The Eggpire Strikes Back

At Tales of the Cocktail this year, media types like myself were guaranteed access to five seminars. I had exhausted my five — but there was one more I wanted to check out: “The Eggpire Strikes Back.” Yes, this was a session dedicated to the subject of eggs in cocktails.

My fascination with this topic goes back to 1992, when we featured a Port Flip on ROX. As memory serves it was quite tasty, despite our best efforts to do everything wrong. And of course I was aware that many “flips” and other eggy drinks appear frequently in old cocktail books. They fell out of favor long ago, but could they be making a comeback? I’d already had two flips at Tales so far.

But first a word from our sponsor.

Each seminar at Tales has at least one sponsor. Usually they are spirit brands. Sometimes they are an obvious match with the subject matter at hand — sometimes less so. In this case, who’s going to sponsor a session on eggs?

Gin & Advocaat

Geranium Gin, that’s who. The connection to eggs is beyond tenuous. But no one complained, as we enjoyed what Henrik Hammer billed as the first tasting of Geranium in the USA. (You can read more about Geranium on A Mountain of Crushed Ice.) Let me just say this: quite possibly the best gin I’ve ever tasted. Delicious with just a little water to open it up. I hope it’s available in New Orleans soon.

In the picture above, the Geranium is on the left. The mysterious yellow stuff on the right was staring me in the face unexplained until the very end of the session. So I’ll come back to it.

On to the panel.

Henrik, Andrew, Timo

One Dane, one South African, and one Dutch guy. As Andrew Nicholls said, “If we were any more laid back, we’d be horizontal.” But that was not really true, because when it came to the subject matter of at hand they evinced an intensity that could not be ignored.

Timo Janse

Timo Janse seemed to do most of the talking. He’s a bartender at Door 74, the first and only bar in Amsterdam to bring back fresh eggs in their mixology.

Hold on, because we need top have a cocktail right about now.

Coffee Cocktail

I kept thinking I was hearing the name wrong, but this was indeed a “Coffee Cocktail” even though it doesn’t have any coffee. It does, of course, have an egg. Here’s one recipe.

1 oz cognac
1 oz ruby port
1 small egg
1/2 tsp sugar

Shake all ingredients well with ice and strain into a small wine or port glass. Dust with nutmeg, and serve.

Very similar to that Port Flip we had 18 years ago.

Appropriately fortified, we began an extended exploration of eggs in art, literature, and culture at large. We considered the age-old conundrum of “which came first?” According to Timo, the bible in Genesis 1:19-22 makes clear it was the chicken. The theory of evolution, on the other hand, would seem to indicate the egg came first. From a Buddhist perspective, the question simply doesn’t matter, but I forget why.

Did you know the bible only has six egg references? Are Christians anti-egg? Other religions accord the egg much greater prominence. This line of reasoning inspired me to wonder if hardcore anti-abortion activists eat eggs — and if so, how do they justify it?

According to some, the death of Francesco de Medici was a result of experimentation with egg drinks, but I think this 400 year old mystery has not been solved.

From here we delved into the anatomy of the egg. Each egg has an air sac toward one end. A smaller air sac is better, apparently, at least as far as we’re concerned, though I’m not sure how one controls for that.

At greater length, we considered the complexities of washing and refrigerating eggs. It seems that they come out of the chicken with a protective mucous membrane, so it was recommended not to wash them — except perhaps immediately before use. Unfortunately they may be washed before they even get to the store. I made a mental note to check with my community garden about this, since we get fresh eggs from there on a regular basis.

We discussed a pre-swizzle technique which was recommended as a method to get the best foamy consistency from your eggs. My notes are missing crucial details on this because I got distracted by our next cocktail.

Clover Club

The Clover Club was born in Philly. It’s pink and nutritious.

Where were we? We learned of the use of egg white in sours — a technique of which I was not previously aware.

At last we came around to the salmonella threat. It was helpful to compare eggs to lettuce, for example. The risk level from lettuce is greater than the risk from eggs. It seems most food poisoning comes from fruits and veggies. As far as eggs go, salmonella if present is almost exclusively on the outer shell, so it might make sense to rinse immediately before use. It takes three to five weeks to develop, so insist on fresh eggs. Furthermore, salmonella can’t survive in a solution of more than 17.5% alcohol. If you make your drinks stiff enough, there shouldn’t be any risk.

Time for one last cocktail.

Eggy Cocktails

Yeah. I didn’t catch the name of this cocktail but it certainly rocked. Egg + carrot juice + gin + absinthe. I think there was something apple in there too, but the carrot was dominant. We should have more carrot cocktails.

Anyone know what this might be called?

We also gave passing consideration to the Chinese delicacy known as the “century egg.” Alas, we did not have any on hand to sample, so I offer this photo by Lee LeFever.

Century Egg

Doesn’t that look yummy?

In lieu of a century egg, we sampled a little advocaat. I guess I might as well reference that same photo again.

Gin & Advocaat

On the right is some advocaat, a liqueur made from eggs, sugar and brandy. It’s rich, creamy, thick as can be, and very tasty. It’s so thick it’s more of a paste than a liquid. I’d classify it more as an alcoholic custard rather than a drink.

All in all, an informative and enjoyable seminar. Well done.

Religious Spirits

How does one spend Sunday morning at Tales of the Cocktail?

Bible Reading

How about a seminar on “Religious Spirits”?

This session was conducted by Garrett Oliver and a thankfully clean-shaven Allen Katz. Allen talked about spirits and Garrett talked about beer. I never thought I’d be drinking beer at Tales, but this session attempted to bridge the gap between distilling and brewing — in the monastic traditions.

It’s not really contradictory for monastics to make booze. We learned that beer once had a reputation as a temperate drink. Back in the olden days, people didn’t drink water much.


As Garrett put it, “Water can kill you.” In fact, water can kill the whole village. However, no known pathogens can live in beer, so beer was the safe and wholesome drink, and it didn’t have much alcohol.

Monasteries had brewed beer for a long time. When some monasteries started going “commercial” in the 1700s and 1800s, they had an edge on everyone. Their beer was the best, because of they had the science and the scholarship. Furthermore, the penalties for brewing bad beer were severe, so the competition was not fierce, and the brewing enterprise proved very worthwhile for the monasteries.

