THOUGHTFUL Gifting for the Alcohol Enthusiast

It’s Christmas Time!

Well, not really, but it’s Christmas SHOPPING time! All the stores have their Christmas music playing, and have started putting out their decorations and displays. So it’s time to start making your list of Christmas gifts to buy!

You have a family member or friend who is an alcohol enthusiast, and you want to buy them a gift, but you know nothing about alcohol, except what you like to order at the bar or restaurant. Oh, but here’s a nice looking gift set! It has glasses and a bottle of mix, or a cocktail shaker, or some esoteric bartending tool! It’s the perfect gift! Or is it…
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An Effective Solution to Alcohol Abuse Among Minors

Before I start this article, a word of caution, and a request. What you’ll read below may be disturbing or shocking. I am already expecting to get at least a little hate mail over it. But it was written drawing upon the life experiences of myself, and my siblings. I’m not saying that what I’m about to write is 100% effective in every case, but I am saying that it’s a far sight better than what’s been tried up till now. Overall, I urge you to read this article with an open mind, but research for yourself, and draw your own conclusions.

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Black-Eyed Susan: A Quandry

(I’m cross-posting this both as an Article and a Recipe, due to the consternation this drink causes.)

Black_Eyed_SusanThe Black-Eyed Susan is the “official” drink of the Preakness Stakes. And it is a drink that has truly lost its way. When it was first introduced during the 1973 Preakness, the Baltimore Sun called it “a mixture concocted more by Madison Avenue than a bartender” and they’re right. Whoever came up with this drink knew NOTHING about bartending, and even less about drinking.

It’s been classified as both a single drink, and as a punch. The ingredients list changes like a “complex” drink, but is overwhelming at worst, and simply undrinkable at best. The most common version of the recipe has 10 ingredients, and the (current) “official” version has 5 (still too many).

Here’s the (current) “official” version:

  • 1 1/2 oz. vodka
  • 1/2 oz St. Germain
  • 2 oz pineapple juice
  • 1/4 oz lime juice
  • 3/4 oz orange juice
  • Mix them all together and garnish with an orange slice.

    Interestingly enough, two of the largest sponsors of the Preakness are Finlandia Vodka, and St. Germain. Hmm… I wonder if that explains anything.

    So, at the request of a dear friend, I’ve come up with a simpler, and (in my humble opinion) tastier version:

  • 1 1/2 oz Whiskey
  • 1 oz Dark Rum
  • 3 oz Pineapple juice
  • 1/4 oz Lime juice
  • Shake, strain over ice, garnish with a cherry and orange wheel.

    Why change the base spirit from Vodka to Whiskey? For the flavor, of course! That way you still get the high proof as with the Vodka, but without the burn. Remember: when using a plain vodka, there is NO flavor!

    As for the Rum, I suggest a dark rum for an added sweetness that needs to be in there for a “race day” drink, without adding any extra burn.

    Likewise, drop the orange juice in favor of just pineapple juice to cut the acidity. Pineapple juice will give the drink a much brighter clarity, while retaining the signature yellow color.

    The lime juice can stay, as there’s nothing offensive about it at all.

    As for the garnish, well, you know I’m not a big fan of garnish in general, but the orange wheel/cherry combination DOES look nice.

    And while we’re changing things, I’d do away with the “souveneir cup” too. At least the silver mug for a real mint julep has a reason for existing (electrolysis). But that’s one of the rare cases.

    “Manly” Drinks vs “Girly” Drinks

    Manly Drinks
    Girly Drinks

    Whiskey Sour
    Sidecar
    Jack and Coke
    Manhattan
    Old Fashioned

    Pina Colada
    Cosmopolitan
    Amaretto Sour
    Fuzzy Navel
    Daiquiri

    In all my years (both as a bartender, and as a drinker) I have NEVER understood the dichotomy of “manly drinks” vs “girly drinks.” To say it’s a false dichotomy isn’t wrong, it’s meaningless. All dichotomies are wrong to a certain extent. This goes far beyond the whole “blue is for boys/pink is for girls” argument and into the very core of flavor profiles. A place where a division based on gender shouldn’t even exist!

