Category Archives: Drinks

The Rum Diary

The Rum Diary is one of Hunter S. Thompson’s best books – a novel based in part on his own time as a journalist in Puerto Rico. It’s a great story and this movie should be pretty good too. Also, there will be lots of rum.

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Experience Beer in Madison, Wisconsin


I was in Madison, Wisconsin this past weekend for work – I’d never been to Wisconsin before (other than passing through the Milwaukee and Appleton airports a few times). It didn’t take long for me to get why Milwaukee’s baseball team is called the Brewers. While I’m obviously familiar with Milwaukee as the home of Miller and their associated brands, my familiarity with Wisconsin’s microbrews was limited. Thanks to a rare shipment to Ace Beverage, I was able to try New Glarus Spotted Cow a couple years ago. I’d heard good things from friends who’d gone to school at UW-Madison and ended up really enjoying it.

The first thing that I can say about Madison is that there are a lot of bars. It’s a college town, as well as the state capital, and being Wisconsin, there’s a strong appreciation for good beer. Bars tend to have huge selections of Wisconsin microbrews, at very low cost. Most pints are $3-4. It’s hard to get a High Life in DC at that price, let alone a high-end craft brew.

When I travel and go to a craft cocktail bar, I often have the experience of being overwhelmed by the size and scope of a joint’s menu of original cocktails (Smuggler’s Cove is a perfect example of this). Rarely do I have that experience when going to a bar that has a wide selection of beer, in part because I got into drinking fine spirits at the (now defunct) Brickskeller in DC, with their 800+ beer list. But things were different in Madison. The lists of brews were dominated by tiny Wisconsin microbrews from breweries I’d never heard of.

Starting off at The Old Fashioned, right on the Capitol Square, I was met with a 30 beer tap list. The choices were overwhelming, so I had a New Glarus Spotted Cow. Sure, I wasn’t breaking new ground, but I needed more time to process the beer list before I’d be able to forge into virgin territory. The Spotted Cow is a light and fruity farmhouse ale. It’s dominated by it’s yeast, which isn’t filtered out and adds a lot of layers. As much as I enjoyed Spotted Cow, it turned out to be one of the less interesting beers I had in Madison, simply because it sort of pulls its punches. That wasn’t the case when I tried the Evil Doppleganger Double Mai Bock by Pearl Street Brewery in La Crosse. This beer doesn’t pull any punches, with an 8% alcohol content and a lot more hops than I’d expected from a maibock. Still, it’s rich and has a nice sweetness and was a great example of a Wisconsin beer that wasn’t fooling around with flavor.

The next night I had dinner with friends at a great bar and restaurant, The Weary Traveler. There I got to try another offering by New Glarus – a Belgian-style ale called Stone Soup. I thought this was as great an example of an Abbey ale I’ve ever had that wasn’t actually from Belgium. Clean and refreshing, with a nice maltiness and light spice, it paired really well with the infamous Bad Breath Burger (featuring cream cheese, roasted garlic, and other fun things). After dinner we moved to The Paradise Lounge, a dive bar in the truest sense, yet still packed with good craft beer offerings. I found a beer I liked there and stuck with it all night: Capital Brewery’s Maibock. Despite it’s 6.2% ABV, it tasted light and was an easy-drinker, putting malt and a light hint of hops fruitiness on the finish. I really liked the complexity of this Maibock.

The Washington Post is currently running their annual Beer Madness bracket. It’s interesting to see their choices, which are heavily tilted towards breweries in the Mid-Atlantic. There are some great beers in the contest, but after this last weekend in Madison, I could imagine Wisconsin dominating a final four given a few of the entries I had this weekend. The WaPo bracket is interesting, though, for their openness to user voting, which is then fully ignored as their panel makes the decisions about who advances each round. Oh well, at some point I’m sure the Post will get this contest right and find a way to have a really well rounded field and genuine user input. I’d suggest they have a much wider field that helps determine which 64 beers make it into the tournament, then allot at least 30% of the votes for each match-up to the majority choice of users. That would make the whole thing more inclusive of audience participation for something other than wracking up page views.

