Elsewhere in the Liquiverse

  • BarSmarts Wired is now open for registration through March 31. Created by Beverage Alcohol Resource and Pernod Ricard USA, the online bartender training program is available for two-month intervals twice a year. While BarSmarts Advanced is invitation-only, the Wired version is open to any bar enthusiast 21 and older. The $45 course fee includes a messenger bag packed with essential bar tools, shipped to you whether you pass the course or not.
  • For reasons yet unknown, Audrey Saunders has left her helm at the Tar Pit in L.A. She told The New York Times that she and the other bar owners disagreed over the swanky retro bar’s promotion: “It’s not our style to promote our beverage program through cable programs, etc — and that became a stumbling block for us.”
  • New York sales of Fernet Branca jumped 50 percent in 2009, undoubtedly thanks to NYC’s cocktail community–but the saturation here still doesn’t match San Francisco, which drinks more than half of the Fernet sold in the entire U.S.!
  • Save the dates for the first-ever Ultimate Beverage Challenge series, starting with the Ultimate Spirits Challenge at Astor Center on March 1-3, followed by the Ultimate Cocktail Challenge on April 12-14. For the cocktail challenge, spirit and wine categories will be meticulously mixed in classic cocktails to determine which ones work best, such as the best gin in a dry martini. The judging panel will include founder F. Paul Pacult, Jacques Bezuidenhout, Dale DeGroff, Steve Olson, Julie Reiner, Audrey Saunders, Jim Meehan, Doug Frost, Andy Seymour, David Wondrich and more.
  • Liquor industry giant Diageo is leading efforts to stop New York grocery stores from selling wine, as proposed in a current bill from Gov. Paterson.
  • Today is National Margarita Day! I like mine spicy:

Spicy Cucumber Margarita by Kara Newman, author of “Spice & Ice“:

1/2 small cucumber, peeled and cubed
1 slice jalapeno pepper, minced
1 ounce reposado tequila
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce Cointreau or Grand Marnier
1 small jalapeno or cucumber or lime wheel for garnish

In a shaker, muddle the cucumber and jalapeno. Add all liquid ingredients, and fill halfway with ice. Shake well, for at least 30 seconds or more, then strain twice into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the small chili pepper or cucumber or lime wheel.

Photo from FoodNetwork.com

Dizzy Gifts, Part 2: Education


Thinking about his next drink.

“Study as if you were going to live forever; live as if you were going to die tomorrow.”–Maria Mitchell, American astronomer

If you’re anything like me, once you become passionate about something, you have a strong desire to learn as much about that something as you can. Some people might call me a nerd. Sure, there is something to be said for artistic intuition and natural talent, and there isn’t a field of study for everything–abstract expressionist painting or a sense of humor, for instance–but when it comes to having a craft, such as writing or making cocktails, well, I come from the school of thought that you can never have too much school for your thoughts (although we should all get outside more and learn from nature, too).

I’ll never forget the time I met Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown a year and a half ago at a Sagatiba tasting at Brandy Library. Spirits and drinks historians whose books include “Shaken Not Stirred: A Celebration of the Martini,” “The Soul of Brasil,” and “Cuba: The Legend of Rum,” the couple travels the world to uncover the secrets behind the history of drinking. They are also the directors of Exposition Universelle des Vins et Spiritueux in Southern France. [In short, they are my idols.] Dave Wondrich, author of “Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash,” also made a similar impression on me last year. These writers have managed to make a living by constantly seeking to quench their thirst for knowledge of drink-making of the past, present, and future.

Most cocktail enthusiasts consider themselves geeks and are in a constant state of study. So if you have a few of those types on your holiday shopping list, why not drop some knowledge on them and give them a gift that will last a lifetime? Here are some suggestions:

The Bartender’s Gin Compendium” by Gaz Regan navigates the world of gin, from its roots as genever to the prominent brands of today.

“The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in American from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet” by Garrett Peck charts the shift in social attitiudes towards drinking since the days of Prohibition and includes lots of facts on how we drink today.

Spirituous Journey: Book One” by Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller is one of the most thoroughly-researched looks at the birth of spirits and the distillation process, from China, to India, to Persia, through Europe and onto the New World.

“Lush Life: Portraits from the Bar” by author/illustrator Jill DeGroff is not only a stunning collection of her caricatures of who’s who in the world of bartending, but the book also includes colorful stories and classic recipes.

Imbibe Magazine is the premiere publication on liquid culture and the art of drinking, and is must-have for anyone in the cocktail industry.

Astor Center’s classes on cocktail-making and spirits history are an excellent resource for cocktailians in NYC. Gift certificates are available to cover the cost of the sessions.

And last but not least, BarSmarts Wired is an online version of the B.A.R. (Beverage Alcohol Resource) program developed by the leading mixologists in the industry. For $45, students receive educational DVDs, a workbook, and a bar tool kit, and earn certification once they pass the class, which takes about four weeks.