We tasted some Trappists beers. The Trappists have a reputation for being severe and silent. Many orders were driven out of France by the Revolution and ended up in Belgium. We learned the distinction between Trappist beers and Abbey beers; the former are made entirely within the walls of the monastery, while the latter are simply beers made in the same style by just about anyone, anywhere. Today, Garrett estimated, about 80% of Belgian beers are just such copies. We all know the Belgians make the best beer, and it’s pretty much because of the influence of the Trappists.

We discussed the Westvleteren Brewery, located in the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren. Their beer is reputed by some to be the best in the world. The monastery is extremely closed to the outside world. Garrett doesn’t know anyone who has visited them. As for the beer, it’s a rare commodity, because they brew at a very low volume. The bottles have no labels, as all legally required information is printed on the cap. In order to get some, you have to call on the “beerphone,” register your license plate, and drive there to pick it up yourself. Nice if you live in Belgium, I guess. They take these strict measures to eliminate reselling. They’re not interested in making a ton of profit, just enough to sustain the monastery and their philanthropic causes.

Beer from Rochefort Brewery may be the second rarest of the Trappist ales, in production since 1595. Alas, both Westvleteren and Rochefort were simply too difficult to obtain to be served at the seminar.

Trappist Ale

But what we had instead was nothing to sneeze at. First we tasted some Westmalle Tripel. It’s the very first Tripel, a hugely influential style. It comes from Westmalle Brewery, run by the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle. The abbey was founded 1794, and they’ve been brewing since 1836. These days they have a lot of secular workers who come in from outside to help produce the beer.

The second beer we had was from Achel Brewery, run by the Abbey of Saint Benedict. I think it was the Bruin. It was quite delicious but I preferred the Westmalle.

Allen raised the question, why do some monasteries brew beer while others distill spirits? But he said he had no clue as to what the answer might be other than the availability of ingredients.

Apparently, “innumerable” monastic orders have a tradition of distilling, but we talked about two of the most prominent, the Benedictines and Carthusians. Both are Catholic orders that were founded quite a long time ago.

The Benedictines were around for a good thousand years before they started distilling Bénédictine liqueur in 1510. The original formula was lost in French Revolution, but was “miraculously” rediscovered in early 19th century. The enterprise is now entirely secular and commercial. I think it’s now owned by Bacardi.

By way of contrast, Chartreuse is still made by the Chartreusian monks — indeed, they are the only major order where the monks still have complete control and do all the work.

As a footnote, Bénédictine is made with 27 herbs and botanicals, Chartreuse with 130.

The Chartreusian order was founded founded in middle of the 12th century, but distilling didn’t come into the picture for several hundred years. They live as a community of hermits, which I find utterly fascinating. Garrett and Allen described a visit to a monastery like peeling back layers of an onion. They both talked about hanging out with monks. Monks had lives before they took their vows, and apparently they are even capable of remembering that time before they cloistered themselves away from the world.

Given that we’re in New Orleans, no account of Chartreuse would be complete without a nod to the Krewe of Chartreuse, a Carnival walking club that’s been around for many a year. I’ve never participated in their festive Chartreuse-fueled rites, but I’ve certainly been aware of them for a good long time. Indeed, I was introduced to my first taste of Chartreuse by founding Krewe member Loki, Minister of Volume, back in the day. And here’s the incomparable Maitri at Mardi Gras 2007.

Maitri Contemplates the Green

That photo was taken by fellow traveler M Styborski, someone I knew mainly through social network sites until this year’s Tales of the Cocktail, when by sheer happenstance he landed in the seat next to me.


As you can see, he’s a photographer. Check out his photostream. And his presence was far from a coincidence. Indeed, he was there to cover the event for Humid City, the NOLA über-blog founded by none other than the Minister of Volume himself.

So you see we’ve come full circle.

Yes, we had some cocktails, the Last Word featuring Chartreuse and the Vieux Carré featuring Bénédictine. This last has the added allure of being invented at the Monteleone, and of course the Monteleone is ground zero for Tales of the Cocktail.

So you see we’ve come full circle. Just like the Carousel Bar. Which is at the Monteleone. Help, I’m trapped in an Eternal Return!

But seriously, I want to give props to Allen and Garrett for a seminar that seemed to represent the highest level of scholarship and intellectual depth of any of the seminars I attended this year.

Post scriptum: Allen offered a giveaway of a bottle of Élixir Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse. This stuff is impossible to get in the United States and is said to be the ancestor of the Chartreuse liqueur. (Though that may be nothing but a “wonderful fantasy.”) In any event it seems this was an early effort by the Chartreusians to make a healthful medicine. And thus I have to post this classy photo by Brother O’Mara which caught my eye not so long ago.

Elixir Vegetal

So you see we’ve come full circle.

I Hate Vodka

The world loves vodka, you may have noticed.

Not me.

I’m not a hater by nature, but I get tired of always playing the nice guy. It’s fun to hate on occasion, isn’t it? All the other kids seem to dig it, so I wanted to give it a try. I hate vodka! It’s a flavorless, odorless affront to anyone who values character and integrity.

I first became aware of anti-vodka-ism at Tales of the Cocktail 2009, when Audrey Saunders wondered out loud if she’d helped create a monster. She emphasized whiskey cocktails and hid the vodka under the bar. “Are we fascists?” she asked. Come to think of it, that was the same day I heard Jacob Briars apologize for being a “vodka professor.” He didn’t expect much love from the Tales crowd. “You hate us,” he said, “because we just add some flavoring and put ‘-ini’ on the end and call it a cocktail.”

Such were my thoughts as I entered the North Ballroom at the Royal Sonesta for a session titled “I Hate Vodka, I Love Vodka.” I was not alone in being drawn to this smackdown. The room was soon packed. (This was the same room in which I’d enjoyed the sparsely attended Armagnac seminar just a few hours earlier.) However, any hope that we would enjoy a fair and balanced debate was quickly dispelled when I saw that “I ♥ Vodka” t-shirts were being distributed to all.


I suppose that was to be expected, since the seminar was sponsored by two vodka manufacturers, Belvedere and Russian Standard.

Another clue that this “debate” would be skewed: The original title of the seminar was “I Hate Vodka, I Love Vodka,” but they cleverly switched it around at the last moment.


Furthermore, the “moderator” was Claire Smith, a longtime brand ambassador for Belvedere.

