CVIndependent

Thu08222019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

If you want something done right, do it yourself.

Yes, there are things best left to professionals, like distilling grappa, dentistry and putting in a new electrical subpanel. However, when I think about all the years I was forced to use mixers that came in shiny bags or bottles—full of food additives and powdered egg whites and dyes—I cringe.

Also, I get it: For many people who give up bartending to become management, a goodly chunk of their pay is incentive bonuses. They have to make the ownership money. Luckily, in 2019, we have a fair share of beverage directors who stake their reputations on quality and owners who have come around to the idea of having such a bar manager. We certainly have several here in the Coachella Valley—but this isn’t about them, not this month.

Back to doing it yourself: Why is anyone buying simple syrup? I walk through the aisles of supermarkets and liquor stores and see bottles of simple syrup for almost $10 a bottle. It’s called “simple” for a reason, people! It costs 50 cents to make. Grab your food scale; weigh a pound (or half-kilogram) of sugar; put it in a tightly sealed container with an equal weight of ice-cold water. Now shake it like it insulted your momma. It will be cloudy, but the cloudiness will dissipate in time. Don’t have a food scale? No problem; just use equal parts by volume … only a total nerd would object. I like the cold-shake method over the heat method, because there is no evaporation: You get exactly what you put in. It does stay cloudy for some time, so don’t make it right when you’re going to need it.

Most bartenders make simple using the hot method: Use the same recipe; put it over a flame and stir, or add super-hot water to the sugar—carefully—and stir until dissolved.

OK … now that you have these methods down pat, why not take your syrup game to the next level?

The easiest way to wow your friends may be an Earl Grey-tea syrup. This has become such a standard in the industry that when I was in a recent drink competition, I used one for my entry … as did three other bartenders. (It wasn’t a great way to stand out, but we are bar geeks. Maybe next time I will use oolong.) Unless you’re in a competition, don’t worry; most people have never tasted the lovely flavor of tea and bergamot in a cocktail. Simply make a strong tea; pour it into the same amount of sugar, and stir. When it’s fully cooled, use it in an old fashioned with gin and a twist of lemon. This is a great alternative old fashioned for the hot weather we still have in the Coachella Valley, as it’s more refreshing than its whiskey cousin:

2 ounces of Plymouth gin (or other light bodied gin)

½ ounce of Earl Grey syrup

2 dashes of orange bitters

Stir over some ice cubes; serve with a twist of lemon.

Make a bee’s knees or gold rush with it, and your friends will be talking about for months. In fact, you can make it the way I did for the contest—as honey syrup—and tell me if I was robbed: Just use extra, extra strong tea, and stir into double the amount of honey. I added some lemon zest and lemongrass as well; it didn’t come through in the finished product enough to make it “mandatory,” but if you have it lying around, feel free. I used egg white, which isn’t the standard recipe but mighty delicious. Feel free to omit it if you don’t like good things … but otherwise:

Drop an egg white into a shaker

2 ounces of dry (or barrel-aged for extra credit) gin for the bee’s knees, or 2 ounces of bourbon for the gold rush

3/4 to 1 ounce of honey syrup

1 ounce of fresh lemon juice

Shake without ice for five to 10 seconds. Add ice, and shake another 10 seconds or until the shaker is nicely frosted. Strain through a fine strainer into a Nick and Nora or coupe glass, and grate a shortbread (or other tea-time-appropriate cookie) over the top with a microplane into a thick line. It’s a little extra, but it will make your guests say, “Oh, I have never seen that before”—and that’s the point, right?

Not a big fan of tea? No problem: If you have some rosemary, or lavender, or thyme, or any other shrubby herb, you can use that to make a great syrup, too! Just take your sugar and water to a simmer; add herbs; turn off the heat; and let it cool. Be sure to remove the herbs when you get the flavor level that you’re looking for, by the way; it can get too strong quickly. Oh, and if it does get too strong, don’t throw it out; just add some plain simple syrup to tame it. Once it’s cooled, you can make a refreshing non-alcoholic lemonade out of it:

2 ounces of herbed simple

2 ounces of fresh lemon juice

3 ounces of water

Shake with ice and dump into a tall glass. Of course, feel free to add vodka or gin if you could use a tipple.

