Floating Cup – Impractical Barware

Another entry in the annals of impractical barware. For a measly $229 you too can buy one single cup that floats when plugged into power and suspended above a single specific coaster. Great trick, and the video of someone walking while holding one of the wireless versions is sure neat. Would be more neat if the wireless wasn’t the size of a brick.

Within reason these are neat but there is just too much going on here for this to be anything other than a newton’s cradle for drinkers with more money than good sense.

Stuff You Can’t Have – Bulleit Edition

Photo sourced from Bulleit Whiskey Facebook pageThe following is a repost from the Shaker and Spreadsheet Facebook page.  Not exactly impractical barware but if you look at this photo I can tell you what the first 15 comments are going to be after the picture. “Where can I get that flask and mug”. The wrong answer is the one they were giving all day long. “You can’t.” Those are props made for internal use only. The flask is one you can buy and customize from another site. You could probably even get it with the Bulleit logo if you have a high Rez vector copy of their logo handy (you won’t, don’t even bother searching). This was just Bad Marketing ™, show people something they want but can’t have then badly explain why they can’t have it.  Does it make people who don’t want Bulleit want to drink more?  Probably not, does it anger and frustrate a class of fan who would otherwise buy anything branded that you could put in front of them, YES.

Best Flask Features

Alcohol is one of those relatively unique items that you want to have with you everywhere but that people would really rather you not have with you anywhere but dark quiet places like bars or your house.  This has historically not stopped anyone who really wanted to drink.  To be honest it simply makes the serious Teetotalers look silly.  The lengths to which people will go to make the anti-drinking zealots feel better is somewhat absurd.  The number of crypto-flasks has exploded in the last few years.  The Wine-Bra, Wine-Purse, Booze Tampon, Sunscreen flask, Shampoo Flask and flip-flop flask all speak to the same desire, to keep a usable quantity of alcohol on your person or in your luggage.
So let us take a look at the tools of consumption for a moment and examine what makes for a good flask.

Item 1: Volume

The primary function of a flask is to provide enough alcohol to get you comfortably inebriated.  If that’s a single glass of wine you might not need more than a couple of ounces.  If you’re trying to keep shots for you and 4 of your closest friends you are going to need something a bit bigger.  A single shot is in the order of 1.5oz, a glass of wine 4-8oz, a beer 8-16oz.  Leaving carbonation aside as a factor a 16oz flask is going to be at best the size of a small book.  A 2oz flask can be about the thickness of a matchbook or the area of a credit card.  Given this need there is something for everyone out there from the simple metal 2oz to the comically large 64oz flask.  Which I would argue is actually more of a flask shaped growler than any kind of portable drinking solution.

Item 2: Size

The inverse of volume is size.  A key component of concealment is the ability to fit your flask inside something else that doesn’t look like a flask.  Because our contents are liquid their actual shape doesn’t matter but the size of the container can make a great deal of difference.  The classic metal flask styling has a gentle curve to it that allows for it to be placed against the body at hip, leg, or arm.  To increase the size of a flask one has to either increase the thickness of the flask, or increase the surface area of the sides.  This rapidly becomes a question of ratio, if something becomes as thick as it is wide you’ve got a cube which is not a functional shape for our purpose.
A second factor to size is that in general the flask itself serves as cup as well as bottle.  This means the flask needs a certain amount of thought given to how it fits in the hand.  Boxy or awkward flasks are going to be difficult to withdraw, use and remove without undue difficulty.

Item 3: Shape

Camera Flask

More than just size here we come into the second factor of concealment.  Natural camouflage is a helpful method of avoiding undue attention.  Some things are going to be better in this regard than others.  The cellphone, camera or Ipad flasks are all going to elicit some concern as they aren’t normally something you put to your mouth.  While they try hard, these flasks are only going to fool someone at an extreme distance.  The items in question are too ubiquitous to fool anyone with their cheap construction.   Similarly the sunscreen, shampoo or toothpaste flasks are going to raise an eyebrow, as seeing someone drink spf 50 isn’t terribly common.  In this case the normal flask shape is even less helpful as flasks look exactly like what you expect booze to come in, and are seldom used for anything that isn’t suspect.

