Episode #022 – Interview with Jeff Cioletti, author of The Year of Drinking Adventurously

Jeff Cioletti - Speaking Easy Podcast

In this episode, we interview Jeff Cioletti, author of The Year of Drinking Adventurously. This episode is twice as long as our previous episodes, but we could have talked for hours with Jeff. He is a true kindred spirit and enjoys a good spirit. This episode is sure to please. Cheers!

What got you interested in cocktails?

It’s been an interesting progression. I started out mostly as a craft beer guy and for the longest time only wanted to drink beer. Wouldn’t go to a bar unless they had a good selection (that was a lot harder to find a decade ago). Then I got into neat spirits, mostly whiskey at first. Then I fell in love with shochu and I’ve been getting into gin lately. Only after I got into spirits did I start exploring cocktails. The spirits sections of the book are mostly about trying the spirits neat first and then there are a few cocktail recipes thrown in to explore further. I still consider myself more of a neat spirit person–maybe one cube, depending on the spirit. So really still trying to navigate the cocktail world.

year-of-drinknigWhat was the most interesting thing you learned while researching for you book?

There were so many interesting things and it’s hard to pinpoint just one. But one of the most eye-opening things was the fact that Irish whiskey was once the envy of the world and Scotch wasn’t as well regarded a century or so ago. Politics, wars, famine and U.S. Prohibition all got in the way and ultimately weakened Irish whiskey’s reputation in the world— reputation that it’s only just now reclaiming.

What’s the first cocktail you remember really enjoying?

It’s kind of embarrassing, but in my early 20s I was all about whiskey sours because I didn’t know what else to order (and that’s really what this book is about, getting out of that comfort zone and finding other things to order). Now I find them too cloying and hardly qualify as cocktails at all. But i think I enjoyed it a lot because the sour mix masked the whiskey flavor–which was obviously not very good whiskey to begin with. Now I seek out very whiskey-forward cocktails where the other ingredients take a back seat.

What do you like to make most at home?

Old Fashioned, hands-down. I know they’re kind of becoming a cliche now, but the classics are classics for a reason!

What would you suggest reading or watching to a new home bartender? What skills should they pick up?

Aside from the cocktail books written by industry icons like Dale DeGroff, Gary Regan or Jim Meehan, I think they should watch cooking shows and take some culinary classes. These days the best mixologists are like chefs.

What’s your favorite/least favorite cocktail(s)?

Favorites…Old Fashioned, of course, a very well made Bloody Mary, not one that’s phoned in. Stay away from the $3 bloody specials at brunch or the bottomless bloodies. They’re never usually very good. They’re not using good vodka nor are the bartenders doing much to them to make them their own. A friend who runs the beverage program at a place in New York does a green one with tomatillo that’s pretty amazing. Also like a good mint julep, though surprisingly one of the worst ones that I’ve had was at a whiskey bar in Louisville. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a bees knees, as long as they’re using a good quality gin and I can actually taste the gin (don’t skimp!). I also like new spins on classics swapping out spirits. For instance, Scofflaw in Chicago does an amazing gin old fashioned, replacing the bourbon or rye with gin. Everything else is the same. Doesn’t taste like an old fashioned at all, obviously, but it’s its own thing and really amazing. The Rum Club in Portland does the same with its rum old-fashioned.

And honestly, if there’s one chapter I could rewrite in my book it would be the gin chapter. I’m not very kind to the gin and tonic in it. The gin and tonic was the drink I adopted in my mid-twenties, after I got sick of whiskey sours. I thought, “This is a grownup drink! I should drink it!” But it was always watered down and the gin was crappy anyway. Only in the last year or so have I come to fully embrace the gin and tonic, especially after I went to gin festival in London.

Least favorite:

Anything sweet appended with -tini.

What cocktail trend do you love/hate?

I love that Tiki’s making another comeback. I also like that amari are getting popular…there are now entire bars dedicated to them. I’m also a sucker for large, hand-carved ice cubes, as well as ice spheres (I know some people who would disagree). Barrel aged cocktails are pretty cool too…the bar here in DC barrel has an epic barrel aging program.

Hate:

Mixologists for whom fame is an endgame.

If you have one (or a few), what would say is your ‘signature drink’?

Blanton’s neat.

Can you share with us one of your favorite toasts?

Kanpai! (Japanese). I think the loose translation is “dry glass” or “empty glass,” as in “may you empty your glass”

IMG_7189Where can you find Jeff Cioletti online?

Twitter: @JeffCioletti

Website: drinkableglobe.com

His book: The Year of Drinking Adventurously