Saturday, April 8, 2017


I have lived and worked in Houston, Texas my entire life. I would describe Texas as a mostly sane place, but one feature I still notice as being slightly odd is the preponderance of gun magazines on the rack at the grocery store. Today I counted ten (10) magazines that featured reviews of pistols and long arms for various purposes. As much as I enjoy guns, I’ve never felt compelled to discuss the merits of a weapon with the written word. Until now.

I’m talking, of course, about the Champagne Machinegun.

Maybe watch the demo video below on silent if you don’t like EDM.

The gun is made by a French nightclub-product company called Extra-Night, and distributed stateside by a gentleman in Miami named Jeremy Touitou. Mr. Touitou had built his empire on sparklers used to present bottles in clubs, so it would make sense that he remains on the bleeding edge of novel applications for sparkling wine in clubs.

I’m extremely pleased that someone has thought critically about a way to get people excited about spraying sparkling wine onto others. Methode Champenois sparkling wine is exciting even before being opened- no beverage on the planet is more dangerously carbonated at six atmospheres of pressure. This miracle of chemistry allows us the joyous spectacle of saberage. But that’s old news now- this is the next evolution of gregarious, attention-seeking champagne usage- delivering it across the room to a stranger’s face, potentially without their consent.

I have not personally held or tested this champagne machinegun, but based on pictures and video, combined with a little bit of weapon and sparkling wine knowledge, I’m prepared to discuss the pros and cons of this device.

The CMG does allow one to spray sparkling wine with more accuracy and stability than just holding your thumb over the bottle. It does this by introducing a rear and forward grip to the bottle with a chassis that resembles a tommy gun. It further improves on the thumb-on-the-bottle method by giving the champagne a narrow channel to flow through, regulating the rate of flow to a speed that empties a magnum in about 45 to 60 seconds. The CMG currently only fits magnums. This product was conceived to encourage sales of large format sparkling wine in clubs. I have every reason to believe it will succeed, because it is completely crazy, and people with money love crazy bullshit like this.

Since it is the first gun on the market that shoots champagne, we can say by a lack of competition that is it the best. However there is a lot of room for improvement and for the sake of progress, we should discuss the CMG’s shortcomings openly:

-It is full-auto only. Because this isn’t an actual gun with moving parts, it’s just a more stable way to hold a magnum while you shake it up to force wine out. Rocking the gun back and forth causes it to begin “firing”- this is an extremely imprecise method of firing. Full auto is only helpful if you intend to engage a large grouping of targets, or intend to engage one target heavily. Perhaps this is easy to accept if you’re firing a magnum of inexpensive cava, but let’s assume you’re rolling into the baby shower packing a mag of something more precious like Pierre Peters “Les Chetillons”, you’ll want to choose your targets more judiciously instead of spray and pray. Multiple firing modes like semiautomatic, and burst fire should be added if you wish to encourage truly high-end champagne shoot-outs.

-Its flashy appearance is not in tune with what the gun-loving public likes. I can understand the logic in selecting a tommy gun as the design for the CMG- it’s a classic American gangster weapon, associated with kingpins and ruthless crime bosses. However aside from the errant shiny gun in a rap video, the public wants modern, tactical looking guns, AKA Black Rifles. Sure, making it in various shiny colors makes sense in a club setting, but if they really want to see this weapon proliferated, they need to make it look like something you would plausibly see in a recent release of Call of Duty.

-It has no ability to accommodate accessories or modifications. A major oversight of the CMG is its lack of weapon attachment rails. These are essential for adding cool-looking and maybe practical devices like scopes, flashlights, lasers, even under-barrel grenade launchers (in case you have to blow up a car to squirt champagne on someone behind it).

-The price is $459. Just to put this price in context, you can get many different real guns for less than this. I don’t think I’m asking for too much for this to cost less than real guns. Right?

-Lastly, the gun does nothing to increase the effective range of champagne exiting a bottle. As mentioned before it is merely a glamorous holster for you to shake a bottle inside of. It is very unsatisfying that the firer does not get to actually pull a trigger.

I am not listing these faults in an attempt to discredit or undermine the Champagne Machinegun, Mr. Touitou, or Extra-Night. On the contrary, I am interested in pushing this idea forward, and creating a mass proliferation of champagne weapons. Here are a few additional suggestions for how to improve on this very good, albeit super crazy idea:

-Create a more powerful version that enhances the range of the gun by diverting sparkling wine into a secondary pressurized chamber. Making the wine come out of the actual gun barrel would be nice. Also, a semiautomatic fire mode would be a huge step up in conserving ammunition.

-Create a larger version that can accommodate various sizes of sparkling wine bottles up to as large as a Nebuchadnezzar (16 Liters). Obviously this will be prohibitively heavy to carry, so it will need to be mounted to a vehicle. A stretch hummer should do nicely.

-Create a smaller version that can shoot an entire bottle of champagne in 1 second. Sounds crazy right? It already exists. In the late 90’s Super Soaker released the CPS 2000, a water gun that could fire up to a liter of water in 1 second. All you have to do is buy one off ebay and reverse engineer it.

The bottom version is the original, which was recalled for being too powerful. It was awesome.

Do not waste our time by suggesting these requests are too complicated. Lockheed Martin just announced it is ready to deploy *laser weapons* into battle with US armed forces, so don’t tell me a better champagne machine gun is impossible.

There is a war going on out there, and we need all the help we can get in the fight against sobriety and boredom. Get to work.