Claire Smith

Impartial she was not. In fact, she kicked things off by announcing we would be debating the merits of the world’s best selling spirit. She took a particular glee in noting that global sales of vodka are about 6.5 billion bottles, which is one bottle for every man, woman and child on the planet. And she was quick to debunk the legal definition of vodka as a spirit without flavor or odor, effectively knocking the legs out from under the haters before they could even get their hate on.

Vodka Shot

The panel consisted of six experts in the world of spirits, three haters and three lovers. The haters went first, with the best case made by Ian Burrell.

Vodka Is Dead

(I wanted Ian’s shirt, but after the debate someone else beat me to it.)

Ian derided vodka as “the whore of the industry.” While acknowledging that quality vodkas exist, he observed that much of it is overhyped and overpriced. It’s one of the easiest spirits to distill, and it costs comparatively little to make vast quantities. The pimps purveyors of vodka have marketed the hell out of it and suckered gullible consumers to drop a bundle on premium, super premium, and ultra premium brands that are virtually indistinguishable, especially if mixed into some godawful Appletini.

On the love side, Angus Winchester made perhaps the strongest argument. In fact he read a prepared statement in which he denounced the “cocktail Taliban.” He chided the haters for not being grateful to vodka for leading the way to a mass resurgence of interest in mixed drinks.

Angus Winchester

Yes, he said, vodka is insanely popular, and perhaps it is especially popular with the clueless, but you shouldn’t hate vodka because of that. That would be like hating Hawaiian shirts because they are popular with fat white men. That line drew a roar of laughter, because I was sitting directly in front of him wearing a Hawaiian shirt. He actually apologized to me, though I certainly didn’t mind.

Sex on the Beach was served as the “hate” cocktail, a negative example of what not to do with vodka in a mixed drink. Coincidentally, Sex on the Beach was laid to rest at Tales of the Cocktail one night later with a jazz funeral, but that was not known when this drink was selected for this seminar. A happy coincidence — but not a very good cocktail.

Sex on the Beach vs. Harvey

By way of contrast, the “love” cocktail was a variation on the Harvey Wallbanger, renamed simply Harvey. I’m not sure exactly how it differs from the original.

One audience member observed that the entire panel seemed to be in agreement on many points. He suggested a better title for the session might have been “I Love Vodka, I Hate Marketing.” There also seemed to be plenty of antipathy for popular vodka cocktails and clueless vodka consumers, but as Angus observed, these problems are not unique to vodka.

At the end of the debate, Claire asked for a show of hands from the audience and we found the lovers outnumbered the haters by a large margin. I believe her exact words at that point were: “IN YOUR FACE BITCHES!”

My friend Daisy wondered why a person like me would attend a debate like this. After all, my mind was made up, right? I hate vodka. So what’s the point? Well, I always like to examine an issue from different sides. I like to consider the possibility that I am wrong. And in this case, after due consideration, I have to concede that I was wrong. I don’t hate vodka. I doubt I’ll ever be a big fan, but I’ve learned that it’s not neutral and flavorless — It’s just extremely subtle. Give me a chilled shot of some good stuff and a little caviar or some black bread. That’s the best way to enjoy it, I think. They say drinking the vodka first enhances the flavor of what you eat after.

However, I do think it’s a shame that vodka cocktails dominate so many drink menus. I prefer my martini or Collins or tonic made with gin, thank you. I also don’t mind vodka if used in certain cocktails, like a Moscow Mule or a Bloody Mary, though I think I can make a better tasting drink with gin.

But this raises another uncomfortable question. The day before, I heard Dave Wondrich suggest that gin might be thought of as “juniper flavored vodka.” Claire asked if gin wasn’t just “a flavored vodka that hasn’t reached a tipping point.” This is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night. Legal definitions aside, is gin technically a vodka? I don’t even want to think about that. The cognitive dissonance would make my head hurt.

The hate was fun while it lasted.


I confess I didn’t know who Dale DeGroff is. I was probably the only person at Tales of the Cocktail who didn’t recognize his name. Turns out he’s a legendary bartender — the best in the world according to some. I didn’t know that when I came into the seminar he was moderating, but by the end I knew I was in the presence of greatness.

Let me back up. I popped my head into the ballroom at the Royal Sonesta a little early, as they were pouring the samples we were about to enjoy, and caught a whiff.

Armagnac Preparation

Imagine if you will a large room full of glasses full of fine French brandy. It’s as if the entire room has been transformed into a giant snifter. The scent alone is intoxicating.

OK. So then when the seminar begins, Dale introduces himself quite modestly as “a bartender who got lucky.” He thanked everyone who was participating in the seminar by name, including the cocktail staff. It was a very brief thing, but in all the seminars I attended it was unique, and I immediately liked the guy for it.

Dale DeGroff

The session was sparsely attended, but nevertheless I heard one person remark that he was impressed by the turnout. That’s Armagnac in a nutshell. In most of the world, it is an afterthought or a footnote appended to the dominance of Cognac. But, as this seminar argued convincingly, it’s actually the most popular brandy in France, and it’s also the first French brandy, with the first recorded mention dating back as far as 1711.

Doug Frost and Alain Royer were on hand to help us understand the unique qualities of this spirit, with great passion and intelligence, but it was Philippe Gironi’s presence that really made this into a standout session.

Philippe Gironi

Philippe speaks very little English. He spoke to us exclusively through Alain’s translations. And frankly much of the discussion was over my head, but still it was fascinating to hear. Philippe was all set to become a cop until he got dragged somehow into the family business. He’s a roving distiller. He drags his stills all over the Armagnac region to various vineyards transforming wine into brandy. Much of the session turned on the finer points of the process, and I just don’t know enough about distillation basics to appreciate that, but from what I gathered the stills Philippe uses are rather unique, combining aspects of both pot and columns stills.

Of course, we tasted while we talked, starting with a 2008 Armagnac and progressing to a barrel sample from 2006, Réserve Spéciale Darroze Bas-Armagnac, Hors d’Age Château du Busca, culminating in a 1985 vintage Château du Busca. Each was better than the last, and the last was heavenly.

But since we are at Tales of the Cocktail, we must give due consideration to mixed drinks. The session started with a d’Artagnan, which I believe is considered de rigueur for an occasion such as this. We ended with a little something invented for the occasion by Dale DeGroff, which he had not yet even bothered to name.


