Booze Muse

The art and craft of liquid inspiration

Agrodolce Vita: Mixing Up Old-Fashioned Shrub for Cocktails and Cures

Tips and Trends No Comments »
Yolanda Raker, Ozark Folk Center/Photo: David Hammond

Yolanda Raker, Ozark Folk Center/Photo: David Hammond

By David Hammond

Shrub. Over the past few years, you’ve probably seen this drink of fruit juice, sugar and vinegar listed on many Chicago cocktail menus. I recently happened upon shrub at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas. The beverage was being prepared by Yolanda Raker, who works at a little herb shop devoted, like many shops in this state park, to the preservation of Ozark folkways.

Shrub—fruit juice, sugar and vinegar in 1:1:1 ratios—came to the Ozarks courtesy of the same folks who created the music of the Ozarks: mostly Irish, Scottish and English immigrants who used a fiddle and banjo to plant British ballads on new soil.

But shrub didn’t originate in the British Isles; it originated in the Moorish empire. “Sharab” is Arabic, translated as “syrup” and “drink” The Moors brought shrub with them when they expanded into Italy and Spain in the tenth century. The Europeans brought shrub with them when they expanded into the New World during the sixteenth century.

Mixing fruit with sugar and vinegar was a way to preserve the fruit (or at least its juice) before commercial ice or refrigeration. The hardest, messiest part of most shrub recipes is the preparation of the juice, which sometimes calls for macerating the fruit in sugar, straining it all through cheese cloth, etc.

But we’re lazy. We simplified the traditional recipe by putting the fruit through a juicer: this may not be an orthodox technique, but it’s fast and simple and so it worked for us. We juiced farmers-market blueberries that were frozen last summer; once we determined how much juice we had, we added equal portions of organic, unbleached sugar and Bragg’s apple cider vinegar. Read the rest of this entry »

Pairing Charcuterie: A Conversation with Joe Fiely of Francesca’s Restaurant Group

Tips and Trends, Wine is Poetry in a Bottle No Comments »

By David Hammond

Charcuterie is our favorite part of the meal. That’s because we’re always hungriest at the start, but also because charcuterie offers such a wide spectrum of flavors. Though these flavors perk the palate, it’s challenging to find one wine that pairs well with, for instance, fresh and ripe cheeses, cured meat and condiments.

Joe Fiely is corporate wine ambassador for Francesca’s Restaurant Group. We ran into him at Davanti Enoteca with some questions about how to pair wines with charcuterie.

Generally, what pairs best with charcuterie—white or red wine?
I love white wines with cheese, in part because they work with a much wider range of cheeses. My favorites are crisp, young whites paired with goat cheese; slightly sweet, off-dry whites with blue cheese; aged and oxidized whites with aged cheeses. With white wines, it’s hard to go wrong. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2013: Drinking

Tips and Trends No Comments »

Top 5 Gin & Tonics
Little Market Brasserie
CH Distillery
—Amber Gibson

Top 5 New Cocktails
Pappy Van Winkle barrel-aged Negroni at The Berkshire Room
Cease and Desist at CH Distillery
Tendron & Lime at Embeya
Cat’s Pajamas at Sepia
Rum River Mystic at Three Dots and a Dash
—Amber Gibson

Amazon.Cocktail: Cedilla puts Açaí into Cachaça for an extra-trendy Brazilian liqueur

Liqueur, Spirits Just Sound Happy, Don't They?, The Fine Art of Mixology, Tips and Trends No Comments »

By Ernest Barteldes

A decade or so ago, the açaí berry was starting to get a lot of attention in Brazil, where many began consuming its pulp in a bowl mixed with granola or other ingredients to benefit from its antioxidant and energetic properties.

