A Comprehensive Guide to Gin

The very first alcoholic drink I’ve ever had was a Tanqueray and tonic. It went down smooth, with the flavor of quinine hitting the top of my tongue as the burn of the gin went down the back of my throat. Gin is not made for everyone however, mostly due to the strength of the flavor itself. Most of the spirits that we drink, such as vodka or whiskey, are made from corn, wheat, rye, potatoes, etc. Now the alcohol in the gin comes from fermented grain (a common ingredient for vodka) however what makes gin so special is the process of adding different spices and herbs into the fermented grain to give it a particular taste. No gin truly tastes the same which is what makes gin such a fantastic spirit. Different distillers use different combinations of herbs and spices to make a truly unique batch of a wonderful elixir that will get your drunk after three glasses.

I’ll be honest, not many of my friends enjoy the wonders of a good gin. Most of their memories of gin include getting their friends who were 21 to buy a cheap handle of the cheapest gin which eventually led to a night of puke and teenage debauchery. However, we are all adults now so lets be classy and get drunk off of the following gins which will eventually lead to a night of puke and adult debauchery. The following gins are some of my favorites and how and when they should be drank, however if you want a Bombay Sapphire and pineapple juice then shoot get you a Bombay Sapphire and pineapple juice. Just have a good time and drink more gin.

  1. Hendricks Gin

By far, my favorite gin out of all the gin I’ve had due to its simply refreshing taste. What makes Hendricks special is their particular use of cucumber and and bulgarian rose. Hendricks sits at about 44% ABV which means after three of these bad boys you’ll be throwing your best moves at that cute bartender who will look like she’s very interested only because she wants you to tip her all the money in your bank account.

How to Drink It: Over ice with some nice tonic water with a cucumber instead of the normal lime

When to Drink It: When you are in a fancy jazz club. When you are trying to impress a girl or guy getting a degree in English or History. When you see the bottle and think “that’s a cool looking bottle, let me try that”.

2. Roxor Artisan Gin

This is one of the few gins you can drink on the rocks due to its humble taste (and the fact that it does not taste like nail polish remover which is always a plus). Locally made in Texas by a man who drives the newest Tesla, Roxor tastes smooth, goes down smooth, and doesn’t kill you like most gins. This gin takes you to dinner, buys you a nice meal with a couple bottles of mid expensive wines, takes you dancing at the swanky Latin club across the street, charms you with moves taken from Dirty Dancing, invites you up to their apartment, and makes sweet love to you. The best part? Roxor Gin ends up calling you back the next day thanking you for such a wonderful night last night. Try it sometime.

How To Drink It: A negroni, a gimlet, or a gin and tonic. Whatever it takes to get this gin into your body. You won’t regret it like how I regret texting girls I’ve been interested in at 3 o’clock in the morning, drunk, telling them how pretty they are and how I want to smell their hair.

Where To Drink It: When you are trying to be classy but you know you’re a ratchet person in the inside. When the world seems to be crashing down all around you, your friends have abandoned you, and you are trying to find salvation at the bottom of your glass. When you’re at your friend’s birthday party.

3. New Amsterdam Gin

Locally, it’s $14.99 for a 1.75 L of Seagram’s Gin. It’s cheap. It’s tasty and when mixed with a fruity mixer – dangerous. The gin I used to drink when I was a poor college student, this gin brings back a lot of memories, good and mostly bad. This gin really tastes like an orange flavored vodka but it got me to where I needed to be and I liked being different in comparison to the douche who brought a 24 pack of Keystone Light to the party.

How To Drink It: Here’s my go to recipe for when I went to parties with people just turning 21: A double shot of New Amsterdam Gin poured into a shaker that you brought because you’re a bona-fide bartender, ice, any kind of fruity mixer (pineapple, cranberry, apple juice, whatever – just open that can with some flair), shake it a couple of times and pour into the red solo cups placed in front of you by drunk college kids mesmerized by how cool you are, and top it off with a splash of sprite. Give it a fancy name, I called mine “The Balanced Horn” and bam you are the coolest person at the party (at least you think you are but the alcohol keeps assuring you that you are)

Where To Drink It: Kick Backs. Ragers. Darties (Day Parties). Pool Parties. Your 11 AM Biology Class. Your 1 PM History Class. Your 3 PM English Class. When You’re visiting you parents. When you are strapped on cash but still trying to party. When you are in college. When you are in High School. When you are a child.

These are my top three gins that I have enjoyed in my lifetime. I urge all of you to try a gin based drink the next time you go out. It is as simple as ordering a Gin and Tonic and then you are in. If we ever go out for drinks, I’ll buy one for you myself! That is a Leonardo guarantee. Embrace the Juniper and it will reward you.

