How to Stock Your Bar

Aside from booze blogs, web comics, regular comics, and as many books as we can get our hands on, we (specifically Matt) like to read certain menswear blogs. In particular we recommend An Affordable Wardrobe and Put This On, which inspired our video segments. One of the common questions addressed on menswear blogs is how to build a wardrobe and not surprisingly, the process is very similar to stocking your bar.

This is our collection a year ago. Much like a child, it has only gotten larger and more expensive since then.

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I Prefer the Term Traveler: Walt Disney World

We, Matt and Shanna, spent five days over-eating, waiting in lines, occasionally relaxing, and drinking (when the cocktails seemed palatable) in Florida’s Walt Disney World this February.  We came for the animatronics, food, and warm weather, and left with a Kermit hat and a well “researched” theory on how to drink in Disney.

This theory consists primarily of what not to drink. As it turns out, we skipped a lot of opportunities to imbibe because, to our dismay, 80% of all booze on offer at the parks are cheap light beer (mostly the unholy triumvirate of Bud, Miller, and Coors), sugar & juice concoctions topped with a drop of booze, or variously flavored frozen abominations fraudulently sullying the name margarita. But fear not dear reader, for though our noses were held high in the air, they did lead us to a handful of truly magical beverages. Continue reading

The Myth of the Green Fairy

In our earlier article, The History of Absinthe, we touched briefly on the long-held belief that absinthe – and specifically the wormwood in it – taken in significant quantity will cause a drinker to go insane. This belief was one of the major motivating factors that led to a nearly century-long ban on absinthe in the US and much of Europe. In fact, the notion that absinthe causes hallucinations persists in pop culture and the public consciousness to this day, and is often played for humor in film and television.

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The History of Absinthe: Empire, Bohemia, and the Ban

There are a lot of drinks in the world. From British best bitter to choujiu (Chinese rice wine), everywhere human beings have put down roots, you’ll find some sort of booze. And of all the beverages that have ever passed human lips, perhaps the most infamous is absinthe. This bright green spirit can boast the king of bad reputations, so much so that it was demonized and banned in several western countries for nearly a century. But what led to such drastic actions? What had influenced public opinion so dramatically against absinthe? This is a question that has been neglected, perhaps intentionally, for quite a long time; and to do it justice – unfortunately – requires quite a long answer.

An amateur preparing a dram of absinthe.

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Guest Post: In Defense of Delicious

Today’s post was written by Aaron Crandall, librarian, scientist, occasional bartender, and friend of the boozehounds.

I am, by many accounts, an odd duck. I have had pseudo-theological discussions which theorized the Kool-Aid man as a symbolic Christ figure in a fight with the Planters Peanut mascot, made armor out of fence wire, and have the words “Don’t Panic” tattooed in large, friendly letters on the inside of my biceps. But while these things have on occasion earned me strange looks and lost me the respect of some normal (read: boring) human beings, in my time spent at college bars I have earned the most grief due to my fondness for that most abhorred beverage:

The “girly” drink.

Aaron Crandall: mad scientist and advocate for girly drinks

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Maraschino Liqueur

One of the happy side effects of the recent enthusiasm for classic cocktails is the accompanying enthusiasm for classic cocktail ingredients. In addition to the rise of micro-distilleries producing small-batch gin, whiskey, and vodka, there is increased attention being paid to the other ingredients as well. New brands of bitters like Hella Bitter and The Bitter Truth are popping up every month it seems, and Art in the Age has released Root, Snap, and Rhuby liqueurs (root beer, ginger, and rhubarb flavored, respectively) that are opening new doors for a world of original cocktails. Seeing as maraschino liqueur is one of the great classic cocktail ingredients – once appreciated by rulers and conquerors along with 20th century barmen – it seems only a matter of time before some Brooklyn or San Francisco-based upstart does something creative and wonderful with it. So to beat the rush, let’s cover the basics.

Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur - image courtesy of ScientistMcGee

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Alton Brown’s Egg Nog

One of my favorite episodes of Alton Brown’s unique cooking show Good Eats is season 9 episode 13, in which he explores egg nog and the bourbon that he puts in it. [You can find it on YouTube: Part 1 and Part 2] Now, there are a lot of egg nog recipes out there, and we’ll cover a few of them leading up to the holiday, but for my money, this is one of the best.

Granted, this recipe is a lot of work compared to most everything else we post here on IPTB, but egg nog’s a party drink and this will yield enough boozed-up nog for around 6 generous servings. That’s a whole pitcher of this holiday treat that’ll make you think twice about serving store-bought nog ever again. Continue reading

The Boozehounds’ 2012 Wishlist

Around this time food analysts start to predict and report on trends we’ll being seeing in the next year. Things we’re happy about include craft marshmallows, the decline of cupcakes, the rise of Sriracha, more gourmet comfort food (like at our beloved, reservations strongly recommended, Pittsburgh gastropub Meat & Potatoes), mainstreaming breakfast for dinner, and arguably more pre-prohibition cocktail making.

Here’s what we’re wishing for in 2012:

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2011 Pittsburgh Rugby Brewfest: Recap & Photos

With Thanksgiving, Gløgg, and a nearly comatose long weekend behind us, it’s time at last to take a look back at this year’s Brewfest hosted by the Pittsburgh Rugby Club. Held on November 19th – seemingly ages ago now – in the Saddle Ridge/Bar Room/Steelhouse complex at Station Square, Brewfest brought together nearly 30 breweries including local talent, national brands, and international giants.

2011 Pittsburgh Rugby Brewfest

Initially Shanna and I wrote to the organizers to ask about covering the event (read: mooch free VIP passes) but almost immediately we were offered the opportunity to serve on the panel of judges. Now, as booze bloggers I can see how we might be mistaken for authorities on the subject. However, our blogging process has generally followed the three step method of research, taste, and post. In this way we’re learning and exploring booze right along with our readers. We never claim to be experts, just thirsty. And yet, when asked if we’d like to drink as much fantastic beer as we possibly can, provide our opinions for serious consideration, and not pay a dime – why, it’s as if the word “no” never existed.

So on the day of the event we arrived at Station Square just before the doors opened for an hour of VIP-only access. The Brewfest was spread out over three interconnected establishments, each starkly different in atmosphere and décor from country saloon to dance club to sports bar. Now maybe I’m exposing myself as a 25 year old grumpy old man, but I really much preferred the VIP hour to the chaos that followed. For that first hour we were able to take our time, talk to the brewery reps, and be heard without shouting to the person next to you. You know, an atmosphere that’s generally conducive to tasting and judging good beer. But as the place filled up, the music got louder, the lights got dimmer, and the lines got longer. I began to think that this must be were frat parties go when they graduate.



All that aside though, there was a tremendous sampling of beer on hand. Big names included Guinness, Blue Moon, Magic Hat and Sierra Nevada alongside national craft breweries like Harpoon, Great Lakes, Brooklyn, Southern Tier, and Rogue. And though a few of these larger-scale labels brought some pleasant surprises with them, these are essentially known quantities. A Brooklyn Lager, while one of the better lagers on the market, is no different at Brewfest than the dozen or so I’ve knocked back in a bar. I was really more interested in the local boys, and with good reason. Among the Pittsburgh-based brewers we sampled beers from The Three Rivers Underground Brewers, Penn Brewery, Duquesne Pilsner, Milkman Brewing, and The Church Brew Works.

Local champs Milkman Brewing

Hops are definitely on the rise, as they have been for several years now. Despite autumn and winter traditionally being stout season, a large percentage of the contenders were hopped-up IPAs. Last year’s champ, actually, was Southern Tier’s 2xIPA. They made a strong showing again this year, along with the IPAs from Great Lakes and Rogue. But without question, this year’s winner was Milkman Brewing’s Peppercorn Rye Ale. Having sampled over a dozen beers after visiting the Milkmen’s table and letting a week slip by before writing this article, I wish I could give you an accurate description of the winning beer. Suffice to say that it was bold without overpowering, strong enough to be noticed in a sea of IPAs, but complex enough to delight the tongue. I certainly would take any opportunity for a second taste.

