Saturday, July 22, 2017

Atlantic City, NJ

I just noticed that the last three cities in our Around America series was Dallas, Dubuque, and Durango. It would be a good idea not to do another city that starts with ‘D,’ otherwise this list will start to get stale or downright challenging (especially since I totally missed bartime at Williams & Graham by minutes last time I was in Denver!). So let’s take you back out East. We are going to make you hungry too, because, just before we hit the beach, we stopped for lunch at the Vagabond in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Kill Devil 17 Rum


Roughly two and a half years ago, we were happy as a clam in the FWL that the Cuban Embargo was lifted on limited amounts of alcohol. Immediately, we grabbed bottles of classic Havana Club and one of my favorite rums ever, Santiago de Cuba. This Christmas, I snared a bottle of Kill Devil 17 Year for Cindy, our third and maybe last bottle of Cuban rum for sometime. This week, President Trump plans to limit American freedoms in regards to Cuba for no known reason other than because Obama relaxed the embargo. No matter what you think of President Trump, and we don’t get too much into politics here in the FWL, the only thing that Trump has accomplished thus far is to attempt to erase Obama’s legacy through executive order, even if it means that you do the most unAmerican thing you can- attack the American freedom to drink. I am hoping like hell that Trump leaves the cigar and rum provisions alone, otherwise, true blue Lizards of the Lounge will remember the slight. Any changes we hear about, we will throw it in the comments of this article below.

In the meantime, here’s a rum that you may stand to lose in the re-embargo- the Kill Devil 17 Year (actually you probably won’t be able to find our 1998 expression, period, because the bottles of its single cask are sold out, but the 1999 expression is still around). Distilled in Sancti Spiritus Distillery in Cuba, the Kill Devil 17 pours out straw in color and delivers a nose-worth of vanilla and black pepper. It’s a hefty 92 proof, so it’s a bit hot to drink straight, but its long, slightly tobacco finish can withstand a splash of water. We mixed ours with Montenegro to a welcome effect, though a myriad of amari would let this dry Cuban sing.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Summer Morning

If there is a neglected liquor on the shelves of the Firewater Lounge, it’s vodka. Since most Wisconsin vodkas have consisted of artificial fruit flavor, synthetic dyes, and isopropyl alcohol (take your dad’s dusty bottle of Mohawk lime vodka, for instance). Since we solely use vodka to drink straight (like Zubrowka) or heighten the alcohol percentage in a drink here, we tend to only sparingly use high-quality vodkas that taste as clean as possible.

This summer season, however, started with a flavored vodka kick. We had been drinking grapefruit crema in the spring, but since we don’t have a ready supply of Tattersall liquors in southern Wisconsin yet, we switched to Deep Eddy grapefruit vodka. Combining 7up with Deep Eddy grapefuit makes for fine, quick 1-to-1 summer fare. If you are up for experimenting with Deep Eddy for bunch or tiki, let us suggest the following recipe:

Summer Morning Cocktail
Holly’s Original

2 ounces dark rum (we used Plantation)
1 ½ ounces triple sec
1 ounce Deep Eddy grapefruit vodka
3 ounces orange-mango juice
1 ounce pineapple juice
Splash freshly-squeezed lime juice
3 heavy dashes Angostura bitters

Shake all ingredients well in an iced shaker. Strain into summer stemware. Garnish with lime twist or spanked mint leaves or both.

Monday, May 22, 2017

10 Rules of Martinis

I was a child of the ‘80s. Thank God I was not old enough to drink. For some reason, America completely lost their memory of their traditional cocktail heritage and fell into a dark age of domestic beers and fruit ‘martinis’; essentially anything in a cocktail glass was a ‘martini.’ Ugh. Mercifully, we have returned from that miserable era to a more sophisticated time. However, some bars still have a ‘-tini’ section on their menus- mostly fruity or chocolate undrinkable nightmares. So let the FWL educate you on that most wonderful American invention this side of the light bulb: The Martini.