I took one taste of this thing, and that’s when I realized Dale was a giant. It was made with orange curaçao, white Armagnac, ruby port and pineapple (juice?). I’m not exaggerating when I say this was perhaps the most interesting of the hundred or so cocktails I sampled over the course of this year’s event.

A Shot of Black Stuff

My palate has shifted over the last year. I know this, because at Tales of the Cocktail 2009, I had my first taste of Amaro — and I didn’t know what to make of it. Amaro is a category of Italian liqueurs noted for their bitter flavor. The stuff I had, Amaro Averna, threw me for a loop, and I certainly didn’t think it was something I’d ever enjoy.

But a few months ago, I picked up a bottle of Cynar on a whim, and to my surprise I loved it. Since then I’ve tried just about every Amaro I can get my hands on. When I revisited Averna, I was really knocked out by how wonderful it is.

How to account for this? I don’t know. But it seems I’m not the only one who’s feeling the love, judging by the packed room (160 attendees) at Thursday’s seminar, “A Shot of Black Stuff: Amazing Amaros and Brilliant Bitters.”

Amaro Audience

I signed up for this one based on the topic, but when I realized it was led by Jacob Briars I knew I was in for a special treat. I saw him last year in a presentation that involved splattering the audience with absinthe in the interest of science. But where was his accomplice, Sebastian Reaburn?

Jacob Briars

Sure enough, Jacob had only just gotten started when Sebastian burst in and made like an old time medical huckster, going round the room and offering everyone a sample of his “Koala Brand” bitters.

He soon revealed that he’d made these bitters from Listerine, NyQuil, gin and Chartreuse. To his credit he warned people not to drink it. The point of this shenanigan, I think, was that many bitters have their roots in some pretty dubious medical quackery.


Then we got down to the serious matter at hand, not just Amari but also bitters. These two topics were lumped together, as the name of the seminar implied. They are distinct but related categories. Bitters are a key ingredient in many classic cocktails but are so powerfully aromatic that they are generally measured in drops; Amari on the other hand can be drunk by the glass (Jacob called them “pouring bitters”) and do not have as much currency in cocktails.

(Which makes me wonder — which topic drew the crowd?)

We discussed the medical traditions from which bitters sprang: Galen’s theory of humors, and the doctrine of signatures. Interestingly enough, there was a lot of American history here, as the manufacture and marketing of bitters as medicine seems to have been quite a phenomenon in the New World. George Washington was mentioned as a victim of the questionable medical practices of the time; Abraham Lincoln came up a couple times too, particularly the fact that some wacky “onguement” tried to take credit for his beard.

We sampled some mushroom bitters which Jacob had made himself from reishi mushroom extract, mushroom puree, vodka and cinnamon. It was truly some of the nastiest stuff I’ve ever tasted. As Jacob said, “Even though I made it myself I must confess it tastes fucking disgusting.” He was quite sincere, however, in praising the health benefits of reishi mushrooms. The point they intended to drive home, I think, was that the bitters which survive today must either taste good — or actually work as medicine.

Sebastian delivered the take-home message succinctly: “Bitters were not in a cocktail to make the cocktail taste good; the cocktail was added to the bitters to make the bitters taste good.”

To make up for the mushroom bitters, we had a cocktail made with an Amaro, an Averna Pineapple Shrub, which was of course delicious. Yet the discussion was still focused on bitters rather than Amari. One of the primary challenges at Tales of the Cocktail is synchronizing a presentation with the drinks being offered. Finally, about halfway through presentation, they shifted gears and started talking about Amari.

Bitter Flight

We tasted six Amari. Well, actually five. The first glass was Antica Formula, which they claimed to be the first vermouth. It was great and if I ever see it on a local shelf I will snatch it up. The five Amari we sampled were: Averna, Luxardo Abano, Bitter Truth Elixier, Fernet Branca, and Braulio.

What worked for me in this seminar: Jacob and Sebastian. Their irreverent and dynamic style of presentation was entertaining and also educational. What didn’t work so well, in my opinion, was the conflation of two distinct but related topics. I found the transition between the two a little awkward, the connection a bit tenuous. I think we had here a case of two great seminars crammed into one. Despite the fast pace, they just couldn’t cover all this material in the allotted time, and so some things were given short shrift. For example, they promised to explore a connection between bitters and fascism, which sounded fascinating, but that never materialized. I learned a lot more about bitters than I expected, but also a lot less about Amari than I had hoped for.

Our final cocktail was a Bax Beet Pinot as invented at the Tippling Club, which drew a big round of well-deserved applause.

Definitely a step up from the Koala Brand bitters.

Koala Brand

Gin & Prohibition

The first seminar I attended at Tales of the Cocktail this year was called “Prohibition & Gin” but I think perhaps a better title might have been “Gin & Prohibition.” It was mostly a history of gin, with Prohibition as simply one chapter in the story. That was a minor disappointment, as I find the Prohibition experiment very interesting, but that’s a mere quibble, as the seminar was quite fascinating.

Simon Ford was the ringleader. David Wondrich and Nick Strangeway played supporting roles.

Simon Ford

In this session, I learned that gin is like Quaalude — that is to say, it was a purported aid to health that no one really took for health reasons. I also learned that William of Orange brought gin to popularity in England after the Glorious Revolution; that early gin was often flavored with turpentine; that vodka became more popular than gin (in the USA, I think) in 1967, the year I was born; and that Snoop Dogg is the godfather of gin.

We discussed the popularity and reputed medicinal uses of the juniper berry. We passed some around and smelled them, which was new to me. What do they smell like? They smell like gin.

And we tasted a variety of gins.

Gin Sampler

We started with Genever and moved on to Old Tom and Plymouth and then a facsimile of “bathtub gin” which had been concocted by adding juniper essence to moonshine.

What about Prohibition? It seems that these dark days in America were actually a boon to the rest of the world. Outlawing booze created a diaspora, as it were, with bartenders and the like fleeing the States and taking their craft abroad. It’s sort of like Prohibition was a big swizzle stick that mixed up the global cocktail culture. This was very interesting; I only wish they’d spent more time on this particular era.

We sampled some Beefeater as an example of a classic London dry gin, and to cap it all off we had a Satan’s Whiskers cocktail, which was of course delicious.

