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Fri07192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

I’ll be honest: I’m not feeling very inspired this month.

My list of favorite cocktail places in the Coachella Valley hasn’t changed much this year. With the exception of the Del Rey (sorry for not covering you yet—it’s coming), it’s pretty much still the same seven or eight places. While there is no shortage of earnest people trying, I would like to be able to get a proper negroni or daiquiri before I can get something with beet juice and cachaça. You’ve got to crawl before you can walk, people.

We’re also in the middle of a ton of retrogrades and astrological horrors … and while I am not using that as an excuse, I think many of you can relate. So this month, you’re getting a thought piece on what it means to be a bartender—specifically, a bartender in the Coachella Valley.

I realized two insane truths recently: 1) Some guy named “Joe Pizzulo” sang “Never Gonna Let You Go” when I was certain it was James Ingram. 2) I can host an event, and people will show up. Seeing a crowd actually turn out for something as weird my “Tarot Workshop” at the fabulous Dead or Alive bar in Palm Springs was great … and exhausting.

This got me thinking about bartending, and the role of the bar and the bartender. I had a bar in front of me at Dead or Alive—as I always do at work. Could I have addressed a crowd without a bar in front of me?

What is the bar? Is it a stage? Is it a barrier? What is a bartender? What am I to you? When you look at me at the grocery store, like, “How do I know that guy?” it’s a little freaky. You don’t recognize me? Honestly, I talk to you three days a week for hours at a time. It must be like when I used to see a teacher out in public. She buys milk, too?!

The bar is like a sacred space, with the bartender as the shaman or priest. When one attends religious services, one (hopefully) leaves worldly problems at the door while walking into a sacred space. One does the same at a bar. The bar is a place of freedom and camaraderie, with the bartender being something like a friend—but a little removed, like a priest, or an actor, or something like that. I suppose this is why I wave at you, and you think, “How do I know that guy?”

It can be a lonely life, but luckily, we have other bartenders. Bartenders mostly hang out with bartenders, or other service-industry folk—maybe chefs here and there, or the server or host we’re dating … anyone who “gets it.” Is it any wonder that so few of us can make it long in this business … and if we do make it for a while, we never leave? It’s both a support system and a vicious circle. We spend a lot of time absorbing energy from everyone who walks in the door, and the rest of our time drinking over-proof rum and burdening other bartenders. We’re mostly introverted, and the question is: Were we introverted before we started? In my case, I can say “probably” … I was definitely the fat, nerdy kid, but I have always had a big mouth.

Of course, being a bartender in the Coachella Valley can be a little … different. Why does nearly every new-to-town entrepreneur seem to think you can bring in a consultant from San Francisco, an architect from Los Angeles and a manager from Brooklyn (who are all going to leave within six months) and succeed? Why not see what the local talent pool has to offer? There are many talented locals who would jump at the chance to take on a project. You want the good local people to work for you? Well, we take care of each other around here. No disrespect to the consultants—a lot of you are friends—but not everything that is a hit in the Meatpacking District will be a hit here.

The Coachella Valley could also use a more-robust nightlife scene. The number of questions I get every weekend in the range of, “So, what is, like … fun to do around here?” is in the dozens. Perhaps the tendency to drink by the pool all day or have bottomless mimosas is the real problem. That’s a pretty wicked combination. The fact that people occasionally bristle when I suggest a “gay bar” on a weekday (even if it’s a welcoming little spot like Retro Room—come on, people!) doesn’t help.

But there is hope. We have a new music venue, The Alibi, bringing cool and exciting acts to town (which you can read more about here), and an arcade and nostalgia bar called Glitch just getting rolling. (They’re both working on their cocktail programs as of writing, this so forgive my not talking about their drinks.) I am also aware there are new venues slated to open all over the place in the fall and winter … and that’s just in Palm Springs proper! In fact, the number of events and things to do has never been greater. FOMO is a real thing these days, and I hope to contribute to that in a small way.

So … get out there, people! If you’re a young bartender, it’s time to shine. Make your mark! The Coachella Valley needs you to step up—and I am just an email away if you’re in over your head.

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

Hot, isn’t it? Well, don’t fret; I am here to help. This month, I thought I would give you some basic tips and tricks to beat the heat—cocktail-wise, at least.

The most common question I ask guests at the bar is: “Shaken and citrusy, or stirred and boozy?” Why? Well, most people generally think of drinks as sweet or not sweet, which is understandable, based on the checkered history of cocktails in the last 70 years, but not really helpful when it comes to getting you into a cocktail you’ll love. If you went into a restaurant and told the server, “Nothing too salty,” without explaining you have hypertension or something, the server may think, “OK, these people think our chef isn’t good.” If you say to me, “Nothing too sweet,” I get it, but I also can’t help thinking that you think I suck at making drinks. My attitude on my better days is, to paraphrase one famous wine-maker, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

But I digress. Most of the guys (and some ladies) will answer, “Well, I want it boozy!” Of course you do, but you clearly didn’t grok what I meant. Most people, when it’s 105, actually want a citrusy and shaken cocktail—and don’t worry; it will be plenty boozy. That being said, a stirred drink can be wonderful on a hot day if prepared correctly. Let’s take the classic gin martini, for example. For the coldest and best martini, you need ice. That sounds trite, but most home bartenders (and some “pros”) don’t use enough ice when stirring a martini. Fill that baby up—like two-thirds of the stirring glass. Invest in something nice, or order a graduated Pyrex pitcher from your favorite internet monopoly; they look nerdy, and they’re cheap to boot.

Also, never make two martinis in the same pitcher; and have different ice on hand for different drinks. Here comes the science, people.

Ice, depending on how it’s cut, has different properties when used in cocktails. If you make a martini with crushed ice, due to the increased surface area of the ice, you’ll get a watered-down mess. Make a martini with one cube, and you’ll need to stir forever to achieve a properly chilled and diluted drink. What you want are evenly sized cubes, like from a classic ice tray, or in a pinch, the bags of ice from a convenience store. (If you’re looking for extra credit, get a block, and hammer it into 1- to 2-inch cubes.) Fill the glass past half after adding the desired ingredients, and use your senses to know when the drink is ready. A good guide is trusting your stir: When the ice and liquids start settling into their comfortable free states, the drink is ready. It’s as cold as it’s going to be.

