Ganbei! Interview with Derek Sandhaus


by Raul Faria

During Tales of the Cocktail last year one seminar sold out fast, really fast. It was the first seminar to sell out and it wasn’t gin, bourbon, Japanese whiskey, it was all about baijiu. Thankfully we got the chance to speak with Derek Sandhaus of the blog 300 Shots at Greatness and the book Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits and Yuan Liu of CNS Imports who has a large portfolio of the major players in baijiu exports like Kweichow Moutai and Mianzhu Daqu. We will also go through some tasting impressions of Luzhou Laojiao, Shui Jing Fang, Jian Nan Chun, and Moutai all thanks to Madeleine Andrews of Deussen Global.

What is baijiu, and how would you describe its flavor?

Derek: Well, it’s hard to describe baijiu’s flavor.  The reason for that is that baijiu is not one type of liquor. Baijiu is essentially the Chinese word that signifies every type of distilled spirit made in the traditional Chinese style.

So, within the baijiu category, I’ve discovered more than a dozen distinct types of baijiu in my research.  There’s probably more than that.  But principally, there are four major categories, and those are called, in a literal translation from the Chinese:  Strong Aroma, Light Aroma, Sauce Aroma, and Rice Aroma.

So when people say “I’ve had baijiu and baijiu tastes like this or that,” it’s not really being fair to the whole spirit category and they’re not getting the whole picture?

Derek: Yeah, usually when someone says, “Oh, well, I had baijiu, and I thought it tasted like this,” that can be a little misleading. It would be the equivalent of saying, “I have had gin and Western alcohol tastes like this.”

But they will be able to find out because Moutai can be found in the states right? 

Yuan: Yes, but you see I want to explain something, how we fully explain baijiu is that we have to almost let go of some of the ideas of we have about spirits from a western perspective. In China “tasting notes” are a foreign concept to the Chinese distillers, because when they blend the drink they’re not only looking to a specific flavor profile, they’re looking to create an experience. Because baijiu is consumed during celebrations right? They want people to really feel excited, to feel happy when they’re with their friends and to have a great time. So it’s really about creating an experience.

Derek: Their job is to take the stored spirits, and they have hundreds of them, to blend these together to get the characteristic flavor of that specific brand. In regard to flavor let’s take Moutai, a Sauce Aroma, most people think that it has a more savory taste than a lot of the categories. They taste fermented soy, roasted nuts and some bitter herbs. It’s got a complex flavor that you can’t explain perfectly in print.

What are the flavor variations of baijiu in terms of flavor?  

Derek: So, with these, I mean the difference you get with Sauce Aroma and Strong Aroma, what we’re tasting today, those are probably considered the two most prestigious categories. They have the most complex aromas and flavors. But with Sauce Aroma, you’re getting the more savory flavor profile, you’re getting more nuts, mushroom, soy, in the flavor profile.  But with the Strong Aroma baijiu, which is probably the biggest category by volume, is defined mostly by having like a kind of peppery spiciness, and also some aggressive, tropical fruit notes.  So, you get pineapple with this.  Some people taste apricot, certain variants have notes of anise as well.

Derek: I want to pour for you Luzhou Laojiao, which is one of my personal favorites and is also another example of a Strong Aroma baijiu. So when I was living in Sichuan this was the local baijiu that I loved to bring whenever I was going out for a casual dinner, or anything social. They make it at every price point, so you can go out for casual drinks with your friends, or if you want to impress someone, they have one to cost, you know, a few hundred dollars a bottle.

The types of bailiu are Strong Aroma, Sauce Aroma, Rice Aroma, and Light Aroma? Are those the broad terms people can look for? How important is regionality in Baijiu when considering style?

Derek: Extremely, extremely important. Earlier I was talking to you about pit fermentation.  This is a specific technique to a region in China.  So, Sauce Aroma and Strong Aroma, the grains are fermented in a solid state, and they’re buried in the ground for about a month to make this happen, and, they’re both in Southwest China, in neighboring provinces: Guizhou and Sichuan. The Sauce Aroma is produced by fermentation in a stone pit and the Strong Aroma is produced by fermentation in a mud pit.  This gives it a very different character because the mud absorbs the yeast and other micro-organisms. What we are drinking right now, Luzhou Laojiao the name literally translates to City of Luzhou and Laojiao means old pit.  So, the longer you use the mud pit, the more flavor gets absorbed into the wall, the mud walls, and this company has fermentation pits that have been in continuous use since 1573. They also make it with a sour mash.  So every time they ferment in the still, they take a quarter of the mash, throw it away, add fresh grains and fresh fermentation agent, and the cycle keeps going. You have mashes that are centuries old.

With regionality having such an effect on the final product what is the range broadly speaking in terms of flavors associated with specific regions?

Derek: So, one thing that’s nice about the range of baijius that we’re tasting right now, is that they can really illustrate well the difference, the differences that are produced by regionality, because starting with the first one we have, that’s a little bit further Southeast from this distillery.  And this the, the third one we’re having Mianzhu Dazhu is even further North.  So what you’re going to see, is even though that these are all using similar production methods, the more distance that’s traveled from a certain region, you begin to see the flavor profile develop. Baijiu is always consumed with food. Sichuan is considered the home of Strong Aroma baijiu. Guizhou is the home of Sauce Aroma baijiu. So, both of these baijius really come out of the Chinese culinary traditions.  And in Guizhou where you have this more savory, kind of, tangy baijiu.  This goes typically with the local food which is sour and spicy. These more aggressive fruity flavors, come from Sichuan where they eat spicy-spicy food. So, what you’re going to see here is that even though Luzhou Laojiao baijiu and the Mianzhu Daqu baijiu, even though they’re both made in the same category of spirits, the difference in the region gives you very different yeast and microorganisms.  So all this is harvested from the air. Based on the local terrain you get a very, very different character of the drink.

I would also add that within the Chinese baijiu category, there’s a category called Light Aroma and it’s most common in northeastern China. It is lighter and has more mild floral notes, you could probably compare it more easily to a vodka, although I think it’s still a bit different. Beijing is really the center of Light Aroma baijius, and up there this is a milder baijiu, with those floral notes, and it’s more savory.  This is mostly paired with the local food, which is very like, very, it’s a lot blander, heartier, it has more like salt to it.  Less spice.  So, yeah.  All of this, as I said, it’s part and parcel of the Chinese culinary tradition.  Wherever you go in China, the baijiu that they produce there compliments the local food. That is why you always, always drink baijiu with food.

What component directs the flavor the most and the final product that these guys are making?  What’s the defining example?  

Derek: It really comes down to something that’s unique to Chinese winemaking.  This goes back to ancient times, a good 3,000 years ago. China invented something called qu (pronounced “chew”), qu is basically grains that are mashed with some water, formed into molds and left to dry.  As they dry, they harvest yeasts and other micro-organisms from the, just from the air. So, it’s naturally cultivated yeast and microorganisms. Once you’ve steamed grains and mix them with qu, you can take the grains directly from a starch to alcohol. You can’t do that with Western alcohol, because when you just use yeast, it won’t break down the starch into the sugar. But there’s enough micro-organic life in these cultures that you can go directly from the grain to the alcohol.

