What We Will Be Drinking For Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite eating holiday and it is right around the corner. You aren’t in the red zone for thawing a turkey yet but it should be on your mind. Perhaps I love it so much because it is one day of gluttony that is perfectly acceptable. It is also expected that anyone that sat at the “big table” will be falling asleep in front of the television during the Lions game with their belt or at least a button undone. Not that we will all be wide eyed for the Cowboys either…

When it comes to pairing wine with the midday feast there of course is the ever popular Beaujolais region with its light, young, zingy Gamay based reds. Dad will probably want a big Napa Cab or a Zin and may think that Beaujolais Nouveau is a scam. Too bad I lean more towards French Rhône blends because they pair fantastically with anything you will find on the turkey day table and they won’t blow you away like a big Cali Cab. You can always have a bottle of bubbly around and if that is your jam. I do prefer Champagne for smaller get-togethers or a few bottles of Crémant to save a buck or two for a big group. For Thanksgiving in Ann Arbor we usually grab all our wine from the awesome Turkey Wall at Everyday Wines in Kerrytown.  But what about like…booze booze?

This year my wife and I will have both sets of parents joining us as well as her two older brothers and their significant others (one is expecting), two toddlers, and two dogs (one being a giant golden retriever). Full house. We will be doing all the cooking to keep the kitchen entirely gluten free so in order to keep glasses filled I will be making a punch. When it comes to punches I am pretty fond of the classic recipe:

One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak.

I have used this ratio over and over with great success and anytime I stray from it I usually regret it. Seeing that we will be in Michigan my weak component will be fresh pressed apple cider from a local mill cut with sparkling water. Sour is easy to do with lemon juice and for my strong I will be using a mix of funky Jamaican rums. For the sweet addition I will be using an oleo saccharum made with lemon and orange peel with some whole black peppercorns and cinnamon sticks tossed in for good measure. This will all be served in a large bowl over a big block of ice with oranges, apples, and lemons sliced up and floating about. For the kiddos and those that don’t care for alcohol I will have some spiritfree spiced cider ready to go.

Spiritfree Hot Cider:

In a Crock Pot:
Add One Gallon Local Apple Cider
A Few Sticks of Cinnamon
10 or so Cloves
15 Black Peppercorns
1 Cut Up Knob of Ginger
1 Quartered Orange

Set the Crock Pot to low and check it in four or so hours.
Strain the mix through some cheese cloth or just be careful with your scooping.
Use a ladle to serve the cider in coffee cups.
Toss in a few ice cubes for the little ones.

After dinner and probably before the Lions lose, a bottle of Drambuie will make an appearance. One of my favorite evening drinks and totally seasonally appropriate for Thanksgiving is the rusty nail. The goal is to get these in the hands of some non whisky drinkers.

Rusty Nail:

In a Rocks Glass:
Add One Large Chunk of Ice
40 ml Blended Scotch Whisky (Dewars or Famous Grouse)
20 ml Drambuie

Stir briefly to incorporate.
Lemon twist and discard.

Between punch, wine at dinner, and a rusty nail or two that should be enough social adhesive to keep everyone happy…and probably in need of a Bloody Mary before Christmas shopping on Black Friday.

Gobble Gobble,
Luke Andrews

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Bitters and Pocket Squares

A friend and I got going on a nerdy conversation about bitters last night over some drinks and I came up with an analogy that I really enjoyed. Lets see if it holds any water.

I claim that there really is no point in dabbling with extraneous bitters that only have one specific purpose. All you need for good cocktails are: Angostura, Peychaud’s, and Orange bitters. (Who you stand by for orange bitters is another heated discussion for another day.)

He claims having all of the extraneous bitters allow for more variety and that it is okay for a cocktail to hinge on a few dashes or drops of an obscure bitter and they should all be treated in the same regard as Angostura, Peychaud’s, and Orange bitters.

I said, “The cocktail is a tailored suit, it should be able to stand on it’s own. Bitters are the flashy socks, pocket squares, and other unnecessary accessories that can add some pizazz but can also take away from the look if overdone…”

He jumped in with, “Well then, what about your precious Ango, Orange, and Peychaud’s?”

To that I replied, “You mean the phone, keys, and wallet that go in the pockets of every outfit you wear.”

We ordered another drink.

Your bartender,
Luke Andrews

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General Principles from Everyday Drinking

Ask anyone I have ever hired to work behind a bar and they will tell you that Everyday Drinking by Kingsley Amis was listed as required reading during their first month on the job. I have bought and given away more copies and I have the digital version on my digital devices. I treat this book as a small drinking Bible.

Everyday Drinking

Amis of course has his own Ten Commandments (that he lists as general principles) and they are as straight forward as the original ones jotted down by Moses himself. Here are my takes on his general principles and how to apply them to modern drinking and cocktail making.

