From Glenn Morey, Publisher and Editor
15 years of online and multiplatform publishing, 30 years of advertising, and 31 years of drinking led Glenn to found The Hooch Life in 2011, launching the website in December of that year—on Prohibition Repeal Day to be precise. Check in here as he reports on our progress, news, opinions, and our general psychological and emotional welfare. It's a start-up. “Crazy” comes with the territory.
I’m a fickle drinker.
No single spirit holds my attention. No brand has earned my unwavering loyalty. No single cocktail has become my lifelong “regular.” So none of my friends are surprised when I announce the discovery of the “best cocktail ever,” despite my having discovered several others in very recent memory. And so it was last night, when Sean Kenyon at the Squeaky Bean/Denver served me one of his latest creations and my newest favorite cocktail:
The Night Shift.
Brown. Bitter. Stirred. Classic. And it starts with (dramatic pause) RUM. There are few brown/bitter/stirred cocktails that I have loved that are NOT whiskey-based. But when they’re not, they’re based in rum. (i.e. try substituting an aged rum for rye in your next Old Fashioned.)
But choose your rum well. The Captain had nothing to do with Sean’s choice for the Night Shift. In fact, he picked Nicaragua’s only rum — the buttery, caramel-y, slow-aged Flor de Caña 7-year rum — as perfect for a pork glaze as an afternoon of sipping, and exactly the right richness for the Night Shift.
To the rum he added the 10-year Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac, an aperitif wine called Bonal Gentiane-Quina, and St. Elizabeth’s allspice dram with its complex blend of clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper (otherwise known in classic cocktails as Pimento Dram).
Hey, I know. You probably don’t have these bottles. And if you buy them, how will you EVER use them?
Easy answer. You might just drink it all yourself, because you can’t stop making them. Or more likely, you might make one for your special someone, or a friend. Then they’ll never let you stop making them. Or even more likely, if you serve it up at your next get-together, you’ll go through your whole stock in one night.
Because (wait for it) it’s the best cocktail ever.
The Night Shift—by Sean Kenyon at The Squeaky Bean/Denver
1 ounce Flor de Caña 7-year rum
1 ounce Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac
1 ounce Bonal Gentiane-Quina
1 bar spoon of St. Elizabeths Allspice Dram
Add all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice. Stir to chill. Pour over fresh ice. Garnish with an expressed orange peel. Then get ready to say, “Damn!”
Whether you want them to fall in love with you or a cocktail, you’ve got to serve up something a little different, a little intense, a little mysterious, and more than a little delicious. Case in point is this week’s open house here at The Hooch Life. We broke out a couple of our favorite cocktails, a classic Daiquiri and a not-so-classic Tequila Negroni.
A what? (That was the response of most of our guests, accompanied typically by a very suspicious facial expression.)
It’s okay. We get it. First of all, unless you’ve been geeking out on cocktails, or you’ve been sipping aperitifs in Campo di’ Fiori near Rome’s Piazza Navona, you may have never had a classic Negroni, let alone this south-of-the-border twist on the Negroni. Second, everybody’s a little skeptical about drinking something they’ve never heard of before.
The winner between the classic Daiquiri and the Tequila Negroni? Are you kidding? The Tequila Negroni had them at hello. So try this one at your next gathering, or on your next date.
1 ounce Reposado Tequila (click for a few tequila ideas) — an aged Tequila for depth and richness
1 ounce Antica Formula sweet vermouth — for its intensity and complexity
1 ounce Aperol — a change-up from Campari, a little less bitter, but still cleansing
Combine and stir with ice for 20 seconds, and pour over rocks (or one of those really cool ice balls, if you’ve got a mold). Garnish with a lemon peel.
A big thank you to our old friend, Travis Plakke, at Row 14 here in Denver for this beautiful recipe. And SPOILER ALERT: at the end of August, our weekly issue is about barrel-aged cocktails and how to make your own — featuring, yes, a BARREL-AGED Tequila Negroni!
In a world dominated by multinational liquor conglomerates, celebrity endorsements, integrated branding campaigns and distribution monoliths, there is a tiny and intimate bar called Williams & Graham, where it’s 5:30 on a Friday evening, and a bartender named Jason is telling me about a brown, little known spirit.
Mezcal. Made in Chichicapa, two hours south of Oaxaca and two hours to the west on a dirt road, deep in the south of Mexico.
The story of mezcal, of the indigenous Zapotec people who make it, of Del Maguey’s mission to introduce the world to single-village distilled spirits, of pre-organic practices and fair trade micro-economies, of the heart of the maguey (agave), and of the skills of Faustino Garcia Vasquez, the mezcal maker of Chichicapa — these stories are not myths. They are not fairy tales spun by an ad guy.
This is real. And it’s because of stories like these — the stories of hundreds of producers and distillers across the Americas and beyond — that we get to sit in a bar and drink to the little guy.
So here’s to the craft spirits movement.
To the tiny and dedicated makers of whiskeys and moonshines, vodkas and gins and genevers, mezcals and tequilas, rums and cachacas, absinthes and brandies and liqueurs.
To bar and restaurant operators across the country who risk placing their virtually unknown labels on back bars and retail shelves, and to the patrons who reward them for doing so.
To the locals, one-upping the globals.
To mom and pop getting a piece of the action.
To independents and entrepreneurs and provocateurs.
To the hand-crafted, the farm-to-bottle, the organic, the sustainable, the responsible, the fair.
Last, but certainly not least, here’s to you, Jason. And the thousands of great bartenders who push unfamiliar spirits, new yet classic cocktails, and far-flung drinking experiences. It’s now 5:50 in the evening, and I’m ready for your next idea.
