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Thursday
May022013

Purity is Boring

Dispatches from the Vodka Wars:

To some of you this might come as news, but there is a war raging and every bar worth its salt is a battleground. On one side are craft spirits & cocktails, along with mixologists in the trenches battling for flavor, balance, harmony, interest, and to take back the traditional spirits and cocktails of our glorious, pre-prohibition past. 

And on the other side? Vodka.


Yes, when you come into my bar and order vodka or a vodka-based cocktail, or ask for one of our house creations with vodka subbed in place of the spirit the recipe calls for (the horror! the horror!) then I know that you have fallen - Invasion-of-the-Body-Snatchers-style - to vodka. Where once there was a human being, now there is an alien who denies the pleasure of the pursuit of drinking and opts only for something cold and boozy. You have taken up arms against those that would liberate you from the tiny little box in which vodka has you trapped.


The first step is to know the enemy.

Anything can become vodka. If yeast can eat it and piss out alcohol, then I can distill it until it is flavorless, odorless, and colorless. You see, that's the definition of vodka: an absence of character on the palate, delight to the nose, and beauty to the eye. When I lay it out like that, I always get a little sad.

Vodka doesn't bring anything to the party. Sure, it brings alcohol, and sure there was a time in our lives when that was all anyone needed to get into a party. But those days are gone. Now you crave character, depth, and something to delight the senses, right? So, if you get an invite to a party bring your 'A' game, and don't consort with the aggressors and bring vodka. For me, 'the party' is a cocktail. Generally, the foundation of the cocktail is your whiskey, rum, tequila, gin, etc...something with flavor that will affect the final outcome of the recipe with its presence, absence, or even the amount one uses. This base spirit works with the other ingredients in the cocktail to create balance, harmony, and an experience that is greater as a whole than the sum of its parts.


Beware the propoganda of the enemy (and your own mind).

"I like the way vodka tastes."

  • No, you don't. Unless you fancy toenail polish remover.

"I don't like the way whiskey tastes."

  • I don't believe you.
  • And there is a world of difference between how a whiskey and a whiskey cocktail taste.

"Vodka is pure and doesn't give me a hangover." 

  • Distillation is a purifying process... all spirits are pure.
  • You have a hangover because you drank. TOO. MUCH. Period.

"I had a bad experience with x, y, or z when I was younger." 

  • Nut up, Buttercup. We have all had bad experiences in the past. The human race would have gone extinct long ago if we weren't stupid/brave enough to not let the past rule the present. Find a bar you trust and trust them to make you a great drink.

 

Fortune Favors the Bold

In order to win this war, I go grassroots. I brandish whatever charm I can muster. I give rallying speeches with my face painted blue while going commando with a kilt. I give thanks that I have a boss who will let me bring a soapbox behind the bar and I talk, cajole, plead, and even give a pledge that if after three sips the drink is unacceptable, I will take it back and make you that vodka & soda you ordered. I also teach about cocktails that don't contain vodka, and write about cocktails that don't contain vodka, and drink cocktails that don't contain vodka. That last one is a lead-by-example method that I have honed from years and years of experience.


What any good Traveling Yeti knows.

Appreciating vodka in a cultural/social setting is great. When in Eastern Europe, never pass up an opportunity to raise a glass of vodka with the locals.

Never begrudge a gracious host's sense of taste. If invited to a party bring your wit, a bottle of something interesting, and if their cocktail du jour is a caipiroska... enjoy the fuck out of that lime, and don't forget to say 'Thank you'.

There is a time and a place for ascending the soapbox. Make sure you know your audience. We can lose a few battles, but it is the war we must win, one cocktail at a time.

 

And the proof can be in the pudding:

How to make a great scotch whiskey cocktail, The Scotch Blossom:

 

-Michael Cecconi

Saturday
Mar022013

Liquid Motivations

Why do we drink?

 

1. To take the edge off:

Life is not as nasty, brutish, and short as some would have us believe. But everyone has a time when coming into a welcoming space and ordering something that slows life down a bit and makes it a little more comfortable is just what the doctor ordered.

 

2. To put the edge on:

The joys and laughs shared over cocktails are spontaneous, fleeting, and deeply felt. There is a heightening to the senses that, paradoxically enough, comes with drinking. Our hearts open up to forgive past wrongs and bridge chasms that have grown between us.

Flipside: Social interactions can also be fraught with peril. Take an edge and cut through inhibitions and enjoy each other a bit over a drink or two.

Some view drink as a suit of armor, but I like to think of it as the opposite. We expose ourselves when we drink. We might not remember it, but in that moment we can be more truly who we are...so don't be a dick.

 

3. Because it tastes good:

Here is my favorite - When a well-balanced cocktail passes my lips and makes its way to become a part of me, I am fully aware of just how delicious it is, and how it has the power to both increase and decrease my senses. What a privilege it is to raise a glass to my lips and taste how the ingredients' whole comes together to become greater than the sum of its parts. 

 

4. It brings us together:

Think of any ad for alcohol you have seen on. TV.  Aren't they all about coming together and creating good cheer? Go into any bar and with few exceptions everyone is there to take comfort in the presence of others. It is proven that people with community are happier. If we acknowledge that and treasure that maybe we can be a little nicer to each other in general. We need each other.

 

The two drinks listed below were commissioned for a couple about to be married.  When the wedding party came to the bar to collaborate with me on their cocktails, they acheived a perfect storm by having a combination of 1-4 above. Those are the times that make my job a pleasure. I am now sharing the cocktails with you. Find a friend and make them together.

 

You can taste my cocktails with a group of  wonderful people in a great space at Two Sisters Bar & Books where I'll be teaching a class on White Whiskey March 27th & April 25th.

 

-Michael Cecconi

Sunday
Jan272013

The Mobile Mixologist

I am an expert mixologist, teacher, and bartender. The video below is an audition for a gameshow, to air in prime time, with a cash prize, and to play you need to be an expert. My interest is in making the perfect cocktail for my guests. Impressing them with my extensive knowledge of cocktails is pretty far down the list of priorites for me, so the idea of tooting my own horn takes a concentrated effort. 

I have always been a firm believer that the more I know about a subject, the deeper I was in the rabbit hole, the more I saw how much there was yet to know. The infinite amount of minutiae was just that - infinite. And like the horizon, the more I pursue it, the farther away it stays. I know that there are many things that I don't know about the history of cocktails, the diversity of spirits, the crazy proliferation of different drinks, and even the current state of the art. But the producers of this show, and the viewing public, don't need to know that.

So, welcome to my dissembling. I used a script as I shot the video, but worked open-minded enough to change things on the fly. It's funny, I want to project a specific version of myself so that people don't know me well, and therefore don't know how far off the mark they are. Keep them in the dark and they'll never know what they don't know.

I'm Michael Cecconi, and I hope to get to know you a little bit better here in the pages of The Traveling Yeti.

You can see my expert skills in action behind the bar at Two Sisters Bar & Books where I'll be teaching a class on White Whiskey February 25th, March 27th and April 25th, a beer cocktail class at Two Sisters on February 9, and also teaching in NYC at the end of February.

Thank you.