General Principles:

  • G.P. 1: Up to a point (i.e. short of offering your guests one of those Balkan plonks marketed as wine, Cyprus sherry, poteen and the like), go for quantity rather than quality. Most people would rather have two glasses of ordinary decent port than one of a rare vintage. On the same reasoning, give them big drinks rather than small—with exceptions to be noted later. Serious drinkers will be pleased and reassured, unserious ones will not be offended, and you will use up less chatting-time going round to recharge glasses.

    • The Longest G.P. on the list and a rather important one. I think this falls under learning how to read the room but his point is very strong. Generic people want generic drinks and they would take quantity over quality. We see this constantly in the over sized drinks served at cocktail bars. Though his true feelings for his personal drinks are written out many times in his book: “the bottom half of a too-large drink is warm when you get to it.” More on this with G.P. 3.
  • G.P. 2: Any drink traditionally accompanied by a bit of fruit or vegetable is worth trying with a spot of the juice thrown in as well.

    • Basically squeeze a little lime or lemon juice in your gin and tonic. Duh. All simple highballs taste great with a shot of their pairing citrus juice. The Gin Rickey is pure evidence of this.
  • G.P. 3: It is more important that a cold drink should be as cold as possible than that it should be as concentrated as possible.

    • This is something that I take seriously and believe in wholeheartedly. I could not agree more with Amis here. Most cocktails I get out at a bar are not cold enough but may be exactly diluted enough. I think this falls to poor training and incorrect technique. He is not saying he is okay serving watery drinks…he is saying that a few more degrees towards freezing is far more important than a few more degrees closer to the still.
  • G.P. 4: For any liquor that is going to be mixed with fruit juices, vegetable juices, etc., sweetening, strongly flavoured cordials and the like, go for the cheapest reliable article. Do not waste your Russian or Polish vodka, etc.

    • This is probably why I go through more Gordon’s gin than anything in the house. For punches and shaken drinks you are covering up most of the nuances of a high end spirit. There is no need for using your top shelf booze in your simple punches, shaken sours, and ever popular brown & stirred drinks . Leave those for drinking on their own or in 2-3 ingredient stirred cocktails.
      • I go over these types of cocktail bottles pretty extensively in the spirits section on my main page. Here is a quick refresher of my go to bottles for cocktails:
  • G.P. 5: The alcohol in any bubbly drink will reach you faster than in its still version. Hence, or partly hence, the popularity of champagne at weddings and other festivities.

    • Anyone that has celebrated with a bottle of Champers at a wedding, birthday party, bowling tournament, etc. knows that this is true. There is no avoiding it. Bubbly drinks are the cocaine of cocktails. If you want the booze to hit quickly drink bubbles. Do you like to party?
  • G.P. 6: With drinks containing fruit (other than the decorative or olfactory slice of lemon, orange, etc.) it is really worth while to soak the fruit in some of the liquor for at least three hours beforehand.

    • Rule number one for making a punch. Soak the fruit in the booze and then make sure you don’t eat too many slices after it is prepared. A lot of people avoid the floating fruit in a punch bowl and they are missing the point. Make sure your punch is fizzy too (see G.P. 5).
  • Nearly worth erecting into a G.P.—that in all alcoholic matters subjectivism plays a big part, a lot of people will feel better after one or two Bloody Marys simply because they expect to.

    • I though it best to include this because Amis thought it best to mention it but did not graduate it to a full G.P.. Drinking opinions are  super subjective as you can see by my writing and tastes. Everyone is so different and all of our little taste buds and squishy internals have different interactions with the sauce. And yes…I don’t mind substituting a bloody or two for a few Advil because I do expect them to make me feel better.
  • G.P. 7: Never despise a drink because it is easy to make and/or uses commercial mixes. Unquestioning devotion to authenticity is, in any department of life, a mark of the naïve—or worse.

    • This is a hard one to swallow for the cocktail bartenders and their fan club out there. They all want to run before they can walk. Easy drinks are the building blocks of of a great bartender and are usually so poorly executed I don’t want to see what you can do with those three bottles of amari, a splash of barrel proof Bourbon, six different herb syrups, and a cocktail umbrella. Oh…also…did you know my face is on a bottle of shelf stable lime juice?
  • G.P. 8: Careful preparation will render a poor wine just tolerable and a very nice wine excellent. Skimping it will diminish a pretty fair wine to all right and a superb wine to merely bloody good. That is about as much difference as it will make. Much more important is price, which is normally a very reliable indicator of quality.

    • In the end you are drinking wine so all is good. Pay more attention to the nicer bottles and knock back the cheap ones. Not every bottle deserves close attention and some have earned respect. Vive Le Screwcap!
  • G.P. 9: He who truly believes he has a hangover has no hangover .

    • If you have accepted that you have a hangover then it is time to move on and figure out how to beat it. Amis devotes an entire chapter to not only the physical hangover but the metaphysical hangover as well. Worth a read.
  • G.P. 10: Eating fattens you.

    • That it does. The doc will tell you that if you cut out drinking you can rid yourself of all those empty carbs and eventually lose some weight. I would rather just skip dessert or go with a grapefruit in the morning over a stack of hot cakes than subtract from my daily liquid intake. I am not a doctor and my advice should only be taken with a salt rimmed glass.

Pick up this book. It is a fantastic break from all the boring cocktail books out there and written by a true drinker.

What books have you been drinking with?

Your bartender,
Luke Andrews

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Drinking Out Lately in Chicago

Over the last month my wife and I have settled into a nice routine of Tuesday highballs at the newly opened Prairie School in Chicago. The service is pretty nice and the mug club is a great deal– I am pretty sure they have already paid for themselves. It seems as if the room itself was a touch rushed to get opened. It could be that my first visit to PDT almost a decade ago and the subsequent ones gave me higher hopes than I should have had for Prairie School. It could also be that by the time I made it through the infamous phone booth and into my seat I wasn’t having my first drink of the night. The glow of intoxicated nostalgia is hard to beat. In the present at PS I think it is odd to see wires sticking out of the wall behind the bar, unfinished rooms off to the side, and unsure and overstaffed bartenders at a place that comes from such a prestigious pedigree. For now we will stick to the delicious machine made highballs…the way of the future I guess.

Also over in the West Loop the Blind Barber is truly business in front and a party in the back. We have had luck popping in during the week before 8pm but anything on the weekend is far too loud and annoying to sit through. The drinks come warm and most everything is defaulted on the rocks. I kind of like a negroni just poured over ice so that works for me. The red lights sort of work when the room is empty but when it’s full it reminds me of partying in the dark room at college. It was fun then and isn’t so much now. Curious to see how it develops but you probably won’t find me there too often.

A hard pass on that same block would be the WAYDOWN ironically located on the top of the new Ace Hotel. Don’t get me wrong I dig the fantastic Ace in Portland and New Orleans and have spent a fair amount of time at both of those locations and their bars are great. To quote the WAYDOWN website the bar is “named after a sad song by Illinois native John Prine…draws inspiration from the long and storied tradition of Midwestern watering holes, offering ample views of the downtown skyline, nightly music and strong, no-nonsense drinks.” Blech. It’s a sad song for sure and I don’t know of any rooftop “Midwestern watering holes”. The view is of train tracks and a faint glimmer of downtown that faces directly into the strong Eastern winds with nonsense drinks. Caitlin Laman is surely no Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

The new Scofflaw thing called The Moonlighter opened in our old neighborhood of Logan Square right across the street from the original. I can surely pass on a 300 seat bar that specializes in burgers, wings, and beer. If I wanted that I would hit up the Hooters in the Loop. They might not pour me a shot of rosé for $2 but…where else can you get twenty wings and a bottle of Dom for $200.

Enough negativity! One of our favorite places that keeps scoring high marks is the elegant Vol. 39 in the Loop just South of the Chicago River. We pop in once or twice a week for a quick one and we love that it is conveniently located in walking distance to our apartment. She usually sticks to a manhattan if we are coming after dinner or a crisp gin and tonic before. Using fresh bottled tonic and soda like they do will always keep a bar on my short list. I tend to lean towards a martini and they make a lovely one. Lately I have been taking mine extremely dry (15-1) and possibly a little more diluted than most people like. Following in the style of Kingsley Amis and his general principles:

G.P. 3: It is more important that a cold drink should be as cold as possible than that it should be as concentrated as possible.

The service at Volume is flawless and the live music (not usually my thing) on Saturdays has been fantastic. Last month the stylish and possibly ambidextrous Charlie Coffeen of (one of my favorite local bands) Sidewalk Chalk put on a great keyboard series that we made all of but one. I hope the musical caliber continues in a similar fashion through the Winter. Jess Lambert is killing it and her staff is one of the best in Chicago and they should be on a first name basis after a few trips.

We have also been enjoying a bottle of wine Acanto on Michigan Avenue after walking through the Art Institute on Saturdays. They boast a friendly staff and a prestigious bottle list all packed into a small Italian restaurant with a tiny curved bar. We have never eaten more than a snack but it is on our list for dinner soon. There is a great deal on bottles of wine on Saturdays FYI from 11am-4pm.

Speaking of bottles of wine the guys at the Printers Row Wine Shop have been great neighbors and I really enjoy their curated storefront. They are open later than most wine shops and I usually pop in with a few descriptors or what I plan to make for dinner and they point me in the right direction with ease. Mondays are the day to go for the best deals and on Friday they have fun and free tastings. A mailing list worth signing up for if you live in the Sloop.

Your bartender,
Luke Andrews

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