Behind Bars: Tiki Classics

With "Tikitober" just around the bend, we figured it was perfect timing to kick of a new guest blog series we call "Behind Bars," where we spend a little time with some of our favorite local bartenders. 

For this first installment of Behind Bars, we were lucky enough to hang out with Ben Clemons from No. 308, who's been kicking ass with his Tiki Tuesday events all summer long. We asked him to share his thoughts on classic Tiki drinks and five of his favorite recipes. 

I don't even know where to begin discussing my adoration for tiki drinks. The taste? Yep. The history? Yep. The beautiful colors, glassware and garnish? Yep. Yep. Yep. I think what first really attracted me to it all was, honestly, how unabashedly kitschy the whole culture around it is. See, in a world where everyone is rapidly taking more and more aspects of life so seriously (almost to an unheard of level of pretension and scrutiny), Tiki is just happy. It's relaxed. It's anything but serious. In that, I somehow find solace. It may always be 5 o'clock somewhere, but it's always sunny in a scorpion bowl.

I started Tiki Tuesday at the beginning of the summer for a few reasons. Tuesdays at the bar seemed, well, boring. I realized there weren't any weekly parties to compete with, no crazy happy hour specials at neighboring bars promising 3 free drinks and a sandwich with every purchase of a draft beer. Couple that with my growing desire to see Nashville drinking more rum and the decision was simple, Tiki Tuesday.

I dove head first straight down the rum rabbit hole. I sifted through blogs, books, articles and anything else I could find in print pertaining to the brighter side of cocktail culture. Unearthing original recipes became an adventure. Learning the various cultural ties they had with specific rums, bars and people reminded me just how remarkable and unique of a spirit rum is. Trader Vic, Beach Bum Berry, Mai Kai, The Soggy Dollar Bar, just some of the legendary pioneers in the great Tiki crusades.

Ben Clemons of No. 308

Ben Clemons of No. 308

One Tuesday, a few weeks into our tiki party, I noticed something fascinating. The night itself was almost a sociology experiment. See, normally a bar sees a wide range of spirits being consumed. Tequila drinkers talking with whiskey drinkers. You get the picture. This dichotomy can sometimes lend itself to awkward "vibes" in a controlled environment. Not at a tiki bar though. As I looked around the room and out in the patio I saw smiling faces, jovial conversations. People. Having. A. Good. Time. And THATS why I love tiki drinks.

Enough talking though, here's a few well known classics in their non bastardized by American culture form...

the go-to

It seems we all have that one 'go-to' drink. In this guest blog post from Henry Pile of Mountain, you'll read about his. And it's damn good.

What’s your go-to drink? You know, the one you turn to when friends stop by. The one that everyone asks you to make. The one you love to drink on a warm saturday afternoon.

I love a cold can of beer. Zero maintenance. Easy to keep at the ready. Portable. Reliable. But, it lacks imagination. My can of beer is as good as yours or anyone else’s. There’s nothing special about it.

The next is a “something and something.” Think of this as Gin and Tonic or Whiskey and Lemonade or Rum and Coke. I think Peggy Olson said it best when considering Mountain Dew and vodka as  “an emergency.” A last resort. Desperate.

If you come to my house, you’ll drink an ice cold Old Fashioned. That’s my go-to. But, in making this drink over the years, I’ve found a few derivations that make it uniquely my own.

I don’t usually have simple syrup on hand, but I always have sugar cubes. I drop one in the bottom of a rocks glass and three dashes of Bitter Truth lemon bitters.

I smash the sugar and spread it around the bottom and side of the glass. Then I add one dropper of Bittermens Elemakule Tiki Bitters around the sides.

Drop in a  full scoop of ice.

Add ½ ounce of Cointreau.

Add 2 ounces of Belle Meade Bourbon

Grab that long mixing spoon and stir 40-50 turns. This helps melt the ice and mellow the drink. It also blends the sugar on the bottom.

Lastly, cut a slice of lemon peel and rub the rim.

From time to time, I’ll try a variation (orange, different bitters, Rye…), but this is my go-to. You should have one as well. But don’t rush into it. Let the trial and error be a fun process. Hell, you’re drinking! Relax and enjoy it.

shit we love: luxardo maraschino

If you've spent much time clicking through our recipes, you know we love Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur. It's that secret ingredient that can transform even the most simple of cocktails with just the smallest amount. It's a common ingredient found in many classics, but it's worth keeping on hand at your home bar for experimenting your own brand new cocktail creations. 

Before you go any further, let's take a second to clear the air. We know when you see the word "maraschino," you're thinking of those toxic red cherry-like things with stems on them. Well, stop it, damnit! We've talked all about cherries before, but let's just save some time and cut to the chase. Those bright red things have nothing to do with Maraschino liqueur. 