So that is the most closely guarded trade secret between distilleries, is the qu.  They don’t want anyone near their qu.  I’ve only been able to touch qu once in the, you know, several dozens of distilleries that I’ve visited in China.  That’s where you get your strongest flavors from. And the reason that they don’t want other people coming into contact with their qu is that if you take some of this culture and you have the ability to extract some of the micro-organisms you could use them to inoculate your own cultures. Someone could be able to duplicate their unique flavor profile.

Why did you start 300 Shots at Greatness?

Derek: Sure.  Well, you know, before I started writing about baijiu, I was writing about Chinese history. For my next book, I wanted to do something that was more contemporary, something that had the history element and the rich culture, but also something was still a part of everyday life in China today. Baijiu just leaped out at me because, for listeners that have not traveled to China, there’s a big foreign expatriot community there who drinks all the time and there is a big, local Chinese community who drinks all the time.  But these two communities have very little overlap.  They’re not drinking the same drinks.  So, they’re not drinking together.

So, what I wanted to do is see if we could find a way to merge Eastern and Western drinking traditions.  I wanted to see if a foreigner, like myself, could find a way to appreciate the local drinking tradition. It was very easy for me to do that, but 300 Shots at Greatness, the name of my blog.  That came from something that someone told me right after I started researching baijiu.  That from someone, somewhere, that there is a taste threshold at which someone goes from not liking something to liking it.  Like a – we all probably remember the first time we had coffee, or Scotch.  Where we said, “I don’t like this.”  But then we had it a little more, and we added a few glasses, and then eventually, bam!  We loved it. So, we crossed a threshold from hate to love.

The joke was that with, with beer, maybe, you had to drink 5 beers and then you liked it. But, with baijiu you had to drink 300 shots. And, then, you would go from hating to loving it.  Now, personally, having gone through this experiment, having consumed the 300 shots, I don’t think it’s a matter of [volume].  I think that, for me, it was all about understanding the subtle differences between the brands and just finding a flavor profile that was suited to what I already liked.

Talk to us about the book, Baijiu: the Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits. How did it come about?

I started out writing, kind of in my, just a, kind of a normal, non-fiction, blog style. I then pitched it to my publisher and they said, “Well, that’s kind of wild, but what if you just took all of the stuff you knew about baijiu, then wrote a guide so that people could understand it first”.  Because there’s so little knowledge out there, they wanted me to introduce people to the categories.  I said, “Sure.” The first half of the book is the overview of the categories.  It tells you the history, it tells you how it’s produced. The different ingredients that are used to make baijiu, and kind of breaks down the categories, one by one.  It really tells you what the differences are between the different types of baijiu. Then, the second half of the book is brand profiles, so it goes alphabetical, by distillery and covers about 90 of the most major baijius in China. It goes brand by brand, it tells you not only how to say it in English, but it also has the Chinese characters.  So if you go into that, you know, dark, dusty Chinatown liquor store, you can point to the name and they pick it off the shelf for you. It’s kind of an eclectic collection of baijius that I featured in here, because I wanted to pick baijius that not only were the most popular baijius in China, but some of the ones that were doing something different.  For example I have one in here that’s in Southeastern China, and they age their baijiu with pig fat.  So it’s got this really salty, kind of, bacony finish to it that’s really nice. It’s not one of the most representative baijius, but it’s unique. I also included every single baijiu that is made by a foreign company in this book. Because these are the baijius, that you, as an average consumer, are going to be able to find first in the United States.

Here are my tasting notes of the Baijiu featured by CNS imports


Kweichow Moutai 53% abv/ Sauce Aroma Baijiu

Aroma– big bold aromas, sweet and salty with savory parmesan notes, pickled fruit, umeboshi like aromas, with a faint chicken stock, almost ramen broth like note.

Taste– sesame and walnut like nuttiness with cooked mushroom.

Finish– clean and astringent with ligering nutty and savory notes.

Luzhou-Laojiao-2 copy

Luzhou Laojiao 52% abv/Strong Aroma Baijiu

Aroma– sweet and fruity with ripe fruits like pineapple and banana with some bubblegum notes.

Taste– bubblegum and banana with some lush, juicy lychee notes in the background, very tropical and fruity.

Finish– long minty astringency with banana and lychee notes throughout.


Jian Nan Chun 52% abv/ Strong Aroma Baijiu

Aroma– lush tropical fruits with juicy over ripe pineapple notes.

Taste– juicy and lush fruits, pineapple, some lychee and pear with a faint minty herbal and cinnamon note providing the background.

Finish– clean with a minty astringency backed up by those lychee like tropical notes and some very faint pepper spice.

shui jing fang

Shui Jing Fang 52% abv/ Strong Aroma Baijiu

Aroma– salty and savory with notes of cooked mushroom, toasted nuts and some faint burnt sesame and cooked fruit.

Taste– mild briny sea water saltiness with celery notes, slightly vegetal.

Finish– astringent long finish with some tannic, dry herbal notes.


Mianzhu Daqu 52% abv/ Strong Aroma Baijiu

Aroma– a bit briny and savory with some ripe stone fruit aromas.

Taste– salty and savory start that produces over ripe fruit backed up by some celery root and vegetal notes.

Finish– clean with a minty herbal astringency.


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For the Love of Cocktails

For the Love of Cocktails

By Raul Faria

For the Love of Cocktails was one of the biggest, most fun events in Las Vegas I’ve ever taken part in and this year it is going to be even bigger with seminars featuring world renowned mixologists like host Tony Abou Ganim, Dale Degroff, Francesco Lafranconi and Bridget Albert, Meet the MGM Masters Sommelier selected wine pairing dinner, The Life of a Bartender party at Herbs & Rye and of course the Grand Gala. Last year’s gala brought the Las Vegas bartenders and mixologists together to raise money for the Helen David Relief Fund and this year Backbar USA and CEO Tim Haughinberry plan on raising the bar with a three-day event celebrating the Las Vegas craft cocktail scene while supporting a great cause. I got a chance to speak with Tim about For the Love of Cocktails plus what he has in store for attendees this year and beyond.


How did For the Love of Cocktails come about?

Tim: I’ve always felt there weren’t enough events that involve the whole community. It was always relating to a supplier distributor or a brand. So can we put something together that involves the entire community? Multiple brands, multiple distributors, multiple suppliers, multiple restaurants and do something that recognizes the Las Vegas mixology scene as opposed to one persons interest?

How did Tony Abou Ganim get involved?

Tim: Tony and I have known each other since the first day the Bellagio opened and Tony and I have worked on projects over the years, tastings and we have done some consulting together. When Tony in a meeting told us about how passionate he was about his charity we asked him how that charity raises money, and it really wasn’t raising that much money. So we put two and two together and said “If we start for the love of cocktails how great would it be to tie it in with a  charity that benefits bartenders and mixologists.

How many bartenders and mixologists were involved in the first event?

Tim: We had twelve stations with over thirty different bartenders and mixologists. So it started off with the brands and the properties that wanted to participate and then they reached out to those who wanted to get involved. It wasn’t so much a USBG event as it was about craft cocktail bars and properties with a craft cocktail program. Once we saw how excited the USBG got about it last year we wanted to tie them in this year. The USBG wasn’t really involved officially last year as they are this year as an official partner, It was more about reaching out to my friends who I have professional relationships with to get this off the ground. The catalyst for this year was really Las Vegas Invades Tales of the Cocktail. We brought ninety people down, brands, mixologists…everything. After that event I said “Ok we just held a mega event in another city, how did that benefit the Las Vegas cocktail scene? It brought all the local mixologists to showcase their talents in another city but man we should be doing something bigger, grander here in Las Vegas”. I would love to take this bigger, grander version on the road, we’d love to do For the Love of Cocktails Miami or For the Love of Cocktails New York, bring our Las Vegas team down there, get brands and involved and raise more money for the Helen David Relief Fund

How has it grown this year? Whats in store for the attendees?

