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.

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.

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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.

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.

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: 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.

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.

icetray1

 

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.

postshakerice

 

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.

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.