But I digress… As you can tell, I had a great weekend enjoying fine beers in Madison. Between the daunting selection of Wisconsin microbreweries, the quality of the beers they’re making, and the rock-bottom price point for drafts at bars and restaurants, I will definitely look forward to visiting Madison again.

Cross posted at A Jigger of Blog

Wine Adventures in Chile

Originally posted at Huffington Post

Wine tourism in Chile is, as the concept suggests, about two things: wine and tourism. While there’s no shortage of phenomenal Chilean wines waiting to be discovered, my recent tour of Chilean wineries was a success not because of the standout bottles of wine I sampled, but my holistic experience of visiting Chile to explore their wine regions. I wanted to share my favorite experiences from my tour of Chile, particularly my memories of drinking, eating and relaxing in some of the nicest places I’ve ever visited.

My girlfriend Lori and I flew into Santiago, but immediately transferred to La Serena, three hundred miles north. After a slight problem with our luggage, we went east from La Serena, towards the Andes and the Elqui Valley. While Elqui has been a producer of grapes used in pisco for a long time, it’s a relatively new front in Chilean wine making. Going to Elqui Valley was a great decision – people in the valley were surprised that American wine tourists had thought to come so far beyond the traditional valleys and people everywhere else were impressed that we had broken the mold with a stop in Elqui Valley.

Beyond improving our reputations, the experience in Elqui Valley set the tone for our entire trip. The very first winery we visited was also the smallest: Cavas del Valle. An organic winery, Cavas del Valle produces all of their wines in a single room and ages them in a small cellar in the next door. Our 9 a.m. tour was quick, but included some really interesting wines. Unfortunately they don’t export to the US, but their Syrah Gran Reserva and Cosecha Otoñal, a late harvest wine made with pink muscatel grapes, are almost worth the trip to Chile on their own.

The real reason I wanted to go Elqui Valley, though, wasn’t wineries like Cavas del Valle or Falernia. No, the real reason was I wanted to see some stars. No, I don’t mean Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, though we did visit her museum in Vicuña. I mean the incredible night sky. The Elqui Valley’s elevation and lack of light pollution make it one of the best spots on the globe to see constellations. In fact, some of the most important research telescopes in the world line the ridges of the Elqui Valley. We visited Mamalluca Observatory, which is geared for tourists, and got to see the wonder of our universe first hand. To take further advantage of the beautiful night sky, while we were in the valley we stayed at a hotel, Elqui Domos, whose unique geodesic domes opened in the top and allowed us to view the night sky from the warmth of our bed.

My favorite winery tour came the day we left the Elqui Valley, flew back to Santiago, and drove north again to the Aconcagua Valley to Errazuriz. Sure, this was because four of my ten favorite wines from the trip were made by Errazuriz. But the wine was just part of the winery tour – their history, their design, their food, and their staff made it a success. We started with a four-course meal on the patio outside the main building, which includes their bottle storage, blending, facility, and some cellar space. The food was typically phenomenal and each course was paired with a new wine. What made the lunch memorable, though, was the view. From our seats we could see the vineyard, which stopped only a few feet away from our table. The view was spotted with palm trees and the slopes of the vineyard alternated between grapes and Haas avocados. The meal was only the start – when we finished our lunch, our guide Rene lead us down the sloping ramp into their old wine cellars. Tradition practically oozed from the walls; the Errazuriz family has produced ton of wine over the last 140 years, not to mention multiple Chilean presidents. Things got really cool when we moved on to their new, state of the art cellar, which really belongs in Architecture Digest. A stunning glass, steel and stone building surrounded by a moat that served to cool the interior, it is a purpose-driven work of art.

