Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons, “Cats of NYC” Tote, The Strand Bookstore
While I’m an equal-opportunity friend of the animal kingdom, those who know me would easily identify me as a “cat guy.” Dogs were a part of my household growing up, but there was always a cat underfoot. From childhood through high-school there was Waldo, a larger-than-life, 20-pound bruiser who we always suspected was half Maine Coon; then my college girlfriend thought that breaking up with me would be easier by gifting me with Wushu, an agile calico kitten who came home with me on Thanksgiving break and was quickly adopted by my father as his own; and I now share my life (and my Brooklyn apartment) with Louis, an affable 11-year-old gray tabby whose exploits on Instagram typically garner more “likes” than my steady stream of food and drinks posts.
Aside from calling out Louis in the Acknowledgments in Bitters, my twin passions for cats and cocktails didn’t fully align on the page until last December, when I wrote a piece for PUNCH entitled “The Secret Lives of Distillery Cats,” where I surveyed the spirited tradition of the subset of working class cats devoted to protecting distilleries’ barley, rye, and corn from rodents, birds, and other potential invaders. Feline legends like Glenturret Distillery’s Towser the Mouser, the Michael Jordan of distillery cats, and the new breed of distillery cats, such as Carlos and Jeffey of Brooklyn’s King County Distillery, were but a few of the featured cats carrying on this centuries old practice.
In early August I received an e-mail from NPR’s Ari Shapiro and the next morning I was in the New York studios of NPR off Bryant Park talking about cats for half an hour. Ari’s report, “Behind Every Good Whisky Is a Trusty Distillery Cat” (R.I.P. Peat the Distillery Cat) aired on Tuesday, September 9, and in an instant, distillery cats were not so secret anymore. You’ll forgive me for the high-reaching analogy, but if Ari was inspired by my original story (in this example, my Rubber Soul) to produce his own story (in this example, his Pet Sounds), then I can only hope that the next product of this inspirational trade-off, a book on distillery cats, will be my Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That’s right, in addition to Amaro (Fall 2016), the book I’m currently working on, I’m happy to report that Ten Speed Press will also be publishing Distillery Cats (Spring 2016).
To continue the music analogy, Distillery Cats will be a much smaller book, an EP between Bitters and Amaro. A well-designed, very giftable volume of 30 notable distillery cats, with illustrations, photographs, essays, and cocktail recipes. It’s Profiles in Courage meets Secrets of the Sommeliers, but with cats. If you’re a distiller with a cat on staff,
drop me a line, and be sure to get your daily distillery cat fix @DistilleryCats on Instagram.
Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons
All is quiet on New Year’s Day, making it the perfect occasion for a look back at 2013.
On the book front, I’ve been fortunate that interest in Bitters is still going strong. Just over two-years-old it’s currently in its sixth printing, sales continue to be strong and steady, and I’m still doing classes and events and fielding regular media requests. I’m so very grateful to all of the booksellers, readers, bartenders, and cocktail enthusiasts for their continued support.
Aside from adventures in Brooklyn and Manhattan this year I returned to some of my favorite cities like Seattle, Oxford, Memphis, and Austin. I made multiple trips to San Francisco and Napa Valley throughout the year and had an unforgettable weekend in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle along with some quick trips to Boston and Philadelphia.
And so I present a super-sized, spirited look back at 2013, pausing on some of my favorite moments, most of which involved delicious food or a cocktail. And remember, you can keep up with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Cheers, and best wishes for a healthy and prosperous New Year!
Photo: Krishna Dayanidhi
This morning I received an e-mail from my editor that said “Happy 1 Year Bitters-versary!” It was a year ago today that Bitters was published, and it turned out to be a pretty eventful year. The book is now in its fourth printing (with a fifth just around the corner) and this year it was honored with an IACP Award and a James Beard Award, and nominated for a Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award. It also landed on Best of the Year lists from Amazon, iBookstore, and Bon Appetit. In Brooklyn, where I live, there were events at Whisk, Greenlight Bookstore, and The Brooklyn Kitchen, and I went on the bitters trail in San Francisco (Omnivore Books), Portland (The Meadow), Seattle (Book Larder, Dahlia Lounge), and Boston (The Boston Shaker). I’m still thrilled when I see Bitters in bookstores (I swear, I never, well almost never face out the book on the shelf), and it’s especially rewarding to come across it in the house library of actual bars and restaurants.
The Acknowledgements in Bitters already run too long, but another big thank you to my publisher, Ten Speed Press and the Crown Publishing Group for all of their support, and for all of the readers, bartenders, bitters lovers, and cocktail enthusiasts, who have embraced the book. And to my publisher, Aaron Wehner; my editor, Emily Timberlake; and Ed Anderson, who really brought this book to life.
Now, in the spirit of the celebrated TV series tradition of the “clip show,” I present some highlights from a very bitter year…
Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons
Like my father before me, I am a creature of habit. Especially when it comes to dining out. I prefer to keep a handful of haunts in heavy rotation rather than race to have my ticket punched at the latest, must-try spot. And if it’s Friday night you’re likely to find me at Momofuku Ssäm Bar. If you’re friends with me on Facebook you probably already know this as I have a (surely annoying) habit of checking in with a choice lyric from whatever song might be be blasting from the speakers as I settle in. Sometimes it’s utterly random but, being a sentimental sort, you can’t discount synchronicity. Pull up a stool and you might hear the Pixies’ “Debaser,” the Stones’ “Shattered,” Bowie’s “Queen Bitch,” the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll,” or Pulp’s “Common People.” And since this is a David Chang restaurant you can count on at least one Pavement song per half-hour. So if I’m on a date or feeling particularly wistful when “Spit on a Stranger” comes on, I hope you’ll cut me some slack if Stephen Malkmus singing “Honey I’m a prize and you’re a catch / and we’re a perfect match” makes it seem like the movie of my life is being backed by a killer soundtrack. (more…)
When I was considering an epigraph for Bitters I quickly rejected using the much-referenced 1806 definition of the word cocktail (“…a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters…”) and instead went with two inscriptions that, for me, capture the spirit of the book. The first was the classic SAT analogy, “Salt is to food as bitters are to [blank]…,” which I nicked from Kurt B. Reighley’s The United States of Americana, and the second was a lyric from Pavement’s “Gold Soundz”: “So drunk in the August sun, and you’re the kind of girl I like…” (more…)
Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons
Last Friday I caught a late afternoon matinee of Crazy Stupid Love. Much of the action takes place at a slick pick-up joint of a bar, where Ryan Gosling’s Jacob prowls the room looking for a new conquest using his closer, “Let’s get out of here.” While Jacob always has a timeless old-fashioned in his hand, Steve Carell’s sad sack Cal nurses an emasculating vodka and cranberry through a skinny straw. (On straws in alcoholic drinks: unless it’s a tropical drink or a mint julep, whose intentionally short straw serves as a lure to get your nose closer to the aromatic bouquet of mint garnish, I do think a gentleman should part ways with the straw.) (more…)