Imbibe Hour


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hunting treasures in the home. Old home bars leave untapped secrets

Old Bottle of B and B found in home bar
I hadn't posted a blog write-up for sometime.  I am not always sure what to write about somedays.  I could easily "repost" video reviews, and also "repost" beer reviews, but the former is simply on my channel on You Tube, and the later being on BeerAdvocate's website.  It was becoming a bit redundant just for redundancy sake I felt to throw them up on here.  Once in awhile though, life events among good drink come into play, sometimes you can find a little piece of history.  Where can you find drink history?  I soon found out in other peoples old home bars.

First a bit of background.  My wife and I were invited to a wine tasting party for a couple we only knew a little bit about.  A classic, they are friends of friends of ours sort of thing.

We weren't sure how "much" of a wine tasting this would be, I debated about which wine to bring among a plethora of choices I have.  I do love wine, and I have "plenty", and nothing says like an excuse to get rid of wine than to go or have a party.  We grabbed a bottle of Sancere that we like, and off we went.

Shortly into our visit it was obvious this was really just a house party.  We nibbled, we chatted, we hung out, we met friends we knew, and some new people also.  It was not a sophisticated gathering of glasses and tasting orders, which was good, but hey we were prepared not knowing what to expect.  Bottles sat on the table, people dove in to the selections.  I am always interested in finding new wines, one bottle that was brought was a Romanian sweet white whose name I can't remember.  You certainly couldn't buy it here. A Hungarian co-worker of the host brought it, and it made a good talking point between us and him since my wife and I spent time in Hungary.  Who says drink doesn't provide good conversation worth talking about?

It became obvious though while we were outside that is was getting quite humid and warm.  While the setting was nice, it was a classic DC muggy summer day, sweat was pouring off my body, I found myself going into the inside of the house for water too often, and the chilled whites sweating on the table were getting consumed like crazy as the reds barely got touched.  It seemed like we just needed to cool off.  Our host recognized this and then said:

"Hey let's all go downstairs into our basement where it's cooler, what do you say?"

We all glanced around, and it was pretty obvious we all didn't have to say what was on our mind.  Then our host said:

"I have a bar down there!"

Hello did he say BAR?  Enter our hero!!

Pulling the sliding glass door, we all made a dash for downstairs, as the air conditioned blasted and evaporated the sweat off of my forearms.  I was excited to see another bar, perhaps we could swap stories and tips.

I went downstairs and noticed the bar that was definitely part of the house probably built when the basement was refinished.  The host had mentioned that when they bought their house, the previous older couple left many things behind, furniture, tables, much of it from the mid century modern period and totally retro, going with the style of the houses build date in the early 60s.  The previous owners had no use for these items, and left them for the new couple. One of the things they left behind also was a bar (although it appeared to be made much later), and with it were contents of glassware, shakers, instruments, the usual for any well prepped bar.  But also it contained... old bottles.

"I don't know what this stuff is?! What do I do with it?!"  the host asked holding up a Hawthorne strainer.

It soon became apparent to me that this was happening in homes across America.  I certainly remember this when I was shopping for a house years ago.  Many new homeowners were buying older homes, and there were downstairs bars in them.  Sometimes they didn't always know what to do with these bars, or get the most out of what they offered.  More importantly it dawned on me that these bars could contain bottles of a former era.  Thoughts of being a cocktail bar rescuer as a job fluttered in my imagination, but figured that wouldn't pay much.

I remember one DC rowhouse I saw way back while looking for a new home, extremely dated, in ok condition, but nothing to get excited about, until I was told by my wife to go in the basement.

"So what's down there?" I asked, "another purple toilet or something?"  I said.

"No just go take a look I think you'll be surprised.".

I held off my excitement that from what I had already seen in this house we were never going to buy it, a classic too many problems.  However, my jaw hit the floor when I went downstairs.

Far off in the distance was a formed wall with a full seated bar, 4 swinging upholstered swivel chairs, cubed glass bar that went at least twenty feet in length, a full working sink.  I could easily see that the person who lived here was really putting his priorities into a great drink establishment, neglecting the rest of the house sans working kitchen with no new appliances.  The bar was not stocked, much of the bar items were of course boxed away in preparation for a move, but the bar was lengthy, a great giant slab of wood, a few touches of cigarettes odd burns and circular water stains.  Not many, but just enough to give it character.  A classic old cubed TV jutted in the corner, it was from the 70s, you could easily mistake it for a fish-tank.