Being a winery, the tour really reached its peak when we sat at the large bar in the main house and tasted Errazuriz’s wine with Rene. Lori and I had hit it off with Rene and before long he was breaking out some of their Icon wines: Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2006 and Seña 2007, the former a 94 point wine according to Robert Parker, the latter a 96 point wine. I’m not an expert on scoring wines, but there’s no doubt in my mind that these two are simply brilliant, among the best I have ever tasted. To cap our visit off, Rene gave Lori and I a bottle of their Estate Sauvignon Blanc and a couple of glasses for us to enjoy from the top of the vineyard with a view of Aconcagua Valley. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect visit to a winery anywhere in the world.

While the service we received from our guide at Errazuriz was phenomenal, one thing that impressed us throughout the trip was the quality of service offered by staff at restaurants, hotels, and wineries. One night at Termas de Jahuel, a hotel with a hot spring and spa in Aconcagua Valley, we were watching the sunset on a secluded patio when I turned to Lori and said, “The only thing that could make this sunset better is if we had Pisco Sours.” An instant later one of the hotel staff came upon us and asked if we’d like Pisco Sours while we watched the sunset! The timing was almost as good as the cocktails, which, incidentally, are a must-have while in Chile.

Great hotels were a theme throughout the trip. One of our favorites was Hotel Casa Real, which is located on the grounds of Viña Santa Rita in the Maipo Valley. It only has sixteen rooms and has the feel of an intimate bed and breakfast, despite the fact that it’s a massive mansion dating from the 19th century. The grounds have a regal quality to them and the food was some of the best that we ate on the trip. Toss in a stately game room with a giant billiards table and Hotel Casa Real succeeded in making me happy.

Our other favorite hotel was The Aubreyin Santiago. Located in the popular Bellavista neighborhood, The Aubrey is a new hotel at the foot of Cerro San Cristobal Hill, adjacent to the entrance to the park’s funicular. This place has tremendous character – each room is different – and a remarkably helpful staff. Our room was on the top floor of the hotel, with a great view of The Aubrey’s sleek and sexy swimming pool.

Bellavista is my kind of neighborhood. It’s young, hip, and casual, with scores of great restaurants and bars. After dropping our stuff off at The Aubrey, we went to eat lunch at a very authentic Chilean restaurant, Galindo. The food was memorable, though I had a bit of language miscommunication: I’d thought I was ordering a Pernil sandwich, but ended up with a regular order of Pernil, which was a huge order of roasted pork leg. Fortunately, the pork was delicious and I had no reason to complain. Another food I fell in love with at Galindo was Pure Picante, which are basically spicy mashed potatoes. We had them in a lot of restaurants around Chile, but the Pure Picante at Galindo was the best we found in Chile.

When we arrived in the early afternoon, many dive bars around Bellavista had set out tables and chairs on the sidewalk. While there were already plenty of people enjoying a few beers on a sunny Saturday afternoon, by Saturday night the whole neighborhood was jumping. Since it was our last night in Chile, Lori and I did some bar hopping, visited an art gallery, and made friends with a stray puppy or two. The raucous nightlife of Santiago moved at a much faster pace than the stops in wineries and luxurious hotels that we’d made over the last week and before we knew it, we were ready to head back to The Aubrey and call it a night…and a trip.

Disclosure: I won my trip to Chile from the Wines of Chile and their Tweet, Tweet, Chile contest.

PRZ Man

A couple months ago I was approached by a friend of a friend who was starting a new online men’s magazine called PRZ Man. The concept is that unlike many men’s magazines that are targeted towards guys who are already pretty stylish or fit or socially savvy, PRZ Man would seek to appeal to all guys. From food to style to relationships and cars, the idea was to provide approachable content. I was asked to be their in-house cocktail columnist. My first post at PRZ Man, “My Martini Isn’t Blocking Your Shot,” is now online.

I don’t have a set posting frequency, but I’ll hopefully have a post up every week or two. I’ll also be doing occasional podcasts. Check out the column and the rest of PRZ Man – they’ve been live for a couple weeks and have a ton of content up already.

No Baggage Challenge for Charity Visits The Best Bar in Asia

This is the fifth installment of my No Baggage Challenge for Charity. Read about why I am traveling to Japan for ten days with no bags here and see exactly what I have with me here. My first post on arriving in Japan can be read here. and my exploration of Kyoto’s Nishiki Market can be read here.

