Tasting Beers and Stout Ice Cream at Peter B’s, Monterey, California

A recent trip to Monterey, California took us to Peter B’s Brewpub, back behind the Portola Hotel. A rowdy place full of pool tables and TVs blasting sports, it’s also home to Monterey’s biggest brewpub operation, with about a dozen beers on tap at any one time.

This time we came in search of something special, a not-yet-released ice cream flavored with Peter B’s own stout. Made by local icecreamateur Butch Adams (pictured below), who runs a small operation just off of Cannery Row called Kai Lee Creamery, it’s quite a treat, very mild up front, with a modest chocolate and nutty character to it — not quite stout, but not coffee or chocolate either. Lovely and restrained, I can’t think of a better way to end a session of sampling craft beers — unless you maybe drop a scoop of this into an IPA. A-

While we were there, we naturally sampled the five “always on” brews that Peter B’s offers, plus a couple of barrel-aged seasonal releases. Some quick thoughts follow on each of the beers.

Belly Up Blonde – A classic blonde ale, quite rich and malty. Fresh and chewy, with a slight oatmeal character. 5% abv. B+

Fort Ord Wheat – Unfiltered wheat ale. A bit musty, this is missing the bracing citrus of good witbiers. A little muddy on the back end. 5.8% abv. B-

Inclusion Amber Ale – Nice body on this, a good bridge to Peter B’s stronger brews. Mocha notes are prominent here, with some decent hops, though it’s far from bitter at 35 IBUs. Dried fruit and mushroom notes on the finish add interest. 5.13% abv. B+

Legend of Laguna IPA – The big guy (60 to 80 IBUs, depending on where you look). Ample citrus all around, with a ton of bitterness behind it. Hang in there for the evergreen finish, plusa touch of rum raisin. 6.5% abv. B+

Stout Resistance – The stout used in the ice cream, you get big coffee and cream notes on this black brew. It’s mouth coating and rich, but a lot of mushiness in the body mars this otherwise capable stout. 5.7% abv. B

Scotch Ale (seasonal) – Nutty with roasted grains and a slug of raisins. Nice balance here, and it’s quite different and fun. A-

Port Barrel Aged Stout (seasonal) – A real change of pace. Extremely cherry-fueled from start to finish, with a smattering of plums and raisins. Big body with a bracing, bitter finish that works well with the lightly sour body. B+

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Bar Review: Trick Dog, San Francisco

trick dog cancerA quick pre-dinner stop at San Francisco’s new Trick Dog became a fun diversion into oddball mixology. The cramped space is carved into the newly resurgent corridor surrounding the unfathomably popular restaurant Flour + Water, and many of the patrons (like me) seem to be folks who come here while they’re waiting for their table at F+W.

There’s beer and wine to be had here, but the focus is on a collection of 12 cocktails, each named for a sign of the zodiac. My wife and I sampled three of the dozen, and enjoyed them all. The Gemini was my least favorite, a bit overpowering and featuring two kinds of amaro, Noilly Prat vermouth, a sour orange tincture, sesame, and cava.

My favorite: The Cancer (pictured), including Black Grouse, Ardbeg 10, salted pineapple, peanut, and sage, all on a big fat block of ice. This was the strangest sounding conflagration on a list that features a lot of really oddball combinations (sherry and kiwi soda? guava and stout? whiskey and whey?) and I ordered it just for that reason. The combination of pineapple and smoky scotch was surprisingly on point — and the peanut notes were just as much fun.

Good but not great: The Libra, which serves tequila, tangerine, dill, lime, egg white, and maccha powder in a coupe. This fell somewhere between a margarita and pisco sour… and works quite well on the whole.

Trick Dog has a variety of bar snacks on offer (table service is available upstairs for diners), but you’ll need to arrive early if you want a seat downstairs in order to nosh on them, otherwise it’s standing room only.

Fun place.


Bar Review: Hard Water, San Francisco

Hard Water, located on San Francisco’s waterfront just a block from the Ferry Building, is a tiny little place, a restaurant that serves Cajun cuisine and has no tables. Everyone sits either at the bar, a big horseshoe that juts out from the kitchen, or at a ledge around the walls. You’ll take your barstool and you’ll be thankful for it!

Hard Water isn’t particularly famous for its cuisine — which was very good in my encounter there — but rather for its specific devotion to Bourbon whiskey. The back bar, stretching to the ceiling, features over 300 bottles of the stuff, everything from plain old Buffalo Trace ($4/oz.) to Michter’s 25 Year Old ($150/oz.). The super-rare stuff, like Pappy Van Winkle, can only be ordered in flights. The current top shelf listing on the menu is 1/2 oz. each of  A.H. Hirsch 16 year old, Michters’s 20 year old 2012, Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old 2009, and Rittenhouse 21 year old rye. Total price: $250 for 2 ounces of whiskey.

