Blog posts about drinks, infusions, and alcohol-related news

Liquor

These are articles about liquor... vodka infusion how-to's, cocktails I've invented, and beer I enjoy.

Communication Tip: Never Speak More Than 40 Words

The Trappist Monks are widely known for making the best beer in the world... most of it is made in monasteries located in Belgium, using centuries-old processes. These Trappists are the quintessential monks: quiet, pious, hard working, and frugal. And man, they make great beer!

Contrary to popular belief, Trappist monks do not take a vow of silence; rather they vow to speak only when necessary. Which, surprisingly, is almost never.

To gabby outsiders, they speak so little that we just assumed many of them took a vow to never speak... Who wouldn't be making idle chit-chat while brewing a batch of awesome beer!?!? The alternative was just too bizarre for us to comprehend: speaking is rarely necessary, even when creating a world-class product.

And this rule applies for people who aren't even monks. Let me explain...

Last year I was introduced to a technique called Non-Violent Communication, which had many excellent suggestions for effective dialogs and running productive meetings... They stressed that besides empathy, the most important communication skill is brevity. Specifically, you should limit yourself to no more than 40 words before coming to an actionable request.

State your case quickly, express what you need briefly, and then make a positive request of one specific person.

For example, a manager shouldn't just call a meeting, let out a deep sigh, and lament about how the sales numbers really suck this quarter... and then go on and on and on about what's wrong. That's a waste of everybody's time. I'm certain your employees already know that the numbers are bad. I'm certain your employees already know they "shouldn't drop the ball next time." They know, they know, they know... and now you just wasted an hour of everybody's productive day.

They don't care about what they shouldn't do... they only care about what they should do in order to move things forward.

Instead, try to realize that speaking is rarely necessary, even for a world-class team. Get clear on what it is that you need... determine specifically what actions need to be taken, and by whom. If you don't know what actions need to be taken, then your request would be to have your team help you find out. State your case in 40 words or less, make your request, and move on to new business.

Naturally, there are some concepts that are difficult to explain in fewer than 40 words. In those cases, you should write a report. No, I don't mean a mind-boggling array of Power Point slides... I mean a real, honest to god report. Publish it to your content management system, where it is widely available, then share it with your team. That way, your request would simply be "Please read my report, and send me your comments." Otherwise, the data will still be there in the future, on the off chance that anybody needs it.

Verbose information belongs in a published report, or a wiki... not in an email, and not in a meeting. Keep this in mind at all times, or you'll never make anything as good as a bottle of Westvleteren 12...

My First Attempt At Making Beer

Not to be outdone by Garrick's Hefe Weizen, I decided to make a bit of Scottish Ale this month.

There's a place here in Minneapolis called Vine Park Brewery, a decent little microbrewery... but its main income comes from people renting their kettles and making their own beer! They have a bunch of suggested recepies for you, so you pick one, boil it all up in a kettle, then place it in a keg to ferment. In 2 weeks, you come back to bottle it yourself.

Compared to making beer at home, you get better equipment, a brew coach to help you out, and your home won't smell like hyperactive yeast.

My dad and I went there 2 weeks ago to make beer, and split the end product. Last night I came home with three dozen 22-ounce beer bottles. I toyed with several different labels and ego-centric names -- Bexwiser? Bezzo Brau? Special Bexsport? -- but settled on the dignified "Huff Manor Scottish Ale." I printed up some custom labels, and slapped them on the bottles after we filled them up.

Its pretty tasty... and at about $2 per 22-ounce bottle, its a pretty cost-effective way to get my recommended daily allowance of hops and grains... ;-)

Cool Shooters

I remember seeing these at the Absolut Ice Bar in London... small chunks of ice, shaped like shot glasses, for serving chilled vodka. They're called Cool Shooters, what else?

Its a fun idea... but I doubt many people have the freezer space for more than a few of these. They might be better for either a very small party, or for a very big party... or for those people with 3 freezers who don't know what to do with them all.

Either way, watch out for these things! After holding one for a few seconds, your hands get numb and slippery. If these were tapered so they were wider at the top, this would be less of an issue. Gloves are probably in order if you offer your guests refills.

Unfortunately, the reseller is out of them at the moment... hopefully they'll get more in stock before Cinco de Mayo!

Eat Your Fruit, but Don't Forget the Rum!

Unusual news from the USDA this week... apparently mixing a bit of booze in with your fruit boosts the number of healthy chemicals in it!

I will repeat that:

  • Strawberries are healthy,
  • Strawberries margaritas are better

They discovered this information rather unexpectedly... they were experimenting with how different types of preservatives affect the nutritional value of foods. By some bizarre accident, adding alcohol to berries increased the amount of anti-oxidants in the food... these chemicals help people fight cancer, and the effects of aging.

No word on if the alcohol breaks down some of the other healthy chemicals... such as vitamins or amino acids. I guess I'll just have to risk it.

Espresso Infused Vodka

For St. Patrick's day last week, we were going to have a Cajun meal... but at the last minute we switched to an Italian feast. That meant that instead of inventing a cocktail that screams Celtic Bayou, I had to come up with some kind of Italian / Irish fusion.

Tricky... especially since there is no such thing as good Italian liquor.

I settled upon a vodka, made with potatoes, infused that day with Italian Espresso beans, mixed with Baileys Irish Cream, and a dash of Vanilla Italian Syrup. Very nice... High five!

Unfortunately, I hate coffee, so I stuck to the Limoncello and Green Grappa Gimlets... but that's another story.

Anyway, I'd like to share my recipe for the perfect espresso infused vodka. I won't touch the crap myself, but everybody else says its great. With an endorsement like that, how can you not be morbidly curious?!?

Equipment

  • One measuring cup
  • Coarse ground espresso beans
  • A 4 cup French Press for making coffee
  • Semi-good vodka (Skyy, Svendka, Kirkland, whatever)
  • A funnel
  • A glass bottle

Directions

  1. Place 1/2 cup of coarse ground espresso beans in the press
  2. Place 3 cups of vodka in the press
  3. Steep for 13-15 minutes. NO MORE THAN 15 MINUTES!
  4. Press the plunger on the press
  5. Pour into glass bottle, using the funnel

And that's it! The key is the French Press, and to be very very careful about the timing. If you leave it in for more than 15 minutes, the vodka starts to extract the bitter flavor from the coffee. If you want a stronger infusion, use 3/4 cup of espresso grounds.

How To Make Vodka Infusions

Lately I've gotten into creating infused Vodka. This basically means adding fruits, herbs, and spices to Vodka in order to create a uniquely flavored liquor.

There are plenty of sites out there with tips for infusers, recipes for infusions, and cocktail recipes. However, if you're the experimental type, you can skip the lectures and get started immediately.

You can make an infusion out of any liquor, but Vodka typically has the most neutral flavor, so its least likely to clash with your other ingredients. Rum is too sweet, whisky is too sour, and gin tastes too much like pine trees. Plus, you can buy a 1.75 liter bottle of Skyy at Costco for about $25... and it gets smoother as you infuse it.

You do not need sophisticated equipment to make infusions. My tools are as follows:

  • One liter capacity air-tight Mason jars
  • One liter capacity air-tight bottles
  • Funnel
  • Sharp pearing knife
  • Muddler
  • Sharp vegetable peeler

UPDATE: If you want to make infusions with Espresso or other small-grained food, you'll also want a French press... A press is cheap, and by far the best way to make fast vodka infusions with ground herbs.

Anyway, place the ingredients into the mason jar, and fill it with 1/2 to 1 liters of vodka. After the infusion is complete, you can spoon out the ingredients, and pour the infusion into the bottle. Sometimes you may want a cheesecloth, or other strainer, if your infusion has small chunks.

The first step is to choose what kind of infusion to make. If you are new to this, and not comfortable with experimenting in the kitchen, I'd start with fruit. Later, you can move on to infusions with herbs like basil, ginger, Thai chilies, or muddled cucumber peels.

Be sure to use fresh, organic fruit, preferably stuff that was never in your refrigerator... This is mainly for taste purposes.

Remember: the goal of any infusion is to extract the good flavors, while leaving the bad. Typically this boils down to good timing. Some fruits take longer than others. Some can be left in for a very long time, whereas others need more care. Frequently you should remove the undesirable parts of the fruit to ensure none of the bad flavors are infused.

The rest of this article contains a handful of infusions that I have enjoyed, along with some drinks I invented.

Just about the worst idea ever

My wife recently sent me an article about some new bartender technology. And I feel that its just about the worst idea ever.

The concept is simple: having a friendly, happy bartender is apparently bad for business, so this company intends to do something about it.

Their idea? Put measuring devices on every liquor bottle, every Coke bottle, and the ice dispenser. Then let these devices communicate directly with the cach register using wireless RFID technology. They will tattle on the bartender in case he pours too much of something.

The goal? If the bartender pours a little more than a shot, the customer is charged for a little more than a shot. You can also catch those evil bartenders who pour stronger drinks to your regular customers... because everybody knows regular customers should be soaked for every dime in their pockets.

Frankly, if they are going to be like that, why have a bartender at all? Why not just have a cluster of programmable cocktail dispensers behind the bar? Cheap and easy, no need to feed, clothe, or tip them!

Think about it... this kind of stuff only leads to one place: martini vending machines. And its a sad day for America's future when that comes to pass.

Sure, its possible to make a bit more money if you measure accurately and charge for everything... but that business model only makes sense when you are selling commodities. When there's a lot of value-add in the product, its harder to measure those pesky intangibles that make the sale actually happen.

Case in point, the profit margins on alchoholic beverages are huge. Restaurants charge $30 for a bottle of wine that costs $8 at the store. A Hendricks gin fizz costs about $6 for $1 of alchohol. Even if the bartender pours you twice the gin, the profit margins are still huge. Besides, a friendly bartender has tremendous value to the establishment.

Its not like bartenders overpour for everybody... just the regular customers. These are the people who keep coming back, ordering the most profitable thing on the menu. Why throw a monkey wrench into that?

Sorry guys... I guess its back to the drawing board for you.

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