If you need further help testing this gun, please feel free to send a sample to:

Public Services Bar

202 Travis St. Suite 100

Houston TX, 77002

Thursday, March 9, 2017


Or how I learned to stop worrying and love Topo Chico

What Do Birds Eat?  

I’m intoxicated, waiting for lunch with the Jungle Bird at a lovely restaurant in Los Angeles. I’m honestly too jacked up for even the grocery store, and she’s introducing me to the director of operations or the GM, god help me. I’m talking with a mouthful of peanut butter, and moving underwater. When I’m like this, I just order drinks until everything starts making sense.
Sparkling rose.
A Topo Chico.

Los Angeles exists in this weird borderland between Topo Chico and Mountain Valley Spring water- there isn’t a clear favorite. I take a big sip of warm, fruity coffee and I feel my senses come back to me. A sip of sparkling rose, and I’m back in the game. She’s been talking, and I’ve been fading in and out. However we come to the topic that brings me back to sobriety: “I don’t like Mountain Valley Spring Water.” She says it matter-of-factly, I recoil in mock terror, she continues, “It’s barely even carbonated! Why bother?”

I say, “I have both of them in my fridge, b.” I’m a house divided, with Topo and Mountain Valley in my icebox. I choose my next words carefully, just in case anybody is watching my life unfold like a reality TV show, “They satisfy you in different ways.” I do a buffalo smile.

She’s not impressed. “I need a mineral water with… Savage carbonation.” For the first time with this whole highball mess, I feel like I’m not crazy. I don’t know what I’m doing with cocktails, and I rely on the opinions of people I trust.

She can read my mind maybe, and adds, “I don’t like Toki either. SORRY.” She said what she needed to say about Topo. But Toki is delicious.

Our food is arriving now, and when you’re bent, good food looks like sustenance from heaven. A brothy thing, Potato chips that are impossibly thin and crunchy. A cold, fluffy salad in some vinaigrette. Perfectly seasoned fish. Fried cubes of soft tofu and chilies. We tuck into it, and it’s just the best. Sunlight on my face, good company, and a whole room full of people revolving around just us. A good meal makes you feel like the center of the universe.

I take a big swig of Topo Chico, and I gaze upon this meticulously designed restaurant on a sloping hill of Los Angeles. I resolve to grow a fucking spine about Topo Chico, about highballs, and The Fox. She drops me off at the airport with a hug, and I check a backpack with half a case of burgundy and an unloaded flare gun onto my flight. 

Anvil’s Highball 

I can’t remember the exact moment I had my first Toki Highball, but it was definitely at Anvil. As far as I know, Anvil was the first place to serve Toki Highballs in Houston. Surely someone beat them to it, but nobody does it better than Anvil even to this day.

Bobby made sure to document the process of him, Peter, and Terry trying over a dozen sparkling waters at different ratios to find the perfect water. They settled on Mountain Valley Spring water. Mountain valley spring water has high alkalinity, and has moderate carbonation with tiny bubbles. They tell me this water is chemically similar to the water they use to make Japanese whisky, and similar in texture to the highballs they drank in Japan.

Toki is a blended Japanese whisky from Suntory. The whisky is kept in the freezer, as is the glass. You pour frozen whisky into a frozen glass, and you add cold Mountain Valley spring water. It’s got two fucking ingredients, and it is one of the slickest, most ethereally refreshing beverages I’ve ever tasted.

But it doesn’t stop there. It’s not some boring Collins glass- it’s a Japanese cut glass Highball that is nearly indestructible, and gleams like a gem when filled with whisky and soda. It’s either covered in frost, right out of the freezer; or as it comes up in temperature it glistens with moisture. The condensation paired with the sight of tiny bubbles floating up through the drink make it quite the spectacle.

Just to make sure you’re overwhelmed with the attention to detail, the drink is placed on a coaster with a Japanese flag stamped onto it. Literally the only thing that isn’t flawless about Anvil’s Toki highball is the Japanese flag is rarely centered on the coaster. For what it’s worth, Tongue Cut Sparrow’s logo is usually centered.

They popularized a beverage in Houston that taps into our childhood desire for popsicles, and our grownup desire to be drunk. The entire presentation is so confident it makes you feel like a secret agent, turning up before a high-stakes poker game in Monaco.

There is no “But…” to this. Anvil (and now Tongue Cut Sparrow) has the best Japanese Highball I’ve ever tasted. 

A Pale Imitation 

I began to ask, what would happen if one made Toki highballs with Topo Chico? Terry’s reaction was immediate, “Topo Chico tastes like saltwater. The carbonation is so high it almost hurts my mouth when I drink it.”  He’d harbored a dislike for Topo this whole time, and their highball research only drove him further away from it. Terry describes drinking Topo Chico like having acid thrown in one’s face, and this makes me like it more. It makes me feel tough. I’m not tough, but it makes me feel that way.

The trouble started when people began asking us for Toki Highballs at Public Services. Without a freezer, without a gorgeous glass to put it in, it was but a shadow of the glorious totem of refreshment Anvil was slinging. I would chill a glass and the jigger with ice water, but it wasn’t even close. We used Topo Chico.

While we were initially super excited for an inexpensive Japanese Whiskey, Sean fell out of love with Toki fast. “It tastes like nothing. It’s the Bud Light of Japanese Whisky.” Furthermore, it’s made exclusively for the American market, whatever that implies. A special, heavily diluted new blend to take our focus off of Hibiki, or so it seemed to a cynic.

I wrote Sean’s complaints off as being a hater. Sean does enjoy bombastic flavors, and it seemed to me that he wasn’t a highball person.

