When Brendan Dorr is not behind the bar at B&O American Brasserie in downtown Baltimore's Hotel Monaco, he's relentlessly promoting a broader appreciation of booze-craft in Baltimore. As founder of the Baltimore Bartenders Guild (see sidebar), whose 40-or-so members seek to elevate the city's cocktail culture, Dorr right now is helping to plan the group's annual charity event on Feb. 23: Rye's Up Against Cystic Fibrosis, which, for $65 per ticket, offers an opportunity to taste creations by some of the city's most creative mixologists and chefs. Dorr also helps put on regular Forgotten Cocktail Club events, one-night pop-ups at bars around town featuring revival concoctions from eras past. City Paper sat down with him recently at B&O for a hooch-obsessed chat.
City Paper: Let's talk about booze. You've got like the Ph.D. in bartending.
Brendan Dorr: I recently did Beverage Alcohol Resource, BAR, an intense week-long course in New York by the true leaders in our industry: Dale DeGroff, Steve Olson, [F.] Paul Pacult, Doug Frost, Dave Wondrich, and Andy Seymour. Tons of preparation prior to the course, reading as much information as you can put in a brain about booze, and then lots of tasting throughout the week, lots of review of the stuff that they want you to know, and a super-fun test at the end of the week. Luckily I passed.
CP: So you are going to apply that here, obviously, but what about at home?
BD: I have quite a big collection of spirits. Working in this industry, obviously, we like to play with lots of things, so I have quite an extensive bar.
CP: Do you have a particular class of liquor that is your personal favorite?
BD: Gin is probably one of my all-time favorites, but I love all spirits. I'm a big advocate of all whiskeys, just for the sheer fact that it's got some guts.
CP: I love the Manhattan. There is so much you can do to adjust it to your particular tastes if you get a big collection of bitters.
BD: Absolutely. I have a huge collection of bitters, a whole separate shelf for them.
CP: That's really taken off in recent years.
BD: Bitters really has, with the resurgence of the cocktail and people reading in depth about our spirit history in old bartender books. Even in the late 1800s, the cocktail was something very elegant and wonderful. Unfortunately, Prohibition really killed off so much of it. Then some people would say we went through an era of flavorlessness, with canned food and vodka and everything. Slowly and surely, it's come back.
CP: I don't know when to date this resurgence in interest in things that taste good. Sometime in the '80s, I think.
BD: In the '80s. People started trying different varietals of wines, and in the spirit world a big date for whiskey is 1984, when Elmer T. Lee released Blanton's, which is still a benchmark for really fantastic, well-made bourbon.
CP: What about drinks made with egg whites?
BD: I love egg-white cocktails, the Gin Fizz, the Ramos Gin Fizz, flips.
CP: A lot of the ingredients are really obscure, like orange-blossom water.
BD: Sometimes you have to just be patient and place an order. You only use a little bit, so one bottle will keep you for a while. And after you make a few Ramos gin fizzes, you probably won't for a while. They're just so labor intensive, and so many different ingredients to put in one drink with very fine measurements, and then a whole lot of shaking. It's a cocktail you pull out when you have like one other person around. Or, come to the bar and we'll make you one.
CP: Plus, fizzes have that egg-white layer on top.
BD: Oh, it's beautiful.
CP: And it gets on your lips and you can sprinkle some colorful bitters on top.
BD: Super-beautiful. Pisco sours? Great cocktail.
CP: You really earn your tip on that one. Are there any other bars in Baltimore that are doing fizzes?
BD: I'm sure Rye is doing them, or Woodberry Kitchen, Jack's Bistro. I'm sure they have something with egg in the mix.
CP: When my grandmother died, I ended up with all of her bar stuff, a Mint Julep set, a Here's How wood-bound recipe book, all sorts of bar accoutrements.
BD: Any actual booze?
CP: This was in the '90s, and there were a couple of different Chartreuses and Pimm's in there, and we just started playing.
BD: Pimm's is a cocktail already in a bottle.
CP: Like those bottled eggnogs that come already made. I was like, these things aren't that bad, they're just too strong. How about if I mix it with Yoo-hoo and shake it up? Pretty good.
BD: Yeah? Cool. There's your egg question. What's up with drinking eggs? Well, have you ever had eggnog? That's an egg cocktail. Don't fear the egg cocktail.
CP: It seems like glasses have gotten much bigger. When we think about the three-martini lunch-they were actually drinking these 4-ounce cocktails, right? And now we're getting like 12- and 16-ounce cocktails.
BD: I think we went that way, and now we're coming back. Our cocktail glasses are quite petit. It's a little Nick & Nora, like a wine glass kind of chopped off a little bit, and it's 7 and 1/2 ounces. We don't fill it right to the rim, but it's a strong drink. Do you really need to be drinking a 14-ounce cup of vodka in one sitting?
CP: It gets warm.
BD: It's not going to be enjoyable halfway down. I think it's funny that people want such big glasses. They call it a martini glass, but it's a cocktail glass.
CP: It spills so easily.
BD: It's top-heavy, it's cumbersome, it sloshes around, it's not that attractive. We're trying to move away from this giant thing into something more elegant and classic, and educate guests on-this is what people drank from when cocktails were really in vogue. Maybe they should have been drinking 14-ounce martinis, but probably not.
CP: Well, you can make a 14-ounce drink out of a Manhattan just by adding soda water and ice to it. It's still delicious.
BD: It is, it truly is.
CP: And it won't be warm in 10 minutes when you're sitting on your stoop in the summertime.
BD: That's funny. I understand. We all have those moments. Show up at a party where it's just a free-for-all for spirits. But I don't think anyone's ever going to reinvent the cocktail. We're doing some new things, but nothing that really hasn't been done before.