David Wondrich

I also learned that nail polish remover is the national drink of Australia, but I think David may have been joking about that. I loved David’s story about ordering a dry gin martini as a young punk rocker.

Gin Punk by Editor B

David also referenced the notion of gin as “juniper flavored vodka.” More about that later.

More to Come

From this point on it’s going to be a challenge for my writing to keep pace with reality. I attended two seminars Thursday, and I fully intended to write about at least one of them Thursday evening, but I had a meeting last night — it’s tough to meet after a full day of drinking, but I persevere for the greater good — and now here it is Friday already, time to gear up for another day at Tales of the Cocktail.


It’s my intention to write about each seminar I attend at Tales of the Cocktail, but it may take me a few days to get it done. Stay tuned. Keep an eye on Tropical Storm Bonnie for me. I’m off to learn all about Armangac.

Toast to Tales


Toast by Editor B

Tales of the Cocktail kicked into full gear today. The seminars on this first day are all “professional track,” geared toward industry professionals, with topics like “Raising the Bar: Spirited Media Skills for Cocktail & Industry Professionals.” I’m anything but a professional, so I did not attend any of these, but there was still plenty to do.

For example, I got to meet my fellow attendees (Cocktailians)? I hung out with Martha Stewart’s people and the guy who brought Pabst Blue Ribbon back from the dead, while enjoying an Oxley Breakfast Martini.

I also made the rounds of the tasting rooms and sampled a wide array of spirits from around the world. There were so many I lost count, but two stand out and are worth a mention: Root and Bonal Gentiane-Quina. The former is a fairly new product from Pennsylvania which is about to get bigger distribution. I had it in a cocktail called a Root Flip which was out of this world. To compare the flavor of Root to root beer would give the wrong impression and kind of miss the point. It’s actually an attempt to recreate ye olde root tea, which is what root beer itself is based on. It really only tastes like root beer as I know it in the vaguest way; they describe it as “fairly clean on the palate with strong notes of birch, peppery herbaceousness, spices, citrus and vanilla bean.” As for the Bonal Gentiane-Quina, that’s an old aperitif from France, but I’d never even heard of it before. I gather it’s a quinquina because it contains quinine. It also has plenty of gentian and other herbs. Decidedly bitter, wonderful stuff. It’s imported by Haus Alpenz. I even got to meet the legendary Eric Seed.

And of course I was there for the toast in front of the Monteleone. The official cocktail this year is Death in the South Pacific, invented by Evan Martin. It’s a complicated drink, but it’s most notable (to me anyway) for having an even more complicated garnish. Seriously, the recipe for the garnish is longer than the recipe for the drink itself. You essentially construct a little man out of fruit pieces who is then hung over the side. Obviously they couldn’t do this for the thronging masses in front of the Monteleone, but I’d love to have the full-on version someday. I should also note that it’s delicious.

Tomorrow I start hitting the seminars. I’ll report back here.

Twenty-Nine Months

Watching the Rain

Dear Persephone,

It’s finally happened. Your imagination has caught fire, and I’ve been drawn into your fantasy world on several occasions.

Granted, you’ve had an active imagination for a while. I still remember the first time you took a block and said it was a train.

But now you’ve taken it to the next level. It started a couple weeks ago. You wanted to get up on our bed, to play a game your mother taught you, of pretending the bed is a boat and the floor is water. I hoisted you up, and I asked if there were alligators in the water.

From that point on, your thoughts guided us. You found a baby alligator who became your friend. Soon you found two, one green, the other pink. You took the alligators with us and they kept us company for most of the rest of the day, and the mama and dada alligators were often lurking in the distance, but we held them at bay.

Years from now you might think I’m mocking you, so perhaps I should make clear that this was for me a joyous experience. I felt incredibly privileged to be caught up in your imaginings. And at the same time I felt a little sad, as I was reminded for some reason of our mortality, and mine especially, and the time we will have here together seemed suddenly far too short to me.

To Do

I really need to get on top of this stuff before the list gets any longer. We’ve been living in our new house for almost three-quarters of a year now, and so far we’ve done very little. Of course that was the appeal of the place: a complete renovation. But every house needs upkeep and improvement. I did hire a guy to remove a ton of junk from underneath the house, to facilitate other work, but that’s about it.

  • Attic infestation: We hear something scrabbling around up there from time to time, but we’re not sure exactly what it might be. I suspect squirrels.
  • Floor repair: I can live with the waviness, but the floors seem to have deteriorated beneath our feet. Some places are spongy, others we can now see light coming up from below. (The house sits on piers.) I don’t know that we can afford to do much, but I’m hoping to get some estimates.
  • Insulate underneath: Still waiting to learn the results of the research at Musicians Village so I can make an informed decision about which method to use.
  • Fill underneath: I’m not certain but I think we may need to put some dirt or sand under the house to minimize water pooling.
  • Lattice deck: It would be nice to have some lattice around the bottom of our deck. This would prevent toddlers going under the house from the back yard, and it might stop the raccoons from coming into the yard.
  • Glaze windows: Mostly we have vinyl replacement windows but there are a few older wooden windows, and one or two sashes don’t seem to be properly glazed.
  • Paint porch: Already paint is wearing away from the front porch, and there’s lead paint beneath the latex, so that needs another coat pronto. I guess maybe this will be an annual or biannual task.
  • Remediate strips: Speaking of lead paint, there are two narrow (1″) strips of flaking lead-based paint on either side of the house. It’s not really an area where we hang out, but it needs to be addressed.
  • Organize study: I still haven’t quite finished unpacking and settling in to my office space at home. That last little bit kills me.
  • Bike shed: I don’t think a prefab job will do the trick. I probably need to hire someone to build a little lean-to in the back (or possibly on the side of the house) preferably on a slab. It needs to be big enough to accommodate two or three bikes.
  • Entry space: If I could get the bike out of the house and into a shed, we’d be able to make getter use of the space next to our stairs. A coat rack might work well there.
  • Window treatments: I’ve put up one set of blinds (2″ wooden) and one curtain (sheer, purple) in the girl’s room, but the rest of the house is bare. We have a couple newspapers taped up strategically in our bedroom. This might be an opportunity to inject a little excitement into the rather bland, er, I mean classy color scheme we inherited.
  • Outdoor speakers: I’m constantly moving our Sony jambox from the kitchen to the deck and back again, while making sure the extension cord and wireless receiver don’t come unplugged. I fantasize about installing a set of speakers to the exterior.
  • New couch: The futon couch in our living room isn’t cutting it.
  • Futon stopper: Speaking of the futon, wherever it ends up, we need something to stop it from gouging into the wall.
  • Tree trim: The tree in front of our house needs a trim. It’s way to tall for me to even think about doing it myself.
  • Sidewalk repair: The sidewalk in front of our house is in sad shape, mostly from the tree roots. They have not only caused the sidewalk to crack and crumble into a wildly uneven and dangerous surface, they’ve also lifted the sidewalk up considerably. I’m not sure what a repaired sidewalk would even look like.
  • More concrete: Our driveway consists of two narrow concrete strips, one for each tire. It’s hard to line our car wheels up properly, and it’s also hard to wheel the trash can down to the curb, so I’m thinking we’d do well to fill in the space between the strips.