“Are You Proud of Yourself?”

I was closing the bar the other day and I asked one of the patrons how everything was so far. She said it was good, great even. I did my usual bow, the one that gets the customer to awkwardly bow back so as not to offend, and I was about to turn away to check on the cleanliness of my bartenders. What came next knocked me out of balance: “Are you proud?”. As my friends and coworkers know, I always have a somewhat witty response at the ready, whether it be “Oh you know another day in paradise” – a phrase dripping with sarcasm – or “It’s me. I do the impossible” – cocky, I know but it is true. I responded with a very confused, “excuse me?”. She repeated, “Are you proud? Are you proud of yourself? I can obviously tell that you are proud of your work but are you proud of you?”.

Never in my entire career has anyone ever ask me that, “Are you proud of yourself?” Well am I proud of myself? At the moment yes. I am very proud of myself. I am proud that I am able to support my mom and dad by paying for some of the bills while I build my fortune up for when I move. I am proud that I have been promoted at my current job in less than four months. I am proud that I do my job as if I am the very own CEO of it. But will future Andrew be proud of me now? If there is anyone who knows me best, it’s me and I think I can safely say that future Andrew will look back at me and say, “Shit, Drew you worked hard yes but you sure as hell did not enjoy your 20’s. Late hours, night shifts, and too much gourmet cheese all for what? A title at the end of the line? Your 20’s is supposed to be the time you truly figure out who you are and looking back? You were too cowardly to get out of your safety zone. So look at us now and smell the ashes.” A bit too poetic there at the end but I know the Future Me will be that poetic, I mean it’s me.

I sat down next to the guest and she proceeded to tell me that I need to enjoy my youth while I still can. That right now it may seem like you’re doing a good job but tomorrow, or the very next moment, it can all be over in a flash. Do I want to remember my 20’s as the time that I worked 6 days a week, 11 hours a day? Or do I want to remember all of the close calls I could have had, all the friends I could have made, all the regrets I won’t regret having? I don’t know. I truly do not but that gives me an advantage, I like to think. Not knowing is the first step to knowing something. My life will not change in an instant, maybe it never will, but I have taken the first step by not knowing what will happen. Oh boy I need a drink.

The Immigrant

My mom was an immigrant. She was born and raised in the capital of the Philippines with eight other brothers and sisters in a small cramped house. My mother would always share stories about how they would sometimes beg in the street so that they can afford a few cans of sardines to share for dinner. She met my father when he came to the Philippines and a month later they were in love. I once found their letters of love that were sent back and forth for over a year and my mother snatched an envelope from my hand exclaiming, “Oh! Not this one!”. After a year of waiting, they finally got married and the next thing she knew she found herself in the United States of America, where the only person she knew was her husband. Shortly after that, my older sister was born, then me, and then my two little brothers. My mom was an immigrant but she is the most patriotic out of all of us.

My mom embodied the very spirit of the land she has called home for over 30 years. She was a hard worker, taking care of her four kids with the utmost love and compassion. She did not take any crap from anyone and if someone ever bullied her kids, lord have mercy on their souls. She has always held fast to her beliefs, like a mountain, even if she may be wrong sometimes but in the end she always ends up being right. She taught us what it means to be a good neighbor, to be a good human being, to love one another. I remember seeing her cry when Hilary Clinton lost the recent presidential race and I barely see her cry. The next day, she came up to me and asked me if her response on the Hilary Clinton Facebook page was grammatically correct, “Just stick with what is right and good for everyone in our country and all over the world.”

With this ban that was put into place a few days ago preventing people from various Middle Eastern states from entering the US, a lot of moms are now unable to enter a country built on the hard work of immigrants. A lot of moms are now unable to give their kids a place they can call home. A lot of moms had their hopes and dreams for themselves and for their families shattered with a simple stroke of a pen. One of these moms could have been my mom. So I stand against this ban and you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be there at the next protest, standing against tyranny so that a wonderful mother can ask her kids if her response on Facebook is grammatically correct, or how to turn on their computer, or how school was. I actually told my mom that I was planning on going to one of these protests, and she told me two things,”be safe,” and “have you eaten yet?”. I love you, Mom.14495319_10209379184969314_1464651409406266062_n.jpg

In Defense of Street Food

You find yourself roaming the streets of some south eastern Asian country when something so mouth wateringly enticing hits your nose. You follow the smell to a street stand manned by a sweaty 60 year old woman, with two missing teeth and a huge mole under the bottom of her left eye. Her face is wrinkled and her hands are worn. Then she chops the head off of a chicken, right there in full view of the masses who continue to walk by, with a cleaver bigger than your head. Next to her are three huge pans kept over a low heat where her son is shoveling ladles of meat and vegetables over rice and handing it to a hungry customer, who then pays the old lady who hasn’t even washed her hands from the previous massacre. She continues chopping away and the son wipes away sweat from his brow, ladling food to another plate. This street stand is obviously not health code enforced. You go off looking for something a little more civilized to your liking.

