What’s shakin, cocktail fans? Welcome to Episode 263 of The Modern Bar Cart Podcast!
Announcing the Modern Bar Cart Discord Server
Thanks for joining for this little news segment, which is an initiative we’re rolling out in conjunction with the launch of our brand spanking new community Discord server. This is essentially a chat room and messaging tool that we’re putting together for our listeners so that everybody can communicate with each other and share recipes, news, and other stuff like bar recommendations and bottle reviews in real time.
Right now, I have channels set up for news (obviously, the topic of this episode), bottle reviews, podcast-related stuff like guest requests and questions for upcoming guests, a channel were you can share all those dank memes that we all love from accounts like moverandshaker, and finally, a special “cheers” channel where you can share what you’re drinking and we can all offer you a hearty virtual toast from wherever we are in the world.
So, if you’d like to be in the exclusive first wave of people invited to this Discord server, all you need to do is email email@example.com and let me know. Most podcasts make access to a community forum like this part of their “Premium” package, reserved only for listeners who support them on Patreon or something like that. But you know that’s now how I roll. I think information should be free, and I think the ability to connect with other like-minded people should be easy. That’s why we’re setting this up.
The last thing I’ll say about the Discord server is that it’s not a heavy lift. Before setting this up, I had never used Discord in my life, and I’ve found it to be every bit as intuitive as all the other apps you open on your phone multiple times per day – and that goes for the web app as well. So don’t be a tech curmudgeon. This works on both Mobile and in your browser. Just dip into my email really quick and I’ll send you a link to join the community.
Once you’re in, if you click on over to the text channel called “News,” you’ll see links to all the stories I’m featuring in this audio roundup. From there, you can explore, comment, or even add a news item of your own. So with that, let’s jump in.
Kicking off our inaugural “Booze News” segment, we’ve got sports. As many of you know, this weekend is the Kentucky Derby, which is the sporting event that probably carries with it the most disproportionate drinking-to-event-time ratio in the world of sports. The post positions and odds for the event are set, with a colt named Forte the favorite to win at 3-1.
But as I just mentioned, most of us aren’t in it for the horsies; we’re in it for the mint juleps, the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. Now, we’ve got a great episode where I do a deep dive into the history of the mint julep, as well as the lesser-known official horse raising drinks like The Preakness’s Black Eyed Susan and the Belmont Breeze, which Dale Degroff created as the official cocktail of the Belmont Downs. I’ll post a link to that episode (number 185) over on the Discord channel so you can check it out, but seriously, let’s talk Juleps for a minute.
Mastering Your Julep Game for the Kentucky Derby
If you’re hosting or responsible in any way for creating mint juleps for the Kentucky Derby this year, you’ve only got a couple days to get your act together. And in my mind, there are a few moves that will set your drinks apart, both from a taste and an execution standpoint.
- Bourbon. What are you gonna use? This is not a time to use a fancy bourbon. In fact, I’d argue it should come in a handle. You’re putting so much dilution, sugar, and mint into these bad boys that a delicate, wheated sipper just isn’t going to stand up. So go opt for either a traditional or a high-rye mash bill if you want the whiskey to rise above the rest of the ingredients. And please – for the sake of yourself and your guests – don’t use anything super high proof. Juleps are easy to suck down, and you don’t want anybody getting hammered because you chose something bottled in bond. I like an Evan Williams Black label (or something equivalent) in a mint julep, but if you’d like something a bit more sophisticated, then Elijah Craig also works really well, in my humble opinion.
- Get your ice situation sorted. There are many ways to make crushed ice, but most of them are going to sacrifice either efficiency, quality, or cleanliness. If you go with your freezer’s ice maker, you’ll be using poor quality ice (unless you’re smart and swap in some clear ice ahead of time. If you use a Lewis Bag and Mallet, it’s gonna be a bit messy, and the sound of you whacking away on a table might get old for your guests after the first couple batches. As we learned in our recent ice interview with Camper English: ice is pretty easy once you understand it, but it does take planning. Do that planning now so that the day-of goes smoothly.
- Next up, you’ve got your mint and sugar. You’ve gotta select your sugar type, then turn it into a syrup. And you need to source your mint. At this point, the question becomes how to get the most mint flavor into your drink. One tip I’d recommend is to make a simple syrup in advance and infuse it with mint leaves or stems for about 24-48 hours prior to the event. Other ways of getting mint flavor into the drink without blending it directly into the syrup might include using mint tea as the base for your simple syrup or adding in a peppermint or spearmint extract once it’s made. But be careful – dried mint tastes very different than fresh mint (almost tea-like), and food-grade flavor extracts can really pack a punch, so use a light touch.
