A Mixology Master Class with Uncorked Bar Manager “Aloha” Erica Casey

553542_10151775392908971_2127409014_nWhat’s the difference between a bartender and a mixologist? A bartender is a pop-topper; a drink-recipe-follower; the guy or gal who smiles and shoots the… breeze as (s)he shaves the head off your draught beer, someone who measures their professional worth in terms of how well they serve up old standards like the margarita or the Bloody Mary…

A mixologist, though, is something else entirely. A mixologist is one part mad scientist and one part artiste; a concoctor of potions and a Doctor of Drink; a chef and a painter and a lab chemist and a sorcerer all rolled into one potent package…

Okay, so maybe that’s laying it on a little thick. Except that’s it’s all true, mostly, in the case of Preservation Pub/Scruffy City Hall/Uncorked Master Mixologist “Aloha” Erica Casey, the lovely raven-haired Anglo-Japanese-Hawaiian lass who also serves as bar manager at Uncorked.

“I’d like our all venues to be recognized as among the places to go to get a drink in Knoxville,” says Casey, who has accumulated far more drink savvy than her 20-something years would seem to rightly permit. “That’s what we’re striving for.”

As quick with her broad smile as she is with a drink pour, Casey paid her rent through college working her way up the bartending food chain. Now she says, “I’m done with school. I was going to earn a doctorate, but I decided that I like what I’m doing so much, I’m going to stick with this. And there’s so much to learn about making cocktails.”

Says Casey of her craft: “Mixology is a science. And it’s not something you can learn in school; it’s an experience trade.”

She says her own expertise accumulated over time, through working innumerable late-night shifts; trial and error; and now, heavy reading and other extra-curricular studies. “I was a philosophy major, but I do almost as much homework now as I did in school,” Casey laughs.

“I try to stay on top of what’s popular, the current trends. For instance, whatever is popular in Europe now will usually be popular here in about a year.”

But no amount of reading can substitute for hands-on experience, and Casey has plenty of that, too—probably more than she’d like certain elder family members to know about. “You have to acquire a palate for things,” she says. “In my first year of bartending, there’s no way I could have distinguished between rye whiskey and regular whiskey, or crappy vodka and good vodka. They were all the same to me.”

So what does Casey see on the horizon of mixology? Lots of gin, for one, and also Japanese whiskey. “Both of those are popular in Europe; Japanese whiskey has made it now to the West Coast,” she says. “The way bourbon is popular here, that’s the way gin is in Europe.”

Also trending are blue cocktails—that’s right, blue, as in “a primary color that isn’t red or yellow”. “Because it’s not just about what tastes good,” Casey says. “It’s also about what looks good, and what smells good.”

Casey plans to gradually introduce more of her own creative cocktailery into regular service at the aforementioned West family venues. She already creates various custom drink menus for special events at each.

But even for a talented mixologist, Casey says culinary cocktail process involves plenty of missteps. “There’s lots of experimenting,” she says. “I had in mind a special for Valentine’s Day, a ‘sweetheart martini,’ with grapefruit and pomegranate. But when I tried it, it was terrible, just way too tart. That’s why we taste before we serve.”

You can taste some of Casey’s more successful ventures, though, at Scruffy City Hall, where several of her infusions—a pear-honeycomb tequila, carefully aged for the better part of a year; or a pecan-swirl bourbon—are currently part of the drink menu.

Casey tells one of the secrets for making a good infusion: “You want to use a basic brand of liquor, because a really good liquor already has its own distinct flavor. So you want something as basic as possible, yet not something shitty.”

And maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll see her autumnal take on the classic Old Fashioned again next year, a mixture that includes muddled apples, Cardamom, sassafrass bitters and apple bitters in Bulleit bourbon.

So where does it come from, this weird instinct to #$% up a perfectly good snort of booze? Casey explains it in terms of a fierce personal ambition. “I’m very competitive,” she says. “There was a natural progression once I got into bartending, and once I got in, I just kept wanting everything I did to be better and better.

“Really, I don’t know where my ideas come from. I just do it. If it turns out good, I keep it. If it’s bad, I forget I ever tried it.”

Who do you think you are: A special edition, featuring Scruffington Post author Manhole

cover-387222_640What’s your favorite joke?

There’s a koala bear, living in Australia, as most koala bears do. And one day, he decides to see the world, and he moves to the United States. During his first week in the U.S., he ends up at a big, wild, lavish party at a giant mansion. He’s wandering around this huge house, and into one of the many bedrooms, when in walks this beautiful woman. The woman proceeds to take off her clothes and get on the bed, and invites the koala bear to get into bed with her. So the koala bear jumps up on the bed and begins to perform oral sex on this woman, with considerable gusto. And when he finishes up, he hops off the bed and walks toward the door.

“Wait a minute,” says the woman. “That’ll be $100.”

