The Chandelier at Cosmopolitan Las Vegas

We somehow got a table right away at the very busy Chandelier bar at Cosmopolitan Las Vegas last Thursday night. Despite a few clubby elements they let a few of us folks outside the target demo have a round of fab cocktails.

As far as I can tell, the cocktail menu is completely different depending on what level you’re on. We were on level 1.5 (yes… that’s what they call it) and in addition to drinks I ordered a very nice shrimp cocktail.

My drink was the Cigar Lover’s Manhattan, which featured rum along with whiskey. And a very tasty chocolate cigar. Really great and worth a little premium.

Mrs Mai Tai had the We’re All Mad Here with Empress Gin, elderflower, lemon, and ginger. Very… transformative but also quite balanced.

We passed this bar on Friday and it wasn’t nearly as busy, which surprised us a little. Cocktails were really good here.

Ready to Drink Cocktail Review: BTL SVC Scorpion

Took another shot at a ready to drink cocktail, and even made a fresh Scorpion to compare to. Ingredients are rum, brandy, orgeat, tropical gimme, fresh pineapple, orange, and lemon juice. So, this looks overall like the right list of ingredients.

Unfortunately this one had a weird and funny taste and wasn’t very good. Plenty boozy at 28% ABV.

Truth be told I do find the actual Scorpion to be too heavy on the citrus and leans too much on light rum.

Scorpion (Trader Vic’s)
2 oz Orange Juice
1½ oz Lemon Juice
½ oz Orgeat
2 oz Light Rum
1 oz Brandy
Flash blend with 8 oz crushed ice.

Classic Cocktails Done Well by Faith Hingey

There’s no doubt that Faith Hingey‘s Instagram account @barfaith introduced me to a number of cocktail concepts and recipes when I started to deep dive into cocktails, but her posts the last couple years have been less frequent. Well, it turns out Faith has been working on a book. Classic Cocktails Done Well: Tried-and-True Recipes for the Home Bartender is out now with a modestly priced hardcover format, as well as an eBook version.

I really appreciate the layout of the book into spirits-focused sections, starting with Gin and then Whiskey, Brandy, Rum, and Other Spirits. Faith includes recipe adjustments and other tips for many of the recipes, so this is more than just a list of recipes and photos. There’s also an excellent index in the back, breaking down the cocktails into use cases by occasion (brunch, date night). And a crisp section up front with commentary about spirits and other ingredients, equipment, and techniques. Where other cocktails books can be quite prescriptive about equipment such as shakers, you’ll find no judgment here. The focus is on the home bartender.

The commentary and suggestions are truly helpful, and include key tips and helpful reminders about these classic cocktails. The selection of classic cocktails seems to be pretty good in my estimation, though I don’t consider myself an expert. Pictured is the Junior cocktail with Rye, Lime, Benedictine, and Bitters. Boozy but delicious.

But, there is an elephant in the room that we’d be remiss in addressing here at UMT HQ. This is a book of classic cocktails and for the rum section it is hard to argue that the Mai Tai doesn’t belong along with the Daiquiri and Mojito as an all-time favorite. But the Mai Tai isn’t included in the book because of the exclusion of cocktails with “specialty ingredients that may be less accessible or versatile for regular use across a wide variety of drinks,” meaning orgeat I presume.

I think the criteria is reasonable and orgeat is most certainly not an everyday kitchen ingredient. That said, I find it hard to believe the average home cocktail hobbyist would find orgeat harder to find than some included liqueurs and spirts such as Benedictine and Yellow Chartreuse. But, we do acknowledge that orgeat isn’t really in any other (non-tropical) classic aside from the Japanese Cocktail. Maybe we can hope for a sequel focusing on tropical cocktails, a category that I know Faith is particularly fond of.

If you’re looking for a stocking stuffer for the next budding home bartender, Classic Cocktails Done Well is made to order and perfectly balanced.

Thatch Roof Cocktail at Legends Bay Casino

The new Legends Bay Casino is right across from our hotel in Sparks, so we went over to try some cocktails. There’s a bar with food trucks and a great selection of beer, but we went into the elegant bar at Duke’s Steak House. Our service from the bartender here was outstanding.