Practicing your stir not only makes you look cool, but also helps you make a better drink. When your pitcher gets cold on the outside, and the stir becomes silky-smooth, you’re done. If you do want to use the fancy big cubes, stir your cocktail over smaller ice first to get it colder than a text breakup, and then strain over the big cube. Keep your stemware in the freezer while you prepare your martini as well; it looks great and helps the chill. Some people who come into the bar tell me they keep their gin in the freezer for martinis, which is fine if you want to just drink cold, undiluted gin—but that ain’t no martini, sir. Water is an ingredient. A good compromise is one I read in Japanese bar-hero Kazuo Uyeda’s book: Keep it in the fridge instead. That way, you still get some dilution, but a stiffer and colder drink. The vermouth should always be in the fridge, and you should be using it. These days, when it comes to gin or whiskey, “Skipping the vermouth is uncouth”—copyright me.

Oh, about those vodka martinis: Skip the vermouth; add olive brine; no judgement. If you stir, you’ll get a silkier drink; if you shake, you’ll get a colder, but more-watery finished product. It’s a matter of preference, and the fridge trick still applies.

Now, for the citrusy stuff. The first thing you’re going to need is what I call “basic sour.” Feel free to experiment a bit here. Start with a cup of fresh lemon or lime juice, and a cup of 1:1 simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water by volume or weight), depending on the desired drink. Let’s use lime, and say it’s a daiquiri. Using 2 ounces of rum, add an ounce of lime to the shaker and a half-ounce of the simple. Shake it really well, until the shaker frosts up, and pour. It might taste too tart, so make one with 3/4 of an ounce of simple. Try it with an ounce of simple as well, for comparison; I have seen recipes using that spec, mostly from liquor brands for some reason, but it’s a little sweet for my tastes. Play around with fine sugar, too! We use simple at bars for convenience, but a powdered sugar (not the kind you’d use for frosting with the corn starch, but the super-fine stuff) daiquiri is divine.

Once you have your proportions, you have a tool in your tool-set. Want a Collins? Use gin and lemon with your fancy new techniques, and put it in a tall glass with soda water. How about a mojito? Just add mint to the daiquiri recipe; give it a light shake with crushed ice (for Pete’s sake, don’t abuse the mint too much), and add soda in a tall glass. The list is nearly endless. Margaritas are an important exception: They use a “daisy” template, which is (and, again, play around with it) two parts spirit, one part orange liqueur of your preference, one part fresh lime, and a little sugar or simple. Find your preferred proportions, and have the best margarita on the block—but if you add orange juice, I’ll disown you.

About crushed ice … did you know you can get it at Sonic? Well, you can. Just don’t use it for everything. I know, it’s super fun, and everyone goes nuts when they see it, but it’s not fit for a gin-and-tonic or other highball-style drinks where the carbonation matters. That includes the Collins, but the mojito loves crushed ice. So do tiki drinks in general (and when I finally do a real tiki column, we’ll get into that).

I’ll finish with a shameless plug: I have uploaded videos on my Cryptic Cocktails blog showing you how to make a perfectly cold and balanced martini, as well as daiquiri, featuring two of the best bartenders in Palm Springs, as a companion piece to this column. There is also some stuff on there you might like that doesn’t fit the parameters of On Cocktails; do check it out if you can’t get enough cocktail nerdery!

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

My kitchen counter looks like a biology lab.

Milky water and floating produce sit in jars that burp when I loosen the cap a tiny bit. The smells of cabbage, garlic and onions waft through the air. The sauerkraut, in the largest jar, is diminishing steadily by the day—and the cauliflower giardiniera is being enjoyed as well. The slimy pickles have been a harder sell; they taste, as my chef put it, “Weird.” They’re definitely pickles, but kind of carbonated.

Microorganisms are a crapshoot … what can I say?

My expedition into natural fermentation got me thinking about the less-than-sexy process of making very-sexy booze. You see, I am what they call a “nerd.” Being a bartender hides that a bit, but the craft-cocktail scene is infested with us. Why else would we care about a cocktail from 1879 when vodka-and-soda pays the bills better? Because I am a nerd, I care—and wish others also cared—about how these amazing alcoholic products are made. Liquor companies throw around phrases like “single barrel” or “10 times distilled” or whatever the marketing term of the moment is, but how many actual consumers or bartenders really know how the sausage is made, so to speak?

I am reading Proof: The Science of Booze, by Adam Rogers, which covers everything about alcohol from yeast and sugar to hangovers. Without giving away his tales of the unsung people who contributed to the history of distilled liquor (and you should definitely pick up a copy for your bar library …. wait, you don’t have a bar library?), I thought I would share some of the basics about what goes into making your favorite spirit.

Let’s start with sugar. Most people have heard the terms “malt whiskey” or “malt beverage,” but what does that actually mean? Malting is a process by which grains, often barley, are turned from starch—a form of sugar that yeast can’t eat—into something that yeast can eat. I am going to skip most of the technical jargon here, but basically you trick the grain into “thinking” it should start breaking down its starchy body so it can grow.

Scotch-makers love to brag about their malting floors, where earnest men with shovels and boots turn grain in an old barn. Sure, some (tiny) distilleries actually do that for their entire output. Chances are, however, the Scotch you last enjoyed wasn’t really made that way. Yes, it was malted—at a large industrial operation controlled by one of the major beverage giants. When an American distillery attempted to skip the malting stage using a process created by Japanese scientist Jokichi Takamine, the facility suffered a massive fire, as well as a more-than-suspicious comedy of errors putting it out. As a result, malted grain is here to stay; after all, tradition reigns in the high-end spirits world.

Other spirits—rum, brandy, tequila/mezcal, etc.—that are not made from grain don’t have to worry about this step at all. Makers of cognac and tequila still emphasize the sources of their sugars—limited quantities of grapes and blue agave, respectively, both of which need to be grown in a small region as dictated by law. Some higher-end vodka-makers often market their source sugars, so only rum-makers tend to stay away from glamorizing the humble grass that makes their product … at the moment, at least.

Sugar is just sugar until the magic happens—and that magic comes from yeast. But where does the yeast come from? It’s often already just sitting in the environment ready to go. If you leave wine grapes in a bucket long enough, they will become wine (of a sort). According to various scientists interviewed in Proof, humans may have “domesticated” yeast, just as they domesticated the wine grapes. Perhaps the yeast “used” us too, because as we spread the v. vinifera, we spread the yeasts along with them. The funny thing is the ancients had no real concept of yeast—just that grapes became wine in the way that clouds become rain, or something like that.

Brewers both old and modern use closely guarded strains of yeast that contribute to the specific flavors of their beer—but they always have to worry about getting the right flavors and not letting unwanted yeasts ruin the finished product. These days, strains of yeast are so specific that someone can actually go into a tasting room and try products that are identical, aside from the yeast used. I’ve done this myself at a bourbon distillery, and I can tell you the differences range from subtle to striking. When you buy a “single barrel” bourbon, you’re buying a particular batch with a particular yeast blend, and not hedging your bets on the distiller blending different batches together. It’s a matter of trust that the distiller is choosing the whiskey where the yeast, among other factors, is giving you a flavor profile that justifies the higher price.

