Category Archives: opinion

Cigars and Cocktails

oliva cigar and old fashioned cocktail

While cocktails are my primary focus around here, I like to pair my drinks with a great cigar from time to time (evidence of this is on my Instagram profile). Brown liquors are usually a better fit with a cigar than the clear ones, though I’ve also found some vodkas that work with a stogie, too. Here’s what I like to drink with my cigars:

Tallarico on the rocks. A spicy rye vodka fits well on a hot summer night with a nice mild cigar.

Phraya Rum. I’d call this the best cigar rum I’ve tried yet. Rum is usually a good fit with a smoke, especially aged rums like Zacapa or Thomas Tew.

Old Fashioned. If you’ve read this blog much at all, you’ll realize this is my favorite cocktail. A bourbon Old Fashioned is great with a cigar because it’s usually sweeter than rye, or you can use rum (see above).

Aged tequilas. I don’t drink a lot of tequila outside of Margaritas, but Don Julio is an amazing tequila. Buy the most expensive one you can afford, and enjoy it neat in a snifter while you smoke.

Lastly, I’ve discovered that Martinis – which I love to have before dinner – don’t work so well with stogies.

So what do you like to drink with your smokes? Leave a comment below.

Ignore the Experts

serving a drink

Sometimes you just have to ignore the experts.

Part of a booze writer’s job as an “expert” is to teach you things about liquor and drinking. I’ve written posts about how to serve absinthe, how to make an Old Fashioned, or how to make a Martini at this very blog. Here’s a sampling of what you will hear us say from time to time:

  • Never put ice in scotch.
  • A Martini is made with gin. If you make the drink with vodka, it’s called a Kangaroo. And don’t shake a martini either.
  • Never muddle fruit in an Old Fashioned.
  • Make sure you buy tequila that’s distilled from 100% Weber Blue Agave.
  • Flavored vodkas are the scum of the earth and we’d all be better off if we could purge them.

I’m writing this post to tell you that just because we might have more booze wisdom than your everyday drinker, we do not have the right to tell you that if you’re not doing our way, you’re wrong. Just so you know, I’ve broken lots of drinking taboos in my life. I drank brandy on the rocks once. I used to regularly drink Vodka Martinis, shaken, not stirred. I make my Old Fashioneds with a splash of club soda. I even tried Fruit Loop vodka once (who wouldn’t?), though I rewrote my post on it several times because I was worried about my rep with the Cocktail Elite.

So if you have a favorite drinking practice or recipe that us “experts” disparage, ignore us and do it your way! Do you like ice in your scotch? Awesome. You think Jagermeister and Red Bull is a “cocktail?” Enjoy. How about a glass of Brown Wine (Jim Beam and Coke)? Go for it.

My girl Mrs. Simple Cocktails has a favorite “martini” recipe that calls for 2 oz vodka, 3/4 oz of olive brine (you read that right), and a splash of vermouth with 4 huge olives as a garnish. I make them for her all the time and I don’t preach at her about how she’s really drinking some sort of a Bastardized Kangaroo, not a martini, because she likes the damn things and she can call them what she likes.

So from one member of the Cocktail Elite, you should drink what you like, how you like to drink it. We may have strong opinions on booze and drinking practices, but that’s because we drink a lot of it and we’re probably cocktail history freaks, too. We may think you’re nuts for using sour mix instead of squeezing real citrus. We might think that a shaken martini is sacrilegious, but who cares? There are a plethora of bottles on the store shelves and there’s something in them for every type of drinker, even one who likes Donut Vodka (how dare you?).

Here’s my girl’s recipe again for those who dare try it:

Mrs. Simple Cocktails I-Can-Call-It-What-I-Want Martini

  • 2 oz vodka
  • 3/4 oz olive brine
  • splash of dry vermouth
  • shake on ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with 4 olives on a pick

What about Drinking at Work?

dudes drinking beer, circa 1970's

With Mad Men Season 6 debuting on Sunday, this week’s posts will have a connected theme. Let’s start with a taboo question: what about drinking at work?

Let’s just establish that I am not suggesting that all the 1960’s stuff on Mad Men is good. How about Peggy smoking and drinking while pregnant? Or little Sally Draper playing “spaceman” in a dry cleaning bag? Yikes! Having a drink at work has sometimes gone badly even for the Mad Men, especially for Freddy Rumsen, who peed his pants right there at his desk.

Let me say that I have almost never had a job where drinking is appropriate, just like most of you. I’ve spent the greater part of the last decade working in education and I never drank alcohol at work, and teaching is clearly not one of the professions I’m talking about. Let’s just agree that there are professions that drinking will never be ok, like heavy machine operators, or pilots, probably most assassins.

