Bartools: Perfect Black and Tan

blackandtanI’ve discovered my kryptonite.  I can see kitchen gadgets, drinkware, tools and any number of other items on the shelf but if their use is obvious I can ignore them.  At a recent trip through Williams Sonoma I wandered near the barware and nestled among the cocktail shakers and bottle openers was this simple coaster sized piece of steel.  It was sold unboxed, with neither instructions nor explanation.  The sole concession to marketing was the engraving around the edge promising the “Perfect Black and Tan”.

It was $9.95 and I was hooked.  From the photo it appears to be slightly flat but this could not be further from the truth.  The outer ring is designed to sit comfortably around the rim of a pint glass and leaves enough space for a collins or a slightly wider than normal bar glass.  The middle ring is recessed from the rim and has equally spaced holes in the bottom of the depression.

The center is a raised dome of steel, perfectly rounded.  Being of a single piece of steel there are no welds, seams or rough edges.

Not being a beer drinker I was not immediately familiar with the Black and Tan as a beverage. If you are (like me) unknown to this drink it is a combination of lager and stout most notably Guinness and Harp.  Porter and pale ale are also allowable but the original is as given.  The drink is supposed to be served in a pint with a relatively clear separation between the two beers.  A “Perfect” black and tan would have a firm line between the two without blending between.  The Guinness is usually presented on top despite the arguably higher specific gravity (thickness).

pousse CafeTo achieve this process the bartender will pour the Guinness over the back of a bar spoon or down the angled edge of the glass to slow the beer’s fall.  This is the same process would would use to create a Pousse Cafe only simpler because you’re using only one layer.

So the intent with this little gadget is to give you a bar spoon like surface to spread out the overall pour and prevent splashing and then allow it to drain evenly through the holes across the surface of the lager preventing a single point of contact from mixing the two beers.

This is a fantastic design and a well thought out item.  It is easy to clean, use and store.  Beyond those elements it is useful for more than simply the original intention.  You could use this item to create similar separated drinks in any other format so long as the glass allows for the drain openings.

I have not attempted an actual pousse cafe with this as most of them use significantly smaller quantities of alcohol and much smaller glasses.

Funding and Patreon

patreonlogoFor those of you who are not already familiar there are a number of new things around to help content creators fund their projects without the hassle of dealing with low paying advertising.

If you’re not running an Ad Blocker (and honestly why wouldn’t you?) you may have seen that I have both Amazon and Google ads on my site.  I in the two or so years that I have been operating my site I have made a grand total of $1.64 from them combined.  Since they won’t even pay out until you hit $10, I think I will be waiting for my check for a while.

The more recent alternative which is in the veins of a persistent kickstarter campaign is called Patreon.  Using this site you can have people become patrons of your art (writing, photography etc.) and pledge either a monthly amount or a per item amount.  This money allows creators to count on a more regular source of income than random donations through paypal or merchandise sales.

I now have a patreon account.  You can find the link in the top left next to the search box.  Or you can go to

If you like what I do here and would like to see me continue please pledge to become one of my patrons.  I’m currently working hard to process some of my many draft ideas into concrete posts which should give me enough content to post once a week until September 2015.  Beyond that point I can’t foresee as I am often limited to what I can manage with limited funds and time.

Even a small number of patrons pledging the minimum amount would allow me to do more local reviews, more cocktail experiments and to buy products that I would have normally shunned in favor to lower cost alternatives.

If you have an idea for rewards that I haven’t already put up, feel free to drop them into the comments and I’ll put them up ASAP.

Thank you all my loyal readers.  It has been a joy to see people reading my musings up till now, lets see if we can’t kick this up to the next level.


Impractical Barware: Sempli

The history of barware is the history of housewares itself.  Properly storing your home brew required a ceramic crock able to handle the fermentation without breaking down.  Given the stretch of time since the dawn of human civilization the drinking glass has undergone numerous beneficial improvements.