As an avowed cocktail geek, one of the most exciting things about traveling in Japan is the opportunity to visit some of Tokyo’s legendary cocktail lounges. Cocktails first came to Japan in a big way following World War II and as is the case with most cultural importations, the Japanese quickly added their own take to making cocktails. Over the last sixty years a defined Japanese style of bartending evolved, with unique methods for shaking drinks, preparing ice, and serving guests. To my American eyes, the Japanese style of bartending is primarily focused on precision in practice and making sure each drink is suitable for the person who ordered it. There’s something magical about it in a way that goes beyond what you get at Pre-Prohibition style cocktail bars in the United States.

Throughout my trip, I’ve seen bartenders at bars deploy the particular Japanese style of preparing drinks. This was surprising to the extent that in the US, while there is, broadly speaking, American style for craft cocktail bartenders, this style doesn’t get transmitted through your run-of-the-mill bartenders at dives, beer halls or hotel bars. In contrast, every bartender I’ve seen in Japan – from a hotel lounge to small restaurant’s bar to high-end lounge – has worked in the typical Japanese style. A hard shake is employed, droplets of the mixed cocktail are tasted on the bartenders wrist to confirm it is suitable, and the ingredients of the drink are displayed on the bar for a guest to enjoy. The ubiquity of the Japanese style is impressive, though not all top Japanese bartenders think this is a good thing.

I spent last night at Hidetsugu Ueno’s Bar High Five, which in 2009 was named the best barin Asia and the Pacific. Mr. Ueno thinks the formal style of Japanese bartending gets in the way of bartenders actually making good drinks that are right for the person they’re serving. “Recipes are meaningless,” he says, emphasising that each person should have a drink that’s right for them, not what is printed in a book. He says he never uses recipes himself, but relies on his sense of balance and aroma to determine how to make a drink that is right for his guest.

While the concept of bartending by rote style being bunk is somewhat radical to hear, the idea that a drink should be made specifically for the person who will drink it is not. Throughout contemporary bartending literature, both in the US and Japan, there is an expectation that a guest should be able to have the right drink for them, not the bartender or an author of a recipe. Of course, what’s said in theory might not always make it out to the other side of the stick.

As if there were any doubt, the three cocktails I enjoyed with Mr. Ueno were all superb. I started the night with a Martinez, a precursor cocktail to the Martini made with Old Tom Gin (a sweeter, stronger type of gin), sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur and orange bitters. In what was my first surprise of the night, Mr. Ueno didn’t know the recipe. He said that while Japan is a country of traditional cocktails, there is almost no interest in the older cocktails now popular in the US thanks to exhaustive research into 19th century cocktail manuals. As such, there is no demand for what are considered Pre-Prohibition classics like the Martinez or Ramos Gin Fizz. He looked up a version of a Martinez in one of his many cocktail books and made me an excellent drink that I thoroughly enjoyed. If a bartender can make you a cocktail he or she isn’t familiar with and it can still turn out to your liking, you’re almost always in the presence of someone who has mastered the ability to balance ingredients in cocktail form.

I next had a Daiquiri. This is one of my favorite cocktails and one of the simplest ones, made with only white rum, fresh lime juice and simple syrup. I find it’s a great drink to order at a lot of bars as a means of finding out the style of the bartender who serves you. Recipes for this drink vary widely, some with a lot of sugar to make a sweet, tart drink, others with a heavier pour of rum to make a dry cocktail. This is the style I prefer and Mr. Ueno’s Daiquiri nailed it.

My final cocktail for the night was a White Lady. Though this is not an original to Mr. Ueno, he is known in Japan for mastering it and making it a signature drink at his bar. He uses a strong pour of Beefeater Gin, along with scant pours of Cointreau, a fine orange liqueur, and fresh lemon juice. He then deploys the famed Japanes hard shake and the resulting drink is a light, refreshing, yet still brisk rendition of a White Lady.