There are still some professions where drinking is accepted, though, even though I suspect it happen less than it did in the 60’s. How Drinking Vodka Makes You More Creative summarizes a scientific experiment involving creative workers. They were tested on response time when they had has drinks until they were just below the legal limit. Their response and thought time was improved over non-drinkers. You can read through the science of the experiment here, titled “Alcohol Intoxication Facilitates Creative Problem Solving.”

Curious about corporate friendliness to booze, KegWorks interviewed a company about their monthly Craft Beer Exchange, which they consider part of corporate team building. Nathan Miloszewski, VoIP Supply’s Content and Conversations Leader, said “We have a pretty awesome environment and having a beer while on the clock is 100% acceptable so long as the person is being responsible and maintaining the company’s Core Values.”

So….what about drinking at the office? Do you ever enjoy a company-sanctioned tipple, particularly those of you in “creative” jobs? Post pictures of your office bar in the comments.

The Perfect Home Bar

dream home bar

So outside of the right liquor, I suppose the perfect home bar would also actually have a bar. I know everyone’s idea of a home bar is different, but join me while I dream about building the perfect home bar…

Desirable qualities:

  • Warmth. Applies to the quality of the hospitality, community, and also the temperature. Must have a fireplace.
  • Lots of wood.
  • Leather seating.
  • Taxidermy. I am not an outdoorsman by any sense of the word, but I imagine large, horned animals will serve two desirable purposes: adding authenticity to the bar and frightening children away from the bar. Ideas include deer, buffalo, and moose.
  • chalkboard paint wall. For specials and patron messages.
  • Good music. Maybe even quiet, pleasant live music.
  • Separate entrance from the house and a separate bathroom.
  • Cigar and pipe smoking occasionally allowed. No cigarettes.

Undesirable qualities:

  • Neon. Beer signs, jukeboxes, etc.
  • Technology. No computers, no TVs, no video games. Rare exception made for sports-based gatherings.
  • Visible modernities. Stuff like stainless steel, blenders, or microwaves. Those can be present, but preferably hidden below the bar.
  • Overuse of cell phones. They’re allowed, but only barely.
  • Bad attitudes and booze snobbery. People are allowed to drink Jägermeister or Loopy with minimal persecution.

Many thanks to DevonTT on Flickr for permission to use a photo of her home bar. It’s almost word-for-word what I’ve described, and I think we can agree it’s pretty incredible, right?

Why We Need Each Other

why we need each other

NPR recently ran a story called “What America Spends on Booze.” They say “out of every $100 American consumers spend, about $1 goes to alcohol. That hasn’t changed much over the past 30 years.”

So people spend the same on booze that they always have, but they found out that the vast majority (76%) of booze purchased in 1982 was bought to be served at home. That number is now approaching half, though, and I imagine it will continue to drop. Thirty years ago people primarily drank and served drinks at home, but that’s not true anymore.

Our cocktail making is increasingly falling into the hands of bartenders. Now, if every bar were Canon or Clyde Common, I wouldn’t be as concerned. But they’re not. Applebee’s and Chilis have bars, too, and I’m certain that folks are increasingly drinking poorly made cocktails from poor ingredients, like the high-fructose nightmare “Sour Mix.” That crap is $7 a gallon.

Let’s get back to home bartending, which my area of expertise, and it’s clearly where the crisis lies. When was the last time someone served you a martini or old fashioned at their house? I realize that as readers of this blog, you’re probably the exception to the rule. I started thinking, though, and I am willing to bet that in the 5 miles surrounding my house, there may only be 2 or 3 people (including me) that have a bottle of cocktail bitters in the cabinet. When I buy bitters at the grocery store, they’re on the bottom shelf and covered with dust. Doesn’t this mean that no one who lives near me can make a proper Manhattan or an Old Fashioned at home?

I started Simple Cocktails because I believe strongly that serving people drinks in our homes is becoming a lost art, even though it can provide massive joy. The graphic and story above tell me it’s true! As a culture, we are losing the community that once accompanied the cocktail party. I’ve found dozens of books at thrift stores about how to party, how to drink, when to drink, how to serve, but you know what? They’re all from the 60’s.

Here’s where we team up, dear readers: as I teach you how to do this stuff, will you commit to do it at home? Don’t spend $30 at Applebee’s – spend $30 on a bottle of bourbon and consider it an investment in your community. Then invite some whiskey lovers over and drink it! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.