Sempli_Cupa-RocksThis is not one of them.  Produced by the fine people at sempli I give you the CUPA-Rocks glass.

Like a number of products the visual impact of this piece is stunning.  It is from there that the process begins to fall flat.

For starters let us assume that like many people your table is a flat surface.  This glass, when placed upon the table, will have a natural tendency to roll.  Unless of course you used a level to place your table it is entirely possible that your first careless guest is going to have fine bourbon splashing to leeward the first time they need to bend over and tie a shoe.

But wait, surely the designer foresaw this?  You would be partially correct.  I’m assuming that after a few catastrophic dinner parties the light bulb went on, but rather than simply find a way to redesign the glass itself they elected to cash in on their own flaw.  They offer specialized coasters and place mats with a slot in them to prevent the glass from rolling.  (Yours for $18 a 4-pack, $38 for the place mats).

Next problem is the server, when you have a table full of people who want a nice double whiskey you would normally put the cups on a tray and save time.  Attempting to do that with these would result in a short wine-glass version of carol of the bells followed by a lot of spilled whiskey.  Never fear, the CUPA-LIFT comes to the rescue.  A piece of wood with divots in it designed to hold the CUPA glasses flat and stable you can buy them in a 2 slot for $40 or a 4-slot for $80.

Next problem, the pour.  I’m going to assume you elected not to buy the lovely $80 CUPA-LIFT and want to pour a couple of quick glasses for friends.  Normally, with a standard straight sided cylinder you can pour one or two fingers and be relatively assured of an even pour at a standardized amount.  With CUPA the tilt of the glass creates a somewhat oblong trapezoid where the volume requires a slide rule and some advanced trigonometry classes to figure out.

Did I mention that these ROCKS glasses cost $50 for a pair?  A steal after you tack on the $40 tray, $18 coasters and $38 place mats.

If you seriously have the money to burn for a boondoggle like this, send the money to me and I’ll gladly forward you a considerably less troublesome bar glass.

You might say, “It’s just one glass, what’s the big deal?”  Ah ha, there you would be wrong.  The CUPA is part of an entire line of products from wine “goblets” to shot glasses, from wine decanters to water carafes.  All with equally IKEA-esqe names and all with the exact same ridiculous spinning-top bottoms to them.

Make Your Own: Bitters

wpid-fb_img_1410544375866.jpgOn July 24th 2014 I backed a kickstarter by Hella Bitters 

The thrust of the idea was to build a kit that gave the home kitchen all of the necessary items to make a simple cocktail bitters.

I have to say that when the kit arrived a few months later I was quite surprised with the quality of what I had purchased.

One basic kit contains a strainer, steel funnel, two infusion jars, 4 small dropper bottles and two spice blends to get you started.

The process is pretty simple.  With the kit you just dump the spice blend jar into the infuser, add your base spirit to fill it and wait about three weeks.  You put the jar in a dark temperature controlled place like the back of your pantry and take it out to shake it every other day or so.  You can age it longer or shorter depending on the spices involved and how much strength you want to impart on the finished product.


I read through the directions and, thinking that I knew better, did my first two infusions with everclear.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that once finished I would have to dilute the product at least 1:1 to bring it down to a usable strength and that the spice volumes in the kit were not prepared with this in mind.  My final product ended up a lot weaker than I expected and was ultimately a waste of good spices.  Now that I have learned from this mistake I will be using 80 proof vodka or rum for anything I do in the future.

Until you get the hang of things I would recommend small batches.  Say 4-6oz at a time is about right.  Having to eat your mistakes can be a very long and costly process.

I would recommend this kit to anyone who doesn’t want to do the work of making a kit themselves.  You can make do with mason jars and bottles from kitchen kaboodle but really the spice blends are the winner here.  The citrus blend and aromatic blend share some common traits.  Many bitters share some common base ingredients such as gentian or cassia bark, these aren’t flavoring compounds so much as base notes from which you build your flavors.