I started asking chef, “What if we got a freezer? We could finally store big cubes, and maybe even do highballs.”

Chef is pretty hostile to spending money with an ambiguous ROI. “No way dude. How many people are asking for Japanese highballs at the bar. One or two a week?” It was true; we weren’t a destination for highballs. However people ordered them and we made them to the best of our ability. They were just sort of cold. They were in a standard glass.

Peter would come in and order highballs, but would lament the use of Topo Chico in a Nikka Highball. “It’s just not the same as Mountain Valley.” Peter isn’t a mean person; in fact he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He just doesn’t have any reservations saying if he thinks something is being done incorrectly. I imagine if we were on bad terms he wouldn’t have said anything at all. I will admit to you now though, that these comments from everyone did add up, and they got under my skin. Not because I have any problems hearing that I’m wrong, but I really just wanted a highball we could be proud of.

It’s really hard to drink a bunch of Toki highballs, to love the drink, and not have a highball in your own bar. 

Bobby Speaks Out 

What really kicked me in the balls though, was when Bobby spoke out about Topo Chico in Highballs. We’d been making our dumpy highballs with guilt in our hearts, and all of a sudden, Bobby goes on facebook and confirms my greatest fears:

You should not use Topo Chico for Toki highballs.

Topo Chico is a great soda for cocktails,

but it overwhelms the delicate flavor of Toki.

There was room for ambiguity before, but now the people that brought the magnificent Toki highball to life had confirmed: Topo Chico doesn’t make good Toki highballs. Run through the Justin Vann hyperbole translator, it sounded like this to me:

You have no idea what you’re doing.

You are bad at making cocktails.

Stick to wine.

I fantasized about pouring all our Toki down the drain. About lighting myself of fire in the street with Nikka From the Barrel. I know I’m spending a lot of time talking about how I didn’t take any of this personally, and I really truly didn’t. But yes, it sucked to hear all the authorities on the subject say that we were doing it wrong.

The worst part about Bobby’s statement on the matter is that he was right. A side-by-side tasting of two Toki Highballs of the same ratio and temperature with the different waters confirms the following:

1. Mountain Valley Spring Water makes Toki taste like spun gold, like early morning sunshine melting fresh snow in front of your dojo as you welcome your students to class.

2. Topo Chico makes Toki taste like Bud Light at a TGI Friday’s where you’re getting broken up with, and the couple in the next booth is making out in front of their kids.

The Pepsi challenge, like blind tasting, is the ultimate equalizer. Sean wasn’t crazy for disliking Toki Highballs as we made them after all. I felt guilty for doubting him, and then suddenly agreeing when Bobby Heugel concurred. 

The Fox Chooses 

One morning the Fox was rooting around in my fridge. I watched her pause to decide between the two waters. Three seconds stretched an eternity before she reached for the Mountain Valley instead of Topo Chico. She smiles and says, “They satisfy you in different ways.”

She twisted the cap off with a deafening crack. We’re having a conversation, I’m talking but I can’t hear her over the ringing in my ears. Like a grenade went off. I still can’t hear properly to this day. It meant nothing, but then why was my heart pounding?

I will tell myself that this was not an analogy for our relationship, which was built on a house of cards in a hurricane. This was just a lady getting a sparkling water out of my fridge. But when you’re a foreign correspondent embedded in the war zone of your own life, you notice these things. I wrote it on my hand that day, in the car. This is the split second that I did indeed take it personally. 

I’m a docent at the art exhibit of my own life, that’s what writing about yourself is like. I arranged the space, I placed the artifacts where I want to, and I decide how close you can get to them before I quietly whisper that you need to step back. It feels more than a little bit narcissistic, but I’m willing to sacrifice any image of modesty for the chance to tart up my past through a dramatic lens.

My love life and my work life are separated by a nothing more than one of those Japanese paper walls, if that. A psychologist could open our wine list and say, “Nineteen Madeiras by the glass? This is a cry for help.” You deserve to know that I regularly make decisions about our menu for all kinds of weird, emotional reasons. I am comfortable admitting to you that I am a weird, emotional person. 

Chef’s Present 

I had all but forgotten about the idea of ever having highballs at our bar. Then, a few months ago, chef calls me the Saturday morning I was supposed to join him at the Joe Presswood auction. “WAKE UP WAKE UP IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY!” Through the haze of a hangover I’m barely able to converse. But I did hear him say “freezer”. He repeats it, “I bought you a stupid freezer for the stupid bar.”

“Now you can make your stupid highballs.”

That Sunday, Chef and Peter loaded the freezer into our elevator. Sean was doing a Sean thing that evening- installing a beautiful tile floor in our mop closet- a floor that no mop closet could possibly deserve. I tucked the freezer into the far corner of the backbar and turned it on with shaking hands. I stocked a bunch of rocks glasses, and a few bottles that made sense: Nikka Coffey Grain, Willet 3 year Rye, and Paul Beau VS Cognac.

Stephanie and I went to eat dinner, and when we came back to the bar to meet Womack, the contents of the freezer were resting at 0 degrees Farenheit.

We got drunk. The highballs were delicious. And so cold.

The next day, everyone is joking about the freezer. “When is the Mountain Valley coming in, Jvann?” I don’t think we ever had to say it out loud. The Mountain Valley was never entering the building. We were going to build our highball in the opposite direction as the one that inspired us: we weren’t looking for a water to flatter Toki, we were looking for a spirit to flatter Topo Chico.

It was imperative that we didn’t copy Anvil. With something that simple, marketplace differentiation is important. But even if we loved Mountain Valley Spring water and identified with it emotionally, it just wouldn’t have been right.