While the bar has some interesting cocktails on the list — the Presbyterian my wife ordered with Wild Turkey 101, lemon, ginger, and soda, was breezy and tart — I turned my attention to the exotic Bourbons on the list. You’d think with 300+ whiskeys listed there’d be plenty I hadn’t tried, but that wasn’t quite true. The few I hadn’t encountered were heavily focused on newer craft distillery releases… and “single barrel” releases that Hard Water had purchased from the big guys.

I focused my attention on these for the evening, ordering 1 oz. pours of Elijah Craig 12 Years Old Hard Water Barrel (94 proof), Four Roses Hard Water Barrel (108.2 proof), and Willett 10 Years Old Hard Water Barrel (128.6 proof). (Well, I ordered the Weller Hard Water Barrel and was brought the Willett Hard Water Barrel, but such is life in a restaurant where we had other people’s orders misdelivered to us on two other occasions.)

None of these was more than $10 an ounce; the Elijah at $5 an ounce is an insanely good deal — the same price as Johnny Drum, for crying out loud!

Both the Willett and Elijah Craig were exceptional, the former a fireball loaded with wood and vanilla that really softened up and brought forth chocolate notes with a hearty splash of water (droppers are provided). The Elijah Craig was ready to go at 94 proof, a creamy caramel candy with mint, citrus, and cinnamon touches. The wild surprise was the Four Roses, a wholesale flop that is easily the worst 4R I’ve ever encountered. A 10 year old made from the OBSO mashbill (which I’ve never encountered in a single barrel or small batch release outside of the company’s standard offerings), this was a dead, flat, and dull whiskey. Herbal and earth notes dominated the body, and the finish was nonexistent. It’s hard to believe someone tasted through Four Roses’ inventory and picked this oddity as a signature barrel.

Whiskey tasting aside, my experience at Hard Water was modest and memorable more for its curiosity than its intrigue. The place is loud and dim, the food (and most of the drinks) overpriced, and the seating uncomfortable. Even the menu is tough to parse. Why have several dozen bottles of Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project here if they aren’t really for sale? (It says “flight only” next to their listing… but no flight is listed.) I suppose those who are really determined will simply have to ask, and hope they don’t bring Smooth Ambler instead.

B / hardwaterbar.com

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Tasting the Classic Cocktails of New Orleans

Ah, New Orleans… it’s not just the home of some of the best food in the world, it’s also the birthplace — a spiritual birthplace in some cases — of some of the most classic cocktails ever invented.

I had the good fortune to travel through Louisiana, particularly New Orleans, on the eve of Mardi Gras recently, with a specific goal of seeing how these classics measure up to more modern fare. Whenever possible, I went straight to the source where the cocktail was first created.

Without further ado, here’s a rundown of some of NOLA’s biggest and most noteworthy cocktails… recipes included. (Note: I skipped the Grasshopper, reportedly invented here at Tujagues’. Next time, I promise.)

1 tsp. Absinthe liqueur (preferably Herbsaint)
1 1/2 to 2 oz. Rye Whiskey (preferably Old Overholt)
1 sugar cube
several dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Coat the inside of a cocktail glass with the Herbsaint and pour out the excess. Shake the remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

I’ve covered this classic before. It’s one of my favorite drinks. It’s also the official drink of New Orleans, invented here in the 1850s. The Sazerac at the Roosevelt Hotel’s Sazerac Bar — as iconic a place to order one as you can find — isn’t the best I’ve had. Sweet and spicy, it was way too warm and — more importantly — absent of nearly any absinthe flavor, the quintessential part of the cocktail, in my opinion. Today the Roosevelt is better known for its Ramos Gin Fizz, another NOLA classic.

040Vieux Carre
3/4 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz Cognac
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
1 tsp Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

On the rocks with a lemon twist.

This is very close to the recipe that the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar — where this drink was invented — uses today. (Most others omit the Benedictine.) A powerful, bittersweet cocktail, the Vieux Carre (the French name for the French Quarter) makes for a near-perfect digestif, all the better while sitting at the Carousel… which actually rotates 4 times an hour as you sip your beverage.

032French 75
1.5 oz cognac
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp simple syrup

Briefly hake the first three ingredients and strain into a tulip glass. Top with Champagne and a lemon twist.

