Cocktail Kits – Impractical Barware

Found this at Target. It supposedly contains everything you need to make a martini….except gin, vermouth, vodka, and a glass. Also martinis are a stirred drink so a shaker tin isn’t going to be useful here. Stemmed glasses don’t generally need coasters because they aren’t served with ice. Rimming sugar with olives?  Who the hell put this together? Rube Goldberg?

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.

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.

img_3251

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.

New Bar Spoon Design

standardspoonsexylogo_1024x1024One of the more overlooked pieces of barware is the simple and functional barspoon.  If it’s a well stirred cocktail, a pousse cafe or even just a simple float there is no good replacement for a barspoon.  The design is simply too unique.  An extra long handle, a well curved but narrow head and a well weighted end for proper stirring all contribute.  The folks over at Standard Spoon appear to have added a simple feature to this classic design that improves at least the stirring portion of that functionality.  After a successful kickstarter the spoon started shipping in August of 2015, at present the Wingman spinning spoon sells for $45.  The addition of a simple unattached tube to the handle of the spoon allows the bowl of the spoon to spin freely inside the mixing glass.  This isn’t quite the same as a swizzle stick but it does allow for stirring without quite so much effort and with a lot less ice chipping.

Admittedly this isn’t going to be a “must have” for a majority of your home cocktail making needs but if you value a well made stirred cocktail and haven’t ever had to stand there for 3-5 mins spoon in hand you don’t know what this is worth.

I would also like to give some respect to the idea that Standard Spoon had of selling spoons that don’t measure up to 100% of their QA checks. Their Runner up spoons are a knock down in price coming in at only $22.  This is still over $20 for a spoon, which does put it beyond my own impulse buy range for bar gadgets but I think the utility here is more than worth the price for a well made device.

 

New Drinking Gadgets Overview

gear

The following is a listing of drinking gadgets, hardware and tech that I am presently too poor to review personally.  I wish I had the cash for these but time will tell.  If you personally have one, please feel free to comment with your own take on their actual application.

Fizzics beer dispenser:  Looks like a 1 bottle keg replacement.  Having had to clean beer lines before I can only imagine how hard it would be to clean and sanitize this bastard without a slew of bottle brushes and a gallon bucket of iodine wash.  Retail at $200.  On sale for $150 last time I checked.

Jevo Jello Shot Machine: Really intended for the bar itself rather than the home, this machine appear to still be in the pre-order process.  Pricing isn’t listed unless you fill out a contact form.  It also appears to use “flavor pods” which sounds like a K-cups scheme to try to lock you into their supply of basic ingredients when you can get 12 pounds of unflavored gelatin for about $150.  I have some friends who regularly make trays of these shots but I don’t think the countertop unit would save that much time.

Somabar: Robotic Bartender: A completed kickstarter that is still in the production process.  You can pre-order one of these for $429.  It holds up to 6 ingredients in the “pods” on either side.  I’m sure there is an optimal load for one of these things to make the maximum number of drinks but I can think of 6 base sprits to put in the thing right off the bat so if you’re really into craft this isn’t going to last very long.  Additionally I’m betting that carbonation isn’t going to fly which removes anything with coke, ginger ale, club soda or tonic without adding an extra step.  The size of this thing in photos says it will fit in any kitchen, but I’m betting someone in a loft apartment with an efficiency kitchen isn’t going to have the counter space for something this size.  This is certainly one of the best looking units I’ve seen recently but I don’t think it’s ready for anything more complicated than a good highball.  I can make a lot of screwdrivers with four-hundred dollars.

Picobrew Zymatic: Countertop beer brewing appliances are hardly new but this one clocks in at a whopping $2000.  Brewing 2.5 gallons of beer in about 4 hours is an amazing accomplishment when you take a lot of the hands on aspects of the process into account.  I’m not as into home brewing as some other people I know but most of them don’t have the scratch to plonk down on something this big.  Carboys are cheap and so is most of the associated equipment.  If you have the time but not the money you can do bigger and better things cheaper.  If you have the money but not the time, maybe go support one of the many fine craft brewers who are working to break into distribution in markets dominated by the likes of AB-inbev and Millercoors.

ALCHEMA: Cider is the new beer.  Fruit juice is cheap and plentiful and you barely have to do anything to it for fermentation to start.  The process can be finicky, having one batch of accidental cider some out tasting like old shoes is more than enough incentive to look for better options.  Clocking in at somewhere around $500 depending on when you backed it or pre-ordered this is not a consumer grade piece of tech.  Unlike the Picobrew, this process appears to take a bit longer.  1-2 weeks for cider and longer for some other things like mead or wine.  Having just gotten off of a cider making binge this somewhat irks me.  Primary fermentation, or the simple transfer of sugar into alcohol is pretty quick, but the resulting output is often cloudy, full of yeast and has a lot of odd flavors that can be removed if you remove the solids and let it sit and rest for a bit before drinking/bottling.  This machine seems to want to accelerate that process by taking the finished product out as soon as possible.  The self sterilizing carafe is a nice touch and does remove a lot of the messier aspects of the cider process but again, $500 buys a lot of craft cider and you don’t have to wait 2 weeks to see if it’s good.