As far as I’m concerned they own it. I have Toki in my freezer at home, but there’s no denying it- the drink tastes better when you’re sinking into one of the chesterfield couches at Tongue Cut Sparrow. That drink is a story of their travels, so too is the bar. I'd feel like we stole a picture off the wall of someone’s house and hung it in our own if we replicated their Toki Highball.

Obviously though, I was comfortable stealing some of the technology that makes it work. 

Research and Development 

We immediately began freezing all kinds of stuff to try with Topo. For every spirit that worked, there were four that didn’t. These are the highlights.

American Whiskey: This seems too easy, but there are a lot of American Whiskies that don’t taste great this way. We’re currently using Willet 3 year rye and Weller Antique. These will change over time.

Japanese Whisky: While Toki doesn’t do great with Topo Chico, Nikka Coffey whiskies are pretty great. Topo seems to accentuate chocolate flavors in these whiskies. Perhaps every Japanese whisky highball would be better off with Mountain Valley. Either way, I would argue these are the two most suited to work with Topo. 

Eau de Vie: We got lucky, and the first one we tried was a hit. Clear Creek Pear Brandy retains its crystalline magic pear flavor in Topo, and takes on a slight haze that looks really cool. Every other Eau de Vie has been a flop.

Rum: Plantation Pineapple Rum will be in the freezer permanently, it tastes like cream soda with Topo.

Cognac: Paul Beau VS makes a great highball. Beyond it’s flavors, I’m so pleased to serve it since I remembered reading about “Fine a l’Eau” in the works of Hemingway and other great literary alcoholics.

Absinthe: I recommend doing this with zero sarcasm. Think about it: absinthe needs to be chilled and heavily diluted. Highballs are super cold and contain a bunch of water. They just make sense together.

Green Chartreuse: Everyone went through a brief period of drinking chartreuse straight and feeling cool about it. This brought an old flame back to life. Frozen Chartreuse in a highball will make you drunk very fast. 

The Glass 

We had the freezer, and we had the water/booze combos we liked. The last piece of the puzzle was a compelling highball glass. Anvil uses a Japanese glass, and like I said, it’s fucking gorgeous. The glass is more than a little bit of what makes the highball great.

We had to find a glass that wasn’t a standardized Collins or highball. Japanese highball glasses were an option. An expensive option that looks like copying Anvil. We thought about it.

Then I remembered those rocks glasses I drank from at the Ace Hotel in New Orleans. It was clearly an inexpensive glass, but its ridges were hypnotic. I stared at it for 20 minutes as I killed a Campari and Soda in the lobby bar. I drunkenly kicked it across the floor on accident. I drank ice-cold water out of it the next morning, and though I was near death, the glass brought me a weird comfort. Nice glassware will make even water seem luxurious. I barfed the same water up immediately and it was still very cold on the way back out. Chef and Stephanie took me to New Orleans for my birthday. We made our time there count.

The glass was a Duralex Manhattan Highball. It costs 4 bucks. This was to be our highball glass. It’s twice as thick as the Japanese highball glasses and I reason this will help it hold temperature longer. I don’t know shit or fuck about thermodynamics; this is just a guess. I do a lot of guessing when it comes to science.

At Blacksmith, I’m telling the GM Anderson about how we’re getting highball glasses. I show her a picture, and she recognizes it instantly, “Ah, Duralex Manhattan eh? Did you get those from the Ace?” Anderson used them in New Orleans too.

“You know what people are calling this drink up in the pacific northwest? A Texas Highball. That’s what they call a frozen whisky and a frozen glass with sparkling water. It has to be because of Anvil.” 

We fuckin stole it 

Christine Nguyen and John Ridgeway are making us look quite modest, highball wise. She famously ordered a Rochelt Elderberry highball at Tongue Cut Sparrow. Late at night I’m getting sent pictures of Jelínek Slivovitz and Vichy Catalan highballs. A liter of Vichy Catalan contains 40% of your daily-recommended intake of salt. I drank that water all over San Sebastian, pickling myself. One day I will try to trick Terry into drinking it.

Ben and Heidi from Oberlin and Birch were visiting chef. We went to Anvil first, and had some highballs. Then we went to public services, and had some more. By then Ben was convinced, “I’m totally taking Highballs back to Rhode Island.” I like the idea of the concept spreading, but I feel weird about it. When he got back home, I get the text, “How do I make a highball?!” In my head I’m thinking, I don’t know the rules man, We fuckin’ stole it. 

“Just make sure you balance the flavor of the water with the flavors of the spirit. Try different amounts of water too.” Ben’s using Lurisia up there.

Alex Negranza kegged Toki highballs for Iron Somm. I think he carbonated Fiji water for that. When I admitted to him that I was going to start doing highballs, he told me something very Alex Negranza of him: that I could add a custom mineral blend to distilled water to design and keg my own mineral water. “You can dial it in however you want!” If it made for a better flavor or a fun garnish, Alex would manipulate the very fabric of space and time if he had to. I respect this. 

These combinations of water & spirit thrill me in the same way pairing food and wine does. Just using the booze and the presentation with little cultural context is kinda the story of my life. This is how you wound up with Swiss cider and German riesling in your local Sichuan restaurant. God help you if one day I gain control of a restaurant pairing menu with a full liquor license, because highballs work with food. 

I do not approve of Highballs that contain more than two ingredients. Spirit/liqueur/water is just too much for me. Fortunately, almost everything in this universe can exist without my approval. See also: dessert pizza, malort, and durian.  