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Now add some children squatting in broken flip flops next to her and you have the Philippines. 

Street vendors is where you go to truly capture the soul of a country. The food made by these people have no tricks or flairs, just the same recipe with the same ingredients they have been using for years because it works. They do not care about michelin stars, they care about making enough money for the next day. The recipes they use are the same recipes their mother or father taught them when they were young. The ingredients come from their friends who work the fields. Shoot, their stand may have been passed on from generation to another. You want to fully enjoy the culture of the country you’re visiting? Eat at a street food vendor. Don’t try to ask them their life stories, you’re not on the Travel Channel, and pay them. They have other customers to attend to than some post grad college student trying to find sage advice from a wrinkled old Asian man.

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“Yes the secret to happiness is right in front of you. Buy 1 plate get 1 half off.”

Yes there is the huge risk of getting food poisoning from eating street food and one must always be wary of it but here’s my secret. You don’t just choose a random street vendor. You don’t go to the brightest or gaudiest cart in the market. You go to the one where there is a line that is constantly there during the dinner rush. A street vendor selling shitty food, like any place here in the US, will not long last. Avoid going during the slow periods of the day and for all things that are holy in this world, do not modify their plates. Eat it the way it comes and enjoy it the way the vendor meant for it to be eaten. Oh and do not take a photo of your food right there in the line. Enjoy the moment, enjoy the experience of eating the food of the people around you and become one with the crowd. It is just you and the plate in front of you and if you want seconds, go for it. Oh and avoid any kind of oyster specials unless you like playing russian roulette with your food.

“I’ve long believed that good food, good eating, is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime ‘associates,’ food, for me, has always been an adventure” – Anthony Bourdain

Sommelier In Training

750 ml. Aged for 18 months in small oak barrels with aromas of red plum, black cherry, and soft spice. I just described the Franciscan Estate Napa Valley Merlot 2012. I need to know how this wine tastes and smells compared to the other thousands of wines that this world has to offer. I need to know how bold the tannins are, the texture of the wine against the tongue, what foods I should pair it with, the grape used, the history of the region it is from, and many other factoids in order to sell this bottle, among many others, to thirsty guests whose bank account can probably pay for my college loans. I thought I was done with studying and schools when I graduated college, but here I am again learning about the different varieties of wine. It’s a daunting task, one where the tests are one of the hardest exams around. There are a total of 230 Master Sommeliers in the world sine the first exam was administered. Fortunately, I am not testing to become a Master Sommelier, rather a Level I then eventually a Level II Sommelier. However the Level II exam has a pass rate of 60% which isn’t too bad compared to some of the exams I had to take when I was in college (looking at you Adv. Topics in Neuroscience).

If someone had told me that I would be studying to not only become a hotelier but also a sommelier, I would have slapped them in the face. I was a budding anthropologist, ready to explore the jungles of Papua New Guinea interviewing a cannibalistic tribe, wooing my beautiful female guide under the tropical moon. Then I found my passion in food and beverage, providing memorable experiences to my guests. Lo and behold, I am a hotel leader in training learning about the various wines that this world has to offer. I mean I can still woo some beautiful lady, just instead of wooing her under a blanket of stars in a tropical heat, it’s going to be a lightly dimmed bar with drinks being poured by gentlemen in black tail jackets with a jazz pianist playing in the background. So not too bad of a trade off. However, in order to get to that point of wooing I need to learn about wine. I can do the memorization easy, but the blind taste testing? Yeah I’m going to need to work on that. My palate as of now consists of dark beer, strong gin, and cheap tacos so how am I supposed to taste the “oaky flavor with a slight lavender aftertaste” in any of the wines I drink? I guess I just need to keep drinking wine. Sommeliers in training have 20 minutes to describe 4 or 5 red and white wines and I’m not talking about, “Oh that’s a red wine!” and go on to the next one. No this involves describing its palate, what region its from, the aromas, the subtle tastes, and if I get one thing wrong in my description then that’s it. Try again next year. I’m psyched.

So here I am now, trying to figure out the black cherry taste from this merlot and what region it comes from, its history, and what other wines pair nicely with it. Honestly, the only thing that I’m concerned about is what if the world ends? I’m pretty damn sure my wine knowledge is not a necessary skill that’ll help my fellow survivors. I guess I could be a butler to some despotic tyrant who decides to be the Lord King of Euless. So not too bad of a life.

