The Toast: May 2013

Banner for the Toast: Drinking Well in the Upper MidwestReadersWe want to hear what you’re toasting. Have you found the latest and greatest local brew? Know of an underappreciated bottle shop? Is there a bartender whose skills you swear by? Email Toast Editor John Garland at or tweet @johnpgarland and let us know what’s up! Each month our favorite submission will receive a Heavy Table pint glass and may be featured in the next Toast!

Cheers to… DIY! In this edition of The Toast, we’re making our own bitters, looking forward to some major events, seeking out a cocktail in Rochester, and learning about cooking with beer. Kampai!

DIY Bitters Easy & Oskey
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Bitters Made Easy

The right bitters can take a cocktail from merely drinkable to extraordinary. If you’re a true aficionado, you may have tried to make them yourself. But it’s not that easy settling on a technique with no prior experience, much less tracking down a supplier of things like gentian root and quassia amargo.

That’s why Erik “Easy” Eastman (below, left) and Dan Oskey (below, right) thought to do all the leg work for you. The first product released by their newly formed company, Easy & Oskey, is a Make Your Own Bitters Kit currently available at South Lyndale Liquors (more retailers forthcoming). We spoke over a few cocktails at The Strip Club in St. Paul, Oskey’s home base, where he’s been perfecting (and Eastman’s been consuming) creative bitters for the last five years.

“When we opened, the question from our customers was ‘what are bitters?'” Oskey recalls. “Since then, that question has evolved to ‘how do I make my own?'” He estimates having honed in on 20 different flavors of bitters for use on Strip Club’s cocktail menu and now all of his trial and error is to your benefit.

Each of their DIY bitters kits comes with a list of approachable, step-by-step instructions that Eastman calls “worth half the cost of the kit on its own.” They also contain a mason jar, filter, funnel, labels, eyedropper bottles and spice packages. You need only supply booze and sugar, and you’ve got ten ounces of professional quality, homemade bitters in a few weeks.

DIY Bitters Easy & Oskey
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

The kits are formulated to produce flavors of bitters you may have experienced – orange, cacao and cherry-vanilla, for example. But they’re still very much customizable. They mentioned Erica Strait at Foxy Falafel adding lime zest to their habanero kit. If you’ve ever had a Cobra Kai at The Strip Club (top photo), you’d see the wisdom in that infusion.

Cobra Kai
2 oz Kilo Kai rum
2 oz house sour mix (lemon and lime juice with some powdered egg white)
½ dropper of habanero bitters
shake and serve on the rocks in a small collins glass.

“If you do this exactly like the instructions say, it’ll turn out great,” says Eastman. “But there are a lot of places for you to, say, hey I don’t want allspice in this, I’ll take out these five berries and replace them with cloves or whatever you want.”

DIY Bitters Easy & Oskey
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

For even more creative leeway, they’ve got one kit (called Naked) containing a versatile spice blend that’s used as a base for any flavor you can imagine. Smoked paprika, apricot and hops, toasted sesame and black pepper were just a few of the flavors they mentioned trying. We talked about washing bourbon with bacon fat, using it with the Naked kit and finishing them with maple syrup. Bacon bitters in your Manhattan, anyone?

Eastman, a rabid home cook, extolls the culinary applications of these bitters. “Chefs don’t like to use a lot of black pepper with fish, cause you get the black granules and they burn,” he says. “With the bitters, it’s like an invisible seasoning layer of pepper. Oysters and scallops are also great with it.”

They’re aiming to remove the veil from the production process, so tweet them if you’ve any questions along the way. If you’re interested in an in-depth seminar on concocting your own flavors and cocktails, they’ll be hosting classes at South Lyndale on May 16 and June 13. The cost is $20, but participants get a $10 credit to use on the kits or any other purchase. Call the store to RSVP.

DIY Bitters Easy & Oskey
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table


You can still get tickets for the Solo Vino Rosé Tent Tasting on Sunday the 19th, but get them quickly, because they will sell out. “This is the largest rosé tasting that’s put on anywhere in the US,” Solo Vino’s Chuck Kanski tells us. “We will literally have about 110 rosés open, a couple dozen white wines, a dozen or so summertime reds and a dozen craft beers.” Your humble editor will be there, basking in the sun, getting a serious pink wine buzz on.

To coincide with American Craft Beer Week, May 13-19, the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild has organized 10,000 Minutes of Minnesota Craft Beer. Member breweries and brewpubs will be hosting special events all week long – tap takeovers, firkin tappings, release parties, brewery tours, brewer Q&As, you name it. As if you needed an excuse to go drink our state’s fine local beer, these events will offer a great chance to interface with the people making it happen. So go support them and drink local!

And don’t forget, we’ll have five brewers and two distillers sampling at Saturday’s North Coast Nosh (below). (Two) tickets are still available, and there will also be great food there, if that’s your thing.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
April’s Reader Submission comes from Max H, who alerted us to a great cocktail he’s recently come across: the Stone Street at Zzest Market & Cafe in Rochester. We asked bartender Joshua Augustin for the lowdown.

“The combination of the gourmet market and restaurant provides a very creative base to bring craft cocktails to,” he writes. “The food, the atmosphere, the outstanding patio, the items in the market, and the people here all help to enhance the cocktail program.” He’s a Northstar Bartenders Guild member, happy to spread the joy of craft cocktails in Rochester. “Being able to meet and share ideas with some of the best bartenders in Minneapolis and the country and try and incorporate some of those ideas here at ZZest is an exciting opportunity.”

Courtesy of Joshua Augustin
Courtesy of Joshua Augustin

Stone Street
2 oz Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey
½ oz Zucca Amaro
½ oz Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur of the Alps
¼ oz rich simple syrup
1 dropper Bittercube Orange Bitters
Orange peel disc
-Express orange peel disc on outside of cocktail glass. Add all ingredients to mixing glass, fill with ice and stir 50 times. Julep strain into cocktail glass and small carafe.

Old Overholt is in The Toast’s pantheon of awesome cheap booze. Gussy it up with some Amaro and the outdoorsy/floral tasting Zirbenz? Heck yeah. Save us a seat on the patio, Max.

John Garland / Heavy Table
John Garland / Heavy Table

Cooking With Beer

If you even have a passing interest in learning more about beer, be on the lookout for the next round of classes from the Better Beer Society. We jumped at the chance to experience a recent class featuring noted home-brew chef and Beer Advocate columnist Sean Paxton (above) as he explained the myriad of different ways to cook with beer or brewing by-products. Check out his comprehensive Powerpoint presentation on the BBS website and the catalog of recipes on his website. A few of our major takeaways:

– Play up the the flavors already present in the beer. Seems obvious, but remember that bitterness is one of those flavors. He recommends not using IPAs or similarly hop-heavy beers while braising or deglazing and reducing as the bitterness will intensify.

– That said, bitterness is quite necessary elsewhere in cuisine. For example, you can infuse hops into olive oil and make a vinaigrette.

– For longer cooking times, save a quarter of your beer to add at the end to brighten flavors.

If the tuition of the upcoming BBSU 2013 fall semester remains at $75, it’s an insane deal for how much knowledge you’ll take away (and beer you’ll drink). After sitting in on this class, your editor will be signing up for the next full term.