The stories that place could tell, I dreamed of the African American couple who lived there, the guy who came home with his buddies, and made drinks for everyone, probably with a little bit of TV.. maybe Redskins games, slamming down drinks and perhaps making a good cocktail or two, probably during a better football era than now.  This bar had more charm and history that I think of any local watering hole I'd ever been in.

Getting out of my flashback, I quickly pulled out at my smartphone and said "here look, this is my channel, and this is my bar at home, I can show you some things."  Our host took one look and then exclaimed WE HAVE A BARTENDER!!  I was quickly voted in to make drinks for everyone.

"You have to show me how to make this stuff!" said our host.  I replied "Oh of course, but let's take a look around".

Investigating any new bar is always fun, but for the most part, many people don't have a lot of things bottle wise.  I realize I have a hobby and buy lots of different liquor, but most people aren't like me.  Most home bars usually contain one to 5 simple bottles, mostly just of something people like to drink all the time.  Usually there's just a bottle of gin, cause people like to drink gin and tonic all the time.  Or there's just a bottle of whiskey, or a bottle of vodka.  Sometimes people just want to do shots, but mostly the contents of ingredients in drinks for home use can fit on a small shelf.

"Make something!"  someone from the party exclaimed excitedly.

I saw a large bottle of Makers Mark.. ok plenty of this, but I started noticing that our hosts bar was quite empty.  "Do you have any bitters?"  I was thinking if I could get some Angostura bitters and find sweet vermouth I could make people Manhattans.  I noticed no bitters, that's ok, but we need vermouth.

I opened up a cabinet, and found some more bottles, and couldn't make out what they were in the darkness, so I grabbed the first one I could and brought it out.  The picture above is what I found, an old bottle of B & B or Benedictine and Brandy.  Most of the contents were still in, with about 1/2 the bottle still left.  We quickly made the rounds, based out some small liqueur glasses and drank.  Still good, classic herbal notes, almond, vanilla, and sweetness, it held up and was absolutely delicious.  The worn brown label indicates and older bottle, but I don't think this bottle is very old, or say... worth a lot of money.  But it's always great to taste some history.  If you know anything about how old that bottle might be from the picture, please contact me!

Stock picture of Galliano bottle
Digging back into the cabinet I found what I call, another relic classic from the so called Fern bar area.  In this bar was the classic bottle of Galliano.  I recognized this instantly, and it is something I distinctly remember from my childhood, but not because as a young 12 year old kid was I sipping it with pinky raised mind you.  The one thing that is unmistakable of Galliano is it's bottle shape.  A bottle of Galliano is very slender and thin, and extremely tall.  It's so tall and obnoxious that when you go to a bar somewhere it sticks out like a missile or something that belongs in an ammunition warehouse.

I noticed the bottle was old, probably from the 80s, since the lettering on it was identical to all the bottles I saw growing up.  I remember many neighborhood restaurants I went to as a repeat customer with my family.  These restaurant places I went to I had been going for many years, I would pass by the bar area and I would see that bottle of Galliano on the shelves. Through the early 80s up to practically the last of the early 90s, I could still go back to these places and see that SAME bottle on the shelf.  It... Never.... Moved... ever.  Something even in my gut tells me if I went back to these same places now in my old hometown that bottle would STILL be there.

Just like the downstairs bar, the Galliano was still there.  In here is where my fascination with this spirit lies.  It is the relic of my youth, it is my wonderment of always thinking, "what does that large ICBM bottle taste like?".  I just could never want to ask or try it, or even go buy it, I always made excuses.  Columnist Justin Wilson of the Washington Post describes it as: "a sweet Italian anise-citrus-vallia liqueur". but for me I have always been averse to trying it because to me the contents look banana colored, something I really dislike.

Unfortunatly, my free sip of Galliano was not to be either.  The bottle had barely an ounce in it, and I left it to be hoping someone might finish it.  Something tells me though... it's still going to be there like a spent radioactive fuel rod that just never goes away, and nobody wants to touch.

So while the party went on, some basic cocktails were made, including a whiskey sour with Makers.  Asking for sugar and eggs for the bar, the host was wide eyed.  "What are you going to do bake us a cake!?"

Au contraire, for within a bar there are secrets and memories waiting to be unlocked.

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