Duggan McDonnell owns and operates Cantina, the San Fran-centric cocktail lounge dedicated to Latin spirits and California cocktails. He operates Liquid Think Tank, a beverage consultancy, and co-founded San Francisco Cocktail Week and the Barbary Coast Conservancy of the American Cocktail. He also co-founded and serves as CEO and Master Blender of Campo de Encanto pisco, winner of the Ministry of Production’s Gran Medalla de Oro Best in Show gold medal (the highest honor for any pisco). Duggan’s many accolades include a Best Mixologist of the Year nomination at Tales of the Cocktail (twice) in New Orleans, and Leader of the American Cocktail Revolution from Food & Wine. A featured expert on the TV show “Great Cocktails,” Duggan also served as the spokesperson for the got milk? 2010 holiday cocktail TV campaign. He’s designed cocktails for the Sundance Film Festival and Aspen Food & Wine, and has consulted for spirits companies including Tequila Don Julio, Grey Goose Vodka and Cabana Cachaca.
It’s true: tequila has a bad, bad reputation. And it’s well-earned; tequila’s history is dubious, complicated, full of scandal and poor behavior. But, all of that is in the past. The Consejo Regulador del Tequila (C.R.T.) was formed in 1994 to control, improve and promote the quality of tequila production and has constantly maintained its efforts, even rewriting its standards in 2006. The C.R.T. boldly assures us that tequila has cleaned up its act. Even better, many artistic creations, single-barrel bottlings and unique blends of tequila, all from premium stock, have recently emerged. Jake Lustig of Las Joyas del Agave recently introduced his Seleccion Arte N.O.M. series of tequila. Acting closely as a negociant of agave and of specific barrels, Lustig works only with the best of the best of the Tequileros in Jalisco and bottles only his favorites, with each batch bearing the signature of the distiller on the label. Chiara Shannon of K & L Wine Merchants described the 1079 Blanco Tequila as “one of the coolest tequilas I’ve ever tasted. Absolutely unreal.” (more…)
Whiskey: It is the drink of Honkytonks, of Country and Western, of saloons and the ballads sung in them. It is 42nd Street meets Michigan Avenue meets Heaven Hill, Kentucky. It’s the catch-all category wherein Scotch is connected to Bourbon and Irish to Rye. And to Canada and to Japan and to Panama and Peru, and wherever else a grain mash is built, fermented akin to beer, distilled a few times, then intentionally left to idle in wooden barrels to breathe, soften and take on notes of vanilla, coconut and spice. “Whiskey is as diverse as wine with a broad spectrum of flavor,” said Robin Coupar, Whiskey Specialist for Campari America. “Women are embracing whiskey too as they are attracted to its complexity.” Whiskey sings in the Mint Julep, the Old-Fashioned, the Rob Roy, in San Francisco’s Boothby Cocktail, and rarely is it better than in a Manhattan. It is known as Whiskey, or as Whisky, or Whisk(e)y in the seminal book on the tipple by Stefan Gabanyi. (more…)
There is one cocktail known the world over as the principal drink of winter: the hot toddy. A toddy is any cocktail that has a bit of booze, a healthy portion of water and a nip of sugar. Think: Scotch and water, but sweetened. A beginner’s cocktail to be sure, but not a bad one at all. A hot toddy, made with boiling water, is certainly a warming drink, most often consumed during the winter, but it needn’t only be enjoyed in winter for the best results.
The making of a margarita, however, is a different matter. (more…)
Vodka is the little black dress of spirits: appropriate and tasteful for almost any occasion, and perennially stylish. In cocktails, as in life, it’s important to play well with others. That’s vodka.
A few decades ago, vodka brand Smirnoff popularized the slogan “Smirnoff leaves you breathless.” Today, Smirnoff vodka is the bestselling spirit in the world, and vodka is the highest-selling spirit category in the US. Scan the cocktail menu or the backbar of your favorite restaurant and the evidence will be obvious: multiple iterations of vodka cocktails and many bottled expressions forming a phalanx of flavors to choose from. (more…)
The hangover—more than a humorous film or a delayed start after a great night out—is a serious condition that can be very painful, resulting in a breakfast of Alka-Seltzer, hours spent sipping from a bottle of Pedialyte and perhaps even a day spent at home “sick.” I cannot count, nor can I even begin to remember the number of hangovers I’ve had in the near-twenty years of imbibing I’ve enjoyed as an adult—most of which I’ve hazarded as a bar owner. There’s just too much delicious temptation in all those bottles with their beautiful labels and exotic origins!
Like many others, I’ve heaped morning-after pain upon myself from nights out in Las Vegas, New Orleans, New York, Los Angeles and plenty more locales known for their nightlife. I’ve experienced the shakes at 30,000 feet; I’ve been bedridden for days from too much hooch. On the subject of hangovers, I am an unfortunate authority. (more…)
First, a fact: every spirit isn’t made for everyone. As palates go, each of us has our own, and whether we consider ourselves to have a sophisticated palate or a poor one, every person nonetheless prefers particular flavor profiles. I love ginger, for example. Ginger in soup, ginger in cocktails, ginger all by itself, ginger pickled on a plate—more, please! So, when I taste food or drink, I often pick up notes of ginger first because I prefer it and am so accustomed to tasting it. Knowing your preferences is the key to understanding and enjoying spirits. (more…)
This summer America went goofy for piña coladas. The perfect poolside concoction, composed of silver rum, slushy coconut and pineapple, was created in Puerto Rico in 1954 at the Caribe Hilton by barman Ramon Marrero—during the same era that Trader Vic was pumping out his eponymous tiki cocktails and when the margarita first hit Southern California. Puerto Rico is known for its excellent baseball players; in the shaking of the first piña colada, Marrero hit a grand slam.
Fruity cocktails are clearly nothing new, but when the mercury rises, there’s nothing that beats a cold, fresh-tasting cocktail, whether it’s sweet, tangy or cooling. This Labor Day, why not celebrate the final sweet days of the season with a round of the best cocktails for late summer? (more…)
The oldest spirit in the Americas may just be the living legacy of the world’s first potable distillate. This same clear grape spirit from Peru also anchored our first tropical cocktail: yes, I’m referencing pisco and the pisco punch. Created and first prepared in secret at San Francisco’s iconic Bank Exchange Saloon in the 1880s, the pisco punch—made with both fresh pineapple and fresh-squeezed lime juice—paved the way for piña coladas, mai tais and margaritas as well as poolside debauchery and tiki attire for all. Fun!
A simple explanation: pisco is the Peruvian grape spirit named after the port where it originated in the 16th century, just as cognac is the grape spirit of France, named for the riverside town from which it hails. (more…)
Duggan McDonnell is the kind of guy everyone wants to have a drink with. When he’s behind the bar, you’re in for a treat: he possesses all the craftsmanship, charm and wit you’d expect from a bartender of a bygone era, combined with a thoroughly modern–and creative–sensibility. Believe me when I say that watching him construct a cocktail is half the fun.
The passionate drinker and traveler has logged time at breweries, wineries and distilleries on five continents, but he makes his home in San Francisco, where he’s the proprietor of Cantina, one of the City’s hottest watering holes. Duggan also produces award-winning pisco in Peru with his business partner and master distiller, Carlos Romero. To say he’s well versed in booze and beverage would be an epic understatement. (more…)