One of the joys of home ownership is there’s always something to do. I plan to take a week off soon and tackle at least a few of these.

Post Dance

Perhaps I was inspired by all the art we saw yesterday, because when I got home I made a video by pairing a clip I shot Thursday night with a serendipitous musical track.

I’ve embedded the video below, but I had to make it smaller to fit my rather narrow template. You’d do better to watch on Youtube, and crank up the resolution.


I was leafing through Lagniappe today and came across an article by Doug MacCash, about a guy named Charlie Bishop who noticed a hunk of concrete in City Park and labeled it a sculpture. As far as I can tell, no one else has bought into this idea, except possibly MacCash, who labels Bishop a “conceptual artist.” Marcel Duchamp is cited as a precedent.

I thought this was just about the coolest thing I’d read in a while.

Persephone was sitting on my lap as I read. She pointed to the accompanying picture and asked “What’s that?”

So I attached her seat to the old bicycle and we made our way to City Park in search of this (possible) sculpture. I wasn’t confident that we’d be able to find it. I told Persephone we’d have to hunt for it. As we rode around the park I kept asking her if she saw it. Her consistent reply: “Everywhere.” I’m not sure exactly what she meant by that. Perhaps she was saying the park itself was a work of art. Perhaps she was simply trying to one-up Bishop and Duchamp.

But, amazingly enough, we found it.

Sculptural Pilgrimage

I have to agree with Bishop. This thing does have a certain resonance. It does have a “sad and lonely” feel. I didn’t think it was “tragically ugly,” though. I found it beautiful.

After our visit to Koan (Bishop’s proposed name for the piece) we went over the footbridge to the playground, and after a while we ended up in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden. It’s free, and as anyone who’s been there will attest, it’s fantastic. Persephone was particularly taken by the giant three-sided Rodrigue blue (and red and yellow) dog.

But personally I thought Koan ranked right up there with the acknowledged sculptures in Besthoff. I hope that City Park has the fortitude and imagination to label Koan as a sculpture. Furthermore, I hope they credit Bishop as the artist, rather than follow his suggestion of Anonymous.

True, he didn’t make it, but he recognized it, and he deserves some credit for making us see the world around us with fresh eyes.

The concrete structure that is Koan was once a “plug” that was used to fill a cavity in a tree. As MacCash writes, “In time, the tree disappeared, though the plug remains.” I couldn’t help but notice a number of other such sculptures appear to be in progress in the immediate vicinity. Some might take a hundred years to come into their glory. Others, not so long.

Sculpture in Progress

Perhaps some day there will be an entire collection here. It might be called the Bishop Sculpture Garden.

Stranger things have happened.

In the meantime, a tip of the hat to Doug MacCash for writing an article that quite literally made my day, and my daughter’s too. And hats off to Charlie Bishop. You rock.

“Which one did you use?”

We went to a release party for the new issue of The Trumpet last night. I remember attending some of the first meetings of the Neighborhoods Partnership Network back in 2006, but I’ve been out of the loop lately.

So it was a great pleasure to take Xy and our daughter to the Community Book Center. We enjoyed free food from Lil Dizzy’s and we were regaled by tales of Adella Adella the Storyteller.

But the best part of the evening, for me, came when I went to the restroom. I should mention that the Community Book Center caters to a mostly African-American clientele, and their inventory reflects an orientation (by no means exclusive) to black literature.

Therefore I was mightily amused when I made my way back to the restroom and saw a door marked “colored only.” I wasn’t sure what was behind that door, but I had a laugh. Then I made use of the restroom, which was located next door and standing wide open.

When I came out, I saw a young boy of maybe eight or ten years who had wandered back there.

“Which one did you use?” he asked.

“What? I —”

Then I turned around and saw that in fact the door of the restroom I’d just used also had a sign. And what do you suppose it said…?


“Oh,” I said. “I guess I used the ‘white only’ restroom.”

The little boy smiled. “You don’t have to, you know.”

Mandatory Ejaculation

I’m sure my parents will be proud to know I’m now the number one result for mandatory ejaculation on Google. Or rather, one of my photos is.

Mandatory Ejaculation

Of course, the real blame goes to the Krewe of Spermes, one of the many constituent subkrewes that make up the amazing Krewe de Vieux. All I did was take a picture of their float with a friend’s camera.

Do I need to explain the reference? This float made its appearance in February of 2006, five months or so after the first mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. I mentioned this parade back then but ironically I featured to a different photo of the same float.

My question is — why are people suddenly searching for “mandatory ejaculation” such that I’m seeing it in my stats?

Is there something we should know?


I was recently thrilled, honored, flattered and otherwise gratified to learn that I’ve been nominated for an Ashley Morris Award. I’m not worthy to actually win — besides which, the competition is far too stiff. But merely to be considered makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Rising Tide V Poster by Greg Peters

The award is of course presented at the Rising Tide conference, of which I am a big fan. The upcoming Rising Tide V will mark the fifth anniversary of Katrina. I’ve been at each one since the first, and it’s gotten bigger and better each year. I’m sure this one will be the greatest yet. It may in fact be the pinnacle. It remains to be seen whether the spirit behind Rising Tide and other such post-Katrina endeavors will sustain past the five-year mark. Hopefully it will continue onward and upward in perpetuity, but only time will tell.