Word spread quickly, and soon the fruit—which is taken from palm trees that grow natively in the Amazon region—made its way to the United States market. The first company to exploit it stateside was Sambazon, an American company that specializes in exotic tropical fruit. Açaí has come to be regarded as a “super fruit” that is now featured in dozens of products, going from fruit smoothies to dietary supplements, conditioners and açaí-infused vodkas by Absolut and VeeV—the latter of which is used to make the “Veev a Loca” martini at the Signature Room on Michigan Avenue. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Just Poggle It

Drinking Events (yes, redundant, we know), News and Dish, Tips and Trends No Comments »

Fueled by the phenomenon of Groupon, deal-of-the-day marketing is changing the way people live. Every morning tens of thousands of Chicagoans wake up to an email offering an outrageous bargain for anything from a boot-camp exercise class to parachuting out of a plane. Even the lazy acrophobic is persuaded to purchase these deals because of the enormous price reductions. While the discounts are remarkable, those who prefer to maintain a steady lifestyle of drinking with friends are more interested in saving money on things they already do regularly. is a nightlife destination site that focuses on drink, food and event specials in Chicago bars and restaurants. Unlike web-based deal-of-the-day competitors, Poggled offers “real deals in real time” with its new iPhone application, explains the company’s co-founder Joe Matthews. Because “people don’t like to make decisions until they are walking out the door,” says Matthews, a deal can be discovered, purchased and instantly redeemed while already sitting comfortably in your local neighborhood tavern. For the more adventurous social drinker, registered users can search for deals by day of the week as well as GPS location using the Poggled iPhone app to scout out a new bar scene adding a splash of spontaneity and savings to their recreational routine. Read the rest of this entry »

Unconventional Drinking: “Working” the floor at The New York Bar and Wine Show

Brandy/Cognac, News and Dish, Tequila/Mezcal, Tips and Trends, Vodka, Whiskey No Comments »

Photo: Renata Baluk

By Ernest Barteldes

The New York Bar and Wine Show, an annual two-day convention that takes place at Midtown Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Convention Center, showcases what’s new in the beverage industry, from special registers wirelessly attached to bottles (to better control the drinks sold) to novelties like a Russian roulette-style game wherein a plastic revolver has a chamber that releases a shot of liquor to the lucky ‘winner’—if the ‘loaded’ chamber ends up in his or her hand (think bachelor parties and dorm rooms, if you’re wondering who would do this).

But the greatest attraction is, of course, the booze, and this year’s event had plenty, ranging from new liquor brands, international beers and wines to the latest ideas in mixology presented by different bartenders from all over the world. Read the rest of this entry »

411: The New Brew

Beer Rhymes With Cheer, News and Dish, Tips and Trends No Comments »

Logan Square is host to a food co-op, plenty of dive bars, at least one moderately classy tavern and, now, a brand new brewery. Revolution Brewing Company, a new restaurant and brewery ten years in the making, has opened its doors on Milwaukee Avenue just west of California. Josh Deth, managing partner, has a history with Chicago and beer. He’s logged hours at Goose Island and the now-defunct Golden Prairie Brewing Company (not to mention he had a large hand in starting Handlebar). Brew man Jim Cibak is no novice either. He’s worked alongside Deth at Goose Island as well as other breweries such as Three Floyds. Obviously, beer is the big draw with such homebrews as the Workingman Mild and Eugene, however, Revolution has a full food menu ranging from bacon-fat popcorn to Hampshire-Duroc Pork Chop. “It’s a very warm and comforting place,” Deth, assures. “You’ll immediately feel that when you come in.” Revolution Brewing works on a first come, first serve basis. So regardless of when you get there, you’re bound to see some familiar faces. As Deth points out, the place has been packed with “lots of neighborhood folks” since its opening. (Peter Cavanaugh)

Taste of Brazil: Brazil’s cachaça is no longer a poor man’s drink

Cachaca, Spirits Just Sound Happy, Don't They?, Tips and Trends 3 Comments »

101_2072By Ernest Barteldes

While I was living in Brazil as an adult in the 1990s, the liquor known as cachaça was regarded as a poor man’s drink found only in corner botecos (dive bars) where a shot could be purchased for as little as fifty cents. Broke youngsters and college students would buy a cheap bottle in order to make homemade caipirinhas in spite of the horrible hangovers that would follow.

I remember that quite well—as a perennially broke student in my college years, I often found myself with an empty pocket. But only a few bucks were enough for the cheapest of poisons.

