Jack Daniel's Whiskey & Cola: Sucks

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There are some lazy sumbitches out there.
Last time I was mixing myself a Jack & Coke, I was so frustrated with the difficulty of the task. I mean, you have find a glass, open a can of Coke aaand a bottle of Jack Daniel's whiskey all by yourself. Then you have to pour all that in a glass? With ice?! "There has to be a better way!"

Jack Daniel's heard my cries and recently released a new product in U.S. markets: Jack Daniels Whiskey & Cola. It's just Jack & Coke already mixed up and bottled for you. It's also 5 percent ABV.

And it sucks.

The taste is fine, if you ignore the aluminum aftertaste, the fact that the proportion of alcohol to cola is exactly what a bartender would serve you at Chili's and the obvious point that no one in recorded history has ever claimed that a Jack & Coke is delicious. Functional? Of course. Delicious?

Not really. I actually thought I liked Jack & Coke until I had it in a bottle without ice. Turns out, I just like ice.

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Ginning Up a New Texas Spirit

The first Texas gin and the first spirit ever created by a chef is about to make its debut. Former Coca-Cola executive Don Short and James Beard Award-winning chef Robert Del Grande are the two men behind the enterprise and look forward to its early June release here in Texas. Here's Short on how this project came to fruition.

How did all of this happen?
A year and a half ago, two friends, chef Robert Del Grande and I, began working on a new spirits business. It's New Artisan Spirits Inc. We investigated a variety of spirits, but because both of us had extensive experience with botanicals (Robert through cooking and I was CEO of Minute Maid), we decided gin was a great space where we felt we could make a difference.

Robert spent the time creating a signature recipe. It has a significant amount of juniper (required for a gin), but is balanced with Texas grapefruit and lime (and in this case, both are fresh peels, not dried botanicals, which is more common). Coriander keeps the juniper and citrus in balance. Hibiscus gives it the perfume, along with the citrus. Then, we have traditional botanicals, like orris root, and we have new botanicals like Texas pecans, cocoa nibs and sarsaparilla.

We wanted a gin that traditional drinkers of gin would find very appealing and even those that had not tasted gin in a while (or ever), would find appealing. While Robert worked on the botanicals, I designed the bottle. The Skyline Bottle is designed to give a toast to the great architects of the world and the great skylines they have created. The bottle, which stands up well next to crystal, has beautiful windows, and would fit well on the skyline of any great city. Then I developed the strong name ROXOR. It's a palindrome, and we think it stands up well on this beautiful bottle.

Why craft a gin as opposed to any of the other spirits?
There are only so many things you can do with vodka, for example. More distillations, unique water. With gin, after you add juniper, you have a clean palette with which to work. And, since we start with a vodka (Dripping Springs Vodka is our distiller and partner), we start with a very clean spirit. Perhaps this is why our gin, even though it is 90 proof, is much smoother than traditional gins. Add that to our unique steeping and distilling methods, and you get our signature taste...a modern gin, which is our really big idea: Create modern interpretations of the spirits that helped define cultures. Gin is our first.

In what ways do you think chef Del Grande's doctorate in biochemistry helped in creating this gin?
Robert's PhD came into play, perhaps more that his artistic culinary skills. We've had an Excel [spread]sheet going for over a year, determining the impact of 12 different botanicals, the impact of temperature, the impact of types of botanical, etc. While art may be our signature touch, the science of biochemistry is critical to making a spirit. We analyzed every gin in the world and believe ROXOR stands out as a wonderful modern gin. Add that to the bottle, and we believe you have "perhaps the most attractive gin in the world" (our tag line).

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Sean Conner Hopes His Watermelon Crush Will Stomp the Competition

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Jose Ralat Maldanado
Sean Conner shakes his way to Chicago.
Not all bartenders are boozy, party after last-call types. Some are family men, like Sean Conner, the Whiskey Cake muddling and shaking engineer who is one six bartenders up for the National Restaurant Association's "Star of the Bar" mantle, part of the 2011 International Wine, Spirit & Beer Event to be held in Chicago, on May 22. (Apparently, this is the season for bartender competitions. See the post below.)

The drink that got 30-year-old Conner to the big show is the Watermelon Crush, a watermelon-English cucumber concoction mixed with Bacardi Superior and house-made simple syrup. The drink, meant to be enjoyed on the porch of Whiskey Cake in the pummeling summer heat, had its genesis in Conner's early days in the business when he worked at Mexican restaurants.

Conner's winning concoction.
"It's based off the aguas frescas and horchatas the cooks would prepare after the kitchen closed. They did amazing, inspired things with carrots," said Conner, who took the day off to play with his 5-year-old daughter, one of his two children. "I'm teaching her to ride a scooter." The latter statement was said in the same tone in which he further described how he devised the Watermelon Crush. "I was just trying to come up with a refreshing drink."

When the bartender, who has worked with the Consilient Restaurants group for six years, including stint at Victor Tango's and Fireside Pies, travels north for the contest, he will be required to show how the drink is made in order to vie for the $5,000 prize -- that is, if he advances to the final heat that night. "If I win, I'm going to use the money to catch up on bills and install new carpet in our house." So much for the chug-a-fifth for breakfast stereotype of spirit slingers, eh?

Follow City of Ate on Twitter: @cityofate.



A Pair of Dallas Rum Shakers Take Manhattan

Lauren Drewes Daniels
Abraham Bebell and Dave Mayer are tiki champs. Make us proud, guys. You're the face of Dallas.
So, two guys are sitting at a bar -- one is a priest, the other is a carpenter. A guy in a starched shirt hands them each a shot of rum, which they drink...

