Philadelphia: Part Two

Sorry I’ve been gone for so long. Let’s pick up where we left off… 

We stand from our seats to greet David: someone who likes to move. He needs to move. And you’re happy to move alongside because his energy is so catching and alluring. Therein lies his ability to befriend most anyone and most everyone. We exit the Oyster House and walk west down Sansom Street—the sunset is gone. “Where should we grab a cocktail?” David asks, “There’s Franklin Mortgage…”

“Yeah, that sounds good. They have good gin cocktails,” I say and we pick up the pace a bit—perhaps we hear the song of the long-forgotten siren Juniper calling our names. As we approach Franklin Mortgage a doorman standing at the top of a short flight of stairs uncrosses his arms and looks down on us, lifting his head up from his phone-glow. “Is the upstairs room open tonight?” David asks. What upstairs room I think.

“No, only weekends. Would you like to go downstairs?” He’s deadpan, but seems straightforward and promisingly helpful.



He guides us down bleacher stairs, past the edge of the street lamps above, opens the door and seats us against one wall. (Doorman is the host: I like this.)

The room is dim, narrow, long and although we receive a seat immediately, I notice all other tables are full of people laughing and sipping their cocktails. The energy is taking over the bunker and apparently we have perfect timing. The menu is divided: titled categories such as Required Reading, The Flowing Bowl, and She Brought Me Gasoline, classify batches of beautifully designed fluid dioramas.

The waitress arrives and smiles at David (must know him). I order a Gloom Raiser, which consists of classic Beefeater gin, Noilly Pratt dry vermouth, grenadine, and absinthe, served up—a true drinker’s drink. High alcohol content yet the grenadine mellows the absinthe’s bite and the vermouth softens and dilutes it to sipping-strength. David and my dad order and I miss it. We’re all drinking and sharing restrained gulps. “David, yours is delicious, what did you order?” I ask.

Looking down at his menu, “Calling Card Punch, off The Flowing Bowl section.” I look down at my menu as I take my sip. It uses one of my favorites, Death’s Door gin: a Wisconsin based distillery that manages to create a stellar spirit with the use of only three botanicals (juniper berries, coriander, and fennel). It’s fresh tasting and great for cocktails.

Everything is delicious and this young couple that know David spot him and join us briefly—introductions and laughs only—stand above and do not sit. We all shake hands and then disburse back. We are only ten feet from the door and the whistling Philadelphian street above, but we may as well be in Paris. (Just like Franklin on his sabbatical of negotiation and play.) We each take our final mouthful in unison. It’s dim and I’m feeling older by the moment. We pay the bill and stand.

Probing for that extra bounce in my wobbled step we ascend the exterior staircase. “Alright, Thanks for a great evening”, I say.

“Let’s walk towards David’s house and we can grab a cab”, my dad to me from behind. As we walk, passing A.Bar, David remarks “They have great cocktails here,” and points through the glass window. I thought we were done. We are not done. “Let’s go.”   And so the night continues on. ___________________________________________________________________________________


We sit at the bar and I take turns glancing between the cocktail menu and the bar line. This bar is the exact opposite of Franklin in atmosphere. Not better, not worse, each has a distinctive vibration that pulls a patron into its pleasantly unique seat. A.Bar is a bright beacon in the night and the street-level windows revive my dim-lit hypnosis. It’s not that crowded, but the atmosphere is alive—directly due to an attentive barman—and I feel that. A.Vod, what’s that? I think to myself and then ask our server.

“That’s our house vodka. Made special for us by Philadelphia Distilling Company. Makes a great Vesper and compliments their gin, Bluecoat,” he tells me.

“I’ll take it.”

My dad orders the same, forgetting about his three-day fast beginning with the sunrise. (Back on my side.) David orders something else. Shit, I keep forgetting to take pictures, you know, in case I want to write about this. Did I get any at Franklin? No. (The barman’s right in front of me. I don’t want to pull out my phone.)

I lean against the bar and spy with my bibulous eye a bottle of yet to be released Bluecoat barrel-aged gin. The barman sees me. “Just got slipped a bottle. Isn’t out yet. Wanna taste on the side of your Vesper?”

Yeses all around. You can definitely taste the oak barrel and its taste is complex and long. Barrel-aged gin is becoming more and more popular and I have taken to it, adding it to my tool belt of tactics used for converting those more suited to whiskies and brown liquors to our Siren Juniper.

Probably time to hit the pillow: the look I give me dad as the last drop of Vesper goes down my throat. Yes, he seems to silently say.