The blend I was most proud of was one I constructed myself.  It contains a fair bit of cacao nib, vanilla bean, allspice, cinnimon stick and a few other things.  I’m leaning towards a hot chocolate bitters in flavor and I think I got there.  The exception being I added a small corner of a star anise pod to the mix and it took over most of the more delicate flavors.

The kit that I purchased is currently going for $65 and is on back-order.  I hate to recommend a product that you can’t just buy but I would keep an eye on this and get an order in for when they do become available.

If you can’t wait for one you can assemble most of the hardware:

Stainless Steel Funnel  – $7
Small Strainer – $9
Dropper Bottles – $12
Infusion Jars  – $20

Total: $49 which leaves about $25 difference for buying bulk spices.



The Rejigger


A couple of months back I kickstarted a new drinking tool.  It had caught my eye from another blog I was reading and for $20 it looked like a fair deal even if it never came about.

The good news is that not only did the kickstarter meet their goal but the finished product has been rolling off the line.  Mine arrived yesterday.

On the whole the packaging is minimal.  The card you see stuck in the top is also the recipe guide on the back.  There are no details about the volumes or how to adjust for other kinds of cocktails.  It does give a pretty good visual on how to use it but beyond that you’re on your own.

First thing to notice is that it’s basically a three compartment jigger.  There are more than a few items like that already on the market.  The Kikkerland Jigger Cube, The Uber Bar Tools ProJig and the EZ step jigger.

I hauled out a selection of glassware to see how it would fit.  Your standard Bar Glass/Pint seems to be the ideal vessel for using this device.  While it would fit in my working glass it was far inside the mouth which was not ideal for retrieving it once done.  It would not fit at all inside an old fashioned glass and a Collins glass was far to small to make any kind of seal.

Using my Oxo measure I checked the volume of the three compartments.  The largest is 2 ounces, the medium is just a touch over 1 ounce and the smallest is about a half ounce.  I measured up to the line on the side which I’m assuming is the desire.  Again without instructions more clearly defined I can simply guess.

As a first run I elected to try a whiskey sour as I had just been drinking and making them at a birthday party a few days before and was happy with the general result.  The combination indicated on the card is bourbon, lemon juice and simple syrup, in descending order.

Given my own preference I usually go for a simple shot and then even out the mixers at 1:1 for an ounce each.  I’ve also been accused of having a sweet tooth so take the recommendation on simple syrup accordingly.

As a measure cup the Rejigger did pretty well.  I didn’t have any spillover, the base is nicely balanced so it doesn’t move.  It’s not as weighty as a metal jigger but it’s still far more functional than my Zevro ring jigger which is really more of a fidget toy than a serious bar tool at this point.

I did miss the pour spout of my Oxo measuring cup but was able to get everything into the cup without serious adjustment or any spillage.


Once the Rejigger was on the glass it seemed to sit pretty well.  When I started shaking however it didn’t seem to hold up as well.  For someone used to a boston shaker this was a bit loose.  I wasn’t able to keep the seal for very long and with a little pressure the Rejigger seemed to want to slip further into the glass causing problems with velocity and consistency.  It did come out a lot easier than getting the seal off of a metal shaker but that’s really to be expected with plastic.


The drink properly shaken for the optimal 15-20 seconds we crack the seal and strain into a cocktail glass.

I was not well pleased with the outcome of the drink itself.  It was rushed and I can do better so I’m not going to condemn the Rejigger for bad lemon juice.  The mixture had a pretty good appearance and was cold enough to serve which in the end is really all you need once you get going.

It cleans up pretty well, the inside doesn’t have a lot of nooks to get into and I didn’t need a scrub brush to get it clean.

Storage wise I’m going to put it on par with my oxo cups, it’ll sit inside a cup or shaker pretty well so it’s not going to just be loose in your kit.

