Negroni Week Wrap Up- Thanks for being classy, Campari

I type this from my porch, literally while bird watching; I am now old. With context now set, I want to thank Campari for being a really good sport about Negroni Week.


9 out of 10 Negronis I saw on menus this week were bereft of Campari. At the risk of expressing a very unpopular opinion amongst bartenders and being a starfucker, I’d like to go on record and say I believe in branded cocktails.


Kick that around for a minute before I back pedal.


Ready now?


Fuck Pusser’s rum for picking on a little bar and fuck Gosling’s for insisting a truly shitty rum is required for a Dark n’ Stormy. But brands carry cocktails forward. It is the bartender’s duty, and Dave Wondrich’s job, to research the origin of these cocktails and understand the intent & flavor of the original cocktail. If you had to choose between the most authentic Dark n’ Stormy, or an “unnamed cocktail” of your favorite dark rum, artesian ginger beer & a $5 lime wedge, what would you choose? Keep in mind, you are not in Bermuda when you decide.


History & imagination shows me a Negroni starting with high proof gin, sweet Italian vermouth & Campari on likely large craggy rocks. This is a provincial & conservative view, in my brain, it glows like a stained glass window.


This is an “artist” rendering of what St Negroni would look like in stained glass. Blessed are you Negroni, may your parts alway be equal and balanced, may your zest be spritzed above the glass and praise you for opening the gates of bitter.

This is an “artist” rendering of what St Negroni would look like in stained glass. Blessed are you Negroni, may your parts alway be equal and balanced, may your zest be spritzed above the glass and praise you for opening the gates of bitter.

I can recognize that is too conservative in modern times. I won’t send back a Negroni in a V-shaped cocktail glass or one made with with French vermouth. But I also won’t insist or believe that Carpano Antica is a better choice simply because it is Italian. That’s like saying: roses smell better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.*


I believe that we are lucky to live in in a world now where we can over-catalog a cocktail’s origin. The Penicillin Cocktail is a great example of this: I’ve seen it on bullshit consultant cocktail menus made with Jack Daniel’s. Without keeping our culture, what’s to say that barfolk 100 years from now wouldn’t know that is an abomination? Luckily we can ask Sam Ross, the progenitor of the Pencillin, and he’ll tell you that the recipe started with Compass Box Asyla & Peat Monster. Are those brands important to the drink? Compass Box would say, “yes” but it’s Sam’s drink so go ask him.


I believe there is an implicit agreement when ordering a Negroni that you will receive Campari. The Bacardi Company, for evil or awesome, would have to agree to this- their 1936 New York Supreme Court case requiring the use of Bacardi in a Bacardi Cocktail sets a precedent. Another precedent is easily set with the simple rule- NEW INGREDIENT-NEW COCKTAIL. Who knows what a Boulevardier is?


There is a difference between a Negroni and a Negroni template. Both are great, but they are unrelated at their core, they are just cordial to each other, like a divorced couple that got married in their 20’s.


Times change and believe it or not, I actually don’t want to be the Negroni Police. I’d rather just get “Negroked**” with the rest of you. With one last thanks to Campari for being a good sport where others have been jerks, here are my expectations in order of importance. After the first 3, which are REQUIREMENTS, the rest are all up for grabs.


  1. Tastes good
  2. Has gin, sweet vermouth, a third ingredient & is cold
  3. Orange zest
  4. Has Campari
  5. Equal-ish parts
  6. Balanced with ingredients chosen
  7. Not made with Carpano Antica
  8. On the rocks
  9. In a chilled glass
  10. In absence of Campari, has another previously agreed upon (between the bartender and myself) red bitter liqueur

*a gin that can stand up to Carpano Antica is not a gin I want to drink

**drunk on fancy drinks, specifically the Negroni

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What is Moonshine?

Moonshine is a term that many say comes from the illegal production and or transportation of spirits that often took place at night.  It is a tradition that farmers have carried out since farmers have had surplus grain.  Moonshine is a reason to not pay taxes, start racing stock cars and even fight the government.

