A Few Things For The New Year
Instead of my regular alcoholic festivities, I decided to bid good day to 2014 by shivering, sweating, shaking and projectile-spewing bodily fluids for a week straight. It’s my wretched body’s annual routine, and it always happens on or around the holiday season. But I’m starting to be thankful for it - I kind of think of it as a natural, organic cleanse to rid myself of the terrible trends that have toxified my system throughout the year. And you guys know how much I hate stuff. Take that as a warning, maybe, but never as an apology.
Here are some things I hope happen, stop happening, improve themselves, or just simply die never to be seen again, in 2015.
Bars and bartenders desperately need a makeover.
I am going to say what a lot of people are thinking: almost all bars today - even in some restaurants - are awful. They're douchemagnets and the drinks are pretentious. A good friend recently intimated to me that between the stress of ordering a quality cocktail and dealing with bartenders, they consider the experience dead. I’m inclined to agree and I think the reason is obvious: bars are rife with mixologists, cocktologists, alchemists, enthusiasts, activists, fetishists, impressionists, specialists and just plain hipsters that have taken up residence behind our altars of alcohol. Where oh where are the qualified men and women that can serve a simple goddamn drink?
I'll admit to a casual fascination with this whole “prohibition-era” phase that started whenever ago. I like quirkiness, a bit of the old flim-flam. I don’t mind themes at all. I dream of losing the time of day in an old-school gin joint with walls adorned with nothing but botanicals. I would frequent a quality tiki bar regularly. But the desperately nostalgic have become modern-day weirdos. Today, the past lives on in former breweries and barbershops, in the hands of suspendered and mustachioed dudes and strange gals, recklessly brandishing vintage dresses and salvaged stemware. The only detail added is a Square credit card reader and the only convenient detail omitted is a whites-only entrance. And not just in our cool urban city bars: no, this confusing Etsyfication of our beloved barkeep is so derivative, it’s invaded our mainstays and our neighborhood bars - our darkened, seedy solitude swapped for an obnoxious pinstriped cartoon. Does drink-making now absolutely require the same frump and hirsute facial hair for everybody? Or are we all just lazy and out of ideas? If these outrageous bespectacled-and-bow-tied imposters are any indication of our sense of individuality and good taste, perhaps America does not need another drink.
Which brings me to the real issue at hand: the miserable concoctions this lawless crowd has wrought us. Am I alone on this? What is it about an old fashioned that begs to be so pretentiously reimagined? Who’s in charge of these god-awful homemade bitters? Are these notes of petrol intentional? And - I’m sorry - am I reading this price correctly? Where did we get the idea that a $15 cocktail anywhere was morally acceptable? Will my coupe of eggy butane come with a fucking handjob? In no other industry has such a lack of talent produced so much bad at such great expense to the patron; even bad restaurants close eventually. But in today’s bars, not only do you get your formaldehyde-laced manhattan put into a glass and handed to you, they overcharge you for it with impunity and expect gratitude.
These very well may be just grumblings. And yes, I do realize I’m not the only one that likes booze. Some of the best drink-makers I know (a list mostly comprised of women, by the way) do happen to walk around like they just starred in a production of the Music Man. But I know them, and have been won over with their actual talent - it's the rest of you people I don’t trust. Dressing like a circus clown doesn't means you’re a terrible bartender, it just means I’m compelled to be suspicious.
So if you are a bartender, or are even thinking of starting a bar on this here planet Earth, let this slosher suggest what he thinks would make a better bar program.
Do revisit long-forgotten cocktails, but please try them critically first; there may be a reason they were forgotten.
Please do feel free to explore the vast and rich world of whiskeys that are not bourbon.
Settle down about infusions. They can lead to tasty results, but soaking things in other things is not an incredible feat.
It is not expected that you know every detail of every available spirit for every inquisitive customer, but at the very least you should be very familiar with the items behind your own bar.
Stop using expensive spirits to inflate the price of your cocktails unnecessarily, as they are often irreducibly greater than the sum of the cocktail’s parts. In fact, do boldly channel your hip brand of idealism to preserving those rarer small-batch items for customers who prefer their fine drinks with no junk in them. And you can do it without being snobbish.
Speaking of snobbery, a "hand-crafted cocktail" also goes by another, more traditional name: a "cocktail." A job assembling a thing is not somehow made more important by pointing out that you did, indeed, assemble a thing. Unless your standard for your own skill is that low, do not pass this burden on to the consumer - drinks pour rather easily and affordably elsewhere.
Please do hire charming people with speed and skill, not just pretty people. Please provide them with the proper equipment and time to do their job. Encourage creativity in creative people, and do your part to quickly shut down needy egos with bad ideas.
And for Chrissake, please do decide whether you’re a club or a bar, and do not try to accomplish both. Do learn and practice the skilled art of volume control for your interesting and nuanced taste in music: it does not require much effort on your part to know the difference between promoting conversation through lively ambience, and stifling conversation with an onslaught of Arcade Fire.
Bourbon barrels are for bourbon.
Admittedly, this trend had its ups and downs. There’s Blis, the pushers of those pricey barrel-aged fish sauces and maple syrups, complete with knockoff Maker’s Mark wax seals. There’s a Louisville-based soy sauce that’s aged in bourbon barrels from a company literally called ‘Bourbon-Barrel Foods’, if that gives you an idea what they specialize in. Then there’s the bourbon barrel beers; it’s safe to say the most famous one comes from Lexington Brewing Company (also called Kentucky Ale). I don’t know if that particular strong ale started the trend, but I do know that after trying it - and most of the others - that while they may be good, I have a hard time believing they were improved by the bourbon.