This tool warrants some additional investigation.  It is possible I’m not really the target audience as I am both finicky about my drinks and able to mix with a speed that makes this all-in-one tool somewhat redundant.  I will attempt to have some non-bartender type people give it a shot and see how they like it.

As a general tool I give it a 7/10.  It’s not expensive, bulky or a uni-tasker.

Ice, Cubed.

Looking back to my post about Ice, it occurs to me that I haven’t given much in the way of practical advice about how to do ice at home.



These lovely beauties are silicon ice trays that I picked up at a Kitchen Collection outlet store.  The pair of them were not that expensive, I think they ran me $5 together.

They are pretty solid, if flexible and make lovely large square cubes.  15 cubes to a tray and 2 trays to the set you get a nice run to 30 cubes every time.

Like any big ice cube they do tend to crack when you put something warmer into the glass and they’re very very square which means they don’t give you a lot of room.  I was able to fit about 3 into a highball before they ran over the rim, four simply wouldn’t go.

Cubes in glass


These are the kind of cubes I would recommend for your finished product.  They’re showy and crisp and your alcohol should be below zero when you serve it after shaking so cracking isn’t really an issue.

I did test them in my shaker and much like the glass you can’t fit very many into the cup.  This means you’re going to get a lot less cooling but also less dilution as they have less surface area to melt from.  The big drawback as you can see below is that the sharp corners tend to break off like a rock grinder.



The cubes wind up almost round and there are lots of little flecks of ice chip left in your product which will require careful straining or an discerning drinker.

I’ve had a lot of these kinds of trays before, generally in the fashion of odd shapes since it’s easier to make a han solo ice cube in silicon than it is in plastic.  Without fail all of the previous ones I have tried have given the ice a funny flavor after a few uses.  I’m not sure what to attribute this to, or how to correct it.  I’ve tried giving them a good scrub, putting them in the top rack of the dishwasher, and a few other things like vinegar.   Nothing seems to help if they’re doing it.  So far I haven’t noticed anything with these cubes and I’ve tried them with water, juice, tea and cocktails.  Not sure if that’s because they’re a better quality product or not.

I haven’t found them as cheaply as the outlet store pricing but amazon seems to have a nice collection.

One of the other things I like about these is that the cups are deep and square.  You’ll get a nice cube no matter how much you fill the cups so if you want something smaller you need only fill them half way or a quarter way full and presto more room in the glass.

Ice, Ice Baby

One of the more overlooked aspects of drinking is the part that doesn’t always go into the glass.  Making cocktails is like being a chef, and you are cooking with the chill of ice over alcohol.  The cooling effect combined with shaking or stirring has an impact on solution, flavor, mixture and temperature of your output.  Using the right kind of ice for the occasion is as important as the quality of your liquor.  Ice is big business now, some of the more popular bars and lounges are doing artisanal ice or hand carving cubes and spheres out of solid blocks.

For starters let us talk about water.  Before there is ice, there is water.  Your ice has to come from somewhere, and chances are that is the tap.  Even your built in fridge ice machine is using a line of tap water.  Some of the more modern machines will filter the water before it goes into the ice but not all of them do.  If you’re like me, and living in a city where the tap water is fantastic, congratulations.  Not everyone is so lucky.  I’ve been in places where the water was so full of minerals you could run some over your car to fill in scratches.  In places like that, chances are you’re buying ice.  The downside there is that you don’t know where the ice was coming from and you’re likely getting a slightly filtered product of tap water in a plastic bag.

Fans of dirty dining, kitchen nightmares or restaurant impossible know that ice machines in many of the places out there have not been cleaned in a good long while which can lead to all kinds of stuff growing on the cooling elements.  I don’t want to give anyone a complex about it, but it’s gross.

However you get your ice the next thing you want to talk about is surface area.

The size of the cube and shape contribute to the cubes melting speed and dilution.