Most if not all of the people organizing Rising Tide are bloggers, but I wouldn’t describe it as a “blogger conference” per se. To think of it as such would miss the point. After all, anyone and everyone’s got a blog these days. What brings these people together, and what makes this special, is their passion for the city of New Orleans. That’s why the Ashley Morris award is given to someone who “embodies Ashley’s fierce passionate defense of New Orleans, its people and its culture.” Moreover, these are smart and engaged people, and that shows through in the quality of the programming.

Rising Tide is far from a dry, academic affair, but it does have a high level of intellectual vigor. I’d really hoped we could host this event here at the University, and I’d nearly managed to get it approved, but a scheduling conflict proved irresolvable. No matter. The Howlin’ Wolf will be a fine venue. If you are interested in the future of New Orleans, I hope to see you there.

Register now.

Eyes Wide Open

Mitch Landrieu

The mayor came to our campus yesterday to deliver a speech with the theme “Eyes Wide Open.” Strangely enough, few of my co-workers seemed to be aware of this, but I got an invite from the mayor’s office via e-mail. By another strange coincidence, I’d forgotten all about it until my memory was jogged during a meeting with Councilmember Kristin Palmer at City Hall about the Lafitte Corridor greenway project. I rode back to campus and got there in time to catch the speech.

The University Center ballroom was packed. Music was playing, which I thought was prerecorded until I noticed a number of men in suits on microphones at the front of the room — the Zion Harmonizers. Father Tony gave the invocation and Dr. Francis introduced the mayor.

For me, it was pretty cool to see all these guys on the same stage in such a familiar setting. It was cool to see the City’s seal on front of the podium and the University’s seal in back. Also, I’d never heard Mitch Landrieu speak before, and I’ve got to say he’s pretty good at it.

I’ve made it a point not to offer my own analysis of local politics here recently, and I think I’ll stick to that policy. However, I’d be curious to know what others might think. Here’s the text of the speech.
Continue reading “Eyes Wide Open”


Blue & Red

I guess the official date is in April but I took my daughter to work yesterday. She was here about five hours, and we had a blast.

We always call her daycare “school.” Xy is a teacher and I work at a university, so we all go to school. Actually my girls are both on summer vacation now, but I still go to “Dada’s school” every day.

Xy had a teacher meeting yesterday so I decided it would be a good time to bring her on campus with me for a change of pace. We packed a lunch together: carrot, apple, and cheese sandwiches. I pushed her to campus in a stroller, and let me tell you it’s a harrowing experience. Not the most pedestrian-friendly part of town. Did you know the intersection of Palmetto and Carrollton is the busiest in Orleans Parish? But we arrived safely at last.

She got to meet a bunch of people — mostly librarians — and we practiced saying “good morning” in a nice clear voice instead of mumbling shyly. We read seven books from the children’s section. We rode the elevators and climbed the stairs. We ate our lunch in the “tonfrence room” and she decided that she doesn’t like horseradish sauce or Tabasco.

She spotted the John Scott sculpture from the window, which led to a very pleasant walking tour of the quad, plus she learned a new word: sculpture. We looked at a bunch of them.

But her favorite activity, without question, was drawing on the dry-erase board.

A Quarter of My Life

Sometime a few months ago this slipped past me: I’ve now spent a quarter of my life in the city of New Orleans, a quarter of my life working at the University. And it dawned on me that my experience of this city is very much bound up with my employment at this school. I’ve lived in three different houses and an apartment, in three different districts; Xy has taught at six different schools (soon to be seven); we’ve seen friends come and go, moved in various circles, taken care of nigh on a dozen cats, and brought forth progeny of our own — but the one constant has been working here. I recently joked that I’ve been in this same office over three decades. Silly but true: I started here in ’99, worked through the Aughts, and now it’s the Teens. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ve thoroughly cleaned my office once over all this time. But all kidding aside, this has been a source of great stability in my life, and I am very glad to be here. I can’t imagine how different New Orleans might seem if my job situation was different.

I also missed my annual observance of my start date on the first of June, marking eleven years here at the University. Looking back in the archives I found this remark from 2004:

I’m trying to imagine where I’ll be five years from now. I’ll be 42. Bush will no longer be president. Other than that, little is certain. I imagine myself still living in New Orleans, still working at the University, still hanging with Xy, still producing ROX.

When you put it that way, life just doesn’t sound very exciting. But there are bound to be plenty of surprises too.

Granted, I really should have cited this last year when I was 42. But it’s not too late to observe that, indeed, there have been a few surprises along the way. Most notable among them was the failure in 2005 of the floodwalls on the outfall canals that drain water out of the city, allowing the waters of Lake Pontchartrain to flood my neighborhood and my home and a few hundred thousand others as well. We commonly refer to this phenomenon as “Katrina,” but that’s a sort of misleading shorthand.

I was going to mention my daughter as well, but she is not a “surprise,” technically. She was planned. But she is full of surprises. And I did not anticipate her when imagining my future six years ago.

PS: As an added bonus, here’s a picture I took of myself eleven years ago at my office.


This was taken on July 15, 1999, to be precise. I think this may be the first picture I ever took with a digital camera. It was an Apple QuickTake 200. I wonder whatever happened to it?

Cloudy with a Chance of Tarballs

Emerald Coast

Many months ago, we booked a condo in Panama City Beach, Florida. (I should say, my mother-in-law booked the place. We consulted, but it was my in-laws’ dime.) This was well before the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, long before oil started gushing out into the Gulf of Mexico. Needless to say of all the anguish caused by this disaster, my family vacation plans do not factor prominently. Yet still I worried about it. News reports indicated no oil there — until about a week before our trip. A piece of the Deepwater Horizon rig washed up on the beach there. And then came reports of tarballs. In the final days before our departure, I was reading up on public health advisories, effects of dispersant chemicals on toddlers, varying accounts of the situation on the ground (or in the water) in Panama City Beach, and all manner of online monitoring sites. It was maddeningly difficult, impossible really, to come to any kind of conclusion.

I decided if we saw tarballs we would keep our daughter out of the Gulf waters. Dispersant is not so easily detected by the human eye, of course. Once we got there, we found the water crystal clear. I scouted for tarballs constantly but never saw one.

