Posted: Apr 17, 2007 1:50pm ETDay Two: In a Cairo Smoking Lounge
Imagine an open air bar with tarps for ceilings (sort of like the ones they use for Connecticut shade tobacco). Divans are everywhere, with patrons lying out and smoking from hookahs. It’s sort of the same mental image you get from the phrase opium den, but everyone’s smoking tobacco—flavored tobacco, but tobacco nonetheless.
A waiter comes and gives you a pallet of different tastes, most of which are fruity—cherry, apricot, orange—with some vanilla and spice choices as well. There’s also something labeled with Arabic characters that the waiter pronounces as “ass” and another one called “ass Africa.” For obvious reasons, I pass on those. In my group we order a combination of the above flavors not prefaced with “ass” and the smokemaster arrives to light the pipes. He does this with a chunk of lit charcoal, removing the mouthpiece from the hose so he can fire up your tobacco and hand you it to start puffing.
The smoke is quite mild and easy to inhale due to the cooling effect of the water in the hookah. Mainly, the fruit flavor comes through, which is quite insipid, but I don’t mention this as I don’t want to seem the ugly American. Best shuffle off and enjoy a cigar elsewhere.
Day Three: Aswan
The answer to my earlier question about whether you could smoke in an ancient Egyptian temple is no, but you can come right up to the door with a cigar. Also, vendors selling everything from robes to hookahs to turbans and skull caps can hound you right up to the door of the temple.
Day Four: Edfu
The ceiling of the Temple of Horus is charred with smoke, and naturally I get blamed:
“No, I didn’t have a cigar, honey.”
“Then why is the ceiling all black?”
“How do I know? Maybe some kid went nuts with a Magic Marker.”
Posted: Apr 13, 2007 4:27pm ETDay One of my trip to Egypt to cruise the Nile, tour guide informs our group:
''You've probably noticed that people smoke everywhere here. We'll try to shield you from that, but bear in mind that you're only a group of 50 nonsmokers surrounded by 70 million smokers.''
Hee, hee, hee. Little does she know. Make that 49 nonsmokers.
Also they don't actually smoke everywhere. Museums and mosques are off limits. Haven't visited a pyramid yet. Will report on that situation.
Bad new is the wine's pretty bad and no brown water so far.
But good beer.
Posted: Apr 11, 2007 12:13am ETSince starting at Cigar Aficionado 10 years ago, I’ve played a game with myself that I call Seen Smoking. It doesn’t involve any equipment and the action is fairly simple: watch others smoking cigars. And it can be done anywhere: on my walk down Park Avenue to work, sitting in Madison Square, standing on the train platform, sunning on an island beach, even watching television in the den. It’s a form of solitaire for which you only need happenstance and powers of observation.
What makes it interesting is the scoring—which is totally subjective. I judge a sighting on two criteria: how interesting it is and how relatively positive or negative it is to the image of smoking. If you see someone smoking outside a building next to one of those ash cans that the nanny state provides for misplaced smokers as if they were back in high school at the designated smoking area, that’s a pretty bland sighting and has a base-level score of about a 3 on the 10-point scale. If he’s smoking an unusual cigar (either in brand or shape) add a couple points. If he’s a she, always add 5 points. An especially long ash can also earn an point or two. If the smoker is unkempt or offensive (blowing smoke in the faces of passersby, for instance) I subtract points as he’s running down our image. (Of course, you can make up your own scoring criteria, if you want to play at home.)
Sightings in unusual places get added points. Once I saw a construction worker use a lunch break to enjoy a perfecto high up on a steel girder while his colleagues munched on sandwiches yards away. That was an 8. Of course, if the location of the sighting is unusual because of its inappropriateness (an emergency room, for instance) you have to subtract points.
Unusual juxtapositions are also good for points. Someone of limited means who has decided to create an island of luxury in an otherwise drab life with a $10 cigar will always get a high score. I’m not sure why, but I don’t reward the well-heeled guy who’s smoking a machine-made cigars similarly. But it’s my game. I did, however, once spy a man in a three-piece suit discreetly tear the band off a Cohiba before he walked it through the park. He scored high for lack of pretension, although in retrospect I suppose he may have been trying to keep from being busted for trading with the enemy.
Posted: Apr 5, 2007 9:31am ETNormally, a picture of the hapless bicyclist going ass over teakettle off the road in the movie “Breaking Away” pops to mind when I think of Cinzano. (Remember the main character idolizes the Italian bicyclists, Team Cinzano, only to have his hero worship repaid with villainy?) Not much of a testimonial for this classic brand of Vermouth, but I digress.