White Lady

45 mL Beefeater Gin
12 mL Cointreau
15 mL fresh lemon juice

Combine ingredients in a cobbler shaker over ice and shake. Pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Do not double strain.

One of the unique things about Mr. Ueno, though I’ve seen other Japanese bartenders do the same, is that when serving a shaken drink from a three-piece cobbler shaker, he does not double strain it. Instead, he uses the built-in strainer in the shaker and lets the tiny shards of ice to sit on the surface of the drink. When he made my Daiquiri and explained his logic on this, he noted that the way he shakes produces a very cold drink (-7.1 C in this instance). Since the liquid is so cold, the flecks of ice on its surface won’t melt and dilute the cocktail. Instead, when you take a sip of it, they will melt in your mouth and throat, adding a bracing burst of cold to the profile of each sip.

Going to one of the world’s best cocktail bars was quite an experience. The only thing that made this even more remarkable was that I went wearing clothes that I’d been traveling in for over a week. Japan is an incredibly stylish and well dress country, with suits the norm at most bars. Going to Bar High Five, with only nine seats at the bar and very closed quarters throughout, was a test of Scottevest clothes, both stylistically and whether they resisted odor. Fortunately all was well. I wore my TEC Shirt, which is a very stylish gray button down, and my Flex Cargo Pants, which look like a regular pair of chinos, and fit it just fine. Even more importantly, my method of washing what I wear each night (at least the tshirt, socks, and underwear, then sporadically pants and top shirt) has kept the clothes completely free of odor. Add in that I’m showering twice a day and I’m free and clear. This was definitely the biggest test of my clothes, beyond the daily travel with my girlfriend and parents, and the Scottevest gear passed with flying colors.

Today is my last full day in Tokyo – I fly back to the US tomorrow morning, marvelously landing two hours before I take off. The flight will be another opportunity for me to go through security with no baggage, as well as come back through customs. I had zero problems leaving the US and coming to Japan with no baggage and expect the same for my return.

Disclosure: My No Baggage Challenge for Charity trip is being done in collaboartion with Scottevest. I received some of the clothing I am using, including the Carry-On Coat, Tropical Jacket, TEC Shirt, Travel Boxers and Flex Cargo Pants for free. I am also using other Scottevest clothes that I’ve purchased myself: Q-Zip, Performance T-Shirts, and Travel Pants. Scottevest is making a $1500 donation to Students for a Free Tibet in honor of my trip and will raise their donation to $5000 if videos I shoot on this trip reach 10,000 views. I am covering all other trip costs.

If you would like to make a donation in support of Students for a Free Tibet, please click here.

Hot Pancake Drink in a Can

This is really what it sounds like. At the Kyoto rail station, my brother Jesse found a vending machine that, amidst the standard array of hot and cold teas and coffees, sold a hot can of pancake drink. While we still don’t know why exactly it existed or who would drink such a thing, we got a can and tried it. It tasted exactly like hot pancakes with butter and very commercial maple syrup. It wasn’t bad so much as it was strange. We couldn’t finish the whole can, but had enough to be totally befuddled by it.

Chi-Chi, Le-Le!

Great news: I won the Tweet, Tweet, Chile contest! I’ll be heading to visit Chile in January and tour a ton of wineries. I can’t wait!

Thanks to everyone who voted for me – I couldn’t have done it without your support.

When I go, I’ll be tweeting up a storm while I check out some of the best wineries in the world. I’ll also surely do some blogging & video blogging as well. Stay tuned for more…

Tweet, Tweet, Chile

Great news – I’m one of the five finalists in the Tweet, Tweet, Chile contest. Whoever can get the most votes will win a seven day trip to tour Chile and sample the incredible wines produced there.

Please go to http://tweet.winesofchile.org/vote/ and vote for me, then pass the link along to your family and friends. Seriously – help would be greatly appreciated, as I’d love to use this trip as an opportunity to learn a great deal first-hand about Chilean wines.

Please vote now!