This is the recipe used at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar. Arnaud’s didn’t invent the French 75 — but it’s become an iconic drink in NOLA either way. (It’s also one of the most refined, service-oriented bars in town.) I really love this cocktail, but there are myriad ways to make it… many of which use gin instead of cognac.

2 oz light rum
2 oz dark rum
2 oz passion fruit juice
2 oz pineapple juice
2 tsp lime juice
1 tablespoon grenadine

Mix in a Hurricane glass (what else) and serve on the rocks with an orange slice and a cherry.

OK, that’s a legit Hurricane, and as with many Tiki-style drinks, recipes vary far and wide. Just reading that recipe makes my yearn for the beach. Sadly, you won’t get that cocktail anywhere in New Orleans, especially not at Pat O’Brien’s, where it was invented. Sadly, this bar, just steps from Bourbon Street, is now focused on pushing out huge quantities of crude, Frankenhurricanes in plastic cups (see photo), designed to get you sloshed on the cheap. Pat-O’s, as it’s known, doesn’t even pretend any more, listing the official recipe of this Kool-Aid-like concoction in the brochure it places on the bar here as such:

Pat O’Brien’s World Famous Hurricane
4 oz. Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane Rum
4 oz. Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane Mix

A souvenir glass is 3 bucks. Popcorn is free, though!

Fortunately you can still make a good Hurricane for yourself… at home.

071Doctor’s Orders
2 oz Woodford Reserve Bourbon
1/2 oz white creme de cacao
a few dashes Benedictine

Shake over ice and strain into a coupe.

And now for something new. Bartending legend Chris McMillan made me this cocktail at Kingfish on my last night in NOLA, asking what I liked to drink and whipping this up on a whim. (The measurements are estimates on my part.) This chocolatey-vanilla-honey drink hits on all cylinders, and it’s almost embarrassingly easy to make. Give it a go in your home bar and take the credit.

Return to Press Club San Francisco

It’s been about a year since we last reported on Press Club in San Francisco, and at the time it was overhauling its menu and management with some excited changes. Well, how has everything turned out?


Wine Director Mauro Cirilli has been doing some amazing things, with a heavy focus on both beer and wine. The wine program features an extensive list of wines available by the glass and in flights and — unique among most wine-focused bars — has a large number of wines available poured from magnums. How is this possible? Thanks to Coravin (pictured), a new wine preservation system that extracts the wine through the cork without removing it from the bottle. (I’m writing about this for Wired… stay tuned for hands-on coverage.) Want a glass of 2004 Tinto Pesquera Reserva from a magnum of this Ribera del Duero wine? It’s no problem here. (And it’s a great wine, too.)

Not to be outdone, the beer selections are even more exciting. We sampled a huge range of tastes from Cosentino’s carefully curated list, my absolute favorite being JW Lees Harvest Ale: Lagavulin Casks, a barleywine that is barrel aged in peaty Islay whisky casks. 11.5% abv, so watch out. ($11 for a 6 oz. pour.)

Head to Press Club and tell them Drinkhacker sent you!


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Drinking and Dining at Press Club San Francisco

Press Club is a place I’ve passed by dozens of times without going in. Though it’s centrally located in San Francisco’s downtown district, the dark glass and mysterious design never really invited me indoors.

Press Club used to be a tasting room. Six or so wineries each had their own bar space downstairs, and patrons could use a “press card” to sample vino from each. That format didn’t work out, and a year ago Press Club evolved into a more ambitious lounge, with a standard wine-by-the-glass list and a highly touted list of more than 30 beers from all over the world. A large menu of small plates is also offered, courtesy of local catering company Taste.

Recently I was invited to check out the new Press Club, and I didn’t leave disappointed. General Manager Kristian Cosentino and Wine Director Mauro Cirilli generously led us through five courses of variously-sized bites, each paired with a wine (and one beer). This summer Cirilli – who’d only been on the job for two weeks when we visited – is revamping the wine list, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to take a deep dive into the current list, which is heavy on the wines offered by the old tasting room partners. However I have every faith that Cirilli will continue to come up with great pairings like the 24 Hour Painted Hills Beef Short Rib with twice-baked potatoes, paired with fruit-forward Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Duo of Wild Caught White Shrimp wrapped with Prosciutto, paired with a meaty Miner Viognier.

The crowd at Press Club is a hipster-heavy collection of after-work get-togethers and gossipy twentysomethings. A DJ starts at 7pm. The space, completely underground, is vast, with three large bars to choose from. The design is clean, modern, and comfortable – with a heavy focus on high barstools and tallboy tables.

