We’re shaking up great cocktails for spring, featuring some of our favorite spirits and ingredients. Light and refreshing drinks like these are the perfect way to toast the official start of a new season. And you can save now when you pick up the spirits you’ll need for spring at Total Wine & More.
Every town has its favorites when it comes to cocktails. However, when we think spring our minds can’t help but go to a Margarita. This season, we love a twist on that classic cocktail: the Tequila-Berry Twist.
Pour tequila and strawberry liqueur into tall glass with ice. Stir. Add bitters, lime juice and club soda. Stir and garnish with lime slice.
The gimlet dates back to the 18th century, but it accrued true cultural cachet when it appeared in Raymond Chandler’s famous crime novel “The Long Goodbye.” This easy recipe calls for fresh lime juice plus sweetener, instead of the more conventional bottled lime juice, because hey – it’s spring.
Starting January 29, we’re kicking off our #TotalMixology series at select stores in Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, and Washington state.
Attendees will learn how to mix classic cocktails, enjoy a sampling of tasty mixed drinks and save with the best spirit prices in town. Then you can take your new mixology skills and show them off at your next get-together with friends and family!
Total Wine: We’ve been reviewing your new book Vodka Distilled over the past few weeks and enjoyed it very much. Why vodka? Why did you feel the need to come to its rescue and give this particular spirit a boost?
Tony: Despite being the #1 consumed spirit by far in the US, I decided to write a book about vodka to give it the headlines it deserves. Bartenders, especially craft bartenders, have stuck their noses up to vodka. Though one of the oldest spirits in the world, vodka is misunderstood and not as well-known in the US as other spirits. Appreciation is on the way up, overcoming this true lack of understanding about just how versatile vodka can be.
Total Wine: There are lots of vodkas and lots of cocktails in your Vodka Distilled book. Where does the intimidated reader start when wanting to do some mixing at home?
Tony: There are not many classics with a vodka base. But the Frozen Mudslide took me back to the 1980s and specifically a time I spent with my cousin Helen in Cancun. Don’t over-think cocktails. Don’t put in esoteric ingredients. Just make delicious cocktails.
How about you try the cocktail created for Dean Martin, the Flame of Love, which celebrates vodka. Dale DeGroff always used a grain-based vodka, specifically Finlandia, to make this great drink. Legend says that Sinatra liked Dean’s drink so much, he ordered 200 for the guests at Chasen’s in West Hollywood. That was not likely a happy moment for the bar staff, lighting that many orange peels.
Or how about the Vesper, seen in Casino Royale. It’s this kind of drink that using vodka can be used to soften or stretch more intense spirits.
Total Wine: When judging vodka, you taste it neat at room temperature, correct? Does it really matter when you’re mixing a cocktail, though? Does that flavor really show through in the mixed drinks?
Tony: It’s about the “character” of the vodka! If you give me six Bloody Marys made with different vodkas, I probably can’t tell you which vodka is in that drink. I can probably tell you the character of the vodka used. Give me the six vodkas used first, and I will choose the best ones to compliment the drink!
Total Wine: Vodka is having a resurgence now. Are there cocktails you hope tag along? How about cocktails you hope take a few years off?
Tony: I’m hoping the Harvey Wallbanger makes a comeback. It’s such a great cocktail. The Sour Apple Martini, though–Thank God it seems to be dying off.
Harvey Wallbanger from Vodka Distilled
Total Wine: How about Beer Cocktails and their recent surge in popularity. Have you experimented in making any yourself?
Tony: I’ve tried it a little, but I think the movement will be short-lived. The amazing craft-beer movement has really impressed me. I’ve traveled the world loving new beers from Belgium to Germany. And don’t forget that part of being an excellent bartender is knowing about great beer. I just think adding beer in with classic cocktails is trying too hard to improve something that doesn’t need improving.
Total Wine: Tales of the Cocktail is coming up next month. Will you be attending again this year?
Tony: Actually, I won’t. I only missed the first year. It’s such a great event. But this year I will miss again, to launch a charity close to me. My cousin Helen David, who taught me a lot of what I know about bartending, was a two-time breast cancer survivor. She died at the age of 91 in 2006. This charity will support bartenders who are victims of cancer, and it is so important to me to be there!
Total Wine: Are there new books we should look forward to? Are you on a three year schedule? The Modern Mixologist in 2010, Vodka Distilled this year in 2013.