I actually feel bad for Kentucky, who has been dealing with this bastardization of their most precious commodity since the beginning. It must be tiresome working so hard to make something fantastic, just to have someone hyuck-hyuck about putting it in a barrel to make it “better”. But like most trends, it’s tricky: sometimes it really works. The Bluegrass soy sauce, for example, is crazy-good soy sauce... which I credit more to the fact that they have an abundant supply of excellent soy in the bluegrass state rather than the fact it touched a cask. I see no reason to dislike the bourbon nuoc mam, but I could take or leave the flavor. However the beer is an example of when, to me, it just doesn’t work. It’s not a crossover I can get in to. And in the back of my mind is the bluegrass state. Certainly Kentuckians are getting tired of being expected to treat everything so singularly. Or who knows, perhaps they’re loving it. Kentucky’s a beautiful, strange place.
This past year I did thankfully notice a slight curbing in the commercialism of “barrel-aged” things. But if I had the last word, when a barrel’s done making whiskey, I’d maybe just keep it done.
Good ingredients still require good technique to be good cooking.
Pretty plates of food are all the rage, and that makes me happy. But ordering from the Chef’s Garden does not automagically make you a good cook. Razor-thin radish slices and expensive micro greens are just garnishes, and your dish is still underseasoned. Put down the tweezers if you haven't tasted your food.
Yes, we need to eat less beef as soon as possible.
This is very near and dear to my heart, in that it hurts to think about... or that I should probably get my cholesterol checked. As a red-blooded manchild serially addicted to hamburgers and steaks, my conscience has taken a toll this past year. I have been confronted with the reality that the way we process my delicious bovine is a water-sucking, carbon-belching, land-raping, rapidly-inflating nightmare that is killing our planet.
Is this news to you? Well it was news to me. Beef is so damn good. It’s one of my favorite things to cook ever. But Bill Burr’s right: there’s too many of you people. We can’t afford to keep this destructive habit up.
So what is a carnivore to do? Well it means owning up, facing reality a little, and yes: eating less meat in general. It means that a delicious bone-in ribeye is a luxury. It means I need to say goodbye to my glorious hot n’ fresh McDouble probably forever. It means I am on beta-testing lists (here are two) for strange but admittedly fascinating hamburger alternatives. And it means I am even more sensitive and irrational about my precious brisket than ever.
One faces hard choices when growing up. This is a painful one, but it must be made. Will I stop eating beef altogether? No. But I feel guilty every time I do it. And I am not a huge fan of guilt. *sobs into a bowl of soylent*
And finally: everyone shut the hell up about GMOs this instant.
If you want to bring fundamentalist intelligent-designers and homeopathy-hocking liberals together into the same vacuous padded room of ignorance, and vaccines are off the table, just lob them a piping-hot genetically-modified potato.
I get too worked up about shit like this, and I am the worst at writing about it. Let me just take a deep, conciliatory breath, and start by politely saying that I do feel very strongly about science's role for humanity. Verifiably false information should not be respected or even given the same platform as evidence-based science, and should not be taught to children as scientific fact.
The unbelievable level of misinformation and stupidity surrounding this “debate” is, in all sincerity, sad. I think like many other aspects of American culture, the only thing it reveals is the true nature of our relationship with food… meaning, there is inherently none. We’re just rotten to our very core with stuff. Even the poorest of us have always had it.
But I’m not bringing this up because I want an ethical debate. I don’t want you to get the impression that this is even a debate at all. It’s not. I’m not going to engage anyone about it (unless they agree with me). I just don’t have the interest or the time to deal with trolls. So instead of screaming out loud to no one, let’s try this: I’m simply going to make a few key points and pretty much leave it at that:
Eating genetically modified foods, or animals that have consumed genetically-modified foods, is the exact same as eating non-genetically-modified foods or animals. It has been scientifically proven to be healthy and safe again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again.
If you’ve been eating tomatoes, canola oil, corn, potatoes, squash or soy since 1995, you’ve been eating genetically modified foods and you are fine.
The GMO labelling proposals I’ve seen look like they’ll be horribly inaccurate and a massive regulatory nightmare that sucks for businesses, the FDA, and consumers. If your idea fixes these things, I’ll support it.
Lastly and most importantly: unless every household on this planet grows the same amount of food they consume, unless the United Nations gives Glenn Roberts a hundred trillion dollars, or unless we stop making more people right fucking now, nothing is ever going to change. Ever.
When I see the droves and droves of people buying exclusively, high-priced “GMO-free!” stickered food, and hear James Beard award-winning chefs like John Currence talk about “getting away from GMOs”, I just don’t know what to say anymore. I just feel like they got conned. Being concerned is no crime, and you shouldn’t feel bad about it at all. Just listen to the right people. And if science is a bad word to you, or you want to believe there’s some global conspiracy among the “corporations, maaaaan”, I can’t help you. We landed on the moon, we never lived with dinosaurs, and genetic engineering isn’t bad for you.
No, when it comes down to it, you’re not really hurting anyone by eating only non-GMO foods. Eat what you want, man. You’re just wrong. I’m not going to be an asshole about it, and I don’t expect you to change, but you’re wrong. And I really, really wish you would keep it to yourself.
Was that too cunty? I thought it was a good balance. I’ve decided to be more positive in 2015. I know it’s hard to believe. But that doesn’t have to mean “nicer”... just more constructive, more creative, adding more to the conversation than harping the same old bullshit. You know: learning to properly express myself gracefully. Woosah.
What (or who?! I won’t censor you) did you hate about 2014?