One last twist on syrups: You can make what’s known as an oleo saccharum out of pretty much any citrus peel. Just peel the zest off of the fruit; cover it with sugar; and shake in a mason jar. Then give it the occasional shake until it’s a syrup. I will go into this more when I do an article on punches, but for now, here’s a little tip: You can use hot chilis with the same technique! I use a mix of serrano and Fresno chilis, and slice into fine rings. Ditch most of the seeds, but keep the membranes, and cover with lots of sugar. Shake in the jar … and I like to leave the sealed jar in the hot desert sun. This speeds the process along and adds some more ripeness and fruitiness to the finished syrup—but don’t leave it out there too long. Use a couple of teaspoons of this syrup, after straining, with an ounce of lime juice and two of tequila, and shake over ice next time you’re craving a spicy margarita. No, it’s not a margarita; it’s more of a gimlet. No need to tell anyone, though. Feel free to add some mezcal if you have trendy friends coming.

Oh, and you get candied chili peppers, too! Not only are they delicious; they make a great garnish. Drop a couple in the glass, or if you’re barbecuing chicken or pork, make an hors d'oeuvre with a chunk of meat and a candied chili ring on a toothpick. Talk about a pairing!

However you ride out the rest of the summer, now you can make it a little sweeter.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

It was during a steady shift at the bar not long ago when a guest and I engaged in cocktail talk. She gushed over the Vesper. I compared it to the sitcom The Big Bang Theory—as in it’s super-popular but I personally think it sucks. Nothing against Lillet, but why on Earth would you adulterate perfectly good gin with that boring monster known as vodka? Just order a martini.

Her response was so hilarious I almost dropped my shaker: “Well, you know that you have the French 75 on the menu wrong. It’s a cognac drink!”

Now, the bar team who put the menu together and I know a thing or two about cocktail history, but I restrained myself. As perhaps the last crusader for putting cognac in a Sazerac, I told her this would be a great chance for me to challenge my preconceived notions and do actual research.

As with all crises of the soul, when I first feel my confidence rattled, I turn to God … and when it comes to cocktail history, that would be David Wondrich. Paraphrasing from his article for Liquor.com, the French 75 was basically a name given to a combination of Champagne, lemon, sugar and either gin or cognac that has been popular ever since there’s been Champagne, lemon, sugar and either gin or cognac. But he also states specifically that Charles Dickens enjoyed a combination of Old Tom gin, champagne, lemon and sugar—in my beloved Boston, of all places. This makes gin the frontrunner, in my opinion, as this was well before the Great War and the artillery gun.

Next, I turned to the venerable Savoy Cocktail Book, which I have on my phone, thank you very much, where it is listed as a gin cocktail. Further research: An article for Mental Floss by Clair McLafferty revealed that the drink was first mentioned in 1919 in Harry MacElhone’s Harry’s ABCs of Mixing Cocktails, where the cocktail was listed as the result of a substitution of champagne for soda in a Tom Collins. Using Occam’s razor, and being a lazy “Mr. Potato Head-ing” bartender, I knew this to be the correct answer.

In other words, my friend at the bar was wrong, in that both versions of the drink have some evidence on their side; therefore, to say gin is “incorrect” is, well, incorrect.

Try the drink for yourself. It’s OK with cognac. But with gin, my gosh, it’s good. It should ideally be enjoyed as a hangover remedy or as an aperitif. (That’s just my opinion, but it’s right.)

I implore you: Don’t use the Google recipe of 2 ounces of champagne, 1 ounce of gin, 1/2 ounce of lemon juice and two dashes of simple syrup—unless you want to feel like you got hit by that actual gun. Try this instead:

1 1/2 ounces of gin

1/2 ounce of lemon juice

1/2 ounce of simple syrup

Shake, pour into a coupe, and top with dry sparkling wine.

I actually prefer this drink on the rocks, but I figured someone would come for my head if I put that in the recipe. You could also roll like Charles Dickens and try it as a punch bowl—using Old Tom gin.

