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.

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.

Update: Beer Syrup

beer syrupJust an update to my previous post about Porter Beer Syrup.  A Widmer Brewing rep dropped off a couple of 6 packs of Upheaval IPA as a tip in the tasting room and we needed the fridge space.  So, I took three bottles home and attempted to use the beer syrup process.

The initial result is a lot darker that I would have thought.  Upheaval is a pretty dark IPA already but this was almost as dark as the porter before I added the sugar.  Flavor has more bitterness than the porter but this is to be expected from the more hoppy IPA.  With an IBU of 85 /100 I’m expecting this to be more than a bit bitter even after adding sugar.

After it cooled down I was able to tap a bit and try it with a number of samples.  Overall on its own there is a lot of bitter flavor behind the hoppy nature of the IPA.

I took some of the syrup and made a pretty basic old fashioned.  I took the opportunity to try out my rejigger and my silipint at the same time.  The rejigger is a three chamber cap that simplifies the cocktail process somewhat.  In this case I used bourbon in the main chamber, IPA syrup in the second largest and lemon juice in the smallest.

The resulting old fashioned was a little on the strong side given the 2oz of bourbon and I think in retrospect I would have used slightly more syrup and less lemon.  Overall the hops from the IPA added some very good flavors to the bourbon.  I can see why hopped whiskey is becoming a thing.

Much like the porter cocktails I made the beer syrup adds a lot of complexity that would be tricky to obtain through spices or other flavors.  I’m now tempted to try with brandywine, cider or a good pilsner.

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.

Portland International Beerfest!

Well, its that time again folks. Portland International Beerfest in the Park-blocks. This is my personal favorite fest in Portland. Its not over crowded (yet) its in a nice shady area, its dog friendly and they have some amazing beers available. Not to mention a good old standby – full pints of Pilsner Urquell for 3 tickets.

Its a great way to spend an afternoon. I usually try to go with some friends on opening day, just to beat the weekend crush. This was a good year as well, beautiful weather they opened up a touch early, which is never a bad thing to this humble critic. Beautiful weather abounded, as did a delightful number of beers (my favorites and not-so favorites to come) but for now I wanted to spend a few moments and discuss this fest in general compared to some of the other that this city tends to host.

OBF is the elephant in the room, everyone knows about it, everyone goes and everyone has the same gripes. Its too hot, its too crowded and it tends to be a place to queue for a beer and swelter like pigs at the trough, hoping to get a taste of the new Ninkasi, or Dogfish Head brew that is on offer. It’s lost its charm, is what I am trying to say!  But, that is why I love the PIB so much, it’s still easy to get in, and get the rare stuff on your list. It’s a well run and well executed affair, plenty of facilities to accommodate the slightly tipsy.  Koi Fusion and a Jerkey stand which is always nice. I must admit I missed the presence of Albina City Nuts this year, I love what those guys do and nuts make a perfect snack to go along with beer.

2013-07-19 15.41.11

I purchased the $35 dollar big deal, which netted me entrance into the fest plus 30 tickets. It was a much better deal than the 25 dollars at the gate for 10 tickets. Sometimes kids, it pays to be waiting for things to go on sale. The doors opened this year around 3:30 and taps opened about 15 minutes later.

Last call was just slightly after 9 and most of the goers seemed to have no problem getting to try what they wanted, although there was one beer (the name escapes me) that the Alchemist wanted to try, but it was already gone after about an hour and a half into the fest. It was on the bottled side, so it does pay to hit that area of the festival up first, if there is something you want to try that is. Things are winding down at the fest now, and the vendors pack up and the volunteers pick up the cups and dog crap I must reflect it was a great year. Next year, hopefully we will see you down there.

 

 

 

Some Tips:

  • Drink Plenty of water: It’s hot and you’re consuming alcohol.  Water is a no brainer.
  • Camp a spot early.  Once you get a couple of drinks in you verticality becomes a problem and unless you’re cool popping a squat the tables go fast.
  • Don’t stand in front of the taps after you get your brew.  There seems to be a rank tendency to hover around the pour spouts with your beer and your friends.  This creates a massive traffic problem for people trying to get a refill.
  • Sample a bit randomly.  Things that look good aren’t always great, and things that are great don’t always look fancy from the listing.