One - There is no fruit juice, chocolate, coffee, syrup, or even bitters in a martini. Yes, that’s right, the martini may be presented in a cocktail glass, but, unlike its close relative the Martinez (gin, vermouth, maraschino, bitters), the martini itself is not a cocktail. In its true form it only has two ingredients: 5 to 1, gin to French (dry) vermouth. (Classically, the ratio is 6 to 1, however most bartenders prefer to give modern palates a bit of a gin break).

Two - There are only two exceptions to the two ingredient rule. An olive wash in the cocktail glass prior to the alcohol strained into it. This is known as a Dirty Martini due to the briny olive tint to the drink. (For God’s sake, don’t pour olive brine into an already made martini!) A smoky scotch wash (like Laphroaig or Ardbeg) is also a classic touch; this is known as a Burnt Martini.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Durango, part 3

After the Belle, we could have called it a night, but I had more of the breweries to try that I wasn’t going to be able to get to before they closed. Instead, we parted ways with the saloon girls and visited the dark and quiet recesses of the Office Spiritorium, a quaint one-room affair that is bedecked with antique western flair, a staircase to more private seating above the bar, and a big stuffed peacock. The bar menu is really an extension of the Belle’s and awkwardly out of place for the ambience. You would expect the Spiritorium to be a shrine to old whiskey and specialty mescals, instead you get a ‘martini’ menu straight out of 1986. So I drank beer like a good Wisconsinite.

The first order (and third brewery sampled) was a Amber Ale from Durango Brewing Company. It is their regular amber, a year-round seller. It pours out clear amber with a rapidly diminishing beach-sand colored head. The Amber Ale is well-balanced; however, it’s a rather one-note version of a beer I love (American Amber), since the caramels were lacking for me in general, but drinkable. I compared it to a second Amber from the fourth brewing Company- Ska Brewing. Their amber, named Pinstripe Red, is not as clear as the Durango’s and more of a golden hint to its color. I thought that its flavor was similar as the Amber Ale, unfortunately, too watered-down and looking for a commercial audience I believe (tourists!). That said, both beers would have been just fine on a hot day, just not something you drove a 1000 miles for. Or maybe Carver’s Old Oak Amber spoiled my red beer drinking palate forever!

After sleeping off my beers and whiskey, it was time to say goodbye to Durango. But before leaving, I stopped across the street from the Strater to the rather chintzy-named Durango Liquor World for a bottle of Colorado something. The something that landed in the cart was Rocky Mountain peach whiskey from Leopold Bros., respected brewers-turned-distillers. Their peach whiskey is made with macerated Colorado Palisade peaches, rested in deep-charred American oak, and hand-bottled to keep its long, dense peach-cobbler-in-cast-iron characteristic finish. The thick tart peach flavor sings through in two and three part cocktail recipes. Here’s one below to transition your spring rains into the summer sunshine-

Peach Whiskey Mule 
Classic Pour

1 ½ ounces peach whiskey (we used Leopold Bros)
4 ounces ginger beer (we used Rocky Mt. Soda Company)
Juice of half a small lime

Find yourself a copper mule mug and fill with ice. Build all ingredients in the order presented. Stir gently for a handful of revolutions so as not to kill the ginger beer’s carbonation. Drink. I hope it’s hot out!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Durango, part 2

As you might have guessed from our first post, Durango is all about beer. Having six major craft breweries (Carver, Durango, Brew Pub & Kitchen, Animas, Ska, and Steamworks) in a town of less than 20,000 people is pretty incredible; it speaks to the tourist area that Durango has become. To those ends, our family set up shop in the Strater Hotel. The Strater opened in 1887 as a grandiose hotel (which sucks up the better part of a modern block) offering comfort to well-to-do ranchers, traveling businessmen, and Wild West authors. It also houses two drinking establishments: the famed Diamond Belle Saloon and the quieter Office Spiritorium.

