the only bartender not attached to a bar or restaurant.

Stephanie Clarkson, a private-party bartender and, like Bunnewith, a member of the Boston chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild (USBG), suggests using Midori in place of triple sec in a margarita. “Instead of being too sweet a note, it adds some play to the sour dominant note.”

Butterscotch schnapps are salvageable too, Clarkson says, as in her recipe for the Almond Butter, made with one ounce of amaretto, one ounce of butterscotch schnapps, chocolate syrup, two to three ounces of cream, and seltzer water. It’s like a grown-up egg cream, she says; the carbonation “cuts the sweet schnapps, and you wind up with a very clean-tasting drink that still satisfies the sweet tooth.”

<self promotion> Dear Bar or Restaurant: If you hire me, then when I get quoted, you would be next to my name in bold letters in a magazine read by 234,000 people. Wouldn’t that be nifty? I am building an audience. People at parties ask where I bartend on weeknights. I can put butts in your seats, and I can keep them there. Think about it! -Thanks, Me</self promotion>

My mother claims that I only trained as a bartender because I was having problems becoming a celebrity chef without actually going out and spending years at culinary school (in point, I have made a hobby of auditioning for reality series, and because I can’t sing, and I’m not a rich housewife or a pregnant teen or whatever the residents of Jersey Shore are, I’ve auditioned for cooking shows because I can, in fact, cook. But really, it’s the auditioning that fascinates me). When I showed her this article, she said, “Trying another tack, are you?”

I did admit to her that this is certainly more resultageous. But also it’s REALLY KEEN.


the wine is here!

On February 19, 2011, in wine, by Stephanie

glass of wineSo after an adventure with FedEx (detailed here, because it wasn’t really related to bartending), I have a 6-bottle pack from WineTasting.com – their ‘Customer Knows Best’ kit. BuyWithMe had offered a $75 voucher at WineTasting.com, and I had some credit with them, so I decided to explore.

I’m afraid I’m a bit uneducated in the wine game – I freely admit that I have a taste for inexpensive and overly tart wines (my tastes always tend towards tart, sour, and citrus when given my druthers). I suspect that my palate is fine, it’s just uneducated in how to express what I’m noticing in wines. So this is sort of an intermediate test. I have a lot of book larnin’ about wine. But now what I have are six bottles of wines that were all reviewed by the users of WineTasting.com. I know they’re good, and instead what I’m going to do is drink each wine, make extensive notes, and then see how my palate compares to the reviews each wine has gotten.

This isn’t actually about whether I like the wine or not. Instead, can I learn to describe what I’m tasting, and also, how does that compare to the palates of informed wine tasters?

The very brief list of the wines, with links to their review pages and the desc from WineTasting.com follows. I have not read any of the reviews yet, so no spoilers! The one exception is the Glass Ridge selection. It was because I had noted it, and thought ‘oh, that sounds good’, that I came across the collection of bottles and decided to give it a whirl.

  • St. Supery 2007 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, California (NAP958)
    A refreshing acidity keeps all of the extraordinary flavors light on their feet, very juicy and a finish that goes on forever.
  • Paseo 2006 Reserve Unfiltered Carmenere, Maule Valley, Chile (CHI118)
    If you like Merlot, you’ll love this unfiltered gem, a smooth and rounded wine that is beyond description. Silver, Highly Recommended, Best Buy: 2008 World Wine Championships.
  • Tough Dame – Red Brick Cellars 2009 Tough Dame Cabernet Sauvignon, California (CAL922)
    A classic film noir poster homage design on the label hints at the classic blend within. The perfect amalgam of berry fruit, earthiness and oak.
  • Loxarel 2007 OPS, Penedes, Spain (SPA104)
    This release from the noteworthy Penedes region strays a little from the traditional Spanish red formula. Overall, a welcoming wine with an appealing character. 2010 World Wine Championships: Gold, exceptional, best buy.
  • Hamilton Estates 2008 Merlot, California (CAL899)
    Fruit forward with silky smooth tannins and flavors of cherry and blueberry interwined with hints of vanilla and dried herbs. Silver, Best Buy, World Wine Championships.
  • Glass Ridge 2008 Vintner’s Select Chardonnay, California (CAL898)
    Filled with rich flavors of baked apple pie, caramel, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg, delicate honey over a spicy finish. Gold, 2010 San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition.

Oh, I have been very busy

On February 9, 2011, in boston, update, by Stephanie

I did a little bartending last month, and worked at a con, and moved from Somerville to Quincy (it’s just one end of the red line to the other, but I feel very far away), and I’ve had I.T. work, and it’s just been a massive amount of stuff!

In the middle of all this, I took a class/seminar in scotch whisky tasting (I took notes and will transcribe them soon), provided some info to Stuff Magazine on the subject of ‘using liqueurs you’re sort of embarrassed to have in your bar’, sold some syrups to a bartender, and….hrm. You know, something else that I was thinking of when I started the list, and it’s gone now.

Next week I’m taking a class in molecular gastronomy – as I said to someone the other evening, I’m hoping to get some good ideas and skills from it for bartending – Jell-O Shots are one of the original attempts at molecular gastronomy. If you ever want to be blown out of the water by jelly shots gone upscale, go check Jelly Shot Test Kitchen. They are the most elegant jelly shots on the planet.