Tim: This year its grown by having corporate sponsorship. With the MGM backing it and getting involved, Mandalay Bay and the Delano Las Vegas. We were able to tap into a lager budget and a larger data base. We are marketing via the MGM Resorts International, we are getting more involved with their social media and we are also able to tap into some bigger brands. With more money comes more exposure and with more exposure hopefully comes a bigger grander event. Last year was a one night event for three hours the is a three day event. We felt a missing element was it was a little trade driven we wanted to create an event that is trade run but would also attract consumers as well. We want to make sure consumers are involved through the education pieces and thought the grand gala itself. We now have five seminars which trade and consumers can attend. We have a dinner before the event that features our wine community and ties in craft cocktails as well as a separate event that will focus on the local mixologists and their craft. We also have an event at a local establishment, Herbs & Rye, which ties in off the strip and shows that Vegas is more than just massive casinos. This year we’ve involved, resorts, brands, world renowned mixologists, and we’ve reached out to more consumers and trade thorough a larger advertising budget over a three-day event.

What are you most excited about for For the Love of Cocktails this year?

I think I’m most excited about how all these events are tying in the entire beverage community. I’m excited to see both distributors at the event, the different brands, different hotels that normally don’t talk to each other or that compete, all in one room at the same time for a good cause. So I’m excited to see it this year, just like I was last year when I saw all those people on stage I thought “this is incredible”. Plain and simple, its never happened before here. You’ve never had all these people on stage at one time working towards one goal, one charity. It wasn’t about anyone’s individual agenda, it was about the Las Vegas bartending community coming together for the Helen David Relief Fund.

What do you see for the future of For the Love of Cocktails?

The future of this event is more along the lines of a Las Vegas Cocktail Week. We are trying to do something that brings the Las Vegas cocktail scene, Las Vegas wine community, Las Vegas experts, whether they are an expert on the hotel level, an expert with a brand, an ambassador, all to create something that attracts a global audience that brings these people to the state. That’s why the Las Vegas Convention Visitors Authority wants to be involved with this. We are trying to build something bigger and grander that’s never been done in the U.S. before.

To purchase tickets to For the Love of Cocktails click here. 

Besure to sign up for the Backbar USA newsletter here. Each newsletter showcases local events in Las Vegas plus highlights a Bartender of the week.

Check out our cocktail from last year’s For the Love of cocktails, the L Word, here.



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Carter Raff of Bummer & Lazarus GIn


By Adam Rains

Carter Raff is living the American Dream. As master distiller and founder of Raff Distillerie, Carter is doing what he loves in the city that he loves, San Francisco. He’s riding a wave of a craft fervor and making a difference. Not only enticing and delighting the palates of Californians, he’s bringing the goods to a larger market without giving up quality nor his passion. With a mixture of science, hard work and serendipity, his mark is still being made on our craft distillery scene. On a recent Mixology Made Simple interview with Carter, I was fortunate enough to discuss Absinthe & Rosebud, Gin & Juniper and the REAL Martini.

Where does “Bummer & Lazarus” lie in the pantheon of American Boutique Gin? & Worldwide?

Carter: I think I make a very unique gin. Most gins in the past usually follow the typical London dry style with a clear dominance of juniper-berry. I went for a more citrus and floral gin. I also make mine with 100% California Grapes, which differs from others that use grain alcohol.

I’ve heard gin called the “distillers muse”? What is your approach to the spirit? And how did you find your recipe?

Carter: That’s definitely true. I really do try to make products that are different from anything else on the market. I don’t see the point of making the standard. I want to be proud of what I make. Because of that I use direct maceration; which means I put the botanicals directly in the still to get maximum flavor. I’ve been distilling for 15 years so I’ve playing with gin for that long. I start from the most basic of questions. What do I want to taste? I go from there. With this gin, as I said already, I wanted a flavorful gin with citrus and floral notes on the palate.


The Bummer & Lazarus lore is classic and people love a good story; how did you correlate between the story and the gin, as well as the famed street doggies that the gin is named after?

Carter: Well, I’m 5th generation San Franciscan and base all my labels off San Francisco history. So I’ll continue that will all my products. I found it to be more intriguing to associate a spirit with a story so it’s not just the alcohol, but something else as well. Bummer and Lazarus were two stray dogs that lived in San Francisco in the late 1800s. Bummer rescued Lazarus from a fight and from that point on they never separated. Most of the time, back then, strays were killed on sight because dogs outnumbered humans 2 to 1, but Bummer and Lazarus were so loved that there was a separate statute allowing the dogs not only to roam the city, but downtown San Francisco where NO dogs were ever allowed. The reason for this was these were the best ‘ratters’ in the city. When Lazarus died over 30,000 people attended the funeral and when Bummer died Mark Twain wrote the eulogy. Mark Twain actually used the dogs in some of his stories.

How would you entice the vodka drinker to switch to your gin?

Carter: I don’t have to. I’m coming out with a grape based vodka in the next few months, but once a NON-gin drinker tried my gin they’re hooked. They are used to heavy juniper flavored gins.

It’s safe to say that we are in a beverage renaissance, with all things craft being in vogue and boutique distillers doing some really great things. How do you view Boutique Distillery movement? Tell me about your journey?

Carter: Oh yes, there are new distilleries opening every week. Competition, creativity and public awareness are good things. The problem is the market gets diluted and honestly the old standby big brands are only big because people love it. What this means are the craft distillers are going to have to work hard to come up with something unique and high quality.

All things in life are cyclical, including our industry, how far do you see the current craft movement going?

Carter: I don’t think it will ever go away, but in the next 5 years it will diminish to the ones that can sustain and have done well in sales. Its like Bourbon, for example, 10 years ago was still your grandfather’s drink. Now it’s more popular than ever, which is a good thing. So Bourbon won’t ever be in the back seat again.”

If there is a contraction in the market, how will you remain competitive?

Carter: By continuing to make great products without sacrificing quality. Some craft distilleries make every product under the sun and continue to do so. I would love to make weird and unique eau de vies, but I can’t rightly do so and keep the quality. You can only make so much. I will top out at Bummer & Lazarus Gin, Emperor Norton Absinthe, Barbary Coast Rhum Agricole, Russian Hill Vodka, A Bourbon, A Rye and two barrel aged versions of the Bummer & Lazarus Barrel Aged Navy Strength Gin and Barbary Coast Rhum Agricole.


What is your favorite bar (s) in SF?

Carter: Do I have to? Really? Honestly there are SOOO many in SF it’s unreal. Let’s go this route, for modern takes on Italian bites and stellar bartenders, Zero Zero on Folsom, for seafood and great bartenders, George’s SF on Samson and finally, Emperor Norton’s Boozeland on Larkin. Those are only to name a few.

Where do you go to wet your whistle while in Vegas?

Carter: That’s tough as well but I absolutely love Sage in the lobby of the Aria. The staff is tremendous.

Out of so many great classic Gin-based cocktails, which ones work the best with your Gin?