The Spirit of Gin Releases This Tuesday

We, at The Spirit of Gin, are very excited as we gear up for the 11/11/14 release of the book. Come on by the Oyster House from 12-2pm on Saturday 11/15 for a book signing and oysters.

In the meantime check out this antique recipe for a gin fizz variation we dug up from The Gentleman’s Companion, Volume II, Being an Exotic Drinking Book (Charles H. Baker Jr., 1939):

Aziz Special Gin Fizz

“Put 1 to 11⁄2 tsp. of sugar into the shaker, add 2 jiggers of dry or Old Tom gin— to preference—the juice of 1 small lemon, 1 pony of thick cream and 1 tbsp. of fresh egg white. Put in lots of finely cracked ice, shake hard and long, turn into a big goblet leaving a few ice lumps floating. Add 2 or 3 good dashes of orange flower water. Now fill up with chilled Number 1 grade club soda. Stir once. Serve immediately and drink soon, thereafter, since no gin fizz gains virtue even from brief neglect.”

I’m not sure I want to tell you how great Philadelphia really is…


Part One

It’s a Wednesday night, and only two days previous had I witnessed the new gin menu at the Oyster House and made plans to return there, with my dad, Buz, as soon as possible. And now here we are, ready for our adventure. With fifty-two gins lining the middle shelf behind the bar I immediately recognize some favorites, while simultaneously squinting at a few bottles unknown to me. (Even with glasses my vision disappoints me.) After studying the bar we are seated at a table and look across at each other in a bewilderment so deep it only results in silence—so many choices. Standing at our seats, looking back across the room to the bar, I eye a bottle of Beefeater’s Reserve gin that just happens to be a gin I have not tried. I ask our waiter if the bartender wouldn’t mind offering a suggestion with that particular highly sought-after modern gin. Should it be sipped on the rocks? Is it too fine for a cocktail? The answer is no, and he returns shortly with a Martinez, the antecedent to the martini. My dad’s St. George gin martini arrives in crystalline style with a twist, but I must say, not nearly as pretty as mine. Both cocktails are surefire successes and the long half-week begins to recede with the sunlight. We sip our own then each other’s.

We eat oysters from Wellfleet, Massachusetts, lobster from I’m not sure where, and some of the best French fries I’ve found in town. It’s time for our second cocktail. I must choose something different, something new. But then again, as I stand, I do recognize that beautiful brown medicinal bottle with the stamped label proclaiming “Monkey 47”—a personal favorite from Germany and coincidentally, expensive. My dad is treating. What will the barman make me with that? I know I enjoy it straight, so what wonders will he twist back there? My dad orders a beer…(Have I lost him?)

Our smiling waiter returns, places the beer down, then turns toward me and, lowering the martini glass.

“This here is an aviation cocktail.”

“Thank you,” I say. Now to be perfectly honest, the aviation, in the past, has not been my favorite cocktail. Always too sweet, not enough character. I raise the glass hesitantly and with the first sip immediately realize I have never had a great aviation. I offer it across the table and my dad’s hand meets the glass (I’ll get him back on my side). As we finish our drinks and our meal, a friend arrives: David. It seems everyone knows him and he knows most as well. He stands with a fresh spirited manner and sways above the table, waiting for us to settle up and stand. We are having another drink….


I will be joyously participating in a book signing/oyster/gin celebration on November 15th during their renowned brunch (more details to come).



Drunk on Disney Feature

One of the joys I’ve found journeying into the world of spirits is the kindness and communal attitude of those I’ve sought out for info and advice. Most are more than willing to lend me their time, wisdom, and support. For that reason, in the true spirit of gin, I will be interweaving features from other gurus and gin advocates within the stories of my personal gin-ventures.

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Guy Hutchinson about his glorious podcast Drunk on Disney. I’ve always loved both Disney World and Land, but never thought I’d be able to combine this love with my love of gin. I was wrong.

Every week on Drunk on Disney, Dana Snyder (voice actor on Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Disney’s Fish Hooks, and Epic Mickey 2) chats with fellow “Disney nerds” Guy Hutchinson and Bart Scott as they try out a different Disney signature drink each episode. Grab the ingredients and you can play at home as you listen to them chat about Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney movies and whatever else comes to mind.

Without further ado, the rest of this post is all Guy Hutchinson:


The Magic Kingdoms of Gin

People who aren’t regular Disney park visitors don’t usually understand the correlation between Disney and alcohol. Many non-visitors assume there is no booze behind the Mouse’s gates.