An Open Letter

On January 8, 2011, in boston, by Stephanie

Foundry on ElmDear Foundry on Elm:

In my courier bag, I have a folder. In it are a pile of news clippings of bars and restaurants that I’d like to work at and that I’ve been tracking to approach. The first clipping in the book was an article about you from before you opened, and there were several more added when you opened and as the reviews started.

I missed when you were first looking for people; and I was pretty sad. But I knew that I didn’t have the skills to do what you would no doubt want.

Now, I should note, I’ve been a web developer for about 14 years; before that I was in desktop publishing. I went to university to train to be a  journalist and I’ve taken a one-year diploma course to be an administrative assistant. You may think I am overqualified for a job as a server. You’d be completely wrong. I just spent most of this last decade doing work that was fun in the 90s but that no longer really challenges me – I’ve always been more engaged and involved when my job involves the public (from time to time I’ve taken part time retail jobs just to get out and interact).

I’ve spent a lot of the last decade taking  increasingly specialized roles as a web developer, and well…I’m simply not suited to it anymore.  I like serving people. I get along well with people for the most part. Strangers talk to me readily, and I enjoy talking back and maybe making their days brighter. It’s a challenge to me to see if I can get a great tip: I like the instant feedback.

Last August, after a lifetime obsessed with cocktail culture (I had an extensive set of swizzle sticks when I was 7), and provoked by the fact I didn’t feel I could bring anything to the table if I applied with you, I took a certificate in Bartending. I then certified in ServSafe Alcohol so I could learn about serving appropriately. I started making my own bar mix, syrups, and bitters. Then I started doing private parties for free to build up some experience.

About which time, one of my favourite web dev jobs called me and I wound up being a little ‘bird in the hand’, because I really like my boss there.

But here’s the thing: I want to work for you. No, on paper, I’m not the ideal server. I don’t have experience within the service industry to fall back on while searching for better, more gainful employment, because this is what I want to do. I want to be a server, a barback or a bartender. Foundry on Elm (and the cocktail bar I heard you had planned) is one of the places that I really want to do that in.

I stopped in tonight and picked up an application. They told me that 3:00pm weekdays was the best time to drop the resume back. So I’ll see you at 3, Monday.



(who uses an alarm clock with two alarms, and keeps it 4 feet from the bed)


Imbibe features Boston area bars

On January 6, 2011, in bartending, boston, magazine, by Stephanie

the new Jan/Feb issue of Imbibe magazine, which can be found at The Boston Shaker in Davis Square, has great article on the Boston cocktail scene. there’s some extra online content here.

I had been out tippling at Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square and came home to find my subscription had showed up, telling me to go drink at Russell House Tavern. So that worked 😉


i’m your private ‘tender…

On December 19, 2010, in bartending, by Stephanie

I recently read an interesting article in the New York Times about New Yorkers hiring bartenders for private parties. Now, the first thing I want to say is I think that some of the people they quoted were….well, I hope for they were deep in their cups when they said some of that stuff.

There is absolutely no problem in my eyes to just taking a table and piling it up with a few bottles of wine, beer, some vodka and a couple juices and letting your guests pour for themselves. That said, I know from the parties I’ve worked as a bartender, your guests will love the feeling that you went all out. A bartender can help you out immensely; a good one will circulate, pick up cups and keep the party looking good late into the night. They’ll keep an eye on your guests and make sure none of them overindulge, and warn you if there’s an issue with Dave, even if it is only his third beer tonight (where ‘tonight’ is technically true, but he only started drinking 45 minutes ago).

They’ll also help you figure out what to buy; a good bartender has learned lessons about ice and alcohol, and what you should lay in. They’ll help you keep things under control so you don’t buy far too much tequila and not nearly enough gin. For additional fees, they will often prepare and bring fresh juices, bar mix, their own supply of bitters, and all the ‘behind the bar’ tools, so you don’t need to worry that you don’t have a muddler and a julep strainer when the discussion turns to Mark Twain’s preferred tipple.

Generally, this can be had at a fairly reasonable rate; In Boston, expect to pay around $25 an hour as the flat rate, for the bartender. Be prepared to tip on that, and remember that should include before and after services – you must pay for the time they spent squeezing limes and prepping garnishes for you at their home that afternoon, the hour they set up during, and the time after the party wound up where they cleaned up and washed your glasses while you said goodnight to your last guests.


local tending: taza and bittermens

On December 19, 2010, in bartending, bitters, buy stuff, deals, by Stephanie

A short while ago, Taza Chocolate, a local artisanal chocolate factory here in Somerville, started working with Bittermens, a bitters company that makes very small batch bitters that are very tasty. Bittermans actually rents space in the Taza factory. Bittermans offers an amazing chocolate mole bitters using Taza’s chocolate under their own brand name, and makes a chocolate extract that is sold under the Taza brand name. For the most part, at $18 a piece for either the extract or the bitters, they are for pros and serious enthusiasts, but I assure you that they’re worth it.

Taza is (as of last weekend) now offering tours of their factory where Bittermens is located). It is $5 to take the tour, and they happen Thursdays and Fridays at 4pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 1pm and 3pm. However, there is a deal today at BuyWithMe – for $5 you can tour the factory and get $5 of chocolate from their factory store.

I am going to use my store credit towards the Taza/Bittermens collaboration, chocolate extract, available here.  J points out that this is basically ‘buy $5 of chocolate and get a tour for free,’ though I think it’s ‘pay for a $5 tour and get chocolate for free. Either way, it’s a sweet deal. Literally.