Author: Mike Haigis

Elixir-Tiki is Here!

So, we just got done implementing our brand new tiki menu, and it’s finally nice to step back and take a breath of fresh air.  And, now that the hard work is over, the even harder job of continually executing this complicated menu has finally begun.  But before we start on the grind, there are a few people that we have to thank.

– My beautiful, talented, amazing girlfriend Heather Palmateer for designing, illustrating, and laying out this amazing menu we’ll be using for the next few weeks from scratch.  She did an amazing job and I couldn’t be more proud.

– Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco, for teaching me that if you’re going to do tiki, you had better pay it the respect it deserves.

– Three Dots and a Dash, Chicago, for reminding me how fun group tiki drinks are.  Oh, and that you better have at least one drink on fire.

– Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, for almost all of the classic cocktail recipes you’ll see on our menu.  The man is a living tiki encyclopedia, and his books have provided countless amounts of reference material and information for everything we’ve been doing.

– Sven A. Kirsten’s “Tiki Pop,” a wonderful large format book full of reference material, including most of the old tiki menus we based ours on.

– Amazon, for providing free two-day shipping on inflatable palm trees.

– And lastly, I have to thank our wonderful bar staff in advance, (Ruairi, Diana, Sam, Rachelle, Ashley, Mike, Abby, Tim, and Josh), for executing these unnecessarily complicated drinks with equally complicated garnishes for the next few weeks.  You can murder me in October, just wait until this menu is over.

See you downstairs,

In Your Head: The Zombie

In tiki culture, there isn’t a drink as ubiquitous and iconic as the Zombie.  The problem was, it wasn’t until recently that anybody had the original recipe for this cocktail.  How is this possible?

Here’s the shortest, easiest explanation of tiki culture I could possibly think of:

“Two guys start two separate bars with South Pacific themes and loosely Caribbean-inspired rum drinks, keep their drink recipes super secret, and capture the hearts and minds of people returning from the South Pacific and Midwesterners who couldn’t afford to travel to Hawaii.”

Tiki was the embodiment of a mid-century modern fad, and people weren’t exactly willing to share their recipes.  According to Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, who discovered the original recipe through extensive research and first published it in 2007, “…a generation after the Tiki era ended in the late 1970s, it was hard to see what all the fuss was about, because Donn had never published his top secret recipe; the versions that did exist were inferior attempts to clone the drink by bartenders who had never tasted the original.”

Apparently, people who opened tiki bars in the middle of the 20th century cared very little for originality, and wouldn’t let a little thing like accuracy get in their way.  Such is the story of the Mai Tai, the Rum Runner, the Singapore Sling, and pretty much any other tiki-related cocktail you could possibly think of.  Regardless, the original recipe has been rediscovered, thanks to the efforts of Jeff Berry, who the entire cocktail world owes a great debt to.  No, seriously.  He’s the man.  If you ever get your hands on one of these, just remember that this guy had to pry this recipe out of a man sworn to secrecy.

But first, here’s a warning about the Zombie.  This is the strongest drink recipe I’ve ever read.  I actually ordered one at Smuggler’s Cover in SF and had to leave it on the bar because I didn’t want to ruin the rest of my night.   You’ve been warned.

Zombie – Donn the Beachcomber

1.5 oz Gold Rum
1.5 oz Jamaican Rum
1 oz Demerara 151
0.75 oz Lime Juice
0.5 oz Donn’s Mix
0.5 oz Velvet Falernum
6 drops Pernod (absinthe)
barspoon grenadine
dash Angostura Bitters

Combine all ingredients in a shaker and shake until cold, strain into a glass and pray it’s large enough, then place as much ice as you can into the glass.  Garnish with a mint sprig.  Wait 5 minutes, then call a cab to take you home.

Almost Perfect

At the risk of pandering too much to the home crowd, watching the Washington Nationals over the last couple of seasons has been a tremendous privilege.  Frankly, we’re lucky to live and work in the same neighborhood as an organization as awesome as the Nationals.  Most nights behind the bar, especially ones after home Nationals games, I’ll rock a Nats cap to show support for the home team.  But I digress.