They are wrong.

It’s no surprise, really. Walt Disney himself was rather fond of drinking. He loved Mint Juleps and drank a Scotch Mist regularly at the end of the work day.

But why serve hard liquor at a place full of screaming children? BECAUSE IT’S FULL OF SCREAMING CHILDREN!

Disney serves alcohol (in some form or other) in EVERY ONE of its U.S. parks.

We will get to all of that. But first, let’s make a gin drink!

Monorail Pink 

1¼ ounces gin

1¼ ounces pineapple juice

1¼ ounces orange juice

1 ounce grenadine

½ ounce lemon bar mix

1½ ounces heavy cream

¾ cup crushed ice

orange slice

maraschino cherry

Directions: Mix gin, fruit juices, grenadine, lemon bar mix, and heavy cream in a blender with ice. Blend for 10 seconds. Pour into a tall glass. Garnish with orange slice and cherry.

This is a classic Disney drink and named after one of Walt Disney World’s famous monorails. There were several different monorail drinks—Monorail Purple, Monorail Yellow, Monorail Red—that were served for many years at the Top of the World, the supper club that for many years featured top celebrity entertainment, dancing and fine cocktails. It closed in the early 1990s. Today there is a Top of the World Lounge in another location at Walt Disney World, but it’s not the same place.

To tell a brief history of alcoholic beverages in Disney Parks we must go back to the very first park, Disneyland, in fabulous Anaheim, California.

Disneyland has a private (and outrageously expensive) club named Club 33. Walt decided to create the restaurant after spending time at the 1963-64 World’s Fair where he noticed the fantastic V.I.P. lounges where corporations wooed their clients.

But even before that, there was already booze in this park, so to speak. The Pirates of the Caribbean sang “drink up me hearties, yo ho,” and we all know the clowns got Dumbo and Timothy smashed on champagne before he took flight.

But guests had no chance to imbibe until Walt’s idea for what became Club 33.

Sadly, Walt passed away a year before Club 33 opened. Disneyland continues to serve alcohol in Club 33 but also has a park-wide liquor license and will serve alcohol for private parties.

If you can get into Club 33, you’ll see that they have a full bar. I hear the Bombay Sapphire Gin Martini is great, by the way.

And if you can’t afford the membership fee to Club 33, no worries! Disneyland has another park about three-hundred feet away called Disney’s California Adventure. The gem of Disney’s California Adventure is the Carthay Circle. Modeled after a long-gone movie palace from the glory days of Hollywood, the Carthay is about as high-end as Disney gets. It’s odd to see tourists in tank tops in such a pristine establishment, but maybe that’s what makes it so much fun.

They make a fine Pimm’s Punch. You can make your own by mixing ½ – 1 oz. Pimm’s No. 1 Liqueur, ½ oz. Plymouth gin, and 4 oz. strawberry lemonade. Pour in a glass and garnish with a strawberry.

They also make some mighty fine Gin Martinis with large crystal-clear ice globes to keep them cold.

If you haven’t had enough yet, there are some great bars at the nearby Disney hotels. The greatest of these (and in the running for the greatest of all Disney bars) is Trader Sam’s. This amazing tiki oasis has some of the finest rum drinks you can imagine. Gin lovers may want to go off menu and ask for a Suffering Bastard, which has gin mixed in with several fine rums.

Hop across the country to Orlando, Florida, and most trips start off at Magic Kingdom. This park was totally teetotaling when it opened in 1971. Then, in 2012, they announced the addition of wines and beers to the Be Our Guest restaurant’s dinner offerings.

For gin, however, you must go elsewhere.

The first (and most obvious) choice for gin drinks is EPCOT Center. EPCOT’s World Showcase is a collection of mini countries, each with their own culture, their own cuisine, and their own cocktails.

Go to the United Kingdom for an English Rose made with Beefeater Gin. Then jaunt over to Japan where you can get a Sake Martini with vodka or gin. Heck, they even do an event every year called EPCOT’s International Food and Wine Festival, where dozens of other nations are added in the form of beautifully themed food trucks.

At Food and Wine you can get a wonderful Singapore Sling made with Hendrick’s Gin, and then head over to the American section of the park where a wonderful amphitheater features top acts from the past performing their hits.

You might even see the Gin Blossoms.

Animal Kingdom park has several bars including a Rainforest Cafe which, despite their desire to put the putrid 99 Bananas Liquor in everything, makes some fine cocktails and stocks some tasty gins.

