Episode 063 - Book Review: By the Smoke & the Smell

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What’s shakin, cocktail fans?


Welcome to this special edition of the Modern Bar Cart Podcast1

As you might have guessed from the intro music, we’re doing something a little bit different than usual. Normally, we’re interviewing cocktail experts, distillers, or bartenders, trying to access the knowledge that will help you take your home bartending game to the next level.

But you know what? There’s other ways to educate yourself about all things boozy and delicious.

Moving forward, we’re going to start publishing short cocktail book reviews on the Modern Bar Cart Podcast so that you can get a preview of the books that will really supplement and elevate your experience as a home bartender.

They won’t be regular, and we’ll still be doing all the great interviews and deep dives that we usually do, but these occasional in-between-isodes are just one more way that we’re trying to be of service to you and create a world where cocktails are the new normal.

New Product Teaser

First, I’ve got an announcement that we’ve kinda been teasing here for a little while, throwing out little hints, but I am absolutely stoked to finally announce that Modern Bar Cart will be releasing a new product in the coming months called The Essential Tasting Journal for Spirits & Cocktails.

After years of speaking with other cocktail enthusiasts out there, we realized that a lot of people like to take notes on their cocktail experiments and adventures, whether it’s at home or at the bar, and I include myself in that group. But there’s just not a whole ton of resources out there that really make cocktail note-taking easy, so most people just grab a moleskine or a composition notebook and take their cocktail notes freehand.

There's a couple big advantages to this:

  1. Beginners lack structure in their tasting notes, which is essential to learning, and
  2. More experienced tasters get lazy and opt not to take detailed notes on some of the more nuanced aspects of a cocktail tasting (like mouthfeel, alcohol burn, etc.).

We’re teaming up with our phenomenal designer, Spencer Joynt, to solve both of these problems and more. In next week’s episode, we’ll give you a sneak peak at some of the innovative features of The Essential Tasting Journal for Spirit & Cocktails, and we’ll let you know where you can go to check out some proofs and wireframes to get a sense of what it might look like.

Needless to say, we’re pretty amped about this, and if you know anything about us, you can bet that there’s gonna be some sweet opportunities and discounts just for our podcast listeners as we launch this product.

Featured Cocktail: The Klaus Kinski

This week's featured cocktail is called the Klaus Kinski, named after the famous 20th century actor who played “Nosferatu the Vampyre.". This drink is mentioned during our catch-up call with Modern Bar Cart co-founder Ethan Hall, highlighted by its double-dose of amaro.

Klaus Kinski

Klaus Kinski

To make it, you'll need:

  • ¾ oz Rye
  • ¾ oz Jamaican-style Rum
  • ¾ oz Amaro Nardini
  • ¾ oz Campari

Now, this is a puzzling cocktail, looking at the ratios. It’s kind of taking a stand somewhere between a rum-driven Boulevardier and a Vieux Carre, but it’s way boozier and more bitter than both of them because it swaps out the sweet vermouth for a double-dose of amaro.

What we'd suggest if you’re making this is three things:

  1. Stir this for quite a bit longer than you might stir other drinks. That added dilution is going to be helpful.

  2. Instead of serving it up, put it over a large rock for continued dilution and chill factor.

  3. Throw a lemon or grapefruit twist in there as a garnish to lift the flavor profile, which is one of the heaviest we’ve ever come across.

Book Review: By the Smoke & the Smell

The book we’re featuring this episode is called By the Smoke and the Smell, written by award-winning San Francisco bar owner Thad Vogler, and the rambling subtitle is: “My Search for the Rare & Sublime on the Spirits Trail.”

Thad Vogler is a denizen of the fine city of San Francisco, and that’s where he’s set down his roots by creating some of the most renowned beverage programs in the country.

His bars are called Bar Agricole, Trou Normande, and Obispo. I’m not quite sure if that last one is open yet, but it will reportedly be a Cuban-inspired rum bar in the Mission District of San Fran.

This book is a globe-trotting catalog of Thad Vogler’s adventures in various traditional distilling cultures. Each chapter begins with his arrival in a new country with a revolving and occasionally recurring series of companions who you kinda get to know over the course of the book. France, Scotland, Cuba, Oaxaca Mexico, Kentucky - these are the history-steeped, culturally charged, and radically different settings for the author’s quest to find the most authentically produced and delicious spirits to serve at his bars in the United States. As Vogler travels, he uses his interactions with the people and spirits he encounters to examine some of the larger questions the service and spirits industries face at this particular moment in history.  

At first, this focus might seem a bit narrow. After all, most of us aren’t bartenders or distillers.

But on the other hand, most of us do occasionally travel (or at least aspire to travel) to interesting places. And most of us DO go out of our way to taste delicious food and drink.

So if there’s a universal access point to this book, I think that’s it. And what really makes it an enjoyable read is that Vogler’s storytelling style has just the right balance of landscape description, character building, and personal reflection to keep you turning page after page. If you’re a boozehound, you’ll be completely enthralled by the flavors and characters in this book, but even if you’re not, I think you’ll really enjoy examining the various cultural core samples that the author extracts on his quest to better understand various spirits and distilling traditions.

Vogler does have a couple obsessions that pop up a number of times in different chapters. One is his fascination with the microbiome and the impact it has on distilled spirits. He’s always asking about yeasts and applauding people who let the wild microbiome of their region penetrate their juice, rather than opting for a completely sterile operation. The other things you’ll see him put under the microscope are the sacrifices that small, independent distillers make on a daily basis to safeguard the quality of their product, even though they are largely unrewarded for these sacrifices, at least financially speaking. So if you’d like to be better-read on either of those subjects, I’d say that By the Smoke and the Smell is about the best casual introduction you can find.  

There IS a dual anxiety floating around in the background of this book, and it comes from the fact that the author is a bar owner, and the bar business is risky on a good day. He’s also existentially plagued by the disappearance of many of the things he loves in his small-batch artisanal spirits. But to give Vogler some credit, he rarely lets this anxiety take over entirely. It’s always rescued by some pithy remark, like “Bourbon is basically sweet oak juice,” or an ironic description of what his companions are doing or saying in real life while he’s in a corner waxing philosophical.

To listen to an excerpt from By the Smoke & the Smell, please download this podcast wherever podcasts are available, or use the audio player at the top of the page.