What other factors make alcohol taste differently from maker to maker? Many things, depending on the actual spirit. There is the “mash bill” for whiskey, the agave and elevation for mezcal, the barrels used for aged spirits, the actual method of distillation—and a maker is going to put whatever makes the product unique and marketable on the label. Since many get their sugars and yeasts from the same large facilities, the production methods are often what get marketed.

So … what do those pickles on my counter have to do with making all that sweet hooch? The bacteria and yeast in the air that are turning my chilis into beautiful hot sauce also affect the methods that lead to the creation of spirits. While you may not taste the byproducts in the finished spirit in the way that you might in a wine or beer, the fermentation process is still one of the beautiful mysteries of nature. It’s controlled chaos, where we as humanity stumbled for millennia without scientific precision, using our taste buds are our guide. Apparent mistakes can become beloved styles of food or drink as a culture embraces their particular microbes. Maybe my pickles will be next … that is, if I can get anyone to try them.

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

The idea for this column came to me as I was getting my head smashed in by a large man in a ninja outfit.

Don’t worry; this didn’t happen in real life, but during a video-game tournament at The Hood Bar and Pizza—a suggestion from our Uber driver who said he would also be competing. I noticed several of the competitors were consuming, in pint glasses and pitchers, something that looked like barber-shop comb sanitizer.

“Why would anyone want to drink that?” my companion wondered. “That’s just begging for a hangover!”

“Why do people eat Tide Pods?” I responded.

I, of course, promptly ordered one. It was my old friend, the AMF. If you don’t know what that is, count yourself lucky. For those of you who have gone to college or drank at a dive bar in the last 20 years, you’ve probably seen it. It’s sweet and sour—and strong enough to make you think you can compete in a video-game tournament at 40. It’s also blue … like really blue, the color blue that only kids younger than 12 consider a good color for things that go into one’s mouth. Oh, and the name … well, let’s say it stands for “adios my friend,” but only the “adios” part is true. It’s basically a variation on a Long Island iced tea, and as I drank, I thought about how little written cocktail history is dedicated to these drinks—the maligned, the infamous, and, dare I say, the occasionally fun cocktails that were ubiquitous during the cocktail “dark ages,” and still have a following today.

The Long Island iced tea … is there a more infamous cocktail? I worked for years doing volume bartending, at night clubs and patio bars especially, and my LIIT game was on point, I must say. That may sound like a silly thing to say, but when your line (mob) at the college bar is significantly longer than the lines at other wells, you know something is up. I mean, despite its hangover-inducing reputation, it’s still a cocktail. There is a right way to make it—and many wrong ways.

Let’s break it down: The standard recipe is equal parts vodka, gin, white rum, tequila blanco and triple sec; as to the amount of each … well, as they say with Ti’ Punch, “chacun prépare sa propre mort.” Each prepares their own death.

The balance, theoretically, comes from the varying flavors of the alcohols and the addition of an ounce or two of sour mix (or an ounce of lemon and 3/4 of an ounce of simple syrup, if you’re fancy). Shake that whole mess; strain into a tall glass with ice; add a good splash of cola—and you’re in business.

Other variations, gathered personally over the years, include:

• Long Beach iced tea: Substitute the cola with cranberry.

• AMF: Add blue curaçao instead of triple sec, and lemon-lime soda instead of cola.

• Grateful Dead: Add lemon-lime soda instead of cola; leave out the triple sec, and drizzle blue curaçao and framboise/raspberry liqueur down the sides of the glass (or, preferably, the fish bowl) to create a tie-dyed effect.

• Boston iced tea: Use Kahlua instead of triple sec.

• Tokyo airport: Add Midori instead of triple sec, and lemon-lime soda instead of cola.

This list could go on and on, actually; to avoid diminishing the classiness of this column, I stopped before the “Irish trash can.” (Email me if you actually want that one.) I think you get the point: Not only has the Long Island iced tea become universal; it has become a template on which bored bartenders at questionable establishments still experiment. So who was the genius behind this modern-day classic?

It turns out that is a matter of controversy. Many of the articles online mention the same controversy, between Kingsport, Tenn. (on its own long island) and Long Island, N.Y. A piece from Atlas Obscura sums up the Tennessee story thusly: A bootlegger named Charlie “Old Man” Bishop had a bunch of prohibited hooch lying around and mixed it all together with a little maple syrup. Later, in the 1940s, Ranson Bishop, his son, added the cola and lemon. It’s a cute story; I have no doubt that this bootlegger mixed together his stock with some maple syrup to sweeten and take the edge off of his Prohibition fire water. I don’t even doubt that his son added lemon and cola to his pop’s cocktail. However, there is no way on Earth Old Man Bishop had tequila or vodka, much less triple sec, on his island in Tennessee during Prohibition. So … his maple-syrup cocktail was likely more of an old fashioned, really, and not the drink we know. I am calling this one a myth, albeit a plausible one. Let’s move a few decades ahead …

The story I had been familiar with is the one crediting Bob “Rosebud” Butt for whipping it together for a cocktail contest in 1972, while working at the Oak Beach Inn in Long Island, N.Y. I found this quote on the certainly-not-biased “Long Island Grub” blog:

My concoction was an immediate hit and quickly became the house drink at the Oak Beach Inn. By the mid-1970s, every bar on Long Island was serving up this innocent-looking cocktail, and by the ’80s, it was known the world over.

Who wouldn’t trust a guy from Long Island with the nickname “Rosebud”? Mystery solved!

But … not so fast. Further digging led me to an article on Thrillist in which the author claims the drink showed up in 1961 in Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book and in 1966 in American Home All-Purpose Cookbook by Virginia Habeeb. I spent a lot of time looking for an online or PDF version of either, without luck. The author didn’t mention how he came across that information (leaving a link to Betty Crocker’s website and a modern recipe does not help), and I hit a dead end. These books are available but rather pricey on eBay. If you have a copy of either in your mid-century kitchen and would email me a picture of said recipe, you would be helping with cocktail history, and I will definitely give you a shout-out out in a future column. To be fair, even Butt admits others might have made similar drinks before him, but that his was the one that really took off, and therefore should be considered the original.

Well, it’s high festival season as I write this. If the swarms of young women taking selfies dressed like Billy the Kid are driving you to drink something unwise, the Long Island iced tea is certainly a good option. Stay away from the Grateful Dead, though; it’s guaranteed to make you feel like you went to three days of outdoor concerts the next day.

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

Four is a magic number …

OK, I know that isn’t how the song goes, but when it comes to cocktails, some of the most popular drinks use equal parts of four ingredients. When using the right ingredients, the resulting drink can be well-balanced like a properly made table, while using the wrong ones will give you a figurative pile of lumber.