This past Wednesday, DonQ Rum hosted a little event at The Cedars Social to find Dallas' top mixologists. There were two different categories and the prize for each was an all-expense paid trip to New York to compete in the 2011 Manhattan Cocktail Contest. The competition was designed to showcase innovative drinks using DonQ rum, fresh seasonal produce and a lot of creativity -- all with a tiki theme.

Perhaps I don't get out enough because I had no idea there were tiki bartending competitions, much less tiki bartender specialists. Honestly, I thought tiki was a theme at Party City. And a running back. Evidently, though, there is a whole movement centered on creating these fancy drinks with a wide variety of ingredients.

Dave Mayer won first place in the category of "Fancy Spirited Cocktails with a House Made Ingredient." He's coined his fruit and rum based toddy "The Back to the Island aka The Master of Space and Time." Yes, really. I asked him twice for verification and that was absolutely, in fact, without a doubt what he said. Evidently he's a huge Leon Russell fan.

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cocktails, rum

Local Boys Tell Their Tales of the Cocktail With Non-Local Alcohol

At a private awards ceremony held at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting and sponsored by the neuroscience journal I edited several years ago, a doctor lifted his glass of malbec. "Better living through chemicals!" he toasted.

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That's exactly what Ann Tuennerman has in mind when her Tales of the Cocktail happy-hour shindigs make it through Texas in May. At each stop, Tuennerman will be joined by Austin spirits writer and bartender David Alan of Tipsy Texan. The partnership with Alan seemed natural to Tuennerman. He has been an active participant in the annual Tales of the Cocktail held in the Crescent City and a Texas tipple cheerleader.

Alan has brought attention to the Lone Star State's cocktail culture in general with his classes and writing. Jason Kosmas has done the same for Dallas but through his creativity and practice, beginning with his stint at Neighborhood Services, continuing with his time at Bolsa and now, with his management position at the newly opened Marquee Grill in Highland Park Village.

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Distillery Struggles to Find Local Artisans Worthy of its Attention

A Scotch whisky distillery's effort to promote its craftsmanship by honoring talented craftsmen in various cities is threatening to peter out in Dallas, apparently for lack of qualified artisans.

The Balvenie Distillery this month launched its "Rare Craft Roadshow," in which two photogenic brand ambassadors will spend a year traveling the country in a Morgan car. The gentlemen plan to call on milliners, printers and cabinet makers, chronicling their adventures online and in a documentary film.

The road show will stop in Dallas next Wednesday for a private tasting, an event that was supposed to have been supplemented by more workshop visits.

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Woodford Reserve Invites Drinkers to Blend Their Own Bourbons

Woodford Reserve is continuing to capitalize on the popular "anyone can be a distiller" ethic that's helped fuel the current craft liquor fad, actively promoting a program in which buyers choose their own barrels for blending.

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Woodford Reserve master distiller Chris Morris
Woodford Reserve unveiled the "Personal Selection Program" eight years ago, but master distiller Chris Morris will be in town this week talking up the experience. Morris will also discuss classic cocktails and the distillery's "Master's Collection" at a pair of dinners at The Porch and The Mansion.

Participants in the Personal Selection Program spend a day at the Versailles distillery, learning how bourbon's made and enjoying a gourmet lunch.

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Dallas Drinkers Don't Like Dallas Drinks

With a drinks menu divided by historical era, The Cedars Social has provided local cocktailians with possibly the city's most sophisticated beverage selection. But the most inspired page of the well-crafted menu features cocktails created by mixologists elsewhere.

"I like to call it a liquid vacation," bartender Mike Martensen says. "You can sit on any bar stool and have a drink from New York or San Francisco."

What makes the salute especially brilliant is Martensen's willingness to share credit, a trait sometimes in short supply at the bar. Rather than steal his colleagues' ideas or deny his patrons the chance to experience them, Martensen has listed the originating bars and bartenders for all four of his borrowed drinks. The generosity benefits bartenders by acknowledging their artistry and pumping up their profiles, and allows drinkers to savor cocktails they might not have the tools or expertise to recreate at home.

Martsensen knows of only one other cocktail bar -- Teardrop Lounge in Portland -- that explicitly showcases contemporary bartenders' drinks.

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NASCAR Legend Brings Moonshine to Modern Drinkers

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If only grandma's apple preserves came bathed in moonshine
Unless your grandpa is fermenting batches of white lightning in his backyard, you're going to be hard pressed to find authentic moonshine in this neck of the woods. The moonshining, bootlegging culture of Appalachia and the South has been the subject of many documentaries, so we won't rehash the details about Prohibition and the Dukes of Hazzard characters that ran their homemade whiskey along clandestine routes.

One of the most famous bootleggers was Junior Johnson, son of moonshiner Robert Johnson Sr. The younger Johnson grew up racing a stock car filled with the family's product to buyers with a taste for the pungent liquor. Johnson was quite the driver, inventing the "bootleg turn," a sharp and speedy maneuver that he often used to outrun the feds, and in the 1950's he became one of the first stars of NASCAR. Dubbed the "Last Great American Hero" by author Tom Wolfe, Johnson retired in 1966 with 50 NASCAR wins under his belt.

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Scotch-Happy Sigel's Pours on the Hootch

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Sigel's is giving customers 68 opportunities to challenge their assumptions that they don't like scotch.

There's almost always a tasting happening at Sigel's, but a release touting next Wednesday evening's event at the 5757 Greenville Ave. store caught my attention because of the sheer number of whiskeys on offer. Distillery representatives will be pouring 68 different scotches, the majority of them single malt.

Admission to the Scotch Festival is free, although Sigel's is asking attendees to claim their "passports" in advance. A passport entitles a holder to one dozen samples (plus snacks and entry in a door prize drawing.)

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