Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Dark Night of the Soul

Just when the garden path was rosy with the petals of flowering Quality Banter trees, the less-than-famous blog has been disrupted by a lion stepping out of the foliage.

That Lion is the great competition that will be World Class 2010.

Please dear folk turn a kind thought in my direction as I cram and mix my way to a date with Sydney next Monday to take on Australia's elite mixololologists...yippee!

This year the game is going to be strong as we compete in exams, blind tastings, luxury cocktail list presentations and live bartending throw-downs. Phew! It'll be just like the Highlander (Chris Lambert's greatest work) where there "can be only one"! This year's winner will have to be a sharp cookie with cracking knowledge, banging bar skillz and a more-than-cool head under pressure.

I'm using a few molecular techniques this year (hey, was that a pig!?) which should have me freakin' balls, making loads of mistakes and generally cursing like a trooper, or an Australian ladies cricketer. Stay tuned for updates and my menu posting (which'll have to be once competition is under way so no-one bites my late 90's style), and fear not - the banter tirade is merely on a very short sabbatical.

Get busy living.


Sunday, May 23, 2010


Ooooo the post that had to happen! The election we had to have...

Banter: The quality and art of one's conversational abilities.

The quality of someone's banter can define their lives, and after dark, when the day is over and people creep out to cafes, bar and restaurants - the restrictions are lifted on what we discuss, how we interact and how well we get the message across.

Being a bartender leaves one with the special privilege of seeing how all walks of life talk amongst each other and with strangers. So we open the topic today riding on my experiences listening to the public, and industry folk, with no clear goal except to embark on a journey of discovery into language and people.

To facilitate this, in my complete gall and pomp, I've come up with a character heirachy to help categorize the quality of people's banter to help open up the topic a bit, and dissect what's behind aaaallllll those words:

The Banter Heirachy - listed from least desirable, to the very best characters. Order may change slightly in future
  1. Banterless: this person has absolutely nothing to say for themselves. This is not necessarily an unattractive quality, because no banter is often better than bad banter, but conversations tend to be short.
  2. Evil banter: the type of person who's soul has been stained with acid and rust beyond cure. Someone so poisonous that no good utters forth from their mouths. Turn and walk the other way with your 20th Century cocktail immediately.
  3. Rubbish Banter: the character who talks loads - often in great volumes about himself or herself, and often about subjects which he/she clearly knows very little about. It can be a torrid barstool next to this character - arm yourself with overproof rye whisky in double quantities!
  4. Idol Worshiper: Very closely related to Rubbish Banter, Idol Worship has the alchemic power to turn any subject into a discussion about themselves. I'm all for romance, except when that romance is sloppy, passionate and public. With yourself.
  5. Ranter: This fella's great in small doses. Always imbued with a fervent cause, the ranter'll raise his voice and argue to the death on all of his favourite topics. Observe him at the height of the night doing battle or blowing down the walls of some poor chick who's got too many manners to tell him to shut up.
  6. The Tech-spert: This harder-to-find breed is an authority on selected topics, but alas! Take 'em off topic and they're fish out of water to the last. The tech-spert will throw 3 solid hours (or more) of banter at you going to the minutest detail on the subject with total abject fascination. To endure this requires simply....chemical drugs.
  7. The Nutter/Fruit Loop: Depending on what kind of day they're having - these unpredictable folk can be further up or down the list. No social convention is safe, and no subject is off topic. The nutter is free in the simplest sense. Freedom of expression in any shape or form. Watch out for colourful clothing or silly haircuts, and possibly dredlocks - if they look like a bit of fun buy 'em a shot and engage at will.
  8. Average Joe/Jane: Slotting comfortably into the list is the everyday person. Comprising the biggest banter category are the folk who just do their thing typically, be it talking about reality TV, current affairs or sports. Most are comfortable to coast on this level for the course of their lives, and fall victim easily to the banter of characters 1 - 7.
  9. Jack-in-the-box: Jack and Jill are a pleasurable find to come across. They're most often knocking about in camouflage as Average Joes, but then they surprise you by pulling out gems of information, and left-field opinions on things which are either interesting, funny or both. Engaging with the Joe's is a worthy pursuit simply based on the hope of meeting a Jack. Buy them some biscotti to make 'em feel appreciated.
  10. True breeds: Simply put, the type of folk that you'll quickly develop a man or woman crush on. The true breed is an exquisite character possessing charm, poise and wit. Ready to deal with life's situations with flair and good humour, he or she'll share info in such a way that'll leave you feeling better than you were. Be aware! True breeds often operate like terrorist sleeper cells and you may not even know you're sitting next to one. Engage therefore, at the peril of meeting the rest of our characters in the hope of snagging one of these rare beasts. Across the table with a glass of red is the best scenario - but any setting suits he or she just fine!
Phew! Just when you thought this crap would never end, I'm inserting a tiny elite elemental hierachy based on banter's nickname chat - this is a sub category of the true breeds, and a rating is generally agreed upon by close friends or peers:

  1. Bronze chat (although I think bronze is a mix of tin and nickel - fuck it, I'm not a chemist!)
  2. Silver chat.
  3. Gold chat.
  4. Platinum chat. You'll know within five minutes if you're dealing with one of these fine rare folk!
  5. Diamond encrusted platinum chat. Simply the best - I've probably met less than five of these ever. Pure unicorn shizzle.
Well I'm probably so far of course now that I'll leave you with a few discussional points on the categories, before tying this all together with the next post! Happy living out there...

  • People can be composites of some categories. Probably.
  • Alcohol and drugs amplify people's characterization, and often assist in helping folk switch between categories.
  • More characters probably need to be added.
  • Names will never, ever, be named.
  • Yeah that's all I've got for now - clearly not quite qualifying for an elemental rating. Bugger.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sunday Mornings!

There's nothing that'll make you feel better after a bruising weekend behind the stick than a massive piece of meat (well, besides those fairer services of course).

The sight of an entire lamb shoulder not only healed my bruised heels, but helped ward off a degree of sleep deprivation as well!

For this evening's slow roasted fair I imbued the lamb with an entire knob of butter (oooohhhh yeah), sea salt, cumin, cinnamon and ground fennel. A loose Moroccan arrangement if you will. Into a high oven, turned down to a hundred and left for....6 hours!! Bloody ripper - enough time to eat some Sultana Bran, talk some jive with the housemate, go shopping for some sides, clean the crib, write this post and do some work. Is slow cooking not the most relaxing and enjoyable way to go or what!?

I'm thinking some cous cous (an insidious device which I still don't fully understand nor wholly trust) with poached sultanas and lemon zest, shredded carrot salad and some grilled flat breads with greens. Probably some harissa spiced yoghurt for heat and delicious drinks by someone else!

I might be knackered, but Sunday could be worse! I hope ya'll have a good one too...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ingredient Focus!

Delving into interesting kit of the past is a thoroughly entertaining exercise.

This week's cocktail ingredient of interest is Pimento Dram. A flavouring made from the not-so-well diagnosed Pimento; a.k.a Allspice (yes that's right, that stuff on supermarket shelves isn't anise, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon mixed together!).

Perhaps it's called allspice however because it mocks all of those flavours to a degree. And so it goes that I lovingly ground a whole bunch of 'em and patiently steeped them in white rum for two weeks, stopping only once to taste the concentrate which sent my mouth into a wild anesthetic shock. Not recommended unless you're one of those sick puppies who enjoys eating Berroccas...

Anyways, yesterday was the great unveiling when I reverently mixed the coffee-filtered infusion with a 2:1 brown sugar gomme (brown sugar and water). Flavouuuuuurrr Country!!

Now I'm pumped to get down and dirty with some awesome mixing action and happy to shine the light on The Lion's Tail (good drink name - solid) extracted from Ted Haigh's book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails (pretty good, save for the fact that anyone with an eye for a drink recipe can cherry-pick a bunch of recipes from various tomes. All we'd need are the props!). A great place to start, although this recipe is adapted to reduce Dram content from 3/4 of an ounce - a concentration which'd happily let you pull out a few teeth without feeling a thing!

The Lion's Tail

60mls of good Bourbon whisky - get some rye content in there...
20mls of Pimento Dram
25mls freshly pressed lime juice (like, right there and then!)
5mls of sugar syrup (equal parts sugar and water pls - no boiling)
1 healthy dash of Angostura bitters.