Today, I am thinking of Cinzano because it’s the 250th anniversary of the spirits maker, which is as good a reason as any to revisit this strong product. It seems to me that as a Vermouth, Cinzano tends to take a backseat to Martini & Rossi, which seems to get paired up with gin in Martinis and whiskey in Manhattans an awful lot. I think that’s partially because part of its name is right there in the name of the cocktail: making a Martini, use Martini & Rossi, no-brainer. It’s a good product, too, but cocktailists shouldn’t ignore Cinzano (which ironically is older than M&R) when making classic cocktails, especially the granddaddy of them all, the Manhattan.
In the red Vermouths (and that’s what you want for Manhattans), the difference is largely one of body. M&R is more elegant and delicate, more flowery and fruity. Cinzano is bolder, with a Port taste that really comes through, as well as dates, spices and nuts. Of course, these aren’t the only choices—there’s Noilly Prat, Dolin, Punt e Mes, etc. to consider—but the point is I’m determined to keep an open mind and test different cocktail ingredients.
On a side note, Cinzano has asked chef Brad Farmerie of PUBLIC to create a Cinzano-based recipe. He responded with formulae for olives, ketchup, melon salad and brownies, among other things. You can get them by emailing Brenda Dos Santos at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Any alchemists out there who try them please respond.
Posted: Mar 30, 2007 1:33pm ETIt was bound to happen. The new cocktail culture has been driven by improving ingredients: better spirits, freshly squeezed fruit juices, etc. Now someone has jumped in with “artisinal mixers.” No more store-brand tonic water or ginger ale for Charles Rolls, the former owner of Plymouth Gin. He went out and formed Fever-Tree to ratchet up the quality of high-ball ingredients. Included in his portfolio are bitter lemon, club soda, ginger ale and tonic water.
Haven’t tried the soda or the ginger ale yet, but the tonic and bitter lemon are winners. Lots of out-front taste notes—quinine, coriander, lime, orange in the tonic, lemon, orange, quinine and other botanicals in the bitter lemon.
The name Fever-Tree comes not from the ‘60s rock group that sang “San Francisco Girls,” but from another name for the cinchona tree, which is the original and best source of quinine. Quinine, of course, has been used since the Roman Empire as a prophylactic treatment for malaria. Apparently Brit colonialists discovered it also went well with gin.
Naturally, this isn’t cheap stuff ($5.99 for a four pack of 200-milliliter—6.76 ounces—bottles), but it’s cool to occasionally take your gin and tonic to the concierge level.
Posted: Mar 28, 2007 6:11pm ETWe were so pleased that Michelob was reverting to something like its classic teardrop bottle that Savona, Mike Marsh and I decided that a taste test was in order after work with cigars.
Time well spent.
We had gone into it agreeing that Michelob’s a solid beer that you tend to ignore in the face of the waterfall of new quaffs that have deluged the market since the brewpub rage. In the old days, Michelob was the go-to beer when you wanted to take it up a floor. And it had that classic bottle. “It looks like a lava lamp,” says Marsh. Savona remembered an old bar game where tearing the paper off successfully guaranteed you success in any amorous endeavors of the evening. Just like “step on a crack, break your mother’s back,” it never worked.
We’re pleased to report the beer in the new old Michelob bottle doesn’t disappoint, and drinking in the office (with cigars) is way better than going to the local watering hole. Furthermore Mich is back to its original recipe: all malt.
It’s rich and bright at the same time. Perfect for those early Spring days when you’re dreaming of the beach. Which we are, a gentle wind wafting cigar smoke across our faces on its way out the window.
Posted: Mar 25, 2007 2:33pm ETHow I got to this state on a Sunday afternoon:
About two weeks ago, arrives on my desk a bottle of St.-Germain, a liqueur made from elderflowers and packaged in an outrageously cool-looking bottle that looks like one of those spaceships rendered in cartoons before they had spaceships. I’ve been dying to try it since.
Today, it’s sitting there on the counter mocking me just as the clock strikes noon. The hour is now! Crack it open and take a whiff. Obviously, very flowery, but also sweet and a bit fruity, but not overpoweringly so—like pears or peaches—with the slightest nuttiness. The scent doesn’t disappoint on the tongue. It’s a classy little product, befitting Rob Cooper, known for Chambord, who developed it using fresh macerated Alpine elderflowers, wine eau de vie and some sugar.