“One hundred dollars?” says the koala bear. “Whatever for?”

The woman says, “I’m a prostitute. Don’t you know what a prostitute is?”

“No,” says the bear. “I’m a koala bear, and I just came to this country. I still don’t know these things.”

So the woman reaches for a dictionary that happens to be on one of the shelves in the bedroom.

“See?” she says, turning to the correct page. “Prostitute: a woman who sexual acts for money.

“Oh, well,” says the bear. “I see. But what you’ve got to understand is that I’m a koala bear. You do know what a koala bear is, don’t you?”

“I’m not sure I follow you,” says the woman.

“I’ll show you,” says the bear. At which point he opens the dictionary to the correct page, and reads: ”Koala Bear: A small, furry Australian marsupial who eats bush and leaves.”

If they were making a movie about your life, who would you choose to play the part of Manhole?

Robert Downey, Jr. Or, for a way-better-looking, Hollywood version of me, David Duchovny.

Describe your most embarrassing drunken moment.

I used to have certain problems with… excess. So one night, I’d been out doing terrible things, it was 5 a.m., and I decided that, rather than risk going into work late, or not at all—which I often did—I would go to my office and sleep it off on the couch next to the front desk.

I ended up just not getting up, and sleeping through the entire workday, with my co-worker going about their business—very uncomfortably, needless to say—while I snorted and snoozed away.

The truly embarrassing part, now, is that at the time,  I wasn’t even embarrassed.

What’s the worst band you’ve ever seen/heard?

Sigh. Where to begin? Nickelback. .38 Special. Any “Nu” Metal—which of course, isn’t all that new anymore. And yet it just won’t go away.

Anything that on contemporary country music radio.

I have a theory that no one who says, “I love all kinds of music” is really a serious music fan. Because serious music fans are defined as much by what they hate as by what they love.

You’re having a Moonshine Roof Garden Party at Preservation Pub. What three famous guests, living or dead, would you like to host?

Gautama Buddha; Charles Bukowski; Jack Kirby; and Quentin Tarantino. It’s my blog, so I get four.

Describe your worst date ever.

I asked this girl out once, and she said yes. Then she canceled at the last minute, and didn’t act particularly interested in a rain check. So I gave up.

Then she approached me, about a month later, at the restaurant I was working at. And she was acting flirty, giggling, talking fast, saying she’s so sorry we had to postpone our date. So I bit, and said, ‘would you like to try again.’ And she said, ‘oh yeah, just give me a call.’

I called her two nights later. And she said, ‘Well, Bob (some dude she worked with, whom I met once in passing) and I just had a long talk last night, and we finally decided we’re going to be a couple now. But you’re welcome to do something with us one night.’

So I ended up being the designated driver on a date involving this girl I liked, and her new boyfriend.

If you were going to torture someone, how would you do it?

If it’s a guy, I’d do something to the boys. No guy can take that very long. If it’s a girl… I dunno. I don’t think I could torture a girl.

I’d probably just call in the meanest girl I know, and let her do her thing.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

I had one of my bosses tell me once, “Always remember: Leftie Lucy, Rightie Tightie.” That was a game-changer.

What’s the worst advice you’ve ever gotten?

“Just be yourself.” Anyone who ever says that should be shot in the #$% face. First, by definition, whatever you do, you are “being yourself.” You can’t be anyone else. Wherever you go, there you are.

Second, the fact of the matter is that “myself” is someone who’s really bad at whatever it is that I’m getting advice about. So being more of myself is only going to make matters worse.

Describe Hell.

Somewhere where it’s always too cold; where my ambitions are continually thwarted; and where they play nothing but contemporary mainstream country and bad ‘80s music.

And by the latter, I mean stuff like Phil Collins and Hall & Oates, both of which were recognized as shitty mass-produced corporate crap at the time, but that for some reason, are regarded as being really awesome now.

Describe God.

I read this in a book: God is a beach, and we are all the grains of sand which make up that beach. Individually, we are just tiny motes. But together, we are a part of the divine whole. 

Now Playing: Realm

10945488_452334538251065_8330841572708384612_nThere’s everything to love about local Rawk trio Realm—everything to love, that is, if everything you love encompasses science fiction, beer, a dose of devil worship, and Heavy Metal. And in particular, Psychedlic-Stoner-Doom Metal, with some occasional hints of old-school Thrash and Power Metal thrown in, just for good measure. Sign me up twice, Bubba.