Anvil’s Japanese Highball certainly inspired ours, but don’t call ours Japanese. Calling it a Texas Highball helps me picture a dramatic East / West showdown. A bloody melee in the streets of Houston between Samurais and Cowboys. Our highball isn’t exactly elegant, but it is memorable. This is a highball that speaks only in shouts, that drinks straight from the bottle. That turns the television off with a pistol. It is savagely carbonated, and cold as the icy fingers of death, which it does not fear.

But there is no confrontation to be had. We don’t have an adversarial relationship with the Anvil & Tongue Cut Sparrow folks, as I’m regularly asking them for advice on all kinds of things. The only thing I can really trade them is information on fortified wine. Thank god I can bring something to the table.

It is funny to me that the cocktail that captured my imagination the most as a fledgling bar owner is a whisky and soda. We will never shake a cocktail at Public Services if we can help it (we’ve never used shaker tins in 2.5 years so it’s looking good). Our goal is to serve alcohol as close to straight as possible. I’d tell you we’re a wine bar, not a cocktail bar; but my weekend product mix report might say otherwise. Either way, this presentation of a highball is ideal for our mission. It is a clever new gadget for our utility belt.

Now that I’ve digested and moved on from my insecurity over the whole thing, I simply have to thank Anvil for the idea and get on with my life. We didn’t invent a single cocktail on our menu. None of them are original. The highball is no exception to that. We didn’t invent sherry either, no matter what anyone tells you.

The lesson, if I have to offer one, is that there are no rules with highballs. Shit, there are barely rules in life. As long as you’re making people happy with the product that’s all that matters. Make your own highballs. Taste it against some others.

All I can say about them is that they satisfy you in different ways.

Friday, January 13, 2017


Rochelt fruit brandies are so wonderful I’m positive they can heal wounds inflicted by mythical creatures that would otherwise be lethal. Got a super-infected Cajun Werewolf bite on your leg? Tell the Loup Garou to fuck off to its stupid face as it runs from the dawn. Pour half an ounce of Rochelt Elderberry on the bite, cover it in gauze and go about your business. Not only will you survive and not be turned, but you'll feel rested and alert. Are vampires tearing your city apart? Is society descending into chaos as they storm police headquarters, feeding on the brave men and women who dared to stay behind? Conventional ammunition is useless- the creatures heal immediately. Mix a little agar with your Rochelt, and use the tip of a small knife to scoop the solidified Rochelt into the concave tip of your hollow-point bullets. If you run, you can make it to battle in time to turn the tide. Kick the door in, and shoot a vampire in the face with a .45 caliber bullet laced with Rochelt Gravenstein apple brandy. As their body burns, it smells like sweet, juicy cider. Take back your city.

Look at this fucking bottle. Keep looking. Never stop looking.
They’re ground up jewels that you can drink. They’re promises of a better tomorrow from fairy godmothers. These brandies shouldn’t exist, and it breaks my heart every time I hold those perfect bottles in my hands and smell the impossibly dense and smooth liquor inside. What is it with those perfect bottle tops? Are they keys? Am I even ready to see what’s behind the doors they open? I am not ready. I will never be ready and it’s not going to stop me from going through.

The hideous expense of selecting perfectly ripe fruit from dozens of growers captivates my imagination. These raspberries aren’t perfect enough for our brandy production but we made you this decent raspberry cobbler. You’d take a bite and weep, knowing that the Rochelt family discarded more decadent fruit than you’ve ever actually tasted. Did the pie make you sad? No, you choke out between sobs. It was to touch true happiness, if for but a second.

To say they taste like their distillate base fruit doesn’t feel accurate. This is hyper real cherry flavor. If actual cherries tasted like Rochelt Morello Cherry brandy, people would be invading countries when they find out they have vast untapped cherry orchards. “No war for cherries”, the college students would chant during their useless demonstrations. Halliburton would lead the cherry orchard service industry, and receive decadent government contracts to grow and enrich cherries to simply be evaluated by Rochelt, with no guarantee they will be accepted. The ebb and flow of cherry production would drive the global economy, and the fate of the human race.

How many cherries go into making just 375ml of brandy? We don’t know for sure, but scientists estimate it’s between 300 and 400 quadrillion cherries per bottle. It's a big number.

I get the suspicion beings from a higher plane of existence left this stuff in our crappy universe on accident. It just doesn’t make sense. I’m not bringing this hypothesis to the theoretical physics community though, because I try not to question good things. Is it expensive? Yes- it’s frighteningly expensive. But give it a break; shipping costs get wacky when your perfect, ethereal brandy has to pass through the fucking Stargate unharmed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about inter-dimensional travel lately. Specifically, I wonder how long I could steal wine and liquor allocations from myself and my peers in alternate realities before they come hunting for me in my home dimension. I think there was a Jet Li movie about something like that (it had more to do with kung-fu than wine buying).

Walking the warehouse of every possible world
Rochelt though. It’s one of those things I get up for in the morning. The excitement of new alcohols is literally the only thing that carries me forward in life. Working in a bar, wearing pants, being nice to people and not biting them, getting haircuts somewhat regularly- it’s all to one end.

I’m very lucky to have a job that gives me the ability to obtain rare and exotic stuff like Rochelt. It’s a once in a lifetime beverage, and I only bought one bottle for Public Services. Anvil and Eight Row flint bought all four bottles that were offered to Texas, and in hindsight I feel slightly cowardly for not having gone all in. I’m not sweating it. We’ll bring the hammer down next time. Those places are still selling them, at really incredible prices.