Despite recent rumblings that the TTB will acknowledge something like moonshine as a category, it is currently just “any distilled spirit” that is filed with the TTB as a specialty spirit.

Moonshine is not necessarily a white whiskey.  What you see in stores can quite literally be anything.  Most of it is high proof NGS or cane spirit with water added and packaged in some faux redneck mason jar package perfect for your bullshit faux pinterest wedding.  Some moonshine,  likely 1 in a thousand bottles, is a distilled product by an artisan that just doesn’t fit within a spirits category, for example, it could be an un-aged whiskey of an oddball mash bill.  But this product is really moonshine is spirit only.

I highly recommend buying illegal spirits from illicit distillers. Of all the felonies, moonshine is the most delicious.  However, stuff that says moonshine, infused with cherries, purchased in a grocery store is as much moonshine as  Starbucks is methamphetamine.

word a day moonshine


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The New Cocktail Vernacular, The Acronym Suite is over, the “New Vodkas” are next

If you thought this suite was boring, you are right.  I hate acronyms and I really do try to use them less.  I find them to be exclusionary and often, not really time savers, like any acronym with a “W.”  This is why I wanted to explain some spirits basics.

The NFG – less a list of Non Functional Garnishes and more of a thought exercise on creating cocktails deliberately

NOM – the rules of agave production in Mexico, for better or for worse and how to identify tequila distilleries- a stunning transparency not known to many other countries

LDI and MGPI– the mother distillery and the company that owns it

The FNGTry not to be the FNG by recognizing we are all the FNG -from the Tao of Fucking New Guy

The TTB -your big brother who’s heart is in the right place even if he is over protective and slow

GNS or NGS – as Voltaire would say, “the blank slate”


Now that we all know these terms, I can use them freely going forward and not feel like an asshole.


Cheers, something more interesting next





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The TTB is the ATF without the guns

If you were a little kid with an oblique sense of humor like me, you likely thought that the ATF was the funniest thing ever.  Alcohol, Tobacco AND Firearms & Explosives? Why not just make a “Bureau of Fun & Danger.” Anyway, after the homeland security shakeup, the department was reshuffled and the Alcohol Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau or to shorten it, the Tax & Trade Bureau or the TTB was born.


While they do a lot of things and cause a lot of pain & suffering, (for example, in 1997, they murdered Joe Camel) they are a pretty amazing government agency.

On the bad side, all spirits coming into existence in the USA must be approved by them, from label to formula.  This is frustrating, because sometimes the TTB’s stubbornness or lack of cultural awareness cause a kink in the hose of America’s booze. For example, not recognizing cachaça as a spirit until 2013.  But, for any pain and suffering they do a few other things quite amazingly.

Most notably, their website is fucking amazing.  Enjoy TTB Online, a searchable database of every alcoholic beverage  in America.  This database often includes the home phone numbers of importers and distillers in case you’d like to thank the good people at Kentucky Bourbon Distillers or ask the people at Absolut, ”

“Why can’t I get a recycled glass Absolut for Seattle made out of quinoa, flavored with a mild sense of superiority?”

Or, stop arguing about if absinthe, real absinthe, is legal (it is) with a handy TTB press release!   Yes, the TTB knows all the laws and, they keep all the secrets.

The TTB requires recipes and samples for products being served to Americans.  Downside: no tonka beans or really authentic eau di vie (too much methanol) but, upside: no one dies from drinking too much methanol!  The TTB is the keeper of secrets and thusly, there are no secrets.  Is chartreuse a secret recipe? Not in a country with as much bureaucracy as America!  I’d start looking for the recipe online now.