Because Realm—a unit comprising two present and one past employee(s) of Preservation Pub/Scruffy City Hall—do Doom the way it’s supposed to be done, heavy and no-frills and bad-ass, with detuned power chords and big bass lines and monster beats that thrum with a power that threatens to rend the very fabric of Reality asunder, shaking walls and quaking bowels and rattling molars out of heads…

And they’re doing it in such a way as to win hearts and minds even in a town with a mad love for the dusky jangle of roots rock and Americana. The first Realm show at Preservation Pub saw the front of the stage awash with indie kids and throwback country fans, casting aside their Rawk inhibitions for just-this-one-night, flashing the secret devil sign and banging heads like there’s no tomorrow…

“We want to challenge Knoxville to headbang a little bit,” says singer/guitarist Jake Lonas, the man who founded Realm in the wake of the breakup of his former outfit, heavy jam-rock Pub stalwarts the Jojax.

Says drummer Nick Leichtweis, a pugnacious New York native with a penchant for beating the heads of his snares into whimpering submission, the Realm trio knew they were in for a rough haul, trying to put even a little Metal over in East Tennessee. “It’s very segregated here,” he says. “You’ve got the tattoo people over here and the bros over there and the hipsters over here.”

But there’s a method in their madness, he says. Realm bait listeners with pleasantly palatable vocals and simple, memorable songs, then yank the hook in tight when that massive breakdown hits and everyone in the room reflexively falls into full-mosh lockstep, head-banging in perfect synch.

“We don’t complicate it too much,” says bassist Kurt Bell, a high school bedroom music phenom who pulls double duty in Realm, hammering bass lines with his left hand while playing keyboards with his right. “There’s a fine line between being cool or experimental, and just alienating people.”

“We have a pretty straight-forward way of writing songs,” Leichtweis says. “And we’re not afraid to be really doomy, and then just do… whatever. Because at the end of the day, we’re not about just being a doom band, or stoner rock, or desert rock, or whatever. In Metal, if you just represent one thing, you usually just get lost in the churn.”

“We try to be more accessible, with a little blues and some psychedelic elements,” says Lonas. “And my vocals aren’t aggressive, either, in the way that a lot of Metal vocals are now.”

Right now, Realm have an interesting preoccupation, inasmuch as every song in their (as yet, limited) repertoire of original songs deals with the Frank Herbert science fiction classic Dune. “Witches are for burning” references a scene in the novel where hero Paul Atreides has his hand burned off and restored by his witch mother, as part of a part of a coming-of-age ritual for members of his clan.

“Fear is the mindkiller” derives from the same scene. “Fatman” is a reference to the Dune villain, the scheming and corpulent baron of the House of Harkonnen. And “Sleeper” tells of Altreides’ path to enlighenment.

Why the Dune obsession? “The whole story is so universal,” says Leichtweis. “It’s like the story of Jesus, or the story of Horus. It looks at how politics hi-jacks religion, and how that’s something that’s been going on for millienia.”

“I don’t know that we’ll always write abut Dune,” Lonas says. “But for the time being, we’re having fun with it. I’ve thought about writing about Bladerunner. Who knows? Maybe that will be next.”

Whether Realm have a chance to be more than just Pub favorites isn’t clear; band members say that given their respective job and personal commitments, keeping a “serious” band is tough proposition. But maybe it doesn’t matter. Says Lonas, “If it ever came to the point that someone wanted to put us on the road, so be it. But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Hell, right now, we’ve only played a couple of shows.”

“Right now, the best part of it all to me is just seeing people’s reactions,” says Leichtweis. “When we play shows around town, and see people rock the fuck out, that just makes my night.”

Dune will play Scruffy City Hall with Nashville psychedelic rockers All Them Witches on Wednesday, March 4, following a movie showing by Knoxville Horror Film Festival.

What’s in your earbuds: Scruffington Post Author Manhole

 

cover-387222_6401. John Garcia: “The self-titled solo album from the singer of ’90s stoner-rock trailblazers Kyuss. Everyone thinks (ex-Kyuss guitarist, now Queens of the Stone Age frontman) Josh Homme is great. But Garcia’s post-Kyuss projects–Unida, Slo Burn, Hermano, Vista Chino–are way better than anything Homme has done.”

2. Echo of Miles (Soundgarden): “The long-awaited triple disc-set of rarities, covers, and b-sides from across Soundgarden’s entire career. My only quibble is that they left off the acoustic version of “Like Suicide,” an amazing b-side from the Superunknown era.”

3. Spirit Knife (Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus): “Absolutely killer psychedelic/stoner rock from a band I recently discovered. Signed to my favorite label, Small Stone Records.”

4. Back from the Abyss (Orange Goblin): “These stoner metal veterans absolutely refuse to release a bad album. If anything, their last two (including 2012’s Eulogy for the Damned) are their best yet.”

5. I Wasn’t Born to Lose You (Swervedriver): “This actually doesn’t come out until March, but I am pre-loving it. The first album in 17 years from these guys, lesser-known members of that ’90s swirly-guitar/shoegaze club–think My Bloody Valentine and Ride. The difference between them and their contemporaries was that the Swervies would really rock balls between bouts of picking at their navels.”