I was actually lucky enough to be in the stadium last year when Jordan Zimmerman through that no-hitter against the Miami Marlins on the last game of the season last year, so when Max Scherzer threw another one earlier this year, I got excited.  Really excited.  Anyway, here’s a cocktail about that no hitter.  It’s got a good amount of chocolate flavor balanced out with some Campari-fueled bitterness.  I would be bitter too, if It was one pitch away from a perfect game.  Oh, and it’s boozy too.  The proportions are based off that of a perfect Manhattan, which is a little on the nose, but I guess doing things subtly isn’t really our strong suit over here.  Enjoy!

1.)  Almost Perfect
2.0 oz Maker’s Mark
0.5 oz Campari
0.5 oz Creme de Cacao

Fill a coupe with ice and water, then set aside.  Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with house ice and stir for ~20 seconds.  Dump ice/water out of the coupe and strain mixture into the coupe.  Garnish with an orange swathe.

Tales from Barrel: Stalwarts

– Parker Girard, Bar Manager

Here at Barrel, we make a TON of whiskey cocktails.  But when it comes down to it, the cocktails we make more than any other are the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan, arguably the two most important and influential whiskey cocktails in the world.  They’ve spawned countless variants and riffs over the years, and without the popularity of these cocktails, it’s likely Barrel as we know it would never exist.

Today, we’ll be looking at the entries regarding these cocktails contained within Dave Arnold’s “Liquid Intelligence,” as the exact specifications for these cocktails vary slightly depending on which guide you consult.

1.)  Old Fashioned

“Mix volume:  72.6 ml
Finished volume:  90 ml
Start:  39.8% abv, 9.4 g/100ml sugar, 0% acid
Finish:  32.1% abv, 7.6 g/100ml sugar, 0% acid

2 oz (60ml) bourbon (47% abv)
3/8 oz (11ml) simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Build over a large rock in a double old fashioned glass with an orange twist.”

The Old Fashioned is, essentially, a cocktail by its oldest definition (sugar, spirit, bitters), and speaking personally, is easily one of my favorite cocktails of all time.  It’s interesting that Arnold chose to use bourbon in this cocktail, as most of these old classic cocktails call for rye in their original texts.  It should also be noted that this is the only built drink of the three, and should always be served over ice.


2.)  Manhattan (with Rye)

Mix volume:  88.3 ml
Finished Volume:  129.2 ml
Start:  39.8% abv, 4.9 g/100ml sugar, 0.18% acid
Finish: 27.2 % abv, 3.4 g/100ml sugar, 0.12 % acid

2 oz (60ml) rye (50% abv)
0.875 oz (26.66 ml) sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir and serve in a coupe glass with a cherry or orange twist.

According to highly unlikely cocktail lore, the Manhattan was invented by Winston Churchill’s mother?  I’m not buying it.  Note the differences and similarities between the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan.  Both of these cocktails have 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters and 2 oz of whiskey (regardless of mash bill preference).  In fact, the real difference between these two cocktails is the choice of sweetener (sweet vermouth vs. simple syrup) and the choice of glassware.  The difference in sweetener means there’s some acidity to the Manhattan, which overall, leads to a slightly more balanced drink chemically speaking (think of acid and sugar as yin and yang).


All this is great, but why can you serve a Manhattan on the rocks, but you can’t serve an Old Fashioned up in a coupe?  I remember a while back, when a customer was complaining about a Sazerac they had ordered at a different restaurant, and when it arrived at the table, they found it was served with ice.  As a cocktail nerd, I’m appalled by the idea of ice in a Sazerac, but why?  The idea to serve a Sazerac over ice is, technically speaking, not an unreasonable conclusion to reach.  I suppose it all has to do with the identity of the cocktail, and how it was traditionally prepared.  It could be argued that the Old Fashioned only improves with the dilution of water, and in my opinion, that’s absolutely true.  But under that logic, wouldn’t a Sazerac improve with the addition of water?  Why are Sazeracs stirred in a separate glass, and not built over ice in the serving glass?

But then again, without these little rules, what would this industry be?  How many unwritten rules are there in baseball?  You wouldn’t cross over the mound, just like you wouldn’t put ice in a Sazerac.  You wouldn’t bunt to break up a no-hitter, just like you wouldn’t serve an Old Fashioned without ice.  It all makes sense in a very abstract way.