Last of the parks, but not last of the gin, is Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The finest place for gin here is the opulent Brown Derby. Much like the Carthay on the West Coast, this is pure class. Get a gin and tonic with your favorite brand and sit and admire the famous caricatures on the wall.

Top the night off at one of the numerous hotel bars. One of my favorites is the Turf Club at the Saratoga Springs resort. The gin-fueled Three Minutes to Post Time is a favorite of mine.

Walt Disney World uses “World” in its name and often you do indeed feel like you have left Earth and gone to a separate planet. It’s a little of the past, a little of the future, and a lot of gin.


Guy Hutchinson has worked as a radio talk-show host and personality on WHWH and WMGQ radio in New Jersey, and is currently the co-host of the podcasts Drunk on Disney, Adventure Club, Flux Capaci-cast, and Camel Clutch Cinema. Over the years he has interviewed Mick Foley, Bernie Kopell, Andy Richter, Bebe Neuwirth, Joe Camp, Marvin Kaplan, Robbie Rist and many other entertainment figures. A blogger since 2004, Guy blogs irregularly on and is the sole correspondent for the Ken PD Snydecast Experience. You can follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and find links to all of his work on


DC Draws Me Back

Erik Holzherr surprises me with an invitation to his Gin Club launch-party at Wisdom, one of his popular Washington D.C. establishments. I think it is an outstanding idea to create a club dedicated to the prosperity of juniper juice—with specials, rewards, and an incredible selection—all for the average gin-lover. I make arrangements and head down from Philadelphia to stay with my old friend Katie from Quaker boarding school. I enter, and the bar, which I last left in a dream state, is now packed. Another dream.

Wisdom's bar sans guests

Wisdom’s bar sans guests

Characters line the walls and the wooden bar. Two DC suits talk politics in the corner over spilt gin; a smiling thirty-something man darts through the crowd procuring his lady a cocktail; three women sitting towards the back listen to a rep from a distillery; and all the space-fillers fill their spaces. It is bursting.

I suddenly see Erik, whose warm smile makes me ready for the night. I gift him a bottle of Monkey 47, one of my favorite gins, and he thanks me and stashes it behind the bar. Katie has come along and I, looking around the room, begin to fear that she doesn’t know what she’s in for—room-temperature gin! But I am wrong. She moves through the stations beside me with grace as we taste Nolet’s, Green Hat, Leopold’s, and Bluecoat, all at room temperature—the worst way to enjoy gin. We listen as each distillery’s delegate explains the processes involved in crafting their spirits. At the end of the tasting route I head to order us gin & (house-made) tonics. Up my straw it goes as I turn back from the bar, and my taste buds remember with immediacy that real tonic is an entirely different story, earthy and pleasantly medicinal. I have come a long way from the soda-gun tonics in cheap bars of my disappearing past. The taste is bitter and deep and I know if I give it a moment I will prefer the sophistication. By the time I return Katie is knee-deep in DC political debate, standing her ground before those two gentlemen in dark suits. Have gin and politics gone arm-in-arm for all of history? They seem like the guys running the country—at least wishfully trying to from far off. I approach and hand Katie her murky g&t. With the first sip her face bunches a bit at the surprisingly authentic tonic. I turn to the two men—can I contribute anything? Close up, one is smart and the other not so much. The not-smart one rocked a lot and kept sticking his ear-buds in, interjecting occasionally. A bunch of ideas about educational progress and the worries about it never happening were being thrown around. The means and direction to make it happen. I want to help. I cannot.

One of wisdom's chill seating areas sans guests

One of wisdom’s chill seating areas sans guests

Looking off into the pulsating bar, it becomes clear—I have come a long way from my generic martini orders of the past. Gin really is alive. It is explosive and I am inside; rather I am finding my way inside. I am happy this has come to me, and as I stand here I realize that collecting knowledge is almost as important as creating it. All that is done is lost in the end without a pen—I hope I’m recording it. I hope I’m doing it justice.

Four Pillars Gin

Since submitting The Spirit of Gin manuscript to Cider Mill Press in June (it releases November, 2014), I have continued to find new and interesting gins. It appears that one’s work is never done when investigating the modern gin revival, especially when the movement itself is just getting its legs—and man, do they have muscles!