Carter: Well this is easier. I love our signature cocktail the Ginger Beer Collins. A take on the original it has 2 oz.Bummer & Lazarus Gin, 1/2 oz. Simple Syrup, 1 oz. Lemon Juice, 4 Dashed Angostura Bitters – Shake with Ice – Pour Over Ice and Top off with Bunderberg Ginger Beer – Stir.

And of course a REAL Martini. Most people have been brainwashed by James Bond, don’t get me wrong I love James Bond, but a dry martini? A true Martini made with 2 1/4 oz. Bummer & Lazarus Gin and 3/4 oz. Dolin’s Dry Vermouth – Shake with 1 piece of ice and serve Up.

The one piece of ice is so you don’t chill the gin too much. Cold is cloying and the super cold martini cuts the flavor by 80%. Make this way it will be the best martini you ever had.

Who are some people that inspire you in the industry?

Carter: Well up until recently, Balcones. Chip Tate has done some great stuff in the craft spirits world. My friend Adam at Sonoma County Distilling makes whiskey from scratch.

What are some brands that you look up to and/or enjoy?

Carter: I try to find all the new craft brands that come out that show passion. This includes only brands that take the effort to create a great package. Most the time these days people are designing them themselves and that really doesn’t work.

If you were on your deathbed, what would you drink?

Carter: Tough one. Quite possible a glass of my absinthe. Or maybe a glass of my original 1931 Pernod Absinthe. Or wait I just remembered I have a bottle of 1973 Rene Lalou Champagne. Or maybe a nice glass of 50 year old Scotch. Being my deathbed, I would want something classic steeped in history. Kind of like Rosebud at the end of Citizen Kane, but a drink not a sled.

For more information on Bummer & Lazarus Gin and the Raff Distillerie’s upcoming projects click here


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Mango Curry Collins


By Raul Faria

I created the Mango Curry Collins, featuring Absolut Mango, for a new restaurant opening in Las Vegas. It is inspired by the Vodka Collins and the flavors of Southeast Asia. This is a fun, tangy cocktail with just a touch of savory from the super easy to make curry syrup and the Sriracha. Ready to try fun twist on a refreshing classic?

1) Lets get our tools ready; we will need our Boston Shaker, Hawthorne Strainer, Double Strainer, Citrus Press, A jigger with a 1 oz and a .75 oz measure. Our shopping list includes Absolut Mango, Fresh Orange Juice or Oranges, Limes, Sugar, Curry Powder and Fever Tree Tonic.

Curry Syrup- Begin with 1.5 cups of sugar, 3 tablespoons of curry powder and combine with 1 cup of Hot water. Stir until well blended. Next use our double-strainer to reduce any un-dissolved curry powder. You’ll get the best flavor by letting the unstrained syrup infuse for 24 hours then strain out the solids. Use your favorite curry powder and stick to that brand. Curry powders are notoriously inconsistent in their ingredient blends, yielding different flavors from brand to brand.

2) Begin with adding 5-6 dashes of Sriracha hot sauce. It contains just the right amount of savory notes to add some extra layers of flavor This is just going to give the cocktail a little kick that plays nicely off the sweetness of the curry syrup.

3) Next add .75 oz of fresh lime juice to the mixing glass. We can use our citrus press and squeeze directly into the jigger or we can utilize our double-strainer to catch any pulp or seeds and squeeze the juice into a separate container.

4) Now we can add our .75 oz of curry syrup.

5) Lets add 2 oz of fresh orange juice. If you using fresh oranges I would recommend squeezing ahead of time to remove the pulp and seeds with our double-strainer. You can also substitute Naked Juice or Perricone orange juice. They are a little pricey but save a ton of work and in the long run are probably cheaper than using fresh oranges, especially if you plan on making more than one cocktail.

6) Time to add the star of the show 2 oz of Absolut Mango. Released in 2007 Absolut Mango has a ton of fresh, lush mango flavor and is really fun to mix with.

7) Lets add ice to the mixing glass and shake. Strain into a chilled collins glass and top off with 2-3 oz Fever Tree tonic. Pour into the glass at the same time your pouring the tonic or give a quick light stir to distribute. Garnish with a lime wheel and enjoy!

Mango Curry Collins– 2 oz Absolut Mango, .75 oz curry syrup, .75 oz of lime juice, 2 oz fresh orange juice, 5-6 dashes of Siracha, add ice and shake, strain into chilled, iced collins glass and top off with 2-3 oz Fever Tree tonic, quick light stir to distribute or pour tonic at the same time, garnish with a lime wheel.

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Cocktail Thyme


By Raul Faria

Cocktail Thyme was created for Chef Scott Conant’s restaurant Scarpetta inside the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino. It features Absolut Craft Smokey Tea and Campari along with a honey and lemon to create an Aperitif style Sour. I wanted to play off the freshness and savory herbs that are utilized in authentic Italian food, which is where Chef draws his inspiration. Ready to make a dry sour with tons of fun herbal notes?

1) Let’s begin by getting our tools together; we will need our Boston Shaker, Hawthorne Strainer, Citrus Press, Jigger with a 1 oz and a .5 oz measure and a Double-Strainer. Our shopping list will consist of Absolut Craft Smokey Tea, Aperol, Honey, Lemons, Eggs, Thyme and an Orange.

2) We can begin by adding .5 oz of Egg white to the mixing glass portion of the Boston Shaker.

3) Next up let’s add our .75 oz lemon juice. You can either slice the lemon and utilize the citrus press to squeeze directly into the jigger or you can double-strain the juice into a separate container and save for later use.

4) Now we can add or .75 oz of honey syrup. This is super simple and is basically adding 2-1 honey to water and stirring. Viola! Honey syrup.

5) Let’s add .25 oz Campari. Campari is an appertif and is typically enjoyed before meals in Italy. It is also the key ingredient in my favorite cocktail, the Negroni. We’ve used it before at Mixology Made Simple in cocktails like the Mango Tamarindo and the Brockton Cocktail. It has a distinct bitter orange flavor that is great to add herbal notes and complexity to cocktails.

6) Time to add the star of the show, 1.5 oz of Absolut Craft Smokey Tea. With notes of smoke and savory herbs, Absolut Craft Smokey Tea tastes almost like a barrel aged gin without the juniper. The Absolut Craft line is a partnership with Bartender and Mad Scientist Nick Strangeway to create something for the craft market. They wanted to let Nick push the envelope in terms of flavor and he did. With flavors like Bitter Cherry, Herbaceous Lemon and Smokey Tea, Nick created unique combinations never seen in the vodka world. The flavors were complex and intriguing and quickly became a sought after bottle and is now sometimes difficult to find. What is out there will be it, so it is truly a limited run. If you can’t find smokey Tea you can substitute Absolut Wild Tea and add a couple drops of Islay Scotch like Laphroiag or Lagavulin.

7) Next we will do a dry shake. This helps emulsify the egg whites and will assist in creating the desired texture plus produce a good foam on top of the cocktail. Simply shake without ice.

8) Let’s go ahead and add our ice to the glass along with 5-6 sprigs of thyme.

9) Shake and double-strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass.

10) Garnish with an expressed orange peel and a thyme sprig. Discard the orange peel.

Cocktail Thyme– 1.5 oz Absolut Craft Smokey Tea, .25 oz Campari, .75 oz honey syrup, .75 oz lemon juice, .5 oz egg white, dry shake, add ice, 5-6 strands of thyme, shake, double-strain into chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with orange peel and thyme sprig.

