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    The Reader’s Best Gin Semi-Final #1: Hendrick’s vs. Leopold’s

    Vote!

    [poll id="16"]

    The Right Way to Shake A Cocktail

    [embedplusvideo height="388" width="640" standard="http://www.youtube.com/v/VEBrhNu_Z6A?fs=1" vars="ytid=VEBrhNu_Z6A&width=640&height=388&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=" id="ep4965" /]

    Ask the Internet and one shall receive.

    As we get closer and closer to having the best gin available to us, I wanted to ensure that when I address the “shaken vs. stirred” debate, that my shaking technique was appropriate.  Luckily for me, the good folks at Chow have already addressed the issue and have created a YouTube video to help demonstrate.

    In the video is A. J. Rathbun, author of the books Good Spirits , Luscious Liqueurs, and several other books on cocktails and spirits. I have several of his books and trust him in what he has to say.

    The Reader’s Final Four Gins

    So the votes have been tallied, the polls closed, and the Reader’s bracket now is a little more filled out. The result? We (and when I say “we”, what I mean is “you”) have the final four brands of gin that will go up against one another.

    The four? Batch No. 209, Bombay Sapphire, Leopold’s Small Batch,  and Hendrick’s. Overall, not a bad selection of gin there.

    The next step? Once I find time and get off of my duff to do my own taste tests and fill out my bracket, we’ll get down to the nittiest of gritties: Determine which is the best gin.

    The match-ups will be

    Batch No. 209

    vs.

    Bombay Sapphire

    and the undercard will be:

    Leopold’s Small Batch

    vs.

     Hendrick’s

     

     

    Notes From Last Nights Reading

    (Note: I gave a brief talk last night at the reading of Sweet Tooth at Theo Chocolate. I’d thought I’d share what I had written down before the event and later shared with the many folks who showed up last night. I didn’t cover everything listed below, but was able convey the key points.)

    This is my second book, the first one being 99 Drams of Whiskey released in 2009(Quick! There’s still time to buy a copy for Father’s Day), and now this book release.  I have to say, I’ve enjoyed the process surrounding the researching, writing, and promotion of the book. 

    The reason I’ve enjoyed it is because there is no “Orientation 101″ to being a published writer. There is no, “when you find yourself here, this is the only correct course of action.” No “here’s a list of things you should never, ever do”. Writing a book and having it published is a text-book example of the “sink or swim” principle.    

    It’s when it comes to the “promotional interview” that this concept becomes clearly understood. You are on your own, with a complete stranger, who wants to talk about your book, but on their terms. Your publisher isn’t there. If you’re lucky enough to have a publicist, they aren’t there either. And when you’re in a “sink or swim” environment? All you can do is learn. 

    And do you want to know what I’ve learned about participating in “promotional interviews?” 

    I suck at them.  I’m horrible.  I’m the promotional equivalent and an elementary school choir trying to sing Handel’s Messiah. The only ones who think I’ve done a good job are my friends and family. 

    I’ve tried to figure out why I’m bad at them, and I’ve come up with several reasons. And they boil down to three key reasons. Me, myself and I. 

    First, I have to give a shout out to interviewers because they do a heck of a job. They’re trying to do twenty-five things in any given day, and their interview with me is often 24th on the list of their priorities, right below making sure that their dog has taken their heart-work medicine.  They work under deadlines everyday, which is an environment I could never work under, as I would seize up like a Catholic Cardinal who had just received a phone call from a reporter from the New York Times. 

    I can only imagine what they think when they deal with me.  I’m horrible at remember ing specifics. This is why I’m a writer. I write them down specifics because I can’t possibly remember them all.  There seems to belief that writers have committed to memory everything that they’ve written, and instant and total recall of every fact, figure and sentence that was committed to the page. 

    “So Kate, what were you thinking as you wrote page 64?”

     “Oh I don’t know. Maybe, that, I had to write another 230 pages?

     Or my favorite question that I received when I was promoting my whiskey book:

     “Do you remember in your book when you wrote about the tax legislation that the English government imposed on the Irish distillers?

    “Uhh…No.”

     This is what I call a learning moment.  And what I learned was three things:

    1. That under no circumstance was it a good idea to imply to thousands of listeners that the host of the their trusted radio program had invited an idiot onto their show.
    2. If you must make that implication, it’s best not to do it with a single word answer.
    3. If you must give a single word answer, preceding it with “uhhh”…well, that  just makes you sound silly.

     These are the things I learned when I was doing interviews for 99 Drams of Whiskey. And now, with this Sweet Tooth book, I vowed to be more prepared for these interviews. I approached the problem in the same way that a press secretary would, creating talking points- several key points that I conveyed in the book that I should work into the interviews as much as possible in order to make either the book, or by extension, myself sound interesting enough that it would encourage people to buy my stuff. After all, that’s the point of promotion.

