Soda Siphon Shenanigans

At Tales of the Cocktail, I went to a session on Mixologists and their Toys, and after the first two presenters both talked at length on making sodium alginate sphericals (clearly they didn’t coordinate), the 3rd presenter demonstrated his new cocktail carbonating invention, the Perlini.

During the Q&A I grabbed the mic and asked why you couldn’t do the same thing with a soda siphon, which has been around since the 1850’s.  Well, everyone must love a smartass, because without knowing who I was, the VP of iSi walked over two minutes later, placed her card in front of me and told me to drop her a line so she could send me one.

In December, I mentioned that I had all sorts of plans for soda siphon experiments, but I lacked the equipment at the time and so it slipped my mind, but I am back at it now that my shipment has arrived and iSi makes the best product I have tried.

Carbonated Cocktails

Why dilute with soda or sparkling wine when you want bubbles in your glass?  As long as you are dealing with straight spirits, and nothing sugary enough to gum up the works, pour a batch of cocktails into the siphon and shake it up. (Note, I was reprimanded for putting anything other than water in the siphon, but reminded that an iSi whip cream whipper will take CO2 cartridges in place of the usual nitrous, and is probably a better suited tool for the task at hand.)

Fizz Gin

A gin fizz takes on a whole new kick when you leave out the water and carbonate the gin before adding simple syrup and lemon juice. sparkling sangria, sparkle-rita, bubble-tini


I hate anything ending in -tini that isn’t an actual martini, but why not just pour your gin into the siphon and carbonate it before adding it to a vermouth laced glass?

For Bubbles’ Sake

Everybody else is doing a tribute to MJ, but what about the monkey?  There are a few sparkling sakes on the market, but I have yet to try a good one, so I threw a favorite bottle of daigingo into the iSi and gave it a whirl.  へえ、それは良かったね!

Carbonated Pineapple

Just because your drink is flat, it doesn’t mean the garnish needs to be.  I loaded a batch of fresh pineapple chunks into the whipper with a CO2 cartridge, and when I had expelled the resulting pineapple foam and unscrewed the cap, the fruit inside was actually effervescent!

I am sure I will be doing more with this in the near future, but for now, I want to relate what I have been up to so far.

BLTini: Bestialized Little Tipple

Inspired by the Carnivorous Cocktails seminar at Tales of the Cocktail, I started Sunday brunch with the BLTini, a sandwich in a glass.

I like my BLTs on potato bread, so I opted for vodka over gin, squeezed the bejeezus out of a gorgeous heirloom tomato, then decided that lettuce was lame and so opted for basil as an aromatic garnish.

makinbaconTip: bacon is best for this purpose when crispy, flat and most of the fat has been rendered off, so I devised this little trick.  Lay raw bacon in a hot pan and then put a Pyrex baking dish on top, pressing the bacon flat while it cooks. Creates perfect cocktail bacon.



  • 2 ounces vodka (plain or citrus)
  • 2 ounces tomato water (see note)
  • 1 dash dry vermouth
  • 1 piece crispy bacon
  • 1 basil leaf

Shake vodka, tomato water and vermouth with ice to chill and strain into a chilled martini glass.  Stir with bacon, and literally clap once with the basil leaf on your palm to release the aromatic oils before floating it in the glass.

Note: to make tomato water I diced the tomato, wrapped it in cheese cloth and squeezed out as much liquid as I could.  When my hand got tired, I put the whole pulpy package into a citrus squeezer, extracted the rest and filtered the tomato water through a fine mesh strainer.  A medium-large heirloom yields about 2 ounces of juice, less than you will get with a roma of comparable size.


3424718973_0a965af4cb_oI am tired of hearing people say they are, “going to cheers,” when a round of drinks is delivered. That involves a trip to Boston, as far as I am concerned, and I’m not sure how it has come to the point that I hear “to cheers” used in place of “to toast” more than I hear toast used as a verb.

  • toast: verb [trans.] drink to the health or in honor of (someone or something) by raising one’s glass together with others : he toasted his family’s health.
  • cheer: verb [intrans.] shout for joy or in praise: he cheered from the sidelines.
  • cheers: Not a verb! You cannot cheers someone. The phrases, “let’s cheers,” or “we should cheers to him” should never be uttered. Cheers is an informal exclamation, expressing good wishes, in particular before drinking, not the action of toasting: “Cheers,” he said, raising his glass.

::end of rant::

Retelling Tales of the Cocktail

The impetus for launching LibationLab came from my experience in New Orleans a few weeks ago, at Tales of the Cocktail.  “Tales” is the preeminent cocktail event in the nation, and probably the biggest convention of bartenders in the world.  With press credentials secured based on my existing food and beverage blog, I went out to NoLa not knowing what to expect, but friends in the bartending community insisted that it was the highlight of their year.

Tuesday, my fake sister and I rolled into New Orleans early evening, checked into the Hotel Monetleone, grabbed a Sazerac at the Carousel Bar and then dinner at Gumbo Shop.  From there, we went to the first party of the week, hosted by the monks of Chartreuse (or at least their representatives supervising a staff dressed as monks).  The party was quiet from start to finish, we met a few good people, sampled a variety of cocktails and called it a night.  I had reaffirmed my love of Chartreuse,  but still had no idea what lay ahead of me.