This is made for a cocktail. But which? Go to the web for help. It’s pretty new stuff so I’m not finding a lot of suggestions. Then locate 14 recipes at this address, supplied by a Simon Diffords, who runs a cocktail site called Diffords Guides and is the UK brand manager for St.-Germain.
Scroll through the possibilities, eliminating them as I go along:
The St. Germain Cocktail—contains Sauvignon Blanc wine, out of the question
French 77—unwilling to crack a bottle of Champagne to make one cocktail
Left Bank—don’t have the requisite Plymouth gin
Right Bank—again Sauvignon Blanc
The Stig—calvados AND Sauvignon Blanc
Daisy Cutter Martini—sounds intriguing but contains Green Chartreuse
Saint Germain Sidecar—Almost drawn in, but then find, hidden at the end of the list, this:
Posted: Mar 16, 2007 1:14pm ETTime: March 13, 7 p.m.
Location: Back room of Dos Caminos Mexican restaurant and bar specializing in tequila, between 26th and 27th streets on New York’s Park Avenue.
Atmosphere: Hot, hot appetizers and hot blondes—rock’n’roll-groupie-caliber hot blondes—everywhere.
Enter Sammy Hagar, fresh from his Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame induction the night before. Most of the Van Halen standouts hadn’t deigned to show, but who cares about those nancies? The Red Rocker, along with bassist Michael Anthony, is here to work the crowd at the unveiling of the extension to his Cabo Wabo tequila line, Cabo Uno. In a candid frame of mind, he offers to someone curious about his legendary 10,000-bottle wine collection that he’ll “say anything, just ask.”
“What about the first time you got drunk on tequila? Will you talk about that”
“What about it?”
“Did they find you face down in a pool of vomit, not your own?”
“No, but I was 15 and you know that cheap tequila that came in the long thin bottle….?
“You ate the worm?”
“I damn near ate the whole bottle.”
OK, that’s a testimonial. But then he’s off. Hagar’s organoleptic standards have clearly changed in the ensuing 45 years. Tonight he’s rubbing elbows with pals Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali, chef at New York’s Babo Ristorante e Enoteca.
By the time Haggar reaches the back of the room it’s time to introduce the Cabo Uno, an extra anejo tequila, one the category’s newly designated spirits age more than three years. But first Sammy waxes vividly on his long relationship with tequila and—yes—his teenage impropriety and the resulting intimate relationship with a porcelain appliance.
Despite the incident, it seems the Red Rocker was undaunted and made a tequila journey that moved from rot gut to quality blanco tequilas to aged spirits. Along the way, he started Cabo Wabo (named when he witnessed a local in his beloved Cabo San Lucas, Mexico wobbling as he returned from a night of tequila in a cantina. Hagar dubbed it—and his brand—the Cabo Wabo.
Posted: Mar 12, 2007 9:37am ETI’ve recently had an epiphany about a whole class of spirits.
I used to think that flavored vodkas were a scam. At best they were a crutch for people too lazy to squeeze a lemon or an orange into their drink. At worst they were a way to get you to fill your liquor cabinet with a lot of different bottles of essentially the same thing, just different flavors added. Why not just have a big bottle of one of vodka and then add pepper or vanilla or whatever from your cupboard if a cocktail called for it.
Then I tried the Grey Goose La Poire, a pear-flavored vodka. Aside from the fact that I found it delicious, it occurred to me that if I suddenly needed pear flavor for a cocktail I’d be out of luck. Who has essence of pear sitting around his kitchen? I’d be forced buy some pears, and peel, dice and crush them. I’ve have a lot of classic literature i haven't even gotten around to reading, so I’m not very likely to do that. But then here comes Grey Goose with this pear vodka that has this rich essence that you can almost feel on your tongue.
Now I’m thinking, what other great flavored vodkas am I missing out on out of pure prejudice? So I went to visit Claire Smith, who, in from the U.K. recently, is the head mixologist for Moet Hennessy, which owns Belvedere and Chopin Polish vodkas. She poured me a number of cocktails made with the Belvedere flavored vodkas, Pomarancza (mandarin orange) and Cytrus (lemon and lime). One was a Bloody Mary made with fresh cherry tomatoes, a sprig of basil and the Belvedere Cytrus. It blew my mind.
Claire went on to explain to me that the vodkas are so pungent and flavorful because of the care they take in macerating real fruit peels with spirits in a proprietary process, overseen by a flavor artist. I'll buy that. I left her bar converted.
When I got back to the office, what should be awaiting me but a package from Skyy vodka, including their melon, orange and berry vodkas. Coincidence? No, I think kismet.