Rochelt is truly magnificent. I’m so grateful to have glimpsed its sublime beauty. Find it if you can. Steal it from yourself on the other side. Run from your fate as long as you can, as long as there is more brandy to drink.

Rochelt is imported to the US by PM Spirits.

Friday, September 9, 2016


The Court of Master Sommeliers exams are broken up into three components: theory (a written or verbal exam), Blind tasting (up to six wines), and a service exam.

My favorite part of every wine exam or competition is the service component. Here the proctors will simulate an actual dining room scenario during which a candidate will have to safely and correctly open sparkling wine, decant red wine, serve liquors and other tasks- all while answering questions about other products. The harder the test or competition, the more intense and complex the scenarios become. At the highest levels (like the Master Sommelier exam) it’s almost impossible to know what you’re going to have to deal with. At that level, nothing is given away- everything is designed to cripple you with pressure.

It’s been years since I got to participate in a service exam, but looking back- I can definitely say the menu at Public Services is written with an ugly service exam in mind. Although it’s not exactly a balanced list, it does boast outrageous breadth so that we can be put through a completely different ringer of questions every day.

But even that’s not enough for me. I sometimes fantasize about creating a more extreme test that folds in classic action movie scenarios into service. You need to serve a magnum of obscure tete de cuvee to three different tables from cover while your proctor is across the room emptying a fully automatic Saiga-12 shotgun in your direction, barking questions about sake. Who makes Noble Cuvee? What is taruzake? What is the term for undiluted sake? To avoid gunfire originating behind you, move in a zigzag pattern. Don't forget to polish your glassware. Don't forget to line your tray. Use smoke grenades to obscure the aim of the proctor.

You’d walk up to your proctor before the exam, they check your tools, they check to make sure your fingernails have been trimmed, then they hand you a small black case. “In case you’re exposed to VX gas over the course of this service exam, you’ll need to inject this antidote directly into your heart.” They demonstrate by depressing a button, which causes a 5-inch wide-gauge needle to shoot out like a switchblade. “You’ll have about ten seconds after exposure before irreversible nerve damage sets in and you’ll be paralyzed- so don’t hesitate to inject yourself if the event that the maître d’ alerts you to gas. After that, you’ll need to assist any other surviving candidates.” You walk into the room and all the proctors are wearing gasmasks. Little green ampoules of VX are scattered all over the floor. Do you have any questions before we begin?

Chef says my writing reads like a Michael Bay movie.

Or perhaps we could do a scenario where you sign up for your exam to happen over a six-month period. You won’t know when it’s going to happen until a black bag is thrown over your head and you’re dragged out of the local wine bar into a black van. You come to in a cargo plane with several other candidates flying over the South China Sea. Once at the drop zone, three of you will be kicked out the back of the plane to chase two parachutes that your proctor has tossed out. Get the heavier of the two candidates into the parachutes and then get the third one to wrap their arms through the straps. Your job is to land on the Eleonora Mærsk, an E-class cargo ship. Once (if) you’ve landed, you need to seek out a container that houses three pallets of wine. You will have to determine which pallet would have the highest resale value at auction, and protect said pallet from the pirates that are currently raiding the ship. Ideally, have the candidate who violently dislocated their arms from clinging to a parachute improperly do the work in the container while the other two provide cover fire- if you’ve been detected. Moving quickly and quietly are the keys to passing here. Once you’ve chosen the pallet, secure the skyhook to it and activate the beacon. This will turn the plane around to extract you and the wine. If you are unable to hitch a ride on the pallet as its lifted off the ship, you will have one small additional task: slaughter all the pirates and pilot the ship to dry land.

Please manually disgorge this bottle of Movia Puro sparkling wine into this bucket of water. The only catch is that the bucket is full of nitroglycerin, not water. Also don’t get too close to the windows: because there are snipers. Snipers turn on laser sights at this stage in the exam, so you at least have some sort of idea if you’re about to get shot. In the real world it’s worth noting you will have no warning.

Remember gang, silencers must be used for all gun battles on the floor- the second the guest experience is compromised by the sound of gunfire, the fourth wall is broken and the careful performance of great service evaporates. It’s not an automatic fail to discharge a weapon without a suppressor during a service exam, but it’s a pretty hard gaffe to recover from, point-wise. But remember: “work in recovery”. Make sure to catch your hot brass as it ejects- you lose a point if it hits the ground or a table. In certain situations swords can provide a quiet, more elegant form of deadly force during service. TEXSOM could use double-action only, cowboy-style revolvers during service exams to add a distinctive Texan flair to the already challenging competition they hold at the Las Colinas Four Seasons. Is it so hard to imagine the Master Somms wearing Colt Peacemakers in addition to boots and beltbuckles?

It doesn’t feel that far-fetched to me. I’m all about elite, shadowy organizations with specialized skillsets. I adore the idea of getting a bunch of Navy SEALS and SAS folks together with MSs and MWs to create this truly horrific exam. Surely there’s something both groups have to learn from each other. You know what would make the MS outfit look even cooler? Kevlar and NVGs. 

I'm basically suggesting we turn Bravo's Uncorked into a sommelier version of The Running Man. Look me in the eyes and tell me you don't want to see that. You can't. 