If you plan on visiting Las Vegas be sure to stop by Scarpetta and enjoy a Cocktail Thyme of your own.

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by Raul Faria

The Amazonarita is my entry in this year’s Margarita Festival. It was inspired by my recent trip to Brazil. I chose Çedilla, an açai liqueur as my modifier and my sweet is a reduction of the incredibly popular, in Brazil, Guarana soda with a little agave. The 16 teams of Mixologists were assigned a Tequila at random. I lucked out and got Olmeca Altos Reposado which is an amazing 100% blue agave Tequila which is rested for about 8-10 months in used Bourbon barrels. We add a little lime and we have our Brazil inspired Amazonarita. The cocktail is dry and pretty tequila forward with the cedilla and guarana supporting the woody and herbal notes from the Tequila. Its straightforward in production as is the guarana reduction, the garnish we chose for the competition however is a bit tricky but will really impress guests at your bar or cocktail party.

1) Lets get our tools together; we will need our Boston Shaker, Hawthorne Strainer, Citrus press, a jigger with 1.5oz, 1 oz and .5 oz measure. Our shopping list will include Olmeca Altos Tequila, Çedilla açai liqueur, limes, guarana soda, sugar, kosher or course sea salt and agave nectar. Some tools for our prep will be a sharp pairing knife or even better a mandolin slicer, a silpat or non stick baking sheet, and a measuring cup.

2) We do have some prep to get out of the way first-

Guarana Agave syrup- add 1 part guarana to one part agave nectar, for this example we will use 2 cups of Guarana soda (check the cans and make sure its not high fructose corn syrup) and 1 cup agave nectar. Add to a saucepan and bring to boil. Lower heat and reduce for 5 minutes. Allow to cool and store for later use.

Çediila acai lime chip- This is tricky but a really fun garnish that will impress. Begin slicing very thin lime wheels on a mandolin slicer. Once we have our sliced limes we will them submerge them in a shallow pan of a 1-1 ratio of Çedilla and sugar for at least 6 hours. We will then shake them dry a bit and set them in a silpat lined pan or another non stick baking sheet and bake on low 150-200 degrees until crisp. The purpose of the baking is to remove the water and leave behind the sugar. The baking will take roughly two hours. Once dry and crisp set aside in an airtight container for later use.

3) Lets add 1 oz fresh lime juice to our Boston Shaker. You can squeeze the lime juice directly into the jigger or you can utilize our double-strainer and strain into a separate container. This will remove any pulp or seeds plus you can have juice for the next round.

4) Time to add our 1 oz of Çedilla açai liqueur. Çedilla is the braindchild of Maison Leblon’s master distiller Gilles Merlet. He was inspired by the little Brazillian berry and wanted to create a liqueur. He combined it with ginger root, orange peel, lime zest, sweetened it with sugar cane and utilized Leblon cachaça as the base.

5) Now we will add .5 oz guarana agave syrup. Guarana is so popular in Brazil that the Coca-Cola was tired of losing the soda war, so they took their bazillions of dollars and just bought the biggest company. If you cant beat em, buy em???

6) We can add 2 oz of Olmeca Altos Reposado Tequila. This is an artisanal tequila made the tradition way, stone crushed, highlands grown agave, brick oven baked pinás (the heart of the agave),  distilled in a small copper pot still, and is made with respect to terroir and tradition.

7) Add ice and shake. Strain into chilled, iced rocks glass. Garnish with our acai lime chip. Enjoy! 

Pick up your tickets to the Margarita Festival here.

Amazonarita- 2 oz Olmeca Altos Reposado Tequila, 1oz Çedilla, 1 oz fresh lime juice, .5oz guarana infused agave syrup, shake then strain into chilled, iced rocks. Garnish with an açai lime chip.

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Don Q Gran Anejo


by Raul Faria

While Don Q may not be the first name that jumps to mind when people hear “Puerto Rican rum” the company points out that it actually outsells any other brand of rum on the Island and is actually headquartered in Peurto Rico for almost 150 years. Destilaria Serrallés that produces Don Q is a family run company going back six generations, The Seralles family’s rum has been a staple in islands since its first cask in 1865. It was also the rum that was used in the first Pina Colada at the Caribe Hilton Hotel by barman Ramón “Monchito” Marrero Pérez (he was credited as the inventor by the by the Sage of all that is tropical and boozy, Jeff Beachbum Berry in Potions of the Caribbean). Don Q Gran Anejo is an anejo aged Puerto Rican Rum and is considered the crown jewel of the Don Q line. Blended with rum that has been aged in American white oak casks from 6-12 years and some are even aged for 20 years in the Solera method, it is a bold yet balanced expression of an aged rum. It is a sipping rum, a rocks glass, an ice sphere and maybe a dash of pimento bitters and you’re all set. Below are my impressions of Don Q Gran Anejo

Aroma- Big oak with crème bruleé burnt sugar, pronounced vanilla with fruity tropical notes providing the foundation.

Taste- Velvety texture and luxurious mouthfeel, almost buttery with woody oak flavors front and center backed up with toffee, vanilla, crisp pear with faint notes of pimento.

Finish- Long woody and walnut tannic finish with some lingering vanilla.

I also got a chance to speak with Western Regional Manager for Don Q rum, David Duran, about Gran Anejo and Don Q.

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How is Don Q rum different from other Puerto Rican rums on the market?

We age everything, including the rum we use in our flavored rum, a minimum of 1 year. To be called a Puerto Rican rum it has to be aged a minimum of 1 year. We are very specific about our process. For example, we pasteurize our molasses before fermentation to kill any bacteria or wild yeast, we used the same strain of yeast since 1935, we distill 5 times, we age at low proofs and we age and blend all our rums. It’s all about making a clean distillate and letting the barrels do the talking. With our base rums we add no sugar and with our flavored rums we use all natural flavors and infusions and we never use artificial colors nor preservatives. Finally, we have invested millions of dollars to make sure the operation is ecologically sound and sustainable, even though doing this makes our rums more costly to produce. For example, we treat all our waste water which is costly instead of dumping our waste water in the ocean like some of our competitors do. After all, it’s about doing the right thing!

What factors contribute to Don Q’s #1 position in Peurto Rico over some of the bigger brands?

We have been making rum on the island since 1865, longer on the island than any of the other distillers. For 6 generations the Serralles family has been perfecting the art of making exceptional rums on the island and the quality, taste and smoothness of Don Q rums have made it the local favorite. Puerto Ricans cherish light and mixable rums that are great in cocktails and Don Q rums deliver a perfect combination of smoothness, structure and clean rummy flavors.

Does Don Q grow its own sugar cane? If not where is it sourced?

No, we do not. It is sourced through brokers and we are very specific in who and where we get it from. As recently as the late 1970’s there used to be nothing but sugar cane fields surrounding the distillery, but the local sugar industry could not compete with other lower cost regions. The Serralles family is working with the government in bringing sugar cane back to the island and the government recently started by planting about 1000 acres. We hope to continue growing sugar cane production on the island to more than 3000 acres in the near future.

Describe the barrel and aging process of the Don Q Anejo and Gran Anejo? Where does don Q source the barrels?