Luxardo Maraschino is made from sour Marasca cherries. In fact, it is actually distilled directly from the cherries and the crushed cherry pits, giving it almost an almond-like and subtle bitter flavor. After fermentation and distillation, it's sweetened with cane sugar, resulting in a clear, not-too-sweet, incredibly-flavorful liqueur. 

Look for it next time you're out browsin' through the liquor store. Keep it right on the top of your bar within arm's reach and start adding a little to your favorite cocktails. We have a feeling you'll love it just as much as we do.

Here's a few of our cocktails made with Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur:


shit we love: grappa

Grappa the Great | 3st of the Month

Our April 3st of the Month is "all about the grapes." Of course, most folks think that means wine...and while we'll have plenty of wine on hand, it's not all we'll be serving. We're thrilled to showcase of our favorite types of Grappa, Alexander Grappa

 It's pretty obvious where wine comes from. Grapes, of course. Depending on the variety, it can be made from the just the juice or sometimes with whole crushed grapes. All too often, there's heaps and heaps of leftover grape solids (aka "pomace") just sitting around after wine making. So what's a Italian left to do but make booze from it!?

That's where Grappa comes in. Grappa originated in Italy as a pomace brandy, made from the skin, seeds, pulp and stems left over after making wine. This starting pomace can be unfermented if coming from white wine production, partially-fermented when coming from rosé wine production, or damn near fully-fermented when removed from red wine production. Either way, it's left to sit and continue to ferment in large tanks before being distilled to create the spirit that becomes Grappa.

The Alexander Family of Grappa

The Alexander Family of Grappa

Let's be clear - pomace brandy can come from anywhere, but true Grappa comes from Italy. To be called Grappa, it can only be made with pomace - no water can be added. Funny enough, there's actually an Italian law that requires winemakers to sell their grape pomace to Grappa producers. Like with wine, Grappa can take on many different characteristics of the different grapes used in production as well as the distilling techniques. Unlike many other types of brandy, Grappa is rarely aged, so it's typically crystal-clear.

In Italy, it's most often consumed as a digestif, sipped after a meal to aid in digestion. But this ain't Italy. It's Nashville. A drinking town with a music problem. So we're planning on doing more than just sippin' the stuff! We're playing with fun cocktails, shots and more... to find out what we'll be serving next Friday, you'll just have to be there!

putting the "bitters" in bitter lovers

As you likely know by know, our February 3st of the Month is called "Bitter Lovers" and is taking us back into the world of craft cocktails as we celebrate special ingredients like bitters, amaris and aperitifs. For the sake of simplicity, this first of two "bitter blog" posts is all about bitters.

Most people know what bitters are. They've seen a bottle of Peychaud's sitting behind the bar for years. But what many don't know is the role bitters have played in cocktails. We often refer to bitters as the "salt and pepper" of cocktails, providing depth in flavor that you can't get with booze alone. But to say that is really selling them short. 

In fact, the very first documented use of the word "cocktail" was in 1806 in The Balance and Columbian Repository. It was simply defined as "a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters." That's right. A cocktail was not a cocktail without bitters. 

Now, some of you may have recognized that simple definition as the basic recipe for an old fashioned, but it was more than that. It was the starting point for a movement that grew beyond just the old fashioned and into an entire culture. In 1862, a bartender by the name of Jerry Thomas first published a book known as “The Bar-Tender’s Guide,” “How to Mix Drinks” or “The Bon-Vivant’s Companion.” While the book may be known by three names, it did one thing: established the principles for formulating drinks of all kinds - including methods, measurements and ingredients. Needless to say, bitters were a key element even then.

The history of bitters actually dates back even further, with the first mentions occurring in ancient Egypt. Essentially, bitters are an infusion of aromatic herbs and botanicals into an alcohol base. Originally used more for medicinal treatments, bitters have experienced a resurgence of late, appearing in many new and creative formulations. 

For the sake of our Bitter Lovers event, you can expect to see a variety of bitters appearing in several cocktails. But don't just think you're going to be drinking old fashioned's all night. Bitters are a common ingredient in many types of cocktails - even tiki drinks. 

As an example, here's a list below of the cocktail recipes on our site that include bitters. Take a peek for yourself and you'll see how essential they are to a great drink.

 

Tickets are on sale now for Bitter Lovers. All proceeds will benefit Blood:Water, seeking an end to the water and HIV/AIDS crises in Africa.

city winery brings out the bubbles

With our December 3st of the Month "Bubbles" event at City Winery tonight, we're really getting excited about showcasing dozens of different sparkling wines. What we never expected is that our amazing hosts would be pulling additional bottles from their cellar to share with our members and their guests as well. The following is a guest blog post from City Winery's Wine Director, David Mensch, where you'll certainly see why sparkling wine is so much a part of City Winery.