The next day was a blur of tastings, seminars and socializing followed by a jaunt to the bad part of town (apparently a bartender here was shot in the back on the way out of work the week before) for a party at Bar Tonique hosted by the good people of Don Q Rum, then out onto Bourbon St. with my new crew.  We hit Yo Mama’s for dinner, where I feasted on the Peanut Butter Burger recommended by my amazing bartender/soulmate.  The best trick of the night: she had rigged the jukebox to play a different song, should a rube like me choose to play “When The Leavy Breaks” by Led Zeppelin.

The highlight of Thursday was an invitation to one of the Spirited Dinners at the Bombay Club by the lovely Christine from Bombay Sapphire where they paired 4 courses with specialty gin cocktails, and the rest of the week was full-tilt days of fascinating presentations by the national and international cocktail elite, and nights of events, parties and Bourbon Street shenanigans.  Some of the seminars were heavy on math, like “The Science of Shaking,” some very technical, like “Secrets to Successful Cocktail Photography,” some with a culinary focus, like, “Carnivorous Cocktails,” and some that really got me thinking, like, “Creative Mixology: Finding Inspiration in the Everyday.”

Although the seminars and events varied in theme, style and content, the consistent threads running through the week were humor and camaraderie.  I was really impressed by the sense of community in the bartending industry, and with the new friends I made, we are already planning our return to Tales of the Cocktail in 2010.

Note:  all of the links on New Orleans business names are tied to my bar and restaurant reviews.  If you want a deeper understanding of what I experienced at each location, click away.

Offbeat Wine Picks

Just because you are on a budget, doesn’t mean you need to drink bad wine. OK, that was tacky.  If I ever write  like Rachel Ray again, please find me and slit my throat.  I’m not a connoisseur, but my pedestrian palate knows what I like and what I don’t and generally, people agree, so here are a few gems I’ve encountered of late.  The first three are from Sonoma Valley and the last is Argentinian.

Taft Street in Sebastopol is one of my new favorite wineries.  I’ve heard that their wines haven’t been the greatest in past years, but when I was up there a few weeks ago, I was blown out of the water by their Riesling, Sav Blanc and Pinot Noir, and as much as I hate to admit it, the Rosé of Pinot Noir was really enjoyable too.  All of their bottles run in the $16-22 range, making Taft Street a steal.  The tasting room is small but homey and Greg was engaging in how he guided our tasting, not to mention an all-around fun and interesting guy.  We walked in as a group of five including one member of their wine club, and departed three members stronger (all four joined really, considering that the 4th is marrying one of the new members).  Greg invited us and friends back for a barbecue next weekend, if anyone wants to be my designated driver on the 16th.

Gloria Ferrer does fantastic sparkling wines at the $20 price point (often on special at Safeway and with case discounts, I’ve bought it for $12 a bottle).  The Brut is fine and I see it around more often, but the Blanc de Noirs is totally tantalizing and tinted pink without being one of those sissy-looking sparkling rosés (which I secretly have begun to enjoy).  Worth popping for a celebration, but not so precious that you can’t dump it into mimosas.

Rosenblum must be clearing out their cellar of 2005 North Coast Zinfandel, Appellation Series because I don’t see it listed online, but here’s a link to the 2006 vintage.  I loved it enough to be shocked by the price.  I just picked up a case at their tasting room for about a hundred bucks, making it an $8 bottle of delight!

Colores Del Sol only makes one wine, and the 2008 Reserva Malbec is their first vintage, but they hit on a winner.  It was introduced to me on a recent trip to Sonoma, despite being an Argentinian wine.  After dinner, TSB thrust a glass under my nose, chanting, “Smell it! Barbecue ribs, right?” and I absconded with the bottle after my first sip.  I just found it at BevMo for 10 bucks a bottle.

Ramos Fizz


After stealing two sips of a friend’s Ramos Gin Fizz at Rickhouse, I wanted to make my own.  It’s one of those drinks that you don’t order just anywhere and it’s rarely worth the effort to make unless you are really trying to impress someone.

RAMOSRamos Fizz

  • 2 ounces Hayman’s Old Tom gin
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce Clement’s Creole Shrubb
  • 1 ounce heavy cream
  • soda water

Combine all ingredients but soda and shake with ice for 2 minutes.
Strain into a collins glass and top with soda water.

Lots of Tips:

  1. When making the Ramos Fizz for others, use a three-piece shaker instead of a Boston shaker, because nobody wants to see the cream in their cocktail curdle with lemon juice in glass.
  2. Using a soda siphon enhances the drink aesthetically, because adding soda under pressure allows you to create a bubbly head on the drink that simply pouring soda will not allow. Lacking a siphon, you can use a trick I learned from mischievous students when I was teaching middle school.  Poke or drill a hole in the cap of a plastic soda water bottle and squeeze it into the glass in a sharp stream to froth the drink.
  3. The traditional recipe calls for orange blossom water, but it is absurdly hard to find outside of the middle east, so Clement’s Creole Shrubb, or another orange liqueur, such as triple sec, Cointreau or Grand Marnier, can be substituted as above.  Alternately, rosewater can be used.
  4. Drop the spring from a cocktail strainer into the shaker and shake before adding ice and shake again to expedite the emulsification of the egg white.
  5. If you don’t have an Old Tom gin, use a regular London Dry gin like Beefeater and add a barspoon of sugar.