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Stuart Gregor and Cameron Mackenzie, whose Australia-based team has created a line of gins under the label Four Pillars. I have never been to Australia, but I consider it one of my outstanding final frontiers. Home to mammoth waves, collective world histories, and my personal nemesis: the great white. And now, Oz has become a beacon of gin’s bright future. I am very interested to get the scoop on the evolving scene and where it’s headed. Four Pillars opened their doors and started rolling out their gin label in 2013. And not long after opening, they added a small-batch barrel-aged variety.

Four Pillars

Four Pillars

From across the globe I ask Cameron if he has found the perfect tonic to compliment Four Pillars’ gin and, if not, whether he and his team would ever consider crafting their own.

“Actually our whole project started out with tonic water!” Cameron said. “We were disgruntled gin drinkers appalled at the choice of tonic in Australia—this is going back about three years.  So we started investigating tonic-water production.  This lasted about three weeks before we thought, ‘Bugger it! Let’s make gin!’ ”

I ask what existing tonics suit his fancy.

“I think the top tonic waters we have here are Fever Tree (Mediterranean and Indian), Quina Fina from NZ, and Capi, which is a local Aussie tonic.  They all work well with our gin. We also like Q Tonic from the US. I think we will revisit the tonic project once we move into our new distillery home, which should be in the first half of 2015 at Healesville in the heart of the Yarra Valley, just forty minutes or so from Melbourne.  I’m not sure it will be a commercial thing, but some syrups would be cool.”

Their ambition is astounding and brings a smile to my face, recognizing once again that the entrepreneurial spirit has overtaken the distilling industry. Australia is one of the few countries whose gins I have not had the opportunity to sample, and I am curious about the region’s character when it comes to gin.

I ask, “Does Australia have a modern gin style that defines the region? And also, where is your juniper sourced from?”

“I don’t think there is any one style to define Australian gin,” Cameron replies, “but there are several styles that are quite different from a classic London Dry. Our intention always was to create a modern Australian gin.  This is quite different from ‘Australiana,’ which is a little cringe-worthy.  We looked at a lot of great menus and spoke to several chefs about what the term ‘modern Australian’ meant, and we came to the conclusion that it is a unique celebration of cultures.  A great modern Australian menu draws inspiration from all around the world.  So after distilling around eighty botanicals, we arrived at ten—European juniper (ours is from Macedonia, Kosovo and Germany), spices from Southeast Asia to the Middle East (coriander, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon), a couple of nice Australian botanicals (the ones that worked best with our gin were Lemon Myrtle and Tasmanian pepper berry leaf), and finally a lovely Mediterranean lift with the fresh oranges.”

I find the last ingredient especially intriguing, as in the course of my research I have not found many distillers using whole fruits.

“What led you to choose whole oranges as a botanical?” I ask.

“We were playing with dried orange peel from various places but it looked out of place.  It seems to show a weird candied character that didn’t sit well with the other spices. So Klaus Hagmann from CARL Distilleries suggested fresh organic oranges.  It was a revelation!  The softer character balances very nicely and has a lovely aromatic lift.”

Prior to the interview, I had also noted that Four Pillars does not let the oranges go to waste after distilling—they have partnered up with a local shop that repurposes their oranges into marmalade.

“What is the process of turning the gin-soaked oranges into your marmalade?” I ask. “Does the marmalade have alcoholic content?”

“Sadly, it’s alcohol-free.  We take the gin-steamed oranges to a local jam maker [the renowned Cunliffe & Waters] who weave their magic and make the most delicious marmalade.  They add a small amount of pectin because this has been distilled out during the gin run. We’ve also done a Breakfast Negroni Marmalade by adding some Campari to the pot—that one does have the tiniest amount of alcohol, but you’d need to consume ten jars at breakfast to get a giggle.”

I love seeing the communal nature by which many of the start-up distillers share with those around them, as well as with those connected in this digital age from afar.

“In my travels I’ve been surprised by the community I’ve found around distilling in general and gin specifically. As a relatively new distillery, what has your experience been in Australia?”

“There’s a great bunch of distillers here—many people would be surprised there’s now more than fifty craft distillers in Oz and it’s growing every day.  There are whisky distillers, particularly in Tasmania, who have been around for a while and they are building quite a reputation.  A few really great gin producers are also making waves.  The main thing is that we need to work together to grow the category and awareness in Australia and then we will be set to take on the world.  Australians are quite a loyal lot so once consumers realize we can make world-class spirits, they will take great pride in supporting the industry.  The current distillers seem willing to work together to create that category. And we are great travelers; we have to go a long way to see the rest of the world, so we are, and always intend to be, enthusiastic exporters. We hope to be in the US by the middle of 2015.”