     And after several interviews for my book, not one has yet to use the bits of the interview where I effectively and adequately used my talking points in the correct context.

     I have, however, repeatedly used the phrases “phlegm” and “bowel movement” to a National Irish audience during a recent interview with their national radio service.

     Yeah, I suck at interviews.

     The reason I bring this up is that these talking points are relevant to why I’m here at Theo.

     For those who haven’t read the book yet, Theo plays an important part in the book. They are the last company I visit, and it was this company that allowed me to come to terms with certain aspects of the candy industry.  However, when Audrey Lawrence, the Sales and Marketing Manager here at Theo, first contacted me back in January via e-mail to ask how can they help- I don’t think they knew they were in the book. 

     I e-mailed Audrey back, with a plan on getting her an advanced copy of the book, so she could read it to ensure that I didn’t refer to their tour as “an ecstasy trip gone horribly wrong”.

     You may laugh, but that phrase does come up at least once in the book when referring to another company…like Cadbury.

     So St. Martin’s sent Audrey a copy, she read it, enjoyed it, and again, asked “How can we work together?”

     To which I answered with another question  – Could we do a book release at your place?

     The result of that? Well, this is why I’m here.  And as I’m here in front of you, I thought it would be the perfect time to tell you of the key talking points that I had written for the interviews surrounding Sweet Tooth.

     If there’s one thing I’ve learned in writing this book (and the whiskey book, to some extent), is that I have a list of characteristics that a company must have in order for me to respect them. I’m not saying this list is universal, nor that everyone should look for them and judge companies based on them. This list is personal and is little more than an opinion base on my experiences.

     Now hold on, because here’s the talking point:

     In my opinion, a good candy company should have 3 things

    1. A sense of responsibility
    2. A sense of place.
    3. A sense of fun

     Let me extrapolate on them a bit:

     A Sense of Responsibility – This comes in two forms: Respect the ingredients, and respect the people.

     First, ingredients – Let’s use Hershey’s as an example. Did you know that Hershey wanted to change the legal definition of milk chocolate? They wanted the definition be changed to allow for less expensive ingredients –  specifically replacing cocoa butter — the ingredient famous for giving chocolate its creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture —with vegetable oil.

     This practice – resulting in what is now known as “mockolate” – leaves the chocolate gritty and oily, and notably less in quality than a standard milk chocolate bar.

     I don’t know how to make a great piece of chocolate, but I do know how to make a mediocre one. Create a recipe that aims at the lowest common denominator of the marketplace, and then ensure to over process it with lower quality ingredients. Good candy takes thought and an ability to coax the best aspect out of every ingredient.

     There’s no better way to demonstrate this than to compare two alike products from two different companies. More often than not, the company that respects the ingredients will make a better product than a company that is looking to have a greater profit margin.

     But it’s more than being responsible to the ingredients. It’s about being responsible to the people invested in the product.

     I’m not just referring to stockholders and stakeholders in a company, but everyone who has a vested interest in the company, from the farmer who supplies the cocoa and sugar, to the consumer who buys the product.

     There are aspects of the current start cocoa farms that are nothing short of tragic, including the worst forms of child labor. A lot of this is the result of the major chocolate companies wanting cheaper prices for the commodities used in their products.

     Theo has a different business model. Their  founding principle is that the finest artisan chocolate in the world can (and should) be produced in an entirely ethical, sustainable fashion. In other words, they have that sense of responsibility to those who supply the cacao used right here in this plant.

     A Sense of Place:  This relates to the sense of responsibility, but ties it to the local community.  One of the constants I’ve come across in my travels is how proud communities are to the confections that define their region. Whether it’s the Pontefract Cakes that come out of Pontefract, England, to Hershey in Pennsylvania, there’s a deep sense of pride that defines the people of these regions, and they surround confections. It becomes part of their identity.

    (This community identity existed in a small town outside of Bristol, England called Keynsham (KEEN-shim). The entire region had deep roots to the history of chocolate, thanks in large part to the Quakers in the area who played an integral role in that history.  As per their traditions, the Quakers who owned the chocolate companies (Fry’s, Cadbury, and others) committed themselves to the success of their communities.  But as the companies became larger, the more the more these community traditions were lost. When Kraft bought out Cadbury in 2009, they closed the one remaining plant in the area in Keynshem, and the history of chocolate to the region is little more than an afterthought. We have a multi-billion dollar chocolate industry that started in the Bristol region, and today the only marker we have to that history is a closed factory. )

     And if you think it couldn’t happen here, I should let you know that Hershey’s has talked about on more than one occasion about moving their plants to Mexico, a move that would devastate the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania.