Shake the devil out of it and strain into a chilly coupette with a Beazley garnish (which means none!).

This is a slightly off the track application for the dram, which shows its feathers most proudly in the mighty realm of tiki concoctions - get a few rums and some pimp juice (or any of your favourite juices) and have a play. Alternately, check out the Beach Bum's new book, it's full of great recipes! Giddy Up!


Saturday, May 8, 2010

What's in a Name?

After a long weekend of making cocktails and other miscellaneous bevs, I've finally made it back to the keyboard to write about something which is pretty important to me.

Cocktail culture is pretty damn interesting, and many folk who claim to know a thing or two or even threaten to make a decent drink put loads of work into ensuring that everything they turn out is tip-top. This involves lots of work behind the scenes researching, tinkering, prepping, analysing, tweaking and progressing craft and recipes.

That being said, it's a bloody shame to put in all that greasy elbow juice only to waste your hard work by being too serious at the coal face during service. This is a broad topic, and a philosophy that'll need more discussion here - but one thing that's been pissing me off more and more lately is the formulaic and boring approach to naming new drinks.

Now I've copped a bit of schtick lately for creating a drink obtusely named Eric the Cocktail. Fair enough, it doesn't adhere to any of the "rules", and for our benefit I'll list those critters which have got us all bogged in nomenclature boredom here:

  1. The cocktail name should be linked to the classic cocktail class on which the recipe is based. For example: The London Fizz (fictional).
  2. The cocktail name should be linked to the based spirit which is chiefly used. The Bourbon Whisper (largely fictional and highly gay).
  3. The cocktail name should be linked to the culture from which the drink's theme has been extracted. The Tropical Breeze (probably not fictional somewhere).
  4. The cocktail name should be linked to its creator: The Calabrese Special (highly indulgent and a cheeky swipe at one of our cocktail "legends"). Gravy.
Well f all that. Know what? Customers don't care! Let's entertain them!!

What about names which are just down right ridiculous? What about names which just inspire customer interest? I want to trigger the mechanism in the human brain that says "well, I've gotta read what's in that!". Let's toss out the rules and have some fun at the bar - maybe it'll even rub off on us industry folk who take the game a bit too seriously.

So, in the name of the cause, I offer some names which haven't been used, but could be bags of fun:

  1. The Time Crisis Cocktail (named after a video game - preferably one which needs to be taken quickly!).
  2. The Holy Moses
  3. The Transplant Cocktail
  4. The Sticky Icky Rickey (has a classic name, but makes an awesome Snoop Dog reference!)
  5. Hysted's Jethro's No-Doze (JD and espresso. Inspired.)
  6. The Crusta Demon of Dirt (ok, another classic reference)
  7. The Hard Graft
  8. Nashville Cow Juice
  9. The Sponge Bath
  10. Icy Introspection Cocktail
  11. The "Get to the Chopper!" Cocktail
Ok, things are getting weird, and I should probably stop rattling things off the top of my head, but you get the picture! Let's hope we see a bit more imagination, and a bit less Bittersweet Symphony.


Monday, May 3, 2010


Howdy do-dy folks!

We're on drinks today and smashing it out in fine style. Sangrita is the mystical spiced chaser to that beloved drop tequila. I'm happy to concede that I'm no expert on the red stuff, but I understand that it varies depending on where you are in Mexico - to the point no less that it becomes a secretive source of pride and competition between neighbours in Jalisco.

Every recipe I've seen on the net, and heard from my peers follows the pattern of tomato, oj, pomegranate and lime formula - with chilli of course. Plenty of recipes include bloody mary spices, ground olives, coriander (at least that's pretty common in mexican food!), onions and just about anything else anyone feels like throwing in it!

Well...enter Diane Kennedy.

Who's that you say? The young lady is an authority on Mexican food. She's written one of the most authoritative tomes on the stuff and has been living there for many years yada yada yada...well she lists a friend from Jalisco's recipe circa 1970 which lists nothing more than fresh sour pomegranate juice and red chilli! Wonderful food for thought.

Dear Diane goes on to say that bitter oranges and grenadine will be a sufficient substitute with chilli of course.

Has anyone got anything to offer here? I want banter people!!

Whatever you do - leave out Tabasco - that barrel aged flavour's got no play in sangrita. Happy mixing!