And I'm sorry if all of this is disturbing to you but these visions, these flights of fancy enter my brain whether I want them to or not. I don’t know how much control other people have over their imaginations, but mine is an HD television that I can never turn off. If you catch me staring off in the distance on a particular Saturday evening at the bar, know that I am in a helicopter trying to cut myself out of my seatbelt as the cabin fills with freezing seawater and burning engine fuel. Using my legs to try and kick the glass out of the sliding door, Joe Spellman is over the speakers, asking what wine style uses the Clavelin bottle, what it’s capacity is, and why. Maybe if I’m having a particularly juicy day my imagination will throw in an ex-girlfriend or two (still buckled in, silently watching me with hard eyes, even as freezing water goes over her head). I’m constantly escaping downed helicopters. I have never flown in one in real life, and its going to scare the shit out of me whenever I do. Vin Jaune and Chateau Chalon go in Clavelins. My mind at least does me the favor of imaging Joe Spellman is the guy walking me through a deadly service exam because he is a very nice guy and I immediately feel comfortable around him.

That’s actually one of the ultimate fucked-up service exams right there- your most emotionally charged exes as your proctors for the exam, with their new mates, who are more attractive and successful than you. While you’re decanting 97 La Pergola Torte, they’re playing grab-ass and smooching each other, arguing about which gelato stand was the best during their vacation in Rome. They’re taking selfies. If you look up from decanting to wish (out loud) that they would just fuck off for five seconds, you will lose a ton of points. Don’t look up.

There’s a moral somewhere in here somewhere, a lesson to be gleaned from all this nonsense and I’m getting to it. Picture yours truly narrating the service component walkthrough. I’d be digging around in an open chest wound and a bloody white tee. This is where I would look at the camera and say,

“The court teaches us to always work in recovery. You’re inevitably going to make mistakes and experience setbacks on the floor. How one responds to a mistake is what sets the pros apart from the amateurs. Can you recover with grace and poise, or will you let it rattle you, and reverberate throughout the rest of your service?”

I’m jabbing a pair of forceps into my chest, fishing for a bullet.

“Decanters full of irreplaceable wine will break open and spill on irreplaceable clothing. TCA will infect the last bottle of birth-year wine your most important regular was pining for. Your chef will change the dish you have to pair with right after you receive ten cases of wine that was perfect with the dish before they covered it with red molé.  And you will incur flesh wounds in your personal life that will make you want to snap in your professional life, and kill the next person who asks you ‘if you have any real absinthe, bro’.”

I tug on the forceps and remove a black talon hollow point that has bloomed into a star pattern, and I cough up a little bit of blood.

“Just remember to remain calm in the face of being knocked off balance, and set to work correcting it immediately. Throw linen over the spill, and get a fresh bottle. Offer to pay for the dry cleaning. Divert that wine you can’t pair into your by-the-glass program. Surround yourself with positive influences and try not to do anything terribly stupid in response to external stressors. Do not let it affect your work. But actually kill that dude who won’t shut up about real absinthe, he sucks.”

I drop the bullet into a little pan and it goes tink.

Realistically though, the MS exam is already one of the hardest tests in the world, it doesn’t need live-fire exercises or nerve gas added into it. However I do wish they used more dramatic service prompts. Let’s take it out with one that’s been in my head for a while:

Alright (candidate name), I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you- an ancient truce has been broken. There is a war being waged in the shadows, and it pains me greatly to say that my team and I have failed. We were unable to stop our enemies at the Arcand occult society from activating the device buried deep beneath the earth’s crust and frankly we’re just trying to enjoy the time we have left on this world.

*look at your watch and sigh*

Which, by my calculations is one hour. Money is of no object to us, because currency is about to become literally useless in a world where monsters roam the streets feeding on the starving, terrified survivors of the impending apocalypse. Anyway, which of the following champagnes is the most expensive on your list?

-Pierre Peters “Les Chetillons” Blanc de Blancs 1999      

-Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Françaises Blanc de Noirs 1999   

-Krug Rose MV

-Salon “Cuvee S” Blanc de Blanc 1999  

Ideally at this point something would start trying to break down the door, making guttural screeching and howling noises. “Hurry up. We’re thirsty and we’re all about to die”.

Thank your lucky stars I will never get to design an exam.

Sunday, August 21, 2016


I have no strong emotional connection to the meal. Brunch is just coincidentally a good time for me to share a food thing with people I care about.

But I feel like brunch brings out the worst in people- the guests, the front of house and back of house. It’s a nightmare of a shift and many people know this, inside and outside of the industry.

I feel it’s negative radiation wash over me the second I walk in the door and I think that we are the only ones that deserve to be here. Everyone else is here so they can be the worst version of themselves with impunity and torment a captive service staff. Everywhere guests are getting huffy because they have to wait, servers are pouring coffee into orange juice on accident because they might still be drunk. Stuff is getting overcooked, people are ordering drinks by snapping their fingers at servers and everyone is insane with rage and dying from fatigue. The whole room is about to blow. I already struggle to relax in bars and restaurants, but this is another level. I am a dog on the fourth of July. Everything is exploding around me and I am shaking, trying to remain calm and act normal. Just act normal!

The freewheeling hysterical energy of brunch turns me against my fellow man so fast I feel like I’m going to grow horns and bite someone. Brunch is one of those microcosms of humanity that might make an alien race want to exterminate us. I wouldn’t blame them. I’m sitting down to brunch; I’m part of the problem.