Item 4: Cleanliness

As with any drinking vessel once you have used it the problem becomes how to clean it.  Peach brandy sounds great for a single outing, but left too long it’s entirely possible that everything you drink afterwards will taste like peaches whether you like it or not.  The only real solution here is to put the same thing into the flask every time.  Off flavors aren’t always going to show up, but in such a small volume you’re going to get flavors what whatever was there before with even a minor amount of residue.  Now it is important to note that you should not leave alcohol of any kind in a flask.  Alcohol is a solvent, it will strip just about anything that it is possible to strip and high proof things like whiskey and vodka operate more quickly than low proof liqueurs.  High sugar things like liqueurs and creams have the added problems of sugar and milk products.  Sugar eventually becomes gummy, or separates or settles which given the smaller size of the flask opening makes it almost impossible to remove.  Use your flask quickly, wash it as soon as possible and be sure to leave it open to dry.  Getting a small selection of bottle brushes or pipe cleaners is a good preparation for those times when you forget a flask of fireball in a coat pocket.

Do not use soap.  Liquid, powder or gel it doesn’t matter.  No matter how careful you are there is always going to be the potential for off flavors being left by whatever residue the soap imparts.  If you thought peach was a bad flavor for bourbon imagine what dawn is going to taste like.  Your best bet for cleaning a flask with some kind of residue is vinegar and baking soda.  Sure I hear you say, “vinegar? ” The potential residues aren’t toxic, the flavor doesn’t stick around long and the interaction will get even the gummiest rock candy nonsense out of your tiny hip flask.

Item 5: Temperature

The wine “rack” a bra flask

There is nothing in the world worse than hot booze.  At least hot straight booze.  This is doubly true of wine and beer.  Most of the better class of flasks are made of stainless steel, which while excellent for holding shape and keeping clean is a fair conductor and container of heat.  Lacking any real insulation a hip flask is going to very quickly heat your tipple to body temp which is at least 10-15 degrees higher than desirable.  Similar problems can be had with the bra flask and any other item where concealment puts the liquid in close proximity to your body.  Double walled vacuum insulation is possible in a pocket flask but this will almost double the size of the flask without increasing the actual volume.  Uninsulated flasks can be carried in a bag or backpack but this increases the necessity of camouflage.  Appearing lower on the list than any of these previous concerns means that focusing on temperature may result in problems elsewhere.

 

In the end the flask that works best is the flask you have at hand.  My desk is awash in flasks of varied sizes, construction and material.  None of them are perfect but each serves the purpose in a different way.

Fentiman’s Fermented Sodas

The realm of fancy craft beverages is not limited to beers and spirits.  Everything from coffee to soda has something going in the craft or artisanal arena. Brands such as Q drinks, Fever Tree and Fentimans have all stepped up to make non-alcoholic mixers to step up the cocktail game beyond the mainstays of Coke, Canada Dry and Schweppes. On a recent trip to the home-brew store, their cooler section, drew my eye and I picked up a smattering of interesting bottles to try.  My tasting panel includes myself, The TruantMuse (my photographer), and 2ndTinyestBear (Muse’s girl child age 5).  Despite being fermented beverages, these are all alcohol free.  They lack even the warning label that might be required if you have at least 0.01% possible alcohol that you might see on a bottle of raw kombucha.

All three of these drinks are built on a base of fermented ginger extract.  (Ginger, water, yeast)  The process of fermentation seems to divorce most of the ginger flavor from the brew as none of them have anything like the sharp flavor you might find from a ginger beer.  Each was a unique experience without any similar flavors.  Additionally because the drinks are naturally fermented they have their own carbonation which is much softer than something mechanically carbonated with CO2.

 

 

Curiosity Cola

Cola is a beverage with a long history and a number of fierce fans and detractors on all sides.  There are expectations here that can’t really be met without a blindfold.  Flavors in this drink were more complex than you might think at first, there were flavors on the front and back of the palette with some lingering elements of licorice in the aftertaste.  Not tart or acidic, like some others, but it did have some similar elements to Pepsi noted by at least 2 of us.  Displacing either of the big two colas is a tall order because they are both consistent, and ubiquitous.  This cola didn’t knock anything out of the park and lacking a soda gun option or the cost savings of a larger size I doubt you’ll see this in anything but a specialist venue.  If I did cola on a regular enough basis to need some handy I would likely select this over Mexican Coca-cola but both have their difficulties in buying any in quantity.

Mandarin and Seville Orange Jigger

Possibly the best of the three bottles.  Unlike any other orange soda you might have had this is almost more like fizzy orange juice than fountain orange soda.  Even the 5 year old could identify the Mandarin flavors in the soda, she called it good and finished her drink.  The complex orange flavors were excellent and had a lot of potential as both a soda and a mixer for any citrus cocktail.  I think a lot of what drew me to it is the lack of a syrupy consistency common to things like Orange Crush or Fanta.  The second thing is perhaps a bartender’s love for citrus of any stripe.  We have become inured to the flavor of the artificial orange and generally lack an appreciation for how diverse the citrus family can be.  Seeing something that wasn’t just artificial blood orange flavoring as an alternative was an experience.