10 huge efforts, from the little guys. Check out their stories:
Bootlegger Vodka, New York: A 100% corn vodka that is smooth as silk.
Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey, Colorado: Made at 9,600 feet in the world’s highest distillery.
Copper Fox Rye Whiskey, Virginia: Smoked with apple wood and oak chips for a unique flavor.
Dancing Pines Spice Rum, Colorado: Bursting with all-natural, whole spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.
Death’s Door White Whiskey, Wisconsin: An un-aged wheat and barley whiskey that tastes like malt and vanilla.
Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal, Mexico: If you like smoky Scotch whiskey, you’ll love this smoky, briny mezcal.
High West Double Rye, Utah: A great balance of old and young rye made at the foot of the ski slopes.
Oola Grain to Glass Gin, Seattle: This New Western style gin backs off on juniper for a light, floral flavor.
Pueblo Viejo Anjeo Tequila, Mexico: One of Mexico’s best-kept secrets, this aged tequila is rich and sweet.
Ragged Mountain Rum, Massachusetts: An aged sipping rum made with clean Berkshire Mountain water.
These four words are the secret to better drinking.
They’re also the secret to having more fun. To being a knowledgeable and discriminating drinker. To ordering like someone who appreciates the difference between a shaker and a stick. To knowing your way around the back bar. To becoming a favored patron and the friend of bartenders.
So take this seriously — kinda like the golden rule, and Shakespearean lines like “Neither a borrower or a lender be,” and anything from the Yoda scenes in “The Empire Strikes Back” (the best of the three, IMO).
For the past 12 months, I’ve gone early. And I’ve gone often.
And, I’m here to tell you, I’m a better drinker for it. I’ve crisscrossed America going early and often, and here’s my experience. 90% of bartenders in real cocktail bars enjoy talking to patrons — and 100% of the great bartenders certainly do.
But only if it’s early.
They want to tell you about their latest twist on a classic or some crazy, “mad bartender” infusion they’ve created. They want to share their knowledge and inspire you with their passions. And they’re on a mission to figure out what you like and what you might like, but don’t know it yet.
But only if you go often.
Sure, you can read books and articles in publications (like this one). But to get the magic, the culture, the view of life in America through the lens of America’s bars, you need a bartender. Britt Henze will re-introduce you to jello-shots, grownup-style. Duane Fernandez will bring a performer’s touch to your bar experience. Enzo Lim will find the perfect cocktail to pair with a fertilized duck egg. Frank Cisneros will spirit you back in time to punchbowls and secret passwords. Evan Faber will draw the local-sourcing parallels between single-vinyard wines and hand-crafted spirits. Justin Noel will introduce you to single-village labels of mescal. Kevin Burke will share the bartender’s handshake with you, and introduce you to one of his half dozen Fernets. Liam Wager will show you a fresh twist on an old classic. Matt Hartigan will take you to new outposts of Brooklyn — in a glass. Maxwell Britten will introduce you to the mystic qualities of absinthe. Sean Kenyon will tell you stories behind the bottles on his back bar. Steve Schneider will introduce you to his hammer.
These are the reasons you go to bars. And if all you’ve experienced are the crowds, the scenes, the hook-ups, and piling your friend(s) headfirst and incapacitated into a cab at 4 a.m. — well, you’re really missing something.
You’ve missed getting to know bartenders.
I come from a family of teetotalers. (Honestly, in 30 years of writing, I don’t think I’ve ever typed this very strange word.)
We didn’t have wine on the table. My dad didn’t have a drink when he got home from work. There were no cocktail parties at our house. There was no liquor cabinet from which to steal the occasional sip. The holiday eggnog wasn’t spiked. The communion wine was grape juice. And, to put it mildly, there are those who are less than thrilled about my new vocation as publisher and editor of The Hooch Life.
I had my first drink when I was actually 21. And for the next decade or so, I was a pretty terrible drinker. I drank terrible stuff. I drank in terrible places. I drank with absolute indifference to what I was drinking.
So here’s what I know.
Drinking may be fun. But drinking well is more fun.
An Old Fashioned (old-style) with the spicy edge of an authentic and hand-crafted American rye (maybe a WhistlePig). Stirred up by a bartender you’ve come to know over the course of time (maybe my friend, Marshall). At a real cocktail bar where the spirits are local, the cocktails are classic, and the vibe is unpretentious (maybe Williams & Graham in Denver). Early in the evening or early in the morning, when the faithful few are rewarded with the pleasures of meeting and making new friends (maybe experiencing the effects of the “boon to friendship, a dispeller of care,” as Reginald Vanderbilt described his favorite drink, and as quoted in Jason William’s excellent book, Boozehound).
This is why we publish The Hooch Life. And why, despite my teetotaler roots, I’m convinced that drinking well contributes to our friendships, our connections to the world, and our experiences in life.
Plus, it’s fun.
Yep. This is it. It’s 5 a.m., and I’m writing the first post in what will be a continuing feature on these pages, from my desk as Publisher and Editor of The Hooch Life. So let me go on record. This isn’t going to be some boring, blah, blah blog.
I’m going to name names.
Reveal shocking truths.
Shake the world with breaking news.
Blow our readers’ minds with The Hooch Life announcements.
Pontificate a lot.
Brazenly display and frequently demonstrate the fact that I know way less about drinks and drinking than our bartenders, editors, writers, expert contributors, and the distillers we feature.
And occasionally get myself and/or The Hooch Life into trouble.
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?! ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED??!!!