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.

Yo Ho Ho

Looking back on the last few weeks, it’s becoming apparent that we’re making quite a bit of rum-based cocktails.  And frankly, it’s easy to see why.  Rum is one of the most versatile spirits, and there are so many different kinds and production methods that it can be difficult to sort the good from the bad.  Here are a few of our favorites.

Cana Brava Rum
This is what white rum should taste like.  Cana Brava is a Cuban-style white rum, which basically means it’s Bacardi without all the astringency and unpleasant nose.  If you’re looking to do white rum cocktails like daiquiris, swizzles and mojitos, look no further.  Good luck finding it, though.  It can be difficult to find at most liquor stores, but most stores worth their salt can probably obtain it for you.

Smith and Cross
We want the funk.  Perhaps the most polarizing rum on this list, the overwhelming funk, or “hogo,” is enough to make some imbibers run for cover. When making rum-based cocktails with Smith and Cross, it’s sometimes better to add a 1/2 oz to  1 1/2 oz of a different rum, just to round out the cocktail with some super funky flavors.

Goslings Black Seal Rum
We might get some flack for putting this on the list (Gosling’s doesn’t get a lot of respect in the tiki community, or so I’ve been told), but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t adore this stuff.  Plus, you can’t make a Dark & Stormy without Goslings.  So there’s that.

Ron Zacapa 23
Our favorite sipping rum, with plenty of honey notes and just a slight touch of funk.  You don’t know what you’re missing.

El Dorado 12
Demerara rum with character.  Actually, we don’t even carry this stuff, but we should.  And we will.  1 oz of Cana Brava and 1 oz of El Dorado 12 make a great mojito, as long as you don’t mind breaking convention.

Lemonhart 151
Any list of rums wouldn’t be complete without a 151, and this is the best around.  Except it’s not around, because you can’t get it in the states anymore.  Hold up a lighter in the air and silently hum “Dust in the Wind” to yourself while thinking of all the Lemonhart you can’t consume anymore.  Still, Hamilton’s 151, the rum brought to market to replace Lemonhart, will do just fine if you don’t have a guy who knows a guy.

Tales from the Elix: Blockbuster Night Pt. 1

As we’ve talked about in the past, inspirations for cocktails and flavor combinations can come from just about anywhere.  This one came from a macaroon.

More specifically, the idea for this cocktail came from a honey lavender macaroon in Georgetown, after my girlfriend and I stopped in a tiny macaroon shop to see if we could use their bathroom.

We couldn’t, but we wanted some anyway.  We bought a small sample pack, and I was intrigued by the honey lavender macaroon when I saw it listed on their menu.  I wasn’t disappointed.

I immediately knew we were going to use that flavor combination in a cocktail.  We have been working with Ron Zacapa 23 a lot lately, and I figured the honey notes prevalent in the rum would go nicely with these flavors.

The best part is, after tasting the cocktail, our kitchen was seen purchasing two large bundles of lavender, intrigued by the floral sweetness of honey and lavender working together.  Inspiration can come from the strangest places, after all.

After spending a week on our rotating menu, this cocktail is slowly making its way onto our house cocktail list in the Elixir Bar, and we couldn’t be more excited.  See you all downstairs.

#1 – Blockbuster Night Part 1- Parker Girard
2.0 oz Ron Zacapa 23
0.25 oz Honey Syrup (2:1)
2 dashes Orange Bitters
1 dash Lavender Bitters

Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass for ~20 seconds, then strain into a double old fashioned glass over a large cube.  Garnish with a lemon wheel, thrown in the glass.

And of course, for your viewing pleasure:

Do you have any recommendations?

While we spend a lot of time talking about cocktails in this space, the reality is that we’re a whiskey bar first and foremost, and frankly, the number one question I get while behind the bar is “What’s your favorite?”  The answer, of course, is almost always dependent on what you’re willing to spend.  I find myself saying the names on this list more than anything else lately.  In order from cheapest to most expensive:

Old Grandad 114 – $8

Starting at the bottom end, this might be the cheapest whiskey we have here, but honestly, one of my favorites.  These younger whiskeys tend to be a bit nuttier than their older counterparts (take Johnny Drum, for example), but for some reason, I always find myself reaching for the OGD.  The silver lining is that it’s cheap enough to shoot without feeling bad about it, which is a quality in and of itself.  Goes well with a cheap domestic.

Rittenhouse Rye – $8

I’ve heard it described as “the best rye at any price point,” and while I’m not sure if that’s true, it certainly makes the best Manhattan, and has the proof and spicy rye character to shine through in most classic rye cocktails.  If you ask me for an off-menu Manhattan, there’s a good chance I’ll be reaching for this bottle.

Bulleit Bourbon – $9

Ah yes, the great debate.  “Would you like bourbon or rye in your old fashioned?”  A high-rye mash bill in Bulleit makes the decision a little easier, making the cocktail just spicy enough to not make the sweetness too dull.  This is my go-to bottle for bourbon old-fashioneds.

Four Roses Small Batch – $10

No matter what the mash bill or the yeast strain is on this blended bourbon, it’s bound to be a good time.  They do a good job over there.

Michter’s Unblended American Whiskey – $13
This isn’t a bourbon because it’s aged in old bourbon barrels, but something tells me you wont care for the details after the first sip.  This is a butterscotch-forward dessert whiskey, and if you are a fan of rums like Ron Zacapa 23, this whiskey is a no-brainer.

Baker’s – $14

A product of the Beam distillery, this bourbon takes a lot of cues from Buffalo Trace products like Eagle Rare.  A sweeter, corny finish makes it an easy bourbon to love for the novice bourbon drinker, while a proof of 107 makes it perfect over a large cube..  This is a staff favorite, and for good reason.

Widow Jane – $20

Apparently the water for this bourbon is sourced in an area of New York with a very high concentration of limestone, a high concentration than what’s found around the famed distilleries in Kentucky.  Even if that weren’t true, this is some special stuff.  Plenty of tobacco notes in this whiskey make this a really great bourbon to pair with cigars, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Parker’s Promise of Hope – $20/oz

An annual release from the Beam distillery to benefit ALS research (Parker Beam was diagnosed with the disease a few years back), this is what Parker Beam thinks bourbon should taste like.  The barrel was selected from his favorite part of the rickhouse, it was his favorite age, and it encompasses all of the tasting notes that he loves about bourbon.  It also happens to go very well with our strawberry shortcake that we currently have on our menu.  Is anybody else getting thirsty?

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte – $24

A heavily peated scotch without a ton of iodine (I’m looking at you, Laphroiag 10).  In fact, the amount of super bright honey flavors in this whiskey is my favorite thing about it.  If you like peat, you deserve to track this one down for yourself.

Willet 21 Pot of Gold – $45/oz

Let them have their wheated bourbon, this ~144 proof rye is the real deal, and it might actually melt your face off in the process.  The first thing you taste is, obviously, the alcohol, but then it’s an explosion of tropical fruit (pineapple, pomegrante).  Add a couple drops of water after the first sip, if that’s your thing.  But please, no more than one cube.  It’s worth every penny, just trust me.

Johnny Walker Odyssey = $100/oz

A beautiful, delicate blending of three different barrels of scotch from the people who know blending better than anybody.  There’s only one person who knows which barrels were selected for the blend, so if you want to know what’s in it, you could always ask nicely?  A perfectly executed, melt-in-your-mouth blended scotch.  You get what you pay for, after all.

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.

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