Anejo is a blend of 3-10 year old rum aged in American White Oak barrels. It is by far the best rum on the planet priced below $20. In fact, it’s a steal. Gran Anejo is a blend of 6-12 year old rum aged in American White Oak barrels and Solera rums aged up to 20 years in Sherry Casks. Our barrels come to us after being used 2 times. First in bourbon, then American or Canadian Whisky. We choose those barrels so some of the Char is not too strong which will affect the flavor profile we are seeking through aging.

How does the flavor of Gran Anejo compare to Bourbon?

I call it the brown spirits (Bourbon, Scotch, Cognac) drinkers’ rum. Because we add no sugar and let the barrels do the talking, it is smooth, elegant, well structured and has all the nuances of a fine Bourbon or Scotch. One of my friends calls it “The Caribbean Cognac”!

How do you enjoy your Gran Anejo?

The way it should be… with One Gläce Ice Sphere in a snifter. But by the way, it makes an amazing Manhattan too!

I want to thank David Duran for taking the time to chat with us about Don Q Gran Anejo. Be sure to visit for more information on their line of rums and find out where you can pick up a bottle!

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Cigarettes & Roses

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by Raul Faria

Cigarettes & Roses was created for the “Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender Competition”, which tasked us to create a cocktail that had a story and could be inspired by, well, anything really. The sky was the limit. I chose the “Biker’s Girl” character from the Lana Del Rey video “Ride”. The girl in question is a bit of a rebel so I chose the classic whiskey cocktail “Scofflaw” as a build and I wanted to try and represent this person’s world in a cocktail.

My takeaway from the video is that she is a beautiful, gentle but conflicted person stuck in a bad situation. She was drawn to the open road and has lost herself to that life. Her beauty and complexity is represented by the Bombay Sapphire. Bombay Sapphire is less Juniper forward, and instead draws into focus botanicals like angelica, cassia and orris root, making it a bit smoother and less aggressive but still able to express the full 10 botanicals. I also chose to utilize Lillet Blanc, an aromatized wine that provides a gentle sweetness and has notes of citrus and quinine to add a touch of mystery, which our “Biker’s Girl” possesses in abundance. I then chose tobacco, sage and applewood smoked acai syrup to represent those dingy bars full of smoke that she spends her time in. I also chose a drop of rose water. That would be her perfume showing through the smoky haze. Finally, we have the ice sphere that contains a rose bulb. The ice sphere is a direct analogy of the harsh, cold world she lives in, around the rose bulb that represents the “Biker’s Girl” herself.

That was the story. The cocktail comes together much like the classic itself, except it draws its smoke and wood notes from actual smoke and wood. Overall, it’s a sexy-looking, tasty sour that’s pretty straightforward in its production, but some of the prep can be tricky. Let’s make some Cigarettes & Roses.

1) Let’s begin by getting our tools together; we will need our Boston Shaker, our Hawthorne Strainer, a Citrus Press our Double-strainer, a 10-12 oz double old fashioned glass and a jigger with a 1.5 oz, .75 oz and .5 oz measure. Our shopping list will include Bombay Sapphire, Çedilla Açai liqueur, agave nectar, lemons, edible flowers, rose water, an ice sphere tray, a smoking gun, small applewood chips, organic tobacco and dried sage.

2) Here’s the tricky part- the prep. The good news is that once it’s done, the cocktail itself is super easy.

Smoked Açai Syrup– The first step is to acquire the syrup. Begin by adding 1 cup of Çedilla into a large measuring cup. Next, add 1 cup of agave and stir so it dissolves the agave into a pourable syrup. Dump that into a saucepan and add one more cup of Çedilla , stir and on high heat bring to a boil. Once the boil has been obtained, bring heat to low and reduce for 15 minutes. The mixture should be syrupy and sweet like grenadine.

Now that we have our syrup, it’s time to smoke it. Begin by adding the açai syrup to an empty bottle. Insert the tube that comes along with your smoking gun and add the blend of organic tobacco, dried sage and applewood chips to the “bowl”. Flip the switch on the gun, and light her up! The bottle will soon fill with smoke and start billowing out as well so quickly cap the bottle and trap it in. Switch the gun off and empty the wood and herb blend out in a sink or an ashtray. Shake the syrup in the bottle so it passes through the smoke and absorbs the flavor. Uncap the bottle and release the smoke. Pour the syrup into a different container like a mason jar or squeeze bottle and store in the fridge for later use.

Rose Bulb Ice Sphere– This is easy or annoying, depending on what ice sphere tray you purchased. I’d recommend the pliable plastic versions, but the hard plastic shells make really tight almost translucent spheres where the rubber pliable plastic trays seem to be a bit cloudier. The hard shells usually have a smaller opening for the water though, so filling them can be tricky. Another tricky part is making sure you acquire EDIBLE or ORGANIC roses. Anything else is going to have chemicals that will make you sick. You can find the roses online and edible flowers in general can be purchased directly from a specialty supermarket like Whole Foods or Trader Joes. Simply add the edible rose bulb or flower to the tray and fill with water. Stick in the freezer and wait until frozen. Set aside in a sealed container for later use.

3) Since we worked on it so hard on it, let’s begin by adding .5 oz of our smoked açai syrup to our Boston Shaker.

4) Now we can add our .75 oz of lemon juice. We can simply slice the lemons and squeeze them directly into our jigger or we can use our double-strainer to catch all the pulp and seeds and squeeze into a separate container.

5) Carefully add our 1 drop of rose water to the glass. A little goes a looooong way. Rose water typically does not come with a dropper so pick up a medicine dropper or use one that comes with one of the other fancier bitters you might have.

6) Let’s add our 1 oz of Lillet Blanc. I’ve used Lillet Blanc in my Spiced Cherry Manhattan and I really enjoy the silky texture and fruity, citrus notes and feel they are really complimentary to the Sapphire Botanical formula. Lillet Blanc also is made with cinchona bark which contains quinine and we know gin and quinine (tonic) are best friends.

7) Time to add 1.5oz of the star of the show, Bombay Sapphire. Sapphire was created with the intention of appealing to those who found London Dry Style gins to “piney” and to showcase some new botanicals. When it was released in 1987, it was a first of its kind product and helped pave the way for gin to gain some ground, while vodka’s American spirit market domination was in full swing.

8) Add the ice sphere to our chilled double old fashioned glass. Next add ice to our Boston Shaker and shake. Double-strain into the glass so it will catch the ice chips allowing the ice sphere to show through and prevent any cracks. Enjoy!

Cigarettes & Roses– 1.5 oz of Bombay Sapphire, 1 oz lillet blanc, .75 oz lemon juice, .5 oz tobacco smoked acai syrup, 1 drop of rose water, shake then strain into chilled, 10-12 oz double old fashioned glasses with an edible rose bulb ice sphere.


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Woodford County Cooler

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by Raul Faria

Check out my original cocktail the “Woodford County Cooler” featuring Woodford Reserve. This cocktail was served at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino for AFAN’s the Black and White Party. AFAN “provides support and advocacy for adults and children living with and affected by HIV/AIDS in Southern Nevada”. It’s a great cause and the Black and White Party is a huge event with live entertainment from some of Las Vegas biggest shows.The event also featured sponsors like Ketel 1, Sauza 901, Absolut and one of my personal favorites, Woodford Reserve. The Woodford County Cooler is designed to amplify the vanilla and rye spice notes I find in the whiskey with the homemade vanilla bean grenadine and the ginger beer. Peaches and whiskey are best friends of course so I know I also wanted to use some stone fruit and that’s where the white peach puree comes in. This is a fun summertime whiskey sipper that is really easy to make with a little preparation. Lets make one!