Another thing the TTB helps with is advertising in booze and tobacco.  Compared to the punishing regulations for tobacco advertising, liquor advertising is quite loosely regulated by a handful of government agencies. One of the guiding principles of those agencies to to not market to children, not always easy to enforce because of the infantilization of alcohol.

photo (2)

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What does NOM mean on a tequila bottle?


word a day NOM

What is a NOM? Here is a quote from: Official Mexican Standard for Tequila NOM-006-SCFI-2005 Alcoholic Beverages – Tequila – Specifications:

This NOM applies to all processes and activities related to the supply of agave, production, bottling, marketing, information and business practices linked to the distilled alcoholic beverage known as Tequila, pursuant to the specifications of this NOM. Said beverage is subject to the process detailed below, using Agave of the species tequilana weber blue variety, grown in the federal states and municipalities indicated in the Declaration.

Furthermore, this NOM establishes the technical specifications and legal requirements for the protection of the Appellation of Origin of “Tequila,” in accordance with the current General Declaration of Protection of the Appellation of Origin of “Tequila,” the Law, the Industrial Property Law, the Federal Consumer Protection Law and other related legal provisions.

NOM is DOC, AOC or Apellation

NOM is DOC, AOC or Apellation


But seriously, what does all of that mean?  The NOM is a little number on the back of every 100% agave bottle of tequila.  If you are drinking a mixto, close your computer right now and ask yourself,

“Why don’t I have any standards? Why am I human garbage?”

See the NOM pictured below:

this is where you find the NOM

this is where you find the NOM

The NOM is the Norma Oficial Mexicana or, in English, the Normative Number.  It is a seal guaranteeing that this tequila or mezcal is made to government standards.  Read all of those rules here and learn which tequilas are made at the same distillery on .

The NOM rules are basically a book report on how to make tequila and the NOM number names the tequila’s distillery.

The number designates the owner of the distillery and each brand leaving that distillery, will bear that number. The NOM is a little number that graces all of Mexico’s agave bottles that decided to pay taxes or legally be recognized as tequila. The NOM is the best friend of the realist and the worst enemy of the marketer.  The NOM defines tequila:

let's define tequila together!

let’s define tequila together!

This does not mean that every tequila brand from the listed NOM is the same distillate or the same agave harvested from the same farm; but it could. At the least, NOMs produce tequilas that are quite similar and when a brand moves to a new distillery, the flavor changes.  There can be many exceptions to expected rules in tequila:

wait, put the what now in the where?

wait, put the what now in the where?

A famous example of this is how Patron is made at 5 or so different distilleries these days.  The brand originated at NOM —,the distillery where 7 Leguas is made now.  Tequila nerds often point this out in discussing a more authentic brand, but in reality it’s a completely different brand. As for Patron, I dare you to do a blind taste with it VS other blancos. If you are a Patron fan, you might find that it’s lighter than you’d remember. If you are a Patron hater, I’d first point out, you have 5 or so distilleries to narrow your hatred down too, and that Patron is likely both better and more expensive than you remember.  Also, remember, tequila isn’t always what it appears to be.  You need to ask the hard questions.

photo 2 (1)

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What is an NFG?



An NFG is like a FNG IN THAT IT IS ANOYING. An NFG is a “Non Functioning Garnish.”  Chefs call an NFG anything that you put on the plate that you don’t eat or that doesn’t serve a purpose for aroma. Cooking District has a good list of the common culprits here.  If you see these upon your plate, you’ll be certain that you are in the restaurant of a lazy, insipid, ass-clown.