I will be waiting patiently.

As I am always interested in what auxiliary cocktail ingredients distillers prefer, I decide to ask about one of my favorites.

“When making a Negroni with your barrel-aged gin, what brand of vermouth is preferred?”

“I think the Carpano Antica Formula is pretty special, but maybe drop the dose by about one third—it’s very powerful.  I also love the Cocchi gear.  There are a couple of good Australian vermouths starting to appear, too.  Maidenii [from Bendigo] is delicious, and Causes & Cures [from the Yarra Valley] is very impressive.”


Four Pillars Barrel-Aged Gin

Barrel-aged gin has also been creeping its way into many distillers’ arsenals recently, and I am forever curious about the decisions and choices one has to make that affect the aging process.

“Why did Four Pillars choose to use French oak barriques specifically?”

“Our background was in the wine industry, so we felt the finer character of French oak would suit our aromatics better than American or Slovenian oak.  We sourced some seasoned French oak chardonnay barrels, and the trials were brilliant.  We had a hunch they would work well.  Our benchmarks for barrel-aged gin were the Beefeater Burrough Reserve and the Ransom Old Tom.  Both have power and elegance but they remain clearly gin.  The last thing we wanted was for the oak to overwhelm the botanicals.”

Just to get an idea of the detail that goes into the aging process, I ask, “What is the benefit of blending your barrel-aged gin after letting it rest instead of before? Do you find that each barrel imparts slightly unique characteristics?”

“Definitely. Each barrel seems to develop slightly different characters.  Some showed amazing preserved lemon and citrus, others picked up the cinnamon and star anise.  It’s been a great learning curve, and we are slowly filling more barrels to see how they develop. We now have a solera system of ten barrels and one of them is a brand new barrel from Mercury [the copper] and while it is overwhelmingly “oaky” it makes an amazing blending component alongside the more seasoned barrels which have much softer characteristics.” 

Getting the chance to speak with a distiller outside the United States prompts me to ask a final question to the point of whether US distillers should be envious of their peers across the oceans.

“I know in the States some distilleries have gone to great lengths to be able to sell directly to consumers. Was this an obstacle for Four Pillars?”

“Out of all the obstacles we faced, this one wasn’t too bad.  Liquor Licensing allows us to sell from our website as well as via a cellar door, so it’s reasonably flexible.  We launched our brand via a crowdsourcing site called Pozible.  This helped build a small but enthusiastic community that has stayed with us from day one.  We keep our community interested with small-batch releases of interesting things.  Most recently it was a barrel-aged gin that sold out in a few days. People in Oz can buy our gins pretty easily from”

I thank both Stuart and Cameron for their time, wisdom, and drive to make something profound. I sure do hope a bottle or two of Four Pillars reaches US shores. I will certainly keep my eye out for ships on the horizon.

Morimoto Knows Gin

I have always enjoyed dining at Morimoto, one of Philadelphia’s finest restaurants. Whenever I find a few extra pennies (or hundreds) in my pocket, I find myself being drawn to the Iron Chef’s table for delectable fare and the atmospheric setting he has cultivated. I usually enjoy a Beefeater martini up with a twist—sometimes a 50:50, sometimes less vermouth—and olives on the side. I like the combination, but I don’t think olives belong in my martini. But on my latest venture, I was delighted to hear that a special gin offering was on the menu. Here’s how it went down:

My wife, Katie, and I decide it’s a night for celebrating. After all, we have a rare entire evening to spend together. Most nights I’m sitting in a dark room with no windows working with recording artists of all genres and ranks until late night. I had just finished two 12-hour days with a notable Philadelphia vocal group whom I had the pleasure of tantalizing with my vast collection of up and coming gins (but that’s a whole other story). Half dazed, I walk alongside Katie anticipating a glorious meal. We arrive early and enter through the translucent green doors to be greeted by the hostess. A giant stereoscopic wiggle picture of a lovely young woman’s face follows us as we walk up. Her eyes seem to say, “You want sushi! Sushi and sex!” Our table is not ready, but this is a great excuse to have a pre-meal cocktail in the upstairs bar. We ascend, Katie then I. Wooden panels—curved in ways that seem impossible—line the one wall which features a starship-like window opening to the diners below. Looking out, the walls are a sea of spoons scooping at the air; the sushi is that good.