    TM_BZ_MADMEN_AP_004
    Some people will say it’s about the flavors themselves. “Men don’t like the sweet or fruity sides of alcohol.” Oh really? Brandy is fruity. Yet it’s considered the purview of men in their study after dinner, with a good cigar. Scotch has a decent sweetness to it. But it’s still consider a “man’s drink of choice.”

    Others point to the proof as the proof (pardon the pun). “Women don’t like higher proof alcohol because of the burn.” they say. Balderdash and tommyrot, I say! A decently mixed Daiquiri will have a much HIGHER proof than an equally well mixed Old Fashioned, and not have a single hint of alcohol burn.

    So what does it come down to? Appearances, dear reader, simply appearances. Men (and women) who tout this nonsense as a truth are mearely trying to reinforce ancient stereotypes (that are slowly crumbling, I’m proud to say) which at their very heart are totally meaningless.

    People in general are all too damn worried about what others think of them. I’ve gone on about this at length before (and I’ll probably end up doing it again), but deep down, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about you. The ONLY person who’s opinion of you matters, is YOU. So why the hell not drink what you want?

    Montgomery_Scott_enjoying_a_glass_of_ScotchWhat brought this up was a couple who are very dear friends of mine. The male part of this couple complained to me that he was sick and tired of drinking Martinis and Bloody Mary’s all the time. So why not try something else, I asked. “I don’t know what to try. I don’t like Scotch, and the only other thing my friends order when we’re out together is Jack and Coke.” So? There’s a whole world of other drinks out there! Why not try a Cosmopolitan, or a nice Amaretto Sour? “But those are girly drinks!” What, have the bartenders in your area started garnishing them with skirts?

    What this long conversation led to was me running through the questions to build him a flavor profile. And big surprise, he ended up favoring the sweet, fruit ends of the spectrum, with a slight alcoholic burn. I offered up a few simple recipes, along with decent alcohol choices in that range, and he went merrily on his way.

    satc1A couple of days later, his lovely wife approached me, with the news that he was much happier with his drink choices, and that she’d be very grateful if I would be so kind as to point her in the right direction as well. Up to that point, her drink of choice was the classic Fuzzy Navel. “But I really don’t like peach,” she confessed, “I just order it because all my friends order it or a Cosmo at the bar.” Again, so? Flavor profiles are as unique to a person as a fingerprint. Just because all your friends are jumping off a bridge, does that mean you should as well?

    Her flavor profile swings more towards the savory area, with a slightly strong burn. Had she ever tried one of her husband’s Bloody Mary’s? Yes, and she really liked it, but it seemed a bit lacking. So I suggested she try a Bloody Caesar. Or possibly a Pim’s #1 Cup. She happily reported back that the new drink choices were “heavenly,” and even a couple of her friends were happily sampling her choices as well.

    See friends, it all comes down to a fake perception of “this is how it’s always been, and always will be.” Which is dead wrong. There’s no such thing as a “manly” drink or a “girly” drink.

    Alcohol has no gender. Alcohol simply is. As you should be. And anyone who tells you different is just saying so because they don’t like what they’re drinking, out of fear that they might like something different.

    So always dear reader, drink what you love, and love what you drink.

    A Quick Sip

    hipflaskAh, the venerable hip flask. For ages (earliest refences to them date back to the 18th century) it’s been the constant companion of men and women out and about.

    From the 1920’s through the 50’s, a man would rather be without his tie than his flask. And women routinely kept them stashed away in their purse (or in a few cases, tucked into their garter belts).

    Sadly, times have changed, and the once stalwart companion was left on the wayside, a novelty prop used in television and movies by the “classic drunk” character.

    Until very recently. Now the “hipsters” with their nearly-brimless fedoras, scarves paired with t-shirts, horn-rimmed glasses, etc, have embraced the hip flask, thinking it “retro-cool.” BUT, though I may dislike hipsters in general, I must thank them for bringing hip flasks back (somewhat) into fashion.

    So, rather than allow what was once an essential accessory fade into the mists of history, it’s well past time for you to get a hip flask of your own.

    The basic definition of a hip flask is “a small metal container typically used for discreetly carrying liquor. It is small enough to fit in a trouser or coat pocket without being seen.” Based on this, we can choose the flask that’s right for you.

    Traditionally, a hip flask was made out of pewter, silver, or glass; however, modern flasks tend to be made from stainless steel or even plastic. Let’s run though these options, and see what the pros and cons are for each one.

    • Pewter: A beautiful metal, more affordable than silver, fairly strong and reasonably lightweight. But I don’t recommend it because it tarnishes fairly easily, scratches at a glance, tends to developing leaks after just a year or two of use, and is usually sealed along its seams with lead. You really don’t want to poison yourself when you’re just grabbing a quick sip!
    • Silver: Another beauty. Heavier than pewter, but vastly more expensive, and with the same faults. Again, not recommended.
    • Glass: Able to be blown into many decorative shapes, same weight as silver, and guaranteed leakproof. Also guaranteed to be extremely fragile. The only upside of a glass hip flask is that the alcohol you put inside it will sterilize the wound when (not if) you break it while it’s in your pocket. You want to avoid this.
    • Stainless Steel: Heavier that the other metals (and glass), but welded so it will never leak (until the seal gives out in the cap, more on that later), and is food-grade material, so no chance of poisoning yourself. This I recommend above all others.
    • Plastic: No. Just no. I may be cheap, but even I’m not THAT cheap.

    So, stainless steel it is! Now that we have our choice of materials narrowed down, we can decide on a size.

    sizesModern hip flasks range in size from 2 ounces (emergency supply) up to a whopping 64 ounces (yes, literally a half-gallon), with 8 ounces being the most common size. So you want an 8 ounce stainless steel hip flask, right? WRONG. And here’s why.

    Stop and think about when you’ll be using the flask the most. While you’re at home in your den/man cave/living room? No, you have your liquor cabinet for that. At a party? Maybe, but if that’s the case, why not just bring a bottle and share with everyone? At a bar? Sure, you do that. And we’ll see how far you can fly with an assist from the bartender’s right foot, too.

    Unlike any of the above, you aren’t looking for a full drink. You’re looking for just a quick sip. A taste. Something to “steady the nerves” (NOTE: I am NOT saying that alcohol is a good medical analgesic, although it does numb the body’s reaction to pain. It also dulls awareness, so sip sparingly, and NEVER when driving).

    No, you’ll be using your flask when you’re out and about, where alcohol isn’t normally available. During the long boring wedding ceremony your wife/husband/significant other dragged you to, waiting your turn on the tee at the 7th hole, or when you’re stumbling along through four feet of snow during a blizzard after your car gave out at 3 in the morning on the way home from the grocery because your wife/husband/significant other demanded you run out and fetch them ice cream (don’t ask).

    Now, a standard shot is 1.5 ounces. That’s the default measure for a “shot of whiskey”, and is used as the basis for all recipes. Keep that in mind.

    2oz_flaskSo do you want a 2 ounce “emergency” flask on your keychain? They make an adorable novelty gift (especially if you fill it with the giftee’s favorite flavor), but alas, a novelty they shall remain.

    8oz_flaskPerhaps you’re still thinking “Well, the 8 ounce IS the standard, so I’ll just go with it.” Don’t make me smack it out of your hands! Remember, a flask is for occasional use while out and about! On average, you’ll find a suitable time and place to use your flask twice, maybe three times a week. And the average “sip” is just a hair under an ounce. So do you really want to lug around 8 ounces of alcohol (plus the weight of the flask itself: another 4-6 ounces) just to end up drinking 2 to 3 ounces from it? And before you start in with the whole “But you always say that alcohol should be shared liberally with friends.” That still doesn’t measure up. Assuming you share with your best friend, that’s still at most 4 to 5 ounces a week. And while yes, I say to share liberally with friends, only a close friend should be sipping at your flask. A flask is like a toothbrush or your underwear. Very personal, indeed.

    So what is the right size? I HIGHLY suggest a 4 to 6 ounce flask. Small enough for a pocket or purse, decently sized for yourself and a friend, with a bit of leeway.

    As for this monstrosity…
    64oz_flask

    …leave it on the wall of the liquor store or bar where you found it.

    So now what do we have? We know we’re looking for a stainless steel 4 to 6 ounce hip flask. Now that we know what TYPE of stalwart companion to look for, we need to know what they look like!

    As I’d mentioned above, a flask is like a toothbrush or your underwear, very personal. And thanks to today’s modern age, it’s very possible to find a flask that’s as unique as you are.

    For example:
    helix_flask

    Visol Helix patterned Flask
    shot_flask

    Shot Glass Storage Flask
    wood_flask

    Maxam Sapele Wood Wrap Flask
    dos_flask

    Visol Dos Flask(s)
    These are flasks with nice classic looks, any of which I’d be proud to have riding in my pocket. But if you prefer something a bit more… “modern,” then feel free to go browse your nearest liquor store (or eBay) and find a flask that suits you.

    You’ll notice that a couple of names were mentioned in the captions above, Maxam and Visol. Those are the two BEST metal working companies in the world when it comes to flasks. You can’t go wrong with either of them.

    One final note about choosing your hip flask. You’ll notice that all the flasks pictured in this article have a little arm/bar/hinge thingy holding the cap in place.
    attached_cap
    That’s called an “attached cap” and is a feature you definitely want, above all else! It keeps the cap from going flying when you unscrew it. Because a flask without its cap is just a fancy looking tumbler.

    So you’ve chosen your perfect hip flask from the millions available. You know what material, size, appearance, and features you want. But what do you put in it? Why, the answer to that is simple!

    Whatever you enjoy drinking on a regular basis!

    With, of course, a few exceptions…

    • You don’t want to put anything that needs refrigeration, or is adverse to temperature changes (remember, it’s going to be in your pocket, and is likely to get warm from body heat, and cooled by weather).
    • Nothing overly acidic (no screwdrivers!). Juices will eat through the steel and cause it to corrode.
    • The lower the sugar content, the better. Really sweet liqueurs will tend to cause sugar to crystallize in the threads of the cap, causing it to cement tightly. A cruel fate, when you can’t get your flask open.

    The classic choice is, of course, whiskey. Tequila, gin, or some of the white rums (assuming you clean the flask more often!) are also good choices.

    Now a few words on how to care for your new companion: When you first buy your flask, WASH IT THOROUGHLY BEFORE FILLING IT UP! It’s not been sealed yet, so anything could be in there!

    Also, drain, and wash it OFTEN. Most flasks will come with an instruction sheet saying to empty and wash it every three days. From personal experience, I’d say about two weeks is more accurate, unless you’re filling it with a fairly sweet alcohol (like Buttershots), in which case I’d say every three to five days is right.

    When you fill it, use a funnel (most flasks come with one), and don’t fill it all the way to the top! Again, temperature changes, so leave a bit of space for expansion/contraction. Wipe off the threads carefully, and hand tighten the cap securely, but not too tight. After all, you want to be able to get it open again, soon!

    One last note before you go off to buy yourself a flask.

    Technically speaking, a hip flask counts as an “open container” in every state. But remember the definition of a hip flask way up at the top of this article: “a small metal container typically used for discreetly carrying liquor.” Based on my personal experience, as long as you treat it like a penis (or the way you SHOULD treat religion), you’ll be perfectly fine.

    In fact, the ONLY time I’ve been busted with a flask by a police officer, it went like this:

    Officer: “What’s in the flask?”
    Me: “Four Roses, sir.”
    Officer: “Uh, mind if I confirm that?”
    Me: “By all means, be my guest!”

    A quick sip, a caution to travel safely, and I was happily on my way (as was the officer).

    So with all that said and done, go find your own stalwart companion. And may you be happy together for many a year!