It’s important to have a few of these in your cocktail portfolio, to experiment with and maybe even make into your own modern classic! So just in time for the fourth month of the year, here are some of the most popular classics and modern classics using four ingredients in equal measure.

While its name suggests I should end with it, I will start with the Last Word, since in the early days of my discovering well-made cocktails, it was a favorite. It’s a bit of a tell that someone is sticking their toes in the world of craft for the first time, so to speak, if they order a Last Word. This isn’t to suggest it’s a beginners’ cocktail, though. The unlikely combination of gin, green Chartreuse, Luxardo maraschino liqueur and lime juice is a bold and funky mix of aggressive flavors. According to David Wondrich in Imbibe!, the recipe shows up in 1915 on the menu of the Detroit Athletic Club, and is attributed to monologist and vaudevillian Frank Farrell. This blast from the past is a pricey home cocktail to make, though; expect the ingredients to run just less than $150 total—and your guests will certainly drink you out of them once they get a taste!

  • 1 ounce of gin
  • 1 ounce of Chartreuse, green
  • 1 ounce of Luxardo maraschino
  • 1 ounce of lime juice

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a cherry if desired.

Another classic that uses four equal parts of ingredients (plus a dash of absinthe, but who’s counting?) is the ever-popular Corpse Reviver No. 2 from The Savoy Cocktail Book. Inventor Harry Craddock states that “four of these in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again!” True. Bear in mind the Kina Lillet in the recipe would have been more bitter than Lillet Blanc that most people now use in it, so you can use Kina L’Aero D’Or or Cocchi Americano instead for a more accurate reproduction. Feel free to use Curacao instead of the triple sec for a richer drink.

  • 1 ounce of dry gin
  • 1 ounce of triple sec (Craddock used Cointreau)
  • 1 ounce of Kina Lillet (see above)
  • 1 ounce of lemon juice

Shake; strain into a cocktail glass that has been rinsed or spritzed with absinthe, lightly. No garnish needed, but some people like a cherry or lemon zest.

Another cocktail with which I was enamored in my early days of drinking, and which has undergone many strange and complicated iterations over the years, is the Singapore Sling. While the Raffles Hotel in Singapore gets the attention for this one, Wondrich points out in Imbibe! that the drink was ubiquitous in Singapore years before the hotel claims it was created there. Ignore all the other recipes you see in cocktail books; the real McCoy is equal parts of the four ingredients. Feel free to adjust the proportions to your preferences as you go, of course.

  • 1 ounce of gin
  • 1 ounce of Cherry Heering
  • 1 ounce of Benedictine
  • 1 ounce of lime juice

Build this one in a tall glass; add soda or mineral water, and stir gently.

Being a sling, it’s going to need some bitters as well; I like four to six dashes of Angostura. No garnish needed, but a cherry flag is fun, and traditionalists like a spiral cut lime zest.

Now onto a couple of “modern classics” that I frequently make behind the bar, starting with the Paper Plane. Sam Ross invented this one just more than 10 years ago in New York, and it quickly became a “must-know” drink if your establishment attracts cocktail nerds.

  • 1 ounce of bourbon
  • 1 ounce of Amaro Nonino
  • 1 ounce of Aperol
  • 1 ounce of lemon juice

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass; no garnish is necessary, but I usually use an orange zest. Don’t skimp on the expensive Nonino! Although this drink can be made with, say, Averna, it won’t be the same.

You can see the pattern developing here: one part of a strong spirit, two parts of liqueur, and one part of citrus. This becomes a template for creative substitution, or in bartender parlance, “Mr. Potato Head” cocktails.

Next up is the Naked and Famous. Joaquin Simó, who came up with this one while at New York’s Death and Co., calls it “the bastard child of a classic Last Word and a Paper Plane, conceived in the mountains of Oaxaca,” according to a feature online in Imbibe magazine.

  • 1 ounce of mezcal
  • 1 ounce of Chartreuse, yellow
  • 1 ounce of Aperol
  • 1 ounce of lime

This one can also be made as a mezcal Paper Plane just by subbing the spirits, but the lime and yellow Chartreuse pair better with mezcal, so it’s worth doing it this way. Although Simó made it with Del Maguey Single Village Chichicapa mezcal, that’s a pricey ingredient that’s better enjoyed neat, in my opinion. Any decent mezcal will do.

This little list is by no means exhaustive, and I know I am leaving some people’s favorites out (looking at you, Blood and Sand!), but I chose these ones specifically for their particular balance and widespread appeal. They are also the drinks that people like the most at cocktail parties in my experience, especially the Corpse Reviver No. 2 and the Paper Plane. As a bonus, the recipes are easy to remember and measure. You don’t even need a jigger, really—just a small shot glass or anything like it will do in a pinch!

So, yes, four is a magic number—when it comes to cocktails, at least.

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

This month, in an attempt to defeat sleeping in, I’ve been exploring all sorts of interesting spots in the desert with my intrepid companion. Among other things, we learned that visiting Giant Rock, near Landers, in a two-wheel-drive vehicle is not easy.

We’ve recently been checking out the Desert X exhibits all over the Coachella Valley. While I am no art aficionado, it was a great way to motivate myself to visit parts of the desert I don’t frequent. I heartily suggest getting out there!

Aside from the art, I got to bounce on the trampoline-like beach of the Salton Sea, which filled me with equal parts dread and wonder. I also got to visit The Ski Inn in Bombay Beach and had one of the friendliest (and most enjoyable) bar experiences I’ve had in a while. As the sun went down over the water, and I sipped a cold bottle of domestic beer while chatting with locals, it got me thinking about this unique place of beauty and the challenges it faces. But I will leave the Salton Sea story to the real journalists.

I have been thinking a lot about adventure lately. The desert, among other things, provides many opportunities for adventure. Whether that adventure is in search of spiritual growth or the downright silly, you can find it here. The very word “adventure” itself has meant many things throughout the centuries. It originally meant “that which happens by chance, fortune, luck.” These days, it means, more or less, exposing yourself to a certain amount of risk for some potential gain. What better description of a night (and/or day) of consuming cocktails?! If chance, fortune and luck tag along, what better companions?

Anyway, after much preamble, here are some tips for minimizing risk and maximizing luck on your desert adventure.