Before we got our drink on, though, we had to get something to chew on for supper. So we walked the two blocks from the Strater to Steamworks Brewing Company. Steamworks features a huge beer hall/dining hall plastered with kitschy cartoon art, historical pictures of the Old West, and drink advertisements; the crowd was so large, it spilled to the tables on the balcony behind the eatery.

We started with their feature beers; Cindy ordered a Backside Stout and I got a Ginger Ninja. The Backside Stout is easily Steamworks’ best beer. In a pint glass, it is dark as chocolate and has flavor hints of the same. Its head retention wasn’t as solid as its lacing, but looked good going down. The flavor was everything Cindy likes- sweet upfront, chocolate malt in the middle and finishing with a touch coffee bitterness. The Ginger Ninja, however, was pretty awful. I rarely pan anything in the FWL (I just don’t write about it), but you really don’t need the Ginger Ninja in your mouth. It was a flat shandy, an jumbled combination of wheat and ginger that fought each other for supremacy, neither of which won. I quickly replaced the Ninja with a Lizard Head Red, a clear amber-red brew that gave off scents of rock candy and a bit of citrus. The Lizard Head’s aroma was its best characteristic, however, because it really didn’t present much flavor- it was thin, somewhat sweet and overall blah. Lucky for Steamworks, their cajun boils and burgers are great, because we’d probably just rather head back to Carver to drink beer.

But since it was getting late, we went back to the Strater to tuck in the kids. After they were snug in their beds, we went down to give the two hotel bars a try. We started in the Diamond Belle, where a raucous crowd was being entertained by an old-school saloon pianist who was banging away on the keys with fervent gusto. We ordered cocktails from a dancing-girl-coiffured waitress who, like in the Wild West days, was far too busy being flattered by amorous and drunken patrons at the bar than to serve our table with promptness. I surmised that the bartenders were a bit suspect as well, so my cocktail was a simple one.

Drink: Bustamonte 1957
Establishment: Diamond Belle Saloon
Location: Durango, Colorado
First Connoisseur: Holly

1 ½ ounces Colorado whiskey
3 ounces grapefruit juice
½ ounce real grenadine

Build all ingredients in the order presented in an old-fashioned glass pre-filled with ice. Stir gently to combine grenadine. Garnish with a swath of lemon or grapefruit peel.

After drinking the Bustamonte 1957, the piano player still had a tune or two in him, so we ordered one of the Belle’s Colorado whiskey flights. The flight was tasty trio of Stranahan’s straight whiskey (one of our all-time faves), Beckenridge malt mash, and Peach Street small batch. Each of the whiskeys were very pleasant, with Beckenridge’s offering leading the flight.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Durango, part 1

Cowboys, saloon girls, and beer. What more could you ask for? The dusty trails that lead to Durango, Colorado, are long. Almost 20 hours worth of long, as Google-mapped from the Firewater Lounge. That kind of trip works up a thirst for even the most stalwart Lounge Lizard. So, obviously, if you are like us (and so many of you are), you have to have beer for breakfast, am I right? If that is the case, you need to stop at Carver Brewing.


The Carver Brothers, Jim and Bill, founded a bakery in Durango in 1986. Two years later, they added a brewery, blending breakfast and beer together in a early-morning marriage of convenience and inspiration. We have to say, no one does either better than Carver. Cindy ordered up some monterey jack and green chiles pancakes along with a Power House Porter, a draught with big coffee aroma and flavor due to its cold-extracted espresso blend. I dug into a miner’s breakfast of eggs and country potatoes with a cold Colorado Trail Nut Brown Ale. The perfect companion to spuds in every way, the CT Nut Brown, like many of Carver’s brews, is made to drink with food.