Keep an eye on this space as Press Club’s wine list grows up under Cirilli’s leadership.


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Please, Tip Your Waitresses

Ever wonder how much you should tip your bartender? Here comes the science, courtesy of Sailor Jerry rum and in honor of Bartender Appreciation Day, which apparently exists.

NEW YORK, December 1, 2011 – - December 9 is Bartender Appreciation Day (www.bartendersday.com) and, to celebrate the hard work and graft of bartenders across the country, Sailor Jerry, the iconic spiced Rum, has commissioned a survey to gauge the tipping habits of Americans, revealing some very interesting facts.  The survey, conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of Sailor Jerry Rum from November 18-22, 2011 among 2,078 adults aged 21 and older, found that the majority of Americans (76%) value a good bartender more than a trendy or stylish décor in a bar, reflecting the important role bartenders play in today’s society.

As the holiday season approaches, bartenders are gearing up for their busiest time of the year and to commemorate the contributions made by bartenders across the country, Sailor Jerry conducted the survey to coincide with the first ever Bartender Appreciation Day on December 9.  The survey’s findings included:

  • The majority of Americans think a bartender is more important than the décor: 76% of U.S. adults agree that a good bartender is more important than how trendy or stylish the décor of the bar is, showing how crucial the role of a bartender is to a customer’s experience.
  • Americans are good tippers: 74% of U.S. adults who drink or visit bars tip a bartender 15% or more, reflecting America’s reputation as a nation of tippers.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, 74% of U.S. adults also believe that the better they tip, the better service they will receive.
  • The South has the best tippers, while residents of the Northeast are the stingiest: Those who live in the South and drink or visit bars (23%) are significantly more likely to tip a bartender over 20%, than those who live in the Northeast (13%).
  • Tipping is Sexy: 63% of U.S. female adults find people who leave good tips for bartenders more appealing, while 60% of U.S. men do.
  • Being a good tipper can be a dating deal breaker: 44% of U.S. adults agree that they would never go out on another date with a person if they did not tip the bartender.  Of this, women lead the pack, with 51% saying they would not go on another date, which was significantly higher than the 37% of men who agreed.
  • Young People are more likely to be higher tippers: Of all U.S. adults, those between the ages of 21-34 (34%) are significantly more likely to tip over 20% than those aged 35-44 (20%), 45-54 (10%) and those aged 55+ (7%).

“Bartenders serve a hugely important role in society, and we want to encourage Americans to take the time to appreciate that.” said Daniel Deephouse, Brand Manager for Sailor Jerry Rum.  “Bartenders can be friends, confidants and pillars of the community and, as the survey says, their expertise can help hugely improve the experience of being in a bar.  The time between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve is the busiest time for bartenders and with that in mind, on December 9th, we hope to see people across America digging a little deeper to show their appreciation!”

In addition to staging a series of events across the country on December 9 to celebrate bartenders, Sailor Jerry is also running an online contest, where bartenders are encouraged to amass virtual tips from customers for the chance to win a cash prize.

For more information, visit www.bartendersday.com.

Pisco 101 with Duggan McDonnell

I can safely say now that I know more about Pisco than I ever thought I would. More than I ever thought there was to know, actually. And yet, I’m still little more than a novice.

Pisco is, put simply, unaged, grape-based brandy from Peru (or Chile, which we’ll discuss later). Peru puts strict controls over its national spirit: Eight grape varieties may be used to make it, the wine made from those grapes may be distilled only once, it must be rested for three months in neutral vats (commonly steel or plastic, no wood), and no water can be added to dilute it before bottling. Because it can’t be altered in any way, Pisco’s alcohol content typically varies in the 75 to 90 proof range.

It sounds simple, but there is a startling variety of Pisco being made today, and more and more of it is making its way into the U.S.

Recently I sat down for a Pisco primer with Duggan McDonnell, proprietor of San Francisco’s Cantina, and a partner in the new Encanto Pisco project, which we’ll talk about in a bit.

To call McDonnell a Pisco enthusiast would be a vast understatement. He knows Pisco the way Robert Parker knows wine, and in an hour plus of lectures and tasting with him, my mind (and notebook) overflowed with wisdom about the spirit and about Peru, where McDonnell travels frequently to oversee everything from grape harvesting to vat blending for Encanto.

So without further ado, here’s a look at some of the most common Pisco varieties on the market, all of which we tasted (brands tasted are noted parenthetically).