Sparkling wine at City Winery is not just part of our wine program because it has to be. For me, Champagne and sparkling wine from around the world is an integral part of wine and food pairing.

Everyone's tastes and styles can be represented within a sparkling wine; from a lush Rosé Champagne to a bone dry sparkling Chenin Blanc. You can pair rabbit with a dry Lambrusco and of course the ubiquitous Champagne pairs with basically anything from fried chicken to foie gras.

Sparkling wine can sometimes be overlooked as just something to start with, but for me it is what I power through my dinner with. The thing that makes sparkling wine important to me is the craft that goes into making a Champenoise-style sparkler. The art of blending 50 still wines, hand riddling bottles for 2 years and bottle conditioning for an extra 4 years is something that is uncommon in the wine world. Champagne is the highest elevation of wine art. 

We're very excited to share five of my favorite sparkling wines with the 3st of the Month guests:

Szigeti Sparkling Gruner Veltliner NV

Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut NV

Codorniu Brut "Anna" Cava NV

La Collina Lambrusco NV

Henri Giraud "Espirit du Rose" NV

 

 

the essentials tools of every home bar

When stocking the home bar, most people seem to start with the booze. And rightfully so. But great cocktails not only need the right ingredients, they need the right tools. These tools, when used properly help you create consistent, quality drinks.

Before you start freaking out about having to buy a bunch of new shit for your bar, keep reading. While we certainly highlight best options, we'll also give you some home options as well - and tell you why they're just as important. 

Check out the six essentials below. See something we're missing? Tell us, we'd love to hear from you!


ice ice baby

If you read our ice ball post, you know we're kinda obsessed with ice. Without getting too obsessive, let us just say that ice cubes are called cubes for a reason. Perfectly-shaped cubes are great for shaking, stirring and obviously look nice, but there's more to it than that. Freezing your own ice lets you control the water that goes into your cocktails (we suggest filtered/bottled). You can find these silicone trays pretty much anywhere these days. Go get some. Good ice is the foundation of a great cocktail. 

Shop for silicone ice trays on Amazon.


measuring up

If you're going to make a good cocktail and make it time and time again, you need to know your proportions. Classic cocktail recipes were developed over many years and the proportions are critical. Maybe you have years tending bar professionally and know how to count a good pour, but we're guessing you don't. A set of jiggers gives you all the standard measurements, but you can find tons of alternatives out there these days. Hell, break out the measuring spoons if you have to - you'll just have to convert to ounces. There's an app for that.

You can find jigger sets on Amazon for under 10 bucks.


shake it off

No, this is not a reference to Taylor Swift. It's referring to cocktail shakers. Every bar should have a good one. Just like jiggers, there are plenty of sizes and styles out there. A Cobbler Shaker is the three-piece kind with a little lid and a pour spout. Don't spend your money on it - they tend to leak. Instead go with a Boston Shaker or a French Shaker. Both are comprised of two pieces - the Boston being a large metal cup and pint glass, the French being two metal cups. When using, always shake with the larger cup on the bottom. If you don't have a shaker on hand, you can honestly just use a jar and a lid, but shakers are cheap, so get one eventually. As a general rule, cocktails with fruit juices get a shake, those without get a stir.

We found a great (and cheap!) assortment of shaker tins for you here.


stir it up

Not every drink is shaken. In fact, many of the best cocktails are not. Shaking drinks with ice dilutes them - which can be a good thing, but when working with delicate boozy balances, you may want to just chill without as much dilution. That's where a cocktail mixing glass or pitcher comes into play. They're perfectly sized for cocktails and the pitchers have a convenient pouring spout. The other side of the stirring equation is the bar spoon. A bar spoon is not just for stirring, but is good for layering drinks and often referred to in many cocktail recipes as a unit of measure. It's about a teaspoon, just so you know. 

So, yes, you can spend about 30 bucks on a fancy mixing pitcher (here), but if someone really gives you shit for stirring drinks in a pint glass with an iced tea spoon, then stop giving them drinks. They don't deserve your kindness.


strained relationship

Like in many circumstances, no one piece is much good without the other. This is definitely the case for a good strainer - or three. Strainers are the other side of Boston or French Shakers and needed for cocktail mixing glasses and pitchers. But not all strainers are equal. A "cocktail strainer" or "Hawthorne strainer" typically refers to basic everyday bar strainer. It's got a spring around the outside and some pattern of holes to let the liquid go through with prongs around the perimeter to keep it on the top of your glass. These work well when straining from a shaker tin or glass. A "julep strainer" is made from a handled piece of domed metal with larger perforations and are great for straining from cocktail mixing pitchers. They were originally used before the prevalence of drinking straws (hard to imagine, right?!), when they would be held on the top of the glass while drinking to keep the ice and mint in the glass while you sipped from the rim. A "conical strainer" or a fine mesh strainer is used for keeping bits of mint out of a mojito or straining citrus pulp and/or ice shards from a more refined cocktail. 