Drinks on a Plane

AirbagI’m not a frequent traveler.  I seem to have found my location in the universe and seldom wander far from home.  On the rare occasion that I do travel, flight is not my preferred method.  I have nothing against it, it simply has gotten too hairy since the TSA started their security theater project.

In particular I dislike not having access to my own beverages.  Having to toss a perfectly good bottle of water and purchase another at the exorbitant airport prices is galling.  Even worse if you want to drink on the plane or in the airport you can have the added experience of highway robbery without ever leaving the plane.

In flight beverages can be even worse.  A single airplane bottle of crown royal that goes for $1.50 on the ground can run $7-$10 in the air.  Admittedly you can get a free coke and ice to go with it but that’s still a pretty hefty markup.

With a little careful planning you can drink on the plane and avoid paying out the nose for it.

It turns out that there is a little loophole in the TSA regulations.  You can bring any liquid through the security check so long as it is A) Less than 3.4 oz and B) fits into a quart size zip-top bag.  This means if you are willing to make due to hotel shampoo you can use that quart size bag to bring almost a dozen 50ml bottles of various alcohols onto the plane with you.

I have confirmed all of this through personal experience.

Even a couple of bottles of personal stash can make the difference between a good flight and a poor one.

Some things to keep in mind:
Don’t let the attendants see you open them, it’s just easier to avoid the hassle of having them tell you to put it away.
Plan your cocktails.  Getting free mixers from the drink cart is great.  Having a handful of single malts and a bottle of jagermeister to help them along is not.
Don’t overdo it.  Being drunk and disorderly on a plane is a great way to end up in federal prison.

Lastly, I came across this after my trip but I fully plan to snag a couple for road trips and future flights.

Jack Rudy Carry-on Cocktail Kit

Silipint: Tool Review

silipintI just received my first Silipint and I have to say that out of the box I am impressed.  This is a flexible pint glass made out of silicon.  It will not shatter, grips well in the hand and keeps a pretty even temperature regardless of the contents.  Because silicon has such a high melting point you could reasonably bake in this thing but more practically it is dishwasher safe.

I bought this after reading about them via the rejigger.  I bought this one on amazon for less than $10 but you can sometimes find one-offs and clearance version on their website for even less.

They also make cups in old fashioned, shots and various other sizes that I may pick up at another date.

One of my big complaints about the rejigger was the bad seal the device had with a standard pint glass.  The silipint flexes and conforms to even the most oddly shaped opening and makes for a much better vessel for the rejigger.

The flexible rim also allows you to pinch it slightly and create a more functional pour spout.

On the downside, the matte finish is slightly static friendly which in turn attracts dust, hair and all manner of other bits to the outside and occasionally inside of the cup.  Rinsing is easy but the grippy exterior means drying is a little fussy.  As you can see in the photo it holds onto water on the outside as well.  Even just sitting on a shelf the cup will pull in some dust and so must be washed before use every time.  A single trip through the dishwasher shows that it is safe to wash but if you’re using a powdered detergent it can leave quite a bit of residue which will require another rinse before using again.

There were no changes in flavor and it appears to treat carbonation in a pretty similar fashion to glass.  I love the item but recognize that you’re trading off fragile break-ability for fussy dust attraction.

Impractical Barware: The NES Flask

flask-drunk_huntAt first blush this appears to be a simple cartridge game from the original Nintendo Entertainment System.  Fond memories and nostalgia for the days when you had to blow on your games to make them work properly will fill anyone old enough to drink at this point.

I know my own childhood was occupied by an NES light gun pushed point blank to the CRT of my TV trying to nail rapidly moving pixelated ducks.

So when the kickstarter for Inkwhiskey.com and their NES inspired flask came out I was intrigued.

Their current line runs to at least 10 styles including tetraquila, Kegaman, Metal Beer and my own favorite CastleVodka.

The flask itself is a neat piece of design, the tab of the cartridge is rubberized and fits snugly into the flask generally preventing leakage.  It also fits flush to the point where many many people have walked right by them thinking they were old games rather than barware.

It isn’t listed on the website but testing has shown the flask able to hold slightly more than 4 ounces.

As funny an idea as this is, the design still suffers from a number of flaws.  Like many flasks you will need a funnel to fill it properly.  The package includes a plasticized card which they claim can be rolled into a funnel.  Experience shows this to be folly.  The card is not a good funnel and often requires two hands to operate properly meaning you would need someone else to pour.

The opening of the flask is recessed into the tab slot, meaning you will need either a straw (recommended) or will need to put your mouth entirely over the cutout to prevent spillage.  Pouring from the flask itself is also difficult as the opening isn’t really a pour spout and is hard to aim.

Finally the flask is entirely plastic.  There is a reason most liquor bottles aren’t made of plastic and it has to do with the solvent properties of ethanol and the tendancy of plastic to leech unwelcome flavors and chemicals into the contents.  Judging from the plastic type I’m not entirely worried about chemicals, but plastic flavors wearing over time could be an issue if the flask isn’t properly cleaned.  Proper cleaning is another problem given the interior corners and unusual position of the spout.

For $20 I’m not expecting a great deal out of this item.  It’s mostly for the wow factor of drinking out of a game cartridge in front of other geeks.  If you’re actually trying to smuggle alcohol into an event or carry it with you there are many other more functional options.