Holiday Flask Guide: Intro

holiday flask guide logo
It’s that special time of year when I want to write about drinking sweet advent drinks, make Tom & Jerry’s or value shop for whiskies. But this year, I’m drawing my inspiration from my wife’s company holiday party — how do you plan on how to flask up for the holiday season?


I brought a flask of 10 year old Irish Whisky to the shindig.   Yes, there was an open bar, but who knows what terrors that would hold? And while the man behind the stick wasn’t the “all thumbs catering rhino” that he could have been, and he did indeed pour short and he did indeed take his time.


There where only 2 “whiskies” available and a 3rd in my pocket. Here is how I would chart them.



Now think of them this way:


Fireball: pretty much only for shots, hard for people that don’t want to do shots, it os the new Jägermeister (don’t lie to yourself) also, you know, it’s NOT WHISKEY.

Maker’s Mark: always good, quality, easy to drink, easy to find, a sweeter bourbon, a gold standard but still a standard, good new is that you can find it in airports

John L Sullivan: a 10 year Irish, it’s civilized, soft, comes with a great story of and Amazing Irish American and it’s sold out forever, and in general, Irish Whisky is a starter whisky (bring the hate mail)


Now, these all have their place and time from tailgate to tablecloth but when you flask up, think twice and pour once — plan your dram.


Find the below graph for what the generalized dusty leftovers are that you may have at home.

Over the next couple weeks, leading up to all of your holiday parties, I’ll be posting several of these with different topics like scotch, mezcal or tummy-soothing amari.


This is how these spirit types are likely to be received when the flask is passed

This is how these spirit types are likely to be received when the flask is passed





Also, if you aren’t blessed with a dozen plus flasks, I’ll offer you some sweet tips on clandestine sipping. Also, get this event kicked off right with just having a few extra flasks on hand —here is a flask 6 pack. And here is the bandolier to hold them.


Cheers, more soon

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“How to write a good cocktail menu” or “how to not write a cocktail menu like a fucking hack.”


Enjoy this very incomplete list of drinks, ideas and bases spirits to test your menu.

Just write in your recipes in each square to pick your favorites!

Just write in your recipes in each square to pick your favorites!


can you write a menu without repeating these drink styles and drink families? Remember, different brands of "Amaro" still all count as "AMARO"

can you write a menu without repeating these drink styles and drink families? Remember, different brands of “Amaro” still all count as “AMARO”

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Happy Vodka Day

October 4th is national vodka day. I thought I would take this as an opportunity to discuss an important part of my bar philosophy: If you don’t care about vodka, that means your vodka choices are that much more important.  

It’s popular and easy in the mixologist/bar craft/cocktail community to deride vodka. Such sentiments are lazy and derivative. If you have chosen a career in the branch of the hospitality business that deals in drinks, you should know that vodka is 32% of American spirit sales. If you don’t enjoy reading stats-packed trade journals, I would point you to Don Lee and the creation of the very true T-shirt “vodka pays the bills.”

These brands to not endorse this article.

These brands do not endorse this post.

Disregarding the value of vodka for a restaurant is stupid, ignoring what the consumer wants is doubly so for a “business.” It is the cultural equivalent to saying, “I don’t care about beer, wine or tequila.” If you read my blog, you already know that I take this shit too seriously. For me, the spirits that a bar chooses to put on their back bar, or on their cocktail menu, is a mission statement, a thesis and their ethos in liquid form.  

All too often I see too cool for school fernet chugging “cocktologists” only stocking the three biggest brands of vodka. “We don’t really care about vodka,” might be spoken as they reach for brands that they don’t care about. Why would you tell me that you don’t care about Grey Goose and also buy Grey Goose? If you don’t care about Grey Goose don’t buy Grey Goose. Tell people, “I don’t care about it so I don’t fucking buy it.” Conversely, a person like me would be proud if you said “I appreciate that Grey Goose as a well-made vodka for the money and I appreciate that I can charge a premium price for it and I appreciate making money and I appreciate having an option I believe in on my back bar.”  But a counterpoint to that is quite simple, if you only carry it because it sells then how do you ever make any of your decisions, only on sales? Pinnacle whipped cream flavored vodka used to be the best selling vodka in Washington state, but I didn’t see that in a lot of white tablecloth restaurants.  

Buy what you like, think about what you like, and believe in what you buy.  

I think that Grey Goose is a good vodka. I think that Ketel One smells like the dumpster of a Thai restaurant.  I enjoy potato vodka even though potatoes didn’t make it into the hands of the white man until the 16th century and vodka existed long before it was made from potatoes.  I like craft brands with full flavor and think that there are plenty of other craft brands whose “full flavor” is “poor distillation.”  

Vodka may be Voltaire’s blank slate, but vodka says more about you and who you want to be.  

Take Tito’s vodka for example. It’s a darling in the young people’s bar scene. Why? Because it’s handcrafted? Because it’s gluten-free? Because it’s a great price? Or because people believe that it is some sort of important brand? All vodka that doesn’t have a slice of toast floating in it is gluten free. Tito’s vodka is an 850,000 case per year business, that takes a lot of hands that go into making a handmade vodka. Tito’s vodka is neutral grain spirit that is re-distilled, you know, like engine cleaner. Tito’s vodka was fined in 2010 for not properly disposing of industrial waste. Tito’s vodka is currently being sued for misleading consumers about their “craft” vodka. So I ask you, when you stock Tito’s on your back bar does this matter to you? No, is a fine answer. I respect the shit out of that answer. Who wants to think about this bullshit when you’re sitting down to have a relaxing cocktail. But, it does matter to me. And I want to be crystal clear when I say, “I think that Tito’s vodka is 100% marketing horse shit.” But that is just my opinion. Go get your own fucking opinion.  

It’s easy to pick on Tito’s. But plenty, if not most, vodkas are made this exact same way. And I bet most of those vodkas are good. But, there are literally thousands of choices out there. If you wanted to support a vodka brand that was made by a 9 fingered, dyslexic man named “Julius” I bet one exists. That is how many vodkas are out there.  I bet there’s one out there for you. They may or may not lie about it.  

But this is something that you, a beverage industry professional, should consider when you make your choices. You can not write-off an entire spirits category as unimportant. And if you don’t believe in the products that you sell, and the products that you mix your cocktails with, you are just as lazy as the guy who muddles through ice, shakes his Manhattan, and never refrigerates his vermouth.  

Who do you want to be? The person that cares about vodka or the person who doesn’t?

P.S. Reminder, these are my personal views and not the views of any of my co-workers, pets, peers or anyone who has ever written me a check. Do your own research and click on the links if you don’t believe me. If those news stories aren’t true I’ll take this down and apologize because I’m not a lying jerk.

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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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