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.

Why can’t I take Everclear on the plane?

IMG_20131206_092742One of the more unusual restrictions I found when researching what alcohol you can take on a plane is the limit on proof.  For airlines the limit is 140 proof or about 70% ABV.  This limit applies to checked luggage only from what I can tell.  Bottles in your carry-on don’t seem to get the same treatment.  This led to two possible answers.  First is the fact that high-proof spirits are actually illegal to sell in at least 15 States and transporting them could lead to significant liability.

Second is the possibility for damage to the aircraft and cargo.

For legality purposes it is illegal to sell alcohol at 190 proof in California, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.  It’s totally legal to own so far as I’ve been able to tell but as with many other things the devil is in the details.

My college chemistry courses taught us about a concept called vapor pressure.  Essentially the boiling point of a liquid is decreased depending on the amount of atmospheric pressure applied to it.  This is the reason that people who live at high altitude or who go hiking in the mountains have to take care when cooking.  Water will boil at a much lower temperature leading to inaccurate cooking times.  As you can see below the boiling point drops significantly as the pressure decreases.   Standard cruising altitude for most aircraft is 30,000 feet at which point the pressure would be around 226 torr outside.  Given the chart below that puts the boiling point somewhere between 40 and 65 C.  The closer to 200 proof you get the lower the boiling point.

When alcohol boils it turns into a gas which rapidly increases the pressure inside the bottle and causes either the cap to fail or the bottle itself to shatter, at which point you have a quantity of highly flammable gas loose inside the hold of an aircraft.

Not to mention that the exploding liquor bottle and flying glass could do a bit of damage on their own.

Depending on the aircraft most cargo holds are generally pressurized and heated.  Some aren’t heated but regardless the changes in pressure and temperature shouldn’t impact a bottle while in flight.

So in the end this amounts to an overabundance of caution from the airlines.  I’ve reached out to some airlines in an effort to better understand this restriction but have not yet heard back from any.

Tech: Liquor Search Engine

SEARCH1Living as I do in Oregon all of the hard liquor that is sold in the state passes through the halls of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC).  Oddly even the stuff that is sold on site at the various distilleries is first sold to the OLCC and then the distillery buys it back from them to sell in their own store.  Which is why you won’t usually find a price break at the distillery tasting room as opposed to the liquor store on your block.

This has a number of advantages and not a few drawbacks.  It means that liquor stores don’t often do special orders.  I’ve tried at more than a couple.  When I asked for a special order at Progress Liquor they actually told me “We only do it if it’s something we already carry.”  I was so agog that I couldn’t even point out that this wasn’t even remotely “special”.

A secondary factor is that buying liquor over the internet becomes a chore because while I don’t have to pay sales tax the shipping for anything I might want is usually 16+ dollars owing to the nature of shipping heavy breakable goods any kind of distance.

One of the nicer things about the OLCC hold on the bottle is Oregonliquorsearch.com.  Since every bottle sold is tracked by a rabidly efficient government agency they elected to simply put the results of that tracking into a live publicly accessible database.  So if you’re looking for say Sparkle Donkey Tequila it can scour the entire state and tell you that there are exactly two places in oregon where you can buy it and that it runs about $27 a bottle.  It will even go so far as to tell you how many bottles you can expect to find at that location and will map it for you.

You can even reverse the process and look for a specific store, having located it you can run a blank search and get a listing of their entire inventory.  This may or may not help depending on what you’re searching for but it’s a good way to narrow things down or browse their shelves from the internet.

The site also allows you to set a “default location” so that you’re not constantly having to zoom down from stores in Bend or out from the west hills.

There is some limited utility here.  The search only covers Liquor.  Meaning that beer, wine, mixers, barware, tools, rimming sugar, and even some low alcohol products like Lillet Blanc or irish cream might not make the cut for OLCC tracking.  Calling ahead to see if they carry lime juice and margarita salt may sound silly but I’ve been to places where they were out of simple syrup and grenadine so it’s worth it not to have to make another trip just to stock up on essentials.

Additionally Liquor store employees can be amazingly dense when it comes to some products.  Keep in mind they have something like 2500 bottles on the shelf, they may not keep abreast of what is going on in the industry.  I asked at about 4 different places when or where they would get Volstead back in stock and none of them knew it had even been missed or if they carried it at all.

Hunting wiley bottles of odd liquor can be rewarding but with this website you can cut out a lot of calling and running around.  It’s not a substitute for finding out that the Thriftway down the street carries Lillet Blanc but it’s helped me on more than one occasion.

Update: After hunting around I have found search engines in other states that still have some form of state control.

Utah DABC
Ohio
Idaho
Maryland
New Hampshire
North Carolina (Mecklenburg)  – Seems to be broken down by city (PITA)
Pennsylvania
West Virginia

Tools: Shakers

I’ve not had a serious opportunity to use many shakers in my testing so far but I can speak reasonably about some of the benefits.

My current shaker is a lovely Boston shaker that was purchased for me at Crate and Barrel for about $20.  What makes this model interesting as Bostons go is the rubber seal rim around the glass portion.  This makes the seal between the glass and metal a lot tighter and doesn’t rely on the fit of the glass itself.  One down side is that the rim is starting to crack after only about 4 months of infrequent use and I’m not sure a replacement is possible.  The hawthorn Strainer that I have also doesn’t fit well into the glass making me think it’s a bit more narrow than a standard pint glass you might find elsewhere.

I have a metal on metal Boston purchased by another friend which I have only used once or twice having received both at around the same time.  I like having some visibility on what i’m shaking which also means the metal on metal has stayed in the cupboard.  I may take the larger half and a pint glass as a replacement if the rubber rim on my crate and barrel job fails entirely.

I had previously a nice metal shaker of a more traditional style with the strainer built into the top.  It was fine for myself but once I started mixing for friends it became a hindrance as it was not full sized and could hold at best a third of the volume of my current rig.  I would go back to that style again as I enjoy not having to wash an extra tool but it is my understanding from more professional bartenders that this style tends to gum up or freeze shut with prolonged use and can be more of a chore to clean between drinks than a separate strainer.

My next purchase is likely to be a Mason Shaker.  At 32oz this monster lets you mix some serious drinks.  I attempted to do some larger drinks at a recent convention and I think after 2 servings my current selection simply cannot hold the volumes required.  Being fitted to a Mason jar allows for both the built in strainer as well as glass sides to observe the process.  It’s not classy by any stretch but it will do when one needs to mix 4-5 drinks at once without having to stop and re-ice your shaker between runs.  I can foresee this being a much more two handed affair but at $29 i’m actually impressed with some of the quality i’ve seen.

An insulated shaker may be my next purchase.  The loss of heat in the shaking process means wet ice, watery drinks and the like.  Instead of having to change ice more frequently or change out shakers for one more recently inside the freezer this option seems like a way to keep the cold where it should be.

All picky business out of the way you really cannot undersell the benefits of shaking over any other method.  I have had drinks poured from one solo cup to another and there simply is something magical in the conversion going on inside a shaker.