12 Rounds With… Camper English
If you’re a better cocktail nerd than we are, you’re most likely heading New Orleans way this week in celebration of Tales of the Cocktail, the spirits culture’s big annual educational and networking hoedown. Yes, there is something other than Comic-Con going on this week, and I have to think that the partying is probably better in New Orleans. We’ll await your reports. Since we’re not attending Tales (or Comic-Con), however, we thought we’d live vicariously and feature a couple of our favorite people who are nominated for Best Cocktail Writing at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards.
For my money, Camper English is the MacGyver of cocktail and spirits writers. If you have a problem, he’s there (or, was that The Equalizer?). With his work regularly appearing in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, and Fine Cooking – not to mention Germany’s Mixology Magazine and Singapore Airlines magazines – the man gets around, literally. Not only does his site, Alcademics.com, feature a “Camper on the Road” section (recently: London, Spain, Italy, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Cognac, and, this week, New Orleans), his last post begins “I was in New Delhi all last week….”. At any given moment in time, he could be touring a distillery or judging a cocktail contest in some far-flung corner of the globe. When he finds time to write is a mystery, but what he does write sets the bar for the rest of us. In short, Camper lives the cocktail writer’s dream – which is why we envy the man so damned much.
Please join us in congratulating Camper on his nomination at Tales this week. We wish him the best of luck (maybe we should say “break a muddler”?) and highly encourage you to keep up with his exploits and expertise at Alcademics.
01) What inspired your interest in cocktails?
As former club trash, I was having plenty of drinks anyway. When they started getting good again I started paying attention. Eventually I started paying attention to them full-time.
02) What was your first formative cocktail experience?
Does Kool-Aid and vodka count? No? Back around 1994 I decided to get into Martinis (there was a minor spacelounge trend happening that I wanted to be part of), so I bought the glassware, the recipe book, and the shaker. My friends and I had a party and we all had Martinis, choking them back and pretending that we liked them. That probably set me back a few years. I think it’s really helpful to have a mentor in one’s cocktail education.
03) What is your all-time favorite mixed drink?
I guess I’ll go with a 2:1 Gin Martini with orange bitters.
04) Favorite place to drink?
Right now it’s Dalva, in the Mission District of San Francisco. It was my neighborhood bar, then they built a cocktail bar in the back room. So now it’s my neighborhood cocktail bar.
05) If you don’t know the bartender, what do you order?
If the drink menu looks good, I’ll order something from that. If it doesn’t, I’ll usually order a beer. Most of the time I’d rather have no cocktail than a bad one.
06) If you could make any drink with the 12 Bottles, what would you make?
07) If you could replace any one bottle with another, what switch would you make? And why?
I would swap out the Redbreast for a tequila: Let’s say Partida reposado. There aren’t that many good Irish/Scotch whisky cocktails, and I really, really love tequila.
08) Outside of the 12 Bottles, what should people make an effort to try?
I think people should give pisco a shot in general. It’s really versatile in cocktails.
09) If you could only have one mixed drink for the rest of your life, which would it be?
I begrudgingly say a Manhattan but do not like this theoretical situation.
10) With whom (living, deceased, or fictional) would you like to most share a drink?
Benjamin Franklin. He seemed both brilliant and fun.
11) On which one item should the home bartender splurge?
An ice pick and a cooler to make clear ice.
12) One piece of advice for the home bartender…
Pick a project and make it your own. Make the best version of something you can.