I never write about Kickstarter campaigns, but I’m making an exception today. Probably the one and only time. After the folks behind Pocket Brunch (the now primarily defunct monthly brunch series) sent out a link to the Kickstarter video (check it out here) for Nan’l’s (aka The Bearded Lady) new venture The Jewel Box…well I couldn’t shut up about it. I love the video (made by his brother David Meiklehjohn) and what’s more am so excited for Portland to welcome a bar featuring this incredibly creative young man who does great things with fresh fruit and alcohol. I’m already a huge fan of the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club (I even partnered with owner Andrew Volk on a cocktail series last year for The Root), but it’s a big town and couldn’t we all use one more place that crafts delicious cocktails out of not just the best ingredients – but in most cases natural ones!?
The first time I met Nan’l was at the Mardi Gras themed Pocket Brunch last March (photos here). He’d set up this terrific Bloody Mary Bar at Bubba’s Sulky Lounge (that places is a trip – the lunch box collection alone is worthy of a visit). There in a dive bar meets dance club was a table lined with horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, celery, and crawfish. There might have been more, that’s just what I can remember. You got your tomato juice and maybe vodka at the bar and then mosied over to where Nan’l oversaw the drink making process. Believe it or not it was the first time I’d made a Bloody Mary and what I remember in addition to all the ingredients (or a portion of them) is how nice Nan’l was at recommending what to add to my drink. He enjoys teaching people how to make drinks, in fact it’s even part of his Kickstarter campaign – give “x” amount of money and get a private bartending session with Nan’l.
As someone who appreciates fine liquors (truth be told aside from a couple made in Kentucky and Tennessee I prefer those made in Maine!) I know practically zilch about what to do with them besides drink them straight up, not always the best approach.
When I asked Nan’l recently what makes a good daiquiri (when feeling especially girly that’s my recent go to drink) he said good aged rum, fresh lime juice and homemade simple syrup. He’s about using the best ingredients, not complicating things, and keeping it real. How to not screw one up, check out this tongue in cheek piece Nan’l shared with me by Jeffrey Morgentahler.
Nan’l is looking forward to opening his own place – The Jewel Box – so he can do theme menu weeks, show friend’s art (Maine College of Art grads primarily), and give people an idea about what a good liquor is all about. What, for instance, can Campari do with whiskey or vermouth.
Here is a description Nan’l provided of his favorite process using a specific tool: the spray bottle or misting vial. He couldn’t think of the proper name for it, but noted the “little dark blue ones” are sold at Whole Foods.
The thing I like to do with them is to take any flavor that I’m loving and make a tincture out of it using high-proof booze or any other booze that either compliments the flavor or at least doesn’t distract from the flavor you’re going for. I have jars of all kinds of singled out ingredients sitting in Everclear and/or vodka ranging from shisandra berries to cassia chips to black peppercorn to gentian root. The idea is to work these focused flavors in your favorite cocktail recipes. For example, spritz the inside of the glass with pine needle-infused absinthe before you pour in your Tuxedo #2 cocktail. It coats the glass evenly with the flavor and helps with consistency. If it’s an aromatic tincture like jasmine flower-infused gin, I like to mist the top of a drink after I’ve poured the drink into its final glass so that the first flavor component experienced is through the ol’ factory gland. I recently designed a simple drink using rum, pineapple juice, chamomile syrup, a lime wheel and jasmine flower gin spritz on top and I loved it. So, next time you know your going to make daiquiris, make an infusion or tincture, whatever you want to call it, and add it to your drink. Try any herbs, dried flowers, roots, spice, vegetable, or fruit that you think will be fun or interesting in your favorite cocktail. It’s not reinventing the wheel or anything but it’s something that keeps me experimenting. And they make for good breath fresheners!
Fun, right!? Enjoy!