Mori 3

I order my 50:50 martini (half vermouth, half gin) and Katie gets a glass of prosecco (she’s not a full-blown gin maniac like me—yet), and we recline in a shady corner. Most of the way through our cocktails our table is ready. Our hostess kindly takes our drinks and places them on a tray. As I walk through the main dining room behind Katie’s sylphlike stride, my sleep-deprived dream-state has its way with me; frosted tables glow relaxing shades of color and fade from one into the next slowly, enough to make you wonder if you are going mad. Are the tables changing colors, or is it just my eyes? I need food. We sit at a glowing blue table with a faux candle jutting up and humming, dead center.

As I finish my first martini and prepare to order another, our waitress alerts me of a cocktail special. Fingers crossed…let it be gin…let it be gin. “We have a featured cocktail tonight. Tonight’s gin fizz is comprised of Bombay Sapphire, lemon, cherry blossom liqueur, cherry blossom bitters, frothed egg white, and topped with hibiscus sugar.”

“I’ll take it, alongside a yellowtail scallion roll and the Morimoto Sashimi for both of us, please.” The cocktail arrives, then our food. I am pleased to see that my cocktail’s appearance matches the curving walls and sidereal feel Morimoto so successfully pulls off. A sprinkle of fuchsia hibiscus sugar lies on top of the white froth as the gin sits in wait below—a pool of yellow-green goodness. (Maybe that was just the table’s glow shining up). I take a sip, then a bite, then another sip. On the first sip the juice is a little sweeter than I usually take my cocktails, but exotic and delicious all the same. The post-yellowtail sip is perfect; it complements the roll impeccably. This pairing, admittedly, is merely a wonderful coincidence for which I take no credit. And I leave neither a drop nor a crumb.

Mori 1

I do not know if Morimoto’s cocktail-smith plans on crafting gin-headed bar specials in the future, but I am hopeful, and this night reaffirms my belief in gin’s reclaimed and growing stature everywhere, from mom-and-pop bars to the Iron Chef himself.

Expatriate’s Day

It’s the 4th of July and I’m celebrating America’s independence with an Italian and an Austrian, among others, which makes me wonder: shouldn’t we just be celebrating being alive and being human? What are borders anyway, but artificial lines drawn on the map separating people from others who are more similar to them than they’d like to admit? Over time the boundaries shift, disappear, and are laid down anew in a flux of war and peace, business and barter.

One thing that is becoming obvious, however, is that gin knows no borders. From Spain’s newfound love of gourmet gin and tonics to America’s explosion of new distilleries and gin bars, juniper juice is flowing all over the globe. Today, even in Pennsylvania where the state government controls all liquor sales, we have access to a growing variety of gins.

Our group of six is sitting on the roof-deck of Mamou in Philadelphia. Before arriving I knew nothing of Mamou’s cocktails, but I quickly assess that we have wandered into a gem of a bar. It’s a beautifully cool July evening and the sun is creeping back and forth on the surrounding buildings’ faces, occasionally falling into the spaces between and onto the sidewalk below. We are a story above the street, removed from tourist entanglement.

My first tipple is the “expatriate” (fitting, I think, in the moment), a cocktail comprised of Pimms, gin, lemon, mint tea, and cucumber. After a short period of time, it seems as though a few regulars unwittingly lead some watchful tourists to our hideout, and the place begins buzzing. As our waiter comes to take our food order I ask what type of gin is used in my drink, and he tells me Gordon’s (a classic London dry style gin). Not exotic, I think, but for this cocktail it is perfect. It supplies the quintessential juniper base, but lets the other ingredients shine over top.



I order and receive a Cajun favorite, the shrimp boil—shrimp, corn on the cob, potatoes, and Vidalia onions alongside a grilled piece of rustic bread. I finish up and am ready for my next cocktail—a “witchhammer,” made with gin (again Gordon’s), Strega, apple, lemon, and mint.



“What’s that cocktail called,” Davide asks me from across the table.

I look down for my menu to make sure I get it right, but George is quicker and replies, “A witchhammer.” I see Davide scan the bar menu and then smile.

“Ah, Strega!” he exclaims. “You know that means ‘witch’ in Italian.”

“Ahhhhh, witchhammer,” we all say, “that makes sense!”

“What is Strega?” I ask Davide.

“It’s an Italian liqueur digestif made with a lot of herbs including saffron, which gives it a yellow tint,” Davide explains. Where would I be without my expatriates?

Any Philadelphian in search of stellar cocktails and Cajun fare would be well advised to check out Mamou.