- Finally, glassware. I’m guessing that not everybody has fancy julep cups or those little metal stirring straws they’re traditionally served with. In lieu of those, I’d recommend trying to serve your juleps in small tumblers, AKA single rocks glasses (not a double-rocks or bucket glass). This, again, is going to keep portion size reasonable, and if you’ve got the chance to chill them down, they’ll be frosty and refreshing for your guests.
Next up, we’ve got a couple of political news stories that have been making headlines in the spirits and cocktail world.
To-Go Cocktails Here to Stay in Maine
Last month, Maine Governor Janet Mills signed into law a bill to make alcoholic drinks to-go from restaurants and bars permanent. In Maine, these drinks must be clearly labeled and placed in the trunk or in a non-passenger compartment of the vehicle while in transit.
- Bars and restaurants are able to sell these drinks in accompaniment of a food order
- Whereas distilleries are able to sell drinks to-go without a food order.
This kind of move is something that we’ve been thinking and talking about ever since to-go drinks were implemented by many states in response to the pandemic. In this instance, we see the state of Maine taking a positive stance toward the industry. However, it remains to be seen whether other states will choose to follow suit.
Oregon Lawmakers Consider Raising Taxes on Spirits
Across the country, the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission is considering doubling its state tax on hard alcohol, which would increase the cost of every bottle of spirits by $0.50. This is a move put in play by a nonprofit called Oregon Recovers, citing a statistic that Oregon ranks 5th in the nation for alcohol dependence.
Much like recent tax and packaging crackdowns on cigarettes and other traditional tobacco products, this move is designed to deter the abuse of the substance.
Of course, distillers and retailers of spirits in Oregon aren’t exactly thrilled at this possible price hike because it provides further justification for consumers to turn their attention to fermented products like beer and wine, putting them at a disadvantage in the market.
Spirits Sales Overtake Beer
Speaking of the market, let’s take a look at one bigger-picture economic trend that’s been making headlines lately. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, spirits have finally overtaken beer sales in terms of market share for the first time ever. This is was reported in the organization’s 2023 Annual Economic Briefing. Some have speculated that the millennial generation may be responsible for this swing as the generation most associated with spirits tourism and craft cocktails. One other serious growth area identified in the report is the continued surge in RTD or ready-to-drink cocktails.
As a bit of an editorial side-note, I think it’s interesting that most of these RTDs driving the growth actually employ high-proof fermented alcohol – essentially making them malt beverages and not spirits.
Impending White Oak Shortage?
Turning our attention to a slightly longer-term economic trend, a recent Bloomberg podcast by Odd Lots is spawning a great deal of discussion and trepidation about the future of the Bourbon industry. This is because certain forestry experts are forecasting a 77% decline in the native White Oak population over the next several decades if no action is taken to conserve this living resource. Now I will tell you that MULTIPLE people texted me this podcast episode, so I can only imagine how nervous it’s making bourbon enthusiasts. It is worth a listen, so I will share it out on the Discord channel, but I need to warn you that the guest expert is a forester – not a cooper. He has great ecological insights, but his understanding of what kind of wood can be used in bourbon barrels is a bit flawed, as is his grasp of the barrel supply chain.
And since we’re on the topic of wood, there is just one more trend that I’d like to float your way. This is the recent and – to my mind – almost inexplicable popularity of something called Amburana Wood as a type of finishing cask for whiskey.
First off, what is Amburana Wood? Well, if you check out the Wikipedia Page, which is one of the slimmer pages I’ve ever visited, you’ll find that it’s a variety of Brazilian hardwood. It grows there, and in certain parts of Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia. The only other tidbit that you get is that its conservation status is listed as “threatened.”
A bit more digging led me to a much more in-depth page by a brand called Avua Cachaca, which explained in great detail the history of how this wood came to be used for aging cachaca, along with other native and imported woods, and the conservation efforts they’re taking as a brand to ensure its sustainability.
American brewers and distillers have been using Amburana staves and casks as a way to add an intense cinnamon or “snickerdoodle”-esque flavor to their products. It is, in the whiskey world, the equivalent of shaving fresh truffles on your pasta. The end-result is both widely understood and extremely enticing to many palates.
So keep your eye out for this buzz-word “Amburana” as you’re cruising the liquor store shells. If you’re a fan of cinnamon and have some extra cash to spare, then it just might be worth your time to check it out. Personally, I’m not sure we should be grasping for other countries precious woods when we’ve got some work to do in our own backyard…but that truffle effect. It’s hard to resist.
That about does it for this #BoozeNews edition of The Modern Bar Cart Podcast. Again – we’ll have links to all the stuff I discussed here over on the Discord Channel, along with information on two upcoming guests for whom I’m actively soliciting questions, and what is sure to be a robust collection of drinks memes.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request to join the fun on Discord, and as always, drink responsibly, and experiment boldly.