     When I look at Theo, I looked at a company that’s a perfect representation of Seattle and its work ethic. In my mind, Theo represents perfectly what being from this area means. I can’t think of any location better in the United States  for Theo to exist and thrive than here in the Pacific Northwest,  here in Seattle, and here in Fremont.

     Finally – A sense of Fun! Let’s be honest here – candy is a luxury, possibly the cheapest luxury on the planet. And Luxuries are meant to be fun. Candy is meant to be fun.  I believe the great candy companies know  this, and it manifests itself in two ways.

     The first is obvious – they add a goofy, silly name to the confection.  This is how we end up with candies with the name: Abba Zabba, Big Daddy, Big Hunk, Snickers, Twix, Jelly Babies, Hubba Bubba, Skittles, Gobstoppers and a whole list of other names to numerous to list here. This sense of fun is what allowed  Roald Dahl to come up with names such as Nut Crunch Surprise, The Everlasting Gobstopper, and Fudgemellow Delight and allowed Monty Python to invent the name “Whizzo Chocolate Company” for their “Crunchy Frog” sketch. We ascribe playfulness with the words we choose surrounding candy. Why, because  sweets bring out the playful side of us.

    It is this playfulness that mark the better candy companies. Rare is the great confectioner who sits down and tries to “engineer” a candy bar based off of market research and sales patterns. This approach is for hacks and industrial giants. 

    No, the best confectioners in the world get into their kitchen and play with their food, and ask some variation of the following question “Ooo…Wouldn’t it be cool if we did THIS?!?”

    It is this playful attitude that has resulted in a world renown chocolatier adding marmite to his chocolates just to see if it would work (It does). It has resulted a marketer at General Foods deciding to release a confection called Pop Rocks that fizzled in your mouth when consumed.  And we see that here at Theo in their Fantasy Flavors line, where Chai Tea can be found in one bar, and Curry can be found in another.

    These are candies that play with our inner child, that allow us to have “fun”, even if only for a moment. 

    And as I looked at these three different characteristics,

    1. A sense of responsibility
    2. A sense of place.
    3. A sense of fun

     I realized something. These aren’t just characteristics I like to see in a company. These are characteristics I like to see in people too.  So, in search for a solution for my mid-life crisis, what I found was my own personal definitions of what I think are the best qualities of all of us. I admit, that’s a little woo-woo, but there you have it.

     But how did I arrive at that conclusion? Let me read to you the first chapter of the book, which sets the stage for all of what I just said.  (read first chapter)

    How (Not) to Drink Whisky

     

    The majority of this is pure silliness, it’s little more than whisky affectations gone to the extreme. To typical drinkers – meaning those of us  who go out to drink to have a fun night with friends where we spend time talking about anything BUT the quality of our drinks – there are only two bits of information here worth mentioned.

    1. For 22 year olds, its rare to have to add water make it smoother. Note, however, that I don’t say “You shouldn’t add water!”.
    2. Adding hot water to your drink will make it difficult to appreciate the subtleties of scotch whisky.

    All of the other items are either nonsense, or tips for professional tasters and whisky critics.  For one, I’ve never run across a bartender who has heaped dozens of pieces of ice into a “scotch on the rocks”. It’s an exaggeration. Second, ice  in the drink is perfectly acceptable (albeit in a small amount), because it changes the nuances of the drink as the ice melts and the drink goes from cold to room temperature.

    Also, I don’t think bars would look too kindly on folks, either customers or bartenders, who swirled whisky in a glass and then flung the spirit upon the floor.

    Yes, great whisky can be poorly handled. People mindlessly handle well made products all of the time. But even the consumer who desires to treat a great whiskey with respect should approach the drink that’s comfortable to them. Anyone doing 95% of what the gentleman in the video is doing is little more than a poseur in my eyes.

    The Next Gin Fight: Beefeater vs. Bombay Sapphire

    As you can see, you guys are filling out your bracket quite nicely, with Leopold’s getting into your final four. I’ll have more on that gin later this weekend.

    However, there’s still five more of these polls to complete. Right now, we have two heavyweights going against one another. So I need for you to decide, which is better – Beefeater or Bombay Sapphire? Vote below!

     

    [poll id="14"]

    Quote – Ray Bradbury

    I believe this sentiment reflects my worldview quite well:

    “I don’t believe in optimism. I believe in optimal behavior. That’s a different thing … Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad – you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year,” - Ray Bradbury

    I’ll miss you, old man. It was you who made me want to read when I was a child.

    (h/t to Andrew Sullivan)