1. Don’t brunch. “Whaaaat?!?!” I can practically hear the clamor: “Brunch is the best! Brunch is part of the reason we come to Palm Springs!” Yes, and brunch is the reason you are in bed at 8 o’clock when you come here. Yeah, and it’s also the reason you never went to Joshua Tree for that hike or visited those homes on your list for Modernism Week. Anthony Bourdain famously once said something to the effect of, “Brunch is for ‘people who brunch.’” Another way to look at it is: If you brunch, then that is all you will do that day. I am known to enjoy the occasional brunch myself, but if you plan on enjoying the bottomless mimosas, you are really just buying yourself a bottomless headache for the rest of the day. What a bargain! Instead, maybe stick to a michelada/chavela, if you must brunch and you have any other plans that day.

2: Make reservations. The desert is an easy-going and friendly place … until you show up with your party of six on a Saturday night to one of the better restaurants without a reservation. Call before walking in, and if you get offered an earlier seating than you hoped for, take it.

3: Don’t show up to a craft cocktail bar with your entire wedding party, unannounced. Craft cocktails take time to make, and if you drop 50 people into a craft-cocktail place, you are not only creating bad service for yourselves, but everyone else who was already there. Also, you’re going to be so loud and/or obnoxious that it will create a negative environment for the people trying to enjoy their drinks in peace. There are plenty of high-volume bars and clubs in town that would be happy to have you (call them ahead as a courtesy, though) … and we don’t have Red Bull, anyway. Instead, please visit us with a smaller group of cocktail-lovers when you can get away from the pack. Most craft places are on the small side, too, so if you think you’re going to fit into a place like, say, Bootlegger Tiki with your entire extended family and friends … it’s not going to happen.

4: Respect the environment and the community. Just as you wouldn’t (I hope) trash a beautiful desert preserve or park, remember that people actually live here, and it’s a real community. While I think most of us locals understand and deal with the little annoyances that come with tourist season, that does not mean we have unlimited tolerance. If you’re cool, we’ll be cool. If you stumble around with solo cups and act like fools, you’re going to get some side eye, at the very least. Try to remember that, in a small town, if it isn’t “your bar,” you’re a guest. We’re all small towns at heart out here. Also, try not to be “indoor cicadas.” I came up with this term for the noise that comes from having multiple bachelorette parties in the same bar. Not sure if it can be helped … just throwing it out there!

5: Talk to strangers! You’re an adult—so you can eat ice cream for breakfast now, and you can talk to strangers, too. People here love to talk to visitors and give them suggestions about all their favorite restaurants and activities. Trust me: Everyone here has an opinion on everything. One of my favorite activities on a night off is “kidnapping” visitors and showing them around. Sometimes we end up with a veritable caravan by the end of the night. If you find yourself in one of the remaining “Old Palm Springs” places (not all of which are in Palm Springs proper), talk to the older folks. When’s the last time you chatted with seniors? It can be a lot of fun, especially when a few martinis are involved. You’ll probably get a dubious Frank Sinatra story to boot.

6: Put your phone away. I know … the light here is exquisite. Your Instagram story is going to be so cool. But resist the urge. Breathe. Put the phone away … just for like 10 minutes. Enjoy a moment of quiet reflection. Maybe you’ll see a hummingbird at just the right time, and it will give you an epiphany. It’s just for you and not for your followers. At the very least, you’ll be less likely to get hit by a car crossing Palm Canyon.

7: Day drink. “Wait, you said not to brunch!” Yes, but I would never tell you not to day drink. That’s what we do in the desert; it’s practically a civic duty. Get yourself a good breakfast; hit an easy trail (you can find then all over the Coachella Valley); see an art exhibit; or engage in some other activity so you don’t feel like you wasted the whole day … and then get your drink on. Make a communal punch for your friends to enjoy at the rental. Enjoy the hotel pool with some frozen coconut monstrosity. Hit a local bar, and play your favorite song on the jukebox. Stroll down the sidewalk with a nice buzz making unnecessary purchases. Be open to adventure. Just remember to hydrate, and keep in mind that club soda gets you drunk faster, so beware those vodka-and-sodas.

8: Be safe. There are so many more things I want to say, but I will end with this. Use your common sense, and don’t underestimate the effects the sun and alcohol can have on you. For Pete’s sake, don’t drive while drinking. That’s an adventure not worth taking.

May all of your adventures end well!

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

“Dr.” Eli Perkins was arrested by a California sheriff and a platoon of deputized vigilantes in 1882 and summarily sentenced to “hang by the neck until dead” for a number of crimes, the least of which was “quackery.”

This is a partial transcript of his last medicine show, taken by a surreptitious stenographer wearing a false mustache. Whether the sentence was carried out or not is unknown. Needless to say, all medical advice below should be eschewed.

Ladies and gentlemen, gather ’round. I, the one and only Dr. Eli Perkins, offer you the latest in cutting-edge medicine from Paris and New York City, as well as folk remedies from the Cherokee medicine men and from the Ascended Masters of K’un-Lun.

Now … don’t be shy! Step up, and tell me what ails you.

Stenographer’s note: Obvious plant approaches the stage with exaggerated limp.

“Esteemed doctor, I suffer from fatigue, and injuries from the war. Is there any hope to restore my condition?”

Why, my good man, you just need some of this imported Vin Mariani! Chock full of the wonder medicine of the Andes, coca leaf! Here, let me mix in some gall of the Western diamondback rattler, known for its quick strike, and some monkey adrenal gland, and there you go!

The “doctor” muddles a mixture together and hands it to the “patient,” who immediately begins performing calisthenics for the bemused audience.

Now then, for the harshest cases such as my friend here, this mixture is available for purchase in the bottle. Now … is anyone here suffering from the common cold, the grippe, influenza or consumption?

A few hands reluctantly rise.

Excellent, excellent—I mean not for your unfortunate conditions, of course, but because I have simple cures from the science of Mixology ready to give you a fast cure! I have here a selection of the finest Smashers, Franklin Peculiars, Radiator Punches, Vetos and Timberdoodles ready to mix and fix!

You, sir—the one with the cacophonous cough! Step right up for my famous hot toddy! This combination of spirits, sugar and water is just the thing for your sad state. Science has proven that with the addition of sugar, the harsh spirits have a foil on which to act, sparing your constitution from its deleterious effects and bolstering your strength! Beware of doctors pitching false toddies without sugar, merely trying to save a penny at your expense.

Perkins throws a lump of sugar into a mug with some hot water. He beats it with a “toddy stick,” which resembles a small baton. Then he adds a goodly slug of Scotch whisky. The consumptive man takes a sip, and although scalding his mouth, he seems somewhat contented.

You see! The toddy is the remedy of kings! Now, you ma’am, you seem a little down in the countenance. A “Whisky Skin” for you!

Perkins takes a paring knife and removes the zest from an entire lemon. He puts it into a flagon with more of the same whisky and the water at a boil. The seemingly healthy woman also scalds her mouth, but also seems to perk up after a few sips.