In the end, it turns out I needn’t have worried so much. I think our girl spent no more than an hour in actual contact with the waters of the Gulf for a variety of reasons. On the morning of our first full day there, Xy took her down to the beach and was holding her when a wave knocked her down. That scared Persephone and she preferred the pool from that point forward. Later in the week the waves got increasingly rough as Hurricane Alex churned through the Gulf, and the water was closed for swimming anyway.

We had a great time regardless.

Here are some other random notes.

It’s just over 300 miles from NOLA to PCB. This was our first long trip in the hybrid vehicle, and I was curious to see how it performed. It took less than a tank of gas to get there, and we got about 30 miles per gallon.

We stayed at the Wyndham. I’m sure I’m not the first person to gaze skeptically upon all those highrise beachfront resorts, but you can’t beat a balcony looking over the ocean. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a two-bedroom accommodation so my in-laws were in a separate condo not far from ours, but it worked out all right.

We were there for six full days, bookended by two half-days for arrival and departure — a week. Of those six full days, two were sunny and spectacular, two were overcast with a little rain, and two had heavy rain. (Thanks Alex.)

I took almost 400 photos. I’ve posted a set of the best on Flickr. (Friends and family see more.)

Internet connectivity was problematic and aggravating. I took a laptop from work, which I hooked up to Ethernet in our condo. I enjoyed unfettered net access for two days — and then it just stopped working for no apparent reason. The problem was not the Ethernet but the laptop I was using. A couple guys on the staff came out and tried to troubleshoot but ultimately we were unsuccessful. So I used the wifi network, in a common area not far from our condo, but that proved unreliable as well. The network had a tendency to disappear suddenly for no apparent reason, leaving me disconnected. Thus I was unable to participate in the “Contemplative Neuroscience” webinar which was my ostensible reason for bringing the laptop in the first place.

I finished reading On Blue’s Waters and and started In Green’s Jungles.

I called the front desk and they sent up a pack-n-play crib where Persephone slept comfortably most of the time. On her first night she was restless and ended up in our bed while I moved out to the couch. (I needn’t have bothered as the king-sized mattress was big enough for the three of us.) She had a nightmare one other night, but the rest of the time she was happy to sleep in “little bed.”

We missed the Hands Across the Sands event, alas. We could have walked there.

My friend MAD, who used to live in PCB, recommended a number of local venues. We only went out to eat one night, and we tried a couple waterfront places he mentioned but the lines were way too long for us. We ended up at Scampy’s which proved to be quite delicious. There was no wait for dining on the patio, which I found incredible. Who wants to sit in a dark dining room on beautiful summer evening?

Our friends DJ, Daisy and Lavender joined us for the last two nights. I didn’t think they were going to make it, but they got there just in time for the worst of the Alex weather. Then they stayed a couple nights after we left at a hotel.

My mother-in-law Susie cooked all the major meals. Actually Xy did cook grits and grillades one night. I meant to prepare stuffed peppers but I forgot my recipe and Susie ended up doing that as well. I probably gained some weight on this vacation.

Another contributing factor: We went through one bottle each of Averna, Bombay Sapphire, St. Germain, Hennessy and Limoncello, plus half a bottle of Amaretto and some wine and beer. Key cocktails: Vertigo, Extended Roman Holiday, Horse’s Neck, St. Germain & Soda, and the good old gin & tonic (with and without St. Germain).

My favorite moment of the whole trip was when Persephone and I built a sand castle on the beach one evening. She was crushing towers as quickly as I could build them, until I managed to get a couple up in quick succession. Suddenly she got the idea — this could be a place where Cinderella might live. Soon she was helping me build the walls, and before you knew it we had a most, a tunnel, a bridge, and a domed ballroom. It didn’t look like much to be honest, but in our eyes it was a palace.

Getting back to my original concern, I want to re-emphasize that I never saw a single tarball. There’s probably a good deal of variation up and down the beach, and who knows what tomorrow will bring. I also want to be clear that I think environmental issues are of primary importance to us all. I wouldn’t want to discount concerns about what’s happening in the Gulf right now. I believe it’s a crisis of epic proportions.

Obviously we must be on guard against paranoia. When the water was closed to swimming and a plane came by dragging a banner that said “STAY OUT OF THE GULF” it was hard not to feel alarmed. My father-in-law spoke to another guest at the resort who was sure the closure was oil-related — yet I am certain it was because of the weather.

Which is not to say that there was no oil. There’s a persistent trough of foam that develops between the first and second set of breaks. My mother-in-law said she thought it looked funny, sort of discolored, toward the later half of our stay, and she suspected it was because of oil. I was skeptical, but when Daisy arrived she said the same thing, and she’s a geologist after all. So who knows, maybe there was something to that.

And as far as I know you can’t see dispersant, and no one is testing for it, and no one really knows how dangerous it might be to humans. But that Corexit stuff BP was using was banned in the UK.

All of which gets back to my original point about the difficulty of getting truly reliable information about what’s going on out there. We can only make good decisions if we have good information, but there’s very few sources that I trust anymore.

Up in the Air

IFBD 2010


Every year I exhort people to listen to the stirring inspirational lyrics penned by Dr. Paul of the Troublemakers for their famous anthem. But many people never do. So this year, I thought I’d transcribe them. I don’t believe these were available anywhere on the internet — until now. Maybe this will help people get the message.

We might get arrested we might get spit on
So here is a song to explain our point of view
We’ll explain why it so thrills us to see
All those colorful flags being set on fire

On the fourth of July we declare our independence
Independence from the greatest evil around
That is the evil of nationalism
It separates us and crushes us down

Flag-Burning Day, Flag-Burning Day
Burning the scourge of nationalism away
Flag-Burning Day, Flag-Burning Day
Happy International Flag-Burning Day

We burn the stars and the stripes and the map’ leaf
The Palestinian and Israeli flags
The hammer and the sickle and the lone star of Texas
We love to dance around those smoldering rags

Flag-Burning Day, Flag-Burning Day
Burning those hateful borders away
Flag-Burning Day, Flag-Burning Day
Happy International Flag-Burning Day

We declare that we are citizens of the whole world
Don’t pay no respect to no borders or armies
Because patriotism is the flip side of racism
Why we any better just because of where we’re born

Listen, then buy. This might be a good time to review your IFBD tips. Any questions?

Photo by Todd Ehlers. Licensed under Creative Commons.