Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mexican Coke and the Environment

I took this picture in rural Idaho, which pretty much means Mexican Coke is everywhere now. Mexican Coke differs from American Coke in its main ingredient: sugar. The Mexican version uses sugar cane. The American, high fructose corn syrup. For that reason lots of folks prefer it, if not for its flavor then for its environmental impact. The corn for the corn syrup is grown with the use of fossil-fuel intensive pesticides and fertilizers whose run-off causes groundwater pollution.

On the other hand Mexican Coke is shipped in heavy glass bottles thousands of miles. The American Coke usually ships in lightweight plastic bottles or cans and rarely travels more than a few dozen miles since bottlers are located close to where they sell. It makes me wonder if there's a net environmental difference in the end?

I also wonder if the suits at Coke are sitting back in Hotlanta scratching their heads and counting their money as sugar fans do all this work, essentially creating a new brand of Coke for them. 

More on corn syrup and sugar here, here and here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Drank No. 16: Two standout cocktail books

Punch by David Wondrich
Wondrich writes some of the most comprehensive treatises on drinking today. He has a few books under his belt and commits a regular column to Esquire. I always learn interesting tidbits from him. Like from this book: bartending was traditionally a woman’s job in Eighteenth Century England; the term “pop-in” meant a shot of booze dropped in a mug of beer. I’ve written before how punch is a great way for party hosts and caterers to serve many people quickly. It’s also effective in bars where a seasonal or rotating punch is a great conversation piece, not to mention profit center. (There are a number of bars doing it now including 327 Braun Court in Ann Arbor.) Punch originated in Southeast Asia, quickly moved with sailors to the West Indies and, while it’s now relegated to a special occasion drink, before the age of the cocktail it was the most common blended drink in America.

PDT by Jim Meehan
Jim owns what some think is the best cocktail bar in the world . He may have studied lit at Wisconsin but it’s clear his tendencies run more toward lit crit. His attention to particulars is staggering. He’s also wide open with his information which is good for us. The book has maps and drawings, including details on how he built the back bar. Drink recipes are exacting. He’s tested individual liquors and how they fit a cocktail. A Mint Julep is not made with Bourbon, but Booker’s. A gin and tonic has Tanqueray. I haven't seen a book quite like this before and I don't expect there will be another, at least for a long time. Jim also made an iPad app that looks interesting. 

May 11-15 in New York City. Tickets go on sale March 15. Sign up now and you can get early access to tickets, something that can be helpful for the more popular classes.

Garden and Gun's 50 best southern bars (much better in print if you can get a copy).

Monday, February 20, 2012

Recent Reading

"When a couple move into a new house, they’re more apt to purchase a different kind of cereal." That and dozens of other habit changing events that make us “vulnerable to intervention by marketers” explained in this generally excellent—yet utterly creepy—article. With loads more great quotes from misanthropic marketers like "identifying pregnant customers is harder than it sounds." No kidding. (Spoiler alert! Target's stalker database knew a teenage girl was pregnant before her dad did.) There's also a great section on how "Go See," when applied to marketing, turned a dud product into a billion dollar blockbuster.

Why money is like friction, and what that has to do with Mitt Romney. Explaining how the economy works with a physics analogy, which seems like it would make it more complicated but actually makes it simpler.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Drank No. 15: Freeman's

Freeman’s is primarily a restaurant but it’s a restaurant with two bars. One when you walk in. The other in the back room—which I like a little more. It’s horseshoe shaped, not straight, so you can see other people’s faces. The bartenders have more time for you at the back bar. The lights are lower. 

And there’s more taxidermy. Freeman’s has a lot of taxidermy. It’s ground zero for the stuffed-animals-in-bars-and-restaurants trend. Whatever your feelings on the matter, they do it and they do it very well. Owner Taavo Somer pretty much started the whole thing and here you can see the genetic material for a thousand bars and restaurants: Edison bulbs, birds and antlers, old paintings, stripped wallpaper, weathered wainscoting. Mercifully their bartenders don’t have waxed mustaches or armbands; they didn’t start that and for that reason and some others, Freeman's doesn't feel overly precious. The attention to detail and design in the restaurant makes it worth a visit. And it reminds me of a couple design rules: 

When you’re investing in décor spend money on lighting. You can have junky paint jobs and cheap furniture, but good lights will make it all look beautiful. Freeman’s has bargain bentwood café chairs but you never notice. The lighting is so gorgeous you feel like you’re in a sepia photograph. With lighting, diffused is ideal. Upward lighting makes people look more attractive. Downward lighting does the opposite. White lighting is harsh and makes people want to leave. Orange and pink lighting is warm and makes people want to linger. (At Balthazar Keith McNally uses fluorescents, which are typically atrocious, but he puts pink bulbs in them and they’re beautiful. Neat cheap trick!) 

Bars create dynamism in a restaurant. People are standing up, or sitting high up, so there is a contrast with the folks sitting lower at dinner tables. Drinkers may be layered two or three deep, standing. There’s more turnover. Bartenders are moving and looking out at the room. The bar lighting creates drama. All in all, Freeman’s second back room bar turns what would be a seat in Siberia into a coveted table.

A few other observations. 

There is no music in most of the restaurant. The hum of the room is the only sound.

The place is broken up into a warren of small rooms, some just big enough for one table. The rooms are open on one or two sides which let you see through them into other parts of the restaurant. It feels private and open at the same time, like something is always going on just beyond your sight.

Service is immediate—water, no ice, small glass. Last time I visited I was busy on my phone and they did not interrupt except to place the water and menu in front of me. When I looked up the bartender caught my eyes immediately and asked what I’d like. This is in spite of him running a fully packed bar with wait service. This kind of ultra-attentive but not intrusive service is common in many places in New York. Still, I’m always amazed by how some pros do it so effortlessly.
8 Rivington St


What's Drank?

A couple folks have asked that I include notes on wine and booze in ZMO Journal, something I haven't posted about very much. By coincidence or synchronicity or whatever, it happens that I write a once-in-awhile set of bar notes to a small group of readers. I send it out as a letter but I haven't posted it here. Now I will.

I'll call it Drank, and it's primarily about bars, bar design, and observations on the things we drink, primarily cocktails and wine. In the same way that ZMO Journal is primarily addressed to the crew at Zingerman's Mail order this was originally written for bartenders and the folks at Zingerman's Roadhouse and a few others I know in the bar world. Its subject and tone is also like ZMO Journal: industry and business notes for folks in this industry and business. But in the same way the ZMO Journal has found a wider readership I think the same might be true for the bar journal. Well, who knows, but it can't hurt!

I'll post past issues of Drank in reverse order over the next couple months, starting with the most recent and going back to the first letter I wrote a few years ago. Future posts will go out by letter as usual and will also be posted here.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Recent Reading

If you thought digital music was disruptive wait till you see what's in store for books. Here's one interesting piece on digital book lending, and another here. This library has wait times of over three weeks for some ebooks.

Should you be allowed to sell a digital song you downloaded? How about a book? Nerd alert: this one is heavy on economic mumbo-jumbo.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ketchup, what's that?


Condiment station at a restaurant in New Orleans' airport.