No sugar needed for that one; she’s as healthy as a filly! Now, for the apple of my eye …

Perkins points to a pretty young lady in the crowd.

… an apple toddy!

He begins again with a lump of sugar and boiling water, beaten with a toddy stick, and after adding some apple brandy, places a baked apple in as well, and beats the whole thing in the mug until well smashed. The young lady sips with delight after carefully waiting a moment.

Now, gather ’round, people, for the greatest heights of mixological science, the great Professor Jerry Thomas’ Blue Blazer!

Perkins mixes Scotch and boiling water in a silver mug with a handle and lights it with a match; as the blue flame rises in the fading twilight, he pours it into a second mug. As he pours back and forth—leaving, it seems, a little in each mug at all times—he becomes more courageous in the descent of the flaming liquor.

Right before he can serve it into the dainty tea cups with lemon peel and sugar applied, he is tripped by the man doing calisthenics nearby (still apparently under the influence of coca leaf). The flaming liquid spills and lights the trailer ablaze. The crowd disperses as gunpowder and liquor ignite. Perkins, his shirt engulfed in blue flames, makes a run for another man’s horse to escape. Deputies are in pursuit.


I now return you to your regularly scheduled cocktail column.

For the previous recipes, while all in the public domain, I owe a great debt to David Wondrich for his masterful presentation of them in his opus Imbibe! All fancies aside, the toddy is not approved by any medical doctor for curing any ill.

If you would still seek comfort in any of the hot drinks mentioned, the recipes in their ancient form will certainly work as listed. I prefer to marry the toddy and Whisky Skin together. My preferred method at home is using a pot-still whisky, preferably from Scotland or Ireland if possible, with some raw sugar and a lemon peel. American whisky, cognac and even rums work well, too; actual apple brandy is a real treat if you can find it. I grew up—in my bar career, I mean—using honey as the sweetener and a squeeze of lemon dropped in with the hot water, basically like you would with tea. Maybe it’s a New England thing.

As the desert has gotten this outrageous amount of rain, welcome as it is from locals, I have been getting plenty of calls for hot drinks, and specifically toddies. This truly is a drink that you can make any way you like. Want to add star anise, or a cinnamon stick? Who would object? Honey, agave, sugar? Just no stevia, please, for chrissakes! Most craft bars these days have a house recipe, and nearly every bartender has an opinion on the matter. Feel free to choose your own adventure.

Please, however, do not make the Blue Blazer, or risk the fate of Eli Perkins … fair warning. Oh, and as much of a “restorative” as Vin Mariani might have been, it’s been illegal for some time, but you can still buy its nearest relative—in red-and-white cans and glass bottles—pretty much anywhere.

Stay dry people! Just not too dry.

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

This month has been a whirlwind, of sorts—as I suppose it is for everyone.

Friends and family in town … work … the disappearing and reappearing illnesses—December is tough. Since it’s not going to get any easier as it winds up, I figured I would focus on the much-loved and oft-maligned corner of cocktail culture: the breakfast tipple!

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I don’t care for Bloody Marys. This wasn’t always the case, but somewhere along the line, I started finding them to be too aggressively savory for morning consumption. Most of them are so shoddily constructed that they aren’t fit for consumption at all; a glass of congealed horseradish and tomato soup just isn’t what I want when I have a hangover. And don’t get me started on most of the commercial mixes out there!

But when friendship calls, I answer, and I had a very hungover houseguest the other day who happens to love Bloody Marys. So we jumped in my car and headed out to Sloan’s in Indio, the home of the “Frankenmary.”

As the bartender put her gloves on and proceeded to assemble the veritable appetizer sampler precariously sitting on top of 32 ounces of my nemesis—the entire bar watching and glancing occasionally at the two gluttons in the corner who ordered it—I started second-guessing the whole idea. Then the two monsters arrived at the table in the hands of the smiling and proud bartender. Imagine me, local cocktail snob and curmudgeon, faced with this tower of excess.

The beverage itself was too much, a giant flagon of breakfast booze. Sticking out at all angles was a collection of various bar favorites: chicken wings, cocktail shrimp, mozzarella sticks, bacon, a slider, various cocktail-tray garnishes … and a piece of asparagus. You gotta eat your veggies!

So, I hate this, with every atom of my being, right? Actually … I thought it was fun. Sometimes you have to put your inner critic aside and embrace your inner Guy Fieri.

Why is all the food hanging off the drink? Isn’t this just the same as getting three Bloodys and an appetizer sampler on a plate, like a (somewhat) normal person? Answers: I have no idea, and basically, yes. But there was something so classically Americana about the whole thing. It doesn’t make any sense, but we create something like this because we can, dammit! If a screaming eagle had driven by in a monster truck painted red, white and blue, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It felt silly, and excessive, and just plain fun. Any time you can bring an element of fun to fixing a hangover, or just to our current milieu in general, I am all for it.

Do you prefer a little less drama with your restoratives? Well, there are plenty of other options out there, but you might have to make them at home, as I haven’t seen many on local menus. So … let’s start with the Red Snapper.

Originally from the Hotel Regis in New York in the 1930s, the Red Snapper was more or less a plain old Bloody Mary with a different name; it seemed some of the guests found the name more palatable. These days, if you order a Red Snapper, you’re going to get a Bloody Mary with gin instead of vodka … or you’ll get a strange look. This might be a time when you get to educate your bartender (gently, please), as I have found this baby to be a little obscure.

Less obscure is our Canadian neighbors’ contribution to the field, the Bloody Caesar. The drink, widely considered the national drink of Canada, it is generally considered to have been created in 1969 in Calgary, Alberta, by Walter Chell, for the opening of an Italian restaurant. Having tended bar in two places incredibly popular with Canadian tourists—Palm Springs and Boston—I have seen the general confusion caused by the similarities and differences in the drinks.

The Caesar, although there are many variations, is defined by the Clamato and vodka that make up its base. Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce are also included—but leave out the horseradish, please! Canadians enjoy drinking this one anytime and anywhere—morning, night, at the beach, whenever. We in the States consider ordering a Bloody after 3 p.m. a faux pas, leading to a lot of dirty looks from bartenders when a savory tomato-juice drink is ordered in a busy nightclub. Canadians tend to think the Caesar is a superior drink, and they just might be right—but if you are going to drink one at night, it might be best to do it at home. Your bartender (and the rest of the bar) will judge, and hard.