What made Milkman Brewing’s victory all the more impressive is knowing that at present the brewery consists of four individuals who are essentially home brewers. Milkman Brewing is not currently a commercial enterprise, though you can help change that. The Milkmen (and Milklady) are running a Kickstarter to get their operation off the ground. At time of publishing they have 50 days left to reach their goal and are going strong at just over 25% funded. They still need your support though. IPTB has already pledged $30 to help ensure that we’ll have a reliable source for that fantastic Peppercorn Ale and you should do the same.

Overall, despite crowds and loud country music, the 2011 Brewfest was a fantastic event. Anything that puts good beer in the hands of people who truly enjoy it can’t help but result in a good time. Not to mention the heap of money and food that was donated to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. If you have an opportunity to attend next year, do so. And make sure to put up the extra $10 for the VIP pass.

In the mean time, check out the rest of our photos below.

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Pittsburgh Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival Recap

It’s now a couple days after the 2011 Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival and I’m still doing my best to collect and organize my thoughts from that evening, so let’s start with the obvious: it was awesome. “Kid in a candy store” doesn’t cover it.

Organized by the good folks who bring us the Pittsburgh Wine Festival in partnership with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, this was the fifth Pittsburgh Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival. Proceeds benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

In all, close to 175 spirits brands crowded the East Club Lounge at Heinz Field and any remaining floor space was flooded by hundreds of attendees. The atmosphere in that expansive yet cramped space was, in my experience, unique. It was hectic (We have to try the good stuff before they run out!), it was exciting (Angel’s Envy, Philadelphia Distilling, and our good friends from Wigle were all in attendance!), it was drunk (We tried all the good stuff before they ran out!).

It seemed to me that vendors and attendees were divided into factions, which is representative of attitudes towards drinking these days. There were the attendees who were there to get drunk and the booze brands that cater to them. You could generally identify these brands by the presence of “booth babes,” a phenomenon usually reserved for Comic Cons and trade shows.

Fred Noe, the great-grandson of Jim Beam, accompanied by partygoers.

On the other side of the coin, however, there were a tremendous number of people who were genuinely interested in tasting the liquors on offer (ending up a bit wobbly was a side effect). Luckily for us, there was a fantastic lineup of distilleries represented that offered some amazing liquors to sample.

We made a point to limit our intake to labels we really wanted to try. This included large established brands that might otherwise be outside of our price range (such as Laphroaig 18 Year Old scotch), smaller brands that might be harder to find (like Death’s Door White Whiskey, or Isle of Jura Scotch), and stuff we just hadn’t gotten around to yet (looking at you Vieux Carré, Buffalo Trace, and Doctor McGillicuddy’s Root Beer Schnapps). Plus we visited some old friends like Hendrick’s, Kraken, and Tub Gin.

Isle of Jura Scotch

We also noticed that larger distilleries tended to be more liberal pourers, as opposed to the smaller operations that cared more about – first – a proper tasting, and – second – making sure they had enough stock to last the night.

As excellent as the evening was, we were mightily disappointed by one thing. We, and many other attendees, were looking forward to the Whiskey Fest as our first opportunity to sample Wigle Whiskey’s first batch. And though Eric Meyer and company were present, they were unable to distribute the long-awaited samples. Why? Because the PLCB hadn’t approved their label. Their label. Instead Eric was distributing high-fives and rice-krispie treats that had been sneakily laced with whiskey. We are however, looking forward to Wigle’s Grand Opening on December 2nd (be sure to check back here for coverage).

A personal-sized cask so you can age your own Wigle. Seen also: an illicit Wigle label.

In all, there was very little about this year’s Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival that wasn’t excellent. There was tasty food (though more variety and more locations would have been nice), fantastic booze, and friendly people. In fact, we were pleased to find so many friends and acquaintances there who work in the industry. It almost makes me think we’re beginning to make a name for ourselves.

But more importantly, we made a handful of new friends and connections. In particular we think you should check out

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