Now Playing: J-Bush’s Official 30/16 Challenge Awards Ceremony

10362762_10202280144274615_6980237699087639037_oI knew I was gonna lose

‘Til I saw a demon smile at me

and tell me I can do it.

He said “If I get some

Bitches in a Buick,

Then write a song about it

I could live off ‘a music.”

Tried it, but I was better

Off left dead, ‘cause I was

Saying what everybody else said.

I get the most bread; I get the most hos; but that’s mediocre, and I want mo’!

From “I Want Mo’”

30/16 Challenge

Jarius Bush

Maybe you know J-Bush as the husky but indomitably cheerful Preservation Pub barback and doorman with the coast-to-coast grin, or maybe you know him as the talented rapper/spoken word artist who co-fronts the Theorizts, the Plunderphonics, and a handful of other local hip-hop acts with an irrepressible, roof-raising energy.

But for all of his happy, contagious charm, Bush found himself at an unsettling crossroads—perched on the cusp of fatherhood, and the fate of the Theorizt hanging in a painful and uncertain limbo—when he decided, of a winter afternoon, that he wanted mo’.

With his first child on the way, Bush didn’t want to let his creative side to be subsumed by the responsibilities of parenthood, and life. “I’ve been recording these new solo projects, and a goal of mine is to be able to tour as a solo artist,” he says. “But I realized my writing isn’t as potent as I’d like it to be. I’d taken kind of a hiatus from writing. That’s where the idea came from.”

“The idea” being something called the 30/16 Challenge, a sort of Facebook-based call-to-arms wherein Bush issued a challenge—to himself, and to whomever else would take up the gauntlet—to write 16-bar verse, every day for a month.

The idea was seeded by Bush’s delvings into inspirational and self-help literature, specifically that of Earl Nightingale, a speaker and writer who rose to prominence in the mid-20th century, and who turned one of his books, The Strangest Secret, into an award-winning spoken-word LP.

“I’d been reading and listening to Nightingale for a while,” Bush says. “And one of the things he talks about I how to become successful at whatever it is that you’re doing. He talks about developing positive habits that move you toward your goal. And one of the things he talks about is that you have to do something for 30 days straight if you want to make it a habit.

“I wanted to be a better writer. And I wanted to make writing a habit, not something I do just when I need to. That’s when I created the 30/16 Challenge for myself. Then I thought, to prevent myself from not sticking to it, I’d stick it online, so other artists would join me in the process.”

The response to the Official 30/16 Challenge has been gratifying, says Bush, with more than 200 artists, from several states and a couple continents have taken part in at least a few days of Challenge.

Every day, participating artists are supposed to write a 16-bar verse, record it and stick it up on the 30/16 Facebook page. “It’s been cool to see how artists have grown from hearing each other rap,” Bush says. “I’ve grown just by feeling more comfortable writing by myself. The first few days, I went through a lot of dirt that came up. Now I feel like I can do anything or say anything.

“I try to do a lot of inspirational lyrics. But sometimes I have my braggadocio days, like I’m a dope MC, check out the rhymes. One day, I had to do laundry with my girlfriend, so I did one about being in the laundry room all day, and how it sucked not having a washing machine. I didn’t have anything to talk about, but I still wanted to write.

“When you sit down to do a verse, it can be as complex as the moon and stars, or as simple as washing clothes.”

Bush says the Challenge made for a fertile creative environment, with dozens of other artists posting their verse online every day. One of his favorite local artists in the Challenge is an MC named Spook: “I’ve been so impressed with his consistency… Every Sunday, he does something about his spiritual beliefs. His style is like a battle rapper, real aggressive and direct. But he does it in a way that really connects with the listener.”

Another standout is former New Yorker Bobby Fuego, whom Bush lauds for “his lyrical ability, his complex wordplay.”

“On the third day, he told a whole story about all of the artists who were part of the challenge,” Bush says. “He’s great at creating narratives. And he’s also helped me with the administrative aspects of the Challenge.”

And that’s just a very short list of Bush’s favorites—there are others, too, like Cali’s sPeZLoAkS and Sean Moonshine and Cassius Chase… “West Coast-style guys; all three of them are phenomenal.”

Now, with the Challenge drawing to a close, Bush will host a 30/16 Challege awards ceremony Feb. 5 at Scruffy City Hall, featuring D.J. Wiggs, the Good Guy Collective and others. Bush also plans to skype in some of the out-of-town artists for the show.

If all goes well, look for the Official 30/16 Challenge to become a hip-hop mainstay, locally and otherwise. “I’m going to do it every year now, around the same time,” Bush enthuses. “I want to grow this thing.”

The Official 30/16 Challenge Awards Ceremony will be held Thursday, Jan. 5 at 10 p.m. at Scruffy City Hall with D.J. Wiggs, the Good Guy Collective and others.