We've found a ton of very affordable strainers here, but we also suggest you take a look around your kitchen - there's a good chance you've got something you can use in the meantime. Have a tea strainer? Use it. 


smash hit

The final, and perhaps least important, element of our list of six equipment essentials is a muddler. It's not called for as often as the other pieces and is easily the simplest one to find a replacement for in your home kitchen. Even the handle of a wooden spoon will do in a pinch. But a good muddler is made for muddling - unlike that old spoon. It has a flat bottom and a sturdy handle, great for pressing wedges of lime and releasing the aromatics from fresh herbs. 

We've found a bunch of good ones for you starting at just a couple bucks here.


Yes, there are some additional tools that come in handy beyond these primary ones above, but they're all essentially kitchen gadgets that get repurposed for cocktails. A few of our other favorites are a good citrus juicer, a microplane grater for nutmeg, etc. and a good, sharp peeler for getting strips of zest from citrus.

Let's not even get started with glassware...

popping cherries

A study of cocktail cherries from 3st of the Month

A Shirley Temple. Cheap ice cream sundaes. Illustrating your oral dexterity with knotted stems. These are really the only uses we can think of for that old jar of technicolor red maraschino cherries sitting forgotten somewhere in your fridge. If you're looking for a cherry for a cocktail, you'll need for forego those flavorless (or at least lacking actual cherry flavor) cherries and branch out to something a little more refined. 

Originating in Italy, maraschino cherries were made with marasca cherries that had been steeped and preserved in liqueur. Their popularity grew among European aristocrats who used them in desserts and cocktails. Eventually they made their way over here to the states, but the crackdown of Prohibition led to new recipes sans booze. It was in the late 1920's when an Oregon State University professor spent 6 years developing a method to preserve his home state's cash crop (pre-pot days obviously) that what we know as the maraschino cherry today came to be. They're 'bleached' of their color - and flavor - by soaking in brine of calcium salts. They're then soaked in a sugary syrup before artificial colors, flavors and preservatives are added. 

These days consumers are wising up to alternatives and looking for 'real' cherries for their cocktails. We've picked a couple of our favorite options here. While significantly more expensive than the red ones, we think they are well worth the expense. NOTE: You can also opt to make your own by soaking fresh pitted cherries in maraschino liqueur and sugar for a few weeks in the fridge (recipe below). 

Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

The Cadillac of cocktail cherries - Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

Though pretty damn expensive (anywhere from about $18-30/jar), Luxardo Maraschino Cherries are pretty much the Cadillac of cocktail cherries. They're very firm in texture and have a deep brown color. Imported from Italy, these are as close to the classic you'll find - cooked down in a mixture of liqueur and sugar. They're then packed in that thick syrup, which is equally as delicious as the cherries themselves. The flavor is complex cherry flavor, almost jam-like. Your Manhattan never had it so good as with one of these. One note - you will not need or want to refrigerate these, but be sure you're using a clean skewer or pick to get them from the jar. And try using the syrup in your cocktails too - the sweet complexity adds a lot to whiskey, bourbon, gin and even moonshine cocktails. 

Filthy Black Cherries

Filthy Black Cherries - an upgrade to any cocktail

Made from Italian Amarena cherries and cooked in a sugar syrup in copper pots, these are lacking the classic touch of maraschino liqueur yet are about half the price of Luxardo cherries. Filthy Black Cherries are packed in a syrup is not quite as thick but still delicious. They have a slightly softer texture than their Italian counterparts (which may be a good thing) and the color is more burgundy than brown. Still quite a step up from the red things, these fall a little below Luxardo in our review. As the brighter color would infer, they are not quite as rich or jam-like as Luxardo cherries. But like the Luxardo cherries, these should not be refrigerated. But we do suggest you stash them somehwere out of sight so you don't eat the whole damn jar in one sitting please. Not that we did that or anything.

 

Homemade Cocktail Cherries

1 pound cherries, washed and pitted

1 750 ml bottle Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

4 T sugar

Toss the cherries with sugar and loosely pack into jars. Fill with liqueur, seal and refrigerate for 2-3 weeks, shaking them every day or two. 

 

Our Favorite Cherry Cocktails: