Radio Holiday Hijinx Update

Now that Christmas has come and gone, let's send an extra large Santa-sized thank you to WFMU Good Guy and host of the Fool's Paradise program for another swinging on air office party. If you missed it, or feel like you must relive those two hours of radio magic, the archived show can be found here.

Now it can be told: this year's holiday cocktail is the Holy Moly. The revelers in Studio A seemed to like it. How's about we shake one up?

The Holy Moly

The goods:
1 cardamom pod
1-1/2 oz. rye whiskey
1/2 oz. Choya Umeshu Japanese plum wine (look for it in the mod cylindrical bottle)
1/2 oz. orange juice
1/4 oz. Crème de Cassis
Barspoon (1/2 tsp.) Yellow Chartreuse
1 or 2 dashes Angostura bitters
One drop Fee’s Old Fashion bitters (optional)
Garnish: Orange peel
The how-to:
  • Toast cardamom pod in a dry skillet for a few minutes. (Toasting optional but it does improve the flavor.)
  • Crush cardamom pod lightly and add to cocktail shaker.
  • Add all liquids and ice and shake well.
  • Strain into chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a twist of orange peel.

Hope everybody had a cool Yule. See you in the New Year! 


Making Spirits Bright

Grade "A" Fancy prepares to enter the exciting world of "Hip"

This Saturday, December 22, everyone's fave holiday tradition, the Radio Bartender, returns to the "Fool's Paradise" featuring Rex on the mighty WFMU! As always, Grade "A" Fancy's chief mixing officer Karen will unveil a new cocktail for the occasion, live in the studio, amid much radio hi-jinx. Expect the zaniest holiday-themed novelty records and the sounds of on-air gift giving with a cast of celebrity merry-makers.

Tune in Saturday from 1 to 3pm on the Fun 91! In the New York City area it's WFMU 91.1 fm Jersey City, and 90.1 in the Hudson Valley. You say you are stuck at the North Pole? No problem. You can listen in real time via the miracle of the internet.

Procrastinators note: you can still make this the Best Holiday Ever for your loved ones by giving the gift of Grade "A" Fancy cocktail guides. A copy of Hark! the Radio Bartender Brings or Code Name: Cocktail will brighten anybody's Christmas.


Santa's Hollow Leg

Stumped for that nonpareil gift this year?

These handsome volumes are the answer to your holiday shopping woes. Order for the bon vivant on your list who’s seen it all, the liquor lover with no stomach for cocktail twee-ness, the art maven, the mid-century-aholic, the film buff, your local action movie villain, or the connoisseur of small-press books. Buy one to go along with that fake i.d. for your kid brother, one for Dad’s cookbook collection, and one for Mom’s bar.

Order now – our gift to you is free first-class USA shipping

You want your cocktail strained, not your seasonal shopping. These booklets will be delivered to your door & leave you time to relax with a soothing snootful by the fire.

First, our newest model, Code Name: Cocktail. 40 sumptuous pages of cocktails, punches and potions as imbibed by secret agents of mid-century fiction, including 13 original recipes concocted in our secret labs. PLUS tips and tradecraft to weaponize your home bar.

Did you miss our symposium, The Spy Who Came In From The Pool, based on this booklet at the 2017 Tiki Oasis weekender in San Diego? Two tipples from it, The Cloak and Stagger Punch and The Ejector Seat, were demonstrated. All attendees survived, or so we are told.

Some spicy intel is revealed in the pages of Code Name: Cocktail. What’s James Bond’s freakiest drink? Where did Harry Palmer learn to mix properly? Which cocktails are best with egg salad? What’s Alec Leamas’ favorite color? (Just kidding – that last one is classified.) Click the Buy NOW button below.
Perhaps you prefer something entirely seasonal. Howzabout Hark! The Radio Bartender Brings? There are still a few copies of our holiday cocktail guide.

It’s that most wonderful time of the year — the hustle-bustle and anticipation as everyone prepares for a very special visitor. Yes, of course we mean The Bartender of the Airwaves, bringing a gleaming new holiday cocktail for all the parched listeners of Fool’s Paradise with Rex on radio station WFMU. Due to popular thirst, we’ve collected these original cocktail recipes in an eyeball-pleasing 40-page booklet. In addition, it tells the heart-warming tale of the Radio Bartender, and provides guidance and counsel to make your holiday cocktail hour merry and bright. To purchase Hark! The Radio Bartender Brings via PayPal, click on the Buy Now button below.

 •   •   •

The holidays will be upon us in a flash. Order today! US addresses use the button below. Or, contact us for worldwide shipping info or multiple purchase discounts.

On the drop-down menu you can choose to buy up to four copies at one time, but the shockingly sympathetic free US shipping never changes. Shipping multiple copies won't cost you one thin dime! This is a money saving offer that thrifty gift-givers will not want to miss. Pass the savings on to the art supply (liquor) store.

Grade “A” Fancy in collaboration with Liquorsnapper.com present ~


The Exciting, Undercover, Top-Secret,
Daggers Danger ‘n’ Daiquiris
Supersloshy Side of Mid-Century Spy Fiction

By Vicky Sweat & Karen McBurnie
with Art and Design by Jon Hammer


Seasonal libations straight from the airwaves of
the world’s premier bop, slop and shlock radio show

By Karen McBurnie & Jon Hammer



Mom & Pop in the New York Times

Did we tell you we have a book out? The title is Mom & Pop Brooklyn, and it is published by the good people at Herb Lester Associates. This handy pocket-sized guide lists 99 restaurants, bars, coffee houses, pork stores and delicatessens with deep roots in Brooklyn. Each shop is fully tested and approved by Grade "A" Fancy. All of them have been in business at least thirty years, and some go back a century. It's our little love letter to folks holding back the tide of boring corporate homogenization. You can find it at select independent booksellers here in the city, or internationally at the Herb Lester site, or even Amazon, if you must.

Recently we got a plug from no less than the New York Times' own Florence Fabricant. Not too shabby! Read it here. Then run right out and buy a copy. Or six. Get all your holiday shopping done before Halloween.

Here is a display at Idlewild Books, 170 Seventh Ave. South in the Village, one of the fine booksellers where you may purchase Mom & Pop Brooklyn. Just tell 'em Grade "A" Fancy sent you. They won't have the foggiest idea what you are on about!


The Manhattan Project



Where we consider art supplies for the cocktail cabinet.

How different is your cocktail with high-end liquids, and are premium supplies always the best choice?

In this episode — The Manhattan Project

Martinis and Manhattans remain our staple drinks at cocktail time here at Grade “A” Fancy world headquarters. The frillier potions get their due, but we return to these two time-honored classics most often, and why not have a five o'clock date that’s delicious and dependable? We do tinker with them on occasion, adjusting proportions, adding a squirt of various bitters or boozes, switching garnishes as our mood and brand of spirits will dictate. But we have never had a scientific side-by-side showdown of vermouths. Since freshness is key and we rarely open more than one bottle at a time, what we would need to accomplish this was somebody else’s vermouth. To this end, we convened a blue-ribbon committee of cocktail crazy chums for a blind tasting of Manhattans.

Vicky you already know from Codename: Cocktail and her tasty blog Liquorsnapper. At MidCenturyMixology, Chris and Elizabeth are wading through an inherited Old Mr. Boston page by page. Garth’s analytical skill and Shane and Friederike for an artistic angle rounded out the panel.

A good liquor store today will have a dazzling number of red vermouths. It was tough but we narrowed our selections to a manageable six, refraining from any new world styles. Guests were to bring a few widely available bottles: Cinzano Rosso (Italy), Carpano Antica (Italy), Cocci Vermouth di Torino (Italy), and Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry Rouge (France). We know all the best people, so a bottle of Compañia Vermouth Mata Tinto (Spain)* was proffered by Friederike, whose elegant label design heralded its (re)appearance in the American market.

We plotted to sneak in something bottom shelf, Tribuno or Stock, say, or better yet, an oddball bottle, something that you might see in the well at an iffy bar and swear it was a movie prop. Two stores and no luck. We ran out of time, so our fallback was that standard check-out shelf item, the not-at-all-disreputable half bottle of Martini & Rossi.

For the rye: This confront was all about the vermouth so the whiskey would need to be good, but not a flavor bomb. Old Overholt was once our old faithful; we were mighty happy with it through the scarce rye years until, about five years back, we noticed that our Manhattans were tasting a bit syrupy and flaccid. Vermouth being the sweet element of the drink, we immediately placed the blame and swapped brands, without solid success. So, was it us? Had we become…hard-boiled? Upping the hard stuff made our cocktails stronger, but not better. Yep, this was driving us crazy. At which point we learned that the Overholt overlords were selling us 3 year aged bottles instead of the 4 year. Big aha. We moved to other brands as they became available.

All this made us excited about the recently available Old​ Overholt Bonded Straight Rye – a little too excited because when​ we spotted it while shopping for this project it somehow ​leapt into our cart. At 100 proof, the thought occurred that the tasting might lose focus, so we bought a bottle of the regular Overholt, too, and decided to use them mixed 50-50.

The Confront

With our taster panel settled in, Vicky and Karen mixed the individual broths over ice in chrome vessels, bottled the results, and popped them in the refrigerator. When all six samples were concocted, we served in glasses marked A through F.

The results? They were all fine. We’ve paid $15 for worse. But when we hashed it out, those labeled C, B,and D were judged the best examples of a delicious Manhattan. Unmasked, those were Martini & Rossi (surprise, everybody!), Cinzano and Mata. One taster (Nigel Tufnel?) awarded the Cinzano a 5 out of possible 4 on the scoring sheet. The plush sipper Mata turned out to be a great mixer — perhaps it, along with the standards Martini and Cinzano made sense, since we were using the rugged Bonded Overholt, whose edges needed smoothing. There were vast differences of opinion, of course, but mostly lower regards were given to A, E and F. We went into this pretty sure that Dolin and Cocci were not natural Manhattanites, but what happened with the Carpano Antica? This was a puzzler, since it was always a treat in the past and a respected, quality choice with the pros. Perhaps it just wasn’t made for the Overholt. Which brings us to a sorry conclusion. The new 100 proof Overholt just didn’t make a great Manhattan. Like bourbon, it’s just too dominant over its partners. (We’ve since revised our recipe to 75% old OO to 25% bonded. Not bad.)

Here’s some of what the panel had to say. Some tasters thought the Cocci Manhattan had a nice balance, but others found it flat, no depth, and the least favorite. The color also was lighter and not as attractive coupled with the rye. The Cinzano was described as winey, herbal, rich, deep and spicy. Others thought it sour and lacking depth. Martini & Rossi was found to be spicy, an easy drinker, and #1; two samplers thought it was the driest. One wag said it was “pretty OK.” Mata got raves — it was complex, unusual, had a cola aspect, was thick, rich, worked well with the rye, a fave and a standout. One taster found it cloying and banal. The Carpano Antica was judged the “sweetest, therefore reminiscent of a lot of poor Manhattans, but could be great in the right hands.” Others found it warm, interesting, boring, and two said it was their least favorite. And finally the Dolin was unremarkable, meh, nothing outstanding, and OK. On the other hand, some tasters noted its mineral, spicy, apples, pears and quinine aspects and thought it mixed well. We agreed it might be nice with a sweeter liquor, like bourbon.

In conclusion: match your favorite vermouth to your favorite rye. Drink up. But don’t high hat the popular mid-price brands just because they are familiar. They may turn out to be the perfect mixer.

Thanks to the Tasting Team

Shane Arbogast, Christopher Gray, Elizabeth Stein Gray,
Friederike Paetzold, Garth Powell, and Vicky Sweat.

With special appearances by Chris Karwowski and Jinx Louise.

*Yes, Compañia Mata Tinto is available in this country. In NYC, at Despaña and Vintry Wines, for example.