1) Lets get our tools together; we will need our Boston Shaker, Hawthorne strainer, our Citrus Press, A jigger with a 1 oz and .75 oz measure and a 16oz Collins glass. To make our grenadine and prepare our garnish we will also need a saucepan, measuring cup and a sharp pairing knife. Our shopping list will consist of Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Fever Tree ginger beer, Fee Bros Peach Bitters, lemons, peaches, POM wonderful pomegranate juice and vanilla beans. Optional tool will be a Double-Strainer.

2) We have some prep to done first-

Vanilla Bean Grenadine– Begin by slicing a vanilla bean in half and then slicing it through the middle opening one side. Next empty 1.5 cups of sugar onto a baking pan or plate. Now take the split vanilla bean half and grind it into the sugar. let this sit for at least 4-6 hours minimum. We will now add vanilla infused sugar and the vanilla bean into our saucepan. Let’s get our 1.5 cups of POM wonderful into our saucepan and place the heat on high. Stir until sugar is blended in, bring mixture  to a boil, next lower heat to a low simmer and reduce for 10 minutes. Allow to cool then pour into vessel for later use. (This recipe can also be made without the sugar infusion but will yield less vanilla flavor)

Diced Peach Garnish– Slice off the four sides of a white peach leaving the core and the stem. Take the four sides and dice them into small evenly (as much as you can) chunks. Peaches once they are cut pretty much need to be served right away however if you want to keep them fresh throughout a party or shift at the bar add a couple splashes of lemon juice and some water to the the peaches while they are in their garnish caddy or other holding vessel.

3) Lets begin by adding .75 oz of vanilla bean grenadine to our mixing glass portion of our Boston Shaker.

4) Next we will add our .75 oz of lemon juice. You can simply slice the lemon in half and using our citrus press squeeze the lemon juice right into our jigger. Or you can utilize the double-strainer to filter out the pulp and seeds and squeeze the juice into a seperate container for later use.

5) Now let’s add our 1.5 oz white peach puree. Ponthier, Boiron and Perfect Puree are all solid choices. If you can’t find those you can also use Funkin but it does tend to be sweeter and more “applesaucy”. You can also make your own peach puree using a blender and adding just a touch of simple syrup.

6) Time to add the main event, 2 oz of Woodford Reserve Bourbon. The name Woodford County Cooler is in obvious reference to the whiskey itself  but also to the county in which the distillery is located and where the whiskey gets it’s name. Woodford Reserve is distilled in the oldest operating distillery in the United States. Since 1878 the former Elijah Pepper distillery has been making whiskey, with a brief vacation for that pesky prohibition back in the twenties. They were apparently making whiskey at that site all the way back to the late 1700’s but in a less formal capacity. The now named Woodford Reserve Distillery is a registered National Historic Landmark.

7) Lets add 3 dashes of Fee Bros Peach Bitters and ice then shake. Strain into a chilled, iced 16 oz Collins glass.

8) Top off with ginger beer and give a quick light stir to distribute ingredients or pour your ginger beer while at the same time straining your cocktail. Garnish with a teaspoon of diced peaches and a lemon wheel. Enjoy 🙂

Woodford County Cooler– 2 oz Woodford Reserve Bourbon, .75 oz Vanilla Bean Grenadine, .75 oz fresh lemon juice, 1.5 oz of white peach puree, 3 dashes of Fee Bros Peach Bitters, add ice then shake and strain into chilled, iced Collins glass., top off with 3 oz of ginger beer, give a quick light stir to distribute and garnish with diced peaches and a lemon wheel.

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Little Water and the Modern Mixologist

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by Raul Faria

Vodka, once the darling of the American bartending world from the late 70’s to the early 2000’s due to its versatility is now mostly relegated to $500 bottle service or an afterthought to be mixed with red bull by those not familiar with the spirit’s subtle flavors. Still immensely popular by the consumer but perhaps misunderstood by those who serve and consume it? Todays trends in the American mixology/bartending community tend to favor more flavor forward spirits like Gin, Whiskeys or Agave spirits. The flavored Vodka category on the other hand has exploded, from the standard orange and citrus, to the more exotic chipotle and chocolate to the extreme like whipped cream and Swedish Fish. Europe has had a different relationship with Vodka such as Eastern Europe where it is traditionally served with meals to the Nordic north where it is sipped like a nice whiskey.

The book Vodka Distilled: the Modern Mixologist on vodka and vodka cocktails, really puts the spirit category into focus. It shows you how to pinpoint different flavors and identify styles, grains and regional variations found in vodka. A must read for anyone who really wants a deeper understanding of one of the most popular and perhaps one of the oldest spirit categories in the world.

Personally I turn to vodka when I want the components of my cocktail to be the star and allow the subtle flavors of Vodka to be the backbone of the cocktail. This allows the fresh juices, herbs and spices to shine. Vodka is also my first choice when I want to create a clean, soft and subtle cocktail that will pair with lighter foods.

I spoke with Author and Master Mixologist Tony Abou Ganim about his new book “Vodka Distilled: the Modern Mixologist on vodka and vodka cocktails” that focuses on the aforementioned spirit.

How would you describe vodka? What defines it and separates it from a neutral grain spirit in terms of flavor?

Well that’s one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding vodka is that it is a tasteless odorless spirit, which is the definition that the US government has put on vodka. In the East, the vodka belt, where vodka is not necessarily mixed into cocktails but drank on its own, its paired with food, the character is much more robust its vodka that really tastes like vodka. One of the reasons I wanted to write the book, not only to debunk the myth that all vodkas are the same, was that through deeper understanding comes deeper appreciation. It’s easy to kick sand on vodka because it is a very neutral spirit but the more you delve into it, if you do the work, you will find vast variations in the subtleties of different styles of vodka, from the raw materials to the distillation techniques, mouthfeel, finish, acidity, and the flavor components that you wouldn’t associate with vodka that make themselves so clear when we taste blind and when we taste vertically. Anyone who thinks all vodka tastes the same needs to do vodka tasting with me.


In the book I found very interesting when you talked about the food of the vodka belt “What are you going to pair with that kind of food?” Something light in flavor, so there is flavor and it pairs really well with kind of food right?


When I was writing the book I went to Poland, I went to Russia, I went to Sweden, I went to Finland and when you’d go to dinner in Poland you would get a bottle of vodka from the freezer, sure you could have wine, but back in the day ,wine wasn’t readily available and the winters were long and they were hard and they cold and grapes didn’t grow. Grain and potatoes were the ingredients they had to work with. When you think of the food that had to last through the winter, you smoke them, you pickle them, you dried them, things that don’t work well with wine anyway but with vodka it’s just a beautiful pairing. Anyone who hasn’t tried vodka and caviar has missed out on one of life’s greatest pleasures.


Why do you think vodka is often overlooked by Mixologists and Bartenders?