Don’t get me started on the roving band. I can feel them, stalking us as they slink through the restaurant like jungle cats inching toward us in the underbrush, ready to sing happy birthday. They know we don’t want the attention, and it makes them hungrier to annihilate our sense of comfort. A predator will always lust for the chase- so too does my refusal to make eye contact with the band excite them to come play a song just for me. It looks cool when they’re serenading someone else’s table. But when I can feel them approaching my table my brain dumps buckets of fight or flight chemicals into my mind and I’m breathing hard and sweating profusely, on the verge of a heart attack. I suppose I could just sternly be like please do not play music at my table for the love of fuck I am so tired and I will puke blood on you if you make me the center of attention. But I can’t say that. They’re on us now, they’re asking if it’s a special occasion and I’m like somehow we’re still alive so we’re celebrating. I don’t protest because they’re in the service industry too. They are also hustling, and I have to respect that. Tip them. If I think about it critically, I’m pretty sure plenty of people see me walking to the table and think not this fucking guy. I can pick my own wine, nerd.

Then I sit down and remember something important: it’s noon and I can start drinking immediately. I can, and will order many different drinks. Mimosas are for children- I would like an absinthe frappe. I would like coffee with Romepope. I would like a Berliner Weisse with fruit liqueur in it. I would like more coffee but this time in milkshake form. I would like a bottle of Huet sparkling Vouvray. I would like a Tom Collins with a float of Chartreuse. I would like an Orval out of an Orval glass (I want to live in the perfect, airy foam). I want a glass of cask strength whisky neat because I woke up thirty minutes ago and I still hate myself. I would like a Michelada, with a shrimp in it if that option is available. I would like a grasshopper with Branca Menta. I would like a bottle of preposterously cold Keller Limestone Kabinett Riesling. I would like a Ramos gin fizz and I would like a Reissdorf Kolsch to drink while you shake it. I want chicory coffee.  I want shots of Strega for us and everyone sitting at least 10 feet around us. I want a mango lassi.  

I want Toki highballs and I would like you to make sure we never run out of them for even a second. I would like a bloody mary with Tapatio 110 tequila in it and a gunpowder rim. I would like a watermelon full of unpasteurized sake. I would like a shot of Laurent Cazottes Pear Eau-de-Vie. I want Guy Breton Morgon in a magnum and I want it on ice- yes- I want all the wine we drink during this meal to be cold, and I want it served in Zalto burgundy stems.  I un-sarcastically desire a Harvey Wallbanger with fresh squeezed, fluffy orange juice. I would like an Underberg and a straw. I would like a glass of Vichy Catalan with a slice of exotic fruit in it (very exotic, I’m talking rambutans n’ shit). I’m sorry about what I said about mimosas earlier- I’d like a mimosa but please throw a splash of herbsaint in it, we’re not cowards here. I want a bourbon milk punch. I want a glass of chilled Rare Wine Co Sercial Madeira. I want a kombucha but like, pour some gin in it? I want a chocolate egg cream.  I want Tempier Bandol rose. Fino En Rama from Montilla-Moriles. A flagon of Cà phê sữa đá. Brandy Alexanders. Cantillon gueuze. Imperial Dragonwell green tea. D’Esperance Armagnac. And a Topo Chico.

I am prepared to spend all of my money.

Before I know it, I am peering through a joyful forest of beverages on the table, and I feel alive. I feel restored by ordering alcohol like a child. This is brunch; I can do whatever I want. I can take my pants off. I can pick up babies, toss them 30 feet in the air and catch them- they will love it. I can run on water. I can step on the white tiles that I know to be lava.

I am literally invincible.

And the food! Brunch food cuts all the crap and answers the pressing question- how much would you like of whatever you want? I can’t eat cake for lunch without looking crazy, but I can eat French toast at brunch and nobody feels like they have to call protective services on my pancreas. I can eat French toast as simply a side accompaniment to a plate that is brown-pink with four types of animal proteins and fried food slung across it. I personally aim for my main brunch course to be mostly brown in color. The more vibrant shades should come from alcohol, which by the final savory dish I’ve ideally consumed much of.

To my knowledge only Cuchara, Hugo’s, and Caracol serve hot chocolate and churros at brunch. This is a travesty: hot chocolate and Churro’s should be served at every meal, by every restaurant. My life is ruined every time I’m at a brunch that has decided to cruelly omit churros from my Sunday afternoon bacchanal. By the time I’ve learned that Churros are not an option, my id is already completely on fire and I’m considering breaking into the chef’s house at night with a machete. Sitting on the foot of their bed and waking them up by hissing something reasonable like what gives you the fucking right to deny me churros.

But seriously, like Pete Wells’ brilliant treatise on Thanksgiving, the most important ingredient at brunch, is excess. So fuck it, order an ounce of caviar to smear on your waffle. Order a whole lobe of foie gras. You get that cheesecake milkshake, and you pour some Elijah Craig 18 year in it. Because you could be dead tomorrow. You are here, right now, at brunch and you need to make everyone jealous of how hard you live. You need to take a fucking stand against the rigamarole of this world. You need to kiss madness on the mouth and laugh in the face of death because the time is now. It is brunch.

I talk a lot of shit about it, but the vulgar hedonism of brunch wins me over every time. I leave the establishment tipsy, sluggish with food, marching in a straight line towards the nearest couch. There, I will die. I will sink into a Mariana trench of satisfaction, deeper than the deepest K-hole. I will wrap myself in my comforter and forget about how bad I am being in charge of something. I will forget every dumbass thing I’ve ever said to a beautiful woman. I will forget every time I jacked up a wine pairing and it actually got served to a guest. I will for a brief moment, stop comparing myself to everyone and everything. I will turn off the giant, glowing doomsday device that hums ominously in my basement to save for another day. I will not open the gateway to hell, not today.

I will just exist. I will be a peaceful, warm little chicken tender wrapped in very soft Italian blankets. I have no idea what happens after this moment. I never do.