Round, hollow ice is possibly one of the worst type for cocktails.  This is the sort you often find in bag ice.  The cubes are weak, have a maximum amount of surface area both inside and out and are often small.  This means they’ll break in the shaker, or will already be broken and will melt quickly giving you a watery drink.

In professional restaurants you may also find flake ice or pebble ice.  This is the kind of tiny, chewable ice that they favor for soft drinks as you can get them through a straw or bite them and not have a problem.  These too are awful for most cocktails, but in some cases where a drink calls for cracked ice they can be a blessing.  You’re unlikely to get this kind of ice at home unless your ice maker has a special setting for crushed ice.  What causes these to be undesirable is that unless they’ve come straight from the freezer this kind of ice will carry a lot of water on the surface which will dilute the drink you’re making almost as soon as you start shaking or stirring.

What you want in a cocktail shaker are solid, round cubes with no corners to break off that will stand up to a bit of shaking.  Barring that, square or rectangular ice is perfect for the home drinker.  If you can get your ice from the freezer immediately it will cut down on the surface water which dilutes your drinks more than the shaking or stirring.

If you have to use ice that has been out for a while take bigger cubes and crack them with the back of a spoon.  Cracked ice has more surface area but the inside portions won’t have any surface water.  Don’t use a lot of it as once you start shaking that dilution kicks back in but it can keep things on an even keel over a long party with warm ice.

I’ve tried to use silicon trays for ice a number of times but they tray always seems to impart some kind of flavor into the ice.  It’s not always noticeable but the last thing you want when mixing a delicate cocktail is to dump some chemical smell all over it because you used fancy ice.


Tools: Working Glass

working glass

Glassware is an important factor in any cocktail.  It can make or break the drink you’re attempting simply for lack of space.

Consider the double old fashioned.  One of the reasons the glass style has that name is the drink the Old Fashioned which calls for a very minor amount of liquid but does ask that the bartender muddle the sugar and orange peel in the bottom of the glass.  That means you don’t need a tall glass but you do need a wide mouth and a solid base so that when you apply the muddler to the glass it doesn’t break in your hand and or miss some part of the bottom and leave the orange peel uncrushed.

To that end my current favorite drinking glass is the Luminarc Working Glass.  I picked up my first set of these while still working at Meyer and Frank many many years ago.  They were going out of stock and we had one box left.  I hid that box in the back room until the next sale day and with clearance and a coupon I picked up an 8 glass set for about 5 dollars.

They are a heavy glass with faceted body and rolled lip.  You will be tempted to stack the Old Fashioneds, resist.  They chip like the dickens and you will find that you’re down to highballs in a matter of months.  One of the nicer things about this glass is that the insides are straight, the bottoms are flat and they hold a lot of liquid.  The highball is a 21 oz which is more than enough for even a garbage pail of a cocktail like the AMF.

Additionally they sell a plastic lid which fits snugly over the top of either size.  Crate and Barrel only shows the white but I picked up one in red not too long ago.  I’ve also seen this same style at places like Kitchen Kaboodle.  What that lid does here is turn our glass into a shaker.

For those one glass cocktails that you don’t want to dig out the entire kit for, this is perfect.  The big glass means plenty of room for ice, and lots of air for the shake.  Not needing to pour means you don’t need a strainer or to crack the seal on your boston shaker.  My boston shaker is 24 oz compared to the glass’ 21.  Not a comparable loss here.

I’ve made a number of things in this and not been disappointed.   It doesn’t travel well.  It’s shorter than my boston all told but it’s wider at the base and the heavy glass isn’t indestructible.  A good all metal boston will be lighter and more durable for something like camping.   Additionally this doesn’t have any flash.  It’s a nice way to get yourself a kamikaze or a Negroni at 2am without having to wash anything but if you want to show off at a party or a convention it’s not the way to do that.

Now that I have a couple of sources for this type of glass I keep myself well in stock of them.  They hold up to drops and bumps a bit better than the standard pint glasses and they’re not much more expensive which means I wind up replacing them less often and saving money.