Another fun variation on the Bloody is the Bull Shot. If tomato juice isn’t savory enough for you, the Bull Shot replaces the tomato juice with beef broth! This one became the celebrity brunch drink of the ’60s and ’70s, only to fall off the map in the ’80s. Years ago, I came across an original menu from a restaurant in Boston where I was working, from when it was a ’70s local celebrity hangout. I was intrigued to see they had not only a Bull Shot prominently on the menu, but also a chicken-broth variation, and a mix of the two! I would love to see this one come back, with the bone-broth trend still chugging along. If any bartenders working at a daytime spot get cracking on it, I will come check it out! Basically, it has the same recipe as a traditional Bloody: Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, celery salt, black pepper and a little lemon perhaps; just substitute the broth for the tomato juice. It’s not advisable for those with hypertension.

The Bloody Bull is mostly forgotten, but is perhaps the king of this family of drinks. It traces its origins to New Orleans, as do so many cocktails, and specifically to Brennan’s. As with most cocktails, the history is murky, but not as murky as this beauty actually is. Basically, take a traditional Bloody Mary, and a substitute a little of the tomato juice for a slug of good, rich beef broth. It’s all in the proportions, but an ounce or so should do it. This is a drink that should make everyone but the vegetarians happy, featuring the nose-opening pungent-ness for the Bloody fans, and the extra-savory brothiness for the Caesar adherents.

Now, about those garnishes! While I don’t suggest using a whole appetizer plate on skewers, pickled vegetables are always nice; I prefer green beans or asparagus. The traditional celery adds a nice aromatic as you crunch; olives are OK, too, but celery, in my opinion, adds more to the drink. If you are using bacon (or a hot wing!), make sure you skewer it over the drink; nobody wants wet bacon or greasy cocktails. My companion on the Frankenmary expedition was famous for adding a freshly shucked cherrystone clam to make an ersatz Caesar that we derided as “The Yucky Jeff,” but it sold like crazy, so it seems the sky’s the limit with garnishes. I am also fond of the fizzy beer sidecar popular in Wisconsin; a little beer sip here and there does wonders to break up the spice and salt.

New Year’s Day is nearly upon us … so however you decide to recover, garnish with abandon.

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

All those we list cannot please every reader, naturally … anisette, kümmel, tequila, Hawai’ian okolehao—all have their enemies and champions. No, the best we can hope to do is thumb over our battered field book, our odd scrawled-upon bar chits, menus and scraps of notes from bygone days, and construct therefrom a sequence of drinks which for this reason or that, stand out in memory beyond their fellows.

—Charles H. Baker

I’ve often mentioned the influence that certain books have had on me throughout my awakening as a craft bartender and drink writer. Without them, I would still be fumbling along, trying to balance drinks by seeing how many lemon wedges and sugar packets made the perfect lemon drop.

I know I stand on the shoulders of giants—some still writing, and others long passed. I have many bartending and culinary books on my shelf, and between my second or third copy of Imbibe! and my dog-eared paperback of Kitchen Confidential is a slim hardcover of Jigger, Beaker, and Glass; Drinking Around the World by Charles H. Baker.

There are bar books, and then there is The Gentleman’s Companion, as the aforementioned book by Baker was originally known. Baker (1895-1987) wasn’t a professional bartender; he was more like one of the well-traveled cocktail nerds we get at the bar from time to time. I have heard him referred to as the original cocktail blogger, which is pretty spot-on, except it ignores that he wrote for Esquire and other publications professionally from time to time.

His modus operandi was to go to a far-flung locale, have a drink—be it at an expedition base camp or a colonial hotel or wherever—and try to re-create both the cocktail and the moment. This is a 1930s version of a blogger, discussing which Calcutta hotels are better for the epicurean, and which drinks are appropriate for what prep-school alumni gathering—a blogger who sounds variously like Sax Rohmer, an elated Frasier Crane and a wistful C. Montgomery Burns. There is a good deal of humor in his grandiloquence, however, and thankfully not as many cringy racist and chauvinistic turns of phrase as you might imagine in a book of foreign travel from 90 years ago. He is engaged with his subjects, and happily gives credit to a Tagalog-speaking bartender in Manila as quickly as a British naval commander for a good drink.

Mostly, it’s his passion for travel, cocktails and comradery that make this book such a unique read. No drink goes without some background of where it came from and who, if known, created it. Also, the drinks are pretty well-constructed for a fellow who was trying to piece drunken episodes back together. Still, I usually tweak the recipes a bit to make them more suitable to the modern palate.

If this introduction wasn’t reason enough to look into a copy for your favorite cocktail nerd’s collection, let me share with you a few interesting recipes from its pages. The parentheses are my own, and recipes are abridged for space. Many are worth a mention for the name alone.


TURF COCKTAIL NO. II

(Baker relates an outing at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay from February 1931 to preface the recipe.)

We had won all of 67 rupees on this gold-cup, 23,000-rupees race, and were feeling very horsy and turfy, and tired of the “chotapegs”—just plain Scotch and not-too-cold soda, without ice of the last few days—and were open to suggestions.

  • One jigger (1 ounces) of dry gin
  • One pony (1 ounce) French (dry) vermouth
  • 1 teaspoon of absinthe
  • 1 teaspoon of maraschino
  • Dash of orange bitters

Stir like a martini and serve in a Manhattan glass, ungarnished.


THE WAXMAN SPECIAL COCKTAIL

(Baker tried this cocktail, named after an associate editor at Cosmopolitan, in New York, then encounters it at a bar in Palm Beach, Fla., much to his surprise. I am known to make this one on request.)

  • 1 pony old tom gin
  • 1 pony Italian (sweet) vermouth
  • 1 pony decent applejack (apple brandy if you can)

Shake with finely cracked ice (I would stir); strain into a Manhattan glass; float a half-ounce of yellow chartreuse on top.


MEXICAN “FIRING SQUAD” SPECIAL

(During a visit to Mexico City in 1937, Baker and friends find themselves bored with their highbrow guides and head to the Ill-famed La Cucaracha bar.)

And finally on one occasion we broke off by ourself (sic), sought out this bar—where an aristocratic native oughtn’t to be seen!—ordered things in our own way.

  • Two jiggers of tequila
  • Juice of two limes
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of grenadine, or plain gomme syrup (use a quality, preferably homemade grenadine)
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Use a tall Collins glass with shaved ice, garnished with a flag of orange slice, pineapple, and cherry. (I recommend making this into two drinks and shaking it a bit with crushed ice.)


TIGER’S MILK NO. 1

(Baker and associates in Peking, 1931.)

Yes, we coasted in through the break in the huge breath-taking battlements of the Tartar Wall, to the station of the Water Gate. We got that strange lift under the heart all men get when they step from the world we know straight back into the heart of a city dating for thousands of years.

  • 2 1/2 jiggers old brandy
  • 1-2 teaspoons of sugar or grenadine
  • 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 1/2 cup of milk

Shake with ice and strain into a goblet. (This was a particular favorite of Baker.)