Today, however, cachaça is reaching a more refined audience thanks to the efforts of a handful of dedicated companies that have done a lot to bring the spirit to a higher level. “Cachaça is today in the same position that vodka, chianti and tequila were about fifteen years ago,” explains Steve Luttman, producer of Leblon, one of the more recent brands specially created for the international market. Read the rest of this entry »

Passing the Bar

News and Dish, Tips and Trends No Comments » is a new Chicago-based Web site that invites participants to rate their local taps. Bar-goers are requested to log onto their mobile Web to evaluate their hangout, while still inside. The quick, five-question quiz asks participants to rate the pub on the basic criteria of: crowd size, gender ratio, average age, entertainment and drink value. This information is instantly processed and then averaged based on all users’ responses. “Some people may want a quiet bar and others may be looking for a crowded bar. Either way, users will get the information that they need to make the decision of where to go,” says Randy Rantz, the site’s founder. Rantz, who has been legally bar-hopping for the past sixteen years, came up with the idea for his site after having spent countless weekends on the phone with his friends. They would text back and forth, updating each other on their current destinations. He thought, “Why not get more people involved in communicating this information?” (Andrea Giampoli)

The Green Party: Eco-cocktailing comes to life

Bars of Summer, Tips and Trends No Comments »

Green: it’s the color of money, the characterization of envy and, in today’s world, a double-edged status symbol that’s “changing the world”—for those who can afford it. Eco-culture is transforming grocery stores, clothing boutiques, car dealerships and now your local neighborhood tap. It’s a phenomenon I discovered on a recent pub crawl to three “green” establishments offering organic bar specials that included locally grown, pesticide-free and naturally cultivated wines, ales, vodkas, gins and house-infused flavors.

The first destination was the vegan-friendly Heartland Café in Rogers Park (7000 North Glenwood). Billing itself as “The Enterprise,” this commercial commune could have its own zip code, as it’s comprised of the café, a general store, studio theater, live radio show and our current stomping ground, The Buffalo Bar. The first thing my sidekick and I noticed, besides the not-so-environmentally conscious buffalo head giving us the evil eye, was the organic wine-tasting (Fridays from 7pm-9pm) and the absence of people enjoying it. Taking a seat at the bar, it became even more clear that we were the only ones ordering organic—and the taste test of Samuel Smith’s organic ale and an eco-friendly Cabernet Sauvignon proved why. The beer was so watered-down, it could have been from a Canadian spring. And, after the bartender mistakenly gave us the regular wine first, the comparison easily awarded the original the winner.

Our impression of organic ale and wine polluted, the green started growing on us once we arrived at our next stop, Wrigleyville’s Uncommon Ground (3800 North Clark), whose motto, “Live it Green,” was matched by a forest-friendly interior of rich earth tones and leafy paper lanterns. The cocktails served here are clean and sulfite-free (a bonus for my allergic cohort) thanks to Uncommon Ground’s almost exclusive use of Rain Vodka distilled from organic white corn grown on local Illinois farms.

Not only are the drinks palatable but—in the nature of green ideology—they pay it forward, too. The “Tree-tini” is a seasonally variable concoction that plants a tree each time it’s ordered—to date, over 2,000 trees have been committed to be planted in monsoon-devastated Tamil Nadu, India. And the “Rescue Me grilled pineapple greyhound” is a sweet citrus number that makes a donation to P.A.W.S. Chicago each time it’s ordered. So even with your hangover, you’ll at least feel good about yourself.

Although the do-good nature left a sweet taste in my mouth, it had me wondering—is this latest drinking trend a short-lived fad the way of Carrie Bradshaw’s cosmo, or do people consciously drink green in a bid to “save the earth”?

“Sometimes, I really don’t think people understand what organic is,” says Andre, former ecology-club president, and currently our bartender at the most popular of eco-bars, Butterfly Social Club (722 West Grand). “They just think it’s special.”

The newly revamped space is blatantly more modern with clean, white walls that leave room for the colorful drinks he serves up from a back wall littered with organic labels of every variety. Our favorites: the excellent Ginger Mojito (made of organic fair-trade Papagayo spiced rum) and Juniper Green Gin ‘n’ Juice, which goes down smooth, more like the latter part of the equation.

As Andre pointed out, it may be due to talking heads like Oprah that the green thing is sweeping the country—but for those honestly concerned with their health and that of the planet, a night of organic drinking is the perfect way to say cheers to Mother Nature. (Selena Fragassi)