Rant: Lame-a-rita

limearita

American beers got a bad rap for a long time.  They still generally get spit on in the beer drinking world outside of a few of the up and coming smaller brands.  Being a big named beer brand does let you experiment in the market a bit since your standby product is holding down the fort.  It is in this spirit that I think someone at Anheuser-Busch elected to put their stamp on this new product the Lime-A-Rita canned malt beverage.

As I’ve said before, making your own margaritas is so easy you could probably still whip up a pitcher with massive head trauma.  But with two very high proof liquors in them they’re not generally the kind of thing you can put in a can or bottle and sell as single serving options.  The degeneration of the margarita market is such that people are willing to swill anything that is vaguely limey and has the right amount of booze in it.  Observe the Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville Automated Drink Makers.  They’re kitschy fun and if you’re already three sheets to the wind it might help to have a robot to mix your drinks for you but they’re generally for those making frozen drinks and not looking for classic cocktails.

Let us examine the product a bit here.  An 8 ounce can was on special for about a dollar and contains 8% ABV making this in the same category as MD 20/20 for cost-to-drunk ratio.

From the label I see that this is a Bud Light product.  Debatable if that means it’s like a beer or if that’s simply the header they wanted to put it under.  Budweiser isn’t about to start putting the frilly chick drinks and malt beverages under their primary label, but the Bud Light brand is already kinda fru-fru from being a diet beer so a malt drink isn’t going to tarnish their image.

As a sub-header this is apparently a Bud Light Lime product.  Which further confuses me, is this a beer or a malt drink?  Am I expecting a beer with some kind of odd lime twist or something designed to compete with the Mike’s Hard and Smirnoff Malt drinks on the shelf?  The side of the can says “Flavored Ale” but what that means in context is anyone’s guess.

The tasting did not answer any of the above questions.  The can says enjoy over ice and I have to agree.  I took a couple of swigs from a chilled can and was not at all impressed.  The taste was chemical up front with a beer bitterness rather than an orange bitterness from triple sec.  The lime taste was artificial but not the good kind like you get from lime salt or those hint of lime corn chips.  This was a very strong blast of lime-ness unlike actual lime juice.  None of the citrus bite, or the facial heat you get from a good sour.

I think it’s funny that in this day and age where we know everything about our food down to the gluten content of the packaging that alcohol still doesn’t have to disclose ingredients.

Sure, trade secrets and all that, but this thing is a powerful argument in the other direction.  All I know about this thing is that it has alcohol in it and may have some form of natural flavoring and caramel color.  Beyond that it could be made from fermented candy bars for all I know.

Once I put the drink over ice it took some of the sting out of that early bitterness but I cannot say that the flavor was improved in the least.  Lacking a clear set of peers to compare this to I cannot really say if it’s a bad attempt at a flavored light beer or a disastrous attempt to compete with Zima for least missed malt beverage.

Welcome the Beer Snob

I’m not a beer drinker, I have no head for the stuff.  It doesn’t have the same kind of allure that I get from the process and taste of a good cocktail.  But I would be remiss dear readers if I did not at least attempt to explore this wondrous land for you so I have enlisted the talents of my good friends who will be taking over posting for the beer lovers out there with reviews, tastings and such like.

Here is his intro:

 

It’s warm and hot lately, with not a drop of rain in sight. I think it’s safe to call it summertime in Portland and summertime and in PDX summertime means beer and beer fests!

 Portland’s beer week kicks on June 6 – 16th – http://www.pdxbeerweek.com
Then in July it’s the International beer fest in the Pearl 19th – 21st.  – http://www.portland-beerfest.com/
And finally topped off with the mother of all PDX beer events, the Oregon Brewers Festival – http://www.oregonbrewfest.com – which is always held the last full weekend in July. Best believe I will have my glass out and ready for both events.
I’ve been tapped to start using some of my love of beer for this little experiment here and count on getting some updates in the following week.
The first thing I will try to cover are spots to get a good pint, either to sit and enjoy, or take on the go. Check back often for beer snob updates!