Since we’re on the topic … what the heck is Old Tom gin? If you are a cocktail geek, you probably think it’s an artisanal gin aged in barrels to a nice golden brown. Well that is the “fault” of Dave Wondrich. He partnered up with the distillery Ransom in the mid-00s to try to bring the style back. As near as I can tell, Old Tom is simply a Victorian style of gin that was forgotten after Prohibition and replaced by London Dry. In fact, British companies like Tanqueray and Hayman’s have started to make them again from old recipes—and they’re unaged.

According to legend, when gin, aka “Mother’s Ruin,” was an epidemic in England, you could look for a bar with a tomcat on the sign to get your fix. Also, according to legend, you could put your pence into a sort of “vending machine” built into a wall. Once the money was dropped, a bartender on the other side would pour the stuff right into your mouth through the cat’s paw, or, ahem, other anatomy.

Anyway, it’s a softer, lighter and sweeter gin. Have a Collins with it, and again, thank me later. For Pete’s sake, though, don’t use one of those barrel-aged jobs in a Collins or a gin and tonic. Use them in a Martinez or Bee’s Knees, but never in a drink with bubbles, or a dry martini.

Regardless, you should be drinking Old Tom. If it was good enough for Jerry Thomas, it’s good enough for me. Go make your bartender smile.

And Now, a Little Housekeeping

• Jerry Thomas, aka “The Professor,” was the O.G. rock-star bartender who wrote The Bon-Vivant’s Companion and wore diamonds behind the bar like a boss.

• David Wondrich wrote for Esquire about cocktail history before that was a “thing.” If you read my stuff and don’t own a copy of Imbibe, please remedy that immediately.

• The Vesper was invented by Ian Fleming’s character James Bond in the book Casino Royale. Yes, 007 is awesome, but the drink is no martini.

• A Tom Collins is what you should be drinking by the pool if you don’t want a daiquiri:

1 1/2 ounces of gin (unaged Old Tom or London dry)

1 ounce of fresh lemon juice

3/4 ounce of 1:1 simple syrup

Soda and ice; tall glass, please!

• Use the aged Old Tom in a Bee’s Knees instead:

2 ounces of aged Old Tom; Ransom is a good one

1 ounce of fresh lemon juice

3/4 ounce of honey syrup

• Honey syrup is either equal parts honey and water, or two parts honey to one part water, depending on whom you ask. Oh, and 1:1 simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water (usually by volume).

• A “Mr. Potato Head drink” is, in common parlance, when you substitute an ingredient or two in a popular drink, while keeping the proportions the same. So, for example, if you take off the cowboy hat (bourbon) and put on a sombrero (tequila), it’s a brand new thing. Excuse the prosaic analogy. The margarita is a Mr. Potato Head, as are many other nice cocktails, so it’s not a derogatory term. Lately, mezcal has been the King Potato, but if you order a mezcal Negroni, I will give you a dirty look—but the Boulevardier, another Mr. Potato Head Negroni variation with rye or bourbon, is delicious.

So there you go. See what happens when you challenge me on cocktails? You get a rambling rant in return. I’m mostly kidding; feel free to come and throw a gauntlet down anytime. It will keep me honest. Now, go enjoy some fizzy gin drinks, everyone.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

I have curated a mix this month that should prime you for the upcoming summer season!

I wanted to turn up the heat and bring you tracks that can get anyone moving. I took some inspiration from the deeper side of dance, so this playlist can take you from the pool to the club—and back!

I recently decided to retire All Night Shoes and perform under my “real” name, and with that, my style has evolved as well. In any case, you may hear some familiar sounds here—maybe you can pick them out!

I hope you enjoy this exclusive mix. Enjoy these pre-hot season sounds!

  • Redlight, “Gold Teeth” (TRU Concept Remix)
  • Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk” (Chris Lake Edit)
  • Breach, “Let’s Get Hot”
  • Anna Lunoe, “Breathe” (Cosmo’s Midnight Remix)
  • Galantis, “Runaway (U & I)” (East and Young Remix)
  • Tough Love, “So Freakin’ Tight”
  • Kolombo, “Ur the Finest”
  • SNBRN featuring Kaleena Zanders, “California” (Chris Lake and Matroda Remix)
  • Kaskade, “Never Sleep Alone”
  • Bee's Knees featuring Marty Rod, “Rumored to Be Real”
  • Breach, “Jack” (Alex Harrington Remix)
Published in Subatomic