Food and Cultural Appropriation

Everyone needs to take it easy when it comes to food and cultural appropriation. I was reading an article the other day about how the latest trend about poke (pronounced po-kay) is a form of cultural appropriation and how, once again, another piece of some other’s culture has been stolen and vilified. As soon as I read that article, I got up, walked to the other room in my house, and let out the most passive aggressive sigh my little lungs could let out. In this time of social justice warriors and political correctness, I need to take a stand against the supposed cultural appropriation of different foods. I’ve worked in the food and beverage industry for the past four years of my life and I can assure you myself that when some restaurant down the street decides to sell a poke special on a bed of lettuce, more power to them. Shoot, I’ll go down there myself and buy two big bowls of it! While it may not be the same poke that I had from my family from Hawaii, it’s still poke (more or less).

Here is the reason why it’s so important though for these american restaurants to be selling these different cultural foods to the masses yearning for something new: it is a foot in the door. That’s right, it gives people who would have never had another chance to try something “exotic” a chance to try it. For example, take sushi and its immense popularity with the American populous. In the 1960’s sushi in the US began its wild climb to become one of the most popular food items sold in gas stations to this day. At first, how many people would willingly eat a piece of raw fish over a slab of sticky rice? Now, we have numerous sushi restaurants opening up all over the states and even professional sushi chefs are catering to guests at your local grocery store. Yes, there are moments when someone takes reinventing the sushi roll too far (like the this-is-so-wrong-but-I-don’t-care Philadelphia roll filled to the brim with cream cheese) but you know what? That is okay. Same goes with Poke. I had a poke taco the other day at a Dallas taco shop and it was literally poke, which tasted fine, wrapped in a piece of lettuce. It was fresh, succulent, and tasted like how poke should. Some would argue that it’s not the same thing as the real thing, which I do agree with, but not everyone can take a flight to Hawaii and order a bowl of fresh poke. It’s not a case of cultural appropriation but rather cultural appreciation. Food is not meant to be study on race and the stealing of culture, it is meant to be shared and enjoyed with friends, family, and strangers.

It’s also not about the food itself that makes it good, it’s the memory that is associated with it. The goal of making and serving food is for people to enjoy it and associate their good times with whatever item they are eating. Anyone can cook a good steak but it’s the memory of eating that steak with people you care about that makes it so good. Anyone can make a good bowl of soup, but it’s the memory of your mom making the bowl of soup from scratch because you were sick as a dog that made it so good. When someone orders a bowl of poke from a restaurant chain, I let them order it without a word of judgement. Once they start eating, I look at them and say, “it gets better” and make plans to get poke from a restaurant that focuses on it. It’s not the poke itself that makes it a good time but the act of making plans to get better poke with a new friend that makes it so good. Just enjoy your food, keep trying something new, and life will be good. Oh and stop taking five minutes to take a photo of your food. Just enjoy the damn thing.

Daily Prompt: Shiver

via Daily Prompt: Shiver

In a church parking lot, with a howling wind from Boston’s bitter winter beating against our 1989 Toyota windows, I would have the best meals of my life. I was about eight years old at the time, discovering the world with a sense of curiosity that would rival any other child of the world, waiting for my sister to get out of church school. My mother and I had to wait in our car which had a heater that just could not handle the Bostonian cold. It would roar with a fury of a lion but then putter into a breathless kitten in zero to three seconds flat. I remember my mom dressing me in layers upon layers upon layers of hand me down sweaters and jackets and by the time she mummified me in wool and synthetic fibers, I could barely move but at least I was warm. We were blessed with few riches during that time of my life, but my mother made the most of it. As my sister learned about the Lord, my mother and I were shivering away in our worn down jackets. Our hands were white like the snow that surrounded us and our cheeks blushed with a heavy hue of red.  We were in this for the long haul. It sucked.

But amidst this wintry hell which were my regular Sunday evenings, my mother always knew how to warm my heart. In a lunch box that my mom carried was a gift, a treasure, ambrosia that would heal any wound, any numbness. In two layers of aluminum was a homemade chicken pot pie, my salvation in this bitter winter. She would bring it out and hand me one. Warmth would instantly return to my hands as I peeled away the silver layer to reveal a golden fluffy crust. If you were to squeeze the pot pie with the most minimal effort, a golden elixir of peas and carrots would ooze out. Every bite would be a religious experience, so kind of like my sister but with less of the soul draining and more of the fun. You know that shiver you get when you step into a hot jacuzzi or a hot shower after you’ve been in the cold too long? On those Sundays, I would shiver not because of the coldness that surrounded me but because of the warmth that filled my stomach and the love that exuded from my mother. Those winters would stumble the hardest of men, but not my family and I. In those winters, we thrived.