Victorian Lemonade

The only loser of the bunch.  With a 1/3 rating, this drink was not well received by anyone except myself.  Comments included “Metallic”, “No Lemon”, “Too Lemony”.  Personally I found the drink tart and dry, which was in keeping with my expectation of lemonade in most cases.  I think the second round of sweetener might have something to do with the distaste.  All other drinks had only cane sugar.  I’m not entirely sure what the intent was here with the term Victorian.  I’m sure the story is long and involves ingredients common to the day but honestly if the drink wasn’t good there is probably a reason it’s not the kind of lemonade we make now.

This is only 3 of the 10 plus flavors that Fentiman’s offers.  If the rest are anything like what we tasted I think you’re in for a treat no matter what you select.

Distilleries of Portland

You can be forgiven for thinking that Portland Oregon is the distillery capital of the country.  Our neighbor/hat to the north Washington has significantly more even just inside the Seattle city limits but their distribution around town makes any kind of reasonable tour more difficult.  The density and number of distilleries who have landed in downtown PDX makes it one of the most interesting places to sample distilled spirits around.

The Portland Distillery Row in the SE industrial district has continued to grow since my last post about them and even more since my last attempt at a distillery crawl.  Most notably the other side of the river has gotten into the act and formed the Northwest Distiller’s District.  Nominally just the 3 distilleries off of NW 23rd between Quimby and Vaughn it has since expanded somewhat to include Indio Spirits’ new tasting room in the Pearl district.  One hopes that Glaser in the Pearl will get the hint and jump on board as well but who knows what the future will bring.

All of this (except Glaser) is covered in the Portland Distillery Passport which is now produced and managed by Proof PDX, which as far as I can tell has nothing to do with PROOF the Washington Distillers Guild convention. (The Oregon Distiller’s guild convention is called TOAST).  The passport is still $20 which is a fantastic deal for all of the stuff that it now includes.  One caveat that I haven’t had to test yet is they want to limit you to 6 visits per day.  The passport covers 11 distilleries and from what I can see doesn’t actually expire.  There is a web version of the passport for the same price, but it only lasts for a year. I couldn’t figure out what it was going to do before it tried to charge me and I was more comfortable with an app than a website log in so I passed and went with a physical copy that you can get at any location.

On the west side

On the East Side:

National Tequila Day

Happy made-up-holiday recognition day!  July 24th is National Tequila day.  At least according to someone with a vested interest in keeping mentions of tequila in the news.

In the spirit of exploiting cheap excuses to write puff pieces about a given subject to fill airtime I give you a short listing of my best posts about Tequila from the last several years.

Understanding the Tequila NOM  – How to know where your tequila came from and who made it.
Sparkle Donkey Tequila  – The best tequila bottled in Seattle with a name you’ll never forget.

 

 

 

Tequila Sunset Cocktail  – Something I came up with to try out grenadine
Rhulmans Paloma  – A great cocktail idea I stole from Imbibe magazine
Make your own Margarita Mix  – Ditch the bottle mixes, make your own with very simple ingredients.

Chipotle Margaritas  –  Your final reminder that even fast casual places want to sell you cocktails in this day and age.

 

Nectar Creek Mead

I’m filing this under beer reviews rather than liquor because I don’t really feel like I’ll be doing enough mead/cider reviews for them to warrant their own category yet.

Nectar Creek appears to produce *only* carbonated session mead.  A Session (not Saison) for those not familiar with the term derives from a kind of low ABV beer intended for people who want to drink, but then need to actually get out and do something.  These are the kind of beers you can drink all day and not really get drunk because by the time you’ve had your second, the first one is almost out of your system.  (Note: You can get drunk on them, it would just take so many that you’d likely be full long before you got a comfortable buzz on).

Mead, traditionally, is pretty high ABV when compared to beer or cider, because the sugar content of honey is much higher than grains or apple juice.  Many meads are bottled at 12% ABV or higher. If ratebeer.com is any indicator of the type, they are seldom lower than 11%. All of the top 10 rated meads are 13.5% or higher.  That expectation colors a lot of my thinking going into this tasting.

Nectar Creek seems to have set their sails to filling the niche for drinkable, carbonated mead without the heavy alcohol kick.  With their strongest bottle clocking only 6.2% these meads are the little brothers of any other mead.  This threw the tasting for a bit of a curve.

The number of ingredients in mead is pretty small. If you’re tasting one of the more common styles it tops out around four.  In this case honey, water, yeast and unfortunately sulfites.  My tasting panel would normally consist of myself and TruantMuse but after one sip she acquired an instant headache that threatened to turn into a migraine and begged off of further tasting.  I was not personally aware of sulfite sensitivity prior to this evening or I might have read the label more closely.  Subsequent trips to the bottle shop and liquor store have shown sulfites in a good portion of the offerings in the beer/cider/mead category so this should not be taken as a problem unique to Nectar Creek.  It is actually quite hard to get a shelf stable product to market without adding some form of preservative.

Process established we tasted two flavors from Nectar Creek, Sting (Ginger) and Cluster (Cranberry/Strawberry).

Cluster

I want to start with the good points here.  The nose does give strawberry in abundance, you can really taste it through your teeth.  The drink is light, carbonation isn’t overwhelming and it doesn’t flatten out as quickly as some malt beverages or session beers.

The downsides however are many and manifold.  The sulfites are quite possibly the biggest hurdle, while they incapacitated my crew I was able to soldier onward and finish the tasting.  There is a definite mineral quality to the mead that I don’t usually get from my own attempts at making mead without preservatives.  The flavor was more reminiscent of a macrobrew than anything I have tasted in recent memory.  The berry flavors abandoned ship after the nose and what honey or sweetness you could expect from a mead followed soon after.  On the palette the brew was watery and lacked complexity or character.  The above mentioned metallic after-taste took any enjoyment out of the bottle pretty quickly.  I’m not going to accuse the bottle entirely, but after a single 500ml bottle, I felt like I had been gut punched and did not feel the need for another.

I want to be clear, I don’t think this was bad.  It was just not good.  There are many many offerings in this field.  Gluten free has gotten a huge ramp from cider so there is no lack of fine things to drink if that’s your limitation.  At $8 a bottle this is not something I would demand of my beer steward and getting any in quantity for a party seems a non-starter.

Sting

After allowing sufficient time to pass I ventured to the other bottle we had acquired.  TruantMuse wisely stayed out of the tasting and elected to spend the time taking photos of our bottles.

Again once opened, decanted and sampled the drink has a fine nose for Ginger.  The flavor is less pronounced that the berry flavors of Cluster but still ambient.  Once that clears however we are left with a less enjoyable product than before.  The astringent nature of ginger flavors that normally brings heat and a citrus bite is absent.  Similar in aspect to a weak store brand ginger-ale the flavor dies off quickly and doesn’t return.

Carbonation is good and maintains the lightly fizzy aspect that makes me suspect mechanical carbonation rather than bottle conditioning.

All in all, I think what happens during production makes a big difference.  Rather than finding a reasonable way to stop fermentation at 6% ABV and keeping the natural sweetness of the honey that remains, I think we have a product that is fermented to completion and then flavored and diluted to the desired level.  Similar to a liquor NDP who dilutes 95% rum and expects to retain some of the character of plantation or Agricole.

 

 

 

 

I leave you here with Dr. Ian Malcolm who has said it better than I could…

Accounting, Inventory and Pour Cost

A while back one of my heroes (Jeffrey Morganthaler) posted a spreadsheet that helped bartenders and program managers calculate pour cost for drinks.

The sheet was great but the ensuing comment thread showed me exactly how much of a gap there is in the business world between functional knowledge and practical knowledge.

Specifically the first thing you need to know about your bar is how you account for inventory.  In some cases it won’t matter as much.  In some control States such as Oregon the price you pay for your liquor isn’t likely to change as often or as much as it would through a distributor.

Inventory can be accounted for in one of three ways,  First in last out, first in first out, and weighted average.

For FILO the bottle you bought first is the one you use last,  think of it like a shelf where that first bottle is always at the back and new product is placed in front.  This isn’t a method you’ll want to use if you don’t ever run out of things.  Because when prices change the current stuff is always what determines the cost rather than the potentially more expensive bottle from last year at the back.

For FIFO think of the shelf like the beer freezer at the convenience store.  It is stocked from the rear so the customer is always buying the oldest product first.  This has the benefit of always keeping your costs current but relies on always having a rotating stock in play.

Since some bottles move quickly where others might languish until a shot or two are poured the best method to figure out your costs is called weighted average.

In this system you need to do a bit more tracking and you need to pick one.

The reason for this is that pour cost is better used not as an after the fact accounting but as a method for determining how your pricing works for individual drinks.

Pour cost incorporates all of the costs involved in putting a drink on the table from overhead to labor.  The percentage you get from the above calculation only tells you if the percentage of  the cost that accounts for alcohol is in keeping with the pricing of your drinks.

Petal and Thorn Vermouth by Imbue

petal and thornI picked up this 375ml bottle of vermouth at one of my favorite liquor stores and was immediately intrigued.  Imbue vermouth is already a local staple and this bottle seemed to be a small batch release.  Neil Kopplin of Imbue was kind enough to confirm that this is a barrel aged version of their normal Petal and Thorn aperitif.  Rested in french oak barrels for one year outside in the Oregon weather where it ranged from 98 to 28 degrees.  This small bottling was released in 2015 but the result was so good they have committed to incorporating the process into future products.

Bottled at 18% and individually numbered the bottles also include the latitude and longitude where the barrels were rested.  The corks feature a wax seal which gives them just a little touch of class.

Despite the barrel aging it doesn’t have an overly oaked flavor.  It blooms with a floral note and then sways into a more bitter tinge.  Like many vermouths this is a fine thing to drink on its own, blends well with gin and other cocktails.  Because it’s not a sweet vermouth or a “dry” vermouth there may be any number of cocktails where this won’t work well but it’s a wonderful drink all the same.

VSSL camping flashlight and flask

_mg_3235After a successful kickstarter campaign the folks at VSSL (read as Vessel) have created an incredibly unique piece of camping equipment for the drinking outdoorsman.  Their line of LED powered flashlights already contained useful storage with shelter, first aid and supplies options.  Adding an effective flask was a challenge itself because of the nature of having a bottle of liquid so close to your electronics.  Rising to the challenge and enduring more than their share of hate mail for the design process the flask moved from food grade stainless steel to a cutting edge process that bonds glass to the inside surface of an aluminum container.  Cutting the weight dramatically and giving you difficult to break glass surface to prevent your booze from reacting with the metal of the container.  I want to say unbreakable but there are any number of companies who have billed products as such to their chagrin.  I’m sure you could break this flask if you really really wanted to, but the glass itself is a micro thin layer that isn’t going to shatter like a 750ml bottle.

The body of the VSSL comes in both silver and green.  I opted for green on my own unit so I can’t say if the silver is bare metal or if it is also a matte coating in a silver color.  Pictures on their website seem to show both options but this could have changed during design.

The VSSL has four components, the actual flashlight is really not much more than an end cap.  The small LED and battery portion isn’t much to write home about.  The flashlight is bright, the batteries last a long time and it has both static and SOS flashing modes.  The battery is a somewhat non-standard E90 size which means you’re not exactly going to pick them up at the grocery store.  You can however get them on amazon for about $1.40 each so they’re not breaking the bank.

The other end cap is a oil filled compass.  I haven’t really taken it out at night with the intent to do any orienteering so I can’t say it glows in the dark.  Given that the flashlight is on the other end of the unit it would be hard to shine it on the compass without dumping the contents of the VSSL on the ground.

The flask compartment is the biggest and holds 10oz.  Most of your common hip flasks are going to run 6-8oz so you’re already in better shape.  An average 750ml bottle is about 24-26oz of liquid so you’re looking at a good chunk of a bottle.  You can get 10oz flasks but given their flattened shape they tend to be bigger than you’re likely to want in your back/hip pocket.

Between the flask and the flashlight is a small storage compartment, inside are a pair of collapsible shot cups and a steel bottle opener.  These make a lovely addition to the kit in both size and function.

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Empty the VSSL clocks in at 18oz, adding 10oz of liquid is going to obviously increase this by about half again.  (math for the weight of liquor is hard if you don’t know the proof).  So you’re looking at about two pounds plus to carry it around.  That might not sound like a lot to the average person but to a backpacker ounces matter over a multi-day hike.  I’m not a backpacking expert, and I’ve never had to micromanage my weight loads like a dedicated REI junkie.  That said, I can see this being more in line with a picnic/day trip mentality than a long hike.  There’s simply too much weight being added for long trips to make this effective.

The unit is also not cheap.  You can pick up a normal 10oz flask for about $10 or less on amazon.  You could even buy a *super cheap* one for under $5 if you’re really ok with the flavor of steel in your drink.  VSSL is $72.50.  To break that down.

LED flashlight $10-12
Oil Compass $2
Collapsible Shot glass (2) $4
Bottle Opener $2
10oz Flask $10

Total ~$30

You are paying a serious premium to cram all of that into one very portable tube.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a lovely piece of kit, I like mine a lot.  I’ve even considered getting some as gifts for my outdoors inclined friends.  I just don’t think they fill every need for every camper.