But for cocktails, the rules are a bit different.  You can take a functional garnish, like a lemon zest, and by having not expressed its oils; you have rendered it an NFG.  Other NFGs in the cocktail world are:


    • Sinkers– a liqueur dripped to the bottom of the glass, not to add flavor or aroma
    • Wheels– Am I supposed to eat this lime or just not smell it?
    • Rinse– Pour flavor in the glass to season it and then pour money out of the glass to avoid too much flavor
    • Sugar Rim– hey, dum-dum, don’t add, aroma-less, crunchy things to the outside of a glass that also unbalance the drink


I am not a killjoy.  Let me go on record as saying I am 100% behind plastic mermaids getting saucy with the side of a cocktail glass BUT that stuff is only for those that have gone through the looking glass.  Like a fino sherry, gin and a bit of dry vermouth, a mermaid would swim in those salty seas and add levity to that doughty cocktail.

word a day non functional garnish nfg

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WTF? another FNG? The New Cocktail Vernacular, Acronym Suite

What is an FNG

Since Auguste Escoffier put forth the brigade system of kitchen order and rankings the food industry has been a bit obsessed with military metaphors.  It’s an easy to explain why, in a world of yelling, pointy sharp things, fire & chaos its good to have some order.  During the Vietnam Conflict (still not a war) soldiers would refer to new recruits as FNGs, meaning: Fucking New Guys.  FNGs wouldn’t know what to do and it would put their units in harm’s way.  FNG would later be assimilated into kitchen speak, again, for the obvious reasons, and I think it’s about time that it moves over to the bar as well.

In Nam, soldiers would say that FNGs “were still shitting stateside food.”  a modern bar analog would be that the bar’s FNG still “uses St Germain in everything.”  The military’s FNG was derided for lack of experience or fear but the restaurant FNG is also derided for bright-eyed optimism and a casual approach to the job.  An FNG, takes their time, doesn’t respect tools and their proper uses, has no perspective on history and worst of all, believes themself to be “special.”

FNGs are very relevant in the bar community because of how quickly someone can advance in the bar world.  I often meet brand ambassadors that list off their credentials about this, that and the other place and I know that half of them are bar back positions.  My mind says “I have your supposed manager’s number in my phone, shall I give him a call about your 3 month performance at Bourbon & Branch?”

word a day fucking new guy FNG

FNGs should be allowed to admit their lack of experience and ask questions.  They should be immersed in culture and learn their own place.  They should learn drink templates, buy their own tools, not do a fake “hard shake” and be helped by others.

We were all FNGs.  And with luck, and in advancement, you’ll find yourself as an FNG many more times as you advance in your career.  If you remember this as you decide on how to deal with FNGs you yourself, with be less of an FNG.

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What is NGS or GNS?

GNS or NGS is the holy ghost of the booze world.  My comfort is this blasphemous metaphor comes from the complete lack of definition and overwhelming pervasive nature of this spirit.


Grain Neutral Spirit or Neutral Grain spirit, is an industrial product distilled from anything or a mix of things.  The most likely culprits are corn, sugar cane and beets.  These are chosen because of their  high sugar content and their rock bottom prices.  NGS is eponymously neutral.  It is distilled up to 190 proof or 95% alcohol by volume to ensue maximum efficiency of distillation and flavorlessness.  It is an industrial product, there were you in Brazil, would be used to fuel a car or if you were in the Navy, would be used to clean boat engines.  If you’d like to start a vodka brand, you could use it for that too.

The majority of vodkas that come from distilleries you have never heard of are, most likely, in order of possible quality:

  1. NGS & Water -redistilled & filtered
  2. NGS, Water & Glycerin -redistilled & filtered
  3. NGS, Water, Glycerin & Sugar -redistilled & filtered
  4. NGS & Water  & filtered
  5. NGS, Water & Glycerin  & filtered
  6. NGS, Water, Glycerin & Sugar  & filtered
  7. oh, and some people add critic acid and chemical flavorings like “truffled butter waffles”

You might notice those last 3 or 4 involve combining industrial product water and calling ‘er done.  And that’s fine if the price on the shelf says “less than $15 because this is tantamount to floor cleaner.”  Unfortunately, often, that is not the case.

NGS is indeed the friend to scoundrel micro distillers of “vodka” but it also is essential for using as a base in gin, absinthe or liqueurs.  Classic style gins want a neutral base upon which to paint a botanical picture and liqueurs need a neutral base to well, not make them just juice & sugar.