There’s a good selection of cocktails here, and the team can make classics not on the menu (I ordered a Sidecar). Mrs. Mai Tai immediately spotted the coconut rum drink called Thatch Roof, and this was an excellent choice. The Thatch Roof cocktail has Kasama Small Batch Rum (from the Philippines), ginger, coconut cream, lime, and soda. The blend of coconut and ginger worked great, and the soda and lime gave it a lightness. It was fantastic.

Kasama is a rum brand that I wasn’t familiar with, so I got a little pour of the rum for the second round. I don’t think the “small batch rum” label is quite accurate since research indicates there are big bucks and industry vets behind this brand (see also: Tito’s “Handmade” Vodka). The column-still rum is heavily dosed with sugar and added flavors, so this isn’t really a rum to sip neat. But I can’t complain at all about the flavorful Thatch Roof cocktail.

California Gold: Cocktails in San Rafael

Finally made it out to California Gold, a beer and cocktail bar in downtown San Rafael. Located in a historic building, there are tons of retro accoutrements and nods to California history.

We arrived at opening on Saturday for a couple rounds and thank goodness since it was quite packed by the time we left. Service was pretty decent and the cocktails were quite good. I loved the grog style Voodoo Western with bourbon, rum, passionfruit, cinnamon, grapefruit, lime, falernum, and voodoo secrets. Mrs. Mai Tai had the Carousel Park Swizzle, a nod the Queen’s Park Swizzle. All great.

This seems like a great place for cocktails in San Rafael’s cute downtown.

Book Club Cocktails

Mrs. Mai Tai hosted her monthly Book Club with friends and asked me to make cocktails for the group. This was the menu I came up with, intended to present some different kinds of flavors than are usually seen on mainstream cocktail menus.

  • The Pampanito: a Smuggler’s Cove recipe featuring Molasses Syrup
  • Saturn: a Gin-based cocktail with exotic cocktail sweeteners
  • Blue Hawaii: I included a little quarter ounce of Wray & Nephew Overproof to give this a little extra kick of flavor
  • Tradewinds: a great combination of coconut plus Apricot Liqueur

The cocktail that blew everyone away was the Saturn, served up. Even the attendees who said they didn’t like Gin found this delightful. I made more of these than the other cocktails combined.

I can see why people build or acquire bars for their homes; trying to make this many drinks sink-side in the kitchen is kind of a pain. But at least the results came out great.

imPASTA Straws

I moved past plastic straws at home quite a while ago and have felt that Hay Straws were better than paper or glass or metal. I’d tried pasta straws at Trader Vic’s and found them okay, though fatter than I prefer and definitely the kind that can break apart if left in the drink for too long.

Enter imPASTA straws (“imposter” – get it?), who provided the box for review. This retails for $9 for a box of 45 7½” straws. Quite solid. They’re definitely not easily breakable like the hay straws. And the radius for these straws is noticeable smaller than those big fat ones at I’d used previously.

The true test would be how long these last in the cocktail, so I made up a tall Margarita and outfitted it with plenty of crushed ice.

  • An hour later it was working perfectly, still able to easily stir the cocktail.

  • Two hours later it was still very solid.

  • Three and a half hours later the straw could still clang on the glass.

  • After five and a half hours there was a noticeable bend, but was still solid enough to drink through. And who’s nursing a cocktail for over five hours?!?

Gotta say, I was very impressed with imPASTA straws.

I would prefer these be closer to 8″, to work better in tall Collins/Zombie glasses. And you know I’d like to see a short 5½” version for Mai Tais and other Double Rocks cocktails. But for an initial product offering, imPASTA is on the right track.

Lesson: Stick to Tiki

Sometimes it is good to challenge your assumptions and revisit spirits and cocktails that you haven’t loved (or enjoyed at all) in the past.

Such was the case when I made two Martinis. While I preferred the Gin Martini over the one with Vodka, neither was enjoyable. Glad I tried it but won’t be coming back anytime soon.