Mamou Group

Cocktails in South Beach

On a recent trip to Miami I was introduced to another fabulous bar, the Regent Cocktail Club, which is hidden in the back of the Gale South Beach hotel. Here’s how the night unfolded. . . .

It is 11 p.m. and I am joined by my father, stepmother, wife, and a newly discovered cousin. As we walk through the hotel and past a number of guest retreats, I wonder exactly where we are headed…to someone’s room? Then, at the hall’s end, we take a few steps down and the mood dims and shifts with immediacy.

As we enter the room we are surrounded by clusters of people gathered in shadows under faint lighting, seated around cocktail tables or bellied up to the bar, all betrothed to cocktails and conversation. The room feels old fashioned compared to the rest of Art Deco-heavy South Beach, with plush leather seating and Edison bulbs giving off an antiquated tone. The air crackles as a live band covers classic Cuban sunny-day tunes.

The bartender also seems foreign to Miami—down-to-earth, friendly, and with a floppy fisherman’s hat shadowing his eyes as he has his way with the ingredients. He tells me the cocktail menu often changes with the sunset. (I’ll try to not get too attached, I think). Although the room is crowded, we five find a table right in front of the band. It’s the mastermind trick of a stellar venue—make it feel packed and alive, but have enough space for everyone to recline. My wife notices the singer reading his lyrics off an iPad and, despite that faux pas, missing some of them. Though the band may be giving a half-hearted performance, it does not matter—the bar is alive with a beautifully soft and subtle energy.


Before I have a chance to peruse the gin cocktails, my cousin suggests a Pisco sour (a cocktail that originated in Peru and spread to become a modern Miami favorite). The cocktail is made with Pisco Capel, frothed egg white, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, and Angostura bitters. I pull it down (it’s delicious!) in hopes of getting in a gin cocktail before the night is through. I notice a bottle of St. George Terroir gin behind the bar—one of my favorites, produced out of California—and decide to order a martini up with a twist. The bartender kindly obliges. Although the martini is great, it is the ambiance that will make this venue a sure stop for me on my next visit.

And if you should find yourself in Miami, but looking for a brief respite from Miami, you can always try the Regent. Just be sure to order before sunset!

Bond, James “Vesper” Bond

Although most of us had our fingers crossed that the rumors involving actor Kevin Spacey playing the next Bond villain were true, Spacey recently rejected the notion. So any hope of hero and villain sitting down together in a tense tete-a-tete over a vesper martini has been lost—at least with Spacey’s smirk looming above. Still, we’re keeping our hopes up because in Hollywood, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Speaking of rumors, while rumor has it that James Bond always drank vodka martinis, the fact is that the gin-heavy vesper martini was his first, as seen in author Ian Fleming’s debut Bond novel, Casino Royale, published in 1953. So for true 007 aficionados, the name Bond will always evoke the image of this quintessential gin martini—perhaps the most famous cocktail imbibed in literature.

Here is the recipe for the original Dukes Bar vesper martini that Bond’s creator, author Ian Fleming, enjoyed in the famous London establishment:

Vesper Martini

•3 oz. Gordon’s gin

•1 oz. vodka

•1⁄2 oz. Kina Lillet (Lillet Blanc is the closest modern production)

•Lemon peel garnish

•Optional dash of bitters

Directions: Combine all ingredients into a shaker and shake, strain into a martini glass, and add garnish.

*See The Spirit of Gin book for Alessandro Palazzi’s vesper martini (Dukes style) recipe.


Another point of interest for Bond fans is his “shaken, not stirred” catchphrase. In my travels I have run into many bartenders who strongly oppose this technique, along with those who claim it is effective. The opposition’s main argument is that shaking a martini can produce undesired chips of ice and can “bruise” the gin, although the term bruise is a bit of a misnomer. Their real concern is that more ice—especially if made using subpar tap water—will dilute the cocktail and cloud its crystalline complexion. Since the advent of freezers, many establishments—including famous destinations like Harry’s Bar (Venice, Italy) and Dukes Bar (London, England)—have opted to keep their gin cold in the freezer, negating the need for ice altogether. However, there are two sides to every story, and those who promote martinis that are “shaken, not stirred” swear that the technique makes for a sharper-tasting cocktail, and that, if using quality ice, the process of ice melting will actually open up the nose of any cocktail with high-alcohol content.

Whatever side of the debate you fall, just know that you are absolutely correct. Because there’s no wrong way to enjoy gin!