Pure/Single Grape – Quebranta – About 78% of grapes grown for Pisco are Quebranta, making this the most common (by far) type of Pisco sold worldwide. A red grape originally from Spain, this is what anyone who’s had Pisco before has likely tried and will remember: A nose of petrol is most telling, with a musky, coconut husk character that’s hard to miss. But there is sweetness in the mid-palate, a nougat-like character, which doesn’t so much balance the spirit as it does temper it. (Conqueror / $22)

Pure/Single Grape – Torontel – As far away from Quebranta as it gets, this aromatic grape is reminiscent of Riesling or Muscat, making the Pisco thick with perfume on the nose and flowery, lemony notes in the body. That characteristic Pisco funk is still there, but it’s tempered by all those aromatics. Powerful and memorable, but a little goes a long way. (Vinas de Oro / $32)

Pure/Single Grape – Italia - The “most beloved grape in all of Peru” leads to this gentle expression of Pisco, one which lands somewhere between Quebranta and Torontel. It shares more of its DNA with the latter, offering mild aromatics, but still has a semblance of wood, like Quebranta — not of lumber or barrels but rather of tree bark. Hard to pin down its myriad undertones, but overall quite enjoyable. (Vinas de Oro / $32)

Acholado – Put simply, a blend of grapes. The “meritage” of Pisco, if you will. Acholado style gives the producer the most flexibility of all the Pisco styles, but it requires more effort since blending is involved. Encanto (McDonnell’s Pisco) uses three grapes and a solera style of blending, where one season’s distillate is carried over in part to the next, waterfall style, essentially forever, so that all Encantos from here on out will have at least a little of the original Encanto inside. The result? Funky up front, then a distinct sweet, butterscotch finish. Some flower essence is notable, too. This is a journeyman’s Pisco, more complicated than its brethren, but still honest and sincere. (Encanto, $36)

Mosto Verde – The most complicated form of Pisco. I brought this bottle (reviewed here), as it’s one of few Mosto Verdes available in the U.S. Mosto Verde is produced by halting wine fermentation before it’s complete: You get a low-alcohol wine (about 8%) with lots of sweet grape juice leftover. The result is, of course, a sweeter distillate with more acidity to it. It’s a very nice style in comparison to the musty, richer traditional versions, something with more crispness and “snap” to it. Great, but more of a before-dinner drink, due to the sweetness. (Porton, $TBD)

Chilean – Another that I brought. Generally considered lesser Pisco by those in the know, Chile also claims to be the originator of the spirit, though few today go along with this assertion. This Pisco features caramel notes due to barrel aging, is smoother thanks to a second distillation process, and has had water added to level out the proof. Duggan said he tasted glycerin, feeling it was “doctored.” I find that reasonable. This is pleasant to drink, but it bears minimal resemblance to the real stuff from Peru. (Bauza, $19)

How do these work in cocktails? We finally tried Encanto and Porton in the exact same recipes (right down to the amount of ice), side by side, for both a classic Pisco Sour (below) and a Cuzco Mule (like a Moscow Mule, but with Pisco), and I was surprised. I had thought the sweeter Porton would make for a better cocktail, but in both cases it was overpowering, providing a huge amount of spice and too much astrigency, making it hard to drink more than a few sips. The milder Encanto made for a much more balanced cocktail in both cases. While sipping straight I might have preferred Porton, few people are drinking Pisco without extra ingredients… and I wouldn’t blame them. Encanto was the clear winner in both concoctions. Congrats to Duggan and crew for thinking this through and coming up with a recipe that works in a cocktail.

Where the Bar Meets Wall Street

Not content with the prices on the drinks menu? New York’s Exchange turns drink prices into a trader’s delight.

After a brief conversational detour to boast about the size of his manhood, Sean explains how he and his friend from rival bank Citigroup come to have six drinks lined up in front of them. “We’ve been buying Coors Light HARD,” he shouts. “It’s selling at UNPRECEDENTED LEVELS.” The pair started the night on Stella Artois, but switched when the price of the Belgian beer got too racy.

At Exchange, the bar prices scroll along a digital ticker above the bar staff’s heads. Guinness is a bargain, $5 (£3.28) and on the way down. Ketel One vodka has just ticked 75 cents higher, a group down the other end of the bar clearly having gone crazy. The bar food looks pretty stable at the moment, but you’ll not want to take your eye off the market.

“We want the atmosphere to be like the stock market,” says Levent Cakar, one of the owners. “Except, unlike the stock market, nobody is going to have any stress or lose any money.”

Sounds… er, like a really stressful way to spend a night out.