Tony: We are hoping to speed up the pace for our next book. This year’s book, Vodka Distilled, was received so well that it was nominated among four books for “New Cocktail Book of the Year.” We are very proud of this first book as it’s the start of a series of companion books to go with the original The Modern Mixologist. We hope to cut the time for new books with one focused on American Whiskey next in 2015 followed by gin and rum.
Total Wine: Anything else you’d like to add to our conversation?
Tony: Look me up next time you are in Las Vegas. We’ll taste some vodkas vertically to show the range they have with flavor profiles.
I write to educate the consumer while not overwhelming them with information. Take time and experiment. We’re not curing cancer but we are making life more enjoyable!
Total Wine: Thank you, Tony, for an excellent interview.
Total Wine recently had the opportunity to speak with renowned bar professional Tony Abou-Ganim. Tony has appeared on (and won) three battles of Iron Chef America, made numerous appearances on daytime TV including the Today Show and Good Morning America, and is the author of two books, The Modern Mixologist and Vodka Distilled. (P.S. Tony will appear on NBC’s Today Show again this Thursday, July 4, 2013 at 7 am EST to do a cocktail demonstration; tune in!) He developed a specialty cocktail menu for the famous Harry Denton’s Starlight Room, worked as bartender for Mario Batali at Po in New York City, and developed the cocktail program for the Bellagio Hotel and its 22 bars. Tony is a winner of the Bacardi Martini World Grand Prix as well. Favorite Cocktail: Negroni.
Thank you so much, Tony, for taking the time to talk to the Total Wine & More readers about your career and more specifically, bartending and cocktails.
Total Wine: Have you ever been to a Total Wine?
Tony: There’s one off Charleston at Boca Park in Summerlin (Las Vegas). I sent my nephew there today for some Everclear so we can make some homemade limoncello. I like the stores and selection. I’d actually like to do a demonstration there to help consumers that might otherwise be intimidated feel like they can create great cocktails in their homes.
Total Wine: Can you tell us how the bartender that was schooled with traditional classics became known as “The Modern Mixologist”?
Tony: That nickname is a play on words. I do have a foundation in the classics, but original ingredients are the new tool to make cocktails more modern. I’m still a traditionalist at heart. I think it’s funny that the term “mixologist” is so common today. When I got my first promotion at the Bellagio, I helped create my title, Master Mixologist. The term, however, has roots in the 1800s, earned when a bartender learned to mix properly.
Total Wine: You seem to be a stickler with the types of ingredients you use in your cocktails. Do you have a certain philosophy when it comes to what you put in your drinks?
Tony: I do. I believe that you only get out of a cocktail what you put into it. And that the cocktail must be more than just the sum of its parts. I only use fresh, seasonal ingredients and believe in the integrity of the drink. I want people to make my cocktails. I use the classics as a starter since they have stood the test of time and try to make re-creating my cocktails simple for people to achieve.
Total Wine: You’ve created many of your own cocktails over the years. Can you tell us about some of the famous ones and where you get your inspiration when getting behind the bar? Or does inspiration come in a dream?
Tony: It’s been said that there will never again be a totally original cocktail. All new ones are based on the classics. So I start with great drinks and take license to imagine them in a different light. Take my Cable Car, for example. It’s a riff off of the Sidecar cocktail, where I switched spiced rum for cognac. But the Sidecar is itself a riff from the classic Brandy Crusta cocktail, an evolution of drinks.
Flame of Love from Vodka Distilled
Total Wine: We know that you do a lot of presentations. We were wondering if presentations with fancy bottle tricks are common, or just the things you see in movies like Cocktail?
Tony: Flair Bartending is a style that I have not practiced. If you’re good at it, I am not going to say it doesn’t have its place. But for me, performance is the flair, the techniques are the tricks. I want to create drinks that are a culinary masterpiece and be the best bartender I can be.
Total Wine: What predictions do you have for bartending as an industry in general? Would you encourage someone into a bartending career?
Tony: This is a fantastic time to be in the industry, if you are willing to do your work and taste the different drinks and teach yourself about the different spirits. Taste the different vodkas and know how each will work when mixed. I recently judged the World Class Bartender of the Year finals by Diageo, both in the US and Canada. The biggest compliment was that the Canadian winner was flown to my home in Las Vegas for training and to learn techniques. I take the mentoring aspect as an obligation, to inspire and educate a new generation of bar professionals.