At this point, I’m just spitballing.  Over the last 13 months here at Barrel, we’ve made  3,868 Old Fashioneds, and 2,100 Manhattans, and that’s not even including variations on our menu, barrel-aged versions, or experiments we’ve conducted behind closed doors.  And that number’s only going up.

Daquiri Time Out


Parker Girard –

Ah yes, the daiquiri.  You’d be hard pressed to find a cocktail with a more divisive history than the daiquiri.  Often thought of as the cheap, syrupy blended drinks that come in collectable, illuminated cups on cruise ships, it’s only with the resurgence of the classic cocktail movement in the last 10 years that this cocktail has received the respect it deserves.

In fact, in the new Death and Co book, just published last year (Fall 2014), the daiquiri was the benefit of a full two page spread, describing all of the bartender’s preferred rums, type of syrup, and amount of lime juice.  Some opted for a mix of light and agricole rum, some opted for aged rum, some for cane sugar, others for simple syrup, and so on.  In fact, the only unifying part of the whole page is the instructions for actually making the drink:
“Shake all ingredients with ice, then strain into a coupe.  Garnish with the lime wedge.”
I would feel bad if I didn’t say that yes, the daiquiri is an excellent vehicle for fresh fruit flavors.  In the last few months alone, we’ve likely featured 5 or 6 different flavors of daiquiris for happy hour drinks, ranging from raspberries to cucumbers.  This week in the Elixir Bar is our own love letter to the daiquiri, with 3 different variations and a classic daiquiri.  Here is our recipe for the original:
1.5 oz Cana Brava Rum
1.0 oz Lime Juice
0.75 oz Simple Syrup
Lime Wheel
Shake all ingredients with ice and double strain into a chilled coupe.  Garnish with a lime wheel.

Mint Juleps


Now that derby day has come and gone, and that 10 pounds of mint we ordered for derby day is starting to turn in our walk-in, now seems like as appropriate a time as ever to start talking about the mint julep.  If you’d like to know the origin story of the mint julep, there are plenty of resources for this, such as David Wondrich’s “Imbibe,” which would be more than happy to walk you painstakingly through the evolution from the sling to the julep.

Today, we’re here to talk about actually making the mint julep, and the classic preparation for the creation of the mint julep.  I should note that as palettes have changed through the last 150 years, and how the nature of our spirits have improved, it is no longer as necessary to make mint juleps as sweet as they were when they were invented.  It should also be noted that when mint juleps were invented, they originally called for brandy instead of whiskey, as most drinks did back then.  For obvious reasons, we’ll be using whiskey.

This is the recipe for the classic julep we ran through our system on Derby Day.  We added some peach bitters as well, mostly to brighten up the booze-forward drink, and we partially pre-diluted the drink so it would even out when ice was added.  We ran this through a Cornelius keg into glasses with crushed ice, so we’re giving the measurements we used for the keg.  But chances are you won’t be making as many mint juleps as we did on derby day, so you’re better off sticking to the smaller proportions

I should also note that there are debates about whether or not to leave the mint in the drink, or merely to rub the inside of the tin with mint, and then discard it.  I say if you’re not using mint syrup, there should almost certainly be mint in the bottom of your tin.  But hey, that’s just me.  There are about a million different ways to make this drink, and most of them don’t include peach bitters.

Mint Julep:

2 oz Maker’s Mark -> 12 Liters
0.5 oz Mint Syrup -> 3 Liters
Fee Brothers Peach Bitters (we added one bottle to the mixture, but one dash is fine)

If you don’t have mint syrup on hand, you can just as easily use a handful of mint leaves, lightly muddled into some simple syrup, or just use mint, water, and powdered sugar.  There’s no wrong way to do this as long as you have mint, sugar, and spirit.

Muddle mint and sugar together in a julep tin, then fill with 2 oz of bourbon, stir and fill the container with crushed ice to form a snowcone-like mound on the top of the tin.  Garnish with a mint sprig and two small straws, positioned over the mint sprig, so you smell the mint as you drink.

Cascading Barrel-Aging, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Put Things in a Barrel and Be Patient

With our recent addition of four brand new 10 L barrels here at Barrel, it can be difficult to keep finding new and creative ways to fill these barrels up, and it can be even more difficult to find cocktails that work well in the barrels after we age the previous cocktails (or, what we’re referring to as a cascading barrel-aging program).  That being said, when we find something that works, it’s all the more rewarding.  These two cocktails we’re discussing today were some of the most successful and tasty we’ve had on our menu to date.

Cocktail #1:  The Charleston Bamboo

While not one of our own cocktails (this one was actually taken from Sean Brock’s newest book, “Heritage”), we wanted to pick a cocktail that was predominately fortified wine, and this cocktail happened to come along at just the right time.  While the recipe in the book calls for the Madeira to be dry, we got in a case of medium dry in a warehouse mix-up, which made this cocktail a little sweeter than we intended.  But honestly, the more time this cocktail spent in the barrel, the sweetness tended to fade into the distance.

It was very important to us to season one of our barrels with a nice fortified wine flavor, in our attempt to mimic some of the barrel finishes some of our favorite whiskey labels are currently releasing (Angel’s Envy, Bowman Brothers), and we were very happy with the result.  It was our first low ABV cocktail to go through our barrel-aging program, and it certainly won’t be our last.

Charleston Bamboo:

Dry/Semi-Dry Madeira, Grand Marnier, Peach Bitters

Stir 3 oz of Charleston Bamboo mix from the barrel over house ice and strain into a chilled coupe.  Garnish with a small orange swathe, expressed.

Cocktail #2:  The Godfather

When I knew one of our barrels was going to be seasoned with a Madeira cocktail, it only made sense to put a scotch-based cocktail in it the next time around.  In this case, we decided to go with a re-worked version of a classic cocktail, the Godfather.  Originally, this cocktail would have called for a mix of equal parts scotch and amaretto, but apparently, this cocktail was developed before people evolved to develop taste buds.  We cut down the proportions to look more like an Old Fashioned, and aged the cocktail in the barrel for approximately 3 weeks to get some of that Madeira and Grand Marnier on the nose and finish of the cocktail.  Our staff was one of the first to fall in love with this cocktail, and without them, this beautiful balance of malt, grainy sweetness, amaretto, peach, orange and clove would have sat unsold in storage indefinitely.

The Godfather:

2.0 oz Monkey Shoulder
0.5 oz Dissaronno Amaretto
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Take 2.5 oz Godfather mix from the barrel, stir over house ice and strain into a double old fashioned glass over a large cube.  Garnish with a brandied cherry.

Tales from the Elix: Soiled Kimono

Often times, inspiration for creating cocktails can come from unusual places.  Like, a few weeks ago, during a 19 day SNL Marathon on VH1 Classic, when I was able to catch a glimpse of “Mr. Mike’s Least Loved Bedtime Tales:  The Soiled Kimono.”  The sketch itself is everything we love about strange, vintage SNL, and stars Michael O’Donoghue as a misanthropic bartender, as well as Laraine Newman as a bar patron asked to sing in lieu of payment.  But that’s not what we’re here today to talk about.  We’re here to talk about the drink itself, the Soiled Kimono.
During the sketch itself, a recipe is given for the drink, along with a ridiculous backstory, which I’m including here.  This backstory itself is a perfect parody of cocktail culture and lore, and is one of the main reasons I fell in love with this cocktail.
A Japanese aviator was 
angry with an unfaithful 
Geisha girl. 
“Take this!” he said, 
flinging 2/3rds of a glass 
of costly French champagne 
in her face.
“And this!” he said,
flinging 1/3rd of a glass 
of Japanese plum wine 
in her face.
“And this!” he said,
flinging a paper butterfly 
in her face.
“Why this tastes delicious!” 
she exclaimed, kissed him, 
and then hit him 
in the lungs 
with a gardening tool. 
The end.”
When it came time to create our own Soiled Kimono, we decided to stray from the recipe a bit.  Essentially, we created a variation on a French 75 with Greenhook Ginsmiths Plum Gin Liqueur, a wonderful fruit-forward gin out of NYC, created by some people doing some really great things.  We opted against folding our own paper butterflies to place on top of the drink (albeit not for lack of trying), and ended up using an intricate lemon twist instead.
Overall, we’re really happy with how the Soiled Kimono ended up turning out, and it’s currently available on our brunch menu (Saturdays and Sundays), and during standard Elixir Bar hours (TuesdaySaturday evenings).  This cocktail just goes to show that you don’t have to re-invent the wheel to do a great cocktail, you just have to keep your eyes open.  Inspiration can come from anywhere, as long as you’re paying attention.
Soiled Kimono
1.0 oz Greenhook Plum Gin
0.5 oz Simple Syrup
0.5 oz Lemon Juice
top with inexpensive French Champagne
Shake gin, simple syrup, and lemon juice in a shaker with house ice and double strain into a champagne flute.  Top with bubbles. Garnish with a paper butterfly, or a lemon wheel.  Whichever is easier.

Elixirs of The Week




IMG_3130 1


The Mad King – Parker Girard

St. George’s Absinthe, Commonwealth Gin, Midori, Lemon, Salt, Mint



The Strangler – Diana Cole

Cab Sauv, Old Overholt, Clove, Blood Orange Shrub



The Mountain And The Viper – Diana Cole

Tequila Cabeza Blanca, Laphroig 10 yr, Yuzu, Grenadine, Serrano, Orange



Take The Black – Ruairi De Burca

Blackberry Liqueur, Sorel, Lime, Champagne

Anatomy of a Concept Drink: The Mad King

Last week, when we knew we wanted to stack our house cocktail list with Game of Thrones cocktails, we all decided to draw cocktail names out of a hat and design a cocktail around the name.  So we threw a few GoT-related nouns and phrases into a hat, and we went around the restaurant distributing cocktail names.

Fair warning, guys.  It’s about to get nerdy in here.
television animated GIF
Concept drinks are no stranger to the Elixir Bar.  When we first started playing around with what the Elixir Bar would be and the cocktails we would have on it, we were mostly exploring flavors, ingredients, and drink styles as the central weekly theme.  But as time passed, we received the most positive feedback when we strayed from this for concepts like adapted fictional cocktails, cocktails based on our favorite albums of the nineties, and cocktails based on Quentin Tarantino movies.  So naturally, since GoT is premiering next Sunday, we all got pretty excited.  When it came time to draw names out of a hat, I picked two names,  “The Mad King” and “Whitewalker”.  For this entry, we’ll be focusing on The Mad King.

The first thing I did was refresh my memory, reading up all I could on who the Mad King was, how he died, why he was so crazy, etc.  Reading through GoT wiki entries on Aerys II Targaryen (a.k.a. The Mad King), I was reminded that it was the drinking of wildfire, the bright green fantasy equivalent of napalm in R.R. Martin’s universe, that drove him so mad.  He eventually became so obsessed with fire that he thought it would turn himself into a dragon, and he made plans to burn down King’s Landing with wildfire hidden all over the city.


Game of Thrones

I already had enough information to start making the cocktail.  We knew the cocktail had to be green, we knew we had to involve fire, and since the cocktail was designed for a king, we wanted the cocktail to feature Commonwealth Gin and be up in a coupe.  The rest was just a combining of flavors working together.  For the absinthe, we used St. George’s Absinthe Vert, as it was brandy-based and fully capable of lighting on fire.  To make the whole drink green we used Midori as a sweetener, and added a pinch of salt to mimic the flavor of salted melon.  To garnish, a small sprig of mint floating on top for aromatics.  If you’d like to taste this cocktail, it will be in the Elixir Bar all week.  And if you can’t make it in, here’s the recipe:

The Mad King – Parker Girard
1.5 oz Commonwealth Gin
1.0 oz Lemon Juice
0.75 oz Midori
0.25 St George’s Absinthe
Pinch salt
Mint sprig

Pour absinthe in coupe and set aside.  In a shaker, combine gin, Midori, juice and salt and shake with house ice.  Once mixed, set absinthe on fire in coupe, wait five seconds, and pour contents of shaker into the coupe to extinguish the flame.  Garnish with a small mint sprig.

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