Bottlerocker of the Week: Maxwell Britten

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Maxwell Britten, recently named a 2009 Star Chefs Rising Stars mixologist

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”–Holden Caulfield, “The Catcher in the Rye”


I recently sat down at Freemans, and Maxwell Britten, a 2009 Star Chefs Rising Stars-winning mixologist, was behind the stick. Unlike Holden Caulfiend, Maxwell, a creative writing student who has lived in NYC since 2005, certainly has not had a lousy childhood. Growing up with a passionate epicurean and food & beverage professional for a father (Eric S. Britten), Maxwell has been surrounded by food and spirits since he was old enough to handle a fork and a knife.

Despite what sounds like silver spoon-fed beginnings, he started out as a busboy at Jack the Horse Tavern in Brooklyn Heights in 2006 and pulled through the ranks to become head bartender and beverage director within a year–all while finally turning of legal drinking age. Craft bartending became Maxwell’s passion when a copy of The Gentlemen’s Companion, V.1 & 2 Around the World with a Fork, Knife and Spoon; Around the World with a Jigger, Beaker, and Flask” by Charles H. Baker Jr., was handed to him by St. John Frizzell (now owner of Fort Defiance in Red Hook) in the fall of 2007. Maxwell also studied with Damon Dyer of Flatiron Lounge, took the BarSmarts course, and has twice been a cocktail apprentice at Tales of the Cocktail–so he’s more than done his homework. Now running a food and drink consulting firm, Jigger, Beaker & Flask, with his older brother, Jeremy Osslund, Maxwell is a notable bottlerocker in NYC’s cocktailian scene, but he’s not letting it go to his head, he says.

“The Dizzy Dozen: The Same 12 Questions We Always Ask” With Maxwell Britten

Q: What is the first thing you drink after you wake up?

A: A big, HUGE cup of nice cold water, occasionally (depends on what I was up to before bedtime), or a Coke over hand cracked ice with a lime wedge. Or an iced Americano from the coffee shop around the corner of my apartment, Glass Shop, shout out to Francesco!

Q: What is the first thing you drink after a hard day’s work?

A: An ice cold brewsky. I might have a nip of Rittenhouse depending on how hard my night was.

Q: What is the most delicious ingredient in your liquor cabinet?

A: Probably the Lasanta by Glenmorangie. I recently finished a bottle of the Cuvée Homére by Rhum Clément with some world-class scumbags (bartenders) just before moving into my new apartment. I think I have a Budweiser or Brooklyn Lager in the fridge, those are pretty delicious too.

Q: If you could sit at the bar between any two people (alive or deceased), who would they be?

A: Charles H. Baker Jr., and my Dad.

Q: Three favorite NYC bars:

Prime Meats: Styled after a German beer hall, excellent beers on draught, good bartenders, great eats, and the kitchen stays open until 2 a.m., which is a rarity in Brooklyn.

Fort Defiance: Counter-culture coffee, St. John Frizell, great bites, in the heart of Red Hook, great menu—just a classic, check it out!

Milk & Honey: Too easy, right?

Q: Three favorite non-alcoholic hangouts:

Prospect Park at sunset

The Met

Fairway in Red Hook. I swear I don’t live in Red Hook—there is just some great stuff down there.

Q: Average night’s sleep:

A: Lately, 6 1/2-7 hours, and I have been in bed before 2 a.m. most nights these days.

Q: What is your favorite place to shop for your bar?

A: It was once Lenelle’s (in Red Hook!), which is no longer open. Astor Wines is pretty good. Sometimes doing a gig is good shopping—then again, I can’t remember the last time I actually had to buy the booze myself.

Q: Where do you find inspiration?

A: The kitchen, text books, bar manuals, characters in novels, movies, music, fashion, food, and most importantly, the ass-kicking bartenders you can find around the world these days.

Q: If you woke up on a desert island, what bottle would you hope to have wash ashore?

A: A gallon of chilled water. If you were hoping for a bottle of booze, then I guess I would hope for some rum, maybe Appleton VX? Jamaican rum calls for the occasion, and it’s just really easy on the palate. If there is no ice and I am on a desert island, I might not want to be sippin’ on warm/hot hooch.

Q: Do you have any bar-related good luck charms?

A: No, but from time to time I might put a dash of aromatic bitters behind the ears when I am feeling like I want to impress the ladies. Some barkeeps I know say it’s good luck in competitions, I just like the way it makes me smell. It’s almost like really great-smelling cologne. People will be like, “You smell magnificent,” and I’ll say, “Thanks, just a little limited-edition Repeal Day Bitters by The Bitter Truth, no biggee.”

Q: Do you have a nickname for yourself when you’ve had too many?

A: Yeah, it’s “French Exit”—that’s when you peace out without saying anything to anyone you’re with and in some occasions, not paying your bill—I swear the only person I do that to is Jason Littrell [of The Randolph] and that’s because he is the mad man behind the most debaucherous bar in Manhattan.  Sometimes it’s safer just to leave before he tries to give you another pickle back. In a conversation with him last week about my most recent “French Exit,” I go, “I am sorry man, I REALLY needed to go home, I could barely talk.” He says, “Well, you could still drink, so that’s not good enough for me.”

Maxwell Britten's "Zorritto Dorrado (The Golden Fox)" with Elegal Mexcal Reposado, Yellow Chartreuse, and orange marmalade.

Maxwell Britten's "Zorritto Dorrado (The Golden Fox)" with Elegal Mexcal Reposado, Yellow Chartreuse, and orange marmalade.