Beer Pairing

Wine was a four-letter word Sunday morning, which I spent at the SFChefs.Food.Wine beer pairing boot camp with Beer Chef Bruce Paton and City Beer Store owner Craig Wathen.  I would have liked a few hard and fast rules, but there doesn’t seem to be a simple formula for matching food with beer.


The gist was that beer can be paired as a contrasting flavor, a complimentary flavor, or as a palate cleanser.  Even the beer chef said he doesn’t actually pair his appetizers with beer, but rather puts out a lot of really great apps knowing that a lighter beer compliments just about anything.  My favorite pairing of the day was Temptation from the Russian River Brewing Company, with a lemony bite that was gangbusters with ginger-scallion shrimp cocktail.

Ultimately, you need to consider all facets of the beer (sweetness, bitterness, additional flavors, alcohol content, carbonation) and of the food (flavor, richness, sweetness, acidity, heat, texture) when pairing.

Here are my beer-pairing guidelines, a combination of personal experience and tips picked up in the seminar:

  1. Light to Dark: over the course of a meal, beers should progress from lightest in color and flavor, to darker, heavier, higher in alcohol and more bitter.
  2. Match intensity: pair stronger flavored food with stronger flavored beer and subtler food with subtler beer.
  3. Red or White? White meats (poultry, fish, pork) match best with sweeter, maltier beers, while red meat pairs best with richer, more fruit-forward ales, and most anything off the grill rocks with a smokey porter or stout, unless it’s spicy, and then a crisp lager will cut the heat.
  4. Home brewery advantage: ethnic food often pairs best with its regional beers, brewed to suit the local cuisine.
  5. Sweet and Sour: When matching sweet or sour flavors, choose a beer slightly sweeter or sourer than the food.
  6. Barley wine goes well with just about any flavorful foods.  Keep a few bottles on hand at all times.
  7. At the end: Porter, stout and barley wine pair particularly well with desserts and end of meal cheese courses.
  8. Large bottles, small glasses: If you are going to serve multiple courses paired with brews, diners won’t want a full 12-ounces with every course, so put out smaller glasses and pass around a bigger bottle.  Like Belgians, many craft beers are available in 750 ml bottles (just over 25 ounces).  It’s always good to keep a variety of larger bottles on hand.  They are easier to store than six packs and make it possible to have a variety, and thus “the perfect beer” on hand when needed.
  9. Not too cold: remove beer from refrigerator 15-30 minutes before serving.  If it’s super cold, you won’t be able to get the full effect, because beer is most flavorful at 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit.

My admin just informed me that Miller Light pairs nicely with everything from cookies to caviar, but if you want a second opinion, download the Brewers Association pairing chart (.pdf) by clicking below.

Dowload the Brewers Association beer and food pairing chart

Jigger Is Not A Dirty Word

It’s the little cup your bartender uses to measure, and no matter how good he or she is, you should be grateful if it’s being used at the end of the night.  Free-pouring a drink accurately is tough for anyone, and after a few hours with a shaker, fatigue can throw off even the most skilled.


For the home bartender, it’s just essential. Don’t be ashamed to use one in front of your friends. They will be more impressed by an exceptional cocktail and it’s not nearly as emasculating as asking for directions at a gas station.

The trio below came into my possession at Tales of the Cocktail last week and they offer a good range. On the left is a traditional jigger, which can also come in clear plastic with measurement lines.  In the middle is a measuring cup that lists measurements in milliliters, ounces and fractions of a cup. In a pinch, a standard coffee scoop is a one ounce pour, equivalent to 2 tablespoons if you are really desperate.


On the right is an innovative piece from Ubertools, which I noticed in heavy rotation at the Carousel Bar while I was at Tales.  One side is a full ounce measure and the other side is separated into three sections (1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 ounces), each of which is on a corner to facilitate easy pouring.

On my way to Tales of the Cocktail…

Because I couldn’t just spend the weekend celebrating the 4th and packing for Tales, I:


  1. made a batch of hot sauce from farm-fresh chiliespeppery
  2. created a tincture of shiso
  3. made a gallon of traditional umeshu
  4. improvised almost a gallon of apricot/pluot “umeshu”
  5. infused a bottle of Hendrick’s gin with cucumber and persimmon
  6. devised the Tomcat Collins with the aforementioned gin (recipe posted soon)
  7. hosted the “Squash Blossom” dinner party with the lovely TSB (but we still throw one hell of a dinner party), where I served the aforementioned cocktail the following hors d’oeuvres
  8. deep-fried two kinds of cheese-stuffed squash blossoms (chevre and mascarpone) with 4 dipping sauces (southwestern salsa, spicy tomoato, lemony aioli and a green onion sour cream).