The prize at Carver was dessert. Liquid dessert. I ordered the Old Oak Amber Ale. The Old Oak is a medium-bodied amber rested with toasted oak for sweetness. In glass, the Old Oak is dark copper in color with a medium non-sustaining head. Its nose is all toasty malt. As you drink the amber, you will appreciate the balance that Carver has developed- the creamy malt, the roasted sweetness, and a touch of hops, just to let you know they’re there. Its lacing makes an empty glass a work of art...and makes you want to order another one. Hands down one of my all-time favorite beers.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Rite of Spring

Artichoke. The little edible thistle makes a darn good dip or enchilada, but a cocktail? Well, let’s introduce you to Cynar. First, the pronunciation- it’s closest to ‘chee-nar.’ Two, it doesn’t really taste like artichoke. Cynar is made, allegedly, with 13 separate botanicals including artichoke, which has a prominent enough role to be pictured on its bottle. In actuality, the flavor of Cynar is full of upfront clean sweetness, like drinking double-rich simple syrup, which gives way to a green olively vegetal bitterness. This, trust me, sounds grosser than it is.

Cynar is the youngest of the Big Four Italian digestivos marketed commonly in the United States. The others, Campari (bitter orange), Fernet Branca (bittersweet peppermint oil), and Averna (bittersweet caramel and herbs) all had been introduced almost 100 years before Cynar. What the Big Four’s popularity comes from, though, is that they are all great to help digest a huge meal and they mix tremendously well in cocktails. Given the cocktail revival in the early 2000s, the Big Four, including Cynar, started popping up in drink recipes all over. Like Campari, Cynar blends beautifully with gin; together they scream the spring flavors of refreshing juniper, the greenness of newborn herbs and cold sweetwater. To that, we added the floral wine notes of St-Germain and a splash of lime citrus boldness for punch. Chase away the remnants of winter with the recipe below.

Rite of Spring
Holly’s Original Series

1 ½ ounces barrel-aged gin (we used Smooth Ambler)
1 ounce Cynar
½ ounce St-Germain
Dash fresh-squeezed lime juice

Add all ingredients into a stirring vessel with ice. Stir and strain into a cocktail coupe. Garnish with a lime twist.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Dubuque, Iowa

Is this (drinking) heaven? No, it’s Iowa. I know, Dubuque isn’t a drinking Mecca like New Orleans, New York, or San Francisco, but if you are going ‘Around America,’ you have to eventually hit every state, so you wind up in places like Rapid City, South Dakota and Dubuque, Iowa. That said, I do love Mississippi River towns. No matter how far south you go, there is a bit of home in places like St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans. Dubuque is a little like that; a rich history of old industry and trade whose buildings are washed ‘til worn by Ol’ Man River.

We started at 1st & Main, an elongated downtown watering hole that caters mostly to the twenty-something crowd. It has a sports bar/hip club feel, but the bartenders were friendly and so we decided to test some of their signature cocktails. Unfortunately, the 1st & Main experience was way too much of a 1980s-college-club sort of feel- the cocktails were prohibitively fruity, it took too long to get them and, the most criminal of all- the weak drinks were too weak and the strong drinks were too strong.

Unimpressed, we paid for our one round and left to see if we could find an older watering hole. So we headed up the street to venerable Hotel Julien, the Dubuque landmark whose history dates back to 1839. Inside its Riverboat Lounge, we looked for a night cap or two and ordered Kentucky Mules made with an Iowa bourbon named Cody Road. Despite being deep into the winter holiday season, our drinks came cold as ice in their traditional hammered copper mugs. We settled into the oversized-cushion booths in the back of the bar, situated among the burgundy wall padding that subbed for art. We enjoyed the Cody Road so much we had to order more.

Drink: Kentucky Mule
Establishment: Riverboat Lounge at the Hotel Julien
Location: Dubuque, Iowa
First Connoisseur: Cindy

2 ounces bourbon (try Cody Road)
½ ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
4 ounces ginger beer

Pour bourbon and lime juice over ice in a mule mug. Stir slightly to combine. Add ginger beer. Stir gently to conserve the carbonization. Garnish with a lime wheel.