Well I don’t think that was ever the case until recently. With the craft movement, which is fabulous to see what is happening in our profession, we’ve gone back and we’ve researched the lost and forgotten classic cocktails, the cocktails that were either created or perfected during that golden age of cocktails, that time leading up to prohibition in the United States. We didn’t know vodka in the United States  back then, vodka was a solely an Eastern European product and like I mentioned earlier wasn’t consumed in cocktails. It was consumed neat. Once prohibition was over there was a true shortage of qualified bartenders in the United States and vodka was starting to make its move, it became much easier for perhaps the lesser skilled bartenders to mix with vodka because it does mix very easily and what elevated vodkas popularity is probably what has done it the most injustice with the craft bartender is the mixability of vodka. It mixed with anything, the orange blossom became the screwdriver, even the red snapper once made with gin in the United States is now a very well know vodka drink. So I really believe what made it popular was its mixability and I often wonder if vodka was available during Jerry Thomas’s day would he have been able to mix with it?


What do you think the next vodka trend will be? Single grain, barrel treatment or specific flavors?


Well with all the artisanal distilleries that have opened up in the United States over the last five years we are seeing a lot of very small handcrafted vodkas being produced. I always say what makes a vodka unique, what makes it special, what makes it wonderful is what’s left in what’s not taken out. We are talking about a spirit that’s distilled to 192 proof, 96 percent alcohol then often times filtered. So it’s what the master distiller is able to retain in the distillate, the character of the vodka that to me makes it special, that makes it unique So its not what’s taken out its what’s left in. I think we are seeing much more of that artisanal style approach to making vodka in the United States because after all if you are making whiskey you’re not gonna sell any of it for at least 2 years and probably anyone who’s smart is leaving it in the barrel much longer. So by making gin by making vodka, it allows you to be able to practice that art of distillation, generate some cash flow and do some really fun things that celebrate the raw materials. You mentioned the single grains, I think that is really what we are seeing now, more of the celebration of the character of vodka.


Are there more books planned focusing on individual spirits? Is this going to be a series?


If I only had another 12 hours in the day. That was the original plan, I’m currently working on another cocktail book but a cocktail book where the modern mixologist celebrated my takes on certain classics and my original recipes over my 30 plus years behind bars. This next book is going to be very interesting the working title is things “What I love to Drink” or “Drinking with my Friends” but looking at existing classic recipes in a kind of a different way. I’m really having a great time writing it the research has just been…anytime you’ve gotta make the same kind of cocktail 5 or 6 different ways, that’s just tortuous as you can imagine. I’m sitting around my house mixing and drinking wonderful spirits turned into wonderful cocktails. It’s a fun book that I’m really excited about it will probably come out in 2016 and stay tuned. I’m excited for you to take a look and hopefully enjoy drinking it as much as I am writing it.


What separates the Modern Mixologist line of bar tools from others on the market?


I started that project five years ago because I was frustrated with what was currently available to the professional bartender as well as to the home mixologist at that time. There was no Cocktail Kingdom, there was no products being imported from Japan and that’s all beautiful tools as well. So I got everything I could get my hands on and hired a design firm out of Chicago and I met with them and took all this stuff there. “I said I think we can make this better. I like this about this spoon but Id like to have the angle of the spoon 24 degrees and a blunt tip and this is the length and the balance…” I like to say they are bartools for bartenders by a bartender. There are little things I incorporated into them that I was looking for and I think they turned out beautifully, Im really proud of them. They’re still affordable but the quality supersedes the price. I believe that a professional bartender be it my tools or whoever’s tools, needs to have great bar tools to be recognized in this craft as a professional. Tools are so important. You would never see a Chef without their knives and rollups and implements. So much has happened in the last five years since I started that project, now there are great products available and to see a bartender show up to work with his or her bag of tools it just makes me so proud to be part of this profession.


The Modern Mixologist Hawthorne Strainer has a unique shape, is there a practical advantage or was it aesthetics?


I cannot tell how much time went in to designing these tools. Like I said I started this project five years ago they were three years in development, back and forth, back and forth. The Hawthorne was one of the hardest tools to get right, the spring tension was crucial and with the Modern Mixologist Hawthorne strainer you can often eliminate the need to doublestrain because the spring tension catches so much of the muddle fruit or even the smaller ice shards. The weight and the shape allows it to fit in the mixing beaker which is hand blown and the mixing tin of the Boston Shaker. So it can be used for shaken drinks and stirred drinks from the mixing beaker. I love that piece the, I just love the way it feels in your hand, the weight of it, the spring tension again, the little trigger so you can get that nice froth from the egg white, I love working with that piece.


What’s next for the Modern Mixologist line of tools? Copper?


Its funny that you mention copper, due to be launched next week is the Modern Mixologist Moscow Mule cup. So those will be out soon and who would have foreseen the revival of the Moscow Mule, what a wonderful drink. A vodka based drink, very simple to make, when made with great ingredients. It needs to be served in a copper mug, with great ice, with great ginger beer, with fresh hand extracted lime juice. Simple but there is a drink that really lets you showcase vodka. That is a vodka based drink. I’ve never made one for someone who hasn’t loved it. We are doing our Moscow Mule Mugs and there is talk of doing a Mint Julep cup because again I think those drinks deserve to be served in their classic vessels. We’ve designed a line of glassware, hopefully the first of next year and then the plan is to add additional pieces to the tool line itself, a tea strainer, we also have some tongs in development, so stay tuned there’s some fun little things coming down the pike.


Can you tell us about the Helen David Relief Fund?


Helen David was my first mentor, she taught me to be a bartender in 1980, she’s my cousin, she opened the Brass Rail Bar in 1937 with her mother at a time when it wasn’t common to see women running saloons. Three years after the repeal of prohibition we are in the middle of the great depression, they had an ice cream parlor, her father passed away, she was 21 years old and her mother said “Helen we are gonna be put out on the street if we don’t turn the ice cream parlor into a saloon.” Helen said “Mom, proper ladies do not run saloons.” Her mother said “A lady is a lady no matter where you put her but she’s gotta have a buck in her pocket.” Helen went on to run the Brass Rail for nearly 70 years until her death at the age of 91. They actually took her from her barstool and take her to the hospital. Helen was a two time survivor back in the time when very few people survived breast cancer and she was a big advocate for the cause. In her memory we’ve started along with the United States Bartenders Guild, the Helen David Relief Fund that benefits Bartenders and their families who’ve been affected by breast cancer. Im very very proud of that association.


Where do people go to find out more and donate to the Helen David Relief Fund?


The idea behind the Helen David relief Fund is to help with those day to day expenses, you still have to pay the rent, you still have to buy groceries, your kids still need shoes, so this is where the Helen David Relief Fund will benefit bartenders. If you visit the USBG website you’ll get more information and we are just launching it now. Events like “For the Love of Cocktails” that was our kick off fundraising event. What a fabulous event, talk about the community coming together it was amazing. I get goosebumps again just thinking about that night. That is going to grow into an annual event here in Las Vegas so look for the love of cocktails coming next year. Please come out, it’s a great event featuring some of the city’s finest mixologists making fabulous cocktails with great entertainment for a great cause. The Helen David Relief Fund benefitting bartenders affected by breast cancer.

Be sure to visit to pick up a copy of “Vodka Distilled: the Modern Mixologist on vodka and vodka cocktails”, check out the line of bar tools and find out where you can catch Tony next. You can also visit “The Lobby Bar” at Caesars Palace and have your very own Tony Abou Ganim cocktail.

For more information on the Helen David Relief Fund that benefits bartenders affected by breast cancer check out their facebook page here and

Check out pics from the last “For the Love Cocktails” put on by Backbar USA and more info on upcoming events and learn how to make my cocktail “the L word” here.

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