Musings by Evan Broder


Spiel 2021

So far, this blog has been a cocktail blog, but my plan has always been to post about anything I find interesting, which is mostly pretty stereotypical of a nerd living in San Francisco and working in tech, but certainly not limited to just booze. Today I’m going to broaden the blog’s horizons by writing about my recent trip to Spiel 2021 in Essen, Germany, where I got to try 19 different new board games, 7 of which made it home with me:

I’m pretty excited about today’s topic; it was actually a big motivator for starting my blog back up. I promise this isn’t exclusively a blog about the Aviary and their series of books, but, well, I’m not ready to move on yet. When the Aviary announced their book Zero (so named for being about “zero” ABV drinks, although they primarily refer to them as “non-alcoholic beverages” or “NAs”; that’s the convention I’ll use), one section, in particular, caught my eye:

A screenshot of the Zero promotional website which says: What's included in Zero? A non-alcoholic back bar. Recipes for building your own pantry of non-alcoholic base spirits, from absinthe to whiskey.

I was enticed by the possibility of creating standard cocktails using non-alcoholic ingredients. It’s probably just a sign that I’m getting older, but I find that, for whatever reason, more and more of my friends aren’t drinking or are drinking less. I want to offer them something just as delicious as what I can make with alcohol, and most mocktail recipes just don’t cut it; they’re frequently little more than fruit juice and soda water.

When I got the book, I couldn’t wait to dig into it. I flipped through the original recipes and gave up on marking the ones I was excited about because it was almost every one. The recipes look unique and delicious (and occasionally complicated)—everything I’ve come to expect from the Aviary. But when I read through the introduction, I was kind of bummed:

[M]ost of these recipes [are] vulnerable to spontaneous fermentation. […] For this reason, avoid storing any of these beverages at room temperature for long periods of time. They can generally stay stable for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Oof. Most ingredients on our bar can last for well over a year without perceptible loss of quality. It definitely wouldn’t be feasible to re-make a complete back bar every week when the last batch expired.

I gave up on building my own NA back bar for months, but I think I’ve finally cracked it, and as far as I know, nobody else is doing this yet.

Three home bag-in-box wine kits, containing the NA Campari, Gin, and Sweet vermouth.

Since starting to write about my own experiments with cocktails, a lot of friends have asked me how to get started. So here are my personal recommendations for books, tools, and ingredients if you’re bootstrapping your own cocktail experience. These recommendations reflect my own journey with cocktails, minus a few missteps and tangents along the way. My plan is to keep this post up to date if I change my recommendations over time, so hopefully, it will be a useful evergreen source.

This week, I want to write about a cocktail that’s still fresh on my mind. To celebrate the 4th of July this year, my roommates and I decided to make something as American as apple pie. Well, we made something with apples: The Granny Smith, from The Aviary Cocktail Book.

The ingredients for The Granny Smith

Alright, let’s see if we can’t get some momentum going here. For the time being, I’m going to stick with the cocktail theme (although I do think I’ll get back to computers eventually). And while I do have some other big ideas like my post on essential oils, I’m going to try and space them out a bit so I don’t feel pressured to have something great every time I update. What better way to keep things lightweight than adapting content I’ve already written?

I got a copy of the stunningly beautiful Aviary Cocktail Book in 2018, shortly after it was released. It’s definitely a bit of an odd duck. While it’s pitched and structured as a recipe book, it seems somewhat clear that they don’t quite expect mere mortals like us to be able to make all of it. Out of 118 cocktails, I counted 6 different recipes that call for a rotary vacuum distiller. Two that call for a centrifuge (and more designed for a centrifuge, even if edited to not require it). It feels as much like a coffee table book as a cookbook. I think it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll ever make it all the way through the Aviary Cocktail Book, but the drinks I have made have been unique, inspiring, informative, and fun.

(As an aside, if you’re interested in some unique cocktails that don’t require a full home chemistry lab, I do definitely recommend the Aviary books of Holiday and Summer Cocktails. They’re accessible in a way the first book isn’t. My roommate Jeremy and I made 16 different holiday cocktails as part of our “adventinis”—an advent calendar of pandemic quarantine cocktails we did during the 2020 holiday season. I may write more about them later here, but in the meantime, my commentary is on Twitter.)

In total, to date, I’ve made either 7 or 9 cocktails out of The Aviary Cocktail Book, depending on how you count (one of them was a 3-glass flight of related drinks). I took notes as I made them, which seems like it should translate well to blog post content.

If I was staying truer to the blog format, I’d probably go in chronological order. But instead, I want to start with the cocktail that is currently my single all-time favorite cocktail I’ve ever had: the Mad World.

A photo of the Mad World in a double old fashioned glass, in front of the recipe from the Aviary Cocktail Book

In 2016, I reset my personal website and promised to write more frequently. At the time, it had been over 6 years since my last blog post. Well, it’s only been about 4½ years since I put that post up, so I’m exceeding my expectations! However, I also set a goal of putting out more content with less polish, and I’ve learned that I have a really tough time with unpolished content, at least when it comes to computer topics.

(Also, I almost started a post last October, but at some point in the last 4+ years a Hugo upgrade broke the theme that I was using, so I had to figure out how to fix that. Classic.)

So instead, I’m going to get things going with something completely different: cocktails! I’ve built up (with my roommates) a…passing interest in cocktails over the last 5 years…

A photo of our home bar, with 10 mostly-full shelves and 150-200 different bottles of spirits, liqueurs, and other cocktail ingredients

…and, well, now I have some opinions about making high-quality drinks in a home environment. I’ve figured out some tricks that I think are pretty cool, and that I haven’t seen anywhere else (I think because most people writing about cocktails work primarily in a commercial, high-throughput environment). If we’re lucky, this will be a series. But first up, I want to talk about garnishing drinks at home.

Note: I’m writing this post in 2021, but it’s back-dated to May 19, 2019, the date I originally made this cocktail. I want to capture the cocktails I’ve made from the Aviary book in the past for posterity, but they’re not “current” content and I don’t want to present them as such.

A photo of the Cold Chocolate

This is the first drink from the Aviary Cocktail Book that I tried to make myself. The core cocktail is made from bourbon, milk, smoked malt grain syrup, and chocolate sauce (which includes banana, ancho chile powder, smoked salt, and some other stuff). It’s served with frozen milk on the side of the glass and a pecan foam, made from milk and sugar infused with roasted pecans.

New Blog

After letting my blog (and personal site) sit dormant for 6 years, it seemed like it was time to rethink things.