NGS, the industrial workhorse, provides us with many lovely products and many affordable ones.  It is also what allows the infinite shit storm of flavored vodkas and tasteless marketing stories that take the form of vodka.  True, they all have different productions, but I challenge the finest palate to tell us the difference between Donald Trump’s Vodka & Flava Fav’s.


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The New Cocktail Vernacular: LDI & MGPI


I taught an American whiskey class a couple months back and all of the young people asked about LDI.  It was like they had heard rumors that Santa wasn’t real, but the didn’t want to believe the hurtful whispers.

“Tell us, Mr, Whiskey Man, is it true that there are whiskies out there that don’t have their own distillery?”

Rather than take the Woodward & Bernstein approach to LDI, how about we tell the story from the creator mother point of view?

“Gather ’round young people and let me tell you of the mother distillery, it is in Indiana and since way back in 1933, it was run by the mythical people of the north (Canadians/Seagram’s), it made whiskey for all the little boys and girls but then the north people traded (sold for parts) the mother distillery to the fancy people from across the sea (French/ Pernod Ricard) and they made whiskey until they lost their way and neglected the mother distillery and it almost died until a magic angel (MGPI) breathed life into it again once restoring whiskey for all the land”

And the world was green and verdant

And the world was green and verdant

Does that make sense?  There is a company called Midwest Grain Products and Ingredients or MGPI that owns one of America’s biggest distilleries called Lawrenceburg Distillers of Indiana or LDI.  MGPI is a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ if you want to get in the alcohol futures game.  LDI likely makes over 100 american whiskies, parts for scores of Canadian whiskies and more industrial grain alcohol than you’d need to clean every aircraft carrier engine in the US Navy and leftovers to get every kid in the PAC 10 drunk.

Why am I not railing against this?

Because I don’t give a fuck.

Blending is an art all by itself and if you buy celebrity vodka brands (often also made at LDI) then you have worse problems than ethical purity for distilling.  Many people buy old stocks of aged whiskey from LDI, blend it to perfection, and create a brand.  Many more just buy, bottle and say “fuck it.”  Your opinion of the bourbon/rye/american whiskey is all that matters.  Ask Sku to tell you where things come from, he has a great blog explaing who makes EVERY American whiskey.


The last note on this is when you read a bottle, understand that “produced by” does not mean “distilled by.”  If it’s important to you, or if some asshole is talkin’ ’bout his ol’ pappy’s secret 95% rye mash bill to can always ask, “where was this distilled?”

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The New Cocktail Vernacular Mexi-Wrap-Up-Rant -The acronym suite is next

The New Cocktail Vernacular Mexi-Wrap-Up-Rant

So there were a few new words you, as an avid and constant drinker, should know.  But don’t let Mezcal, Pechuga or Raicilla fall victim to what happened to tequila in the 90s.  That is to say, don’t let them get so bogged down in minutia & mediocrity that they don’t matter anymore. One of the ways to prevent this is with the stories we tell.

Some worthless piece of shit recently asked me “how long is the fermentation process on that specific tequila?”  I bullshitted my was out by explaining that most agave naturally ferments for 7 to 14 days but what I wanted to say was:


When I write in this blog, I write to give you basic information.  People writing encyclopedias need information like that, it’s relevant, but only to 1 out of 100 people.  If you are into quantification, I applaud your brain and there will be more computers for you to talk with everyday.  However, the only stories worth telling about a bottle are anecdotes to sell, briefly explain said bottle or tales of what happened after drinking said bottle.



For a while, tequila (and wine) was really proud of listing brix levels.  This does not matter to the end consumer, brix are correlative to flavor and is something that farm hands are concerned about.

If the most interesting thing, about your tequila (or wine) is its brix level, then you have already failed.

As soon as someone mentions a tequila’s (or wine’s) brix I then know “I’m going to judge the shit out this tequila (or wine) numerically and conquer it.”

Tell stories, not numbers.

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