Finally, for the morning after, Baker gives up a wide range of “Pick Me Up” cocktails, a common euphemism in those glory days when it was expected for one to have a tipple in the morning to shake the demons from the night before.

ILE de FRANCE SPECIAL

The field of the great gray Morning After is one which this same civilized mankind is trying to graduate from undiluted hair of the dog that bit him, to something less regurgitative.

Build in a champagne flute:

  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sugar
  • 1/2 pony (1/2 ounce) of cognac
  • Fill with very cold champagne
  • Top with a dash or two of yellow chartreuse

Now that’s a fine drink to get you through the holiday season if you ask me! Of course, you could also opt for the “Holland’s Razor” or the classic “Prairie Oyster,” but neither Baker nor I would recommend that.

If things go awry, Baker also offers steps to relieve a bloodshot eye, restore someone from fainting, “alleviate apparent death from toxic poisonings,” and even revive a man found hanging; this advice is adjacent to tips on pairing caviar and oysters and how to store and serve claret. It makes one wonder at the type of parties we missed out on being born in these less-cavalier times.

All of this can be found in a mere 200 pages, and re-reading it is making me want to deactivate my social media and simply write about my travels again.

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

This town turns on a dime. Last month, I was writing about the slowest time of the year and sipping switchel. This month, I need an ice pack for my right elbow and a brace for my knee as I look for new gray hairs in the mirror.

If I were more of a traditional beverage writer, I would offer a list of spooky cocktails for your Halloween soirée. Maybe next year. Instead, we need to talk about garnishes.

I don’t know if anything confuses my guests more than garnishes: Watching what people do with the things hanging off the side of and/or stuck in their drinks is a never-ending source of curiosity to me.

Drink garnishes were a bit of an afterthought in early cocktail history. In early American cooking and drinking, the answer to most things was nutmeg. Nutmeg was such a common touch to early punches and slings that one ancient recipe book even recommended grating your muddling stick if you ran out! One had to keep up appearances, I guess. We don’t see nutmeg often as a garnish these days, but in the craft scene, we have a soft spot for it, and you can find it behind the bar in a little cup somewhere awaiting the odd Brandy Alexander or whatnot. When it comes to drinks with nutmeg or other spices grated on top, they are there for aromatics: Their purpose is to float on top of the glass and provide a pleasant odor to the overall experience. Trust me: If I thought your drink needed a half-teaspoon of nutmeg incorporated into it, it would be in there—so please don’t stir in the grated coffee bean, nutmeg, cacao nibs or other gritty aromatics! You don’t want that texture … trust me.

Speaking of nutmeg … forgive the aside, but there is a special cocktail that deserves a little more love: the Army and Navy. I had been doing a little research on this little oddity of old-fashioned flavors, and found myself in muddy waters. I checked in with bar manager at Truss and Twine, fellow cocktail writer Dave Castillo, for an assist. He relates that it first appeared in David A. Embury’s Fine Art of Mixing Drinks circa 1948, but was “Embury’s reformulation of an earlier cocktail which called for a larger portion of gin and was described by him as ‘horrible.’”

I can tell you this reformulated mix of gin, lemon, angostura bitters and orgeat is anything but horrible. It just might be the perfect drink for a warm day or even a cool fall night in the desert, when there is just the slightest hint of autumn in the air.

Continues Castillo, “Embury’s recipe called for a lemon twist as a garnish, but we prefer a grate of nutmeg, as it plays off of the confectionary flavors of the bitters.” Having tried it both ways, I can certainly vouch for that. As with most drinks calling for something sweet and sour and boozy and bitter, these are just recommended specs:

  • 2 ounces of London dry gin
  • 1 ounce of lemon juice
  • 1/2 to 3/4 of an ounce of orgeat
  • (Aside within the aside: There are many mediocre orgeats on the market, and sweetness and complexity will vary greatly. I suggest that if you can’t make your own, then Liquid Alchemist is a nice homemade-like choice. Dave’s not parting with his recipe, but there are plenty of them online!)
  • One or two dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Shake with ice; double strain up into a coupe! Top with a grate of good ol’ nutmeg with the microplaner positioned directly across the rim of the serving glass.

If there is a garnish more revered than nutmeg, it’s mint. Unlike exotic citrus fruits and seasonal berries, which were certainly used when available, mint grew from coast to coast for months out of the year. Mint is both a garnish and an ingredient, and in a drink like the mint julep (a topic for another time)—basically a sweetened bourbon over ice—the aromatic garnish becomes an ingredient by sheer force of intensity.

Let’s be honest, though: When you hear “mint,” you are probably thinking “mojito.” Well, few drinks are as often botched as the mojito. In my early days behind the bar, I certainly was no exception. Using the back of a bar spoon to punish some wilted mint into submission, adding some granular sugar packets into the mixing glass, squeezing yesterday’s lime wedges while hoping for some brownish liquid to precipitate … the horror. The mojito deserves an article of its own; for now, refer to the Southside article from a couple of months ago (available for free at CVIndependent.com!), and substitute a nice, light-bodied Cuban style rum for the gin.

The lesson I learned from my early days of making what I now call “mint soup” is that leafy herbs are best treated lightly and with generosity. The key to a good mojito, or eastside fizz, or Planter’s punch isn’t mint incorporated into the drink; it’s the bounty of fresh, lively, green mint flooding your nose with terpenes and other aromatic molecules! In other words: Please don’t shove the mint garnish into the glass. If the drink needed more soggy mint, we would have added it! It doesn’t do any good in there, and just makes it look like you’re drinking swamp water. Obviously, this advice also goes for basil, rosemary, or anything else with a stem.

Now that the two main types of aromatic garnishes (hard spices and fresh herbs) are out of the way, let’s discuss the rest. As for the ubiquitous lime or lemon slice on the top of your glass, try the drink first. If it’s a bar that cares about your drink, the slice will be fresh and vibrant. If it’s not, maybe switch to a bottle of beer. Do not drop a nasty piece of citrus into your drink … citrus garnishes can cause foodborne illnesses! If the slice looks good, try the drink before just squeezing it in. We put it there for you to adjust the tartness to your taste, so if it calls for it, by all means, use it.

As for other garnishes, like your classic “flag” of cherry and pineapple or orange, the same warnings apply. If they look like something you might eat at home on a plate, eat them. If they look suspect, take them out and put them on a beverage napkin. The same goes for the leafy stuff if it’s overpowering or annoying—just take it out, and let us clear it away. Easy!

When it comes to garnishes, a little can go a long way, and a lot can go a long way—but at the end of the day, remember that sketchy garnishes are often the sign of a sketchy drink program. Good garnishes are a sign that the bar cares about the details. In this month of scary things, make sure to avoid the ones on your glass.

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

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